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African Renaissance

In the big night

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“What are you running away from? I’m sad too, you know. Leaving behind the only world that I’ve ever known. Scooter’s the name by the way,” said a thickset guy who had bagged himself a window seat. His muscles showed through his Sunday shirt.

There was an awkward pause before the response came.

“The woman I love doesn’t love me. We’re distant cousins. She wants to become a nun as a matter of fact.” There was another pause. “And Hulk’s the name”.

Hulk wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He was thinking of the great-uncle he had just buried, so, he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

“Is she beautiful, or is she a plain Jane, ordinary, or a choir-singing church girl?” Scooter prodded seemingly oblivious to Hulk’s antics.

Hulk shifted in his seat. “Of course, she’s beautiful.She can dance, she can sing, she does needlepoint, and she is a staunch Catholic who attends Mass like clockwork.” Hulk threw a curious glance at his questioner, a hint of interest brewing up in him. Women were a tricky subject for him. All his previous love attempts had been just that—attempts. Perhaps if there was anything he could talk about, it was that. Share his woes with this petulant stranger he was meeting for the first time in his life.

“You do know that there are only two ways we’re going home, right?We go home alive or dead,”Scooter paused as if to allow the message sink in. “We either go back as heroes, or dismal failures at protecting our country. At protecting the innocent men, women, and children of our country.” There was another pause. It’s not just our lives on the line here.”

“Soldier boy, we’re in the army now. What are you running away from?”Hulk scowled dismissively, the spark of interest beginning to fade.

Scooter turned to look at the other young people in the bus who had just finished high school as if to see if someone had been listening in on their conversation.

“In my own case, I’m running away from boring Sundays. Church on Sundays. There was never anything nice to eat at home, you know.I‘m running away from poverty, from being classed as being from a different race.”Scooter was speaking casually like he hadn’t noticed the Hulk’s disinterest.

Hulk sighed.

“Can you believe this class system? They want to call you white, or black, or brown, or Hottentot, or native.” Scooter was not looking at anyone in particular as he spoke. His head kept moving from the window to a face, back to the window, to Hulk, back to the window.

“I’m thinking of my mother. She cleans churches for a living. She cried when I left in my uniform. She told me, between sobs, that I looked good and handsome in it. She just stood there in the doorway of my bedroom sobbing into one of my father’s handkerchiefs.”A nostalgic smile was beginning to develop at the edges of Scooter’s lips. He paused to gaze out of the window again at the night sky.

“I believe in Kingdom Come. I’m Catholic. Was an altar boy. My whole life is the church. After the war, I’m going to Italy. I’m going to become a priest. Even though I know it will break my mother’s heart.” Hulk blurted outin a melancholic, almost remorseful, tone. Something about Scooter’s monologue had stirred up the nostalgia in him.

The bus was quiet now. The incessant chatter had all but disappeared. Everyone was lost in their own world. Most of them were thinking of the start of basic training in Cape Town. Scooter turned to look at him, the hint of a smile still on his face. He didn’t appear surprised at all that the his hitherto disinterested neighbour had responded to his speech. Then he began his rotation again—this time even slower and more methodical— from the window, to Hulk, to a random face and back to the window.

“I think of my dad, and my brothers when I read the Book of Job,”he said. “My eldest brother sells vetkoek on the golf course on weekends. Dad was a barman on a Friday and Saturday night.”He had a faraway look on his face as he spoke, like he wasn’t really seeing anyone as his head turned from one face to the other, and back to the window.

“I believe in roast chicken. The pleasures of trifle.” A mocking voice came from the back of the bus.

“I believe in the innocence of roast potatoes.” Chorused another.

“That one means business. Come sit here. Tell me all about your sweetheart. I’ve got all the time in the world before we get to Cape Town. I always wanted to go to the Mother-land. And you?” came the mockingvoice from the back of the bus again.

“You’re rolling your eyes at me now. Now you’re shrugging your shoulders. Oh, what’s that rustling sound. I thought it was a chocolate wrapper. Geez, Louise, I’m hungry. I’m starving.” Scooter made his way to the back of the bus with his padkos.

“Smoke?” Hulk asked nobody in particular.

“What did you say there?” came Scooter’s voice like an echo.

“I asked you if you wanted to smoke. I roll my own cigarettes. My old man had a pipe, smoked tobacco. It was really bad for his lungs. He passed. Last year. The cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I wish he were here; you know. Wish he could see me get married. Meet the perfect girl.” Hulk said sadly.

“Boys, listen up here. This is a non-smoking bus.Where is the exit route out of this place?” Scooter said from the safety of the back of the bus.

“I have a girlfriend. I loved how when we went to the beach, for instance, the sunlight would play upon her hair. She set me free. All I just wanted to say was that I never felt like this before, but my cries for help went unanswered, and that in itself is an answer, isn’t it?” said Scooter watching for a reaction on the face of the young man sitting next to him.

“Ah, a poet for all the nations. We have William Shakespeare in our midst. Sir, pray do tell, can you recite sonnets as well as prose for all of us.” Hulk jeered at Scooter.

“Nothing is real anymore. I think about her all the time. I dream about her. And I wonder what she’s doing. I told her not to wait for me.” Scooter continued to his audience of one.

“The stench of war is out there, waiting for you, waiting for me, waiting for all of us.” Nathaniel said softly to himself. “Pay no attention to this riff raff. Ignore this this duffle bag on my shoulder. But my family insisted on me packing some winter and summer clothes, two shirts and a tie in case I meet a member of the opposite sex in Kenya. The uncles insisted.Jones. I’m Nate Jones. Pleased to meet you.” Said Nathaniel with his hand outstretched.

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. The name’s Cato.” Cato mumbled. He reached out his hand. Shook Nathaniel’s hand. Smiled in a friendly manner.

“My Christian name is Nathaniel. Do you have a sweetheart?” said Nathaniel biting his bottom lip, but Cato ignored him.

“So, where are you from soldier boy?” Nathaniel said again, eager to start up conversation.

“A windy city.” Cato mumbled again.

“Does she mean a lot to you?” Nathaniel put his arms behind his head, and whistled.

“Who?” Cato said peevishly, as if he didn’t like where the conversation was heading.

“Your sweetheart. Are you going to write to her?” Nathaniel asked, his eyes glued to a speck of dust on his trousers.

“No.” Cato said glibly.

“The strong and silent type. No crime against that soldier boy. So, you’re here because you want to see the world. Looking for adventure?” Nathaniel answered. Brushing the invisible speck off his pants with his right hand

“You could say that.” Cato mumbled again. “Something along those lines.”

“Don’t talk much. I’m tired. I don’t sleep very well. Wake me up when we get to Cape Town. Just tell me one thing before I doze off. Are you in love with her, is she the love of your life?”Nathaniel’s tone changed. He felt sorry for Cato.

“I’m going to marry her. I want her to be the mother of my children.” Cato said with a certain kind of pride in his voice.

“I’m a tortured soul too.” Nathaniel said looking into the aisle of the bus. Watching guys making their way to empty seats.

“You?” Cato said surprised.

“My girl died. Tell me when the sun is out.” Nathaniel said quietly, closing his eyes.

“Our lives are about to change forever.” Cato said staring out of the window. Watching the world go by.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Nathaniel coughed a little.

“Believe me, the sun will breathe. Leaves will fall to the ground. Another winter has come and gone, and summer is all too beautiful.” Cato said with an otherwise expression in his eyes. He was becoming fond of Nate Jones.

“I bet you the drill sergeantwill say something along these lines. Boys, repeat after me. A soldier breaks all the rules out in the field.” Cato laughed.

“A soldier breaks all the rules but not in my camp. Something funny, sonny?” came Nathaniel’s voice.

“No, sir.” Cato started to play along with Nathaniel. Beginning to enjoy this game.

“A soldier is an actor.” Came Nathaniel’s voice again.

“A soldier is an actor.” Repeated Cato, guffawing and snorting in mock-derision.

“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Nathaniel saluted Cato.

“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Cato saluted Nathaniel back.

“No women? Seriously! Geeze, Louise.” Came Scooter’s voice from the back of the bus.

“No women out there for you, my friend.” Hulk guffawed.

“Hey, you. Hulk, I’m talking to you. You talk now as if we’re old friends. We’re not old friends.” Scooter said indignantly.

“This is a war we’re fighting. We’re not going to a church dance in a church hall.There’s nothing but sand, and more sand, and desert, and more desert where we’re going.” Hulk said unsmiling.

“This is meat and potatoes country out there. Is that what you’re saying?” came Scooter’s comrade’s voice.

“Don’t listen to everything that he says. He might be pulling your leg for all that you know.” Scooter admonished.

“Nobody was speaking to you.” Hulk said in a loud voice.

“You’re very good-looking, handsome even, I must say.” Scooter giggled, feeling slightly foolish, but brave too.

“Like I was saying, there’s no mystery girl out here with red lips, and smelling like perfume. It’s just wilderness.” Said Scooter’s comrade.

“Can’t say the same for you. I think it sounds like paradise. Heaven on earth. No father beating the hell out of you, and your old lady on a Friday, and a Saturday night.” Hulk said choosing his words with care.

“Slow and tender. I like girls with curlers in their hair. Kiss them slow and tender. Hold them in your arms, like this, they go crazy-mad for it. Fall for my line every time.” Scooter said smooching the air.

“The world is about to go to war, and all you can think of is girls. Shame.” Hulk literally spat the words out.

“Shame for you. I can tell you’ve never been kissed.”Scooted laughed out loud.

“Oh, really now. You some kind of fortune-teller?” Hulk said. He crossed his arms across his chest somewhat defensively.

“What are you thinking of, soldier boy? You thinking about a girl that you had to leave far behind. Describe her. Describe her to me, please. Was she the love of your life?” Nate asked Cato, but Cato pretended as if he didn’t hear the question.

“You think they’ll give us all rifles.” Scooter asked with a dumb grin on his face.

“War is not about running around with a gun, and shooting up people.” Hulk said. This statement changed the entire atmosphere on the bus.

“I know that. I was just making a joke. Sorry. Apologies. No need to be so serious. Lighten up.” Scooter said with a helpless look on his face. He began to crack his knuckles in an attempt to lighten the mood somewhat.

“I don’t need you to tell me to lighten up.” Hulk said somewhat aggressively.

“Sorry. Apologies. I thought since we’re all guys here, and everything I’d lighten up the mood.” Scooter shrugged his shoulders. He was a tall fellow. Stooped his shoulders whenever he walked.

“You thought wrong. It’s the principle. There’s a Hitler, and a Mussolini out there hellbent on starting a war.” Nate through his hands up in despair. He shared a look with Cato. They both laughed at this short exchange of words.

“My father was from Saint Helena.” Cato said looking out of the window, momentarily blinking back tears.

“He speaks.” Hulk said with a snigger.

“Saint Helena, where is that exactly? Never heard of it.” Scooter wore an interested look on his face, but pretended as if he had heard it all before.

“It’s an island in the middle of nowhere. Just sea, sea, and more sea for five days until you reach the shores of the Cape, or land, whichever first.” Cato said, as if he was reminiscing about better days.

“There’s no grass where we’re going. Guys, don’t worry about getting grass stains on your uniforms.” Nate commented, smiling broadly at Cato. He had good teeth.

“No grass, you mean like no grass. No grass under my faded shoes.We get a uniform, you say, with boots and all.” Scooter said with surprise in his voice.

“My mother, she couldn’t stop crying. My sisters, they couldn’t stop crying.” Hulk sounded pensive. One minute the centre of attention. Next, withdrawing from the group.

“There’s no wind where we’re going. No mountains, or rivers. Just sentry duty, and driving ambulances, carrying stretchers with young boys who are going to be amputees one day, carrying the lame, the wounded, the sick, and the dead. Putting the dead in body bags. Burying the dead. Marking gravesides with the cross.” Nate said leaning his entire frame into the seat. He pretended to make himself comfortable.

“Soldier boy, anybody ever tell you that you have a lovely personality, you know.” Scooter said wearing a curiously serious look on his face.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

Thoughts From the Frontline

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Photo: Keenan Constance/Unsplash

“Hip/Hop, Trap. I would describe my music as different, unique, compared to what I hear in the music industry in South Africa. It is a different sound of genre based on hip hop. In my downtime I listen to artists like Mexikodro, Playboi Carti, Diego Money, Pyrex Whippa, Lil Gotit and Sahbabii. In my life my family has been and still is a major influence, I just want to see them happy and stress free. I want to be successful so that they can spend the rest of lives living comfortably. I chose music because I believe that it is something I’m good at. I wouldn’t call myself a musical genius, or say that I’m talented musically because I’m not but, I have taken the time to learn everything that I know today, I started as a rapper, but now I am a producer as well, a very good one if I should say, I mix and master vocals, well I try to. It is still something I am learning on a daily basis and I believe that one day if not soon, I will understand that aspect of music. The guys who I record with are so gifted at what they do, we really inspire each other to take it to the next level. I would be lying if I said that I inspire myself, well maybe I do, I don’t know, however what I do know is that we can go to the next level together because nowadays you rarely see a duo or a group of rappers in the South African music industry, there are 4 of us in our group including others who aren’t full time as yet, I think that makes the odds better for us to take it to the next level as opposed to being a solo” SUPREME ZEE, CEO OF Holidae Don’t Stop!

“What inspires me to take it to the next level is basically my daughter, Family and my everyday experiences growing up and living in Westbury losing friends and family to gang violence had a huge effect on me since a young age I’ve been through hell and back if I may describe in short and I’ve realized, to make it out you really need to dig deep. This is also one of the main reasons why I started writing music. I love Music, it is my passion that is mainly why I chose to make music, ever since a young age I’ve just been through the worst writing music and articulating every word I write is therapeutic. Manifesting and having faith in God has carried me through. Major influences in my life remains God, my baby girl, my family and obviously my Team Holidae Dont Stop! We always encourage one another to do our best we definitely do bring out the best in each other and I’d say the beats that supreme Zee creates brings out the best in me personally and it’s also one of the major influences in my music career it’s only elevated since the moment we started. In my down time I listen to All types of music mostly Gospel & HDS. I would describe my music as being one in a million very versatile, real and unusually different from the usual and it has an unorthodox flow and style to it so you can literally expect only the best” TheGR8ACE, CEO and co-founder of Holidae Dont Stop!

My inspiration comes from knowing that I have a God given talent and my friends (HDS) and family that motivates me day to day to do better. I chose music because as a hobby it is something I love doing which started out in high school where I had friends that used to rap over beats and I’d just stand within the circle and listen to their rhymes and it became to amuse me when I found out that there are people in my community creating their own music, whereas in 2019, I linked with the crew Holidae Dont Stop! and it has been a wonderful journey ever since! Learning and growing at the same time. My mother has played a role as one of my biggest inspirations including friends (HDS) have been a major Influence in my life, for they always pushed me to be a better me. Not giving up on me and providing not bad advice but love and positivity. I’ve been in difficult situation in the past and I am just trying to make a better standard of living for my family, my friends as well as my community (Westbury). In my down time I listen to various genres like Rock, Rnb, Hip/Hop, Rap, Emo Rap. I would describe our music as Western Plug for it derives from Hip-hop with an offbeat including 808s and guitar and piano samples that Supreme Zee (Producer) recreates and when hearing the beat, I can automatically put my heart on it.” Bando -recording Artist at Holidae Dont Stop!

 To conclude this, we are all from Johannesburg South Africa as one of our members spread across as far as Cape Town, temporarily. Our member who are not full time are – Leiph Camp (Splaash66) Stock broker, Razaak Benjamin (Glock) Salesman and Marion Reyners (Marion The Great) Facilitator. “Our music is Bold, Iconic and timeless” TheGr8ce. Our crew is based in Jozi (Johannesburg) although we do not have a manager as yet. Our follow up record will sound similar to the “Western Plug tape” that we have recently released, followed by 3 singles. Plug is a genre that derives itself from Hip-Hop and our next single will drop in 2 weeks. The link to our music is on all platforms and the Love and support would be much appreciated. We literally wont stop! –

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African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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