‘Tema Tsa Dinoko (excerpt) – Nate IV

 

[date and location]

From outside his loft is your typical abandoned factory. Now, I heard that decor has to make your home rise to meet and greet you. His didn’t bother to rise. Its ‘chaste elements’ shushed me. I entered to find it in deep meditation (trust me on this). Pointing to my shoes, it waved them off, and resumed the Feng Shui – one understated theme that packs a visceral punch.

(I’ve always wanted to use that line in a sentence. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, a gnat’s bite won’t hurt).

As much as art is the language of the heart, this space could use some CPR. I mean, gosh, occasional grace notes go a long way. Grey everywhere.

Before we go any further, you can’t go wrong with a glass curtain, slanted nogal. A point for that.

Three hefty floor-to-ceiling acrylic walls partition the loft into a spacious gallery haunt. Each acrylic wall is two slabs that can be pried apart to insert large Stencil Art foil. One side gives you an unadulterated glimpse, and the other side – achieved by a montage of frosty, magnifying, cubic work – gives the stencil the Picasso optical illusion. Just think glacial ‘girl with mandolin’: the first wall is embedded with Esther Mahlangu; the second with an ode – Hell’s Teeth by Diana Ferrus printed with varying sizes – that forms Sarah Baartman’s silhouette (somehow, this reminded me of Emma Lazarus’s poem at the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty); and the last wall is embedded with a mammoth traditional Chinese character for love (愛). Below is this hardly noticeable annotation lifted from Wikipedia:

Ai, the traditional Chinese character for love consists of a heart inside of accept, feel, or perceive, which shows a graceful emotion. It can also be interpreted as a hand offering ones heart to another hand.

These installations engage you on so many levels. Any slight movement of your head the stencil undergoes an imperciptible metamorphosis, surprising you. If you move about, you discover more renditions from the same installation.

The rumble of their hidden wheelies on wood, as he pushes them up against the grey walls. I can feel the space exhale from its subject-for-painting pose, back to a loft, stopping short of being welcoming. The absence of portable canvasses, complemented by the airier space, dwarfs even the cubic acrylic benches. It’s as if this space is curated for something larger than life.

His loft is the size of a basketball court with light grey, reflective floorboards. I had this crazy urge to skip pebbles across this placid lake. The far end quarter descends into a cozy transitional deck, a spacious Aztec gas firepit. There are no couches, but black and white scatters, all Hieroglyphics/Runics printed, to cushion the steps leading into this love nest for a Zen garden. Crap… there goes my love for Mahjong out the Windows. I thought it was a concentric squares affair. He took me by the hand to the mezzanine (oh, behave…) for the bird’s eye view.

– Litema tsa donoko, he said.

Indeed, its three tiered steps are interlocking L’s. Nestled midst a rippling, circular bed of naive pebbles are four megalithic blocks of wood diced into L-shapes from a sun-bleached (making them grey) slice of an intimidating tree trunk. They are covered with Crops Circles-like Aboriginal art, a barely visible relief that looks carved by bionic Bark Beetles from outerspace – a Woodhenge.

This cubic coffee table (sadly sporting only Hype and Mass Appeal street-zines) both frame and protect a box-bonsaied Kelutral from a thin ring of fire licking the pebbles. There are no couches, but black and white scatters, all Hieroglyphics printed, to cushion the steps leading into this love nest for a Zen garden. Crap… there goes my love for Mahjong out the Windows.

Something just crossed my mind: isn’t this cultural misappropriation? Or, would that have been the case if this was my loft as a, er, white woman? I know I’m still a teen, but I consider myself a Wonder Woman’s understudy. Thank you very much.

I have to admit, this simplicity oozes of uber cool, but it’s devoid of warmth. Yet, again, a brilliant solution to deforestation. Also, when a room lacks a single kitsch, be concerned. Worse, for an African I was surprised to spot not a wooden sculpture he holds dear on sight. I teased:

– No graven image? Clearly, you’re not the artist you make yourself out to be. Well, it’s your lucky day. You can tend to my bust.

Maybe it’s cultural. Maybe I’m not funny. My guess is, he has a horrible sense of humour. Can you remember the last time a guy let a line sagging with innuendo go over him? My thoughts exactly.

Most things double up here. The wall installation of the molecular model made of Vinyl records of both sizes, are actually world clocks. Nativity of the eclectic choice of artists is representative of their time zones. On a wall to my right, a vortex of transluscent butterflies, stenciled out of LP records, burst out of a gramaphone on the floor.

Heavy steel stairway without rails lead to what must have been the manager’s office. Though it’s now repurposed into a music studio, looking at it from the floor it still looms as ominously as its long vacated, chain-smoking occupants whose piercing eyes – through the geekiest eyewear and a hazy menthol – used to lord over the scurrying blue-collar on the floor below.

For the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to propose that the boss wasn’t necessarily a swastika flag hoisting fellow during the night. Unwittingly immortalized on vignettes in the foyer is a different story. Though, I was really taken aback when I saw among these, photos taken post-apartheid. This time around the owners are brimful in a group hug with the staff. They are the most haggard and unhappy employees. The lens – society’s vice.

Adjacent the office is a ‘long-ass’ mezzanine – look, it’s one of those vague expressions from Phylum Ink I can’t rid myself of like a bad song, so I’m purging here – which used to be a storage area. It’s now his sleeping quarters. At the head of a platform bed, a discreet (below the knee) bookshelf runs lengthwise to the mezzanine. Of course it wouldn’t be a complete library without a few titles on a white man’s supremacy complex, and a handful TED-ish titles. A blurb from the latter induces this irrepressible urge to pick up the phone, call the author(s), scream “BS!” and hoo-saaah.

A prove of how just way leftfield he is – Acorn by Yoko Ono, Lute of Jade by L. Cranmer-Byng, just to name a few. Having leafed through some of them, particularly Hugh Masekela’s snuggled inside his bean bag like a hatchling, I’d say his most priced are bios and poems. Before I could say anything, he quiped:

– Crappy bios to you. History 101 to me.

Well, most bios are, you know, crappy. There are exceptions. Chinua Achebe’s bio, for one. On the wall, a little above this book-shelf train, is a stencil on thin acrylic almost the size of the mezzanine. A horse with fiery eyes is entangled inside barbed wires (a still from War Horse). Some areas of the canvass look grainy and washed out and horizontal streaks run across the middle, giving it an impression a printer running out of a toner. He said he wanted to invoke the silent film era look with sense of motion, hence the flickering hologram style, a signature he calls ‘StillReelin’.

Those in the know say that Wabi Sabi is not a style defined by visual cues per se. It’s a state of mind. Over-wrought subtlety if you ask me…who is she any way?  [she backspaced the entire paragraph.]

Aloft, exposed origamic conduits and ventilation system with a chrome finish. Suspended from these are pendant industrial lights from the riotus 70s. Just minutes ago this place was an illuvut – until he turned them on. There’s something ostensibly ironic about this space. You can tell that during the renovation phase they went for that ‘industrial look’ galleries are famed for. It’s a caricature of itself.

Phylum Ink gives you a slice of a geek culture, but stop short of joining ‘may the 4th be with you’ clan. First of all, he said, I don’t find moding a PC box rad. Whatever. Personally, I think the millenials’ era is a milestone. It’s now ‘cool’ to boast both street-cred and tech-insight when they used to be worlds apart.

I asked disapprovingly why was he so thrifty with his palette. I’m talking about your greyscale theme of the interior, I said when his eyes searched about with confusion.

– It’s called Grissaile.

He corrected, pronouncing it as if ‘greyscale’ was some artsy fartsy misnomer. Only if I knew how young still the night was.

Now comes the focal point of his space. Vinyls that runs symmetrically lengthwise to the bricks-exposed eastern wall. Their original covers are removed and replaced with wintery grey (grissailed, lest I forget) holographic versions. The whole installation gives an illusion of shiftlessness. It sorta defeats the purpose for some of them. I just spotted an LP titled ‘The Pink-Print’ with, well, a fuzzy gray large thumbprint. Interpreting the cover art, it’s fair to say it’s woman’s statement. That pink was the whole point!

As I move along its base the holographic covers appear to rise a few inches from the wall in a Mexican Wave effect – just think neo-Cubism. He must’ve been watching me move back and forth, ’cause before I could say anything, he piped out:

– Trompe l’Oeil. We saw an installation ad of a Mini Cooper crawling on the side of some building in Joburg. Behind it was a busted wall, like Murdock and the A-Team on a rampage straight out of the nuthouse. We’ve been running with it ever since.

Thanks for the testosterone laden info-dump… dumbass. I caught a glimpse of what he says many discover a month or more after having familiarized themselves with his ‘crib’. Of course my ego did scale the rafters at this bit of info: LP Covers are reduced to pixels of a whopping composite image.

– Whoa, that’s a helluva Montage, I said.

– Pho-to-mo-saic.

His voice coming from a source my ears could not locate, he just had to stretch those syllables, making me feel dumber than I already felt. The whereabouts of my ego? Don’t even ask.

I almost toppled him from what used to be the supervisor’s sentry station, but now ‘his throne’. He opnened his Loft’s app on his smartphone. My jaw dropped. Li.te.ra.lly. The installation collapsed into zig-zagging isles that hover few meters above the floor. He could tell that I don’t quite grasp its sentimental value. Look, I’m from the iTunes era, alright?

I’ve always dreamt of making out in some arty loft apartment in Cape Town (this is Free State, but we’ll make do) ribald riffs issuing from the mezzanine above, as the record hiss and crackle like rain beneath something accoustic. All to culminate into a spatial harmony wrought by jungle-like room ambiance.

Loft? Check.

Music? Check

Man? MIA

Catching a glimpse of the LP installation from the mezzanine, I realized that there’s more to it than meets the eye.  It’s a photo-mosaic of the silent film release poster, The Artist, depicting an African couple wearing dreadlocks.

I loathe to admit it, but this grescale – yes, I said it – grew on me to the point that it piqued my muse:

I find myself staring at a flank of a dessicated ramshackle cabin. It’s in a secluded alcove somewhere inside morning-mist cloaked woods. The parched hinges of its makeshift window eerily creaks at long intervals to the breeze, and claps wildly like a distant gunshot at buffeting gusts. Long vacated, and now sighing, gothic nest sits on its chimney.

This place reeks of alpine. The waist reaching grass has long swallowed the rutted footpath that leads to the cabin, subduing airs of a few floral species with strained necks. The soft rustle of the breeze-brushed grass is music to my ears; it gives me images of powdery pastels carried by the wind. Next to me, one flower stands tall with broad clover shaped petals that makes my skin long for the caress of their plush texture.

Perched on the long pole jutting from the middle of a defunct horse stable, now covered with much richer and taller grass, is a small big billed bird. The black and yellow feathers verges on aposematic. Its feral eyes, and the way its hackles rise, as it jerks its head back and let out a majestic cry. The call travels beneath the trees and well beyond the treeline. Even long after the cry, its beak remains open, calculating the distance. It waits listening to its own stretched echo tapering off to the distant snow-capped mountains with tortuous dark cliffs – a grace note to the soughing nature.

Another gust would stir things around me, as if the area harbours a spirit. And if you listen carefully, you can hear the long dead man’s sad harmonica still echoing the solitude to trappings that outlived him.

Somehow, this sylvan ambiance registers as a happy place. I’ll dare even say a re-consecrated groove. I’m hesitant placing a character here (I can hear her throat-clearing in the woods, maybe a backpacker/novelist.. I don’t care), already fleshing itself out at a back of my mind.

Tempting, but even a minimal presence would spoil this picture. There’s neither sense shattering epiphany, nor new age perspective with three-sixty degree view. Nope. Just a good old cenotaph to aborted anthropocene. A natural epigram, like an ancient city buried beneath the vines.

***

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Atelerix (novel excerpt) by Nate IV

“Before I forget,” said Mandla inserting the car-key into the ignition, “Phylum Inc just roped in a fresh crop of game developers. They are throwing ideas around. Since you’re here, I have this idea to first release a Graphic Novel to which the game will become the tie-in.”

“Disclaimer,” she said, “I write what I like, not because I’m good at writing.'”

“Well, I cannot write.”

“Hit me.”

“Maropeng. South African Cradle of Humankind. I don’t have a theme, so I give you carte blanche.”

Within thirty minutes of their ride to his place, she completed a draft in a form of a graphic novel about Maropeng Clans. She went for a stock script that Holywood would entertain.

~

[Working Title: Frontier Porcupine]

Set it in some realmic cusp. The oracle of the clan call it Cæsura. Ñoko. Our teen femme fatale. Her sickly huntress mother is exiled from the clan with nothing but a bow and an arrow. She raises her in the caves. Now they echo with her stern voice about poisonous fauna and flora, for sooner she became a tween Orphan. An earthquake? She thinks as the rumbling cave rattles her out of sleep one winter night. This event brings about Crop Circles of Litema Tsa Dinoko that many rivers, which require messengers of distant clans from the four winds to bring together tattooed patterns (a year long event) of their respective Crop Circles, piece them together and divine their message.

In the morning, across the river she discovers a sad baby Porcupine among countless carcasses of its kind. The elephants stamepede. She braids her hair using thorns from an Acacia thorn tree. We’re now a clan, she says, as an insect lands on the clear well, rippling the reflection of her craddling her newfound sibling, and her spiny royal headdress.

Whilst hunting she gives up chasing after a game, flustered. Her mother’s bow is twice her size, making hunting cumbersome. She closes her eyes, mutters an apology to her, and proceed to snap it in half. She only keeps the string. Though a canard to some, hunters would regale the village with a teenage girl from a clan unknown. They’d spot her dangling her leg at the edge of a promontory known to sway precariously near the cliffs with death-defying waterfall below. Others claimed to have spotted her from a distance, alone in the parts of the woods where even warriors dare not to venture into, playing Cat’s Cradle. Unbeknownst to them, that coarse twine was a multi-threaded ambidex bow.

Whilst negotiating the jungle Neytiri-esque, she picks a strange scent. With stealth she backs into a foliage, as her peacock-feather clad body (of Ankara pattern weaved painstakingly by her mother) turns into a camouflage, blending her into the colouful flora.  Ballet-like, her hands rise to remain poised above. It happens to be a boy a little older than her chasing a duka-deer.

She comes out of hiding, and with uncanny prowess turns her body sideways, like a bristled animal. A strange stand off, he thinks. All he sees before him is a barely weaned gazelle. I’m holding the strongest bow of the Maropeng Clans, and she looks poised to entertain me? Girls, tsk-tsk. With feline’s grace she launches into an aerial pirouette, and returns on one knee, as if to take a bow. That’s it, mocks the young warrior. The branch above him rustles, and the African python slumps into a heap on his feet. Its head and jaw was pierced through by an Acacia thorn. While still gathering his faculties, like a leopard she stalks him. She closes her eyes to highten her other senses. As she sniffs the air around him, it gets too close for his comfort. He’s conflicted whether to fight or take flight. Only the Equinox Games warrior are endowed with fearlessness.

Thinking she can’t talk, he prattles along on her heels wondering about her. Your speech is a sound of a waterfall, she says. He learns that she utters a sentence or two for the day. Any arising matter, if important, will be addressed curtly the next day. He learns also that her big brilliant eyes don’t move with its target. She’d spot a game, and remain stationary, looking pensive as if her body just went into hibernation. A sharp pivot of her torso, and a whiz of an Acacia thorn in the air, would bring down a bird which had long left her field of vision.

Around her he finds himself having to check his tone. I must put my foot and of my forefathers down, he’d mutter to himself. It was unbecoming of a future warrior, so come what may. He’d pick up his bow and arrow, and point it at her. Address me when I say so, for many moons hence I’ll be a Maropeng warrior! All the while she’d be enjoying the view of the fecund river delta below, her foot dangling playfully. She’d sense vibrations of his arrow becoming extremely taut. He’d shout at her to face him. With a Masai pride, the intent in her one-legged rise from the see-sawing promontory would cut his entitlement hissyfit short. Vrksasana-esque she’d gently place her other foot down, inch towards the edge of the promontory, and half-commit a Bakasana. The promontory would totter dangerously. Fear dwells in you, she’d say before taking a death defying plunge. He’d run heaving towards the edge, close one eye, pull his taut bow with all his might, and follow her freefall. With her arms outstretched, her slow backspin on her long way down wouldn’t complete its degree, for she’d disappear inside the mist of the waterfall.

That’s a signature aerial move he comes to know her by – begrudgingly and conflicted. Midair, just when it seemed she won’t be able flip all the way in time for landing, she’d suddenly hold her knees to her chest, launch into a second quick flip, latch onto the nearest branch, and land like a cheetah. He’d shout, I’m still a warrior! A kebab in the form of his taut arrow and three seagulls flapping limply would stick betwen the tufts of grass behind her. With her back turned to him, she’d merely glimpse over her shoulder like a lioness, and walk away. Sensing her hinted smirk, he’d clamber down the rocky shore where she left him, and catch her figure vanish inside the jungle, as if she owned it. He’d both hate and want her even more. His voice would echo indistinctly along the shore, I’m the warrior who fears no day of the horn!

Gradually, they forge an unbreakable bond, but he darens’t risk being spotted with her. Two warriors-to-be of his age happened upon them, and their whereabouts are unknown by the Maropeng Clan.

A year later, she happens upon a conversation of Maropeng women. She hears that the queen gives women the option to either go into exile, or groom their virgin daughters in the event should the horn go off (the horn hasn’t gone off for many moons now). Whoever avows exile has to drink from the queens horn for luck before leaving.  She has earned the name, Queen of Orphans, for they come far and wide to serve her.

In the middle of the night the village hears Ñoko’s far off keening. She had gathered what made her mother sick. The caves echo eerily, causing her Porcupine to run for cover. She heads to the valley of dead Porcupines the very night.

The first twilight gradually reveals Ñoko standing in the middle of Maropeng dancing grounds. The long quills between her fingers had combed the earth, leaving trails of whence she came. A white belt of Acacia thorns slants menacingly around her waist. She is dressed to kill. Literally. Her headdress bristles along her back, as she slowly heaves, readying her voice.

– Who is the matriarch of this clan!

– We didn’t hear the horn… who’d dare challenge me and my finest warriors whose arrows are feared among neighbouring clans?

The queen, along with the village, come out to see this spectacle. What a hardy fool this little outcast is, thought the villagers. All have bows across their chest like a satchel bag strap. The girl is not even decorated with a single Tema ya Dinoko on her bare arms. She would not last a single cock’s crow in the Equinox Games. Many young warriors return with tails between their legs, bows dragging behind.

Four arrows whiz past Ñoko’s ears. Without flinching, she weaves her Cat’s Cradle kung-fu-like at the flick of her wrists, and a phalanx of warriors slap their necks simulatenously, and slink to the ground. The second wave rushed towards her. Ñoko seemed to fix her belt, and spun in the air, and metes out a spiny salvo onto another mob rushing towards her. The remaining warriors’ feet grow cold. Maropeng Clan, all of them archers, murmurs with disbelief, none daring so much to touch their accoutrements.

With her back to the throne, she pulls out two quils from her headdress and closes her eyes. Alas, she senses a familiar presence between her and the queen. Her bae is the queen’s son. Confusion and resignation weigh her down. Fear has left you, she says to him and falls on her knees.

The queen puts out her arm, and a warrior scrambles to her four more arrows for her double stringed bow. Her son rushes to stand before Ñoko. With disbelief in her eyes, the queen lowers her bow. Âugrab, how dare you shield an outcast, my son! You’ve now deprived your father, the great warrior chief, of rest beyond the river of life! She commands the warriors to strip Ñoko of the headdress.

They bind her around the judgement totem-pole. Her head droops, and she breaths with difficulty. Âugrab’s shame is like a river, now spilling into many streams. His father’s legacy. The dissipating boldness. That contempt with which the warriors gaze him. The strangely pleasant fire in his chest for Ñoko.

While the council is deciding the severity of her punishment, from atop a mountain the village hugs, a horn goes off. The whole village panics. Immediately, the council’s tone changes. A decorated, but aged warrior stands on his feet, and pleaded.

– The Incursors are ruthless, my queen. We’re a clan of archers.

A huntress is an abomination to the Incursors. Each of their warriors is led by two salivating hynas. Another elder stood up to second the first.

– The outcast, the Porcu-princess, can lead us into battle. For once, with a singly resounding voice, we might be able to declare, bring back our girls!

Four arrows whistle in the air. The aged warriors’ bodies are dragged unceremoniously, and fed to the queen’s big eared wild dogs. All look away, as the dogs savagely tear at them. The queen is conflicted between winning the war, and face Ñoko thereafter, or giving to the demands of the Incursors. Ñoko would make a perfect tribute to them.

~

“I have to enrich it with Deep Ecology, add details on the Crop Circles thingy. I don’t know, I’ll complete it in a month.”

He stopped thumb-sketching when the traffic lights suffused the area around them, and the car interior with a green glare. “Take yout time.”

“Ooh-ooh, almost forgot, I have to go full throttle on the exotic sartorial front.”

As she transcribed vocally the work in progress, Mandla was busy sketching the exotic femme fatale (during traffic lights stops) based on her decription. He handed her his Linux Ubuntu tablet, asking her to colour the sketch.

The sketched Ñoko reminded Reeva of the mid-aerial pose of some title sequence on a movie she saw once. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was Europa Corp. At the end of her outward stretched arms were sharp quills from the Cat’s Cradle webbing her fingers. The Muscogee and Samba war-bonnet of elaborate Peacock feathers and Porcupine quills composite filled two-thirds of the screen, dwarfing her petite frame. A bold ‘Atelerix’ was emblazoned overhead.

“Is Atelerix her official titular name? Just change the font to Ambages.” She sensed his surprised look. He asked if she’s been studying fonts along with Senza. Speaking dotingly, she ignored him. “Atelerix.”

Atelerix’ iridiscent plumage clad body bent over backward gracefully, hiding her face from view. She appeared to be momentarily scaling the primordial jungle like a Phoenix, before returning to wreck carnage below. Reeva subdued her breathing the more she took it all in, getting more drawn into what she was busy gestating. She kept for herself the sonograph verion without colour.

“Make it even more epic.” Mandla said. “Vary locations with their respective clans – desert-dwellers, the rocky-terrans, river villagers,  I’m not good with names – cultural frictions bode with unintended or intended affrontry. Immerse us in otherworldly customs. Up the ante on description with rich primitivism. Oh-ya, give her plumage a latent holographic effect as well,” he said, halting the car into another giant fiery orb, that ignited other orbs inside his rearview-mirror in tandem, “As in, she uses shafts of sunlight in the forests to her advantage. The sunrays bounce off the plumage, causing refraction of her position. What you’re left with is an after-image.” He snatched his Ubuntu Tablet from her and suffused the sketch with a severe lens flare that looked like a planetary alignment. “There’s your Xbox+Book cover for inspiration.”

“It looks like a poster for some Trance festival.”  Her thumbs twiddled silently at lightning speed, barely touching the screen, as her Slate Tablet pulsed with Sperm Whale clicks. Every period elicited trails of squeaky whistles of a dolphin, which reminded her of Senza’s pitched vinyl scratches. “Forget a month. Give me a week to finish — just don’t tell mom. She’d kill you. Literally.”

***

The Acidthrowers (novel excerpt) – Nate IV

A thousand years ago, a clan of weavers discovered a mystical language hidden in the fabric.  – Wanted (2008 Film)

Regarding the first Reeva’s case to ever be brought to the campus disciplinary committee’s attention, she shushed a lecture, citing something about the natural flow of a dialogue in her head. A few cases forward lecturers knighted her ‘the campus idiot.’ Students either joined in or ruffled her up whenever she’d paste sticky notes with undecipherable cursive on their backs or foreheads. She’d take pre-emptive cover for the latter.

She referred to herself as a subscriber of textile-ism dyed in wool. A transcript of one of her exchanges with her lecturer was met with cheers and jeers online. She had wrapped up her thesis with the following: Viewed against the colourful patchwork (period, race, class, sex) for canvass, history is threaded with seams for power-corruption.

“Haute Couture fan,” her lecturer said, “we get it. Just, please, expand your textile trade.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m cut from the same cloth as, uh…”

“Devil Wears Prada?”

Reeva huffed. “I’m not an Editrix.”

“Often, a laundry symbol will suffice for us to value the material.”

“That was my Care Tag i.e. Sheep’s clothing are one-size-fits-all.”

“Still hellbent on that Silk Route I see.”

And on they went with the silly literary equivalent of ‘freestyling off the top of their domes.’ Literary traditionalists deemed it puerile. Students had a great time decoding the textile parlance into laymen’s terms. They developed a beta online dictionary, updated it with new entries monthly. A blog called Textilism was created. Novels, poems, articles, foreign languages were ransacked. There were no editors and contributors. No. But knitters, needleworkers, and other obscure textile industry handles while coining others along the way.

Their opinions on current affairs read like a red carpet bust by Renaissance fashion police. Refurbishing of literary devices took time until a codex was complete: a multilayered storyline was said to be quilted; nuanced articles boasted detailed embroidery; cross-reference was stitching, and so on. Each issue boasted Mixed Tape[stry], a collection of short stories.

She used to enjoy what they were doing from a distance, that’s until a literary magazine, Text Isle – a retread off the main coast of The Atlantic – by former students of UFS was printed the following year. From there on Reeva’s tweets and ramblings were ransacked for ‘nuggets’ of wisdom for each issue. Political opinion, A Glib Rhetorical Drape Comes Standard With SONAs; a short story, Ripping What She Sew; a poem, Born Of Purple; and the uncanny, The Acidthrowers, comprised their first woodcut.

The launch, which took place prior to going on print via Groupfunding, was an exhibition at the National Museum. Paintings on canvass. An excerpt from the editor’s note:

Herewith we issue of first Text Isle imprint. Get it? Needless to say, and to borrow from Twain, a prevalent feature in this magazine is a wasteful and opulent gush of, and a tendency to lug in by the dogears, particularly tailor-made words and swatches until they are worn threadbare.

How apt that the spinning wheel was developed circa 500 bc in India, a rich textile haven and bestsellers’ retreat. Also, to mind comes the festival whose culminatates into bouquets of powdery pastels co-mingling in the air; experience akin to pollination of textures and colours a good narrative should convey.

Apo

Apologies for my blatant disregard for decorum – the first order of business is to perform overdue obeisance to the queen of purple:

“She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father’s slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.”

We know what you’re thinking, but rest assured. We’re busy petitioning for the post-humous Nobel. Honour to our beloved ‘O Rare Amanda,’ who was kind enough to grace our first cover, in Victorian regalia proper. With thin margin of error, the probable distant relative to our very own Reeva Greyling.

On a more richly aesthetic note, among the slew of quality material we’ve received, The Kites of Ni Shen Xiao by Randy F. Nelson, is a template of the kind of fiction that meets our rigorous submission criteria. From a primitive sci-fi and anti-futurism twine the author reels off this remarkable wear-proof (timeless) thread. Now, temperature and time controlling are two key factors in dyeing. Before turning up the heat, he takes his time with the palette – a miniature landscape of Mnt. Fuji like pigments – to weave for us a deceptively Dyeabolical, and yet royal yarn. It’s suffused with indulgent Textilism, but deftly sustains poignancy throughout.It’s suffused with indulgent Textilism, but sustains poignancy throughout with deft.

Text Isle, behold the pomp that is Amanda’s legacy, and it would behoove ye to ‘shrink with tears and terror.’ – The Editrix

Reeva whipped up a short story titled ‘The Stationmaster’ for the first issue. It foregrounded Mr. Ross’ unwavering support and faltering social standing during his wife’s nascent ironic cause celebre. She rendered her character almost invisible throughout the narrative. No dialogue, but fleeting references. His wife’s manuscripts wake him in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Vexing over her recent drafts, while scraping his scalp, ‘Oh no-no-no. Blimey, this can’t be real. We’re the talk of the town…not in a good way either, me love.’ He’d cast a pleading glance over his shoulder at the content face of her dozed off wife.

His nails reveal grease residue. He has taken to cleaning the engines with the illitirate staff. These do not snort and suppress mirth behind his back. Towards the middle order of his wife’s oeuvre he had become a Stoic to the towns’ celebrations of his wife’s magnus opus. Offhandedly, he said he had taken to hunting when found him seated at a table polishing his shotgun – at night. Before him a piece of paper with an address of the writer who gave his wife her first rave review.

Humming a somewhat hymnal rendition of a classic aimless tune, he’d reach the last page of the drafts with a phlegmatic composure of a man giving his will a final perusal. Clearing his throat once or twice, he’d sigh and remain seated. He had to pluck a little strength and see if he won’t shuffle to bed, as if walking in the rain miles away from home, this time. He’d regard the stack of his wife’s fanmail on his left, go through the first paragraph of the first letter, put it down, gently clear his throat. He’d crease his forehead at the untouched cold tea on his right with a look that said, ‘this thing between us isn’t working.’

Reeva refused to be paid in exchange for a running column. My dream for this column’s title is a “social punctuated equilibrium,” where it defies logic (even if for vague reasons) and speedily evolve into an absurd metaphor – commanded her inner voice, as uniform syntax closed ranks on her Slate. This is not Castellum… we’re in this for a long haul, she heard herself mutter inwardly.

After correspondence with bloggers from India, she sent select unedited interviews with survivors for print. Newspapers hailed the column a haunting homage to Voices From Chernobyl. A spread of ‘Before and After’ photos greeted and tore the reader limb to limb. Meltdown of faces of acid attack survivors looked on with worn resignation into the camera. If eyes are the windows to the soul, their faces were ghost towns where everything continue to corrode, and where there’s colour it’s sapped of joie de vivre.

***

Sepia (novel excerpt) ~ Nate IV

“A touch of sepia will do the trick.” He barely heard her speaking to herself after taking a picture of the round-gauged retro interior dashboard of his Mini Cooper. A large bubble popped in Senza view. “What are your full names?”

“Oluseun Luate-Mofolo.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“Oluseun is a Nigerian name. Luate I think a combo of Malay and Khoisan from my mother’s side. Mofolo is my father’s.”

“You have a Nigerian name? Senza has a Nigerian name.” she thought about it, “It’s kind of hard to ignore in light of recent spate of xenophobic tensions.”

“Anyway, Monna-moholo [old timer] was a huge fan of Nigerian Jazz scene. I was named after Fela Kuti’s son.”

She moved on to browsing and previewing his mobile phone playlist streaming via Bluetooth to the car’s sound system. Her eyes widened when she happened upon a ‘Piano Sonata No. 32’ number by Ludwig. He jumped to his defense. And as if caught in the act, Senza blurted out. “It’s just to unwind…nothing big.”

“I didn’t say anything. I’m just listening to music.”

“I came across most of them during projects.”

He hoped to fend off the possibility of the same reaction she had at the sight of Mylo Xyloto LP in his possession.

“We received a distress call from a client once.” His voice was a welcomed relief, “Separation anxiety. Normally, when you move, once you remove all decor the walls bear no memories. They become dull and disown you as soon as you leave them behind. Now, with all four walls a canvass, it’s a different story. With decor out of the way, they grow even more fond of the walls. It’s as if they leave a piece of them behind.”

“No pun intended.”

“We’d be called to assure the crying partner that we’ll manage a facsimile. We’ve been flown abroad, even when we said Orion can manage alone.”

She was growing disinterested. “Were you on a wheelchair? I think I saw a folded wheelchair on my way from your bathroom.”

“It’s a Dahon foldable bike. Cursor introduced us to them. He would go to the quietest of suburbs for his,” with the car still moving, he nudged every syllable of his next word with air quotes, “me-di-ta-tion rides. We bought ones for ourselves. We’d follow him quietly, three of us behind him. Thereafter he changed the routine. We make a quiet ascent to the top of Naval Hill, then all hell would break loose as we ride down screaming. Orion leading the craziness.”

“Mandla’s profile pic is a slingshot. What’s on his wall?”

“A still from The Book of Eli.” He chuckled from memory. She relished those moments which were few and far between. “It’s painted over a replica of Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast. He’d call it, the first divine mural. He’s single because of it. His T-shirts are imprinted with mostly Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, with the tag ‘my people’ on them. He’s apparently wearing the crown of thorns.”

This last bit of info chaste her. She disengaged from the subject, hoping it will change. Senza sensed her discomfort.

“Even today, here in SA, haven’t you noticed ads you can tell are from an all white male ad agencies? Your average black guy whose dream is to be surrounded by ten white beauties? You can tell that the CEO announced at the meeting. ‘Gentlemen, we’ve been going about this the wrong way. Our margins reflect the fact.’  A suicide bomber they intercepted is brought in. ‘Ten virgins are waiting for me on the other side.’ Brief and effective. A memo was sent out: what’s the average black man’s ultimate dream? Within a minute the skycraper rains with thick advertising manuals. Every employee is tossing them out the window.”

Reeva could not suppress her laughter. His mock-serious deadpan told her that’s the whole purpose. She wished he had a fixed sense of humour. Not comic-relief lifebuoys he threw her out of guilt for leaving her alone at the deep end to bouy her from his malaisse.

“I don’t get it,” she said still trying not to laugh, “I mean the part about Mandla being single.”

“So-oh, you wouldn’t mind spooning, with the ‘writing on the wall’ mural staring at you?” He answered a call. “I’m on the road. Alright. Send it to my Navdy system.”

‘Download In Progress’ displayed at the bottom of the car’s windscreen. What seemed to be a white paint job of a car faded into an animated image taken from a supplementary nutrition packaging. The scenery faded through four Seasons. She wanted to get out and see it. He asked her to search for Mandela Drive on EarthTV for a vantage point and music to boot.

“Let me guess,” she said, “the car is wrapped with Cornings Glass?”

~

[log date and location]

Thanks for the night, his Mini acquired an aura of sort.  It was just the grass at the bottom, a half hidden tree, and the sky. Such a simple and yet effective concept. His car-wrap turned into an animated GIF. First, the scene bloomed, the grass swayed gently during leaf, golden leaves fell, and then it snowed. The changes every three seconds. They hashtag the animation for cross-platform tracking – Vine, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and the like. Advertisers are knocking on their door in a state of flux.

Certain apparitions render us speechless. Because. I think words alone can’t be poetic. A poem isn’t a poem in and of itself. The portrait semantics attempt to furnish is poetry. Words are captions, not the picture. Just to worm my point across, picture this futuristic book club scenario:

After relishing the cover art, all will open a single-paged paperback (the allure of things vintage is timeless) to analyze a 12-point type complex glyph pirnted in the middle; a Hieroglyphic, Cyrillic, Musical Note and Meiryo composite. Three minutes later all will close and thumb their paperbacks. One of them will reach for a Kleenex and rattle off to a chorus of nods:

– How poignant And those painterly streaks of prose… a sensitive genius of our generation if you ask me. The opening line describing the umpteenth ad on her timeline about bionic cosmetics hung like Chekhov’s gun on the wall, teasing us from the corners of our eyes throughout the narrative. And this line [the book club pages at the glyph], ‘I needn’t refocus to juxtapose the before-and-after GIF and my Ball’s Palsy reflected on my Corning Glass Slate. The app auto-detected disorders from my Instagram selfies to toy with me [all close books simultaneously]. The ensuing distructive rift between her and her single mother.

The lady opposite the first would take a Kleenex, make a long face, dab her eyes as if to prevent spillage, and proffer her two cents:

– A bright teen, the discordant solace in her lecturer, a sex addict. A string of disappearances around campus of any female who even so much flirted with him. The horror of her mother discovering her bloodstained laundry.  I think it’s a bittersweet reveille on nouveau artificiality and privacy, and yet an alibi for science in this fourtieth century…

– So true. A capo for resonance on what greats have harped on for millennia.

– Arguably an involving revisionist Lolita. And the blasé tone of the narrative is but symptomatic. And [dabs her eyes] the descriptive final scene nature framed by the Psych Ward tiny window, every sensory detail tear you limb from limb – a swansong on vestigies of her sanity…ah.

Or, an orchestra conductor will open her single page composition to reveal the same human QR. Occasionally glimpsing at the glyph, she will follow the Sylph’s aerial ballet with her baton to unfurl something hauntingly Celtic. In fact, the music conductor will be projected from the iPhone hologram app that can read music from the QR-qlyph with which our book club is enthralled. Why the conductor? Well, the app can follow the baton’s signature of the conductor (the book club hired her services – she’s a real human – via iTunes to curate the accompaniment) for that idiomatic human register.

I wish civilization was long past the cusp of post-novumism (to periodize Suvin’s concept) where realizing any novel idea is Yellow Pages away. It’s as if language, beautiful as it is indeed, is a placeholder for something we lost. Maybe a maaí was vestigial, the last bastion of our innate, but now inexpressible wit. A few experience this moment. Others call it the afterglow: lying in each others’ arms in silence, you’d be overwhelmed by this underwhelming feeling you’re on the cusp of something. But, what?

I call that moment the Nova. I think, subconsciously, we sense this devolutionary trait. Sample our overinterpretation of art, especially the authorial intent (Lewis Carrol’s Alice, anyone,) and tell me if it’s not a febrile nostalgia, maybe, for when we were once maaí oracles. More pressing, what if we are going about it the wrong way? Are we grappling with mystic chords, triggered by mnemonic nuances cached in the arts?

Is this some kitschy Sausserean rehash? Umm… highly unlikely, but the jury is still out.

We don’t have to wrap this up with a self-depricating zinger, now, do we? I mean, really, I don’t know how many pearls I’ve cast back in the sea to fend off prigs. Only to rush back and rinse my pearl the minute they turn their backs on a crusade to trample other pearls. Let’s leave this one without a blemish.

What were we talking about again? Yes, the aura that was his Cornings Glass carwrap.

***

Ammi (novel excerpt) ~ Nate IV

“I guess this is the part where the plot thickens.”

She sighed as if it were a scene she had seen tad too often. An uninspired trope no amount of ‘casting in varying lights’ will save. Her candour was on cue, waiting for her voice to warm to it, but something a little above his shoulder caught her attention: an elderly in a weathered wardrobe (save for the polyester doek) – the sky blue shweshwe dress and safety-pinned tjale – slumped to the dry tall grass, partly exposing her KY greased gaunt legs. Next lingered a close-up shot of a pink broken sandal. Dried-eyed, she reappeared dabbing her grief-stricken face with a dry-snuff grimed handkerchief. A few feet away the police unit draped what looked like a charred mound with a white sheet.

She prosily ad libbed the usual protocol inwardly as the scene cut to the high ranking officer speaking into the news microphone. Her nails worked the now threadbare adhesive bandage cut like a nicotine patch inside her right palm. It was beginning to show moist plotches, and its loose threads gathered poignantly on her lap.

The national crime-line flashed at the bottom of the screen, above the double-marquee pitting the markets against current affairs.

The silent news came through a few of many aerial LCD screens suspended below the continuous clerestory of the University of Free State cafeteria. Her difficult-to-read face of a shrink – belied by freckles dusted cheeks and a petit frame of an ingenue – with which she watched the headlines, would’ve remained unchanged even if her mug-shot made the headlines.

Stacked on the lime bistro table before her were books of nature conservation related titles. The one on top had a book cover of the Earth cupped inside the woman’s hands. Its holographic cover gave a dual glimpse of the future – it caricatured Deep Ecology, or Dystopian hellhole.

On her left, framed by the glass curtain wall that ran lengthwise to a rather narrow hall-like cafeteria, the sprawling city of Bloemfontein rippled to the motions of its dramatic landscape. The squeaky clean pane photoshopped her view the same way the food display to her right vitrified the previous day’s confectionery. Not bad for a principal photography, she thought begrudgingly resigning herself to overtures of a stranger seated across her.

The first thing that stood out from him, besides his slightly orient-ish eyes for a black guy, was his fashion sense: the thick scarf fit for Antarctica expeditions, and the over-sized beanie that hung loosely over his head, partly showing neat dreadlocks cornrows.

A cologne reeking fop…great.

“I’m thinking,” said the stranger, “why not bring the old man’s vision into fruition, redefine Madiba magic and start a rainbow village, ‘know what I mean? Our own little Nkandla…”

As he tapered off into lofty allusions she could not help, but take stock in his left eyebrow. It rose high, as if aiming for his hairline, as he talked, rising above his retro-geek glasses; twice it almost got caught between his dreadlocks. She felt uneasy about a can of drink before him, too. His hands more than handled the talking.

An innocuous rejoinder, beginning with ‘as irresistible as the offer is,’ crossed her mind. That should count for something. “For the life of me I wish I could divine your sign language, ’cause — I speak only three languages and garbage is not on the list, unfortunitely.”

Beside her husky voice, something must have registered. He paused and searched her eyes with a wooden look. He seemed to stifle the urge to sneeze, and resurfaced redeemed. Somewhat. The can of drink in his hand crackled.

“Just a sec.” She raised her finger, and watched the ticking hand of her wrist-watch. “Five, four, three… wait for it. Yup, another rape just took place. Set your timer. It’s a little game I usually play to break the ice and, I don’t know, connect?”

He appeared to mull gravel, as she tipped her head to deliver a smile, making her resemble the Guy Fawkes mask. Even in her sing-songy voice, her eyes betrayed the fury seething behind them.

Usually, this sent boys scurrying for cover. He sat there stunned, as if besieged from within. This was a first for her. Abruptly, she gathered all her stuff and stood facing him. His breathing slowed down, and as if struggling to connect with an abstract painting, his eyes searched the blank bistro table. Beyond, loose white threads snowed from her lap to the floor.

“Alrighty. My people will call your people, and, uh — we should do these more often.”

Her auburn curls bounced to her emphatic nods. She turned around to leave, and the mordant parting felt like a splash of cheap wine in his face. Almost causing him to flinch, she turned back around.

“I’m Reeva, by the way. ‘Pleasure meeting you.”

“EAN5… Seun…Senza.”

He clenched his jaw at his sheepish response to a backhanded rhetorical pleasantry. Lifting his eyes, she was nowhere to be found.

~

The sting in his right hand grew sharper from an apparent building frostbite. It dawned on him there was something in his possession. The entire time images from his past flickered before him like a damaged reel of a horror flick. He pried his fingers from the crumpled, sorry-looking aluminium container. He continued to knead his eyes with intensity, as if to gorge them out. Using his beanie, he squeezed it all inside his fist into a taut cotton ball. A tennis ball he used as a pressure ball was left in his car. He couldn’t remember when he stood and left the cafeteria, nor clear on his destination.

“My bad. Next time I’ll unroll a red carpet, Your Fabulousness! Nxa.”

The now irate student he bumped into, one among many, would have had to time travel if his remark was to hit home.

He ascended the last aisle of the theatre-style class. Seated at the last row, he unplugged from the world with his headset and buried himself in a book. An hour passed before students’ voices, mostly girls, began to fill the class. He did not bother to attach heads to voices that greeted him.

At the right moment, Ms. lo, whose stride was said to be from her days of strutting her stuff on the catwalk, made the much anticipated entrance. It never ceased to rivet the boys. Girls were left in limbo; they coveted that air she so effortlessly exuded; she so effortlessly exuded over ‘their men.’ Any movement saw her figure test the very fabric of the semi-corporate number that hugged her. Baritoned groans were in order.

“Okay guys!”

She so-so restored the order. Senza’s posse – Orion, Tebza and Jozi- swaggered late into the class young and restless. All co-owners of an internationally renowned, Phylum Inc.This parlayed into a sweet-sweet PR for UFS, and a silly all-access rights to each other’s classes, though they took different courses, thrown in there for a good measure.

“Suspension awaits you lot,” her body language said otherwise.

When they reached the back of the class, but were too occupied with the lecturer to notice the current state of their friend.

“It’s Communication, ma’am.” Announced a male voice masked with a curled accent for anonymity. “We’re merely demonstrating various non-verbal forms of expressing suppressed, er, impressing upon…”

The class rippled with laughter, as Ms. Io cut in with indifference. “I’d like us to indulge, for a minute, in something very profound,” she tinkered with her Tablet-to-projector app, “My vice, a guilty pleasure really – poetry.”

“The name I go by in many circles,” whispered the same male voice.

Laughter.

“Okay, Jozi, ‘mind furnishing the class with details of our trysts?” Orion and Tebza broke in sweat. Senza was on a yet to be discovered planet. “I want us to discuss the artistic spirit, a thread that seamlessy weaves through all disciplines. It’s an interview from Poetry Sentinel with one of my favourite Nigerian writers, Stephen Vincent.”

With the air that revealed an avid bookworm, and her back against the projected article, she closed her eyes, only opening them during her spirited annotation.

A good reading is like being in touch with the bone, fiber and soul of the poet. At its best it is something similar to going to a unique church that offers this unique brand of communion. Yet, what ultimately survives, I have discovered, is the printed page, the book! Even if a reading has been taped or put on video, the primary reference – at least in the West – remains the printed form.

The vocal is vaporized! As typography – an architecture on the page –

“If formating is architecture,” she said, “What is an apt disciptor for Blueprint? Remember, language moulds our optics.”

As typography – an architecture on the page, the poem remains deeply resonant for me. Not to discount the oral experience, which I can deeply love, I can keep coming back to the page where I not only hear the work (with my “inner ear”), but I can explore the page like a sculpture –

“Take note of that segue, people.” Hands clasped prayer-like and her face heavenward, she stomped the floor hard with her left foot. Her poetic intonations never failed to elicit music from every eardrum within earshot. She could keep her Stephen Vincent for all they cared.

– but I can explore the page like a sculpture, checking out and interpreting the words and their composition, the way they bother or enhance each other as material. Objects that magically activate what was once a blank space.

The poem on the page represents the opportunity to repeat, alter, and creatively deepen both the reading and interpretative critical experience. Ink, paper texture design.

“Typesetting becomes ripe for interpretation as well. I stand NOT to be corrected: poetry is one of the few semantic equivalents of Abstract Expressionism. Failure to reconcile -” a sudden pause in her proselyting was a glitch for the occasion. After giving her fold a quick scan, her expression grew more puzzled. ” – has anyone…never mind.”

Ink, paper texture design all play a part, and these elements well combined with good text continue to bring me great joy.

After rattling off the remaining part rather uneventfully, whilst surveying the class, she blurted out, “If I may, Phylum, where is Senza?”

Along with Jozi, a self professed ‘Cougar Wisperer,’ Senza was one of the most unruly of Phylum Inc. Stand-ups were usually bandied between the two. Something all now found strange to have missed.

All eyes found the culprit sobered up at his usual spot. It was only when his name was called that he emerged from under his dark cloud. He tried to seem okay. The corner of his mouth barely relented.

“Senza,” said Ms. Lo, “Are you alright?”

He drawled, “She’s playing with the light like Northern Lights hovering over minutae details of the expository…”

“Senza,” she talked over him, her eyes taking in the class, “That’s last week’s assignment. Today’s author is a he.” He fell silent. The heavy breathing started. “Senza!”

His name echoed in the hallway long after he had closed the door behind him.

~

Aikhona, mchana! A faint memory of his grandfather’s voice remarking at the city youth who indifferently drag their feet before an oncoming traffic, yet run for their lives at the sight of anything that bleats, failed to cheer him up this time.

He received middle fingers for his long and loud hooting for his right of way into the Mandela Drive from the long-walking bunch.

Near the Bloemfontein Train Station, his moods were surprisingly accommodative towards a traffic jam caused by taxi-drivers notorious for hogging this section of the town during the rush hour.

Senza’s stay at home mother, Mme Malla, received calls from her daughter’s school. Senza wanted to take her home during class hours for no apparent reasons, they said. A search party of three white Minis (Phylum Inc) arrived to find Mme Malla on the phone.

She had greyed considerably since the incident, waiting for the day when this would happen. He refused to talk to anyone about it. If anyone even hinted it he would leave the room.

In the middle of the city laid Naval Hill. Bloemfontein’s own mini Table Mt. without Mons Mensae. Besides their conspicuous flat top contours, they are revered for their environmental significance and location; the former for the latter, and vice versa. It seemed to loom at dusk, as shadows settle like a hood on its face, which gave it a menacing demeanour. It’s the very hill where they had spent their time before they got hijacked. He returned there now and then to salvage the now static mirage of their last moments together.

Upon entering the gate of Franklin Game Reserve, Senza downshifted the gears carelessly, causing them to grind as he ‘leaned on it’ with each bent of the winding route ascending the west side of the Naval Hill. Cruising toward the eastern edge of the hill, the car swaggered along the uneven trail, gently rocking him to and fro as the tires crushed the gravel below.

Atop the hill, he hastened to the car boot, and reached for his cooler-bag like it was a first-aid kit. The third empty bottle suffered the fate of the first two, smashing it against boulders meters away. His trembling hands pushed the cooler-bag and the folded camp-chair aside frantically. Out of the toiletry bag, slowly and deliberately, he pulled out a battery powered hair-clipper. In the next moment the hair-clipper whirred like a lawn-mower inside his skull, as dreadlocks fell all around him. By the time he was done, his shaven scalp had a fair share of reddish nicks.

After gathering all his deadfall inside his beanie, on his knees he contemplated over them in silence for a good while. He brooded over them with palpable languor, occasionally swaying indecisively like a witch-doctor delirious with herbal incense.

With the hand holding the beanie poised behind in medieval catapult fashion, he cantered sidelong and launched the package in the air with all his might, followed by a blood-curdling scream that rent the air as if a spear went through his stomach. It landed only a few feet away as if to mock him while he watched on heaving.

~

Staring at the hospital, visible along the southern skyline, his bearing took refuge in the distance between Pelonomi Hospital and the hill, seeming to lend a modicum of space between him and that fateful night.

He recalled waking up on a cold canvass soaked with his blood at the very hospital. Writhing in and out of consciousness, all he heard was medical jargon thrown around him. The stretcher crashed through the hospital’s swinging doors with him crying out for her.

The altitude and the environment made the city life seem and sound like a figment of his imagination. Though gradually becoming a mound pitted against the ever expanding concrete jungle, it still retained natural resonance of light-years contrast from its setting. Around the hill, the scene of the city below echoed and played at the back of his mind in soft mosaic focus. It resembled a hazy panoramic grid of diodes, whose glows alternated at intervals between mellow green, pale-yellow and glaring red, guiding the long strips of LEDs that dipped and glided in the vast maze below.

The smell of rain, the drizzle that came and went, his descent as distorted reflections of the street lights seemed to melt ghastly onto the beaded windscreen, were but a phantasma to him. It’s when other motorists reminded him that they too were tax payers that he came back to earth. Inching towards the traffic lights that glowered in red, he picked his mobile phone and turned it on. Missed calls splashed incessantly on the strong glare of the screen.

To put everyone at ease, he instragrammed a photo of the beaded, foggy windscreen with a tag ‘shegure’. A Japanese handle accompanied with dates replied in Japanese text. It was from his ex-turned-friend, a contemporary dancer who flew home to Japan a weekend before. Before the resolve, she had lost count of his freudian-slips.

The windows of the car reflected the cockpit-like dashboard, imposing itself dimly on everything he drove past. The blurry tail-lights of the cars overtaking him appeared to leave splotched trails of blood in their wake. A tinted Gusheshe whizzed past him accompanied by what sounded like an aqueous heartbeat from a Sonar.

~

South bound along Dr. Belcher Road leading to Pelonomi Hospital, a distant and yet familiar sound echoed from afar. His ears anticipated a discordant cry of seagulls, and his nose the sea-salt. None came, but that long and doleful horn of a ship. A giant crimson bull charged at him, its fiery eyes blurring his vision. His car straddled the middle of the road for the head-on collision. Screeching, the car squealed like a puppy with a spine-chilling shrill as it swerved out of the way.. Warped giant white Loki fonts marqueed in a flash on his side windows as the truck came close to scraping his car, knocking down his side-mirror instead. The mournful horn sped past and slurred as it drawled eerily behind him.

During this close shave he made out an irate face of a truck driver inaudibly cussing the day lights out of him. As his car dragged to a halt at a snail’s pace, his trembling hand fidgeted with the hazard lights button before moving on to the seat-belt. Panting, he retrieved the tennis ball from the glove compartment. In the rear view mirror, fading trails of steam marked where the wavy skid marks were, and shards of a shattered side mirror sparkled in the rain.

Minutes later, a seat belt alarm chimed softly, almost too sympathetically as if to gently rouse him from a nightmare, against the clamouring horns of motorists lining behind him. The overwhelming warmth that had surged through him minutes ago dissipated. He arrived home cold and clammy.

In a dimly lit carport, hours passed with him staring blankly at the windscreen. Mme Malla had dozed off in front of the television with a blanket. He found her little sister riding the side of her bed, tucked to her thumb and stuffed elephant. For the first time he sobbed, rocking inconsolably, as if before him was her lifeless body.

~

Before sunrise at the Greylings, muted gargling could be heard coming from the bathroom. Next came the soft shuffling of feet that soon died wholly. Reeva’s four year old sister, Ursula, was following a morning routine that involved tooth brushing, a national anthem, a glass of milk, and a good dose of morning cartoons in that particular order.

On her stomach in bed, Reeva’s crossed fingers slowly rose above her head, as she muttered supplications.

“Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika…!”

Ursula broke into it with as much effusion as her elfin chest could muster.  The gods were not on Reeva’s side.

“Ag nee,” Groaned Reeva, burying her head under the pillow. “Can’t we get a break?”

“Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo…”

Poised and one hand placed on her pumped bosom, her waist-reaching hair bobbed to every syllable (except for the tongue-twisters).

“Really,” said Reeva’s father cuddled up to his wife in bed, “it’s Enoch’s tribute to HOA’s former glory.”

Ursula’s voice echoed in the hallways, modulating in language and key as per the arrangement of the anthem.

“You know the composer?” Said his wife intrigued at her husband’s analysis of the Xhosa part of the anthem.”

“Here comes the Afrikaans part.”

They chorused dotingly as Ursula cleared her throat for her favourite part. It was the part where she mastered, or attempted thereof, a little patriotic bass in her voice. Indeed, a no mean feat for her size.

“Uit die blou van onse he-mel!”

“That’s it.” said Reeva gruffly, kicking the covers to the floor. Eyes peering wearily through her frizzled hair and a pillow handy, she edged towards Ursula’s bedroom like a zombie.

On her flight downstairs, the Greylings matriarch greeted Reeva with a Restraining Order. She stopped dead in her tracks at the bottom of the stairs, and tugged her dressing gown to her chest. Reeva’s twin brother’s name slipped out when she called her out.

Reeva’s twin brother was a casualty of a farm attack when they were still toddlers, along with her grandfather and uncle. The grandmother miraculously survived. During the attack, Reeva was sound asleep on the floor between the curtains from the previous day game of hide-and-seek. She was too young to remember.

Her uncle, who converted to environmentalism when it was still considered a liturgy for hippies, saw the filthy-lucre in going green way before it became a PR gimmick. He died an entrepreneur of high-end rattan furniture.

Ten years after the tragic loss, Reeva’s father was jostled out of sleep by his wife, demanding their lost son back. That night they made love in tears like a couple in the wake of the distant din of world war. Slumped next to him, she repeated her lost son’s name in between gasps, as if now that she did her part, her heart’s desire, wrapped in white linen, legs twitching, fists coiled, should lower at any moment. Nine months later, fate had something up its sleeve – Ursula, a bundle of mischief.

At seven-thirty op die kop, between the decorative arches and beams of mahogany, the carriage-house-style doors of the garage rose begrudgingly to reveal the worn out riding boots the colour of an Arabian saddle.

Hashtag-Victorian. Stuff of Pinterest.

She beamed between the bookshelves around the same time a year ago when she snapped them on display in the opposite store. As she eased the helmet around her hair, the morning breeze rushed in to sting her cheeks with a cold kiss, and the Owl’s feathers of her rosary-slash-dreaweaver tribal pendant flailed around her abdomen. In no time she was rearing Sanchez, her sliver rusty scooter, down the sloping pavement.

~

Like most of us, Senza ran to his momma. He crashed in a garage that used to be his studio. The walls of his studio were a bioluminescent-like graffiti stencil of Pandora. Half-face portrait of Neytiri in her tribal glory occupied half of the western wall. Her outline glowed on account of the fullmoon (with an eight-weeks pregnancy ultrasound for lunar surface) in the background. He used invisible paint that absorbed light during the day to glow when the lights went out. Its glow is mixed to last only for a minute or so, before it fades out like a drying river.

During the movie that inspired this painstakingly done mural, he shot to his feet inside a packed theatre. Fists clenched and sweat broke out. The feral anguish in Zoe Saldana’s keening clawed at his soul. He looked as helpless as the day he heard a familiar sound for the first and last time until Avatar. A sound that haunted his sleepless nights long after the ordeal. Speech-impaired, her wailing was hauntingly alien and untamed. Still, from thereon he tortured himself with Zoe’s films.

Mme Malla woke up to a faint aroma of Rooibos tea. What brought a smile to her face was not so much the gesture in itself, but the sight of Kruisement branch next to it.

Before moving to a modestly upscale, face-brick neighbourhood, from a cramped up, two-roomed house in what used to be the squatter camp, the mint used to be her pet luxury. Before the infiltration of lavenders and jasmine minted teas into the townships, any woman offering tea to her guest without the herb risked standings of her social status.

“Hai, haele phoqo se sona.”

Shaking her head, she clapped once remarking at her son’s idiocy. The tea was cold.

~

As had been the case for some of South African universities since the dawn of the democratic era, University of Free State have had its fair share of drama whose screen-treatment, Professor Jansen’s tumultuous tenure alone, could spark bidding wars at Cannes.

In recent years it was riddled with unsavoury racial disturbances (The Reitz’ Four, off-the-cuff) that became international headlines.

In Reeva’s words, the wooded campus was an epitaph (whatever that meant) to the self-contained greenhouse that once was nature. Besides the usual alumni pedigree, it prided itself in the simple things said to embody its ideals: the perennially kempt lush gardens and rolling lawns surrounded by dense, naturalised vegetation as old as the campus they wreathed, and Mooimeisiesfontein (Beautiful Girls Fountain) for a centrepiece.

Those were some of the things that attracted Reeva the most to Kovsie against her mother’s wishes to study abroad, so to stretch her horizons, and spread her wings – “strictly speaking, from the neck up, honey.”

Like most institutions with the luxury of space, it tweaked its material palette for that twenty-first century academic look. In fact, the campus of University of Free State can be viewed as an architectural open air museum. The first order, the alumni’s held near and dear, was the classic and yet gravely academic corridors and passages.

Next in line was the most uninspired moment in the history of academic architect: Well, this is a patch of land where students will learn and, uh, just order bricks the colour of a matchstick head. Tons of ‘em!

A sad looking, dilapidated sandstone house perched in the middle of a countryside stretch remains classically picturesque. Replace it with one of them uninviting matchstick-coloured, old or new, structure and it becomes a matter of taste.

After a day spent around these unsightly things, a reflex punch in the smart mouth spouting ‘bricks and mortar’ analogies is almost forgivable. Of course Classicism, among others, was an exception. But for campuses, an age of utter darkness on drafts tables.

When the university was conceptualized, Frank Lloyd Wright, the architectural saviour of the masses, was commissioned for the mere four houses of the nascent Prairie School. Word hadn’t gotten around.

Following on its heels was the glass order. It afforded the campus the view of the outside world, making the phrase ‘Ivory Tower’ incongruent with its setting. A precursor to what followed.

Lastly, something strange happened. Academic institutions embraced organic design order. These did not delineate the ‘enlightened’ from the ‘ignorant.’ Rectilinear structures with simplicity inspired by Japanese aesthetics, and joie de vivre pulsating Warhol-esque paint jobs, cropped up in campuses (and around recreational institutions) around South Africa. During leafy seasons, they resemble colourful air-balloons scaling rich unadulterated flora.

This subsequent architectural transformation, to borrow from Oprah on her visit to the institution, it was ‘nothing short of a miracle.’ They hewed out of the mountain of blueprints of despair a milestone of hope – free at last, free at last; thank goodness we’re glib-free at last!

~

As was her thing, Reeva slackened at the threshold of the library entrance. Running her eyes along the stately edifice, she might have mumbled something about knowledge in Latin.

Pervasive was the soft hum of the ventilation system punctuated by irregular reverential exchanges between students her eyes couldn’t locate. At the Natural World section of the library, a thick grizzled fur of her hooded gilet from which her head resurfaced, made her look like a grey wolf on a prowl for a rare species between the shelves to sink her teeth into.

She kept her ears keenly attentive to the sound of pages being flipped, echoing at intervals from different angles around her. She could almost always accurately guess the specifications of the book used (new, old or recycled paper), judging by the sharpness produced by its pages.

She buried herself in a book when a male student stopped on the opposite side of her bookshelf. He leafed not more than two pages and Reeva had gone around to hover over him. Her eyes said, “yes give it to me, this won’t take a minute.” He hesitated. She sighed and snatched the book from him.

“That doesn’t count.” Handing it back to him annoyed, she muttered stiffly to herself. “We’re all a lil’ rusty in this ungodly hour.”

Leaving for the cafeteria, her game tittered atop a tome. It was semi-deserted. She kept stealing glances of a waitress in all black wearing an artificial but pleasant smile that thinly hid her exhaustion. Everytime she’d glimpse at her, she’d jot down a few lines in the margins of her notepad. She looked up to steal another look. A sudden close-up of a khaki apron, Java clipart embroidered on its front pocket, backdropped a steaming latte on a circular tray.

Almost scampering, she upturned the notepad to hide the scribbled side, and shifted books around to make space. Breaking an agonizingly chastened half smile, which resulted in a confusing expression, she either begged or commanded the waitress to keep change.

Almost unconsciously, as she slowly neared the tall latte cup to her full lips, she caught a familiar whiff of a cologne. It wafted and went like an imagined aroma of a craving, leaving no trace, while the latte went full throttle on her senses. Shrugging with her mouth, she gave in to the irresistible first sip, as a vaguely superimposed silhouette sauntered across the view of the city at the corner of her eye, leaving behind a now stronger trail of the cologne.

We may have a stalker on our hands, she thought.

He passed behind her to join the short queue for his morning fix a few feet from her. He looked a bit taller. Out of the blue the day before, he asked if the seat in front of her was taken after taking it.

Not so long ago the came across an article, a parliament transcript from yesteryear. The honourable speaker of the house, quite emphatically, said it went without saying that every black male had a roving eye for the white woman, and all stops should be pulled to keep ‘em at bay.

Phylum hurled jests at each other, followed by canon paper balls, on who was probably the most unrehabilitable Snowhite Junkie amongst themselves. Flaring his nostrils, Senza stormed outside. Orion couldn’t hide his annoyance. These two never fought. Orion followed him outside where they had a heated discussion where, among Idi Amin and other African dictators, the word carwash kept popping up. Other than that, the rest of Phylum were clueless as to what the furore was about.

Orion made advances to his Nigerian ex for five years before she relented. She was forbidden from dating a South African. Escaping by hair’s breadth, her parents were almost burned alive when their house and business went in flames during xenophobic attacks.

Orion’s last words were audible on his return: you don’t have to find yourself wearing one to discover that bigotry hat comes in all shades and sizes, Oluseun. Structural racism is the problem, not their approval or opinions.

Unsavoury? Arguably. But you can’t deny the novelist’s observational skill set laden in his statement, eh? That would’ve been the reaction of Senza they knew.

Coming back to the present, Phylum had clinched a deal north of seven figures. They were on cloud nine, more so Senza. Orion nudged him in the direction of the no-nonsense looking brunette with books cradled to her bosom as if they were alive. Senza’s sentiments hadn’t changed, but his moods allowed him to wing it just for kicks. High spirits (beverages included) made him go around interviewing girls to round up a roster of his nonexistent harem. He’d promise them the world, take their digits, and announce their candidacy position on a long list of hopefuls.

The little cheer with which Senza greeted a cashier and ordered coffee, failed to hide the pain in his bloodshot eyes. The coarsening lump in Reeva’s chest stirred at the sight of his clean-shaven scalp beneath his flatcap. She imagined it would take a trip to Mecca, a calling of sort to warrant an overnight locks-to-bald resolution. Many South African cultures shave one’s head to both part ways and mourn the passing of a loved one.

But — I mean — he’s a guy.

It seemed highly unlikely it had anything to do with the encounter the day before. Before she knew it, he was about to pass by her table again.

“Shit.”

She drew blanks trying to remember his name. A disarming smile would do. She was greeted back by a face in search of the bottom of the next rugged cliff. Yesterday’s cafeteria scene was seared in his memory, yet he glimpsed past her on his way out.

A prick of panic rose from the pit of her stomach. At cheque-signature speed, she scribbled the word ‘flatline’ inside the margin of the notepad. With a swift swipe of a hand, she cleared everything on the table into a now bloated shoulder-strap bag, grabbed her helmet and took after him.

What are you doing, Reeva? Where are you going, Reeva?

At the western exit, the eyes of a female student fogged with confusion behind a wisp of steam emanating from the mug she was huddled to, as they followed Reeva’s flurry of inaudible ramblings.

She ran after him, only to grimace and drop her helmet to the ground when she reached the parking near the sports field. She held on to the shoulder strap that dug into her shoulder blade.

“Hey…just…wait!

He removed his right earpiece at the call of a panting voice now on his heels. When he turned around, she had leant onto her knees a few feet away, forefinger in the air, spurting out half sentences.

“Hi, we met yesterday,” she said coming out of the gilet that buried her face, “do you…do you have a moment…”

Seeing him reveal a gloomier depth, she trailed off incoherently. Exhaustion seemed to overwhelm his features upon realizing it was her. Her imploring eyes pleaded with him to say something. Anything.

Heaving, he took off his flatcap, intensely kneaded his face, scratched his scalp, and turned around.

“What the…” she said.

How he turned around to give her his back, and walked off without a word, she would have welcomed the crudest of expletives instead. She heard a commiserating ‘ouch’ from one or two students.

“Dump that white bitch!” Said a male voice out of nowhere.

How Reeva wished the latter was the case. It would have meant the business of making contact would be the thing of the past. She squared her still functioning shoulder.

“Hey, come back here!”

She marched to stand in front of him. He tried to walk around her a few times. A little scuffle ensued.

“Look,” she said defiantly, to her own surprise, “if you don’t give in, you’ll have to relocate to avoid me completely.”

The stalemate lasted for quite a while. The realization came to her that she had grabbed his wrist during her threats to stalk him. A gesture now maintained with a vicelike grip. Meaning he had given in to her manacles a while ago. Having trawled every ounce of what weighed heavily in her chest, the lump that begun in the cafeteria keelhauled her heart as it scorched its way to her throat.

“Can we…can we go somewhere quiet?” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Um, that…that did not come out right.”

The car keys he had begun fidgeting with dazedly, jingled in the space of a minute in which no word came from either of them.

She sighed. “Were you going somewhere?”

Reluctantly, he looked over to where his car was parked.

“Alrighty.” She said.

~

Seated on a park-bench inside a tunnel of pine trees, the historical President Brand Street sloped gently on either side before them. Behind them, a slightly elevated City Hall park afforded protection from the biting north-westerner. The canopy of dappled saffron and russet towered above the park’s evergreen frontier from every side. The classic government buildings of weathered sandstone that crennelated the city skyline above transported her to Europe. As if summoned by Midas himself, it was the season that Bloemfontein’s twilights, complemented by trans-seasonal shades, enchanted the sensitive.

An hour before, and led by the brisk Reeva, Senza dragged his feet to his car. Mid-way, Reeva asked him, no, commanded that he deactivate the car-lock system to let her in first. It was when Reeva recognised some of the landmarks more than thrice, The Fourth Raadsaal for one, that she suggested a pit-stop. In silence, staring straight ahead, he was going in circles around the city.

“Look, no offence…there are places I rather be than here, but I’m bound to follow the white rabbit , and…never mind.” No reaction from him. Shoulders hunched to their ears, they now sat there in silence. She looked over to him and her heart sank. He had silently scooted away from her.”I’m Reeva.” She said giving him her hand. Without meeting her eyes, he replied with a forced smile and a half-hearted nod.

All that is gold does not glint

Like sunset bathed autumn leaves

Or silence when it’s not a treat

A moat miles deep around a fort

I have a good mind to pole-vault

Fingers crossed for Stockholm

When in short of words she resorted to wordplay on ‘Dapple’, her spiral-journal with interchangeable beaten-up leather cover. None talking, each drifted to their thoughts like park-bench sharing strangers who preferred keeping to their own – a poetic coda that summed up their worlds.

Eyes distant, like a monk meditatively lingering over the last mala bead, Reeva’s thumb lazily explored each feature of her violet pansy pendant sporting diamonds for anthers, attached to her silver charm.

Fresh from primary in high school, Reeva’s newfound friend alluded Africans’ lack of the word love in their vocabulary to their level of emotional intelligence. Reeva did not know what to make of it and consulted her mother who preferred stacked books to a soapbox.

As usual, silent and expressionless, she searched her daughter’s eyes for a moment, mentally browsing a cache of “iconoclasts she has had the pleasure of devouring.” Reeva knew what would follow. A book covered with a film of dust for a gift-wrap. Her mother left the dusting off to recipients to “relish the mystique of re-discovering a relic.” She remained rooted to her spot as her mother disappeared in her study room.

For good.

Strange.

The following day, through the print-on-demand service, Reeva was woken to a smell of a toner in the morning in the form of The Savage Mind by Claude Lévi-Strauss. After reading it, she scoured jewellery stores for weeks in search of a gem with her strict design specifications to no avail. Thanks to her piggy-bank, and a bald jewellery designer whose shaky hand had not lost its touch, the mystical intaglio became the most treasured thing next to her heart.

Claude offered ‘Pansies for Thought’ as a title for the English translation of his work. The subject was never brought up again. Though, Reeva saw her opportunity. She developed a habit of feigning grave concern for various subjects not on her mother’s shelve. One day she found a note inside another hot-off-the-press gift.

To a toner addict mooching off of her mother’s savings.                              Disgruntled Enabler.

All around Reeva and Senza, imitating a lyrical title sequence to a poignant yarn, shiftless penumbras faded in, cast a foliaged stencil along the deserted Pres. Brand, and drifted briefly before fading out. This shadow theatre was scored by a symphony of broken woodwinds and pigeons’ feet pattering like the first droplets of rain, as the territorial tried in vain to maintain a pecking order.

Towards dusk, the intrusive hubbub, the pollution of Chaela, the mechanical nine-to-five throngs, their narcotic trails, restored the disquiet that brought them together. They showed signs of life when both, almost simultaneously, exhaled and took in the now colonized scenery. Along the western horizons, a panoramic burst of Midas’ palette was about to be frozen in time – an aurora without a rhythm.

Senza turned to his right to find her spot vacant. Having discovered the efficacy of being non-verbal, she waited for him next to his car. In her hands were pine cones and pine needles she kept inhaling in turns. The toxicity of the atmospheric haze had engulfed a brisk, woody scent of the pine that had lulled them deeper into pensive forgetfulness. After much sniffing and vertigoing, she placed the cone inside one of her side-pockets and rubbed the needles in her hands before spreading them about as if they ashes of a loved one. It all looked ceremonious, too, drawing attention of passers-by. More so Senza’s arching brow.

On the road, the rhythmic but dull tapping of his fingers onto a steering wheel whenever the car idled held her rapt. He caught a glimpse of her cheeks cerise at this subconscious habit. He stilled somewhat awkwardly, feeling her piercing eyes exploring his side profile, picking him apart. Familiarizing herself with him on a personal level, she was drawn to the quiescence that now brooded over his nature.

Whenever she doccie’d these moments, her hand seemed to move on its accord as she scribbled, resembling a psychic channelling messages from beyond.

He’s as mellow as a stripped down acoustic ballad.

Back at the park, once inside the car, he received instructions to her place. Now nearing the bus-stop, a fifteen minutes walk to her home, she asked him to drop her off.

“Tomorrow. Same place. Same time.”

He struggled with a response for her body language intimated another stand-off. If her Pine tree sniffing habits were anything to go by, she looked like the type that chained herself to objects for causes she was passionate about.

“My people will, uh,” He said as she wittingly broke out in laughter mid his sentence. “Call — your people?”

A wistful smile burning her expression, she hugged herself against the cold, and bid him farewell. She watched on the EAN5 – his street-art ‘nom de guerre’ – on his personalised plate until it became illegible.

“It’d take a Medium to read your beautiful mind, but I’m game.”

After a long controlled sigh, she muttered to herself. Stiffening her quivering lower lip, she lugged her baggage and started homeward, her vision blurring with each step.

***