Fifteen Brushstrokes of South Africa
LEGS DANGLING OVER the dock in Hout Bay devouring thick filets of freshly grilled snoek, a snake mackerel inhabiting only the most far-flung waters of the Southern Hemisphere, its tender meat glides off long curved bones absently flicked into the white surf boiling around algae bearded pilings. Gigantic sun-blackened stalks of deep-sea kelp wriggle like sperm tails across the beach’s wet sand, their rubbery flowering heads mostly decapitated and dumped elsewhere. Little black boys scamper around their serpentine corpses shrieking joyfully when freezing waves break over them. The peeling hulls of once-colorful fishing boats moored along the wharf wearily groan over the hardship of the sea.
THE LIGHTHOUSE CROWNS a storm-tormented sandstone pyramid, the last stubborn knuckle of Cape Peninsula’s tapering lobster claw before plunging into the ceaselessly churning sea. To the east is shark-infested False Bay, appropriately bite shaped and named for duping navigationally disadvantaged mariners into thinking they were in Cape Town’s Table Bay. A stone’s throw to the west is Cape of Good Hope, most southwestern point of the African continent, sadistically named for duping navigationally disadvantaged mariners into thinking they had rounded the southernmost point of the African continent and were merrily India-bound.
Hard-currency dreams of men floundered with their ships and swiftly sank here.
IN THE BLOTCHY patterns of sulfuric acid burns, the black heads of cow and calf are encrusted with callosities bleached white by feasting whale lice. Winking playfully through heavily calcified eyelids, simultaneous plumes of rainbow spray geyser from blowholes in rubbery reverberations. Saluting their admirers in Hermanus with Y-shaped tails,
unwittingly into a loitering pod of Clockwork Orange orcas who instantly give chase into deeper, darker waters. Pitilessly harried, mother watches in anguished helplessness as her baby, wide-eyed and thrashing, has its tongue efficiently removed and consumed, the rest of its carcass discarded to sea scavengers in a diasporic cloud of red.
“… THE INDIANS?”
“THE Gupta family,” spits the middle-aged driver. “State capture. Zuma bled us for ten years for them. Now, only poverty.”
“You know what else? Less than twenty percent of us even pay taxes here. And when the Africans seize a prosperous dairy farm, legally, you know what they go and do with it?
“They slaughter the cattle out of hunger and abandon it.”
“Sounds like Zimbabwe. Will Ramaphosa stop this madness?”
The driver tugs off his sunglasses and, staring into the rearview, his pale face is as terrible and devastating as the African sun on thinning hair.
THE SHEER SMASHED-IN rockface of Table Mountain, Mandela’s muse, rushes beneath the feet of pale passengers crammed into a pill-shaped, glass-wrapped cable car bobbing up a zip line at the stomach-dropping rate of 10 meters per seconds. Woozily summitting, the blasted granite formations of the Twelve Apostles meander in ancient brokenness along the wind-flayed azure coast. The labyrinthine path abruptly ends where a mighty cleaver from the sky has hewn a yawning canyon into the tabletop. A roiling cloud-fall, shoved along by an irritable wind, thunders like a gathering avalanche as it tumbles over
and races downwards towards Cape Town sprawling under the sun.
WITH NO STREETLIGHTS and the windows black in unoccupied houses, the narrow road weaving through Gansbaai is shrouded in darkness. An uncannily windless night, the soft rustling of surf is the only sporadic sound drifting through ghostly still trees. A faint incandescence tinges their vague outlines and, glancing upwards, a frozen wonder provokes a long descending whistle, like a falling bomb. The sky is alive with blazing outsized stars. It’s as if its dome of enamel black has shrunk closer around the earth and been riddled with thousands of ragged bullet holes through which gush the white flames of a cosmic inferno ignited by God.
THE RISING SUN percolates through the dust powdered shrubs and intensifies stray tawny patches daubing the shaggy black mane. Reclining on the waterhole’s grassy bank, his flaming eyes stare out intelligently across the dreamily rolling veldt and pinpoint some source of primal knowledge in the distant shadowlands.
Oblivious to the grazing kudu meandering closer in reciprocal oblivion, he placidly blinks until–
Leaping into a tight crouch, dark tufted tail swatting, hard muscles ripple down his lean torso. Lifting its corkscrew-antlered head the kudu freezes, mohawk fur fanning upwards along its spine, the narrow white stripes on its trembling flanks reminiscent of tearing from claws.
NATIONAL BRAAI DAY
Wind kicked broken umbrella tumbles down the cold empty beach
The braai terrasse nudges gently into moody Mossel Bay
And pulses orange warmth
A glowing firepit heart
Mounted on a crumbling burnt brick tor
Patiently stoked by a black hand
Flame-licked meat sizzles and pops
Greasy smoke laces shivering palm fronds
And smears a gray sky grayer
Steaming volcanos of barbecued beef as hot as beer castles are cold
On robins-egg blue picnic tables
Contented firelit faces in deep falling night
Soft Afrikaans notes and tinkling white laughter
A distant Zulu drumbeat unheard across restive water.
“GREAT WHITE STARBOARD!” bellows the grizzled skipper of Apex Predator, the aptly named shark cage diving boat. Necks craning in one fluid synchronized motion, a primordial finned shadow the color of a livid bruise approaches at torpedo depth under effortless propulsion and circles through the chum of fish parts, bone, and blood. A large pregnant female, its cramped womb a gory arena in which dominant pups practice intrauterine cannibalism upon weaker siblings, with eyes as black as war. Copper sharks flee the glide path in terror and scatter out across Walker’s Bay while rubbery nipples under clammy wetsuits further contract to the size and hardness of apple pips.
STROLLING ALONG THE Promenade, the brilliant midday sun catches in the mist churned up by mammoth world-weary waves loudly braining themselves in explosive spumes against the winding seawall. Paragliders leap giddily from the flat peak of Lion’s Rump hill, their sails decorating a cloudless Cape Town sky in banana-shaped slices of vivid primary color. Sitting under bustling Oranjezicht Market’s gently flapping canvas chewing on thickly-sliced chips of fresh biltong, the music is funky, and a palpable weekend happiness emanates from the chattering crowds. Their homes, barricaded like prisons by demoralizing concrete walls topped with strings of brutal razorblade wire, seem so very far away.
VICTIMS OF THE “Cape Doctor”, a south-easterly wind that persistently rakes the Western Cape’s coastline, the trees are broken at the hips; upper halves smashed so far backwards, their capillarial branches appear frozen into a contorted shock of electrified hair parallel to the ground. Further victimized by wildfire, their bark is seared black and peels around avocado-green clusters of desperate, tremulous leaves. The conflagration has scourged the beauty from the land all the way to Knysna Heads where, in the dire township, an arsonist peers out from behind his shanty’s rusty corrugated door. In his smoldering eyes there is not one flicker of regret.
THE TAUT CONCRETE bow supporting the deck of Bloukrans Bridge (Africa’s highest at 216 meters) seems to spring organically from invisible abutment points buried deep within the scrubby stone flanks of the dizzying river gorge. From a darkened recess below its midpoint a figure emerges and falls, awkward and flailing, emitting a low stifled wail only mortal terror can generate. Now in a resigned headfirst dive, arms spread wide like an upside-down Christ the Redeemer, the elastic cord reaches its maximum extension and yanks the suddenly muted sack of adrenalin back skywards in the first of a number of long…
THE LAST SLICKS of deep blue leach from Langebaan Bay and the cold night sky erases the surrounding hills with its blackness. A fire crackles from within the gaping mouth of the old farmstead’s hearth casting warmth and flickering shadows over walls crowded with the disintegrating maps and oxidized paraphernalia of hunters, sailors, and lumberjacks from a bygone age. The glazy bar swims in a welcoming pool of candlelight and the dining hotel guests clink glasses and murmur appreciatively between steaming aromatic forkfuls. If that wind snapping the rigging of invisible boats beyond the dark windows bodes a storm, there exists no cozier shelter on earth.
THE CRUNCH OF bike tires biting into gravel is amplified in the tamped forest air. A pallid spherical specter flits above the coniferous green canopy and the tang of pine rising from the endless brown carpet of fallen needles and cones catches in the nose. Crescent horned cows watch from between the trees with the same dark brooding eyes as apartheid survivors.
The trail ends abruptly at a clifftop lookout where an emancipated sun unleashes the explosive blueness of sea and sky clashing at the feet of imperious mountains. Storms River Mouth seethes far below and the serrated coastline,
can conceive no end.
THE TINTED WRAPAROUND glass at the tip of O.R. Tambo’s kite-shaped bar is designed to mimic that of a cockpit. Outside, the huge long-haul jets lumber wearily, like sad men, in and out of ambivalent wheel chock placeholders.
It’s a physical sensation, goodbye: the gluey ribcage contracting around a twitching heart, the repetitive swallowing over rising hardness in the throat, the wincing over acidic eyeballs.
I know I’ll never see this place again.
Wheels lift off the tarmac reluctantly and the 777 crawls into the sky. The sculpted contours of the terrain steadily blur and fade from view just like all those freshly painted memories inevitably will.
© Andrew Alexander Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (Dear Whoever You Are: Fifteen Brushstrokes of South Africa), 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Alexander Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2018 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.