Some years ago, I was living in an area of my native Cape Town affectionately known back then as the Muesli Belt. It consisted of a few quaint neighbourhoods on the western shores of False Bay, about thirty minutes from the city centre. Although folks in those parts weren’t exactly wide-eyed and tie-dyed, they did share a common love for nature, holistic wellness, the motion of the ocean and generally just mellowing out in an orderly fashion, man.
For the most part, those were kind times. Being an eternal twelve-year-old boy sulking in a grown man’s body, I was gradually starting to get my shit together. I was slowly rising through the ranks as a photographer and for the first time in my life I was living in an actual house, nestled against the mountain, complete with a garden and small swimming pool. At first, having all that pristine space to myself had me cowering like a junkyard dog in the luscious pastures of the quasi-suburban dream. Seeing as it was a radical upgrade from the string of perky city bedsits I was forced to dull with my poems up to that point, I warmed to it soon enough.
While I enjoyed the beaches, the lake and the occasional yoga class, what I loved most was the early morning walks under cover of darkness. This was not something one could do in the crime-ridden inner city. I would get up well before dawn and stroll the dimly lit streets of my new hood, surveying the constructs of citizenry. Delivered from sleep, I was the infinite outcast, the wandering fool, my eyes renewed by nocturnal angels. I marveled at the secrets that made flowers flourish in their tidy beds, the stoic indifference of deserted playgrounds shone through painted steel. The slumbering houses were warm parlours of mystery. Dogs barking behind pale picket fences made me feel holy and alone. In the solitary gloom, yet untouched by the truth of day, it felt like everything in this neat new world belonged to me. And, at last, it felt like I could begin to belong.
Then everything imploded like a dying star.
The woman I was involved with in a volatile relationship at the time unexpectedly fell pregnant. For me, this was a first. In the crushing panic and confusion that followed, she eventually miscarried. Things fell apart. The swimming pool drowned in bitter green bile, the garden withered with drunken tears. When we finally parted ways, shattered and spent, I knew I couldn’t stay. I had to gather what was left and start over somewhere else.
On the morning of my dazed departure, boxes packed, I went for one last walk to the playground by the lake. Using a simple light setup, with the dawn threatening in the east, I photographed the swings at the water’s edge. I wanted so say goodbye to those precious private hours, that fabled time and place, in a vain effort to take something tangible with me. More importantly, I was attempting to frame a farewell to innocence. Not just my own, but also that of the unborn soul who gazed out from the shadows and, in its infinite wisdom, knew better than to venture out into the inferno.
It was only later, somewhere on the winding road, when I opened the image on a screen that I became aware of the dancing orbs of light hovering at the top of the frame. While technical purists will be quick to dismiss this as the flash reflecting of moisture droplets in the air (it was a bone dry morning) or dust collected on the lens (my gear is always squeaky clean), I like to believe that I somehow managed to capture the playful agents of Divine Love that looked out for me, for her, for all of us in the course of those hellish months. Since then, I’ve become convinced that they’ve always been there, and they always will. For each and every one.
In the utter insanity of these times, when children are no longer allowed to be children and the magicians who run the Sacred Game are doing their best to convince us that magic doesn’t exist, may we all find a way to connect with our enchanted guardians in the dark.
All one has to do is not be afraid of what lies hidden in the shadows. And every so often shine a light, even when the heart is being rarefied by fire.