ANYTHING BUT ME

So I recently bumped into one of my colleagues whom I had not seen in months thanks to the horrible shifts we endure. This is the same girl whose recent Facebook pictures have left mouths hanging, wide open. Over months this girl had literary turned into snow white. Her lips were the last piece of her once brown, glowing skin.

Judging by the frequency of her Facebook uploads this was definitely a dream come true for her. I could not look her in the eye either because I did not want to give away the look of disapproval and a bit of jealousy. Why was I jealous? I had been a “fair skinned” girl all my life and even though I had never admitted it openly it came with added advantages. I guess “fair skinned” barely goes unnoticed and I enjoyed the envy on “the ordinary women’s” eyes who constantly ambushed me for my skin routine. Nobody could understand how my “latte skin” was all thanks to good genes.

A part of me felt like I’m entitled to my looks and the added perks of course, something more like a talent and sets one apart. For one to fake the one thing admirable about me meant my value was depreciating. It just felt unfair that I could never buy a miracle cream that will make me a good soccer player then why should there be a cream that copies my trait. In groups we would sit and gossip about this girl and her shameful acts. But I knew that a large part of the gossiping was fuelled by jealousy.

Alone in my room I tried to understand the psychology of a girl who wants to look like anything but herself. Read a list of articles where darker girls confessed their life struggles. After seeing how the darker skinned girl who had made it was greatly celebrated, as though it is unusual for “their kind” to climb ladders, I was stunned. Still I battled to under the psychology behind it all. Miss “admirable me” could not identify with the “wanna be’s”.

Next morning whilst I’m smearing cream across my flawless face something came to my attention. If I truly perceived myself to be flawless why do I spend such substantial amounts on sleek, long weaves every month? I was even surprised by the subconciousness of my behavior. Spending hundreds of rands at the salon without thinking twice and never missing an appointment. Interesting how quick I was to conclude low self- esteem on the skin bleaching girls and once the subject in question changed, I was quick to find reasons for myself imposed modifications. And somewhere in my psyche laid a million reasons why my behavior ought to be acceptable. My heart new the truth, whoever rated skin bleaching an offence must have done the same with weaves because both behaviors serve to satisfy a need to look better. There’s a Xhosa saying that say “iqaqa alizizwa kunuka”, one can never spot her/his own faults. It will take time for me to finally accept that I find my naturally coarse, curly, dark hair faulty. I’m ashamed of it and try so hard to be anything but my true self.

Man dreaming about being found

He was just a man. He was just a man dreaming of being found. Lost. Lost. Lost. And inside of me there’s a feeling, this feeling of being stuck in traffic in a thunderstorm. A feeling of thirst, a painful thirst and wandering, believing that my brother captures everyone around him with the electricity and lightning daze of influence. There’s a bold intriguing force of electricity and lightning within him. Lightning and electricity. And with that thought, that knowledge comes needles of them, of thoughts. A pinprick that feels life threatening. A flash. A burst of thought. And then the rain would come like a dream, like sleep. First drops and then it begins to pour. The rain would mean water, fresh, sweet, pure water, entitlement, privilege, being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, waiting, always waiting for that opportunistic moment, that mind hurdle that tells me I’ve been awake all my life but for the poor ones it would mean flooding. Their homes would be flooded. They would have to walk with skirts hiked up to get to where they had to go, barefoot, humiliated, scooping the water out of their homes with plastic buckets, helpless, homeless, sleeping on damp mattresses. How do people live like that I’ve always wondered? Where do you go from extreme poverty? Who will give you a hand-out? For the poor it would just mean another uncomfortable experience that they would have to deal with.

I press my knee against the foot of the table. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew hair. Jew nose. Her hair looked like a Maltese poodle’s hair. How did she get the brush and comb through that mess every night? How quick she was to dismiss me, hide her smile. I’ve forgotten my words. Forgot the poem I years have been from home. Forgot the last two verses of the poem by Emily Dickson. I watch her mouth, Jewess, her soft lips making the drawing of a pout. Her lips were mouthing words. Words I could not make out. But I could make out the smile and the quiet laughter that gave me a sour taste in my mouth (already I had been used to this taste in my mouth for a very long time now, and I would never get over the anxious butterflies in my stomach, my thoughts racing but I would never get used to laughing and smiling with them at my expense even though my mother said I should almost as if she knew something I didn’t for the longest time) and for a long time I was very serious about feeling ashamed about the way I looked. It took me forever to work it out of my system. Her lips looks like the shade of an expensive perfumery sticky pink lipstick. She smells like Revlon. She smells expensive. Her nails are shiny, manicured. I do not accept her principles, the standards that she judges me by. The color of my skin, my faith. The sound of my posh voice bouncing off the walls. Her face gives her away. I wish she’d like me. I wish we could be friends anyway. Her mother did my hair and make-up at the theater for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When my mother dropped me off outside the theater she told me crossly to smile and speak to the other children. ‘Be nice. Don’t be shy.’ She told us to enjoy ourselves at the rehearsal. All the other children were White. My brother, sister and I were the only children of color. Color. Colored. Mixed race. My golden-haired sister had a pink rose in every cheek. My brother was olive-skinned. He looked like his father. Dark and handsome. Bones. I didn’t understand why they were like they were. Every one of those highty-tighty Whites. I didn’t like the Jews because they didn’t like us. I didn’t understand how some of them could have straight hair and some had curly hair. They were like us but in other ways they weren’t like us. I watched her but then in a way I felt sorry for her when I imagined her in her storybook life. It didn’t seem all that wonderful to me. Liar. She didn’t let her mother put make-up on her. Instead she told her mother she could do it herself. And her mother said fine, go ahead, just like that. We all left seeing farms, cows and horses in fields on long drives to Grahamstown in the distance past. Rehearsals, scripts, being dropped outside the theater, the five minute call before opening night when the three of us left school. And my sister became a paler version of my mother. My brother grew taller, grew darker of complexion. My nickname could have been less-than-zero.

I must have fun like other girls my age. Why am I so serious, so sullen all of the time? And then I remember my mother’s mantra. Smile. My sister is happy even if I feel excluded from her happiness. I don’t feel I must be included in her plans anymore. I must have sunshine, try and sunbathe. Get a tan. Get as brown as a berry. Get some of that sun into my skin to seep into all of my sadness. Even sadness has grace, a personal space where you are free to express a torn idea that can rip you apart, terrify you as if you are in that moment of writing about a disaster or war or violence, (physical violence shattering all truth or sexual violence). She is always trying to get me to try harder. In her life money makes the world go round. It fires her up. She is wired to it all the while I am failing magnificently. I do not please her. She is not accepting of people who do not meet her standards, her criteria. And so I crazily, wildly fail again. I should be living it up, acting out, and not feel so vulnerable in relationships.

Is my brother like all men a man just wanting, waiting to be found? He is up to the primitive challenges and mating rituals of the slick futuristic society we live in today. Drinking with his mates, drinking them under the table. No self-defeatism in his voice. He is immune to it. In some regards we are alike. We are both quick to condemn the fainthearted, those cowards who do not meet the requirements of living up to the best intentions that their parents had for them.

If I write what I like am I asking for trouble? Should I tread with caution where angels fear to tread? There is no turning back. Your moon face rises out of air to meet me like people of the stars. Mummy, the creator of man, a boy, a baby boy, this woman intrigued me like a celebrity hanger-on. Those people who so desperately wanted to live in the public eye. They lived a life separate from their private one caught for a second in a frame, caught in a snapshot. It couldn’t really be called history until there was enough time for it to be called history. Until it was looked at in retrospect. I hear her laughing in the kitchen talking to my brother and his girlfriend who is cooking furiously in the background. Always cooking furiously in the background. Stirring things up in the pots and pans that I could never dream of. Always baking a dream of cake. My brother is her chosen one. I am a disappointment. I have failed her. I am the one who has to live with that. I am too old-fashioned, too clever, and more magnificent than her when it comes to my father. For her I think revenge must be sweet. Give enough rope to the handmaiden and she will hang herself. Look for example at Joan of Arc and Antigone. Look for example at Adam.

What is the nature of the beast that is found in man, in all of us (most of all human nature), the true nature of the heathen, the suffering of slaves, and the writer who is demanding of their readers? The world is not as it should be. One day poverty might not exist and that is the true nature of the beast. To divide and rule. Liberty, freedom, equality, fraternity, democracy. Do they exist in a futuristic apocalyptic world made out of our sensory perception? What is the basis of all politics? Possessions. Think. One day all technology will surpass all humanity and then what will become of the humanitarians and the philanthropists. Think of what our richest possession is. For me that is humanity. The soul. Soul consciousness. Being aware of the self, human behavior, social interaction, social cohesion in rural and urban districts. What is the true nature of the seasons? There is a time and place for the conscious.
Meanwhile our unconscious spirits us away. Are we truly ‘agents of conquest’ every one of us? From those who are con artists by day and night trying to put on the table for their growing family (and in every household like that there’s a woman making a hot plate for a man who will arrive late after the kids have been put to bed and who had spent his day’s wages at the club on the horses or drinking cheap wine). Are the sushi kings of this world flushed with sticky rice, California rolls and raw fish? And when we come to the greedy megalomaniacs stuffing themselves with shellfish and garlic butter, to monomaniacs drowning in (or driven crazy by it) paper money, to the regular blue collar maniacs who had from their honest day’s work dirt under their fingernails, when we come to the history of human rights, monopoly, don’t they all, doesn’t it have the energy of being an agent or ‘agents of conquest’ too? How quick the righteous become self-righteous?

Are every one of us not supposed to be instruments of change? Look for example at Joan of Arc and Antigone. Look for example at Adam. They were never found California dreaming as much as modern-day Africans (white and black, colored faces, the mixed races of different ancestry). The ones who most want to cross the history wilderness to make it to modern-day Los Angeles, making their mark, making a notch in their belt, traversing the plains in the counties of the Midwest of America. Words like Stevie Wonder, ebony, ivory, Times Square, Chicago and Wyoming, lake, tobogganing, Time, Newsweek, social media, the network, broadcast news, the land of the free and the home of the brave would sing arias inside of me alongside an orchestra.

Diary, journal, you think you’re the only one who has felt pain in this world. Pain that runs deep, as deep as a river. Bravery can sometimes be a mission. There’s such a cool detachment about man when he is brave. When he has a steady tolerance about him when he enters a world filled with a minefield of ghost disciples. When his smile carries with it a warmth and dignity. When his person has a cleanliness about him. Boys even those with a fearlessness about them cry (even those who have an easiness about them, those careful emperors can be sensitive and understanding, compelled to understand the vulnerable in a younger, less experienced female). The lonely can see lonely coming from a mile away usually (usually predictable) and they’re not like minded nor a match made in heaven. They’re haphazardly swinging from the chandeliers, hanging on for dear life to their sanity, sharpening their set of skills. Man, man in recovery sees therapy as sweet ritual. For centuries the man waiting to be found has journeyed in words. Wise people wiser than their years who did not have an easiness about them. Every man, even the homosexual is wise on his own terms. If you ask him what courage means (to him) won’t he answer you? The words will roll off his tongue. For every man leads a double life. For every man is beautiful and wise in his own way. For every man walks to the beat of his own drum. It is loyalty from a band of brothers that gives them (and not necessarily a loyal woman that has a high regard for them) a flaming spirit.

Whenever I think of girls I think of Swaziland, that green feast. I think of youth. I think of the young and how fresh and new their ideas must be to them and the world, a very adult world that must have been so far away from them. I remember the faces of the girls and the boys. They all had the skin of dark chocolate. As smooth as velvet. Creamy. Beautiful. The colored girls were also pretty. I remember how all the girls would straighten their hair (it is a painful chemical process, sometimes your scalp would burn) how the curls would frame their faces, how much time and effort they all took with their appearance for appearance’s sake. They had names like Lulu and Katanekwa. They were from other places too from as far afield as Zimbabwe and Zambia. Places whose names sounded so exotic. I wanted the O levels. I wanted to go to England. To study film was something that became all-important to me once upon a time. The escape was also part of the plan. To escape from dysfunction, to escape from family, from a difficult mother who was killing me, casting me out adrift into a grown up world I was not ready for. She loved to see me bump up against things that frightened me into a silent world where I would hold my tongue for once and not speak. Some of them wanted to go to South Africa. They wanted to matriculate there. Some were borders. I remember how the girls would hike their skirts above their knees so if they bent over everybody could see the color of their undergarments.

Whenever I think of I think of dirt, poverty, common sense, con artists, thieves and how much effort the church puts into saving souls for Jesus I think of the Salvation Army.

Whenever I think about the dirt-poor and poverty I think about the streets of Johannesburg filled with crime. And I think about Bruce Springsteen’s streets of Philadelphia. Whenever I think about violence (violence as a volcano building up inside of man) I think of the women and children I met at a shelter for abused women and children. The women and children I ate with, slept with, bathed with, and worked side by side with in the stinking compost heap filled with creepy crawlies under sometimes a hot day, a pale sky feeling the sweat and not feeling the sweat, and not feeling uplifted in any way by it, by doing what I was doing. I was unpacking and packing crates alongside women and children who has lost all emotional and financial security from the man in their lives and the lives of their children. I was giving away stale cake and breads, rotting vegetables going off to black families queuing up hungry, torn. I worshiped with them. With all of those black faces. And they became like family to me. The mothers of those children, absent fathers for every one of their children that they brought with them from their shadowy past forever in their lives became like a mother to me more than my own had ever shown me. They showed me love, a return to love. Taught it to me parrot fashion as if I had to get it inside my spirit come hell or high water. Love was an invitation to a movement. It was a sonnet, a verse. They taught me to fight ideas with ideas.

The rats really do represent the working classes. No freedom, liberty, fraternity for them. No democracy. Scavengers everyone. They’re left miserable, wet or dry or on the shelf hungry for a better life.

And when I think of the times I spent with the homeless, with the educated and uneducated, with the inferior-minded (not of their own making, not of their own fault) and those who had a superiority complex about themselves, when I think about Johannesburg I think about the failings of my mother and how the city itself rescued me when I was writing, studying, running up streets and down streets. I thought about the failings of my father. How safe he was in the life he thought he had built for his children. He thought we had it made or that we made it but how wrong he was. I think often now of the road before us, how long it was and how often we wandered off the path through the periods of our lives when we took ‘mini-breaks’ from life. University, college, recovery and rehab, hospitalization after hospitalization, counseling session after counseling session, homelessness, helplessness, loneliness, isolation, rejection.

The extraordinary child, the gifted child (once their gift has been noted by their teachers, and their offspring and once their parents are careful of praising them), the chosen one never looks a gift horse in the mouth if they can help it from there on out. All they see is an age of dreams if they are protected, kept safe from the world at large with all its distortions. At first I could not see the power of the emotional abuse of a pervert in Nabokov’s Lolita and then slowly it began to dawn on me have we not created a life for them? Have we not created a world for them in which to suffocate the human dignity of the vulnerable with their injustices? And when the abused child grows up don’t they become the abuser of a child’s trust or the most vulnerable human being they can lay their hands on? The abuser, well they inflict, and their intention is to harm, to control, to frighten the living daylights out of their captive or captives. And when they succeed at all costs it gives them a slight reprieve from the memories that make them stand on tenterhook in nightmares and flashbacks of their own abusive childhood. There is no one in the abuser’s life that will say to them, ‘Save yourself first before you try and start saving other people.’ Isn’t that sad. Isn’t that at the heart of the matter, that in this pure and fantastical land it is hard to change, transform families from not thinking that the weight of this huge sin matters? When our children hurt, when the vulnerable hurt we are all responsible. How simple and easy it is to let down the entire human race by going about our day being selfish stupidly and steadfastly. Why not be the adult. Be the saint. Be the Savior. Be someone’s Savior. Step up as high as the planets. There’s a joy that you get from the particles of the familiar and a peace of mind. It’s the same joy that you get from being kind.

I have been shamed and ashamed. But haven’t we all been shamed and ashamed. Trauma. Lived it. I’ve survived it. Everybody has stories like that that they’ve carried with them since childhood. I believe that wish-fulfillment (self-fulfilling prophecies), believing in yourself and what you are capable of doing can solve anything. And I’ve come to realize that no problem is too big for my shoes or humanity to fill to fill once you get your head around your own limitations. Everybody has limitations, flaws and weaknesses they cannot cast asunder no matter how merry, easy-go-lucky and terrific they may seem on the surface.

And so throughout the centuries the man dreaming of being found was never be robbed of his insight, his will, and his intelligence again through this realization, that the world was his oyster, that the conch shell he held up to his ear really did in fact hold the mystifying ocean-sea’s mist of a burden-of-a-breath, that every woman in the world really was beautiful.

Love Potion No.9.

Is Zoe truly in love or is she under a magical spell!

“Twenty one years old and never had a proper boyfriend” cried Bonelo in amazement. Zoe’s cheeks flushed bright red. “Well I wouldn’t say never, said Zoe trying to hide her embarrassment.
Zoe was 21 years old and still very inexperienced. All her life she shied away from people and had her head stuck in romantic novels. Later in life she took to desert books, after discovering her passion for pastries and delectable deserts. The patisserie course enhanced her natural talent. As a professional patisserie she was responsible for the amazing creations at La Luna. Melt in your mouth buttery croissants and pear tartain. Coeur ala crème with caramelized strawberries and towering croquembouches.
“Maybe it’s time to get out of my shell and explore a bit” she thought out loud. The right guy has never come along. Bonelo rolled her eyes and sighed. “Stuck up, arrogant Zoe, that’s what, guys thought of her” said Bonelo quietly.
Zoe concentrated on the mousse au chocolat that she was preparing for the Valentine’s Day lunch special at La Luna. She was the pastry chef at the quaint little coffee shop on the Esplanade in Durban.
Max & Miller was the law firm that occupied the space above the coffee shop. The stuffed suits, Bonelo named the lawyers. Black suited lawyers visited the coffee shop regularly for their dose of caffeine before burying their head in their law books.
Zoe thought of herself as a plain Jane. An ugly duckling that never became the swan. But she does show promise. An Indian beauty hidden under the façade of haughtiness. With a little help of make-up and a wardrobe change, besides the unflattering chef’s uniform, she could be really beautiful.

She checked her profile in the mirror before the lunch hour rush. It was force of habit making sure that she was presentable before serving the customers. She touched up her eye with some black eyeliner. Zoe was a simple, ordinary girl with the most devastating eyes you have ever seen.
“I’ll kill for eyes like yours” Bonelo often said. Those eyes could melt a million hearts. Zoe did not realize the power they had. Those hazel eyes with specs of green would make any guy swoon over her but she never used them to her full advantage.

The coffee shop was extremely busy on Valentine’s Day and Zoe’s mousse au chocolat with strawberry coulis was a smashing hit. “Must say, the stuffed suits really enjoyed the choc mousse grunted Bonelo. “ R6500, for the day’s takings is pretty good.”

“Zoe!” screeched Bonelo, like a crazy women. “What’s up!” said Zoe blowing a small fuse. “Come here immediately” she said excitedly. “Delivery for Miss Zoe.” She was flabbergasted. She was not expecting anything thing let alone a dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. “Hand it over” Bonelo grabbed the bouquet and the card attached. To the women with the most mesmerizing eyes! Wow! warned you about those eyes.” She said, clutching the card close to her heart. “I wonder who it is,” Zoe said deep in thought.

Zoe was certainly surprised. “Roses on Valentine’s Day just for me.” She was more curious than excited. She hated secrets and surprises and this was going to eat at her until she found out who it was. If I know who it is then I know who I must stay away from, she thought, popping a chocolate truffle in her mouth in a blasé manner.
Little notes were on the stoep of the coffee every day since Valentine’s Day. One liner poems that made her heart skip beats. She secretly slipped them into her handbag and read them at home over and over again. “My heart beats a rhythm only for you, how do I love thee let me count the ways, shall I compare thee to a summers day. Love is like a rose a red red rose. My heart in my hand I offer it to you”.
This man certainly knew the way to Zoe’s heart. She waited for the poems daily with an excitement she only knew. As much as she loved Bonelo, she certainly could not be trusted. Everyone in the coffee shop would find out about Zoe’s little love poems and she would be the talk of the town.

Zoe is a very private person. She rarely ever showed anyone her feelings or desires. It came out more expressively in the delicious desserts and pastries her prepared. It was a reflection of her emotions. Beautiful, delicate, artistic and highly edible. No one truly knew her. She closed everyone out. If she ever let you in it meant that you could be trusted and were very, very special. People often thought of her as been difficult but trust had to be earned and she certainly made people work to earn her trust. She loved poetry since a young age. A simple poem could make her shed tears but she shed tears, only in solitude. Her privacy was precious and she was always in control of her emotions.

She imagined falling in love many times. It was not the Mills and Boon type of love affair. She was mature beyond her age and love had a deeper meaning to her. It was utter trust and unconditional love, warts and all.
“Hey Zoe what’s up? Is something the matter?” Bonelo wondered about the change in her. She’s been trying to conceal it but those bits of extra sparkle in those hazel eyes were unmistakable.

She has been meeting her secret admirer. She left work early one Friday. He knew her so she did not need to make much of an impression but she still wanted to be pleasing. He’s only seen her in the chef’s uniform. Sweaty and smelling of cinnamon or some other exotic spice. She picked out a lavender summer dress that accentuated her womanly figure. She kept make- up to a minimum. Just a dash of gold eye shadow that made her eyes stand out. Yardley sienna lipstick. A touch of water proof mascara and some foundation cream to matt her olive skin.

Stars sparkled like diamonds in the night. The moon illuminated the night sky which gave it an indigo hue. She walked to the life guard station across milky lane. She watched him from afar. .He slowly turned around as he saw her walking towards him. Smiling, eyes sparkling with anticipation. Yellow rose in his hand just like he said in his text message.
He smiled lovingly and took her hand in his. Her heart raced like a river after a torrential storm. She was both nervous and excited at the same time. A warm sea breeze blew through her long black hair. He gently tucked the loose tendril behind her ear. Sensations ravaged her body and she breathing became raspy. That simple gesture was overwhelming to her.

He was everything she expected but even more. It felt as if they have known each other all their lives. The world around her changed. Everything looked different. It amazed her, how being in love changed her perspective of life in general. Everything had a new meaning. A simple sunset had an allure of romance. The colours of blue, orange and pink on the horizon created an exotic atmosphere for lovers everywhere.
Nothing could spoil her good mood these days. Even when Nikiwe burnt the caramel sauce for the crème caramels they were preparing for the Max & Miller awards function. Nikiwe looked like she was going to sob uncontrollably “Do it over, instructed Zoe “and be extra careful this time.” Nikiwe gave Bonelo a quizzical look combined with a huge sigh of relief. Bonelo just shrugged her shoulders. . “Whatever she’s on make sure she keeps the prescription filled at all times” said a dazed Nikiwe

“Girl, are you humming that song from Aashiqui 2, that Bollywood movie you lent me. This is so unlike you. I have, well, we all have noticed that you have not been yourself lately. We’ve got to talk .What’s up, what’s going on with you girl?
If I tell you, do you promise not to breathe word of it to anyone? Cross your heart and hope to die.
Cross my heart promised Bonelo
Well, I met him,
Met who? asked Bonelo.
Him, Mr. Red roses, Mr. Right said Zoe dreamily.
What, where and when? Bonelo demanded answers to her questions.
Two months ago.
And you kept it from me all along.
How could you?
He’s fantastic, he gets me and I can trust him.
How often do you see each other?
That’s complicated. Mostly week days after work and weekends if he gets a break
A break from what asked Bonelo
From his wife said Zoe sheepishly
Bonelo eyes popped and her jaw dropped she was bowled over. I can’t believe it. It’s not like you
Zoe! You’ve got to end this asap. You will only get hurt and imagine if his wife finds out.
My gosh! He is much older than you.
Twenty years older than me whispered Zoe.
You’ve got yourself a sugar daddy. What is his agenda?
He doesn’t have one said a frustrated Zoe, already regretting confiding in Bonelo
Zoe hated been questioned by anyone let alone her best friend Bonelo.
Of all people she should understand after all she has been there, done that and got the t shirt.
Gosh Zoe, sometimes you can be so doff. He must have an agenda all men have one.
Remember, I have been there. Married men never leave their wives.
What is missing in his home life?
I don’t know, we don’t talk about it and I’d rather not go there.
“Listen, Bonelo. I’ve tried to end it but I can’t. He is an addiction; I wait every morning for the sun to rise so that I can see him or hear his voice or just received a text message. Nobody gets me like him. I have tried to end it a thousand times. I just can’t my heart won’t allow it. I don’t have the freedom of flaunting my love to the world. I often ask myself why me, why did I have to fall in love with a married man”

Bonelo was dazed. She learnt more about Zoe than she’s learnt in two years that they have been friends. She poured out her heart to Bonelo. She needed to vent her feelings. To talk it over with a friend. She carried a heavy burden and the guilt was agonizing.
Bonelo understood what Zoe meant. She’s had friendly chats with him a few times when he has come over for morning coffee and the daily newspaper. He has a charisma about him and a laugh that sounded genuinely charming and magnetic. Women were attracted to him.
He looked at Zoe with a genuine adoration and fondness. But, he knew his story and the reasons for having the affair. As much as Bonelo tried to discourage Zoe from continuing with the affair she understood her friend. This secret, she will carry to her grave.
She was intoxicated by his love and the exhilarating feelings that came along with it. She is a passionate women and he reveled with ardent desire. He brought out a hunger in her that she never knew existed. His kiss, his touch, sent shockwaves through her body. She was attracted to his mind, body and soul. She was a wanderlust searching for the missing piece of the puzzle until she met him. He eased that restless spirit and ceased the wanderlust in her.
She made up her mind that instant. Whatever the consequences, whatever the future may bring he is, her here and now. Her moment in the sun. She decided to love even if it means loving only once in her life time. She twisted the emerald ring on her finger. “A token of my love” Raj said when he slipped the ring on to her finger. Life, love and people are strange. We give so much of ourselves in the most unexpected ways.

I love you Bessie Head

I am tired. I look at other women in the ward and I see that they are tired too. It is hot. There is nothing that I can do to escape this intolerable heat. I lie under this sheet in this hospital. The doctor said I should just rest. Close my eyes and try and get some rest. There is nothing else they can do for me. But I have come to this nothing place in this nothing district to get away from my past. This too shall pass. The woman next to me keeps looking at me strangely. Are you God? She asks me. Some days it is, ‘Do you know his son Jesus Christ?’ She has a bible. She refuses to eat. Nobody visits her. Nobody visits me but that is because nobody knows where I am. There are ancient lives under Botswana’s sky. I found when I used to be a journalist in another lifetime when I wrote about people in that distant past there used to be something urgent about it but something unfinished as well. Writing also saved my life, having a child and a man in my life. But the doctors, the nuns here say I will go out of my head if I think that way. They say that everything is for the best now. I can go and sit outside today. It’s a beautiful day. Warm and sunny. Every day there was fruit at the hospital. Yesterday we had mangoes. The mango’s flesh tasted wonderful. It reminded me of my childhood, of my sister, the warmth of a pinch of cumin offered to a supper meal, a country to call my own and the girl I was once. Not like some of those coquettish ones but a unique who suffered from anticipatory nostalgia from one moveable feast that she found from one book to the next. A woman received some avocados in the ward and she shared it amongst her friends. I spooned the ripe olive-looking flesh out of the skin and sucked the threads off my fingers. Beautiful. I asked my doctor for some pages or a notebook and a pen that I could write with. I felt I had something to say when he asked what it was for. Sometimes the heat here in Botswana smells like incense burning. It goes to my head and stays there for ever after. Lovely. Poignant. Fresh. Burning sweetly reminding me of my female intuition. This heat has saved me. It has slowed all the racing thoughts within my head and they’re all within my grasp now.

‘Tell me Bessie do you have any friends here at the hospital. People who you can talk to.’
‘Friends? Tell me what the meaning of that word is doctor. To stay here does not mean it is a permanent residence. I will move on from here as I have done before. It is not good to remain tied down, make bonds with people, and form relationships that will probably only hurt you in the end. I have found that out the hard way. Breaking ties with people oh I’ve done that my whole life.’

And for a long time the doctor and I sat next to each other saying very little. We spoke about the weather and poetry and bananas of all things. Yes of all things in the world we spoke about bananas. Bananas dominated the conversation when we eventually came round to speaking about it.

‘Doctor, are you happy? Are you happy with your life? If you could go back to the past what would you change?’ I ask plaintively.
The doctor looked out into the distance. There was a lovely breeze. ‘Lovely breeze Bessie, don’t you think. You’re very serious this afternoon. What has got you to think so deeply? Are you feeling morose?’
‘Perhaps I am. But there have been times when thinking morose has saved my life. I’ve either stored enough of it away or not enough. And when it comes to those times of not enough I take to my bed, pull the sheets over my head. I don’t need friends. Everybody needs a friend but I don’t believe that people need friends in life. So, are you happy doctor?’
‘Don’t I look happy Bessie?’
‘I don’t know. Are you?’
‘Today this morning a nurse misplaced a file. I was not happy about that. But I had a hot cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a sandwich. Soon I will return your notebook. Perhaps you should think of going for a walk with the other patients.’

The notebook has saved my life but I don’t tell the doctor that.

‘Wake up. Wake up all you blasphemous fools. All you fools that are sinners. All you Judases that have betrayed God with a kiss. Blasphemy. Blasphemy. I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride. Speak now or forever hold your peace. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam. Michael row your boat to shore. Repent, you wicked sinner or you will never receive salvation.’
I pretend I am fast asleep. I can hear her walking up and down in the room. She is wearing sandals. Soft like ballet slippers. Another woman is sobbing into her pillow at the far end of the room. ‘Make her stop doing that.’ I hear her say but nobody comes to make her stop.
‘Are you awake yet? Wake up. I have good news for you. It is the coming of the Lord, the father of our Jesus Christ, son of David.’
‘Wake up.’

And every time she walks past my bed she says those words. And finally I turn my head and play dumb, nodding my head. In a way it is soothing to know that the religious part of me that was always there within, along with my faith, my values, and my spirituality has never ever left me. It is only the woman in the bed next to me. The aliens have contacted her and they have a message for our government or she can see into the future and the human race have to be saved or she is a modern female version of Nostradamus. It has saved my life. This needful thing of people needing friends. God I love you Botswana. All my life I have carried this yolk of being an only child, the shroud of being an orphan has shadowed me all my life. I wonder now what it would be like to have grown up in a family with other sisters and brothers and to find rainbows everywhere you looked even in the Sudan, in the desert, in Kenya, in Ghana.

When it comes to the wife and kindness you will find her in rooms. But I did not find my mother there. My mother was White. My father was Black. I was born during apartheid South Africa. They put ‘mixed race’ on my birth certificate. The city would not accept them, their love story so I was taken away, given up to a kind-hearted missionary family. I do not hate my mother. I never knew either of my parents. Laws, regulations, the powers that were replaced love, a mother’s love. When I think about my mother now first you will find her, my mother with European blood, mostly German in her in the kitchen. She is baking a cake. I am licking the bowl out. It tastes like chocolate. It is for my birthday party. All my friends and cousins, family and family friends will be there but they are men and women dreaming about being found. I can’t get back to him, my father, the garden boy who couldn’t probably read or write. They found a sea of words and experiences in a rose garden filled with trees. Was my father a savage? My maternal grandfather probably thought so. He probably thought that my father was also a rapist. My mother was beautiful, sophisticated, elegant, and young. Much too young to have me. She was also mentally ill. There’s an unbearable lightness to it when you’re a sufferer of it in the world. People don’t understand the stigma, you are hidden away like Mrs Rochester, Pinkerton’s Sister, you drink like Jean Rhys, and you have a suicidal illness like Plath and Anne Sexton, you have love affairs. Brush the romanticism off them and become promiscuous. A she-wolf. And now all the time before I fall asleep, close my eyes I imagine my grandmother brushing my mother’s hair before she goes to bed and wondering if my mother wondered what happened to me and what was going to become of her. In my subconscious there are unstable, strained realities. Some are bipolar as there were inside my mother’s head. The world does not seem to see me, understand me or accept me as a writer, poet, intellectual and rival to man. Where did help come from for my biological mother? She came from a wealthy Johannesburg family. Did she hold me when I was born or was I simply taken away? Did she understand what was happening around her?

‘Can I read what you’ve written Bessie?’ my doctor asks. He pushes his glasses up his nose. He is in his mid-thirties, young, young enough to be my son.

She feels as if she is defying gravity when she thinks about her son and where he is now. The doctor is as handsome as her son who was most probably now wandering throughout an unnamed city.

‘I don’t know if it makes much sense. I was a journalist in another world. Dimensions of truth always seem to lead me to a naked city. Doctor, you don’t look as if you eat.’
The doctor smiles. ‘I eat. But my day gets very busy. I usually have some tea and a sandwich or some fruit.’
‘Yes, but you must eat something much more substantial than that.’ I shook my head.
‘How are you feeling today otherwise Bessie?
‘Tired. Pensive. The writing helps.’
‘Hmm. I see. It is good that you’ve found something to occupy your mind with. You see that is always good. You know that there is not much else we can do for people who suffer from your malady at the hospital.’
‘Here’s my notebook doctor. It is mostly fragments. It is almost as if my head is communicating to my heart but there’s a filter. There’s a switch in my brain. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
‘Yes, I completely understand.’ The doctor said without understanding. He leaned back against the bench and rested his hands on his knees. ‘Do you miss those days at the newspaper?’
‘Yes and no. Once in a while. All the time. Sometimes when I think about it I think about what I’m missing and sometimes I dream about it.’
‘Tell me doctor do you have a wife.’
The doctor smiles. ‘Yes, yes I do have a wife.’
‘I don’t believe you. If you had a wife she wouldn’t let you survive on fruit alone and a sandwich and tea for lunch.’ The doctor smiled and then he began to laugh. The doctor laughed like a hyena. ‘Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh.’ He put his hand in front of his mouth as if he was coughing.
‘Bessie I think I will leave you now. I will take this with me, your notebook and read it. I encourage you not to be so pensive, not to think so much. And get as much rest as you can especially in the afternoons. It is good to rest. Good for the body. Good for the spirit. Keeps your spirits up. Good for the soul. Soup for the soul as the North Americans say. I read that in a book somewhere.’

And since it was nearly Easter I asked him do they make pickled fish in this part of Africa, this part of the world and he said no. They ate a kind of fried fish, sometimes they dried it in the sun. He said it was delicious. His mother was still alive so she made it when there was a family function sometimes and his wife too. I turned my head as if I was telling the doctor a secret.
The potatoes are hard. I can’t eat this. So I push it away on my plate. I drink my water. The nun pulls a face when she comes to collect my plate. I pretend I don’t see. They always say we should eat everything on our plate and not leave a bite. The vegetables come in a watery broth that tastes like nothing but they say it is good for us. It will strengthen us.
‘You won’t be getting any fruit if you don’t eat everything. Food is good for you.’ I pretend I don’t hear the nun. I rather pretend that I’m asleep. But I know that she knows I am only pretending. I feel sticky and hot. The sheets are pressed up against my skin. There is no air conditioning here.

I am making a supper. I am making a grown up supper for my mother and me. I am cooking traditional. This is for a mother I have never met. She is wearing something out of The Great Gatsby as if she is a flapper. She wears a rope of pearls around her neck. She fingers every pearl as if someone is going to steal them from her. My table is unlike any table she’s ever sat at. It is quite plain just like her wallflower daughter. Malay cuisine. She does not speak to me. She does not make eye contact with me. This is what those kind of women were like in those days. The things she would say would kill me. ‘This is too cold.’ And she would make a face as if she was going to be sick. ‘Take this away. I am not going to eat this. It’s inedible.’ Believe me there are some days I am happy I never knew her.

Bright lunatic, bouncing off the walls there were moments when my moods were both electrifying and terrifying until I found myself in this country. Botswana and I immediately fell in love with it like I did with the name Maru. Outside seems to be a very good way of looking in. The earth bottom’s out streaming, flowing. I taste the rain and swallow. Yes, even in Botswana it rains in the evenings when Africa is at her most beautiful.

For wintering you need layers of clothes. Thoughts like who created the wounded in modern war. The parting gift from this prideful world to the hereafter. The fog has taken a lover. The wasteland that lies before and behind me, farming communities, families, lovers of Botswana where the light is all shiny and new. In the material world I go by the name of Bessie Head. Not even the important people read my books in South Africa even though I was published in London. I no longer fulfill that role or function here in this hospital. No longer wife, no longer mother, no longer journalist chasing after genocide, asking those tough questions.

And so I forget about the sun.

When I think of suicidal illness, of the poetry that was written on the sometimes brutal wonder of living and taking your last breath on this earth I think about how Sylvia Plath wrote about the biblical Lazarus. And in spite of the men around her who thought they were worldlier than female poets and that she could never be worldly enough as if she was the first woman to even contemplate doing something like that (it had to come from a thought, a pure thought) and she did not fail. Everything after that was just a test that she passed, that was an achievement with flying colors. If I could become something much more than my disability, my infertility, the thread of alcoholism and addiction that ran throughout my family history on both sides of the family tree. If I could just become a sea of hands then I would become the winner who would stand alone.

All is not well

Everything is disjointed especially when they (the words) are first coming into being, in fragments, there’s no clarity to me the reader. Everything is a journey. Follow me they seem to say. Come with me.

When disjointed fragments of the spirit become apparent so does the dysfunctionality and the moods in families. I’ve lived with it for all of my life. Alcoholism and addiction and finding myself in that sometimes harmonic space of looseness, threads disconnecting and coming together again, the family going on holiday and reconciling and then going their separate ways again afterwards. It became ritualistic. Sunday and chicken, Easter and pickled fish, tumbling head first into Christmas and the feast that waited for us on the dining room table after church. When you’re a child and everything, every corner that you turn seems to torment you, what do you do when you crave an intimate world? When people in your childhood world aren’t kind, aren’t loyal, aren’t normal, live without love and teach you to live without love too and so you begin to live in books. You love the beach, hate having your picture taken because you have to smile and it is just so hard to smile from your perspective. You begin to love Jean Rhys, slowly fall in love with her and Mrs Rochester, their madness becomes your madness, you becoming, you becoming without knowing, without thinking it, it just happens by chance, a mad dance. You begin to feel shame, humiliation, selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant, willful, and you tell yourself that you need love to exist and you watch the world around you, how it isolated you, your strangeness, one-who-flew-the-cuckoo’s-nest type of stuff in your head. You see couples. You see families. You see love and you don’t see love.

You are not the chosen one. You are not the winner. I am not the chosen one. I am not the winner and you convince yourself that love is just a thing, a possession for others to have and to hold onto. It is not the hardest feeling in the world to think that way. Becoming, becoming, becoming. I am fading away amongst the pillars of our community. Why is it so hard to live?

What happened to me as a child?

‘What are they doing? Don’t be shy. Tell me.’ A teacher asks me and I almost feel like crying, feeling humiliated, as if I was slapped very hard in the face all of fourteen. He has stripped me of the pureness I still had, destroyed my virtue and dignity.

And he smiles. He knows he has the upper hand. What else can he do but play this game, his game, an adult game? His wife is in the kitchen preparing supper. Doing what so many women of her generation do in the evenings after work (my mother was not a woman of her generation). His children are outside on the lawn playing. I can see them from where I am sitting. I can’t escape. It is the first time I see physically the sex impulse in the man. There is nothing I can do but wait for his interest to wane and for my mother to rescue me from my extra-lesson. They are photographs. Photographs of animals.
‘Nothing.’ I say. ‘Nothing I can see. I don’t know what they’re doing.’ I say firmly. He laughs at me as if I am a funny little girl, a strange creature, and silly.
‘If you say so. Don’t be so. Don’t be so serious. I was only playing, playing with you.’ He replies and takes his photographs back and puts it in a folder.

Older. (In seduction there is only theory and identity. Who submits and who is the one who dominates the situation.)
Every day I am so excited to see you, wonderful you and I wonder about the secrets of your heart Robert. Could they be as deep as mine, as deep as the river of blood flowing in veins? You enclose my mind but you are not free. But it is much like the secrecy of the deep, of my hometown’s darkening waters. Best left as images stitched together like the strategy of a quilt or patchwork. There’s something about the sky above you about you that I adore. I can’t take my eyes off you. But already I know I am sick, dying to belong in one sense in modern society and in another I am so far removed from reality, from normal and only you seem to be able to see this. Lovesick, I feel now that he was the only person who knew and understood me completely, that I was addicted to feeling in control and out of it mostly.

Port Elizabeth. It feels so long ago as to how my childhood home revived me. They make me feel as tough as strings of beef.

War has visited house by house during the riots. It tastes like a stale loaf that has been left out too long. A slice of hard, dry bread that you can crack between your fingers and leave your desire for longing for the light in my eyes. It feels as if it’s burning. Something on edge like ballet pointes. The frozen wasteland of the streets of Johannesburg. My brown nylon stockings are hung up to dry in the bathroom. The streets are a catapulted realm of new-found freedom exploding into stardom. Where and when does the external become important too and what becomes of all the rage, and all the sadness, take it all away from me, from my childhood? Is it Chatterley’s ghost – what is it that terrifies me so? Is it the cold comfort of the Scriptures? Do we live as we dream? ‘Take it all off he said. I want to watch you take it all off.’ I obeyed. The day I left you and not the other way round I put the disorder between us, the words that were said and could not be said into a box. How you dominated me, wounded me, what you made me feel with a glance, with one look, how you desired me and what you made me think when you ran your fingers up and down my spine asking me over and over, ‘Can you feel that? What does that make you feel?’ ‘It makes me feel calm, otherness.’ ‘Not happy. Don’t you feel happy child?’ ‘I feel as if there are boundaries between us.’ There are always boundaries between a man and a woman but you are too young to know that yet.’ ‘When you put your arms around me when I’m naked I feel epic.’ ‘Epic. Now that is a strange word for a child to use.’ ‘Isn’t that the word you use when you describe your books to your classes?’ ‘Yes, maybe.’ And I could feel him smile as he massaged my shoulders and kissed my neck. His arms feel like the handmaiden’s rope around my neck. There’s no place, no room for hysteria only violent phenomena in this bedroom. This is not my house. This is not my home. I don’t struggle. I just feel a release. It is sharp. He has introduced me to books and films, French films and pasta and wine, preserved figs, chai tea that I’ve become passionate about and J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. The Childhood of Jesus. The House Gun. I am so far away from my mother’s house, the house of a monster, her primitive hatred of me that ran like an electric current into my fingertips torturing me, and my cries that nobody heard. Her obsession, her mental abuse, no wife, no kindness had she for a mentally ill daughter. She was kind of a deranged person with her own emotional damages. One person to another and another funny kind of cruel person to me. I felt a violent despair for Robert. Could he see all of this in me? But the lover was something else. He made me cheese on toast. ‘So this is all a divorced father can make.’ He smiled. I smiled. And I remembered the mad, dark sea of Port Elizabeth, the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape, the green feast of Swaziland and how far I had come to eating cheese on toast. Electric hurt is the price every poet must pay. I slept with a lot of men in Johannesburg. Older, wiser, more experienced, divorced, married, some had children, some had one and some were lonely like I was. I think they all had a traumatic loneliness like I had. To sleep with someone like me I guess you had to have one.

I’ve thought of suicide. And I am sure everyone with a suicidal illness thinks of it at some point in their lives. I feel as if I have been part of the Otherness of the universe at large. They would say things to me although it would frustrate me sometimes stuff like, ‘It’s all part of Phenomena. Maintenance. You don’t have to worry about that. I will take care of you child.’ I didn’t want their money. I wanted love but they would smile at me when I spoke of it as if I was too young to know of such things, much too inexperienced but to me I knew a man had to offer me a window to that world or leave a door ajar. I had too much of a primitive instinct for love, and a hyperactive imagination. I wasted my youth and in Otherness I didn’t.

When he entered me I thought I would experience hysteria, a flood of those traumatic experiences I had in childhood and adolescence would somehow be reawakened in me. It’s not that they would buy me beautiful things, a bracelet, a pretty relic, it was the things that they would say to me. Their intellect, their fierce intelligence, how they would make me laugh and when I telephoned them I could have a few minutes of their precious time listening to their brutally articulately voices at the other end. How they would make me blush.

She is not mummy. She is mummy’s sister. She’s been away a long time. She’s gone to heaven. Reminding me that Sunday is a ghost of a day. And so is the chicken. All of my life I’ve worshiped cake with a ‘higher learning’, a ‘poetic justice’, eating bread, cinnamon rolls and pudding like it came with the light of the world. Gold is the owlish sun-god Ra.

Port Elizabeth. Home. Home has given me burning driftwood wings. Up, up, up and then down, down, down like a moth inhaling smoke evaporating in air.

The air tastes like fried fish, smells like calamari rings, frying chips in oil that’s weeks old in the café. A man is following me home. He is calling after me. I begin to pick up speed, walk faster, think it will be suicide to stop, to pause, to think. I turn around. I know this man. I sometimes give him dry bread and hot tea. Today I give him bread and hot tea again. His clothes are splattered with paint. Mummy paints the world dead leaving me a portrait of the female poet.
Johannesburg. He is touching me. Warm breath upon my cheek. Chaste kiss upon chaste kiss. ‘I thought you couldn’t see me.’ ‘Don’t talk.’ He says with my hair in his mouth. ‘What shampoo do you use? It tastes like pineapple. Smells expensive.’ ‘It’s my perfume. You bought it for me remember.’ ‘It smells like pineapple. You put it on your hair. Now that makes me feel young. You think of me when you were doing that?’ ‘Its flowers.’ ‘Don’t talk.’ He begins to unbutton my blouse one button at a time, puts his hand down the front of my blouse. ‘Are you enjoying this?’ ‘Yes. Yes.’ I say half-heartedly. He pushes the hair off my neck and his hand lingers there. And all I can think about is my aunt. My dead aunt. The beautiful, elegant alcoholic with two daughters and four grandchildren and an abusive husband. A handsome abuser who had a porn star’s hairdo who would physically hurl her across rooms and bounce her head against walls for merciless psychopathic fun. I would think of America and of how studying there seemed even farther out of my reach now. My aunt has been away a long time now. Gone to heaven leaving me a leper with a stoned heart, with a mother who is ice and glass, brutal and aggressive, an untitled poem who has ancient motives like the eighteen gangs in the warfare climate of the northern areas in Port Elizabeth. My aunt made me want to live. There is no speaking of Christianity and of mummy’s bright faith as I feel his hand on my thigh, brushing my skin, stroking my bare stomach draining bravery out of my spirit, out of me and calling it promiscuity. And even then during the sexual impulse I would be making up stories. I would be in some parallel universe, dimensions away, not feeling my heart’s pain or sacrifice or hearing the particles of music, even a symphony in a pop song. I would see the winter stranger by the lake, monsters, the feast of Robert (the man I could not have), see my letters in my red box of memories, having courage and a love song in the wilderness, the believer’s spring essence. What a feeling it is to be loved, to kiss when you’re awake in this world, when you walk upon this earth. I was always waiting for this spell, this magic but it never came. Only men. Only the men and they would take and take and take and leave me disillusioned and sad and suffering from depression. Strange people. What strange people men are? They can bruise a girl and flee and feel nothing in the end.

‘You’re a bicentennial girl, you know that.’ A man once told me.
‘You use big words. I don’t understand them.’ I replied.
‘It means ‘birthday’. Birthday girl. Every day you spend with me is going to be your birthday.’ He answered.
Of course I didn’t believe him and I didn’t see him all that much. He moved in higher circles than I did. His wife was a socialite and an artist. In Johannesburg I found myself in the New World. The land of giants, of immortals, of vampires who came to life in a twilight world; a wonderland of synchronicity, stimulation, the anatomy of maladies and melancholia. These men would share with me the philosophies they had about life, talk to me about their children and their wives and girlfriends, the houses that they were building, how much money they were making. Sometimes I would smoke cigarettes with them even though I didn’t smoke. They had their own motives for befriending younger people and I had mine for befriending older men, drinking with them to forget an absent father, a father who had made me grow up too fast, a mother who had neglected me, abandoned me, made me neurotic, emotionally unstable, who forced me to go beyond reality and to imagine things that had no psychological framework. My mother did not keep me from children who were rough. She threw me to the wolves, left me there. I was a drowning visitor for all of my life. I was the one who had to push myself out of the nest. My mother and father were so distracted by their own melancholia they hardly noticed when I left for the streets of Johannesburg searching everywhere destination anywhere for a miracle, for a return to love, for a boyfriend, a brave desert cowboy, an arrogant urban cowboy.

Promiscuity for me was so easy. An adult game. Strangers meeting strangers. I could kill like my mother could kill. Sometimes I would worry about the connection I would have with someone I would meet. He would brush my hair out of my face. We would go to a park, sit on the grass, take our shoes off, talk for hours, play chess or go to his room in Hillbrow. He would sell roses. I would do and think and act like my mother. I would brush him off the next time we would meet remembering everything about him, tell him to leave me alone. How he said, ‘You’re lovely.’ How could a girl ever forget that, when a man told her she was lovely?

Home was hell. School was hell too.

There was no motive for burning driftwood on the beach that night but the teenagers did it anyway and they sat and watched the flames burn on the night they matriculated and drank their father’s single malt whiskey, cheap wine that came in boxes, alcohol and beers and made out with each other in parked cars. This was their spot and for one night in their lives they weren’t going to be responsible. I was at home. I was at home reading a book. Milan Kundera. I was trying to find my identity. I was trying to find myself, educate myself. My mother was slowly becoming addicted to over-the-counter pain medication and alcohol. She and my brother would drink vodka and beers together and I would watch silently as this scene would unfold in front of me every night, hating it as it haunted me into sleep. Sometimes I would worry what was going to become of me. I began to write. Mostly about a man’s desires. I could not give the impulse a name yet. My father began to watch them too. His neck, a turkey neck, nude flesh. The man who had given me everything as a child and who had later began to grow more and more remote as I had begun to grown older.

I am writing. I am writing my kind-of-poetry. It is a late history of autumn poems. It reminds me of Ezra Pound’s Alba, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, crazy people, Gatsby’s kind-of-people, those loony tunes who weren’t at first glance emotionally secure, men and women who sabotaged themselves.

The strange people. Men are strange people. How brutally articulate they are. Electric hurt, electric sacrifice is the price that every poet must pay especially poets who have a hyperactive imagination.

Sometimes I would dream of that sea, a mad, dark sea, and a warm pilgrim, who had an obsession with the violent despair of a man who could never love her. It would feel as if I was being driven through with a stake made out of chiseled wood through my heart. I often felt a primitive and traumatic loneliness in a Johannesburg filled with up and down streets, cold alleyways, homosexuals standing on street corners in skinny jeans with cigarettes in their mouths coming out of the clubs in the early hours of the morning.

‘What do you eat?’ he asked me once (the lover). ‘You’re so skinny. I can feel your lovely bones. Ribs. Spine. Shoulder blades. Neck. Chin. Your features are Germanic. What do you live on? Bread and cheese and gin. So much tension in the beating of your heart, anger in your eyes, tears on your lashes and now there’s a forced smile I’ve been waiting all evening for.’ He said and there was almost a kind-of-joy in his voice.
‘I eat. I live. I survive just like anybody else.’ I answered. ‘I never said I needed you. Never said this was romantic love. I don’t need you to tell me that I’m beautiful.’
‘Child, why must you lie to yourself? I know for a fact how much you’ve already destroyed yourself. Look at me when I’m speaking to you. I don’t say these things to hurt you. God only knows how much you’ve been hurt by people before me and what kind of hell you’ve lived in before. I, I can only imagine. Listen to me. You don’t have to lie to me.’
‘Is it written on my face? Is it written on my body for the world to see that I have sabotaged myself again, again and again? I want to smoke now.’
‘What are you going to do when you’re not young anymore?’
‘I’ll be dead long before that.’
‘Why do you talk like that?’
‘You asked me that. What did you think I was going to answer with?’ And I blew the smoke in rings out of my mouth.

He kissed me hard then and I felt the world turn. I was a dream. He was a dream. He was love but he was not mine and for now I could feel unafraid, soft in his rough hands. I felt unashamed as he took my suffering, erased my madness, my sadness, innocence, and my childhood, the memory of a mother who did not love me, a father who did not speak to me anymore as I had grown more and more like a modern version of his wife.

‘Sweet girl.’
‘Why do you call me that?’
‘Because you are a sweet girl.’
‘But it sounds as if you still see me as a child.’
‘You’re seventeen. You’re still a child. And you shouldn’t smoke. You’re too young.’
‘I need you. Why are you leaving me so soon? You taught me how to smoke amongst other things.’ He kissed the top of my head and pulled the sheet above my naked body.
‘This is just a journey that you’re on little one. I have a house filled with women. Daughters, a wife and a housekeeper, maids. You will have many journeys. How we came to meet, you will soon forget. You will seduce and be seduced. This is the way of life my princess.’

Muse named. Muse unnamed. No promises were often made. A mother was gone, returned to the wards of hell from whence she came. With no gift of a father’s protection as I entered the world’s cruel, dark and dangerous waters some days were good and others not. Promiscuity was just a part of the Luciferian culture, the underground and urban youth culture infiltrating dreams, yielding disorder in all of the seasons. It must be so you know for each generation becomes challenged in their own separate ways. Teenagers become rebellious especially when it comes to sexuality. Your eyes have such a clarity to them Robert. What are you like privately? Do you know what it feels like to be homesick for a country to call your own? I feel homesick. A loneliness, a frustration, a compulsion, all suicidal. Who seduces you? Does Jesus seduce you? A girl who thinks about things like that. How I wished with all my heart, my internal organs and the symmetries of my tissue that he loved me on that dark road. Nothing but that big swamp of a Johannesburg ahead of mute, over-exposed, observant me. No longer a steely-eyed child, no longer ablaze with youth. It is the same me. It is the same morning but always walking down a different street and leaving confessions behind, weathering grief. Nothing to hold onto on my own. You take my head in your hands, I can’t cope, and I turned away. Later I found myself naked under moonlight, an insomniac in a strange world, in an even stranger man’s world. The cell door opens for you but not for me. Rain exists for me but not for you lover striking a nerve in-a-kind-of-gulf. Rain like silver, rain like hurt and pain (a flood of it cometh) for me but not for you.

I am in the shower, skin soaked with fragrance and soap, soaked skin from him after I removed my black skirt, white shirt and heels. And I try not to think about the man who gave me my first physical hurt turned into emotional then turned into mental. He brushes my fingers against his bottom lip. ’Lovely. Palace of love. Lovely eyes, lovely tongue and lovely fingers.’

‘It is impossible to know me. You will never know me.’ He laughs and laughs and laughs.
‘You belong in Paris. You can become a writer there. You have such a wild imagination.’
‘Right now I just feel indifferent to everything you are telling me. I thought you didn’t have the time to read anything I wrote.’
‘I make the time for things that are important to me. You’re important to me. Can you lift your hysterical veil now for once and let us have an adult conversation.’
‘Am I more important to you than your wife and your dinners and your parties?’
‘For now, for this minute, these two hours, yes you are. You look breath-taking by the way.’
I have stepped out of the shower, rinsed my perfumed hair, and dressed myself in a white large hotel towel.
‘Do you want to eat something now?’
‘Always room service.’
‘I thought you preferred it that way.’
‘No I do.’
‘Why don’t you dress yourself in front of me? Everything about you is beautiful. You’re a gift, a gift from the universe to me.’
‘You know if this was still apartheid we would both be arrested.’ I took off the towel, flung it onto the floor and got into the bed naked. They all gave me such confidence and a bravado.

I cannot see the future only the perspective of the present. It is like a house on fire melting humanity’s junk, J.M. Coetzee’s ‘skin and hair’ and magic fantastical plastic. I’ve walked the sunburnt miles, forgot what my name was, what the taste of my lipstick was on his lips, what it meant to trace my limbs with his, to sleep arm in arm, fingertips caught between fingers, my what he calls ‘my hysterical veil’. I need lovers, spirited male conversation (the educated, and the ancient the better) to resolve my history. Make it plain for me to see that I’ve moved on from a religious household where spirituality included daily prayers and meditation, Holy Communion with pieces of bread and grape juice. I needed bold men in my life like I needed air.

Robert, you are that most rare thing, angelic dreamer. So you supplied me with inspiration. So you cut me in deep, imaginative and raw ways. A cut from your blade was a project. Thinking of you, staring at you, looking at you, your progress illuminated the world around me. Everything was brighter. I regained my strength. I had a childhood love for you. It was lost on the pages of my journal. Lost always lost. You laugh and say nothing and it hurts. The bright heights of it. Lying on my back I’ve been draped with a blackening world’s information. When evening comes it is even more poetic than the previous day’s evening. And when I spy the afternoon sun, that great yellow balloon, I am a woman found who dares not speak of the insanity found in her family and whose shell of pain is wet and bitter. I have lived in chosen exile. On the surface prayer is like a vision, cold is a delight, the silver lining that passes by, salt and air meeting on the wind. In poverty there is always decay, the song of a choirgirl, crystals of light, a graffiti of them. I trace them on my arm, the windows and my palms. What he, the lover does not know won’t kill him like it kills me? I am slowly destroying myself. I have nowhere to go but down, down, down and there is no one to rescue me, to pull me out from under the dark towards the light.

His roses looked like cabbages. Red cabbages, a red song for the mad girl, a flower for my bleeding heart. The boy I used to play chess with in the park, sit on the grass barefoot, walk to the library with. He doesn’t have a name. His face doesn’t exist in my memory anymore. He has become a dark line, a dark fantasy although I can still hear his voice but it is from far away. All these affairs of the heart has made me feel strangely creative. They slide through me, teach me, whisper to me in the dark. I hate the dark. I need the light to burn bright even in the middle of the night. I pull sheets over mirrors. And I imagine the lover whose dark hair smelled of rain. The rain of a child’s world. This is my sky, my grass, my rage (I view the world as an Outsider). Girls are drinking beers in fancy restaurants trying to make conversation. Crystals of light evaporate in winter rain outside my window. Sexuality is really not of the flesh although most people think it is. It is of the mind. It is of the ego. It is intellectual. When is childhood ever at an end? This planet is unstable. I am unstable. I was tangled in an obsession for being a ghostly not of the flesh sexual object. I thought that that would open doors for me to humanity for humanity’s sake. I thought I would be able to hear the chords of the earth’s harmony. It kills me to say this. Madness can be as magnificent as euphoria. If only my childhood was different.

Anne Sexton. Sylvia Plath. Robert Lowell. Confessional poetry down a brick lane. Confessional poetry for a coquettish girl. How beautiful and extraordinary those words seem to me now and forever more. When is childhood ever at an end for a writer, years of history and the educating of a young girl’s mind? I saw pictures of a formidable brick wall seeming to close in on me in those affairs of the heart and the mind. Disjointed, evaporated fragments of the spirit. And every one becoming more and more apparent to me as the long days and the longer nights went by of my late adolescence and early twenties.

Everything is disjointed, in fragments, there’s no clarity in what I have written down to me the reader. Everything is a journey. I’ve had enough of feeling this wretched way. Enough of the dead of a creamy-white hot summer season, a season of fruits challenging me to think and to escape into a voyage in the dark, a sheltered experience, the blue-eyed wonder of the sky, stars falling down, stars in my lover’s eyes pleading with me with a clean perception during the midnight hour, scrutinizing me openly with like minded possibilities like clouds gathering across the sky. Everything in life is a journey. One must walk the path of inexperience to get to modernity, influence, perception and wisdom. I think a writer, writers like Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Keats, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a poet like Emily Dickinson knew this.

Two Muslim girls are standing outside my office window smoking as if their lives depended on it. I hated the taste and smell of cigarettes when I lived in my hometown before I left for Johannesburg. I don’t know where the children get the impulse to smoke from these days. At this moment I am concentrating on improving myself. Having a set routine, sleep hygiene, working on not having sleep deprivation, writing in my journal. And I wonder do they think of me, the men, as often as I think of them or do not think of them? The sexual impulse is sacred but I never saw this between a man and a woman, never grew up with it only with the realisation that the weight of sin matters. I couldn’t stand to be happy. When darkness falls upon the city I came undone under his fingertips. I didn’t know why I hated myself so. Why certain books changed my life? Why I could only surrender when a man touched me? Love comes with paradise, tears, the explanations, the words, the observations that comes with gravity, the love songs, and it will leave you wanting lying in the dark. There is no such thing as organic time or a clock. White meringue weddings are for girls, for orchids, for arum lilies, for tea light candles, delicate material like lace not for a wonder guts like me, a tough cookie.

I will not appear the same in the photograph as I do in memory. What do children communicate when they laugh, when they smile? Is their world not filled with joy? Why not mine? The faded leaves of grass under school shoes, bubble-gum stuck under a school desk, reading Athol Fugard’s A Road to Mecca, remembering all of these childhood things brings something temporary to the surface. Not tension, not indifference, a feeling of love for being young and not being in an adult world yet. A feeling of being fearless, so motivated that I got the lead role of an archaeologist (or anthropologist, I forget) in a house play. I don’t know what courage means anymore. Can you see the fragments now? How disjointed the narrative is? But is it enough? Is it enough to want desire? Sometimes I think that is enough. The sexual transaction can be far removed from being ‘a moveable feast’. Dampness seeps into the lining of my coat as I enter the hotel in Johannesburg fifteen years ago with someone else this time. He does not put his hand in the small of my back. He does not offer to buy me a drink. He falls asleep almost immediately as his head hits the pillow. The relationship is over before I know it for sure. They don’t come back to me. Am I so forlorn? Is youth and wisdom wasted upon me? As a matter of fact they can all go to hell and burn there, get a nice golden brown tan with a fiery looking cough-syrupy-texture-like cocktail in one hand or Brazil or someplace exotic like Mauritius. Maybe they’re seeking much more high maintenance girls. I just wanted someone to understand me. It wasn’t so much the educating part of it that I wanted. Dead writers have taught me that the pinnacle of creative expression is to challenge conventional wisdom always. I’ve surrounded myself, invoking their spirit, reading and rereading lines of their work, succumbing to their world of madness. The world is not the same for women as it is for men. The role that women plays is still a diminished one in the equilibrium of space and time although there have been women who have been visionaries just as much as men have been. Women have taught by example, led by example just as much as men have but what these women have known is that wisdom comes later rather than sooner.

Darkness falls and I feel an emptiness inside. I am alone and I’ve finally surrendered to it. I am more in love with love than being in love with someone. I am Eve taken from Adam’s rib. A daughter doing what her mother did and did not do.

Women and men

Perhaps the history of fish and chips started in London. Salty, lemony white fish fried fish (in a baptism of sorts) usually hake wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper like a cherub in a white christening gown. I can see kitchen hands wearing aprons like costume standing anticipatory like a cadet over hot oil wearing their neat black net caps like turbans with their dark black hair tucked away (one kitchen hand has done the extreme. He has blonde hair). So the customer doesn’t find a stray hair. The air feels hot inside even I have started to sweat. Mayonnaise comes in tubs. They make their own coleslaw here in this little out of the way place but it is still popular with the lunch crowd, students from the university, business people swarm inside this place. Every season is hake season. It doesn’t matter to think that one day this fish might be extinct like what we’re doing to the dolphins when we’re catching tuna in nets. Even my blood has begun to boil in this heat. I need to eat. Even writers and poets need to eat to remind themselves that first and foremost they are notorious hunters and gatherers. Hunger reminds you that you are nothing without a full stomach. I’m having the calamari because it tastes of the sea. Salty. My mother is having hake white fish fried fish. Every fish here has gone to fishy-heaven. Nothing chemical about it. There’s no imbalance in this chain. Unlike genocide and climate change in this cool food hierarchy. The fat woman who stands behind the counter has hands like Buddha and I know for a fact she has secrets like any other. Her skin is dark like bittersweet chocolate, lips like pillows. Fat women have their secrets too. They keep them close to their heart like bone-thin reed-thin women walking-talking-skeletons. Those dancing closet anorexics bungling at feeding themselves with their eyes like slits gold bangles around their wrists. Why should there be a difference? I can feel the sweat dripping down my back. Hake is a pretty fish, an anonymous fish even amoebas are pretty under the microscope too and mitochondria, symmetries, trees, birch, driftwood, waves, the birch. Mummy’s sister has been gone for a long time. She’s gone to heaven forgotten the climate of the northern areas. Sweat is dripping down my back. I’m thinking of where I could be now. California dreaming at a university?
Investigating genocide and climate change. Standing in a protest march against sexual violence against women even though politics and the thread of violence frightens me to death. I’m thinking of reading Ezra Pound’s Alba out loud to remind myself of Neruda, Rilke, and David Foster Wallace.

And so we come to the beekeeper’s daughter’s suicide.

The glory of wisdom and ego shrunk to accommodate the villagers wounding spirits. She the significant one. She is my angelic conjured up myth. She who always tells me in her poetry to rise, rise again above volcano dreamers. Liquid deep are the secrets of my heart. The stem of intimacy grows silently. Give me enough rope and surely I will hang myself. The handmaiden’s pulse is there. The muscle is there like unfinished things from childhood.
It pushes at the difficult thoughts I have.

They have a hard appearance from the outside like a seduction theory, the blue steel of the sky, the land that borders on God, perplexity, sanctuary. Like poverty and death, the angelic dream of it. I am as serious as an ill tiger, I laugh like a hyena in the face of the man on the moon. I am a coping lioness. My mother did not keep me from children who were rough.
She wanted me to experience the world (that humanity is a violent species). My mother left me there hanging on for dear life. As a child the details of my life soon became embroidered by tortuous emptiness, the innocence of autumn cast out.

Bold smile through her great depression. Wife interrupted. Mother of Frieda and Nicholas Hughes. There was always a journey of moving forward worshipping the past. Where is the sun in an argument? Where is the physical body in flight in dream-mode? She saw the skylines of New York, had a London experience, and married an Englishman, a poet. Solitude and loneliness, being an introvert should have been included in the commandments.
Her bright faith and loyalty, the love she had for her children was like music from the heart.
Her bright faith was as bright as the lights in Los Angeles. Her loyalty was a prize. The glory of her bravery was unbalanced, and her rage was that most rare thing. Sylvia Plath, daughter and poet, wife and mother, gone too soon to heaven. Melancholia and of the sky in her eyes and the other half of her gone to hell on earth.

Bird, leaf, madness, jealousy all symbols of life, of humanity and so we come to adulthood.
Now her poetry educates young people’s minds now that she is no longer flesh, bone. I think a present-day Sylvia would be reluctant to be called beautiful, lonely, misguided, depressive, and intelligent. A Sylvia who lived a madness life, who fell ill at the end of her life, is a Sylvia whose heroism lives on in her poetry, her soul’s progress, the people who relate to it destination anywhere.

And so we come to the climate in the northern areas. The actor with their deceptive perspective. The offering from the salt of the earth burnt by the sun. The angelic link between the owl and the moon and the aware moon is a beloved and ancient witness to the stars, to evil, to the human race and all their purification rituals and dreams. Dreams between mother and daughter. Son and father, adopted prize, paper fragment. The lines of all these things appear in a hopeful climate. The lines are there complete. I am still chemistry. Particles lingering and floating in the air – romantics every one. They came from all over (my observations). Observations from childhood at a glance. I am only the passionate instrument of my faith. Warrior of light it is almost heaven. Wounded as my soul is wounded isn’t every soul? There is an authentic contract drawn up between earth, the universe and humanity. Poverty will be the death of all of us. I was mum’s second choice – I had no inheritance. Men drink women in for hours on this side of town. Children no longer live in an age of innocence
Each one suspicious, rough, picking up bad habits.

After the birds flew away winter came.
This is what I can see with ‘my eyes’. I taste the bread of life. I waited all winter for the heat of summertime. There was silence in every room of the house. A fire in my heart that burned as bright as a moth’s pilgrimage towards the light. There was a common sense of the world inside my head. I walk into the sea and feel the weight of water against my spirit and my body. The sky is a wild blue. So here I am now there I was then I don’t know. How it came about the writing part of me that bit. Those goals I never thought I’d become a poet. The waves broke over my head drowning visitors every one. The silver lining makes every being a living survivor navigating from this world to the next. Even the strained mother-daughter relationship will fill the fridge with thanksgiving food. It hurts when I smile at strangers. It feels as if I am drowning in a waterfall. And now we come to unconscious love and passion.
Your first hurt, your first love, and your first everything where all affairs to remember, were voyages, and discoveries. When I was a butterfly-goddess before women had wings.

And then there is the alcoholic in recovery.

I may be cynical, getting older, more set in my ways and I may not have the tongue of an angel, or much love for my fellow man. My recovery begins with slowly peeling back the layers of pain that you experienced by anyone as a small child, those hurts that your parents caused you growing up, when you were bullied on the school field or by your siblings. Death becomes you people say and I was close to it once or twice

Mental illness makes for riveting reading, that chemical romance. When the liquor is a cold thirst quencher and golden brown, texture like a pilgrimage, a small happiness that deprives me of self-loathing on good days it feels as if I am stepping into the sea fading away on the bad days it also feels as if I am stepping into the sea fading away fading away to nothing, a hopeless cause filling in the blank spaces with a drink (If my childhood was wonderful maybe I would have turned out different).

Or if I could still see the world around me through the eyes of a child, if I could have the imagination of a child. All my life I’ve wanted laughter to fill in the details, the perfect wife, those children but I never followed that sunny road instead my path is blue and my mood too. I reach for my cigarettes. I’ve taken note of the African Renaissance and I write a little poetry. Depressing poetry. I’ve been in love before. Women can never resist a poet and a man who they think they can change.

For a long time I preferred alcoholism and being alone. Living in that half-hallucinogenic half-dream world (I could tolerate that). Not the width of a thread of the planet earth, the material world, or modern society. Flashbacks now to those warm nights. The nights of when I was a child of the wasteland of the eighties. If I had married I would have been a disappointment (some men never grow up). I was still a boy at heart even though I was a grown man.

I remember those pretty nights, those warm nights, those savage years as I slowly became a young man who ventured out into the strangeness of the night. And became acquainted with the stars, star people other men who drank like me and didn’t believe in silver linings, divorced men, men who remarried, men who were unhappy in their relationships and I thanked God I wasn’t one of them. I was but I wasn’t. The air was always alive with possibility and flashbacks of the time when people told me I had so much potential.

The idea of alcoholism gave me an identity for a while. I isolated myself from a part of humanity that considered themselves to be the middle classes. Sometimes I would drink in my house by myself and sometimes I would go out and drink. The house is so quiet, too quiet, so I drink to escape the facts of the matter, the bad habits I have introduced into my life. But in the end I wanted to save my skin, I had enough of ‘to suffer means to sacrifice’.
And the fact that addiction gives you bright conversation.

And so we come to the stories of four women. Beginning with Alice’s oyster shell. Where has everyone gone? Into the trippy harsh climate of hedonistic and decadent nostalgia. They’ve preferred it over and above life, existence, sitting in a room filled with the knife edge of silence, the sharp depth of it, reading literature from that Austrian great Rilke, people have appeared to prefer the empire of the sun to the cold, preferred sacrifice and conversation. I hate the word suffer. Sacrifice. Surreal but there’s a brightness to sensitivity, vulnerability, imagination, visionaries (was Alice a visionary) and understanding.

And so we come to Etty Hillesum’s world of wonderland. The house is so quiet (where has everyone gone?) I have found a book am reading fragments from a diary. It contains love letters, a German love story, and a story about a concentration camp. She is feeding my brain in all those vulnerable spaces with all this bedazzling information (the diary belongs to a Dutch Jew who was captured near the end of the war). She was captured near the end of the war and I wondered did she ever miss flowers when she was in that camp?

Alice was a mystery. Was Alice a visionary sitting down to tea parties in a wonderland? And following a white rabbit? Was she a girl with the soul consciousness of a Brahmin? It feels as if every day I’ve died a little. Digged a little deeper to the roots of a granadilla Southern Africa to find my sister like a keepsake my empress from my childhood. With this little heart of mine I feel I will no longer continue to shine. If I do not have her autumn love, her discontentment is my discontentment. Big, bright neon lights burning in a city filled with bold people, old people, young people, star people, couples, families, homosexuals buying art and property in a Johannesburg that has stopped calling for me. Why won’t she believe me? Instead I can be found cooking with layers. I left people behind in my past behind glass walls, brick walls. They’ve all evaporated from my sight, these lessons, and those songs. The man that I loved I have lost him forever to his wife and his children Wasted years but not a waste of my intuition, not a waste of intimacy. She tells me that she is going to London at the end of the year

And then I take a breath.

And so the second sex comes of age when a man wounds them like an animal or washes away their childhood sins, or whispers in their ear sweet nothings and tells them that they have lovely bones. We’re not normal unless loved. Until we’re tangled in the obsession of it.
Will you catch me if I fall? And so we come to the ballad of the near-wasted generation.

As I progress towards you, towards possession. Lost in Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, wuthering heights, America, English literature, Rilke’s letters to a young poet. I draw lines through the clouds in the air picturing every silver lining that passes me by. Through God’s flute comes a prayer like a jewel in the dust, the unbearable bittersweet lightness of youth, and being young at heart and torn. I’m dreaming all at the same time. There’s a river that runs through it, a legend of a river, epic like the feeling that you have when you’re in love with a film star. There’s always an open road ahead, a mirror to my soul.

South Africa, South Africa, South Africa, South Africa do you remember the forced removals, apartheid, and swimming? Swimming in a river, when there was a department for Colored Affairs? There was no white bread toasted for your breakfast, no jam,
No boiled egg, red cappuccino, daddy and mummy reading the morning newspaper
You garden boy, you kitchen girl were treated like lepers, worse than dogs
You were raped, cheated and bullied, butchered and murdered, and suburbs were pillaged and turned into slums overnight and a sharp light drifted into focus. Some days would have a brave sweetness about it and other days the near-wasted generation would venture out to kill or be killed. Slow men, slower women, and mute children.

Africa, Africa, Africa, and Africa once again I am devoted to you. What does love feel like for you? The link to the international outside world. I want to be saturated by you. I’ve seen glimpses of your trauma. Your suffering, the genocide, civil war, unrest, refugees, camps, the slave trade. I’ve seen glimpses of the color of your children’s skin. Albino, white, colored, black, mixed race, and everyone is as precious as porcelain. Under our sky even the soft and hard Lolita, the promiscuous, the prostitute, young men with that arrogant filter from their heads to their mouths, our gathering of musicians and poets are like the circle of the golden sun. I don’t care for the ego, for these things anymore – the paraphernalia of violence
And for the discontent for so many is a permanent assignment for them.

As I progress towards you, towards possession with an almost criminal intent, carrion and Kevin Carter on my mind. Moses Molelekwa, Dulcie September, George Botha, Brutus and Biko, including Lumumba this is my story, suffering in silence is not unique. Making it is, making it through to the other side perhaps this is why communities are afraid of speaking about it – soloists everyone. Some say there is such a violent intent on this planet to destroy, to sabotage but there are still ways of finding peace, of finding yourself amidst sanctuary.
Inviting people to your sanctuary is out of the question. Everyone must journey and find their feet on their own pilgrimage. I am still revisiting the past, still rewriting history and I guess I always will.

And so we come to a thin place.

Windows of perception are the system of mysteries. In all parts of the world there are hot spots, stained with blood. Parts of Africa too and there’s a sacredness of values kept holy, kept away from the ego, something quite concrete. And the human spirit is like a flowing river, a thin river that flows gently, wherein life is a gradual process from living to dying, no education for barbarism there. The chicken is my father who can never stand up to my mother. Romeo why didn’t you love me instead of a suicidal ghost nation filled with girls made out of the thin places in air. I breathed in the air of London. Walked in my father’s footsteps at the palace in Versailles. His odyssey slowly became mine. I look at the stars balancing act. We are blue. We are pure. We are part and parcel of the past. We are the alchemic web that lies beneath. When we are naked we are at our most vulnerable. To get to the green sea we trust our gut instinct. We walk on the burning sand to get there. We are what we are. We are biological father and daughter. We both have measured the turning points in our lives. We have loved. We both have realized the loss of youth. We are made up of salt and light. We are both silent when we think about Richard Rive. Particles add up. It’s a fact of life. It’s human nature. An achievement called progress.

And a dialogue by a lake, between visitors, winter guests.

Why are you crying? Someone asked. And a voice in the darkness answered. Because of the parachutes and bombs. They come like a thief in the night. But a German love story is forever. What is written on a child’s body is different to what is written on an adult’s? In those days nobody knew what female depression was? All people had were their dreams and the dreams they had for their children and during the war the German children still saw rainbows when it rained cats and dogs. Death would come – and the living still suffered on in silence. Writers would write and rewrite history. Daughters became wives and mothers even during the war for they thought it would pass quickly like another season. In this silent world there’s only soup and children who play in the lonely streets. There’s a buoyancy to angelic creation. Men died and some became legends. Characters and gardens were altered by war
So was the industrial west, and bones. Evil touched lips and clothed Auschwitz. Maps, tongues, trains, creative thinkers, every Jew was taken while green leaves turned brown

And pale rain poured down from heaven. Souls too and there was no more cake, bread and pudding for the young only sunlight and water. Snow came and grew cold in the young’s hands and women who lost their men to a bloody war did not know God’s peace for some time in their lives.

Frieda

I have often spoken about death.

Sometimes it comes like a loud shout, a big bang deliberately but sometimes it is strangely quiet as if there is a royalty to its element. And then there is the earth that we fold the body physically into, throw dust on it and pay our respects or the ash that we hold in our hands. And then afterwards when the family gathers to eat, to sup together, to break bread there are a lot of things I assume they surrender, that they let go of or don’t. Head under water is the only place I can let go of all of these things. There is no echo, nothing to distract me, evaporate me like smoke and it’s the only place where I know of the top. It is not rain pouring down, wires growing from my head, nightmares that come to me in the middle of the night that worries me so, illness.

Its skin was red, orange and green, tasted like butter. A mango is delicious from the first time you taste it, I tasted my first proper mango in Swaziland (all that summery goodness came with its warmth, that sweetness on my breath, juice on my clothes, sticky fingers but shadows must meet somewhere and all I wanted to see was London). I remember the mangoes you kept for me until I came home from school (you would put it in the fridge until it was cool, the orange strings of flesh) or we would have avocado on toast, or French toast with fresh coriander leaves fried in creamy butter or hotdogs and chips as only you could make them where Swaziland was my home for a year. You died before your time, my second mother. Your hands pale, hair dark and as you became more ill with the more weight you lost but you were still beautiful to me. Leaves shake and rot in autumn, spin around, around and around. You were my star amongst all souls. I miss epic you every day. There’s a loss that comes with breathing. But the stranger in the ghost house has no voice. He does not speak of self-help, a shelf-life. A double life, red dust, dead parakeets, sweat running down his wife’s back, the madness and despair of Liberace. Something is unanchored yet still beautifully functions, is productive. It is called family and the awareness of coming home, a flag was planted here in the South’s wilderness where a genocide took place, there’s whisky in a glass, an afternoon cocktail. Books that are a sanctuary. An Eric Clapton record is playing. The red dust of this county does not speak of self-help. There is a suicide. A death in a river. And the police come. This is August: Osage County.

The police come in the middle of the night. Like the detectives in plainclothes that came to my house in the middle of the night when my brother took a knife and stabbed my father. Nothing romantic about it. About the onslaught of death, of it catching up to you like a thief in the night, a cat burglar, a cat drowning in a bag with her kittens, that is how I felt as if I was a drowning visitor. I saw guns that night I led a double life. I pretended I did not see or hear anything and inside I was numb. When I saw my father’s blood. It had an oppressive quality to it like everything in my life so far. The drugs refused to work. So I took more and more of them slept all day and all night.

The double life of the romantic jasmine. It lives and it dies and it lives and it dies. I can talk and talk and talk and no one will be listening to my conversations, eavesdropping on them. Down the winter road I came across men who stare at goats. Men who were good dancers or American soldiers who took German lovers during the war. Men who were good actors, some were heavy drinkers in my mind, and philanthropists. The knife was sharp. It struck air again and again and again. And then is was anchored in skin. I didn’t scream. I was a Scout’s knot.
Ran in my sandals to the neighbour’s house as fast as my feet could carry me. Outside the air felt cool as rain. How I wished it had rained? But there was no rain that night and they called the police.

There’s no romance in death. Hair and flesh coming loose. And still daddy was left standing, unafraid. My brother was prancing around all of us, smirking, smiling with cunning deceit, high he was having his cake and eating it too. Pinned daddy to the bed with his arms like shark teeth. My mother had ran away in the dark. I was left with notes of grief, a stem and a route to follow. A flowering bleeding heart making waves, beating fast. It was Christmas. But there were no presents only a winter road to follow.

To hell with it if I do not ever fall in love. It is a case of much ado about nothing. I have lost my mind and recuperated in hospitals. Once again become anchored to reality in recovery. I do not have a brother and I do not have a sister. I do not have a mother and I do not have a father. They live their own lives, so they amuse themselves, selfish people everyone. While I am kept sheltered in Pandora’s Box. It is a box filled with romantic villagers of my own making. What a comfort they are to me. I am an orphan on Okri’s famished road. I am Nabokov’s and Kubrick’s Lolita. And soon I will be forgotten like breath. The moveable a feast of sex, romance and death. Damaged, damaged, damaged but I must not speak of it.
It will be the death of me and I must live without the disease, the stain of trauma a while longer, sit on my throne, collect bones like arrows that fall from the sky. Curiosity has killed me. Men have killed me extraordinarily. But I have nine extraordinary lives and am left smiling like the Cheshire cat.

This is the brother who I am supposed to love. I do not admire him anymore. I feel nothing for him when I remember that night from hell. House of huger. House of hell, of madness and despair. If he had a gun we all would be dead. I cut up the onion, seduced by its layers. And I cry for what has been lost, gems every one. There are diamonds in my eyes and I blink them back. My youth, my youth, my youth and there is no ring. No ring on my finger, all those chronic wasted years. Now he is Lucifer manning the gate to the wards of hell. My beautiful, darling boy what has become of you?

The secrets that we keep are committed to memory. They’re lessons in the needs of people around us, a lesson in obedience, sometimes even wisdom. And it takes bold work for us to realize that the future is bright when sometimes we are challenged, when we have to mine glory. And make a ceremony out of it. There are profound ingredients that goes into making a spaghetti bolognaise. Family is of course the first priority. Next the butcher, mint from the garden and limes for the cocktails. Footsteps on the stairs and laughter scribbling in the air.
Perhaps avocadoes were the first fruits (food for thought) in the Garden of Eden even before Eve was made from Adam’s rib via the maturation of a human soul and a vortex in flux.
Sun and moon. They are miracle angelic beginners every one each day. Daughters nicknamed so for jasmine and yesterday, today and tomorrow. And then as if woken up from a dream the day begins.

Head under water. Silently pushing off from the wall of the swimming pool doing lap after lap. Here is where I find my sanctuary, my second home and solace from the world outside. I am not like the other girls. They’re all younger, thinner, and confident even though they’re still flat-chested, and flirtatious from where I am standing. Head under water again. I’m praying it won’t be the house from hell again tonight. I’m watching films, reading books, wiping my father’s bum (there are no secrets between us). We talk about our past lives, our nine lives, love and the measure of it, how the devil made work for idle hands during apartheid, during the Group Areas Act, the Nazi war lords, Hotel Rwanda. We talk about the women in his life, past and present, the first woman he ever loved and lost and the measure of it. I become distracted. He becomes distracted and I get up to make cups of creamy coffee, lukewarm coffee. We discuss Valkenburg (the mental institution in Cape Town where he resided for a few months), the first social worker he ever met. This is all for the book I am writing. Walking in his footsteps. Night after night I make a casserole and the two of us sit down to eat at the kitchen table. He walks, he shuffles, he walks, and he shuffles. Sometimes he sits outside with Misty, the dog in the sun. He is forgetful, he stammers, he has a short attention span but then again I guess memory loss comes with age. Last night he wet the bed. There are people who would make a mockery of this situation but when you’re knee deep in it with someone that you love, intimacy is nothing, acknowledging that he is becoming older is everything. I’ve become an old woman overnight. Suddenly I have grey hair, the wisdom of a lake, a slight tremor in my hands, I suffer from anxiety, and I can’t sleep at night. He calls for me in the middle of the night. He needs me and so this teaches me that I am not cruel. I am a woman now. Something has replaced the darkness in my life. I have discovered the stem of meditation. Its face, its route, my life’s journey in this crowded house and tears. My mother does the laundry. Not such a terrible woman after all. If only all women could be like her. Tough. Made of holy guts, an insatiable instinct, almost a clairvoyant instinct. She lives like a nun and eats like one these days. She eats like a bird making soup, after soup after soup that only the three of us eat. As an adult I have fallen in love with the terrific goodness of barley and the healthy protein of lentils. Split peas reminds me of eating a home cooked meal in the afternoon’s at my grandmother’s house in the afternoons. My paternal grandmother’s hands were beautiful. Wizened because she suffered from arthritis, dark brown and warm with the texture of the sun and freckled. She was my moon, my moonlight. A bowl of warm soup with home baked bread that tasted more nourishing and filling than the shop bought expensive kind. My mother promises us all a long life if we drink concoctions of herbs. Dried rosemary, tinctures, tonics, homemade green smoothies with parsley, spinach from our vegetable patch and coconut milk. Head under water I reflect, I meditate, I breathe easy. I swim with the fishes, schools of them in this swimming pool. It lights a candle in my heart when I swallow water. My brother makes stews with his home-grown carrots and corn. All I can make is spaghetti. Frieda’s spaghetti. It is so cold now. The world feels so cold. It feels as if Iraq has descended into my thoughts again. Sarajevo. Rwanda and the African Congo. I am a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But I must be strong to carry on, remain brave, act bold. Sometimes I can hear Tchaikovsky. My father has taken to his bed. He has depression. The William Styron kind. I wonder if John Updike ever suffered from depression. I know Hemingway certainly did. What about J.M. Coetzee, Radclyffe Hall, Vladimir Nabokov, Kubrick? And the filmmakers, writers and the poets who were heavy drinkers? But I leave that in God’s hands for his commentary, all those signals. I’m old before my time. I’m an old soul. My babies are my books. Infertility is a complication. I am a complication. Complicated, an empty vessel, envious of beauty like any woman, of youth, of the girl, of children in childhood and sometimes I feel dead inside (not numb or cold) but as if I have a dead mind. As if I am lame, pathetic, stupid and have one blue eye as blue as the sky on a wild Saturday and the other is green. As green as a mocking sea, mocking school of fishes carrying on, surfing along, swimming by on their own survival journey with their world occurring in an awful dead blue silence. With the fingers of the sky so far away from them.

to the last

First draft of… Yeah…

to the last

LORIAN

And here I am: right at the back of the bus on a wet, thickblack night. The last bus of the day, heading to its depot, the end of the line. End of the line! How funny.
I hold close to me my brown canvas backpack; it’s soft up against me, its smell familiar. If I pretend hard enough I can convince myself it’s what she would feel like in my arms, if ever I had the chance to hold her, that is. And if I lie deep in the pretence, if I so set my imagination all that way high up above me: she feels nice; her skin is warm and soft, her dark hair sweetsmelling and fine on my cheek. Her gentle breath warming my neck as she presses into me. Her back, her shoulders: glory under my fingertips. I smile a little; I hug her closer.
Then the contents of the backpack rattle, the clunk of metal on glass; slaps me in the face does reality when I fall, when my desperate need falters and she dissolves – back to nothing. And I miss her, somehow.
I am a loser.
I frown. I shake my head to rid myself of her – what? Memory? Can I have a memory of something that never existed? It’s times like this, when I’m more than just a little half-sure I am losing my head. And tonight I really am going to lose it. Bang-spurt! Outta my head I’ll be! Thoughts set free into the night, and they will trouble me no more. The thought soothes me, such violence, such peace. But I feel it also, ticking in my gut: straight-ass, plain-faced fear. I’m scared to hell and heaven and back again. The b’jesus took off days ago. My spine is liquid. I’m staring straight at it, the emptiness, and its warm welcome is frightening me. But then I push myself further, tell myself it’ll only be a second. From emptiness to nothingness is but a short journey; a foolish trip, zero to zero in two seconds flat; and then it’s done. Then it’s over and finished.
Ain’t no biggie. Ain’t no biggie.
My existence done and dusted and no one to ponder over it. I will miss no one and no one will miss me; no one ever knew of my breathing, of my tired ticking heart. Nothing but an empty room. And stillness. Always the stillness of the night, nothing to hear except the faint hum of electricity, the quivering of my body. The whisper of a soul dying.
The bus slows, then stops. The doors sigh open and I wonder what freak will be joining us tonight. I lean a little to my left, to see down the aisle, careful to not look too curious. My heart stops, flutters; it just about implodes when I see her. For a terrible, delightful instant I think it is my imagining! My backpack brought to life! A chance beckons on this hopeless night! But then she awkwardly pushes her dark wet hair from her face, tucking strands of damp behind her ears as she pays and waits for her small change from the driver. Just another girl emerges; another no one in a world drowning in no ones.
She is beautiful though, and sad. I think that’s what makes her beautiful: her fragile melancholy. Or perhaps it’s just me; perhaps there’s a darkness in me, attracted to the lost, to the broken.
I ease back slightly in my chair; she has my interest but I don’t want it to be obvious I’m staring at her, that already I love her so deeply like no other soul ever could; that she is mine in my deep red heart and I’ll keep her forever safe. How spiteful it is that she doesn’t know.
With a knock backwards the bus is again in motion. The suddeness of the movement startles the girl, throws her a bit off her feet. She looks around, embarrassed; and right then I know, I want to run to her and hold her, comfort her, and maybe with that she could be my burning savior. I keep a hidden eye on her, watch as she delicately moves to an empty seat, against the window. She does not look outside, she does not look around the bus; instead her head drops, her eyes I guess, trained on her lap. Her shoulders are stooped and she sits silently, inanimate; water slowly trickling off her hair, down her ears. My heart tightens, breaks in two. It makes me smile.
There are three of us now, on this moving light horse, squares of yellow in the dark. Apart from the driver. With him it’s four. The other passenger is some odd looking fellow, all grey and disheveled in his grey, disheveled suit. Guy looks like he’s been sat in that same spot for a week. Perhaps he has. I have stared at the back of his head for the most part of my trip. He would laugh from time to time, almost silently, his shoulders shaking. Then he’d lazily turn his head to me, a smile only hitching up the left corner of his mouth, looking right at me, as if curious to know whether whatever resonated humorous in his head made its way to me, and if I too, found it funny. When I tried to return the smile he whipped his head back around, went on to look out the window.
After that I made sure only to keep my eyes on the back of him.
Now there was the girl, and I kept her in my gaze. She was still slumped, still quiet. I wonder what her name is? What does she look like? If she were mine, what would I want her name to be? Jessica. No, too prissy. Kate? Not bad at all, that. But is it damaged enough? Could a ‘Kate’ ever convey the hopelessness she embodies here before me? Not quite. Laura? Lara? Vicki? No, that’s feminine Victor and she don’t look it, not tonight anyway. Erin. She could be an Erin, yeah. Brooding and alone. She could be my Erin; my own sad dark hallucination, right here in wet cold flesh and blood, all of her life up here in my head a fabrication, so much better than the real thing I’m staring at; her reality could never compare to the fallacious version of my Erin.
But I still want to hold her. Still want to feel her body to mine.
She tenses suddenly. Her shoulders stiffen, push backwards. Erin dips her head, her chin buried in her upturned collar; she stretches her eyes at the guy, he notices nothing; then she shifts slightly and twists around to look behind her, to look at me. I hold her gaze awkwardly, I blink too much. She doesn’t blink at all. Her eyes are dark, her skin pale, her lips wonderfully thin. I want to smile at her, I am aching to smile at her.
But I can’t.
I’m self-aware and worthlessness. She’s my goddess, my heroine, my everafter. To smile at her would be to break her down, an insult. She opens her mouth, words hesitating on her lips. Good god! please say something to me! Help me believe in your existence, convince me of my own. I feel my heart hold tight in anticipation, my eyes on her fluttering lips. I give her an unworthy smile and her mouth shuts; I see a slight panic in her eyes and she dips her head, turns, and gazes down once more.
And so onward I go! Another tacit ruination of a futile possibility! I want to hit out at her. I want to scream and bellow as I feel my heart erupting silently inside me. I sense the hot rush of tears at my eyes, but I won’t cry, I won’t. Not tonight, not ever again. I clutch my backpack, bringing it in close to my chest. I hide my face in its roughness and listen to the stifled sobs escaping my throat, my eyelids struggling to blink away the hurt.

JULIANA

I won’t let go. I won’t let go by god, I won’t. I will bear this night; I’ll walk through these streets; I’ll sit on that bus; walk up through the house and to my room I’ll go ignoring the pitterpatter of little feet, the stretch of skin of growing eyes, mouths flapping open, amiable; life so warm an isolation I’ll walk through it all head down hand tight: I won’t let go. It’ll be there for me, a reminder. A faulted promise. A what-should-have-been.
The walk from the river to the bus stop was a joke. Only because it should never have happened in the first place. There wasn’t even supposed to be the fall, the plunge into the dank, icy stream. Although I reckon it matters not when water is spilling from the sky. Wet is wet is wet. So where is that difference? I cannot tell, I cannot feel anything at all. My body is numb. Is it the cold? Am I now only dying as I wait for the bus to puttputt towards me? Will they save me if I fall? Again? Those dark night mystery people? I wouldn’t want them to. What it would take for them to pass me by, I like to imagine it so.
But I can see it now, and it’s not going to pass, no; I switfly turn my collar up to ride about my neck, to hide the incident. Slowlyslowly creeping to a stop, the doors crack, the driver glares at me. An old man, stubble, grizzled; palepink face turning blue. His biceps are large sacks of hanging flesh. Suddenly I feel naked; I know he knows about me, about where I’ve dragged myself from and what I was doing there. I don’t want to get in, but I don’t want to stand out here either. He shifts his arm impatiently on the steering wheel, his head tilts, his lips move. He has spoken to me but I don’t know what he said, my head is too loud for me to hear through. I can tell he wants me either to get on or to shove off, so I shudder, I climb the metal steps and I feel them slip under my shoes. How glorious it would be if I stumble spill and split my head open! Life gushing red out of me, done for and doomed. Instead I meet him on his platform; I pay my way and he gives me the change. I stand. I do nothing. The bus lurches forward and my knees buckle. Carefully I move down the aisle, settling into a seat of cold, cracked green vinyl.
I look down at my hands. I’m still holding on. I wonder if they saw? I wonder if they know, as the driver knows? He looked at me. So did the girl down at the back, with the brown canvas bag wrapped in loneliness. The other guy, he had the suit. And a black tie undone. But I’m sure he saw nothing. To not see, though, doesn’t mean to not feel, sense smell hear. I am my failure, I breathe it; I spit it from every useless pore. My shame hollers furiously in the air around me. I feel I am shrinking, growing larger; feel the embarrassment rising off me like steam. So wonderfully obvious.
And I know she’s looking, canvasbag girl at the end. I can feel her eyes tapping my shoulder, her sneer licking my ears. I want to look at her, to ask! to shout! To say what is it you seek and see from me! What is it you taste with those eyes of yours! I twist, what I hold I grip tighter; I force myself to look at her, to see if I can see what she sees. I meet grey eyes, ready, expecting. But they are not derisive, or accusatory. They are curious, needing. There is a congeniality somewhere, hidden deep under studious detachment and profound worry. She looks older than she probably is. She is attractive in a defeated way. There are words I want to say to her, but I’ve forgotten how to speak, my lips move inanely.
She hits me down with a smile. The shame screams again, louder. Quickly I turn from her, furious with embarrassment. She has found me out! I have given it all away to strangers so easily. Transparency through guilt. What then, when I am home? With their probing familiarity, a ceaseless salvo of questions. All their how-are-you’s where-were-you’s what-was-you’s-doing? And why are you so wet, julipoppet? Are you feeling okay? What happened? What is that you’ve got there? To your room so early you’ve not even eaten! Are you? Alright? Why won’t you tell us what’s wrong! Why? Why! What have we done to hurt you to break you in pieces to tear you apart and scatter you? Why won’t you talk to us! Please, julianapop?
(Do I hear? Do I care? Do they? Really truly honestly?)
Oh! and then the worst of them all! With her small softslippered feet, she will bounce over to me, jumping up to swing her tiny arms around my neck; I hold her and hug her and press my face into her curly lemonscented hair. She is glorious, magnificent; she is life complete. She shatters my heart absolutely. And all it takes is a look from her, those blue eyes too big for her little face and she will know everything there is to know about me. What will she see tonight, then? Will I have time to lie before her, before she knows? Will my almostend be my beginning, the start of all things painful and tucked back? It cannot be this way, it was not my intention my plan, my device.
And what would littleone do? Will she tell? Will her eyes spill silently from their sockets? Would she jump free of me, run to safe arms of another? Sanity in smiles. From there on no escape will be mine. Not in front of them, with concern on alert. Julipop’s stepped out of herself again, again she’s dancing in circles around her almostnormal self. I will be the ghost of my failing. I will be naked to them, open exposed to attacks of illplaced kindness, subtle expectations of mild lucidity, of calm tranquil bouncyhappy happiness; of someone I am not and could never be.
Not without an assload of medication, anyway. The strong stuff, too. The stuff that lethargy is made of; the stuff that winds entwines around overandover my arms my legs my head so quiet now. So, so quiet and slow to move in all this movement around me.
And that is not what I want. Would anyone want it? To walk only to crawl backwards? I can’t want that, no god I don’t want that. Yet why do they want that of me? For me? How is my numbness their joy, their respite? And – myohmyohme! – why can’t they just let me be? Their love is brutal, incessant; it manifests allconsuming overpowering weak little I alone in the torrent. I cannot live up to it. I cannot face it. I cannot give myself up in offering to them, to their devotion.
It crushes and maims me; it runs wild in my veins the hated guilt and my feelings deepen I sink down within them and still they do not know! Still they irk me with unconditional adoration when they should let me alone, throw me out! out there into the dirty empty streets to let me devolve and flake away, fusing with the filth of life where I belong!
Oh, if only I could say such things to them, to filter it through their ears to their brains and make them hear make them feel how painful their love really is. If only they would stop their expectations then no longer will I fear no longer will I break apart. But oh they never will. They’ll keep on to say it softly say it silently and it will scream in my head, what do you want what do you want what do you want? Whyohwhy can’t you leave me be! But
“What do you want from me!”
The bus stops with a jolt. Before I know what the hell has just happened I am hurtled forward. I didn’t even know I was standing, don’t remember getting up from my seat. The driver has twisted around in his chair, in his eyes I see concern and panic. Mostly panic. Slowly I glance at the two others. The man in the suit doesn’t seem to have noticed anything at all. Canvasbag girl is perched on the edge of her seat, eyes set with bewilderment and affection, I think. I stare back at her the hardest. There is something in the slender face I find compelling and I want to go over to her and touch my hand to her cheek, to feel her. Again I want to talk again my brain fails me. From the back of my head I hear a voice I don’t recognize. I am frightened to turn around but the voice is insistent, persistent, growing louder.
I shriek when I feel a hand on my shoulder and spin around face to face with the portly busdriver. He takes a step back as I look at him. He clears his throat licks his lips and speaks,
“Miss, I asked, are you okay? Do you need… Assistance?”
Why yes my good man I do but not the kind you’re thinking of. Or perhaps it’s exactly the kind, the electrifying kind the strap-her-and-zap-her kind the lets-get-to-playin-with-yer-silly-lil-brain kind. He stares at me while he waits for me to respond. I suddenly feel foolish and embarrassed. My fragile bravado has abandoned me. I halflook at him, shake my mad head and set myself back down into the chair. Slowly he makes his way back to the front of the bus his trust tenuous. I feel the gears shift and we’re moving again. I threaten to look back at canvasbag girl; I have a peculiar desire to go to her and put my head on her shoulder to say all is well and if it’s not it will be.
It will be.
Instead I glance back down at my hands. I’m surprised to see I have not let go.

CHRISTIAN

Do you believe in the dead? I do. And if you don’t you’re a milehigh idiot. The dead are all around. They walk and breathe and live among you, between you. They are your neighbours your friends your lovers, your wives sisters and brothers.
They talk and banter and fool about; hypothesize, argue and philosophize. But under it all under the stretched skin so tight their hearts have stopped. They’ve given up and given in, they breathe only through necessity, feeling eludes them.
Which of course, is not a bad thing, not at all. For the most part most of the time feelings are the bane of existence. They fuck you over and leave you broken in the dirt; they pick you up make you soar only to drop you and have you crawl aching on the ground. Happiness inevitably leads to pain, it’s the way its designed; hurt – misery – is the only true human emotion. Everything else takes effort, and for what?
No: feelings are not a good thing. Shamefully overrated.
And yet: those first early days when the numbness started creeping in I was panicked, heartbroken, couldn’t understand it and was worried to work it out: why I wasn’t happy, why I wasn’t sad, why nothing made me feel nothing. I resorted back to my oldest trick, my finest failsafe.
I’ve slashed my arms my pain singing bright red colour bursts on white. I’ve watched fascinated at my life exploding, diaphanous crimson pools in water. Threading delicately, pretty patterns, dissolving entirely. How intensely calming it was the blood as at ran from my flesh its thick warmth coating my skin. Happiness. So much happiness.
And then one day it just stopped.
It left me hanging high and dry without an explanation without a thought. Then did I realize I was immune to effect, to feelings, to this way or that.
Days lost meaning as I lost myself. Nothing mattered as fear dissolved, as guilt concern regret vanished. I felt strangely alive in the freedom of this death so I let it all fall down to pieces around me. Friends stopped talking my job was lost my fiancee walked out. I cared not at all.
I became the superman with nothing to touch, nothing to touch me. I slid around life unnoticed unscathed. Fun to watch those still living struggling with their concerns with the beatings of their hearts. Filled me with empty laughter. Such fools such selfdeceivers. Pitiful they can’t see it don’t and won’t matter in days to come.
All such a catastrophic futility, life. Such pointlessness; all the struggle dayindayout overandover no respite no reprieve and just then! just then when you get the hang of things when things become just that little bit easier – humph! – you’s dead.
Pointless. Useless. Futile.
But at least I know how to amuse myself, while I’m still around. How to get a kick out of the situation. This is why I’m here on a bus. I’m here on the same bus everyday allday. I stare at the samefaced people milling away at their hopeless lives. They come they go they come and go again. Routined breathing. Idiots. Mindless believers.
So I was intrigued, my curiosity piqued when she rose up from the steps. She seemed immediately overwhelmed and out of place. Clutching that brownbag as if it were her most precious, her secret heart. She kept her head down as she walked to the back seat. I’d glance at her from time to time when the feeling took me. She only looked at me once, in the eye, and never again.
She is a dead man but she doesn’t enjoy it, doesn’t know how to cope with its limitlessness. But too, she doesn’t want to go back living either. Living is even harder than being dead. So baggirl is gonna try to skip out on both. I can tell. She has that look. I had the same look once when I was arrogant enough to be concerned.
Poor little bitch. Acceptance is so much easier than change, and I’d like to tell her so. Like to go up to her put my arm around narrow shoulders and draw her in close, close to smell her skin, to hear her heart rumbling; like to whisper my warm breath, my lips softly brushing her ear as I speak
Hey buddy hey my mate there is no need for it, embrace what you’re lacking and float above the living let yourself sink downdown into the numbness. Be carried away by the lack of life it’s a beautiful thing.
Though I think if I tried she’d phase out collapse upon herself, let her mind go to some place of far off existence never wanting to listen or understand my words.
Then when the other girl stepped up to the plate drenched in wet and selfconsciousness I was thrilled! Two in one night! Hardly happens. But she’s teetering on the brink this one is, got a toe in the door of fullfledged insanity. Or not. What’s sanity anyway? Technically, I would assume others would assume I need “help”, “counselling”. So who then is a probable madman to pass judgment on another’s state of mind?
Absurdity.
But I think I’ll do it anyway: chick’s scattered three ways to Sunday; she’s standing on a beach in a hurricane; she teases fire while wearing gasoline. She’s going going gone oh so very long ago. She’s tasted the bitter water only to find she likes it and keeps coming back for more. And tonight it seems she took another sip of the crazy juice, yes sir praise jesus hallelujah amen.
When she moved from her chair with those dark eyes darker not seeing anything I was curious; when she screamed and almost lost what little mind she has left over from tonight – right here in front of me – I was downright amused. I studied my little soul, my little baggirl to see her reaction. And she was too timid, too hesitant to approach screamergirl when she so dearly needed to approach her. When she so wanted to. If I cared enough about anything at all I’d invite them both for drinks tonight, but ah hell: what for? Life is better from a distance, better to observe from the sidelines. Lot more fun that way, as indeed it was tonight.
After driverman got the freaky chick seated and the bus rolling again, baggirl reluctantly sat back down in her seat, hugging close that sack; screamergirl seemed completely whacked. She dropped her head back down to her chest and went back studying her hands, and the piece of rope she won’t stop toying with.

LORIAN

Pity. If ever I felt it it was then when my Erin screamed and crumbled in the aisle of a latenight bus. Pity. Alright, perhaps I was slightly unnerved as well but it was mostly compassion. It was the chance to be her hero, to save her.
But I did nothing.
Even the weathered old busdriver had more skill at approaching her. At least he approached her, full stop. I sat and stared, which seems to be how I’ve acted my entire life. Which I reckon is the reason I’m on this bus tonight, alone with my fantasies and makebelieve companions. And the metal angel in my backpack.
And god! it would’ve been so easy to go to her, to take her in my arms, a more opportune moment could not exist; she would have welcomed me, would not have pulled away from fear or disgust. Yet still: I kissed it goodbye. Kissed her goodbye. Back I go to the material sack in my arms, my last and only comfort of my last night.
This is the story of my life.
The devolution of a woman; a silent voice lost in all this sound, all this furious anger of survival. A prime example, a thesis, of how to fuck everything up and pay the ultimate price. Alone and unneeded. Broken inside.
No one nowhere nothing.
A waste of humanity. A worthless stain on life’s indifferent fabric.
A loser amongst losers! A fuckup amongst fuckups! How great thou art! How great, you worthless fuck! You sorry useless bitch! See what I am because of you what you are because of I! Because together we are nothing and nothing we will fall. Nothing we will be til the last red breath, the last black drop of blood. The last fucked up thought the last of it all!
Thank god!
Thank god.
And oh! is my head getting the better of me now! How something so small as the inability to act has the most deleterious effect on my pithy fragile helpless little mind! My devious doublecrossing psyche! How it twists and grows inside me, so insidious so overpowering; how a lifetime of weakness and indecision manifests itself, so completely crushing I cannot withstand it anymore!
But enough! Enough. No more after tonight. No more.
No more will the silence be silent; the girl – that one inescapable girl! – so infuriatingly beyond my reach will be nothing more than the illusion she has always been, never again to torment my heart; the hum of emptiness will fall and splinter, break entirely.
And my life alone will fade, will seep back into the void from which it came, indistinguishable from the black nothingness of existence.

CHRISTIAN

Theatrics are sometimes priceless circumstance of the most curious lives. Tonight’s performance was worthwhile, which adds just that little extra special to my nihilistic days. Especially when the day is done and we’re so close so vacillating on the precipice of the next one.
Too bad the surprise of repetition is often nonexistent. I find it doubtful if either of my new companions will be joining me any time soon, if ever again. Perhaps there’s hope for baggirl, but not for screamergirl. I will never set my curious eyes on her again.
I have been on this bus for over twelve hours, and my back aches. But too soon I will be forced to depart and regardless of how desperately I wish it were different: the night will end, time will whisk it away without thought for those who crave for it to last even just a moment longer.
There are two more stops left on the route; the first one stops just on the outskirts of town, the area is mostly industrial scattered with few family hovels up above derelict and soon-to-be-derelict factories and businesses; the last stop is pure ironbelt blue collar industrialblack landscape, with air so quiet and still whispers echo deep eternal. If I were to guess I’d say baggirl is going to industrial ground zero; screamergirl probably is shuffling back to her family in some cramped little tworoom apartment above a fabric store.
I myself am stepping off at the first stop, and from there I will walk the twelve kilometers back to my barren duplex and get ready to replicate the newly completed day.
The bus makes its last turn down a wide, trashswept street; it is mostly dark with few streetlights working. The ones that are functional struggle against the thick darkness of the night. There are a few lit windows, betraying the life within them.
I take a last look down towards baggirl; she is holding onto that brownbag as if trying to suck out some form of comfort, some form of strength from its feeble structure. Her steel deepset eyes are wide and vacant unfocussed on air but she is terrified, it emanates powerful from her silent body.
I feel a peculiar twinge at my ribs; its sharp and it rises up to my chest settles in my throat. I am surprised by it, confused by it; it takes a moment and some deliberation to determine exactly what it is. I find that it is something I’ve not felt in a very long time: sympathy; I feel sorry for the sad little baggirl and I briefly have the urge to go up to her and embrace her, to walk with her and walk her away from this night.
As I move to hesitate towards her I feel the bus slow and pull to the side, I see screamergirl reluctantly rise up from her chair. She gives me a sideways glance before shuffling to the open doors. Over at the back baggirl has not moved has not flinched at all. I move slightly in her direction then quickly backtrack to follow screamergirl. I nod without looking at the driver and step down off the bus.
Outside it is cold and damp, moisture still thick in the air. Screamergirl stands inanimate on the curb, looking down the street at what I cannot determine. She jumps slightly as the bus sputters and pulls away. I look up into the last row of windows to get a glimpse of baggirl. She is staring down at us, her eyes pleading and frightened; I give her a direct look and nod solemnly, I raise my hand in a wave.
I am just able to see her touch her hand to the glass before the bus turns black, vanishes.
When I turn to screamergirl I see she is looking at me, a slight look of confusion in her eyes. We stare at each other in silence, cold minutes pass, our breath hanging briefly in the air white nebulous mist before dissolving into the night. I feel a damp warmth radiate from her body.
Finally I break the eye contact and look at the buildings surrounding us. All the windows I see are barred secured shutteredup and dark. Except one, glowing a warm orange above a closed down diner. If I hold my breath and concentrate I can make out a faint din of voices, laughter. It almost makes me smile but I stop myself. She has not taken her eyes off me has not made any attempt to move.
I look back down into her meeting her gaze. Abruptly I offer her my hand my mouth opens before I can think of what to say. Eventually I clear my throat and give to her the most pedestrian of greetings,
“Evening. I’m Christian. Some night we’re having isn’t it?”
Inwardly I grimace over my introduction. It sounded banal, inept. She seems to think about what I’ve said for a few seconds, as if trying to capture the words from the air. My hand is still hovering useless, waiting.
When she speaks her voice is soft, deeper than expected,
“Yes. I suppose it is.” She takes my hand in hers, it’s cold and moist; we stand connected for the briefest moment, then we part. “Juliana. I’m Juliana.”
“Juliana.” A small smile forms on my mouth, invisible in the darkness. “Well, Juliana, it was nice to meet you. Please have yourself a good night?”
She very quickly raises her eyebrows to my words, searching out the vague question. Again we stare at each other. Again we are silent. Juliana lifts her head and glances over her shoulder to the lighted window, her gaze lingers, then she angles her body towards the dark diner. “I’m not sure if that’s a possibility. But thank you.” She hesitates. “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again but if I do I’ll remember you, Christian. Goodnight”
With that she turns and walks away from me, disappearing into the dark building.

JULIANA

I feel my heart ache a little as I watch canvasbag girl drive away from me. I feel I’ve lost something I’ve never had and it perplexes me. Such an ephemeral part of my life she was yet I miss her presence so completely it causes my chest to pull my head to tumble. And I know I will not have the chance to meet her again be it through my end or her’s, this was the first last only night we could have had together so painfully apart.
I hardly have room to be grateful yet I am.
When the bus had entirely been swallowed by the night I hear them upup in the cocoon above my head. So warm so cold so alone in the closeness. I am afraid to move I am afraid to go to them. At least I have dried off some and again I find I am grateful.
I turn and face suitman who is still gazing after canvasbag girl, his hand up. Slowly he faces me and we look at the other. He is taller than I thought he was and thinfaced his hair darkblond. The hand that was raised he now stretches out toward me in greeting yet his mouth hangs open, mute. Seconds slip and at last he speaks his voice loud in the stillness. I think if I want to talk back at him to answer him and I decide I should, so I do. We talk for almost two incredible minutes before I give reason to leave before I can be absorbed into my surroundings.
I leave him on the dim street corner and squeeze into the recess between the diner and the rough wall where the door to the stairwell is found. He cannot see me and I stand surreptitious watching him try to watch me. But I am invisible I am darkness I am nothing. I see him lift and tilt his head up at the window my window and I see him straining to listen to see to feel the creatures inside. He stands for minutes more until a light rain starts again from the dark skies. I see him turn and walk up the empty street his solitary footsteps resonant and lonely in the night.
“Goodnight, Christian.”
The words are whispers off my mouth my tongue, I hold my fingertips to my lips feeling them form his name. I move my fingers up my nose along my the middle of my forehead easing away a frown gathered there.
From out of the silence I hear a shattering of laughter from upstairs. It closes my eyes tightens my heart turns my mouth so dry my teeth stick and I know I can’t delay the inevitable, I know I can’t linger down here at the bottom of the steps forever.
I press my face to the rough cold of exposed brick my eyes closed shoulders tense. I listen to their familiar voices their familiar timbres vibrating through throats through mouths through air. I listen to my own rapid raspy breathing in the small secure chamber.
The door at the top of the steps squeaks open a thin splinter of light escapes illuminating the back of my head. I slowly turn to face the stairs to peek up at the opened doorway.
I see on the top landing two thin small legs dangling through wooden banisters above bare bent knees two small pink hands resting close to the fingers a fleshy babychin supporting a broad delighted smile. Her blue eyes are watching me closely eagerly happy I’m home. When she sees me seeing her she giggles and jumps up. She’s down the staircase in a lightning flash and even quicker she’s clutching my legs. I hesistate. I bend slightly. Then all the way as my arms embrace her. I pick her up and she straddles my waist her eyes smiling into mine and I feel ashamed discomfitted scared as hell. I force myself to smile at her I kiss her cheek my lips cool on her wonderfully warm skin.
She giggles. “Julipop you’re cold!”
She scolds me admonishes me destroys me with three words.
But I still smile and ease my face away from her’s. “Hey. Sorry Peekaboo, I wasn’t thinking. Julipop sometimes loses her head you know? It floats upup – away from me.” I wink I catch her nose between my thumb and forefinger.
Again she giggles. “Your head can’t float away, silly!”
“Oh but mine does. Don’t you see it there in the air so far above us floating smiling down? I think I hear it laughing.”
With that I tickle her and she squeals and wriggles against me, pulling back to exclaim breathlessly, “Mama made pancakes for supper!” She tells me thrilled, joyful at the fact. “You must come eat Julipop, come eat come eat come eat!” She is back down on the floor pulling at my fingers trying to drag me.
I slip down on my haunches and grab her draw her close. I whisper in her ear, “you go on up, and I’ll be right there in a second.” I kiss her forehead and give her a gentle push away from me. She flings her arms around my neck kisses me on the nose and then she is gone, bounding up the creaking stairs.
I sit flat down on the cement floor as the activity in the upstairs room heightens. I hear littleone laughing, mama’s mellow voice trickling over me. I stay seated listening for what seems hours not nearly long enough before I stand and brave myself to meet them.
I stare down at my hands as I slowly climb the stairs.
I am still holding on. I have not let go.

EPILOGUE

The doors let out a final breath as they closed to the bleak night. The bus departed, leaving in the dark one solitary woman, and her canvas bag. Connelly had eyed her thoughtfully as she hesitantly dropped down the steps and stood out on the corner, her back towards the retiring vehicle. He had kept his eye on the rearview mirror, keeping her unmoving form in sight, watching as she grew smaller, smaller, vanished altogether.
Connelly Thatcher had been driving buses since he was twenty years old. He had seen every class, type, form and breath of human life in the most unguarded state. People unconscious in deep thought, lulled by the stopstart hum of motion, early morning sleepiness, late night weariness, inbetween indifferent disaffection; a number of his passengers were genuinely happy folk, some fell into grey, others were morose and disdainful.
He expected nothing more from humanity, and certainly nothing less.
The last three passengers he had tonight had caught his attention. Their demeanors stood stark, their lack of spirit he found curious. Connelly wasn’t entirely sure why three of thousands and thousands of people should be more memorable; he felt maybe it was due to the fact that they would be his absolute last customers, period. He was retiring tonight, not that that was what he wanted but sometimes life twists the seemingly straight little road you’re happily traveling on.
The girl, the one that screamed so suddenly had truly scared the hell out of him. As he approached her he was wary of stepping too close, as if she might strike him down, possess him with her sudden demons. When she had responded to him so demurely, so placidly, she scared him even more. It was those people, those who are unpredictable and erratic that Connelly was always careful of. And the girl set off a host of alarm bells; from the moment she stepped on the bus, all wet with that small, sliced piece of rope she wouldn’t let go of, to the unprovoked paroxysm – Connelly could tell something, just a little something, was not too well with the young woman.
He was more or less relieved she got off at the same stop as the suit, not wanting to be alone with her. Although being a man, and more than twice her size, he felt foolish at his sense of unease. But it was what it was, and he could live with it. And at the very least, foolishness or not, he would have an interesting anecdote to tell his wife tonight, as they sat propped up in bed, watching Frasier reruns and eating ice cream.
The thought of the remainder of his night brought a smile to his face. He looked forward to spending whatever time he had left with his highschool sweetheart, still the warmest love of his life. And she was eager and anxious as hell just to get him home already, away from these late night trips,
they’re no good for you, Con, not when it’s dark and wet out. How they’re still making you run these routes it just, it just, well it pisses me off! So long you’ve been working for them and they can’t accommodate you just once! Just once! Especially knowing that you’re, well, that you’re… About the situation. Heartless bastards. Heartless slave drivers! That’s what they, are slave drivers! Heartless greedy bastard slave drivers!
Connelly could hear the drone of his wife’s cigarette-stained contralto and he laughed out loud at the thought of it. How she would nag and pester and complain and bitchbitchbitch all night long, about how unfair they were – life was, really – and he would sit and listen, take it all in not saying a word a silly grin on his face at her remonstrance, her vehement demonstration. Such a tiny woman such a force.
And her harping would carry on ceaseless if he cared not to go up to her, hug her close and kiss the top of her greying head. He would hold her tight in his loose, sagging arms and sway a little, do a small, round dance, humming deep in his cancer-ravaged chest “Dream a little Dream”, little Teri’s favourite song, their wedding dance. So quickly would she relax and ease into his body, to which her thin wiry arms clung desperately.
They would spend long minutes like this, every night, in the kitchen before climbing the stairs to the bedroom, spoons and a tub of choc-mint in hand. In bed they would recount their days to the other, eager questions finding eager answers. Connelly was certain that tonight his wife would have a laundrylist of puzzled questions, and he couldn’t wait to see her.
The rain started to fall heavier from the orange-tinted sky. Soon Connelly would be at the depot where he would exchange the massive Marcopolo for his ’78 Accord. He turned his thoughts back to the three of tonight.
As far as he could recall, he had seen neither of the two women before; the suit he had seen every day for the last three weeks. He was always the same; he got on in the mornings – the first stop in the route – paid a large fee and stayed seated in the same seat the entire day. Normally he was the first one on and the last one off. His greeting never went beyond a silent nod of his head and he never spoke to any of the other passengers. It was as if, to the suit, nothing else existed, as if he himself didn’t exist; a longheld breath, caught in an endless void, waiting to exhale.
Connelly took the very last turn towards the faint, blurred glow of the depot. It shimmered and vibrated through the glass, caught in the rain. He pulled up to the heavy iron gates and waited for Tyrone at security to let him pass. The two men waved, dipped their heads. Connelly eased the warm, shuddering bus into the shelter, stepped down, locked up and ran his short, fleshy fingers along the length of the warm machine. He smiled up at its wet, glistening windows, now so dark so vacant, tipped his imaginary hat, and made the long walk back to the offices.
Inside, the fluorescent light buzzed and flickered bright in the small building. Tyrone was perched on the edge of a desk, he approached, arms open smile broad, as the brandnew retiree walked through the door.
“Ah, Con, ’bout time my man! ‘Bout time!”
“Now Ty, I can say the same to you.” Connelly laughed into the taller man’s shoulder as the two longtime colleagues embraced.
“‘Spose that’s true,” Ty smiled sincerely, his tired eyes stretched wide, unblinking. “Too many nights. Too many lost nights.” He agreed with his own statement, nodding his head slowly. He snapped out of his somnolent reverie, “well Con, what you got down for your twilight years? You gonna nuts, do all that crazyass shyeet? Skydiving, bungee jumping, shark diving?” Tyrone gave the bus driver a playful smirk. “Or you gonna go the slow way? Jigsaw puzzles and herb gardens?”
Connelly laughed, his head thrown back. “Lordy, Ty, you know I’ve got a woman? You know she’s going to hog me in ways I wouldn’t think possible!”
Tyrone bellowed out a guffaw, slapped the shorter man’s shoulder. “Well then I ‘spose you’re gonna go the sweet way!”
“Ah, you betcha!” Connelly winked, grinned; he felt a certain degree of happiness beginning to spread through his body. “And speaking of, I must be getting on home, Teri, she’s gonna be standing at the ready, lecture on these heartless slave drivers already slipping from her tongue. And it gets worse the later I get home.” He smiled up at the security guard.
“But Ty, thank you, it’s been my pleasure knowing you, working with you, having the privilege to call you a friend.” Connelly stuck out a nervous, shaking hand. Tyrone gripped the hand firmly then pulled him back for another embrace.
“Pleasure’s mine, Con, all mine.” Feeling slightly embarrassed but figuring to just suck it up and say it anyhow, Tyrone pulled Connelly closer, his voice dropping to a strong, deep whisper, “you look after yourself, Con, you hear me? You listen to your doctors, you listen to Teri, and you look after yourself.” Aware of the emotion creeping up his throat, he added playfully, “and if you don’t listen I’m gonna be over there and ‘taser your ass!”
Connelly let out a stifled sob, forced a choked laugh into Tyrone, he pulled away from his friend, “I’ll be ready for you, Ty. I’ll be ready.”
The two men stood facing the other, eyes shimmering. Connelly surveyed the office one last time, sighed out a smile, “well, Ty, let me be going, or us two are gonna be crying on each other’s shoulders like two old ladies out of one of those chick flick movies.” Connelly smiled at the spasmodic guffaw. He patted Tyrone’s bicep, dipped his head and left the office. He opened his car door with a groan and flopped down into the plush, lumpy seat. Three tries later and the car’s cold engine coughed to life; he flicked on the headlights, pulled out of the parking space and popped the hooter, waving at Tyrone standing stooped in the doorway.
Once he was through the security gates he didn’t look back at the depot. Somehow, despite his happiness and eagerness to be home with Teri, he felt a sense of loss, a sadness that felt to sit awkward and heavy in his chest. He drove slowly through the slick black streets, his tired eyes blinking over high lights of factories, distant lights of the highway.
Connelly stopped abruptly when he saw a figure suddenly run across the street in front of him. His heart ached in his chest as it struggled to pump his blood. Hesitantly he opened the door and got out of the car, rain trickling down his face. He squinted and frowned in the direction which the figure disappeared. He could see nothing. Connelly was almost certain it was the quiet girl with the brown backpack. He stood in the rain, trying to decide if he should persue the fleeing apparition; getting back inside the Accord he slumped forward over the steering wheel, tapping his hands on the hard plastic.
Of the three that clung to his thoughts, the girl so silent at the back, seeming so lost and alone was the last person he wanted to think about. Something about her pained him deeply, caused such an intense feeling of concern he had the insane desire to ask if she would like to join him and his wife for some ice cream tonight. However, that notion was soon dispelled, although he kept looking back at her, trying to read her, trying to comfort her in the most distant of ways. When he left her, alone off the bus on a dark street corner, Connelly felt strangely grieved, as if he should’ve touched her, saved her, somehow. But when Connelly considered these feelings rationally he chuckled at himself, sure he was either imagining things, or overreacting to a dubious situation.
He tried desperately to ignore the voice so deep down inside him, whispering steadily, to do something, do something. Anything.
It shamed him to know that on his last night he would leave a girl helpless.
Grudgingly, Connelly put the Accord back into gear and continued on his way.
As he drove he forced himself into a strained state of happiness, but the closer he got to his home he felt a sincere elation settling in, a delicate calmness.
Turning into his street, he found the veranda light aglow as he drove up the driveway of his doublestorey. At the back he saw the light burning in the kitchen, where he would always find his wife on any given night. Connelly heaved himself from the car, locked it, and made his way across the lawn, through the back gate and into the soft warmth of the kitchen. He stood very still, taking in the small frame hunched over the table, a finger twirling absently in her hair, the tip of a pencil resting on her lip as she worked away at a crossword.
Connelly could never understand how the love of another, how the separate life of another could so complete his own; how the warmth of a singular breath could spread soothing through his soul. As he watched his wife living out such an extraordinary moment of beauty, of such complete simplicity of being, Connelly knew his entire existence had been touched, had been worth every breath.
Teri stretched her back, surprised and pleased to see her husband watching her so quietly. “Well there he is.” Her smile brought an incredible glow to her face. She eased herself up from her chair and stood just in front of her man, arms folded across her breasts, frowning at the time. “Last bloody day – your retirement! – and this is the time they let you leave. Greedy, heartless, slave driving bastards!” She smiled, her eyebrows raised in a playful arch. Gently the retired bus driver pulled her small frame into his, kissed her head, and started his slow, silly little dance.

The 6th Happiness is a Wish Granted

There is a world that we create with our dreams and wishes where only we can go. It exists in a parallel realm with this world but when we go there no real time ever goes by. There time stands still, until we get back and resume our normal separate lives.

It was a sunny and warm summer afternoon in the park. I had decided to come see the labyrinth as I had never seen a labyrinth before. It wasn’t unusually large but it did look somewhat strange. Like all others, it was a “spiritual journey”, a narrow path to walk in faith. It asked that you trusted it to lead you to in to the center and back out again, without thinking or questioning. I started walking, following the narrow path where it lead. It’s not easy to trust when you can’t see where you’re going and at one stage I thought the path might be leading me astray, but I soon realized I just had to keep trusting and follow the path. I had read somewhere that when you get to the center, you should make a wish and not being the superstitious type I closed my eyes anyway and made a wish.
I followed the path back to the exit again, now much the wiser from what I had come to learn from a labyrinth. Sometimes you need to let go of your urge to control and just follow where life leads you. I went and sat on a little wooden bench under the trees next to the labyrinth. I sat for about a minute and noticed that there were suddenly no people in the park, except a man walking towards the labyrinth. I checked the time. It was 4 pm. As he came closer I recognized him and when he saw me I could see we were both surprised to see each other there, as though fate had somehow designed the meeting that afternoon. He smiled friendly and we greeted each other as he came and sat down next to me. “Where did all the people disappear to?” I asked. “I have no idea, the park was crowded a couple of minutes ago”, he said. “I know. It’s the strangest thing.” “How are you doing?” he asked. “I’m great, doing great.” Alone in the park with no people around, was like a dream come true I thought. You see, when love is forbidden, every private moment spent together alone becomes sacred. Not thinking about it more than that at that stage we continued talking. “I didn’t know you would be here today, but it’s good to see you”, I said. There was always much to talk about and never enough time, but that day time seemed to stand still.
“Remember that part in Midnight in Paris where that French girl and that guy dances the night away? I dream of doing that!” I said. I winked and when I opened my eyes, we were both standing in a room that looked like a replica from the 1930′s, just that it wasn’t a replica. It smelled of musk and cigar smoke and a very young Edith Piaf was standing alongside the piano singing, while people all around us danced slowly cheek to cheek. It took a while to come to the full realization of what had just happened to us and we didn’t want to attract too much attention and decided to join in and dance like the rest until the song was done. I couldn’t stop looking at Edith. She was pretty, just like in the pictures I saw of her and she sang beautifully. She seemed so passionate with every word she uttered and I could see that she was singing with her soul. She looked truly happy when she sang. When the song finished we moved away from the dance floor to a quieter corner. I knew we had to be in Paris somewhere in the 1930′s. I could see he was clueless as to what was going on and I myself wasn’t sure of what had just happened. I suddenly thought of the labyrinth and the wish I had made. It couldn’t be possible! It couldn’t actually be real.”I made a wish at the labyrinth this afternoon when I got to the center. I wished that we could go away together to another world where we could do all the things we dreamed of and always spoke of.” “I think your wish was granted”, he said with a nervous smile. “How do we get out of here again?” I asked. He was the clever one, a genius I believed, so he would know how to get us out of there. “I think it’s simple, I think you need to wish us back again”. I doubted him for a second, but knew of better, so I closed my eyes and wished we were back in the park on the bench.
When I opened my eyes, we were sitting in the park on the same bench. We were both very relieved but at the same time I was sad, after all, it had been what I wished for and now it was over. I checked my watch. It was still 4 pm. Time stood still when we were away. Strangely, the people were also back and the park was crowded again. Too crowded for forbidden lovers to be seen together…
Later that evening I was lying in bed thinking about the day’s events. Still a bit shocked I decided I would go back to the park the next day. Curiosity was getting the better of me as usual and I just had to see if I could try it one more time. That night I slept an uneasy dreamless sleep and awoke with first light the next morning. When I got to the park, I made my way to the labyrinth and the bench where we sat the previous day. I sat down on exactly the same spot. I was scared alright, but I knew I had to do this, so I closed my eyes and thought of one of the places where we still wanted to go. The museum! Yes, that would be a safe place to try this on. It wasn’t too far and at least not in another time era, so I shut my eyes even closer than they already were and whispered “I wish we were at the museum”. When I opened my eyes, I was sitting on the bench still in the park. I looked around me and people were walking past in the pathways and other people were riding their bicycles. Did I say it wrong? What did I say wrong? I closed my eyes again but this time I said it louder. “I WISH WE WERE AT THE MUSEUM!” When I opened my eyes, I was still sitting in the park on the bench. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and then thought the wish might have expired. Greatly disappointed that it didn’t work and even more disappointed that we left the 1930′s in such a hurry, I left the park. I would tell him about this when I saw him again.
The following week we arranged to meet in the park again, but at a time when the park wasn’t too crowded. We went and sat on the same bench again. We liked that bench. “I came back the next day. I wanted to try it and see if it worked again.” I told him how disappointed I was that it didn’t work and how I was even more disappointed at leaving the 1930′s so soon. There was still so much to see and we could meet at the wonderful writers and musicians we had heard about. I sounded much like a nagging child. “What exactly did you say?” “I whispered it and said it out aloud and neither worked.” “But what did you say?” “Well, I thought the museum would be a good place to try it on, so I said: “I wish we were at the museum”.
I blinked and when I opened my eyes, we were both standing at the entrance to the museum. Again, no people were in sight. I couldn’t believe it! Why didn’t this work the previous week but now it worked! I said the exact words I had said the previous time, but why didn’t it work then? We stood there for a moment and then I realized why it hadn’t worked the previous week. I had wished that we could go away “together”. It suddenly made all the sense in the world. The wish would only be granted if we were together when I made the wish. I told him this. We still didn’t exactly know how it worked. All we knew was that time stood still when we were there. It looked exactly like the real world, only that there were no people this time, as in the park the other day. Why were there people around when we were in the 1930′s but in the park and now there were none? We were not going to return to the real world as quickly as we did the last time. We knew a little about this world and decided to at least enjoy the experience at the museum without worrying too much and seeing that time stood still in this world, we could relax and take our time to go through the whole museum.
It looked eerie and a bit creepy without any people moving around in it, but its old familiar smell soon comforted our senses. It was lovely as ever. We strolled through the world’s history sections and admired the Indian Tribe exhibits. They were an amazing culture and we both agreed that it was sad that their culture was fading away and we had wished it had been preserved better for the future generations. Who would teach their young ones to hunt and keep up the traditions? We continued strolling through the museum and admired all the different amazing sea life and other great animal exhibits and many more wonderful things. The Dinosaurs were always fascinating. What we were really curious to know was what was actually hidden away from public view. They obviously only exhibited things that they thought were relevant to the public. What about the great archaeological finds that were never shown to the public. With much effort and almost getting lost, we got to their archives and storage area. It was magnificent. The area was large enough to house many findings collected over the years. The low light and dust made it appear nostalgic and romantically appealing. I was astonished by what I saw and we went through each box on each shelve and each container standing around. Some of the findings were true collector’s items, but we knew we could never take anything back from this world to the real world. This world was not to be owned. It was to be respected and admired only. It felt like we were there for a life time, yet the time on my watch stood still. It was really nice to spend proper care free time appreciating the things we saw and experienced. We knew it was time to get going again, for we had seen everything we wanted to see and had been everywhere we had wanted to be in the museum.
As we reached the outside steps in front of the museum we took some time to hold each other close for a while and kissed softly, like two lovers that knew it was time to say goodbye again. My wish was granted. We had a world where we could go together and be together for as long as we needed. We knew it was sacred time, because we also knew the real world still existed. In that world our love was forbidden and forbidden love could hurt many innocent people. We would love each other freely, but only in this world.
When we said our goodbyes, I closed my eyes and wished us back to the real world. And so our day at the museum of which we had spoken of and wanted to see many times, but knew was never possible in reality, came to an end. When we left the park we both went back to our own separate lives, filled with family and responsibilities… until the next time we could meet again at the park on the bench.
Time passed and years went by and as our love and friendship grew, so did our dreams and wishes and we went on many wonderful adventures together, exploring them in OUR world.

A Touch of Class

The invitation took Lucy by surprise. It was the last thing she expected. After reading it, she ‘phoned her best friend Patsy.
“Pats, have you also received an invite to Tara Blake’s pre-graduation ladies’ luncheon?”
“Didn’t know she was having one. No, she can’t stand me; I’m much too common. Trust our Tara to do things on a grand scale. No plonk and peanuts in the local pub for Tara; she has to have a “ladies’ luncheon” no less. I take it you’re invited?”
“Yes, but I’m not going,” Lucy said quickly.
“Don’t be daft, woman, of course you’re going! Haven’t we always hankered to know what kind of mansion lurks behind those wrought iron gates? Now’s your chance to see how the upper-crust live. I’ve always wondered whether she’s just a big mouth or if there’s some substance to Tara’s grandiose tales of the doings of the rich.”
“Well I can tell you what they’ll be doing after lunch on the 14th. According to the invitation, either playing tennis or swimming, neither of which grab me. I’m hopeless at tennis and will feel an utter klutz cavorting around in my one-piece while they sport their stuff in itzy-bitzy bikinis.”
“What stuff? It’s because they haven’t any that they can wear them, so be grateful for what you’ve got.”
“Oh Lord, Pats, that raises another problem. We’ll probably have to change together. Can you imagine the jokes that’ll fly round when they see my underwear? Why is it that flat-chested girls can pick and choose from a range of lacy nothings, but anyone taking more than a C-cup has to settle for khaki-coloured tents? I’m definitely not going!”
“Yes you are. We’ll go to ‘Victoria’s Secret’ and buy the sexiest underwear you’ve ever seen.”

Which they did, leaving Lucy penniless for the rest of the month.
“That’s my whole allowance blown,” she moaned, secretly delighting in the sight of the glamorous undergarments.
Which purchases in the end proved unnecessary.

On the day, Lucy took surreptitious notice of the opulent décor of what was indeed a grand mansion, knowing her friend would want a detailed account. Tara’s parents were either out or discreetly keeping out of the way as there was no sign of them. After a gourmet meal that would have had Patsy smacking her lips, when given the option of tennis or swimming, only three girls other than herself chose the latter.
“You three can change in the bathrooms,” Tara said, waving a hand vaguely towards the stairs, “and you, Lucy, can use the downstairs cloak. On the right over there.”

The first room on the right happened to be the study, but as it was vacant and had a key in the door, Lucy decided it would do just as well. She locked herself in and changed into her one-piece in solitary splendour, grumbling quietly to herself at her foolishness in trying to match the standards of these wealthy girls. “Serves me right,” she muttered. “No-one will even see the fripperies I’ve spent a fortune on.” She tucked her extravagant new purchases behind a cushion on one of the leather chairs, feeling disapproval oozing from it at this act of desecration of such a serious setting.

In the event she was proved wrong. After an afternoon in the pool, followed by some sun-bathing, a white-clad servant emerged from the house ringing a bell signalling teatime. As Lucy was by then bone-dry, she hurriedly pulled jeans and T-shirt on over her costume, retrieved her undergarments, wrapped them in her towel and joined Tara and friends for tea under the gazebo on the rolling green lawns. She enjoyed the exchange of banter although she couldn’t do justice to the array of fancy cakes on offer and when she left shortly after, thanked Tara with genuine warmth for an enjoyable day.

On reaching her university res, Lucy changed out of her costume, but when she unwrapped the towel, found only her pair of briefs. Where was her bra? In a panic, she mentally retraced her steps and came to the conclusion that in her haste, she must have left it behind the cushion in the study as her towel certainly hadn’t come undone at any stage.
“At that price I’m damned if I’m leaving it there,” she said aloud, grabbing her car keys.
On reaching Tara’s house she saw that the gates had not yet been closed, so some of the guests must still be there. Lucy hadn’t planned what to say, but instead of going to the front door, went round the side of the house as the study had double doors opening onto the big veranda. Perhaps she could just slip in and grab the bra without anyone being the wiser? Best to go in boldly so that if she did meet someone it wouldn’t seem as if she were skulking furtively around.

Which she did, only to find herself face to face with a youth of about sixteen who could only be Tara’s younger brother as they looked so alike. He was standing by the window holding her bra up to the light, looking at it admiringly. Lucy’s brain seized up. What now? For a moment she and the boy looked wordlessly at one another, then Lucy said breathlessly.
“Oh. Sorry. I left something behind.” She went across to the imposing mahogany desk and made a pretence of looking for the lost item. “My specs,” she said apologetically, improvising madly.
The blushing boy stuffed the bra into his pocket, pulled open the top drawer and silently handed over a spectacle case.
“Here. I thought they were Andy’s,” he mumbled.
Lucy was completely thrown. The boy seemed equally so.
“Thanks,” she said, and fled.

Once back in res, she sat on her bed in a daze. Then ‘phoned Patsy.
“Pats, I’m in trouble.”
“Must’ve been a good party, but I thought it was only for girls? Oh, pardon me, ladies! As for being in trouble, isn’t it a bit early to tell?”
“Not that kind of trouble, idiot. Pats, I’ve lost my new bra. Tara’s brother has it!”
“My, you are a fast worker,” Patsy said admiringly. “I suppose with all that competition you had to do something drastic to grab his attention.”
Ignoring this sally, Lucy continued: “And I’ve now got a pair of spectacles with thick lenses belonging to a guy named Andy.”
“Sounds like a poor exchange. Did you catch this Andy peeking while you were stripping for Tara’s brother? Did you snatch them from his nose? Seems I owe Tara an apology. Those high-flyers really do live dissolute lives.”
“Pats, shut up and listen!” She told her friend what had happened. Patsy crowed with laughter.
“What do I do now? These specs look expensive. They’re prescription, Pats. I haven’t a clue who this Andy is, so how do I return them?”
“Let’s sleep on it,” said Patsy once she stopped chortling.

The next day, being well brought up, Lucy ‘phoned Tara to thank her again.
“I’m glad you had a good time,” Tara replied. “You left before all the drama erupted. My dad found my toad of a brother Brad with a girl’s bra dangling from his pocket and a smirk on his face. He said he’d found it but wouldn’t say where and had obviously been groping some cheap little piece in a back alley or somewhere equally squalid.”
“Oh?” Lucy said faintly. (Cheap? Wearing a ‘Victoria’s Secret’ bra?)
“And then he had the gall to try to lie his way out of it. He said he had no idea where it came from. God, Lucy, the size of those cups! Trust Brad to take up with some big-boobed, brainless bird. He’s ruled by his hormones. He also accused one of my friends of pinching his friend Andy’s glasses. He said she came into dad’s study and lifted them!”
“Oh,” said Lucy again, thinking dark thoughts about Brad. Lifted them indeed, when he had handed them to her with his own scurvy little mitts!
“And now he’s going around showing off that bra to all his classmates acting like Jack the Lad and impressing the hell out of them. Until now he’s been a bit of an outcast but is now the ‘main man!’ Boys of that age are so utterly, utterly juvenile.”
“Really?” Lucy flinched at the thought of her gorgeous bra doing the rounds in the hands of Brad’s smutty friends. Well, she certainly didn’t want it back now! Remembering what she’d paid for it, she stifled a groan.

Patsy stifled a groan too when she heard.
“You can say goodbye to it girl. Why didn’t you grab it and run when you first saw the little twerp with it?”
“I have my pride,” Lucy said stiffly.
“And a fat lot of good it’s done you! Well these days ‘Victoria’s Secret’ has one less secret to boast about now that your bra’s been pawed by all of Brad’s adolescent mates.”
“Stop Pats. I’ve had enough and don’t want to hear another word about the cursed thing. Besides, I’ve still got to find a way to get the specs back to Andy. He must be blind as a bat without them, poor thing, considering the thickness of the lenses.”
“Oh, that’s no problem. What you do is enclose them in bubblewrap, stick them in a cardboard cylinder – I’ve got one for you – plug the ends with tissues and post the lot off to Brad the Prat in brown paper wrapping, no return address. He can give them to his pal Andy.”
“Brilliant!”
“Oh, I’m not just a pretty face. I’m graduating next week, remember?”

The following Monday all the graduands had to meet at the university to collect the gowns they had hired for the ceremony. Lucy saw Tara in the queue and waited for her, wanting to find out whether the spectacles had reached Brad safely. She could hardly ask, so tried a tentative question.
“Hi, Tara. Er, how’s your brother?”
“As obnoxious as usual, still playing the man of mystery. He got something in the mail yesterday wrapped in brown paper. When I asked what it was, he said it was a porn
magazine!”
“It was not!” Lucy denied hotly before she could help herself, but it must have sounded like an exclamation, as Tara continued:
“Who knows? I wouldn’t put it past him to rush out and buy one just to fan the flames of his burgeoning reputation as a man of the world. He’ll probably tell his set that the babe with the big boobs posted it to him.” (The only grain of truth in his latest fabrication of lies, Lucy thought sourly.)
Tara grinned. “He’s such a child! Sweet really. Did I tell you he’s coming to see me graduate? My dad can’t make it as he’ll be away on business, so Brad’s using his ticket and accompanying my mum.”

Lucy caught up with Patsy in the cafeteria.
“What’s up, kid? You look pale.”
“I’ve reason to. Tara’s horrible brother’s coming to the graduation ceremony. Pats, the moment I walk across that stage he’ll recognise me; we were only feet apart in the study. If he’s got half a brain he’ll have worked out by now that I was coming back for my bra, not Andy’s specs. Once he’s seen me again he’ll quiz Tara about me and as he obviously doesn’t have an ounce of subtlety, it’s only a matter of time before it’ll all come out. Oh hell, I wish I was dead!”
“Hey, hey, steady on. We’ll think of something.”

The ‘something’ they resorted to was to change Lucy’s appearance as much as possible. As her body would be draped in an academic gown it would indistinguishable from that of the other graduands, so they concentrated on her head.
“You’ll have to cut your hair. Dye it blonde. That should do it.”
“I’m broke, remember? I can’t afford a hairdresser.”
“Neither can I. Well, you’ll just have to trust me. I’ll do my best.”

Patsy’s best turned out to be far from good. Looking at her image in the mirror just before the ceremony, Lucy wondered what her parents would make of her. They were travelling in from the country village they’d retired to, especially for the ceremony and would be appalled by her appearance. Patsy had used the pair of scissors ruthlessly, shearing off all her black curls. What little hair was left was now brassy blonde and protruded from her scalp in defiant spikes.
“I really do look like a bosomy cheap tart,” she mourned, “All I need to complete the picture are black leathers and a motor bike!”
“Look on the bright side, doll. No-one will recognise you.”
“Not even my parents,” Lucy agreed.

Nor did they when she waved to them before taking her allotted seat near the front of the auditorium. As they’d had a long journey, there had been no time to meet up with their daughter beforehand.
Mr and Mrs Anthony exchanged horrified glances.
“What has she done?” Mrs Anthony whispered, “and why?”
“God alone knows.” Mr Anthony was gob-smacked. He’d always taken great pride in his daughter’s good sense, yet here she was appearing in public looking like … well, like someone other parents wouldn’t want their offspring associating with!

Lucy only relaxed at the “cheese and wine” after the ceremony, when Tara gave her a glassy stare and turned her back on her. No fear of being introduced to Tara’s family and hence no further danger.
“I know I should feel pleased about it,” she told Patsy when they found a quiet spot to converse, “but actually I feel slighted! There’s got to be a lesson in all of this, but I can’t fathom out what it is.”
“Stick to your own kind? Pride goes before a fall? What does it matter, anyway. You never cared much for Tara so it’s no skin off your nose. Look on the bright side. Good comes from everything.”
“Oh yeh? Do tell. Who benefited from this debacle?”
“Well, Brad’s friend for one. He got his glasses back.”
“He wouldn’t have lost them if I hadn’t nicked ‘em.”
“OK. So what about Brad himself? You’ve done his self-image a power of good.”
“In time his dad’s money would have done that for him. Besides, it’s no comfort to know all I’m good for is revving up the testosterone level of some horny adolescent.”
“Jees, Lucy, you’re hard to please! How about your make-over?”
Lucy sighed. “Look at me, Pats. Something from a freaking comic strip. My parents are in a state of shock.”
“They are, aren’t they? Your dad looks as if he’ll never recover,” Patsy giggled.
“No doubt in time I’ll look back on all this and find it hilarious.”
“It’s hilarious now, babe. Take my word for it.” Patsy took a swig of wine before adding “Cheers, Luce. Here’s to the future.”
“May it be blissfully uneventful!”
The two girls looked at one another and dissolved into laughter. Mrs Anthony turned to her husband who had been chatting to the vice-chancellor.
“She might look different, Harry, but she hasn’t changed. Not really. Look at her.”
Mr Anthony looked but all he could see was a caricature of his beautiful daughter.
“Let’s hope so, Celia. She’s obviously got more of your frivolous side of the family in her than I realised.”