Disgrace - The whole day Lucy

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

The whole day Lucy avoids him. In the afternoon Petrus himself raps at the back door, businesslike as ever, wearing boots and overalls. It is time to lay the pipes, he says. He wants to lay PVC piping from the storage dam to the site of his new house, a distance of two hundred metres. Can he borrow tools, and can David help him fit the regulator?
'I know nothing about regulators. I know nothing about plumbing.' He is in no mood to be helpful. It does not occur to him just how strikingly similar his behaviour is to a young girl's that's recently been added to a brothel.

'It is not plumbing,' says Petrus. 'It is pipefitting. It is just laying pipes.'
On the way to the dam Petrus talks about regulators of different kinds, about pressure-valves, about junctions; he brings out the words with a flourish, showing off his mastery. He is well and truly proud of his ability in the white man's field. The new pipe will have to cross Lucy's land, he says; it is good that she has given her permission. She is 'forward-looking'. 'She is a forward-looking lady, not backward-looking.' About the party, about the boy with the flickering eyes, Petrus says nothing. It is as though none of that had happened.

His own role at the dam soon becomes clear. Petrus needs him not for advice on pipefitting or plumbing but to hold things, to pass him tools - to be his handlanger, in fact. The role is not one he objects to. Petrus is a good workman, it is an education to watch him. It is Petrus himself he has begun to dislike. As Petrus drones on about his plans, he grows more and more frosty toward him. He would not wish to be marooned with Petrus on a desert isle. He would certainly not wish to be married to him. A dominating personality. The young wife seems happy, but he wonders what stories the old wife has to tell. At last, when he has had enough, he cuts across the flow. Petrus,' he says, 'that young man who was at your house this morning, when the chief was speaking -- what is his name and where is he now?'

Petrus takes off his cap, wipes his forehead. Today he is wearing a peaked cap with a silver South African Railways and Harbours badge. He seems to have a collection of headgear.
'You see,' says Petrus, frowning, 'David, it is a hard thing you are saying.'
'He was the third, when they robbed the place. You know this. And you know him.'
'It is a hard thing. And I, I am the one who must be keeping the peace. So it is hard for me, too.'
'I have no intention of involving you in the case, Petrus. Tell me the boy's name and whereabouts and I will pass on the information to the police. Then we can leave it to the police to investigate and bring him and his accomplices to justice. You will not be involved, I will not be involved, it will be a matter for the law.'

Petrus stretches, bathing his face in the sun's glow. 'But the insurance will give you a new car.'
Is it a question? A declaration? Does this short, ugly, obnoxious man actually imagine insurance companies are a sort of car farms, where they pick one fresh right off the vine and hand it to you? What game is Petrus playing?
'The insurance company will not give me a new car,' he explains, trying to be patient. 'Assuming it isn't bankrupt by now because of all the car-theft going on in this sad excuse for a country, the insurance company will give me a percentage of its own idea of what the old car was worth at the time it was stolen. That won't be enough to buy a new car, or an old one. Perhaps it may be enough to buy a bicycle. Nor will it cover all the books I had in the trunk, or anything else. Anyhow, there is a principle involved. We can't leave it to insurance companies to deliver justice. That is not their business.'

'But you will not get your car back from this boy. He cannot give you your car. He does not know where your car is. Your car is gone. The best is, you buy another car with the insurance, then you have a car again.'
How has he landed in this dead-end? He tries a new tack. 'Petrus, let me ask you, is this boy related to you?'
'And why', Petrus continues, ignoring the question, 'do you want to take this boy to the police? He is too young, you cannot put him in jail.'
'If he is eighteen he can be tried. If he is sixteen he can be tried.'
'No, no, he is not eighteen.'
'How do you know? He looks plenty above eighteen to me.'
'I know, I know! He is just a youth, he cannot go to jail, that is the law, you cannot put a youth in jail, you must let him go!'

This strange legal notion seems to clinch the argument, as far as Petrus is concerned. Heavily he settles on one knee and begins to work the coupling over the outlet pipe.
'Petrus, my daughter wants to be a good neighbour - a good citizen and a good neighbour. She loves the Eastern Cape. She wants to make her life here, she wants to get along with everyone. But how can she do so when she is liable to be attacked at any moment by thugs who then escape scot-free? Surely you see!'
Petrus is struggling to get the coupling to fit. The skin of his hands shows deep, rough cracks; he gives little grunts as he works; there is no sign he has even heard.
'Lucy is safe here,' he announces suddenly. 'It is all right now. You can leave her, she is safe.'
'But she is not safe, Petrus! Clearly she is not safe! You know what happened here on the twenty-first.'
'Yes, I know what happened. But now it is all right.'
'Who says it is all right?'
'I say.'

'You say? You will protect her?'
Petrus raises his head and looks at him for a moment, no more than a brief glance. 'I will protect her.'
'You didn't protect her last time.'
Petrus smears more grease over the pipe.
'You say you know what happened, but you didn't protect her last time,' he repeats. 'You went away, and then those three thugs turned up, and now it seems you are friends with one of them. What am I supposed to conclude?'
It is the closest he has come to accusing Petrus. But why not? 'The boy is not guilty,' says Petrus. 'He is not a criminal. He is not a thief. He is just a boy.'
'It is not just thieving I am speaking of.'
'He is not guilty. He is too young. It is just a big mistake.'
'You know?'
'I know.' The pipe is in. Petrus folds the clamp, tightens it, stands up, straightens his back. 'I know. I am telling you. I know.'
'You know. You know the future. What can I say to that? You have spoken. Do you need me here any longer?'
'No, now it is easy, now I must just dig the pipe in.'

Despite Petrus's confidence in the insurance industry, there is no movement on his claim. Without a car he feels trapped on the farm. On one of his afternoons at the clinic, he unburdens himself to Bev Shaw. 'Lucy and I are not getting on,' he says. 'Nothing remarkable in that, I suppose. Parents and children aren't made to live together. Under normal circumstances I would have moved out by now, gone back to Cape Town. But I can't leave Lucy alone on the farm. She isn't safe. I am trying to persuade her to hand over the operation to Petrus and take a break. But she won't listen to me.'
'You have to let go of your children, David. You can't watch over Lucy for ever.'
'I let go of Lucy long ago. I have been the least protective of fathers. But the present situation is different. Lucy is objectively in danger. We have had that demonstrated to us.'
'It will be all right. Petrus will take her under his wing.'
'Petrus?'

'You underestimate Petrus. Petrus slaved to get the market garden going for Lucy. Without Petrus Lucy wouldn't be where she is now. I am not saying she owes him everything, but she owes him a lot.'
'That may be so. The question is, what does Petrus owe her?'
'Petrus is a good old chap. You can depend on him.'
'Depend on Petrus? Why should I depend on Petrus? He lives on our land by her indulgence.' he feels the rage raising in him, but wills it to cool down. 'Because Petrus has a beard and smokes a pipe and carries a stick, you think Petrus is an old-style kaffir. But it is not like that at all. Petrus is not an old-style kaffir, and very much less a good old chap.'
'He may not meet your criteria, Professor. But that's neither here nor there. You will have to make do with the Petrus you've got because there isn't any replacement in sight. He's here, it's what it is.' Then after a little pause she continues 'poor Lucy.' She whispers: 'she has been through such a lot!'
'I know what Lucy has been through. I was there.'
Wide-eyed she gazes back at him. 'But you weren't there, David. She told me. You weren't.'

You weren't there. You don't know what happened. He is baffled. Where, according to Bev Shaw, according to Lucy, was he not? In the room where the intruders were satisfying their impulses, barking their demands, committing their outrages? On the same planet, perhaps ? Was he existing on a separate, orthogonal plane of existence, in an alternative, private geometry entirely irreducible to theirs ? Is he in a different phase, of a different spin, is his aroma mismatched to the rest of them, is that what she is hinting at ? Do they suppose a man and a woman can never live the same life even if they live their lives in the same place or do they just think he does not know what rape is? Do they think he has not suffered with his daughter? What more could he have witnessed than he is capable of imagining? Or do they think that, where rape is concerned, no man can be where the woman is? Whatever the answer, he is outraged, outraged at being treated like an outsider. He wants to scream at Bev that he is anything but an outsider! He is intimately familiar with the whole process, and through direct participation! He wants to scream it at all of them, he wants to wear a sign of it and go out in the streets. But of course, he does not. How could he do such a thing ? DORi, David Of Rape, the polar opposite of WAR. What symbol could signify experience ? He does not ask : what symbol could signify experience outside the possiblity of misinterpretation. What symbol could signify experience at all ?

———
  1. In Romanian in original. []
Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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