An Apple a Dayby Brandon Edmonds, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 15.12.2009
I got robbed where I live. I was out watching Saturday morning movies to escape my domestic worker, being under her feet makes me feel six years old, a naughty feckless boy, and my computer was stolen. Plucked from where it sat on the bed in the bedroom. I’d left the balcony door open. It must have happened fast. The weather was so nice. I was airing the place. Airing the place like an aunt at a country house, newly arrived from the city in a Jane Austen novel. Airing the place! Serves me right. That’s contemporary Africa outside. That’s a country more unequal than any other on earth out there. A morally null Rainbow nation. A country whose values the president and the archbishop say desperately needs renewing. Beginning with less violence on TV. Yah, that’ll work.
It was a snow white Apple Macbook. To go along with the sleek silver Macbook Pro stolen a few months earlier. I have a thing for Apple. A fetish. My only real assets. I imagine the machines in unknown hands. Passing into unknown lives. Journeys in bags, maybe jostling other stolen goods, loaded and unloaded, examined and priced. Imagine the afterlife of my stolen things. I can’t see the faces of the thieves in these reveries. Honouring the silver lining, I trust they will fall into good hands – I hope for the best. Maybe a struggling medical student will use my computer to decode a cancer strain or a gifted songbird will put down tracks and I’ll hear them one day, and know. Fanciful wishes made to ease violation, the fact of intruders in my home. Taking without asking. You feel singled out. You feel victimised. It’s a horrible feeling.
The mundane details of your everyday life are combed for clues. Why did I leave the door open? Why didn’t I close the window? You become your own case. What was I doing out at that hour? You judge yourself. Crime evaluates your choices. What could I have done differently? What did I do wrong? You’re left with a resounding material fact: I have lost something. Something was taken from me that I wasn’t willing to part with. I had it and now it is gone. Theft has the opposite affect of shopping: not gain but the deep well of loss.
You wish, like Faust, for metaphysical powers, supernatural abilities, the ability to rewind time to before the incident, the power of omnipotence to oversee the crime as it happens and identify the intruders. Not knowing who must be as bad as knowing and being powerless to act. Not knowing who, makes everyone culpable. I can’t trust my neighbours. I don’t want to meet their eyes. There’s embarrassment in being wronged. You failed to protect yourself. Then there’s the self-admonishment of assigning race to the transgressors. Don’t do that! You don’t know who did it. It could have been anyone – black or white. Don’t go there. Don’t think that. But you do. You listen out for talk in the corridor. You try to overhear someone incriminate them selves. And you notice other languages, resenting the absence of English. How little you understand. Suddenly you’re in a JM Coetzee novel! The helpless, hounded white defeated by the unreadable, by ‘natives’. No matter that you’ve been here all your life.
The recent film of ‘Disgrace’ – far stronger than the ham-fisted ‘Tsotsi’ – gets the implicated impotence of a certain white sensibility, cultured and compromised, convincingly done by John Malkovitch, exactly right.
The professor’s own ‘crime’ (seducing the innocent) mitigates the force of his outrage at the rape of his own daughter and the assault on himself. He is both powerless to act and bad at acting powerless. Whites are rehearsing the same role. Crime in this country forces history onto you like a bear hug or a soiled suit. It comes with baggage when you’re white. The kind of baggage Americans might feel robbed in the parking lot of a Native-American casino or Germans mugged in Jerusalem. Your outrage is mitigated by your inheritance. No matter how old you are. I’m switching to Windows.