Traveller's Prayer

Travelling alone on a packed-out bus

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1. Traveller's prayer

Dear God

Do you want me to be grateful for the way the clouds curl around each other like ringlets falling from a hairband? Because I will be, if you want. And if I tell you the truth I think I’m going to have to be because I can’t find any other thing so beautiful. I’m looking at the world through a view-finder and I can’t find much that’s pretty these days.

My calf is pressed against the calf of a girl who I considered for years to be a best friend of mine. She felt empty and so she inflated herself with hot air and “banter” with no meaning. “Bitch Please” and “Ohmygod” and “bullshit” spew from her awkward, Christian mouth and I wonder whether she scooped her insides out like pumpkin flesh and inserted somebody new there in her place. Somebody who doesn’t have the time for me. So I give up on our small talk and decide not to interrupt her mobile phone; I feel the back of her head like a headache.

“Mum’s sweated off four-hundred-and-seventy-six calories today” she tells me and I ask her how she knows.

“She’s a got a tag thingy, you know. I have too.”

I can’t bear the sound of calories. They are nails on all my chalkboards and they are the wrong-footed organ that tolls in church.

I lower my gaze to the absent-minded mother whose fingers climb into her pram to draw circles on the baby’s scalp. She stirs my thoughts with them. I think I’ve come a long way since I started this prayer, since my eyes hit the clouds.

Someone once told me that the thing he hated above all else was greed because greed is a bonfire that hungers without ever feeling full. And who reminded me that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We got the greed we hungered for.

And it corrupted us absolutely.

For it is by greed that the ice caps are sweating off more calories than the girls in their gym shorts.

It is by greed that they cannot rest until they have peeled their thighs far enough apart and by greed that they’ve been lured into the propaganda store to buy themselves diets.

It is by greed that we cannot look our world in the eye and that necessitates the use of a microscope lens to distance us from the damage we cause.

It is by greed that we underline the little problems to cover up the big ones and it is greed that enables us to find offense in the weather forecast

It is greed that has shrunk my values into a cage of bitter ribs and greed that provoked my self-righteous verbal slaughter of that friend I no longer know.

It is by greed that we started deciding that land belonged to people – that finders were keepers, as long as they were white – instead of the earth it consists of.

It is by greed that we doggedly avoid breaking our routines apart to fit other factors into them.

It is by greed that righteousness and murder fall into step on the path towards a religion that God can’t condone.

It is by greed that fascism and communism eclipse one another and meld into one.

It is by greed that the old woman opposite refuses to share her seat or even her smile with a human under the age of thirty.

It is by greed that kids have bullets in them and mothers are shot full of infection and the water runs dry through the dripping tap we didn’t fix in our bathroom.

It is by greed that I sit on a bus and shift my problem onto our backs with my view-finder.

And yeah, I still see some beauty when I look for it but I see beauty like a picture postcard that and angry kid took a hole punch to. It got so torn up but we doggedly refuse to put it under a light in order to avoid seeing just how many gaps we’ve made. Recently I’ve noticed this postcard’s got too many holes in it to be able to see what the picture once was. There’s more absent than present and sure, we’ve still got our itty-bitty blue-sky-days between the punctures, but the grime and the guilt seeps out like the air we drove our dreams on.

What a mess we inflicted, I think.

There’s a ceiling light in our toilet that attracts flies to it. They fly in and burn up and the lamp bowl fills with insect corpses until you can’t see through them anymore. We’re like that. Flies go suicide bombing and screw things up with the clutter they leave behind them. Meanwhile, as long as the dead stay in their graves they don’t bother the rest. We look up at the ceiling and don’t change the lightbulb. How many people does it take to change a lightbulb?

We like looking at our world from the atmosphere; we observe it from the internet, believing that we stand on the moon, too far away to touch the gashes we’ve torn. We don’t like looking at the way the blood runs; we tuck it under our fingernails instead and hope no one holds us accountable.

When I come home I snap at my mum because I am so struck by the brokenness of what I’m dealing with that I cannot have her ask me how my day was. Because I cannot complain about the weather but I need to because our family conversation is not big enough to grapple with the magnitude of the genuine complaints I have. Because I cannot simply tell her that I hate America and feel comfortable praying her this prayer. So I tell her “OK” and she rolls her eyes at the kettle.

So I’ve got my dish-cloth heart and the rain starts to spit at us with tears that are heavy enough to weep the things I can’t shed.

Wash me clean, rain… heaven… God, because most people put dirty dishcloths in the bin not the washing machine.

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