Africa and the World
ZAKES MDA: I will read a passage here from The Whale Caller, which is a novel set in South Africa in a small town called Hermanus. Hermanus is well known for whale watching. This is a love story, you know, the eternal triangle: man, woman, whale.
He has taught her to waltz to the songs of the whales. These are the most exhilarating moments of his life. Sharisha has gone back to the southern seas, but other southern rights are still here, providing the music. Sometimes a humpback visits and adds its thrilling notes. At dawn the Whale Caller wakes Saluni up and together they go to the Voelklip beach. Sometimes, more often of late, it is Saluni who wakes him up, since now she has got into the spirit of things. If the whales happen not to be there that dawn he calls them with his horn and they respond. He gets a hold of Saluni and together they float on the sand as if they are riding the clouds, as he used to float, albeit the rocky surface, during his days at the Church of the Sacred Kelp Horn.
At first Saluni was not too excited about these early morning frolics. But she decided to indulge him, especially after he had deserted her for the whole day and night to be with Sharisha on the eve of her departure.
Saluni had only been staying with him in the Wendy house for about ten days when one night the Whale Caller had a nightmare: Sharisha was being attacked by hordes of killer whales. The deadly orcas were concentrating mostly on the callosities, biting the chunks away. The water around was red. He woke up screaming. He knew at once that Sharisha would be leaving soon. Nightmares were her way of communicating that to him. He rushed to the bedroom and woke Saluni up to tell her of his fears. She was not pleased at all; especially because her head was pounding from a hangover. The previous night she had finished a whole bottle of wine brought from the mansion, while watching the Whale Caller cook his staple of macaroni and cheese. The drinking had continued while they ate the supper and while he washed the plates and pot. He had gone to sleep in the kitchen as usual, leaving her sitting on the bed, pretending to be in some tavern; singing colorful songs and cracking dirty jokes to her self, then rocking the Wendy house with her gruff laughter. To be woken up so early in the morning on account of bad dreams about whales was not something she was ready to entertain.
She shouted: “You and that ugly fish! I hope it goes away…forever! Maybe we’ll have some peace when it’s gone.”
Without another word, the Whale Caller dressed up in his tuxedo, took his horn and left Saluni in bed nursing her precious hangover.
This time he went to his peninsula where he knew the curious could only watch from a distance. He blew his kelp horn, praying that Sharisha had not migrated yet. Her head emerged from the water, only fifty meters away. She rose out of the water and then crashed down with a loud with a loud splash. Refreshing droplets sprayed him. She rose again, turned in the air above the water, with yet another louder splash. Seagulls flocked to pick up from the surface of the water pieces of skin that she shed as she breached. There would be some lice to pick up too, now that she had been infested. Sharisha breached like that repeatedly, increasing the pace as the Whale Caller got more excited.
The rising sun found him sitting on a rock and blowing his kelp horn. Sharisha responded with her own love calls. She rocked in the water in a mating dance. The Whale Caller stood up and rocked on the rocks. He raised his left leg, turned and twisted on one spot, then stamped the foot down. He did the same with the right leg. He repeated this dance in a rapid succession for a long time, whilst blowing the sounds of the whining wind. People gathered on the shore and watched. Even those who had regularly watched the Whale Caller at his antics with the whales had never seen anything like this before. He did not seem to tire. He just went on and on raising his legs, spinning his sturdy body in the air, and then stamping his feet on the rocks. Sharisha did not seem to tire either. She was creating a whirlwind on the water by making a complicated combination of rocking, breaching and lobtailing. The rocking part—moving from side to side, and then forwards and backwards—fascinated the onlookers most for they had never seen a whale do anything like that.
By midday Saluni was getting very worried about him. She could hear the horn from the Wendy house. . . . [She] had not reckoned with the power of the whirlwind that Sharisha was generating in the sea, locking the Whale caller tightly in her embrace. The sun was about to set and the Whale Caller had not returned. Saluni swallowed her pride and went down to the shore. The biggest crowd she had ever seen at his whale-calling events had gathered. People were clapping their hands in accompaniment to the kelp horn. And to Sharisha’a grunts and groans. It reminded Saluni of the charismatic church services that were sometimes held in circus-like tents by visiting superstar pastors. People babbling things whose meaning no one could fathom, then falling on the ground shouting the name of the Lord and foaming at the mouth. When they woke up they were saved and their road to Heaven was guaranteed. Only here the things they were babbling had nothing to do with the Lord. While some were egging the Whale Caller on, others were directing their encouragement to the whale. There those were just screaming and whimpering as if they shared the ecstasy of the man and his whale. . . .
The next morning the dance continued. Spectators returned and found the Whale Caller drenched in sweat. Both his horn and Sharisha were groaning deeply like out-of-tune tubas. Both were breathless as the dance seemed to be slowly fizzling out.
It was almost midday when Sharisha sailed away waving her flipper and the Whale Caller found his steps back to the shore. The crowd was going crazy, screaming, making catcalls and applauding. As soon as he reached the shore he fell on the ground in utter exhaustion. He was drenched in sweat and other secretions of the body. The front and the seat of his tuxedo pants were wet and sticky from the seed of life.
He opened his eyes and smiled at the wide eyes that were looking at him from above. The people went even wilder with applause. Saluni was among them. But she was not participating in all the excitement. She just stood there, arms akimbo, shouting at him: “You have shamed yourself . . . and me!”