Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 57, September 2015)

Frank B. Wilderson
Vista Segment
34 Pages Cut from Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

After one semester at Wits, I was not “invited back,” either as a lecturer in Comparative Literature and as an instructor of creative writing. From July 1992 to February 1993 I’d worked at Khanya College in a special program funded by Oxfam Canada. Khanya was not a university but something between an NGO and an independent school—whose accreditation came not from South Africa but from Indiana University. There, I was the assistant director of a program to train Civic leaders in the townships. Stimela wanted me to be back on a university campus, preferably Wits, but that was not to be. Because I no longer had a “legitimate” reason for being on Wits’ campus, or any other campus for that matter, he was afraid that it wouldn’t be long before my visits to campus were tainted with the stigma “agent provocateur.” He wanted me back in the teaching fraternity and I wanted to back as well. In January, 1993, there was an opening in the English Department at Vista University, the second largest university in South Africa; a Historically Black University (HBU), “managed” by Afrikaners. There were two hundred and twenty five administrators at Vista (of which two hundred and twenty were Afrikaners); the university’s population was twenty-one thousand spread out over seven campuses in seven different townships, and over ten thousand correspondence students. The Soweto campus, where I taught, was a bit of an anomaly. Though it was run by the iron fist of the Boer, forty percent of the faculty at that campus were African and English. In addition, the SASCO branch on campus was perhaps the most revolutionary SASCO branch in the country, outside of the Wits branch, and between them there was much collaboration.

On August 13, 1981, Dr. Freddie Hartzenburg, then Minister of Education and a senior official of the Broederbond, stood before parliament and drove the last nail into a coffin which buried the University of the Witwatersrand’s initiative to build a satellite campus in Soweto. The debate in parliament was long and acrimonious, but Progressive Federal Party MPs were beaten before they began—there was no way the Broederbond would allow English hegemony to encroach upon the hearts and minds of young Blacks. A satellite Wits campus would have given Black students access to Wits’ Johannesburg campus, thus violating a sacred Nationalist tenet: separate development, or apartheid. When the dust settled, instead of an act allowing Wits to be extended, the Broederbond passed the Vista Act No 106 of 1981.

When the PFP MP Dr. Andrew Boraine asked Hartzenburg why African students could not be admitted to existing White institutions, the reply was, “You have your ideology, we have ours.” So fraught with controversy are Vista University’s early days that few people have written about it. Prior to Hartzenburg tête-à-tête with Boraine, the Retief Commission interviewed “African witnesses” who all, according to Hartzenburg, now a leader of the rightwing Conservative Party—the party of Clive and Gaye Darby-Lewis, were “overwhelmingly in favor” of a new segregated institution under government control. This is open to speculation since the Retief Commission’s report on Vista is a secret document which has never been released to the public.

In 1992, Professor JS Mohlamme’s of Vista’s History Department, wrote a comprehensive history of Vista and sent it to the Rector, Professor SWB Engelbrecht, for approval. Engelbrecht would not give Mohlamme permission to release the document to the public or to other members of staff. Mohlamme’s written queries to Engelbrecht went unanswered.

May 10, 1993

10:55 AM

Miller Matola, an English lecturer, bursts into my office and bids me to look out my window. The security gate hangs open like a vacant tooth. Armored personnel carriers barrel through. They halt at our building’s back entrance. Clutching automatic rifles, White members of the Internal Stability Unit (ISU) spill from the sides. Three officers draw their pistols. One orders the Black policemen to stay behind and guard the vans and casspirs.

When Matola and I reach the stairwell at the end of the hall the ISU is already ascending. Through the maze of Vista’s miserly hallways they make their way without hesitation, as though they have been briefed or been here before. Along the final hallway, a narrow passage to the Campus Director’s Office, twenty of them line up; ten facing ten. The third group of ten charges the door. The lead man kicks it in. Nine others follow with guns, batons and teargas canisters.

At least fifty students seated and standing around a conference table look up only to have teargas sprayed in their faces; their hands, shoulders and heads bear baton blows and pistol whippings. Matola and I stand frozen at the end of the passage. We watch as students scream and cover their heads with their hands. The beatings are relentless. Many stampede for the windows clawing and crawling over each other in a room meant to hold no more than twenty. They break the windows and hurl themselves two stories down. The second stampede makes for the door. Most of them are young women too shocked and afraid to jump out of the windows. Sometimes the flash of a face I know approaches. Mbali. Porshe. Now, Eva Skosana, a first-year English student who lives in Soweto. She has the cherub face of my six-year-old daughter, and she runs toward me the same way my daughter did on her first day of school. As she comes towards me, rifle-butts descend on her spine and shoulders. She is called names and with each name a cop catches her buttocks with his boot. She runs past me wailing.

In our silent impotence, Matola and I wait as co-ed after co-ed receives the kinds of beating and abuse few White women have ever dreamed of, much less received.

10:58 am.

Through our stupor another young woman, Nova, approaches bearing the brunt of boots and rifle blows. She almost reaches us, she’s almost home-free with no more wounds than the welts on her neck and buttocks, when an officer steps in front of her and slams a walkie-talkie into her eye. “Stop. Stop.” The words come like small frogs struggling to stay within my throat.

Two ISU members turn on Matola and me. They raise their rifles. But just before the blows, a question: “Are you with this kak SRC?” I force the frogs onto my tongue. “We are lecturers at this university.” They lower their rifles. I tell the warrant officer that he and his men are guilty of the most vile human rights abuses and remind them that the security police are signatories to the National Peace Accord.

“You didn’t see a thing,” he warns me.

“I know what I saw! I know what I saw! I saw these men brutalizing women!” I am fighting tears and a tightness in my throat.

“Impossible. These men just got out the bakkie.” Now, he draws his face to mine: “This is not your precious America. Take your fancy talk and go home.”

By now all the students have either leapt to the ground and suffered fractures and broken bones, or weathered boots and rifle butts in the hall.

11:01 am.

The tinny taste of teargas lingers in our mouths. Matola and I are joined by several other lecturers in the hallway. The ISU marches into Soweto Campus Director Professor DJP Koekemoer’s office where they laugh and joke about a job well done. We—Hartmut Winkler, Diane Stewart, Joe Manyaka, Professors Chapole and Mohlamme, Kagiso Chikane, Sipho Seepe, Percy Mackintosh and one or two others—try to follow them into the room to make them leave. They push us back with guns and bratwurst hands.

“This is our university!” Kagiso Chikane tells them, “what right do you have!” She teaches in the African languages department, but she is no stranger to them. Her husband Frank Chikane, the head of the South African Council of Churches, was almost killed when poisoned by a police agent. And Reverend Chikane’s brother, Iscor Chikane had been one of Joe Nhlanhla’s men, ferreting infiltrators in the 1980s.

They swear at her in Afrikaans. I demand they speak in English. The warrant officer writes “Afrikaner Volksunie” on a piece of paper and slams it against my face, thrusting my head against the wall.

“In my country,” he says, “You’ll speak my language.”

I don’t want to hold my nose; don’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing the searing pain shooting up into my eyes—but nor do I want to bleed on my shirt.

“C’mon muthafucka! Right now!” I am screaming to keep from crying, “take the guns off, bastard! Just you and me.”

Miller Matola shoves me into a corner, before someone takes me seriously.

Koekemoer stands in the middle of the room weeping from the teargas. He does not even see us. And we are still asking the ISU: “Who called? What right? Who called?” The one who hit me in the face says they got a call from the University’s head office in Pretoria saying, “a White professor is being held hostage.”

“No,” says Koekemoer, “I w-w-wasn’t being held hostage.” The ISU turns and glares at him. “The stu-students and I,” he stammers, “w-we were sitting peacefully. We…w-we were all just sitting down, talking.” Tomorrow we will find out that Registrar for Administration, ANP Lubbe called the ISU, though we will never know for sure who phoned Lubbe. And Koekemoer will learn the full measure of his verbal blunder. Professor SSWB Engelbrecht will send us a memorandum saying Koekemoer has taken “extended leave.” We will not see him again.

In the corner by the broken window from which the students lunged, Kagiso Chikane admonishes an ISU member while he waves his pistol in her face. “I’ll shoot you!” Saliva gathers in the corners of his mouth. “Go ahead and shoot,” she says. And I, in all my foreign naïveté, am wondering what he would say if he knew whose wife she is.

11:15 am.

The ISU leaves the way they came, through the gate that was mysteriously opened for them. We have no doctor, no pain killers, no plasters. All we can share with our beaten students is the waiting. A lone ambulance shuttles up and down the Old Potchefstroom Road until all the injured are safe in Barragwanath Hospital. In a few days lectures will resume. I will stand before my first-year English class and think how strange it is to begin the hour with Shakespeare, as though no tragedy has befallen us here.

In the predictable parlance of American progressives I will share my feelings with them. Tell them how angry and shocked I am by what happened to them. All 70 of them will gaze back blankly and I will strain to remember that blank faces are not necessarily blank minds. “Don’t you feel anything? Do you just want to go on without discussing it?” I threaten to call on someone if no one speaks. The only responses are ripples of laughter.

“Are you laughing at me or with me?”

Eva, staring skyward because of her neck brace answers, “Both,” adding “sir,” though I have told them never to call me sir, she adds it to soften the blow. “Ever since you’ve come these incidents seem to tear you up inside. For us they’re just a way of life. After a while you get used to them.”

Shortly after the May 10th beatings, I began an investigation on the mêlée and this investigation led to questions about the very raison d’tre of Vista itself. Mahlomme’s office was on the third floor in a wing of offices directly above the English Department where my office was.

The Wits satellite campus idea was the brainchild of Dr. JD du Plessis, former vice-chancellor of Wits University. He hoped to set up a community college modeled on the California Master Plan which allows students—who do not have the qualifications to attend a four year university—a chance to complete two years of bridging, at the end of which they may transfer to the University of California, usually entering in their third year. Those who choose not to go on to a four-year university have a marketable degree nonetheless. This is all Professor Mohlamme would tell me.

In his haste to get me out of his office, Mohlamme had let Du Plessis’s name slip. I might not have come across it otherwise. Getting in touch with Du Plessis was fraught with hurdles. None of the faculty members I spoke with at Wits knew how to get hold of him and few would have given me the information if they did. I was seen as a fellow traveler of SASCO which was raising hell at major universities like Wits and Vista. There was no listing for him in the directory; which isn’t saying much because in those days the phone book and the operator directories rarely corresponded. Finally, I called the campus operator, who’d never heard of him, but who put me in touch with Public Relations. They knew him, of course, but they wanted to know why I wanted his number.

“My name is Jay Waljasper,” I said. “I represent the Development Office at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. I’m in town for a short meeting with Richard Fehnel at the Ford Foundation, and I thought I might look Prof Du Plessis up. You see,” my voice sank into a deep confidence, “it’s not official yet, but the Dean at Indiana is considering giving the Prof a life-time service award—which of course he’d share with Wits as a whole—for his commitment to nonracial education and the uplift of Blacks during apartheid’s darkest days.”

All the buzz-words needed to animate the White liberal imagination were there: development office; Big Ten University—which will enhance your greatness, if only by osmosis; Richard Fehnel, a Ford Foundation mucky-muck who functions as the eyes and ears of USAID—neither of which have looked to favorably upon the Wits management as of late; the low voice of a secret—like a tip straight from a jockey—about an award and all the fame that goes with it, recognition that you’re better than the Afrikaner. The woman on the other end of the line tripped over her excitement looking for Du Plessis’s unlisted number.

I called Du Plessis. And, as his servant or nurse went to bring him to the phone another dilemma reared its annoying head. What kind of lie could I tell to him which would draw him out in the open as well? And, unless he was going to name names in a big conspiracy, of which this was soon to show itself as, though I had no knowledge of it at the time, then he would need to know that he was talking to a writer and that anything he said stood a good chance of finding its way into print.

After a few difficult preliminaries, for his hearing required most things be repeated twice, I came to the heart of the matter. I told him about the attack on our students by ISU. I told him about the cover-up initiated by Engelbrecht and Lubbe—Broeders who ran the university from Pretoria. I appealed to his vanity by saying horrible the situation was, which it was, and how wonderful it could have been had English speaking Whites been given the opportunity to shepherd Black sheep into a different future than that imagined by the Boers (though I didn’t say “sheep”. I then tip-toed into questions about the history. He gave me what I’d already scratched out: the Hartzenburg vs. Boraine story of 1981. The kind of stuff you could get by going back to the newspapers of that time. What I wanted was the knowledge Mohlamme was sitting on, the intricacies of the Vista history and inside dope on the Retief Commission. I had no idea that behind all of this was a far more terrifying story. The story of the machine which made all this possible, the story of the Broederbond itself. A story some people would kill to see that it remained a secret. Mohlamme understood this. And Du Plessis made it even clearer to me

“I’m 75 years old,” he said, “I’m frightened. I don’t want to be punished by the Broederbond.” There was a click followed by the hum of a dial tone.

Not long after Du Plessis’s dial tone hummed in my ear, a secret meeting was held on campus between Themba Khoza and several White politicos whose names and affiliations are still unknown to me. Themba Khoza was a high ranking Inkatha Freedom Party official, or warlord (our preferred description of him), for the Transvaal. We believed him to be responsible for commanding impimpis in hostels the Zulus had seized and held since 1990; for the brutal interrogation and torture of Charterist activists he captured; for terrorizing Hillbrow in attempts to break the ANC’s political hold on it, by throwing, or threatening to throw, residents from the rooftops of high rises; and for coordinating massacres in the townships and squatter camps.

He was a brash and colorful character, almost as brash and colorful as his leader Gatsha Buthelezi. Like Gatsha he enjoyed bantering with reporters, using these repartees to transmit veiled threats of violence across the Transvaal. In that, he and Gatsha were alike. But Themba Khoza dressed better than Gatsha. He was urbane and cosmopolitan in a way Chief Buthelezi was not. He preferred Gucci shoes, silk socks, tapered slacks, continental sports jackets and smart accessories to traditional sandals, leopard skin loin cloths, assegais, and almond shaped shields. If captured mid-stride by a still photographer he could easily pass for David Ruffin of the Temptations, or a Pip singing doo-wop behind Gladys Knight.

Word was, that he had come to campus for secret trilateral talks between his organization, right wing Afrikaners and, so went the speculation, officials of the Democratic Party. When I first got wind of the meeting it struck me as lunacy—Boers, Brits, and Zulus, here, at Vista? Who would dream of a rendezvous at a university that was home to one of the most left leaning contingents of the Charterist Movement? But what I hadn’t taken into consideration was the fact that (a) the school’s labyrinthine infrastructure was not completely known to us and (b) it was neither in our hands nor under our control. Themba Khoza, his six henchmen, and a White businesswoman in her mid-thirties (one of the recent assortment of White intellectuals who’d been hired by the IFP to do their thinking and writing for them now that the political climate demanded thinking and writing) were ushered into a room that none of the people I worked closely with (English department faculty members) or struggled side by side (students and workers) even knew existed.

It had been an operation of military precision. They had trickled onto campus unnoticed; made their way to the Campus Director’s office, and then to a secret chamber of which we plebeians were unaware. Most of the clerical staff were on tea break. Not everyone had gone to tea, however. The secretary who spotted Themba Khoza not only spotted him but recognized him. She stepped into the corridor and waited. Finally, she saw a young man whom, though she did not recognize him, was wearing a SASCO t-shirt.

“We have a crisis my child,” she whispered, “Themba Khoza is in the building.”

The young man laughed as though she’d been drinking or was prone to visions. She grew indignant and was going to reprimand him for the manner in which he was treating an elder, when the White woman from Themba Khoza’s entourage stepped unexpectedly into the corridor, startling them both. She asked for the loo. When she’d disappeared around the corner, pursuing the directions she’d been given, the student burst the reception area, where the secretaries had their desks, the room from where both women had emerged. He took no more than one step inside. He looked around and saw nothing. The secretary came up beside him. They both saw the Campus Director’s office door gaping open at the other end.

“Where did she come from?” the young man asked.

“From in there,” said the secretary pointing to the Campus Director’s office. She was still a bit vexed by his initial doubt.

“There’s no meeting in there,” he said.

There’s another door, it leads to a private conference room.”

He’d been a student at Vista for three years and a SASCO agitator for two. He thought he knew all there was to know about the campus. He looked at her, his face betraying a certain trepidation and embarrassment that comes when one is saddled with knowledge beyond one’s capacity to assimilate.

“Who else is in there?” he said.

“Boers. I’ve never seen them here before. And that White woman but she’s with Themba Khoza.”

He dashed into the corridor. Halfway down he turned around and ran back and apologized for his earlier rudeness. At the SRC office he found Duma and Nova, who were neither SRC executives nor SASCO executives. They were rank and file comrades. The leadership of the SRC and of SASCO was in class. But Duma was a member of Stimela’s network, though neither the messenger nor Nova knew this. Nova and the messenger went to find the SASCO and SRC leadership. Duma came to my office. We knew that something had to be done and quickly. That it was only a matter of minutes. Should we kill him and, if so, how? There were two rifles hidden in the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof in the lecture hall where I taught English 220. One for each of us. We could take him out as he went to his car.

Not only were weapons hidden there, but SASCO members who couldn’t go home (because their homes had been raided, or because Inkatha was after them; or because they’d stayed late for meetings and thought it too dangerous to travel) sometimes slept in this crawl space. The slumbering students were not discovered until one day, long after the imminent ambush of Themba Khoza, the exhausted ceiling gave way and one of them woke to find himself falling into the classroom. He was hospitalized and soon recovered. The university mounted an investigation but not before the rifles were moved.

The proposal to take out Themba Khoza was riddled with logistical problems. One of us, presumable Duma, would have to fetch the rifles without being seen. Then there was the problem of finding a secure place from which to shoot—again without being seen. Finally, there was the problem of my marksmanship; which Duma introduced with diplomacy.

“Are you comfortable with a rifle, comrade Frank?” he asked politely; which was kinder than Trevor’s exasperated, now don’t shoot yourself in the foot and for god’s sake don’t shoot me.

Nova burst into the office panting and out of breath. She asked why we were just sitting around. I asked if she had notified the student leadership. She had. And the workers, I asked, trying to regain my composure. But she had told them as well.

“Well, then,” I said, “what do you suggest we do now?”

“Get the rifles and shoot him,” she said, emphatically.

Duma and I tried not to appear shocked. Had she been listening at the door? Then, without speaking, we both remembered that those guns were now part of campus lore for they had surfaced not long ago, during a dust up between SASCO and members of AZAPO and PAC aligned student organizations. How could we have forgotten that nasty episode in-fighting?

“We can’t simply fetch those weapons,” I said, chuckling professorially, no doubt with some of the same condescension the messenger had treated the secretary to just minutes ago, “and gun him down in cold blood and in daylight, now can we?” Duma nodded in agreement.

“Four hundred murders a month.” she said, bitterly. “Do you think Themba or Gatsha ever wonder if it’s day or night, if it’s warm blood or cold blood when they come for us?”

We took her point, but neither one of us could tell her who we were and what we had been talking about. I would have to remain her professor and Duma would have to remain her fellow student. I tried to appease her by saying that such a rash action would bring the SADF and the Internal Stability Unit back to campus. At one time, the army had occupied the campus for thirty days. They’d turned the place upside down looking for weapons. They’d make random arrests. There’d be trouble like never before.

“There’d be the same trouble as always,” she said.

I was drawn to my window by the sound of singing and chanting. I turned back to Nova and Duma: “I think our course has been decided for us.”

Nova and Duma went to join the gathering storm of marching students. I ducked out the side of the Humanities and Social Science building and ran around the back of the administration building, trying to take up position somewhere near where I thought Themba’s and his entourage would emerge, that is, if they were not already gone.

It was late afternoon and the lot had fewer cars than I’d seen that morning when I disembarked from the kombi. The students were coming from the west, where the campus sloped down a tread bare and treeless hill. At first, from where I crouched behind a car parked close to the administration building, I could only hear them; for they were still on the far side of the slope, wedged together in the lane between the cafeteria and the lecture halls. When the first wave of them reached the top, they looked like no more than a thin crest of wave on the horizon. But as this wave tumbled over, they were followed by more, more, and still more. Weeks later, when the rush of adrenaline had died and the recollections had sobered, estimates of their numbers would range from one thousand, exactly one third of the total number of students on campus, to five hundred. Fifteen to thirty percent of the entire student body had been mobilized in less than fifteen minutes.

They toyi toyied past the brick façade of the main entrance that steepled stoically heavenward, like an abstract sculpture of a spaceship. No one knew what it signified. Certainly no African architect had designed it for it blessed only the main entrance of this “Black” university and the entrance of the Dutch Reform Church. Every morning students and faculty crossed under it and, once inside, navigated a maze of narrow and confusing hallways which fed into dark brick-walled rooms—like cells of a monastery or prison—with few windows. Wherever one went one had the feeling of being under surveillance. There whole university was caught in a panoptic gaze. This ubiquitous eye of power had been known to remind us of its presence in many ways. “Warning to all staff,” read the notice in the tea room, “you shall be guilty of misconduct if you by word or conduct display insubordination, participate in party politics, publicly comment on the administration of the University, attempt to secure intervention from outside sources in relation to your conditions of employment in the University.”

For students, there were no leisurely spaces for studying. Three thousand Soweto campus students read at small linoleum tables clustered together like a prison mess-hall. The campus library had only 31,000 books and only 18,253 titles (there were more than one copy of some titles). The entire Vista system (seven campuses) had 202,000 books, but only 63,000 titles. The University of the Western Cape (a historically Coloured institution) had 12,700 students to Vista’s 33,000, yet UWC boasted 250,000 books, and 178,000 titles, excluding journals and periodicals. In other words, Vista had two titles per student, whereas UWC had 15 titles per student. The Irish writer Dervla Murphy rode her bicycle down through Europe from the British Isles. She crossed at Gibraltar into Africa. Several months, and many tired and worn muscles later, she was in Johannesburg. She came to Soweto and found her way to Vista. I gave her a tour of the campus. She looked at the thin metal warehouse shelves in what passed for of a library, she saw the gaping eye holes where the vision of the opposite walls were shot right through the stacks and asked me, “doesn’t anybody care?”

They were singing and chanting in Sotho; songs I’d heard at rallies and on marches but there was ominous improvisation to these songs—the name Themba Khoza was the target of the refrains.

Though news of the pending ambush had already reached the inner sanctum of the Director’s office, Themba Khoza had not been light on his feet. He and his group emerged from a side door ten to twenty yards to my right. They kept their backs to the building and looked to their left, looking as it were past me as though I was a mere lamppost or one of the unclaimed cars. His gaze was locked on the approaching students in the distance.

The students, however, had not seen him. They were veering in the wrong direction, moving more toward the front of the parking lot, toward the cluster of cars near the gate and the Old Potchefstroom Road. Taking the student’s navigational difficulties as their cue, the frightened cluster against the wall made a dash for their cars.

A shriek shot up from the crowd. Someone had spotted them. Like the ocean rocked by a plunging moon, they surged backward, then forward, then turned round and came running. I could see their faces now. Theo, a political commissar for APLA [the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army: the armed wing of the PAC], was toyi toying next to Vince, a member of the SASCO executive. Even students from Venda, members of the small AZAPO student branch were there, despite their previous confrontations with members of SASCO. Some were ululating. Some were laughing. Most were chanting. All some could do was curse. Some carried sticks. Most held rocks and an assortment unrecognizable projectiles.

To get to their cars, Khoza and his people had to run along the face of the mass of students, as though running alongside a distant wall that was moving closer. They ran as though they were undecided on the wisdom of running for their cars or remaining by the building. The students made up their minds for them. Rocks rose and arced like rainbows, then plunged like a hailstorm. Themba Khoza, his bodyguards, and the White woman whose visit to Soweto might very well have been her first and was shaping up to be her last, hit the asphalt and covered their heads. I heard one or more of them cry out, in pain or simply in panic. The stones pummeled the cars, denting a few, but only scratching most. Now, the White woman screamed and screamed but from where I stood it didn’t seem to me as though she’d been hit. They were a third of the way from the building and a good distance from their cars.

At this point, the students halted their advance. They thought Themba Khoza and his bodyguards were armed. Having thrown all their stones, they wavered. In this moment of hesitation, two of the bodyguard dashed for the cars, while the four remaining shielded Themba and his consultant and ushered them back to the end of the lot nearest the administration building.

The White people Themba had met with in the inner sanctum had had the good sense or the good privilege to leave out the back. The head of maintenance, who alone possessed keys to the back gate, had probably chaperoned them to safety. They were probably out of Soweto by now.

The two body guards reached the car. One hoisted the trunk open. His head disappeared inside.

One second passed.

He rummaged about.

Two seconds.

The students scavenged frantically for stones.

Three seconds.

He came up, brandishing a pump action shotgun in each hand.

Now the students shrieked and scattered again.

The decision to leave the rifles in the crawl space suddenly seemed like a bad idea.

Each man jerked a shell into the chamber of his shotgun. One aimed high over heads, the other aimed low. Their heads snapped back as they pulled the triggers. The shotguns boomed like artillery. The students dove behind cars. Where there were no cars, they rolled or fell over each other trying kiss the ground. How many shells do they have in the chamber, think, man, think! I chided myself for forgetting everything that Trevor had taught me about firearms. I hoped that the students, even in their confusion, knew the answer. Knowledge of this could return as sense of tactics to the attack. One of the bodyguards fished handguns from the trunk and shoved them into his suit pockets. They doubled back to where Themba and the others waited.

A high shrill whistle rose from the students. They were bunched together again, moving forward, throwing stones. The bodyguards stood up straight. Now, four of them took aim, two with shotguns and two with pistols. Again, the students scattered and ran. But they didn’t fire this time. They’re saving their ammunition, I thought. With the multitude strewn once more, Themba Khoza and his people ran to their cars.

Then three things seemed to happen at once.

First: the engines revved but the cars didn’t move. The lead car lurched forward and I saw the woman’s hair swirling around as her neck jerk forward and back. In a state of fear or panic, the driver’s foot had slipped from the clutch and the car had stalled. He tried again. This time his foot pressed down on the brake, not the clutch. The engine screeched in agony. The car behind could only wait in distress.

Then: a new shower of rocks battered the cars. A windshield crackled and etched a spider’s web upon itself. Two of the men lowered two back windows and opened fire. This time, however, I noticed that though they aimed directly at the students, when they fired, they fired above their heads. If they killed a student at this stage, I thought, they’ll only enrage the students more. They’re praying to be rescued and they don’t have five hundred bullets.

The third occurrence gave me as great an adrenaline rush as any of the students. Three young men broke out from the back of the crowd. They ran away from the mêlée. This made no sense to me. I could understand the faint at heart wanting to leave: those who’d joined in because others were joining in (which was easy to imagine), those who had not been touched by the violence of the IFP (which was hard to imagine), or those who had no feelings about Inkatha one way or the other (which was impossible to imagine). But why run away? If they wanted to leave they could leave. These three young men could have simply walked out to the Old Potchefstroom road and idled home.

Then, as I watched this footrace I understood where the finish line was. It was something I’d never seen before, something that I didn’t know existed, though I came across it every day: the magnificent iron gate that gave way to the Old Potchefstroom Road. The structure was nearly ten feet tall and its two leaves of slanted black bars were folded out and flattened against the fence. I had passed through it either walking from the kombi or in a car, on those rare occasions when I hitched a ride from Percy Mackintosh who lived in Yeoville. But I had never really seen it. That is to say, it had not registered in my mind—it seemed, in the manner of Poe’s purloined letter, as though it wasn’t there. They struggled mightily with the right half of the gate. It was stuck. The students had seen them now and were cheering them on.

The lead car ignited (the driver’s foot having found the clutch and his nerves having calmed to the point of being able to hold it down and ease it up properly) but the occupants had no cause to for relief for they too saw what the students saw. The men with handguns opened fire but they had neither the composure nor clarity of sight to take aim. A bullet sang out against the huge iron harp, but that was all. Good, I thought, deplete your ammunition. Themba’s people were forced to divide their attention between two nightmare scenarios, the gate closing in front of them and the hailstorm of rocks and hastening students approaching from the side.

The cars were only inching forward. Why aren’t they speeding for the gate? It was as though the drivers dared not go forward and dared not reverse.

They’re getting too close, I thought, the students are getting too close. He will kill you.

“What were you thinking,” I asked Nova and Duma in the days that followed, “getting so close and so soon?”

“We weren’t thinking,” Nova told me, “not the way we think in lectures, anyway. We saw our mothers, we saw our sisters, all the people who’d died at his hands. We weren’t thinking about ourselves, we were thinking of them.”

Her eye was still puffed and slightly closed from the last encounter on campus. Not the encounter with Themba Khoza, the one before that, when she and fifty other young men and women had occupied a conference room, demanding that the Director close the campus they might join COSATU in national protests and mourn the death of Chris Hani.. The Campus Director had told them he would not close the campus on the whim of upstart militants—he knew of no national mourning. They invited him to remain in the conference room until he changed his mind. Nova was one of the women who hadn’t jumped out the window when the Internal Stability Unit burst in. I remember thinking how such a blow to the head would have knocked me out cold. She ran right past me holding her eye. Her eye could open now—barely. And it had been some time since she needed or wanted to bandage that side of her face. I filibustered on the floor of the faculty and staff governing council, arguing that “business should not get back to normal as soon as possible.” But a return to “normalcy” was the one thing the English and the Afrikaner lecturers could agree on that day. Our students aren’t that badly hurt they said; one even noted how no one had died. As though nothing short of a student homicide could cancel classes. The African lecturers tried to find a way to show outrage and concern without attacking the White faculty and without appearing to side with the student revolution. The next day a delegation of African lecturers came to my office and said it was not wise for “Black teachers to get too close to the students.” That afternoon, a delegation of students came to acknowledge my solidarity.

I told Nova our casualties in the Khoza affair would have been more serious than the twisted ankles and broken legs (and your eye, I thought, but had the grace not to say) of that the ISU attack. She shrugged and said that the attack on Themba Khoza had not been planned, it had just happened. It wasn’t driven by tactical prudence, she said, it was driven by anger, by loss, by grief, by a hunger for revenge. Then she said, you’re right, they would have run out of bullets; but who had time to think? We should have had those rifles.

Too close or not, the students kept advancing. There seemed to be more confusion inside the two cars than there was among the students. Someone was shouting, “go!” to someone else who yelled, “no!” while another yelled, “fire at the gate!” to someone shooting at crowd.

I moved swiftly but cautiously toward the lead car. I didn’t rush at them directly. Such a foolhardy move would have meant certain death. They’d have seen my image ballooning in their rearview mirrors and have only time enough to turn around and gun me down. So, I ran in an arc and then, as I approached them on their right side, the driver’s side of an English model Mercedes, I slowed down to a walk.

As I neared, a litany of voices jockeyed for position inside my head: The yo, muthafucka, what’s the deal voice? No good, you’ll be shot for sure. The Ivy League how dare you voice, which I’d used on the cop outside the conference room? Like, these hoods’ll pause for that. The African elder voice? I was ten or fifteen yards away from them and it was the only other voice I knew how to inhabit but the one I liked the least, even as a cynical ploy. It was an inflection from Mandela’s arsenal of manners, one which he could always fall back on when he found himself faltering in political repartee with ANC militants. He could stymie his interlocutor by inflecting his voice with the royal Pondo blood that was his birthright, or by peppering his speech with a few stern words in Xhosa, or by letting his interlocutor know in no uncertain terms who was elder here. This, I decided, would be the intonation needed to engage the people in the car and draw their attention, however briefly, away from the young men who were trying to close the other side of the gate.

Themba Khoza shouted at me as I came up to his backseat window. He may have told me to get back. He may have told me he would shoot me. What I thought he said was, who are you and what do you want? I don’t remember. I held my palms out as though as they held an invisible bundle.

“These are our children!” I said, trying as best I could to affect an African accent. (Mrs. Lekubu, my mother-in-law, once remarked that I’d been in South Africa so long that I was beginning to sound like a South African. I beamed with pride at her compliment. A White South African, she snickered. It was my good fortune to be performing for a terrified Themba Khoza as opposed to a vigilant mother-in-law.)

“I am a teacher at this university!”

He kept yelling at me, but I caught only a word or two. What was important was the fact he was looking at me, even the others in the car found their attention divided three ways now: between me: the three students closing the gate: and the students on their left, closing in for the coup de grace.

“Why do you want to kill our children!” I said.

Themba Khoza replied with the one answer the wise persona I’d so fecklessly adopted hadn’t counted on.

“Why do your children want to kill me?”

Fortunately, I didn’t have to come up with an answer to his question. Rocks crashed against the car and the second half of the iron gate rattled closed. Two of the young men ducked and ran for cover as bullets whizzed around them. One of them stayed in position and ran a stick through the padlock eye. I drifted away from the car.

The dye was cast. The students took their time. They called out the place name of massacres: Nancefield! The Meadowlands! Phola Park! Biopatong! They sang. They chanted. They waited.

The more daring and impatient ones, those who’d appointed themselves timekeepers, those who wanted to get the show on the road, stood out in the open and taunted the trapped inhabitants with imaginary AK-47s. Others pelted the car with more stones. One or two shots were fired in response but for the most part Themba’s bodyguards, however terrified and confused they were in those final moments, held their fire. The lead car moved slowly toward the sealed gate. The other one followed. The students sprang up and rushed. The guards thrust their guns out the windows. The students shrieked and dove for cover again.

Some say the whole thing was over and done with in five minutes flat. There are those like Duma, who remember fifteen. And then there are the prudent and conciliatory, who split the difference at ten. I was there too, but I can no more measure the time it took than I can explain why I had not seen Percy Mackintosh racing down the hill.

A small contingent of faculty members had gathered on the slope behind the students. They were English and sociology instructors for the most part. They considered themselves party to neither apartheid nor revolution. They were thirty-something types who lived in flats in Yeoville, Hillbrow, Berea, and Norwood—independent of their parents’ estates. They liked jazz and danced to West African High Life music. They spoke of liberation in vague euphemisms; and wondered why all people—whatever color, they were quick to add—couldn’t be like Nelson Mandela. Percy Mackintosh was one of them, though he didn’t teach English or Sociology. He was campus public relations director. He smiled a lot. His favorite color was bliss. He walked the panoptic corridors with a Polaroid camera taking pictures of students and faculty, embracing whenever possible. The politically disaffected students loved him because with that camera he made them feel loved. For some, the photos Percy Mackintosh took of them were the first anyone had ever taken of them; the first moment of recognition that came with a smile and a flash of light. For others, those who’d had their picture taken before, by the police, Percy Mackintosh was a nuisance. Still, it was hard for anyone to hold him in the same contempt they held the Afrikaner professors and administrators. Percy Mackintosh was a happy hippy, all grown up now, with a real job. But he hadn’t lost that live and let live vibe, even in a three piece suit.

He was almost to the gate. The students could have pelted him with stones. Dropped him in mid stride. But they didn’t. They yelled, no, Percy! Percy, pleeez, no! Dudley-Goddamn-Do-Right paid them no mind. He must have known they wouldn’t unleash the same terror on a White liberal that they would on a Black warlord.

He reached the gate. Only now did those most steadfast in their convictions throw stones at him. But it was too late. They had let him pass right by them. Were they to fall upon him now, now that he was at the gate, they’d be cut down with bullets before they reached him. He braved the feeble onslaught of stones and pulled the stick out. He pushed one half of the gate open. He started to cross for the other side but the lead car wouldn’t wait. It bore down on him so fast he jumped back and clutched the iron bars of the side he’d just opened. The cars screeched through, sacrificing their side mirrors as they did. The students flooded behind them but to no avail.

The parking lot was plagued with depression. It was as though they had all lost the same precious stone. Some could be seen still racing up the Old Potchefstroom Road, throwing stones and choking in the dust of the disappearing cars. Now, others began walking up the road in the normal way one saw them walking to the taxi rank each day; as though nothing had happened. A few stood crying. Others cursed. Two boys were laughing, but they laughed at anything. Most were quiet, dazed, and defeated.

At first, I was not aware of my feelings. I had thought the death of Themba Khoza was justified but I also wanted to strike at something or someone more integral to the apparatus then a Zulu warlord who, as long as he was Black, would never be integral to it, even at the peak of his utility to it. Who the actual target of my own animus should be was unclear to me until I saw Percy sifting through the thinning clusters of students. He walked straight toward me, triumphant and sheepish, if such a pose is possible, part cowboy, part choirboy.

He was sweating like a pig. So was I. His hands and shirt sleeves were smudged from his waltz with the gate. His smiled broadened as he drew near. I felt my knuckles tighten into a fist. He moved toward me like I was his salvation, his beacon of light on a dark stormy sea, the one beam guiding him home. God, deliver me from high hubris in low places. I realized how attuned the universe had always been to people like him; confirming their hypotheses before they were tested. Like the prisoners of his Polaroids I was always already whatever he needed me to be. Their delusions are insatiable—and they write them into law. I unballed my fist.

“Did you see that?” he said excitedly. When he was upon me, he jerked his head in order to flick the bangs off his forehead—or was it just his way of being cool? He repeated the question, with more gusto. “Did you see that? They would have killed him. I promise, you,” he said like a schoolboy gifting proofs upon his headmaster, “they would have killed him.”

I was too livid to speak. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. For an instant, I saw Precious Jabulani at the bulletin board pulling a dart from Professor Mureinik’s anatomy. She sat back down at the computer and said, anyone who gets between me and the target is a target. I opened my eyes. He was looking at me—puzzled. I started to walk away. Then I turned and faced him.

“Yes, they would have killed him. There’s no fooling you, Percy. You probably didn’t notice, but that was the whole fucking point!”

I went to my office and slammed the door. I picked up my coffee cup and smashed it against the wall. I sat down. I picked up the telephone. Who is there to call? I cradled it. I dabbed the sweat from my face and neck. It was then that I realized the error of my ways. Stimela had wanted me to use the liberals at Vista. The fight at Wits was different—tactically. We could afford to attack liberals at Wits—in fact, we were on the offensive against them—they were in power there. But Vista was to be a base of operations where propaganda could be produced and disseminated more openly. The faculty and professional staff at Vista were to be made to feel like the revolution at Vista could in fact include them, whereas the faculty and staff at Wits were to be made to feel like theirs was a more Hobson’s choice. At Vista we needed to pretend that we were genuinely concerned about internal reforms, so that the Vista faculty and professional staff would not become an obstacle to student/worker mobilization for the complete takeover of the university itself. My outburst at Percy wouldn’t sit well with Stimela. I had spent a long time “cultivating” Percy; telling him stories when I hitched a ride to work with him, or complimenting him on how dashing he looked, or worse, saying how much integrity he had to keep himself aloof from the Afrikaner admin: “I say this to you, Percy, despite the fact that your views and mine don’t always mesh.” Sometimes I would be thrown by what I saw in his eyes: awe, respect, and a twinkle of gratitude. One day, I used to think, he’ll think of me as a stunning betrayal. Today was that day. I felt relieved. A great burden had been lifted. No more incognegro. But I knew that Stimela would not have chosen this as my day of unmasking. You know what you have to do.

He was seated at his desk. When he saw me at the door, he picked up one of his newsletters filled with Polaroid stills and lemonade prose. He turned sideways to me and pretended to be reading. He had a wounded puppy look about him, as though I’d smacked his nose when he pottied on the floor. Can I really go through with this?

“Hey, Percy,” I said gingerly. I allowed myself to sit down in front of his desk though he’d neither invited me in nor asked me to sit down. In the early 1980s, I’d been a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. On a sales course we were told that when you enter a prospect’s office, not to get right down to money. These aren’t furniture customers, the man at the whiteboard told us, they’re investors. Stroked him for a few minutes. Glance around his office. See what his hobbies are. Are there golf or tennis trophies? Do you see photos of five foot marlin caught off the Corpus Christi? But Percy’s office, though large, bore no signs of these pursuits. If there’s no evidence of hobbies, pick up a family photo and say how lovely then ask a question sparked by the photo. Remember: if you talk, you like them; if they talk, they like you.

I picked up a photo of his five year old son.

“Is this Ian?” I asked. Like warm beer, I just couldn’t get how lovely! down.

Percy kept his shoulder to me. He burrowed into that newsletter.

“Has he grown or what?”

Still, he ignored me.

He turned a page. “No one here really likes you,” he said. “You do know that don’t you?”

“No one?”

“Ok, the students, the janitor, the tea lady.” He folded his paper and faced me. “But not the faculty.”

“Oh,” them.

“Sure, they smile in your face. That’s because they fear you. That’s different. They’re afraid you’ll sic the students on them. That’s not love. Are you hearing what I’m saying? Your own colleagues don’t like you!”

If you talk you like them, if they talk they like you.

“Ever stop and wonder? Huh? Ever take one little moment out of your grand Marxist utopia and ask yourself why the very people you’re supposed to be closest to don’t like you? What a fool I’ve been! Really. That’s me. Nice Percy. Percy the fool. Telling people you’re just misunderstood. He’s passionate and committed, that’s all. Give him time. Give him a chance. You don’t know the real, Frank, I know the real Frank. There’s a warm person underneath. Ha! I give him rides to work. We talk sensibly. And then what happens? I get kicked in the teeth like everyone else. Do you know what they say about you? You have any idea what they say behind your back?”

“I don’t, Percy. I guess I should know but I don’t.”

“Damn right you should. You want me to tell you—huh?”

Do I have a choice? “Yes, I could probably learn something.”

“Damn right you could. Everything comes through this office. News. Gossip. I even know system-wide policy before the Campus Director knows it. People come in here and they tell me things they don’t even tell their spouses. Know what they say about you? wanna know? They say you’re arrogant. That’s what they say. Bleedin’ arrogant.”

You call that a secret? “Yes, it’s something I need to work on.”

“Damn right you do. Everyone else—Jenny and Diane, even Rory, your chair—they think of themselves as people. Just people. Individuals. Not you. And the African faculty—forget it. You may be Black but you don’t have one tenth their humility. People. That’s all we are. Jenny’s just Jenny. Diane is just Diane. Sipho is Sipho. And I’m just Percy. That’s all. A person like everyone else. But you! You walk around here like you’re a whole, bloody institution. That’s what you act like. Not a person, but an institution on two legs.”

If you talk you like them; if they talk they like you.

He leaned forward on the desk. “Why can’t you make friends? It’s not that hard. Grab a beer with someone. It’s that simple. Go to one of the parties. You’re too close to the students and not close enough to us. Why can’t you just make friends?”

I’m saving myself for the Lord.

The more he talked, the more my mind wandered. I started thinking about how large his desk was. You could land a Cessna on it and still have room for his newsletters and Polaroids. How come I didn’t get a desk like this? Look how spacious this office is. The last hours of sunlight bathed his desk in a cinematic halo that made him glow like Gregory Peck. I’ve got a B.A. in European philosophy and comparative African government from Dartmouth College and a masters in creative writing and cultural studies from Columbia. He’s got a certificate in basket weaving from the College of Bum-Fuck Karoo—this should be my office. Where’s the justice?

“Justice…I guess I’m not doing my colleagues justice by being so aloof. That’s what you’re trying to tell me, I guess.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

I thanked him for the inside information and said I’d give it a good deal of thought and that I’d been meaning to make friends but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Perhaps he could show me how. Be a sort of tokoloshe goodwill ambassador. Then, I started to worry that my tone sounded too vague and distracted, too insincere. But I was doing the best I could do. Pick up a family photo and say, how lovely! then ask a question sparked by the photo. Fortunately, I was still holding the photograph of Ian.

“Ian must be what seven by now?”

“He’s five,” he said unable to conceal his pride at the compliment. “You know that.” Well, I thought, spring is finally here. Then, against my better judgment and with no consideration for the sudden elephant that had climbed on my back, reminding me that in another ten or fifteen years I would be too old for skirmishes in the streets, I accepted his invitation to fetch Ian from the crèche and accompany them home for an evening of cold beer, warm garlic bread, and spaghetti. Stimela would want you to go. Besides, you’re supposed to make friends.

His pasta dish was served not a minute too soon, for I’d run out of things to say to Ian. Ian was the result of a liaison Percy had had with a Coloured women, presumably at university. She was no longer in Percy’s life. She was scarcely in Ian’s life (if I remember Percy’s story correctly). Percy had a way of talking about Ian that I always felt I was being made to endure rather than simply listen to. I would wince until the story was finished and hope to pass the wince off as a smile.

This is how it was whenever Percy spoke of his life with Ian or his past with Ian’s mother. His story of the love affair had all the makings of revolutionary epic. But the story, scaled down to its skeletal essentials, was rather common: he slept a Black woman, which was against the law—and she got pregnant. Missionary is both the adjective and the noun which best accrues to the epilogue: his fathering of Ian: a heroic narrative of how he kept the child when the mother ran off. Translation: Black women are loose; White men are responsible. Ask him a simple question and one would get the whole epic. The joys of fatherhood. The trials and tribulations of fatherhood. The challenges and rewards, the personal growth that comes from fathering a Black child. Depending on the time of day (energetic on the way to work, or laden with ennui at the end of the day) he could make the story sound either like a Save the Children ad or a self-nomination for sainthood. Ian, the child himself, was too young to recount a counter-narrative.

I was fond of Ian. I liked hitching a ride to work with Percy because we always dropped him off at his crèche on the Wits University campus in Braamfontein. Ian and Reba were two or three years apart (five and seven) which is often a lifetime for children at that age, so we never brought them together. But like Reba, Ian was prone to tantrums. And like her, he had a generous spirit which always broke through the tantrums.

What, I would think as Percy and Ian came out of the crèche, goes through the minds of these White caretakers of Black children? How does Percy represent himself to himself—not to me; but to himself? For me, he needs a legend. But what does he need for himself? And what will he give to that child? Who is he when he looks at Ian; who does he see looking back at him? The boy hugs and kisses him. The boy calls him “daddy.” Does he think that when he’s puts dinner on the table, unlaces Ian’s tiny shoes, read a bedtime story, and latched the front door for the night, he’s locked out the antagonism and locked in the love? What will happen the day Ian comes home needing father to whom he can say how much he hates them all? Something inside me was quaking. It had been a long day of stones and bullets. I needed to be anywhere but there. Percy thinks he can break the antagonism into bite-sized bonbons. Eat them one at a time. Who needs revolution, when there’s Curious George and the power of love?

Percy was perky, now. Talking about Ian cheered him up; made him magnanimous; his old PR self was back. When he’d run out of “new” episodes of child development to report on, he asked me about Reba. I told him she had ADD. He said he thought Ian might have it as well. He wanted some father-to-father advice on the matter, seeing how Ian would soon be Reba’s age.

“What are you doing about it?” he asked.

“Transcendental Meditation,” I shrugged, without realizing that I had shrugged.

“Why are you always sarcastic?” he said, threatening to return to the wounded puppy I encountered when I entered his office. I quickly explained that I was being serious.

“We’re sending her to a school in Midrand,” I said, “each morning before instruction begins, they make them do five minutes of TM.”

His eyes twinkled with interest. No, Percy, you can’t interview us for your newsletter.

“Does it work?” he wanted to know.

I said it didn’t hurt. “Only now they make us, the parents get “involved” as they say. That part they tell you after the kid’s enrolled. Every week we have to go to this,” and I had such a head of steam that I almost said, spiritual-ass-White woman’s house. “We go to one of the meditation teachers’ house. Her kids are in the school too. It’s one of those mansions in Observatory; so we can walk there.”

To my surprise he suddenly frowned and knitted his brow.

“It isn’t a cult is it?” he asked, suspiciously. “There’re a lot of cults in South Africa.”

We’re on the brink of civil war, Percy, and you’re worried about a Transcendental Meditation cult. I told him that I was sure it wasn’t a cult. He accepted this.

Then he blushed and asked, “Are there any single mothers at those meetings? Dating is so hard when you’re a single parent,” he added, woefully.

I told him that I hadn’t noticed any but I’d keep my eyes peeled and report back to him next week.

As we ate we somehow came back to the day’s events. He was in his element. In his own home he exuded a certain confidence about his politics that he found impossible to muster in Soweto. He said that he did what he did for humanitarian reasons. Besides, he concluded, think how such a murder would make the school look. The last thing we need is more bad PR. There’d be days and days of bad press. I felt my blood pressure rising. I wanted to say how ironic it was for him to be talking about humanitarianism given the reign of terror his people had unleashed upon the globe. But I kept my trap shut and nodded. My nodding and attentiveness, however, wasn’t enough for him. He wanted something more. His voice cracked and faltered, as though he was not completely sure of his own diagnosis. His insecurity was mounting and his voice was tinged with an emotion that hadn’t quite manifest—resentment? Desire? It had all the yearning of hunger and all the force of an ultimatum. As though he desired and demanded my approval. As though I was in some way required to atone to him. What do they want, power over us or approval from us? Both? Isn’t one enough? I wanted to leave.

I looked at Ian, playing blithely with his meatballs instead of eating them. What will happen when Percy’s hunger summons you?

I managed a few coherent sentences of conciliation, falling just short of cathedralizing unbridled pacifism. He seemed relaxed again. He stood up, cleared the dishes and patted me on the back. He was pleased with my “ideological flexibility,” as he put it; my willingness to see the day’s events from his perspective and from the perspective of the English speaking faculty who, he was eager to inform me, thought of themselves as the Blue Helmets, a sort of ad hoc United Nations observation group—not Boers, not Communists. “Just people working for peace.”

We retired to the living room. He turned down the lights. We drank more beer. I really hate beer. We listened to Miles Davis. I love Miles Davis, but not that night. We watched Ian twirl his fire engine around the room on his hands and knees, then burrow his head in his father’s lap when he had put out all the fires. I imagined Miles Davis playing with his back to the audience. I thanked Percy for a lovely evening and went home.