I’ve mentioned in a previous post that my partner Gilly is an amateur writer like me, although he prefers short stories. You can find his previous piece here. He wrote this piece about his home country of South Africa for a university assignment but I feel that is worth more than just a uni assessment. Therefore, I give you ‘Sunset on Africa’
‘Afrika’, there is no other word that dances across the tongue, that has such a profound effect of immense yearning from the bottom of my being. ‘Afrika’ a mystically enticing, oft deceptively beguiling land. Like a rose with the coalescing majesty of a setting sun, such beauty that some would want to hold close to one’s body, embracing it in such way as you would embrace those that mean the most. Where one finds solace in embracing gleefully, such beauty. It is the fear of the rose’s thorns that protrude from its body, a bite so deep, that causes the weary to keep a comforting distance, all the while soaking in this Garden, this Jewel, this Eden, my home.
For many years, my family have tended to the land of ‘Doornhoek’, Pietermaritzburg Natal in Southern Africa, a modest holding where many of the fruits of the land are brought to the markets, so that many may enjoy the sweetened possibilities that come as a reward from the labours of a few. As it is for many farmers who still work and wrestle with this land, we are descendants of those few Dutch settlers who ventured from the old world of Europe. To embrace and immerse themselves into somewhere so undeniably alien to themselves, but intrinsically magical in its splendour. They believed that their homeland of Europe was somewhere that they disconnected themselves from the hardships of the time that was 16th Century Europe, to become something utterly disjointed of this heritage. They laid their eyes upon Africa, so enraptured by the land that they came to call themselves ‘Afrikaners’, Africans.
My Father Jacobus, whom I referred to as the ‘The Captain’, such was his commanding presence that the need for a title seemed appropriate. Tough as the land that he grew up on, misleadingly gentle in appearance, but under that docile, polite exterior rests the spirit of a wildfire, a spirit that is very much the characteristic that, throughout its time in the annals of history, are attributed to the many people and animals that inhabit the land. The Captain was proud, and to the people who visit, oft blunt but good-natured man. He was a person who was close to the land, his life sculpted by the demanding nature of his close surroundings. Where it be the back-breaking work as a farmer, or more commonly referred to as a ‘Boer’, he was, at times, offensively stubborn with his outlook on life. A product of a life, filled with the constant challenges that come with living in ‘Afrika’. Where it be a lover, lost to ravages of disease, or to an engulfing sense of loneliness left inside oneself when loosing much in war. A war, where the freedom of choice was stripped away from him. A freedom of opportunity stolen from many of the brothers he had held as his family, now lost forever.
To him, the aspirations of those that wish to inspire, through the work of more unorthodox means, that being, art. To ‘The Captain’ art, music, poetry and photography, are hobbies, not suitable for undertaking the hardship that ‘Afrika’ presents.
“Ja, my bokkie, your family haven’t come to this land to gave so much for you to draw pictures, or make kak out of junk you find around the farm” he said, not unkindly but with that familiar commanding tone that barks for no challenge. At this I said meekly, in a tone that I prayed wouldn’t evoke reprisal “But, what I do, is what I love doing”, causing my father to grunt softly, transfixing his large green eyes, flecked with the softest hints of brown, and then leaving the room. I never understood why ‘The Captain’ held such a contempt for the artistic side of life. Walking out of the house into the cool African evening, hoping the soft kisses of the air may stifle the fire of youth, and rebellion that often erupts from people. Whom feel as though a family member disapproves of someone they feel so deeply for. “Kak” I mutter under my breath, so that I may exhaust my infinite frustration of being denied a passion for one of labour.
While walking I immerse myself in the grips of the African night, walking further and further away from our home. Replaying inside my head the number of points I would have made, weren’t it for my deeply held respect for ‘The Captain’. The outcome was always the same, no matter how much passion I may demonstrate for the life I wish to live, almost Shakespearean in the level of emotion I place in my words. These moments dance inside my head, whilst walking the long road down the farm, the soft soil between my feet, the wind softly tugging at my hair, as though pulling me away to some place that I may express to those who would listen to the passions I hold.
One moment, I hold closest, bitter in that the outcome being ‘The Captain’ demonstrating that his stubbornness was impressive and infinitely frustrating. “History is not made Boy, by people just making pictures, they’re made on the backs of the hardworking, to carry on with the scars on his hands.” He said booming his voice and creating a series of hand gestures, ironically making it almost theatrical in nature.
It is this moment, I realised through the lens of resentment and untampered anger that this moment would fuel my passion further.
I returned home, the amount of time passed since my departure from the house being untracked and of little concern to me. I found my way to my bedroom through the inky blackness of the house, quiet as a mouse as to not force ‘The Captain’ awake, though I find he very regularly doesn’t sleep, and should he do so, it is brief and it is light. I pull the blankets up to myself staring at the roof of my room, the fires that burnt so hotly before, fading, causing me to become exhausted with the effort of being angry. My eyes shut, I begin to drift, I drift into a series of familiar flashes. Almost like clockwork, I find myself as a young child with a person whose face I cannot recognise, in my dream, they’re all but featureless in appearance say for its shape. A slim frame and long smoky grey hair covers their shoulders. I found myself finger painting with this apparition, this featureless body. The colours of the paint are vivid in my mind, all but the grey figure seated next to me, though only resting at the corner of my eyes, I find myself comforted in the presence of this figure, urging me on with the paintings be it crudely made, but colourful, vibrant, shimmering off the page. All the while under the watchful gaze of this mass of grey, its bare features providing a familiar comfort to me.
Then as sudden as a summer storm, I am dazed and conscious, ripped from the vivid colours, the shimmering body of the featureless women dissipating as I am torn from the vibrant swirl of smoky grey and colours into the inky blackness of my room. The sensation of being watched, ripples through the darkness of my room, bearing down on me with such intensity that I feel as if the night alone coiled itself around me.
I turn my head slowly to where my door is, standing there is a short stout figure cloaked in the dark, drenched in the blackness that I could only make out a soft silhouette. Staring, ever staring the mass of night softly moving with each breath. Bang! a sudden brilliance of light and sound roar across the hall, making the shape come alive, his face ever smiling, ever staring, begins to shout. I cannot understand what is being said, as the night once again embraces the staring figure shrouding him. I do not move, I dare not to, fear holds me in place, running its frozen grip sinking itself deep. I close my eyes again, in a vain attempt to convince myself this is all but a fevered nightmare. Crash! Shot open by the sudden sound, my eyes dart to my doorway expecting the figure to be still there, ever staring, but in its place, a soft orange glow. The fingers of smoke, all too familiar to me in my dreams, at first, I welcomed the possibility of seeing the featureless slim frame with the smoky hair to appear, as if I was still asleep.
“Fire”, I heard myself whimper, the crashing realisation weighing in. I rose out of my bed slowly, ever cautious, fearing the figure would return like some nightmarish creature waiting patiently in some corner of the house. As I step out of my room, the smoke was ever thicker, the deeper in venture “CAPTAIN!”, I screamed, trying to mimic the booming presence that my father commanded only to be answered with the commanding roar of fire.
“Dad” I whimper to myself again, frantically spying for ‘The Captain’, nowhere to be found. Despite the waves of heat washing over my body, I am still gripped in fear, still cold. “Outside? Inside?” Frantically, I began to search, holding my hands close, to the inferno engulfing everything greedily, white pain shot through my hands. Through fire, and the flames, I spy something, two large, green eyes with the softest hints of brown, staring outward, into nothing and at nothing. “No”, I whimper again, laying there.
‘The Captain’, his form engulfed by the persistent licking flames around, all but his eyes, gone.
I run out of the house, into the once comforting coolness of the air wrapping itself around me. I run down the dirt road, where I once used to calm the fires of my passion. Turning around, I see the entire house, surrounded by the dancing colour of orange like a setting sun. I stare, tears running down my face, silently, I stare.
‘Afrika’, its dangers, hidden beneath layers of enticing beauty, the coalescing majesty of a setting sun, its thorns sinking deep. It’s scars forever present.
NB: Photo is courtesy of Wikipedia