Issuu on Google+


The Unsaid

Praise for Zendingsdrang (the Dutch edition of The Unsaid): “Zendingsdrang is a superb, cleverly constructed book.” Boek “Deo is a self-appointed shit magnet; the reader a lucky fish.” Tzum “De Nooy adds a dash of dark humour to this delightful buffet of suppressed violence, and gives his story a magnificent twist in the end.” Focus Knack “This wonderfully written book will get you thinking. About war, love, self-destruction, truth and the darker fringes of life.” Pink Bullets “De Nooy creates a fascinating mosaic, shifting constantly in style and genre.” Trouw “Grabs you by the scruff of the neck.” PZC Praise for The Big Stick: “De Nooy’s debut is beautiful, as is his second book, The Big Stick. His style is raw and macho, as well as – almost – hypersensitive.” Ivo Wyvel, Esquire “The Big Stick is excessively readable.” Ruth Browne, Cape Times “De Nooy is a brilliant storyteller, who blends humour and tragedy in a heart-wrenching manner. […] The story is compelling and moving, skilfully composed and poignantly rendered.” Cees van der Pluijm, NBD Biblion (Dutch library review) “Overwhelming, impressive, refreshing, surprising.” Pim van Hest, Gay Krant i

Unsaid.indd 1

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

“There are many books that handle the subject of coming to terms with homosexuality with sensitivity and humour, but Richard de Nooy’s moving account … must be placed near the top of that list.” Bruce Dennill, The Citizen “De Nooy’s sad yet funny second novel establishes him as a confident, bracing and sophisticated voice with global appeal.” Karin Schimke, The Star “Like a bon-bon layered from dark, bitter chocolate and sweetly nutty bits, the interwoven tales … will have you devouring the pages like so many Ferrero Rochers.” Alwyn Viljoen, The Witness Praise for Six Fang Marks & a Tetanus Shot, winner of the University of Johannesburg Price for Best First Book: “One of the best debuts we’ve read in ages.” GQ “Funny and sad and beautiful, it will stay with you long after you have finished.” Lindsay Slogrove, The Mercury “A finely crafted novel, peppered with visceral and black humour.” Mike Chandler, Dispatch

ii

Unsaid.indd 2

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

The Unsaid

Richard de Nooy

iii

Unsaid.indd 3

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

Published in Dutch as Zendingsdrang by Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam in 2013 First published in English by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2014 10 Orange Street Sunnyside Auckland Park 2092 South Africa +2711 628 3200 www.jacana.co.za © Richard de Nooy, 2014 All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-4314-0916-7  Also available as an e-book: 978-1-4314-0917-4 d-PDF 978-1-4314-0918-1 ePUB 978-1-4314-0919-8 mobi file Cover design by Joey Hi-Fi Set in Ehrhardt 11/14pt Job no. 002195 See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za

iv


The Unsaid

“You have long been inside my head. And now I am inside yours.” (Graffiti, Piccadilly Line, London)

v

Unsaid.indd 5

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

vi

Unsaid.indd 6

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

Dear Rem, I thought you were gone for good, but somehow you've dragged me into the cesspit of your life again. If you’re reading this somewhere with a fat smile on your face, don’t get any big ideas: I’m not doing this as an ode to your life or to our bond as brothers. No, I’m doing this because I want to finally earn a little money off the destruction you’ve sown in so many lives over the past forty years, with your relentless experiments and reckless pursuits. Maybe I’ll donate your share to the families of all the lab rats who died in your wake. I used to think it wasn’t your fault – that you really were a magnet for disaster – but now I’m convinced that you intentionally tempted fate, chased thunder, that you wilfully screwed with the lives of people who had no idea of the shit storm that follows at your heels. We tried to verify what you’d written, but that was a waste of time. In the end, we just ordered everything as best we could and slapped the label “fiction” on the cover. You’re a Grade-A arsehole, and some of the stories are hard to believe, but I have to admit you’re still a brilliant liar. There is truth and compassion in your writing. It’s just a pity you never managed to transfer that to the real world, where you might have shared it with the people who cared about you. But I really couldn’t give a toss any more. Thankfully. The publisher didn’t want me to say this, but this is a bleak nightmare of a book, in which humanity’s very worst characteristics are exhibited full frontal. You left us a blurb for the back cover: “The wayward son of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Killing Fields, lost in a dark labyrinth where hope has been reduced to a darting firefly.” Lovely. I’m secretly hoping this book 1

Unsaid.indd 1

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

will be even less successful than the previous two. That would be fair punishment. On the other hand, it would be nice if it covered the costs of my flights, the time I spent on it, the lawyer’s bills, and the lawsuits that might well be filed against me. That said, I’d like to end off by confessing that I’ve never seen recent history so enthrallingly rendered. I hope many readers share my opinion and that, ultimately, some good will grow from the open sewer you called your life. Your brother Ysbrand […] There is a long corridor, like in the movies, with five doors on either side. Most of them are closed. Daylight glows on the polished floor at the three open doors. Monotone incantations mumble from one of the rooms. “Haile Selassie,” says Bobby. Crows’ feet run up into his greying temples as he smiles. We already know each other intimately. I got a good look at his friendly face as he was inspecting my entire naked body, front and back. (An unexpectedly courteous examination: “Lift your scrotum, please. Good. Turn around. Baie dankie. Arms in the air and then three deep squats, please. You’re very nimble, sir. And clean. Baie dankie. You can get dressed now.”) Bobby is a head taller than me, well built, with boxer’s fists: “We call him that because he’s from Somalia. Don’t understand a word he says. You’re from Africa, aren’t you?” (Nice segue.) Jacqueline – “call me Jacq” – silences Bobby with a glance. She’s on my right. Short and stocky, matronly, 2

Unsaid.indd 2

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

ticks all the cliché boxes: strict but fair, not unfriendly, possibly lesbian. “I’ve left some information in your room,” she says. “If anything is unclear, give me a shout.” “This is it,” says Bobby, his palm swimming past like a big pink fish and darting through the nearest doorway. “Lots of light. You’re on the good side.” The little room is furnished in Scandinavian style. All the sharp edges have been rounded off, possibly to ensure that death with a blunt object is the only option. Jacqueline closes the door. “You can open it yourself,” she says. “Except if it’s locked from the outside. You’ll get your own key. For daytime use. It’s all in the instructions. You can put your clothes in the wardrobe.” They stay to watch me unpack. “We left you some paper. And a pencil,” says Jacqueline. “And we also have a library,” says Bobby. “It’s not very big. We don’t get a lot of writers here. Or readers.” “You don’t look like your photo. You’ve grown a beard.” “What do you prefer: Mr de Heer, Remco, Rem or Deo?” “Cornelius will like that: Deo,” says Bobby. “You’re free to go to the group,” says Jacqueline. “It’s up to you.” “Everyone needs time to adjust,” says Bobby. “But there’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s always a CT on duty at the group.” “A CT is a caretaker,” say Jacqueline. “Today, it’s Henk and Claudio. And we’ll be around too.” “Milly will be in tomorrow. She’s nice,” says Bobby. “Also nice,” says Jacqueline. “Yes, I meant ‘also nice’. This is the wet space.” 3

Unsaid.indd 3

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

(Interesting segue.) “You can shower every day. As often as you like,” Jacqueline adds. “Just across the hall.” “So, you’re really from South Africa?” says Bobby. “Long ago,” I reply. “We’ll leave you to it, then,” says Jacqueline. “It would be great if you could read the information. I’ll pop by again in an hour or so, okay?” “Welcome and-uh baie dankie, of course,” says Bobby. “Yes, baie dankie! See you later,” says Jacqueline. I’m officially under observation. What will they have seen? […] Observee is calm and rather quiet. Rarely responds to questions. Obs seems in good health and is neatly groomed. Smells of soap and aftershave. He has grown a beard and shaved his skull. His appearance consequently differs from that on the photo supplied by the penitentiary. Obs is able to tidy away his own effects and has done so neatly, without excess care. Obs notes that the lowest shelf of the wardrobe is still wet from its final wiping. He smells lemon and eucalyptus fighting a losing battle against the eternal omnipotence of sewerage. He hears the train, and sees the railway as two steel lines upon which so many farewell notes have been written. […] There’s a knock on the door. So soon? (Obs still has a 4

Unsaid.indd 4

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

firm grip on the passage of time.) There’s an elderly hippy outside, with a white beard and John Lennon specs, blinking at me with wet, blue eyes. He takes a step back and tilts his head like a dog expecting a snack. “Henk?” I ask. No response. “Claudio?” The hippy wrinkles his nose to push his specs up. Yellow teeth appear between beard and moustache. “Cornelius?” “Henk!” he shouts suddenly. “Cor! Cornelius?” a tired voice calls from the end of the corridor. “Leave Mr de Heer alone, okay?” “But he wants something!” shouts Cornelius. Unhurried footsteps approach. “Hi, I’m Henk.” He’s a compact turbotank with an old scar running from his left eyebrow to his cheekbone. I shake his hand. He too has completed the courtesy module with distinction: “How can I help you, Mr de Heer?” “This is Deo! The divine Deo!” says Cornelius, looking at Henk as if he’s lost his mind. “You’ve met Cornelius,” says Henk. “Shake Mr de Heer’s hand, Cornelius.” When I extend my hand, Cornelius shies away in fear, saying “That’s not allowed!” before heading off down the corridor. “Welcome and-uh baie dankie,” says Henk. “I’ll see to it that you’re left alone.” “Thank you,” I reply. […] Observee is friendly to fellow obs Cornelius. He is not startled by Cornelius’s somewhat unusual behaviour, nor by the fact that the beasts may apparently roam free here. Obs is surprised that the CTs don’t wear uniforms, which means they’re sometimes difficult to distinguish from the inmates. 5

Unsaid.indd 5

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

Obs gives Henk a firm and somewhat lengthy handshake before withdrawing to consider the potential advantages of his divine status. Obs casts an eye over the house rules and finds it somewhat disconcerting that “Thou shalt not kill” is not at the top of the list. That place is reserved for: “We kindly request that you keep your room neat and tidy at all times.” Obs sees that there is a separate list of goods that may and may not be “imported” by observees. Wisely prohibited are: drugs, tools, weapons of any kind, explosives and keys. On the bright side, inmates are allowed: “Bird, small (feed and sand in transparent packaging).” Frankly, that should be at the top of the list. Obs can hardly wait to send his lawyer out in search of a “TV, compact model”, “own bedding (must be fire-retardant)” and a budgie. […] I hear knocking. I’m not sure where I am. It’s dark. When I eventually locate the door, it’s to find Jacqueline and Henk, who is carrying a tray. The light comes on. “You fell asleep,” says Jacqueline. “Room service,” barks Henk. “I’m not hungry.” “See how much you can handle,” says Henk. “Probably the constipation,” says Jacqueline. “I saw that in the report.” Henk sets the tray on the table and closes the door. He stands guard, arms folded, while Jacqueline sits down on the edge of the bed. 6

Unsaid.indd 6

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

“You were dead to the world,” she says, “but the report says you hardly ever sleep?” “I can sleep during the day, just not at night.” “Did you read the information?” asks Jacqueline. I nod. “All clear?” she asks. “There isn’t a lot you have to do, but there are rules, and I advise everyone to co-operate as best they can.” I nod again. “No other questions? The night shift will be in soon. And we’ll be back tomorrow. You have an appointment with the psychologist at nine: Dr Hauptfleisch.” “Dr Headmeat – I laugh every time,” says Henk. “We’ll leave you alone, then,” says Jacqueline. “Good night.” “And-uh baie dankie. See you tomorrow,” says Henk. “Thanks. See you tomorrow,” I reply. “Press this button if you need anything,” says Henk, fixing me with a piercing gaze, a sheriff issuing an unspoken warning to a lone pistolero. […] Observee slept for just over 2.5 hours at the end of the afternoon. Obs was not hungry. Reduced appetite probably due to constipation. Possibly also due to an overdose of prison food prepared by cooks appointed by the devil himself. Obs is surprised that steel cutlery is available, and hopes that it is carefully counted every night. Obs did have something to drink and sat at his desk writing 7

Unsaid.indd 7

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

into the early hours of the morning. He is gathering the rotting fruit of his past and attempting to distil stories from it. The first harvest is ten pages, double-sided. […] Someone is sitting on my bed. Against my back. I feel a hand on my upper arm. A woman. I can smell her perfume. Not unpleasant, recently applied. Daylight peeks through the curtains. She squeezes my arm gently and says my name. “Mr de Heer? I’m Milly. Sorry to wake you.” “This is our Milly,” says Bobby. I can hear him smiling. When I turn over, Milly stands up and takes a step backwards. She’s in her late forties, short, dark, neatly groomed and dressed. Her bright blouse is stretched tight over her heavy breasts. She catches me looking and buttons up her dark blazer, smiling as she makes a mental note. “You were up late, I hear,” she says. “The night shift said your lights were still on at fourthirty,” says Bobby. “You’ve been busy, I see.” He points to the pile of paper on the desk. Milly wants to take a closer look, but sees me stiffen and tries to estimate the pile from a distance. “How many pages are there?” “About ten, I think.” “Double-sided?!” asks Bobby. “Yes. Big handwriting.” “Wow,” says Milly. “Yes, wow,” says Bobby. “I’m sure Dr Hauptfleisch will be interested. You have an appointment with him in an hour. Did they tell 8

Unsaid.indd 8

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

you?” asks Milly. “Yes, your colleagues said so.” “Good. Would you like to eat first?” says Milly. “A sandwich or some fruit maybe?” “Is He awake, the Divine One?” I hear Cornelius asking Bobby out in the corridor. “Will He be showing His good Self today?” “I’ll ask him, Cornelius. Will you be coming out to the group, Mr de Heer?” asks Bobby. “Rather not.” “Not right now, Cornelius. But maybe you can go get a sandwich for Mr de Heer, or some fruit?” says Bobby. “Thanks, but I’m not hungry,” I say. “A banana, perhaps? Or an orange?” says Milly. “I’ll get it, I’ll get it. Banana and/or orange,” says Cornelius as he races off, sneakers squeaking. “Both! I’ll bring both! Banana and orange!” he shouts from the end of the corridor. “You’ve already made a new friend,” says Milly. “There’s really nothing to be afraid of,” says Bobby. “I’m not afraid. It’s just that…” “You don’t have to explain,” says Milly. “Take your time.” Cornelius squeaks to a halt outside. “Here, Bobby, here, here! For the Divine One! A banana and/or an orange. Or both. He can decide for Himself, can’t He?” “Yes, Cornelius,” says Bobby calmly, “that’s entirely up to him.” “Can I see Him, the Divine One?” asks Cornelius. “He isn’t ready yet, Cornelius. Maybe we should leave him alone for a while,” says Bobby, handing the fruit to Milly, who hands it to me. “Dr Hauptfleish will be here at nine,” says Milly. “That’ll give you time for a nice shower.” 9

Unsaid.indd 9

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

“Thank you,” I say. “Baie dankie, yeah?” says Bobby. “Yes, but I’m not Afrikaans.” “But you do come from Africa, don’t you?” asks Bobby. “Yes, but I was raised speaking English.” “So we’ve been saying baie dankie for nothing?” “Who said you should say that?” laughs Milly. “Jacq did, remember? At the briefing?” says Bobby. “I really don’t mind,” I say. “Come on, Bob, let’s leave Mr de Heer to do his thing,” says Milly. “We’ll drop by later to see how you’re doing. All right?” “Fine. Thank you.” “And baie dankie to you…” says Bobby. “Yes, baie dankie,” says Milly. […] Observee failed to report that he woke up around dawn, under his bed, shivering. The F-16, with its howling engines and heat-seeking missiles, had once again come out of nowhere. And all the laws of dream logic indicated that an ice-cold body was harder to target. Obs found the scratchings of former inmates on the underside of the bed. On the left: “Eddie RIP Donna 4 eva” and “U R the Devil! U! U! U!” And on the right, over and over: “murderedrumurderedrumurder” like a mantra. Obs feels it would be unwise to leave his quarters at this juncture, except to cross the corridor to the shower. Bobby gave obs a key and laughed loudly when obs asked if it also opened the front door. “No, but it will help you prevent 10

Unsaid.indd 10

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

fellow detainees from taking a crap on your bed,” he said. […] EH: Eugène Hauptfleisch. How are you today, Mr Deo? Deo: Remco de Heer. (The psychologist hesitates. His hand is cold and thin, slightly damp, but firm. He asks permission to sit down. Bobby is standing behind the psychologist in the doorway. He gives a reassuring wink.) EH: Which name do you prefer? Deo: That tends to vary. EH: How interesting. Would you care to explain? Deo: The name I use depends on the circumstances. EH: But Deo is your pseudonym, not so? Deo: Yes. EH: You only use it when you’re working? Deo: I use it when people don’t know my real name. You have my passport. EH: Interesting. (makes note) Have you always gone by the name Deo? Deo: Since I started out in journalism, yes. It offers me a degree of anonymity when I’m travelling. EH: (smiles) And a degree of status, apparently. I hear Cornelius thinks you’re the next best thing to God. Deo: Apparently. But I mainly use the name because it’s easy to pronounce in almost all languages. EH: You travel a lot, don’t you? Deo: I do. EH: I’d like to return to that some other time. Do you mind if I record our conversation? 11

Unsaid.indd 11

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

Deo: Go ahead. EH: Thank you. (He asks Bobby to stand guard at the door so that they are not disturbed.) EH: I hear you were up until the early hours of the morning, writing. Deo: I was, yes. EH: We don’t see a lot of that here. May I read what you’ve written? Deo: Why? EH: (makes note) Maybe it will help us understand you better. Deo: I can hardly read my own writing at times. EH: That sounds familiar. Here, look. Deo: (smiles) Why are you writing everything down? You’re recording it all, aren’t you? EH: Yes, I am. But you can’t hear my thoughts on tape. Deo: (smiles) Maybe I should read what you’ve written. Maybe that will help me. EH: (smiles) Maybe. You’ll certainly be allowed to read the final report and you have the right to submit any objections. Deo: Great. EH: That’s standard procedure here. All our observees get to see their final report and have the right to object. But I could check whether I’m allowed to share my preliminary reports. Especially if you think it would help you co-operate. Deo: An exchange, you mean? EH: Yes. I’d have to discuss it with the team first, of course. But I’d like to get you started with some questionnaires and other diagnostic instruments first. Deo: Sounds dangerous. 12

Unsaid.indd 12

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

EH: (smiles) A piece of cake for you, I reckon. Deo: Aha, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Version III, no less. EH: Are you familiar with WAIS-III? Deo: I think I met WAIS the Elder at school. EH: Well, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Good luck! […] As he was completing the IQ test, observee wondered how the human mind could be accurately charted with incomplete drawings, pattern recognition, number games, symbol searching, picture arrangement and the parroting of numbers and letters. Obs was assured by psychologist EH that he would also be tested with the NPV, UCL, NVM, TCI, NEO-PI-R, EPPS, ZAT, TAT and – if he was still in the mood – a series of Rorschach inkblots. Obs made these notes on his toilet, where he spent most of the day hoping to give birth to a little brown baby. […] Report by Jan-Karel Overschie, team leader/lawyer The observee, Remco de Heer (who also writes and operates under the pseudonym J.R. Deo; DOB 19 February 1965) is a journalist charged with assault and suspected of various other crimes. While the police investigation is underway, and because the observee is likely to abscond, he has been transferred to the Institute for Forensic

13

Unsaid.indd 13

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy Observation to establish, through assessment of his mental capabilities, to what degree he is accountable for the crimes with which he is charged. Shortly before departing for the Middle East on a journalistic

assignment,

the

observee

attacked

and

seriously injured several people in a bar frequented by journalists. He disfigured two colleagues and inflicted non-permanent injuries on two others. It is likely that the observee was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the incident. No blood test was taken at that time. Observee left the country shortly after the incident. Observee does not contest the charges laid against him. Several months later, Mr de Heer was arrested when he returned from the Middle East. A search of his luggage revealed that he was carrying a human finger in a jar of formaldehyde. Despite repeated questioning

[…]

[NB: During our staff meeting, it was decided that the observee shall have insight into our preliminary reports. These will, however, be presented to the team leader and psychiatrist so that sensitive legal and other information may be screened and, if necessary, censored. Should this arrangement prove unfeasible, it may be reviewed and withdrawn whenever the team sees fit. Signed JKO.]

[…] Report by Eugène Hauptfleisch, psychologist Observee is a middle-aged man with a shaved head and full beard that has been neatly trimmed. He is friendly and compliant. Although obs grew up in South Africa, he

14

Unsaid.indd 14

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid speaks Dutch fluently and will therefore not require additional specialist expertise from interpreters etc. Judging by our initial conversation and his results on WAIS-III, observee’s intelligence is well above average. Obs claimed, however, that he completed only high school education in South Africa. Shortly thereafter he fled to the Netherlands, following a case of assault in the South African army (observee attacked an officer). This not only indicates that obs possibly has a longer history of violence and outbursts of rage, but also that he has difficulty accepting authority. There was no indication of the latter during our first encounter. Obs remained patient and friendly, and adopted a conscientious attitude during testing. However, obs has not yet left his room. When asked about this, he was unable to give a clear answer. Obs claims to suffer from insomnia and constipation. This is supported by his behaviour. These problems deserve further attention from a physician and psychiatrist. During our conversation, obs elaborated on his work as a correspondent in war and disaster zones. Future examination will show whether obs has been traumatised by said experiences. Obs indicated that he seems to attract misfortune and referred to himself as a “disaster magnet”. This too deserves further investigation. The

background

check

is

currently

focusing

on

observee’s ex-wife and children, who live elsewhere, and his brother, who is said to live in South Africa. Colleagues

and

clients

will

also

be

questioned.

At

present, it seems that obs has no firm friends. This too will be investigated. Obs spent the first days (and nights) at the Institute writing in his room. Insight into these writings may facilitate

our

investigation.

I

therefore

request

15

Unsaid.indd 15

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy permission to initiate an exchange, in which obs would be provided with copies of encounter transcripts and examination reports. Personally, I am looking forward to

reading

observee’s

writings,

which

are

readily

available.

[…] Observee discussed the reports with psychologist EH, who once again invited obs to seek contact with fellow detainees in the group. Obs said that he preferred to stay in his room. Bobby gave obs a folder describing various manual activities, such as the production of kiddie furniture in the woodwork shop. “Unfortunately, that group is always full,” said Bobby, “but you can also weave mats and decorate trays if you like. Or you can package paper. Plenty of it, because no one enjoys doing that.” Obs also read that there were weekly workshops for “creative handicrafts” such as painting, sculpture, silkscreen printing, pottery and various other activities that involved potentially lethal weapons. Obs decided to remain in his room, writing on his toilet. […] Soap My name is Buseko and you will never forget me. I was fifteen when I died. My remains lie scattered along the banks of a nameless river that runs through a land where 16

Unsaid.indd 16

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

the bodies of bad men are fed to the crocodiles. This is my testimony. The cat who does not eat the bird is not a cat. We must kill so that others may live. As they have killed, so we must kill. Would you kill for food? Who would you kill for food? Words like these and others were shouted, spoken and whispered to us from the first day we joined the Jeep. That is the name of the open car in which the Captain travels. The Jeep is as green as jungle shadow and was made in America. Upon it is the Big Gun. We call her Brenda. Her bullets are more powerful than our own. I have seen them pass through the walls of two mud huts and kill people in the third. Only the Captain and his right-hand man, Mr Unigwe, may shoot Brenda. But they have promised that I will be next in line if either of them is ever lost in battle. This has made me the envy of my elder comrades, many of whom have been with the Jeep longer than I have. But I am strong and clever, says the Captain, that is why I am next in line. I am also the only other man who has ever shot Brenda. I did so on the same day I saved the Captain’s life and shot him in his buttocks. This is a difficult story to tell, but I will try to do so as truthfully and clearly as I can. We were in need of food and fuel and bullets and had chosen to obtain these things in a village whose name I have forgotten. Our scouts with their binoculars had seen cars drive in and out and men with guns such as our own. Some call this gun Kalashnikov or Ay-Kay or FourSeven, but we call it Soap. It is the most loyal weapon in the world. “You can bury it in the sand and piss on the 17

Unsaid.indd 17

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

sand and dig it up in the morning and still it will shoot for you,” said Mr Unigwe. “And if any of you are stupid enough to try this, I will prove it by shooting you!” We all laughed very loudly, because we knew Mr Unigwe would keep his promise. But also because none of us would ever dream of burying our Soap. Just as we would never dream of burying our own penis. Simply because it would be a stupid thing to do. And because we all remembered what it was like before we got our Soap, the time when we were stick-and-panga men, hiding in the bushes, waiting for the Gazelles – the cowards, the women and children fleeing from the village – to fall upon them silently and savagely. “Grant them salvation,” said the Captain. “Cut short their suffering, for without their menfolk they will die an even more terrible death.” We knew exactly how terrible death could be. The Captain himself had demonstrated this to us, using one of our young comrades who had not heeded orders. The lad was made to suffer for his own compassion. He had been caught with his pants around his ankles and a mother’s mouth around his penis, as her children fled into the bush. The Captain told each of us where and how we should cut our comrade. And by the time his cries had ebbed away with his blood, we were all convinced of the need to carry out the Captain’s orders to the letter. And so we lay in ambush, allowing the alarmed Gazelles to pass before pouncing on them from behind with blade and stick, striking at the head and neck, where the blood flows fast and death comes quickly. I often sat by the fire with my young comrades Mobuto and Kalusha discussing the best and fastest way to dispatch a Gazelle. The one preferred to use the stick first, the other the panga. Was it better to finish them off one by one? Or should one bring down as many 18

Unsaid.indd 18

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid

as possible with single blows and then return to finish them off? There was no single answer to these questions, of course, but we all agreed it was a bloody business, whichever method we chose. “I want my Soap,” said Mobuto at the end of one such discussion. “Your whaaat?” sang Kalusha and I. “I want my Soap,” repeated Mobuto, firing an invisible Ay-Kay over our heads. “To keep my hands clean.” We laughed loudly and shared the joke with our elder comrades, who honoured us by using the term in reference to their own weapons. I was the first of the youngsters to get my Soap. It was my reward for finishing off eight Gazelles on a single dusty afternoon. After the battle, I had seen the body of Jacob Mzezu being stripped of his Soap and all other usable items before his remains were dumped among the charred occupants of a blazing hut. That night I heard our elder comrades murmuring at their fire, glancing at us as they spoke. The Soap was passed from hand to hand, and the men took turns cursing the jammed weapon and Mzezu’s disregard for maintenance. Even the Kalashnikov was no match for his slovenliness, which had eventually been the death of him. I could not sleep that night. I lay cursing my own fervour, worried that my ability to hunt Gazelles would cause the Captain to conclude that it would be in the best interests of the Jeep that I should remain a stickand-panga man forever. But when the sun rose, the Captain called my name and without further ceremony gave me Mzezu’s Soap, along with its two grimy clips, taped together like a metal grin, jammed fast. The Captain kicked me hard 19

Unsaid.indd 19

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


R ichard de Nooy

on the shin when I immediately tried to dislodge the clips by ramming them back and forth. “Bloody fool!” he barked. “Unigwe, give this man some oil and show him what to do and where to do it! Far away! Over there somewhere! And if I ever see that barrel pointing in my direction again, I will shove it up your arse and pull the trigger, understood?” “Go there and wait,” growled Mr Unigwe, pointing across the dry riverbed to a distant tree. “Take that blanket. Do nothing until I come. Nothing.��� I sat waiting in the shade. Jacob Mzezu’s Soap hung from a branch overhead. My body glowed with pride and joy. When Mr Unigwe crossed the riverbed towards me, I stood up to retrieve my weapon, but Mr Unigwe barked: “Do nothing! Just sit and look and listen.” He then sat cross-legged on the blanket and began slowly stripping his own weapon, demonstrating how each part should be cleaned with oil and toothbrush, rag and stick. “If you have watched carefully, you will know how to put it back together again,” said Mr Unigwe. “Go ahead.” As I carefully picked up the first two parts for reassembly, I felt a mighty blow against my jaw, knocking me dizzy into the dust. Instinctively, I began crawling for cover, with blood seeping iron into my mouth from my loose teeth and torn cheek. Then I heard Mr Unigwe laughing. When I turned, he waved the steel clips and demonstrated how he had hit me. “Do you eat dung?” he asked. “No? Then why do you want to feed dung to your Soap?” Once he had finished laughing at my bloody face, he explained how the bullets should be removed, and how the clips should be cleaned, and how Mzezu had deserved to die for his negligence. 20

Unsaid.indd 20

2014/04/09 7:00 AM


The Unsaid flipping preview