Another Noisy Gathering On The Quai Today

Marseille 29-3-03

Another noisy gathering on the quai today. I drifted in, one of many uncertain birds, to see what was passing.  First glance showed the form of any demo, in any city, but according to a banner it was Palestinians and Israelis For Peace. I couldn’t see any Israelis (I think they were in the small tent, handing out leaflets) but about 200 Palestinians- men, women children – many handsome, many lined, many innocent and all as earnest as any whose people were at stake – were encircled and chanting to a loud-hailing man. Some were gathered around a flag, pulling on the fringes and making it flap like a wing

(Forlorn or powerful?  Although an electric pulse pushed at us from that whirling cloud, a western wind could disperse it in minutes.)

I spotted on the fringes, like late leaves moving to the whirlpool, three Caucasians with portable radios and then a fourth, watching the crowd and talking into a mobile phone. At first glance this fourth one could have been anybody, but his manner and my gut told me he belonged to the other three. Sure enough he finished his call and joined the others.

I fantasized that I was the only one who had figured them out. 2 beers in my brain made me move right up to them and lean nonchalantly against a convenient lamp post- a half metre behind one of them. This one wore a suit and had a goatee; another wore jeans and shades and had a crew-cut. A third looked the most ‘normal’ or ‘faceless’ and was the only one who succeeded at this illusion, except for the portable radio sticking fatly out of his back pocket. Mr. Mobile looked like an actor or a business executive.

As I hung against the lamp post within the smell of them, they talked rapid fire and perpetually watched the crowd and threw searching glances in all directions- but always outwards and not at me- inside their blind spots. I felt smug, and superior. I felt that I had learned all that I would need from Robert Ludlum and Andy McNab.

Then a Palestinian lady drifted out from the crowd. She had a sticker saying, ‘No To War’ affixed to her robe. She walked right up to my Four Dark Ones and engaged them in a conversation of familiarity- she appeared to know them of old. She made two of them laugh, albeit self-consciously. Then she rejoined her group, now moving away in the direction of La Canebière- the long straight road ever outwards and upwards.

I moved off too, thinking then forgetting, thinking then forgetting. I slid towards the shopping mall. On a grassy patch lay discarded leftovers of pizza. Three seagulls were heavily, greedily scrapping at the pieces and at themselves. A gaggle of pigeons hung on the fringe, pacing impatiently but with no suggestion that they should get involved. Experience had spread among them that the gray bullies would, engorged, leave scraps. But I, after freshly considering USA, Israel, Iraq and Palestine, decided that the allegory was perfect. I hesitated, wanting to confirm that my Davids would take Goliath’s ground. 

Typically, my allegory was spoiled when a child ran among them and scattered both the bullies and the meek to the air, united in their surrender. The child had a healthy, light brown skin. He looked innocent and happy, as though freshly released from the things that adults do.

Copyright © 2019 Tim Leighton

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