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Lumumba Mthembu

Lumumba Mthembu

I am a PhD candidate at Rhodes University.

Sunday, 11 June 2017 19:29

Hamburger or Bridge?

The open lecture you attended during your last days with Bear must have made a deep impression because the tentative attempts you have since made to become lucid in your dreams have not gone unnoticed by your eagle-eyed housekeeper.

     Unbeknownst to you, you have succeeded twice and on both occasions have failed dismally to employ the advice that was imparted to you by that pseudo-guru fellow. He told you to commit no acts of violence during lucidity because you would only be inflicting harm upon your own subconscious but have a look at what you did:

     You were a teenager threading his way through the centre of Johannesburg in an attempt to map out the speediest route to your new school. You were exploring what some might refer to as an “undesirable part of town” when you ignored the signs that warned of impending robbery.

     You climbed up a fleet of stairs and were greeted by a welcoming party of disaffected youths in various states of undress. The one in the school tie wasted no time in posing a riddle you sensed would have unfavourable implications regardless of the correctness of your answer.

     “Hamburger or bridge?” were the ridiculous options you were given and since you were on a bridge, you replied, “Bridge.” He proceeded to rifle through the outer pockets of your rucksack which led you to assume that he would have started on the inside had you said, “Hamburger.”

     It was while the ragamuffin was sifting through your belongings that you became lucid by looking down at your hand to realise a finger was missing. Once you had acknowledged that you were operating within the safe confines of the dream-world, you grabbed the scoundrel’s hand and klapped him for his impudence. It was only when he reached for a concealed knife that you played your trump-card and ejected back into consciousness.

     In a similarly tight situation, that guru fellow stood stock still while a raging bull charged at him in a dream. It stopped at the last second, at which point the guru requested it for an interview with his subconscious.  He discovered that the bull was symbolic of the destructive relationship he had with his father.

     What do you think would have happened had you requested that criminal for five minutes to have a quiet word with yourself? Doubtless you would now be a little familiar with the plight of pincushions out there. In dreams you have been shot, bitten by dogs, and have fallen from buildings so you know the pain of being stabbed would not have been any milder.

     This is where I should be telling you to “trust your subconscious because it only wants to be your friend” but I am no guru and from what I have seen, your subconscious is seething. It is thwarted at every attempt to express anger by our combined efforts so I think it is safe to assume that we should play far away.
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 18:05

The Art of Aldous

Fool? Nutter? Brucker? Thus I have been christened. It will have to do; it might as well have been any other way. However, a small request: would you mind if we just shortened it to FNB? I find it so much more becoming but I guess you will let me know if that chafes you in any way, you have been so vocal about everything else that has.

     Captain I am in your service, in no way did I mean to offend. If I came across as authoritarian, it was only because you needed galvanising, but allow me to make it up to you in my own little way, because as you know, I am somewhat of a go-between, or shall we say, a medium.

     Perhaps it would help if you thought of me as your butler: one who knows your house even better than you the master. I am in no way presuming on our relationship, the analogy merely puts me in a position to state that I have noted that you have made certain changes, ones of which I approve and ones with which I can assist.

     I have noticed that you have stopped wearing your spectacles: a brave and gallant decision. For they are nothing more than crutches for the eyes, only leading to further dependency. I can help you rehabilitate these precious organs by reminding you of the good habits that you have forgotten. 

     Medicus curat, natura sanat. You have the power to heal yourself. The first step on the path to recovery is to not care about it at all. This is to say, place no pressure on yourself, be indifferent to the outcome. This will put you in a state of dynamic relaxation: the natural state for good vision.

     Once you have accomplished that, do not try hard to see for vision is something that comes to you. Do not strain your eyes by staring or by trying to see things in their entirety. Follow the outlines of shapes and objects, taking in the details in between with an air of gratitude.

     Break objects down into their constituent parts, taking note to blink often and to keep the eyes moving. For this will combat the ingrained habit of staring and will force the eyes to behave as if they were perfectly healthy. “Fake it till you make it” as the pick-up artists say and you will soon find that you have.

     You did not see badly when you were child so you know you have it in you to see well again. Years of bad habits have worn down the relationship between the sensing eye and the perceiving mind. We will work on that though, so rest assured and take my word as a token of my devotion.

Monday, 21 March 2011 02:00

Have You Earned Your Stripes, Soldier?

Chief General Principal was the headmaster of St Pauli High. He wore his trousers navel-high and a military-issue moustache occupied his maxilla. He believed in order and symmetry, he was a man of straight lines. "Your belt should match your shoes," is what he would tell the boys. Needless to say, his always shone like smiling Sunday school children. "Decorum" is what he insisted on in every school assembly, though none of the students ever ventured to ask what the word meant. "Jam tart" is what he demanded of every athlete on the sports field, and "woe betide" the soul that dared to bring him a confectionary. This was a man with no reverse gear; a man who didn't need to cut his hair, he simply dared it to grow. He ruled with an iron fist. He ran a tight ship. He was the king of his castle and no one questioned his authority.

On Tuesday afternoons, he would fold his navy blue pants along the line of the iron crease, and change into his PT shorts: still navy, still navel-high. With a tucked-in shirt that never dared to disobey, he would whip the school boys in the "General Mile", an aptly-named race that the principal always won. Stragglers would crawl in, choking on half a lung, to find Chief General Principal warming down with precautionary stretches. "I'm forty-six years old. You guys are a third of that age," he would chirp as he reset his watch, beaming at his time.

Chief General Principal had two daughters at the school: Kele and Me'shell. The entire student body sympathised with their plight. Dutiful skirts covered their knees and unforgiving ponytails warped the freckles on their faces. They were present at every school function and were seldom seen "out". They participated in sport and cultural events to which they were never late. They were never absent, never spoke out of turn, never talked to boys, never smoked, never drank, never got into trouble. The staffroom sniggered of Chief General Principal's "projects" because the poor pair were not treated like children. At the end of each school day, they could be seen seated in the Mercedes, seat-belted, straight-backed, as solemn as convicts in transit.

On Thursday mornings, Chief General Principal would meet with his heads and stress the importance of the "united front". "When we are in here, we can tear into each other, but when we are out there, we must be like this," he would say, referring to the pyramid of interlaced fingers hovering just below his blue eyes. Lombard and Visser, headgirl and headboy, would lap this up with voracious nods. Van Vuuren and Zikalala, their respective deputies, believed their brains could do more than keep their craniums from caving in. There was a rumour floating around that on votes alone, Zikalala was the rightful headboy, but Chief General Principal had vetoed the result because it would not do to have a rogue leading the school. They had clashed on many occasions, Zikalala and the principal, and their working relationship was strained. "I know you don't respect me," Chief General Principal would say, looking Zikalala squarely in the eye, "but your peers respect you so regardless of what you may think of me, could we please present a united front."

On one particular morning, Chief General Principal called an assembly in which he read out student names from a list. Feet shuffled about nervously as the students who were called up did not know why they had been summoned to the front of the hall. When he had reached the bottom, he descended from the podium, addressing the seated students at what he believed to be eye-level. "We have a thief in our midst, a rabbit in our garden-patch and it is plundering what we have been trying to grow at this school." Chief General Principal waited for the obedient echo to return the words it had taken from him. "All the students standing up here have reported a cell phone stolen or missing just this term alone." A collective sigh of relief issued from the line of students as their status as victims of crime and not perpetrators of it was established to them and to all. "It is clear to me that this is the work of a syndicate and I am promising you that that syndicate shall fall. Woe betide he who thinks he is cleverer than me. He shall soon be humbled."

The assembly was disassembled and the school day went on as the timetable promised, with learners shuttling from venue to venue. The exercise resulted in dampened brows and damper armpits, a situation that was not helped by Chief General Principal's strictures on school uniform: the privilege of summer uniform had been revoked in favour of blazers and ties as Chief General Principal had placed "pride in the badge" above all other practical considerations. So grade eights waddled from class to class in jackets that were supposed to last them 'til they were seniors. Reduced to caricature, the students moved en masse like a flock of penguins with briefcases. The new ruling had not gone down well with the seniors and there were rumours that a number of prefects had threatened to hand in their badges. The story goes: they were unwilling to enforce rules they themselves saw as ridiculous. They could not see themselves handing out detentions in forty-degree heat to students who had done what any mammal in discomfort would have done. So during break time, blazers littered the fields: used as goalposts and picnic blankets. During class time: they warmed the backs of cold chairs or were gobbled up by hungry schoolbags. In between classes: they served as parasols with convenient storage space for lip gloss. Needless to say, Chief General Principal was not happy with this perverse un-blazer-ly use of the only item of uniform that prominently displayed the badge. He rallied his lieutenants and privates to the cause but his subordinates were simply too hot to serve. Unrest was brewing in the St Pauli camp, ladle by ladle, it filled the king's goblet, and Chief General Principal feared that before long, he would know the taste of mutiny.

A police squad car pulled into the school gates and parked directly in front of the principal's office. As lunch came to a close, the learners dispersed, heading off to their respective venues. Those who had seen the boys in blue passed on the news like an Olympic torch. Within thirty minutes the student body was ablaze with speculation and conjecture. Those who were innocent thought nothing of the police presence, knowing their principal's well-documented ties to the army could plausibly have occasioned a visit from law enforcers he might have served with. Those with heavier breasts tended toward astuteness and quickly realised that this was no social call. The students were told to remain in their classrooms even as the school bell sung its afternoon song of freedom. Officious members of staff with lofty titles - the Head of Science, the Deputy Principal, the Academic Head - barged into unsuspecting classrooms with squadrons of prefects instructing students to take off their shoes. Bags were ransacked on tabletops, pockets were pilfered with impunity, and intimate zones were infiltrated by suspicious hands with points to prove. They pillaged 'til privacy was empty, provisional and still they could not find what they were searching for.

Chief General Principal would not surrender to children so next he charged his recovery task team with raiding the school lockers. One by one, bayonets at their backs, the students were marshalled to their lockers. Again and again they were opened and closed and still what was lost could not be found. Chief General Principal would not admit defeat even as angry parents queued outside the locked school gates. They hooted and shouted, "For fuck's sake man!" at the helpless security guard manning the gate. "I am only obeying instructions ma'am. There has been a theft at the school and the principal is looking for the culprit." It was all he could say in his pitiful defence but the parents of the privileged could not be pacified. "This is utter nonsense man. Open this gate this instant," but the obedient security guard stood fast. They came out of their cars with choreographed coordination, descending upon the school gates like marauding Indians. If their kids couldn't come to them, they would retrieve them themselves and remove them from Chief General Principal's custody.

As a white Opel Astra stopped at the boomed exit, Chief General Principal peered in through the window. "Have these boys' lockers been searched?" he foolishly asked the irate parent, anticipating a courteous response. "Yes, and you will be hearing from me tomorrow morning," was the curt reply as the Astra sped out of the school. Seated at the back, were Zikalala and Moroka, and safely nestled in the boot, was Chief General Principal's cell phone.

Zikalala arrived at school early as usual the next day and immediately went to the library. Gurty was seated at her usual spot but instead of a greeting, Zikalala heard the following: "Did you hear what happened to Moroka yesterday?" Zikalala's small intestine immediately seized up. That was it then, the ruse was up. "He got hit by a truck," Gurty continued but Zikalala could see she was toying with him. "Just come out with it Gurty," urged Zikalala, "does Chief General Principal know?" "Maybe," she conceded, "it happened yesterday afternoon while he was crossing Witkoppen Road. Mr Andre was the first one on the scene so the news might have reached the principal by now." "Gurty could you please stop fucking around! This is my future we're dealing with here." "Your future?" queried Gurty, slightly annoyed, "Moroka's the one in the ICU. If you don't believe me, phone his mother. She was at Sunninghill Hospital all night."

Zikalala had had enough of Gurty's nonsense so he stormed out of the library toward the public phones. He fished his phone card out of his Bondiblu wallet and expected to be fully embarrassed. "Mme Moroka, how are you today? Is it true that Moroka got hit by a truck?" "Yes my baby. He's in the ICU. He's broken both arms, both legs, and the doctor tells me he has a blood-clot the size of a coin on his head." She was impressively calm, spine-chillingly calm, and Zikalala wondered whether this was a setup. He watched his words though his heart pumped fire through his veins. "How did this happen?" he asked Mme Moroka. "He went to the garage to use the public phones. I don't know, maybe he tried to call you. On the way back, while he was crossing the road, a cement truck hit him at eighty kilometres per hour." Zikalala wanted to see for himself. "I don't know what to say. Can I come see him?" "Only family is allowed in the ICU my baby, but let's pray that he gets better and gets transferred to another ward so that his friends can come and visit him." She hadn't once tried to catch him out even though she still sounded remarkably composed. Perhaps she had cried herself into resignation but it was all starting to feel a bit too real. "Okay Mme Moroka, I'll be praying for him," Zikalala promised guiltily. "I'm sorry about all of this." "It's not your fault baby. Moroka needs us to be strong."

Something told Zikalala he would not retrieve the prize he and Moroka had so strategically won. Moroka had lain in the sick room, keeping coast, while Zikalala snuck into the adjacent office and unplugged the principal's sleeping Nokia 3310 from its unattended socket charger. Moroka had taken it home with him after it had been retrieved from an anonymous locker. Now Zikalala saw it smashed to pieces somewhere along Witkoppen Road, and his friend Moroka lay smashed to pieces somewhere in Sunninghill Hospital.
Sunday, 13 September 2009 02:00

A Sister's Promise

Trust, like a bird's wing broken at birth, left you open to the terrors of the sky, and the cravings of the earth. And for that, they will die. Brother, an animal like you I had never known; your instincts only obeyed the call of survival, serving you like the eyes of the cat when there is no moon. Your will, by its ferocity alone, freed you from God and the rule of men. A heart built for hate beat dirty blood into the eyes of a man with nothing to lose. Eyes tinged with a vacant recklessness; eyes that had never beheld beauty and never looked for it.

Brother, a boy now stands in the place of the monster life made of you. And for that, she will die. You saw her for what she was, and so you grew restless; a wild thing agitated by the confines of a new enclosure: pacing, scowling, grunting. Scenting freedom, you would not be still and finally, you broke away only to return to your captor. When did she tame you, Brother? I can only imagine it to have been a struggle that you lost; caught in a snare that gave no quarter. Faced with your own weakness, you relented, giving yourself over to the forces that shaped you.

My beautiful Brother, when you died I was born: fathered by vengeance, mothered by scorn, baptised in your blood. I have come on behalf of those for whom there is no God. And I will forgive nothing. For every lie there will be a lash, until the truth is written on her body. My ears, deafened by the shrill of your suffering, will not hear her cries for mercy. My eyes, burnt by the sight of your crumpled remains, shed tears that streaked my face like oil; your tears. To be of single mind, I have sacrificed it all, for unlike you Brother, I am not strong. The God you were unto me I shall be unto them and they will call me by my name, both she and he. He will know why I have come and if he is wise, he will not fight me. For his fate is etched into my palms and his life is no longer his own. His blood will answer for your tears: his mourners' heads bowed over a closed casket after I have reduced him to stains; traces of his existence. That I promise you.

They played their little game, did they not Brother? And for a while it seemed the world was in on it. I was not. I watched as your honour was taken from you. I watched as your pride was wrestled from you. I watched as your faith was pissed on. I watched as your manhood was trampled on. I watched as your heart was stomped like a cigarette flicked from the lips of a dirty whore. Brother, there are things of which you do not even know. Yes, your secrets are no longer your own. They are mine like their time in East London was theirs. They are mine like their fucking at PGV was theirs. They are mine like their lives and the lives of their friends. They will die too when I play my little game. The one with the limp shall be the first to go, I'll tear out that Achilles he's been so desperate to heal. The fat one will join him in a shallow grave as liars lie in death as they did in their waking days. Brother, a joke: I hear they are believers, believers in Christ, a god they have not seen. Where is the Good Shepherd as the wolves circle his flock? The very same sheep over whose eyes the wool is pulled. They will die. Lord willing or not.

When it is done, his car will be towed into the dam – where they had so many good times – with his girl neatly strapped in up front. Her room will be razed and torched, the ashes of her pictures the only testament to her existence. Since I cannot erase memories, Brother, I will violently hurl them into eternity. Driven by your disgust, I will dispose of them like the condom he used. They will not live to raise bastards. They will not live to have another pregnancy scare. They will not live.

Brother, I go to do your bidding.