Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Rain dances at dawn

I'm leaning out of the window, savouring the smell of wet earth and wet city streets. We had a few drops of rain last night and I'm looking at the sky, craving more, like some part of me is dying of thirst. I came here to see a new part of the world, broaden my horizons, do something different for a while. I can't quite believe I am doing rain dances at dawn in front of the 24hr news channel to see if a storm cloud is heading my way today. 

As the plane made it's final descending loops over the city when I first came here, condensation rained down on us in big heavy drops, smacking against foreheads. They woke me up from my idyllic 8 hour sky watching reverie and I knew, with dread, that we were dropping into a heat wave. After flying low over the vast northern wilderness, I already felt cramped by the city below me and the odd mosaic of near identical turquoise pools on manicured lawns in a leafy suburb with a clean cut highway of shimmering metal heading into town.

We landed. The door seals finally sucked apart. A rolling bank of sweltering heat hit us and I felt the shock of it low in my lungs. The heat continued relentlessly for over 5 months. The papers reported little else. The longest, the hottest, the driest, reservoir levels way too low, no rain expected, please do not panic buy, pollution levels rising, concern for the elderly, are you drinking enough........

In all those months, I hid my obsession. I tried to make sure that every trip included the chance of getting into water - shady canyons at the weekend, floating on my back in the lake wishing the sky would change colour - any colour except this endless blue, beach walks after work, climbing past torrential waterfalls, sitting in streams, running barefoot on the dewy grass of the sports field at dawn, humid walks in the forest gorge, monotonous but lifesaving hours at the swimming pool, running through sprinklers in the park and on the edges of endless parched farmland, dipping my arms in the fountains at city square. Despite all of these fixes, it felt like all the world's water was falling down a huge plug hole and that soon there would be none, only cracked earth, dry stones and dust. I was longing for something else.

Walking the neighbour's curly haired terrier late one humid and airless night full of the gentle chat of tired people sitting out in the dark, he heaved a huge sigh in between panting, looked at me with pleading eyes, sat down on the street corner and would walk no more. I scooped him up into my hot arms and carried him home to slurp noisily from his metal bowl and the cool touch of the kitchen tiles on his paws. Next morning, I knew what I had to do. I called the airline and changed the return date on my ticket.

That night, I thought I caught a whiff of breeze coming off the lake. There were thin grey wisps in the sky, swirling a little. By the time I had eaten dinner the sky was on the move. I grabbed the cat from her tree den and brought her inside as the first flashes of lightening splintered the sky. As the rain splattered in, I went and stood by the neighbour's kids as they whooped on bikes and scooters down the hill with the wind in their hair. Their dad called them in as the rain beat down heavier and the skies darkened. He threw their soaked shoes into the corner of the porch, left their gaudy bikes outside. As I stood there drenched, smelling the wet air, he waved at me and joked  "Are you crazy or just English?" I went home and slept right next to the wide open window, spent the night cool at last, feeling like I could finally breathe again.