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Polynesian Love Song




I was driving, and next to me in the passenger seat was an autistic child. It was raining, but so lightly that the tiny droplets of water would appear on the windscreen and evaporate almost immediately. There was no need for using the wipers.

We had spent the morning outside. The sky was grey but it was still late summer – or early autumn – and the air was comfortably warm, even when sitting motionless in the breeze.

That morning the child had been calmer than usual. Amongst the routine of it all, there was barely any stimulation beyond that of our most basic senses; the feel of gentle rain on skin; the dull light of the morning sky; the soft drone of vehicles on a nearby motorway.

There was no talking in the car, barely any communication whatsoever. The roads were nearly empty – aside from the occasional passing car there were scarcely any signs of people moving. Even for a Sunday it was noticeably quieter than what was typical. The city suburbs appeared more like they do on a public holiday, when everybody seems to have abandoned their neighbourhood and retreated somewhere. In a familiar setting – where you are so accustomed to the activity of everyday life – the added vacancy makes everything feel somehow smaller, hollow. It’s like what you’re seeing is just a model of the real thing – something not really suited to being lived in, only looked at from a distance.

I wasn’t feeling particularly reflective and the child, as usual, said nothing. The radio was tuned to the Sunday morning program. Usually this featured documentaries and interviews, but just as we reached a junction at the top of a rise a song started to play. There were no other vehicles at the intersection. It was an instrumental tune that I’d never heard before - a mix of slide guitar and ukulele. The radio host introduced it simply as a Polynesian love song. It had a slightly more subdued feel than what I expected of Polynesian music yet somehow it carried strength and a distinct sense of intention. There was a kind of clarity and purpose behind the melodies. Despite never having heard them before they seemed strangely familiar.

Even without lyrics the song seemed to recount something, in total honesty and with obvious wisdom. The unspoken lyrics seemed to be describing my surroundings at the time, as if the whole situation was contained within the song. At the same time there was a distinct sense that it was calling something faint into presence by way of a gesture. Although, I couldn’t place at what exactly this invitation was directed.

It was one of the most realistic songs I’d ever heard, and yet it didn’t feel personal in any way. If nothing else, it caused me to recognise the scenario and take stock of its elements: the child, the water on the windscreen, the seasons, the routine, the quiet streets, the radio. No matter how hard I thought about it I was unable to make anything else of the situation other than exactly what it was; unable to find any place in it apart from exactly where I was. Instead of feeling confined within the situation I was put unexpectedly at ease. It was as if everything had a place and was just there, in it.



2009