“It’s pouring”, that’s the first thing he says to me after standing next to me for what feels like hours. “Yeah, it’s been doing so for hours no”, I reply him. That could’ve been rude, but I couldn’t really care much. That’s the last thing I want to do right now… Care. Of all places, why here? Why did he choose this place?
Well, that’s a silly question really, there is only one reason anyone leaves their home with a bottle of cheap vodka, on a rainy day to stand here at the edge of Stone Hedge. And the view has nothing to do with it.
I’ve been here many times before, but I haven’t really decided if I’m brave or just a coward, because I come and leave each time, not many get the opportunity to say that they’ve been here twice. Pity or envy? I’m yet to decide.
“You want to get under my umbrella”? I feel compelled to ask. I feel, almost awkward, the same way you would feel when someone knows your dirty little secret. I think he feels it too as he sheepishly steps under the hand held shelter.
“Would you like a sip”? He hands me the bottle without looking at me. He sounds so distant yet he’s standing so close to me. It’s like his eyes are fixed on nothing. Or maybe it’s something, the something that I have been looking for ages each time I come here. That something that will give me all the right reasons to leave it all behind and jump. Just step of the edge, spread my arms, and wait for the ground’s hands to catch me. But how can he see it when his sounds so young? He could be around the age of my grandson, if I had one. As I took the bottle from this grip, I felt a material rather the skin on his fingers. It’s a cold night, maybe I should’ve worn gloves as well. But not many people think of their wardrobe when they’re planning to never have to wear anything ever again.
Stone Hedge, they say when you’re standing at the edge you should never look down because all you see are souls hanging like vines on the rocks, trying to crawl back up into the world. They never really made it to the other side and now regret torments them because they feel they don’t belong in the new world but the old one just never felt right either. I just think they’re holding on just to see one more day break.
The cheap alcohol runs down my throat and quickly burns the inside of my body. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a beautiful sunset.” I say, as the burning becomes a soothing warmth. He’s struggling with a lighter, good for him I have a matchbox. I hope for his sake the blowing wind doesn’t declare war with the lit match stick. “I’m not interested in the sun. It’s the night that appeals to me. When the moon is high and stars aren’t shy and the darkness is welcoming because it knows no judgment.” He says this while blowing smoke out his mouth, like a dragon on a moody day. I understood that, the darkness has been with me for a long time. But unlike him, I felt no comfort in it. The darkness was my prison, one that I could never escape and it followed me right through the glory of the sun’s rise and its setting.
Hearing him speak became inviting, I wanted him to say more and so I asked him, “Are you thinking about God?” The long silence made me wish the words could just run back into my mouth and stay hidden in my thoughts until I heard, “He died”.
Like a poet on a stage, the two little words had so much power in their depth. I wanted to hear him say more. I felt the bottle touching the back of my hand, his offering again.
“But the sun wakes up and chores the days. It brightens the black shades and tickles the grass blades to life. It glistens on the ocean tops and dances with wild flowers. Surely it does this with a course.” I take my sip and pass it bottle back. “Who wakes up the sun if God is dead?” At this moment the rain drops have grown in fiery and rage down pouring from the skies. None of us move. He draws in a deep and long breath of smoking tobacco, and blows it out in the same dramatic way. The cloud fills the inside of our umbrella but quickly disperses and disappears along with the passing wind. “The sun is not a man that it needs to woken up. It’s science old man. Was there no science and geography in your younger days?” He is annoyed. I kept silent. “If there was a supernatural being that makes all things good and bright and beautiful, He would have taken me too. It was my fault but why did he spare me and punish them”? His voice had built up in intensity. I sense anger, guilt, and remorse. I think there is a bit of loneliness there too. “They died, when I should have.” He adds on. “Death is never a punishment”, I say. The words just came out. And then silence.
He lights another cigarette, the rain shows mercy and I pull down the umbrella.
“Death is a prize gifted to the fortunate, why would you think its punishment?” I want to know about why he detests death so much, that he would come to the one place that gifts so many with the beauty of ending the cruelty that is life. “Remember when you were young? When you couldn’t wait for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. You’d look outside through the window and wish the water never landed. And as soon as the skies dried, you’d run out and terrorise the first puddle of water you came across. The rainbow would look down on you and you’d catch a glimpse of its reflection in the puddle before stamping it into a splatter. Your giggles and joy made the showers worth it.” I carry on. “The droplets on the leafs would look like diamonds and tiny crystal balls, and you’d play until the shadows crept in and the darkness threatened. And then all the beauty and joy would be gone because the night had come. “
“I don’t deserve it. I shouldn’t be here!” he explodes and drops of the vodka land on my forehead while the broken bottle pieces lie worthlessly on the ground and its content sinking into the wet ground.
“I was driving reckless. I knew the vehicle needed a service, but I drove at 150kmp on a 100kmp zone. Driving slow means losing money when you’re a taxi driver and you can’t afford that. I lost control and then there was screeching and screaming and hooting and…” he bursts in to tears.
“I don’t want to hear about your rainbows and playing in the puddles and Him...because of Him 15 innocent people died for my sins.”
My mouth feels dry even with the taste of vodka lingering. I put my face in my hands and it’s wet. Tears had escaped from my ears.
“All he left me with are these scars on my arms and hands from the fire when I tried to pull the bodies out of the burning taxi”, he says as he holds out his arms. “Look at the cruelty of your God!”
In a soft voice with my face buried in my hands say, “I can’t see”.
“Look old man!”, “Look at me.!” He goes on shouting.
“I’m blind”. I say.
The stillness from the rain and the now quite voices make the drumming of his heart so loud but it’s broken by bellows of crying from him, and I joined him. And we cried till the crying became weeping. Till the weeping became no more.
“I come here every time when I want to see the sun. I know I won’t see it while I’m still alive. So I must die to see how beautiful life is.” I began. “But all I do is stand here for hours till fear tells me I’m too brave to die like this…alone on Stone Hedge.” I go on,” I’ve been blind for 5 years from diabetes. Every time I remember my life before the darkness, I become scared of living the rest of my life in blackness, and then I come here...to die.” He has gone so silent that I decide to stretch out my hand to feel if he is still next to me. I find him there. “You are fortunate, each day when the sun shines you know that that’s a promise that the future looks bright for you. You can still be happy. What do I have?”
“You have good memories. Memories can create the future too.” His response shocks me. He goes on to stay, “telling people of the beautiful life you lived makes them want to live theirs.”
“Do you want to live yours”? I ask him.
“I don’t know. I think I do.” He answers.
“Do you?” He asks me.
“I think so too”. I say.
“The sun is here, it’s dawn” he says after a while. “And it’s beautiful, it’s orange, red and has some pink hues flirting with pale blue skies.”
I smile. “Can you sit with me and tell what else its doing?”
“Yes, I’ll tell you everything until it’s fully woken up. And then we’ll leave”. He says.
By Paballo Molingoane
P.S. Tell me what you thought you it, if there's anything that I need to re-look at and whatever else. That sort of thing. Thank you for supporting African writers.