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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

A rooster’s ode to dawn


Al Lovejoy - 2008-04-03

Whenever I found myself hitching on the road in very bad emotional shape I always tended to hitchhike non-stop. Being in the company of a stranger - lonely enough for conversation – helps to keep one’s own mind off whatever is eating or pursuing one back there in the shadows. Focusing on the lift and chatting with the lift means you have to stop thinking about yourself. I mean c’mon china - you are there for your lifts – your lifts are not there for you. If there is more than one person giving you the lift, engage in a perfunctory chat and sleep. I know that’s rude but it’s not that rude.

The real problem is when you stop. The time when you are on your own again trying to hitch the next lift. It’s not too bad being dropped off in a town - but in the middle of nowhere …?

And, in the middle of the night …?

This journey, and that night in particular, was no different. But the joy of it was, if I had not gone on that journey, and worked through that pain, you would not be reading this. Because that journey brought me right here …

I had been going out with a girl. A very, very beautiful girl. Inside first and then outside – exactly everything that I look for in a woman. We had met socially in a time when my self-image was so terribly fractured that I truly believed I was a physically ugly person. My nose and mouth had been badly broken at school - and other places, and I still sucked my thumb.

And I was in my early twenties.

I know, I know… it embarrassed the hell out of me too, but it came from very, very deep spiritual damage.

Maybe I’ll tell you how I managed to stop sucking my thumb one strange day, but that was an extremely intense and personal experience … We’ll wait and see. Possibly later on down the road.

Telling you about how my mouth got fixed is ridiculously easy. I designed and programmed a dental surgery management system for two brothers. One designed a bridge prosthetic and the other fixed it in. We straight swapped.

Software for hardware. Chomp, chomp.

My nose, however, is still pretty much the same since it last got broken. People tell me it gives me character. I tell them, let me get a baseball bat, I'll give you a lekker good klap on the schnozzle and we spread the character around a bit.

They usually adjust their ideas about my character after that.

Anyway, one day long before my IT career and my special victory over my psychologically obtuse thumb, I decided that women in general were all stuck up. This made me angry.

Little cows.

I mean, what was their problem? Couldn’t someone just be friendly? I decided that in spite of their cruel, rejectful and hurtful attitude I would just be spiteful and talk to them anyway.

I mean, it is hard to admit, but my social skills were beyond stunted – they were barely in existence.

Now the lovely lady in particular was actually a dinkum varsity beauty queen – crowned and the whole toot. So my cheekily approaching her without a hope in the world was just vainly spindling and mutilating daisies - but to my absolute stunned amazement she didn’t just talk back – she made it clear in long ensuing conversations that she really liked me too.

Really.

So did her friends.

This came as a huge surprise, of course. Okay, more of an earth-shattering, tectonic plate-shifting experience.

There …

But kissing her the first time convinced me that my rudimentary theology had it all wrong.

Very wrong. And Jesus was right.

Heaven and hell were definitely here on earth - and in your mouth. And I had been living in hell until that moment of sublime salvation when I tasted the sweetness of her lips for the first time.

Cousin, that was me - knackered. Ping-pong pangalang. KO. And not in a particularly beautiful way either.

The fact that we had hooked up surprised the hell out everybody else we knew too. But I was having a hard time of it. I mean, I was some oke from the very, very far wrong side of the tracks, working as a steak griller in a local restaurant, and she was a university beauty queen with a father who was a major politician in the opposition party and shadow government of the time. Her folks lived inside a mansion in the ministerial compound in Pretoria opposite the old toppie who signed the country’s banknotes at the time.

Talk about whatsit and Juliet?

Hah, try Skollie and Mejuffrou Matie 19—.

My terribly deep insecurities were compounded by the fact that I was squatting with two generous roommates with wealthy, loving parents who had both gone to English private schools and had glowing futures awaiting them.

See, the problem wasn’t her or her parents. In spite of the fact that I knew she loved me, I screwed it up.

My self-worth was too fractured and my perceived inadequacies were just stacked too high. Neither one of us could get through the broken barriers in me. All I had were my dubious exploits to thrust at the world and they were never going to give me a future with her. It was almost like I could see right through to the lack of a solid core in myself but I could do nothing about it.

I descended down a jealous spiral of my own making of which I had no emotional control, and I tried naïvely to fix it with clumsy, guilt-ridden sex. Eventually the two of us agreed to call it quits and we broke up.

The edges of the fantastical normal world that I had been desperately clinging to in the hopes of eventually belonging to it broke away for me and I ended up completely fucked up on drugs. I naturally lost my job and ended up destitute and back on the streets again - where I belonged. I ended up scratching in dustbins for bottles to swap for the deposit so I could go to the coloured township, buy a stop at a merchant, make a pipe for the yard and sit hopefully bumming hits from other ouens who came and made button pipes until they finally chased me away for being a drug hyena. The next day I would repeat the process somewhere else. At night I slept badly in the bushes.

I had become a bergie.

And I started following my varsity beauty queen around without her knowing.

Today we call it stalking. And it is considered a crime in certain instances. Back then I didn’t know what was happening. I was just in a terrible emotional vortex. Without her, I was physically ugly and a marginal, rejected fuck-up.

Again.

And self-confidence and the smatterings of self-understanding were still a million miles from my mental vocabulary.

So, I did all the usual things. Deteriorated, left notes and flowers stolen from gardens for her to find while I hid away watching her reaction to them. Went through panic attacks every time I saw her make, model and colour of car with somebody in the passenger street. Got physically ill if I saw her talking to another guy. Had terrible homicidal fantasies about killing every single one of the mutherfuckers. Putting nails through their kneecaps.

Yeah, It got seriously sick.

Looking back, I can clearly see that devastated youngster teetering uncontrollably at the edge of his world, and a big part of me pities the horror of that brokenness and shudders at the dangers of what might have happened if the boy had gone right off the edge – but all the same, from her perspective, it was still not right.

Being a university town, Stellenbosch is evacuated of all its students several times a year and at that time, that year, a vacation came around and she left for home. Now some of my friends who still had loose contact with me could sort of see what was happening and were deeply concerned, so two of them invited me to come up and visit them on the one girl’s parents' farm in the Eastern Cape.

To give me a complete break from drugs and you know what

They both had prearranged lifts and I agreed to hitchhike up and follow them. They made me promise. I gave my word. They gave me a little money so that I could make it there.

Before I left, I had a long, bitter committee meeting with myself and made a few hard decisions. Fucking hard decisions. I knew I had to stop stalking her, meaning I first had to accept that she was going to continue on in her life and that, if I loved her like I was trying to bullshit myself, then I would definitely have to get out of her way or, more accurately, stop myself from sneaking evilly behind her back and let her get on with it. Because it wasn’t going to be with me.

This was not easy, but thank God I did it.

Then I had to cut out the memory fetishes that I carefully treasured. Photos, an old sweater of hers I wore under my clothing for weeks, some books, one or two knick-knacks – things that would be junk to anybody else. I had to get rid of them because I used them to fuel my dark obsessions.

I bid a mental farewell to us, walked out of Stellenbosch and began hiking.

Now at the beginning of this anecdote I said that those parts of a bad journey which are the most difficult are the stretches of the road where you find yourself alone and all you have before you are your thoughts and the long empty highway slowly plodding past under your boots.

I had done the right thing. She had been removed. Erased from the Tumour Board. Cut out of my life like a cancer of my own making. Excised from my psyche with my own clumsy backyard oncology.

But invasive surgery of any kind always hurts like hell.

Always.

Several times I had to hide in the forests next to the side of the road and bleed the terrible pain out in long, bitter, crying jags. I had conclusively proven to myself I was filthy ugly, inside and out.

And now I thoroughly hated myself.

My dogged journey into abject self-pity went on.

In due course I reached Nature’s Valley, almost halfway to my destination, at three in the morning nearly four days later – and it wasn’t because the lifts were bad, either. I wanted to end it so many times in the bushes. Stop the pain. Nobody would find my body in the Knysna forests. But I had promised my friends I was coming – so I pushed on a bit more.

Stopped.

Wept.

Thought about dying.

And pushed on a bit more …

And then just pushed on.

It is a brilliantly clear, cold and starlit night. A bright moon has just set. The mountain range to my left flows down across the road and drops steeply further downhill into the ancient, thick, lush jungle which flourishes profusely all the way down to the tiny, hidden beach village of Nature’s Valley.

I walk briskly along the highway.

Finally, finally … I have cleaned the ugly ringworm’s poison from my soul. For the first time on my journey it feels good to be alone.

On my own.

And enjoying it …

I strain against the creaking burden on my back, relishing the ease with which my warmed muscles flow as I work the weight of the rucksack, rhythmically marching the road’s hard surface away behind me like the soldier I used to be.

Crickets zither away excitedly in the night.

The air is crisp, fresh.

I breathe and laugh.

A good laugh.

A healthy laugh.

I can truly say I love her now. Because I want us both to be free and clean – and to find our destinies.

Then …

I hear a rooster crow.

It is such a long, lonely, agonising sound that travels into my ears from the dark shadows of night that I have to stop and listen. He does it again. And then … I hear these words flow through my mind:

From deep within the misty morn
Comes the whispery song of silence …

I don’t know where they come from, but they are crystal clear and they are followed by:

And tangibly from all around
Sounds a weave of cricket calls.

Now I am really confused. It’s as clear as a bell. And it obviously hasn’t come from outside of me, because I am completely alone. And it also doesn’t come from the quiet place within me where I go when I try to listen to God, because I am not trying to speak to God.

Slowly but surely I begin to realise something wondrous. What I have heard is my voice.

My voice!

It is a creative voice. A voice that wants to give utterance to beauty. Real beauty. That exists inside me.

True, real beauty.

And I have just discovered it …

Well, maybe not discovered it. Maybe the noise of my obsession and the bitterness in my heart over my physical defects had just drowned the sound of it out.

The third verse came easily, almost gushing out all on its own:

Then from the depths of a copse nearby
Wreathed in satin shadows
Breaks forth the aching age-old boast
A rooster’s ode to dawn …

*

I arrived at the farm, culled braces and braces of geese (one for me and the rest for the farmworkers), planted a hundred oak trees, hiked in the wild mountains' rock trails with my two friends, discussed occidental and oriental thought with my host’s vegetarian Buddhist father and began trying to write poetry. This, at the end of that journey, is the first one. It is the result of the three verses I heard my muse utter, plus four long, satisfying days of hacking, slicing and sweating out the rest:


A Rooster’s Ode to Dawn

From deep within the misty morn
Comes the whispery song of silence.
And tangibly from all around
Sounds a weave of cricket calls …

A mountain black, stands not far off
The edge to a glorious splendour
And this, the source, of a pearl grey light
Choreographs the dawn.

But now from the depths of a copse nearby
Wreathed in satin shadows,
Breaks forth the aching age-old boast
A rooster’s ode to dawn.

He’s answered soon, and yet again
By all throughout the district.
Until a point where he is lost
By the siege of throaty calls.

The crescendo fades … except for two
Who, yet, understand not manhood?
But he by now far well spent
Sets time as Wisdom’s tutor …

The silence slowly filters back
And soon returns the whisper …
Until at last, from his hidden perch
He greets the sun in joy!

That night Al Lovejoy was conceived – although it took almost twenty years and a lot of Acid Alex for his pen to be born.