At Durban airport, a man with a cell phone at Departures, says: “Evaluate whether on current rand strength, he could get a better price.” A woman looks intensely at her boarding pass, curling her toes in her black running shoes. Swazi Express Flight 197 has landed. I notice the dandruff on my shirt, and what looks like bite marks on my hand. The sound of plane engines comes through the glass doors. High-heeled shoes click, as airhostesses walk past a kiosk, selling rugby shirts. Sunday, the World Cup starts. I sigh. Passengers laugh. Will it be cold at Jan Smuts? I ask myself. I read a big poster against corruption
At Jan Smuts airport, I walk with heavy hand baggage, and my boarding pass in my hand, through the redesigned International Departure Area, looking for gate four. I find a place to sit on the first level. Everything is carpeted and new with the swirl of footsteps, voices, ringing cell phones, ventilation and the escalator. On the other side of me, a man reads a book called Baby, and I see another man with a bald head and a goatee, and a passenger carries two glasses of beer. I chew my d-worm tablet as unobtrusively as possible. A tired pilot makes his way to some destination. Two lovers are too tired to kiss. People look at me, while writing this. Is writing a private act? I smile. I have forgotten Luisa. That of course is a paradox, because through saying it, I remember her. I see another bald head with a goatee and hand baggage and running shoes, looking as though he is on his way to the gym.
There is such a vast difference between a thought, and writing a thought. The gap between them can never be bridged. Maybe writing is thinking, while the stuff going on in the head is an awareness, which can never fully come to words, awareness like a hum of sounds and noise. I look up, and see a Muslim woman with glasses, peering from behind a black veil. Then I hear the boarding call, and see people queuing to board. I overhear two passengers in the queue “Dan is going to the Sudan tomorrow… will probably be beheaded.” It is a long queue, while passports are checked again. I walk down the zig zag passage, to the plane door, and find my way to my seat. “This gentleman is on my seat” I hear, and a finger points at me, while the flight attendant addresses me in Greek.
I move to seat 21 D, and take In Motion, the Olympic Airways magazine, from the seat, and read an article on the myth of Orpheus, meeting Eurydice in a forest, and being left only with her memory. When everyone is seated, the three seats next to me are still unoccupied. This is the first time I will be able to sleep, stretched out on a plane. A man comes, and lays his four-year old son down on the last two seats on the other side. Each seat has a TV, and they provide earphones, but no sound is coming through. On the menu is chicken and fish. I want fish, but they give me chicken. The lady, on the opposite side of the aisle, wants chicken, but she gets fish. To the air hostess, obviously, chicken means fish. The chicken is delicious though. I drink orange juice and a beer. On the TV, The Mummy is showing: A corpse tries to reconstruct itself, and is involved in a struggle for life with an invading American cowboy. When the lights go out, I stretch my legs, slumber in and wake up, when I feel a fart escape my body. I think, I hear myself mumble “Sorry”, but everybody on the plane is in dreamland. We wake up at about three in the morning, and are served breakfast.
Check-through at passport control, at Düsseldorf airport, went smoothly, but picking up my baggage not. To my surprise, my big bag came through allright, but Luisa’s small one did not make it. A number of other passengers waited with me in vain for the baggage to appear on the conveyor belt. In nervous despair we approached airport personnel, who referred us to a cluttered office on the other side of the hall, where the baggage numbers were checked, typed into the computers, and utterances such as “these things happen” made. In the mean time, I was nervous about Gerhard waiting outside for me, and I asked the baggage man to phone, and make an announcement over the intercom for Prof. Reich to go to the information counter. Then I described all identifiable marks and features of the lost bag, and left for the information desk, but no Gerhard was present. The airport was stampeding full, despite being twelve o’clock at night. I made my way through the crowds, and eventually, found the short Prof. Freud and his fiery-headed daughter and not Prof. Reich.
We took the dark highway with its heavy trucks, cruising through the night to Essen, and they dropped me at the monastic Kulturtwissenschaftliche Institut (in short the KWI). The building seemed asleep, with little rabbits and hedgehogs crawling in the dewy grass under a big oak tree.
In my room everything is clinically clean. There are no cockroaches. The weather fluctuates between drizzling rain and a gray overcast. Next to the Kulturwissenschaftliche Institut, a new building is going up with hammer blows and drills, day and night, week and weekend.
After doing some translation in the morning, I slept and dreamt. I dreamt of a family break up, with my mother in tears in a car, and with a happy sad feeling in myself, and then I’m in a cinema with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike – I’ve been seeing too many blondes lately – trying to get rid of her panties on stage, with cops preventing her, until she comes and sits in a chair in front of me, and I masturbate her with my big toe. I woke up with a healthy erection.
I went to the toilet with an itching arse – worms have been pestering me for the last few days. Then I went to town, walking past the Royal Brothel, with big black-and-white photographs of its blonde prostitutes in the windows and some red roses. I’ve never seen anyone go in or out of the place. I walk past the Sahara Restaurant, specializing in North African and Middle Eastern food, and down the Ruttenscheider Strasse. One of the windows attracts me, every time I pass it. It’s an art gallery with some very serene, but disturbing paintings, visible through the glass windows: paintings in a classical mode, but with expressionist themes: disturbed inwardlooking self-portraits, freaks of nature, a dwarf with a massive penis, being medically studied, a man eating a cunt, a man standing with a beheaded double face on a silver tray.
Across the road is McDonalds, and it is the only busy place in town. I order a royal burger, a big Coke and salty chips, and go and sit by myself.
My feet, legs and hips are fatigued, after wandering through the labyrinths of the Folkwang Art Gallery. I’ve lost my innocence; I can no longer be impressed by these constructs of historical progression, with a lady in a uniform, in every hall, demanding to see my 8dm-entrance ticket. Because of my heavy coat, but also because I’m alone, and possibly the smell of irreverence coming from my body, they seem to be very suspicious of me, probably suspecting me of planning to walk out with a Van Gogh, an Ensor or a Nolde, under my coat? I wondered whether I am looking too closely at the icons of the modern imagination.
Out again, fresh air and wet roads, oak leaves on the sidewalk and a snail without its shell.
One never sees people in the streets, or even in the institution where I live. I sometimes hear footsteps, and imagine a beautiful blonde German girl in the apartment next door embracing in the shower, and I whisper through the walls.
I think the Americans have managed to make guilt a commodity on a global scale. Actually, what am I talking about? Who are these Americans, I refer to? Then, the German professor talks of the wrongs of the Germans during the Second World War, and his search for answers, and we are doing it across a table with cheeses and tea, and his wife with four volumes, containing the history of the small town of Gesene. She’s shows me all the houses of her youth, which were flattened by bombs. The questions come to my mind: “What is the ethical difference between Hiroshima and Auschwitch? What is the difference between the stereotypical Nazi German and patriotic American?” Is it the fact that the atom bomb impersonally wiped out a million, leaving only ashes, as against the untidy killing in the gas chambers. They show me a photograph of a mansion, which was inhabited by a Jewish family, and the German Professor’s wife tells of her poor schoolmate, whose family moved in there, inheriting the Persian carpets, statues and antique furniture, and I make a remark about affirmative action in South Africa.
It was a day of ghosts, and even my own past as a conscientious objector returned to me. Do I feel relieved of my guilt? Or am I dogged by guilt, because I did not do my part in the fight for the future of my people? My people? What is that? I think of my father and my mother, and all the ties of terror between us, and their selfless sacrifices on behalf of their children.
Then we went to a 10th-century church, where they discovered paintings below the plaster of Protestantism. Back at the tea table, they show me a picture of the wall around Gesene with the towers, where the witches were kept before being burned a few centuries ago.
The German professor is looking for answers, trying to determine the identity of his father, who disappeared in the Second World War during the retreat from the Eastern frontier. He has a constant thoughtful frown, while he voices the anecdotes.
The country has lost its past. It has no parents. Bombs flattened the architecture of a period. The museums celebrate the modern. There are no more prostitutes in the streets. The underground is meticulously on time.
I have a slimy feeling in the arse.
The professor’s mother married his father, two weeks before he was drafted into the army, and then the war broke out. “And imagine she must have seen him only intermittently during the war.”
“So,” I ask him, “Can you really blame them for not wanting to admit that it was wrong. They sacrificed everything. How can they admit it was all in vain?”
The professor met a prisoner-of-war uncle for the first time in 1956. He met him at the station, a toothless skeleton embracing the living, repulsive in his smell and presence in the prison uniform. This is what was left of Nazism.
The professor is sixty years old now, and he is still looking for answers from an absent father, who went missing at the end of the war. Europe has its war scars fifty years after the event, and after the continent has changed unrecognizably.
I’m on a train in the underground. The reflection of a woman at the door of the train, steps into the train. She doubles. Her double does not know her. Her double does not have a memory. Is there any memory left in this conforming world?
Klaus, the owner of the little private art gallery, is a vampire, and I get, for the first time, the feeling that this is where the real Europe is happening, and he invites me for coffee. My own eyes are sunken into black sockets. His teeth are all rotting in his mouth and his eyes bloody, and he has a well-kept beard, and wears a polo-neck black shirt. A beautiful middle-aged blonde sits, with her legs crossed, and her wrinkles add to her beauty, while she observes the entrance of the idiot from Africa. We speak about the decay of Africa.
I woke up nearly every hour during the night to take a piss. I finished a two-litre bottle of Coke, last night, with two bunches of grapes and a roasted chicken. At seven, I took the rubbish to the common kitchen, where I found an old lady who gestured with her hands. I follow her to a room, where she hands me a big plastic bag into which I empty the rubbish, and then she points me to the big rubbish bins at the gates of the KWI. From there, I made my way to the Ruttenscheider Stern, going down the escalator just where the vampire’s gallery is. Far down the platform, in the distant tube, I see an old beggar lady. What was she begging for? Not money? Drinks? Or sex? Fuck knows, I could not understand, just saw her finger pointing to the exit of the station, and heard her muttering the word “drincke”. I’m on my way to Cambridge.
At Essen station, I find my way to platform 2, and get on one of the earlier trains to Köln with the uneasy feeling, that I might have trouble with the conductor. The seats are all leather, and it must be an express train. Indeed the conductor came along, a slim blonde in a black uniform and with cold blue eyes. I show her my ticket, while she keeps on mumbling in German. I explain that I don’t understand German.
“Have you reserved a ticket for this train?”
“The nine o’clock one”
“You must pay an extra 7dm.”
I don’t argue, just meekly accept, and ask in the tone of the repentant guilty “It does stop at Cologne?”
In the end, the train enters Cologne over a bridge, crossing the Rhine, with many pleasure boats moored. Due to repair works, and scaffolding everywhere, I cannot take the concrete steps to the main station. I find my way to another stairway, and immediately walk to platform nine, open my bag, and check my ticket for details of the next train. Then I see that I still have an hour to wander around. First, I looked for a post office, and sent a postcard to Luisa. I changed my leftover Dutch Guilders for pounds. I get 35 pounds. Not bad, I think. Then I looked for a coffee shop, with a clock. In time, I found an Italian coffee bar, and order an ordinary coffee, and then sit down on one of the stools. A man with a shaven head and a thin cigarette come and sit on the opposite side. I open my notebook, and write all this useless information down with Spanish music in the background. The sound of English is more common in Cologne.
At Cambridge, I hear the voice of Jenny, waking her two sons for breakfast. “Leon, Leon; are you two up, come on down, please” The windows are steamed up from the winter cold outside. I had an early morning shit. Relieved myself, and felt relieved. I heard suburban traffic noise coming from the outside.
Last night, I read my novel-in-the-making to the wide-eyed writing class of Andy, Jenny’s husband. I was so tired, I stumbled across my words. I read it at Norwich University, a huge agricultural university, about seventy miles outside Cambridge. Jenny and I hastened to the university through the darkness on a typical rural highway. A student asked me, whether I don’t feel I have exploited the women in the story.
“Yes, off course, but I’m not a moral person, and I have never pretended to be one. Literature that is moral is boring.”
“Morality is the mother of genocide,” I thought by myself. Who was exploiting whom? Mbali me, or me Mbali? Who could objectively determine that question?
Two giggling students are the organizers of the Literary Society. Afterwards, students came up to me with a confession to make: they also write.
Returning in the middle of the night, Jenny showed me the 15th Century buildings, the Church and the University of Cambridge. Very nicely preserved, one has the feeling that it should have sunk a few feet into the earth’s memory by now.
A nosing dog, with a wagging tail, comes to greet me as I’m writing this:
Europe is in scaffolding.
Old professors’ hunch-
Back through the cobbled streets.
A retard on a bicycle
Wriggles her spastic fingers
Into black woolen gloves.
The insane speak on imaginary cell phones.
Andy came out in his nightgown and his stocky pale legs to see me off at the car. Jenny drops me at Cambridge station. I’m on the train to Waterloo Station, where I will catch the Eurostar to Utrecht. I sit at a Mcdonald’s at Waterloo. A short lady from Africa in a thick fur coat, high-heeled shoes and thick golden chains pushes a trolley. Ultimately, I board. The hostess’ eyes stare intently at the computer screen.
The train passes the huge white chimneys of London’s nineteenth-century power plant. The train is going through a dark tunnel, with reflecting windows, and the incessant knocking sound of the rotating wheels. People come, and go to the toilet. When we emerge from the tunnel, I see the flat Belgian landscape with little towns around church towers. I imagine two big fat naked men, coming through the coaches; their balls hanging like medals from their crotches. They are only the conductors with their pink arses.
The conductor comes around, and tells me that I’m in the first class section, and must move to other coaches behind the dining room. I do this. But sit down at the wrong place again, and he chases me again, until I reach the recognizable economy class. For a few seconds, I consider the concept “class”. I find myself in a smoking compartment, while I booked a seat in a non-smoking area.
At Utrecht, I’m met by Grieta of the South African Centre. She pushes a bicycle, while we exchange bits of news about common friends on the way to the hotel, where I will be staying the night. That evening, we have dinner with Prof. Uyttersprot, the leading figure in comparative literature in the world. He has a tall aristocratic bearing, with a grin of brownish teeth in a wrinkled face and blonde hair. He was a diplomat in Vietnam, and tells of a novel he wrote about a man smuggling western culture into Vietnam in a brief case. It consists of long scenes of torture and philosophical interrogation and sexual innuendos. We eat tomato soup, and duck, and red wine. The South African Centre is in a cramped little building with narrow stairways. The people inside are in search of a new meaning to their lives, since the collapse of Apartheid. We walk through the streets of Utrecht to the University. Around the table, the postgraduate students sit. I deliver a paper on the “Terror of Reason”.
I’m back in Essen, on Sunday morning, with church bells and a bright blue sky. I make an egg for breakfast. Last night I went out to the Krosskultur Restaurant with an American scholar, Mary Shannon, from the apartment next to me. It was a pleasant evening. We talked about my book and experiences in Durban. Returning to the KWI, Mary sat for a few hours in my room, and we drank a beer, and spoke, and spoke. She elaborated on her mixed ancestry, her strange relationship with blacks and being black. She is lesbian, and has very long telephone conversations with her white girl friend in the United States. Their relationship is marked with intrigues. Her beloved is a shy and reserved computer scientist, while she is outgoing and talkative.
I place the coins, which collected in my purse, in little piles, one on top of another. I found Mary in the passage way at about 10h30, and asked her to come for a walk in this park I heard about somewhere. We walked through the many streets of Ruttenscheider, and drank Irish coffees together at a sidewalk cafe with a bee investigating one of the sugar cubes, and I told anecdotes of cockroaches eating people’s toes at night in Rio. From there we walked, trying to find a restaurant serving food.
We eventually entered a cellar type of restaurant, with heavy wooden roof beams, and ordered the menu of the day: vegetable soup, chicken with cream and tomato, desert, and coffee, and we spoke, and spoke. My eyes followed her dark black eyes, and like all Americans, she spoke a lot, and we mentioned that America needs a revolution, to transcend its race hatred, but the revolutionary spirit is no longer alive, and I said, it needs love and lots of love, but I do not know what love is, but I know it can make a difference. She is tall, and I’m aware of her breasts. She has quite a big upper-body, and a strangely attractive face. I’m thinking of a bear, and I feel like saying, “come and lie in my arms tonight.” Walking back to the KWI, I had this terrible discomforting pain in the arse, while church bells were heard again.
During the Monday morning, I went to Essen University, where most of the professors were at lectures. I went down to the cafeteria, reading Mofolo’s Traveler to the East, and studying the outlines of the faces of female students, until the professors arrived, catching me, and proclaim to the whole cafeteria: “So Johan you are looking at the cherries.” Yes, well what could I say? We returned to the office, and I had a call from Bielefeld, and I made final arrangements for my trip there.
Then we went to a Greek restaurant, joking about Greek food: the two German professors and me – the tall one and the short one. The tall one has a dark moustache, glasses and a frown. The short one is gray, slightly bald with glasses. Two of their rustic colleagues joined us.
When we returned to the offices, I was invited to join them at a colloquium with students about the Thatcher years. In a lecture venue, about forty students were arranged around a table, with the two professors in front: the short one with his glasses in his hand, standing, and the tall one, with his pink cheeks flushing, sitting. They prompted the students with questions relating to the compiled photocopied reader, initiating them into the evils of the Thatcher epoch: the rationalizing away of the humanities and trade unions, and the good life, and how could the British allow this to happen, and a deep meditative frown, and the fresh students with their fresh bodies making nice-sounding and agreeable answers, and all the worms crawled out of my arse, because I had Ouzo at lunch.
Next morning, I walked through the streets of Essen with Mary. We directed ourselves to the Dali exhibition in an old factory. It was 30dm to get in. The exhibition consisted mainly of sculptures and prints. Dali was obsessed with the Bible; saw himself as the Moses of paranoiac sexuality. I bought a watch of melting time. It needs a battery, though. Time needs a battery, the battery of the imagination. Somewhere in the city, we could get a battery for an extra ten marks. At 2h30, I’m waiting for the two German professors at the cafe of the Folkwang Gallery. I had a normal cup of coffee, when Erik, in a raincoat, arrived, red in the face from the cold, and we started to plan exchanges for the next year. And after what must have been a very short faculty meeting, Gerhard arrived with a red nose and a twinkle in the eyes, and he had a beer, and then we went for a walk in the park, admiring the sculptures of geometrically healthy young German women. In a restaurant, in the park, we had more beers, discussing the contradictions of the Thatcher years, those terrible years and those terrible policies, but trying to understand the boom that came about as a consequence of that fascism, and how to present a lecture which would bring about the creative intelligence of the students, and on the path a troop of German children, heavily clothed against the cold, approached with their teachers, and I remarked that it is remarkable that there are still children in this society, and then the discussion focused on population growth, and concerns about German purity, and then we made our way to the Krosskultur Restaurant, because it was my turn to show my deep appreciation for them making my visit to Europe possible, and I ordered an Australian Dodo, and they had some other dishes, and we were hoping for the waitress, with the breasts, peeping above the rim of her dress, to arrive.
The Australian Dodo that night sparked a dream-return to my student years, and the anguish about the submission of a philosophical essay about withdrawal, being outlawed, a return to nature and the rejection of reason. The lecturers in my dream comment that they like it, but what are the implications for me, when I reject writing, which is the voice of reason?
The weather is chirpy, as they say, and, with red ears, I’m looking for the ticket reservation office. Everything automatic is very frustrating. Finally, I find the office, and address the red headed lady behind the counter in English. I have an hour to wander around Essen station. I found myself a stool in a coffee bar, and order coffee and a croissant. I keep the receipts for everything. Then wander around again, with the eye on the clock, always. I went through the bookshop, eyeing the semi-pornographic covers, and then come to stand at the entrance of a shop, selling all types of things to needy travelers: from Rooibos tea to Ouzo. I decide to go in, and buy a bottle of Ouzo. I call one of the shop assistants to come and help me. The cashier does not know the price, and discovers that he overcharged me with about six marks. Then I go to the sweet shop, and I buy a 100g of Belgische Pralisher for Agnes. With 30 minutes still available, I go up to the platform into the cold. My eyes are icy. Across the rail, there is the humming noise of hundreds of children with scarves around their necks. The woman sitting next to me talks non-stop to her husband, while the cold is also creeping up my legs, and I’m thinking about the shit waiting for me back home in South Africa in about a week’s time, when the arriving train screeches next to the platform.
There is always confusion on a German train. I bought myself a ticket to Bielefeld, assuming that, that also meant that I reserved my seat, only to find out on the overfull train that seats are reserved, and I had to walk from coach to coach to find an unreserved seat. There is comforting warmth in the train.
I get off at Bielefeld to meet the smiling Agnes, who never wears make-up. She is a natural person, and we take the bus to the laboratory school, attached to the Bielefeld University. There are no dividing walls in the school, due to a policy of transparency. The school was established in the radical period of the 1970s, when the Baader-Meinhoff gang was active. A wall of photographs of bearded and baldheaded professors and hairy-legged women tells the story. Apparently in the early years they all lived together in a commune. We go into the cafeteria full of students, some with the latest punk hairstyles. We drink coffee and talk about the way they do things. Then we go to a class: a viewing of an episode from the television series Shaka Zulu, and a discussion on the reliability of the depiction. After that we hasten to a venue, where I’m to present a paper on the history of the Centre for the Study of Southern African Literature and Languages. The place is full, with some students sitting on the floor. I slowly read my paper, trying to look up every now and again. After the talk students came up to me. Many were born or lived in South Africa or Namibia. One could speak Nama. Another’s father was retrenched due to affirmative action, and he wants an opinion confirmed that South Africa is worse than six years ago, and that the crime is really bad. After that, Agnes and me take a tram into the city, and walk for some distance to her flat, looking at some of the architecture from the manufacturing revolution of the previous century.
I meet Agnes’s partner, the learned factory worker, Hegel, unshaved with glasses. He still has all his hair, shy smile, and wears a jersey. He wrote some articles in a local awareness journal. He was retrenched from the factory, while doing trade union work, and now he cannot find a job.
We walk up to the castle. His grandfather built the tower, and he shows me the well, which is a hidden entrance to the subterranean barracks of the soldiers. I can imagine in an emergency, the soldiers appearing from the well in their armor. An aristocrat is walking his dog for a shit in the park. When we return to the house, we find it in scaffolding.
I’m back at the KWI in Essen on Saturday afternoon, and I treat my bleeding arse by drinking a lot of Ouzo.
I hear the rustling of leaves, while the darkness of my closed eyes turns to sleep.
That evening Mary and I are walking through the glistening dark and empty streets, looking for a nightclub or a place to dance. We are too early for most. Behind one of the doors, we hear music. A man with a bushy handle-bar moustache, opens the door and takes our coats, and states that we have to spend at least 15dm each. We order beers, listen to the techno music, and speculate that it is a gay bar. The barman, with a clean-face, a white shirt with braces and tie, is thin. For about 30 minutes, we are the only people in the club. We decide to improvise our own bit of dancing. Bored we leave, and move to the Prince Bar nearby. At the Prince Bar, a few middle-aged German prostitutes are sitting around, with a few men from Africa. Some are dancing to soul and reggae music.
Back in my apartment, I tried to shit in order to rid myself of the tickle in my arse, and pissed away the beer and coffee and wine and orange and pineapple juice. Then I drank some Ouzo.
Cars go through wet streets: the noise with which my mind wakes up to a new day. I’ve been sleeping the whole day. I’m trying to recover. The clouds are clearing again. The Ouzo seems to be killing the worms. The telephone did not ring once. I have a slight headache from sleeping too much.
A lone man hammers at a pipe through the night.
I woke up to the noise of building. I opened the curtains, and saw the sun shining. With my remaining German Marks, I went first to the shop where they sell art materials, and bought canvasses and a water-paint block. At the supermarket, I bought some ingredients for the soup, I intend making for Mary and myself in the evening: A packet of chopped vegetables, four tomatoes and four chicken wings. Then I took the road back to the KWI. I translated a bit, read a bit, slept and woke up at about 15h00.
Mary caught me off guard with some chocolate in my mouth. I invited her in, and set the table for beer and soup, and we chatted about her day and my day.
The next morning, I woke up with blisters in my mouth, and the sound of footsteps down the passage. It must be the 26th today. I hear the sound of electronic saws and spades scraping concrete and church bells. I’ll be visiting the vampire’s gallery. It is only five past nine now. Mary is really talkative. I think it is an American thing. Being with other people was physical pain during this visit. Worms ate me from the inside, blisters, farts, sore feet. Did I find real meaning, though? I could feel the thickening of the blood, last night: the blisters, the stiffening of the neck, and I thought that maybe I should make an end to it all. The Ouzo is burning my tongue. Maybe every visitor after me to this room will inherit the worms. I put the leftover soup in the fridge. The wind is playing lightly with the curtains. The art deco mirror reflects in a dark bathroom. I’m thinking about my leaving on Saturday. I’m thinking of the weight of the things I’ll take back.
As I entered the Vampire’s Gallery, his dog smelled Africa and started barking. The vampire was on the telephone, and on the table is a Der Spiegel with Hitler’s face on the cover. I page through some of the books on exhibition in the window, mostly of deformed and tortured people. I have to count my marks carefully. I put aside some of the books. We greet, and it takes him some time to remember me from the previous visit. Then we started on the economy of Africa, and the artist from Rumania, he is currently exhibiting: His paintings are crusted paint in the form of dark church bells on the canvases. We were looking at the people, looking from the outside at his books exhibited in the window, when I asked him “Do the paintings in the shop not disturb some of the passers-by, especially the occult element in much of the work?” and he tells of the trouble he had last year, when there was an outrage during one of his exhibitions. It was an exhibition by a woman painter, who specializes in painting people who committed suicide or died violently. It was seen as being pornographic. He shows me a book of her work. She draws and paints on cardboard and glued-on bandages. “How much is it?” I ask. My last 40dm go. After some coffee, another human being entered the gallery, and the telephone rang at the same time. I greeted the vampire, and left with my newly acquired books. It is strange how teeth are prominent in a vampire.
At the entrance to the underground, there is always a gathering of bums. While walking to the KWI, I took my pen out of my pocket, and wrote that wisdom is reason without an institution.
Miserliness overcomes me in my loneliness. I went to buy some pepperoni at the supermarket for my spaghetti. Outside at the vegetable stand was a beggar boy, who addressed me in German, and I replied in English, making it clear that I don’t know what he wants. His whole face speaks. It is a feat in inhumanity to say no to a child beggar in a society like Germany. I put some grapes from the vegetable stand in a plastic bag, and then moved inside the shop, and bought some Christmas chocolates. On my way back to the KWI, I passed roadwork on the sidewalk, crossed the museum lawn covered in autumn leaves and one deserted ballet shoe.
The spaghetti is bubbling in a pot of water.
My tongue is burnt, and I’m full.
I slept, I translated. I waited. I’m killing time, and listen to the sounds of the city: cars on wet roads, the engine of a motorbike, an airplane. I see dishes in the washing basin, bread in a parcel, clothes on hangers, sandals, and imagine outside the oak leaves on the lawn and the parked cars. I’m waiting. I’m killing time. We are going out tonight. We are going to joke, to laugh, to hurt feelings, maybe, and have silence enveloping the noise of life. I hear some life in the passage way, a door clicking. These are my last days in Europe, in ‘civilization’.
At five in the morning, I woke up from a dream. We were traveling through the Free State landscape of my youth; we went past a farm and a farmhouse on the hill where my grandparents used to live. The main house is renovated in white. It used to be pink. It looks like an unrecognizably rich double storey mansion with a front balcony… It is a place where I used to play in the veldt, and in the ruins of the mud houses of the farm laborers, my grand father demolished. I remarked how cheap the place was, and how expensive it is now. My father says that it is only the facade that betrays wealth. The place is basically falling apart. Looking at the back of the house, we find broken windows, rusty corrugated iron covering the windows. My father breaks into the house, and my mother follows. Then I see the owner, a stranger, sneaking up to them. I warn them. They worm back, and have to flee for their lives. They are eventually trapped underneath a car, with the owner shooting at my father as he lies on the floor.
In the morning, I showered and washed my arse and drank some Ouzo. I put on my pajamas, looked at the time. Tomorrow there will be no toilet paper. I look at the art deco mirror in the bathroom, and I’m thinking nothing… thinking is immaterial words… tickling arse… Tomorrow I will pay my bill… I will look at the receptionist with my wallet in my hand… I finished the Ouzo. Knocking on doors in the passage… Could it be Mary…I hear sounds of cars on wet roads.
I walked with Mary to Porsche Platz, where she had a hair cut at the Afro hairdresser, and I had one at the East European barber, with a big moustache and braces, just around the corner. My darkened sockets in the wall mirror shocked me. This is the first time that my mother is not cutting my hair.
Last night I went with the professor to an avant-garde performance of Don Quixote based on an interesting reversal: Western Reason is portrayed as Don Quixote, chivalrous reason.
I was one of the first people to book my baggage through to Johannesburg. I watched the artwork in the cafeteria of Düsseldorf Airport. It is a number of framed black and white photographs of two naked women running in a field.
A man is sleeping with a pipe in his mouth, in a sitting position at one of the tables.
On the flight, I watch, through the window, the horizon red above dark land and cloud masses. The cold drinks start to shake around on the trolley during an air pocket, and. then meal service is discontinued.