by Tiziana Morosetti
The passage published here focuses on the dramatic consequences of a terrorist attack and has been taken from Elleke Boehmer's last novel, Bloodlines.
In the following pages the narrative starts with a description of the dreadful effects of the bomb exploding and then analyses the psychological dimension of the people involved. Furthermore the novel is also a deeper reflection on the theme of friendship and on the conditions in South Africa in the early 90s - the period of the definitive struggle against Apartheid.
Therefore Bloodlines is not only to be seen as a literary work, but also as a record of one of the most striking struggle for liberation of modern times.
The bomb exploded at 11.10 in the morning, outside the main entrance to the
small beach- front supermarket called the Right Now Superette.
It was a searing white instant. And a sudden hurtling and falling of debris, which was already the bomb’s aftermath. Wrenched window frames and bits of shelving smashed on to exploded crates, a tumbling rubble of broken plaster, bottles, plate glass, refrigerator doors, red and blue buckets and spades, cracked tiles, mangled tills.
Breaking the barrier of skin, mental shredded by the bomb tore into flesh, ripped veins. The rubble crushed bone. The head of a man was pulled from his body. On the concrete floor next to the toppled pik - ’n - mix sweet counter the scattered sweets drifted along the flow of his blood. A shard of flying plate glass sliced a left arm from its shoulder. Before she died of several abdominal wounds the victim tried to clutch it to her side with her other arm.
It was just before the Easter Weekend, a Thursday. Easter was early this year but even so it was unreasonably hot. Larger crowds than usual had driven the eight hundred kilometres and more to the coast to enjoy the still-warm waves, the baking sea air, the cool melt of ice-cream down peeling chins. It was so hot that from about ten o’clock the sand was scorching feet, skin burned under clothes. Long lines of children and their parents queued outside the air conditioned South Clacton aquarium, Biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, where even the seals performing their tricks seemed testier than usual. In the shopping centre and the beach-hotel bars, flushed sun-puckered faces clustered in search of shelter and an early lunch.
‘Yes, OK, terrorized’, Robert was saying, ‘But maybe not intentionally. We’ve
got to allow for that still. The error of the rationale. Was the bomber forced
to do this? We’ve got to retain perspective, steer clear of sentimentality. No
civilian targets. That’s what the Movement has always maintained, and so far
they disclaim responsibility. Arrests are being made countrywide but no one has
yet been charged. The last thing we want is to play into the hands of those who
are all too ready to brand what’s happened as simple barbarity and regression to
an earlier political state. I’m thinking for example of some of the
Neither a victim’s relative nor at present a working journalist, Anthea packed her briefcase and went home again on compassionate leave. In a formal letter he had his secretary type while she waited, Robert suggested she take two more weeks, and thereafter a discretionary six weeks on half-time. May to late June. Arthur met her in the foyer to Robert’s office and offered a coffee, ‘The canteen’. She walked down with him but at the swing-doors had to turn back. She saw raised eyes, stopped jaws, people in rows looking up from their lunch. At her, she was sure. Feeling sorry. Her throat clamped tight.
Arthur accompanied her to the car park, at least saying nothing. He didn’t impose a consoling hand.
The renewed leave passed slowly: she ticked off the days on her calendar each morning at 11.10. But she had stopped yawning and, more gradually, her attacks of weeping subsided. Instead she filled the pages of a new notebook. The new notebook was green, the one she kept for journalism was red. She wrote to keep her hand in, finish what she had begun. She wrote because the hours were long and empty and she wanted Duncan around and this was a way of lifting him into her memory.
A photograph appeared on the front page of the Times. City Late. Nothing but
the photograph trailing tomorrow’s story. CLACTON SUSPECT CHARGED. A middle-aged
woman in a floral dress and apron held closed fingers over her eyes, snapped
before slamming her front door on the camera. The mother of the
Joseph Makken, Coloured, is 22.
Anthea stared. Bent over the paper at her kitchen table she couldn’t stop staring. There was something about the floral design and the shape of woman’s dress – sensible straight lines, home-made, a McCalls pattern. Something about the calves, slightly apart, unsurprised, as when you open a door expecting nothing alarming. There was something also about that gesture of instinctive protection. Not unlike any woman responding to a sudden shock, her own mother, herself.
The mouth behind the hand beginning to contort but still half unastonished.
The picture so familiar that for some moments she very nearly did not see, overlooked, the difference, now becoming sharper in this stark black-and-white photograph, the difference of skin. The mother of the bomber, of course, coloured dark.
Throughout that evening she kept returning to the picture, looking again at that expression. As if by looking she might lift the hand and see the face whole. Never mind the grey or black colouring, look at it whole. The mother of the bomber, the source of her pain, standing at her front door in her apron like any other township woman. Like any other woman. How to make sense of this? place a piece here, a piece there? How to attach things together: this stricken figure, her own private grief?
When shock cracked open an ordinary day.
But from the other side of the story.
A buzz then seemed to come into her fingers, a pressure in her forehead. No, this was not a perverse or voyeuristic gloating – see, the other side is afflicted also. Something could emerge from this, she was suddenly sure, a new understanding, a seeing differently. She had the opportunity, this half-time leave. The paper wanted soft stories, more there was the chance to approach this Mrs Dora Makken, this woman standing on her concrete doorstep, shocked beyond speech.
There was an ordinary woman who opened her front door one day to find her son named a bomber.
That night, for the first time since the bomb, Anthea, pacing her livingroom floor, puzzling, did not weep.