ADAM’S APPLE by Diane Awerbuck
“He was wearing a suit,” she said, and marvelled. The skin around her eyes was as black as if someone had ripped out her eyeballs and left only the sockets: we looked into her skull. “He was wearing a suit, and I thought, No one who dresses this well will hurt me.”
“He was carrying a stick, and I thought, This place must be dangerous. Look at this guy with his stick, ready to defend himself.”
He swung it and the cartilage of her face exploded. And then after that he unzipped the trousers of that smart suit and he raped her, like a riddle she was supposed to answer: What has two legs – and then none? Here it happened, among the thin trees. Or here, right on the bright path with its stones.
“I don’t know how long it was. I was standing on the side of the road. I stood and no one stopped for me. The cars went past.” She stood, invisible, with her uniform bloody and torn like the flag of the over-run citadel, and we were sent back in time with her. We stood ghostly with her on the curb – afraid to stay among the neutered trees that had hidden him, afraid to step out into the traffic – and the fumes of the exhausts were sickening.
“I understood,” she said, through her broken nose. “I was covered in blood. Nobody wants to clean that off their seats.”
In the days of her absence we wondered what new things were being done to her body.
It wasn’t my idea. It was the fierce hockey-playing girls, the ones who sat in front because they were afraid that they were stupid, who stabbed at a thousand sheets of paper while I rattled on about Saartjie Baartman and her singing marvels, about King Lear and his pelican daughters. They kept their smooth heads down and never looked out of the windows. I spoke, and they took notes, and this happened every day except the ones after the rape.
I began to speak over their heads into the space where the empty desk was. I spoke and heard my own voice like leaves, rustling, and the oak trees in the windows rustled with me and told them what had happened, there in the long grass of the common where it always smelled drily of summer and concerts and lying lazily with other girls in a circle. They sneaked looks back at the desk from time to time. I knew and they knew, but I did not know what to say.
Without discussion amongst themselves, they got up, one by one, and the others looked up at them, wondering. They picked up their books and the bookbags and they shifted themselves into new constellations around the black room so that there was no gap left among them, and their uniforms were blue as soldiers in their ranks.
The new girl who sat in the marked desk was quiet, shifting around a little, considering. This is where she sat. This is what she saw. If the headmistress had not issued an injunction against the common, there would be some of them this afternoon, wandering over it on their way home, thinking, This is where it happened. There – look. You can see the blood. I know because I thought this myself. I cannot pass by that whole block without thinking of her on her back among the thorns and the army ants, bleeding and blinded by the midday sun.
The new girl tapped her pen against the wood of the desk lid, lifted it up a little to see the empty Nik-Naks packets, the apple core, whatever foreshadowing thing was stored there, and said, “We have to do something.”
I nearly said, “What do you mean?”
“He’s going to get away with it,” she said, and she stared straight at me. “The police will never catch him. He’s free. And –” she paused and looked around the class, and I knew in the instant what people meant when they spoke about near-death experiences, about alien visitations and angelic salutations. The air was different, as if we had all grabbed hold of a piece of it and were supporting it above our heads like a stage-diver, like Pink Aerolite. “– and boys don’t understand.” She looked at me, defiantly.
I looked back at her and said, “You’re right. They don’t understand.” They.
“We should do something,” she said. We.
Girls around her were nodding; their sudden movement rippled through them, their necks on stalks tough as sunflowers. “Yes,” they were saying. “Yes.”
Over the next few weeks we went from school to school in Cape Town. We spoke in lecture halls, in classrooms, in peeling pagodas funded by old boys’ networks. I did very little. I sat there on the stage with them, under the lights, and I was only there, I think, to lend them weight, heavy adult ballast. It was the girls who spoke.
The boys’ schools smelled of deodorant and sweat, the same smells that were rank on the common one day at noon, the same smells of brothers and uncles and boyfriends and dads. The boys crossed their legs as the girls talked; they shifted a little; they cleared their throats so that their Adam’s apples bobbed. Some of them looked bored, so that for the first time there was rage in me, and I wanted to leap off the podium where my little group of girls stood and shook with their nerves and determination, leap off it in bounds like Superman and rip out their shaven casual throats.
The talks were not the only thing. The girls – though they did not know this – wanted to fill the space with words and with actions, to reverse the old events, to unify space and time. They spoke on radio and to newspapers (they didn’t need me for this part), and they organised a demonstration on the common itself. They wanted to stop every passing car and block every every stranger’s path. They wanted the opposite of rape. They wanted love.
Early in the morning we made a circle around the common. From its four square corners we drew a ragged forensic circle, all the students from all the schools around (with the sole exception of one boys’ school, whose principal said we were wasting our time). There were little kids from the junior schools being led through the waist-high grass in crocodiles, in leguaans, and I remember that they shone but this cannot be true, because the clouds had come over and we were speckled with rain, drizzled with it like castor sugar, and the mist came down over the mountain. There were helicopters overhead, like the Assumption, and someone let off a smoky orange flare among the trees. I gripped the hands of the girls on either side of me, and they held me up.
After ten days she came back to school. She had to walk straight back into the dry grass of whispers, and her walking was the joining up of the severed chronological ends of her rope: one end was held fast by her girl-self, and the other tied tight to survival. She walked and held onto that guide-rope, and the others watched her go.
[The author retains copyright to this story. Please do not reproduce without permission]