Flav & Nero

by Ryk Eksteen

Flav saw the middle-aged, balding man get off the tour bus. He immediately dubbed him Nero, after his mother's brother.

Nero looked as if he could breathe in the atmosphere of ancient Pompeii by just walking down the dusty, cobbled streets. He had his nose in the official English guidebook as he made his way past the Basilica to the open arena of the Forum.

In the distance, towards the north of the Forum, Mt. Vesuvius laid in slumber, waiting to awaken again.

Flav followed Nero as he walked towards the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter. It had seen better days before the End came in the form of the scorching, breathless cloud. He wondered if Nero thought about how the citizens of this once great city felt when the pumiceous ashes started to rain on them. How free men, slaves and masters became equal and minute in the eyes of their Gods. Could he smell the fear, could he feel the panic?

Flav nearly bumped into Nero as he suddenly turned around. Maybe Nero heard the cries of the fish mongers or the fires sizzling in the corner eatery or the rattle of the chariot wheels going down the street.

Did Nero really appreciate why History had always been so fascinated by these people's lives and deaths? Where else in the known world could one take a snapshot of a city that was living one moment and dead the next?

Nero nearly tripped as he crossed the street using the stepping stones. Flav wondered if he didn't find the attempt to create single and dual carriage ways interesting, because it was only 79AD, for goodness sake!

A scene of an enlarged phallus greeted Nero as he stepped into the foyer of the well preserved house of Vetti. The inside walls around the courtyard were covered with mosaics picturing everyday life in Roman times: A slave pouring wine for his mistress, who was lying on a red divan or slaves harvesting the grapes or the dancers, always the dancers. Flav watched Nero as he stood in wonder at the stark contrast between the lives of these women and that of the whores in the brothels. Nero had seen the erotic and sometimes vulgar mosaics on the brothel walls; a place clearly marked by the sign of male fertility, where moans were traded for money.

They overheard a tour guide talking about Vesuvius and how the next eruption could bury the city again.

Nero may have thought that only time would tell if such a catastrophic event was possible, as Flav followed him to the bus and his ride home ... to Rome.

His friends called him Flavius, but that didn't happen anymore. He spent his days following tourists, eavesdropping on conversations he couldn't understand and talking to people who didn't talk back.

He was an observer, a shadow, but most of all ... a restless spirit.

Copyright © 2005 Ryk Eksteen.

This page last updated 16th September 2008.