The Life of Henry Fuckit
WOODSTOCK. Unfurnished, two-bedroom tenement. Rent controlled. R30 per month. Only persons of sober habits need apply. Isodore Glick Attorney. Phone 243546.
Well, well, well! Isadore Glick. The first Cape Argus he looks into offers up this gem, meant just for him. Glick had been the landlord at Bedford Street. Probably owns half of Cape Town - the ramshackle half. This was promising, this was something worth pursuing. It would be reassuring to have Mr Glick as his landlord. He though about it some more and it felt right. He looked forward to being able to say 'No man, that fucking Jew landlord can wait for his rent'. Not that he was anti-Semitic. Far from it. On the contrary, apart from some traits of the stereotype, such as unctuous servility, mendacity, avarice and parsimony, which didn't appeal to him much, he actually admired and envied this racial grouping above all others. He even suspected that if he had been able to delve into his own lousy British parentage he would probably have unearthed at least one Yiddish skeleton. It seemed to him that Jews were the most human of humans, capable of anything and everything, and certainly they were most prolific in the areas of Art and the intellect. So he didn't feel the slightest twinge of guilt when he found himself categorising his prospective lessor as a fucking Jew.
First thing in the morning he left the YMCA, walked a short way down Long Street, turned right into Hout Street and located the Olbers Building. Of no architectural significance, it was sandwiched between two similarly unimpressive edifices of seven or eight storeys. In the foyer he caught sight of a polished granite plaque.
In memory of
Doubt the dark? Who the hell was this Olbers? He chose to take the stairs to the second floor. It was an old building but in an excellent state of repair. Gleaming floors, fresh paintwork, shining brassware on the windows at each landing. Why doubt the dark? There was an idea behind this inscription, an enticing, niggling idea, but it was obfuscated by lack of context. Damn it, this was irritating. Now he'd be compelled to satisfy his curiosity.
Frosted glass doors opened into a large room divided into two sections. First there was a reception counter with much-worn top. Beyond this area the carpet began and some soft furnishings were clustered about a coffee table. This would be where you waited before being shown in to this or that lawyer, depending on the nature of your legal dilemma. Behind the counter a young coloured man in shirt sleeves and tie was writing out a receipt and taking some grimy notes from a customer. At a desk a white man, similar age, similar attire, was busy with a file and bits of paper. Articled clerks, no doubt. Apprentices, learning the tricks of the trade, doing the kak work. Was it existentialist nausea mounting up in him? Or was it the after effects of YM brekkers?
"I'd like to see Mr Isadore Glick. About this advert for a house in Woodstock."
The coloured clerk looked at Henry, sized him up, concluded that he wasn't dealing with an important person, displayed his teeth condescendingly, and said "Mr Glick don't deal with rent. Mr Glick is the senior partner. He's the owner."
"Well, who can I speak to then? I'm interested in this place in Woodstock. Maybe you can help me. Are you a junior partner?"
The white clerk glanced up and snorted. His colleague ignored the question and began flipping through a journal.
"Alright, Meneer. Here it is. Palmerston Road. Number Thirteen. No hot water, outside toilet and bathroom. Thirty rand a month, sixty rand deposit. To go look you can get the key at number nine. Palmerston Road, it's off Roedebloem. You know Rodebloem Road that runs up from Main Road? I'll draw you a map."
Furnished with directions, Henry thanked him and turned to leave. Then, halfway to the door, he remembered.
"Ah, yes. Sorry, there was something else I wanted to ask you. This Olbers, after whom the building is named, can you tell me who he was?"
"Olbers? No, uh-uh. Some kind of German, I think. Hey, Mr Lipkin. That lady doctor, the one who used to rent in Mr Glick's flats at Mowbray. Didn't she say something to you once about this Olbers?"
"Dr Goldblatt? Yah, she seemed to know about him. A German scientist. Astronomer. Yes, she wanted to know who named the building after him, but I couldn't tell her. I mean, this isn't a new building. Told her to ask Mr Glick."
Henry had blanched and he felt a weakness in his legs bidding him to take a seat. His words came out with a rasp as if he had suddenly come down with a bad bout of laryngitis. "Goldblatt? Did you say Goldblatt? Kaye Goldblatt?"
"Yes. Left about a year ago. Went to Jo'burg, I think."
Even though he acquired the barest minimum, and it was only battered, second-hand stuff, furnishing the house took a large chunk out of his savings. It foreshortened the time between him and the inevitable day when again he would be required to go out there and make some kind of a living. A bed, a couch, an easy chair, a fridge and a stove, a kitchen table and chairs, a desk and office chair. And odds and ends. Nothing extravagant, but it all cost money and the only way to buy time was with money. Maybe he should start making enquiries about the dole, once he was settled in.
It took him some three weeks to establish himself, and over that period he was kept so busy he had few moments for reflection. Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing more to be done. Now he was free to read a book, take a walk, smoke a bowl of Turkish Delight, pour a glass of Vrotters, sit and stare into space, masturbate, pace the deck.
To have five rooms, including the hall, under one roof, all to oneself, was decidedly sybaritic. Add to that a stoep, a yard, a back garden with a fig tree, a front garden with a rambling rose, and a lean-to outbuilding - this was so excessive as to be downright reprehensible. Especially after seven years in a cramped hellhole of a chamber hardly big enough to kill a cat in. Well, no profit to be gained from feeling guilty about it. Might as well enjoy the freedom of movement and the accompanying sense of psychological liberation.
In Kalk Bay the ceiling and the walls had crowded in on him and many a time he had lain on the lumpy mattress, bathed in sweat, choking for breath, panic at his throat. How had he ever been able to sleep in that room? A persistent, recurring memory of an incident, possibly a nightmare, returned to him and penetrated his consciousness. It must have been in the early hours, for there was no traffic. The door was on its hook and he could hear the occasional wave rustling as it broke on the harbour beach. Then he became aware of a voice shouting, somewhere, in the distance, or maybe not so distant. Was it a man or a woman? Constant, repetitive. Yet desperate. Like the cry of a peacock. A woman being raped? Too hoarse to be a woman. He got up, went out, the voice was coming from the sidestreet. He crossed to the end of the balcony and saw a police van parked below, blue light flashing. Two policemen came down the sidestreet with a figure between them. All the while he was shouting. 'No. For pity's sake have mercy. Mercy. Have mercy. Leave me. Don't do it. Have mercy.' They opened the back of the van and pushed him in, behind the wire grating. He kept shouting. When they drove away he was still shouting about mercy. The horror he had felt at the time was still with him, but now it was more a sense of dread, a sick fear that the night would again be rent to reveal the same unreality. He must put his fear aside and savour the airy spaciousness of his new abode.
The scalding inflicted on him by the vengeful cuckold was already dwindling into a blur, vaguely shameful at the edges, obscuring, thank God, the physical intensity at the core. What would his mind make of the whole episode, once enough time had passed for it to be viewed with historical dispassion? Had the extreme nature of the experience jolted him out of one paradigm into another? But, as those bloody idiots had pointed out when they visited him in the hospital, pain is a great distraction, and for many weeks now he hadn't given his old metaphysical torments any attention at all. And he had somehow discovered enough resolve to break with the Dockyard and move away from Kalk Bay. Jesus, is this what is required in order to bring about some structural change in one's life? Climb down into a pit of depravity and have one's balls burnt off? Confucius, he say, Man has three ways of acting wisely. First, through meditation. This velly sensible, velly noble. Second, through intuition. This velly easy if you got stlong intuition. Third, through experience. This velly painful, velly bitter. It looked as if number three was going to be the method for him. Velly bitter.
As the weeks slipped by he grew accustomed to his new surroundings and habit began to blur the details of his daily routine. What he was left with was a series of aesthetic highpoints which became more and more intimately experienced as they recurred. He decided to begin a record of them and bought a shorthand notebook for that purpose. It would be a running account, in snapshot form, of some of his impressions, just for a dilettante's satisfaction, and for no more pretentious reason than that.
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