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Authors: Diane Awerbuck,Louis Greenberg

The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories

BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
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The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
 
 
Compiled by Diane Awerbuck
Edited by Louis Greenberg
Acknowledgements

Some of these stories have appeared elsewhere in other form. We thank their writers, editors and publishers for allowing their appearance in this anthology.

“Oban Road”:
Prufrock
, Autumn 2013, Volume 1, Issue 1

“Fraans” and “The Embrace”:
This is my land
, 2012, University of the Western Cape

Published in 2013 by Umuzi

an imprint of Random House Struik (Pty) Ltd

Company Reg No 1966/003153/07

First Floor, Wembley Square, Solan Road, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa

PO Box 1144, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa

[email protected]

www.randomstruik.co.za

 

© in the collection held by Umuzi

© in the stories held by the contributors

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or be stored in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.

 

First edition, first printing 2013

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

 

ISBN
978-1-4152-0568-6 (ePub)

ISBN 978-1-4152-569-3 (PDF)

 

Cover design by Charl Edwards

Contents

1. Olivia Walton: In Mozambique

2. Makhosazana Xaba: Talking to Mama Mfundisi

3. Jolyn Phillips: Fraans

4. Lien Botha: Near Marikana

5. Alexander Matthews: In Betty's Bay

6. Sophy Kohler: Roots

7. faith chaza: i won

8. Genna Gardini: Trust Exercises

9. Jennifer Thorpe: Revelations

10. Ilze Hugo: The Ghost-Eater

11. Calvin Scholtz: Mister A

12. Daniel Berti: The Writing Class

13. Nadia Kamies: Chain-Smoking

14. Conrad Kemp: Mnemosyne

15. Tembi Charles: Long Life

16. Brett Petzer: Nimbus

17. Liam Kruger: & Found

18. Michael King: Coming Clean

19. Mia Arderne: The Fool

20. Steven Otter: Fire

21. Werner Pretorius: The Nazi Insurgence Comes to Blairgowrie

22. Bronwen Douman: The Embrace

23. Wanjiru Koinange: All in a Day's Work

24. Dina Segal: Auschwitzland

25. Christopher Kudyahakudadirwe: The Garden of Agony

26. Donald Powers: Oban Road

27. Caitlin Tredoux: In Loving Memory

28. Sandra Hill: By Any Other Name

29. Leila Bloch: Shiva

30. Stephen Symons: The Writing Class

31. Tom Schwarer: Places to Stay

 
In Mozambique
Olivia Walton

 

The town where the boy died is indistinct. Once or twice a week a bakkie comes and people who want to go to the bigger towns and the train climb on and go south. And once or twice a week a boat comes from the islands in the lake. The town has a church and two doctors, both American. The government sends nothing. There are no road signs. We stayed there just one night; on the day we left, he died.

We arrived from one of the islands with no map and so I do not know the name of the town. People told me the name, I am sure, but in the heat and in my desire just to be there and in the blur of all the towns and all the people, I have forgotten it. We came across the lake from Malawi where the towns were dense and loud. This town in Mozambique was not like that.

Our motorbike is clogged with dust and on the ferry from Malawi to the island men inspect it and cluck in disapproval. This is a land of motorbikes, light ones that are never left to rust. I try to explain to one man that we have been moving fast, see, not staying long in places, we haven't had time to clean it. He reaches across and grips my shoulder, smiling. His other hand he places on the seat of the bike.

–
Yes, man, he says. Maybe so, but a machine like this? Forget about it too long, my friend, and au, au, au.

I nod. My girlfriend nods. We needn't say anything; that we are in mild disgrace is clear enough. We pass around a bottle of water as the sun sets on the other side, over the place we left behind. From the top deck of the ferry we see the lights of the fishing boats begin to appear all along the surface of the water. As the sky darkens and the stars come out, the lines between the lake and the hills and the heavens disappear and we are left, moving slowly through a field of suspended white gold.

The man with the motorbike advice has gone down to the lower decks to sleep among the crowds. On camping mattresses beneath kikoys we lie down. We have more space around us than we have had during months of sleeping in tents and on narrow beds made of wood and sinew. My girlfriend takes a picture of me and I take one of her: the flash is so bright, all you can really see of us is dirty hair and our two pairs of eyes.

 

*

 

By noon the next day we reach Likoma Island. Already from the water we can see the baobabs. The motorbike is lowered into a boat and rowed ashore with us balanced next to it. Crates and sacks are packed in around it and beneath us. People balance on the sides of the boat. It is a pretty day. There is no real town in the cove where the ferry stops, only a small shop selling milky tea and bread, and women selling tomatoes and onions and the tiny silver fish that are all the lake seems able to offer. There is a big Land Rover branded with the name of a luxury camp that we know is on the south-eastern edge of the island. A German family sits in the back, all tall and brown and dressed in linen. Except the teenage daughters: they wear denim shorts and pearl earrings. One of them went to the same Cape Town school as my girlfriend and they all exclaim and talk for a minute. She walks back, kisses me and laughs.

– Too weird, she says. All of it is too weird.

Looking at the truck and the clean-smiling Germans I say, Ja, too weird, hey.

 

We stay there three days, sleeping in our tent on a beach. There are some other people, and a small restaurant, but we spend most afternoons walking to the village to buy food which we cook on a fire behind our tent. But mostly, we swim. The water there is not like water everywhere else in the world. It is some other substance. The dirt that is poured into it daily by the towns on its sides just disappears somehow, is turned into white sand and sunlight so that, looking at the bottom twenty metres below you, you can see the tiny fish build their pyramid homes and you can see the shadows made by the shells and pebbles that they cast out.

 

*

 

– Do you think it will rain?

She looks at the horizon. We are in the water, waist deep.

– Yes.

– Our tent will get wet.

– And we'll have to eat peanuts for supper.

– And whiskey. Peanuts and whiskey, oh woe!

She laughs and sinks down until just her eyes are above the water. I put my hands on her head and dive over her. Out far away from the shore, I stop. The water and the air are silent and I try not to move, the better to feel myself dissolve.

 

That night we sit on the beach and watch the lightning. In the darkness the wind moves and the water makes its noises. Everything waits. Then between water and cloud there is a bolt – impossible to know the source – and all that lay around us jumps for one mercurial instant into view, and the great clouds are a cavern of purple and white and beneath them the lake takes in what they throw at it. The rain approaches. And really it is all only ever a memory; it was a thing too fast to see, a thing pressed onto your eyelids and into your chest but impossible to look at.

 

– No wonder there were no boats out today.

– The fishermen must know when a storm is coming.

– There was that one man, by himself.

– I saw him. He was paddling toward the other end of the island. Wonder where he went.

I stand and rinse my hands of sand and go back to the tent but she stays there a while, feet in the water and arms spread in the living air. When she crawls in next to me she pulls off her dress and my jeans without speaking.

 

The day after the storm we catch a boat to Mozambique, to the town whose name I cannot remember.

 

*

 

There are bullet holes in the walls of the houses. There are bullet holes in the unpainted church. The town stands naked, with bare roads and bare houses, and a bare market spread thinly with tomatoes, onions and small purple bananas. An American doctor and his girlfriend, who we met on Likoma, offer us the banda of the other doctor, an older woman, who is away. But first, we must be recorded by the immigration officer. So we walk through a broken gate into a scratched garden and stand in front of the building there – the office. No one appears. The doctor walks off to find the man. His girlfriend shifts on her feet.

– He's amazing, I mean, really close with the locals. My Portuguese isn't so good but he's fluent. They love him. She shifts again and doesn't look up.

– How long have you been here? asks my girlfriend. She sounds placatory, gentle, like a girl to a younger sister with a broken toy horse.

– About six months now. We have to go to Likoma every three months when my visa runs out to get a Malawian stamp and then a new visa back on the Mozambican side.

She looks off toward the town. My girlfriend watches her. Later she says to me, Jesus, that girl is lonely. He has something to do here, and all she has is him.

The doctor returns.

– He was just taking his midday bath. He'll be here soon.

The immigration officer is short and does not speak much. He only smiles. He smiles as though we are all old friends. As he comes toward us, he buttons a khaki shirt over his vest and then unlocks his office. It is a small room with a fold-out wooden counter and a pile of ledgers in leather binding. Behind the immigration officer, a calendar hangs.

He puts his hands on the counter, and beams.

– Passaporta.

We hand them over. My girlfriend turns to the ledgers and opens the first page of the last one.

– Hey, this is from 1960. These have been here fifty years.

– Through the war and everything?

– Must be. It's all written here, everyone who's ever come through here.

Us too, now, I think as I watch her.

As he stamps our passports, the immigration officer eyes the ledger sideways, the way a dog eyes a person who is too close to the gate. She notices.

– Sorry, sorry. Pardon.

He beams again. Then he picks up a pen and enters our names into the newest of the books: slowly, and in cursive writing. Our passports are handed back to us after we give him the right number of dollars.

– Obrigado, obrigado, he says, squinting at us and folding his hands.

 

*

 

– You swim?

The boy looks at me. He shifts his weight so that, squatting, he sinks deeper into the sand. We are on the edge of the water at dusk. I don't know the Portuguese for swim.

– Swim? This time I point to the water and paddle my arms around.

His eyes grow wider and he smiles.

– Sim. The voice is small. Tu?

– Sim. Eo gosto.

He nods and is silent. We turn back to the water. After a minute he taps my knee and points up the shore to where reeds stand thick in the water.

– Crocodilos. No swim.

He opens his eyes as wide as they can go and pulls his lips back with his fingers. He gnashes his small white teeth at me and gurgles in his throat and I start to laugh and so does he. Then he is up and sprinting, shouting at me to follow. At the doorway to the doctor's banda, he stops short.

– Doutor.

– Ola, amigo. Como vai?

– Bom, doutor. Doutor?

– Sim, amigo.

The boy speaks to the doctor, pointing at me and at the lake, talking fast and with a furrowed brow. Finished, he clasps his hands and looks at me, pleased.

– He says to tell you that he is the fastest swimmer and can see underwater. He is not as big as his brothers, he says, but they are still not as fast as him. But even so, he wants me to warn you not to swim at night because at night even he cannot see where the crocodiles are, and he worries that you or your senhora will be eaten.

– I see. Will you tell him that I won't swim tonight but will wait until the sun comes up, and then perhaps we can swim together so that I am protected?

The doctor nods, smiling, looking like the Jesus in the
Children's Illustrated Bible,
or like the cover of a sixties folk album at least. He speaks to the boy. When he is done, the boy nods too. I squat next to him.

BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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