Turtle neck

He was a big man and nervous. My buddy told me to wear a turtle neck, he said, thinking it would make me look more academic. His discomfort and nerves were palpable. Can you do something silly for me? he asked afterwards. Of course, I said. Take a picture of me so that I can send it to my buddy. They were hard on him. I felt for him. There is no generosity in Academia, it seems.

Waiting for his piece, I heard a feature on the so-called Syrian ceasefire. It comprised an audio, probably from a phone of a Syrian man in his flat recording the sounds around him. The flat echoed from emptiness, a baby or young child was crying and against his voice, edgy and staccato in this his non-mother tongue played out a salvo of gunfire and bombing. How do they live? I cannot leave my apartment, he was saying, I have nothing in the flat, nothing to feed my daughter. I wanted to reach through the air waves and comfort him, give him some sort of relief. His voice was harrowing to listen to. I cannot imagine such a way of life. He has not asked for it. He is caught up in it. A victim, a man trying to live. It stopped me. It stilled me. How can I make sense of it? How can the knowledge of it make me live better, kinder? I wanted to stop listening yet also to know, to stand in his shoes, for a moment.

How do they live?

It was a beautiful walk this morning. No one was about. There was no wind, no resistance, just a cold calm. The sea lapped and the moon grew full. There are many tangled masses of roots on the beach, great logs of dead trees washed up by the tide. They lie there in the semi-gloom of night like beached whales. Heavy, lumbering sculptures, lying ossified on the sand, too heavy to move.

I walked past a plumbers van caught by an image of a rubber duck and the strapline: bath valves and beautiful bathrooms. Later I passed a waiting taxi, with an ‘x’ missing from it’s lit-up, roof-top sign. A few kids hung around outside the Why Not? Others could be heard shouting and kicking at bins along Bridge Street. Lip Lickin’ Chicken was open but no one was queuing outside. The Perygyl was calm, lit by the moon. No fishing boats illuminated the harbour. All was quiet, all was still.

I wish you peace and quiet, Syrian man. May there be an end to it soon. May your daughter be fed and stillness reign. You have moved me. Your voice in my head will stay.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.