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3

DEMONS, AWAKEN

The Jacaranda City, Pretoria. 2019.

 

Two weeks before my wakening.





What had been accomplished in a night of hard drinking could not be recollected. Probably for the best. My eyes shot open like a pulled trigger and the memories of a night gone were gone with it. Now, in revenge, a hangover stabbed my brain like a switch blade buried deep.

Yolandi, somewhere between her dreams and here, stretched her arm around me and smiled, her eyes still closed.

‘Ho’you feeling?’

‘Horrible,’ I confessed, ‘absolutely fucken horrible.’

To console me, she kissed my stubble, winked, and painfully shuffled to the bathroom where she downed a glass of water as medicine for this feeling. As she walked away from me, naked, I stared: I couldn’t believe that I was with her; nights that lead to mornings like these should never to be forgotten and I smiled through the pain of dehydration.

‘It’s been too long since you’ve had good proper jol, hey?’ she said from the bathroom.

‘Yip.’

‘So how long do you have off now?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I answered.

‘Probably won’t be too long. The world cup’s coming soon and…’

‘Sshhhh.’

‘Oh come on Victor, you know you’re going to be selected,’ she insisted, ‘Everyone is talking about it.’

She was right. Everyone was talking about it — but I was not there yet. I was still not a Springbok.

 

You see, I made rugby look like art they said. Art. Radio compared me to ‘the once great Chester’, called me uncompromising, the ‘Springbok answer to the great Bok slump’, while TV thought I was the remedy to our most nauseating of anxieties: ‘the All Black domination of world rugby’. Others were quick to confirm it: ‘Vilikazi is the largest part of the solution’, a prophecy rumoured to return the southern tip of Africa to the Rugby Gods and only I, like the truest of African sons, could fulfil it because only I had enough colour to do so. Talk about pressure. You see, I, like us all, am somewhere on that spectrum of colour, on that disease of identification that keeps us shackled here, but as I am half white, half black and in that not quite as white as my father and not quite as black as my mother, what colour am I?

‘Fuck knows,’ they said.

Just right they said.

My night was my Pretoria usual, my time spent in the gap between us, between the towers of black and white, knee deep in the crisis of our identity, in the twilight zone of uncertainty that buries us in whispers, in sniggers, pinned to the floor in fits of rainbow anxiety. That is where I spent my night, between white and black booze, between white and black music as it moved my feet to a different beat, between Ubers and the Mini Bus, between howzit and eta, between men who drank the same but pretended they didn’t, between the Hilux and the box shape. That’s where I partied, right slap bang in the middle of what my own colour was — the identity of them and us, everything and nothing.

A party well worth it. Alcohol, as it does, soon flushed the colour from me like old jeans worn well, like a golden Cressida made dull by the incessant beating of the Limpopo sun. Bokaap dissolved into the dullness of Northriding and I quickly degenerated into a drunken, washed-out blur. That’s where the party took me that night, carried by the pursuits of my colourless masculinity as it sought to do what instinct would have it do: To pursue her — the most perfect of them all. Yolandi.

Now there’s another story there, a series of burnt-out clichés all bundled into one. Yolandi was adopted — of course she was — raised by a mom and dad who had tried for so long and so hard to have their own baby that eventually they just stopped trying. So when tiny Yolandi arrived abandoned at the gate of their high-walled, Waterkloof mansion, the blonde angel filled that empty space in their parenting hearts. There, her kiddies parties were celebrated at the blue pool under the February sun and years later, as teenage ones under the February moon. It was a white childhood in all its privilege, in all its fear, locked behind thick bars and tall gates.

That morning, Supersport had its headline.

[From supersport.co.za, Sunday, 14 July 2019]

Vilikazi Vaporises Crusaders

 

Victor Vilikazi was his usual blistering self last night as the number 11 ran two tries past a mesmerised Crusaders’ defence to help win his team’s first Super Rugby title in nine years.

 

The Bulls outfit has relied much on his magic this season as his pace and power proved too much for opponents yet again. The 25-year-old Polokwane prodigy unlocked one of the best defences in this year’s tournament. Bulls boss, Leon Visser, tried to find the words to describe his winger:

 

“I’m not sure [what makes him so special]. Attacking-wise he is awesome. But defensively, he reads the game unlike any wing I have ever coached. Like all great players he has something about him I just can’t put my finger on.”

 

Vilikazi must still wait a week before the Springboks announce their squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup but he is surely a…

I stopped reading. I didn’t like being praised. All the buttering just made the climb harder and I was not there yet. I was still not officially a Springbok.

 

As I came into being that morning, slowly, as things made sense again thanks to a pot of steaming coffee, I finally found the energy to stand. And as I did, I sipped my coffee and perused Yolandi’s wall photos, which thanks to her mother, neatly, and in hipster frames, covered every inch of cream, bedroom wall. Ma en Pa were away at the Kruger, she told me. Good for them. I loved it there. It was just the right type of khaki: Sweet, burnt black with the smell of firewood, the deep breaths of crisp veld air. Even Zamalek, the thought of it vulgar right then, sounded just right at a Kruger braai and I yearned to be there in my hungoverness, there in the solitude of the khaki.

My phone rang and I was pulled from those thoughts.

  • Hey boy.
  • Ja Uncle.
  • Congrats, I saw the game. You were unbelievable.
  • Thanks Uncle.
  • Those Springboks will want your skills boy — and you know what I’m going to say…
  • Then say nothing.
  • Now you listen carefully boy. Do you really want to play for those apartheid bastards? You have no idea what those Boers…

I hung up. Uncle Moses was his predictable self and I wasn’t in the mood for it. Not then.

Yolandi startled me: ‘You okay?’

‘Ja. Never better.’

‘Breakfast?’

Who was this angel? I smiled.

 

It was July — freezing still on the Highveld despite the sun. It rose as it always did that morning, auburn through the dry African bush. With it, it brought renewal — and company and kindness — and I didn’t want to leave, so I didn’t. I stayed put and drew out the morning while Yolandi, with a hum, threw together a life-saver of a breakfast; some eggs, toast, and warmed-up KFC uneaten from last night’s trip home and I, in interest, continued on through her bedroom gallery. Each photo, with pleasure, drew a teasing remark from me, which you would expect when the girl in frame is your favourite. I felt at ease with her, so at ease that without thinking I asked something that was none of my business. My hung over mind was slippery and the question stumbled out before I had time to review it:

‘Do you have any photos of your real parents?’ I asked.

‘Those are my real parents,’ she replied flatly, clearly annoyed by my nosiness.

‘Sorry,’ I regretted, ‘I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant to say… You know… Your birth parents.’

Her claws retracted and she thought for a while before she answered.

‘Ja, I’ve seen a couple of my real mom before, if you can call her that. Not my dad though. They’re somewhere around here. I don’t really care about them but Ma didn’t want to throw them away. She thinks I’ll want them one day, like I’ll regret not having them or some crap like that.’

‘Maybe she’s right.’

‘Maybe.’

After breakfast, we sprawled out together on the lounge floor and she opened a series of old albums to look for them, and as she filtered through the hundreds before we finally found them, we winced and laughed through the morning as new lovers do. It was nice every now and then to trek back through time. How things can change.

Her real mom was a ‘druggie bitch’ — or so goes the story — and abandoned her on a bed of needles with a set of photos pinned to her soggy nappy. So, it was with caution and sensitivity that I removed those photos from the back of an old album when she eventually found them, five of them, frayed around their edges and printed from an old spool, red-eyed and hazy. And there she was, her birth mother, with the same-shaped smile as the girl before me. The photos were marked December 1996, taken almost twenty four years ago on a beach somewhere. Her mother was in a full length blue-flowered costume and she was happy. Little Yolandi was in her arms.

 

There are some extraordinary moments in life that you never forget — you know, those life-changing types. This, however, was not supposed to be one of those moments. I was supposed to glance at those photos and be amazed at how much they look like each other. Certainly, they did. They were almost twins, blonde and pale, their eyes the same rounded blue. Then, I was meant to briefly wonder how it was possible that a mother could slip from that Kodak moment into nothingness, from a loving mother into a druggie bitch. I was to give it some thought, an appropriate amount, nothing more, nothing less. When I was done, I was to carefully return those photos to their dusty album and forget about them forever. I was to politely smile when I did, hug her, and, as destiny would have it, marry her in the years to come. That was how the unforgettable life of a Springbok was meant to play out… Was it not?

No. Not for me. None of those things happened when I removed those photos from the back of that old, dusty album. In fact, my life changed in such a drastic way when I finally saw them that I sometimes wish I had never asked to see them at all but rather died in the weeks that followed like everybody else did. Sometimes, I wish I had never met Yolandi so that life now would be easier for me, easier having never known.

So, as I exist here now a thousand years before any of it even happens, I think about that day and remember the little things that I should have appreciated more, like the not-so insignificant feeling of being on the cusp of the Springboks. Like the sound of her voice, or my uncle’s, or the taste of KFC, or the feeling of waking with a hangover so bad that it made me feel good. Now those are the days that I miss. Those are the days that are gone forever. That is how much those cursed photos changed my life. Curse those photos.

 

It was the scars — the scars on her mother’s body. They were red and clear, etched deep into her pale, pale skin. I brought the first photo of her close to my face and stared at it. Then, I did the same with the next photo and the next, panicking in silence. It couldn’t be, I thought — and with the help of sobering adrenalin, I quickly shuffled to the window in the hope that better light would remove what I could clearly see. But it didn’t. It just made them clearer.

For a moment, I looked up at Yolandi to see if she shared in the same sense of panic that now consumed me but she was quite calm. It seemed that only I knew the truth.

‘These scars on your mother,’ I asked, ‘where are they from?’

‘I don’t know, they must have been the drugs or something,’ she replied casually.

But those were not from the drugs. Those were not scars from any type of drug. I knew it right then and there what they meant and where they were from, and more significantly, I knew who had put them there. I just knew it. And although it was impossible, impossible in every way, it just had to be him. There is no coincidence with such things. There was no coincidence in the evil.

They were as real as the photos in my hand, as real as the hand that held them. Branded on her mother’s arms and above her breasts, burnt deep into her thighs and neck, red and tortured, were a series of haunting scars. But not just any scars. Identical scars as if she, sometime long ago, was burnt with a boiling skewer over and over and over again, brutally tortured by some sick soul who drew satisfaction from her screams, casually, as one does from popping pimples. You know, the release of it, like removing plastic from a new phone screen or the squeezing of bubble wrap — that moan of insignificant satisfaction. As if burning a poor woman’s body was just another day in his sick life and her screams were just the small moments of its enjoyment. Yes, that moan. And I just knew that he had enjoyed it. I was so sure of it that I swallowed spit and held back my gushing guilt for even knowing him.

It was the shape of the scars, you see. They screamed out to me like the angry soul of his parents’ violent deaths, like the unsolved one of his own. It was him, no doubt. He was melted into her and through the scars on her body, he grinned back at me like I had last seen him: Alive and disturbed. He was my brother in blood, the prodigy who became the man he was never meant to be, the boy who was misdirected into hate. His name was Frans Van Vuuren and I just knew that he in some way had done this. His signature, quite literally, was everywhere just as I had seen it last.

The scars were shaped like the Vs of his name, of Van Vuuren, designed by him and for him. Together they resembled the on-looking face and horns of a Springbok, the swastika of his Africa. It’s like the Vs were the essence of him, the essence of his people, the whiteness of them. The Vs were his order and vision, his pull and purpose, a reminder of what he had lost and what he would regain. So, how was it that they came to be burnt to her then? How was it that his symbol was so painfully scarred to a woman that was Yolandi’s mother, a woman that had posed for this very photo while Van Vuuren and I were still just babies?

That, frighteningly, was only part of what seemed an unsolvable puzzle, for Van Vuuren, in all his time-defying presence, had been dead for six years. So how? How on this life-changing morning was he still grinning at me, mad like he was — and how on this life-changing morning was he alive in the depths of this story, in the depths of the history that made us all?

 

The Demons.

What had been accomplished in a night of hard drinking could not be recollected. Probably for the best. My eyes shot open like a pulled trigger and inside them, screaming, were the ghosts of our South African past, white and black, sick and twisted, and like history always said they would be, spitting blood.

 

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Episode I | The Beginning and the End
South Africa is destroyed in a nuclear attack. Everyone is dead. Everyone except Victor Vilikazi.
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Episode I. Chapter 3 | Demons, Awaken
When Victor awakens, all seems normal except for the scars. Come, the demons.
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Episode I. Chapter 4 | Brother in Blood
Victor and Frans were once brothers - but all that is left now is blood. Blood and khaki.
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Episode I. Chapter 5 | Mommy Damned
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