Short story competition

Worth 1000 words: Summer Herald will each day publish a short story competition entry. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Peter Stoop

Worth 1000 words: Summer Herald will each day publish a short story competition entry. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Peter Stoop

“BASKETS? Really? You weave baskets?” the man outside the store asked. 

I could see from his confusion that he had difficulty comprehending what I had told him. His face reddened above a tie that strangled his neck like a noose as he spoke.

“That’s no job,” he said. “You don’t need any skills for that.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “It’s not a job.” 

“Don’t machines do that anyway?” he asked. 

I stroke my concrete-canvas with plastic-wheel paintbrushes - backwards and forwards, up and down - in fluid movements. Nothing can be seen for my labours as my paint is invisible and, like a Tibetan sand mandala, it disappears in the wind until absence is all that remains.

“No machines for what I do,” I replied, dropping my board to the pavement then, with a couple of pushes, speeding out in to the street. I leaned from side-to-side as my board carved smooth parabolas into the hot bitumen. At the bottom of the hill, I could see my temple of hot concrete beckon. 

“Basket weaving” was my pat answer when the question of my occupation popped up. While it wasn’t precisely what I did, there was still an element of truth in my reply.

I’ve weaved baskets ever since my “troubles”. Those troubles started when my life spiralled out of control and, like an overextended, mid-air trick, I was left in a state of disorientation. I gyrated out of control until I saw the curve of life’s half-pipe rush up to meet me and I slid to a grazing halt on its roughened concrete.

Aching and sore, it took a long period to get better but I don’t think I will ever be well.

“Too young to be down,” they said. “He’s got so much to live for.”

From the wreckage of my life, I found I could salvage something through self-expression. A repeated daily activity became a lifestyle that anchored my being in an otherwise tenuous existence. 

I now stand on the edge of the bowl and draw a line of sight from one side to the other as though stretching a leaf of rattan across its diameter.

I place the rear truck of my board to the bowl’s pursed lip, tighten my helmet strap and steady the board with one foot.

As I drop into the basin, the imaginary rattan collapses under my weight and lays flattened into the concrete curve. I scorch to the other side and twist a one-eighty as I lay another ferny leaf across the first.

Weaving across the bowl, I entwine layer after layer of the imaginary strands until my creation is finished. It is then that I stop and look back, proud of my handiwork, it is my first basket of many for the day. 

I can’t explain exactly what it is that I get from this place. I don’t believe in god, but perhaps it is something spiritual I feel.

I never leave here with anything in black and white but I suppose my task is like the impossibility of carrying water in a woven basket: not a drop makes it home but at least the vessel is cleaner. 

For some of those here it is “skate or die” but for me it has become “skate to live”. 

This place has become my studio and I return here in the same way an artist attends daily to their easel. I stroke my concrete-canvas with plastic-wheel paintbrushes - backwards and forwards, up and down - in fluid movements.

Nothing can be seen for my labours as my paint is invisible and, like a Tibetan sand mandala, it disappears in the wind until absence is all that remains.

My vocation is the ultimate form of protest; a display of supreme defiance; a peaceful non-resistance.

I am liberated by the lack of limits, rules and prohibitions.

Even though the chance of injury is real, it is in this bowl that I can challenge the authority of life itself. I don’t feel threatened. I feel safe and speak the language of those who inhabit this place as though a traveller in his own land.

Camaraderie is part of what’s helped me to get through. When you fall there is a firm hand to help you up, or an encouraging voice from someone who sees you try and fail. Above all there is the appreciation and mutual respect of those who know exactly how hard what you do is.

When you achieve what you thought was once impossible, they applaud your successes. I grind to a stop at the top of the bowl as I complete another of my woven masterpieces. A smile greets me.

“Gnarly,” says a friend. 

Shirtless and dark-tanned, spirals of long, curly hair wind out from beneath his helmet-like stray springs. I watch as he drops the nose of his board into the bowl then swooshes up the other side where he executes an impeccable three-sixty.

I wonder if he ever makes the comparison between his skating and something else. If he does, I decide, I’m certain it wouldn’t be basket weaving.

In any case, whatever he considers skating to be, I know that no machines that can do his job. 

As we skate through the afternoon, the scorching sun hurls its burning rays at us and is oblivious to the activities of those within its arc.