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  • I stopped for a latte at a coffee shop in Brooklyn mall here in Pretoria before the walk home. The mall is getting a major facelift. A few months ago they put fencing and hoarding and closed whole sections. From behind the scenes came the sounds of hammer blows and the clash of steel on steel. The dumpsters were full of smashed concrete slab and twisted rebar. This was my first time back after a few weeks on the island. Inside the mall I got turned around and for a moment wasn’t sure where I was. All the familiar landmarks were gone, reconfigured.

    Walking through the city today it is hard to understand that a thousand years and more of living can be reduced to just a low mound rising above a landscape of stone and thorn.

    Hard to comprehend that so many stories, joys and sorrows can be compacted, compressed to a layer, a strata and all the grand complexities of life and love reduced to a single identifying feature; a hint of style or some common usage that names a time, an era, a people. Perhaps just a single trait locked in stone or pottery, a scant few fragments of architecture.

    For us maybe it will be plastic fragments.

    Some cultural anthropologist in the far and fantastic future will show school children a display case and say, “Here we find remnants of the Zip-lock culture.”

    Or maybe there will be ariel photos of future Badlands where erosion has brought to light and life again evidence of the Porists and their great spreading deltas of scrubbing micro particles flung from cities’ effluent, the result of a million million shower scrubs.

    We see the mound perched above the desert where the river no longer flows, where the ocean has retreated and think this must be the result of some catastrophe, some Old Testament fire brought down from on high. We think tsunami, earthquake, war. Something final must have ravaged the place to bring it all so low.

    Sitting there in the sunshine with my latte I watched a steady stream of workers pushing barrows pass back and forth through the gate. Saw the slow rise and fall of picks through the gap. It came to me that human progress is just such a cataclysmic and decisive force.
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