I saw a goddess die, suspended from the sky like some hovering angel.
I saw her die, but I don't remember if I saw her face.
I remember her feet. Her feet, hanging straight. Those caloused feet, coarse soled, as she was coarse souled; heels cracked and burned black by the heat of our native soil.
I saw it, those long in-turned toes scrap-scrap-scrapping to and fro, to and fro. And I saw them smearing dainty strokes of blood, trails of pain; the pendulum of her madness marking our holy land.
The Memoirs of Johannes Jacobus Kemp
I write these down now, but I never want to tell this story.
I am going to die. I want to die peaceful with my God. I don't want to tell this story, not to Predikant, not to my son. It is my crime, my sin, but I must make my soul clean with my God. I tell it here, where no one will read, no one will know.
I write to confess to my God my sin of hate, lust, murder, and idolatry. This last one, I think, is the greatest sin. God is a jealous God, Predikant says, and I worshipped another.
Ireland - County-Mayo September 1877
The Captain watched them charge. A rag-tag wave of poverty and stinking rags, and at the forefront, high as foam on a storm breaker, was the biggest woman he had ever seen.
"Shoot, Sergeant, shoot to kill," he instructed, and lifted to his lips the glove clasped in his hand, inhaling the faint scent of lavender clinging to the pearly satin.
He winced at the screaming thunder of the rifles, as the stench of cordite and hot metal overwhelmed the delicate perfume of the glove pressed to his mouth.
In the street, it seemed, indignation had run out. Panic, fear and doubt overwhelmed the crowd; they were pushing back, trying to escape, to take cover behind each other's bodies.
"Reload! Aim! FIRE!"
Another clap-clap of disjointed sound; another wave of bodies jumping, tossed back by the tiny impact… It always astounded him, that sight, that something as slight as a lead ball could throw back a body as if hammered by a giant.
In a few minutes they were gone, or mostly gone. In the dust and smoke of the street few things moved, stood upright, offered themselves to the rifles' sight.
One small boy tugged desperately at a dead man's leg, trying to drag him away, leaving a stuttering trail of blood from where the back of his head used to be.
Oh, but in the very centre of the carnage a scene of particular pathos caught the Captain's eye. On his Grand Tour -when for one night he’d surfaced from between the heaving breasts of a Florentine courtesan - he´d been dragged by a friend enamoured of the Arts to see, by torchlight, Michelangelo’s Pieta. He had though then the purity of pain expressed on the Madonna's face would be unsurpassed. He would not see its like for the rest of his life.
But now! In the very centre of bedlam, a woman cradled to her breast a child.
No...Not a child. a man, but such was her size, his stature seemed reduced to infantile proportions. Every curve in her body was a scream of agony, the desperate arms, the rocking of her shoulders...Exquisite. Quite exquisite.
He stepped forward, over the tumbled limbs, towards her. Closer, he caught the merest glimpse of her profile perdu. The woman heard him. Some notion of his presence impinged, tore through the thick veil of grief. She raised her head to look up at him.
No beauty this. Her face was a set mask of stolid features, drizzled with scarlet freckles to match the scarlet hair wound in a coronet around her head. Her eyes were a dull pebble-gray, her lips thin, colourless.
She gently set the man down on the ground and unfolded herself before him to her full height.
"You killed him, my husband, my love." The voice was soft, the eyes quite dead. She raised her hands. "He is dead, my boy."
The Captain stepped back as she advanced.
Her voice raised to a scream: "Dead! My Seamus dead!" Incoherent sound erupted from her, soulless screams shuddered her form as she moved towards him, her mouth torn open in a black square hole of hate, exploding sound.
"Sergeant!" He screamed, and a rifle-butt smashed her down.
Zululand - November 1877
In the flickering firelight Dabulamanzi felt the weight of the King's stare, saw the threat of the King's loving smile.
"Dabu, brother's son, finally you are blooded, a fine warrior, a good nephew." And the King smiled.
Dabu had seen that smile many times. Many times had young men of the King's blood been singled out for praise, young men for whom the sun had risen for the last time...So Dabu smiled back:
"Baba, you honour me, I am dirt at the feet of the King..."and Dabu lowered his head even further. He stretched his lips into a wide, inane smile, and knew that sometime in the last weeks, somewhere; somehow he had made a mistake. A flicker of his native intelligence had shone through; someone who had the ear of the King had whispered the truth...
Dabu was by birth, by blood, by right a "man who could be King"; and the King watched such men carefully, least the people start whispering his name as "the man who should be King".
Dabu knew they would come this night. There would be no delay. So he smiled and smiled, laughed and bowed his head, wobbling it from side to side like a man who'd had too much maize beer, and he saw from the corner of his eye Cetshwayo gesture his dwarf forward. He saw the grotesque man's eyes fix on him, then lower to the King's shoulder. The order was given.
Dabu laughed louder, then choked, gagged, and to the general disgust and hilarity started to spew from his mouth the large mouthful of beer he had just gulped.
"OUT! Out, Dabu!" cried his cousin, "You shame yourself before the King!" Dabulamanzi rose and ran to the exit of the great hut, to jeers and pokes and pushes. One malicious hand tugged at his kilt, leaving him naked, and the laughter redoubled. With a drunken lurch, Dabu exited the great hut.
He was out - sober alert and afraid in the cool night air. He stalked silently past the sentries, walked away through the multitude of huts in the royal compound. At an empty hut, he stole an assegai, and a water gourd.
Dabulamanzi, of the line of Shaka, nephew of Cetshwayo - the King of all the Zulus - and himself "a man who could be King", turned his face West to the mountains of the Dragon, and ran for his life.
Naked, afraid as only a wise man is afraid, Dabu ran.
Trasvaal - December 1877
Territory Annexed by the British Empire
He was a dead man. He rode in the middle of the silent riders, as he had always dreamed he would, since he’d been a small child.
And now, now that that ambition was fulfilled, Johannes Jacobus was going to die. He was seventeen, and he was as good as dead.
It had started so quietly, his dying. It had started with a Christmas lunch. A celebration, as Predikant said. The birth of Christ, God's promise of salvation made flesh; but for Kobus Kemp, it was a feast of death.
They had gathered at the Vermuelen farm, six families, nearly seventy people, more than he had ever seen together before. They had been there a week, and his family would stay longer. His brother, Wilhelm, was courting Sanie, the Vermuelen's eldest daughter.
Kobus knew it was a mistake. He knew as soon as he saw her, that Sanie Vermuelen was an evil, wicked woman, a soul destroyer.
He saw it in her round, slick, cat face, and the way she peered at Wilhelm sideways under her prim bonnet. He saw it in the way her plump flesh strained the buttons of her high-necked blouse. It was written into her pale skin; in the golden freckles on the inside of her slender wrists.
Mostly he knew it by the thrumming second heart beating at his groin. Sanie Vermuelen was the Devil's Daughter, one of the Jezebels Predikant had warned them about, but Wilhelm was blind.
So they all sat at the long trestle tables for the Christmas lunch, the women serving the men, and Sanie has brushed against him as if by mistake. Her arm had brushed his cheek. She was smiling at Wilhelm, that sly smile. Kobus could smell her, her dense woman-flesh. The ripeness of it mixed with the aroma of the meat-stew made his mouth overflow with saliva, made him gag.
After lunch, the women took the smaller children inside the house, away from the hot sun, and the men cradled their pipes. The younger people wandered away, to sit under the trees, or play some skipping games, with ropes and stones. Kobus watched as Wilhelm and Sanie quietly walked away, heads together, towards a ridge of scarlet rock jutting out of the yellow veldt.
He followed them, saw her run ahead, turning, laughing, luring him into a narrow canyon between the two long spurs of striated red stone. Kobus clambered up the ridge, lost sight of them for long minutes, then came up to perch high above them, a birds-eye view of their embrace.
Their heads were close together, he could see a confused entanglement of limbs and shadows. Their voices - low as they were - were funnelled up to him, as distinct as if they panted in his ear.
Wilhelm moaned," Let me Sanie...Just..." Kobus could see him fumbling at her, hear her answering panting cry.
"Asseblief, Sanie, 'sseblief?" His brother was begging, pleading, and SHE was making odd little noises, little cries. Wilhelm was pushing her back against the rock wall, pressing into her.
"Touch me, Sanie, please?" Then Willem made an odd strangled sound, and Sanie cried out.
"Sies, don't you touch me! LET ME GO!"
She was pushing Wilhelm away, running between the spurs of rock, her blouse open, her bonnet hanging by its ribbons, running towards the velt, and Kobus found himself scrambling down the rocks after her.
He wanted to catch her, take her back to the house with her buttons undone and her hair falling down so they could see her for what she was: the Whore of Babylon.
And he caught her. He grabbed at her arm as she exited the canyon, swung her round. She was gasping, blinded by tears, her teats half bare, and on her skirt was a glistening smear.
Kobus could smell it, her sweat and his brothers' spill; and suddenly he was tearing at her, pushing her down, scrabbling at her skirt, baring her pale legs. Sanie screamed, a high keening sound, and he threw her down, fumbling at his own crotch, tearing at the buttons.
Sanie fell, fell flat on her back, and her breath wooshed out. She was dazed, and in a second he was on her. He poked at her frantically, trapping her flaying hands, and she screamed. He hit her then, punched her. He punched her as his flesh sank into hers, and in that moment he could not tell which was the greatest pleasure.
Kobus Kemp slammed his fist again and again into her face as he thrust into her body, shouting out his pleasure, his rage.
Her flesh yielded, her face a wash of blood, and then something, someone tore them apart. Harsh hands were ripping at him, pulling him off her, out of her, even as he spilled his ecstasy with a protesting scream.
He scrambled to his knees, and the first kick smashed into him. He was surrounded by a forest of legs. Men's legs. Another boot connected with his chest, rolling him over, and a man's voice screamed: "My Sanie! Look what this animal done to my Sanie!"
Fists hammered him breathless, then a sudden respite.
Someone had pulled Jan Vermuelen off him. A huge hand lifted up his head, and a dark face swam into view. Dark eyes examined his face, then his head was dropped. Swart-Piet Ferreira spat on him.
"Don’t kill him, Jan. Take him to Johannesburg. Let them hang him there for what he did to your girl. If you kill him, it's you will be hanged, and Anna and Sanie and the boys will be alone. Take him to Johannesburg, let the English hang him there."
Kobus Kemp rolled onto his side, drawing his knees up towards his belly, cradling himself, and felt the soft stickiness of his shrinking man-flesh in his palms. Sanie Vermuelen was the Devil, and for her evil, Johannes Jacobus Kemp was going to die.