Two stories by Mlungisi Tshabangu
Dynamics of Productive Coorperation
“Without my efficient services, food and fluid intake would cease. Within 72hours all systems would be seriously compromised and, one by one, start shutting down. Death would undoubtedly follow. Furthermore, I assist in the verbal articulation of ideas and messages. Invited guests and fellow contestants, if these two are not good enough reasons for you to vote for me as the most vital body part, then I cannot think of more compelling reasons.” With this, Mouth considered himself well and truly in the running for the highly contested position. The house mulled over his words for a while in silence. One could almost hear their collective thoughts grinding, as they mentally laboured under the burdensome task of choosing only one candidate, from a line-up of equally deserving candidates.
All day long they compared and contrasted merits, from one campaigning candidate to the next. Each candidate seemed to be staking his or her claim more convincingly than the previous one. This was not going to be an easy choice.
“We may not possess the immense capacity of Mr Mouth to ‘shut down the systems’’’ Countered Eye, with a subtle hint of sarcasm on ‘shut down’.
“But my twin and I could certainly cause untold chaos if we were to withdraw our services. Imagine the amount of information, per day, that we pass to Mr Brain here to process. You are all aware, I believe, that my twin and I have sighted and prevented a great amount of perils in the past. Mr Brain here can give testimony to…”
“Hold it right there mate! You are not alone in the business of raising alarm bells in the presence of danger. I have smelt many noxious hazards in the past” A rude interjection from Nose, who flared impatiently, barely able to contain his frustration at having his pitch stolen by the ‘roving’ twins.
“Order, order gentlemen…. Wait for your turn please Mr Nose. Proceed Mr Eye’’ Brain, the self-appointed efficient adjudicator, exercised his duty.
The meeting continued for the entire day, with only two recess intervals. Mouth opportunistically took advantage of the breaks by chewing and swallowing all the food that the Handy twins [who were yet to make their case for the crown] directed to him. This grand show of importance to the house did not go unnoticed by other contestants, as hydration and nourishment coursed their blood vessels. Talk about subliminal campaign! Mouth had cornered the electorate big time.
To further oil the cogwheels of his campaign, Mouth chased the last meal of the day with a wine of the finest vintage. Brain, whose tiresome duty it was to coordinate the meeting by recording speeches, giving directions to contestants and settling volatile arguments, felt soothed by the wine.
He resultantly felt a surge in his warm feelings towards Mouth. Could this be a subtle bribery? Brain wondered.
In the small hours of the morning Brain, now exhausted beyond his limits, decided that the canvassing had run its full course. He allocated five minutes’ closing speech to each contestant.
They all did their best in their final bid to convince the voters. Even the kidneys-one of the six sets of twins contesting – pissed about in their own inimitable attempt to woo voters. How this was going to influence the electorate remained to be seen.
The in your face and upfront Nose sniffed the air before launching into his five-minute closure. ”Gentlemen, what I smell now makes for a coincidental opening to my closing speech. The unpleasant whiff in the air now is the all but too familiar product of Mr Good-for nothing ‘A’ here.
That’s all he is here for, offending my sensibilities endlessly|! All day long ‘A’ here has neither said nor done anything of value. If it were not for this stink, his presence would have gone unnoticed. Gentlemen, not to put too fine a point on it, the invalidity of the likes of ‘A’ should, on its own, disqualify them. Only those of us that make meaningful and wholesome contribution to the overall function of this house should be considered for the crown. By allowing such bums – pardon the pun- to stand for election, we are stretching this democracy concept to ridiculous extremes.”
The whole house expected ‘A’ to manly say a word or two in his defence. Much to their surprise, he remained mute as ever. Not a peep from him. Not even one of his infamous smelly silent protests.
The final word, befittingly, went to Brain who, throughout the proceedings, had worked tirelessly to maintain order. How selfless, how dedicated and deserving of the crown. That must have been the unspoken unanimous feeling in the house.
“Gentlemen it is abundantly obvious that this house would not function without the unique contributions of each and every one of you. You are, in your own individual ways, indispensable. The objective of this meeting however, was… is to find the most worthy of us all.
My reputation for analysing and coordinating services to this house speaks for itself. I doubt if anyone of you would object if I were to declare myself the most worthy and close this meeting” He paused to accommodate the palpable consternation amongst the contestants. Why go to the trouble of even calling this election meeting if he is going to pompously give himself the crown in the end? Another unanimous unvoiced question hanged, in varying versions, in the tense air that momentarily gripped the house.
“But I am just content with my role as your obliging analyst, I am not in contention for the crown” A warm feeling of relief suffused the house.
“I will collect and count the votes. Please remember, you cannot vote for yourself. If you do so that vote will be nullified. May the voting commence” Brain concluded.
Exhausted from the daylong proceedings everyone in the house was eager to get the voting over and done with. In no time at all the votes were collected and counted. No vote was voided. To no one’s surprise, there was only one abstention, who else but the eccentric ‘A’.
How bizarre, he registered as a contestant but did not campaign and now…. he abstains from voting! Yet another unmouthed thought from baffled contestants.
* * *
“Gentlemen this is the moment we have all been waiting for” Announced Brain after a quick count of the votes. A brief moment of silence ensued, as each member froze, wondering if they had made strong enough a case to deserve what was about to be announced.
“The winner, with a unanimous majority of 13 votes, is Mr Mouth” Brain announced the result with such heart sinking suddenness. None of the customary pause to allow recipient of such momentous tidings time to psychologically prepare for joy or disappointment.
A shout of joy and jubilation from an ecstatic Mouth filled the ensuing void of silence. “Oh-h shut up! Just accept the honour in a dignified and comely manner. We have heard enough of your noise to last us a life-time” This utterance form one of the Ears twins was just a show of bitterness at having lost. Indeed, this feeling of discontent was commonly felt by other losers, a result of conceit and an exaggerated sense of self-importance than a suggestion of unfairness in the democratic process of the election.
No one paid much attention to the quiet ’A’, who had nothing to rejoice or be disappointed about. He, and only he, could speculate on how short-lived Mouth’s tenure was going to be.
* * *
Following days saw the somewhat tacit acceptance of Mouth’s crowning thawing into polite acceptance. The tradition of cooperation and coordination of services continued and Mouth revelled in his newfound status.
On the 10th day post elections, Bowels, via the efficient Brain, registered a concern to the house. He was experiencing mounting discomfort from the excess refuse, which had not been emptied since the Election Day. After a brief analysis of the situation, Brain traced the problem to ‘A’ who, since Election Day, had not performed his duties. He urgently appealed to him to resume duty, but ‘A’ neither acknowledged the appeal nor broke his own code of silence.
By day 12 Stomach started regurgitating food and fluids.
“Not happy with my service Stomach?” asked Mouth upon receiving a third rejection of his well chewed food.
“Your service cannot be bettered. It’s that feller down there “A”, who has remained tight and unyielding since two weeks ago. He hasn’t permitted passage of refuse since, not even wind. As much as I appreciate your service, I can’t accept anything from you until “A” down there starts cooperating and emptying the refuse” Replied the distressed Stomach.
By day 14 Brain was overwhelmed by complaints from most members of the house.
“We cannot filter the blood of its impurities without sufficient replenishment of the fluid volume,” complained the kidney twins, tittering on the verge of the much-dreaded shutdown.
“I cannot maintain the reserve amino acid pool… In fact I can barely perform any of my functions with this accelerated accumulation of toxic refuse in the blood. The inadequate replenishment of fluids and nutrients makes my task impossible” moaned the often resilient and stoic Liver.
The eyes twins had a thing or two to say about their compromised efficiency and general ill health. In addition to mounting unresolved complaints, Brain’s functional capacity was starting to succumb to the effects of excessive toxic and refuse in the blood. No amount of cajoling could persuade ‘A’ to bring the misery to an end. He remained tight, mute and indifferent to the suffering of others.
“Surely that good-for-nothing ‘A’ cannot bring this house to a total collapse. A quick visit to the Doctors and he will be forced to comply and everything will return to normal” Brain thought. And so the body presented itself to the Doctor.
First the Doctor tried suppositories then oral laxatives but ‘A’ remained noncompliant.
Even the manual removal of refuse offered no lasting solution. The only significant but incomplete relief came in the form of intravenous alimentation, which got Liver and the Kidney twins working overtime to purify the now dangerously toxic blood.
Following the transient relief provided by two days of intravenous fluids and nutrients, Brain summoned a meeting, which attracted a record 100% attendance because every member had suffered considerably and wanted to be party to whatever solution the body was going to come up with
“Gentlemen, we, this body, can’t exist and function normally on drips forever. The quality of life will be greatly compromised. Needless to say, we’re all aware why we are now relying on drips for sustenance. As I pondered more deeply on our predicament, it came to my realization that it was perhaps a mistake for us to crown anyone of us as the most worthy of us all. For the full functional efficient existence of this body, we are all equally important. Each and every one of us is a leader in his own domain of influence and function. But our individual functions will only hold meaning and significance if coordinated and combined with the function and contributions of others. The sum of ALL is greater than the sum of one, basic maths yet in this case immensely profound.
We should all extend our collective apology to ‘A’, who, in his silence… the very silence that has left us hooked on a drip, knew that we are all equally important.” At this juncture Brain stopped and shifted his attention to ‘A’.
“On behalf of the body, I unreservedly tender our most deep and sincere apology. We would immensely appreciate resumption of your service, you have a massive back log of refuse to clear up” A thunderous applause followed. The bonding effect of a commonly shared problem with a common solution was obvious. Even Nose, a sworn archrival of ‘A’, was in a conciliatory flare.
In his first ever response to Brain’s numerous addresses, ‘A’ emitted a thunderous gush of wind. A sign of unreserved compliance perhaps? The Ears twins flapped about at the emission of this long forgotten sound.
“A rose by any name will sure smell as such” Quipped Nose.
Could this be the end of Nose’s lifelong animosity towards ‘A’? Brain wondered.
And so life returned to normal, with harmonious unstinting cooperation from all body parts.
Its not so much the status we hold in any organization, but our selfless individual contributions that count. The common good of the organization/body should take precedence over our own personal interests and often exaggerated sense of self-importance. The productive existence of a team, body or any organization, can only be realized through unstinting cooperation of the members, players or parts of that body, team or organisation. That, is the very essence of the paradigm of productive cooperation, productive existence.
A Dream that is Life
After placing my pina colada on the small poolside deck table, the topless waitress lingers forcing me to lift my head from the screen of my laptop computer and look at her.
“Anything else sir?” she enquires smiling -rather sheepishly.
“No thanks.” I answer –rather dismissively- as I fish a ten euro note from my wallet and proffer it to her.
These leeches, always expecting to be tipped every time as if they do not have a basic salary. I was not born with a silver fork in my hand, I work and toil for my wealth.
The smile and the sheepish exterior vanish as she contemptuously looks at the note in my hand.
“No thanks sir, I was just asking if you needed to order anything else” she turns and walks away.
Cheeky leech, ten euro is to small a tip?!? Well, I will make it a point to give it to a grateful waiter or waitress back in South Africa.
My publisher, whom I am here to meet for the renewal of my contract, informed me in advance that staff at this exclusive Monaco [South of France] hotel expects a minimum of 50 euros for a tip. Baa-a! Not from this direct descended of Mzilikazi, thriftiness is the watchword. I may dress expensively but I do not throw money around.
A quick glance at my Rolex timepiece, almost time to meet my publisher. I slip into my silk gown, step into my designer flip-flops and…
BBRRR-R-R-R! A loud horn is blown from somewhere.
I wake up with a startle. I am not lying in a fluffy feather bed or cosy waterbed. No. I am in my ordinary run of the mill king-sized, in my falling apart rented Berea house. There is a certain sinking feeling of disappointment that comes with that transition from an almost real dream of excess wealth and comfort to the harsh reality of a not-so-comfortable life.
BBRRR-R-R! The horn goes off again, must be the same horn that ended my dream. This irritating horn sound of Pirates –or is it Chiefs? – gets me attuned to the even more startling reality. I am late for work! I look at the LCD screen of my small bedside alarm clock. Blank. No time. Damn Chinese technology! I put fresh batteries last night before setting the alarm. Of all days why today? I am due to make an important presentation at 09:00hrs at my company’s Sales and Marketing annual conference in Sandton. The founder and sole owner of my multinational pharmaceutical company flew in from Europe last week for this conference –particularly today’s presentations on sales and marketing strategies. I worked hard for months on the preparation of my presentation; every aspect of my presentation is polished to a sparkling perfection. Today is the day for my contribution to the company to be noticed –by people that matter.
I remember leaving my wristwatch in the living room last night. I jump out of bed and switch the stereo. Just in time for “Metro FM, it’s just after 8 and you are with…” I push the ‘off’ button with a touch too much force, causing the stereo to fall off the table and crush on the tiled floor. A small electrical explosion, a few spaced electrical sparks, followed by smouldering smoke from the sides and my stereo is ‘OFF’ for good.
“Damn Chinese technology!” I curse as I hurriedly head for the bathroom. In the rush and slight darkness of the small corridor that connects my bedroom to my bathroom, I step on something fluffy. In the small fraction of a second it takes for me to wonder what it is I have stepped on, Eric, my poodle, yelps from under my foot –instinctively sinking his tiny canines into my ankle. He limbs out of the house through the flap door, still yelping sorrowfully. I love my dog. He is my only friend. My heart is torn between the pain I feel for my yelping pooch and the unbearable pain in my right ankle. The two pains differ in nature but share the same heart rending intensity. Just as I lean against the bathroom door to deal with this double-edged intense pain, the irritating horn blows again from the streets, as if to remind me that if I am not in Sandton in the next 20minutes, greater pain awaits me.
I step into the shower and turn the pre set hot water tap. I jump back at the shock of icy cold winter water. The geyser must have packed up again. I cannot remember the make of that geyser but in the light of this morning’s events, it must be of Chinese make.
After the cold shower I dress up quickly, pour my self a cup of coffee, leaving half the cup empty for milk. I like my coffee very strong, lukewarm with lots of milk. This always kick-starts my workdays.
From the fridge I take the carton of milk and hastily pour milk into the coffee. All this hurrying is tiring me. Eyes closed I take a huge gulp from my favourite morning brew, only to spit it on the kitchen floor immediately. I open my eyes to stare at the curdle floating on the surface of my cuppa. The milk is off! I look at the fridge;
BBBR-R-R! The horn cuts off my third curse for the morning.
All the farting gods of mischief have conspired against me today, as I have no spare clean shirt. I wipe off the coffee stains from the tie and shirt and hope that the jacket will hide the stains.
A glance at my cheap [Chinese?] Flea-Market wristwatch, a world away from Rolex dreams, 08:30. This has gone beyond cutting it lean, I am out of time!
I throw my presentation portfolio in the back seat of my Toyota Corolla Company Car and drive off like the maniac that I am.
There by the street corner is the horn blower, puffing his cheeks theatrically preparing to blow the horn again. To what or whose benefit is all this horn blowing on a Friday morning? Do supporters of even bigger clubs of high international pedigree like Manchester United or Chelsea blow trumpets or beat drums in the streets during weekdays in Manchester or London? I am sure not. What makes us Africans such a noisy race? Even normal conversation between two people close to each other becomes a shouting match. From The Bronx, New York to Brixton, London; wherever you find us dark skinned people of African descent unnecessary noisy is to be expected. Can we entirely blame white supremacists that regard us as dim-witted primates?
The anger and frustration of being late digresses in the direction of the horn blower and the culture of noise amongst us darkies. As I drive past he decides not to blow the horn and gives me a smile, a wink and a nod instead. I smile back at him, but actually I feel like getting out of the car and smashing his head in with the nearest brick. Well, even in Hillbrow that is probably illegal. I hate Noise!
Down Jan Smuts I weave my way through thinning but still heavy traffic, tailgating an equally [conveniently] impatient Taxi. This is dangerous driving but I cannot help it.
Without warning, the Taxi stops for a fare. I break and swerve to the right, narrowly avoiding a pill up. From the rear view mirror, I see the Taxi driver sticking two fingers in the air. I return the ‘greeting’ as I speed away dangerously towards Sandton.
It is 5 minutes before 9 as I enter the hotel lobby. Archie, my manager, is pacing up and down the lobby impatiently; obviously waiting for me.
“We have rearranged the schedule and cancelled your presentation. Follow me, Dirk and I would like to have a word with you” He says with barely any eye contact. This is ominous.
Archie and I never liked each other from the day I joined the company. He represents everything negative about Affirmative Action. He is a dim-witted but loyal employee who joined the company 20years ago as a warehouse packer and arse-licked his way to being a rep, now a Regional Sales and Marketing Manager –promoted beyond his capabilities. Amongst other veritable managers Archie looks and acts like their tea boy. He is not at all embarrassed by this ‘window dressing promotion’. If anything he gloats endlessly about his new post. The likes of him are an embarrassment to those of us who want to achieve career success on merits not tokenistic favours.
Dirk, The National Sales and Marketing Manager, awaits us in a small private room. He curtly nods at me and points at one of the two chairs. This is the man who ‘promoted’ Archie. The relationship between the two of them has always been that of a master and his dog –Archie being the dog.
“What do you have to say Archie?” he addresses his ‘four legged pet’.
In his Bantu Education, shorthand, halting English, Archie makes his case: Firstly that my failure to keep the appointed time 08:00hrs on such an important day when the company is presenting its best side to its founder and owner was unacceptable. Secondly, given the fact that I had, two years ago, received a written warning about my failure to keep time, this third strike, as per clause something or other of my employment contract, merited immediate dismissal.
“Suppose he had arrived early enough to go ahead with the presentation, was he going to make a presentation looking like this?” Archie points at my coffee stained shirt and tie. Whilst I had tactfully buttoned my jacket in the car park, the button had somehow come undone and all the stains, in the splendid artistic décor of the gods of mischief, are in full view. Dirk looks at my shirt and shakes his head in what can only be described as a mixture of regret, pity and anger. I somehow felt he had always sensed and admired my potential for making more meaningful contributions to the company, though he was not entirely comfortable with my assertiveness. Whilst my dismissal would be genuinely regrettable to him, a part of him will consider this as good riddance of a potential troublemaker.
“I am afraid Archie is right in everything he said. Do you have anything to say in your defence?”
Go to hell. Is this a court hearing now? Even if I had anything to say what difference would it make? When you two lovebirds seem to have everything sawn up already. My unvoiced thoughts as I mutely shake my head.
“Please go to your house and collect everything that you have in your possession that belongs to the company and leave the lot [and the car] at Head Office in Midrand. I will call salaries department now and ask them to prepare your 3months-advance salary cheque, as per contractual stipulation. We shall, in the next 24hours, be emailing you a formal letter outlining the grounds on which your employment has been terminated. Good luck in whatever you decide to do” Dirk stretches his hand for a handshake but I ignore it and leave. I am not given to pretending that I am not hurt when I feel torn apart, that my case has had the most even-handed attention when it could have been handled more judiciously.
After leaving the car and picking my cheque, I painfully limp my way to the Midrand Taxi rank. The taxi to Jo’burg is half full, I get in and wait for it to fill up. My ankle has doubled in swelling from the walking and the pain is excruciating. I also have a splitting headache, may be because I did not have my usual fix of coffee. The coffee stains on my shirt are attracting the kind of furtive glances that are often cast towards psychos. I am feeling rotten.
A middle aged man stops by the open Taxi door, whips a yellow plastic horn from somewhere and…. blows into the Taxi, much to the amusement of all passengers, except one.
When I got home that day [10years ago] I did not soak my sorrows in alcohol like most people would have done. I did not wallow in self-pity or brood over how I was going to get even. No. I regrouped and objectively looked at opportunities that this disaster might have presented. How could I turn the tables and forge ahead as a winner not a loser?
That day made me what I am today; a successful ghost-writer and a proud owner of a small but growing Internet publishing company. With my severance package I set up my company, at the same time I approached an aging internationally renowned writer with a proposition that I write a novel to be published by his old publisher in his name. His publisher liked my first manuscript and I have since written three more books. Even at the zenith of my career success with that multinational company, I would not have had as fulfilling a life as I am having now. Just as in the dream that day, I do not throw around my money. I still live in the same dingy Berea house –minus anything to do with Chinese technology. Thriftiness is the watchword.
Always look for opportunities, even in the most dismal of your failures. At times in life opportunities arise from the mire of a personal Tsunami