I shuffle in my barstool. I haven’t even been in this town for an hour yet. Ley lines?
“So hold onto your things because some crazy stuff goes down here.”
What kind of stuff? I wonder.
“I mean it’s a town with one Stop Street and five bars. There’s gotta be something suspect.”
His smiling wrinkles deepen the creases around his mouth, “So, welcome to Bathurst. You look like you belong here.”
The poet walks away. I’m in pineapple country. I drove 60km/h behind a cow on a road of geckos and chameleons to get here. Fast was not an option in travel and the destination seems to have stilled time itself. I find myself sitting next to some resident drunken Socrates, who, in all his tweaked extravagance, welcomes me with a very straightforward,
“I’ll take it for granted you are my friend.”
The old man has a bald patch with long white hair flowing around it, a laugh as robust as his thick thighs spread apart on a bar stool that barely carries his weight. He cuts right to the chase,
“So what you wanna do one day? Find a husband? Settle down? Buy a VW? Be woken up when it breaks down?”
He smiles, “Do you want money?”
He waits for my answer. I don’t reply. I know this is a trick. He continues,
“I have nothing, you can have half.”
He roars with intoxicated laughter. I wait to hear the note of insincerity – that bitterness that accompanies having nothing. It doesn’t come. The man seems genuinely happy.
Where am I? Very, very far from the rat race. The wise-cracking old man is an artist who refuses to reveal his work. A steel string reverbs from a tortured hippie in the corner, no stage. The poet returns.
“So you a writer?” he asks me.
“Yes, I guess.”
“Well that depends on how dedicated you are to your craft.”
No answer from me.
“What’s the colour of your silence?”
In the deep end, he shoves me. Like I should know this immediately. I can’t answer the poet’s question. But the balding, bulging artist jumps in. He knows the colour of his silence,
“Predominantly white with touches of gun metal.” – without even thinking about it. Then he returns to his beer and ignores us.
“Bathurst seems to attract lost souls,” says the poet, eyeing me like he knows.
Does he know? Could he possibly know? Just how aimless, forlorn, raw and depleted I am? Shall I unveil my buffet of vulnerability?
“So you’ve just finished a novel. You have something in your hand. And now you’re left with this pregnant space. It’s terrifying and beautiful,” he pauses, “Write another.”
“Can’t. No money.”
“How much of yourself did you put into that novel?”
“So what do you have left?”
“So then, you have nothing left to lose.”
“So write the first line of your next one.”
“You can try and guess who others think you should be. You might be wrong. And wouldn’t that be a tragedy? Be brutally yourself.”
One broke writer consoling another in the Bathurst Arms Pub, in a tiny 1820’s town with a turbulent military history. Twelve kilometers inland in the economically destitute Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: Nowhere. His words should have no bearing. They should hold no gravitas. He’s just a big city outcast, like me. In a place filled with big city outcasts, like me. Home, so nice to finally have met you. So sad that I cannot stay.
Maybe I just need Bathurst. Never to leave Bathurst. Where it’s all okay. Where the ley lines cross and the bohemians gather to eke out an existence and live for their craft in the middle of nowhere, drinking rainwater, surrounded by antiques, and reading used books.
“There seems to be a hole in your glass. Let me fix that for you.” Says the next barman, in the next bar, of the five bars in Bathurst.
There’s a trophy (boar’s head) on the wall. From each of its tusks, there hangs a bra.
“They call this the center of the universe because of the ley line running through Bathurst. That’s why everyone’s so nuts. And there’s a dungeon under this dining room floor…”
About the Author: Mia Arderne is a 24-year old writer of fiction and non-fiction from Cape Town, South Africa. She has just completed her Masters in English Creative Writing with a minor in Travel Writing at the University of Cape Town. She has had three short stories published in the last two years and is currently enrolled in the MatadorU on-line Travel Writing course.
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