This is an excerpt from my third novel, In The Maid’s Room, which launches next week, in Port Elizabeth
“Hallo, ma. You going anywhere past Walmer? Walmer Town Hall, Servistar, Walmer Park? Even Walmer Township.”
She nods. Surly woman, large with a couple of whiskers on her chin, and a blue tartan blanket across her lap. I barely noticed in time that she was a woman.
As I take my seat, she gets into a dispute with a young guy in a grey-brown leather jacket. He reckons he paid earlier for the whole trip and he shouldn’t have to pay again.
She’s not having it, though. There’s a heated dispute ngesiXhosa, during which she summons the lady security guard closer. In the end the guy pays his ticket and storms off upstairs.
“You happy?” he spits.
“Yes, I’m happy,” the bus driver suddenly becomes animated. “It’s my job! Of course I’m happy. We are working.”
And she starts up the vehicle.
As we leave the station, the girl and the lady are on the edge of the kerb at the 67 stop, in their tracksuits, hunched over the sheep skull and devouring its flesh.
And with that, I join the flow. The current takes me. I join the flow of people in motion across my city. I pay my eight bucks and I dissolve into the stream.
I vanish. Me. I, Disco. I cease to be. I am a man on a bus. A corpuscle in the vessels of my city. The veins and arteries that flow and feed the organism, as much as we feed off the organism.
We feed, and we’re fed upon. That is the social contract.
As the bus turns in at the bottom of Russell Road and begins labouring up to the first robot, we are ignored by our fellow citizens. No vendors pay us any mind. To other road users we are noted, but invisible. We are people in motion.
Next to us, two robot hustlers harass a lady in a red GTi. The guy on the right gets her attention with some kind of finger sign. While she’s distracted, he pops up with a set of cellphone chargers. She shakes her head.
Personal transport. So independent, so individual. So distinctive. Bespoke pods of personal space and self-determination, emblematic of one’s right to travel as one will, to venture off the beaten path, beyond the bus routes.
Oh, to drive a car again. To be master of one’s own agenda, free of the dictates of bus timetables, independent and unaffected by the vagaries of government services. At least as it pertains to transport.
The self-transporting classes move not like circulating vessels in an organism, but like random cells, liable to change their direction at any time. Using the system, but defiantly retaining sovereignty. Feeding the system too, but in other ways, through tax, fuel levies, tolls…
And with transport, so with life. The state system feeds and is fed upon. The people feed and are fed upon. Some flow within the system, facilitating and executing the purpose of the organism, even as they seek their own self-expression.
Others move independently within the system, putting self-actualisation above their responsibility towards the system, the organism, the state.
Ambition, materialism, individualism, narcissism, self-obsession… all distractions from the group consciousness. Community primacy too. Nationalism, racism, elitism, exceptionalism.
And what is it that makes the individual so important, what trick of consciousness leads the person to believe that they can seek self-actualisation at the expense of the organism? How can fingernail come to think, “I, fingernail”. I will become the best fingernail I can, the most famous fingernail. I will achieve fingernail immortality. Books, movies, albums, video games, reality TV shows will celebrate my exploits. Entire histories will trumpet my achievements. I will inspire fingernails for centuries hence.
I will win Fingernail Idols, Ek Is ’n Vingernael, Fingernail Big Brother, Fingernail Specialist… MTV will feature the Fingernail Mansion on Cribs. My reality show The Fingernail File will follow my every movement, as I become the most admired, the most desired, the most important part of the entire body! The entire organism. Indeed, I, fingernail, aspire to be the most important part of all parts, of all organisms!
How does that happen? Christ. How did that happen? How did that happen to me?
I get off at the bus stop just before Tenth Avenue Walmer and reconstitute. Recrystallise. I become me again. That Hacklewood place is a couple of hundred metres’ walk away.
The Americans are waiting for me at reception, all dressed and ready to go.
“Ah, Disco,” the guy Denholm introduces himself. He’s a tall, Nordic-looking guy with sharp features and strawberry-blonde hair, shaved up the sides. “At last. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
The Book launch is on Wednesday, 29 June, 17:30 for 18:00 at the GFI Art Gallery (formerly Ron Belling) 30 Park Drive Port Elizabeth RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 041 368 1425