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Monday, 20 September 2010

this flight tonight - april '85

We s'mile-stoned the eve of departure, to Broadway Lodge, a Drug-and-Alcohol Treatment Centre in the UK, at a Pizza Hut not far from the Carlton Centre in the Johannesburg Central Business District.

Anne, social worker suprem'o in the parallel life, an' Cas's friend. 

With my brother, contrived the mission-of-mercy trip to cheque my reality -- chemically-induced psychosis she'd forlornly call it. 

Now took it upon herself to SOS my alcohol intake too...presently.

Prematurely I thought, peremptorily so even. But to the requirements of ceremony, and farewells to preserve -- and to redoubtable women from the far side -- I acquiesced.

Ridwan, as is his mien -- chilled  -- chuffed at the moment, only marginally less bemused than I.

The evening was lekker, normal really -- well, almost -- belying the chemically induced steps-and-stages of fumbling madness from which forge the burning cogs of this stairway-to-hell had been gently cast

By event, by light and contrast, the next day was weird. 

Next days...always weird. The divine consequence of God's rahmat -- surviving the night -- had some price to be paid

Whilst the early morning and dunya hummed furiously, jaw set forward, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, purposefully teutonic in its Nietzschean stride, in this rickety African mining town I hobbled; crawling tentatively, like Lazarus.

Like Nebuchadnezzar, all-fours-on in the Christian iconography, framed, pride-of-place next to the stuffed lioness guarding the voodoo spice' and paraphernalia of black magic. 

Hirsute, naked, and flaky, Nebuchadnezzar... in the local muti shop-front on Becker Street, owned and serviced by the only non non-white person there. 

The only person there.

A geriatric, genial old jewish proprietor cum sangoma, touting his herbs and dessicated-animal parts among the nonchalant resident muslim, hindu,and a handful of confucius/shinto, type middle-men, to the passing african labourer trade.

A dervish, who'd lost his moves. Then his nerve no less, finally settled on the art of shop-keeping.

Etched forever in the fragile mind of a five-year old boy from the sticks, dislocated by his sudden, fractured passage from a small town, its simplicity, its river, the Vaal, into the dark, shadowy labyrinth of inner Johannesburg's mechanical and concrete echo... ugly motto-painting in the shop, desultorily settled as the rest of it. 

Jo'burg, after all, and in the end,  no more than a glorified mining camp, custom-built by and for the thief and the trickster.

Innately and inherently criminal its sallow relief, the garish painting was, as the shop itself might have been, created fallen, its shame unspared by the fig-leaf of caked-dust. 

Tabula rasa this k'not: lurid, pasty coloured-in daguerreotype witch captured The Exodus of Any People from Any Of The Early Crimes Of The Century.

But if Any One Thing, really, a shibboleth of The Great North, poster-card of the Industrial Revolution, caricature of the Great European Dialectic -- you've been mesmerized by its ilk in dusty old pawn shops -- the top-hatted, pin-striped, Fat Banker gloating over the Lean Sweating Acolyte: "In God we trust, all others pay Cash"

Nebuchadnezzar like, a menace to myself, and so treated by others, I scraped, as was my custom now, into and along the blinding crevices of the new day. In my  ossified existential muti-shop,  dosed  liberally but carefully with Vesparax, another great european synthesis, in this instance, of the barbiturate variety. The same pharmacological genus that had had Marilyn Monroe. And Jimi Hendrix. Among others, lesser mortals.

Palliatives readily available in this god-forsaken outpost, to settle the rattle of my semi-permanently dislodged retinas and a myriad other bits-and-pieces that loosely hung together, and which previously I may have known as my senses .

Then, for relief, temporary as it always is, a bit of childish normality. 

I wrangled with my ma about the clothing she was packing for my journey to the other side. More twistedly urgent though, I wrangled about the travellers cheques my old man had wearily-and-warily issued my brother for safe-keeping.

My plan, if such borne on a toxic mental infra-structure may be described, was quite literally, to take the money and run. Since they -- family and foe, who could tell the difference any more?  -- were hell-bent on catapulting me to the other side of the planet, my strategy would be to get to that other side of the planet, and go out, permanently, in style.

In the parallel world my ma -- she would admit years hence, with many hand-to-mouthtaubahs -- prayed hard that they got me to the plane designated to transport me, punctually and in one piece, paradoxically so that God might indulge her endearing death-wish on my behalf: being that the Bird might simply crash-and-burn, relieving her of the jarring contusions her first-born's anti-christ like metamorphosis had made in the besieged maternal psyche

The first part of my ma's duas fulfilled, I make it to the airport finally, with one pair of jeans, a change of t-shirt and just about as much under-wear -- and  an overnight carry-all stuffed with as many music books as it would allow. 

Sans travellers cheques (they'd spoken nicely to me -- a lot), but Ovation guitar to-its-fate graciously in tow.

I'd managed, with my family and friends' stretched-to-breaking point vigilance, to avert another over-dose induced coma, which had become the norm in this hole in the preceding weeks.

Cas managed to get us boarded for this flight tonight, having only to deal with my pre-flight harassment of the beautiful and obliging stewardess...

..for, the desperately-needed drink outstanding from last night, like nature itself, abhorred the vacuum created in its achingly unfulfilled wake