Creative Writing Page
This page is a showcase for the creative writing of some of my students in the English Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. From here you can return to my home page.
Click here for poems by Scotch Tagwireyi
Click here for an excerpt from a prize-winning short story by Jeffrey Dimon
SCOTCH TAGWIREYI completed a first-year course in the English department in 1998. He is currently writing a novel.
Rain clouds covering the skies
it is the coming of the rain season
this smell, this feeling, this look
this anger, these thoughts, this love
this joy, this sound still locked unarticulated
only it was in a different place
I was a kid then
in Charumbira village
(Scotch Tagwireyi, 1998)
Letter To Mother
Your last letter told me
to keep faith in the goddess
to read the book of revelations
as though you smelt the smell
of mortality in me
I went to church as we used to
but they now teach politics
(Scotch Tagwireyi, 1998)
I Will Die Before Supper-Time
were I not a traditional village
trapped in the round mud hut of the village
I would rather betray them and scream
than betraying myself in silence
for I cannot stand it anymore
Miriro's red blood eye on the mortal wall
shading red blood tears
I tried to look outside
grandmother sitting under the barren fig-tree
cracking fig seeds to extract nuts for supper
but I will be dead before supper-time
(Scotch Tagwireyi, 1998)
JEFFREY DIMON is completing a first year course in the English department. He is majoring in Law and writes fiction compulsively. Below is an excerpt from a short story that won a departmental prize in 1998. Valkenberg is a mental institution in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mr Dimon's story is set in pre-1994 apartheid South Africa.
by Jeffrey Dimon
The siren stopped wailing and the critical care vehicle came to a standstill. The driver and his companion dislodged themselves from the navigation compartment, and opened the rear door: on the stretcher lay a young supposedly violent mentally disturbed black man of twenty-one years of age. His ankles were chained and his hands cuffed in front of him. Hardened nylon safety-belts around his torso prevented any movement.
At the back of the van sat his cousin, silently terrified by this bizarre sight. He had known his cousin to be a rational, soft-spoken young man, six years his elder. But what he saw in front of him was a helpless infant, a madman. He had never entertained the idea that the older family members would choose him to accompany this basket case.
He consoled himself that maybe his good command of Afrikaans had won him the unenviable task. He kept feeding pieces of unsalted fish into the mouth of this semi-invalid man. Promise - that was his name - could not comprehend or reconcile himself to the fact that his cousin was violent. His cousin requested his food with the calm, soft voice of someone saying what's come over me, can you tell me? - even though these were not his actual words. When they unfastened the belts, leaving only the leg-irons and handcuffs, both Promise and the basket case felt saddened by the parting.
They had arrived close to five o'clock. Once inside the establishment, in the presence of heavily built black and coloured male nurses, he was freed from his chains. The two white men who drove the critical care vehicle and his cousin handed him over to the other authorities. Papers with the magistrate's and the doctor's signature instructed them that he was theirs for probing and experimenting on, for they had satisfied themselves that he was not fit to be free in the community. The police's endorsement of his confinement gave additional weight to this judgement. He was to be rehabilitated if possible, and certainly to be confined in the tax-haven of the state of "Monaco" - the alias of Valkenberg resort.
The papers conveyed to the psychiatrist that an abuse of marijuana was the culprit for his current state. His accommodation was speedily arranged, since it was almost time to close shop. Firstly, his food was confiscated: a large chunk of unsalted fish with no vinegar and a freshly picked bunch of carrots were stored in the freezer for future use. His clothes were stored away for the day of his release - should such a day ever arrive. After a bath, he was issued with the standard clothes of the establishment: pyjamas and a gown; all he would wear during his entire stay. The interview was conducted in a rush, as the young interviewer wanted to get home quickly and forget about her impossible patients. He was uncooperative during the interview and again marijuana was diagnosed as the culprit. The woman issued a strong warning that if he wanted to stay clear of the institution in future, he would have to stay clear of the drug. This remonstration ended the session.
Once inside, after a bed and locker had been assigned to him, he felt the need to appraise his surroundings, and to retrace the steps that led him to the Valkenberg Intrapersonal School. The first thing that he noticed was that the school was racially integrated - there was no apparent animosity between the different races. At a certain time, the television was switched off, but he could not remember exactly when. He had lost his sense of time. They all went to their beds and double doors were locked after a head-count of students was conducted.
He sat on his bed and surveyed the other students, feeling that he did not belong with them - but he was there nonetheless, one of the basket cases, and therefore in no position to judge them. He vowed that he would split himself into two: one part of him would participate in the world of the institution, and the other would stand separate from it, unraveling the mystery of his presence there; and then he abandoned that stance again, for his questions seemed unanswerable.
On his first night he met Rasta, the dreadlocked one. He noticed Rasta's unkept hair, attempting to be spiky, and they greeted each other in the ritual way, with a fist and a kiss. It seemed that friendship was possible here. Rasta was from Paarl and he was from Ashton, a village it transpired Rasta was familiar with, so a common bond was established. He himself had never resolved his ties with the Rasta movement, neither maintaining nor severing them. Was it the mystical power of his bond with Rastafarianism that had led him here, or was his destiny dictated by the more conventional spiritual mystery of his parents' strong Christian faith? He was in limbo. What about him, what did he believe in, and most importantly, who was he? What was he doing here, was it a path that he had to travel in order to discover himself? He searched for answers everywhere; nothing passed in front of his eyes and through his mind without being viewed from different perspectives.
What was Rasta doing here? Faking madness to spy on him? But he dismissed that thought. Rasta seemed sweet, cunning and stupid at the same time. Rasta was up for early release for good behaviour. Rasta made the beds of the "ultra basket-cases" and helped the Indian supervisor cum housekeeper manager to wash the dishes. It was this supervisor who assessed your rationality and decided whether you were fit for re-incorporation into society, so it was a good idea to conduct constant conversation with him. Being friendly with the supervisor was the high price for madness that everyone had to pay to gain passage to freedom.
Rasta disappeared from the scene and he knew that Rasta had succeeded in beating the school system. After Rasta, the reincarnation of Jesus, in a bearded white male with smoke-stained brown teeth named John, entered the scene. John read the Bible continuously, locking it only now and then in his locker with his cigarette packet. It dawned on him that John was one of the school's returning students, because there was no better place ceaselessly to preach the gospel of the blood on Jesus. Perennial rivers of tears zig-zagged down John's face and disappeared in his auburn beard. He befriended John and was offered a cigarette for joining the seedy congregation. He found no satisfaction from smoking and soon gave it up. Deep down in his heart he fell for the saintly John, for he came to the understanding that John was addicted to his fictitious reincarnation theory. John had constant visitors and an inexhaustible supply of cigarettes and biscuits. He assumed that John had a girlfriend who kept him oiled and pleasured, because when John returned from visits to the outside world, John seemed aroused, his language departing from its usual gospel-like manner to become interspersed with sexual obscenities.
Aside from John, there was frail balding Simeone, who was in his early fifties and walked like someone ascending an endless staircase. Simeone was a chain smoker, a real basket case professor. He did not talk to Simeone much, because Simeone had an aversion to blacks. Simeone talked a little bit with John, who had designed himself as Simeone's protector.
There was also the criminal, whose bed was opposite his. The criminal hated blacks: even a perfunctory glance was met with stern fire-eating eyes. The furious expression of the criminal augmented the impression that he was there for a criminal offense, and made him seem eager to get out. The criminal was stupid because he had not learnt that the way to unlock the school's door to freedom was to be nice to the real basket cases and the non-whites. You had to strike conversation and you needed not to appear moody and anti-social. He was terrified of the criminal. Whenever the lights went out, they both stayed awake, sizing each other up. They both seemed to be reassuring themselves that they were not like one another, not like "them".
The chief was addressed as "Chief" with no apparent irony, because his peers actually believed that he was a chief. Chief reiterated the fact that traditionally he was the chief of a small clan in the Transkei, and wore his institutional gown like royal garb. In most respects, though, Chief acted like a teenager and exuded no sense of chieftaincy or dignity. The chief was always getting into trouble with the orderlies. Once, at medicine-time in the dining hall before meal-time, he refused his medication and the sister who gave the doses of "knowledge" manhandled him, causing a fight. Instead of intervening to stop the skirmish, the students cheered the chief and the sister was saved by the speedy arrival of the male nurses. The chief was placed in solitary confinement and he lost some privileges.
The soldier was a stout, athletically built young man in his late twenties. He had a masculine face and the dark complexion and glistening white teeth of equatorial people. The soldier told him that he had participated in the ill-fated invasion of Ciskei by Transkei defense force members during the Matanzima and Sebe era. He conjectured that maybe the soldier was discharged to Valkenberg to sabotage some kind of investigation, because the soldier seemed to be in control of his faculties - unless the shock of the failed invasion disturbed him in some invisible way. The soldier was under the impression that a young female nurse was falling in love with him. This belief distracted the soldier from his present predicament and allowed him to plan a life outside the huge doors of the school. The soldier requested some of his clothes from home, like shorts that showed his finely shaped masculine legs, in order to expedite the seduction of the apple of his eye. He believed that the soldier was setting himself up for disappointment, and wondered if this would not have the effect of prolonging the soldier's stay.