MARTINS DEEP

Martins Deep is a Nigerian poet & photographer. He is passionate about documenting muffled stories of the African experience in his poetry & visual art. Writing from Kaduna, or whichever place he finds himself, the acrylic of inspiration that spills from his innermost being tends to paint, from the colouring book of his imagination, various depictions of humanity/life, & to spill ink on placards of protest. His works have appeared, or are forthcoming on Barren Magazine, Writers Space Africa, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Peace Exhibit, The Alchemy Spoon, Dream Glow, The Lumiere Review, Variant Literature, & elsewhere. He is also the brain behind Shotstoryz Photography. Twitter: @martinsdeep1

CONTENT NOTE

This piece makes mention of prescription opiate addiction and withdrawals.

Illustration. ‘October 13, 2020/Unpublished/Skateque’ by Martins Deep.  An African woman’s profile occupies most of the illustration. She gazes left, her eyes nearly closed and lips pursed. To the right, two skateboarders are suspended in the air, mid-trick, arms outstretched and boards floating below their feet. The figure on the left is slightly lower and has a pattern of white circles across their body. The black and white illustration is very high contrast, manipulated to give a jagged edge and slightly pixelated impression. (End of illustration alt-text.)
Illustration by Martins Deep

When you first learn to skate each new scratch on the deck is cause for lament. But by the time you buy a replacement it has become embarrassing to carry a store-smooth deck, maple belly cool against your palm, a mere ornament. You scuff that shit immediately.

          A couple of years ago, I reluctantly sold a Deathwish to silence its gleaming indictments. It’s over, the unblemished face whispered. Still, I kept another board, a beat-up cruiser with fat purple wheels and a shallow, rectangular depression carved between the trucks. As a teen, it took ages to purchase, and only afterward did I sheepishly learn the purpose of its sculpted underside: to roll joints.          This gauche object, this totem, has long eluded the clutches of my fitful minimalism. Why? To what does it attest, besides youth, scarred shoulders, the click of my wrist?

          Its last use: five minutes, en route to a share car. Bruh,I know. But it was the same high. The air parting, feet locked into the concave surface—that synergy of coiled legs and the bitumen beneath—

          —and that other feeling, dormant, undiminished, of weaving the dotted white line with a brazen rattle. Owning, for a moment, the road between the million-dollar cottages; sliding past their curtain-drawn beacons and into the black hours.


The place I knew best in the world
over the summer of 2001 was the skatepark on
Plage Borély in Marseille. Its web of technicolour
bowls was the best in Europe—flowy and fast,
with hundreds of lines to hit. A concrete
wonderland by the seaside.
Skatepark du Prado’s spiny ridges
were as synthetic as the beach it abutted.
The shores south of Marseille were shaped in the 1970s
using the detritus of tunnels dug for the city’s metro system.
Of course, in the ’70s, skateparks were still novel. Across the pond,
skaters were innovating in strangers’ backyards, appropriating
the kidney-shaped swimming     pools that lay empty due to a
Californian drought. Those        distinctive curves birthed
the bowls that would                  later give Skatepark
du Prado, opened                        in 1991, its fame.


I confess, I’ve never been to Marseille. Certainly not in 2001. There’s no way my fam could have afforded a French holiday. I hadn’t set foot on a board yet, either. No, the reason I was intimately familiar with that park was because it was the only playable level of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 magazine demo.

          My three brothers and I didn’t have a PlayStation, but Uncle Len did. After the long drive to Fairfield, down the Pacific Highway, down Cumberland, Nanna would shower us with olives, Jatz and off-brand cola, but our need couldn’t be slaked by mortal fare. We’d wait for Len to emerge from his dim sanctuary bearing the grey plastic brick we craved, like a priest carries the host from tabernacle to altar. Our altar being the lead-glass TV set, our pew the brown leather sectional.

          The demo restricted us to two minutes of freestyle. Tony Hawk and Chad Muska were the only playable skaters. Scores weren’t saved, and there was nothing to unlock. But we played those two minutes as if the Word of God were inscribed in Marseille’s pixelated graffiti, on its arrangement of benches and bowls, and we alone were privy to the code.

no comply + pop shove it + 540 stiffy
8900

As we got better, we could eke out more than 120 seconds. See, if the timer hit zero while you were running up a combo—still grinding a rail, balancing a manual; chaining tricks, ledge to ramp to ledge—you could keep going, keep surfing the steel and concrete, and eventually land, stoked, with a massive score…

bs smith + heelflip + manual + fs tailslide +
180 fs lipslide + nose manual + impossible
36414

…or bail spectacularly, the letters of the potential combo turning red and sliding offscreen in shame, the next brother in line already tugging the controller from your grasp to rip for his two minutes and change.


Once you’ve played the full game, it’s impossible to listen to the THPS2 soundtrack and not be transported to its topographies: the bowls, the hangar, the subway rails, the bullring. ‘Blood Brothers’ by Papa Roach was a typical cut. Their frantic energy and screaming guitars egged you on, propelled your avatar to its feet after falling, to say fuck it, pushing off again and again.


THPS2 didn’t show virtual blood, but years later, I saw a generous share of my own in real-life bails. I remember bombing a hill, just a few metres behind my friend Austin. It was steep, too steep for me. Riding out a death wobble, I banked hard into a side street, desperate to slow down, but clipped the kerb and swept the pavement with my body, a wretched broom.

          Later, I dreamt that I’d ground my nipples off. (Do nipples grow back?)

          We lived in the ghost wetlands past the Hawkesbury. Austin and I would loiter the entire afternoon amid skeleton houses, carving down Gumtree, Grasstree, Paperbark—streets named after the flora destroyed to put them there.

          Visiting his brother’s place, where he lived a while, I was ill at ease in the dense company of their masculine accoutrements: tools, car parts, offcuts, strewn indoors and out. He’d be explaining his latest enthusiasm, but I’d be keen to depart, to continue our survey of slopes and stairs—to slide a foot, bend a knee, raise the front wheels…

          The evenings I attended their bible study group were different. We’d sit in a circle of chairs in the front room, clutter pushed aside. From my perspective as a cocksure atheist—albeit one who attended Mass (Ephesians 6:1)—everyone but me occupied unsteady existential footing, tying themselves in knots to justify why God allowed evil to exist. Austin knew roughly where I stood, so it was a measure of his trust that I was invited to these vulnerable discussions.

Another debate was whether blood mattered. How much truer the bonds of geography and respect?

          We had that conversation in the heated interior of his car, stereo mute, parked on the dark street a few doors down from my home. Were family ties so arbitrary, so easy to abdicate? It felt taboo to even contemplate.   

          The porch light was on. I had no expressible defense. I didn’t ask him the questions I might now. Like, what brought you to this view? What constitutes family, anyway?

          I said goodbye, stepped into the cold, left him sitting in silence.


After starting university, I immediately left the place I grew up, in spirit if not body. I preferred skating the CBD instead, exploring new alleys until the 1:45 a.m. train back north.

          Part of the reason it was enticing was the fact that you wound up in places you didn’t belong—accidentally or otherwise—like swimming pools or rooftops or parking lots. Skating has directionless purpose and a multimodal ease: you can tuck a board under your arm in a second, walk into a shopping centre or clear a garden bed. I could meet my friend Bahir in Redfern at midnight and we’d end up flying down George St to the piers, laughing, occasionally pantsless, our feet making decisions for us.

          You could say it was adolescence manifest; a physical outlet for the rootlessness I felt, torn between the coast and the city, a new milieu and set of perspectives. Skating’s creative freedom and possession of space provided a strange power, even while waiting for the night’s final departure. Gazing through restaurant windows to the suits and heels at white linen tables. Ha! What did they know? They were the ones missing out, and in their averted gaze, they felt it, too.

          If that’s the case, I can see why I moved on to bigger wheels. Life has become stable, rooted: my body and spirit coexist, for one thing, and I’m lucky enough to buy on a whim what I agonised over before. Like new shoes; no more hand-sewn patches or turning a blind eye to mould.

          I’ve also become critical of those outsider feelings. We used to smirk at posers who aped the aesthetic, but I myself had embodied, at times, a false vagrancy; I had a secure home and loving family, and my antipathy to certain rules was buoyed by the fact that I experienced authority as a buzzkill, not a threat. The same blinkered worldview as a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game, where the world is your playground and you can always reset.


I’ve never seen an opera.
I doubt anyone in my entire lineage
has seen an opera. But I can tell you this:
the Sydney Opera House’s twelve-storey double-helix
carpark is rad. Buried beneath the Royal Botanical Gardens,
it’s a wonder of geo-engineering, but what thrills me is the
gentle slope of its floor. It makes for an utterly relaxing
skate: swooping parabolas, an endless slalom
between pillars and parked cars.
The hidden helix
reminds me of a secret area
in the Marseille level. You had to ollie
onto the grassy section and run through a plank
that supported a tree, which then fell and crashed onto
a chain-link fence. In the full version of the game, there was a
gaping hole behind the fence, a portal to a subterranean
room with a fountain and forgettable half-pipe.
But in the demo, that didn’t happen.
The tree was stable,
you couldn’t knock it over.
The fence had a sign: work in progress.
But with finesse, you could grind through it, a gli
tch, and jump feet first into the void. No fountain or half-pipe
would appear. You’d be stuck rotating in a frozen pose
and the timer would click to zero and
the music would fade and
the session kept going
and you kept
spinning—


Austin left the coast too, moved to his dad’s place in Mt Druitt. I’d sometimes visit for a night. I attended his wedding. But we fell out of contact, then moved to different states. (Not so for the charismatic pastor that presided at the wedding, who I gelled with over marathon running—he still sends me the occasional unsolicited joke, transphobic seminar invitation, or gun advertisement.

          I had a long phone call with Austin around the time I sold that Deathwish. I can’t remember why or how it happened, but conversation flowed easy as ever, even though the topics, the updates, were heavy. But I felt an unfamiliar distance. I’d changed, it seemed like. Or had I? And in whose eyes? I tasted the nascent progressivism in my speech; a translucent material draped over older stratum.

          Austin—who certainly wasn’t as extreme as the pastor—had kept an authentic curiosity, coupled with scepticism of simple answers. In the old days, I’d taken this for uncertainty, but perhaps equivocation could be a form of confidence—you need to shift your weight, unload the board over cracks in the pavement. The novice rides it like a rock. This, at heart, is what made me self-conscious: my forthrightness, the certainty with which I heard things come out of my mouth—I worried that I’d just been pantomiming Socratic due diligence all this time.

          D&Ms and doubts aside, it was good to reconnect. I thought of his theory that proximity trumped blood. Our divergent experiences weren’t what set us apart; perhaps it was only a matter of convenience, thousands of kilometres. Relationships are mutable things, but we can exert influence. Maybe I should call him again. Either way, I’ll hang on to my last skateboard a little longer—ready to blow dust from the rolling tray and cut spirals in the street.

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