The Three Symphonies of a Narratologist

I

Ant Meditation

As it was customary Old Lefofa sat brooding on his stoep at no 373 Maunde Street. As the blood stream of cars caressed Maunde Street: Taxi’s honking to beckon people going to the city or elsewhere locally and private cars honking in turn in annoyance of the unpredictable drivers; Old lefofa’s ill kept garden smelled of promise as he touched it with his sense of smell, head bowed by time and knobby wise hands clawed to a walking staff. Yes of course I said staff not stick for the device much served the latter purpose than that of the third leg: below where the time etched sage sat flow another blood stream. An insect sphere – a world of ants. More about the ants in a paragraph below.

Time is a leveler. It reduces everything in its path to beg for its mercy which nay it doesn’t grant. And it is in time that old habits are rooted:

He woke up at five, a timeframe enshrined by working as a guard in one of the Indian owned shops in Marabastad. He worked for an outfitter with a penchant for suspicion. If Moosa was stingy to his workers and partial to his watchman: the old man’s wife sometimes reflects, then he did succeed in giving Old lefofa a very suspicious mind.

She was awake now, typing, weaving her fictional worlds. The two of them will commune for breakfast. First it shall be the electric kettle set to boil water, a frying pan with four eggs will hiss on the stove and toast will be brought to cake the bread further in preparation of breakfast. Yes, and when all is ready for the first fuel. She will draw back the curtain of the sitting room not far from her writing desk, open the window and gently intone: my lovie let us break fast. And he in turn will rickety stand on three legs. Half struggling with a time battered body and half acting it out to anyone who will take a fancy at looking at his old form; hobbling to the other side of the house.

Presently as he sat on the stoep he peered through his eyes at the ants below and as always a familiar feeling settled in his heart. He admired the discipline of the ants; to him this world that he took a peep at every morning seem to be intact and organized.

One in which each member knew that they had a part to play. Like at Moosa’s; all knew their place as far as work was concerned. Such was this world of six legged men. (He wondered if there were women ants as well in the traffic) with big heads, pincers and brown calcareous suits. There had to be.

Splat! A huge juicy blob landed on the traffic of the brown people disrupting their single file movement and trapping the others in its sticky solution. A drool had hitherto escaped old Lefofa’s gaping frozen smile and sputtered near the drilling file of ants. Such was his admiration of this world that he even froze!

‘Heck,’ he hissed at himself as he gathered himself together. He pulled back after swallowing his bitter saliva. He was not done in his meditation. Further on as he traced the ant traffic he saw that a group of the brown ants were pulling a juicy worm towards the point where the accident had happened; thanks to him.  And where the accident had taken place the survivors had reestablished a new route to pass the blob and join the original life line. Such was their intelligence! Lefofa’s eyes glistened with affection. What pushed this creature? Perhaps maybe some form of god that it served. The queen, it had to be.

Lefofa swore as he always swore that she would be located underneath the stoep if he had muscle and time enough to destroy the stoep – the fortress. But her viceroys will be guarding her with affection and dedication just as he guarded Moosa. He snickered at the thought of prying the stoep open imagining the worker ants running in all direction, some attacking him while the viceroys’ readied themselves to prance at his approach, behind them and dwarfing them the queen making a sound that sounded like a headache throbbing and her egg filled body glowed with thousands of life. She looked like a shiny soft pillow as she shone and un-shone.

The old man remember watching  a motion picture in which one of the characters, a foe, gets shot and falls atop a disturbed colony of meat eating ants who devours him in an instant leaving nothing behind except his glasses as he melts in a swirl of ants.

As this thought lingers a cold movement stirs near the rectum and crawls his spine. He gets even colder as he suspects that there is someone standing in front him. He swallows and ventures to look up. Indeed against the glaze his slits meets a man of about forty or so standing before him.

‘Greetings, father’ the young man’s face cracks.

The old man’s heart bust with joy. Needless to remind you that his feelings were already swelling from his ant meditation.

‘Leshoko Percival Lefofa my boy is that you?’ he jerks up, free hand shielding the eyes from the glare of the morning sun.

‘Let me stand up so that I can have a good look at you’ he adds as he steadies himself. They stand face to face, crouches while the stranger is squares erect.

As the features of Percival’s face falls into relief old Lefofa realizes that this is not his beloved son. This is a stranger. His spirit is tints with gloomyness.

‘I am here to deliver a message, I believe this is 373 Maunde Street it is from Percival’ begins the stranger offering a greeting hand. A grey sedan parks outside.

II

Hologram

Sugar read the almost crumbled letter that the stranger had hitherto given to the knobby old man; her husband, who in turn gave to her. She read silently reads:

My beloved parents. I can not say that I am proud of what I have done leaving you by your self without physical and financial support. But at the same time you will learn, if there is any hope in learning on your part, to leave with what I have wished for.

Soon after my graduation from the college of applied science I felt a deep resentment for the banality of the township life led by my peers oscillated around the street corners and the slicing of the bread in between. I wanted more.

However this is not the only point that made me leave, it is the strain. It is the financial strain that I have smelt just as I was to finish. You particularly wanted me to take care of you before I pursued my life’s dream and this I did not think it was fair on my part. You cannot possibly think that just because you have brought me into this world you have a birthright to master my destiny. Besides have I not had a play in the turn of events? Have I not won the bursary to stay in the Science school? You have struggled to make ends meet to meet my fees. But I prevailed to get a bursary which not only allowed me to stay on in that world of the sciences but to also established a nest amongst the rich kids whom I attended with there. The very kids who scorned me at first they laughing at my shoes when I was a freshman.

As sugar was reading and the old man’s puffins enveloped the two of them in foam.  The stranger, who was the bearer of the letter took out a flat disc from his breast pocket the size of which was like that of the old South African one rand coin. He placed it on the rickety table and there issued from it a form of a man about the same age as the stranger. No wonder the old knobby man has in section I of the present narrative mistaken our un-informed stranger for his son. They almost resembled in each other – But the stranger was attired in rather shabby clothes.

The projected image was in an impression of a bust. It picked up where the letter ended in this way continuing the letter. The voice of their son issuing from the projection struck them with a chill of wonderment:

[I have liberated my self from your greedy intentions of trying and monopolize my life to your greedy ends…] in the letter and the hologram said

…So I have liberated my self from your intentions and I live my dream as it should be. I have arranged this message to you in order to clear up some cobwebs of the past. You will remember how you always pestered me, how you always asked when I would graduate so as to take care of you. It was unfair because it meant I actually did not have the right to have my life. It meant I was to live for you. That is why I left…

The parents’ mouths stood agape as the hologram stated these facts. But then they became aware of another personce presence besides that of the seated stranger who had brought the message. That someone was at the door listening. Instantly A shadowy form fell on the transparent bust.

‘My umbilical cord fell in this yard consequences lead me ajar to this place and I hereby feel shamed and angry at the same time’ the voice belonged to a man whom without doubt resembled the holographic bust. He stood in the doorway, he subsequently drew the latch of the lower door open entered the kitchen.

All the while the stranger had been keeping quite not even looking at the protagonist. But he knew the man. Percival has been following him for days ever since he enquter with the silver encasing.

‘Dear Parents, the hardest thing that I have learned in this life is to bring my self to admittance that I have wronged you.’ He began

‘With all my money I found I could not be completely happy without knowing how you were…

The Stranger walked out.

III

Sugar

He touches his face with his knobby free hand while steadying himself with the other hand. The young man allows him to touch his face without flinching. Indeed it is not Leshoko, Thinks the old man. His mind returns to where he has stashed his money in the bedroom. His last count was Fifty Thousand Rand Twenty Three Rand and Thirty cents. He will have to count his stash  again after this stranger has gone away in case he is a sorcerer who may snuff it away with him upon his leave. Then comes the other test, He grabs the hand that the young man has offered as a respectable sign of greeting. He squeezes it tight with his knobby hand. The young man before him does not register pain whatsoever. The old man’s mischievous smile dies.

‘I must be losing my touch,’ he begins

‘In my earlier days I use to make young man like you squeal with pain from this squeeze’ he explains as he offers his hand for inspection. He then shields his eyes against the sun light to get a better look at the young man. He wonders what became of his own son.

‘Here is the letter that Percival has written to you’ says the stranger as he removes from his shabby trousers a crumbed letter. The old man takes the letter and scans the address.

‘This is indeed for us. Come, I can smell the eggs and the toast, my Sugar will have breakfast ready. This means she is done with her morning session with the machine. You can join us.’ he concludes and leads the way to the back door. They enter the kitchen. There is scrumptious breakfast of eggs, cheese, butter, sausages and fruit chutney accompanied by toast and mix fruit juice.

‘Sit here while I go look for sugar’ says old Lefofa motioning to one of the chairs. He wanted his wife to be the one opening the letter. After hushed voices are heard deep within the house

Dumelang,’ says a sweet voice with a touch of croakiness to the stranger.

‘Good morning Mma’ answers the stranger standing up to greet the old grey woman. She defies doubts that she had been beautiful in her youth. But time like has had a play with her like it had done with the old man.

The old man had brought with him his pipe makeshift, stuffed its belly with tobacco, lit it, and soon foam envelopes him while he looks like he is in deep thought.  She wears a silk robe while he a fried coat.

‘I am Percival’s mother it will be a delight if you could join us for breakfast’ she gestures at the contents on the table.

‘My lovie will you read the letter for us?’ croaks the old man as he puffs on.

‘Yes my dear, let me have a seat’ she says as she takes a seat besides him. She takes a sharp knife near the block of cheese, inserts it in the seam of the letter and methodically sliced it open’

Overture

And then fiction referred to itself and its reception

Sugar writes. She follows the lines morph, letter into words and they in turn into sentences which gives birth to paragraphs. Perhaps they will grow into pages. Lots of pages and then a novella if more ambitious into a novel.

She had always enjoyed reading other peoples books and has had those whose work she admires. But these days she finds joy in writing short pieces mostly to herself. Sometime her husband read her work while they sit outside underneath ‘their’ lemon tree. This morning she woke up a little after five. Bathe. She has been having a tormenting piece that wanted to be brought out. After the beauty ritual she click clack typed on the laptop –

MARVEL

Experience, it is true, it is limited to the point of reference of the one undergoing it. Experience boxes us in like mice in a maze. But the maze is of another nature. I shall return to this particular ‘maze’, for it is not a predetermined maze altogether. It is partly predetermined. And what will concern me in my exposition of the box experience will be when the candidate undergoing experience gains control of the pillars that holds together the experience.

One thing again that we need to bear in mind is that two people can undergo the same experience but their reportage may differ by some degree; this is obvious. We may ask why? Those who have pondered upon this phenomena we call experience from time immemorial will assert to you that the degree of two candidates witnessing a similar experience simultaneously will bare a slight difference when it comes to reportage. For our candidates are experiencing the phenomena against the backdrop of unique upbringings.

When one finds himself or herself looking at one of my classic pieces The Dawning what does one sees? What does one take with them after their silent commune with that painting? Critics and Art Historians have referred to The Dawning and have entertaining a lot of intellectual gymnastics. I remember reading the arts section in the Tshwane Herald and there was a critic who assumed that the painting was a reflection of a child hood experience that the painter, my self, had experienced. He was taking a psychological stance. That the work had something to do with authority that is being administered to the boy standing besides the four seated adults on the table. Those of you who have not seen that classic piece, painted during the years when I thought painting was the answer to mankind’s problems, should look at the following slide carefully.

SLIDE

She has to take a break. Look at the time oops, it is nearly time to prepare break fast. A moment ago her husband has passed her by en route to the bathroom. The swoosh of water after his morning ablutions. Doobledoo le doorrr of water pouring into the bath And his customary exit outside to breath the fresh air passed without displaying any disturbances to her work. She liked it when it had rained and she sat erect at her typing table, windows open ajar to let the breeze in to ventilate the house while she in turn vented on the keys weaving fiction.

But breakfast had to be prepared. It was the first event of the day if not a ritual that afforded her and her husband time to indulge in each other’s company. She went on to prepare it and was soon back at the pc typing; just for five minutes then she will call Lefofa…

Entering this framed room you should realize that the boys face is hidden from the viewer. You only see his back with arms folded behind. Now look at the facial expressions of the four adults seated. You will immediately notice, albeit through semi abstraction that obscure the details a little, that two of them are wearing small earrings and turbans. While the other two it is obvious that they are men. When this fact has been established you will notice the position of each individual. I have maintained a sequence in this setting. Starting from the left, you will notice a clock on the wall with its arms registering ten thirteen. Then you encounter the first seated woman then a man then woman and lastly a man. All are facing to the right of the picture plane. When we follow their gaze we meet the boy. If you look carefully behind him on the right side of the picture plane a rather crude bedside radio – a digital clock registers 11:00. This second clock, which is a digital piece, is forward by seven minutes or the analogue is behind by seven minutes. Perhaps for another piercing mind it can be deduced that time has passed. I know it is a trivial pursuit if I you begin to acknowledge these signs, however it is a pursuit worth undertaking in arriving at the global sign – the theme of the painting.

We cannot see the expression on the boy’s face. However through manipulation of colour I have managed to give an impression that his head is turned to the ground with shame for his mischief as the critic in question has pointed out. But what if I meant submission and not what the lady wrote in the Herald? What suggested to her that the boy is in shame? It’s her experience. Her experience is the culprit. Experience is the culprit natured by our upbringing…

‘my lovie, sorry for the disturbance but there is a lad here with a letter from our long lost son. I have led him inside the kitchen.’ Croaked the narrators husband

The narrator’s heart skipped a beat. She gingerly frisked the curtain of the seating room where her typing table was set and saw a black sedan. She grasped at her mouth, eyes instantly moist.

‘I am coming,’ she gasps. The pioneer’s philosophy must wait. She put on her silk robe while Lefofa took his tobacco pouch and pipe from the atop a side cabinet next to the book shelf.

About Mmutle Arthur Kgokong/mmutleak

I am based in the City of Tshwane, South Africa. to a greater extent my writings cover the Visual Arts with a focus in documentation and archiving of artists' lives. To a lesser extent some of my writings cover television, movies and sometime Music that I find interesting. Occasionally, when I get the itch, I pen opinion pieces on matters of public and socio-political interest. Over the last few years my work has gravitated towards working with artists to build their biographical archives with an aim to preserve their contributions to South African art both in audio and transcripts under the Intraparadox series. View all posts by Mmutle Arthur Kgokong/mmutleak

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