If you’re a romantic who grew up in a Euro-centric culture, you’ve probably heard the expression ‘into the sunset’ on more than one occasion. To walk, run, ride or drive into the sunset denotes a closing, a happy ending, and hope for the future. More than one film has closed on a sunset, and many more fairy stories. But personally, I never really ‘got’ them. Apart from that iconic moment in Grease 2 when he finally gets the girl and they ride off into the sunset of course…that was classic. I changed somewhat, when at the end of a week spent slaving away at a national park’s snake exhibit in Phuket, Thailand back in the day, a kindly lady offered to take me to Sunset Point. She thought it would be a travesty for me to leave Phuket without seeing it. I was more tempted by the possibility of finally getting out of the park.
What I saw however, blew my mind. There’s a reason why they call it Sunset Point. It’s no doubt the place Jay-Z refers to in ‘Can I get a…’ A decade later I can still see in my mind’s eye the panoramic view of the horizon, the endless sky and the most colourful sunset I’ve ever seen.
While your average London sunset can be a pretty array of pink, amber and blue, in Phuket, there were pinks, ambers, blues, turquoises, and then purples, vivid violet, and green. No lie, I remember it like it was yesterday. Green. Possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful natural phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed outside the Caribbean, and the most exquisite sunset my eyes have ever had the honour of recording.
Since that day, I’ve looked up from time to time to watch the sun say bye; hilly South London has some lovely viewpoints and sundown on the London skyline can be arresting. Here, however, my admiration has taken on a life of its own. Perhaps it’s due to a hippy-rasta cousin’s insistence that rather than wear a watch I should learn to live by life’s natural rhythms, and my acquiescence to the idea. Perhaps due to my proximity to the beach. Perhaps it’s the unobscured view of the sky. Perhaps because it signals ‘mosquito hour’: when the battle becomes all-out war. Whatever the reason, I’ve developed the habit of watching the sunset daily. Today, as amber strokes gave way to salmon, I put my book down in anticipation. This was no small thing as I’m finally reading Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye and it’s living up to the hype.
I was Engrossed in the histories of Cholly, Pauline, and poor poor Pecola (I’d just read the rape scene). I also understood keenly and even felt the poignancy of some of the observations and indignities, particularly hearing how Polly put her heart into her work rather than her family, and the resulting confusion of her black children after a chance encounter with her and her white ward. It brought back vivid memories of my mum’s face after meeting the white daughter of the manager of the plantation where my granddad had been a driver. The meeting took place by chance when she was an adult with children of her own (me!) some 30+ years after she’d left the island as a child. The pain seared across her face, but was more evident in her voice as she and my aunts analysed their father. A perfectly friendly, perfectly nice white lady about their age, but a perfect stranger, on hearing my granddad was ill, had conveyed her sorrow and perfectly innocently recalled with unbridled delight his warmth and playfulness. Having been an adored first granddaughter, I recognised her description of my granddad. To my mum and aunts who had never received any such tenderness from their father, it was an unexpected slap in the face whose sting travelled through time.
Despite my engagement with the small book packing a power punch, remarkably identical in the size/power ratio to Chinua Achebe‘s literary classic Things Fall Apart, I still wanted to watch the sun go down. Perched on the sand, I drank in the sun’s slow descent, passing behind the clouds (alizé clouds apparently), and listened to the waves rush towards the shore. I want to say it was nothing remarkable, happens every day, and kinda looks the same every day. That is kinda true. But that’s missing the point for me. As the sun’s reflection on the waves becomes more pronounced, as it is more or less visible when clouds are taken into account, it always seems kinda magical.
It’s like you know the sun is a star burning billions of years ago millions of miles away (or the other way round), and yet sitting on the beach a few metres from the tide, under the coconut trees which dot my regular beach, as I shared my hangout spot with ‘les bronzés’ on their ‘missions solaires’ and saw the young guys mucking about on the pier in the distance, the sun seemed so close I could touch it. Like it was 30m rather than light years away and there was a reflective trail leading directly to it if only I could walk on water. The sun itself was a perfect dark gold bright salmon circle, which seemed wrong. I felt like I should have been able to tell it was a sphere. And even though I’m sure there’s a Greek myth which says I should have had my eyeballs burnt at the socket, I looked straight at it through my sunglasses.
And then it was gone. Behind the clouds nestled on the horizon line with only a cleavage-like outline of sunlight suggesting it hadn’t quite gone down yet. And thus the week came to a close. I wandered over to the farmer’s market on the end of the beach, conversed with some friendly familiar faces, and welcomed the weekend by walking home under stars which really twinkled. Amazing.