"The Parking Ticket," a short story by Norma Kitson (Co-winner of the GOWANUS Award).
"Diary of a Street Kid," by Fanuel Jongwe
From: Trinidad and Tobago"The Cup of Ambition," a poem by Anthony Milne (Co-winner of the GOWANUS Award).
"De Boissiere: the Lion in Winter," by Anthony Milne.
From: Canada"My Reader, My Co-Conspirator," by Richard Cumyn
From: Croatia"Who Shall Rescue Amerika?" an essay by Viktor Car
From: GOWANUS"Why GOWANUS?"
The Parking Ticket
By Norma Kitson
I arrived in Zimbabwe in 1988 on a hot December day with my Bickerton bike and a cassette radio. David stayed behind in Oxford, finishing his term tutoring statistics and politics at Ruskin College where he was an Emeritus Fellow. I had to be in Harare to take possession of the empty house we'd bought, there to wait months before our belongings would arrive by sea from the UK via South Africa. Knowing I would have to get around in a city with a poor bus service, I'd brought my fold-up bike and because of the silence I anticipated in the large, empty, hollow house, I brought some tapes and the radio: two items I felt would help keep me sane in a situation of isolated waiting.
But Customs wouldn't have it. They said my bike was child-size and probably thought I wanted to sell it. They were equally worried about my cassette radio, and after hours of wrangling in the stuffy airport, they confiscated both.
When I eventually emerged into the reception area of the Harare Airport, it was to find that our only friend whom we had met the previous year, had left, thinking I was not on the plane. All the other passengers had long since gone and the Airport was empty of people.
I stood on the steps outside with my two suitcases, blinking in the harsh sunlight. I'd left England, mid-winter, with a splitting headache and a case of acute bronchitis. The plane trip, despite the antibiotics I was taking, made me feel worse and now, after the argument with the stony-faced Customs officials, I was aching all over and quite at a loss to know what to do. A kindly porter directed me to the bank: I changed some English money and he put my bags into a taxi.
After an interminable ride in a rickety half-car with doors that didn't close properly, we arrived at the house. At the gate stood two very thin men and two skeletal dogs. All I could think of was to drink a glass of water and get my pounding head down.
For two days I lay half-conscious on the single pallet bed--the only thing we'd bought from the previous owner. I was aware, now and then, of a gentle urging from one of the thin men to have a cup of tea and some mealiemeal. On the third day I began to feel a little better, had a bath, donned some creased clothes and began to look about me.
The two men--Tendai and Chipinge--had been employees of the previous owner of the house--the cook and gardener. They implored me to keep them on, but I said I couldn't do that until I had discussed it with David. We hadn't intended to employ domestics. But I said they could stay in the meantime. After all, the place they called home was the tiny, unceilinged, black-walled, dirty cold-water shack behind the house and I wasn't going to be responsible for throwing them out. We were in the middle of this discussion, and I was aware that all three of us--and the two dogs--were literally starving, when a car drove up.
Our lawyer's wife had come to check whether I had arrived and whether everything was all right at the house. She walked through the empty echoing rooms:
'You'll have to come and stay with us. You can't stay here. There's nothing here! Your shelves are all empty. What are you eating?'
I explained that I'd been ill and anyway was unable to visit the shops as my bike had been taken away and that I had to stay in the house.
'Look,' she said. 'I've got a meeting this morning. I'm going to send a car with a driver. Let him take you and do a big shop. Get some food in. Tomorrow I'll take you to get some things you'll need till your stuff arrives: sheets and spoons and things--and an iron,' she said glancing at my creases. 'You can't possibly live like this!'
The driver duly arrived and, promising Tendai and Chipinge that I would get food supplies for them and some clothing, still feeling rocky, and clutching my list of staples, we left.
The car ran easily down Tunsgate but began to choke and jerk down Pendennis, then it stopped. The driver got out, but when he started poking around in the boot I realised he knew nothing whatsoever about cars.
I sat on the grass verge nearby, my head in my hands, while he eventually discovered the engine and began tinkering about with its insides. The heat was overwhelming and there was no shade in sight. I sat, trying to think what to do, full of horror that perhaps the good woman who owned the car would think I'd been the cause, somehow, of its breaking down.
I sat there, the sun beating down, my head throbbing, the man tinkering.
A car pulled up beside me and a jolly-hockeysticks lady emerged. 'Something wrong? You all right? Car broken down?'
I looked up and nodded. 'It's borrowed,' I said. 'I've just arrived from England and I'm not well and I don't even know where the shops are.' I must have sounded pathetic. Jolly Hockeysticks took over instantly.
'You jump in my car. I'll take you to some decent shops. The ones here are all over-priced anyway. And you,' she pointed to the driver, 'stop that and get that thing to a garage.'
The driver looked at her helplessly.
Seeing some people walking in the road, she called to them: 'Hey, you. Yes, you--Jim and you! You come and help push the Madam's car to the garage. Quick, now!'
She was instantly obeyed and the next moment had a crowd of people pushing the car off in what direction I never knew. I got into her car, gratefully sank into the fine leather seat while she efficiently whipped me from one shop to the next, telling me what brand of tea to buy, what brand of mealiemeal, what breakfast cereal. During the trip from one shop to another, she told me something about herself and her husband. She had been a nurse and had taken care of an elderly patient whose wife had died. He had a hearing problem and was a 'rather crotchety old thing,' as she put it.
'He's rich and needed someone to look after him and run his big house,' she said. 'Sometimes he even forgets we're married and thinks I'm a housekeeper or something! He keeps harping on about his first wife and how wonderful she was and what a good cook she was and how well she dressed. Well, that doesn't worry me much. I just get on with it.' I listened to her through a mist of pain and didn't pay much attention.
The shopping finished, she deposited me back home and said not to worry, she would go to the garage and see that the borrowed car was fixed and it and its driver despatched back to the kind lawyer's wife.
The days passed. Tendai and Chipinge lost the grey look of starvation. The dogs gorged and began to look better and slowly my bronchitis cleared up and I began to feel better. Chipinge made a fire outside each day over which we cooked water and the three of us ate the mealiemeal I bought, with rape and tomatoes which we got from a woman selling at the roadside near the Northwood shops. There even came the day when I could walk to those shops myself and re-stock on tea and vegetables.
When David arrived a few weeks later, Chipinge had planted the vegetable garden and the floors of the empty house shone with the wax polishTendai applied. He produced mounds of fried fritters, the tree in the garden producing large hands of bananas every few days. The two men were now proudly dressed in their new jeans and shirts. The swimming pool, fed with large doses of chlorine, gleamed. The dogs were brushed and the lawn cut with the mower borrowed from next door and David also felt he could not abandon Tendai and Chipinge to a jobless existence.
Of course I told David about my rescue by Jolly Hockeysticks and how efficient she had been, even if her methods were a bit high-handed and reminiscent of the ancien regime in the way she had collared a span of passing black pedestrians to do her bidding. He was nonplussed that this could happen after eight years of black majority rule but remarked that it probably was just as well, otherwise what would have happened to me! We decided to send her some flowers and a thank-you note.
Sitting on the patio one morning in our newly acquired garden chairs, Jolly Hockeysticks drove up and stuck her head out of the car window. We walked over and I introduced her to David.
'Want you both to lunch on Tuesday,' she said handing us a card with her address. 'Can't stop. See you Tuesday. All right? About 12.30.'
David and I discussed it.
'Look,' he said. 'From what you've said about her, I don't think we ought to tell them about us. She's been kind. We'll just go and have lunch and talk platitudes, OK?'
'What d'you mean?'
'Well, you know what it's like. We're new in town, so lots of people have invited us and as soon as we get there they all want to know why we've come to live here and where we've been and everything.'
'So I don't think we should mention anything about us to Jolly Hockeysticks or her husband. It sounds as if they're Rhodies. Normally I wouldn't mind taking them on. But this lady was very kind to you so I think we should just chat away and keep them happy.'
'OK,' I said.
On Tuesday we dressed in our best and arrived at the Jolly Hockeysticks' house. We were shown through an enormous lounge with three fireplaces and a sunken section swathed in dralon couches, out through french doors to a huge gleaming, glitterstone patio. There a number of tables and chairs were laid out, each with a large umbrella and, sitting sipping cocktails, about twenty people. We were introduced and I noticed that they wore a selection of identifiably English clothes: Jaeger shirts, Reldan and Escada blouses, and fine wool skirts. But their raddled sun-burned skins showed them to be indisputably southern Africans.
In the far corner of the patio, under his own umbrella, sat old Mr Hockeysticks alone, sipping a scotch. He nodded when we were introduced and then turned to his wife and said sharply: 'Where's the ice? Eh?'
She scuttled off dutifully and we sat down, David over at a vacant chair near a group of men, and me between two middle-aged women in a semi-circle of about eight which included one thin, orange-haired man with a protruding stomach.
A long conversation ensued among the women--during which I kept bravely silent and sipped my soda--on how the country had 'gone to pots since the Blacks took over', as one of them put it.
'You can't even buy salt anymore,' one of them said.
'Yes, and all our good schools are full of them now,' said another. We had to send Peter to Johburg.'
'And you can't even get olives or sardines,' said the first. 'And they've become so cheeky.'
'And damned inefficient,' said the weedy male. There was a general clicking and nodding of agreement among the ladies. There followed a number of examples of the horror that Zimbabwe had become since Independence in 1980.
I examined my fingernails, sipped my soda and looked longingly at David.
Old man Hockeysticks shouted out to the company at large that his wife made the best cheese scones of anyone in the world. 'Then you'd have had a lunch to remember! On time too!' There were a few embarrassed murmurs as most of the guests realised he was referring to his dead first wife. Mrs Hockeysticks didn't turn a hair.
Then the topic at our end of the patio turned briefly to the virtues of England and London in particular--'home' as they called it, although I began to doubt any of them had ever been to overcrowded, polluted, racist England, where the sewers are breaking up in the major cities and we'd just left mad-cow's disease, poisonous water in the taps, salmonella chickens and eggs, fires and electrical failures in the underground stations, not to mention a season of vapid soap-theatre, deafening drug-infested disco terminals for the youth, a higher than ever unemployment rate and prisons over-crowded with rioting inmates. Mrs Thatcher had totally undermined the economy and had sold off British industry in her Milton Friedman monetarist mania. Beggars were sleeping in every doorway of the West End and under the famous London bridges, inflation was raging and the crime, drugs, murder and suicide rates were soaring.
From their conversation it seemed they had 19th century concepts of what it was like in England and imposed their middle-class morality on the conversation.
'I always felt English flowers were so much prettier,' one said glancing at the bright beds of flowers. 'And one could sort of rely on the local vicar.'
'Yes,' said another, 'and what about all the wonderful theatre--Shakespeare an' all that.'
'And Mrs Thatcher's so well-dressed and such a lovely woman,' said a third. 'She reminds me of the Queen.'
'And what about that lovely Princess, Diana,' said another. 'I think she's beautiful . She's a bit tall, I do admit, but she is lovely. And such a good match for our Prince Charles. He's such a nice man!'
They nodded in agreement and the lone man leaned towards me and said: 'She's a bit of all right as far as I'm concerned,' and took a long sluk of his beer.
'And Vera Lynn,' said another. 'Home was so wonderful during the War.'
There was a short silence while everyone swallowed that one. I took another sip of my soda. Then a little woman with purple lipstick sitting next to me asked: 'Where you from?'
'Actually, we've been living in England,' I said. 'Isn't this a wonderful garden--so full of flowers.
'How long?' she asked.
'Oh! I was there for 22 years. This sunny weather is magnificent, isn't it?' I tried desperately to turn the conversation away from dangerous ground. 'It's very cold in England right now.'
The woman flicked her hand at my arm. 'Where were you before that? Your accent isn't English.'
'We come from South Africa originally. Just look at that rose bush! Isn't it beautiful!'
My interrogator stuck to her point. 'Was your husband with you in England?'
'Er, yes, mostly,' I said, now floundering.
She must know something, I thought. I paused, looked at her and said: 'I'm sure I'd never be so successful at rose-growing. It's an art, don't you think?' (I've never been all that keen on roses but I was fishing around.) I looked desperately at David, but he was in deep conversation with the men.
One of the women said: 'Ooh! don't tell me you've come out here to live after England. Is your husband on contract here?'
'No,' I said. 'We've just come to live.'
Suddenly a crab-like claw with long red nails bit into my arm. Purple Lips turned on me, her mouth inches from my face and said in a loud voice: 'I said, was your husband with you in England?'
'Some of the time.'
'Well, where was he then?' she was almost shouting. I unhooked her nails from my arm and looked around me. By now, a number of the guests were following our conversation and I saw old Mr Hockeysticks perk up.
'Where's the lunch, eh?' he shouted, looking heavenward.
Suddenly all eyes turned on me. I glanced across at David but his face was closed. Oh, what-the-hell, I thought, I've tried. I've done all I can. I just don't know how to cope with this.
'Actually,' I said. 'My husband was in prison in Pretoria for 20 years, from 1964 to 1984. Anything less than 10 years they call a "parking ticket", but he served the whole sentence. He was a member of the High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe. That's the military wing of the African National Congress, you know.'
There was a horrified silence. Everyone stopped talking and turned their faces to look first at me and then at David, Purple Lips with her mouth open. Mr Hockeysticks sat up and craned his neck to hear better. The silence continued. Not a sound was heard. I took a sip at my empty glass and felt sweat running down my back. Eventually Purple Lips sat back gasping. Then one of the women made a rescue attempt:
'What an extraordinary coincidence,' she said. 'Do you know, I once knew someone in the ANC!'
There was a sudden buzz while everyone began remarking about how Black people weren't so bad. They were all natural dancers and so good at sport and very good at running and boxing and some of them were really quite educated these days, and it wasn't their fault, you know.
This started everyone off asking David what it was like in jail and how had he managed, and were they cruel and oh how awful, and what did you do for twenty whole years, and what was the worst part of it.
David obliged, as always, telling anecdotes that would amuse and put their minds at rest, easing their tensions.
Efficient as always, Mrs Hockeysticks soon broke up the conversation. 'Come now, everyone! Lunch is served in the dining room.'
As everyone rose and started trooping away, old Mr Hockeysticks stood up unsteadily, his face a mask of incredulity: 'Twenty years,' he said, 'and for a parking offence!'
(Norma Kitson is the author of the acclaimed autobiography Where Sixpence Lives, Chatto & Windus, 1987), and of numerous articles, reviews, and short stories. Her newest book, Creative Writing--A Handbook is scheduled for publication in July, 1997)
Diary of a Street Kid
By Fanuel Jongwe
25 September 1993
Yesterday evening was hell-hot. A bad day. Someone stole, or the Municipal Refuse and Cleansing Department men burned, the cardboard I usually slept on. Insomnia. I spent the long hot vermin-infested night rolling on the dusty ground under the Rezende Street North Parkade where poor punters-men and -women bet their pittances away every day, but on Sunday I had trouble with the fat guard in the railway station waiting room.
Maki was arrested by a member of the Special Constabulary. He was caught sniffing thinners in the alley between a cloth shop in Robson Manyika Street and the Central Police Station building.
Collected $4.23Z today. Bought bread and a tomato.
29 September 1993
Woke up late to an empty day. Feeling really hungry--hungry as five Somalis. The refuse-collecting trucks had already left with the trash and our food when I was frightened out of my late-morning slumber by the blare of a bus horn. The Power Sales accounts manager, whose car I usually guard, did not come to work so no money, no food, no nothing--absolutely nothing today.
1 October 1993
A scuffle over a newly-arrived Zimtours Land Rover with the big boys at the National Gallery Car Park. 'This is our territory, our area of operation,' one of them told me through a gap where his front teeth were missing.
Am writing this at noon. Painfully tired and my body is shaking with hunger. I have been feeling dizzy and my vision is blurred. Nearly crashed into a speeding Medical Air Rescue Services ambulance while trying to cross Union Avenue. Harare is turning a blind eye on me. Everyone is engrossed in his own business.
It's evening now. Dusk has descended like a giant's eyelid closing. Neon signs are blinking advertisements. Street lamps are glaring down upon the busy streets. A fruitless day. For the first time in my life in the Hararean streets, I have spent the whole day on an empty rumbling stomach. How I wish everything was edible.
I remember the story--I still find hard to believe--of hungry Chinese blokes who cooked and ate their boots when their food reserves ran dry during the Long March. I have no boots to roast and eat like the Chinese did, but a pair of dry cracked feet.
2 October 1993
Feeling drowsy. I am afraid of sleeping. I might fall asleep forever like Dostoyevsky's Beggar Boy. Grandmother used to threaten me when I refused to eat supper: 'If you don't eat, you'll die in your sleep.'
Saved at last from the brink of the abyss. A brilliant tourist couple on a late evening stroll saw me trembling with hunger, pitied me and bought me a chicken--a full chicken, intact in its Chicken Inn pack. A Christmas feast on an October evening. Feeling strong again. Yes, tourists have "hearts of gold."
(Fanuel Jongwe is a free-lance journalist whose work appears in the Harare Sunday Mail Zimbabwe.)
The Cup of AmbitionRALPH de Boissiere left Trinidad and Tobago in 1947 and has lived in or near Melbourne, Australia for nearly fifty years. Vigorous and clear-minded, still a committed left-winger, though almost forgotten in the country where he was born nearly ninety years ago, has de Boissiere given up writing and settled into an easy retirement?
By Anthony Milne
He spoke with staring blue eyes
Out of his head with whisky
He started the day with a cup of ambition
Not wanting to be what he was.
He wished we could see him off Monos
Grinning and shouting "Not a fucking bite!"
As happy as hell.
De Boissiere: The Lion in Winter
Trinidadian writer RALPH DE BOISSIERE, author of Crown Jewel, Rum and Coca Cola and No Saddles for Kangaroos, turns ninety this year.
By Anthony Milne
"You might as well ask if I've given up breathing," is his quick reply.
De Boissiere's best-known novels are Crown Jewel, set in the 1930s at the time of the Butler riots in the oilfields of south Trinidad--part of the general disturbances in the British Caribbean in the 1930s--and Rum and Coca Cola, which takes place during the Second World War when thousands of American soldiers came to Trinidad to build and man military bases.
Crown Jewel, which he began before leaving Trinidad, was published by the Australasian Book Society (ABS) in 1952. He has "largely rewritten" Rum and Coca Cola, published by the ABS in 1956. In 1964 the ABS published his third novel, No Saddles for Kangaroos. Set in Australia, No Saddles is informed by his experiences in that country in the early 1950s when he was working in a car assembly plant during a period of strong anti-Communist sentiment. The book has obsessed him for more than thirty years. Since 1965 he has "reworked" it three times, eventually renaming it Waiting on Dawnlight. "That book is a thorn in my side," he explains. "I have to work on it because it is not a book; it is myself, my beliefs, my visions."
De Boissiere's fourth novel, Homeless in Paradise, is set partly in a newly independent Trinidad and Tobago and partly in Australia. Written and rewritten, it remains unpublished.
He has also produced film scripts for all of these novels.
Some people think he is crazy to keep rewriting what has already been published. But de Boissiere sees nothing strange about it. "I develop constantly both as an artist and a person. What I wrote, say, in 1952, now seems too narrow in concept because I have learnt a lot more. If No Saddles for Kangaroos had sold five million copies, thorough rewriting would not be appropriate; it would have acquired too many friends. But it sold only 3,000 copies, it is forgotten, and many years have passed."
There is new work in progress too. "I'm writing my fifth novel, again set in Trinidad, and it goes well."
How can he write about Trinidad after half a century of living in Australia? "I am rooted in that island, that sing- song, that mauvais langue, that wickedly naive humour, that crazily colourful imagination, and that warm of the heart," he remarks. As a writer he still understands his Trinidadian compatriots better than he does Australians. "Between the former and me there is always a portion of our island's psyche."
He believes the "psyche" of a place changes slowly, along with the collective psyche of its inhabitants. "When I am writing about Australia I feel Australian, I feel I have grasped the essential spirit of the urban Australian of a particular time, the 1950s. But I would not try to write a novel about the 1990s in Australia."
De Boissiere is rooted too "in the suffering that no one can alter, try as he may, because we are stuck in a system which, all over the world, hobbles and crushes the lower levels of society." He has lost none of the early, radical vision that got him into trouble as a young man in Trinidad and helped drive him into exile.
RALPH Anthony Charles (RAC) de Boissiere was born in Trinidad in 1907, the son of solicitor Armand de Boissiere and his English wife Maude Harper. Maude died three weeks afterward, and de Boissiere was brought up by a stepmother. Growing up, he felt like a stranger in his father's house. This and a keen awareness of racial distinctions in Trinidad contributed to his own peculiar vision. To all appearances white, he sensed there was something in his family's past that kept them out of the best Trinidad society.
As a child he was influenced as well by his uncle, Jean- Francois de Boissiere, who wrote a theoretical analysis of the way social and moral differences affect people's well- being.
Educated at Queens Royal College, by the age of fifteen de Boissiere he had already started to rebel. He refused to go to church and grew his hair long, unpardonable offences in the early 1920s which scandalised some of his family. His father, himself an agnostic, was mildly amused and a little embarrassed by his son's antics.
The injustices of society gradually came to dominate de Boissiere's thinking and writing. As a young man he found sympathetic attitudes in books among English and especially Russian writers. "What first influenced me as a youth was Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga. I admired greatly many of Dickens's creations but learned to turn the pages quickly when he began writing about love. Dickens wrote at a time when England had grown rich from sea power, trade and slavery. His sympathies were with the poor and he saw the ugliness of developing capitalism."
But de Boissiere put Dickens and Galsworthy aside as soon as he discovered Turgenev. "After reading three of [Turgenev's] novels I found in the Public Library, I discovered Tolstoy, also on the shelf for the Ts. Then Gorky. Later, Chekhov, and much later Pushkin and Gogol.
"They wrote of a vast country in which the weight of tsarism was destroying millions. Under the Tsar came little tsars, the princes and counts who owned vast acres and millions of serfs whom they could and often did sell as they sold horses and cattle." These writers were "crying out against an entire system in which the guilt of the rulers was being ignored while millions were dying from neglect." They were addressing a "crime against mankind" with which de Boissiere must have felt colonial Trinidad was also familiar.
"The writers of that time are still my favourites," he says. "A hundred and fifty years later the crimes against mankind have multiplied and are choking us all. But not many today write with that call to humankind, that call which, though muffled by the censor, could still boom out its message."
After leaving school de Boissiere got a job as a salesman for a Port of Spain bakery which allowed him to travel all over Trinidad. He witnessed the troubles in the oil belt at first hand. He got to know the labour leader Quintin O'Connor and met Uriah Butler. De Boissiere subscribed to the radical left-wing politics of Alfred Mendes, founder of the United Front, and campaigned for Albert Gomes who won a seat in the Port of Spain City Council in 1938.
De Boissiere, Mendes, Gomes, CLR James and others met, talked, campaigned and wrote.
One of de Boissiere's early stories, "Booze and the Goberdaw," was published in the 1929 Christmas issue of Trinidad, a short-lived magazine edited by Mendes and CLR James. He also contributed to the Beacon magazine, edited by Gomes and published regularly from March 1931 to November 1933. Its pages featured fiction and radical social and political commentary, left-wing but not doctrinaire. These periodicals and those who wrote for them played an important role in the emergence of modern West Indian literature.
In June, 1935 de Boissiere married Ivy Alcantara. They had two daughters, Jacqueline Marie-Anne in 1937, and Marcelle Therese, born in 1938. But he and his young family had to leave Trinidad in 1947 after his political activities cost him his job.
"The colonial world was a stifling place. I had to get out come what may, so I borrowed money and fled." They went first to the United States, to Chicago. One day he read there in the newspaper that a group of Americans were leaving California to live in Australia. He made inquiries and by January, 1948 he and his family had arrived in Melbourne.
He found work there as a salesman, a clark and on the assembly line at a car assembly plant during which time he continued to write. He and six other writers, none of whom could get their work accepted by established publishers, set up the Australasian Book Society (ABS).
"We had no money, but we did have huge support from the trade union movement. Crown Jewel, the ABS's first publication, was sold mostly through house meetings, meetings at pit-heads, on ships and at factory gates." The first edition of 3,000 copies was sold out in three months. "I got nothing," de Boissiere said. "Most of the money went to the printer."
By then the ABS had 2,000 members paying subscriptions of two pounds, ten shillings a year. Rum and Coca Cola was more successful. "I did get something--no memorable sum, but useful. That was how I got published. No one else would have me. And it was the same in England and the US. I have had nothing new published since."
But in the 1980s his first two novels were re-published in Britain by Allison and Busby. Their reissue came about by a circuitous route. In the early 1950s a Polish-Australian friend urged de Boissiere to send Crown Jewel to a publisher in Warsaw. "I did so and to my surprise, three months later, received a letter telling me it would be published in translation in Poland." The book went on to be published in Germany, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, China and Yugoslavia. British publishers Allison and Busby re-issued Crown Jewel in 1981 and Rum and Coca Cola in 1984, and finally de Boissiere came into some money.
"I now found myself free to stay home and write all day, which works well with some but not with me. After three or four hours the images become mixed up, I need time to disentangle them. Worse still, I was fictionalising the times through which I was living and soon found I was writing a documentary instead of fiction, not at all what I intended."
He had to find a job again.
In June, 1984 de Boissiere's wife died suddenly at their home in Melbourne. They had been married for nearly 50 years.
"What I write finds a grudging acceptance by society nowadays. "It fits in sort of uncomfortably, like an unwelcome disturbance. Publishers might say people are not buying that sort of thing these days but when I buy what people are buying I find it is not for me."
He has read contemporary West Indian writers and has a favourite. "The one who stands out for me above all is Earl Lovelace [recent Commonwealth Prize winner]. That man loves and respects people. Such writers seem very rare these days."
University of the West Indies Professor Ken Ramchand thinks de Boissiere is himself a rarity. "De Boissiere's work," says Ramchand, "combines social realism and political commitment with a concern for the culture of the feeling within the individual in a way that is unique not only among West Indian writers but among writers with a social conscience anywhere in the world."
Ramchand stresses that Crown Jewel and Rum and Coca Cola are essential reading for an understanding of the rich possibilities of young Trinidad in the 1930s and 1940s and the subtle makings of what renowned WI writer Sam Selvon called "the Trinidadian person."
(Anthony Milne (firstname.lastname@example.org), was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1951, educated there at St Mary's College, and subsequently in Canada and at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. He has worked as a journalist with Trinidad Express newspapers since July 1981, covering politics, parliament and just about everything else under the sun.)
My Reader, My Co-Conspirator
By Richard Cumyn
I was crossing Spring Garden Road near the Public Gardens in Halifax, when the young man ahead of me suddenly turned toward the older woman walking beside him and began directly a loud and ugly invective at her, some of which identified her as his mother. People's heads swivelled towards the sound and then away just as quickly as if recoiling from a blow. Many, incredulous, continued to gawk. As he executed an agitated shuffle on the toes of his high basketball shoes, the young man's body seemed to grow and spread like a flapping cape above the woman. All the while, she kept her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her jacket, her head submerged as far into her shoulders as possible. A moment later mother and son together disappeared around a corner.
Although a similar incident hasn't yet appeared in my fiction, I know someday it will, and I'll have to watch it play out again. This time, however, it will be as part of a new matrix. I'll have help with the job, and this time, if the Muse allows, the scene will make sense.
When I write, I teeter between what the world is and what I'd like it to be. The pattern I try to impose on existence is as much an act of desire as it is the result of observation. This desire, which is any storyteller's, exhibits three qualities: abandonment, seduction, and conspiracy.
I try to balance the knowledge that a son could so cruelly debase his parent, with a wilful -- some would say naive -- arrangement of the pieces of the actual, until my desire for them can be read clearly. Which is not to say that everyone will read my deliberate disregard for the facts in the same way. The imposition of my desire, my pattern, stops at the page. My wish, "This is the way I would like it to be, this is the way I dreamt it," though implicit in the act of fiction, is never explicit, never dominant enough to pull the reader through to a single conclusion. In this way, it is an act of abandonment. I leave my desire on the reader's doorstep, with a note attached: "Take good care of this baby. See her for what she is." (In contrast, this essay acts more like a hostage-taking; my argument is the gun to your head, although you see it for what it is, a toy, a soap-carved weapon.)
The story I write, fruit of desire, abandoned bundle, is also a piece of seduction. For if I have done my job well, left the thing clean, fed, warm, accustomed to being loved, then who but a cold stone heart could resist such a package? Smiling. Cooing, gurgling sense to beat the band. A seduction it must be, then, of the irresistible kind.
My wilful act has a third quality. I did not do this alone. I had someone in mind all along, an accomplice, one whose sensibilities, though like my own, may differ from mine in aspects unknown. (You can picture her, can't you? She has relaxed her shoulders a bit now, is looking warily about her.) My accomplice is the one seduced, willingly so. My reader, the one enamoured of the foundling as if it were her very own, sees it is no ill-formed thing, this story left on the step. Its form is evident from first glance, yet it does not resemble any other. Its clothes are hand-made, not from synthetic stuff. There is intelligence in its eyes, sweetness and symmetry all about it, and mystery. And it has a voice, one so jarring as to rouse you from healing sleep and make you pace the floor in astonished contemplation of its song.
Once my collaborator has bent to pick up the package, brought it into the house, and closed the door, the transaction is irrevocable. All sales final. No returns, no exchanges. The one who takes in my foundling fiction risks a change far more profound than do I, the one who could keep it no longer. And even if the adoptive parent knows who I am, she does not know what to say to me, I find. The understanding, that the two of us conspired to commit an intimate communication, that we were each seduced, I by the thought of another seeing and understanding my desire, she by the pattern itself, seems better left unspoken.
Who would write a writer, then, (unless it be the writer's mother or another writer, ever exempt from this sort of injunction) to ask about or give praise for a story, has missed an important cue. Such correspondence, balm though it is for the writer's ego, does nothing further to illuminate the piece, and can only spawn the exchange of embarrassing platitudes. The writer of fan mail (in my case this is mere conjecture, you understand) is a lazy collaborator and potentially guilty of child neglect. To such a reader I would want to say (but would never: this is fan mail we're talking about here; I'm only human!), "Go back and read it again, please. What did I do wrong, what did I fail to achieve, that you could pull yourself away so easily from something that now is more yours than mine? I can't do anything more to help you. I did my best with it. I cleaned it up, I took care of its basic needs. It can grow only with you now. It may grow to attack you in the middle of the street. That I can't prevent. But this time, this time, you'll know why."
is fiction editor ofThe Blue Moon Review and author of two short-story collections,The Limit of Delta Y Over Delta X, (Goose Lane, 1994) and I Am Not Most Places (Beach Holme, 1996).
Who Shall Rescue Amerika?
By Viktor Car
When Reginald walked into my company's conference room, I could see he was impressed by the walls of technical publications, the granite-lined table, dim lights, soft rugs. We sat down and exchanged pleasantries. I handed him my business card, and we were ready to start the job interview.
Reginald is a wide-faced, big-eyed, muscular black man in his mid-twenties. He's smart and has a disarming smile. He studied at Texas A&M, where he was a running back, and speaks softly and slowly. He's also a former Marine recently returned from Bosnia.
I am an engineer and a vice-president of a prominent mid-size engineering firm in Houston, Texas. I have been asked to interview Reginald for the position of Field Technician which pays $6.50 per hour for the testing of concrete and soil.
After the first few minutes Reginald becomes more relaxed but is still uncomfortable in the business suit he has been advised to wear. We chat about football, about academic subjects he studied and about his previous employment. We also talk about Bosnia, since we both know the place.
I am a Croatian, from Zagreb. Before Reginald and his buddies came to cement the freshly brokered peace deal in our unfortunate, blood-soaked corner of the globe, I was living there, trying simply to survive, embittered by the world's ignorance and appeasement of the genocide taking place. Our lives depended on Western political will. But while the West weighed arguments from one lobbying group or another and dallied over long lunches with some nice old port, in the Balkans the pile of cadavers was rising steadily. Like people trapped inside an hourglass, we were waiting for our own turn to seep down through the funnel. British lords and French cynics, forums, committees, advisory boards, these were the quite lethal parameters of our survival equation.
With perverse slowness the Bitch Europe had been calmly observing grisly scenes of mass murder, genocide and rape. After years of such impotence it was Reginald and his comrades who finally came to rescue a country most Americans have never even heard of.
Reginald was told not to interfere with the locals there so as to keep casualties to a minimum. As far as he and his buddies were concerned, they were in a land of savages, blood-thirsty animals who killed and tortured for pleasure. After months of strict discipline in the area around Tuzla, now he was back home in Houston, returned to normalcy and civility, to good food, good living and, as Texans are proud to insist, freedom. And here he was in a dark-blue business suit, applying for a job paying $6.50 an hour at a company owned by an Iranian going by the name of [David Eastwood].
A job interview is a serious matter in America. Watching Reginald's wide-open, honest eyes I sympathized with him as he searched for the right words in that better vocabulary we trot out for special occasions. Looking at him, I saw myself a few years earlier...
....entering the American Embassy in Zagreb. I have greeted the Marine on guard at the entrance in my best Oxford English. Not even a blink in response. Once inside I apologize repeatedly to everybody and, had they put a dummy there, I would have apologized to it as well. Picking up some immigration forms, I already feel guilty of conspiring to steal some American's own livelihood. Croatians employed by the embassy regard people like myself as common scum, poorly dressed, apologetic, tense. What my exiled generation can offer so ashamedly to such safe harbors as Tasmania, Ontario and Texas is decades of advanced education, fluency in half a dozen different languages and civility, in return for a chance to live out our anonymous lives in peace, to escape the humiliating cycle of some other group's good will or hate.
I am not just an engineer. I like to think I am a writer too. So I cross borders, go into unchartered waters. I observe barefoot children and alcoholics in the prime of life. I take note of overweight women and their prostitute daughters. I chat with Mexicans munching burritos and I sit silently in black bars, listening to the blues. But despite the variety of the life around me, I can't escape that same feeling from my days during the Balkan war, the dull despair of being trapped. Trapped in a war, or in ghetto, or simply in a primal mindset that there is nowhere to go and no one to help you.
I am an emotional guy and like to listen to people. They sense my compassion and tell me things that go beyond what they may have at first intended to reveal. Things they had tried to bury even from themselves. I smile and try to make them aware that I value their stories and their lives.
Lynda, who is thirty-seven like me, tells me she has a daughter who is twenty-one. Lynda works in an erotic cabaret and has not seen her daughter for several years. The girl was kidnapped from her own apartment while her mother was at work. Desperate and enraged, Lynda took out her Magnum and went out on the streets to find a black man to shoot. The girl was later found unharmed in a neighbor's apartment. An older, black child had indeed kidnapped her.
After that incident Lynda asked her ex-husband to take care of the girl. Mothers do not easily give up their children. It's just not natural. But Americans learn early to master the art of opposing what is natural. Lynda began living on her own, driving her pickup truck, working two jobs, sleeping around and drinking heavily. She got arrested twice in nine months for DWI. Eventually she remarried, got beaten up badly by her new husband and had him put in jail until the year 2006. As she tells this story, behind her clear blue eyes there is the uncomprehending sadness of a lost child.
Valery was thirty-one when she left her own three children. She took an apartment, spent a year rollerskating and lying around the pool. She knew she was depressed and realized she had to take control of her life before it was too late. Now she works long hours, still rollerskates and visits Mexico to see the Aztec ruins.
Jane is on Prozac. She needs both hands to cover her large mouth and yellow teeth as she laughingly describes how she went crazy and ended up in a mental hospital for the first time. She had been raped on her 17th birthday. She didn't report the rape to the police (all that humiliating testing in the hospital), but she did tell her mother. Her mother responded coolly. "Told'ya, gotta be careful out 'ere". She lives with Mom now, takes lots of naps and watches soaps.
Susan is from a family of drunks. She likes city living. She sips a beer as she drives around in her Miata, because in Texas it is unthinkable to drive sober. Her brother, a poet and an alcoholic, committed suicide on her birthday. Susan once broke both of her ankles while drunk in Acapulco. She sleeps with four or five guys at a time, never eats at home and must be on the move all the time. She lies to the point of absurdity, and starts every day with a shot of Bushmills. Thanks to the regimen of heavy drinking, fucking and cruising trendy bars, her hangovers have started to turn into a sullen fatigue. Yet she is incapable of slowing down, deeply fearful of being left alone by herself, isolated and abandoned. So she keeps up her killing routine, dyes her graying hair back to its original red and keeps on going.
Another friend, Renee, is a black school teacher. In her school there are no white children. She once expelled a boy from her second-grade class for stealing money from his babysitter. The boy said he was hungry and had bought food with the cash. The reason didn't work. They have corporal punishment in that school. With parental consent, they can whip a child. When the faculty organize a three-dollar trip to the zoo, eight out of the thirty children in the class bring the money. Growing up in a ghetto means no contact for the children with other races. Attempts to take these kids outside their own world are futile. Their parents don't care. They themselves were born in the ghetto and are dying there. Why shouldn't their children?
In Croatia I would see little boys, refugees who had lost their parents, buying food or aimlessly wandering the streets of Zagreb, suddenly without home, school or their familiar books and toys. I applied to emigrate, wanting to remove myself from that unbearable tragedy and choking pain.
Interviewing Reginald, I remember my boss's words about who I should hire: Don't hire whites--they think they're entitled to a free ride and don't like to work hard. Don't hire blacks--they think they shouldn't be any worse off than whites, even though they are not well-educated or quick to learn. Find Chinese, Indians or Pakistanis, Indonesians or Iranians or East Europeans, people with extended families to support who are willing to work hard and who have a good education. Hire the ones whose English is the worst because they lack self confidence and will work for peanuts. Also, hire those with questionable immigration status--we can control them. And don't be a wimp. These people are not used to politeness. You have to be strict, you have to kick their asses....
Back in Croatia the war and misery made us beggars in our own home--discriminated against, insulted, manipulated, driven crazy by West Europeans who regarded our tragedy cynically. My generation reacted by immigrating to Australia or Colorado. We left our beloved, mythically beautiful homeland to search for a little dignity, some normalcy. But in America I peer inside this mysterious, shiny armor of success and see rust, bugs, spider webs.
We Slavs cry for others while neglecting ourselves. When confronted by misery I cannot look the other way, a skill my American friends seem to have mastered so well. Sometimes I go to parties for the well-to-do, and I see nothing but vanity, shallowness, greed and materialism. And of course, everybody is divorced. They jog in solitude past empty tennis courts, eat salads, gulp vitamins, obsessed with their bodies, obsessed with sex, living sad, lonely lives, fucking the same ugly boyfriends every second Thursday. Trying desperately to make some sense of their pointless lives, they cover their wrinkled skin with Spandex and lift weights. There are no grandchildren to look after, no children who care. There are no parents to worry about. Just themselves-- taking good care of themselves, raking in big bucks, investing their earnings into staying forever young, buying everything from cosmetics to fresh blood (just in from Brazil) to devices designed to improve their waning lust. How did they manage to so successfully amputate the last little root of their souls? How many generations did it take to create these spiritual zombies?
I do not hire Reginald. He is a nice fellow and I like to think there is a better chance for him somewhere else. I am fed up. In a few days I will leave this company. I guess I just don't have the right stuff.
I see now that I react to Houston the same way that I reacted to the war in the Balkans. Weakling that I am, I want to turn my back on disaster and misfortune, to go someplace where misery is just an occasional event, not a well-established way of life. But living in physical or virtual ghettos doesn't appeal to me. Living without anything to live for is unbearable. Human beings need books, conversation, they need to think and interact. They need to laugh. I for one can not wall myself up inside a self-made prison, no matter whether it's a religious or a sexual one. the worn-out blues bars of Houston play the true tune of this tired society.
I was brought up to believe that individualism isn't everything, that you are rich if your environment is rich. Private fortunes are worthless, merely reflecting a sick, imploding society based on greed and prejudice. Materialism, in turn, stimulates subconscious guilt, making people turn to religious extremism.
But maybe it is I who am wrong. Living and dying in a ghetto may be more dignified than wandering the world as I do, nosing through its trash.
My American friends are mainly writers in their late forties and fifties. For some reason I communicate best with that generation. Maybe because they haven't abandoned the ethical and intellectual groundings they put together in the 1960s. I see them as last survivors of an onslaught of consumerism that thoroughly overwhelmed the generations that came after them.
I wander sometimes who will rescue America from itself? The Bosnian Marines?
(Victor Car is 37, a native Croatian, naturalized Canadian, currently living in Houston, but soon to leave. Writing has been his hobby since his early teens. He studied civil engineering at the University of Zagreb and also edited a university magazine there. Some of his short stories have been published in Web zines, and one in the Canadian literary magazine Blood & Aphorisms. "Some people characterize my writing as 'powerful fact based on poetic fiction,' others consider it quite illiterate.")
Welcome to GOWANUS.
If you've gotten here via the GOWANUS home page, you already know what this new publication is about: It is intended as an organ for Anglophone writers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and (with the occasional exception) anyplace else outside the so-called "first world."
Well, not because I find anything wrong with the many fine online journals which devote their pages primarily to US and UK authors. On the contrary, I read and write for those journals. But I also enjoy making contact with far-flung parts of the globe (shortwave is my principle medium for both news and entertainment, the BBC World Service in particular), and I sense that there are many fine writers out there who do not have a place of their own on the Net. You could say I have started GOWANUS because I wanted a way to meet those writers, learn about their cultures and give the rest of the world an opportunity to do so as well.
Thus far, the experience of working with the very fine authors who have contributed to the innaugural issue of GOWANUS has more than fulfilled my expectations. I have lived for a time homeless on the streets of Harare; experienced Houston, Texas through the soul of a Croatian ex-pat; been taken on a guided tour of the mind of a Canadian fiction writer; attended a Zimbabwean garden party with two long-time ANC militants; been introduced to one of the fathers of modern West Indian literature; and, certainly not least, suffered the terrible beauty of a friend's death at sea.
If this is not what the Internet is for, then what is?
(c) Copyright 1997, GOWANUS