The Donkey

One of Nina’s lines on her mind-map read like this: “Protestant mother and her donkeys”.

The immediate response that followed –

“And she had a donkey that she would stare at until it moved.”

“She beat it with a stick, didn’t she?”

“No, she didn’t. She just stared at it.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“That says a lot about her.”

“And also what Beckett was growing up with.”

“It was not perhaps so strange, then, that he wrote Waiting for Godot”.

In fact, she had two donkeys and many dogs – or so it is said. It is perhaps written between the lines that she spent more time with her animals than with her children, but we cannot know for sure. She seemed to have this odd mix of extreme patience and impatience – as she would have bad temper tantrums and her children would feel like they should stay away. Did this contribute to Beckett’s introvert character?

His father was quite the opposite: always in good spirit, social and interested in many sports. The early days were filled with contradictions, with opposites.

We imagine the silence in Foxrock, and how different it must have been moving to the city – to Dublin at first and then to Paris. He managed to create space around himself, choosing the company he wanted, a few selected friends. Still, he also chose to work in the theatre. How come? Why seek out work where you would have to interact with people all the time?

He wanted the voices to come to life, to leave the pages. Within a strict context he made it work, and he created a space that he could move freely.

We know he prefers silence. However, his four truths are:

Born

Being alive

Will die

For some reason cannot keep silence

The notion of waiting (extensively) doesn’t really exist anymore, or does it? I remembered my journey to Havana during summer 2018 whilst talking to the others, and the everyday scenes that I observed from the car rides. We drove out from the city on several occasions and our driver showed us what what he called “the real Cuba”. The Cuba of Castro, but also the time in Cuba. People move in a different pace, they have other occupations and they perceive daily routines in a different way. We saw people sitting alongside the road, and when I asked what they were doing there our driver said that it was obvious “that they are just sitting there”. “Doing what?” I asked. “Just waiting”, he said and wondered why I was asking him this in the first place. We travelled out to different places, and on the return back home we would drive down the same roads and the same people would still be sitting there. Almost six hours later sometimes. What had changed since the last time we drove by? The person had moved the foot, taken off the hat. Nothing more. I kept on thinking whether I could do the same. To sit, to wait, just to exist. I’m imagining doing this in Oslo, and it seems almost impossible. However, in Cuba I truly experienced waiting and also felt what it is.

My mind wants to get away from the noise. The digital, the social, the speed of everyday life. I sometimes long for the silence, but I also fear it. There is so much hiding inside it, and now I’m willingly/unwillingly facing it whilst reading Beckett.  I start thinking of Beckett’s film starring Buster Keaton, and how he as a main character is isolated in a room where he covers all of his belongings. It feels like someone is about to enter the room, but no one does except for his pets that insist on coming back in. He shuts them out. He is all alone, and the atmosphere is very tense. Will someone knock on the door?

What would we do if someone showed up unannounced? I ask.

A short silence. No one ever does that anymore we all agree.

If someone knocks on my door, I immediately think it’s a seller. Or perhaps Jehovah’s witnesses. They used to show up on my door when I lived in the UK. Now when I’m living back here in Oslo, I never really open the door unless I know who it is. When I hear the doorbell ring, I sit quietly on the chair or in the sofa and wait for “it” to go away. If the ringing is persistent – and it rings more than once, I check my phone. If I see nothing, I check my email. If there still is nothing, I start to imagine that there is a killer outside. I have really watched too many movies. Then, I gather all the courage I possibly can and walk slowly towards the door. I push down the door knob, I breathe heavily. It’s the neighbour. How rude, I think, while smiling and pretending to care. When I shut the door I laugh quietly to myself thinking – why was I so afraid to begin with?

The next time the doorbell rings, the procedure is repeated the exact same way.

 

Sophie Bordo Barth, March 2019