“Look – she’s there again!” Ruth nodded her head towards the woman sitting on an upturned bucket by the harbour.
Although they had seen her that morning, Ken did not spot her at first, blended as she was into her surroundings. Her dress was the colour of concrete, shoes as browned as brick. The mustard shawl she wore over her rounded shoulders and head blended perfectly with the rusty yellow bollard beside her. The stone blocked, twice repaired, thrice repointed bridge rising imposingly above her was a perfect match for hands and ankles that peered casually from her clothes.
“There!” Ruth raised her hand, finger extended, more than a hint of impatience in her voice.
Ken continued to squint in the wrong direction and Ruth moved her finger into his field of view with more generosity than she felt. Ken had been a pain in the ass all day with his myopic vision and his trite comments about how old and worn out everything looked. Ruth, with an eye to history was enraptured by this ancient harbour town in Morocco. She had grown up in a part of the US where the only structures to be seen were those artfully displayed beneath her neighbour’s t-shirt, which read ‘Not everything in Iowa is flat’.
“Ah – there.” Ken stopped and peered in the woman’s direction for a long moment, then added, with his customary belligerence “It’s a statue!”
Taking advantage of the halt, Ruth had pulled up her camera and taken a beautifully framed shot. The light was perfect and as she checked the captured image, shading the small screen to do so, she nodded in satisfaction. Hearing his words though, she peered uncertainly at the woman. She seemed not to have moved since the morning, and it was now long past midday. Surely she couldn’t have remained in that position for so long. “I’m not sure,” she finally said.
“Well let’s go take a look!” said Ken, bounding towards the steps that led down to the water. He tossed a quick “c’mon” over his shoulder as he went.
Ruth, followed his lead reluctantly. She disapproved of Ken’s insistence on treating the local people like cattle, to be prodded and poked on a whim. Her style was more to observe from a safe distance; taking photographs instead of engaging more closely with the lives and loves of those around her. Her poetic soul shrank from touch, preferring the gift of sound and vision that Bowie had immortalised. Still, she was curious.
As she caught up with Ken, he was already circling the motionless shape of the woman and something in her recoiled as he tapped the bucket on which she sat, with the toe of his boot. “Stop that,” she hissed.
“No, it’s okay, look at her hands – they’re made of clay!” Ken bent double, and now his head was only inches away from the hands he referred to. He stretched out a tentative finger and touched them with more hesitation than he usually showed. “Hard as rock,” he declared.
He stood and moved to crouch down before the woman – face to face. The sun was sharp in Ruth’s eyes, yet she was vaguely aware of the narrow space between Ken’s heels and the water’s edge. The woman was supporting her head on her thumbs, her hands to either side like blinkers, elbows resting on knees. Ken had to lower his head in order to peer up into her shawl shaded face. Again he stretched out a finger.
“Ken, no – wait!”
What followed was almost too quick for Ruth to take in, although for years afterwards she wished she had captured it on film. As Ken’s finger made contact with the cheek before him, Ruth saw the woman’s eyes flutter open revealing eyes as blue as the sky. The only thing that saved Ken’s finger from the teeth that snapped suddenly towards him was his sudden, involuntary lurch backwards.
As he disappeared under the water Ruth discovered her first smile of the day and was delighted to see it reflected on the face of the woman by the harbour. As they both peered over the edge of the concrete shore and watched as Ken’s head bobbed into view, neither were surprised to see that he did not share their delight.