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Author: Francesca Mussi. The way he looks at me, Lydia says. As if he were the adult and I the child. Mikey extended a hand and helped Silas to his feet. It was a comradely gesture, Silas knew, a warning to expect nothing but cold scorn from Lydia when they got home. He farted loudly as he rose to his feet.
It brought the kind of understanding he needed and knew Lydia would not offer, a recognition of his ordinariness, his capacity for weakness, it drove the anger out of him, replaced it with a sense of fulfilment that was light, somehow, even if it was accompanied by a mortal belching and the sly emission of pungent farts. Simple things that helped ordinary people to cope with life. Usually, she wanted to drive even when Silas was sober. Mikey, who had only recently obtained his licence, drove now, fast and resolute on the freeway, slow and careful when they took the off-ramp to Soweto.
An afternoon haze of smog turned the sun to brass. Soon, Jackson, his face burnished the colour of dark wood by a day of drinking in the sun, swaggered out through the gate, his oversized shorts flapping around his sturdy legs. Mam Agnes gave the two men chiding looks, while Lydia became stony-faced. The one thing she wished for her grandson, she said, was that he never became a beer-drinking slob. Silas gulped his beer much too quickly, and joined Lydia. They drove back towards the city. His loud, exaggerated burping brought no reaction from Lydia, who concentrated on her driving, glancing at her watch all the time.
Her fingers gripped the steering wheel more tightly. Clouds darkened the sky. He opened the window, letting in a gust of moist, refreshing air. Old and fucken decrepit, but Du Boise all right.
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It was his eyes. And that arrogant voice. He tried to engage her eyes, but she stared straight ahead of her. She was steering the car down the off-ramp towards Doornfontein, bending her body with the curve of the road.
I followed him out of the store, then suddenly found him sitting down, as if he was waiting for me. A fucken accident. Silas sat for a moment, then followed her into the house.
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She was already in the bedroom, pulling off her clothes. She hitched the skirt up, freed the hose and smoothed them upwards, over her thighs and buttocks. Her legs acquired a contained kind of sensuality. He heard the door close, the customary quiet click of the latch. She was always quiet, so precise in everything she did. He heard the car start, the engine rev, heard it settle down to an idle. He went to the kitchen and opened a beer, slowly poured it into a tall glass that he tilted towards the bottle, until it was nearly full.
He held the glass upright, continuing to pour, slowly, until a delicate head of foam gathered at the mouth without spilling over. But the pleasure he felt at pouring his beer so artfully quickly disappeared. Now it creaked under his weight, deepening the silence in the house. The hot day and all the beer he had drunk made him feel drowsy. He raised his head and looked towards the sun, sinking behind the tall buildings that marked the boundary of Berea.
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There were many such half-drunken Sundays when Lydia refused to make love to him and he fell asleep, waking up when the sun in the square window gave way to cold shards of moonlight and she told him it was time for dinner. And then, one day, the moon was caught in the bars of a window that seemed familiar yet very different somehow, further away than even that distant township window that the architects had put in as an afterthought.
Even bushies need light occasionally, they must have schemed. Silas woke from his beery sleep, slumped in the easy chair, his mouth dry and the sky dark. He stumbled outside, light rain on his face, switched off the engine, looked around, saw Lydia sitting in the wicker chair in the dark corner of the stoep.
He must have rushed right past her. She was in one of her inconsolable moods. Like the day Steve Biko was killed, and she mourned his death bitterly even though she was only seventeen years old, and had no way of knowing, Silas had said, what Biko stood for. Lydia was angry, not only because he had betrayed the trust between them, which was all their marriage had going for it at the time, but because this was how she had found out that he was involved in the underground. Later, she learnt that the woman comrade was married as well and that her husband had been in detention at the time of the affair.
She confronted Silas about his callousness, and became even angrier when he tried to justify his actions. People in the underground were in constant danger, he said, and this created a sense of intimacy, it was difficult to avoid such things. Then, too, her anger had hardened into something impenetrable, an invisible crust that made her skin impervious to touch and her mind deaf to even his most heartfelt pleading. Now he put his arm around her and felt that same implacable coldness in her.
What do you mean, no need to? He raped me, not you.
Your hurt. You remembered your hurt.
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I was there, helpless, fucken chained in a police van, screaming like a madman. Nearly twenty years.
The pain of your screams, his laugh, his fucken cold eyes when he brought you back to the van. When he opened them again, she was inside, busy dialling on the phone. He followed her. Lydia stood at the kitchen sink, drinking a glass of water. He went in, leaned against the fridge. He leaned up against the fridge, felt its throb against his back, slid down until he was on his haunches.
He closed his eyes and smiled. He got to his feet.