Photograph by John Arthur Liebenberg, Luanda 1992.
On Monday, I am heading to the US. I’ll be there for nearly four weeks, travelling across several states, meeting up with old friends, coming face to face with more recent ones and, I hope very much, making new ones too. I’m going to be spending quite a lot of time at universities, bookshops and the odd radio station in North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, Indiana, Massachusetts and Chicago. In a nutshell, I’m going to be discussing my book with people including Emily Burrill, Delinda Collier, Kathryn Mathers, Will Reno, Vincent Barletta, Anna Klobucka, Victor Mendes, Martha Saavedra, Ellen Sapega, Deolinda Adão, Ugo Nwokeji, Jess Auerbach and many more, including lots and lots of students. For the last few weeks I’ve been swinging between excitement and anxiety, but if the past is anything to go by that can only bode well. I’m also going to be hanging out in New York for the first time, hooking up with more friends & family there. I confess, I’m packing my trainers so I can jog around Central Park. It all seems a long way away, but this time next week I will be preparing for a round table discussion at Duke with a group of graduate students who will be asking lots of questions about In the Name of the People. I imagine I am going to be challenged in many ways, and it’s going to be interesting to experience this from a US perspective. It’s alien territory: I don’t know what to expect. As ever, I consider myself an interloper: I’m not an academic. I always feel the need to state this publicly. But I will be trying to keep Justin Pearce in mind — and not to worry about it. Who would have thought? Definitely not me. I’ll probably still be pinching myself on the flight home. In the meantime, hoping to avoid Mr Trump & encounter Mr Sanders.
Photo: Julian Richards
“There is a lot going on here”
It began when the cats started going missing. All of a sudden, posters popped up, calls for help in thick felt tip, taped to telegraph poles and back gates. There was one on the post box outside the kebab shop. Then came the weasels. Every scuzzy old man wandering the streets seemed to own a weasel in a body brace with a long leather leash clipped on. You felt a pleasant excitement at first. Daisy was the first one I was introduced to, but then she rolled on to her back, curling to clean her testicles, which were swollen and red. After that, dread filled my throat every time I turned a corner. I still can’t get the man’s face out of my head. She doesn’t bite, he said. Give her a tickle if you like. Then I went up to Durham to visit Davy and his sister. Another weasel. Another old man, this one dribbling ale from the corner of his mouth. We were on a train. I watched that drop for twenty minutes, until it reached the collar of his shirt. I would have moved, but the train was packed and we were sandwiched in by another man dressed entirely in black and reading an illustrated hardback, Hitler’s Elite. What surprised me about him were his shoes: a soft pair of Clarks boots called Darian Mid. Who thinks up the names of shoes? And would a real Nazi wear Darian Mids? When I got back home, depressed by the depth of cloud that had hung over Durham the whole weekend, I found a row of three dead rats on my garden path and a bunch of freesia in a jug on the kitchen table. And a woman called Jude had moved in.
Come and look at the beautiful grey bunny, this big fat dopey one here, that’s right, this one, this bunny rabbit, all fluffy and cuddly and sleepy and waiting for you, you cute little kiddy, yes you right there behind the white fence, that’s right, the plastic one that your dad still thinks is wooden but is about to realise to his holiday horror is in fact plastic, waiting for you to come and stroke her all the way from her twitching pink and grey dappled nose and her irresistible white whiskers to her fluffy tail poking out between her hairy back legs and huge feet with the cutest tufts of hair poking out between her adorable toes. Come on, kiddies, come right up, right here, nice and close, like this little girl is here, that’s right, this one with the blue plastic apron on with the white print announcing to all of us that she is our ASSISTANT! Don’t you worry about those dried tear marks on her cheeks, that was hours ago when she panicked a teeny bit about the giant praying mantis crawling up her arm except it’s not a praying mantis you know kids, it’s something much nastier than that which is why it looks like a piece of bark with claws climbing up her arm slowly slowly but surely towards the side of her neck and, phew, she was trying to let STAFF know but they were so busy spraying down those other kids, LOL LOL that’s what I said kids, with Hygienic Hand Rub that we didn’t notice, no it’s true that we didn’t notice but you must wash down with Hygienic Hand Rub kiddies, after touching the animals especially little Flopsy here because we don’t know what cutsie fluffsie bunny rabbits like this one might do to you, which is why we’ve erected large banners on each of the four sides of the plastic farmer’s fence with the words RUB DOWN USING HYGIENIC HAND RUB AFTER RUBBING THE RABBITS so that no one — no one kiddies not even dadz and mumz — will run home (or hop back to their holes we say at the farm!) with any bunny bugzy wugzeez and it’s why all of our staff have in one hand a cute fluffy big fat dopey bunny and in the other, a bit like the security guard you saw when you came in through the glass doors beside BHS, yes?, a bit like he is holding his gun, yes I’m sure you saw that you cheeky kiddies, just like I know you all want to get your sticky little fingers covered in our hygienic hand rub. I know I know I know I know bunnies and hand rub or hand rub or bunnies or fluffy cutesies or hygienic liquid or fluffy bunny just like on a farm or hygienic liquid or fluffy bunny (a bit like) on a farm or hygienic hand rub or bunny or hand rub or rabbit or hand rub or hand rabbit or run or rabbit or rub or rabbit or rub or rabbit
The slug of saliva sliding down his chin promises more love than I can possibly give. I’m standing before him, a pound coin in my hand. ‘Take it, please. Buy yourself a cup of tea, go on.’ He’s staring up at me, his eyes so wide and wanting, so full of soul, this could be Mark Rylance playing the tramp in Soho Square, dribbling and adoring. He takes the coin, his eyes fixed on mine. His face moves closer. The sound of the tourists’ voices goes fuzzy, a huddle of retired English couples visiting central London, competing with one another for familiarity, irritating a Saturday morning sunbather wearing excruciating shorts. His face comes closer still, his quivering lip glossy and pink, the fleshiest part of his entire body, the rest of which seems to have contracted in these few seconds standing together. Some kind of passion. I’ve taken hold of his hand. I’m squeezing it. His breath warms my neck. ‘Kiss me, will you? Just a kiss?’ The lip relaxes and I can see his teeth. I can hear the hosepipe shooting water into the air. I know I should kiss him. He wants a kiss more than a cup of tea. I hesitate. I think of all the people I have kissed. Why not one more? Go on. Kiss him. I look down at him. I focus on the saliva. The sheen. I hesitate. I think of the angle at which I could move in order to kiss his cheek and avoid his mouth. I move very slightly in that direction. His lip levitates, then moves with me. I shake my head. I tell him, ‘Not today.’ I drop his hand. I tell him to have tea. He looks for my hand, then at the coin in his. I turn and march away. Three men on a bench are watching, one holding a yellow bag full of books. They look to me, then back to the Mark Rylance man. They seem surprised. For the rest of the day, all I can think about is that kiss. I should have kissed him. I should have kissed him. I know I should have kissed him.