Uncertainty and the Delmas Wimpyby Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 06.08.2010
Panjo was found. Lured out of a sylvan forest with hunks of raw beef. The endangered kitty ambled over to Goosey Fernandes, his keeper and one of the great names in news lately, to lovingly lick him. And scene. That’s a wrap. Who knew Tigers do endings better than the Coen brothers? Endings are hard. They either have to reduce uncertainty definitively (your average Hollywood ending) or open us up to unforeseen vistas of unknowing (try Stanley Kubrick’s 2001). Endings are notoriously hard in any medium. How to satisfactorily conclude? There’s always the dreaded “and then what?”
Some endings then. The Bible has Revelations. We’re apparently still waiting for the “end times”. We had fireworks over Soccer City. Which was predictable. Thrown plates and projectile vomiting are endings experienced in my own romantic life. There’s Kool Aid and Jonestown: the freaky mass suicide ending. The Final Solution was to be the end of Europe’s Jews. Hutu Power snuffed out 20% of Rwanda’s population in 1994. Ted Bundy. There’s the bull on its knees in bull-fighting. The macho Hemingway ending. There’s the great “Shut up and deal” line ending Billy Wilder’s corporate comedy The Apartment (1960). Kamikaze pilots gave us some of the best endings in history. There was the reign of Madame Guillotine. Shlonk! The revelation ending Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (1995) – that crooked foot miraculously straightening. Those frogs in Magnolia (1999).
We got a loose tiger licking it’s prosecutable owner for an ending. Nobody was eaten. A genuine surprise given that Panjo was reported lurking “next to the Wimpy in Delmas”. (Who knew Tigers know the hot spots in Delmas?). The Delmas Wimpy manager, when asked if he’d seen the extant man-eater, said, “No I don’t think I noticed that!” Who knew Wimpy Delmas managers had the deadpan drollery of Gene Wilder? (A sentence I can now die happily for having written). All told, a good ending. The cat is back and Delmas rests easy.
A tiger though. At large. It’s too good a Blakean metaphor to waste. What a frame for the chaos of this country – this place of fearful symmetries. So cue the self-important tone of a moralist. Strike up Horror movie music. Add one of those deliriously zingy voiceovers on speed from 1950s B-movies. “Many more ‘loose tigers’ menace the land than Panjo. There’s the wild beast of joblessness. The snarling terror of crime. The growling threat of a self-serving political caste, indifferent to its base, and lost in the trees of graft. There are the sharp claws of educational lack and the sharper teeth of grinding poverty. There is the big pink tongue of despair. And the roar of a revolution betrayed.”
We might think of the roving tiger as a psychic incarnation of sexual threat. You know the numbers. Rape numbers. Violation numbers. Abuse numbers. They’re not easy to consider. They’re the kind of numbers that make runaway tigers seem tame.
Raped women often find themselves having to fight for the singularity of their ordeal. Too often the courts, prosecutors and police want to explain it away. Raped women must “prove” the violation before a conjectural sea of mitigating factors. The primal “forest of the night” is the setting for a fatal rape in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). The event is seen differently by everyone involved. Each person recalls the crime in their own way. A humanist take on the widely influential “uncertainty principle” in physics, the film questions the instability of memory and the slipperiness of true stories. It foresees our own era of groundless relativities. Nobody’s word is final. Nobody’s version sticks.
Which returns us to the Wimpy in Delmas and that runaway tiger. Remember what the manager said? “No I don’t think I noticed that.” What consummate uncertainty. A condition of not knowing for sure. Almost a willful blindness. Is there a more South African way to be? Think of the immensities we go on not noticing every day. The immensity of suffering on our streets. Children at robots. Old men in the cold. Whole communities on the breadline. Hunger. Violence. Beggary. Homelessness. Want. Strikes are increasing. Unrest is spreading. Protest happens daily. Not noticing is a national pastime. We’re so good at it by now that it takes a tiger to notice the whole country is burning bright.
Illustration © Jason Bronkhorst.