Plato

by M.V. Sematlane

Our art makes existence futile.

[25/06/2014, Durban]

Themba: I am looking at the ocean. Somewhere, it meets pieces of ocean that belong to other countries; India, Australia. This should connect us to them, but I don’t feel any connection. The ocean makes me feel more alone.  Orange light dances on its surface, like it’s about to catch fire. The sun is dying, sinking beneath the horizon. Full dark will arrive soon. Whenever I see this view, in all of its apocalyptic glory, I am filled with sadness. In my family, no one ever stops moving long enough to see the world unravelling for them. They work in spaza shops, and they drive taxis, and they do rich people’s laundry, and when the night comes they sleep, resting their bones for the tests of the next morning.  Sometimes, I wish I was born white. I’ve never seen a white person drive a taxi. I’ve never watched a white person become unknown to the world. But now, this moment, I will forget everything because of her.

She looks so beautiful under the fiery, afternoon light. She wears her hair natural, and it is this sense of controlled carelessness that attracts me more to her. Our feet are dangling over the boardwalk, dirty soles hovering over the deep. Our skin is sweaty, and when they ask us what our future aspirations are, we’ll say it is to love each other. We kiss and touch each other until our souls feel downy. As darkness approaches, I tell her that it’s time to leave. Time is running out. But our love is not done yet.

She tells me that she wants ice-cream. I laugh and tell her that it’s too cold for ice-cream. She pouts.  I tell her that I don’t want her catching a cold. She asks me if I would love her less if she was sick. I say yes. Shock registers on her face. She then realizes that I was making a joke. We buy the ice-cream from a sweaty Nigerian guy. He tells us to go home. The police will be patrolling the pier tonight, because a six-year old girl was murdered yesterday. Later, when we’re sharing the ice-cream between us, she whispers to me. She asks who I think invented the word ‘murder’. I say Einstein, or some other white-person with grey, untidy hair. She laughs. The ice-cream dribbles down her fingers. Some of it lands on her chest. I lick it off. I know all her secrets and she knows mine. Our art makes existence futile.

Thembisa: Listen to that.

Themba: What?

Thembisa: The ocean. It feels like we’re the only ones in the world today doesn’t it? This must be what if feels like when the world ends.

Themba: I think the world has ended already. We’re just living in its echoes.

Thembisa: Just relax would you? If you really love me, you’d forget everything. Focus on the bike, and the road. Our bike. Our road.

Themba: Our bike? Since when?

Thembisa: We’re together aren’t we? Everything you own, I own now. Our art makes existence futile.

…we are moving through the inky night. The bike’s engine never falters.  The sky is riddled with stars, like those pictures of icy lands where the Northern Lights writhe in pleasure. Don’t you think it’s beautiful? I say to her. The road is ancient, but the bike devours it like a greedy demon. I increase the speed, letting the wind penetrate our molecules. I can feel the pressure in my knuckles, a slowly rising hum that could end in the bike’s mutiny against me. But I have control. Tonight, I am limitless. I increase the speed further.  How long will we drive, I wonder, before we fall off the edges of the Earth? The road leads us away from home, away from life. I can feel her heart beating against my back. Her arms make a firm lock across my chest. She places her chin in the hollow of my shoulder. I wish the world could end like this; with us escaping the past as she holds on to me. Her dress beats in the wind like The Flames of Heaven. She puts the full weight of her body against my back. I wish the world could end like this.

Thembisa: It’s so loud!

Themba: What?

Thembisa: I said it’s so loud! I can’t hear myself think! Can you slow down?

(He decelerates)

Thembisa: That’s better, now we can hear each other.

Themba: I thought we’d talk when we get there.

Thembisa: I want to talk now

Themba: About what?

(She is silent)

Themba: You can’t have second thoughts now. You can’t and you know that.

Thembisa: So I’m not allowed to contemplate now?

Themba: I don’t think I’ve ever given you a reason to do that! You promised me! You promised us! You can’t turn back now. You just can’t.

Thembisa: I’m not saying I want to turn back! I’m scared, okay? I guess I’m thinking like this because my head feels like…it feels so heavy! One thought is chasing after the other and I can’t keep up. It’s exhausting me.

(beat)

Themba: Fuck you!

Thembisa: Calm down Themba! Why are you blaming me for being human? I’m here with you, aren’t I? I wouldn’t do this unless I truly love you.

Themba: You’re not the only one who’s going to lose everything after this.

Thembisa: I know. I’m sorry.

…I park my bike by the side of the road. I switch off the engine. The silence is total. I take a deep breath. Now I’m beginning to understand where her fear comes from. Fear is like poison. And when my thoughts get too loud, my blood will start to race faster, and I won’t be able to do anything but to surrender, knowing that everything will be over soon.  Now I hold her hand in an effort to stop mine from shivering. She smiles and reaches up to my face. Her warmth envelops me. She gives me a kiss. She says she’s ready.

The forest greets us with the sound of crickets. Their silvery voices are making the night alive. I can’t see the moon. I take off my shirt and throw it away.  She paws at my chain. It glitters in the night. She tells me that she’s always loved gold. I take it off and stuff it in my jeans. The night is young and so are we. She laughs, her voice colouring the air. I ask her what’s funny. Life, she says, life is funny.

Life, which has cheated so many, tricked so many, lied to say many. It won’t cheat us.

She puts my hands in hers. We walk into the deep darkness. The pine trees are still. Waiting. They are sentinels of the night. I like the way they smell. It reminds me of winter. I remove a lock of hair from her face. She’s smiling, but I can see the fear in her eyes. She tightens her grip around my hand. Our Art makes existence futile. If I concentrate hard enough, I can hear the city. Honking. Screaming. I imagine all its lights. I imagine all the lives running through it like veins. And when we leave the world behind, what happens then? What will the humans of the future think of us? Can you imagine what ‘Future-Jim’ would make of Kanye West, of Lady Gaga? Of Michelangelo? Of Plato? I ask her if she’s ready. Are you ready? Siete Pronti? R. u. ready? But we can never be truly ready, not in this life. Are you ready—a mom asks, holding her skinny son by the shoulder before he leaves her and plunges into the pool. He’s a rebel. Are you ready—the man asks before he takes her virginity, his calloused fingers slithering to where her flesh is softest. She is a wanderer. Are you ready? Baseball-bats pop. Drive-ins take orders. Strippers gyrate in dizzying motions. TV’s crack. Mushroom explosions in Hiroshima or wherever the fuck! Girls run naked and scream, acid burning their eyes. Congregations pray. Stained windows. Lacquered pulpits. Jesus heals. People die.  This life, it’s a game of readiness. You just have to be ready for everything. She tells me that she is. We pick out a small clearing, where the shrubs are dead and twigs snap beneath our feet. I take out my gun, a .44 magnum. She takes out hers. We link our arms and put the pistols in our mouths. Cold steel. My heart is beating, beating, beating. Our Art makes existence futile (I close my eyes); we live in a world where all metaphors are dead.  When poetry is dead, we will stand on forlorn hills and let the wind degenerate us into ink dust. My fingers close around the trigger.

 

About the Writer:

Moso Victor Sematlane is a 21-year old aspiring Mosotho writer who was born and lives in Maseru, a city in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. Though small, the country is bursting with big ideas and a creative energy that tends to foster expression in all forms, whether it’s music, film or poetry. It’s in this milieu that Moso has gravitated towards the written word. He has also been published in Brittle Paper. You can follow him on twitter: @Moso_Sematlane, and on Tumblr: mvdarko.tumblr.com

 

 

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