“I Will Not Lose This Joy!” – Read an Excerpt from Nakhane Toure’s Debut Novel Piggy Boy’s Blues
It’s a portrait of a Xhosa royal family past its prime and glory and follows Davide’s journey as he travels from the city back to the place where he was born in the Eastern Cape.
Piggy Boy’s Blues is a brave, experimental novel with a strong focus on creative exploration, which shines a light on an area on the margins.
For a taste of Touré’s moving novel, and to meet members of the M family who are central to Piggy Boy’s Blues, read an excerpt from Part 2 of the story:
Esther and Jeremiah
It was winter and the streets of Cape Town were cold and grey. In the tiny room she rented Esther had just told Jeremiah her news, trembling like a blade of grass. They were in love. He laughed to himself while he paced the room, more a little snigger than a laugh, which she thought was cruel. For Jeremiah the room had suddenly become unbearably hot. He removed his coat and flung it next to her on her bed. “It’s itchy,” he said, flaring his nostrils, excusing himself like a schoolboy. She watched her hands and asked, biding her time: “Itchy?” She had nothing else to say. He nodded his head, still pacing the room. He loosened his tie. Something in his mind had begun to take shape. An idea was being knit. He had made the same mistake twice. Twice! he thought, not daring to say it to Esther. He was elated, though, for this time it was with a woman he loved. Thank God! He stopped pacing and smiled at her. She considered him suspiciously. He told her about a plot of not so modest land he had waiting for him to build on in a small town in the Ciskei called Alice. They would, he said, if they could not take the city any longer, move to the countryside. She could give birth there, and he would tend to the field. He was quixotic, Esther’s Jeremiah.
“Like Adam and Eve!” he said excitedly after she had agreed to go with him.
“Adam and Eve?” she smiled. The baby in her belly was growing.
“We’ll elope!” He was seized with a young lover’s bliss. The idea, corrupt, yet repeated throughout history, presented itself to him as an adventure. He had read about it in literature, and even though he had often felt the characters were foolish for leaving behind the comforts of what they knew, he also felt a distant pang of longing for their danger. He was prudent enough to know not to ever share those feelings with Esther. She was less excited, but not unyielding.
He sent the necessary telegrams to his cousin to start bordering his land. He sent another to his father in the Transkei, briefly notifying him of his decision. His father replied: “Do what you need to do. You’re a man. Just remember that there is a way of doing these things.” There was a postscript: “Your wife has gone mad.” He read the telegram and crumpled it in his fist, assuaging the unpleasant knowledge of his abandoned wife and son with the still fresh joy of his new family with Esther. “In my own land, with a woman I love!” He would not be derailed. He would not shrug off his responsibility to his new family.
When they arrived in Alice it was spring. Jeremiah and Esther moved into their single-roomed house which they christened Four Corner. As they settled, his cousin, rural, with fists on his waist asked: “Will this be all right for now, blood of my blood?” Jeremiah scooped him in his arms and kissed him conspicuously on the mouth. His cousin straightened his shirt, mortified, and cleared his throat loudly. Esther amusedly watched Jeremiah’s cousin wipe spittle off his lip while she sat on one of the two single beds. After his cousin had left, glad that he had caused them joy, Jeremiah sighed, then spoke after a long moment of considered silence.
“A land of milk and honey … and corn and cattle and sheep and goats.” He laughed. “And our baby.” He ran to Esther and rubbed her belly. She chuckled. “Our own Canaan,” he beamed. “Can you believe it?” He shook his head, tears in his eyes. The house was an unconventional rondavel. Where others were round and thatched, this one was square and roofed with corrugated iron. The plot of land was at the bottom of the valley. The only obstacle between it and the river was a graveyard for members of the village who did not belong to the M. family. Jeremiah had plans. He and Esther were clean slates, blank canvases begging for paint. With the move final and unchanging, they became wilfully syncretistic, vowing also to give their children only Xhosa names.
Though they were men of blood, shield and spear, it has been known that the M. men could never stomach the bloody bearing of their spawn. Ask all who knew them. Ask all who told tales about them, whether malign or benign. The scenes throughout their history portrayed men who ran, tripping over stones and their own feet, to fetch midwives to relieve them of their screaming wives. It is said that M., the progenitor, after leaving his wife in the capable hands of several midwives, ran to his tribe’s chief to speak, at random and without coherence, about the deploying of troops (this was after the Mfengu tribe had settled) until young men came running to announce the birth of his twins.
Although he was no novice to the anguishes of childbirth, Jeremiah M., like his forefather, still floundered at the deep end of his anxiety the day his son was born. He ran up the hill like an untethered horse, ignoring his new neighbours’ calls and greetings, to beg for the assistance of his cousin’s wife. When they drove back down to his land, he was beating the back of the driver’s seat with the impatience of a spoiled child. Esther’s shrieks welcomed them into the yard and he mopped his brow as they stepped out of the car, having lost his impatience.
“Are you coming in?” his cousin’s wife asked as Jeremiah lingered by the door. Her husband laughed knowingly. “Ah. Yes,” she confirmed and conveyed her understanding with the slant of her pursed lips and climbed up the three stairs into Four Corner. After she had closed the door, the two men exchanged disparate looks: Jeremiah’s face expressed panicked consternation with bewildered, darting eyes, exacerbated by his cousin’s teasing smile. Jeremiah folded in his lips and stormed out to the temporary zinc shed he had built to keep his gardening tools. His cousin followed him silently, taking care not to speak a word until Jeremiah required him to. He stood with his head bent while he listened to the sharp and blunt sounds of metal and wood falling on each other and the floor. Jeremiah exited the shed fuelled by the desire to work. He concerned himself now and until the shrieking ceased with all things terranean. He laid the tools on the floor: a spade, a scythe, a rake and a fork, and turned to his cousin sharply.
“Are you going to help me with this?” he said belligerently, picking up the spade.
Mute and compassionate (for he was no different from other M. men), his cousin picked up the fork and they both stepped on the upper edges of their tools, driving them into the ground to turn soil. After a while of this, Jeremiah, unable to endure his wife’s cries, walked back to his shed and returned with a rootstock. He was unsure of where exactly he wanted to plant it, so he surveyed his land and began to walk. When he came to the edge of the plot, he stopped and began to dig.
After he had smoothed over the surface soil, he trudged back to his cousin, and they silently waited for the news.
Esther gave birth to her first son – Jeremiah’s second – and they named him Ndod’enkulu M. His umbilical cord was buried in the kraal Jeremiah had built with his own two hands and the help of his more capable cousin. They slaughtered a goat for him to present him to their ancestors. A week later, on a Sunday, they were at the Presbyterian Church baptising and introducing him to the holy trinity of their missionary station’s youth.
When all the necessary rituals had been performed, Jeremiah, happy as a feeding lamb, walked to town to send the news to his father. Seeing that he was unable to spend a minute without the company of the advice-giving village women, on his slow walk he pondered on the words he would use to convey his joy. His last few telegram exchanges with his father had been replete with passive aggressive sentences from both parties, and now he was on a mission to convey the indescribable joy that the birth of Ndod’enkulu had given him. He rehearsed the words repeatedly, sharing the news with every person he passed that he knew, and they commented, sharing in his joy:
“Yes, we can see. You walk with the spring of a man who has become a father for the first time.”
Beauty was everywhere. Even the nuisance of cow dung on the road presented him with the splendour of being alive. Flowers were blossoming. Trees were tall and green with new Spring leaves. The drone and buzz of bees – a sign of good luck and the watch of his ancestors in his clan – were the notes of a marvellous melody to his ears. The cars that passed him conveyed mankind’s progress in technology. He walked on, springs under the soles of his shoes. By the time he reached the post office, his joy had wiped clean the words he had so judiciously rehearsed that he resorted to the simplest language. The telegram read:
“It is a son. His name is Ndod’enkulu.”
Two days later a telegram from his father arrived.
“I have received your telegram. Your wife has died. Don’t bother to make plans for the funeral. She has already been laid to rest in the family graveyard where she belongs. Mdibanisi is well and healthy. He lives!”
On his slow walk back home he was stricken by the realization that the news had affected him more severely than he could have predicted. Not that he could have predicted this tragedy, he reasoned. How could he? After reading the telegram, he had felt something heat up inside him and for a moment had thought that everyone around him had been watching him. He had shoved the telegram into his pocket, leaving the Post Office abruptly and almost ran round the corner. He sunk his hand back into his pocket and fingered the telegram. In his mind’s eye he saw the exclamation mark that ended his father’s telegram. He’s trying to drag my sprits low, he thought. He’s poking me in the eye. There it was, all vertical with a loud finality, a stamp serving him what he deserved. But how could it be? he thought. Nombuso? Dead? Tears came to his eyes.
From a distance was a grey blot in the expanse that was his house. In there was his future, and (!), he thought, that was where his attention was needed. This grief needed to be private and small. It needed to pass quickly. He took the telegram out of his pocket and folded it into the smallest possible square he could manage and jammed it back into his pocket.
“I will not lose this joy!” he said aloud.
She threw the telegram on his sleeping face, waking him up with a start. For a moment, he cowered like a slave, shielding his face from a blow. She had hoped for a paper cut. But the piece of paper lay flimsily next to Jeremiah’s head, offensively innocuous from the creases caused by multiple folds. Ashamed of his knowledge, he scraped the paper off the sheet and crumpled it in his fist under the covers. He turned his head to Esther’s bed where Ndod’enkulu slept peacefully. Since he was prone to midnight weeps, the couple was used to speaking in hushed tones. Esther hovered over him and whispered viciously.
“Why are we not married, Jeremiah?”
“What?” he croaked, resting his weight on his elbows.
Now Esther was one for performing decorum. Having slept with Jeremiah before they got married was deviation enough for her. Eloping!? That was an even more indecorous transgression. She had acquiesced to the plan based on the idea that once they had arrived in Jeremiah’s Promised Land, he would marry her. That way, her shame could be salved. In the man’s defence, he never once brought up the subject of marriage (for reasons clearly known). Perpetual cohabitation? Yes, perhaps. He had not grasped (fogged by the excitement of the adventure in his life) that Esther thought the two mutually inclusive. She hovered over him, livid, her breasts heaving heavily.
When she had found the telegram in Jeremiah’s pocket, she had resolved to handling the situation maturely and amicably. Watching him first cower, then feign innocence, introduced her to an anger she did not know she possessed.
“Why…are…we…not…married…yet?” She spoke each word individually, as if teaching a child.
Jeremiah sat up and found himself mute as a goat.
“Were you waiting for her to die?” Esther continued. “Is this what you wanted to happen?”
“Listen …” he tried to find words to conciliate, not knowing what to do with his hands. He put them back under the covers.
“Who are you?” she whispered, giving him a disgusted stare. “Whose child do I have?”
“What difference does it make now?” he said.
“What difference does it make?” she echoed him acerbically. “Do you, in any way, feel any guilt for what you’ve done? Oh!” She stood and paced the room. “I’ve been a mistress. I’m an accomplice to a terrible, terrible crime.” She walked back to him and sat on his bed.
“I loved you,” he said.
“You’re an animal.”
“What am I going to do now?”
“Stay with me?”
“After knowing what you are capable of?”
“I loved you.”
“You’ll do the same to me.”
“How could you even say something like that? You know me – ”
“We love each other, Esther. And there – ” he pointed to their son “ – is proof of that love. I would never leave this. I would never find anything I would want to leave this for.”
“I am a mistress,” she mused miserably.
She took a deep breath and studied Jeremiah. He reached out and squeezed her arm.
“We’re going to hell for this,” she said desolately.
- “I Wanted People to Hate Me!” – Nakhane Toure Chats about Killing off His Characters at the Open Book Festival
- Piggy Boy’s Blues by Nakhane Toure
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