Short story

Across the cemetery

Short story by: Innocent Madzhoni

His father is black; that’s the first realization, even in the future, he will be black, everything else is secondary. He might turn out to be a drunk, childless, religious, poor, homeless, jobless, and an outsider; these are a great possibility since he is black. But we can’t say they will happen for certain… but we are certain his skin is black and that’s a lifetime scenario.

Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.

A long, rectangular, grave-satiated cemetery; on one side, shacks and small, closely packed RDPs, and on the other side, newly built, fairly suburban houses. The cemetery at the center—silence, death, and sanctuary for the homeless, both alive and dead, their spirits revisiting us regularly and making statements on the disparity of our world.

‘I’m tired of home-cooked meals,’ his father will say.

‘I was about to cook, dad.’

‘Not tonight, son. There’s money on the microwave. KFC.’

‘KFC… but dad.’

‘That’s all the money I have.’

‘but can’t we have spur or—’

‘Another time, son. The car, house payments—’

‘Transport money, at least?’

His father will look at him, intensely; his eyes answering the nauseating question.

5 p.m.

Two options: he will have to go through the cemetery—there’ll be a pulled fence stick, which allows people to squeeze through and pass—or go around the cemetery. He has never walked in the cemetery before. ‘Just seems immoral,’ he would reason with himself. ‘Why walk around the dead?’ Immorality, he’ll understand, is nothing but a communication of rich people’s pet sleeves. Poor homeless people have no time to think about the immorality of sleeping at the cemetery.

If a poor person sees another person dying, stuff drooling out of their mouth, blood surfacing out of their white shirt, will the poor person attempt to help, or will their first instinct silently scream that they should quickly pick up that thick wallet swimming on the pool of blood and maybe remove the watch on that twitching hand too?

These thoughts will play in his mind, but he’ll silence them by increasing the volume on his earphones.

5:10 p.m.

He’ll be on the other side. His eyes fixated on children who’ll be playing soccer without shoes on, their shirts and pants torn, their skin a concoction of blackness and skin-sticking, brown soil.

Two options: there’ll be two paths that lead to Mangaliso Drive. He can use the straightforward road, partially tarred with ample potholes, or he can use a shortcut—cut through the shacks and drunks, as he will call them.

‘Kick the ball,’ one of the kids will scream. He will kick it with his new, expansive sneakers. First kick of anxiety is to penetrate him at this instance. ‘I’ve to wear this pair when I meet my girlfriend’s parent in Sandton on Friday.’ Swears will evaporate from his mouth. ‘Fuck the world.’

Out of anger, he will kick an inch of soil, his right shoe gathering dust everywhere. The faint sun drowning will look at him and he’ll look back at it, but for the first time, he won’t smile, maybe it’ll be because the sun had taken the color of the soil he’ll kick.

‘One cigarette.’

His hand will squeeze a two-rand coin to the Ethiopian woman on the other side.

‘Can I have some two-rand?’ this boy will ask him.

‘What for?’

‘I want to buy some biscuits, I am hungry.’

‘Sorry, I don’t have it.’

The puffs from his smoking will infuse the sky along with the loud music coming from the local tavern. DJ Bongz’s Sobabili makes perfect sense: why worry about the future or the present when only the past, along with its traumas, makes sense? But he won’t be drawn to the past as the music in his earphones is louder than what’s playing outside. Scanning through the shacks, his wondering eyes will only love the road and attempt not to look at the woman offloading pee in a bucket behind her shack.

He’ll appear at Mangaliso and walk up the street towards KFC.

5:40 p.m.

‘Six pieces, please.’

‘That’s all?’ the cashier will insert his father’s card.

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘Would you love to donate two-rand?’

With a solid ‘No’ on his throat, he’ll instead pull out a two-rand coin from his pocket.

He’ll walk hurriedly on Mangaliso as the dark will have set its mark.

There will be two options: to use the same path he used or to use the long dry he had contemplated on using the first time. The same path will appear to be logical, considering that the dark will be completely dominating the earth.

‘We’re coming for dinner, boy,’ one of the drunkards will say, with a beer dangling in one hand.

He will nod.

Thick smokes of burning tires will be dispersing into the heavens. Talks will be audible, but he won’t know where they are coming from. The barren, dirt street in the middle, shacks on both sides. Each step into the unknown. People, in their utter brokenness, will look at him pass. His figure—the food, the clothes, the shoes, the introverted stature—will appear fantastical.

The girls playing their games will stop and look at him, specifically the KFC in hand. His eyes will catch eyes of one of the girls, his eyes hearing the growling of her stomach through her eyes. She will smile and her mother will call her to start some fire. Walking away, he’ll slyly wipe the tears off his face and look at the girl again.

Before making it to the cemetery, a five-year-old boy, leaning against the door of a shack, with an underwear as dirty as his own face, will cast his eyes on him. The boy, reluctantly, will open his hands and ask for the food. He will smile and pass, not knowing what to make of the situation.

6:10 p.m.

‘Dad, I can’t breathe—’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I don’t know…’

The phone call will be cut, and the phone and KFC will fly to the sky. He will drop at the center of the cemetery. His eyes will close immediately after reading an inscription on a grave, ‘He felt, and he died.’

His father will find him dead at the cemetery. The coroner will say, ‘heart attack; it sucked the life out of him.’

the authorFlair

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