The sun’s light crawled over the green hills as they burst into Sasha’s room, hurling each other onto bed. Sex was nothing new for either of them, and for Sizwe rarely was it a memorable experience. Yet that morning with a stranger, under the glow of sunrise and whistling of birds, he experienced pleasure he thought incapable of ever feeling. No love or substantial intimacy existed between them, their bond was undoubtedly shallow and still, over and over again, their minds and bodies plunged into ecstasy.
Sipping a cup of coffee while passively listening to an Aretha Franklin record, Sizwe was grateful. He had been rattled and shook from a long and heavy sleep. The blood whirling in his veins, every muscle in his bod, the crackling synapses in his brain, and hairs on his skin – he seemed to sense the world with a new awareness, immersed in all around him with a childlike fascination. Here and now, with her body next to his, the sun bright, his coffee sweet, his heart content and the music good, he is unaware of past or present. He is not afraid of the death which awaits all nor in denial of the past which cannot be escaped. For a moment, none of it matters.
He knew he wasn’t the only one to experience the long sleep. Going through each day doing what must be done; the assumptions and assertions of everyday facing no opposition. Again and again life moving to the same monotonous melody. But how can anyone expect every day to be new? How can each second, all those minutes and plenty hours stacked on top of each other like bricks in an endless skyscraper, be made extraordinary? Maybe, Sizwe thought, staring into his coffee, this belief demands too much of our lives. Out of all the days he had lived so far, he remembered only a sad few, his mind bloated by painful memories and the rest ordinary. Perhaps the time had come for him to accept, confront and bear it, that is, the mundane quality of his life. The unremarkable and ordinary nature of all of our lives.
“Good afternoon”, Sasha awoke, hair ruffled and eyes drowsy but still a pleasure to be next to. Yawning she asked, “What’s the plan lad?”
“Do whatever feels good I guess. Late breakfast?”
After their meal they showered and neither wanted to leave the room. Sasha rolled a joint and put on an Etta James record. All windows shut, curtains drawn and lights switched off, their lungs soaking in the herb while they conversed in darkness.
“Doesn’t this shit get to you? Etta James that is. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, top shelf stuff but yoh! Her songs are sad”. Sizwe hadn’t smoked in years and so the joint’s potency was threefold. A soothing heat sat in his chest, joints tingling and face turning into mush. When she spoke her voice came from distant hills.
“I can’t listen to it all the time but when I do it’s a good reminder that love isn’t all the fun we think it is. A lot of it will hurt”
“Doesn’t seem worth the effort”
“Don’t get it twisted. Like yeah, trying to be with someone else in a meaningful way, it’s a struggle but it’s definitely worth it”
“How? Just looks like a ploy by evolution. Once all that rush is gone, all those chemicals flowing through your brain, once that’s gone, then what huh? A shit divorce or an even worse life of compromise in a shit marriage”
“Well aren’t you an angst ridden young man” she laughed.
“Fuck off, you know it’s true” he could not help laughing along.
“I don’t think that’s what love is. It’s not a feeling, feelings are so…temporary and flimsy. It isn’t a series of happy experiences, each one better than the other. Don’t get it twisted, that evolution stuff is legit. But we’re more than just another animal”
“You sure? Cause it looks like all we are is a decaying collection of blood, meat and bone”
“I’m serious. We’re always being told that we’re special. If it isn’t Zeus, Yahweh or Allah then its mom and dad. That we were created in someone’s special image. That there’s some essence that makes us better than our pets or the food we eat. Shit, all I see are a bunch of smart apes walking around in good clothing”
Again there it was. That discomforting discovery of what we hold sacred and indisputably true to be irreconcilable with what we see in the lives we live. One of Sizwe’s favourite pass times as a child was reading the stories of the bible. Old or new testament, he read in reverence of what humans of, flesh and bone just like him, could achieve. Men and women who displayed courage, love and compassion in the battles against evil. Evil had never troubled him too much. It poured into this world from other realms, outside of what he could comprehend. Evil was alien to man whereas good inherent in human character. This inherent goodness consoled him growing up as he witnessed the repugnant actions of those around him. These thoughts lost their hold on him eventually. He could not protect his eyes from the brutality of the world.
The closeness of evil is what corroded the strength of his Christian sentiments. Men who hit their wives and fiercely beat their children were his neighbours. Adults who had sex with children, he knew a few, some of whom he referred to as Aunt and Uncle. Friends who grew up to become impassionate murderers. Family friends who exploited the poor without shame or regret; acquaintances who fondled and fucked the unconscious bodies of girls at house parties and the heads of school governing bodies who let them get away with it. He did not want to even try and contemplate the suffering millions out there who he would never know.
And now he thought evil was not inherent in men but neither was good. They could not fall into the world from heaven or be dug out from the pits of hell. He knew and with this knowledge accepted a certain anxiety into his everyday life that we are responsible for all we see around us. The injustices of the world cast and cut by our actions. There is no one to punish the evil, no one to redeem the wrongdoers or save the innocent.
She laughed, “You’re such a cynical dude. I don’t think such a dim view of the world is healthy”
“The truth isn’t meant to make us happy…or sad for that matter, it just is, you know?”
“Truth huh?” she said this with a hint of mockery, “Big claims you’re making so early in the morning”
The room shook under the weight of their wild laughter.
“Wanna go to the Cube? Let’s go to the Cube! Half priced tequila and a not so bad DJ?”
She heard the cheer of his smile and they were off. The club was no more than a five minute walk from the B&B. They took a short cut suggested by Sasha through a narrow passageway. Still nicely coming off his high, Sizwe felt at rest. No longer did he have doubts, reservation or fear. He knew what had to be done going forward; returning to Gauteng he would take a year off to think and hopefully live, perhaps in the process begin recreating himself. He knew that upon his return home there would be arguments, resentful accusations and hurtful words. This did not weaken his resolve to finally take responsibility for himself.
Coming out of the narrow alleyway and into a fairly silent street, Sasha tripped over a lifeless bird.
“Poor thing” she looked tempted to pick up the creature and nestle it in her hands. Sizwe was glad, realising the pity on her face was no longer directed towards him and never would be again. Lone footsteps approached, echoing towards them from the narrow passageway.
It slid out of the stranger’s sleeve with practiced ease. He twirled it in his hands, his nimble fingers dancing with the knife. The blade itself was immaculate in its sharpness, long and thin as paper and obviously polished with care. The knife seized the shine of the moonlight; Sasha and Sizwe now stood stiff before a torch of white fire on that dark, damp street. Sasha’s scream was hoarse, nearly a whisper, strangled by fear and her face bright with uncertainty as her body shrunk and trembled. The man before them was silent, playing with the knife in one hand and gesturing for their wallets and cellular phones with the other. The man looked unfazed by the terror on the faces of his current targets, indifferent to what he was about to do. His skin worn out like old leather and little flesh around his bones, eyes a cocktail of red and yellow.
First there was fear, then profound sadness and finally resignation to what followed. The man’s eyes, previously calm with indifference, grew impatient and now desperate. Sizwe barely noticed the change, his mind had gone numb in the past 15 seconds. He blinked, eye lids sliding open to the sound of flesh ripping and stomach punctured. His body dragged him down onto the pavement, it was cold and rough against the skin on his face. Blood stained his cardigan and jeans. His mother wouldn’t appreciate the stain, he recalled how hard she worked to knit it for his 18th birthday. The blood did not gush out of him, it slowly oozed, thick and hot in the cold air, giving off thin streams of steam. Breathing was hard, mouth clogged with blood as his heart sprinted and his body seemed to weigh a thousand tons.
Memories of life did not flash before his eyes. He didn’t have any final epic epiphanies or heavenly revelations. As he died there was only a growing puddle of blood and crippling pain. Rain began to fall, cooling his body. His sight grew dim and he saw three foggy figures running towards him from across the street. Looking up he saw her face, still beautiful, and behind it the moon and beyond the moon, there it was; that black sea, endless and stretching out into forever. Closing his eyes and taking his final breath, he dived into its depths.