I had a nightmare last night. I had a nightmare so petrifying it felt like real life. It was so lurid that when I awoke, grasping for air, and sweaty, it was as if the world had turned upside down, as if my lips and nose and cheeks were being hauled upward. My innards wanted to escape through my belly button and my testicles moved around their sack like expanding dough. My hands felt as large as baseball mitts and my feet were gone. Lying in my bed and waiting the feeling out made me realize that a person need not dream to have similar sensations. Sometimes the nightmare is right there when you feel most awake, when you thought that nightmares were reserved solely for the dream world. There I was, expanding and expanding and expanding.
This particular dreamer episode began with floatation: it was either in water or in the sky, or in the clouds or the liquor pools of some distant planet where winged humanoids flapped around me and sang inaudible rhymes. And then out of nowhere: seven-headed serpents in murky lakes, stab wounds and custardy pus, maggots, broken-burgled windows and sitting stark naked in airplane tails; and in this last dream I watched the flames in the fuselage reel for me like long, twirling fingers, and soon I was consumed by them whole, alive!
Then I soared downwards for some time and landed a burning man in flames, but instead of waking up I heard a numbing thud and kept on dreaming in a pool of blood.
And why was this sensation so similar? Where had I felt it before? Was it another similar nightmare, a recurring dream? No. It was Nightmare Politics…
There is this pub in the middle of Randburg called the Sunset Pub. It is a suburban pizza pub, but very different to your everyday local pizza joint. At the bottom of the stairs await the habitué up to nine baleful Nigerian dealers, fighting tooth and claw over who’s going to get to greet and meet you first: “No, no , no, no, no, no, Ajay – is me! Is me this time!” Pleads a short, burly type. Never mind that you may not want it, they will harass you still; these bastards are unscrupulous. Because their stock – coke and pills – is substandard, they are in fact no more than mere panhandlers and will go down on their price by 50%. These whores will go down on anything.
Ajay is the biggest killer of them all. His skull is like the shell of a walnut, his torso of a bison and his neck a bull’s. But Ajay, he always smiles crookedly and says, “come here my man, I got the best for you.” When you negotiate through the barricade of muscle, glazed gold teeth, loud laughter, Armani, and etched fringes – known here as Long Walk To Freedom hairdos – you get to walk up the stairs and into the pub.
I walked up the same stairs one night just before the last municipal elections to meet some old school friends I hadn’t seen for years. Ten years ago Sunset Pub was a decent place where we gathered to play pool and smoke cigarettes after school. We were bad like that. But as the owner got greedier and greedier, the place turned crummier and crummier, and the new blood that began frequenting the place became low-toned and far less interesting, and addicted – plenty of wallets and cell phones went missing during Sunset’s cusp.
There also was a composition of other restaurant workers, and the only place they could get tanked after night shifts was Sunset. So at the one pool table you saw the Teazers shirts, at the other Panarottis’, and the ones from Villamoura, Sandton, the white shirts, looking like they’d just staggered out of some Paris café in the 1920’s, thought they were the blue bloods of the restaurant folk, the leaders of the vitellus industry. They drank cocktails that the barmen had no idea how to concoct, but the important thing was that they got to holler the recipes, walked behind the bar, trained them in art of mixing shooters and cocktails (that they themselves botched frequently, dropping bottles and ice and spilling syrupy liqueurs, which unavoidably stuck to your elbows and snarled your arm hairs), and all this for a bit of precious attention. I have always been a somber drinker, drinking alone at the corner of the bar, minding my own business, and have always decried a tinhorn.
The owner is a South African Indian man in his thirties who employs illegal immigrants from Punjab and Rajasthan. He houses them out back in a corrugated iron structure that looks like a concentration camp barrack or some old mining quarters. He is a Simon Legree of his own people, broiling them like prawns under the sizzling tin roof, no matter what season. He pays them next to nothing to do nothing but collect cash day in and day out; night out, morning in they go into that shack. They hardly speak English and a draught of fifteen fifty is pronounced ‘pipteen-pipty’.
But they impassion me nonetheless for they try to ameliorate their castes rigorously. They also blink rigorously showing endearment like waifs, but they are no louts.
So here I am, alone, a little drunk, well after all my school friends have gone to take care of their newborns and fuck their wives or shackjobs, and before I find out that my liver is shot and that I have hypertension of two hundred over one hundred and twenty. Here I am at the corner of the bar, minding my own business when a pair of black friends in their forties and sniffing heavily – both quite big and gelatinous, the one wearing green Bermuda shorts and the other sleek tracksuit pants and gold chains over an old golf shirt – sit next to me and begin engaging me in a political conversation.
The one with the green shorts says, “So who you voting for?”
“I don’t know,” I say, “definitely not the ANC.”
“Why, what you got against the ANC?” he says.
“Nothing, I just don’t trust the fuckers, you know.”
“Ag, whatever, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” says the one with the gold.
“Listen fellas, I come from an Eastern European country. I won’t make the same mistake my grandparents made. Only humans make the same mistake twice and I haven’t felt like one since the nineties. You gotta know for yourselves that pinko leaders are rotten deep down, and most of them right up at the surface. One thing I know is that they don’t give a damn about their own people.” Here I was preaching to the wrong crowd, but that’s what alcohol does to anyone in my position. They didn’t know what pinkos were, nor the history of this terrible thing called Communal Fascism, or better known as Communism.
“How’s this cunt tranna come here and tell us about African politics!” says the one with the green shorts and they leave to sniff more in the toilets. I think to myself, Jesus.
I carried on as before and watched some idiot try to concoct a double Flaming Lamborghini which spilled everywhere making a tiny blonde girl pet peeved at not being able to inhale the much needed fuel. But she was going to get fueled mid-air that night anyways, like an F16 jetfighter. She was going to get it right in there; you could see it by the way she was looking and smirking raptly at the botcher of flammable drinks. He was her Stratotanker.
I had another couple and went in the bathroom to take a piss…
In a split second I feel cold steel on my right carotid artery – it pulsates against the blade, I don’t know I have high blood pressure yet. The door closes behind me and the bolt sounds and jars the metal sheet riveted on it. SLASH! I am pushed and rotated towards the one with the gold. The other takes the knife away and down and tucks it in his green shorts. He is also wearing a yellow shirt like a canary out of hell. The one with the gold is scowling, crying and snuffling:
“How can you talk all that shit about my people? Do you know how much we had to suffer because of fucking foreigners like you? Now I’m going to stab you and you will fucking die for what you said about my people. Give me the knife, Mpho.” Of course this name is made up since I don’t care to remember personal particulars when in demoralizing situations. So be it.
I think to myself, this is it, this is the real nightmare, this is Nightmare Politics finally, right up in my face, and the blow might come from behind, from some chemically sated addict in green shorts. I did not shut my eyes because before this I had frequently thought about it and decided that I would like to watch the world until the very last moment. No use hiding like an ostrich with my head in the sand. This thing has to be encountered head up, pulse up, and preferably cock up so to mess with the perpetrators’ dignity. There is nothing like sexual battery in the moment of death, especially if you happen to be the one being murdered. There is something profusely perverse about having your throat slit whilst smiling wilily at the killers and holding you own erect penis in your hand. Everyone should try it next time they have a knife held to their throat or a gun to their head, because in South Africa there probably will be a next time for each and every one of us, so prepare well to mess with the bastards’ heads. Women on the other hand can and will think of more inventive ways to do this without The Envy factor and will need to use personality rather than body to make the fuckers sweat with fear and insecurity.
Mpho says, “I’m not gonna give you the knife. We can’t do this here. Let’s take him to your place and we can fuck him up there.” As long as they don’t fuck me, I think to myself. They then switch to an African language. I was sweating now, not saying anything because in a moment like this any statement can either save your life or do the opposite, take it; and I wasn’t prepared to take a gamble.
“Ag, let’s just leave this cheeseboy here,” says the one facing me. “Poes!” says the other, the plosive hurling saliva in my face. They both leave the cubicle; I lock behind them and urinate like first intended.
I then sat on the bare porcelain that once had atop it a toilet seat and chain smoked three or four cigarettes. The world felt upside down. My lips, cheeks and nose were pulled upwards. My balls were dough, and my feet were gone. My innards wanted to escape through my belly button and for the first time in my life I felt like killing myself. I had lost all hope in humanity and I didn’t want to be around to see any more of it.
I think I was only scared for a moment because in all reality it didn’t look like they had it in them in the first place. But what they did have was a big chunk of batrachian enmity fueled by cocaine, rhetoric and some White Elephant memory that had by now become lugubrious. I walked outside, went to the bar and said to the owner, “One day I’m going to tell you a story that you won’t believe,” and walked out. I haven’t been there ever since, and I don’t know why I’m only writing about this now.
And I use Sunset Pub’s story not only for some pseudo-journalistic intention, but as an analogy to describe one important level of happenings in this nation. You see, the pub itself is the nation; the angry, racist men with the knife the people; and the dealers outside the politicians. They are very much outside of it all, and their job is to feed us drugs, cheap drugs of guileful propaganda that can only turn to abhorrence, to something that can only be equated to the worst part of a dream, a nightmare. When simple politics are exuded to the masses they are purposefully propagated turgidly so that all emotions towards them drown in murky lakes of confusion. From confusion stems anger, knives, snuffling and crying, and finally Nightmare Politics.
And me? I am just another, one of many, telling you about this thing called Nightmare Politics. And God knows there are plenty of good people out there doing the nine to five jobs if they are lucky, feeding their children, buying things, dying of diseases, driving in the traffic, drinking, singing, even gyming, and often forgetting that although they might be dreaming pleasant dreams, or none at all, the true Nightmare will sooner or later engulf them whole, like twirling flames in a fuselage.
Maybe the two men with the knife that night were once good people too… and I will not blame them. I blame the bastards like the leaders we have elected to listen to. These ungainly men and women, with much gruel around their puffed-up mouths will go to any lengths and will try to keep us in the Nightmare for as long as they can. But the people will one day wake up, trudge around in their minds and decide that they will dream other dreams from then on. And they will get rid of the smiling dealers at the bottom of the stairs and replace them with concierges who will take their car keys and show them in – and when we ask them for assistance they will inaudibly do us the favor like crooning, winged humanoids. Then we will awaken and the world will feel the right way up. Out innards will be content. I am sure of it.
I walked down the stairs; they tried to sell me drugs again. I looked at them, tilting my head like a clever cur, drove home, took a shower and abluted myself. That night I dreamt nothing.