Definition of a subtweet:
A subtweet is a tweet about tweeting. The name comes from subliminal tweet, which means it's about as classy as Brangelina or TomKat or Renesme (barf). It's a tweet in which another person on Twitter is commented upon, without that person's name being mentioned. It's a pretty lame thing to do, but hugely tempting at the same time. It's about as effectual as Zuma's prophylaxis protocol. Also, if you don't like the way someone tweets, unfollow the arsehole! If you like most of the person's shite, then hang in there and hope that the annoying little actions are just a phase. Better yet, tell the person. They'll probably remind you of their right to freedom of speech and salute you with their middle finger, but that's just the way it is.
If you get subtweeted, just nod and smile, at least it means someone's reading your narcissistic, bullcrap right?
I crunched a dessicated songololo, bleached in the dusty sun; then traced swirls and lines in the side of the hearse, and tried to wipe them away when I realised I had spelt out her name. The adults wended their way towards the vehicles, heads inclined towards each other in conference. I watched, waited for the cortege to re-assemble itself, the red ants climbing above my socks and biting without rancour. Waiting for the hushed voices to stop and the slow procession to return to cups of tea and news on the wireless, watching the disintegration of the village.
The police captain, out of uniform, eyeing the congregation, and walking a step aside, as if drilling an errant line of cadets that wouldn’t step in time. He’d started asking questions the day it happened, and hadn’t stopped, even when offers of tea and coffee had stopped and everyone had begun to realise they didn’t really want the surface to be scratched.
The cracked earth had taken three days to split. We drove past watching the red pile of red soil grow as the pick axes worked. Every sentence felt punctuated by the sound of the pick axes as the village shamefacedly carried on its arbitrary daily drudgery. The pile of koffie klippe and empty bottles that held drink o pop became a monument to the sweaty forms that fought the barren earth.
They dug a full sized hole for so small a form, and after, the grave diggers would return to their homes where sunlight green soap in plastic basins couldn’t quite wash away the loss we all were dealt that week.
And there I stood, with sweat meandering down the small of my back, as the buzzing drone of muted mourning continued to wash in waves around the hearse, and men sheepishly lit cigarettes and smoked them with cupped hands. They hid the embers, smoked furtively, as if the coal-glow would cause a sniper to see them and shoot them, except they weren’t on the border anymore, and the war was over for them, for everyone.
A young mother rubbed her stomach absentmindedly throughout the service, as if to comfort the almost-life, to shield the swimming whale-shaped mass from the sorrow of the day. She kept on looking about her, searching for a reassuring glance, some affirmation, but no one caught her eye.
The winch stopped working as the coffin whined its way down into the recent recess. The funeral director let his mask slip as he swore and kicked at the groaning machine, then manually began to negotiate the little coffin’s descent into the ground. It jerked and juddered and wobbled precariously, as her mother wailed and an oblivious wagtail bobbed about the feet of the mourners.
In turn, the sorry line of locals threw clods of earth into the hole, I threw mine extra hard, as if I could inflict some pain in spiteful retaliation for the lives that now lay shattered. We knew that the director would be down the hole, retrieving the gilt handles for use when the next funeral. We knew he did it. We knew he drank the profits and sang to show tunes as he worked his magic with rouge and powder. This was a small town after all.
The cortege set off past pristine goats, bone-white against the barren hills and barb-wire fences with wool snagged in the strands. The trucks and tannies with their solemn faces beneath hats that bounced in sync with the bumps and corrugations of the dirt roads as their stone-faced husbands drove.
Lace doilies to keep the flies out. Little beads in dainty dots around the edges of milk-jug covers crocheted and sold at fetes. The yellow sunlight streaming into rooms musty from carefully forbidden use. The shoes, polished, now with a patina of red dust over the patent. Creased gray suit pants and stockings, knee high, beginning to stretch and pucker around the knees. An onslaught of varicose veins here and there and the smell of pipe smoke from somewhere outside. The tick of a clock that wasn’t told that, at least for now, it should stop.
In the kitchen and distant confines of the other side, a maid hums a hymn before being crudely remonstrated by the harried lady of the house, who flits about with hot water and extra cake. A family portrait above the piano- a stilted wedding day picture of a posy placed between the observer and the bride’s bloom.
His moustache droops, with yellowing residue around the lips, he licks his bottom lip, a flick of the tongue, as if to dislodge an errant speck of tobacco. He is being cross-examined by the dominee, who is earnestly asking about Church on Sunday, and prayers on Tuesday. He is offering up his personal saviour to this man, who shifts his weight from leg to leg, and whose eyes are rheumy, his skin too sizes too big and nut brown. The brawny neck and other useless bovine remnants of a rugby career are now abstracted by the filigree sea of oddments his wife has placed in her inner sanctum. He looks out the window from time to time, towards the static windmill and the sightless sky.
The portraits down the passage, a lithe brown child, an aryan archetype, hair scraped back and restrained in a bun. Pink leotard, intent expression as the subject performs an arabesque. The other children in the background insignificant in comparison with the perfection of opportunity.
In the next, a gap toothed smile and certificate held. The subject placed before a flamboyant bougainvillea, the photographer, no doubt as proud of the floral achievements as those of the small figure in the foreground. More trophies and awards adorn the polished surfaces, bronzed booties and oddments made in pottery classes. A vibrantly painted and varnished rock, with googly eyes and a crooked smile.
The horror of the shrouded room, the sightless kewpie dolls and barbies. The four postered bed and the rosettes and accolades. The discarded school shoes, still end on end as if impatient feet had just pressed a toe against a heel and slipped them off. The hand drawn ponies and butterflies on the cupboard door, stickers from chocolate milk and easter eggs stuck along the pine desk. I lingered longer than I should have, leaning against the doorway, until the dark-ringed eyes of her mourning mother were upon me and she was slowly closing the door. She gripped my elbow and steered me towards the toilet, with its cheerful biblical phrase in applique and the scent of pot-pourri. Her fingers dug into me, claw like.
How could I piss? It felt as if ice had gripped my elbow, and I finally crumpled to the floor and, leaning against the door, wept, biting my fist until my teeth left whitened indentations on my knuckles and I couldn’t recognise the sounds my throat made anymore.
I went back there. The muddy bank was churned and police forensic tape still lay in tatters in the acacia trees. She was found, still floating in the amber pool, below the tyre swing we used to use to swing across the murky water and leap off into the water.
I still remember feeling her skin against mine as she swam and thrashed during Marco Polo and tag, the dew-drops of water against gooseflesh as we lay on the broad warm rocks and sun dried before walking home with squelching shoes and mud between our toes. You’d find algae in your hair at bath time and sometimes leeches. I pulled one off once and left it on the basin in the bathroom. By the time I remembered it was there it had shrivelled to a slender line of fibre and I almost felt sorry for killing it.
That time, she hadn’t thrashed and squirmed to get out of my reach, she hadn’t laughed and somersaulted and pushed off in her plimsolls. She was wearing a white shift, later identified as her night gown, the mud had made it rust-red along the hem and it had been infused with tannin from the pool.
She lay face down and at first I though she was trying to see how long she could hold her breath, she did that. She’d curl herself up into a little ball and crouch, eyes clenched shut and cheeks chipmunk-puffed in rebellion against the urge to breath. She’d stay down for ages, hiding in the water and surfacing to take a gasping breath before descending into the cold water once more. We’d wear tekkies to protect against the sharp rocks and all you’d see was a flash of tekkie as her feet would break the surface with a rowdy splash.
We’d stay down there, in the water until our fingers’ flesh would wrinkle and go pale. Then, saunter home as fellow conspirators, our secret pact hidden in the pool. She’d never tell me her secrets, but sometimes I thought she wanted to. Everything looked ethereal under the rusty water, I’d watch my hands and the pale gold of her skin as she slipped through the water, a nymph.
When the water subsided, and the farmers began to slaughter their livestock, to conserve their grazing, we found it. It had solemn, organic shaped headlights, and a rounded form embedded in the mud. We sat in silent reverie when we eventually climbed out. We stared at each other, smiling. An ancient car in the depths of our pool, all algaed and rusted, but still an elegant old lady, with sweeping curves and crumbling leather.
Again and again, we hauled huge gasps of air, until our throats stung, and we explored, finding strange mementos of the vehicle’s erstwhile occupants. A lipstick, still dry inside its case, a violent red, that clashed with the bleached rock we used it to write our names on. An owner’s log, the leather case still intact, but the pages a sodden mush.
She made up stories about the beautiful woman who sat in the passenger’s seat, and travelled beside her handsome beau between large cities and exciting trysts. He held a respectable job, in a bank perhaps, and wore a hat, which he would remove when in the presence of ladies. She imagined a universe around that car, that didn’t resemble our small orbit of home, school and the amber pool at all.
It was her idea to try and get into the boot, to see what might be contained therein. She felt that there would be a discarded picnic basket, a suitcase, a cache of love letters or a bank robber’s cache. We tried to pry it open, to beat the lock with rocks, imagining the treasure. And still, we mentioned nothing to the adults, who were so intent on counting days by staring at the cloudless skies.
It was her idea to go in via the back seat. Before we could, everything changed.
That day, I dove as she didn’t move, and felt the horror of her water roughed skin, the clammy coldness. I screamed and trod water, going under and gurgling as I simultaneously tried to cry for help and tow her body to the shore. She wasn’t there. There was no trace of her left in that body. The colour was gone- the sun departed.
The route I took to school was never the shortest nor the most direct. I would pass my favourite haunts as if to masochistically remind myself of all the pleasures life had to offer outside the confines of the crowded, one room fits all, classroom. One of the paths led along the top of the quarry where our pool lay and that morning, as I desultorily threw rocks and kicked at tree stumps, I looked down and saw her floating, highlighted by the sun against the dark, ruddy backdrop of the deep water.
The rest has already been recounted and I eventually left her side to run in sodden school clothes for help, or at least an adult to take over a situation I didn’t even want to feel existed. They’d even tried to resuscitate her, at someones hysterical insistence. The weary would-be rescuer eventually just looked up with red-rimmed eyes and shook his head.
Eventually, the mortuary bakkie turned up. No one thought to send me away. I became invisible, still holding her hand as all the pounding and pummeling and false hoping had carried on. Someone threw a jacket over her face, but left me holding her hand. I felt myself stroking it as if to comfort her.
The first examination of the body revealed no mark. The body a recently abandoned bed. Her fingers with short, pale nails revealed no sign of struggling, no sign of scratching or scraping at an assailant. The fingers bent slightly, palms up on the gurney. The life lines lying, long. No blood left to colour the palms and no pulse to gently course along the wrist.
Elfin, waif-like, with knotted locks and forbidden curls and ringlets contaminated by pond weed and scum, lips purpled and half open. Upturned, ski-jump nose with freckles across the bridge. She lay, as if a ready host whose guest has departed suddenly.
Her night dress had brushed the ruddy mud and taken on its qualities, ochre and stained from sweeping across irregular ground. She walked. Her soles were hard and calloused as all the children’s were in the village from running and jumping and shunning shoes as accomplices of the constricting school system.
She had walked. She had risen and walked from her home to the amber pool. She was not carried, then cast into it. This abomination had, in part had a willing, if unwitting accomplice in its victim. Her arms had bleached blonde hair from hours in the afternoon sun and bore no trace of bruises or restraint. She had scrapes and grazes on her knees, half-healed from some altercation with a tree, or playground surface when playing hopscotch. In short, she was a child, with wounds associated with fresh air, exercise and boisterous companionship.
The little legs, the pink panties with some cartoon princess emblazoned on them. One size too small, frayed elastic and a name written in childish script in indelible ink. Sobbing coroner with shaking hands feeling the travesty of invading the fragile space beyond the sternum, weighing a heart that unwillingly halted its stolid progress through life too soon. The retching assistant, as the incision grows, asking why?
Each organ carefully weighed and examined for any sign of trauma or intrusion, the sodden lungs, with angry blood assaulted by unwelcome water. Finally a cause of death and a cursory examination of the remaining organs, a mere formality after the lungs reveal their complicity in the heart’s demise.
The foetus in the stainless steel kidney dish. The shock of a secret excised from an unwilling witness to some unmentionable tragedy.
The coroner’s fingers slipped as he dialled the police station, he stood, stuttering into the outmoded mouthpiece “Byleveld, kom”, all he could utter before disposing of his lunch in the drain.
Byleveld and the coroner stared in silence at the dish. It wasn’t hard to see its contents. They had both counted back, remembering the radiant child at the ballet recital, the athletics days and the crisp cotton school uniforms and dutifully polished shoes.
And now, the routine, to comfort the troubled officials, photocopied charts. Vital signs reduced to metrics on blank sheets. The recording of outrage and disbelief in Latin. As if the use of alien, old words could somehow distance the author from the tragedies being dutifully recorded.
They sat side by side in silence on the back stoop of the medico-legal mortuary. As each man made to speak, the other flinched. The phone rang, but neither acknowledged the intrusion on their reverie.
And in this saddened reverie, she reverted to the reassuring, numbness of routine. Hand washing linen, sweeping until her back and arms ached. Making bread and performing the intricate niceties that governed small town life.
But, this didn’t work, she’d find herself staring at the clock as the radio reminded her that other people’s lives hadn’t stopped. She would find herself standing, catatonic in a sea of soap suds as the sink overflowed and dainty crockery began to float and clink together.
She remembered every lapse in parenting, every harsh word and blow that now could not be undone through mother-love. No chance now for recompence for every error. She had her meagre accoutrement of maternal memories as solace for a short lifetime of silence and blind eyes.
Now as the cups of tea grew cold and cutlery clinked as punctuation for stilted silence, she grew weary of the extra care that people took around her.
He didn’t scold or touch. There was no violence now. The house was silent save Saturday radio rugby broadcasts and the phone that was left to ring. She almost provoked him, to see if there would be a reaction, some sign of life.
Instead they performed the rote-learned manuevres of the loveless marriage. A quadrille, without a solo. Their epicentre was gone. She attacked the garden with renewed fervour, took pleasure in the sun scorching the back of her neck and the smell of moist soil.
Her grief was sealed in a plastic dome, her misery a free display for the village.
He took her, would begin with a cursory exploration of her breasts through her cotton nightdress, then his calloused hands would roughly slide themselves between her thighs and try to coax out any moistness. The light remained off, which made it easier as she didn’t have to arrange her face into a pleasant configuration.
He would take his time, a vast, sweaty hairy mass upon her chest, above the void where her child had grown. He would take his time while she lay and thought about the sinking grave and the never fading false plastic flowers that lay above her loss.
He didn’t shed a tear, but retreated to his workshop and dismantled his tractor. He laid out its innards, carefully numbering and labelling every part and then lovingly cleaning and re-boring them.
The summer was spent swimming, swinging from the frayed rope hanging over the water and leaping, frog like into the tepid, tannin stained water. The freedom was constrained only by the dogged ascent and descent of the sun, baking hot, even early in the morning. The mud at the water’s edge cracked and bleached pale, with pond weed drying out under the harsh sun and the water level dropping by the day.
At water troughs across the veld and kraals, the cattle and sheep would quench their thirst, each herd moving in voiceless order, their social structure governed by the unspoken rules of their kind. The buck were different, they would steal to the edge of the pool in the cool of the dawn, leaving their dainty spoor in the clay.
I froze when she touched me, began to kiss me, without any guile or hesitation. It defiled the hours of daydreaming, where I pictured her as my bride, a mother, my lady in the passenger seat. It scared me how deftly her tongue found my mouth and stirred my emerging sexuality. I stood up and ran home, ran home and methodically arranged my lego bricks and characters until I realised that I was still shivering in my swimming trunks.
Even the reassuring smell of bedclothes, the coarse sensation of flannel on skin and the familiar shadows in my room didn’t ease the disquiet. While I was still savouring the feel of her skin on mine as we roughhoused in the water, and trying to summon up the courage to hold her hand, she had gone, in that mysterious way women do, to knowing all the secrets of the universe.
And if I hadn’t run? We would have kissed, in a world where I wasn’t the innocent. It would have been like the bioscopes, I would have casually pressed her against me and she would have gazed at me in rapture. The two who shared the submerged car would have done it, they would have kissed and cuddled. He wouldn’t have run away, as if assaulted, he would have earned the adulation of his lady friend. I didn’t know what lay beneath the layers of her clothes, I had seen her breasts swell and grown, but new nothing of the lines and curves that lay beneath the mysterious garments these women wore.
Sneaking into my mother’s lingerie had yielded no useful information. Women appeared to favour lace and frivolity, confections in lace and silk lay whispering secrets to each other, smelling of lavender.
Picturing kissing her, in the twilight, I fell asleep, resolving to rectify the matter immediately, manfully. I didn’t have a hat, or smoke cigarettes, or drive a car, or shoot a gun, but I assumed that I could fake a swagger, a bravado to win her over and avert the perceptions of cowardice she must now hold.
But by then, she was gone.
There were no portents, no omens, just a sodden shell, that used to be my friend. I don’t know if people thought I was involved, or if they were whispering about my pain, trying to infer from the way I walked or tied my shoes, whether I was grieving or not.
After the world ends, you keep on reminding yourself of moments when it felt like you would live forever, I imagined her lashes against her cheek as she slept on a school bus, her cheek against the window and her leg pressed against mine. The sound of her voice still perfect in my head and the movements of a self-assured soul that still seemed to be up a tree, picking fruit, hanging upside down and throwing guavas at me, crying over grazed knees and cursing knotted blond hair and sunburn.
She seemed to sulkily drag her feet, following me around the arbitrary rituals of day to day life after the funeral. I could hear her sigh and moan through the long hours in the classroom, as if she were still tied down to the moribund tedium of algebra and grammar.
It felt perverse, to immerse myself in the water that took her life, but I had to. I stripped off and lowered myself into the warm water, walking out, to where the colder, darker water lurked, beneath a layer of warm gold. I swam out with a treasure box, to place in the car, a secret monument, with all the things she liked best, stolen from her parents’ home. They were dead anyway, they moved, breathed, and even spoke when forced to, but they were gone-shell people, hollowed out by the events.