Stepping down from sky

The car halts. I slowly twist my face towards the driver as I sit up straight.

‘This is it,’ he says.

’This is what?’

‘Tarrafal’

‘Where?’

‘Come’

He beckons me towards the cliff edge. I follow, cautiously.

‘Come … come …’

I follow. Much more cautiously. Beyond the gravel, rock, and dust – all far too dry to give my shoes any purchase – I can see only sky. I cannot focus on where my driver points because I feel too sick from looking over the edge.

‘There,’ he says, triumphantly.

There is indeed a village. But I see nothing to be triumphant about. I mean, it’s great that I know where I am. And even better that I see where I need to get to. What is not so great is that getting there appears to involve a suicidal plunge.

‘OK…’

He traces a jagged line with his fingers Barely distinguishable from the charred landscape is a path of cobbles as dark and volcanic as the dry gravelly mountain around them.

‘2km,’ he says, pointing at the switchbacks. ‘5km par voiture’.

He’s right. The drive would swing over to the left, around the foot of the mountain, along the beach, and finally into the village. My sinew and bone are far more apt technology to take on the shorter path.

I say goodbye to him. Then I begin my descent. Over about an hour I see three goats, a cow, and a dog. At the base of the hill – or the summit of the village – I also see seven humans. Four of these become involved in the quest to find where I am staying. Two of them point in opposite directions. A third scratches his head. The fourth looks on.

After some commotion in a mixture of Creole, Portuguese, and French, I am given a direction still further down to the sea. I continue for another half-hour or so, to the lowest point and end of the village. Eventually I am adjacent to the flat beach and the rippled sea – I myself a speck of dust cradled in the giant’s hand of the surrounding volcanic mountains.

I see the house. I can’t get in. I call Simao – the contact. Simao promises to rush to me. I tell him to take his time.

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