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Scattering ashes Part 3 -Liberation

He sits on a uv protected, grey imitation wicker couch watching a pair of crows teasing the dog. He enjoys the vulgar cawing of crows. They have an arrogant defiance that is refreshing. He lights a cigarette from the government legislated no-brand pack, looks at the photograph of a disease ridden mouth with lips stretched away to reveal 12 decayed, brown and black stained teeth. Beneath this in black outlined white text: MALE SMOKER AGED 50. He, the man on the couch, is 49. In Africa we feared bullets and knives, here they fear everything. He transfers the cigarettes to his metal cigarette case. The lid of the case has an Andy Warhol inspired design of Che Guevera. What will our revolution look like 100 years from now? Was it my revolution as well? Does the experience of it transfer ownership of it? he thinks. He recalls a conversation with a student shortly before he left. When asked where he came from he had replied that he was African. His student indignantly told him he was not, only Black people are African, you are European! she said.
I was born here, of course I’m African he replied.
Now all the Whities are proudly African. Were you African twenty years ago? she laughed.
It was a defining moment. Teaching post-revolution was beautiful. Racially mixed classrooms were an exciting privilege, something he had always dreamed of was now real. Debate was vigorous and encouraged. Never again shall we not speak to one another, he told them. They gave him hope that everything would be alright, despite the crime, despite the resistance from a generation of racists, black and white. But maybe we have more to answer for, he thought. Maybe the past is not healed with just the declaration of freedom. Maybe anger is rooted deeper? Maybe hurt must burn through everyone who was there first? Maybe it must burn out like a winter fire to prepare for fresh growth? Maybe this is not my narrative, the one we hi-jacked. Maybe it is our turn to be silent, to let go. Perhaps, because our forefathers stole what was not theirs, our duty is to give it all back. Three and a half centuries of colonial rule had to go, it was right that it go. A symbolic retreat, to go away. He should leave. Seed a new place where everyone is of migrant stock. Find a continent where the residue of Imperialism reside. A place where the ownership of narrative is not claimed, where I can speak legitimately? But, there is no such place on this earth. I am a citizen of a world not yet discovered. Here, there is an older narrative but the people to whom it belongs are broken and tired. Those who talk have done well to safeguard their authority; authorship with a home-grown brand of fear: action without legislated approval. He lights a legislated cigarette and opens the door for the shire inspector who here to check that his pool is safe according to legislation.

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Scattering ashes Part 2-burn

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Four teenage boys share a cigarette and a large brown bottle of Lion Lager around a small fire smoking to life at their feet. Noticing the patrol approach from across the road, they stop moving and look at one another then back at the soldiers. The Corporal indicates with his right arm for the platoon to move in their direction. The one holding the beer passes the bottle to a companion who slowly bends to place it on the ground as all of them take a step backwards.
“Don’t worry, we just want to warm up, do you mind if we share your fire?” the Corporal shouts at them and turns back to the soldiers and, with a wink, flicks his head in their direction as an instruction to proceed towards them. With that the boys bolt.
“Get them” screams the Corporal and the patrol breaks off, cursing as they run after them. The Lieutenant ambles over to the fire yawning, kicks an empty two litre milk carton onto the fire, watches the plastic fold and squirm then bubble and flame and stokes the fire to life with his left foot while holding his hands over the flames for some warmth. He takes out a cigarette and lights it. He spits into the fire. There are the usual sounds now of sheet metal falling, shouting, dogs barking and breathless orders to stop or be shot. Of course they won’t shoot. The paperwork to be filled out for each round fired is not worth the effort and the men are more afraid of firing a shot than being shot at. Luckily the locals don’t know that. The men in pursuit of the runners play a game. When they are close enough they pull back the breach of the semi-automatic R4, a sound any township dweller knows well. Without fail the pursued stop or dive to the ground and the chase is over. Within minutes the men have marched the four boys back to the fire. Two men and the Corporal have the men facing a wall while the rest of the platoon breathlessly pass around water bottles, spit, take out cigarettes and swear loudly at the inconvenience of having to run around so early in the morning. One of the men retells the story of how the kid he was chasing dived to the ground into a pile of shit, jumped to his feet in disgust, then dived back into the same shit when he saw the soldier closing in. There are fits of laughter.
“Sis man, did one of you shit yourselves?” the corporal asks the boys who are now standing with their backs to the platoon, hands on their heads. They are visibly shaken, scared. One of them is crying, his body shuddering.
“Which one of you smells of shit?” asks the Corporal.
“I won’t ask again.”
One of the boys slowly raises his right hand into the air, his arm is shaking.
“Didn’t your mother teach you how to wipe your bum? Jeez but you stink. We can’t have you go home like that, can we? Can we?”
“No sir” the boy whispers. He is now crying openly.
“Hey boys” the Corporal turns around calling the soldiers “come her and check this out. It seems we not only have to keep order in this shit hole but now we have to clean up the shit as well.”
The soldiers move closer to the group. One of them walks away to the street corner to keep watch. Silently he wishes for this day, this year, to be over. He watches for any approaching vehicles or people and looks for horizon between shacks and electricity pylons and tries to memorise the colours of the changing light of dawn.
“Don’t cry my boy, we’re here to help. Come over here, don’t be scared.” He indicates a puddle of water from last night’s rain.
“Come clean yourself up here so you can go home smelling nice. Now.” he points to the puddle. The young boy walks towards it and stands looking down at it with his hands still on his head.
“No, no, no … silly boy. You can’t bath with your clothes on, you must get undressed.”
The boy is not sure whether the gentle instruction is serious or a game.
“Strip!” screams the Corporal and points his rifle at the boys head.
The boy sheds his clothes quickly. He stands shivering, his hands covering his groin.
“Now bath, you stink. Come on, get in, sit down in this bath we have prepared for you and wash off that shit.”
The boys sits down in the puddle and begins to scoop up handfuls of dirty water and mud and scrubs his face, his belly, his legs. He keeps his eyes closed and clenches his teeth as tears stream down his face.
“Now doesn’t that feel better?” the Corporal asks.
The boy nods nervously.
“Smit” the Lieutenant calls to the Corporal “fun’s over, let’s go.”
“Right men, move out” the Corporal shouts. He picks up the boys clothes with the end of his rifle and drops them into the fire.
The lookout falls in behind the platoon. He watches the teenagers helping their friend out of the puddle. They have their arms around his shoulders as he shivers convulsively never looking up, his hands locked around his penis. Looking into their eyes he is aware of the widening abyss between them. Their shame shifts to hatred; the future feels infinitely bleak. His mouth opens to speak but there are no words. There is nothing to say now.

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Scattering ashes Part 1- arrival

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Wars start with fire and then there is the scattering of ashes. The fires burn long after the peace. War starts on the streets, leaks into the soul and stays there. A law of science states that energy cannot be lost; only transferred. The law of entropy maintains that matter always moves from a state of order to disorder. Generals and their soldiers are not well read in science.
Home fires streak misty veils over the township. Dogs bark, cars and bus-taxis growl along the sand roads kicking up dust and early morning shouts. Laughs, screams and cries pierce the soft murmur of men coming back to life at intersections where in small groups they stand holding their hands over large tins of fire, talking through cigarettes and coughs. Radio voices and music recede and intrude. Loud women take turns to fill plastic bottles and basins with water and in unison playfully scold hungover, well groomed young men bantering their way to work. Sunlight dissolves the smoke and mist and children fall laughing into puddles of water and form broken bricks and debris into precarious leaning towers. White boys with guns and dread enter the township in anti-landmine vehicles. The soldiers were harvested young and strictly schooled in standing to attention before a flag while meditating on the threats their people have overcome and of the terror waiting for all of them if they should drop their guard. The enemy is potentially everyone and everywhere; the children will become killers. The boy-soldiers clench their teeth to trap the smiles the playing children tease from them. But God and his ministers of state who have declared the state of emergency demand vigilance and they have been chosen to do their will.
The soldiers disembark at a local police station from where they will patrol the streets on foot. A lieutenant, a Corporal and twelve men form a platoon. Each of the men has twelve bullets per magazine’ the Lieutenant has a 9mm side-arm. They proceed on foot in the formation best suited for urban guerilla warfare. A soldier among them is confused; this cannot be a war zone. It is just a peopled place, just a dusty, smelly town where humans go about the task of living? His hesitance to follow orders with the appropriate haste has been noted by the platoon leader, the Corporal who enjoys the power of fear. He is angry at the township for ruining his chance to fight a real war. Angry because he deserves to be chasing after soldiers not housewives and adolescents. But, since he is here, and it is a war, he will have people run from him.

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How to bottle mist

The quest for self discovery never ends. In my youth I lacked the courage to leave my world in order to find myself in India, Marakech or on Route 66. Now, in mid-life the thought of such adventure seems too ‘new-age’, too irresponsible and too late. The thought of flying off for adventure is pre-empted by the prospect of deep vein thrombosis in economy class, tedious passport controls, long queues and anal anti-smoking regulations in airports where it takes half an hour to navigate through slow walkers, zombie consumers and just too many people in one place. Less is more. If i’m going to find myself, right here will do. Geography should not alter the state of the soul. I have adopted Picasso’s axiom-‘the world will come to my doorstep.’ So far I’ve only had those spiritual conquistadors, the Jehova’s Witness, but I am an optimist.
I will share a composite representation of the last few weeks.

I sit outside in the morning sun intent on discovering who this “i ” is.

1. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face; but I am not my face.
2. I see light catch the glass table and reflect a prism of colour onto the floor; but I am not my eyes.
3. I hear cars pass, a crow, a dog bark, a teaspoon stir in a cup; but I am not my ears.
4. I smell the aroma of my coffee and the delicate fragrance of Frangipani; but I am not my nose.
5. I taste the bitter-sweet coffee; but I am not my tongue.
My body experiences the world, my brain records the experience, but where am I?
My keyboard reacts to my finger tips which in turn are processed by the hard drive and traces of me appear on the screen. I have a keyboard, a laptop and I call the hard drive ‘mine’; but none of them is me.

Asking who or what is behind the sensory experience of the world only seems to cloud my mind. I dismiss thinking. I do not entertain thoughts. I allow them to pass, the way the driver of a car allows pedestrians to cross at a zebra crossing. I ease into the sensory experience. I feel very much at ease. I have a sense of contentment, of needing nothing more than just this. The moment I ask why I feel at ease, the feeling slips away.

I will call the experience a space and say that I entered the space by transcending words. I will reveal that the feeling of peace and contentment was tangible, in a non-physical way at least? And yet here I sit; grafting words onto something that defies vocabulary. Is this me trying to write myself? I attempt to trace here the process of my experience on my patio, to document the dance between intellect and this elusive shadow. It seems absurd that I am so far from myself? How can it be that, that which is me, is a mystery? I hear Marcel Duchamp applaud in my mind, whatever that is?

We come to the world through biology and words. We extract meaning from experience by placing recollection alongside reason with the hope that afterwards there is some residue of understanding. Hah!
I begin to grasp that iconic philosophical crossroad, the ‘linguistic turn’ where the manner of searching diverged. On the one hand those who reasoned that language and it’s rules of grammar are innate, and on the other those who maintained that language is random and derives meaning only when words are placed in a context with other words. Words …

Perhaps trying to find the “I”, the “self” is like trying to understand electricity by contemplating a light bulb?

No, it’s like trying to bottle mist!

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Mist often hangs low above the earth. It is attracted to earthy things.

How to bottle mist
1. Select a misty day.
2. Remove stones from jar.
3. Keep jar open, ensuring that the lid is close at hand.
4. Hold jar high above head and walk rapidly through mist.
5. Quickly insert stones which will encourage the mist to remain in the jar.
6. Seal with lid of jar.
7. Now you are able to enjoy your jar of mist, even on sunny days.
8. In sunshine you may notice condensation in the bottle, this is evidence that you have mist in your jar.10072010268

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