This excerpt comes from 'Naming' by writer-filmmaker, Umar Turaki who was our #WriterWednesday this week. Travellers crammed into a car reckon with a dark night of the soul on a journey down a long road. Be sure to read the rest of this metaphysical story in your own copy of Migrations.
Migrations is available now in all good bookstores in South Africa. They will be happy to order it for you if they don't have it on the shelves. It is also currently available as an eBook. It will be published in the US and UK in September.
Driver. He has travelled many roads to get here. Along the way, he has seen many things. He has seen a pregnant woman ripped open like a birthday present. He has seen diamonds as big as a child’s skull. He has seen a man urinate on the body of a woman he has just devoured. He has seen his own head in the mirror, uneven like a cracked egg, hair forever trying and forever failing to conceal the machete scar that runs in a furrow along his temple. So he forever wears a black woollen hat with a tufted tip. He has seen a night in which so many people died that when he closed his eyes and listened, he could hear their spirits rising through the roofs. The sound was like the small hiss a hand makes when it breaks the calm surface of water and slips under it. He heard it a thousand times that night. He left the next day with nothing but his clothes and walked until the roads turned brown and red and green, and when he was certain he had crossed the border, he found the nearest home and asked them for anything to drink.
A week later, he was still alive. So he decided that he would travel far and forget this land and all the blood. This is how far he has come. Here he has found a woman who loves him in spite of the shape of his head, and five children who fill his heart with a pure, earthen joy. He has learned a new tongue and has donned a new name and has become a new man. Now they call him direba. He has seen both ends of this snaking black road more times than he can count, and he knows it the way he knows the scar on his head. Three or four times a week, he wrestles with this black road for the food he will bring home and place like a sacrament in each of their mouths, each one he loves more than they shall ever know.
He is so confident he has taken to lending out his spare tyre, even with an impending trip, because he knows God will take care of him on this black road the way he took care of him on many other roads. He is a happy man, but the memories of death linger in his head like a song that refuses to fade. This is even what keeps him happy. His suffering distilled his ambition; he has no room for rarefied dreams. His dream is peace, a bed, a wife, five children, and some food. If he can achieve this dream for more days than not, it is enough. Though he is fearless tonight on this black road, he has one secret fear. Smack as he is in the centre of his happiness, he fears that his life is a palindrome patiently unfolding, that the same pain that burned him as a youth will return to finish him off as an old man. This possible symmetry troubles him, and sometimes he finds himself thinking of quitting while he is ahead, wishing that his soul would rise from his sleep and slip through the roof like a hand slipping into water, and drift to that impossible mountain place beyond the town, inside the door that cuts through a rock not far from the place he was born.