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A Township Child

by Rahiem Whisgary


Watching things die has always unnerved me. Then again, I’ve always been strange. I tend to notice rather unsettling subtleties that occur when a body is on the brink of death – subtleties that, it seems, no-one around me has observed.

It is with embarrassment that I disclose that I have, in fact, been involved in a few killings. But – and this in no way defends my actions – all of my questionable deeds were undertaken for self-preservation.

I was not born a manly man, you see. But while cause for derision, this does not encompass my whole reason for indulging in, let us say, ethically questionable acts. Upon reaching puberty, much to my distress, I discovered that, unlike the men around me, I was not at all aroused by women. I was – am – sexually attracted to men.

Those among whom I was raised would not have taken such a sexual persuasion lightly. As a result, I, quite honestly, became a killer, performing what I know to be heinous acts of violence – acts that, very successfully, served to hide my sexual deviance. The motivation behind my show of machismo was cowardice.

The first human death I witnessed was, coincidentally, the first one in which I was involved. I had never before beheld a human death – not even a sickly aunt or grandparent. This was strange for a boy of my age.

I remember being around twelve. We – three friends and I – were walking rather languidly across the dusty field that separated one part of the township from the other. Yes, like most of you, I too was once a township child!

I remember us walking, kicking up florid dust and picking up sticks with which to strike each other. I also remember – and it feels tremendous to divulge this – being mesmerised by the barely evident jiggle of my friends’ pert, round bottoms.

At this point, I feel I must state that I was just as young as them.

For propriety’s sake, I shall not elaborate on what else mesmerised me and, oh, what fantasies I had indulged in.

I’ll continue: we were walking together, with no particular destination in mind, all the while trading insults and jokes, when Sipho’s foot caught on a rock and he stumbled, his brief cessation in movement causing Thabo, who was behind him, to bump into him. They both went tumbling forward to the ground. Jacob and I, after a brief moment of roguish eye contact, piled on top of them and a bout of boyish wrestling ensued.

There weren’t any teams or alliances: we tumbled over each other, attempting to hold someone – anyone – down, immobile, on the ground for as long as possible. But it all, quite unexpectedly, turned violent. Suddenly, we were scratching each other, tearing at skin and hair, and eventually throwing punches.

We were all so involved in this unprovoked fight, blinded by a bloodlust that none of us understood or could control, that, when a vagrant eventually pulled us apart, it took several minutes for us to catch our breath.

Although we were dusting ourselves off and examining our wounds, the anger was still carousing through us. When that same vagrant pointed to my groin, giggling at my apparent erection, I sprang upon him as if flames licked my feet.

My friends quickly joined in.

It wasn’t until I stood back, seething in the celebratory smell of blood, inhaling its metallic scent, that I realised that that the vagrant was on his last: he lay contorted on the ground, his eyelids stretched so far back that it seemed as though the balls of his eyes were trying to push out of their sockets; his lips were ajar and, from them, emitted putrid breath; a thin trail of blood trickled from his left nostril; the rest of his body was sublimely still. I’d never before seen anything that peaceful. The poignancy of breath ceasing was beautiful to behold. I felt no guilt, nor pity, and watched with awe as his life slipped away.

Moments later, the thrill of what we’d just done kicked in. I pumped my fists, took a step back and turned to my friends. All three of them were looking downward and brushing the ground with their feet, as if searching for something in the sand. I didn’t understand their ruefulness and turned my attention back to the man, whose face, bereft of any expression, was as stupidly lifeless as that of a slaughtered goat; his skin, the russet colour of a cockroach.

My taste for death was cemented on that day. Or perhaps a while before; I can’t be certain. Like most of you, I have killed animals. The adrenaline rush that one gets when pulling the snout of a goat away from its body to slit its throat or driving a spear into the heart of a bullock is tremendous – an intoxicating moment, an epoch, really, of virility.

But this was different. Taking down a beast is brutish, requiring a savageness of heart and force. Where an animal fights up to its last breath against the knife, a human on the precipice of death always resigns himself, often with quiet despair, to his fate. One is a base and bodily action while the other is spiritual. Killing a human, you will find, draws one from oneself. It’s in the eyes of the victim, you see. One never forgets the wide-eyed docility of a dying person – it makes me lose myself. For a moment I die with them, I lose who I am, and I love it.

Yes, after all this time, I still crave it.

That day, to my friends, I was intrepidity incarnate. While they had to turn their faces, I was mesmerised; I remember even taking a slow, measured step towards the body to investigate it further. I think that even if they knew about my fantasies, my weak-kneed desire for men, my masculinity would never have been questioned.

I don’t think that I’ll ever develop a full sense of regret for the killings that I’d committed; embarrassment, yes, but not regret. I was driven to this, you see; it was always me against them. I demonstrated my power in the only way that I knew, and, oh, how effective that demonstration was. I will never show weakness. I am a man.