‘In The Shadow Of The High Gable’

A curious little story of herpetology and Eastern philosophy. Written for the Liars’ League, and excellently read – in the midst of the London riots – by the novelist Katy Darby at the East & West event, August 11, 2011. You can watch Katy’s reading here

Like a satellite dish or a well-positioned coriander plant, I face south.

The plants in the garden, which I can see below me, beyond the window-pane, flourish, as a consequence of all the sunshine they receive. On sunny days in summer it is as though I can hear the photons falling in a tumult, in a great rain, on the supplicatory leaves. To my mind’s ear the plants’ furious manufacture of energy from the raw sunlight rattles like a factory full of looms. 

I am a gecko. I have a feeling, however, that I was not always a gecko. 

I could wish to flourish as the plants in the garden flourish. I would wake at dawn (as, perhaps, the plants do) and turn my face to the east, to taste the first sunshine on my skin. But I do not so flourish. The window by which I sit, in my glass tank, abuts an outbuilding with a peaked gable; this gable casts a shadow on my sill. 

And so I sit in shadow and watch the play of the sunlight upon the plants in the garden. 

My ketua does not notice my sorrow. The blood of my ketua is warm, I suppose, and so carries within it its own sunlight. When the sunlight does arrive, my ketua does not bask in it. He only makes a noise – tut – and wipes the dust from his computer screen. 

There is a line from Shakespeare: their blood is caked, ‘tis cold, it seldom flows; ‘tis a lack of kindly warmth. Such am I. My blood is not temperate; rather, it visits profound extremes. Perhaps think of the desert people of equatorial Africa when the stony walls of a long drought are breached by a few drops of rain, or the people who live in the distant north, and spend their deep winters praying for spring. 

When in the afternoon the sun arrives from the east above the peak of the high gable I rejoice as I have never seen my ketua rejoice. But my ketua pays as little heed to my rejoicing when in sunlight as to my sorrow when in shadow. 

My warm-blooded ketua, like warm-blooded Shakespeare, is a writer, I think.  

Ketua: it is a Malay word. So was I in Malay, once? It must be that I was once in Malay. It must also be that once I read Shakespeare. 

Perhaps I was a man. Perhaps I, too, was a writer. How do I know what a factory full of looms sounds like? Perhaps at one time I worked a loom in Malay.  

The sun cannot stay in the southern sky. My heart, my sad gecko heart, reaches out to it, up to it: me, too, I want to say. I too am bound to this wheel. 

It seems that I was never a wise man, for I do not know how I am to break free of this wheel. Does anybody know? I do not, the sun does not. Perhaps my ketua knows. Perhaps the crickets that he drops into my tank each day, and that I eat, perhaps they know – but they do not tell me, and I do not know how to ask. 

I imagine that each time the sun declines in the west it hopes not to be re-born in the east. So far the hope has been forlorn. I watch the sun climb in the southern sky and even while it covers my gecko body with kisses I pity it. The sun makes me tired. 

Which is greater? asks the wise lama. The tears you have shed while transmigrating, or the water in the four great oceans? 

I do not know the answer but I do know that I do not weep now. I am a gecko, and I do not know how. 

In the winter-time, things are better, because my ketua erects a lamp above my tank that emits a purple sunlight, and I do not have to sit in shadow and be torpid. 

But there is still sorrow (there is always sorrow, says the wise lama): the sun barely rises above the terraced rooftops, and the plants beyond the window-pane are starved of light and die.

Also in the garden there are cats, bony cats that in the winter shiver beneath the privet hedge and think of hearthrugs, and firesides, and maybe, atavistically, of worship under old Egyptian suns. 

And all that happens is that the winter ends and summer returns and my ketua takes away the lamp and the shadow of the high gable is once again cast upon my sill. From east to west the sad sun traipses the sky and the great wheel turns and turns. My ketua and I are bound upon the wheel together. One day he will die and no longer bring me crickets – and then I will once again die. 

If I die first, will my ketua die also? Perhaps he will die of grief for his dead gecko. Perhaps not. Who can say? 

But these sad thoughts are not good; I wouldn’t think them, were I not torpid. Though it is late in the morning the high gable still blots out the sun, and so I am weak, and sit stationary on my little log as though posing for a portrait, and dwell on my sadness. 

When the weary sun arrives, even as it covers my gecko body with kisses, I will hope that it never comes again.        




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