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This You-Shaped Hole

I’m riding along this untamed street, breathing in the green sting of jalapenos and the tang of fresh lime and hearing a distant Spanish baritone singing about love and about loss, and I feel sadder than I should on this cloudless tropical day on the Caribbean.

Today I’m braving the undisciplined traffic to collect a check. I’m ten minutes late and arrive hot and sweaty at Cibanco where I ask someone a question – I have an appointment, it was for 11am, I’m late, with Beatriz? They don’t understand. They answer politely from behind the chilled glass and I can’t understand, not a thing. I try gesturing ‘an appointment’, the concept of ‘late’, the person, Beatriz.

Eventually without the help of communication Beatriz appears, as if conjured. The check is arranged. I am back in the heat and the traffic, the music, the chillis, the lime. And the dull thud of loss.

With this check I am releasing my life here in Mexico, the one that was supposed to be, the language I was supposed to learn, the irrepressible culture.

I notice the cab drivers are less patient with the cyclists than they were five years ago. I am used to being on the brink of extinction here on this extraordinary narrow artery of chaos, sometimes festive, sometimes irascible. Today it is the latter, people are aiming for me instead of curving around me. The giant Agua truck has planted a large, rigid plastic blue tube across my path that I must dismount to cross.

I think about lost things, and you come up. I really, really don’t want to think about you. I’ve done too much of that or, at least, I’ve done enough. I know you as an idea closer than breath, I know you as full, swollen breasts, that tiny lift in my belly, the punctuation waiting for a whole sentence.

But this is about things, places not people, and our relationship to dreams. This is about a lifestyle change that didn’t, not about one that did, so deep there are no words, only a missing heartbeat that was so close to mine.

How do you find me all the way here in Mexico, in another hemisphere from the one where you were conceived? And so many decades, even children away, born children, living children? My dear sweet beloved how can your gone not be over? How can my body not forget? How can one make a decision not to have someone? There is the theory and then there is the practice. I tell myself that my precious now children bare parts of you, that you waited to come again when I could have you. I don’t know, only that I felt your life like it was my life and then I was persuaded that you shouldn't be and that I could not.

And it was no casual decision. There was no-one there in South Africa at that time who would take your life away. It was at the 11th hour, the 11th week, I had to take my first flight ever, British Airways, Johannesburg to London, to meet with a friend of a friend of a friend to go to Harley street and plot, in a civilized way, your demise.

I had to leave on a train in the early morning of your last day, stopping at a station outside London in a countryside just like the one in the books I devoured. And the place where you would die was so picturesque, it was a cottage with rose bushes rambling over it, a narrow stairway, a garret room full of girls from catholic countries; French, Italian, Spanish. I was the only one from the southern hemisphere.

Throughout the night girls would leave and come back with their legs up in stirrups, moaning into the late English darkness. When it was my turn I remember the emptiness after such a fullness. I remember they brought me a mug of hot chocolate and I looked around in the dim light and saw all of you, all of us, giggling with something like shock, the way you do about something too big to take in.

The next day my hostess who was a single journalist and tough veteran of more than one abortion wanted to show me the famous Camden market. I was light and empty, with wobbly legs walking around a giant sanitary towel, because, you see, we were still bleeding. I remember I went because I was eighteen and still new and had never traveled outside of South Africa before and here I was, finally in a place I had only dreamed about.

Dreams. And here you are my sweet one, all the way on the other side of the world, with me always, teaching me the sound of goodbye. I cannot miss you, my little love, for you are not gone.


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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