“Don’t forget to pray to the Lord of Knowledge before going to the University”, my mother’s voice is distant and crackling ,”Also don’t forget to keep a saffron cloth with you at all times”.
“I won’t”, I reply.
I’m not much for ritual and I’m not one for religion and spirituality. Yvette laughs when she hears of my atheism, and what she describes as a “radical ideologist’s dream”. I listen to her laugh and I can’t help but find it funny. She and I spent two days romping through the streets of this city. The weather is pleasant, there is a breeze with the promise of autumn and it courses through the buildings and trees, winding its way along the streets to announce the coming autumn to all of us. The University is opening to the next semester tomorrow. I wanted to spend my last days of my holidays holed up in my flat, curled on my bed reading, but Yvette was having none of it. She woke me at 3 in the morning by calling me on the phone.
“Sleeping?”, her voice sounds almost giddy with excitement.
“I’m not now” my voice is hoarse.
“Freshen up and come downstairs. Im waiting outside your apartment on the sidewalk. Bring a coat”.
Grumbling, I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. The razor makes its way smoothly along the contours of my face, the lather gathers up all my beard hair and in a cloudy solution (a precipitate) goes down the sink. I take a quick bath and put on my clothes. I put on my overcoat and as I step outside into a windy night, I can understand why Yvette asked me to get a coat. I spot Yvette leaning against a streetlamp and she greets me with open arms and an open smile.
“Come on, hurry”, she says. I follow her and she grabs my arm. We walk fast at her insistence. She hails a taxi and tells him to take us to the Statue of the Father. The Taxi driver looks at us in the rear view mirror and laughs. In the native language he says “Taking him to the show are you?”, and Yvette laughs. I understand the language almost perfectly and I look at Yvette questioningly.
We drive to the base of the hill atop which the Statue is located. Yvette leads me up them and after a couple of minutes of running uphill we reach the base of the Statue. Beyond it is a forest and we head into it. Yvette is sure footed and I follow her lead till we reach a balcony of sorts. Under us stretches a meadow and the river beside it. There are many people gathered there. A man on a megaphone begins an announcement.
“This is Sgt Mannov, here to welcome to you to the Annual Arrival of Autumn display”, he asks us to turn to the river, where lights come on little boats each of which has a soldier.
Then it begins.
The Army disposes of some of its explosives which they do by converting them into powerful fireworks. To add to its bizarre nature, soldiers use mortar tubes and rocket launchers. The sky is aflame with fireworks all of us a sudden. Cheers and shouts of greeting fill the air. Yvette and I move to a patch of grass where she makes me sit. From within her coat she pulls out a bottle of warm tea. It is freezing up here. Since the fireworks are fashioned from explosive material that is military grade, these fireworks pack a punch and reach a height higher than other fireworks. They explode into lights of all colours and sparks fly everywhere in the sky. It is like witnessing the death of a Neutron Star.
The coloured lights from the fireworks cast a psychedelic glow on everyone. I turn to Yvette and I can see her face, a mosaic of changing lights that morph into each other with particular beauty. I tell her that she looks beautiful and she laughs as she pours me a cup of tea. I can smell the brandy in the tea but thankfully it is not enough to get me drunk. Spectacles like these are best witnessed sober and I thanked Yvette for bringing me here.
Two soldiers on either side of the meadow fire rockets which make a blazing arch and another one launches a barrage of fireworks from an automatic artillery gun. These pierce the arch and make a tower of light of different colours. The soldiers laugh as they launch more rockets which, bizarrely, form autumn leaves on the night sky.
The night devolves into a night of songs and cheery people. Drinks are passed around, but Yvette and I sit atop the hill and watch them. Cheery voices sing the national anthem and other songs of joy and victory, Yvette and I join in the chorus. I feel an elation that sets my body free, as if there is a warmth that courses through my veins and arteries, pumping my heart with an energy that seems almost impossible.
Later, we were walking down the hill to the park below, Yvette singing “les Champs Elysees” loudly and I saw that she was happy. I joined her in the chorus:
oh Champs Elysees, Au Champs Elysees,
Also Lei, zoo lah plea, a meedee ouh a meen nu-eeh ee yee ya douche ke foofooleih au Champ zeh lee sei.
There is a restaurant that is open all night. People who attended the show swarmed in here still singing and being raucous and happy. One of them recognized yvette and waved, she waved back at him and he came over. “Did you take him to show?” he asked, and Yvette replied that she did. “Did you like it?”, he asked me and I replied that i did. I enjoyed it very much. As we waited for soup, sandwiches and tea, the soldiers from the display came in. They were greeted with cheers from all present and they took a bow. Rounds of drinks were bought on the house for them and all of us celebrated. Autumn was here, and with it, the season of poets and romantics. Yvette leaned in and told me that I could dream all I wanted in Autumn, and she would be here, to dream with me.