There is real compassion in me. That is what makes me evil. Her foot is sticking from underneath the blankets and a part of her left leg as she sleeps stretched out into the late morning. I slept on the couch with a real feeling of being done in. Words and anger have left me. I’m overcome by real impotence and a feeling for sleep without end. She is waiting for pay day. She is waiting to run away with a chunk of my salary. That is what she lives for.
September 13, 2010
The old sage explains about the simplicity of his worldview – that consciousness disable action, make it impossible to act. Consciousness is the foundation of doubt. Yes I understand that perfectly. I can never play at being God – at judging. They want me to put a stamp of approval on a persecution campaign – to walk arm in arm with the bishops in front of the bussed-in people down to the international conference centre where all the dictators gathered around meals of caviar and champagne to talk about racism.
September 12, 2010
Every mental move of man, every moral idea is an assault on nature, an attempt by the ego to assert itself in the struggle against death and decay. Calmness will come to me at night with the sound of the flute player coming down the street to come and sleep in some dark corner.
My mother once asked me, not expecting an answer, “How can a good man like you be so cruel to your wife and children?” I suppose there are two questions here. The one about my ability to be cruel, but also one about my “goodness”. Where did this “goodness” come from? How did I adopt this mask to always act against my self and my own will, but then again always to act in my own interest? Dostoevsky make this point somewhere that behaviour is actually acting, I suppose this is such a deep rooted truth that we are no longer aware that our expressions and responses to others are “acting.” To become aware of this “acting” is to become aware of the literary quality of life. We are living books and pretences. So where did my “good” come from. Sunday school classes? But we only went to Sunday school at quite a late stage, much later than other children, and I always hated it. Fear of punishment? I don’t think so. I have never feared punishment and often acted in a way inviting punishment. Out of fear for shame? Yes, but what is shame? Out of empathy with others? Yes, but why did others have such a hold over my soul when I feared and despised them, and always tried to evade them. Why can I not characterize, imagine the motives of others?
This other arsehole wants to do a yacht trip of the world, but he is too normal to embark on his dreams – what about his daughters and his wife? And this guy from the Caribbean has a problem because his sister undressed in front of him and evoking unnatural desires in him with her animal presence. And the psychiatrist gives me a lift back with his Englishman friend turned Muslim in sandals and dress. They are probably piping each other in the arse. The psychiatrist is doing the sessions for himself, learning about human behaviour, we are his laboratory. I really want to become a shit, how far can I go on with this, insisting on my happiness before conversion is needed, returning to the womb of delusions?
Biko was detained and interrogated four times between August 1975 and September 1977 under Apartheid era anti-terrorism legislation. On 21 August 1977 Biko was detained by the Eastern Cape security police and held in Port Elizabeth. From the Walmer police cells he was taken for interrogation at the security police headquarters. On 7 September “Biko sustained a head injury during interrogation, after which he acted strangely and was uncooperative. The doctors who examined him (naked, lying on a mat and manacled to a metal grille) initially disregarded overt signs of neurological injury.” By 11 September Biko had slipped into a continual, semi-conscious state and the police physician recommended a transfer to hospital. Biko was, however, transported 1,200 km to Pretoria – a 12-hour journey which he made lying naked in the back of a Land Rover. A few hours later, on 12 September, alone and still naked, lying on the floor of a cell in the Pretoria Central Prison, Biko died from brain damage.
In 1977, I was 6 years old. Born in Durban into a family tree that drew together Zulu, Xhosa, Scottish, British, German and St Helenan (which means many untraceable Slave roots) ancestry… which nobody ever spoke about. Not in the streets, not in the Church, not at school, not at family gatherings not in my home. I was healthy, even talented and loved, but my eyes and ears were closed. I had not yet been shown or told the truth, the horror of our story…our gruesome history unfolding. I have read the lines above several times before over the years. They never fail to shake my core.
In the mid 80s, I was in high school, one of the quota of brown girls accepted at a Catholic Convent school which was one of the few opening its doors to children of colour. No-one around me in the places I grew up called themselves Black. My Indian friends didn’t either. One day I came home to find my mother sobbing , a mix of sorrow and rage. Someone had died and was now being remembered amidst the height of political violence in our country. I did not know his name until that day. My mother introduced me to my uncle, my brother, my beacon on the path of awakening to the bigger picture of the place I was born, the place that had already for many years been shaping…and in many ways suffocating my consciousness. My mother told me his name and his story : Steve Biko. In 1986 I was 15 years old and she took me to see Steve Biko: The Inquest by Durban playwright Saira Essa. By now I had inherited my mother’s sorrow and her rage.
The upside of being the brown quota in an 80’s private school multi-racial experiment, was that I got to compete academically and share well-equipped facilities and the nurturing by passionate, highly qualified teachers, share a classroom with peers…who were White. The upside was not the material resources available to me that had not been there in my Coloured township school, neither was it their Whiteness, but the equal opportunities we were given, the unbiased support for and affirmation of my capabilities. I was seen, for who I was…who I was becoming. At this critical adolescent intersection, this enabling and inspiring learning environment and the healing water of personal encounters with people I was deeply prejudiced about, tempered the fire that was both my mother’s and mine.
In 1996, I was 3 years out of theatre school and got my first commission, to write a play about Coloured identity. An issue and a term I balked at from the time my eyes and ears were opened to where this notion, this classification originated from. Inextricably entwined with this rejection of the subjects connection to my life, to me personally, was the obvious reality of the ‘so-called’ community that I was born into and its very specific historical, cultural and geographical elements, that had profoundly influenced who I had become, my sense of belonging and the lack thereof. To add to this deep ambivalence I felt a familiar feeling of suffocation whenever I returned to those impoverished – literally and figuratively – places of my childhood, where with each return, it seemed nothing had changed. If there was change it was only an increase in political apathy, levels of domestic and community-based violence, fixation with material success and growing dependence on anaesthetics: drugs, alcohol, nightclubbing and vandalism. I exorcised many if these shadows for myself and to some degree for others, in the process of birthing the play A Coloured Place, my first published and most well-known play which was staged around South Africa in different incarnations for 10 years. In 2006 I was invited back to Durban, to direct the play again for the 10th Anniversary of The South African Women’s Arts Festival at the Natal Playhouse.
In April 2010, I was asked to direct extracts of this play by the African-American publisher if the work (twice over) Prof. Kathy Perkins based at the University of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, as part of an African Diaspora Festival which hosted 9 African women writers in the USA. http://theatre.illinois.edu/pages/african-diaspora-festival. Always eager to travel, let alone share my creative offerings with the world, I reaped many fruits from this journey and yet I carried with me, going and returning, a persistent thread of sadness. How was it that my play still held such resonance for African American audiences whose ‘liberation’ had come so many decades before ours? How was it that in South Africa still, young gifted artists of colour, find my play and express such great relief that they have found a text which relates to their experiences, reflects characters and social contexts that they recognise as home…in the full spectrum of what that entails…the good the bad and the ugly. How…16 years after our so-called ‘liberation’? This play embodies the seeds of so many (hi)stories I have prayed will become just that…historical. No longer the truth of our present day realities. No longer the internalised racism, self-loathing or ignorance that perpetuates stereotypes of who we are and what we have to offer our societies. The simple , sad and logical conclusion is we are far from liberated. And sadder than that is, we are far from healed. And what we do to others is what we do to ourselves. What we practice by our lives, is what we teach our children, about themselves , about our world, about being human.
On Friday 15th August 2008 (a year that marked the beginning of a two-year long season of heightened xenophobic violence across South Africa) at around 7am, a Zimbabwean man in his early thirties, Adrian Nguni was found hanging from a tree along the Black River in Observatory, Cape Town. Policemen cordoned off the site with yellow tape and one hour later were still standing beneath the body, visible to all in peak traffic on the busy street parallel to the river. A few days before an unidentified body was found floating in the same river. This poem tells the story, like first Black Bead above, in lines and images that still shake my core.
Black river followed me home
Between breaths, thoughts, sleep
Deep cut image of a silent brother
Hanging from a tree
Three children in my back seat
So I sob quietly and drive by
Newspaper tells Black river stories
Two bodies, one week in August
One floating unknown
The other with a detailed note in his backpack
Telling them whom to send his body to
Somewhere in Zimbabwe
Black rivers all over this country
All over the world I’m sure
Weeping, wailing just like me
In ways seldom heard
Hard to see
Unless you know
What it really means
Listening to him,
Black river sings
Black river brings me
Sweet blood offerings
Till I can’t breathe
Like a child
Yet still can’t believe
On 9th September 2010 the one-and-only Prof. Alice Walker came to Cape Town, where I have lived and birthed my family and my still young career as a writer-poet-arts activist. Cape Town, my home since 1997. She came to deliver the annual Steve Biko Memorial lecture, hosted by the Steve Biko Foundation in partnership with the University of Cape Town. http://www.uct.ac.za/news/multimedia/sound/ Reflecting on deeply disturbing headlines and truths exposed in South African newspapers in recent years, she raised two basic yet deeply significant questions: Was this what Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for? Was this what Steve Biko was murdered by torture for? In a room packed to capacity with the most exquisite diversity of predominantly South Africans, with a giant image of brother Steve Biko illuminated on the stage, she also quoted him directly : ‘Once your consciousness changes, so does your existence.’
Tonight, 11th September…another memorial day of rage and sorrows, I have sat for two solid hours threading these words, these beads spontaneously together, for my own heaving, always re-membering heart, for my mother who remains my greatest teacher on the right to rage, for brother Adrian Nguni, for the girl –children of the 70’s with eyes and ears initially closed to the politics of their birthplaces, their families but also their bodies in the world and especially tonight…for the immortal spirit and living-inside-us mentor to many millions, Steve Biko on the eve of the anniversary of his passing…so that his life’s teachings would live on. I offer these beads to you. Add your own colours, thread your own story, revisit your unique her-and-hi-story. I believe there is healing in the telling and the going within, the listening. Perhaps these are paths that somehow can lead to our collective liberation and returning to our home, our humanity.
September 11, 2010
At the corner of the drug dealers I suddenly and unconsciously grab the hand of a street kid aiming at my pocket and I look into his confused and pleading eyes. “Imani” he says. “I have nothing” I say. I loose his hand. He grabs my shirt and doesn’t want to let go. I have to be aware of his friend behind my back and move into the traffic trying to shirk off his hold on me. I hear the laughter of his friends as I’m nearly knocked over by cars. My eyes straight into his stupefied eyes, evil weighing evil, cowardice. I escape like an injured dove from an aiming foot into the traffic, into my own guilt haunting me through the streets. Why did I not give him the fist? He would respect power. Why did I not give him the money? Was he looking for love, or laughing at the moral weakness of those who have and don’t understand the logic of survival? What is the link between love and giving and receiving?
Coming down the lift. Her child cries, as she has to go to work.
“Can I get a lift to the Elangeni?” she asks me.
“What will the people say?” I ask.
Her cell phone rings as the lift door opens. It is her Father. I hear something about gangrene and HIV. In the car she swears under her breath “Bastard”.
“It was my daddy.”
“Why did you call him bastard”
“You know it is the first time in six years that he spoke to me. He wants to see me tomorrow. Don’t be surprised if I kill myself tomorrow.”
“I found out that he hanged my mother when I was one year old. He hated the fact that I was born…Can you feel what I feel?”
“Can you feel what I feel.”
“If I allow myself to feel for what South Africans are going through at the moment then I won’t survive a minute. This country is fucked up.”
“He never wanted me.”
When she gets out of the car she calls me an angel. I correct her “A bad angel.”
A Jesus Christ is necessary. Or maybe just someone who can say no.
Jesus and his hobos. Jesus the original hobo. Strange capitalism took as its religion the outpourings of hobos. The bible that corrupting book. It corrupted a lot of us. We were forced to know it by heart as children. It’s full of miracles yes, but there are more miracles today: electricity and aeroplanes
White women’s cunts are cannibals. They castrate with their mouths and minds.
September 10, 2010
Dialogue: on that day my spirit left my body and I went with these two to my mother and my sister. I cannot remember why. I was unconscious. Tra bih Gogh told me a few weeks later. He was here. He slept on the couch. The next day Graham took me to the hospital in his station wagon. I cannot remember changing into pyjamas at the hospital. I remember first being in one ward and then being moved to another. I do not remember much of the first ward. It disappeared in the pulp of my head. Different people tell me different things. Like Tengani and Jabulani visited me and I told them about being in a veldt of flowers. I cannot remember them visiting me. I looked at my hand when I regained consciousness, when I regained myself, and it felt utterly strange. I felt utterly strange to myself, as if I was no longer real. I have forgotten so much, so many people’s names, the memories poured out of the burst vein.
One day my mother and my father was there for me. The old one’s. They came for me. I was so moved. How many decades of cropped up things to say. But they just wanted me to be normal again, when I was still half in the shady world.
September 9, 2010
I have seen hell, lying down quiet, not registering, or saying stupid things, not remembering what I mumbled to the friendly visitors. I have lost a few precious things since they took me in; one is Zaza’s book. Someone took it from my room while I lay there with a collapsed brain not recognising the many visitors; the other is my new watch from Germany. I feel so naked now without time on the arm. They took me to hospital after much feeble protestation, in my head a vein burst and I did not know, I only repeated hardly audible things like “How are you?” again and again as if I’m asking myself how I am. On my clock I thought I still had about five years to go, son why does God want to take me now. It’s a bit early, or dead old age for a writer. Jabulani and Tengani came to see me during these dark days. My head lying on a cushion and taking them to beautiful corn fields sown by my head. My god is this English or an imbecile writing. Lying there for many days looking at a clock on the wall seeing new patients coming in and going and getting close to the nurses everyday fixing the furniture around you, drawing curtains around you. How come I came to eat again? I’m just eating little bits these days. Sometimes it is just a nauseous apple. The beautiful quiet piano music flowing from the radio and I must go and take a bath. Do I remember the bath in the hospital? I imagine it is all marble. It is very long. I can lie flat in it with my whole body – my vulnerable body. Remember when I saw it after it was shaved. The thin strip of hair above my balls. My thin body – a stomach that is disappearing. Sorry readers I can only recollect little bits.
In the evening he slowly sat down on his bed, while going down he unbuttoned his shirt and in a daze the elephant and the buck masks came and through thin air and they took him to his mother and sister in another world. When they returned from the other world he was like a child and needed help to walk. His pants lay on the floor. It is now so many weeks since he returned. He drinks at least eight pills every day – four in the morning, two in the afternoon and two at night. Life is only possible with the medication..
What is this thing that took hold of me making me forget the joys of life. What is this thing? How do I get rid of it? How do I get out of this living hell? Will sleep help? Another buzz? A friend? But I do not have any more friends.
This morning he went down to start his car. It did not want to move. Tears came to his eyes. He just sat there in the car feeling miserable. Now another day I’m sitting in front of my computer with my head in my arms. Everything is so absolutely miserable. This flat is empty of life, everything has the touch of death. Looking with the eyes of death, eyes which are not touched by anything. It cannot get involved. He cannot remember anything of his day, of the meetings at university, the babbling of people
September 8, 2010
Die 25 ste Oktober, 2002, is daar ‘n aantekening in die boek wat deur die deurwag gehou word hier onder. Dit was toe Faith hier besoek het. Sy moes haar naam teken. Sy was blykbaar baie ongelukkig daaroor. Die deurwag het vir iemand gesê dat hy daarop aangedring het. Het ek die vorige Sondag na haar kind gekyk? Of was dit ‘n ander Sondag? Hy kan nie meer onthou nie. Alles is deurmekaar.
Waarom het ek vir mense laat dink dat meer as een persoon my aangeval het? Dit was wat ek in ‘n beswyming in die hospitaal aan Hendrik gesê het. Het ek dit gesê?
Blykbaar nadat sy my hier vir dood agtergelaat het, het die vrou hier anderkant by die trappe, van die lawaai, na haar deur gekom. Faith het haar, blykbaar, gevra vir ‘n sigaret en toe eers ‘n sigaret gerook.
Sy is hier in die straat langsaan gesien met die Nigeriers?
Sy het blykbaar twee keer geklop. Gewoonlik het ek met my deur oop geslaap. Maar die dag was die deur gesluit. Ek het blykbaar ‘n aanval verwag. Ek is deur iets wat Faith, of was dit iemand anders, gewaarsku. Iets wat sy vir haar kind gesê het. Waarom kan ek nie die detail van die dag onthou nie? Die dag was die deur toegesluit. Ek het nie gedink aan die krag van ‘n bedwelmde vrou nie. Sy het geklop en geklop. Ek het geslaap. Sy is terug na die hysbak waar sy die vuurblusser gesien het en die gedagte dat sy die deur daarmee kan oopforseer deur haar gegaan het. Sy het die vuurblusser toegedraai in ‘n Air France handdoek-kombers wat sy by haar gehad het en teruggeloop na die deur wat sy oopgestamp het met die vuurblusser toegedraai in die handdoek-kombers en ingekom. Sy het die vuurblusser op ‘n bank in die sitkamer neergegooi. My skerp mes in die kombuis gegryp en na die kamer gekom waar ek nog gelê en slaap het. Sy het verwoed iets op my geskree: “Don’t you hear me when I knock!” Ek het in die bed met my gesig in die kussing iets gesê. Sy het my verwoed gesteek hier-bo in my skouer. Met my bloed wat my rug afloop, is ek na die sitkamer. Ek het gevra wat gaan nou aan. Sy het verwoed die vuurblusser na my kop geslinger en getref. Die vuurblusser en die Air France handdoek-kombers het hier op die vloer gelê. Die gewig van die vuurblusser was teveel vir my kop. Ek het weggeraak in ‘n wêreld van slaap en eers weer beneweld wakker geword ‘n ruk later. Sy het in my kamer gesoek na die geld wat ek die vorige nag getrek het en my kamera. Toe ek weer by my bewussyn was, was sy al weg. Sy het blykbaar geloop tot by die woonstel hier onder in die gang en vir die vrou wat bang by haar deur gestaan het gevra vir ‘n sigaret en ‘n paar trekke gevat en is toe weer vort.
“I always told you that she was on drugs” says Zaza.
“No you did’nt” I reply
“I saw her at Cool Runnings the other night. Dancing”
“With who were she dancing”
“With herself” sê sy voordat sy loop en ek dink aan Faith wat met haarself dans.
Ek weet nie eintlik wat gebeur het nie. In die gang het ek die man wat oorkant my bly, gevra of hy my hospitaal toe sou neem. Ek moes my klere aangetrek het. Wanneer het ek my klere aangetrek? Was dit terwyl Faith hier was? Toe ons in die sitkamer was? Ek moes by tye by my positiewe gewees het. Ek kan niks van hierdie nag onthou nie. My eerste herinnering is baie deurmekaar. Ek was in ‘n kar wat my by hierdie “plek” afgelaai het. Die plek onthou ek nie as ‘n hospitaal nie. Dit het eers later ‘n hospitaal geword. Ek onthou die boom en die hoek wat sigbaar was van my kamer buitekant. Dit is al. En ek onthou Hendrik se Christelike vriend, Markus, wat my kom sien het in die hospitaal. Ek het hom vertel dat daar ‘n funksie die aand gaan wees en het hom gevra of hy ook gaan. Dit is al wat ek van die tyd kan onthou.
Faith is volgens Heinrich op kampus van Natal-Universiteit gesien. Hy het gesien hoe ‘n man wat daar gesit het ‘n opmerking maak. Sy het onderlangs vir haarself iets gesê en toe voortgeloop.
Vrae wat my bybly is: Waarom het ek gedink Faith gaan my daardie oggend aanval. Was dit haar stelling aan haar kind dat sy my die dag voor ek opstaan gaan kom sien? Het sy dit gesê? Waarom sou sy my so vroeg kom sien? Waarom het hierdie dag soveel gevaar vir my beteken? Waarom wou ek nie doodgaan nie?
spotted this in the culture section of the only near decent newspaper left in this country.
if you were writing for a rock music page
and you wrote “i’ve never heard the rolling stones”
it would be ludicrous
the editor would wrap you on the knuckles and say “go out and buy some stones cds and then come back and write about rock music…”
an editor should not allow such an uncultured person to presume to write about culture
such a person has too little to offer the readership.
really depressed me. there is something distinctly south african in this gleeful anti-intellectualism, it is i think to do with the resentment that colonial cultures feel towards their “mother” cultures, it is a juvenile, willfully brattish ignorance that i remember so well from my schooldays here.
it really distresses me to come across it again in the culture section of a newspaper.
it’s not as if it’s coming from the lumpen proletariat either, brodie-ous received a damn good education, the best that money can buy – it’s a choice to be ignorant in order to fit in – it’s utterly vile, very destructive on the national psyche
it’s not against the law to be ignorant and uncultured.
but to be so damnably proud of one’s ignorance!
and for a newspaper editor to allow this to go unchecked in a “culture” column.
probably this crassness is indicative of the declining state of education in this country.
philistinism really has become the norm.
I did not know how easy the coming would be. I have been with you in dreams and night wishes, but often this was only when the world was not going well with me. Aches and fears and troubles brought my thoughts running to you.
I am confessing to you now. Be kind to me: a new child coming back to you. You knew me ready to die again and enter this world those here above think so real, this world which you know is only the passing flesh of everything that lasts, the soul of our people.
Coming home to you put fear into me at times. Do not laugh at me. I did not see you clearly, and I had been so long in this other world that I had no idea but fear.
Death. That was the frightening thing, the final sound. Now I see in it another birth, just as among you the birth of an infant here is mourned as the traveling of another spirit. Do not judge me harshly for the times I thought less of you than of the thousand things I had gathered around my body to give it comfort; they were to me then like living babies bound to me by thirty navels, and I thought I could never bear to cut them; there have been times when life was so sweet. For what purpose do you throw us such blinding sweetness when our aim is death?
I am reproaching you. Forgive me. I know of the screens of life you have left us: veils that rise in front of us, cutting into easy pieces eternity and the circle of the world, so that until we have grown tall enough to look behind the next veil we think the whole world and the whole of life is the little we are allowed to see, and this little we clutch at with such desperation. What a thing for you to laugh at, when we grow just tall enough and, still clutching the useless shreds of a world worn out, we peep behind the veil just passed and find in wonder a more fantastic world, making us fools in our own eyes to have believed that the old paltriness was all. But again we hold fast to the new shadows we find. We are fooled again, and once more taste the sharp unpleasantness of surprise, though we thought we had grown wise.
I am here against the last of my veils. Take me. I am ready. You are the end. The beginning. You have have no end. I am coming.
Ayi Kwei Armah
September 7, 2010
September 6, 2010
Lewis Nkosi dies
Writer, composer and journalist Lewis Nkosi has died at the age of 73.
It said he died on Sunday after a long illness.
Starting his career as a journalist at the Zulu-language newspaper Ilanga lase Natal, Nkosi joined Drum magazine in the early 1950s.
When he received a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University in 1960, he was forced to leave South Africa on a one-way exit permit, exiling him from his country of birth for the next 31 years.
He held teaching posts at several universities including Zambia, Warsaw, Wyoming, London and Brandeis.
Among his works are the novels Mating Birds, Underground People and Mandela’s Ego. plus several volumes of essays.
His plays include The Black Psychiatrist, We Can’t All Be Martin Luther King, and The Rhythm of Violence.
Project director of the South African Literary Awards Raks Seakhoa said on Tuesday that Nkosi was “part of those talented few who took South Africa’s literary heritage to greater heights”.
“He was among the pioneers of South African writing during his stint at the Drum magazine,” he said.
A memorial service would be held on September 8 at the Museum Africa, Newtown Cultural Precinct, in Johannesburg at 5.30pm.
The funeral would be in Durban on September 10.
Iets het verbrokkel. Die krake het groter gewords. Steke is uitgeskeur. Iets het geskeur. Nou is dit oop. Dit word vrot, vol van infeksie. Dit kan nie gesond word nie. Dit is ‘n ou wond. Die laslappie werk om die rantjies het uitgerafel. Hulle lê nou op die vloer, die afknip lappies, vir weggooi.
Dit klink asof ek in a liriese sirkel praat, om en om en om, vasgevang in woorde. En dit is, ek wil, want ek is net daai bietjie te bang om vir jou te sê dat jy vir my ‘n guns moet doen. Dat jy vir my moet laat gaan, sodat ek my exige slap kan kry. Wat ‘n lelike ding om the sê. Lelik om the voel. Lelik om te lees. As daardie woorde maar net onder ‘n stort vsn kokende water kon sit, en afwas … maar die letters klou, en sal nie af skrop nie.
Ek haat date k hierdie ding van iemand anders af moet vra, en ek haat die antwoorde wat ek sal kry. En ek vra dit vir jou. Want jy het gepraat en ek het geluister, en jy het my laat opstaan, op uit die afval lappies van my gevoelens.
En jy het gesê dat as ek myself doodmaak, dat jy my siel sal jag. En ek twyfel jou glad nie, en al wat ek vra is dat jy my siel laat gaan so dat jy op jou jag-uitstappie kan gaan. Ek is jammer dat jy hierin vas geborduur is … in my wond in. Wat het jy aangevang om my te verdien?
Dat ek so min beheer oor myself het maak my seer, maak my kop seer. En die seer word ‘n skree wat ek hoor en hoor en hoor, maak nie saak hoeveel keer ek my vinger oor my lippe lê nie. As ek maar net hierdie wond kon skoon maak, soos ‘n badkamer vloer waarvan af bloed afgewas word. Die pyn van my vel help met my siel se wond. Die pyn van ‘n sny wat ek gemaak het, in plaas van die pyn wan ‘n skeuring wat teen my wil gebeur het. Pyn is my leuen en my gebed en my redding. Donker laslappies om my gewrigte gedraai, vas gebind, verbande … ek is moeg. My bloed het nou genoeg gevloei, uit die sny en uit die skeur. En in die donker sien ek die asblik waarin die afsny-lappies beland, en ek wens date k maar net na die ding toe kon kruip, maar dit is ver, en ek is moeg. So moeg.
Ek weet date k nie hierdie ding van jou moet vra nie. Maar ek vra, ten spyte van jou. Dit, ek, is selfsugtig, maar jou stem en jou woorde het my opgetel, en nou moet jy my net tot daardie asblik dra, en jou hande afskud, sodat my rafels nie aan jou vasklou nie.
Here help ,my, ek is besig om dood te gaan. Ek bloei. Waar is jy? Jy’s altyd daar, en nou is jy net ‘n gedagte, net ‘n wasem … jy’t my asem gevat met jou hand oor my mond, en nou val my rafel druppels op jou voete, nat en taai. Nat en koud en vergiftig. Ek het jou noodig om my te verdoof. Dan is die pyn weg. Dan is die gedagtes stil. Dan is ek dood. Met my blinde oë oop.
Ek kan myself nie keer nie, en ek sal vir ‘n ewigheid jammer wees. Ek is al klaar, en was nog altyd.
Los my nou? Asseblief?
September 5, 2010
From The Life of Henry Fuckit, 1950-2015
by Ian Martin
On Saturday afternoon he committed adultery with the café owner’s wife. In his defence he could say it wasn’t premeditated. No, it was accidental, a fateful collision of incidents. In the morning he had alighted at Cape Town station and walked through the busy streets. As he passed the Commercial Union Building he shuddered with revulsion at the memory of his brief Insurance career, now more than seven years into the past but still painfully present in his psyche. On Greenmarket Square a preacher was shouting an important message:
“God will judge you, every one of you, according to your ways. Repent and turn yourselves from your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
He strutted up and down, stopped abruptly, stretched out his arm and pointed an accusing finger at Henry as he passed by.
“Repent!” he screamed. “Ye drunkards and fornicators, repent! Your ways are an abomination to the Lord. Repent!”
Instead of heeding the maniac’s advice Henry showed him his fist, thumb protruding between first two fingers, and walked on up Berg Street to the library.
On the second floor he spent some three hours browsing through the shelves of the Art section. First he refreshed his memory by going to his old favourites, and then he began looking at unfamiliar artists in the hope of discovering some new genius. The time went quickly and it was past one when he emerged from the building and stepped into the harsh sunlight. After so much colour and intensity the emptying city had an over-exposed look to it, making him feel in need of succour.
At the City Hall Hotel bar he drank two cold beers. No, he drank three beers, because one beer is thirst-quenching, two beers you feel nice and mellow, and three beers you’re beginning to think recklessly and creatively.
The pleasant effect of three beers was wearing off by the time he reached Kalk Bay station so he went straight to the Majestic bar and had another two frosties. He also ate two cold fish cakes with lashings of tomato sauce and then went to the gentlemen’s convenience and pissed a bucket of wonderful relief before making his way down the road to the Olympia Residentia. At Basil’s Corner Café he went in to buy a pint of milk and a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits. As anyone knows, even someone of the meanest intelligence, the visual arts appeal to the senses. They tend to arouse the emotions, especially when they deal with the human form in an explicitly frank fashion. In the library Henry had encountered two new artists: Philip Pearlstein and HR Giger. Most striking among the former artist’s work was a large-scale piece of realism featuring two nudes. The seated female was Caucasian and in her early forties. Straight dark hair to her shoulders, high cheekbones, slightly puffy about the eyes. Heavy drooping breasts, some cellulite about the midriff and thighs. Standing next to her, leaning against the wall, a negro in his late twenties. Lean and athletic he was turned towards the woman and she was eyeing his circumcised cock with an interesting mixture of curiosity and indifference. This was youthful desire tempered by the experience of age. HR Giger, the other artist, was quite clearly a worshipper of the god Priapus. He was obsessed with penile erections and depicted them en masse, as in ‘Landscape’, half hidden behind a waterfall, as in ‘Cataract’, or as beautifully obscene, high magnification, action close-ups, as in ‘Erotomechanics’.
Thus, when Henry entered the café, he was not only under the influence of alcohol. He was so sensually aroused that the sight of Basil’s wife handling English cucumbers had a compelling effect on him, and he reacted with impulsive indiscretion. Standing very close beside her, brushing against her as she packed fresh produce onto the racks, he picked up one of the cucumbers and weighed it in his left hand. Then he held the long, well-formed, fleshy fruit jutting away from him and began to caress its smooth cylindrical length with his right hand.
She stood very still, transfixed like Lot’s wife gazing on the expressly forbidden. He turned slowly until the tip nudged her arm and the spell was broken. She looked up at him, her face flushed with colour, her eyes wide, her lips parted, and whispered urgently, “Come to the back.”
In the farthest corner of the shop, partly hidden from view by islands of shelving, was a door leading out into a service alley. He was vaguely aware of dustbins, the smell of refuse and Jeye’s Fluid, the side street at the end of the alley. He grabbed her and found her mouth, her breasts, her buttocks. Her passion seemed as eager as his, but she pulled away and motioned towards the storeroom door across the way.
Under the electric bulb stood a deal table bearing a grocer’s scale, measuring scoop and box of paper bags. On the floor were jute sacks of flour, meal, sugar and rice. The windowless walls were lined with shelves stacked with boxes and boxes of dry goods. She was soon bent forward across the table, resting on her elbows and forearms, and being mounted by the rampant Satyr. Grunts, groans and gasps mingled with cries, moans and sighs until, all too soon, the deed was done. Another nail in his coffin.
Ian Martin’s controversial novel Pop-splat is now available from http://www.pop-splat.co.za.
September 2, 2010
August 31, 2010
“There is such a vast difference between a thought, and writing a thought. The gap between them can never be bridged.”
I have never read a book that so perfectly describes the abject uselessness of being an academic as does Johan Van Wyk’s “Man Bitch”.
“Literature that is moral is boring.”
Man Bitch is structured as a tryptych – Durban/Europe/Durban followed by a lengthy coda – Durban/Mozambique/Durban/Poland/Durban. The European sections of the book describe the protagonist Johan Van Wyk’s journeys as a traveling literature Professor. The inanity and emptiness of “Professing”; of literature itself as a means of making a living – is excoriatingly portrayed.
“I read Dostoyevsky’s Possessed, an old Everyman’s edition. I was surprised by the relevance to my own situation. I felt like his character, Stephan Trofimovitch, who was overtaken by historical events, and who felt that all the social changes amounted to was ‘that he was forgotten and of no use.’, I thought that, similarly, my life was useless, and my book was an attempt to remind the world of my existence.”
The real life of protagonist Johan Van Wyk takes place in the seedy bars, clubs and hotels of Durban where he meets a succession of women whose working hours are after dark but not once in the book does he refer to them as “prostitutes”. He loves these women, or at least experiences the nausea that would appear to be the most consistent symptom accompanying the condition of love; and the many women that he is variously engaged in relations with all confess to varying degrees of love for him. But what is this love? Perhaps the book’s most important project is to try to understand what love means in the context of a life as unrelentingly grim as is lived by these characters who share a great deal in common with the ubiquitous cockroaches that, according to Van Wyk, “only fucked.”
“Why does one write a diary, why duplicate what is already in the mind, and why if you are only writing for yourself, I asked myself as I walked back from the consulate. Memory needs refreshing, I thought. Back at the flat, an Indian in the lift told his girlfriend: “Kaffirs like ants here. Need a can of Doom to spray.” I opened my flat window; the breeze, the voices of an excited drunken crowd and sirens floated in. I heard the sounds of hell. I sat on the toilet, trampled a small cockroach, and thought that cockroaches cannot communicate. They only fucked.”
That the women Van Wyk loves are all black is important. (There is one exception – Polish Ewa – “and for the first time in years my fingers traced tenderly the outlines of a pale white body…”) That Van Wyk is a boer is important. When, after many years away, Van Wyk returns to Bloemfontein to visit his parents, he is physically repulsed by his own kind. “In the early morning, the geese woke me. I played tennis against a wall until the retarded boy from across the road, joined me. He told me how he assaulted a maid with a golf stick, for misplacing the keys to his fishing trunk. I felt nauseous. Even the innocent and the disabled had internalized the abusive behavior of the place.”
Van Wyk’s monotone, his unhurried, dispassionate descriptions of the dystopia he finds himself in, echoes the best of Georges Bataille’s fiction (Madame Edwarda; The Dead Man) while his ruthless self analysis (of the protagonist “Johan Van Wyk” as well as of the author “Johan Van Wyk”) brings the early Céline to mind. This brief novel is on par with Raymond Radiguet’s “The Devil In The Flesh”. Nothing in South African literature prepares one for the scalding jolt of reading this book. Van Wyk has written from outside the paradigm of the geographically South African literatures that have appeared to date.
“Love is a kind of hell.”
This is not a cheerful book and the unrelenting detail of the filthy environment can bog one down and yet the overall achievement of Van Wyk is to populate this landscape with real human beings and a real sense of collective humanity. He is one of very few so-called white South African writers who has achieved this when writing about so-called black characters. Reading Van Wyk exposes the inhuman cyphers that pass for “blacks” in Brink and Coetzee as just that – cyphers. “Man Bitch” is also fascinating in its rich evocation of the underbelly of the city of Durban and it would be appropriate if the book is filmed by Claire Angelique, whose autobiographical film “My Black Little Heart” is a perfect companion piece for this unique and essential novel.
“I returned to South Africa through a misty Swaziland. The rivers were overflowing, and raindrops were gliding like sperm on the front windscreen. There was a feeling of elation, when the city of Durban became visible with its neatly painted high-rise buildings and shopping centres. I did not have money for a taxi, so I decided to walk to my flat. I walked past a tramp looking dead and rotting in a flowerbed next to the pavement. Back in my flat, the power was off, and the place was filled with a strong smell of death. I opened the fridge, and realized that it was blood from meat that smelt. I opened a bag of cashew nuts, to discover that it was full of maggots. On the switchboard, I saw that the electricity had tripped out. It must have been lightning. I was tired and collapsed on the bed, and then took a cold bath.”
First published in 2001 by Van Wyk himself, it remains scandalous that this book has not been picked up by a major South African publishing house.
August 29, 2010
From The Life of Henry Fuckit, 1950-2015
by Ian Martin
As part of Stores Administration, the Verification Section occupied an office on the second floor. But Ivan Schroder, Chief Verification Officer, conducted his research and experimental work in a basement situated deep under the Carpenter Shop. Formerly it had been a wood store with access to the sea via a sloping tunnel. In this tunnel the heavy hardwoods had lain curing in brine. Now only minesweepers were constructed from wood and there was no need for a large stockpile of timber, and the space stood empty.
There were four other Verification Officers: Old Tommy, Young Tommy, Mister Snow and Captain White. They were lazy good-for-nothing degenerates whose existence Henry chose to dismiss as irrelevant. Certainly they posed no threat. The desk he was assigned had been the workstation of another degenerate who had quit this world suddenly after a bad bout of multiple organ failure. In the bottom right hand drawer Henry discovered nine empty half-jack gin bottles. Before dumping them in the wastepaper basket he carefully drained their dregs into his coffee. In the bottom left he found some mysterious blood-stained rags. He held them up and his look of revulsion was met with eager jocularity. He was informed that the deceased man had suffered from prolapsed haemorrhoids. The strangulated, unretractable type, you know. Excruciating. Henry let the rags drop, slammed the draw shut and never reopened it.
The Dockyard was a perfectly controlled world – as near to perfection as Man can make. Everything there, everything, had both a number and a description. Nothing was permitted to subtract from or add to this world, and all was as it should be, and all was entirely predictable. It was the task of the Verification Officer to help maintain this state of orderliness by constantly verifying the continued existence of hundreds of thousands of items. Armed with a weighty ledger and swaggering with self-importance, he had the run of the Yard. At any time of the day he was entitled to enter, unannounced, any workshop, store or warehouse, and demand to be shown such and such an item as described in the tome. And if it couldn’t be found the entire structure trembled. It HAD to be found. And it always was found, with a little ingenuity and deviousness. Then the item could be ticked off and all involved heaved a sigh of relief. This was Henry’s new job, but only part of it.
Harry Bergson had promised him something more stimulating, and a month after joining the Verification team he was summoned to Ivan Schroder’s office.
“Are you fond of cats, Mister Fuckit?”
“You mean as a delicacy?” He liked this question. It was wide open. “Or do you mean as a substitute for beef in something like a nice, freshly baked steak and kidney pie?”
“No, no. I’m talking about the domestic cat, Felis catus, kept since ancient Egyptian times as a household member and prized and pampered and petted as both adornment and companion.” Schroder was not displeased with Henry’s initial response to his question. If one was to discuss something, then one should do it thoroughly. “Anyway, if I had meant it as food I would have said ‘cat’, and not ‘cats’. Are you fond of cat?”
“Quite so. Point taken. Funny you should broach this subject though, for only the other day I bludgeoned a cat to death whilst under the influence of a particularly cold and vicious rage. I suppose that’s a measure of the antipathy I feel towards the species. Broke my bloody chair, too. No, Mister Schroder, I can’t say I am fond of cats.”
“I see. Well that’s a good thing. Bodes well. A cat-lover might feel a little squeamish about conducting the experimental work I have in mind.”
The Chief Verification Officer occupied a small room on the shady south side of the building, facing away from the yard. Beyond the perimeter wall and a line of gum trees the hillside rose steeply to meet the base of Simonsberg, and on days like this, when the cloud was low, the mountain loomed close and seemed overbearing. This was a very different aspect to the one Henry was used to and he idly wondered whether one’s thought processes were significantly affected by the view. On the wall behind Schroder was a framed certificate from Charlatan College conferring on Ivan O. Schroder a Master’s degree in nuclear physics. On the back of the door hung an academic gown, and on the wall behind Henry a bookcase bore the weight of some astonishingly varied reading matter.
Ivan Schroder was a tall, fit looking man in his mid forties. His long, dark, almost black hair was worn off the forehead in a brylcreamed profusion of finger-raked strands. His clean-shaven face was elongated and rectangular, as were his incisors, which gleamed white and demanded the viewer’s attention. Equine, definitely equine, Henry thought. Half expect him to tip his head back, flair his nostrils, roll his eyes, and whinny. And Henry had already spotted a distinguishing mannerism: the sudden loud laugh. It was always unexpected and jarring, acting as a precursor to its own explanation. Most people laugh AFTER something has occurred. Not Schroder. He laughed, thought of something funny, then verbalised it. Could be damned irritating.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “I hope this dislike for cats isn’t pathological.” He paused, then laughed suddenly and loudly, causing Henry to jump.
“Fuck it, man, I wish you wouldn’t do that. What’s so funny?”
“It wouldn’t do to have you going about thumping all our laboratory specimens over the head, now would it?”
“Humph! Don’t imagine I’m some kind of psychopath. I’m not given to violent outbursts.” He looked thoughtful, almost melancholy. “Took me by surprise, actually. Most unlike me. Strange, no remorse though.”
“You’d probably had a bad day or something.” Schroder was vaguely sympathetic. “You could have had something on your mind troubling you. A build-up of frustration maybe, waiting to boil over. You’re not married, are you? Could have been something like pre-menstrual tension. You know, the male equivalent.”
Henry regarded him suspiciously. A bit of a wiseacre? Bit of an oddball, for sure. He chose to ignore the remarks.
“I suppose it serves to further confirm an impression I’ve had of late that I don’t really know much about myself. I’m twenty-five years of age and yet sometimes when I look in the mirror it’s as if I’m seeing a stranger there. How much do I understand myself? What am I capable of? Does one really get to know oneself?”
“Know oneself?” Schroder felt something funny coming his way but managed to stifle another loud and sudden laugh by placing his left hand over his mouth. “All the holy men in history have spent their lives trying to get to know themselves, and here you are, an intemperate nonentity skulking in a dark corner of nowhere, worrying about not knowing yourself at twenty-five. You’re familiar with the famous last words attributed to Jesus Christ on the cross?”
‘Famous last words’ was one of those phrases which Henry found irresistible, regardless of circumstances.
“‘Oh Allah! Pardon my sins. Yes, I come.’ No? Silly me, It couldn’t have been. That was Mohammed, peace be upon him. And it couldn’t have been ‘Is that you Dora?’ Because I’m pretty sure that was croaked by one of the great poets. And it certainly wasn’t ‘Kiss me, Hardy.’ Ha, ha, ha. No, It was something like ‘Let down the curtain, the farce is over.’ But it wasn’t, because it was Rabelais who came out with that one.”
“Most amusing, Mr Fuckit. But to get back to Jesus, it’s quite clear from his final question that even HE was afflicted with self-doubt. He too must have been surprised at himself after all that build-up!”
“Yes, I see what you mean. I’m not alone. It should be a comfort to know I’m in such illustrious company. But I’m afraid it doesn’t really do anything to settle this growing unease that I feel. It’s a kind of whimpering inside me.”
He fell silent and Schroder waited patiently, sensing the young man’s need to ameliorate his anguish by describing it from every angle. Henry, however, was hesitating before launching into a lengthy monologue. He was mindful of the exasperation he had detected in Harry Bergson’s voice the last time they had spoken. “Henry,” he had said, ushering him from the office, “there’s nothing I can do to help this internal whimpering, whining and winging of yours. I’ve told you a hundred times what I think: you are in need of spiritual revitalisation. It could happen tomorrow, or it might be years before you experience an awakening. In the meantime I must get on with the task of tracking down the central source of Oxyastonishing energy flows.” That had been more than three weeks ago. He decided to spare the Chief VO a conducted tour of his tortured soul.
“The whimpering inside me,” he continued, “Is probably the result of mental and physical, not to mention emotional, exhaustion caused by overwork. I repeat: OVERWORK. That unrelenting tyrant, Alf Whitehead, is to blame for my condition. It’s a good job I insisted on a transfer from Central Store to Verification. Otherwise I dread to think what would have become of me. A complete breakdown culminating in suicide, probably.”
It was common knowledge in the Dockyard that Alf Whitehead had threatened to shoot himself if Henry Fuckit were to return to Central Store after his expedition to South West Africa. He had also made it clear that before shooting himself he would first shoot Fuckit.
“Yes, that man’s a total maniac. Completely off his rocker. And a brain the size of a pea.”
Ivan Schroder could be relied on as the staunchest of allies in any verbal attack on the said Whitehead. It was Schroder who had been assistant to A. W. before Henry took up the post five years ago, and the two men had rowed bitterly over the interpretation of time. Schroder had been forced out on the assertion that the Morgan’s Pomade with which he plastered his greying hair was causing the Senior Stores Officer to come out in an allergic reaction. Instant anaphylaxis at the faintest whiff of Morgan’s Pomade. Agitation, flushing, heart palpitations, tingling, prickling, itching, a throbbing in the ears, coughing, sneezing and wheezing. All at the same time. It suddenly occurred to Henry that the man sitting opposite him had just raked his fingers through a dark head of hair entirely devoid of grey. Funny it had never struck him before. Five years ago he was greying. There were three possible explanations. Had Morgan’s Pomade lived up to the extravagant claims on the bottle? Had the ageing effect of constant attrition been the root cause of depigmentation, and had the removal of the cause allowed for rejuvenation? No. It was more likely the man was dyeing his hair black. Huh! The long hair raked back off the forehead. The Brylcream. Must be a potent streak of vanity in him. Henry was entertaining some doubts concerning this man. Could signify a sexual perversion, this. Probably indulges in a bit of sodomy in his spare time. Hairless young fellows with narrow hips and tight balls. Or flagellation? Henry summoned up a vision of a woman in boots and military helmet wielding a long whip.
“Mister Fuckit? Mister Fuckit! You seem distracted.”
“Ahh, yes. Yes, quite so. As I was saying, or rather, as you were saying, brain the size of a pea. Mmm. Yes, I’m quite prepared to assist you in your important research which involves quantum mechanics, as I understand it, as well as some squeamish business with cats. Sounds most intriguing. And it’ll be a relief to get away from those degenerate colleagues of mine. As long as the work isn’t too demanding. Please bear in mind the fragility of my constitution.”
“Don’t worry. Although this research work will one day result in a profound shift in the way the international scientific and philosophical communities view their separate disclipines, it could hardly be called burdensome work. It’s the ideas which we are concerned with, not the physical work expended in attempting to illustrate the veracity of our suppositions. Do I make myself clear? If it’s a good idea it will stand on its own two feet anyway, without having to be propped up by volumes and volumes of explanation, hypothetical conjecture, experimental shenanigans, spurious conclusions and co-masturbatory congratulations. Ninety-nine percent of our work can be accomplished whilst reclining in a comfortable armchair. Once the concept has been formulated it is up to the acolytes to pounce, seize the idea, bear it on high, and proceed with the sedulous labour. They must explain, proclaim, and disseminate. That’s the thankless work. We don’t have to have anything to do with that.”
Henry nodded his head thoughtfully. The man’s enthusiasm was infectious. And he found the ‘comfortable armchair’ analogy most alluring. In the past month he had not been required to over-extend himself. He was prepared to concede this, cautiously. It had been a month of orientation mostly, and he had only verified one item in the course of the four weeks. He had chosen the item carefully after perusing many a ledger and after much deliberation. The foreman of the Heavy Plate Shop had led the way to the centre of the workshop, raised his eyes to the steel roof trusses high above them and pointed with a theatrical gesture reminiscent of the one employed by Cecil John Rhodes when designating which corner of Southern Africa should be plundered next.
“There she is,” he had declared with pride. “Crane – gantry type – complete with 25 ton hoisting mechanism – 2 synchronised electric motors for self-propulsion – 2 by 120 metre steel tracks. As per the description in the inventory.” Henry had viewed the towering machine from different angles and then called for a welder’s chipping hammer. In due course the hammer was placed in his hand and he tapped one of the steel uprights, listening attentively.
“Alright. No evidence of fatamorganic distortion or unauthorised metallurgical debasement.” And he had handed back the tool, noting with satisfaction the open-mouthed bafflement on the faces around him. Then he had required the foreman to climb the service ladder and call out the number stencilled on the winch housing. Fortunately for the foreman this number tallied with the one in the ledger and Henry was able to pencil a tick next to the entry. All present sighed with relief. The gantry crane had not been stolen, mislaid, lost or destroyed. Back in the Verification Office he had poured himself a coffee cup of Vrotters, lit his pipe and put his feet on the desk, content with a job well done. And that was enough for the first month.
“So you’re at loggerheads with the other chaps in the team, are you? That’s unfortunate.” Schroder felt it his duty to familiarise himself with what was going on in the Verification Office, even though his real interest lay in quantum mechanics and an entirely different type of verification.
“Well, no, not exactly. Can’t say I’m at loggerheads with them. It’s just that we don’t seem to have anything in common. Their interests are so commonplace, their opinions so bigoted and inconsequential, their emotions so shallow and inappropriate, that I view their behaviour as childish to a degree verging on the infantile.” And to illustrate his point Henry described an incident which had occurred on the previous Friday.
The last two hours of the day, from afternoon tea until the final siren, were regarded as playtime in the Verification Office, especially on a Friday. Noughts and Crosses, Battleships, Hangman, Matches, Rock-Paper-Scissors – any game which could be played at one’s workstation without detection in the event of a surprise inspection by Commodore van der Rektum of the Productivity and Diligence Branch. And in addition to games there were pranks, which were more dangerous.
One of the stock tricks played by Young Tommy was to leave the room and, from an adjoining office, phone Old Tommy. When Old Tommy picked up the phone and said “Verification Office,” a voice would say something like “Wake up, you old cunt.” Or, “This is your Captain speaking. Gaan kak in die mielies!” Old Tommy never failed to be irritated and the other degenerates always fell about laughing.
On the Friday afternoon Henry was referring to, the phone rang just after three o’ clock. Young Tommy was out of the room. Old Tommy snatched up the instrument, shouted “Go pull your wire!” and slammed it down. A minute later hurried footsteps were heard in the corridor. They all jerked into working stances, pulling ledgers over dirty magazines and games they were busy with. (Henry had been reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘Philosophical Investigations’, and finding them as dull as ditchwater.) The door burst open and Commodore van der Rektum stood glaring from one miscreant to the next. He had worked himself into a rage and was spitting venom – BAIE GIFTIG. He demanded to know who had answered the phone. Fortunately, Captain White had the presence of mind to take charge and declared that he had put down the receiver just as Sir opened the door. (Captain White was the ex-skipper of an ill-fated fishing trawler which had sunk under mysterious circumstances whilst trying to enter Durban Harbour shortly after rounding Cape Point. Damn Admiralty charts!)
“A spot of trouble down at the Machine Shop you know, Sir. The foreman was having difficulty in accounting for two items without numbers on them. All in order now though, Sir, thank you.”
The wind was taken out of the sails of the vessel of vengeance. The Commodore spluttered ineffectually as the implication sank in: he must have had the wrong number. His bloodshot eyes seemed to be smouldering and his fists clenched spasmodically.
Again the telephone began to ring. He lunged for it, placed it against his ear and heard a loud and cheery voice say “This is the Admiral here. Pull your finger out, cocksucker!”
When Henry reached this climactic point in his relating of the incident Ivan Schroder threw back his head and brayed like a donkey. For a moment every tooth in his upper jaw was clearly displayed, as if inviting orthodontic examination.
“You know, two months ago I too would have been incontinent with laughter at this buffoonery.” Henry shook his head ruefully. “But I seem to be losing my sense of humour, and it worries me. Instead of laughing at the idiotic antics of my colleagues I gasp in fear. The future is beginning to terrify me. I ask myself, Is this what I have to look forward, to day in and day out, year after year? Is this all there is? I try to tell myself that this is merely an interlude and my life will change and become charged with meaning and interest. But I know I’m lying. Apart from the odd extraneous detail nothing will alter. This is the pattern, to be repeated over and over.” He slumped forward on the desk, head on hands, a picture of dejection.
“Haw-haw, ho-haw!” Schroder’s sudden loud laugh was quite different to his donkey mirth. That was “Hee-haw-haw, hee-haw-haw-haw!” Henry flinched and raised his head.
“For Christ’ sake. Now what?”
“Sorry, but you look just like the poor bugger in one of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos aquatints. Maybe you know it. Number 43. The Sleep of Reason.”
Henry sat up. “La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos impossibles. Do I know it, you ask me. My mate, all eighty of them are engraved upon my imagination. They have been catalogued and neatly stored in the archives of my memory, awaiting effortless retrieval at the twitch of a nerve. Certainly I know it, and it does indeed seem rather apposite right at the moment.” He already looked brighter, and as the moments passed he became increasingly animated and cheerful. It was as if the mention of Goya’s drawing had acted as a catalyst in his brain, causing a large quantity of neurotransmitter to be released. Now his head was abuzz with fusillades and barrages of synaptic firing, and he was suffused with a feeling of alertness and euphoria. This was better than amphetamines. Who needs Benzedrine when there’s Goya?
“Yes,” Schroder was looking at Henry with guarded interest. This fellow might turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help if his better qualities couldn’t be harnessed. ” ‘ Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters.’ The weird owl-bats and that huge cat. I suppose it’s a cat. But imagination allied with reason is the source of great wonders. I think we might have stumbled upon something here, young Fuckit. A rampant imagination, undirected and undisclipined, might be what you’re suffering from.”
“You think so, do you?” Henry was quite prepared to discuss his malaise and its origins. “You might be right, Sigmund. I must admit to spending much of my life in a world of fantasy. I always have, as far back as I can remember. It’s probably the reason why I’m such a misfit in the real world where one is required to ‘work for a living’. I can see from your general demeanour that you’re about to make a recommendation. How do you suggest I get my imagination under control? Has it anything to do with quantum mechanics?”
Schroder grinned toothily and admitted his thoughts were camped in that area. But he needed more time to formulate his ideas.
“Anyway,” he said, “it’s already Thursday and there’s no point in starting something so important right at the end of a week.” He rose to his feet and Henry reluctantly followed his example. “Have a nice restful weekend and we can start fresh on Monday”.
As he made his way back to the Verification Office he could feel the exuberance, burning fiercely only a few minutes ago, beginning to gutter and die down. He resolved to take the train to Cape Town on Saturday morning and visit the art library. He was in need of stimulation.
Ian Martin’s controversial novel Pop-splat is now available from http://www.pop-splat.co.za.
August 28, 2010
August 26, 2010
published in “selves in question: interviews on southern african auto/biography”, edited by Judith Coullie, Stephan Meyer, Thengani Ngwenya, and Thomas Olver, University of Hawai Press, Honolulu,2006, isbn-13: 978-0-8248-3047-2