Authors: Bryce Courtenay
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Bryce Courtenay was born in South Africa and now lives in Sydney, Australia. He is a creative director of George Patterson Advertising, lectures widely and also writes a weekly column for the
The Power of One
The Potato Factory
Tommo & Hawk
The Night Country
Smoky Joe's CafÃ©
Matthew Flinder's Cat
The Persimmon Tree
McArthur & Company
As a great admirer of the work of Dame Elizabeth Frink I have put many of her observations concerning her art into the dialogue which comes from the character Harriet in my novel. I have also used the concept of the walking Madonna, Frink's work of acknowledged genius done for Salisbury cathedral. Other than these obvious, and I hope complimentary, references, the character Harriet is not intended in any way whatsoever to depict Dame Elizabeth, who is not known personally to me. All the other characters, unless they are mentioned specifically by name as public figures of the time, are entirely fictional.
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Copyright Â© 1992 Bryce Courtenay
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.
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For Damon Courtenay my son. Who through all the bad years never once asked, "Why me?"
Writing is one of the lonely things we do, yet every writer needs friends who help in little ways and big. This second book has been very difficult as, I am told, second books are meant to be. My thanks to my wife, Benita, who did the continuity reading and who wasn't afraid to tell me when she thought it wasn't working; Owen Denmeade, who waited every fortnight for the next chapter and helped in a hundred different ways; Alex Hamill and my agency George Patterson, who again made things easier in the balance between a working writer and a writer who also works.
In South Africa those people who helped generously with time and information: Lynette McGuire, who so. very competently checked my facts and who did the political and historical research and much more; Dr Louis and Justine Rapeport; Leigh Voight; Jorgen Schaderburg,.whose photography for
magazine gave me the mood and tense of the time in which I write; T. P. Naidoo for his insights into the Durban Indian community in the fifties and Mrs Mayat for the same; Shaun Rack, whose unshakeable belief in his sad country helped temper my pen.
In America: Louis H. Holt of Reno, Nevada; the poet Tenbroek Patterson in Cambridge, Mass.
In London: Prof. Louis Ecksteen of the S.A. Embassy; M. M. Dube of the Swaziland High Commission; Mic Cheetham, my agent, who works quietly behind the scenes.
In Australia: Jill Hickson, my agent, who has done so very much to ensure my success as a writer; Prof. Brent Waters; Dr Irwin Light; Erica Light; Chig Chignall; Ray Black; Alan Barry;
Julie Quinlivan, who designed the dust jacket; Giles Hugo, Sharon Dunn and Heidi Smith.
Also, those writers too numerous to mention from whom I have borrowed facts and insights on and into South Africa.
Finally, Laura Longrigg my London editor, who made the rough passages smooth in more than one way.
Together since the world began, the madman and the lover.
Discovered by Allied troops written on a latrine wall at Dachau
On the morning she was raped Tandia had risen just before dawn and come back to the graveside to pay her proper respects to Patel. Someone had been there before her. She looked at the grass around the grave but only her own footprints showed on its wet, dew-frosted surface. They must have come last night.
Tandia had been the last to leave the funeral on the previous evening, just a little after sunset when the cicadas in the dusty mimosa trees around the cemetery had suddenly shut down. She'd watched the two black grave diggers working to fill the hole. As they sliced their long-handled shovels into the red day they chanted a soft urgent rhythm. When they'd heaped the soil high enough and patted it down and rounded it properly, one of them, using the back of his shovel, drove a crude wooden cross into the comfortable looking mound of soil. They departed still singing softly, shovels across their sweat-wet shoulders, their diminishing shapes outlined against the red sun.
Tandia had arranged all the wreaths over the bare mound of earth. Directly under the wooden cross she'd placed a large bunch of Easter lilies wrapped in cellophane. The card, pinned to the broad satin ribbon, read: 'REST IN PEACE, PATEL. POLICE BOYS' BOXING CLUB.'
Now, someone had moved the Easter lilies to the side to make a place at the foot of the cross for a small Indian oil lamp with a bright blue flame that burned perfectly still, as though frozen in the pewter light. Beside it stood a tiny brass vase from which burned four sticks of incense, and around the cross hung a bright garland of miniature orange and yellow marigolds.
Tandia watched as tiny puffs of grey smoke broke away from the sticks. The incense made a warm smell in the dawn air, a little bit of home comfort for Natkin Patel, South Africa's best-known Indian boxing referee, who had been born a Hindu and who died a Christian.
Tandia wondered about the appearance of the Indian stuff on Patel's grave. Was Patel already a Christian when he had put his curry sausage into her black mother? Or did it happen only after she was born? Which God was going to punish him for bringing a bastard mixed-race child into the world? Do you suppose the Gods keep score? When you turn your back on one God and choose another, does the old God demand vengeance? Or would the Lord Krishna, Patel's old God, be satisfied with a garland of miniature marigolds, four sticks of incense burning in a cheap brass vase and a lighted oil lamp? A careful person like Patel would not have wanted to take any chances. For damn sure, he would have decided it couldn't hurt to leave both gates to paradise a little open. That was Patel all right. He'd always liked to make arrangements a long way ahead.
Patel would have liked the funeral. Quite a lot of white people came. Also, of course, important leaders of the Durban Indian community. Because he was Church of England, which is a pretty rare thing to be when you are a South African Indian, and because he was well respected by the police, they had given permission for his lying-in to take place at Kruger's Funeral Parlour.
Kruger said he was prepared to make this concession for a boxing referee and coach who, even if he was an Indian, was greatly respected and a good type of man. Nevertheless, allowing a dead Indian to be laid out for inspection in a whites-only funeral parlour was a very brave and honourable thing for him to do. To show their appreciation, Mrs Patel and the two boys, Teddy and Billy, had asked Kruger, along with Captain Vermaak, president of the Police Boys' Boxing Club, to be pall bearers.
Lying in the small funeral parlour in his expensive stinkwood coffin, arms crossed, eyes closed, his curry-coloured skin with its tiny indented smallpox scars losing its sheen, Patel looked different. It was his hair; it was no longer parted the way he always wore it, pasted down with Brylcreem so that the roadway down the centre of the scalp was precise, not a single hair trespassing to the other side. Kruger, who should have known better, had parted Patel's hair with a side parting. Patel looked like a stranger.
Patel was Tandia's only loved one. If you could call him that. He hadn't even touched her since she was six years old. She knew that as a baby he'd loved her, she knew that for sure. Now, before he was dead that is, she didn't think so. Maybe he just felt guilty. Although guilty was perhaps the wrong word. More like ashamed. Ashamed that a person like him had sunk so low as to do it to a kaffir woman. She loved him anyway.
Tandia had always thought the time would come when he'd love her again. When she was grown up, after she'd done all the things he wanted her to do, then there would be a reconciliation. He would recognise that he had a clever daughter as well as two fat legitimate sons who were, anyway, a load of rubbish. It wasn't fair! Patel just wasn't the sort who would go and drop dead on a person. Especially in the boxing ring with white people standing all around. He would rather die than have a thing like that happen to him.
The morning of his death, when he'd appeared at the back steps for his boots, he'd been his usual self, the smooth skin on his forehead glowing, his hair oiled and parted perfectly in the middle, the pleats in his gaberdine trousers sharp as a knife and his heavily starched white shirt crackling as he pulled his boots on. That morning he'd been a million miles from being dead.
Yesterday, after the first few Indians had gone into the funeral parlour they came back out into the bright sunshine, but instead of saying nothing, like people do at such times, everyone was whispering about the wrong parting of Patel's hair. 'What can you expect? Isn't that typical of the whites to bugger up an important thing like a person's hair!' Of course the whisper didn't get to where Mr Kruger was standing under a big old fig tree with all the other white people from the boxing club.
Tandia waited until the last mourner had some out of the parlour. She stood beside the coffin and looked furtively up at the white funeral attendant in the frock coat and cravat who stood watch beside Patel's dead body. He was young and fat and his face was covered in acne scars and purplish bumps where the acne still bothered him. He didn't look too dangerous; still, you never knew with those young white guys. What if she acted brave as anything?
Just the thought of going up to this oozey white person made Tandia's mouth go dry. If Patel was alive he would have been able to do it. He was always boasting that he was well known in white circles. As a small child Tandia had thought he said white
For years she imagined Patel was some sort of performer, an acrobat or something. But now there was nobody who would be game enough to take the matter up with Mr Kruger. She'd watched the Indian mourners as they came out of the little chapel; one thing was for sure, none of them was going to make a fuss about Patel's hair.
Tandia moved up to the fat white man in the frock coat. 'Excuse me,
'Can I help you?' She was surprised he spoke English; she'd expected him to be an Afrikaner.
Despite her boldness, the dryness in Tandia's mouth stopped her next words. She had first to work her tongue around the top of her mouth before she spoke again. 'Excuse me, sir, you combed his hair all wrong. It should be parted down the middle.'
There was a moment's silence as the attendant looked at Patel and then back at Tandia. 'That's not my job.' He turned and, pointing to heavy red velvet drapes that hung from the ceiling to the floor and formed the rear wall of the chapel, he added, 'The corpses, I mean the passed-away persons, they all done by Mr Kruger, the boss. I just stand by the coffin, you understand?' He leant forward, his voice almost a whisper. 'I'm just here in case someone gets hysterical and flings themselves on the body.' His voice was surprisingly high and whiney, and he was plainly as intimidated by these surroundings as Tandia. 'Please don't make trouble, this is the first time I done this job.' He shrugged his shoulders and the nape of his frock coat rose up to his ears and then fell back again. That's why Mr Kruger gave me only a coolie funeral.'
Tandia smiled up at him. He was a dumbbell but she sensed he meant no harm and this gave her the confidence she needed to continue. 'Tell me, please, have you got a comb?'
'Yes, of course.' The big man brought his hands up and patted both sides of his breast frantically, producing a small black comb from his top left pocket. The movement was amazingly quick for such a big, slow-thinking man.
Struggling to remain calm, Tandia said, 'Perhaps, maybe you could comb my father's hair with a middle parting?' She smiled. 'Please, so he dies happy?'
'No way!' He pulled back in alarm. 'No, man, I can't do that. I don't do the touching. I don't touch no stiffs, I can't do what you asking me. No bladdy way!'
Tandia snatched the comb from his hand and quickly combed Natkin Patel's stiff hair over his eyes. Swallowing her panic, she said to herself, 'Please God forgive me, I'm only doing this so he dies happy, he was a very proud man!' She drew the small comb down the centre of the cold scalp; it was like parting a doll's hair on a papier-mache head. But Patel's hair had been lacquered to keep it in place. 'Please God, make it lie down!' she pleaded. Frantic, she flung the comb down on his chest and used the palms of her hands to smooth the hair down on either side of his skull. Patel's head was icy cold to her touch and she gave a short, involuntary shiver. It still wasn't perfect, but it looked okay, much more like the real Patel; like he'd been asleep and mussed it up a bit.
The white man at her side cleared his throat. 'Come, hurry up,
I got to close the lid now.'
Tandia nodded. 'Thank you, sir, he can rest in peace now.'
Reaching behind a vase of gladioli he brought out a large screwdriver. 'Ag, man, he's dead anyway, I don't see what his hair has got to do with anything.' From his trouser pocket he produced a large brass screw and, closing the lid of the coffin, he inserted the screw into the keyhole of the brass locking-plate and screwed it shut.' Tandia remembered she'd left his comb resting on Patel's beautifully starched shirtfront. It was too late to rescue it and she hoped the attendant wouldn't remember. It was a cheap comb anyway; for sixpence you could buy one like it anywhere.
The funeral parlour attendant replaced the screwdriver and moved over to the rear wall of the chapel where he pulled open the drapes to reveal a large, round-shouldered radiogram. He pushed a small lever on the turntable and the record arm rose. Removing the record and blowing on it quickly, he flipped it onto the reverse side and re-positioned it. Then he pushed down on the lever again and the arm rose slowly, swung above the turning record and plunged downwards. With a slight crackle of static, the needle came to rest in a groove and almost immediately the strains of a Bach funeral cantata filled the small room. The big man rolled his eyes and let out a huge sigh of relief. In his anxiety to get his routine right he appeared to have forgotten about Tandia. He jerked the curtain together and moved hurriedly towards the closed chapel doors, pausing only to adjust his coat, pulling simultaneously at both sides of his lapels. Taking a deep breath, he straightened up, lifted his chin and swung the doors inwards so that the organ music could escape into the sunshine.
Tandia slipped quietly behind the curtain where she watched as the light flooded into the dark funeral parlour. She could see Teddy and Billy, the two Patel boys, coming up the steps followed by Kruger and Captain Vermaak. Behind them came four Indian friends of Patel. They all had their hands clasped as they walked over to Patel's coffin and took up their positions. The organ music rose to a crescendo and Kruger nodded to the attendant who, in turn, nodded back to the pall bearers who hoisted Patel's stinkwood coffin onto their shoulders and carried it slowly back towards the door. Billy and Teddy on either side at the front led the coffin out and the attendant, looking pleased that he'd pulled it all off successfully, brought up the rear.
Tandia forbade herself to cry at the funeral. Crying was the biggest mistake she could make in front of Mrs Patel. If Mrs Patel saw her crying she knew what she'd be thinking. That coloured bitch is trying to show more grief than his proper family!' By closely observing the business of death, her mind stayed busy and she was able to push her sorrow aside by crowding it with detail.
Tandia often did this. When a thing got too hard to bear or if it began to crowd her emotionally, she would do what she thought of as
'thinking a thing inside out.'
When, for instance, they started to throw handfuls of earth over Patel's coffin it was such a personal and private thing to do that her grief threatened to overwhelm her. She wanted to rush forward and put her own handful of red clay over Patel, to stand over his grave and weep for him. But she dared not move forward. She hadn't been invited to the funeral and she had fully expected Mrs Patel or Billy or Teddy to send her home when she turned up at the parlour. Now she crowded in the details, the droning on of the minister, all the dust-to-dust and ashes-to-ashes stuff, people fidgeting, the Indian guests awkward when the Bible was being read. She watched from the very edge of the mourners, too far away to see into the open hole and positioned so as not to be seen by Mrs Patel or her two fat sons, who were having a really good time sniffling and blowing into their hankies, which was a big, fat laugh, because everyone knew they hated Patel. He wanted them to be boxers but they'd both turned out soft and fat and scared of their own shadows.
Anyone watching the funeral would have picked her out quite easily. At nearly sixteen she was tall and slim for her age and was becoming everything Patel had said she would be. Tandia was not aware of her beauty. Her green eyes, small, straight Indian nose, skin the colour of bluegum honey, beautiful bone structure, full lips and dose-cropped peppercorn hair were a cultural corruption, an act of sin. To see her extraordinary beauty you needed eyes that made no racial judgement and there were few of those in South Africa.