Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wobbly times number 119
Ghosts in Africa by Jennifer Armstrong and Mike Ballard
Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
By the entrance of the kraal was a fallen, sugared yellow fence. Torrential rain had killed its substance, and the straw and grass that made it were shattered into fragments. In his state of torpor, Tom mechanically propped his racer with its flat tire up hard against the fence, and thought for just a while. "I'd really rather not be here. But I am and that's all there is to it. Life is so unkind, just like my father. My mother was nice." Right there, a stray red and brown cockerel pecked, mindlessly, against the spindled turf, and there proceeded to mash it with its feet. "What a strange thing a cock's comb is. I should really comb my hair. There now, much better. What would mummy and daddy say, most especially, daddy. It's hard being a man. It's no wonder the hens are so impressed with them‑the cocks' combs, I mean. And how they cackle..the hens. Of course, cocks can cackle too. It's all equal. It's all really the same." Apart from the cow and the bell, there was no sign of any human life there, or anywhere to be found and this made Tom feel safe and anxious. He was safe, in that nobody could see him, well almost nobody.
Without thinking, Tom said a prayer, and smoked the last remains of his dried‑out cigarette ‑‑ He had saved a half "just in case‑‑". The invigorating taste of nicotine spread rapidly throughout his lungs and found its way into his body. "'He maketh me to lie down in green pastures'. Nice notion, especially for big, brown‑eyed cows. Cows always lie down just before it begins to rain. Release is such a pleasant feeling. I think that when I go back to America, I'll let my cat and dog go‑my bird too. Then, they'll be free. After all, what do they need me for. Sure I pet them and feed them. Well, I don't pet the bird‑just sometimes, I put my little finger in Dodo's cage and give him a small stroke. Birds, generally don't like to be petted. They don't mind if their mates nuzzle up to them. I think that's true with most birds, though I've never seen a crow or a raven bill and coo. But no matter, Dodo will soon be released, that is, if I'm not here very long. Maybe I should get mom to do it. Ah, silly me. There are no phones or computers out here and besides, mom is dead."
Tom blew cigarette smoke through a pursed, whistle‑like hole he made in his lips. His lips were thin. He didn't like his lips. He couldn't imagine a decent looking girl liking his lips. They might like other parts of him, which, well.. that would be up them. Visibly grinning, he thought of his penis. Why did such thoughts enter his mind? Tom didn't know and besides, he wouldn't presume to tell girls what they should like about him or anything else for that matter. Then again, he did know. He was in denial and he knew that. He'd heard that term bandied about during his Psych 101 course at UT. It'd stuck with him since. But his father taught him about the devil. It was good to deny the devil. The devil was sin and sinning got you "cast into 'hail'". Tom smiled again at the thought of his father's Texan accent. Cast into 'hail', indeed. Just the opposite‑cast into eternal fire where the marrow in his bones would turn into molten lead and his eyes would flame in their boney sockets and the tears would be endless‑ENDLESS!‑to infinity. And the stench of eternally rotting flesh. There would be no end to the tortures God, the father would inflict upon him, unrepentant sinner that he was. As hard as he tried to deny his thought‑dreams, they just continued to pop up, like targets on a shooting range. Tom was afraid. His own ideas were betraying him, sending him to eternal suffering, just as Jesus must have suffered on "that old rugged cross". The melodic whisper of voices came ringing out the open doors of that little old, white wooden Baptist church near Pottsboro. Tom sometimes caught himself falling asleep during the sermons of Reverend Paul. Other times, he got hard‑ons looking over at Nancy's crossed legs. When the congregation stood up to sing, Tom would have to hunch over a bit and adjust to camouflage the protrusion emanating otherwise from the zippered part of his trousers.
The ash‑weary smell of Africa, of pot‑dust smoke... which funnelled up around him formed more than a wisp. Now, the salient odour of some dead, decaying meat, in a winds' gust, gained a more pungent edge. The urge to get away, to go back home, came over him ‑‑ Tom plucked a spindle‑leaf from a nearby bush, and crushed it ‑‑ then paused for a second, "Do leaves go to heaven? His mother had once told him that his dead cat had gone to heaven. To be sure, it was 'cat heaven'. If there was a cat and dog heaven, then perhaps a leaf heaven would not be too great an ask of our Father."
He knew he was a long, long way from home... . . The very first autumn he had experienced in the US, had been a magical one. Gold and amber oak leaves had fallen all round the college grounds and after that little specks of dust had been gathered up by the breeze of an impending winter storm. And in those months that followed, his old boyhood ways had been forgotten ‑‑ so he had thought. He still remembered them, of course. They were fresh in hi memory‑the lazy days of marbles and running with balls and climbing trees and teasing girls. He'd found some Texan friends who went to the same school, and so he'd lengthened out his tone of speech into a common drawl. "Yawl come," he thought giggling to himself. So young...Tom had only wanted to please everybody. He wanted to be "good", in future...But his good was different from that which had become his father's ‑‑ "and that much was certain". Now his mother was in The Lord's good hands, there was nothing left to worry about. And yet....How wondrous the echo of this silence. To think....there was really no one around! Well, except Him. He was always there. That's what he'd been told, "he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake... Christmas, birthdays, was a guy ever alone?"
A helicopter flew up overhead, and rattled like rain about to fall again. Tom cleared his throat. He still felt grateful and more alone than ever. He meandered along the path. The path was a different one from that chosen earlier. So, only now it was leading him over hidden boulders and rocks ‑‑ He looked at his watch and it was five to five. "Must be the helicopter people are going home now," he thought wistfully. His thoughts turned to Tarzan, swinging freely, securely from vines, halting only for the briefest second on the limb of some jungle tree. He looked around him and saw a lone thorn tree. " And Cheetah, funny little Cheetah. What an hilarious chimp! Oh‑ooo‑hah‑hah‑hah, ugha‑ugha," he said out loud.
Tom's ears perked up. He could hear the sound of something in the distance, which he vaguely recognised as baboons ‑‑ he had last heard a baboon when he was still a child ‑‑ They'd scramble for the nuts, they'd throw some more, they tore them open, with their teeth, spat their husks. Now the memory was gone. Tom knew enough to be able to say they were probably a tribe of baboons, waiting for him just over the hill. That, itself, was very beautiful, and glorious. "Tribes were nice," he thought. "Nice and ever so natural." He liked saying "ever so", even to himself. His mother used that expression. It was cultured. It showed you were cultured, that you knew things and were someone to be reckoned with. Yes, indeed it did." He felt more assured now. His anxiety had ebbed, 'ever so, ever so'.
Everything was stretching out into a stream of caramel, gray chocolaty colour. The sun's path would soon fall beyond a cloud and sink much lower, out beyond the most distant tree. So now, he had to find his own path back and out the way he came. To ensure a short‑cut, he would boldly cut right across the bush.
An army vehicle zipped through, as if above those close‑by tufts of vegetation. Like Tom, it was moving southwards. It jettisoned the breeze, as it were: The breeze bounced off it. Then down it went, along the road Tom had been travelling, an hour or more before. A sharp reverberation as it passed was seemingly caught up by the nearest grass and re‑echoed. Tom looked up and fell down, scraping his knee. "Damn." he said out loud. A khaki apparition vanished, just at the moment he glimpsed it. Was it ever really there? He looked at his knee. It bled, ever so slightly. Everything seemed slow; like in a dream. He felt unsure and yet on the verge of battle. What kind of battle? He did not know. There were battles all around him, all the time as he grew up. It was normal. "Tom, Tom, the butcher's son, lost a ring and away he run," he thought as his head jerked. His eyes opened. They shut again. They opened again: He felt a bit tired. He had been walking so far, now. He had come around full circle.
He climbed up to the road and took his bearings southwards ‑‑ ever southwards. Warmth and destination were there. Up above, a group of eagles soared. Tom had his notebook, and he'd drawn a sketch of these birds in it. The sun was part of the sketch. And, we were all a part of it, and had our origins from it. And when the sun finally departed, it always left a feeling of peace, as though in special tribute or in consolation. "Amen," he thought, bowing his head. "Mustn't sleep. No. Too dangerous. No, I'm fine."
He'd learned enough about mechanics in a funny lakeside place back home, and about throwing flat‑faced stones in a way that skimmed the water, whilst looking for fish. He'd done that in Africa, when he was left alone for the best part of the day. Out of boredom, mostly, he'd learned to turn a pine stick into a fishing rod, attach fish‑bait upon a makeshift, barbed‑wire hook. He swung a thorn stick resolutely as he walked along the road. It was his stick ‑‑ he'd plucked it from the tree, all alone.
He travelled along these roots and stones. Nobody had told him that these could be the wrong shoes. . nobody had told him just how dark it gets ‑‑ or how suddenly the night falls. Tom jiggled his rucksack, which was made heavier by the pressure. His father had been right ‑‑ he had said, "Watch out for those . . . who'll lead you up the garden path! 'Rock of ages, come to me'." Songs made him feel more like he was with someone else. "The Lord is always with you," his mother had told him. "There are no monsters. The Lord will watch over you and see that you go to heaven, when it is your time." There was a movement in the bush. Tom was afraid. It wasn't his time. Of that he was sure. "But then, what if the creature in the bush was a rhino. Would a rhino know that? Would a rhino know about the Lord and his plans?" Of course, God moved in mysterious ways and the rhino would know in his own inscrutable way. This thought did not comfort Tom. He picked up his pace a bit, even though the pack chafed his shoulders and his lungs began to burn.
And now the night had closed in. And he breathed the chill; and all his breath had turned into white smoke.
The night was reaching in to rob him of possibilities, and his missions . . . its cold hand of darkness reaching in ‑‑ Perhaps, soon, day would come along to . . . re‑invigorate us all? The darkness covers everything and returns all to its embryonic shapes. It makes all frenetic activity depart with its hushed and hushing authority. The cold was making him cough . . . Perhaps only the dryness of his breath was making him cough, now. He had to slow down. His body was giving out. Soon a car would pull up, if only he was lucky. A friendly face would take him to the next stage: show him where he had to go. Tom believed in fate: It was as much a part of his belief as breathing was a part of him. "Now I lay me down with sheep." Sin... blasphemy! That is what father would say? "We are men, not sheep. Now, where did I put my woollen jersey? Where is my shepherd? When is the man coming with a gun? Where is the highest bidder, for my life? Where, indeed, is my son's penknife?"
Next, Tom made his way towards the nearest hut, in a random detour. A red and brown cockerel cackled, flapping 'cross his path, emitting a threatening, gargling sound. The shadows stretched. He poked his head in, knocking a bit of grey dust from its entrance, "Anybody home?" But the sleeping, creeping shadows inside the silent hut were deeper. It was warmer there inside. The hut smelt like stale corn ‑‑ and spittle that had been re‑swallowed, two, or three, or more times, until it had finally turned sour. Dark wooden embers; dust and coal, were scattered within the cold structure. The floors were cow‑dung, the walls of brighter clay. Tom pulled his penis out, unconsciously, and began to play with it. It was rare to be alone for such a long time and so safe. . . He now felt safe, within the heat and darkness of the hut. Tomorrow, he would head south again. In the meantime, there was Leslie. Leslie in her red plaid school skirt with her white cotton panties on. "Leslie, will you take off your panties?" Tom thought of ripping them off, no sliding them down and sliding in and out and in and.. "Leslie!" he cried. And then it was over. He wiped his hand on his trousers and drifted off to sleep... in the belly of a leopard.
A car started or so it seemed. Milky white stars...and then some light. Tom opened his eyes. Some light was bouncing off the grey walls of the hut and an engine came to a stop. A flashlight bumped its way up to the hut. Crunching gravel under feet. The light shone into Tom's face. "Anybody here?" the voice asked? "Nobody here but us chickens," Tom returned with his boyish grin.
"What are you doing boy? It smells like a sperm factory in here."
"First of all, I'm not a boy. I'm old enough to drink and vote and I'm a graduate of the University of Texas."
"How did you get here?" the soldier asked.
"I rode my racer. But it got a flat tire."
"So, I walked. I forgot to bring patch and glue."
The soldier scratched his head.
"I'm visiting my old homeland, sir" Tom continued.
"You'd better come along with us," the soldier answered. "And don't call me sir. I'm a corporal."
"Yes sir", Tom said. "I mean.."
"Never mind. Just get in."
The purring of the engine which had picked him up and carried him thus far had made him feel like he was a lion cub, inside a lionesses' womb ‑‑ A child of Africa, not in this land for long. Alone‑except for four ghostly shapes of others around him. The boy struggled, under the weight of the most tiresome engagement: SLEEP. Why was he struggling? He ought to be more alert. Three hours past‑‑ they approached Town.
The familiar voices broke through the drought‑‑" My people live around here ‑‑ Perhaps we can drop him out down there?" So ensued a general shuffle of silent assent. Something was resting on him ‑‑something that he couldn't somehow shake it off. It wound around him while he rested, like a python. And, it had seemed, in that long journey, like it had always been this way. Except now, in Africa, the child in Tom was free. The memories were not strong enough to resist the violence of bright, arousing day.
And the car, at that point, really seemed to be a leopard, purring up the long dirt road, and it slid under a porch light coming to a still rest within a breeze. And feeling more alert, Tom, happily, at last, stepped out for a look. The moon loomed down full, its face, round, smooth ‑‑ and small. He kicked the dust off hiss boots, as if awake. The Ghost‑spirit knocked against the door. It opened‑‑ Tom was alone, with one of four hallucinations. First was there a small woman‑‑young‑‑ with her dark hairs brushed softly, low, against her brow, and then a man in his late thirties, followed by a hairy, long‑slithered face: The dog's name was Peter Pan. The hallucination said, "We just found him walking down the road; we thought he might be lost‑‑ ...would you take care of him ? ‑‑his tone was soft, and kind. Inside, it was stark, with wooden shelves and a belching 'fridge. The floors were cold, uneven; seemingly melted with old footwork‑‑and, probably young feet ‑‑ A kettle rocked sedately in its cradle on a gas stove. It had made its contents dry.
Tom could taste this sweet smell of ancient herbs. The boy regretted leaving behind his brightly coloured racer. It was the one thing he prized highly, that he had brought with him from the States. ‑‑ he hated the thought it might rain overnight, and all the paintwork would suffer. It irked him . . . more than the fact he had been 'tricked' by a bunch of "apparitions" to participate in a journey to 'who knows where'.
He felt his body being very purposefully jiggled. "Hey you. Wake up. Is this it, son? There aren't many houses out this way."
Tom got his knapsack, exited the car with a wave, watching it until its lights finally disappeared and all that was left was the distant growl of its engine. At least Daina's place hadn't changed.
The woman clucked and scurried and found pillows, sheets and blankets. The room was large ‑‑ too large to hold one person ‑‑ and tthe ceiling was tall and high. A silken web of mosquito netting was draped around him. Tom felt he was a spider, caught by another spider, under the watchful eye of a fly. Then the late hour arrived. When daybreak came, it left a hole in everything ‑‑ a mellow, quickening light that nothing could hide inside. Breakfast was pan‑cooked flapjacks, bacon, jam, and eggs. Tom removed the netting that had until this point contained him. A whole new world of possibilities had just opened up.
He sucked in the milky, hot, tea. Michael Leary ‑‑ she, Daina‑‑ called him "Laz" for short‑‑sat smoking in the kitchen. Later on, Tom found them seated out on the green lawn, with their dog, Pan. Pan eyed this boy, with one of his translucent gazes and sidled up to him. Tom offered him the remains of his egg. He had once used to keep some scraps for his own puppy, a Great Dane, called Marshall. "Little Marshall," Tom had called him, but that was when Tom had been so much younger.
"It's warm out here, and everything is suddenly quite still" he thought. The African habit of seeing the outside, and not the soul, at all... was all "a lie". Daina, spread out languidly on a deck chair, followed him with her eyes. He fell into reverie, whilst eyeing Daina's legs; an almost milk‑chocolate‑brown. Her skin was of a well‑fed cow, glistening with either brill cream or a delicate version of crushed sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, "Laz", shuffled back and forth and here and there, in his broken boots. And then he stopped and propped himself, right shoulder against a wooden beam. As if all this gentleman was. . .was leaning there in one place against the porch. And then, he sat again, sipping tea and looking for all the world like a man of leisure as he leaned back into a closed eyed position.
Laz was a game‑keeper, from way back ‑‑ knew the hills and every animal by name, and was still sleeping on his armchair. Daina smiled ‑‑ she seemed reluctant to participate but loomed there in the shadow‑morning‑light. "Laz", however, was far beyond , so far, he didn't care ‑‑ almost beyond the essence of a man, he twitched his whiskers, softly, as he remarked on the dew. Midday, next the evening soft approaching, he would tighten up his collar ‑‑ always was trying to adjust it to avoid sunburn. He even swatted flies away from his face, with a low, digestive, grunt. A man tormented by the cold, but refusing to admit it. Light always tormented his day but evenings were the best by far.
Daina re‑crossed her legs, and smiled in a conspiratorial way at Tom. She slithered her body down the chair into a more relaxed position. The boy felt the morning sun bite into his brow. He paused. Now his tea was getting cold. In the heat of day, Daina slid off her silky slip coat, and dove into the pool. Tom lay right back on an armrest; closed his eyes, in half response ‑‑ "Daina.... When I leave here, I'll collect my things, come back for you. You needn't be afraid. I want to protect you from ALL of the dangers."
Tom knew Laz was leaving to go to his game reserve in the bush the next day. Daina would be all alone. "You must go back to your Leslie," she said, at last, subduingly, ‑‑Since there's nothing real for you here...Alone, out in the bush."
The air was getting colder. Suddenly, for some reason, Daina's voice almost seemed reproachful: "Do your parents know where you're about? ‑‑Do they even care?" Daina's nose was a wrinkled freckle‑patch of ‑winsome‑ satisfaction‑‑ "you might be too heavy to be carried..." Daina's dark brown hair hung around her face, as she examined Tom's injured knee. Her eyes developed a quizzical appearance, laughing at him.
"Laz" was cat napping. He snorted in his sleep, as if registering a movement, somewhere, out there in the bushland. He let out a whispered snore, as if in a huge relief that a certain danger finally bypassed him and left him safe. He sunk deeper into a reverie, as if on cue. As Daina watched, his breathing turned more rhythmic, and so was silenced ‑‑ as if with bandaids.. Daina reached over, gently, and offered Tom a elasto‑plaster, to cover up his searing leg‑gape.
"Only my father is still alive. My mother died when I was five..my father said... a car crash in London...she slid into a telegraph pole, on a track of icy road‑‑nobody could have seen it coming.."
Tom leaned back in his lawn chair. A light dawned somewhere, but it was far away, too far away for all the weight he now must carry. The light paused. Trapped within a shadow, panned between two shifting clouds. His tea was getting cold ‑‑ a signal that the partnership must now subside.
And now the sun was beating down perpetually, the clouds began crisscrossing . . . it reminded him of daybreak, dreaming: The knowledge of an infinite horizon : And the child‑like hours slipping away disappearing into the world's hidden ideas, to be condensed one day above a mountain range, and fall again, ever recycled, as precipitation. This dream was one which, fortunately, could last forever. "But ‑‑ a‑grasping at dreams, a life could slip away! But to lose them, that would be tragic, truly tragic. What am I going to do?" he thought. But no answer came. Only blankness...tabla‑rasa that's what his mind's eye saw. Why didn't God ever tell him what to do? Not like prayers about tending sheep with his rod and his staff, but real things. He'd never had a rod nor a staff. He didn't even know what the heck their function was in terms of sheep herding or why anyone would be concerned with them in this day and age. Why didn't God tell him about real things, instead of just having his disciples write down those parables? Parables were nice, but they could only go so far. And Tom was here, in Africa, very far from home. There wasn't an olive tree in sight.
A dust storm whipped up everything and forced the leaves and twigs into a spiral. Before too long his friends would make tracks and reach him. Everything was encapsulated here and lived on its own terms, as if forgotten by all time. Soon the sky would open up and rain would fall ‑‑ a rain which would drench them all, delightfully, intensively to the bone.
... The Earth can only spin so far, and then it must recline and tumble! A revelation, to be sure. As his father used to exclaim, "The world's going to hell in a handbasket!" And it was! Tom's mind's eye could see it or humanity, more properly, writhing there in one giant handbasket, no longer capable of even turning in their graves, being carried off by demons to that final day of judgement, Jesus up there on his floating throne, no longer the gentle Jesus, the baby Jesus, the helpless Jesus. No, this time, he was the muscular Jesus‑‑ the judge, like the kind who wear those funny dark napkins on their heads as they hand down death sentences to the black sheep of humanity. He would come to wreak vengeance on the unrepentant. It was his right. He'd given them a chance and they'd flubbed it and he consigned them to the gates of Hell. Funny how Jesus and the Devil worked this sort of division of labour, what with Jesus doing the pointing and Satan ordering his minions to drive this or that herd of sinners into the flames. Thus, one never really ever faced death, only eternities of heaven or hell or, if you were a Catholic or a Communist, long transitional periods of purgatory or socialism.
"Tom, how long do you think you'll to stay here?" said Daina, unexpectedly ‑‑ "we don't want you wandering all over the place ‑‑ there are dangers here. Wild animals, in particular... Laz killed a leopard only last week."
The realisation he was on his own and in danger, poured springs of cool and tepid water over Tom‑‑ reviving him: ‑‑"I have Leslie waiting for me, back in QueQue ‑‑ she's alone: I'm heading back , to bring her something special." Tom thought of Leslie's smile and how she would grin when she saw him again. It was all warm and inviting. Yes, to Leslie's smile. No to her hot body. Yes to her intoxicating toes: No to her forehead, which was too broad. Yes to her willingness to engage the forgiving embrace of unconditional love. No to actually embracing her. After all, there was the hot body to worry about. Tom was afraid of being burnt. And he would be burnt, he would surely be burnt, if he gave in to sexual pleasure. The road to hell was paved with pleasure's lures.
"Lurid woman! Out of my head," Tom shouted.
"What?" Daina asked.
"Oh, nothing", Tom said sheepishly.
A bush fire, that morning, had swept its way across the farm; yet pre‑burnt areas had saved them. Daina's gold‑brown eyes flashed inwardly, in the certain knowledge that boundaries were changing, squaring, losing form. Her own body was losing form. Age was relentlessly beating her down into a kind of shaplessness mass. She imagined herself growing old, lines becoming ever more deeply etched into her forehead. "Repulsive", she thought and frowning, she decided on diversion, picking up the old SPIEGEL catalogue her cousin had mailed to her from Chicago.
Yet grass seed dusted and swept across the land ‑‑ and Tom remembered Leslie with her violet eyes and golden hair, cascading, as it were, around her body. "Here's a cigarette for you: Don't lose it!‑‑ and remember, to take a map and write down where you're going!" she told him. The fresh cigarette Leslie had given him would soon be ashes. He'd taken it without a thought. He KNEW Leslie had a taste for all forms of corruption ‑‑ ‑‑cigarettes would be her tender ‑‑ or meagre, 'offering'. His father and god, who art in heaven, would be displeased, as women were a menace to the nice. "Even had proven that," he reflected. His penknife was nice. In spite of this, he wasn't happy, especially about the dullness of its main blade.
Nothing would be allowed to become jaded, dull or green ‑‑ . . . But everything would most certainly be perfect, somehow, someday. Though, through its own natural course. Leslie had been in agreement with this sentiment for she too believed in his father. Ah Leslie...he remembered that time when she had nodded, and passed him a pencil‑thin joint, and a roll of silver paper from her ciggie box. As a couple, they had escaped all crispening dryness, and any near disaster.
But Tom was anxious. He suspected Leslie might have returned to Vermont by now. His travels had taken ever so much time. She would probably get married, have three kids, and die there, as she always told him she wanted. Tom just wanted to return to her now‑‑ instantly!
But more than that, he wanted to collect, and dust off, his new bike, which for sure would 'of gotten "all messed up", "worsened for the wear". Surely, he could get patches, glue and a pump from Daina and Laz. Then, he would take just a little more time. He would ride to the place his mother had been married in. Sure, it wasn't something she could ever thank him for (an Irish way of thinking upon it, he flashed) which was impossible now, although he wished she might. He didn't want thanks ‑‑ he wanted kisses, even if they came from a ghost. "Doesn't everyone want that unconditional love?"
For Tom, warm, plump faces of girls, like Leslie, were thoughts to be desired ‑‑ and anticipated as well. For they promised freedom from these incessant yearnings for his mother's forgiving kiss, the sickly sweet smell, the veil, the altar, the church, its whiteness, so crisp and cold and pure like the driven snow. Was this not the greater sin?
That night Tom slept well. In a way, he felt as if he'd confessed to himself. A desert rain would interrupted the simmering humidity. Yet he awoke with a start. He was decided. He would be paying a visit to the cathedral where his mother had been married.
"You are the sort who looks like he LIKES the sticks and mud!‑‑ You should enjoy the journey !" Tom's father had said before he left Texas, for Tom was sure, even then, that he would be making this pilgrimage. Tom's father's dog had loped up at the sound of the human commotion between Tom and his father that day. He dog‑ smiled and dribbled all around, smearing blood dropped saliva in with the red slimy residue on his canines. Miraculously, it fell down the cracks of a rotten boulder and dropped into the earth. It seemed like the world laughed at this sight‑‑ the sky emerged‑‑ a bright penetrating blue ‑‑resilient in its smile.
This ever so vivid memory of Tom's came out of nowhere ‑‑ It made him shudder. In a flash, Tom recollected another vision and this one was equally horrific, yet, in a way, pure. There he was, right near the place where his father, George, had sharpened a large butcher's knife on a rock, just outside his shop in the city. Most of George's inspirations had come from the rock, for the rock was true. Yes, that's what George was always saying, "The rock is true." Unchanging, it was stable, dependable, a thing of wonder and mystery. Language, truth and logic, his father had a way of precisely separating them.
One day, he had said to his son, "Tom, take your mother's wedding band off her hand, and go and get it enlarged ‑ She is telling me it now cuts into her circulation." And Tom was glad to help. His mother's skin was alabaster, and so soft you could see her blue and purple veins protruding, threaded throughout her fingers like a spider's web; perhaps it was her English quality? ...a certain "displeasure" of the sun? "It burns me so," she used to say to him. The milky mildew texture of her features were shocked against existence in the waves of African Sun which had penetrated, leaving hints of cracks and lines to come. Tom's father had sharpened a large butcher's knife on his rock. It was just outside his shop in the City. His father was most definitely not a traditionalist, but he had made an exception in this case ‑‑ due to his disdain for the peculiar 'buzz' of electrical devices. There had been a 'buzz' one night. "Impurity!" Tom had heard his father yelling at his mother in their bedroom as he lay awake in his room, his eyes moving anxiously back and forth under their lids.
She had died quite suddenly. Her death had come soon after George and his son had finally migrated back to civilisation ‑‑ It was not entirely unexpected. The lies she had been told about the mildness of the Texan heat must have taken their toll.
"Don't lose that ring! It is important ‑‑", Tom remembered George yelling at him. But Tom, feeling the heat, as if in a whirl of steam, he had dropped it. Down. Next to the rock, it fell, where it had slipped. He had been wetting his pen knife in order to make an incision in his overalls. He had only been testing the blade. He like testing his blade for sharpness. Then, in the sweat and heat Tom lost his clarity of vision. Damnable sweat! Salt water, not gentle, like tears or baby shampoo. It irritated his eyes to distraction. And what bedlam there had been when he confessed to his clumsy crime! Hellish denunciations were to be endured‑‑ until his father found the golden ring ‑‑ whereupon he scolded Tom for being so careless. It was at this very moment, the moment of Tom's most extreme humiliation that George forgave Tom. Quite reluctantly and with profound forbearance, he had advised, with rich, rump‑textured tones, "My son, I love you, and sometimes you do behave just like Tarzan's Chimp ‑‑ but we must also forgive the chimps my child!" Tom had been eight.
The next day, Tom only wanted to say good‑bye; just once and for all excuse himself to both Daina and her husband. Yet his shirt was on the wrong way round. He was no Tarzan. "Tarzan never wore shirts anyway," he said under his breath.
"You are really not leaving are you, Tom?" You KNOW I'll be alone," Daina said.
The fire ‑‑ the heat ‑‑ had been dismissed as part of nature's fury ‑‑ a natural disaster. The blackness of the land was already flecked with green. ‑‑Sprouts of life were nature's own. And all of a sudden, everything seemed ever so far off and yet so close. For it was Leslie he had loved. And, Tom remembered well this time of year, and how it felt when they had first "made love".
The deciduous trees had whistled and echoed, just like they did today. Tom had gone down the bush path to meet her, his palms sweating through his pink, clenched‑up fingers. It was a secret meeting. They had conspired together, like thieves in the night. The sun skimmed along her form, all along the dull bush path, a yard off. Summer colours chimed with insects, intersecting, flying, buzzing, crawling in the wet, green hedges. Shimmering lights appeared. The sun had masked her, shuffling up the garden path‑‑ he pulled her tightly to him. He'd let his tongue penetrate her open, inviting mouth. He laughed with her; touched her lips, caressed them, sucked them, licked them.
No, that was a fantasy. He should admit it. The truth would set him free. He must confess, if even only to himself. No, instead, she "leaned back" and he took her breasts in his mouth, tipped them onto his tongue on every pass. He'd noticed the sounds around him were becoming bigger, coherent. "There was a rhythm to the Earth," he remembered thinking that, "and a song".
That was the same day of the evening when they'd passed each other one of Leslie's ciggies as they sat at the beach campfire. What a strange night. In the corner of his eye he remembered catching a meteorite, time‑travelling the night sky ‑‑ and he had been awestruck.
And as he looked at her, her smile, twisted, her laugh echoing in the flickering light. At that moment, he just wanted to . . . . . . . . smoke some more, look up at the constellations of the night and then to continue to hold her. And Leslie had whispered in his ear, " Tom, I am a cool, nectarine drink‑‑and I let you suck the nectarine from me, although I didn't suck the nectarine from you‑‑not this time anyway ‑‑ I still remember the crashing ocean on the beach, and the blur and the haze, of your leaving me."
What did it all mean? Tom could not fathom it. It seemed so like a dream at the time ‑‑ but it was not just another haze of the unreal. She'd said it in the aftermath of a day of social hieroglyphics: Such things as the clothes we wear, the way we brush our hair, the way we clean our teeth at night, or fail to do so and must try and remember in the morning...all these elements that must brush us away. "I still remembered holding you around your waist", she breathed, " your belly firm and supple, and your cock soft and warm as a dream. The perfect shape."
Then the transformation. In a motion dream. The beach, the line of sand dunes ‑‑ still warm, all in motion.
" It seemed to me we were creating soft waves," she had said to him once.
"You were determined; funny‑‑making our whole lives seem gratuitous.
"Soft penetration; deep arc.
"The night slipped by ‑‑ we slept as we had never slept ‑‑ under the influence of a heavy drug.
"I would have sucked the warm pollen from you if only I could have," Leslie swooned.
Tom grinned. It had finally come to him. He knew what pollen meant.
"Another night ‑‑ and hope was closing in on us," she had said. "We had to live on hope instead of some bread of hope; we knew this was just around the corner.
"We knew an end was just around the corner,
"~~ and so we couldn't even say "good‑bye. We simply threw up in a separate veggie patches; and departed."
What had she meant by this? Oh yes, the Jameson's made us ill.
"Instead, we might have jumped into the soft flowerbed and let the green sea swirl us far, and far away!"
Indeed, upon the grasslands, Tom's mind had erupted, separated so to speak. He had seen Her ghost, locked frantically into another time. It had been then that he'd broken his hold on Leslie. His mother intervened. The sickly sweet smell. What was it? L' Air du Temps Parfum left long unused on the bedroom shelf? It had been her favourite.
Yes, it was then that they'd drifted, fallen apart.
"Leslie!" Tom had sighed‑‑ and coolness faded over the greens. He stood alone again, beside the path, sucking in soft tears against his hot cheeks. He remembered his mother. Oh poor mother. She had found the crumpled conveyance from his father. He could see her. She held the onion skin paper between her silky, quivering finger bones. The writing in it didn't make any sense.
"The Earth has no heart. It has a big, frightening cock, instead." He knew it now. Day would come, and Death would come ‑‑ three things. Mean time, NIGHT would shield him and protect his dreams.
And Leslie, she had shrugged her shoulders, as if she hadn't actually expected anything, right from the start. She tried to get started, but.... "Tom? What is the matter? ...You have . . . problems?‑‑ Is it ... HOME?
"Oh! Tom? What will you do? Will you stay? ...or will you go back home‑‑ now?"
It was all too much for poor Tom‑‑the voices echoed, softly, in his head as Leslie quaked softly ‑‑ her mascara soon stained by random‑flowing tears ‑‑tears which would go on , up to NOWHERE, recycle, sift over the Earth in pain, and roll into the Sea.
"My mother!" Tom had said, finally.
"What?" Leslie replied.
"I just wanted to Say.. I wanted to SEE where she lived, how she was married.." "‑‑How she lived?"
Leslie's learned school teacher repartee was precise and to the point, "Oh, Tom!"
Tom could see her now when he closed his eyes. Leslie was packing up her things: the books, the brushes, the little curly paper winds she had used to do her hair.
"I'd love to stay and chat, Tom, but you seem to be entangled in so many things; and it's too much for me right now... Everything has lost its balance , Tom ‑‑ we must keep ours, as solitary individuals‑‑ and if you do not find your dreams, make sure they will see to it, we are punished! We are so lucky to have had this time, together, and we simply cannot hope for more than this .."
These last words fell away into a whisper. They drifted off‑‑ these sounds of their conversations faded and were gone. And Tom, reflecting back, was certain now‑‑what had been said could not be easily undone. A master, a peasant... a north wind sympathiser...His thoughts of Leslie stopped. He was ..virtually "gone" from her now...back to the place where he'd left his bike ‑‑, to rust and fall apart in the rain, unprotected and unloved and with a flattened tire.
Grass always grew green under his Father's feet: The Earth degrades. His father had said this was its natural pattern. But ‑people_ WILL spring up from it. And for his father, degradation always brought the hope of something newer. Love was surely a cold, hard stone ‑‑ an amethyst. No, the resemblance to the softness of .. the dream... a cow's heart, a pulsating, red, sacrifice: A soft intensity. The life once given could not easily be taken back.
Tom remembered his father giving him cows' hearts to play with, collected from the weekend at the slaughter yard ‑‑ which Tom was expressly forbidden to visit. Goats' hearts too, accumulated from the weekend's work. And offal, plenty of offal. The soft vibrancy of their liquid surface‑‑an artistic curiosity. A delicate boy (from his mother's side), Tom doted on the funnels and the passage which lead ‑‑ one way or another ‑‑ into the pumping valves and out again, and from the other side. The intricacies of life...a soft jewel, a forbidden present. His dreams were detours through this heart; a means to pass the time: A gift. The earth was less kind to women. Africa was dry as dust. His mother knew that.
When the pain started, Leslie stopped. And where pain STOPPED, there, Leslie could come into fruition again. And thus, was everything predicated on pain ‑‑ a STRONG definition and logical, too! Nobody could argue with it!
"Good‑bye Leslie ‑‑ I have already loved you!! Toss up your freckled nose!"
"You cannot see it, Tom? Your mother's country set the stones for you to follow. Now you follow them everywhere. You follow in the way of women who have gone before, and you don't know 'Why',"
Tom chortled, looked down and began to walk back in the direction of where he had left his bike. Leslie saw her blond boy disappearing off into the distance. Caught up in a storm, pursuing cobbled stones along a dirt road. He disappeared: a slouching heap of bowed‑over bones, "who will soon be reclining over his fucking, precious bike again. Human genetic material, it was," Leslie thought, "heading south on some guilt infested oedipal pilgrimage,"she shrugged.
Tom's blond hair disappeared into the grey....she had pulled a stray one from his chest. It had caught up against her neck , inside her collar, as they'd said "good‑bye". He was too pale for this country ‑‑ Almost a ghost now . . . blended white with light grey on the old tar road. Yet: "Something in the wind loves him?" ‑‑ she sighed. She knew this was untrue, but it made her feel good to think it and to think it honestly.
The night was ebony. It had suddenly turned inky, and seemed as though it would remain so for the duration. Still, Tom found his racer, sooner than he thought he would ‑‑ under a tree. Twisted and grey, unloved by the earth , as if spewn out by a demon. There was no hope ... here, he thought. Besides, the gravel hurt his feet. He got on his bike and peddled as fast as he could, south, to warmth, ever south, to the bright, to the light from above.
He found his way to Fort Victoria and met up with some locals. There, if he decided to, they would share some beer. He'd liked frothy maize beer when he first had tried it ‑‑ it was .... intoxicating. And it made him forget his more morbid thoughts. The ghosts in the chapel were dead, and so were his ancestors. "Let them bury themselves," he mused. Years and years of dead bodies, straining, linking to each other under ground, all the way back to the bottom of the earth and the beginnings of time. So, were his thoughts on living and on being alive.
After Fort Victoria and his hangover, he took the right fork in the road out of town. He bent the bow against his former path. "I'm going home to Love," he told himself, his headache throbbing. "Ah! the warm nested cradle of my expectations! The past of brave Old Souls, giving warmth to frozen, hidden hearts." These were the stories his mother would have told ‑‑ she was up in the sky, and looking down on him. (No longer a frozen heart.) She loomed up graciously, with the hot smell of brandied spirits. The thought of brandy made his sick to his stomach. The ancestral spirits would be his guides. They could soothe into a liquid form, a lost heart.
A black cloud, an ancestral thumb, a snub nose, a hairy soft, inviting toe, warmed itself on the horizon. A stray storm cloud, merging obliquely with the grey, beneath a reddening sun: Profuse with life, some storm birds ‑scampered‑ upwards, arched in rows over the sky, in search of succour, life, the wind in his face, his bicycle arching along...
"I am going to the chapel, to find my mother," he'd announced ‑ to Leslie. "MY past, and My life......." ‑‑ There is warmth here, in the cradle of mankind .."and such cool air!" "We are never alone, when we at peace with ourselves," "We find this peace, and that will make us free." ‑‑ the rhythm of life, falling, rising, the soft pulsating of life, the dull zip of the bike, and clinker as he altered gears . . . . the efficiency of a Western lifestyle...Sundays, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, McDonalds, Walmart, Big John Mazmanian, Funny Cars...
Back home in West Texas, his father wielded his long, baton‑stick. Tom‑Thumb, the sheep dog nudged George's arm. Thumb had always been a good replacement for his son or so George thought. He'd had to be. George stroked the corn‑silken hair of the grateful porch dog. ‑‑ Musing‑‑ Tom had always brought his school work home, and was always quiet and respectful. He was the very model of a perfect son. His hair was so long and brown. The unexpected attention which had just come made him pant‑‑ he was the perfect model of a perfect companion.
George threw the ball, as he soliloquised: "My son, you are the loyal 'pal': I love you!"
"Your energy surely knoweth no bounds ‑‑ hence I love thou!"
"Whenever ‑ (that's at any time), I throw a ball , you must come bounding up; your hair is as if on fire, in reflection of the glaring sun! When you bring back the ball, I will feed you and take care of you and you will thank me with wags, just as I thanketh the Lord with prayer." And yet....these words had always been plain enough to see : "You are NOT good enough!" If ever he should show a trace of waywardness or unpredictability, he'd brought himself in line, and humbly conceded, what was important in this life was to be "good" ‑‑ his Father smiled in fondest memory.
Old crimes were easily forgiven. When Tom played his basketball, he had a firm strong, body. Sinewy even. Not flabby like today. He was a creature to be seen ‑‑ with his alabaster white skin , "his firm and lengthy body, stretching...stretching... for the hoop.... He brings it back, I pat him well, on the head....Oh, your mother used to say you would grow up to be a big, strong, boy," his father muttered, resolutely‑‑ patting the silky creature next to him, gently upon the head‑‑ "And she was right!" Oh, if your mother didn't know it ‑‑ she was ‑‑always‑‑ right!! So far right was she,, she died on the blade of her own belief in me."
The boy had understood this was just George's way of just consoling himself: his dog, his ball, his mutterings ‑a mental and emotional barrier against the recall of her loss.
Tom had often known humid days like these ‑‑ clouds hung low air soft and silky, and yet defined... enough humidity to rain ‑‑ but still the crisp, and countervailing force, prevailed...breathing in refreshing air, refining it, through the earth. The cool and gentle, probing fingers , reaching up to life. He was reborn again ‑‑ a MAN on a bicycle now ‑‑ he was still a dreamer, on a sea of shaky clouds and ice. This dark could do this to a human; if he is enough of an intrepid dreamer. The coolness wiped away sullen, drooling clouds let forth the possibility of early morning rain. Like Tom, the hyena could be seen, soon lapping up the traces of the morning's spoils, ingesting the sweet carrion through its lulling glands, along the track it follows. Tom absorbed the air of the explorers ‑‑ Sucked it down, ingested it. Threw it up, for it had intoxicated him. Until he was but a fractured, memory‑remnant of the Western world ‑‑ Still, part of Africa, and therefore in a categorical and finite sense, not yet civil, holy. The bike felt good under him, sturdy, balanced.
He owned no real home, not any more, yet he followed a dream, the will of an apparition; the dream of a man with a raised and pointed spear. "That other life is not for you , Tom. Here you might breathe". . . .the warm thought exposing his fears, unveiling his dreams. " . . .If you must breathe at all" . . . The warm tongue of the hyena freshens over frosted and cold scent glands. "Our ancestors will always reach out to us through their will." Tom's ancestor had heavy boots, and whimsical eyes. His ancestor gazed soulfully up to the skies, and laughed a little. His boots were red and overlarge. His eyes were overdrawn, and startled looking.
And then, he felt a presence, as if he was no longer alone, zipping along on a lonely, African dirt road. He was somewhere..out beyond an old farm gate on a small kraal , tucked up and cordoned off, in a rambling, abandoned section of a farm. The sky slunk in heaviness with its humidity and yet the air remained clear, the firmament appeared black with sparkling specks of ivory; paused to dust off feet, a detail of childhood which Tom repeated. Looking up at the sky, looking at its solid, shimmering sackcloth and translucent panthers, moving in the night, Tom felt a bit nervous, frightened....The kraal smoked . . . dust flew: Ashes, wood smoke, dead bones, and the smell of cooking hen. He saw no lights, except a shiny flicker of a mud hut wall; its circularity gave it some harsh form. It was a home ‑‑ a break from his long journey.
A dust track led him so ‑ far‑. ‑ it was cold! ‑‑the sweat, the silence, made it damper ‑‑ turned to freezing under all the wool against the skin. ... As he approached this structure ‑‑shadows began disappearing into nightfall‑‑. Seeing the body of shadow against other shadows. That was the time he remembered: "Come here Tom!!" ‑‑ the way his mother used to say it. He chased her ghost along the hills' slope...
"Yeessss," the voice queried in flat song. Ah yeess. Alright, you can sleep out here. If you are not cold? Well, fine."
"I've come down here to find my . .bike," Tom said, holding his racer.
The man stood near the grass fence, holding in cattle, smiled and pointed to Tom's bike.
"Tom, Tom, the butcher's son" went through his head at that moment. And then, he spied the man's cattle. He enjoyed watching the animals shivering off the mosquitoes. He set his bike against the fence.
The man led Tom to the hut. Hushed whispers.
"Who were they...these? Apparitions...? Parents? Teachers?" Tom was unsure. There was time enough for slowness, for a fumbling‑‑ a match‑a paraffin light flares up a dull pink and orange. Flashes of light around the hut revealed shifting body patterns, almost shapeless up against the shadows, twirling 'round the wall. A soft interchange ensued .... "but still, they seem only to last forever", Tom thought, why he did not know. The forms stopped and simmered as the light was turned suddenly away. And then him, the masked shaman appeared and as quickly, he disappeared. Then he appeared. Only to disappear again.
Just outside, the sky was black again, cold as coal. The air inside became filled with forms that can only be felt as you approach them‑‑rocks and huts and trees. These seemed as if to reformulate themselves as they were passed by, as by a twirling cycle into blackness, nothingness.
Tom abruptly left through the hut door. And the grass outside was cold and silky, crumbling, soft with the plenitude of night‑formed dew. The trees began to circle round them, for others had exited shortly after Tom and the man who had tended cattle swung 'round his lamp. Tom was shaken into life by the very depth of nothingness. Bodies seem to follow, trickling. Something moving in the void, losing their shape in everything else, as they passed by. He pretended that the stars were Cops, and began shooting at them with his index finger, systematically.
Their brave reflections broken down, were reconstituted, broke down and reformed, as if their souls were rocks and trees and air.
The shaman put the lamp down on the formless earth. It shaped a glow, became a greenish light, moving forms of sand and gravel. And nobody spoke. They did not speak. They guffawed instead. Again, they moved. They climbed upwards now and the guide was on the point of disappearing. His swinging paraffin lamp still marked his solitary form, an almost gesture‑less form of irradiation emerging, punctuating the darkness. It spilled, heaping onto the rocks and the trees, which were now up, away, like helium balloons, released, free. Tom continued to grapple with the earth, lifting the gravel with the toe of his shoe. New emerald green shoots had appeared between the shreds and spokes of yellow grasses. Up above the hill, the sky cracked open. There was, as it would seem, a plenitude of bright light.
No, it had been merely the light from another lonely campfire. Tom walked toward its inviting light. And here were shocked, white faces, laughing, talking, whispering up into the sky. He breathed out sighs of relief. ‑‑"Come. It's warm here in the campfire light. The body can recuperate all its gathered sweat and tears," a British voice said. Night sheltered everything. There was no one else for miles.
Shallow grins returned to lightening flashes of recollections, slunk low beneath the dreamer's hollow surface. Faces which had been invisible were now brought to mind. The dust that fell was flat: ghostly, cold. Smoke let out an age old smell‑and flavour‑‑ from a far‑off thatched‑roof chimneys. The tension eroded all desire for light touching ‑‑ Fingers slithered off ...into the blackness. Tom sighed. The grass was also flattened, and nothing answered his lament.
Then, somebody let out a cry. A cackle. Followed by a joke. The muffled huffing of compressed emotions, expressed as a solitary whimper of aloneness. Tom's life had been until now.... laughter, a sense of elevation....
"How did you get here?" a voice asked. He had no idea how far he'd walked and ridden his bike. His legs were aching: His brain was throbbing, in the dust and heat. "How did you get here?" Tom asked. "We hitchhiked down from Vic Falls, after our bus broke down," one voice said. "So we decided to go South. We travelled here in every sort of vehicle. "Why are you here?"
"You'll understand properly, in good time," Tom replied. "No, I mean, my mother. Her wedding chapel. I'm here to find it."
"Here?" a voice came.
"No, not exactly here," Tom replied.
At that point, the conversation dropped off. The sky was still thick as hessian for all of its release, as if holding down the earth in static lack of motion and oppression. He and the four visitors to Africa shared toasted flesh, though it was gray and slippery, inside. And with rivets of pink and white, still not well‑cooked. Tom ate anyway, for that boy was hungry. He ate the charcoal and the raw bits, too, slurping and licking it, until there was nothing left. "The flames are going out. Maybe some kind soul will fetch us soon..? There are only thorn bushes around here!" a woman said.
"I'll look for more wood, further out!" A body was departing, features flurried... in the flickering... Tom saw it was Leslie's. But that could not be. Leslie was gone or rather, he had left Leslie long ago.
And then the sky rained blood on them, heavy, cold and thick, putting out their fire and scattering the visitors towards whatever shelter they could find. Tom ran into the night as well, his imagination charging at full steam. The flash of disintegrated comets, falling in pools of love, into the desert passed before his mind's eye. They felt it as warmth ‑‑ that they were ghosts of missionaries, and starlit and crazy, ‑‑ ghosts of freedom fighters ‑‑ The cold did not affect these crazy apparitions, nor did it make their teeth chatter. The earth was not so parched that it soaked up the rain, but it rather let the streamlets flow out around, gushing down and swirling its way around their bodies, cutting ice into their spine bases..
"I'm so tired . . .frightened, and now my shoes are soaked." Hushed whispers followed. A form in human shape appeared, stooped; fumbled for a match to strike a paraffin light. It flared up a dull pink and orange.
The figure flashed the light around the faces, revealing shifting body patterns, almost shapeless up against the shadows, twirling 'round the thorn bushes. The forms stopped and seemingly simmered as the light was turned, suddenly, away! A hand fell on Tom's shoulder, "I have come to get you now!" ‑‑ the witchdoctor's echo resounded; at this moment, soft and hushed. Each followed by holding on to a long stick, to keep their paces solid, steady, and together ‑‑ a game he had often played with Mother.
"I seek my mother's Spirit‑‑ ?" Tom replied with shaking tone.
"We will speak to her, for you!" the voice sounded assured, compliant.
"I thought I might have lost my precious bike," Tom confessed, with his shamefaced earnestness‑"also my air gun." For he'd just remembered he'd misplace that as well.
"Ah, we will be the ones to help you find it."
The trees appeared to circle round the couple, as Tom's guide swung 'round the lamp. Shaken into life by the very depth of nothingness, bodies seemed to flow, as if by a trick, or magic element. The forms now lost their shape in bush and trees and as they past by, the light echoed, spilling into rocks and trees which were now some distance off. The air contained a silence, once again ‑‑ tracks of missing birds. Huts, brick hostels, and chimneys ‑‑ all transposed in light and golden flashes from the lantern up above. A dog sniffed them there; growling huskily. The cur slunk in those shadows ‑‑ almost a part of those shadows, and not real, skulked under the clamour and fatigue. It followed Tom, and snapped at behind his ankles. The cold air cut his gut. The man in the humidified hut shook up blocks, holding them vehemently, in cold contempt, viewing his new guests with shocked suspicion. Throwing a gash opened glance at them, he smiled. The man's thorn‑stick poked the boy; just like a cold thing, in the ribs, provoking a warm, alcohol‑sensation. Tom thought his heart would leap on to the stick: It didn't.
The witchdoctor shrieked, guffawed; yearned, and cried: "You are not ...afraid..?" "Don't speak ‑‑ Drink‑‑!" A hot pink liquid gushed, clung to his veins , stung his lips as it passed. The face became more frightening, intense, more quizzical, emphatic: "You like...?"
"I want to fiinnnnd maaeey way to go baaaack hooome!" cried Tom, his voice meandering, and quivering.
"Your mother left you!!But first, your father murdered her!!" the witchdoctor cackled, quite hysterically.
The temperature immediately sunk. A dog howled. Tom laughed and shivered as well and time slowed for what seemed centuries ‑‑ as the ghosts and forms of the present time receded.
As the air cleared up, the smoke dissipated, and everything was sharp. The apparitions became strong again, solemn, and tangible.
"Go back quietly ‑‑ I will come again for you!"
Tom walked alone, back to the abandoned hut‑‑ and tucked himself inside , under hessian blankets. Snuggled in a corner, found a space and dreamt of Leslie, thought of Leslie, sucked her golden nipples and then awake, thought of life and death, which was like the blackness outside, would never reach them, inside in this coolness, in this snugness. Death had taken her‑‑his mother, his father, how could he‑‑ he knew, kept her safe, inside a cave, and safe from his father's rage. The sinking feeling ‑‑as if he'd become so accustomed to the vaporizing feeling of the soul, AS IF nothing was solid, as if everything he'd been told must be a lie and was gone, suddenly! All had been vanquished in the breeze of the now calm African night, which penetrated into the broad mud hut, through an open door. It gave him peace ‑‑ which was all he could hope for in the silent night. "It was DARK ‑it WAS freezing ‑‑ We almost ‑got‑ lost but then the villlagers found us!" he'd tell his all his acquaintances back home. "The apparitions from the witch doctor came and rescued us." "‑‑BUT ‑‑ before, I fell and cut myself ‑‑ And LOOK ‑‑ I've even got the scar to prove it...." And outside, the night was still pitch black. And Tom, resting, half awake, half rested, transfixed by its stillness, he was finally lulled to sleep again.
This was a true sleep, deep sleep, transfixed in the bosom of Leslie. Leslie's thighs, so deep and welcoming. His dreams were not thwarted ‑‑ he was IN them, feeling them, feeling the warm flesh body actually surround him. Soft, and yet so warm, the depth contrasted with the silky surface, so: dreams of newness, starting, and beginning again.
Immediately there were strong, half muffled voices, in another language. Yiddish? Not English‑‑African. A furious dialogue resounded: Incoherent to him, in his now half frightened slumber: LOUD, an interchange that went on over , and over, following the same pattern. And then, ever so silent.
The sun came up some days afterwards. George Miller stood near the hut and surveyed his son's long, fallen body, notebook in hand, writing with meticulous care. It was a sharp, bright day, and light flooded everything ‑ more brightly, he thought, than anything he had ever seen!
As far as the body went there was not a scratch on it... Almost a perfect corpse, George wrote to himself. Except for the root of the neck , where the blade had severed it clean through, it was still perfect‑‑ a token of snow in this strange African bush.
"It was a clean kill." George would give them that. No human sacrifice could have been more pure, he wrote. ‑‑ It was still ... quite disturbing. But, in a pleasing sort of way. "One becomes a thing and feels pleased with these things, after a while. His will be done," he mused.
Tom hadn't managed to fulfil his mission: After all.... "Tom ..... had no lover: no wife!! He ...had only the soft pallor of his alabaster skin... I too wanted mother. I found none. I did find a chapel though. My cock has gone ... to roost with Jesus!"
Cold, black raindrops started falling.
"It was all natural, a God given cycle, it was. First day, then night fell:‑‑ BANG ‑‑ as if it were an executioner's blade....Thus ‑‑ nightfall," George thought. "The sacrifice was done."
Dogs which scavenge had already come and then gone.