A year ago Patrick Winter, a young South African, was sent to Namibia to complete his military service and to defend his country against ‘terrorism’. Now he is back, to meet Godfrey, his mother’s freedom-fighter boyfriend, and to witness the country’s first free elections. From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Promise, Damon Galgut.
“WE DROVE EASTWARD, OUT OF TOWN. The tar went on for a while, then we came to a gravel road going off on one side. We followed it, leaving the houses quickly behind, and were engulfed again by the desert. Not much further on we came to another border post. Again, the two soldiers, guarding a wasteland of dunes. ‘Don’t you get lonely here?’ my mother asked them.
‘Ja, Mevrou,’ one said. He seemed a bit startled at the question, or perhaps it was at my mother’s tear-swollen face. ‘Where are you going? To the Moon Landscape?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That’s exactly where we’re going.’
As we drove on, I said, ‘what is it, this moon landscape?’
‘I don’t know, but it sounds right for this afternoon.’ She fished out her tissue again. ‘Oh, Patrick,’ she said. ‘Men are such bastards.’
‘I know. I don’t like them much either.’
‘Well, we don’t have to worry about them now. We’re going to the moon.’
Half an hour later, we came to a blue-grey terrain of gorges and peaks, spilling away as far as the eye could see. There was a hissing of wind as we got out of the car and started down into the foothills. Underneath that thin sound, the silence was immense, and neither of us felt like talking. As if by mutual consent we wandered away from each other. I followed a canyon of crumbling black stone and in two minutes I was utterly alone. I sat down for a while on a rock. In the blasted emptiness, little threads of life followed their course. I saw a tiny cactus, wearing a single yellow flower like a cockade. At my feet, perfectly preserved, the white carapace of a beetle. I broke it under my heel.
I walked on again. I kept to the shade at the foot of the hills, but from time to time I saw my mother off in the distance, stalking along the long spine of a ridge. She liked to be high up, visible and dramatic, back-lit by the sun. At one point a tall cliff rose up where I was walking and I lost sight of her completely for a while. When the cliff dropped away, there she was, naked on the top of a nearby hill. The hill was an odd conical shape, and she had dropped her clothes in bright patches as she climbed up. Now she was turning round and round, arms outspread, no doubt with her eyes closed. A soft pink plant, twirling its tendrils, sending signals into the stratosphere. Far up above her, like a dream she was having, a tiny jet unzipped the sky.
She saw me and yelled across, her voice indistinct: ‘Hey, Patrick! Get undressed!’
I shook my head and sat down against a boulder to wait for her. After ten minutes or so, it was too hot, and the novelty had worn off, and she started to descend. The clothes went back on, item by item, and then she was on level ground, crunching her way toward me. By the time she arrived, she was fully clothed again, and hot and burnt-looking.
‘You should try it,’ she said crossly. ‘Such absolute freedom.’ She held out her hand to show a bright little graze. ‘But I slipped on the way down.’
‘Shame,’ I said.
We started to walk back, both gone a little flat. By now we were tired and we walked without pleasure. A cold wind blew down into our faces from the direction of the road. From nowhere she suddenly asked me, ‘have you ever been in love?’
‘Yes. Once. I think. I’m not sure.’
‘You never told me about it.’
‘I don’t think I knew at the time.’
We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon, the shadows already long and turning blue. We both stood in the upstairs passage for a moment and then she went into her room and I went into mine. Everything was quiet for a while and then I heard low, abrasive sounds. I thought it was them again, starting up a new argument, but the sounds got loud and guttural, and then I realized what I was listening to.”
Extracted from The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs by Damon Galgut, out now.
by Damon Galgut
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