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The Outsider

by Monde Mdodana


September 25th

Mother will put some money into my account tomorrow. I will have to be at the bank at nine o’clock; she likes to be early for stuff. I have to be there when they open and ask them for my account number. I lost my bank card when my wallet was taken along with my cell phone outside the butcher’s shebeen on Sunday. I was drunk and trying to talk some girl into coming to my room with me. I vaguely remember that I was pulling her away from the noise of the shebeen, trying to talk to her apart from the crowd. And then I saw three guys and a knife. But I felt a solid fist between my eyes before I could make sense of everything. I did not see stars or birds or any of that sort of nonsense. When I regained consciousness a few minutes later, my wallet and my cell phone were gone. The cellphone was old, and I had no airtime installed. In the wallet there was my bank card, about forty five cents and numbers for prepaid electricity. I was waiting for the old electricity units to run out before I use the numbers to put in new units; I don’t like to have too many units in the “box”.

But electricity is the least of my problems. I’m not going to buy new units with the money that I’ll get from mother. I won’t need new units, since I’ll be going back to Port Elizabeth. I’m an amateur stage actor, you see? I will go to auditions there; perhaps they will cast me for a major role. I certainly hope so. I will use the money to pay for an exit ticket with City to City. It’s time to pack the bags and go on the road again. I have become a wanderer. I feel like the boy named Sue in one of Johnny Cash’s songs; everywhere he goes, he is ridiculed for the embarrassing name that his father gave him before he left. This absurd name, an old guitar and an empty bottle of booze is all that his father left behind. Sue inherits the fate of an exile and a wanderer; he has to go from town to town to hide his shame. But wherever he went, Sue never stopped defending his dignity; he got into fights, his fists got hard and his wits got keen. In anger, he vows to have no other aim except to search for the man who gave him that awful name and kill him. He searches for him -mainly at bars and other liquor outlets- armed with an old photograph from his mother’s wallet. He eventually finds him after a long search, and they immediately get into a fist fight. But before Sue kills him, his father explains that this world is rough, and if a man wants to make it he’s got to be tough. “So”, he says, “I gave you that name and I said ‘goodbye’, knowing that you’d have to get tough or die, and it’s that name that helped to make you strong”. His father argued that Sue had to be grateful, if for nothing else then at least for the fighting spirit that grew from his struggles with his name. Sue now felt that he wanted to learn more about his father, so he offered to buy him a drink.

Like Sue, I never stay to long; I go from town to town or from city to city. But I don’t have an embarrassing name. I suffer from something else; a sickness of the self or a sickness of the spirit or a sickness of the mind.

September 26th

I was at the bank five minutes to nine and discovered that they opened at eight o’clock. There were no queues so I quickly got the account number and gave it to mother from a public telephone. She deposited the money without delay, and I found an open space on the City to City for the 29th of September.

September 27th

Nosisi came over today. My room was dirty, and my bed was not made. I couldn’t stop thinking for long enough to decide to clean. I couldn’t even make breakfast ’cause the pots are dirty. I have two chicken eggs, half a loaf of brown bread and an unopened two litre bottle of cooking oil. She did not stay long, partly because of the mess but mainly because I was irritable. Before she came, I yearned for her, and thought that I missed her. I hoped that she would break me out of this prison of thinking without end and enable me to live spontaneously for a little or feel something without trying to be abstract or philosophical about it. But even as she hugged and kissed me, I thought about her, could not feel her there. Most people close their eyes when they kiss; I wonder if they see anything or if they experience any sort of change. When Nosisi and I kissed today, I didn’t notice any change in me, only I was afraid she would notice that I didn’t brush my teeth. But I can only speak for myself; I think she feels something every time we kiss. I think she loves me. But I think and think and cannot feel, so her love can’t save me. I must live alone, at least until I finish the treatment.

I had a dream about her last night or this morning. She and I were at a social gathering; I thought it was a school assembly and then I thought it was a bash. Nosisi was wearing the white overall she usually wears when she cleans or does the washing. I thought it was strange that she should be dressed like that, but I did not follow it up. It seemed that I was familiar with most people at the gathering, which were all strangers to her. The programme of the gathering hadn’t officially started, so Nosisi and I stole a few minutes of privacy apart from the crowd. We were at the back of what appeared to be a hostel. A man with black and white hair appeared from one of the back doors. I did not know this man, but he behaved like someone who was on friendly terms with me. I thought; “if we really do know each other, and I can’t recognize him, it’s probably because of the sickness”. I left it at that. He asked me for a smoke. I noticed that he was over-enthusiastic and emphatic when he spoke. I told him I had nothing, but he insisted and insisted, not even giving me a chance to respond to his pleas. And then a crowd of people appeared from nowhere, in dark green and white church uniform. Nosisi recognized a few of them, and she greeted them as they walked past. And then she saw a guy who was apparently an old friend of hers. But she would not introduce him to me, and they were talking behind my back. I thought I saw them kiss, but I refused to believe it, until I saw his hand reaching for her genital area. My first impulse was to fly at him with fists and kicks, but I restrained myself. I did not want to cause a scene, knowing that if I did, the news would reach my parents. They would be furious beyond measure, because as it is they do not approve of my relationship with Nosisi. I took her by the neck and dragged her away. She resisted, and I told her with repressed rage that I wanted to introduce her to my friends. She screamed for help and -when everyone at the gathering stopped and stared- declared that she did not know me and that I was dragging her away from her friend.

September 28th

This morning I cried tears of joy, thinking about how every man’s life is a journey to himself. Truly, when you compare yourself to or try to live up to the standards of someone else, you blaspheme against Creation. Or put it this way; you blaspheme against Creation when you don’t live up to your own standards. When you want to live up or down to the standards of someone else, you don’t want to live up to your own standards. Being conforming and submissive to other people is a sin against that divine breath with which God awakened your soul at the Moment of Creation. I cried because the days that followed the discovery of this truth were the loneliest days of my life. But they were tears of joy I cried, an expression of gratitude for having discovered this truth, even if it means having to carry the heavy burden of becoming what I am. I must have more of the spirit of the camel in me. And then I must have more of the spirit of the lion. The lion is Courage and Will to Power. This will be what I need in fighting for the freedom of self-expression.