Authors: Nadine Gordimer
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Daniel has the gun. Taken it for himself.
Her lips moved with the words formed but not spoken. She looked a long time at the closed eyelids.
The mists of the night left a vivid freshness that dispels the sickly ammoniacal odour of fowl droppings, the fetid cloying of old thatch, the stinks of rotting garbage—rags, the jaw-bone of a calf, scaly with big glistening flies—that collect wherever the rains have hollowed the ground between huts. Women put out the lengths of cotton they wrap themselves and their babies in. A clear strong sun sweetens the fusty cloth. It glosses the grass roofs and the mud walls change under it to golden ochre; the stuff of which these houses were made is alive. At this moment in its span, its seasons, the village coincides with the generic moment of the photographer’s village, seen from afar, its circles encircled by the landscape, held in the pantheistic hand, the single community of man-and-nature-in-Africa reproduced by skilled photogravure processes in Holland or Switzerland.
Nyiko has appeared early in the doorway. Her tender curls sift sunlight, one pink-soled foot hooks round a tiny black ankle as she waits for her friend Gina. The little girls smile and don’t speak before the others; their friendship is too deep and secret for that.
The two boys squeeze the scrapings of the mealie-meal pot into dirty balls and bait the hooks they make out of ends of wire scavenged or stolen from the broken diamond-mesh, itself scavenged, that wraps someone’s fowl-cage. They murmur in the harmony of their absorption. They jump up to ask July, who is re-stacking the sheaves of thatching grass their father threw aside, if he has (ah please man July) some string? He goes away and brings a length of real plastic fishing-line bobbing a spiral from his hand. Over there, where the three stand together, Royce does (still) his little boy’s dance of excitement; and Victor—
Victor is seen to clap his hands, sticky with mealie-
, softly, gravely together and bob obeisance, receiving the gift with cupped palms.
At once the boys race back. You can count the beads of spinal vertebrae bent over their handiwork. Later, they pull their father from the hut and make him go fishing with their following troupe of children and babies. Red and yellow weaver-birds they disturb mass in shrill joy and flower briefly at the tips of tall grasses too slender for support.
On such a morning, lucky to be alive.
At about midday (from the height of the sun and the quiet of the bush—her watch was broken) Maureen Smales, who is alone at the hut although not alone in the settlement, no one was ever alone there—feels some change in the fabric of subconsciously identified sounds and movements that make the silence. There is a distant chuddering as of air being packed in waves of resistance against its own density. Up in the sky, yes. She is sewing the burst seam on one of her sons’ shorts, good, hard-wearing stuff from Woolworths, they were never got up in smart American-style leisure clothes bought for the sons of wealthy whites, or the bourgeois outfits of miniature gentlemen the poor blacks wasted money on.
The sound is not the fairly familiar one of a troop-carrier or reconnaissance plane passing. She sticks the needle like a brooch through the pants and stands to gaze. The usual cloud, lying early in wait in the west to bring rain in the afternoon, has drawn a blind over the morning, fuming with suffused sun. The chuddering grows behind it, her eyes try to follow her ears. A racket of blows that shakes the sky circles and comes down at her head—the whole village is out, now, poised in its occupations or its idleness, cringing beneath the hoverer, there is even some sort of cheer, probably from children. A high ringing is produced in her ears, her body in its rib-cage is thudded with deafening vibration, invaded by a force pumping, jigging in its monstrous orgasm—the helicopter has sprung through the hot brilliant cloud just above them all, its landing gear like spread legs, battling the air with whirling scythes.
They shriek, all of them; a woman races past Maureen laughing in terror, the baby on her back rocked amok. The whoop of their voices curves; the thrilling and terrifying thing has at once ducked up out of sight again, raising itself into the cloud. Under its belly, under the beating wings of its noise, she must have screwed up her eyes: she could not have said what colour it was, what markings it had, whether it holds saviours or murderers; and—even if she were to have identified the markings—for whom.
July’s people run all around her. The dropsical one, shuffled from his stool, balanced on the two pillars of his useless legs, is holding his knob-kerrie against the sky in a warrior’s homage or defiance. Martha’s stance, one hand challenging dourly on her hip, is recognizable in the crowd. They are exhilarated rather than frightened; they have seen aircraft before, but never so close—the fright was more stirringly entertaining than the voice of the amplifier.
Above yells, exclamations, discussions and laughter, she follows the scudding of the engine up there behind cloud. She is following now with a sense made up of all senses. She sees the helicopter once again, a tiny dervish dangling out of cover towards the bush. It lifts once more into cloud, makes another circle of sound-waves out of sight. And then its rutting racket changes level; slows; putters.
She did not see it land, but she knows where it is. Nothing is different in the look of the bush, it is as always when her gaze flows with it, retreating before its own horizon. But she knows what it has taken in; in what direction and area the shuddering of the air has died away.
She has folded the half-sewn shorts carefully, the habit of respecting the tidiness of cupboards, and hesitating when she enters the hut, places them on the bed. Apparently not satisfied with the shorts’ appearance, her palm smooths them in a forgotten caress. Then she stands for a moment while fear climbs her hand-over-hand to throttle, hold her.
She walks out of the hut. The pace quickens, stalks past the stack of thatch and the wattle fowl-cage, jolts down the incline, leaps stones, breaks into another rhythm. She is running through the elephant grass, dodging the slaps of branches, stooping through thickets of thorn. She is running to the river and she hears them, the man’s voice and the voices of children speaking English somewhere to the left. But she makes straight for the ford, and pulling off her shoes balances and jumps from boulder to boulder, and when there are no more boulders does as she has seen done, moves out into the water like some member of a baptismal sect to be born again, and when the water rises to her waist, holds her arms (the shoes in one hand) high for balance while her thighs push swags of water before them. The water is tepid and brown and smells strongly of earth. It seems tilted; the sense of gravity has wavered. She is righted, suddenly come through onto the shallows of the other side and has clambered the cage of roots let down into the mud by the huge fig-tree, landmark of the bank she has never crossed to before. Her wet feet work into the shoes and she runs. A humpbacked scrub cow blunders away from the path she made for herself as she blundered upon it. She runs. She can hear the laboured muttering putter very clearly in the attentive silence of the bush around and ahead: the engine not switched off but idling, there. The real fantasies of the bush delude more inventively than the romantic forests of Grimm and Disney. The smell of boiled potatoes (from a vine indistinguishable to her from others) promises a kitchen, a house just the other side of the next tree. There are patches where airy knob-thorn trees stand free of under-growth and the grass and orderly clumps of Barberton daisies and drifts of nemesia belong to the artful nature of a public park. She runs: trusting herself with all the suppressed trust of a lifetime, alert, like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their lone survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility. She can still hear the beat, beyond those trees and those, and she runs towards it. She runs.
Nadine Gordimer’s many novels include
The Lying Days
(her first novel),
, joint winner of the
Burger’s Daughter, My Son’s Story
None to Accompany Me, The House Gun, The Pickup
Get a Life.
Her collections of short stories include
Something Out There, Jump, Loot
and was most recently
the editor of the short story collection,
In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
She lives in South Africa.
The Lying Days / A World of Strangers / Occasion for Loving
The Late Bourgeois World / A Guest of Honour
The Conservationist / Burger’s Daughter / July’s People
A Sport of Nature / My Son’s Story / None to Accompany Me
The House Gun / The Pickup / Get a Life / No Time Like the Present
The Soft Voice of the Serpent / Six Feet of the Country
Friday’s Footprint / Not for Publication
A Soldier’s Embrace / Something Out There
Jump / Loot / Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black / Life Times
The Black Interpreters / On the Mines (
with David Goldblatt
Lifetimes under Apartheid (
with David Goldblatt
The Essential Gesture — Writing, Politics and Places (
edited by Stephen Clingman
Writing and Being
Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century
Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954–2008
First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd 1981
Copyright © 1981 by Nadine Gordimer
This electronic edition published 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (including without limitation electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc,
50 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3DP
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Grateful acknowledgement is made to International Publishing Company
and Lawrence & Wishart Ltd for permission to reprint a quotation from
Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci
, edited and
translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith
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