Thursday, 20 November 2014

Sunset over Long Beach

I watch the sea gulls and the pelicans and then I watch two seals swimming in the bay. They remind me of my dog when he goes swimming, black nose gliding through the water. I watch the seals for a long time and I want to cry out to the other people on the beach, “Behold! Seals!” But I know they are watching the seals too, and I know the seals come here all the time. My heart is heavy when the seals go away. But then one of them comes back and makes me glad. There is no kind of evening that does not improve in the company of seals.

The big container ships creep by in the distance as slow as snails. They are necessary, these steel contraptions. How else could we get all the cheap stuff made in China? Our houses are filled with brave seafaring trinkets. They are necessary, these ships, and they are the ugliest things on the sea. But when one of them is far enough away and when the sun is setting and all the lights come on, a container ship can look as lovely as Christmas. One yearns for it as one yearns for the lonely unreachable stars. Standing on the beach at sunset, a child would give anything in the world to make the voyage out to those far lights that glitter with such heavenly promise.

A man gets out of a car and stands beside me. He’s one of those gangsta types in baggy gangsta clothes. We stand for a while looking at the sea. Without turning he asks me, “What’s going on?” I tell him, “The sun is setting.” “True that,” the gangsta says. “Happen right here every day.” Then he goes down on to the sand and stays there a long time. Later I see him sitting on the sand, hands folded, looking up into the golden sky. The longer I watch him, the more I am persuaded that he is a poet or a saint.

In the car park behind me a man and woman are arguing in their car. Their voices carry across the sand and mingle indistinctly with the voices of sea gulls and the splash of a landing pelican. I never fail to be impressed by American eloquence. It must be all that therapy. As the sun continues its slow descent over the port of Long Beach, the car park argument gets louder and then I realise they are not arguing at all, only conversing. And there is something else in their voices too: soon they will be making love.

A woman in a pink hijab goes right down to the water and takes a selfie with the pink sky and the lights of the Long Beach oil island behind her. When she turns around again a fish jumps, big and silver, and the woman wheels back and squeals in surprise and her long skirt whirls about her in the wind. I wish I could have taken a photograph to show you because it was as pretty as any picture: the pink sky, the pink hijab, the pink and yellow lights, the silver fish, the silk skirt twirling like a dancer’s.

When I die I don’t want to do it in some windowless white room, doped into oblivion while machines labour over me and faceless doctors tinker with my insides. No black and white death for me! Let me die at sunset. Wheel me out on to the beach and let my eyes be filled with pelicans and my ears with seagulls’ cries. If you can add a seal or two and a pretty Muslim woman startled by a fish, so much the better. Just let me die with open eyes and all the colours blazing, that’s all I ask.

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