Possunt, quia posse videntur.
They had power because they seemed to.
Virgil, Aeneid, 3119 B.C.E.*
That was the morning the legend was truly born. It was fraudulent, of course, but then legends always are, and anyway it was based on an emotional reality. Walking down the street that day, as escorts, guards, friends, companions, rivals perhaps or partners no one could tell and that too was part of the point Blackie and Whitey and Barb owned the world.
Barb, queen, trophy, mistress, friend too simple a status that for strangers to see, too private for them to enquire about, another irrelevant mystery at the essence bestrode the edge of the sidewalk, beautiful, healthy, sane and consciously unfocused. By handing her fear over to her escorts, a tiny weight for them that left her free to float, she lost the need to search for trouble in embryo and so it vanished before it appeared. The sharks smelled no blood and hesitated and were past. She avoided eye contact without trying, yet she looked as she pleased, detached but not disconnected, musing and amused, radiating affection for the world with the confidence that comes of safety.
On her right, Whitey strode impassive and dignified, his jacket billowing into the street like a flag, proud and signifying. Certainly, in its natural habitat, north of Piccadilly and west of Regent Street, the suit might have seemed to have fallen from grace, to have become a shabby shadow of its maker's intentions. Effete cousins, crossing the street to see without being seen, would surely have snickered at the scars it bore my dear, did you see the state of those turn-ups? and the right sleeve? I'm positive there were only three buttons left at the cuff and taken themselves off for a teensy little drinky and a languorous afternoon of gossip and innuendo. But the suit cared nothing for that. Like the gorgeous animal it clothed, it had moved into stranger lands and learned to live a life of its own device. Its beauty no longer had anything to do with a lack of dirt or the precision of its pressing. Its elegance came from line and form and the latent power of its fabric and tailoring. There was no test for it on Bond Street, no accomplishment in holding its shape in the lobby of the Hilton. Here, with the horse-drawn carriages and battered pick-up trucks, it measured itself against a world that gave it no obeisance and was proud to survive.
Whitey watched, as ever the world could see but not in any apprehension or aggression, not even in curiosity. He did not speak or stare, he did not seek to impose himself on the street scene, nor to protect himself from it. He walked, and the people and cars gave way before the grace of this creature who walked. How simple it is to walk, and how difficult.
On the shop side of the trio, Blackie was looser and more engaging. He laughed out of senseless joy, he caught strangers' eyes and smiled, he even broke ranks for a moment to glance at a storefront or to notice a hawk (or it might have been a vulture or a buzzard; he wasn't strong on ornithology) swooping over the rooftops in search of prey or carrion or just the rush that comes from dodging the shotguns one more time. His hair was growing thick and full now; newly washed it had that tousled look that pop stars invest so much energy, intelligence, cash and technology to achieve. Sabrina back in Ken High Street, who'd been doing it for years, would have been horrified by the split ends but quietly gratified, or on an extrovert day even noisily boastful, that the cut held much of its shape as it spilled over the width of his shoulders. The beard was new since the trip began, redder than the long hair on top, and finally coming into its own. It gave definition to his face without quite hiding his cheeks and it set off the teeth he flashed in friendship, and made them seem whiter than they were.
Blackie looked like an affable pirate, dancing as he pleased on the edge of the world.
That morning they were a trio Mouseketeers, anyone? and no less so for the fact that none of them wanted or knew it. Barb was the catalyst, of course, the one who focused the other two. Certainly they competed for her affection, her respect and attention. Buried not far beneath the skin was the tension of sex, of three-way jealousies too trivial to admit or forgive, too powerful to forget had anyone been fool enough to press the issue. (Ed, for example, waving feebly from the edge of the picture.) Unresolved, it did no harm. They were themselves and there and they could want without needing to have and have without needing to want. Posture or play, never mind. They didn't.
The men picked up a purpose from the woman; she gave them a sense of society that stayed long after she left. Helping, flirting, befriending, walking, this was not traveling or being a tourist, this was living and this was what a person would do. As she gave, she took, too, not just in the flattery of being liked, even desired (but that was for Ed), but in the connection of showing, of simply taking a stroll. They all felt good, they felt real, they felt there, in command of a world of their own.
On their own terms, they reigned. Over nothing, to be sure, but those were the terms.
Months later, in Bali, Barb ran into an Australian who had seen them that day. He wondered what had happened to her friends and was shocked that it took her a moment to place his memories in the fabric of her own. Inside, it was a normal day, simply the one she spent in Kabul without Ed. It only looked special to the outside world. That's how legends begin.
The Grape Place was fully as advertised. It stood in a quiet, dusty street, lined on both sides by high brown walls with occasional gates set into them. There was a discreet sign in Pushtu and a couple of nails implied that there had once been another, perhaps in English, but nothing else suggested that the neighborhood was anything but residential, the kind of area of the city where senior civil servants might live, or entrepreneurs of a certain standing. At the time, this was true, though much would change in the temporary tourist boom of the '70s, and again in the dark times that followed. Converted to hotels, then abandoned and confiscated, many of these villas were trashed either by the Soviet invaders, blitzed on whatever they could score, or by the relentless guerrillas destroying the city to save it, and later seized and surrendered and bartered and finally rebuilt in the chaos of the '90s. They would see a bad couple of decades, but back in the sixties the suburb was a sleepy island of rest.
Of course, bedrooms are places of rest too, and we all know how terrifying are the wars that take place in them.
Everything is exactly what it seems, and more.
*Published unrevised and posthumously, against the author's expressed wishes. Virgil and Kafka have this in common, that their great fame derives from the refusal of their literary executors to destroy their masterpieces. Is it right to betray a memory to immortalize it? Does it matter? And will Sony/CBS/Columbia ever release the complete 1966 live recording of Dylan and the Hawks? [At least the last question (written in 1993) now gets an answer: Yes, in 1998. And Bob wasn't even dead, though Richard Manuel of the Hawks was and Rick Danko followed in 1999.]