A Second Christ?
A Second Christ?
The banana ship wedded the edge of the world in a wharf of granite with buildings that jostled for a view up to the sky, and nestling our suitcases we stepped fearfully on to the crowded wharf. Salamo, that was what my friend was called, suddenly said, "I don't like it. I don't think I'll like it here." He shuddered visibly and placed his suitcase on the cold concrete.
"Man," I replied trying to laugh away the strange fear that had descended upon me, "You haven't been here that long. You'll get to like it. Just wait and see." Salamo just shrugged his shoulders, picked up his suitcase, cuddled it tohimself like a child cuddling a doll, and said hesitantly, "I hope they don't take my dreams off me. They say that the whiteman has enough money to buy anybody's dreams."
Salamo was strange. He insisted that We call our suitcases - our boxes of dreams. "Right," he said straightening up, "Lets begin our journey."
"Journey?" I asked puzzled by his remark.
"Yes, journey. And I hope we reach our destination safely." He stopped and I observed with growing concern that he was shaking. He turned slowly and walked ahead of me towards the customs table. He walked with a slight limp, his narrow frame rooking like a ship from side to side. There was something about him I couldn't make out at the time, the only image that came to me as I watched him was a small cup which had been broken and had been glued together again. I didn't know why I associated this image with him.
"C'mon" he called to me, "I don't want to face these officers of the Pearly Gates by myself'" He laughed uncomfortably.
As a tall whiteman, smiling an official smile, rummaged through his suitcase I saw a look on Salamos face that suggested that he hated what the man was doing.
"Bastard'" hissed Salamo as we walked away from the customs table. I didn't say anything. I was too busy taking in everything new that I saw. Salamo just walked on as if he had lost interest in everything.
Two whitemen came toward us. They both wore grey suits, and beamed official smiles. And the short fat one with the parrot nose said, "Hello. I suppose you're the boys that have come here to attend university?"
"Yes," I replied immediately. Salamo remained silent. He stood looking at his feet. I got the feeling that he didn't give a damn about the two men. He acted as if he was alone. "My name is Filemu, and this is Salamo," I introduced ourselves. Salamo just glanced at the men and then at his feet again, dismissing them. I extended my hand to the short fat man who introduced himself as Mr. Thompson, and he shook it. The other whiteman, who was at least six feet tall and had a sagging stomach, a wart on his chin, and a face like a prize fighter, extended his hand to Salamo and said, "Hello, boy." Salamo recoiled with the word boy and didn't make a move to shake the man's hand.
"How do you," I interrupted, shaking the man's hand. The man stared at Salamo. The official smile had gone from his face.
We followed the two whitemen out to the gate and into their car. Both men tried their best to make conversation as the car surged through Wellington. I gradually forgot Salamo as I became absorbed with what I saw - the buildings, big and grey, blinking advertisements, the streets crowded with people who hurried as if to escape from a fire, the trams that clanged their hearts out as they pushed their way through the car-crowded streets. And I was astounded by the bigness and the strangeness and the hurrying and coldness of the whiteman's world.page 61
The car pulled up in front of the Y.M.C.A.
"We have arrived," Salamo commented unexpectedly, "How the journey will begin." The two men looked at Salamo, puazled by his remark.
"What journey?" I asked, "Man, we have arrived. This is the end of our trip." I could sense the two men waiting anxiously for Salamo's reply.
"Yes, we have arrived. But arriving is only another beginning. The real journey begins here." Salamo spoke as if he was bored with the whole thing. The two men smiled condescendingly and the tall fat one said,
"Where did you learn that, Salamo?"
"In a book," replied Salamo dismissing the whole thing. He opened the door of the car and got out. He didn't even say thanks to the two men. As I thanked the men the whiteman who had asked Salamo the question looked away. He was angry, but when he saw me looking at him he smiled. Poor man, I laughed to myself, they've even taught him how to smile diplomatically.
"There are chinks in the mask people have. I'm looking for the chinks so that I can get to the real people behind the masks," Salamo suddenly said to me one morning as he washed his face. I didn't know why he said it. But then Salamo always said things like that whenever he felt like it. I wanted him to say some more, but he just asked me to pass him the towel. He had forgotten or wanted to forget what he had said.
During the first year at university Salamo remained aloof of the other students. When he came into the cafeteria and found me talking to some of my friends he would sit by himself sipping his coffee and never bothering to look around. He sat solid as a rock, sure of himself, and never showing any other emotion but cool indifference. He never went out of his way to make friends. One day I would come across him talking to the janitor about nothing in particular, just talking. At other times I would find him among a group of students listening intently and never saying anything. He never seemed to compromise in anything. When he listened, he really listened. And when he talked the words flowed from him like a torrent that had been barred up toolong. By his indifference, and aimless wanderings around Wellington I sensed that he was searching for something, perhaps for a way to make his 'journey' easier. I couldn't quite grasp what he meant by journey.
One evening he sprang out of bed, closed the law book that he had been reading, and told me I had to come with him for a walk. Salamo never asked neither did he command anyone to do anything.
"Okay," I agreed willingly. I wanted to see where he spent most of his time.
We strolled aimlessly down Lambton Quay toward the wharves. The streets were empty, filled only by neon lights that shattered themselves on the pavements and tramlines.
"Do you like it here?" Salamo asked me suddenly.
"Why, yes." I replied.
"I do and then I don't." he said. "The journeys bloody hard. I can't get through to them."
"But how can you get through to these people if you never go out of the way to befriend them?"
He grinned and said, "I cannot compromise. They have to like me as page 62I am or else.." His voice broke, "Or else there is only..." He stopped, and I didn't prompt him to finish.
"Do you remember that I told you that there are chinks in the mask?" He asked after a while. I nodded. "There are chinks," he continued, "But behind the mask there is only death and despair. People don the mask to hide their weak bloody selves. They can't accept the fact that what must be must be. The mask can't change anything. Man thinks he can change everything, yet he is trapped in the historic process. His culture is changing him all the time." He paused and laughed, "He's still ignorant enough to believe that he can change his culture. Shy? Because deep down he's weak and can't face himself.... Let's go home."
We turned and made our way back to our room. Puzzled, I didn't notice the rain that was beginning to fall.
Salamo weaved his way slowly through the crowded cafeteria and came and sat down at the table where I was sitting with two whiteboys and a white girl. Without acknowledging any of our greetings he said,
"You know what I mean by System."
I sensed the others withdraw into themselves to peer queerly at him. And before I could say anything Salamo was off.
"It's simple," he said, "There is birth, there is life, and there is death. Birth is beautiful and brings joy to a mother. Life is short and tough. Then it ends with death. Yet how many of us look upon death as something beautiful. Something that must be accepted as a mother accepts the birth of a child. What I am saying is simple, as all things in life are simple. We must accept death. We must accept ourselves as we are. There must be no compromises even if it means not having what you call friends." He paused, looked around, his eyes stopped on the white girl and he seemed to have remembered something for he got up quickly and left us.
"Strange guy," said one of the whiteboys. The others remained silent. Salamo seemed to have had a profound effect upon them. He always had an effect on people he met or spoke to. He nearly always made them feel uncomfortable.
Two weeks before Christmas Salamo disappeared for three weeks. I got myself a job at the freezing works.
One day I arrived back from work to find him sleeping fully clothed on his bed. I stood and studded him for a long time. He hadn't shaved and his beard was ragged and dirty, his clothes were frayed and stained, and he had grown thinner. As I watched him I knew why I had associated him with the image of the broken cup. He was small and thin, and his very strength and indifference glued the pieces together. His eyelids flicked open and his eyes searched the room. His eyes met mine, and he smiled as he sat up slowly and said,
"I had a wonderful time."
"Where did you go?" I asked sitting down next to him on the bed.
"Oh, all around the place," he shrugged. I met real people even though I had to look very hard for them. When I met them I saw only despair, but I met no pretence and no lies. I have progressed in my journey...By the way are you working?"
"Yes, dorm at the freezing works. I'm making quite a bit of money."
"Oh." he commented as if he wasn't really interested. "I'm not going to take law any more."
"But why?" I asked. "You flew through in the exams."page 63
"I just don't feel like it. Exams aren't important anyway."
"What are you going to take then?"
"Don't know. I'll think of something. A degree isn't important any more."
I didn't say anything. He had changed greatly. He was more at ease. Some of his happiness rubbed off on to me.
"Have you enough money?" I asked softly, "I can give you some."
"I don't need it," was all he said, "I'm not going to get a job these holidays either." He sprang up and went into the bathroom.
He came back and said, "I'm beginning to write... By the way, there is a set plan to life. Everything works in accordance to a set plan. Whose plan? I don't know. Some call him God. But I don't give him a name."
"Don't you believe in the Christian God anymore?" I asked. His father was a minister.
"No. I mean not in the Christian God. I don't need to. I'm happy now and that's all I care to know."
"Then you believe in fatalism?" I asked trying to make him talk.
"No" he said offhandedly.
"But you said everything works to a plan. Your System sounds fatalistic to me."
He laughed and said, "I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. Don't think I don't respect your ideas. I do. I respect everyone's but I still uphold mine. And noone has the right to take them away from me. Just as long as they leave me alone I will respect their ideas. We must live as individuals and we must respect the individuality of others." He paused and a frown wrinkled his face. "Do you know something? I'm the only individual left in the world!" And as I looked at him I knew that he truly believed that he was the only individual left in the world.
The next year came. Salamo enrolled at the university but he never told me what he was taking. He bought himself a typewriter, and late into the night I would hear it clicking, as if in desperation. He never let me read any of the things he wrote. For weeks on end he didn't attend lectures. Deep down I envied him. He was responsible only to himself. He did what he wanted to do; he didn't care about money; he never went out of his way to please anyone, and nothing seemed to worry him. He let the rest of the world go by, only picking up time when he felt like it. Sometimes he spent a whole day staring at the ceiling.
I began to follow his example. I halfheartedly continued with my degree. Making friends wasn't important anymore. I found new things about myself as I began to look into myself. I saw new things in the world outside and as I did I found life hard.
..."Man is a victim of circumstance," Said Salamo. I tried not to believe this. What's the use of striving then? Why live if we can't change anything? It was hard to shed the clothes which had been placed upon me in childhood by society. It was as if I was wearing Joseph's coat of many colours; and with anything that Salamo said or did a colour was stripped off....
"Each man lives lonely in his own cage, [unclear: n] his own liggle cage" said Salamo. "But there are doors into the [unclear: cag]...." "We are born alone into the world, and alone we must live, and alone we must die. Each man page 64must live with his own aloneness in whatever way he can" said Salamo. Salamo, I thought, was the living example of the answer. But how was I to learn the answer if he didn't let me close enough to his true self.
..."Man is good," said Salamo, "But he's a bloody fool. He gives
away blindly what is his. He gives away his individuality for the sake of making money, for the sake of prestige, and the dream of security. He sells his dreams for gold on the stockmarked...."
I felt bewildered and lost.
Summer came and the grass on the hills turned brown like the earth, and the city was locked in heat, and I felt lonely for home.
Salamo sat naked on his bed like a miniature Buddha, staring fixedly at his hands.
"Do you know what?" he said, "It must have been painful when they drove the nails into Christ's hands." I looked at him questioningly. He was scrutinising his hands as if he was looking for the nail holes. "He must have been a brave man." he added. "He found the answer and died for it." The image of the crucifixion jumped into my mind painfully. Yes, I thought, Christ found the answer and there was death and he accepted it. But he was not a man. He was the Son of God. He was....
"He was a man like any other man," interrupted Salamo looking at me. It was uncanny the way he could see what you were thinking. "He was a man" he repeated. Then I knew. I knew and was afraid. Christ had been crucified. But why? Salamo was the answer. If Christ had been a man he was like Salamo. Christ had been alone even though he had won many followers. Salamo was alone. Both had accepted their aloneness. They both made people feel uncomfortable. Christ had had no mask. Then it dawned upon me. Salamo had no mask. He had no mask. I looked at him. A smile rippled over his face. I knew, but did he know? I didn't ask him.
"I'm going for a walk" he said. He dressed and left the room. As I waved to him from the window I thought, "Will he die like Christ?" I shuddered. Salamo didn't believe in fatalism. I knew that then. He saw himself - an individual having no claims on anyone or anything but his own life, the only thing that we really own.
"I'm quitting varsity," he said when he came back from his walk.
"Why?" I asked in dismay. "You were doing hang of a well."
He grinned and said, "Does there have to ba a reason? Does there have to be a reason for anything?"
"No," I mumbled, "But you're going to disappoint a lot of people."
"My life is my own," he answered simply. I didn't bother to argue with him anymore.
"Okay," I sighed, "It's your life."
We lay on our beds in silence, staring at the ceiling and not seeing the ceiling, but the faces of our loved ones at home, the sea lulling dumbly on the reef and beach, the villages scattered like petals on the seashore, and heard the song of the wind as it swept the bush. Two lonely exiles each trying to recapture, in memory, the ties with our own country, our own birthplace, our own past.
"Where are you going to work?" I asked him the following morning.
"Don't know yet," he murmured.page 65
He came Home that evening and told me that he had found a job at the factory where they made tins. I asked him if he liked the job. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I like the people."
The next day I found him looking tired and pale. He had a large bruise on his forehead.
"How did you get it?" I asked pointing at the bruise.
"Had a fight with the foreman," he replied.
"Did you beat him up good," I asked trying to cheer him up.
"No, but he beat me good." He laughed.
"How did it start?"
"It just happened. He wanted me to do something I didn't want to do. He wanted me to clean out the lavatories. I don't know, people always want me to conform... oh I don't know." He stopped, shrugged his shoulders, lay back, and soon fell asleep.
Then it began. For the next few months he got many jobs and either lost them because he didn't like the people or else the people didn't like him. Mostly it was because the people didn't like him. And I knew why. He never sucked up to them. Always remaining indifferent to them till they believed that he felt superior to them. They hated him for not being like them [unclear: - b ]suckers, money grabbers, slowly dying and never fighting the sleeping death.
One afternoon he came back. His ear had turned blue.
"Why do you have to take it?" I shouted at him, "Why don't you quit and go back to varsity?"
He just smiled sheepishly, shrugged his narrow shoulders and mumbled, "I can take care of myself."
I sprang up and left the room full of anger.
Christmas came with carols playing in stores which sold toy guns to children to play soldiers with; with wrinkled tired Santa Claus useless in any other job but to be Santa Claus who tolerated the grimy hands of children and the requests of neurotic mothers to tell their children to ask for cheap Christmas toys, with prayers being peddled on corners by cranks long gone in the fear of death and the almighty. Everything commercial, everything within the family budget, everything locked in the money spirit of the whiteman's Christmas....
And again Salamo disappeared. Three days before Christmas I received a telegram from him. It came from Invercargill.
I came back one afternoon and found him pounding furiously at his typewriter. He stopped when he heard me, pulled out the sheet of paper, screwed it up, and threw it into the waste paper basket.
"Look what I was given," he whooped opening his hand. I had never seen him so happy before. . A small round pebble lay in his hand. To me it was just an ordinary pebble. I couldn't make out why he was so attached to it.
"A little child gave it to me," he added caressing the pebble with his fingers, "A little beautiful girl child. She gave it to me and didn't expect anything back! Here!" He handed it to me, "That's my Christmas present to you."page 66
"Thanks," I managed to say. We were truly friends. There was no mask between us. He turned and left the room. I looked at the pebble and suddenly remembered what he had told me once. "Friendship is usually based on compromises and politeness. In many ways, it's a lie." But between us it wasn't a lie. I placed the pebble on my Bible which lay open on the bookcase.
"Would you like to go to a party?" he asked me one evening.
"Sure," I replied. Whose is it?"
"I think you know him. He lives up at Upland road."
We hurried down towards the cable car, brushing shoulders with Friday night shoppers hurrying as if they were expecting to die the next day, turned into the alley way which led to the cable car, bought two tickets off a tired ticket seller with half blonde hair, and mounted the car ready to surge up hill.
"We're going to the stars!" called Salamo over the roar of the car. I peered ahead - up the tunnels that narrowed till at the end only a square of star-patched night appeared. Yes, we were truly going to the stars.
Quickly we jumped off at the end, hurried toward the gate, and made our way to the house. I looked up at the sky and felt as light as a feather believing that at any moment I would be sucked, up to the stars.
The house white and sprawling stood before us. I jumped suddenly as I glanced up and saw a lamppost that stood massive like a tall cross blinking one orange eye at me. The image of the crucifixion came back naked to my mind.
"C'mon in, Sal!" a tall spindly whiteboy called John said to Salamo. We followed him into the sitting room which was reverberating with the roar of beer-prompted voices and stamping feet. Salamo stepped without fear into the room, almost as if there was noone else there, ignored the muffled greetings of some boys he knew, and walked over to the far corner where a black haired whitegirl was sitting crosslegged surrounded by two slickly dressed whiteboys. I stood for a while surveying the room. Smoke was fuming everywhere tainting the people. It was a scene I was used to. It was another typical student party. Mostly drinking, singing, smoking, talk and talk about high sounding subjects, and mild lovemaking - each boy trying his best to get a girl to take home after the party to try and prove his manhood. The crowd was a mixture of many races. There were Indians who sat in a group cradling their drinks and talking softly as if they were afraid of making too much noise. There were four Maoris, none a full blooded Maori, but all proud of displaying the limited knowledge they had of their own culture - a girl who was dressed tightly in a white woollen dress which offset her dark skin starkly in the bright light, and there were three boys - two playing guitars while the other stood tall in the middle of the floor leading the singing in a deep rich baritone voice. The rest were white boys and girls who sat all round the room trying their best to sing in tune to the strumming of the guitars.
"Hi, Filemu!" someone called. I looked over to the corner and saw a whiteboy called Mike waving to me. A thin red haired girl sat like a fragile ornament on his lap. I walked over to them. Someone placed a full glass of beer in my hand.
After what I thought to be my fourth drink, I stood up and walked over to where Salamo was talking wildly to the blackhaired girl who just sat as if spell-bound listening to him. I noticed that the two whiteboys that had been talking to her had been ignored and they stood looming above them. They were tense and I could sense the jealousy mounting up in them. I sat down next to Salamo on the floor. And I listened intently to what he was saying. He was telling her about the little girl who had given him the pebble.page 67
... "Yes, she was beautiful and innocent. The image of an angel. It's a pity she will hare to grow up. A bloody pity, but then we've all got to grow up. You must have been like her when you were a child," he said to the girl. The girl's eyes lit up. Someone was praising her. "It's a pity you grew up," he added. The girl's face fell empty. Salamo changed the subject and kept on talking.
"Where do you work?" she asked. Salamo blinked and simply said
"The world. That's where I work." I knew he wasn't trying to be smart. The girl giggled and looked at him as if he was mad.
"Pretty queer chap," I heard one of the whiteboys comment. Salamo kept on talking as if he hadn't heard the boy's remark.
"You're beautiful," Salamo suddenly said to the girl. I could almost see her breasts heaving with the delight she found in his words.
"Black bastard!" muttered one of the whiteboys. They both laughed. The girl looked hard at the boy who had spoken. Salamo kept talking, dismissing the boy with a wave of his hand. I couldn't control my temper any more. I sprang up and said,
"Which one of you said that?" I was a foot taller than both of them. I could take both of them on. "Which one? I'm black too you know!" Everyone fell quiet. The boys stood and didn't look at me. The short squat one with the powerful arms stumped his cigarette on the windowsill and said,
As I lunged forward Salamo came between us. "He didn't mean it, Filemu."
I turned and stumbled out of the room feeling ashamed and angry. Outside I sat on the floor steps and tried hard to compose myself. Someone sat down beside me. It was Mike.
"I must apologize for those two bastards in there. You see, we haven't got over the idea of white superiority."
"It's okay. I'm afraid I can't control my temper very well," I mumbled.
"Here," he laughed handing me a full glass of beer. We drank in silence for a long while.
"Your friend in there," Mike said, "I can't make him out. He seems so calm and sure of himself. When he walked into that room tonight I suddenly felt jealous of him. It's funny. I don't think I was the only one either. I could sense it in the whole room. Everyone suddenly got tense. They didn't really want him to sit down." He paused, his face in a grimace. "Just by his presence he makes people hate him. Thinking about it now, I admire him. Honestly, I wish I was like him even though I don't know much about him." He stopped. "Does he go to varsity?" He asked.
"Not any, more. He used to. He was brilliant in law, but he quit."
"He's the type who does what he feels like doing. He can't give you reasons. He's happy though. He's himself."
"You know, the more I hear of your friend, the more I want to be like him. I don't really want to take varsity work. My family want me to be a scientist, or some bloody thing like that. I don't really want to do that but I haven't got enough guts to tell them where to go. Like most New Zealanders I want security. The type money can buy. And a degree means more money nowadays." His face looked bitter. "Let's forget this stinking life and drink our hearts out tonight."page 68
"Okay," I agreed heartily, "Hey, but what about your girl in there?"
"She can go to hell!" laughed Mike downing one full glass. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and said, "She's hell for me anyway. The only thing she worries about is what people would think if she let herself go. She's the typical product of a middle class family. You know the type. The seekers of respectability and all that crap! ... She's a bloody virgin. And one of these days I'm going to change all that." He stopped. I refilled his glass. "By the way, what's the name of your friend in there?"
"Salamo," I replied.
"What does it mean?"
"It's the Samoan word for Psalm."
He laughed and said, "Even his name suggests strength and beauty. I must try and get to know him."
"It'll take a long time," I replied, thinking of the two years which had taken me to figure Salamo out. I was still finding out new things about him.
"Filemu, you know why people here get to hate Psalm. It's because he's not tied down by puritan taboos. He's not scared of letting himself go. He's himself. I'm a New Zealander like those poor bastards in there. And were the products of a puritan upbringing. You listen to us talk and you'd think that we're so open-minded we wouldn't give a damn if men rooted women down at Courtenay Place. Yet we'll be the first to rise up in arms if it actually happened.'" He was almost shouting. "I'm coming out now because the grog's getting me. But I bet you that when I get up tomorrow I'll put on my mask and smile at all those buggers I hate, and I'd bow to all the bastards who are important to my career. And I'd mix with the people I've been brought up to mix with feeling all the time I could get up and smash their bloody smug faces in and go and look for real people!" He threw his hands up in a gesture of despair. I handed him another glass and waited for him to calm down.
"Filemu," he continued, "My father's a bureaucrat. He makes three thousand quid a year at a job that has killed him. He wanted to be a writer but he didn't have the guts to make it. Money and prestige killed him. Now he's incapable of love. He's bloody dead... We have all the things New Zealanders associate with security, yet we've got nothing. Yet your friend has no money but he has everything. He hasn't lost himself. He's alive and kicking. You Polynesians are lucky. You feel free... " He couldn't go on. The glass dropped from his hand and smashed itself on the ground.
"Do you love your country, Filemu?" he asked me after a while. I nodded.
"I love mine. But I'd like to go overseas... But then I'm afraid of getting lost in the world. I'm even bloody afraid of seeking what I want. I know that if I stay here they'll cut my --- off no matter how hard I fight the knife. Then I'll turn out just like my father and all the dead bureaucrats. I want to be a painter. I don't know why I'm trying to get a degree when I should be out there looking for real people and real things, and not be trapped in this mad house of self-complacency, smugness and walking talking corpses!" He broke down and cried. It was the first time I had ever seen a whiteman cry. I suddenly felt something close to hatred for Salamo for pulling the mask off Mike's face. Was it worth taking the mask off? If there is only suffering and despair behind it, is it worth taking the mask off? Perhaps Man had created the mask to avoid pain and for that it was better if it was left on? I didn't know the answer any more as I sat and watched Mike crying like a little child.
I felt someone come and stand above us.page 69
"What's the matter with him?" a female voice asked. It was Mike's girl.
"Go to hell, you hitch!" yelled Mike before I could say anything. His remark hit her hard. May he she's in love with him, I thought, as I watched her leaning on the railing.
"I think you'd better go inside," I whispered to her, "I don't think he meant what he said. He's drunk!" I lied deliberately feeling sorry for her. She turned slowly and went inside.
I sat for a long time listening to nothing in particular, thinking nothing, almost as if I was trying to listen to my own heart beating and trying to prove to myself that I was alive, almost as if I wanted to fade into the darkness never to appear again but to remain part of the terrible beauty that was night.
"They're fighting!" screamed a girl from the door. Who? I wanted to ask her, but I knew who was involved in it. The question burst into my mind's eye again as I sprang up and ran into the sitting room - Will He Die Like Christ?
Salamo lay still on the floor. His face was in pain. The blackhaired girl knelt beside him sobbing. The room was still. The short squat whiteboy who had said black bastard stood above Salamo. He held a beer bottle. He saw me coming. He didn't move. I hit him hard. He fell to the floor. I kicked him once, twice, three times. I picked him up and saw his face distorted with pain. He was glad that he was being punished for what he had done. My arm swung. The fist smashed into his face. I hit him again. I hit him again. Someone screamed. It had nothing to do with me. I saw the boy's body hit the floor like a lifeless doll that had been thrown by an angry child. I felt nothing any more. Someone's arms came around me.
"Stop it. You're killing him.'" Someone screamed. He wasn't shouting at me. He was shouting at another dark man who had been hitting the whiteboy. Someone pulled the dark man toward the door. I felt myself going with them. Mike was leading the man by the hand. I wanted to tell him it wasn't me. I looked back into the room. Salamo lay as if he was dead on the floor. I wanted to go back and help him up. I couldn't ...
I woke the next morning with a headache. I was in my own room. Silly of me, I thought. I slept fully clothed. Then I saw the blood on my clothes. It came. Everything came back. I had been the man who had wanted to kill the whiteboy. Where was Salamo? He wasn't sleeping in his bed. Someone else was sleeping in it. It was Mike. Where was Salamo? He was on the carpet with the blood around his head. I had to go and help him up and tell him that he shouldn't have drunk so much beer. Beer only gives you a headache and makes you fall dead drunk in someone else's house. Dead? Dead? I screamed. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, it was Mike. He was sad. No, he was drunk. Yes, that's it, he was drunk. Last night couldn't have happened. I had been drunk like Mike. Salamo had been drunk, that's why he lay on the floor looking dead. The black haired girl was screaming. She was only acting. She's a good actress. Boy, could she put it across. She can even cry real tears, just like mother when we played a game called "funeral".
"Boy, you really bashed that bastard up good last night," said Mike. I looked at the blood on my hands and clothes. I blinked. I knew.
"Did it happen?" I asked Mike. Mike nodded his head slowly.
"Salamo?" I managed to ask.
"He's ... He's in hospital."
I just nodded my head, nodded my head, nodded my head.
Mike shook his head.page 70
"Good," I sighted, "Good, he's my best friend."
I turned over and fell into a deep sleep. Salamo was alive..alive..alive.
That afternoon we went to see him. We were silent all the way. I glanced at Mike. He avoided my eyes. I knew then that something was terribly wrong. It's hard for anyone to hide pain.
The taxi pulled up in front of the grey hospital building with shiny brass railings, and we got out and went into the hospital. Mike was clutching some flowers which he had bought. The flowers were beginning to wither in the heat. I didn't know the names of the flowers. Ididn't care. I only knew that the flowers were dying.
"He's in there," the nurse whispered opening the door to Salamo's room. She acted as if she was afraid of offending the silence that armoured the whole hospital. "Don't be too long. He's in no condition to talk."
We walked into the room. Mike cluthing the flowers while I clutched fear in my heart. Salamo lay in bed. His head was covered with bandages. I noticed nothing else in the room. We sat down quietly beside the bed.
"Hello, Salamo... I don't think you've met Mike." I managed to say.
"Hi, Mike!" greeted Salamo trying to sit up, I'm sorry I have to talk to you from this position, but I can't seem to be able to get up. That kid sure had a wallop in that bottle." He chuckled softly.
We didn't speak for a while. I wanted to but I was afraid I would say the wrong thing.
"Well, Filemu," smiled Salamo,"I'm going to die!" He said it as if he enjoyed saying it. "No one's told me yet, but I know. Funny, but I knew and felt myself being born from the womb of my mother, the same as I now know that I'm going to die. Don't look so sad, man. I've told you before that birth is the same as death. There is no great difference. One is the beginning and the other is the ... Who knows, maybe death is only another arriving and another beginning. I don't care if I don't know anyway. I'm happy... By the way, is it sunny outside?"
"It's a beautiful day," replied Mike.
"Sure wish they had put me in another room where I could see it. I bet you my old friends are sitting in the park today enjoying the sun and the colour and the flowers... That's where I spent most of my time when I went walking. I went and talked to old men. Let me see, there's Johnny, the one who always pinches bread from restaurants to feed the pigeons. Then there's Joe. He was a major in the war. He killed twenty Germans. He's got one arm missing and lives on a pension now. Very funny wan," he paused and chuckled to himself, "Joe told me that when he came out of hospital he went after little boys. Then there's Gus. He's the funniest liar of the lot. He spins some prettygood yarns. Mainly about the women he had when he was capable... Hell, he's funny. You ought to go and hear some of his stories." He laughed but I could see pain in his eyes.
"You don't have to talk if you don't want too," I said. He ignored my remark. He kept talking.
"You know those swans they've got in that lake. They must be bloody good to eat..." He spoke on like an old man who had only memories to keep him alive. We sat and listened to him like children listening to a storyteller tell of times long ago, tell about things we never knew existed. Suddenly he asked, "What are they going to do with that boy?"
"The usual," I replied, "A trial, a verdict of guilty and ..."
"He didn't mean to," Salamo interrupted. He spoke like an old man forgiving a brash youth. "You must try and make that plain to the police."page 71
The nurse came In lightly and said, "I'm afraid you have to go now."
"Let them stay, nurse."
The nurse glanced at him, smiled, nodded her head, and left us.
"The journey has ended," he said to us, "And I still have my box of dreams. You know, Filemu, the suitcase I brought from Samoa with me. It's under my bed. Take it home to my family... I hope they don't suffer too much. There's too much suffering in the world already." Then I noticed that he was crying. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. I knew why he had called his suitcase his box of dreams. It was a symbol of himself which at the beginning of his 'journey' he was afraid the whiteman's world would buy for gold. I cried and could not stop.
"The answer is simple," he said, "Will you please go now? Please?" We stood up and stumbled toward the door.
"Mike, thanks for the flowers!" he called.
It began to rain lightly as we came out of the hospital crying. I looked up at the sky. The sun was hidden by grey clouds which began to cast their shadows on the earth. The rain grew heavier. And as we walked away from the hospital Salamo's words came back. "Will you please go now? Please?" I felt light. At last I had been able to do something for him, at last.
That night he died.
As I packed his clothes I came across a pile of things which he had been writing. On top was a short passage which ran ---
"Last Night I Saw The Moon Turn Red With Blood, And I Heard The Cry Of New Life Being Formed In The [unclear: Wome] ,And Felt A Rose Bud Burst Forth In Scarlet In A Small Garden Fenced With Gold , And I Saw...." The passage stopped, unfinished. I picked up a pen and finished it---
"And I Saw The Last Man Die And Knew That It Was I."
I opened his suitcase - his box of dreams - placed the sheet of paper in it, and then closed it.