Saturday, August 22, 2009

Short Story: Part III

Fists banged on the door. I thought it was the police and I was being arrested as usual. Your mother and I made sure that everything was in order. We had become experts in giving the room a thorough once over in a matter of seconds, making sure that if I had any documents, they were well hidden. You were barely a year old at this time, and I remember us hiding the copy of the MK military code I was going through in your diaper. Your mother hugged you close to her breast and I opened the door a crack. I braced myself, expecting them to force it open anyway. There was no one. There was nothing, only the blackness of the night. Even the sounds of the street had dimmed to a silence.

I looked down and my heart sank to a depth no man should even be aware exists. But it does exist Prince, there is a low where only cold, cold fear lives. It is fear born of a recognition of yourself in the eyes of death and a certainty that even your legacy, the son you’re giving up your life for, will not know safety because of your own actions. There at my feet lay a man with a knife in his side. I looked around. There was no one. If I shut the door perhaps he would go away. I knew no one would take him away. No one would touch him. But still I toyed with the idea for a brief minute. I would open the door to tomorrow’s sunlight and this dying man would have gotten up, brushed himself off and walked away. It was the redness that made me hook my arms under his armpits and drag him inside. This man whom I did not know was staining my earth, the ground in front of my house, my own little piece of South Africa with his blood.

Prince, I have always known your mother to be stronger than most women, but as I locked the door and turned to look at her, a bleeding man at my feet, I knew that she was my strength. That was when I decided to go to Angola. You had your mother and she was strong enough. I could feel the sweat on my back and under my armpits.
-“Do you think anyone saw?”
She didn’t reply. She just turned and put you down carefully on the bed. Of course everyone had seen. Our neighbourhood was like the mouth of an old man who had too many teeth. The wooden shacks were packed haphazardly and painfully close. Our next door neighbours practically lived in our laps. Everyone saw everything, yet at the most crucial moments no one saw a thing. That’s how it was in Jabavu. I stood there stupidly not knowing what to do. I was intrigued by the fact that his blood was red, especially because of what he was. I wanted to dash back outside and wash away that dark redness from my door. I just stood there drenched in sweat, the realization that our lives had instantly been complicated far more than I ever thought it would was slowly dawning on me. That is how it is with fear. Everything hits you at once. Fear dawns on you last. And when it does, it makes you realize how afraid you are. That was how I brought a white man into our home.

James squinted in the sunlight as he took his usual spot in the courtyard, hammer in hand. That had become his only measure of time: nightfall, daybreak. How many days before he was to die? He didn’t know. How many nightfalls? Many. How many daybreaks? None.

He was Afrikaner. Even though he was unconscious, his jaw was still rigid, hard-set. He had dirty blond hair and leathery skin. The first thing we did was to blindfold him.
-“I know he’s unconscious James, but when he comes to we don’t want to risk him knowing what we look like, what our son looks like.”
And so as he lay there, the darkness of the night surrounding us and the blackness of his blindfold rendering him sightless, I removed the knife and Pauline staunched the flow of blood with an old shirt. We agreed that early the next morning I would go to your aunt Martha and beg her to bring us some things from the hospital where she worked. It was with trembling hands that I lifted the man so that your mother could lay a blanket underneath him. We tied his hands to the leg of the bed. For the first time in our lives we slept with a white man in the same room. I expected us to contaminate him in some way. Perhaps he would have a seizure, some allergic reaction to being so close to blacks. I didn’t dare move. We lay that way until dawn.

We couldn’t go to the police. How did I, James Mange, suddenly come across a wounded white man on my doorstep? We couldn’t take him to the hospital. It would lead to the police and we had already established that we didn’t want that. Of course we could just dump him on someone else’s doorstep in the middle of the night. But then what? Would that person in turn leave him somewhere else? Would this become a game of ‘morabaraba’ with a man’s life, passing him on like the small smooth stome in the children’s game so that the last person to end up with him would be the loser? It went against everything your mother and I believed in and in some ways against what we were fighting for. All human beings deserved to be treated equally. We wouldn’t abandon him if he was black. Why should we because he was white?
-“It’s not the same thing,” your mother had said. It was the only time she had let on that she too was afraid. We could die for this, we both knew. And yet we kept him. Martha examined him and with her limited knowledge declared that the wound wasn’t too deep and hadn’t caused any critical damage. She left us gauze bandages and some medicine to treat it with. For three days we avoided speaking our names.

At first he thought he was our hostage. But after three days of feeding him and dressing his wound, he must have changed his mind. We never spoke to him. The darkness that descended on our home was all the more unbearable because of the silence. Pauline and I couldn’t speak of anything because we couldn’t be sure if he understood Xhosa or Zulu in addition to the Afrikaans he spoke. We lived that way for four days, our fears increasing as his strength returned. How would he leave? Pauline suggested that we ask Martha for an anaesthetic, put him to sleep and drive him somewhere where we could leave him to find his way back to wherever he was from without being able to trace us. We considered the plan and he lay there, the chamber pot we had placed within his reach so that he could relieve himself reminding us of that which had contaminated our home.

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