This piece on Tashkent has been hanging round for years. I can’t decide if its a prose poem, essay, travel writing or notes for a screenplay. Misadventures are important in life. In 1990 my Asian trip was detoured and I was thrown into a country that I never thought I’d visit.
My Icarus wings and Icarus hopes are packed in the baggage hold. The plane has broken down en route, London – Prague – Kabul – Delhi. Stranded in a strange land. I’m trapped in a Tashkent hotel lobby. Cracked walls. Work dust. Bag of cement. A pile of Russian bricks. Buzzing fly. Glut of guests forming a queue. Dejected faces. Hotel clerk barking, atonal. ‘In Hotel Moscow you do not answer back!’ My room has holes in the walls. Black and white TV. Chopin piano competition. A polonaise competes with the whistling wind. Radiator gasping. Dirty windows. Room overlooking wide streets, where Tashkentians shuffle through an icy mush.
My stomach rumbles for lunch. Descent in the lift. Small framed men in badly cut suits. Wearing pork pie hats and clutching videos. In wall to wall mirrors they chatter and multiply. Lift hits the ground. Some exit for the games room – a nylon jacket sprawl over the pool tables. Or their grubby hands are pressed onto pin-ball machines. Then unjacketed, they enter a blue lit room beating out a desperate cabaret.
I head for the restaurant. Slavic arms of muscular women. Ladling a soup that drowns the sad carrot in your bowl. Dropping in chunks of bread with a rind called cheese. Carrot begins to chase the onion in my stomach. I fly to the hotel exit and greet an Afghan army officer. He escorts me to a beaten up car, then battered taxi. Grand opening of cash box. My five pound note gleefully swapped for roubles. We drive to the street market. Kilo of earthy apples. Tea. Cakes. Grinning boy with samovar.
Back at the hotel a bald sniffing man stands by the games room. Tashkent airport rep. Bereft of a plane. ‘Heavy snow in Kabul. No flying today.’ He weeps, blowing his nose with a batik handkerchief. Russian hotel clerk covers her face, to ward off any Soviet satellite germs. The lift is broken. I climb the stairs, now more absent of stair rods. A mysterious turd has been left by my door.
Party raging till 3am. Banging of many doors. A knocking hits my room. I open the door. Prostitute waving a pair of peacock feather fans. Then she reveals a multi-coloured condom. ‘Very Good. Tashkent girl. Cheap. Cheap’ No germ aids! If I could only steal her fans. Construct some flimsy wings. Or blow the condom into a balloon. Fly out of the room, away from her flesh, far from this noise, into the cold night sky.
Another day at the market. Kara Kelpecs, Asian Uzbeks, Mongols and Chinese. Explosion of hustling faces. A peep at a mosque. A peep at a broken pavement, just before I trip. Hurt and gazing at a department store window. Wanting to buy a silk cushion cover. No manager today. No key for the window. No sale. More earthy apples, plus free badges of Lenin, fail to compensate.
Silence tonight. The condom girl sleeps very sound. After breakfast the rep returns shaking his hips. Almost dancing. Waving a fax. ‘The snow has melted. We can Kabul!’
Small airport. Fractured steps. Entrance reeking of urine. Broken flight indicator boards. A huge stopped clock. Two plate glass doors. One shattered. Baggage piled up into an ugly hill. Customs declaration forms. No English copy. I guess at the Russian and always write NO. Bored soldiers. Sleepy drilled bureaucrats with eyes that never shut. Perestroika. Glasnost. Remember those words? No time for lunch. The military unblocks us. I sit on a freezing plane. Two unexplained hours of not taking off.
Oh give me back my freedom. Find me an Indian sun. Let me chose, by myself, how to fly once again. Unpack my suitcase, remove my Icarus wings, unpack my reason. Unleash me onto the runway. Strap on the wax frame and feathers. Lift me off from this ‘in transit’ wreckage. ‘Let’s Delhi! Let’s Delhi! Let’s Delhi!’