THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

76   Hollow victory

The Pay Hall was in the basement, down in the bowels of the Franz Kafferklapper Gebou. Three hundred men filled the low-ceilinged, poorly ventilated room. In winter the temperature fell so low that the ink in the clerk's pens coagulated and it was necessary to breathe on the ballpoint nibs to get them to write. In summer the stifling heat rivalled that experienced by the Imperialist wallahs incarcerated at Calcutta back in 1756. Regardless of season a thick fog hung in the air reducing visibility and giving to the overhead lighting a brown haziness. This foetid miasma consisted of cigarette smoke, methane gas and bronchial emission laden with pathogenic micro-organisms.

The sea of tubular steel and Formica chairs was divided by a central aisle. To the left were the men waiting to sign. A row would get to their feet and file to the front and queue at the desk. As each man showed his identity papers and signed against his name he was told whether or not there was any money for him that week. If there was, he would move over to the right side and again sit waiting to queue, this time at the cash disbursement desk. If there was no money he left, to return again the following Monday. Should a man fail to sign, for whatever reason, he was automatically disqualified and forfeited his right to draw benefits. It took from six to eight weeks of signing before any payment was made. In this period it was hoped the claimant would find a job, grow weary and give up, or, better still, die.

Eight weeks went by. When, for the ninth time, Henry was told there was nothing for him, he politely, almost apologetically, asked the clerk behind the desk if something was amiss.

"Nine weeks? No man, that sounds like another fokop upstairs. You go up to Room 66 and ask them to check in your file what's going on."

On the door of Room 66 the sign said ONE AT A TIME / EEN OP 'N SLAG. Two benches side by side lined the wall to the right of the door. A dozen men sat waiting listlessly and Henry joined them, resigning himself to another lengthy interlude of tedium. How long would he have to wait? One hour? Two? And then what lay in store for him behind that door? What further mortification awaited him? Did they really intend making payments to him, or had it long been decided that he was unworthy, and was to be strung along indefinitely until his spirit broke and he stopped coming back for his weekly dose of abasement?

The seat was hard and the tenebrous corridor cold. There was no conversation, only fidgeting, or coughing, or the groaning of the eolian phenomenon out in the windtrap. Four up the line a young man in a crumpled grey suit, no tie, sighed loudly, unzipped his fly, and began to masturbate. The other men mostly ignored him, staring at the wall or down at their feet. Fast went the hand on the rigid red penis. He must do this a lot for it to be so red and raw looking. Fast went the hand until with a series of three grunts he ejaculated. Milky liquid spurted from the purple helmet and a blob fell upon the shoe of the man sitting next to the onanist. This was a short, middle-aged gent in a safari suit, and his eyes glared with indignation from behind his spectacles. He jumped to his feet.

"You bloody wild animal you!" he shouted, and punched the offender in the face, breaking his nose. It was a hefty blow, swung from the hip and landing fair and square. The thin bony plates providing rigidity and shape gave way with a crack muffled by surrounding meat.

"Can't you use a handkerchief? Onbeskofte vark!"

The angry party tried to wipe his shoe on the trouser leg of his victim and then resumed his seat. His self-righteous fuming gradually subsided and was replaced by the whimpering of the injured one, who was holding his face in both hands. Henry was assailed by the sweet-salt reek of musk and the sweet-metallic smell of gore. The two fluids mingled on the vinyl floor tiles, pink. He shook his head in deprecation. Impulses, impulses! Look what happens when you give in to impulses.

A virulent strain of boredom, one endemic to queues and places of waiting was at the root of the trouble here. It was capable of knocking out thousands upon thousands of brain cells, thereby threatening to shut down all cerebral activity entirely. And it was the hypothalamus, thank God, which kicked in to prevent such a disaster, instructing the pituitary, adrenal medulla and testes to boost production. You needed to know the physiological facts, the intricate chemistry. Then you were prepared for the sudden randy flush, otherwise so unexpected in the midst of all that ennui. Armed with knowledge you were less likely to haul your cock out of your pants and start pumping away at it. You would spot the warning signs and immediately begin counting sheep (if you had no bestial tendencies) or praying (if you didn't get too starry-eyed over sweet naked Jesus dangling above you) or just start trying to read the newspaper upside down. Any number of diversionary tactics were possible, just so long as you didn't give in to these damnable impulses which were sent to save your brain but so often landed you in trouble.

Even as these thoughts crossed Henry's mind other, derisory ones trotted along behind them. Forewarned is forearmed - is that what he was saying? But what use was appropriate knowledge if you lacked the will, the strength of character to resist the impulse? If your soul consisted of jelly and your spine was held together with elastic bands, diversionary tactics would be to no avail. A futile skirmish, and then the comprehensive defeat. No; the weak and the flabby have no chance at all. Only the cold-eyed ascetic is capable of self-denial. If you want to avoid trouble, and if you aspire to some kind of heightened state, be it of physical ability, or intellectual acuity, or spiritual awareness, then asceticism is the way to go. And it's no good contemplating a middle path either. That will never work if the rot is in the marrow. Moderation isn't an option when all your life you've indulged your tendency to follow the easiest route. No, forget about diversions and forget about a balance achieved by means of temperance. Only rigorous asceticism can save the wretched profligate from himself. Only a complete rejection of physical pleasure and worldly comfort will suffice. And even some self-inflicted suffering might be necessary - like sleeping on a cold concrete floor, and fasting, and flagellation and the like. Only by such means would it be possible to toughen up and resist the impulses.

Such were the musings Henry entertained as he whiled away the dreary hours outside Room 66. And all the time he was working his way up into pole position. Eventually it was his turn to spring up, throw open the door which had just been shut by his predecessor, and stride into the office. Gone was his sense of dread. Relief at having put the interminable waiting behind him filled him with boldness and he dared to hope he was about to solve the problem delaying his payments.

Before him was a counter running the width of the room. Behind it stood an obese man with heavy jowls and no chin to speak of.

"Good morning Sir. What can I do for you? I hope I'm going to be able to help."

Henry was taken aback. Politeness was not what he had been expecting. It was not one of the social graces he had come to associate with the civil servants working for the Department of Labour. It was a pleasant surprise. He began to explain the situation he was in, that it was now nine weeks he had been signing, and still no money.

"Ah, I can see we're going to have to institute an investigation, Sir. Possibly even undertake a search. Sir, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you for your co-operation in the filling in of a form or two. I really hope I'm not going to detain you a second longer than is absolutely necessary. I know your time is valuable."

Henry's eyes narrowed. Was this barrel of lard trying to take the mickey? The form-filling proceeded smoothly enough and the official's manner remained consistently servile. Every once in a while he would look up, gaze earnestly into Henry's eyes, and say something like

"Terribly sorry about this unfortunate delay, Sir", or

"I'm going as fast as is humanly possible, you know, Sir", or

"I only hope we haven't caused you too much inconvenience, Sir".

When he was done he smiled and said "There we are, Sir. Now that I've got your details we can get on with sorting out this mess once and for all. I'm going to have to ask you to come back tomorrow morning though. Can't be helped. By then I'm sure I'll be in a position to give you some very good news."

But the following morning was to fall far short of such expectations. The fat clerk looked less affable. A lot less affable.

"Yes?"

"I've come about my…"

"Ag nee man! Why can't you people listen? Is jy toe?" He raised his voice almost to the level of a shout. "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow! More, more, more!"

Tomorrow came, the long wait in the corridor was endured, and Henry was once more standing facing the fat clerk over the counter in Room 66. But this time he was in an ugly mood.

"Now listen here. I'm not going to put up with…"

"Mr Fuckit, good morning my dear Sir. I'm awfully sorry. I'm so embarrassed. Verskoon my, asseblief tog. U leer is gevind. The bloody fool misfiled it and only now has it been found. A fokken Hotnot, you know. They thought your name was Fuckit Henry and filed it under H. I cannot apologise enough. Sir, I can promise you with my hand on the Holy Bible you'll receive payment this coming Monday."

Henry's anger collapsed in a heap, the rug having been pulled out from under its feet.

"You filed it under 'Henry'?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so Sir. Sorry about that."

"Under 'Henry'?"

"Yes Sir. Under 'Henry' and not 'Fuckit'. Sorry."

"You thought my first name was Fuckit? What kind of fucking idiot are you?"

"Please Sir, it wasn't my fault. That fokken Hotnot…"

"Don't lie to me! Please don't lie to me! You fucking racist poes excuse for a human being, I'm going to…"

But what was he going to do? Without anger? Without raging conviction? Break his fat neck like a rotten twig? Skop him in the balls and then shove a carpenter's rasp up his arse? Come now. Spit in his face? Not even that. Like a stranded fish he gulped for air, his mouth opening and closing. There was nothing he could do, the rapier had found its mark, was in him, had run him through. He clutched at the blade, gasped, and understood the finality of his defeat.

 

Climax or anti-climax, it proved to be a turning-point. The following Monday he received a small manila pay packet and for twenty-five weeks thereafter there was another one waiting for him to sign for and take away and spend as he saw fit. Nice and regular, no hitches, no tricks, and no questions asked. If only it could have gone on like that in perpetuity.

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