FICTION: A child of the violent world

BY CHIMEZIE CHIKA

Before it happened, I had the premonition of it. In my dreams, I was always sinking into pools and pools of red matter. Or, maybe, it was the heat: I felt hemmed in, asphyxiated. During those amber-tinted weeks before the examinations began, the sun that beat down on the university seemed to take on a desert-like intensity, so that people began to wonder whether they were in the north. The heat was not just external; inside me, something burned daily and the ashes accumulated. So every morning, after waking up, I would put on my canvas shoes and race to Control from the front gate of Imo State University.

It seemed the right thing to do—running. Each time, as the sights—Rockview Hotel, Douglas, Amajeke, Warehouse, Assumpta Maria Cathedral—whizzed past, I felt a gradual cooling in my system. But now, I don’t think I feel that way.

Continue reading “FICTION: A child of the violent world”

FICTION: Empty Dreams

BY OKAFOR EMMANUEL TOCHUKWU

I have empty dreams when I sleep.

Describe an empty dream.

In my empty dream, I am in a pitch dark room. And everywhere is dead silent.

Do you have these dreams each time you sleep?

No, Doctor. Only when a death is about to happen.

A death? Like the death of your fiancée?

Yes, Doctor. And many other deaths.

Tell me about these other deaths.

#

When I was a child, my father had a close friend who lived two houses away. He is older than my father, I think. People called him Papa Eze, after his last child, Eze. Papa Eze had four girls before Eze. He was a man to be trifled with at meetings and other public gatherings. He was shunned not to speak because he had, as it were before the arrival of Eze, only female children. So, many people laughed and even snapped at him and said things like, “When you become a man, then you can contribute your opinions,” and “Real men father boys.” I was only about seven at that time, naïve and unknowing. But Papa Eze was quite popular for his girls. Even the wind whistling down the street knew of his predicament.

Eze was born the day my father got a new job offer at a construction company. And to everyone’s surprise, my father was more ecstatic about Eze’s birth than Eze’s father. Papa Eze invited the whole street to celebrate his new joy as though he could foot the bills. But my father supported him like he was his backbone. The men who once tagged Papa Eze a woman bought drinks for him and many yards of wrapper for his wife. As a child, I felt happy to have found a new playmate, never minding that he was seven years younger. I hated that I had to play tente or hide-and-seek with Nkiru, Eze’s sister. She patted her hair a lot and drawled her sentences. Boys at my school would laugh at me and call me a girl and tell me that I would end up like Papa Eze, but did I have any other choice? My father would not let me hang around with the boys on my street. Papa Eze’s girls were strong enough to play football with or any other sort of childish play, he said.

The night before Eze died, I had an empty dream. In the dream I was in a quiet dark room. I can’t really say if it’s the same room I still enter in my dreams. Or whether it is a room at all. It was velvety black. Like a dark screen was placed over my eyes. I walked round and round. Still, darkness. I tried to sit on the floor and wait for something to happen. But there was no floor. There are no floors in my empty dreams. Only thick layers of more darkness underneath. Perhaps, I should scream. Nothing escaped my mouth. It was like being in a vacuum, and the vacuum tightening itself on you, on your soul, except that you breathed and every other thing was normal.

Early the following morning, just before sunrise, there were loud knocks on our front door. It was Papa Eze. I stood behind the threadbare linen curtains of our living room, watching. Papa Eze kept on saying, “Onwugo. He’s dead.” He bit his lip, hid his face in his hands and sobbed. My father looked at him, a heavy mistiness, almost grave, danced in his big eyes. That same dark look he had when Big Sammy — my uncle nnukwu — fell from a palm tree and broke both legs.

Eze died in his sleep a week after his welcome celebration. I never found out the cause of his death. Nobody talked about it. In fact, at the age of seven, I didn’t know what death was.

#

Having empty dreams does not make you the cause of anyone’s death.

But they do, Doctor. Like I could have done something in such dreams.

Dreams can be mysterious, however, they mean nothing.

Nothing? Even when a death happens in consequence?

Yes. Dreams are true. They are personal experiences playing into the subconscious. But what they mean, if they have any meaning, isn’t what we think they mean.

Wait, Doctor. There is more.

#

My family moved to Lagos after Eze’s death. In Lagos, things were different. My father started his new job at the construction company and, just after three months of work, he bought a new car. I remember that the car — a bright, blue Mazda — gleamed in morning light after cleaning. And the windows, glassy and lustrous, shone and reflected people and walls and things. My father also brought a houseboy, Bonaventure, from the village. Bonaventure did all the house chores. He was a very shy boy who went about his duties with noiseless efforts. Because my two siblings were at a boarding school, my father let him sleep in one of the rooms of our three-bedroom flat.

My mother opened a new store on Brown Street, close to where we lived. She sold jewellery and handbags and other women’s stuff. She warned me not to play with Bonaventure. She said he looked scraggy and was wont to inflict me with his village manners. So, while I waited for my mother to enrol me in a new school, I was stuck with my former books. I avoided Bonaventure for two years though we lived under the same roof and walked down the same corridor and, sometimes, shared the same bathroom. Then one dry afternoon, I found him bent over on the floor on his knees and hands. Like a dog. I remember asking him if he liked dogs. He hesitated for a few minutes before speaking to me. His father bred dogs in the village. He adored them. There were those ignited sparks of passion you could see in his eyes as he spoke about dogs. I liked dogs, too. I suggested finding a stray dog and keeping it. Bonaventure, at first, declined, almost crying, but after a little persuasion, he accepted.

Like the Disney cartoons I’d seen on television, I named the dog something significant. Ikuku. Air. Because my parents never saw it. Bonaventure was amused that a dog could have a name. Ikuku died a few weeks later, in a hit-and-run accident. We did not claim its body. Two nights after Ikuku died, I had another empty dream. Again it was dark. But this time, I was levitating. Muffled hums sounded in my ears, as if someone was struggling to tell me something but couldn’t. And after the hums stopped, my head began to burn. I woke up very ill the next morning. A number of weeks after I would return from the hospital, Aunt Nene, Bonaventure’s guardian, would visit us. Behind closed doors I would listen to Aunt Nene talk of Bonaventure’s death. Bonaventure, who had left for his village on a short break, had drowned in a river where he always swam with his friends. His body, then, was yet to be found. I would cry and shiver and fall ill again: Bonaventure was just a boy of twelve.

#

Sad.

Yes, Doctor. Very sad.

#

Perhaps, sadness is nothing. Misery. Yes. That consuming feeling of despair, of bleakness. I thought I could bear it all, you know, on my own. But who does? Night after night hopelessness clutched my soul like human hair on flesh. Its fingers crept under my skin, prickling me. Till self-hate set in. Then, provocation at the slightest.

A year fleeted away. And another year. And another two years. The dreams seemed to have gone; vanished into thin air like curly wisps of grey smoke. I stopped expecting them. I grew happy. Not full happiness. But a light, almost white, bright and spark-like, rekindled inside me. It lasted for a while, a long while. There were good signs, too. My father was promoted to the post of Head of Engineering division. His salary grew fat and healthy. He started his house project in one of the expensive estates in Lagos. My mother expanded her business: she opened branches in many parts of Nigeria. Hers was an incredible success. And my siblings, as my father had planned, were sent to college in America.

One night, on Easter Sunday, I had an empty dream. It was more forceful. Like I had been pushed with accumulated force from the real world into the unreal. The darkness crowded in my eyes. No muffled hums. No levitation. No head burns. I was more like a thing in dark space, weightless, abstract. Then I began to choke. My throat scorched. My whole body burned. Flames singed the blackness. Bright orange-red flames. All this time, it was my mother waking me from sleep, dragging me to safety. Her gas cooker had caught fire. Half of our flat was gutted.

#

Was anyone lost in the fire?

No.

#

We lost no one to the fire. Only property. Maybe I lost an empty dream, too. No. The dream was incomplete. Lost and incomplete. For days, I was beside myself with fear. I waited to hear the news of a death. And when I would not hear of any, I created different versions of death stories in my head. Murder of our landlord. Witchcraft killing of Alan Pond — a white man, my father’s good friend — at the construction company. Asphyxiation of our neighbour’s noisy two-year-old son.

My imaginations felt good. True. Real. After all, people die of what they are afraid of. Our landlord, a plump man whose body was distorted by wrinkles, was always on edge. He disliked strangers coming into his compound. Some people said he had so much money and was afraid of being murdered for this. Ah, with his greying hair and sallow skin, he looked as good as dead. I wondered how he defied nature. Alan Pond, he laughed at my father’s stories about witchcraft and nocturnal, flying humans. Didn’t he know that evil people got entangled between worlds? He would hold his stomach and collapse into heavy loud laughter. To him, there was a thin line between witchery and fables. Or no line at all. And our neighbour’s son, he was always seen with polythene bags wrapped around his smallish head. His way of acting a superhero.

But such deaths never happened. A few weeks passed. I felt at ease. I stopped cowering behind my doors whenever I eavesdropped on my parents, waiting to hear the news of a death. One late Friday evening, bad news rapped on our front door: my father had been involved in a motor accident.

#

Oh. Did he —

No, Doctor.

#

The driver of the trailer that hit my father’s car died on the spot. Three persons were injured. One later died at the hospital. But my father survived. I visited him at the hospital. He was an eyesore, in a muddle. One of his arms was broken. And his left leg, incapacitated. Hours later at the hospital, an eyewitness would tell my mother to thank God that my father survived the accident. This eyewitness emphasized more religion — “thanksgiving to God” on my mother’s part — in giving his account. He said my father’s car went under the trailer. The trailer toppled and fell. The roof of my father’s car caved in. Passers-by hurried along, going about their occupied daily lives as if nothing had happened. Motorists plied the road like swarming bees. Nobody wanted to wash blood off their car seats. The ambulance never showed up; there was no fuel. A woman, rolling in her black SUV, offered to take my father to the hospital.

All the way from the hospital, my mother let tears gush from her eyes. As they streamed down, each small bead glittered in streaks of brilliant light. She would not stop shedding them. She wobbled from to room to room, touching and smelling my father’s things. His cassette player. His unwashed clothes. His new pack of body spray. She was unable to settle at a spot. I wanted to console her, to tell her everything would be okay. But a tremor filled my voice. Indeed, my voice failed me. I wept like a little child. I was to blame; it was my entire fault. I locked myself in my room, kicking at things. Swollen self-blame mixed with anger and loss. I cried for hours. My eyes grew peppery but I refused sleep.

Outside, night fell. My mother had taken my father’s meal to him at the hospital. He ate little, she complained. Her facials and motions revealed frailty. Side by side we sat on the sofa. Silence waxed and waxed. At last, the courage to speak, came. I told my mother that I was the cause of my father’s accident. She gaped, bewildered. I told her about the dreams. The empty dreams. I told her I wasn’t too sure, but that they started long early before Eze’s death. Her mouth was still held open. I told her about the kind of empty dream I had before Bonaventure’s death. But I never mentioned Ikuku. After saying all these, I watched her close her mouth. Her lips kissed her teeth, burrowing into them. Her tears came again. Silent. Heavy. She picked her handbag and fixed me with a puzzled, sombre look before retiring into her room.

#

Accidents happen out of many reasons.

Some deaths are no accidents.

But your father is alive, isn’t he?

He is. Much alive. And the driver who hit him?

Look. Dreams are false realities. They are unconnected with real worlds.

No, Doctor. Not all dreams.

#

Not all dreams. Dreams connote unintended realities. They have meanings. At least, that was what the pastor my mother first visited said. He said that a wandering spirit caused my empty dreams. This wandering spirit had wreaked, and would wreak, havoc. And I have no control over it. The spirit would ruin me, he said. My mother ate his words with oil, balmy, gullible. She paced this way and that, down one end of the church to the other. She clasped her hands, rubbing heat into them. At last, salvation. A prayer session was held for two weeks. I was left in the care of the pastor and his church. My mother did not visit. The prayers drove me almost out of my intact senses. The loud bells. Frenzied dances and singing. The whipping. And when the prayer session ended, after I could no longer recognise myself, my mother took me home.

Still, she was not satisfied. She needed verification. Certainty. We visited another pastor. Before the pastor would say a word, my mother told him everything. He looked at me, in rueful measures. I remember he said, “This thing will take one week to cure. Easy thing.” It was sad, almost degrading, that I was but a thing. Not a person. A thing. A spirit. After his one week of prayer, my mother took me to herbalists, prayer workshops, mountains, rivers. Humans are like that, never sure, insatiable. “It must go. This thing must go,” my mother said.

#

Well, most religions believe that dreams have rooted meanings.

Like my mother.

One thing is certain. Dreams are what they are. Sheer imaginations. You mustn’t, and don’t have to, believe in them. They don’t make you a bearer of mishaps.

No, Doctor. You are wrong.

#

Years, many years, came and went. The dreams stopped. My mother felt happy. My father overcame the burden of walking with a stick. Everything was normal again. I grew closer to the church and the church grew closer to me. My mood swings never returned. My world lit up with a light that oozed from within me. My family moved to our new home. And I left for America when I turned twenty.

In America I met Chinelo — a honey fair-skinned woman who would later be my light and day and accept to marry me. Chinelo was a student of the Chemistry department. I was in the Industrial Physics department. We met at a bookstore in Connecticut. Her love for poetry baffled me. Poetry, to me, was a genre for idlers who loved to create fantasies around themselves. But Chinelo and I shared something: a love for horror books. We had both read Dean Koontz and Jack Ketchum and Stephen King. We laughed and extended our discussion over dinner at an old-fashioned restaurant. I could not stop looking at her eyes, brown and almond-shaped. They held such furtive beauty, as if the glory of the whole universe was suffused in them. Later, she would tell me about her parents. Her father, a Nigerian, was married to an American woman, and they both lived in Nigeria. She was in America for college education, like me. She said she missed Nigeria — the heat, the food, her family. Three years after the time we first met, we would graduate from college, Chinelo and me planning our return to Nigeria.

During the period of our relationship, I never told her about the empty dreams. She didn’t have to know. Besides, I had stopped having those dreams. So they were as good as non-existent. In fact, memories of them had long been locked up and stowed away. I hoped they remained that way, forgotten. A few years after we returned to Nigeria, Chinelo began to have many bouts of fever. She was drenched in sweat even when in an air-conditioned room. Her weight loss became alarming. Her eyes sunk in their sockets, covered with streaks of red veins, and she felt tired often. I took her to private hospitals and clinics. I invited pastors and church leaders to our house. Doctors said they could not diagnose what was wrong with her. Pastors extorted money from me in the name of buying praying materials. I grew weary. Sad. Until one Saturday in late November when Chinelo’s parents visited, a hospital report was received. Chinelo had lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That night I had an empty dream. Like the empty dream I had before Bonaventure’s death.

#

Oh. She must have died of lymphoma. Surely. Not of some empty dream.

No, Doctor. I killed her.

FICTION: If you go down to the woods | Part 4

BY BRONWYN LAW-VILJOEN

Phone

In order to produce werewolves in your own family, it is not enough to resemble a wolf, or to live like a wolf …

Yissis, even Lucky throws us out now man, says Jegs, bumping into me as we go down past the mall.

Ja, but you were causing kak, and anyway it’s five in the morning, so what you expect, man?

I stop and tie my shoelace and when I stand up I get on Jegs’s other side without him even spotting. He has puke on the left side of his hoodie that I can see and smell every time I look at him.

Ja, but still man, how ’bout some loyalty?

It’s dark still and there’s no way the ol’ lady is gonna let us in, so no point going home. She’s most probably fucked anyway. Right at the edge of my eyes is a little jumping light, like some arsehole is flicking a torch at me. I feel my heart, like it’s changing gear. My lungs burn in the cold. I cough and I can taste blood.

Jegs is kicking little stones into the road and dragging his feet. Dude, he says, that chick that came in last night, is that Lucky’s side piece? Man, she was nice. Hey, maybe that’s why he threw us out? He had a fokken hardon under the bar so he had to gooi us out fast? You think that’s it, hey?

I dunno Jegsie, it was late man, the oke wanted to split.

My fingertips have started that little irritating jumping, like I’m holding a wet cord and getting electric shocks. And it’s as if mud is coming up into my chest so I feel I’m gonna choke, maybe even spit actual blood.

Hey we could do the corner near Garden City, dude, some rich ou on his way to work with a cell phone on his ear.

Jegs is the only oke I know who still says dude.

Who’s he gonna be speaking to at five in the morning? Plus you know what happened to Uysie last time he did that corner? Shadrack and his mates work that one, and Uysie is gonna do some serious weeks in hospital for that fokken little Nokia. They caught him up behind the Hindu place and beat the crap out of him. So bear that in mind oke.

Ok then so, so, what, Emmarentia, hey?

No way man, they have that one too.

Ja but, like right now man, those okes are nowhere. It’s fokken freezing and dark out here, so no way they heading to the park to steal a phone off some tannie now.

He had a point.

Smash will take a phone, won’t he, or we could, we could go to Jeppe?

Can’t do Jeppe, the okes will see us coming a mile off with a phone and wanna know which corner we did. I wanna avoid that type of thing. But ja, we could do it. Except, who’s walking dogs now?

You know these crazy aunties, man. The little brakkie starts whining at four ay em and she’s getting out of bed and heading to the park in her nighties. Plus, by the time we get there it’s not so dark anymore, and we get there now there’s no car guard so he can’t give anyone a headsup.

Ja, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone if he wasn’t there, I say, but it goes straight over Jegs’s thick head.

The stuff is up in my ribs, like I ate a bucket of tar and now I’m gonna drown in it. I try to work it back in, shifting my shoulders up and down to keep moving, and I breathe deep. It’s seriously unpleasant here, so an old lady in the park is starting to sound like an option. They all have iPhones now. That’s enough for a hit if Smash will take it off us, which there’s no reason to think he won’t. Anyway, we’re halfway there already, picking up the pace down Beyers past the homeless guys on the left under the tree. Wankers think we can’t see them buried under that cardboard, but there’s legs and arms sticking out all over the place. Okes could be dead in this cold, nobody would know for a whole day.

Ja, okay Jegsie, let’s do it.

Hey, dude, what’s got into Shaun, man, he’s out of it totally these days, and I don’t even think it’s the shit.

Shaun is fucked. His old lady made him do a test and he’s positive, so he’s pissed. Tried to pick up someone at Lucky’s last week but he’s so skeletal a chick would have to be suicidal.

Bummer man.

Jegs is also the only oke I know who says bummer.

Ou’s dead in a month, I say.

Jegsie goes quiet for about fifty metres and then he starts giggling. Works himself up into a nice dik laugh until he’s half falling over.

What the fuck? What’s so fucking hilarious?

He can’t even get an answer out he’s so amused with himself and he starts tripping over his own feet, stepping off the path into the road. Next thing there’s a guy yelling from behind us and before we know what’s what, he’s on us and there’s fucking recycling stuff all over the road. Jegs is on his back, and the guy is seriously pissed. He pulls his balaclava half up his face and starts to shout something in French, or Zambian, or whatever. I see his mouth going, and everything slows down, like it’s all in slow motion, except my heart rate is out of control, in the red.

I snap back into it when I hear some other guys start to yell as well, and when I turn to look back up Beyers they’re headed straight for us, three in row, standing on their trolleys balls to the wall, and Jegs is still on the grass giggling like a zombie. Plastic and shit everywhere, and the guy’s big canvas bag’s off the edge of the cart half in the road and cars are coming up Beyers straight towards us.

I bend over and grab Jegs’s jacket so he stops giggling and looks up at me.

Oke, we are fucking meat if we don’t get out of here now, I tell him.

He turns his head and I see the crusty puke on his hoodie.

Yissis man, these okes are pissed dude.

Ja, no kidding you fucking poes, let’s go man.

I yank him to his feet and we start running, straight down the hill. It’s about a hundred metres to the corner and we round it going ninety kays, burning rubber, the Zambians yelling behind us, but they haven’t bothered to chase. We run between two cars at the light and head for the little zig-zag gate in the fence. I half drag Jegs through it and then we’re in the park, in the dark, so we stop running. He bends over and laughs. Fuuuck, man that was mal, he says.

We head deeper into the woods, next to the stream and round the bottom of the hill that goes up to the soccer fields. There are big trees here, and we sit down and chill for a bit. Except I’m not chilling, I’m speeding up and those little jumpy shocks are starting to bounce back against my brain and it’s getting seriously nasty.

So we’re there in the half pitch dark, no dog walkers anywhere, but no other people either, so we just lie on the leaves for a while, listening to the cars coming up Beyers. There’s a stone under me and I remember that fancy doctor with his cheap lube, fucking me like he’s gonna pass out if he doesn’t come now, and I’m feeling it like a sword up the arse. But it was decent money so I just held on and flew on his coke while he did his thing. No going back after a point.

Jegs is snoring. Unbelievable. He’s also the only oke I know can fall asleep taking a dump. I listen to him for a while and then I hear it, a whistle, coming from the field. I feel the cold sweat that comes up always between my shoulder blades before I do it, every time, no matter how clearly I plan the get-out-of-jail-free route. Jegsie’s a doos too, so the sweat is like my body knowing he’s going to fuck up. I kick his shin.

Jegs, someone’s coming.

He wakes and sits up fast, pulling his hoodie around his ears. Serious, dude, where, which side?

I point across the little bridge straight ahead of us and then yank him back behind a big tree.

Okay, what’s the plan man? he asks, getting excited.

Okay, so we check out the dogs first, see what’s what, and then as she comes around this end, past the end of the bridge, we jump her.

Jegs pulls his blade out. Lekker, I’m on it. He’s hopping from foot to foot.

We wait. I take a chance and look around the tree. She’s coming up towards the bridge, walking close to the water, walking fast. Black pants, running shoes, little baggie around the waist, which is probably where the phone is. I look for a dog and there it is, little black and white one, Jack Russell type, but really small. Okay, no sweat, one clean kick and the dog is sorted. Nobody else around.

Okay Jegs, ten seconds man. Hold tight. I hear him breathe and then he’s out from behind the tree, rushing the woman like he’s fucking Schwarzenegger, and the little dog goes ballistic.

I run up behind him and hear him say to her, Okay, lady, what you got? Give it to us now. And he’s waving his knife around like there are fifty ninjas attacking.

And then I see it. Bull terrier built like my uncle’s towtruck, coming round the stone wall of the bridge. He sees us and picks up his pace. Funny thing is, the woman grabs him as he gets to her, which is weird because he was onto us, coming at us so fast Jegsie wouldn’t have had time to aim the knife anywhere. The little dog is still going bos, barking at Jegs and he’s dancing around trying to keep it off his ankles. This is a fuck up.

The woman grips the big dog, but his huge jaw is open and he’s barking and growling. She holds him tight around the neck, kneeling next to him and talking to him. Then, get this, she fucking speaks to us.

Guys, I think you should back off, okay? she says.

Jesus this is a fucking world-class hold up. But I don’t really have much to say to that, so I grab at Jegsie’s jacket and pull him back towards the gate.

Let’s duck man.

The little shocks are making me see weird colours and black spots bouncing around in my eyes and I want to hit them away like mozzies.

But Jegs has got the Jack Russell on his foot and he’s kicking to try get it off and the woman yells, Mouse, Mouse, come here. Which is priceless. Jegsie has a dog called Mouse on his ankle, with little jaws and teeth and he’s waving that knife around, slicing at everything but the dog, and the woman, chilled as a dominie, is holding that bully with all her strength to keep him off us.

Yissis.

The little scene is starting to feel like slow motion again, like it’s all a seriously bad idea, when a guy rounds the corner at the other end of the bridge, running, with a fucking pit bull on a leash. I don’t think this oke had seen what was going down but as soon as he turns the corner he starts yelling. I reach for Jegs and ruk him back through the leaves towards the gate and of course he falls on his arse and the little dog is on him, snarling and snapping at him like it’s gonna take his head clean off, and he’s yelling, screaming like a chick.

It’s all slowing down now in my head and I’m trying to hold it together, and this is what goes down. The bully sees the pit bull and he makes a break from the woman. Like a bullet he’s after the other dog, and before he knows what’s hit him, the big oke is flat on his back, holding onto his leash for dear life, with a crazy pit bull on the other end pulling him towards the bully. The Jack Russell hears this and lets go of Jegsie, turns around and heads for the dogfight. And for some reason, I stop. I can’t miss this. Jegs is through the gate and gone, heading up the road as fast as he can, calling me as he runs. I step behind a big tree, half in the dark, and watch this little scene happen.

The woman is up and running, yelling at her dog who is now seriously grappling the pit bull. She doesn’t stop when she gets to them but takes a dive, right into the middle of the two dogs and it’s just kak en hare, and she grabs the bully around the back legs, and starts pulling him backwards. She’s on the ground with him, trying to get him out of there and the man, big guy with an accent, is backing up on the ground, on his gat with the pit bull, yelling. They finally get away from each other and the guy stands up, grabs the dog’s collar and ruks him hard. The woman has a leash on the bully now and she starts apologising to the oke. He’s calmed down now and he’s cool and they start worrying about the dogs.

Your dog okay? she asks.

Yeah, yours?

Yes. Did you see those two guys?

Yeah, were you being mugged?

Seriously oke? Did you not see Jegsie’s blade flashing? I move deeper behind the tree and wait for them to move off because, fucking amazing, the guy dropped his phone when he went down with the pit bull. It came flying out of one of those back pockets that cycling jackets have, spinning up like a beautiful ninja star into the beams of light from the traffic on Beyers and landing in the dead leaves behind him. And the oke has no idea. So I just stand there and wait. They head off down the path, the woman in front dragging the bully who wants to get at the pit bull but she yanks him hard so he has to turn and walk. The oke is patting his dog’s head as he goes, feeling around its ears and under its jaw. Looking for blood I skiem.

It’s quiet now. The traffic is picking up and Jegsie’s gone. I focus on the black stuff crawling up my chest, try to make it go back down, till I wanna puke from trying to keep it together. And then I step out from behind the tree and walk towards where I saw the phone drop. It’s there, half buried in the leaves, shining at me like a diamond. iPhone 5. Fucking brilliant. Smash will give me a couple hundred. I hold down the power switch till it goes off, so that the guy can’t find me on his computer or his GPS or whatever when he gets home. I step through the gate, look both ways. Jegs is about a hundred paces off, waiting for me. Dick head. I turn left onto Judith and start towards him. The time on the phone before it powered off said oh six-twenty. Jegs is hopping up and down on one leg, slapping his thigh, starting that stupid lag again. I feel the cool of the phone in my hand, and slide it into my back pocket just before I get to him.

This is the final part of If you go down to the woods. Read the rest of the story:

All of the stories’ epigraphs are from A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

FICTION: If you go down to the woods | Part 3

BY BRONWYN LAW-VILJOEN

Fence

Eating bread and drinking wine are interminglings of bodies.

I flip the cell phone over to check the time. It flares its light at me. Five-ten. I’m awake but it’s dark and too cold to get up, so I roll onto my back and lie still, listening to the dark, the sounds of just-before-morning. Parrot the cat jumps onto the bed so I slide my right leg out, feeling for the soft body with my thigh, and then sweep him off the edge so that he lands hard on the wooden floor. No feline delicacy there. If I don’t do this, he’ll edge forward to my shoulder and bat me on the nose with an open-clawed paw. I wait. Parrot complains loudly.

It seems hours later when I turn my head and see the shimmering phone, still there just beyond the pillow. I close my eyes again and rock from side to side, trying to summon sleep back. Parrot leaps onto the bed.

Finally I have no choice. Mouse and Morris are awake now and gearing up, pacing about on their hard nails, waiting for me to make a move. Five-twenty the face of the phone tells me, so I swing my legs off the bed and feel for my clothing with my foot. I slide the pile towards me in the dark and start to dress. Three-quarter leggings, socks, bra, t-shirt, green hoodie from yesterday. When I put it on, I pull the hood as low as I can against the cold, and then I sit for a moment, hearing the morning coming into the dark room. Parrot has gone down the hallway and is calling loudly for food. I lean forward and breathe slowly to ease myself into wakefulness.

When we get into the park it’s five-fifty, too early even for the car guard and most other walkers, or the pedestrian commuters who pass through on their way to work. I head for the woods. A short way into the gloom I suddenly break off the path on a whim and run up the steep slope, pumping my arms and heading for the fence that skirts the soccer fields. I can see my breath vaporising white in the cold air. The dogs hesitate, not sure of the reason for this deviation from our usual route, but then they follow, tearing after me, Morris panting loudly and drawing even as we get to the path. He looks pleased. I bend over to catch my breath and look at him upside-down. From this angle he looks like a shark with a large grin.

We head south along the path and I peer left through the fence and see the lengths of aluminium sprinkler pipes glinting with frost on the soccer pitch that seems grey in the half-light. The embankment drops away to my right, thick with seed-heavy blackjack. The dogs plunge suddenly back down through the weeds and leaves and root around at the bottom of the hill, following a trail—the smell of our own feet from yesterday, or maybe something more interesting. They are about thirty metres away but they keep pace with me and glance up every now and then to see that I am still there. We follow a parallel route deeper into the trees.

The man comes along the path towards me, his head down, as though he’s in thought. I realise with a small jolt that I’ve been half-expecting him, perhaps even looking out for him without really knowing it. We’ve passed each other every morning for about two weeks, in the woods or out on the field on the other side of the stream. The first time was at the extreme south end of the park, near the base of the giant graffitied bluegum. He was coming along from the north side, walking with a long stride across the frosted grass, no dog in sight. A lone exerciser in track pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. At these encounters, we greet in a perfunctory way and I detect in the plumped sound of the l in his hello an American accent. Urban walkers are minimally polite, exchanging a quick acknowledgement and then glancing past each other to check that our dogs have met and passed on without any fuss. Meeting in this context, we have no desire to speak to each other. We draw our privacy close around our bodies newly risen from the musky warmth of beds.

He sees me and by the quick turn of his head I know he’s looking for the dogs he has seen with me before. They are halfway up the slope. They’ve stopped and are looking up at us, but they go on, satisfied.

The man breaks his stride when he’s about five paces off, as though meaning to step to his left to let me pass. But then he stops. I keep going and when I get to him we stand looking at each other. In the soft moment that has opened up around us, I feel quite sure of what to do, though it has not occurred to me before now. I can see he is about to say something so I reach across and touch his hand, which is flattened against his thigh, the fingers pointing downwards. He has one foot off the path, in a clump of blackjacks. A sudden, vivid memory of plucking the slender burrs off school socks and trousers is immediately present and then gone. I lift my left hand and feel for the fence, hooking my middle finger through the diamond mesh next to the steel pole. I look across the soccer fields. When I move my head slightly to the right and back again the light from the sun just coming up over the clubhouse on the other side of the pitch is like a camera flash in my eyes. I do this for a moment, as though I am entirely alone. The dogs are out of sight at the bottom of the slope. They have gone to the water where the rocks offer a bridge to the other side. I hear Mouse barking at Morris and I imagine her, lying flat on the bank above the stream, arse in the air, stump of tail wagging, watching Morris who is trying to decide whether he should come out of the water. If he does she will lunge straight at him and the chase will be on. He’ll be gathering the energy now to plunge up over the lip of the bank and take off across the cold, hard grass with Mouse snapping at his sphincter.

The man doesn’t move, doesn’t pull away. He is waiting. So I close my whole hand around his and he balls it up into a soft fist and settles it into my palm. He waits. I dip my head to the right to feel the flash of light on my eyelids and as I do this I pull his hand to the base of my stomach, just above the wide seam of my pants below my hoodie and t-shirt and hold it against my skin. He opens his hand flat and waits.

I hold the hand and swivel to face the fence. When I stop, his hand is in the small of my back and now I can only just reach it, I reach to the small finger and then I drop my head forward onto the fence and shift my pelvis back towards him so that he knows. I feel him step back onto the path and move into me and he says something that I don’t catch.

Against my forehead I feel the diamond mesh of the fence. It will make an imprint I realise. I hold a pole with each hand. The steel is cold, like dry ice, the paint flaking. I open my legs slightly and wait for him. He is unhurried. He puts his left hand over mine on the fence pole and runs his right hand over the curve of my arse, taking my pants with it and I feel the cold air against my skin. He keeps the hand going, down to the warm envelope of flesh, and now he shifts his weight forward. I feel him move up into me, looking for a place to plant his feet firmly. He holds the pole through my hand to steady himself and under it I feel the cold of the steel press into my palm, where the fold of the thumb is.

His cock follows his hand, searching until it meets the soft resistance of skin and then he rotates slowly, weight going from one foot to the other so that he can push forward. He is being careful, feeling his way, finding where the resistance is and shifting slightly to look for a better angle, and then suddenly he is inside me and I feel a burst of pain, the sensation that seems to be hooked to my breath so that when he pushes into me I inhale sharply, my breath sucked in to meet him.

I fold my pelvis into him and we move together, finding a rhythm against the fence. His head comes down to my ear and he breathes heavily. I flatten up against him and feel the burning in my calves from the strain of holding myself to his moving body. His hands are folded over mine on the poles, gripping hard, squeezing my palms into the steel. I can feel him shift gear, his breath coming quicker and shallower and he moves hard up against me, so that I sense the desperation coming like a train down a tunnel forcing a huge warm pillow of air ahead of it that catches things up as it speeds by, papers and cigarette butts and empty cardboard cups.

 

The sun is bright through the trees now as I head back up Beyers. Mouse is watching me in the rearview mirror. The day is opening up. I get to the intersection and decide to turn left and take a long route home, skipping Main Road and bending through Emmarentia and Melville.

The light is green, but there’s a car coming from the front, so I wait. The indicator clicks. Mouse jumps up onto the back of the seat, tucking her rear legs delicately and balancing like a bird. The back of Morris’s rock-still head, which I look at for a long moment, is a hard-tender crown of bone under fur. Four men on recyling trolleys come around the bend up ahead, rushing towards the light, one foot extended off the fronts of their trollies to brake if the light turns red. One of them sees that I’m about to turn and he moves the trolley expertly so that it passes by me, inches from the window. The man is wearing a balaclava but it’s pushed back onto his forehead, bunched up above his eyes. As he comes abreast of the car he turns his head and looks at me, nodding almost imperceptibly in greeting—a slight uptilt of the head—as he flies by, the clattering sound of his trolley deafening us for a moment and then rolling away down the hill.

This is the third part of If you go down to the woods. Read the rest of the story: