Africa and the World: Writers at Home and Away
BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: If one mentions the word “Africa” in a global context, it tends to evoke many responses and perhaps even some obsessions. People tend to project on the continent strange emotions either of unconditional hope, allegiance, and support or unalloyed horror at what they perceive as the terrible things taking place on the continent. Nobody is left unmoved by Africa. But, of course, it’s a huge continent. The people here on stage are either from Africa or they’re writers for whom Africa resonates because of descent, involvement, or interest. I’m not sure what they have in common, but I think that we will be enriched by the vast diversity of experiences, of backgrounds, sometimes of languages, certainly of histories.
Africa is filled with powerful contradictions. There’s perhaps no other continent that is so rich potentially but also actually in its cultural expressions, its history, its religions, its myths, and which is at the same time so abysmally poor—more poor than any other part of the world if you take the continent as a whole into consideration. There’s no other continent where human solidarity, solidarity within family, clan, age group, and even sometimes with the enemy, is as developed, functional, important, and maintained. Yet, as you know, there’s no other continent so wracked by civil wars, uprisings, terrible plagues, things falling apart. There’s no other continent that has taken as easily to some of the manifestations of globalization. Yet there would seem to be no other continent that is as impervious to change. There’s no continent where the word, the tongue, the exact image is as important—talking, reading, oral culture carrying on the traditions, telling the stories. Yet it would seem to be a continent that is blissfully neglectful of its riches in languages. You know from the history of people like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, here with us tonight, how much struggle there has been on the continent for the recognition of African languages, and yet we don’t seem to be any further advanced now than we were decades ago. There’s no other continent where the flames of liberation and independence have burned as high, and perhaps there’s no other continent that so demonstrably illustrates the bankruptcy of our dreams and the bankruptcy of our idealism.
The one thread that runs through, I think, is perhaps the preeminent characteristic of the continent, the sense of humanity, the importance of being human. It’s not “Why are we going to change the world?” It’s not even “How are we going to become rich in the world?” It’s not “How are we going to become powerful in the world?” All of that comes much later. Sometimes I remember in a very early story, I imagined that one would go as a subversive agent for Africa all over the world and scribble on the walls, in the dark of night, graffiti saying: “AFRICA LIVES.”
ACHMAT DANGOR: History. We all have our stories.
Forty years ago, at the eager age of sixteen, I had to appear before a race-classification board in Pretoria, South Africa, because of my mixed heritage. Let me describe that: One ancestor, great-grandmother or great-grandfather, was brought to the Dutch as a slave from Java or Malaysia; we’re not sure. Another came as a merchant from India. I have a great-grandmother who came as something else, from the Netherlands. And I was speaking Afrikaans as my mother tongue and, because I grew up in a mixed township, my second language was Isizulu. So can you imagine the confusion of those race-classification people? In the end, they classified me as colored. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being classified, but in a race-obsessed society, everyone had to have an identity. Now, we have a new kind of identity.
In the past few weeks and months, I’ve been reading from my book Bitter Fruit in various parts of the world—in London, in Antwerp, in Amsterdam, in New York, in Toronto—and I get the same question every time: Are you a Muslim writer? So here I am, with a new identity: I am a wine-drinking, Muslim-born writer who writes in English. I’m equivocally African.
I’m going to read from a story, a section of the novel, which I hope will perhaps demonstrate that ambiguity. This novel is about a young man, Michael, who discovers that his biological father is a security policeman who raped his mother. He discovers this due to the Reconciliation Commission process, as I called it, and he decides that he will not forgive and forget. He decides to execute his biological father. And the night before he does that, he wanders through the streets of Johannesburg thinking about these things.
Daybreak, when the Bilal bhangs.
Michael had heard the expression from Sadrodien, a mixture of Arabic and Malay, describing the call to prayer that the “Bilal” makes at each of the five prescribed prayer hours. Michael had since learnt that one of the Prophet Mohamed’s first adherents was a black man named Bilal (a faithful servant, a freed slave?). For his foresight and courage—those were dangerous times, the first Muslims had many enemies—Bilal was accorded the honor of calling the fledging band of faithful to prayer. Now, everywhere in the world, five times a day, a man—European travel brochures call him a “muezzin”—climbs a winding staircase to the top of a tower, supporting his bony knees with his hands, so that it seems he has added an extra element to the ritual of worship, and proclaims to the world: Allah u Akbah! God is Great. Bilal the man has been transformed by time and myth from person into concept.
Not all Bilals are black, Michael thinks. But here in Newclare of course, he is, a Somali émigré, poor and pious. Michael is there, at the gates of the Griffith Street Mosque, when the Newclare Bilal bhangs the dawn salaat. He watches the faithful arrive, they smile indulgently: so this is the prodigal son that Imam Ismail is trying to bring back into the fold!
When the Moulana arrives, surprise flickers in his eyes. “Wait for me in the classroom,” he tells Michael.
Michael sits on the floor, his knees drawn up against his chest. He is exhausted, light-headed from lack of sleep. The place and the hour, as well, bring upon him a dreamlike euphoria.
He remembers: he had taken a taxi from Julian’s place, long before the party ended, was dropped off outside his home in Berea. But the world beyond that door seemed small, Lilliputian. He imagined that the house had become a labyrinth of narrow tunnels, booby-trapped, rigged with concealed trapdoors through which the unsuspecting visitor might fall. Alice in Mandela’s Wonderland. Why Mandela? That came later, he thinks. He had turned away from the house, carefully retreating as if trying to allay the fears of some suspicious watcher.
He had walked down the hill to Louis Botha Avenue, then to Norwood, where a street party was taking place. Dancing and drinking in the street, loud music, glass against glass like the clash of metal, a loud, mad-hatter merriment, party-goers with smiles permanently painted onto their faces.
He remembers: Lydia lying on the billiard table, that young Mozambican, João, perched above her, birdlike, a heron, uncommonly black, his awkwardness given grace by her arched body. Silver shadows lighting up the loveliness of their coupling: green upon her olive skin, deep blue against his dark, dark back. She held him, no more than that, moored him, as if to prevent him from drifting into space, his head in her hands, whispering in his ear, as if instructing him in the art of sex. On the other side of the room, lit up by a full moon, stood Silas, staring intently, like a voyeur. Then he stumbled away, as if intoxicated.
He remembers: he had wandered away from Grant Avenue, away from the theatrical, staged revelry, along dark streets, until the world was quiet again, and he could hear the wind rustling in the trees, a true and solitary peacefulness. Somewhere, what seemed like hours later, he had come upon a small convoy of cars pulling up outside a house. Some important person in a Mercedes-Benz. Blue lights began to flash on the roof of the leading car when he stopped to watch. A warning: move a long. But he stood still, watching as the cars waited for gates to trundle open on a rail.
Who is the VIP? he wondered. It would be easy to assassinate him. What else are they good for but dying famous deaths. The Mercedes-Benz had darkened windows. They became famous in order to crave privacy.
Then a window in the car rolled down, and Nelson Mandela smiled at him. “What are you doing out so late, young man, and all alone?”
He was stunned, tongue-tied. He must have walked all the way down to Mandela’s residence in Houghton. He wanted to extend his hand, offer a greeting; then, incongruously, he remembered the gun in his pocket, and stepped back.
The President looked at him quizzically. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked.
“Do you need help?”
“I’m not far from home,” he remembers stammering, before waving to the President and his increasingly restive bodyguards, and walking away. To the freeway. A passing motorist had stopped, looked him over carefully, then offered him a lift (perhaps his stooped, shivering stance, that vulnerable look he instinctively assumed when he was being examined, made him appear harmless).
Through the rest of the night, he remained aware of the gun in his pocket, pressing its presence on him. He had practiced pulling it out rapidly, because that might be the only way he would get close enough to Du Boise. Would he really have shot that grand old man, he wonders now, as something in his mind was subliminally suggesting when he stood before Nelson Mandela’s open window?
ELIZABETH ALEXANDER: I’ve been asked very loosely to think about the relationship of African writers and Africa at large to American writing. An enormous topic, of course, but I’ll offer a few thoughts. Even before 1922, when Countee Cullen wrote his famous poem “Heritage,” Africa was a monolith, an idea for most Americans. We know that through the so-called idea of Africa, many white Americans have found their imagined antithesis, their aesthetic inverse, their thrilled fantasies. Even, or perhaps especially in children’s literature, for example, one still encounters vulgar stereotypes such as bones through the nose, wild-eyed savages, and darling knaves in contemporary garb. But what of the African American writer’s relationship to her African predecessors, heritage, and peers? That for me is a richer and more interesting question.
In the poem I mentioned, “Heritage,” Cullen wrote:
“What is Africa to me: / Copper sun or scarlet sea.” He echoed William Blake’s metrical and rhyme patterns from “The Tyger”—“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, / In the forests of the night; / What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”—in writing the African American self, the temporal relative to the immortal, the African American relative to the imagined African self. For Africa as such was no more real or known to Cullen than it was, say, to Picasso when he first saw those sculptures at the Trocadero near the turn of the century and was so radically rocked at the aesthetic and philosophical root, his entire artistic project and European art history changed forever.
We know from the landmark 1925 anthology The New Negro that many African Americans were seeing and imagining Africa for the first time when this art and these artifacts made their way to the Western world. So Africa was, for those writers, also new, and their relationship to it opened for exploration and investigation. Yet the African American, of course, has a different history, a different journey to explore, a different relationship to Africa that emanates from the interruption, the violent fissure of the Middle Passage and its subsequent soul-annihilating indignities. There is a melancholia about the unresolved slash, the never-to-be-known homeland that coexists with the great and limitless possibilities of reinvention, which gave the world, for example, jazz—a music that is heavily influenced by Africa but utterly, purely, completely African American, which is to say, American.
We died at the bottom of the ocean, and then at the hands of the brutal slave system, then due to the privations of Jim Crow, then at the hands of the police and of each other. That’s a lot of unending blues. I think of Gwendolyn Brooks’s wonderful words that strive to connect the dots between Africa and Afro America: “I am black. I am one of the blacks. We occur everywhere. Don’t call me out of my name.” And her wish to be called “black” links her to other African people, diasporized and not. Does that linkage hold? Is our wish for it to hold sentimental? How do we locate motherland in our art forms? The African retentions, as the art historian Robert Ferris Thompson called them, of bottle trees and shell-studded graves.
In poetry, you see the continued effort of black American poets of almost all stripes to keep their ears open, both for the literal sounds of our different Englishes—formal and vernacular—and for our oral traditions and whatever is left of proverbial logic and structure, ancestral mythos, musicality, the African something—the genius that occurs when spoken word successfully marries literary form. We see African Americans now sending our cheek-scrapings and hair strands to genomic projects at Howard University in hopes that we can learn not so much what we have, how much of what we have in us, but rather names, names that will tell us something about what we come from, give us something to start with.
I wonder, in that particular search for roots, do we overlook that which we have, skip right over to the easier work of romance and iconography? Perhaps we look past what we have already made, skip over the added challenges of being an American in the world with civic responsibilities and an urgent need to have our say in our country’s role at home and in the rest of the world. I think about moments of contact and cross-pollination: the mutual-admiration society, for example, of Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe; the relationship of the late poet and scholar Melvin Dixon to Senegal and his fine, definitive translation of the poems of Senghor; Langston Hughes’s anthologies of African short stories and poems, which brought African writers to U.S. audiences in the 1950s and ’60s; Robert Hayden’s winning the Grand Prix for poetry in 1966 at the African Arts festival in Dakar; Louis Armstrong giving a trumpet to the young Hugh Masekela; Stevie Wonder and Sounds of Distinction covering Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass”; James Brown and Fela Kuti riffing back and forth endlessly, fiercely.
For many of us of my generation, the anti-apartheid movement was a way to connect with African writing, politics, and history in the making. That civil-rights battle for desegregation and human dignity resonated, of course, with our own history. In the United States in the 1980s, affirmative action was under attack, and the Reagan era was changing the country’s winds from the Great Society in the 1960s. The “Free South Africa” movement kept our eyes on the prize and fueled our own ongoing struggle. The movement gave us a certain kind of clarity; its writers gave us the gift of clarity as we moved through that transitional period in African American civil-rights history.
Today I’m particularly interested in the population of young black people, like many of the ones I teach at university, who are as likely to have been born in Lagos or Port of Spain as in Los Angeles. The diaspora is alive and well and creative and has a new face. The black kids now—as my own children, whose father is Eritrean—describe themselves: When he was four, the eldest said to me, “Mommy, you’re an African American, right?”
And I said, “Yes.”
And he said, “And Daddy is African, right?”
And I said, “Right.”
And he said, “So we’re African American.”
So, I think that generation of African Americans in American universities, that is to say, young Americans of immediate African descent, are the ones whom I’m very eager to hear from in the arts and in literature. I think that’s the next very exciting thing. And I know we’re going to hear from them loudly and in large numbers.
Being a race warrior, being a race worker, or even just being a race scholar in the American context is exhausting work. Sometimes the mind’s portals fill up and may seem unresponsive to the necessary knowledge that awaits us around the world in conversation. I say without hesitation that from African people and African literature, I have learned—and many of my companions have learned—certain essential aspects of these following large categories: beauty, grace, patience, profound woe, and capacity for joy. And so resonates the blues. There is more for us to find in the width of that sky. I want to close with two poems of mine that deal in some way with this contemporary diaspora as it “occurs”—to use Brooks’s wonderful verb—all over the world, but from my vantage point, here, in the United States, in this new century. This first one is called “The African Picnic”:
World Cup finals, France v. Brasil.
We gather in Gideon’s yard and grill.
The TV sits in the bright sunshine.
We want Brasil but Brasil won’t win.
Aden waves a desultory green and yellow flag.
From the East to the West to the West to the East
we scatter and settle and scatter some more.
Through the window, Mama watches from the cool indoors.
Jonah scarfs meat off of everybody’s plate,
kicks a basketball long and hollers, “goal,”
then roars like the mighty lion he is.
Baby is a pasha surrounded by pillows
and a bevy of Horn of Africa girls
who coo like lovers, pronounce his wonders,
oil and massage him, brush his hair.
My African family is having a picnic, here in the U.S.A.
Who is here and who is not?
When will the phone ring from far away?
Who in a few days will say goodbye?
Who will arrive with a package from home?
Who will send presents in other people’s luggage
and envelopes of money in other people’s pockets?
Other people’s children have become our children
here at the African picnic.
In a parking lot, in a taxi-cab,
in a winter coat, in an airport queue,
at the INS, on the telephone,
on the crosstown bus, on a South Side street,
in a brand-new car, in a djellaba,
with a cardboard box, with a Samsonite,
with an airmail post, with a bag of spice,
at the African picnic people come and go.
The mailman sees us say goodbye and waves
with us, goodbye, goodbye, as we throw popcorn,
ululate, ten or twelve suitcases stuffed in the car.
Goodbye, Mamma, goodbye—
The front door shut. The driveway bare.
Goodbye, Mamma, goodbye.
The jet alights into the night,
a huge, metal machine in flight,
Goodbye, Mamma, goodbye—
At the African picnic, people come and go
and say goodbye.
Then to close, a short poem, a funny poem with a title that’s meant as a joke, which makes itself clear in the poem—an American poem, with an African American story in it that’s also an African story. The poem is called “Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder.”
The talk is good. The two friends linger
at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.
There is no after the supper and talk.
The talk is good. These two friends linger
at the door, half in, half out, ’til one
decides to walk the other home. And so
they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the
nightgowned wife who shakes her head and smiles
from the bedroom window as the men talk
in love and the crickets sing along.
The joke would be if the one now home
walked the other one home, where they started,
to keep talking, and so on: “African
Leave-Taking Disorder,” which names her children
everywhere trying to come back together and talk.
TSITSI DANGAREMBGA: When I think of myself, I don’t think of myself as an African writer. I think of myself as Tsitsi Dangarembga. The place I live that people call Africa is actually to me the place where children run in the garden, where the water starts ebbing away out of the taps at six in the morning only to come back at six at night, if we’re lucky. So this place that people call Africa probably means something quite different to me.
I thought that rather than talk about the role of the writer, I’d read an article I wrote. It was a commissioned article, and from that you may be able to deduce what, for me, my role as a writer from Africa is. The title of the piece is called “Electing Zimbabwe.”
My heart is in turmoil and I am in great pain. What is the world coming to? When will Zimbabweans not be afraid to say, “I am a Zimbabwean. And this is what I believe in”? There is a lot at stake, as I know only too well. As Zimbabweans, we live on a continent and in a country where people die of easily curable diseases, where people still die of hunger. In this situation, few of us are willing to give up what little political security we may have eked out for ourselves, for fear of losing what little we have. . . .
I am Zimbabwean and proud of it. I was born in this country. When I was very young, my parents relocated to England for several years in order to pursue further education. It was in England that I first learned to smile when sweet old ladies called me “pickaninny.” That is, until I went home one day after having smiled many times, after receiving sweets and pats on the head or pennies for my cuteness.
“I’m a little pickaninny,” I told my mother proudly. Mum wasn’t amused.
“No, you’re not,” she said tersely. And my mother was at that time a gentle, nonabrasive type, not often employing terseness. I knew something was wrong, but it was good to be found cute and sweet and to be given sweets.
“Why not?” I asked. “That’s what the lady called me.”
Mum made time to explain the derivation of the word from the Portuguese for “little child,” and its generic usage to denote any child of color.
I had another run-in with “pickaninnies” several years ago at a writer’s festival in Durban. The festival organized an essay competition for local Durban secondary schools. The prizewinning essays were read out at one of the ceremonies during the festival. The essay that won third prize was written by a young white girl, and it was the story of a maid on her Sunday off. This maid, too, ran past pickaninnies. I picked up on this, as well as on several other points, during the Q & A, when I asked the judges whether they had considered that they might offend young people from indigenous secondary schools, or that such offense might have easily been avoided by a change of language. Apparently, no one had considered these possibilities, which to me were very self-evident. In fact, I was censured for attacking and traumatizing the young writer. Actually, I was quite traumatized by the event, as I believe were all the young girls from indigenous schools sitting in rows at the front of the auditorium. Time has healed the trauma, but I remember the tears I didn’t shed.
Slowly, I and some of the people involved revisited this incident. I was told, for example, that pickanin was a Zulu word for little child and the Zulus used it themselves. At this information, a lot became clearer. First, it was a question of intention when an act is committed. If a person does not intend to commit an offense with words or action, can he or she be blamed for using that particular word or action? Second, it was a question of ignorance versus knowledge. We know what we have experienced. If no one has reacted against the use of a word or action, then how will another know the word is offensive? The way I see it, objections have to be raised as and when necessary. In the context of pickanin, or its more correct original, pickanina, the phrase is a term that was used by the early Portuguese in this part of Africa to denote a little black child. It soon became a generic term, much as the word boy did. It connoted people who are looked down upon by the users of the term and furthermore is not used to generically describe their own children. By raising the objection and hearing other people’s points of view, I began to realize how the young white girl had used the word without any awareness of its roots or racism or the relegation of African people to positions of inferiority. I did not condone her usage of the term, but at least, by challenging and listening, I was on my way to deeper understanding.
I’m feeling in a similar situation today after Zimbabwe’s sixth election, and I’m dealing with the entire crisis in my country the same way as I have dealt with the question of being a pickanin: trusting personal and collective experience to inform me. This was why I returned to Zimbabwe in December 2000, to live at home permanently: to continue shaping my perspective on the situation of my country through firsthand experience. I left Zimbabwe for Germany in 1989 to take up a course in film and television studies in Berlin. Although I completed my course in 1997—by that time I was married and had children—my husband and I had not saved enough to relocate to Zimbabwe and make a living there, so we stayed in Germany. I was perpetually homesick.
Then in 2000, the land invasion started in Zimbabwe. This is what finally compelled me to act. There was widespread coverage of the invasions on German television. In June 2000, ARD, which is the main German program, showed footage of some young men throwing a burning log into a farm outbuilding. The commentary deplored the violence taking place in Zimbabwe. A little later, the same footage was used, this time to decry the escalating violence in Zimbabwe. Finally, the same footage was used a third time to talk about the absence of all law and order in the country. One newspaper compared President Mugabe to Pinochet; one blamed him for the plight of the Tunga, who had been displaced when the Kariba dam was built in the 1950s.
Finally, a professor from the university I was enrolled in for my doctoral thesis on the reception of African film told me she had been approached by a journalist who was looking for a Zimbabwean who took a different view from the pervading doctrine in the German press. The journalist wanted the Zimbabwean to write her or his point of view as passionately as possible. She thought I would do a good job. With much misgiving, but as I was broke, I agreed to write the article. Imagine my surprise when it was published alongside one by Peter Godwin of Mukiwa fame and the headlines suggested Zimbabwe was in a black-white conflict. I was terribly angry that I had not been informed. It was then that it became clear to me that I could not stay away from home and retain my national integrity. Without preparation, without work, with practically nothing, my husband and I and two small children relocated. Luckily I had a one-semester teaching job at MIT, so I was able to keep the family afloat.
Many people in Cambridge were interested in my perspective on Zimbabwe. I told them what I knew, how my father had always pointed out a big tree when we took a trip to our rural home in the beautiful eastern highlands. He told me that he had been born under that tree, but he and his family vacated the land when it was taken for cheap sale to British World War II veterans. I told my audiences of the members of my family who had been killed during the liberation struggle, including an older cousin who had cerebral palsy and had not understood the village order to take cover. Instead he had been told never to let the cattle stray, so when the alarm sounded, he ran around to round up the cattle. The Rhodesian security forces shot him in the back. My aunt found him later with his intestines spilling out. She heaped them back in, but he died in the general hospital.
These are the stories I tell because they are what I know, and I believe they have not been adequately heard. My point is that there has been a lot of suffering all around. Suffering is not limited to one group of human beings, yet it seems to me that some suffering carries more human weight than other suffering. It is not so much a case of “Do we not bleed?” as everyone, I believe, agrees we do. It is rather now a question of “Is our blood worth as much as yours? And do the wounds pain us as badly?”
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!”