THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

59   On the point of giving up he makes an important discovery

He dozed fitfully and then at first light he packed his belongings and wrote a short note: "Urgent personal business necessitates my immediate return to Cape Town. Regret not able to explain in person. Keys and week's rent enclosed. Henry." He left the envelope on her doormat and, Lady Provider at his heels, trudged through the town as it began to stir. His water bottle was full and his suitcase was tanked up with Vrotters. At the last café he bought a loaf of whole-wheat bread and a slab of cheese and made his way out onto the open road, ready to resume his expedition.

It was not long before a Roads Department bakkie pulled up and he was offered a lift. The driver was surprised to learn that Henry was only going a few kilometres, just as far as the first side road leading off to the north. They soon cleared a rise and saw the turnoff in the distance on the left. He ignored the man's inquiring eyebrows, thanked him for the short ride, and alighted in a harsh landscape devoid of all vegetation.

Perched on Lady Provider he examined Bergson's map and tried to orientate himself. The dirt road led some three or four kilometres north to a small black rectangle signifying human habitation. Thereafter it meandered eastward in a diminished status, a dotted line designating a track or footpath. The red circle was about half a kilometre east of the gravel road, midway between highway and black rectangle. The air was still cool but the sky was empty and the winter sun was gaining in strength as it rose higher. It was his intention to investigate the Oxyaston site and be back on the tar road before noon. That would allow him sufficient time to get to Keetmanshoop by nightfall.

By no stretch of hopeful imagination could it be called a road. This was just a route between points A and B that avoided the major obstacles and sought out the smoothest and easiest of inclines. Lady Provider didn't take kindly to such surfaces and stumbled and overbalanced at frequent intervals. How sensitive was the electronic equipment? After the third tumble Henry took the suitcase by its handle and began to carry it; all thirty kilograms of it. Dedication to duty? Sense of responsibility? Self interest?

The site lay in a shallow dried-out valley between two dykes of black basalt. These dykes were a dominant feature in the area and from the air must have resembled ribs in the pale sand and gravely detritus. Sweating freely he plodded through the sand away from the track and saw ahead of him, in the harsh, uncertain light, a dark mound. On closer examination it proved to be one of those ridiculous welwitschias, lying in a horrible sprawl of tangled rubbish. He paused to urinate in the dust and then headed for the nearest outcrop of rock.

In the shade he sat down and rested. The faintest breeze was stirring from the west, coming in from the Atlantic as the landmass began to warm itself like a lizard in the sun. It was extraordinarily quiet. He could hear his heart pumping away, keeping the six litres of red fluid flowing and flowing and flowing. A shard of rock, which had been prevaricating for a hundred years, decided the moment was right, let go and fell to the sand with a self-effacing clatter.

For breakfast he cut a slice of bread and a hunk of cheese and tapped off a mug of Vrotters. The emptiness of this stark moonscape impressed him. Stark? He flipped a rock with his foot and two dark beetles scurried for cover. Turn the stone, cleave the wood. This jumble of broken rock might well conceal one of the elusive vents of which Bergson was so convinced. With a pang of guilt he rose to his feet and began to do what he was supposed to be doing - investigating the Oxyastonishing phenomenon of universal telepathic interaction.

He extended the antenna, he plugged in and donned the headphones, he flicked the switches, he fiddled with the knobs. All he heard was a faint hissing noise, like the sound of the sea in a shell cupped to the ear. He swung the antenna this way and that. He picked up the equipment and moved along the rocky slope. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Niks, fokall. Here he was, tramping up and down in the middle of the desert, pointing his feelers here, there and everywhere like some giant insect, stumbling, cursing, sweating and farting in search of some crazy impossibility. For half an hour, an hour, an hour and a half. Fuck Bergson, sitting in his office drinking rooibosch tea and twiddling his stupid moustache. This is KAK! So saying he kicked Lady Provider squarely in the ribs, sending her crashing sideways down the slope.

Just before the three-metre headphone cable pulled taught and the terminal was jerked from its socket on the end of the case, Henry experienced the strangest of sensations. It was like nothing he had ever felt before. A brief vibration, a kind of buzz, not in his ears but right inside his head. Had he somehow received a shock? His annoyance forgotten, he hastened to Lady Provider's aid, put her back on her wheels with a muttered, "Sorry about that. These damn conniption-fits, you know," and plugged in his headphone.

"Holy Jesus!" The tingling sensation was back in the depths of his brain. The antenna was pointing away form the black ridge of rock and he quickly swung it back. The sensation disappeared. What the hell was going on? He was on the wrong track. Picking up Lady by the handle he turned his back on the ridge and aligned himself until the feeling was at its most perceptible. He was facing back the way he had come. Slowly he made his way down the slope and began plodding through the sand of the valley floor, all the while concentrating on what was happening inside his head. As he walked the sensation strengthened and then he looked ahead and realised in a flash of insight that he was headed directly towards the Welwitschia mirabilis and the word TAP ROOT exploded in giant technicolour letters before his mind's eye, fizzing, crackling and spluttering with significance. God's mistake? Professor Albert Adendorff's mistake!

He set Lady Provider before the freak of nature and removed the headset. He now knew that he didn't need it and, on all fours, crawled in under the tattered leaves. The sweet spicy scent of Oxyaston was in his nose, his mouth, his lungs.

"Bergson, Bergson!" he called. "Are you there, Harry baby?" Prostrate upon the desert floor, head and shoulders buried under the torn and frazzled foliage, he lay and listened intently. Again he called. "Harry Bergson! Where the fug are you?"

"Henry, Henry!" Bergson's voice was so faint Henry wondered whether he was hearing it or merely imagining it. But again it came and he could detect the excitement in the raised tones. "Henry, you fool, don't you know it's Saturday? I'm not at the Dockyard. This is incredible! Just as I hoped. This is nothing less than telepathy!"

"Shit!" Henry had not given a moment's thought to the days of the week since he had left Cape Town. "So where are you, then?"

"I'm at home. I'm actually on the toilet right at this moment. But Henry, this is going to exhaust you. Stop now and make contact again on Monday morning. Goodbye, my boy. This is…"

Henry's head was spinning and a heavy weariness was descending upon him. With difficulty he got to his knees, stood up and then staggered to the basalt ridge. In the shade of overhanging rocks he lay down with his head on his pack and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

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