A lot goes on during a rooftop barbecue for thirty.
It’s my turn to stand guard over the barbecue. I’m staring at the white-hot charcoal bits spitting sparks at the meat skewers above. I flip them to check. No burns. Someone grumbles if the meat is ready, and I grin my answer. My hands inch towards the glistening buttered mushrooms that will taste wonderful when smoked above our pit. But I can’t, I must prepare the meat skewers first.
Everyone sitting at the table holds out their phones and taps on their cracked screens. The containers of salad and soup are ravaged by starving hands that crawl over the tongs, curls around the ladles, then retreats with a loaded bowl back to its owners. No one seems to make a sound as everyone scratches their stomachs absentmindedly and gazes unwaveringly at their phones. It looks as though they had frozen in place. A still image. Then one of them nudges his neighbour, laughs, shows him something on his phone. The still image begins to move again.
Some of them cradle guitars on their laps, fingers pick at the strings as they weave rough and gentle voices into the lovely harmony. I choose a deeper voice and hum along to it. Soon they finish one song, and the people at the table start requesting for their favourite songs to be played. I want Coldplay, one asks. Or Beyonce! says another. But Beyonce can never be played by a guitar. Instantly laughter warm as coals surges across the table. The coals erupt in a series of vivacious cracks, and I lift the meat skewers away just in time from the shower of glowing sparks.
They are done. I arrange them on the aluminium tray, making them fan out like a peacock’s plumage. I know that the intricate designs will vanish instantly once the tray touches the table, but I don’t mind. The action is enough joy for me. I place the tray on the table and hungry hands immediately descend upon it. A friend thanks me before focusing on her plate and the food. My immediate duty done, I tiptoe out of the moving image and slip away to the darkened staircase leading to the pool below.
With each leap down the stairs and onto the concrete I let go a little more, let go of all control. Twin pillars of flesh and bone carry me to the lounge chairs near the pool, right below the rooftop where sounds from the party are floating down. I seem to float too, easing gingerly onto the chairs, afraid to alert anyone to my presence lest they disrupt this moment that is so hard to come by. The chair hisses, but soon obeys silently. Right Leg snuggles beside Left Leg. I look up to the sky and listen.
Count the stars. Thirty. The guitar strings that had been playing for so long finally rest. Bodies shuffle against creaky plastic chairs, and the strings begin their work once again. A new melody rains gently from above, strains tickle my ears from the balcony, before I could recognise the song. All To You.
I am alone, but I am transported back among the crowd, music blaring from speakers above and below, coloured light beams exploding to a kaleidoscopic spectacle on the floor that trembles to the terrific beat. The crowd sends their voices to the atmosphere above, raises hands in worship that grasp at the unseen, perhaps the presence of God. The image that moves.
In a time that feels worlds away from my older self now, I watched the moving image of the school canteen from the corner, alone, and I felt my sorrow morph into an indescribable epiphany. When I felt disconnected from the world, it was this silent moment that anchored me back. It is a moment so inexplicable, so abstract, it is like life itself, life that pushes against the walls of our hearts till they ache with new feeling, an unbearable, aching love that can only be felt in an instant such as this, then vanishes into nothing, waiting to be recalled once again. It is a human moment beyond human definition, a moment millions attribute to gods and deities. Or the rousing beats in a concert that unites us as we all dance under the hypnotic lights. Or a pause in step to watch others busying with the life around them, unaware of this moment that they could experience if they could still their hearts and listen for it.
It is this instant, and many others, that I try to capture with words and sketches, cheap imitations that can only remind people of the existence of such an instant. It teaches me still about the world beyond the life I see, the hearts and stories that lie beneath each face, the incredible vastness of life that I am determined to fix my eyes upon forever. I write not to escape from people, but to stay in this moment and recall others to this universal experience that could unite us in our humanity. And someday, instead of the life around us that captivates our attention, we will be captivated by the life within ourselves and stay forever in this God-given moment.
I feel the fingers typing away on the keyboard of my laptop as I write these words I see now. But I am not there, not at my desk staring at my laptop. I am here, still here, away from the rooftop barbecue, away from my friends, sitting on a creaky plastic chair by the pool. And here I will always be, with God, watching the moving images, listening to their voices, their hearts, the sizzle of the charcoal above Us. We are here, and We are never here. Petals of laughter from above fall around us, and We smile.
A lot goes on during a rooftop barbecue for thirty.