Excerpt of The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
(Page 8 of 11)
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This is how people behave when their dailiness is destroyed, when for a few moments they see, plain and unadorned, one of the great shaping forces of life. Calamity fixes them with her mesmeric eye, and they begin to scoop and paw at the rubble of their days, trying to pluck the memory of the quotidian--a toy, a book, a garment, even a photograph--from the garbage heaps of the irretrievable, of their overwhelming loss. Don Angel Cruz turned panhandler was the childlike, fabulous image I needed, a figure eerily reminiscent of the surreal Saucepan Man from some of Vina Apsara's favourite books, the Faraway Tree series of Enid Blyton that travelled with her wherever she went. Cloaking myself in invisibility, I began to shoot.
I don't know how long all this took. The shaking table, the collapse of the hacienda, the roller-coaster streets, the people gasping and tumbling in the tequila river, the descent of hysteria, the deathly laughter of the unhoused, the bankrupted, the unemployed, the orphaned, the dead ... ask me to put an estimate on it and I'd come up empty. Twenty seconds? Half an hour? Search me. The invisibility cloak, and my other trick of switching off all my senses and channelling all my powers of perception through my mechanical eyes--these things have, as they say, a downside.When I'm facing the enormities of the actual, when that great monster is roaring into my lens, I lose control of other things. What time is it? Where is Vina? Who's dead? Who's alive? Is that an abyss opening beneath my combat boots? What did you say? There's a medical team trying to reach this dying woman? What are you talking about? Why are you getting in my way, who the fuck do you think you re trying to push around? Can't you see I'm working?
Who was alive? Who was dead? Where was Vina? Where was Vina? Where was Vina?
I snapped out of it. Insects stung my neck. The torrent of tequila ceased, the precious river poured away into the cracking earth. The town looked like a picture postcard torn up by an angry child and then painstakingly reassembled by its mother. It had acquired the quality of brokenness, had become kin to the great family of the broken: broken plates, broken dolls, broken English, broken promises, broken hearts. Vina Apsara lurched towards me through the dust. "Rai, thank God." For all her fooling with Buddhist wisemen (Rinpoche Hollywood and the Ginsberg Lama) and Krishna Consciousness cymbalists and Tantric gurus (those kundalini flashers) and Transcendentalisdom, Zen and the Art of the Deal, the Tao of Promiscuous Sex, Self-Love and Enlightenment, for all her spiritual faddishness, I always in my own godless way found it hard to believe that she actually believed in an actually existing god. But she probably did; I was probably wrong about that too; and anyway, what other word is there? When there's that gratitude in you for life's dumb luck, when there's nobody to thank and you need to thank somebody, what do you say? God, Vina said. The word sounded to me like a way of disposing of emotion. It was a place to put something that had no place else to go.
From the sky, a larger insect bore down upon us, burdening us with the insistent downdraft of its raucous wings.The helicopter had taken off just in time to escape destruction. Now the pilot brought it down almost to ground zero, and beckoned, hovering." Let's get out of here," Vina shouted. I shook my head. "You go," I yelled back at her. Work before play. I had to get my pictures on to the wires. "I'll see you later," I bellowed. "What?" "Later." "What?"
The plan had been for the helicopter to fly us, for a weekend's relaxation, to a remote villa on the Pacific coast, the Villa Huracin, coowned by the president of the Colchis record company and located to the north of Puerto Vallarta, in privileged isolation, sandwiched like a magic kingdom between the jungle and the sea. Now there was no way of knowing if the villa still stood. The world had changed.Yet, like the townspeople clinging to their framed photographs, like Don Angel with his saucepans,Vina Apsara clung to the idea of continuity, of the prearranged itinerary. She was staying with the programme. Until my kidnapped images were off to the world's news desks to be ransomed, however, there could be no tropical Shangri-la for me.
Copyright © 1999 Salman Rushdie, Used by permission