Disgrace - Petrus shakes his head

Sunday, 01 January, Year 9 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Petrus shakes his head. 'It is too much, too much,' he says.
Out of the blue comes a call from the police, from a Detective-Sergeant Esterhuyse in Port Elizabeth. His car has been recovered. It is in the yard at the New Brighton station, where he may identify and reclaim it. No arrests have been made.
'That's wonderful,' he says. 'I had almost given up hope.'
'No, sir, the docket stays open two years.'
'What condition is the car in? Is it driveable?'
'Yes, you can drive it. It wasn't towed to the yard.'

In an unfamiliar state of elation he drives with Lucy to Port Elizabeth and then to New Brighton, where they follow directions to Van Deventer Street wherein they find a flat, fortress-like police station surrounded by a twometre fence topped with razor wire. Emphatic signs forbid parking in front of the station. They park far
down the road.
'I'll wait in the car,' says Lucy.
'Are you sure?'
'I don't like this place. I'll wait.'
He presents himself at the charge office, is directed along a maze of corridors to the Vehicle Theft Unit. Detective-Sergeant Esterhuyse, a plump, blond little man, searches through his files, then conducts him to a yard where scores of vehicles stand parked bumper to bumper. Up and down the ranks they go.

'Where did you find it?' he asks Esterhuyse.
'Here in New Brighton. You were lucky. Usually with the older Corollas the buggers chop them up for parts.'
'How did you manage ?'
'A tipoff. We found a whole house full of stolen goods. TVs, videos, fridges, you name it.'
They stop before a white Corolla. 'This is not my car,' he says. 'My car had CA plates. It says so on the docket.' He points to the number on the sheet: CA 507644.
'They respray them. They put on false plates. They change plates around.'
'Even so, this is not my car. Can you open it?'
The detective opens the car. The interior smells of wet newspaper and fried chicken.
'I don't have a sound system,' he says. 'It's not my car. Are you sure my car isn't somewhere else in the lot?'
They complete their tour of the lot. His car is not there. Esterhuyse scratches his head. 'I'll check into it,' he says. 'There must be a mixup. Leave me your number and I'll give you a call.'

Lucy is sitting behind the wheel of the kombi, her eyes closed. He raps on the window and she unlocks the door. 'It's all a mistake, he says, getting in. 'They have a Corolla, but it's not mine.'
'Did you see the men?'
'The men?'
'Yes.'
'There were no arrests. Anyway, since it's not my car, whoever was involved can't be the same...' and he trails off.
She starts the engine, yanks fiercely on the wheel. There is a long silence. 'Does that follow, logically?' she says at last.
'I didn't realize you were keen for them to be caught,' he says. He can hear the irritation in his voice but does nothing to check it. 'If they are caught it means a trial and all that a trial entails. You will have to testify. Are you ready for that?'
Lucy switches off the engine. Her face is stiff as she fights off tears.

'In any event, the trail is cold. Our friends aren't going to be caught, not with the police in the state they are in. So let us forget about that.'
He gathers himself. He is becoming a nag, a bore, but there is no helping that. 'Lucy, it really is time for you to face up to your choices. Either you stay on in a house full of ugly memories brooding on what happened to you, or you put the whole episode behind and start a new chapter elsewhere. Those, as I see it, are the alternatives. I know you would like to stay, but shouldn't you at least consider the other route? Can't the two of us talk about it rationally?'
'Go where, move to Rotherham?' She shakes her head. 'I am marked ; not a girl now, but a woman. Wherever I go, I am what I am.'
'What do you mean?'
'I can't talk any more, David, I just can't,' she says, speaking softly, rapidly, as though afraid the words will dry up. 'I know I am not being clear. I wish I could explain. But I can't. Because of who you are and who I am, I can't. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about your car. I'm sorry about the disappointment.'

She rests her head on her arms; her shoulders heave as she gives in. Again the feeling washes over him: listlessness, indifference, but also weightlessness, as if he has been turned to ashen dust, eaten away from inside, an eroded shell of his heart all that remains. How, he thinks to himself, can a man in this state find words, find music that will bring back the dead?

Sitting on the sidewalk not ten yards away, a lanky woman in slippers and a ragged denim miniskirt is staring fiercely at them. She is not wearing anything, he can see her hair. He lays a protective hand on Lucy's shoulder. My daughter, he thinks; my dearest daughter. Whom it has fallen to me to guide. Who one of these days will have to guide me. Can she smell his thoughts?

It is he who takes over the driving. Halfway home, Lucy, to his surprise, speaks. 'It was so personal,' she says. 'It was done with such personal hatred. That was what stunned me more than anything. The rest was... the rest was expected. As always. But why did they hate me so? They knew me. They knew I am open, always, they knew I never resist them.'
He waits for more, but there is no more, for the moment. 'It was history speaking through them,' he offers, at last. 'A history of iniquity. Ignominous. Ugly. Wrong. Think of it that way, if it helps. It may have seemed personal, but it wasn't. It came down from the ancestors.'
'That doesn't make it easier. The shock simply doesn't go away. The shock of being hated, I mean. In the act.'
In the act. Does she mean what he thinks she means? 'Are you still afraid?' he asks.
'Yes.'
'Afraid they are going to come back?'
'No. I know they are going to come back.'
'Did you think, if you didn't lay a charge against them with the police, they wouldn't come back? Was that what you told yourself?'
'David, you are so naive. You live in this country where girls no older than fourteen have to offer themselves when they come. As scared as they may be, they may not run. They may not do anything. In the schoolyard, in the classroom, they must kneel in the dirt, wherever it is and spread their legs, when they come for them. They must beg them, and they do, in their little voices, "Please Oom, take me. Take me Oom, please, make me your wife." They must lure others, cousins, sisters, to come and be raped. They must hold back any who try to run, and they do, struggling with each other, amongst themselves. They must give up all who try to hide. They must offer themselves, and if they do that, they are just raped, savagely, by a gang. They are raped, but they are left alone, once it is finished. To tend to their cuts and bruises, to tend to their shattered friendships. They are left alone -- until the next time. If they do not, they are beaten, doused in petrol, burned alive. These are the facts of life. This is Africa, for women. For white women here, for black women there, this shade or that shade. This is our country ; and it always was.'

There's a long silence, while he digests her words. Long, lengthy, syrupy silence. He is naive, he has learned, and in many ways not thought before, but he is perhaps not quite so naive as she thinks him. Even though he prefers not to think about it he still knows, of the "campus", of what it means to live there, of why and how exactly the rectovaginal fistula is the one and only true symbol of the black continent. Perhaps it should be called the incontinent instead. Six continents plus the incontinent of Africa making up the human realm.

But he's not prepared to give up his dreams. 'Lucy, it could be so simple.' He needles her. 'Close down the kennels. Do it at once. Lock up the house, pay Petrus to guard it. Take a break for six months or a year, until things have improved in this country. Go overseas.'
'Leave here, and go where ?'
'Go to Holland. I'll pay. When you come back you can take stock, make a fresh start.'

She looks at him, a strange look of infinite kindness, as if not expecting anything in return. As if she were his mother, and he were a simple child, deaf, dumb, mongoloid. 'Were you happy with Rosalind, David ?'
He can't even answer, the chasm is too great, the memories won't even load into his mind, like they no longer fit. Rosalind. At long last he answers, bitterly 'No, Lucy, I was not happy with Rosalind.'
'Are you happy now ? Are you happy in general, David ?'

The question, the dreaded question. Is he happy. 'No. I am not happy.'
'Do you think Petrus is happy, David ?'
Petrus! To damn with him, altogether. Of course he's happy, importantly grunting to himself, impressed with every little accomplishment of no consequence or import, expecting to steer conversation, activity, everything.
'Do you suppose his wife's little scorpion will be happy ?' Lucy continues, ignoring his silence, or maybe reading his thoughts. He's sure the little nose-miner is going to be as happy as all can be, and with a litter of sisters following right on his heels so he has who to teach how to behave to his heart's content.
'We can't all be happy.' she says, finally. The words fall, definitively, with the inaudible thunderclap of the last shovelful of earth on a freshly filled grave.

He looks at her, in sheer terror. She can't possibly mean... she can. She can mean, and she does mean. He needs a long while to regain his breath, to climb atop this huge stone slab his daughter cut in front of him. Eventually, with a moribund croak he offers 'Rosalind wasn't happy, either.'
'Exactly.' The road is spinning as she continues, 'The women will be unhappy either way. I do not wish to live in that world where the men have to be unhappy too, just because they've foolishly decided to try and stuff the camel through the eye of the needle. Women can not be happy, ever, structurally, happiness is not possible for women. At least let the men have joy in this life. Why sour it for them ?'

At last, understanding, complete, assembled by itself from the fragmentarium floating in his head, shines before his eyes, and blinds him. She does not mind that those men, or these men, or any men used her. They didn't beat her, they didn't tie her, they latched the door to keep him out, no more. She didn't know them, but she also wasn't against it at any point, she wasn't being violated, at any point. She was merely being used, in the manner and to the purpose she was made to be used. It was his idle agitation that brought about his own suffering upon his own head, and cost her an easement she had enjoyed before. She may no longer keep dogs, she said, he thought she meant it in the conditional, she might not, but no, she meant it in the imperative, she no longer is able to, allowed to, ought to. The men, all of them, from Petrus to the last boy are welcome in her house, and in her bed, so they may feel like men and go about their business. Petrus' wife, young or old, he understands now, has absolutely nothing to say about his manner, not because he, David, doesn't ask her, not because he, Petrus, doesn't ask her, but because she has nothing to say. At all.

He returns his daughter's gaze. He can now return his daugther's gaze. He looks at her, smiling warmly, and she smiles back. An understanding passes between them, a warm wave of human communion that he had not felt in many, many years. Nothing needs to be said, but he says it nevertheless. 'I am proud of you, Lucy. I am very proud of you, my child.'
He slows down and pulls off the road. 'Don't,' says Lucy. 'Not here. This is a bad stretch, too risky to stop.'
As he picks up speed he frowns, but she gives an impatient little flick of the hand. 'Don't blame yourself David. Their hatred is, in the end, their own to carry ; your little upstart's confusion her own burden.'
He is happy, deeply happy to be with his daugther, within her resplendent, magnificent domain. He can feel grace, literally, divine, raising from the very earth around her, filling him, warming his bone marrow, folds inside him he did not even know he had, he didn't even know were cold. He, for the first time and in a way never before even contemplated, loves his country, the land, the people, the everything. He is happy to be an old man, even, being elderly is just a different flavour of his joy, like a new praline in a chocolate box.

Like a child who can't believe the wonder of a new mechanism he has discovered, he wants to run it through, again and again. 'You think they will come back?'
'I think I am in their territory. They have marked me. They will come back for me.'
'And you still want to stay ?'
'Why not?'
'Because that would be an invitation to them to return.'
'They aren't... they... they are collecting a tax. The taxman is never invited to return, and yet never invited to not return, either. This is the price one has to pay for staying on. Perhaps that is how they look at it; certainly that is how I should look at it myself. They see me as owing something, which I do. They dare see themselves as collectors of my debt. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying? Why should the brave men who dare collect my debt be harassed ? Perhaps they actually tell themselves this. Hopefully they do.'

Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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