Friday, August 21, 2009

Short Story: Part I

“My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom.”

-Solomon Mahlangu

Based on the true story of James Mange

The people were black, all of them. Big noses and thick lips. There were different hues. Shades of black. But black is still black, isn’t it? And that was why they were here. There were rows upon rows of them out in the courtyard. Some were breaking big rocks with hammers. Others were pushing wheelbarrows full of pieces of broken up rock. Grunting…sweating. A smattering of white…the occasional flash of sunlight hitting steel clutched tightly to the chest…but only a smattering. There was too much black. Amorphous faces that blended into one another until they were all nothing but black... black men. Only one stood out. He always stood out. He shouldn’t have been in this place. He shouldn’t have been in the uprising. But that had been 1976. Everyone had been there. And now he was here.

He had a fresh face, chocolate brown and completely free from blemish. His eyes were those of a boy who knew his mother had disappeared forever. They were the eyes of the hunted, of the man who was scared, of the man who haunted himself. There was a mole on his right cheek and his ears looked like he had only recently grown into them. Women liked his lips. The judge had hated what had come out of them: Amandla! Ngawethu! He would forever look young. But now he just looked forever sad. His name was James Mange, James Mncedisi Mange. James was dying. He wasn’t ill. He was dying because he was black. But perhaps that in itself was an illness. It had certainly been an affliction to James all his life. A blackness embraced him for as long as he could remember being alive. All he had known were black people, in his life black spaces, in his heart black fear.

James had always hated the night. The night was dark and darkness hid dangerous things. In his early years in Pimville, it had hidden men who bloodied their hands for whatever they could get. Later it had hidden him. There was to be no engulfing darkness tonight. James listened as the guard’s footsteps receded down the hallway. He waited. And then he lighted the candle that he had bought earlier from one of the guards. He had paid for it with a pack of cigarettes. James didn’t smoke. He took out a blue Bic ballpoint pen and a sheet of A4 paper ruled on both sides. They were another reason he needed cigarettes. He sighed. He was writing another letter to Prince Gallant Mange, his son. He looked at the last letter he had written. It lay neatly folded in the corner of his cell, that corner where he carefully stored his most precious possessions; his letters and the picture of his wife. He could recite the contents of the last letter in his sleep. He had decided to tell his son about Angola.

Getting there was not easy. I can’t say that everything we did was legal, but I can tell you that it was painful having to run like a fugitive from your own home. We’ve owned this land since the beginning of time and no matter how long anyone has lived here, they have no right to oppress us. Never on our knees Prince, that’s why I had to leave. But that which was most painful to us soon became our joy. Seeing our black, green and gold flying freely made it all worthwhile. We sang freedom songs with other comrades we met, and we talked to our leaders, the men who have been painted by the media here at home as terrorists, crazed communists and saboteurs of a peaceful government. They were men who were guilty of high treason…men like me. In Angola we saw what was possible. No one demanded that I call him ‘baas’. The system which took my father from me, and which will soon take me from you, did not exist. I was still in Africa. The people were still black, but they were not afraid. If you’re in a place long enough, you begin to see yourself in the reflection of everyone else’s eyes. In South Africa I was black. My presence had been tolerated only for as long as I didn’t complain, for as long as I stayed where I was put. In Angola I was black and I was free. I believe in the struggle. I have lived in it. I am dying for it. I pray that it has not been in vain. I am afraid, but I also believe that one day we will have the justice that we seek now. If you live to see that day, enjoy it for your father. Never try to seek revenge. Be the best you can be, and be free!

Amandla Ngawethu! Maatla ke a Rona! All Power to the People!

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