Walking home in the sticky heat of the end of another day, crossing the long bridge over the sluggish green waters of the Sunflower, the sun a fiery red glare in my eyes. The pavements are all cracked and broken, like someone’s attacked them with a sledgehammer, grass and weeds grow up in all the countless cracks. The lawns are all perfectly manicured and most blocks sport little ‘for rent or sale’ signs, the numbers to call all long since washed away by time and rain. Big old trees line much of the street, providing sweet dappled relief from the sun. Two young girls play on one of the lawns, spinning and laughing, their tightly braided hair shining. They stop as I pass, point with eyes wide, ‘Momma, momma! That’s a white man! A white man!’ and from the porch behind them, a deep and tired voice says ‘Yea, but he also a man.’ And I laugh and continue walking.
My new house is pretty fun – an apartment in the attic of a big old American dream. The ceilings all slope in the corners and there’re strange cupboards squeezed into almost every wall. A little statue of Mary glows warmly in the dark bathroom, the only source of light in the room.
So now I cross the bridge at least twice a day, often heavily laden with plastic sacks of essential groceries, often heading out to see yet another super-talented blues musician belting out 12 bars.
Saw the Italians from the week before play again. Their accents were thick and exotic on the small stage and as they played members of the audience got up and played with them, so that what started as a singer and a guitar soon became a rollicking orchestra of some nine people – it seems most everyone in town can play the blues. And outside the little café and all its glorious, happy mania – beyond the glow of the neon ‘budwieser’ sign – the dusty streets are empty and silent; they seem to be lying exhausted, sprawled out beneath the vast purple sky.
Another night, a party down by the riverside, mosquitoes buzzing. The moon is high and reflected perfectly in the slow-moving river. A fire burns bright and warm and the delicious scent of frying sausages wafts around us. Musicians here too, and the muggy quiet of the night is soon broken by plaintive harmonicas and fiercely bellowed song.
Stopped by a beggar in the local Target-equivalent, he called me over, said he knew me – and perhaps we had met somewhere, sometime? We chat a little, he’s a remarkably ill-looking little man. Stooped in his over-sized tee-shirt, his eyes yellowy, weeping scabs all over his face, his gnarled hands frozen in the talon-like gestures of arthritis.
Stumbled upon a parade one day. The whole street thronged with people as half a dozen marching bands make their way across town. The music is great – energetic and so full of brass. Band leaders and cheer leaders cavort amongst the music, all pom poms and lithe curves. I still don’t know what the parade was for.
The bike that I have borrowed (and hardly used) broke down so someone came to help me fix it. I felt we were standing in a Norman Rockwell painting – here we were on the brightly sunlit porch of a big American weatherboard house, a bike laid out before us, tools gleaming in the sun, hands smeared black with grease old man and young man both.