Night of the fireflies



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My thoughts were interrupted by a resonant groan from Rainer that caused Rosa to jump down from his chest. The dog’s abrupt departure set off a chain of reactions within the dozing man. He twisted his body in the chair, made sticky noises with his mouth and pulled a face as if he had eaten something foul. Soon he began to twitch and whimper like an animal held hostage by a dream. So rapid was his deterioration into violent shuddering and stifled shouts that I became alarmed. There was no way that such suffering could be written off as yet another of his theatricalities. This time I felt genuine sympathy. I called out his name repeatedly without effect, then shook him. But he remained locked in some internal duel between life and death.

Suddenly the invisible stranglehold broke: his body lurched and he began gulping down air noisily, opening and closing his mouth like a fish on dry land. Then just when I thought he was on the way to recovery, the region of conflict shifted to his naked umbilicus, which he started to tear at with his fingers, scratching himself to the point of drawing blood.

It was with enormous relief that I saw António hurrying towards us. Standing behind Rainer, he cupped his lover’s head in his palms and pressed his skull as if he were trying to squeeze the brains out. Then he hauled him upwards with startling force until he held him suspended six inches clear of the chair. At this point Rainer’s eyes sprung open and rolled about in unseeing panic. At once he started shouting incoherently about “Them,” also classified as “Porcos!” who would never be able to keep him out of some place where he was intent on going (the same sort of paranoid argument I had succeeded in averting during my interview with him). Only when he had calmed down considerably did António lower him into the armchair, and then proceed at once to massage Rainer’s head until he grew quiet and still. When António finally removed his hands, Rainer slumped like a subdued beast, his bulging eyes clouded, saliva dribbling from his open mouth …

Loud repeated hooting at the front gate broke the spell of this convoluted drama. António responded by gathering Rainer in his arms and rushing off with him across the living room and into the bedroom.

Less agile, I was still in the hall when Agi heralded the Greek couple through the front door. Mr Parfitis explained breezily that he had come to pick up the old man and take him for lunch at the Polana Hotel; Rainer was not included in the invitation, and, mercifully, neither was I.

I was in the library when the lunch party set off. Through the louvred library blinds, I watched Mr Kruger Senior climb into a chauffeured Land Cruiser; he had put on a suit and tie for the occasion, his formality getting the better of the heat. Fast back on duty, António was on hand to open and close the gate.

As the vehicle drove away, he sauntered back up the driveway, picked up a can next to the Peugeot, and poured petrol from it into the tank. António the covert lover, the second figure in the mystery. I had begun to realise that the link between António and Rainer was central to everything. If clarification were to be sought on the plot, António was the one to whom I should turn. More than likely, however, resentment of me, which hung like a veil over his mildness of tone and manner, would preclude this option. Could António be jealous of me, I wondered. Had I become the object of Rainer’s desires or, at any rate, might António see it that way?

The shrill ring of the phone sent me scampering for the hall … but António got there first. He talked long enough for my hopes to fade. I returned to the library trying to convince myself that it was too soon after our meeting to expect Kudzi to call.

Seconds later I heard the old car start and curiosity drew me once more to the library window: the Peugeot was backing towards the re-opened gate with António at the wheel and a gaunt-looking Rainer in the passenger seat.

The key players had left the theatre. Agi was outside, next to the water tower, washing clothes in a tin tub. For a while at least, there would be no performance.

The first thing I did was phone Kudzi. It was the watchdog of the revolution who picked up the receiver.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“Out for lunch,” Ulla answered.

“When will she be back?”

“I have no idea ... Have you anything to report?”

In response to her martial tone I launched into an exaggerated account of Rainer’s altercation with Boland, my sole purpose being to wind Ulla up for my own entertainment. “They’ve clearly been partners in some affair which turned out badly,” I announced, delighting in the double meaning of the word “affair”.

“Surely they didn’t say anything recriminating in public?”

“Oh, Boland did! He got so worked up he couldn’t stop himself. He said, ‘I’ll screw you in the Life-Lines, you git!’ Now what could that mean – Life-Lines? Boland’s up to no good, if you ask me. You should get him thrown out of the country. Godwin Matatu agrees with me.”

“What did Rainer say?” she asked, unable to mask her excitement.

Seeing an opportunity for personal advantage, I held the bait out of reach. “He said something strange ...”

“Well, go on!”

“Rainer talked of killing someone.”

“Killing someone!”

“Well, yes … But not directly …” I prolonged her agony. She gasped in exasperation, demanding that I be more precise. I continued, “Death? death game? ... how did he put it? Rainer said they were both in the same game of death – that was his exact phrase.”

“What else did he say?”

“He did say something else ... but I can’t remember. I’d like to arrange another meeting with Kudzi. Perhaps seeing her will revive my memory.”

Ungraciously taking the bait, she promised to speak with Kudzi on my behalf. I rang off and had a good chuckle. How could she have taken anything I had just said seriously? When it came to undercover work, the Dane had none of Kudzi’s trained professionalism.

Confident that I would soon hear from my lover, and with the freedom of the house at my disposal, I fetched my notebook and stretched out luxuriously on the living room sofa. Outside, the song of a butcherbird filled me with delight. It grew louder … closer … and suddenly there it was perched on the outer sill of the veranda screens. Without lifting my head from the cushion I was able to watch it proudly posed in its sharply delineated tunic of black and white as it sent the notes of its complex melody rebounding through the recesses of the house. Quickly it was joined by its mate holding in its serrated beak a grasshopper with its wings feebly beating.

The lullaby of birdsong along with the hot blanket of the afternoon air must have caused me to swoon off, for I soon found myself in a field of metal grass on a distant planet, coasting along in a dune buggy ...

Around me there are herds of hybrid animals: buffaloes stampeding through silver grass with faces like chows; kudu bulls tossing their regal horns and stamping elephantine feet on brazen earth; lions with the muzzles of zebras passively grazing on ferrous grass; herds of wildebeest with snakes for tails ...

I pull the buggy over to admire these hybrid wonders. Then I spot an incongruous object – a Land Rover with a Sennheiser rifle microphone poking out of the window. The door flies open and Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, gets out and berates me at once: “You interrupted my recording of nature sounds for the BBC!” ...

As I begin to apologise, Adams’s attention is captured by something above our heads: a flying horse ridden by a knight in armour, doing cartwheels in the sky. I, too, am in awe of the spectacle. But quickly I am seized by consternation, and shout, “Nothing so beautiful and powerful can endure!” ...

In a voice smitten with awe, Adams says, “Pegasus is like a child, full of fidulity.” ...

Pegasus and rider go into a nose dive, and I awake with a cry.

I was unable to move until I had gone over this astonishing dream several times. Ever since Kudzi had left me I had been besieged by dreams, mostly nightmares. At one point they became so frightening that I had consulted a Jungian psychoanalyst friend who told me I should take advantage of the situation as many of my dreams were important “teaching dreams”. “They show that you haven’t brought into harmony two different ways of relating to the world,” she had said. In broad terms, the two ways were the intuitive versus the rational, the feminine versus the masculine. “You must reflect upon your dream stories and learn to decipher their metaphorical implications for your daily life,” she counselled me, adding, “You may lie to yourself, but your dreams will never lie to you”. Her advice lingered in the back of mind, nagging me for years.

However, I could find no rapport between my Pegasus dream and current reality, other than having spent a day with Richard Adams on the Isle of Man six months previously to discuss a film project. It was amusing that the dune buggy had surfaced – no doubt the Star Wars interpretation of Rainer’s Zeega – and I was fascinated that I had dreamed up the mythical horse. What was particularly intriguing was the hybrid animal theme that ran through the dream, ending with Adams’s use of the word “fidulity”.

Putting the library to the test I quickly scoured the shelves and found what I needed – a 1940 edition of the English Oxford Dictionary. The nearest thing to “fidulity” was “fidelity”. And there was another word, “fiducial”, meaning “a fixed basis of reference, such as a fiducial point, or temperature”; more significantly, fiducial also implied trust – “a fiducial dependence on God”.

My unconscious mind had cleverly created a new word – a hybrid word in conformity with the hybrid animals. I thought: if anyone has no fixed point of reference, it’s you! You have no fixed point in politics or religion or philosophy or love or profession; you are even a genetic confusion of Celtic, Jewish and Arabic stock, born in Egypt and brought up in Zimbabwe; you live between two continents; as for the issue of trust, you have become untrustworthy in the area of politics, and as far as Kudzi is concerned, you are no longer a person in whom she can place “fiducial dependence”.

The moment I associated Kudzi with the dream’s theme of fidelity and trust, further unsettling thoughts arose. The name Kudzi is an abbreviation of Kudzai, which in the Shona language means “to praise” and “to respect”; and kudza from which it derives, means “to make grow”. Kudzi’s name described not only the essence of her being, but how most people responded to her: they had faith in her, and, therefore, respected and praised her; and she was worthy of their praise and respect because she was trustworthy and true. From many of her friends she received tenderness and love; but I, her companion, the person in her life who should have given her the most love, had failed to do so.

I slumped down on the bed, weak with recrimination and self-pity. I wished I had not opened the dictionary. Where once I had walked tall and confident, fissures now ran through my heart and my philosophy of life, and every day they were widening – into a “gap” as Kudzi had called it, a chasm. Like the creatures in my dream I had become a hybrid, a half-person living a half-life. I was in danger of coming under the sway of the wrong influences, slipping, even, under the spell of the biggest hybrid of all – Rainer, the faux savant, who was not only a dual personality and a hypomanic with schizophrenic tendencies and with an official card to prove it, but a flesh and blood African-European hybrid as well.

On the brink of tears, my morbid self indulgence was arrested by a surge of pride and healthy self-disgust. Kudzi, Rainer, Ulla, Mozambique – none of them was going to be the end of me. I was going to get over the hump!

An urge for action took hold of me. The house was empty. It was imperative to seize this opportunity to find out what the wizard was really up to. He had encouraged me to stay on at his dangerous house, in so doing I had gained the right to self-protection.

I was lifting a hand to open Rainer’s door when my attention was drawn to a corridor from where Mr Klaus Kruger always emerged in the mornings or after a siesta. I decided that I might as well start at this far end of the building and work through the rest of the house systematically, preserving the best for last.

The first room I came to in the old man’s wing was a storeroom stuffed with bits of furniture, suitcases and bric à brac in their musty suits of dust. The place was rank with disuse.

The next room was locked, but the key was in the door. I opened it. A smell of naphthalene singed my nostrils. As my expanding pupils adapted to the spectral gloom I saw drapes covering everything, blocking the windows and hiding the furniture, including a large four-poster bed. The matrimonial bedroom had been preserved, so it seemed, as a mausoleum by Mr Kruger since the death of his wife seven years ago. With a shudder, I shut the door.

Beyond a bathroom, I came to the last room that led off the corridor – Mr Kruger’s monastic bedroom. It contained a single bed covered by a neutral bedspread, a side table with only a candle on it, a built-in cupboard which was shut, a bare floor of ochroid tiling, and a dreadfully kitsch painting of the drooped head of Christ on the cross. There was nothing else. Not a single trace of its occupant. A dead room – almost as functionless as the matrimonial bedroom.

Leaving Mr Kruger’s section of the house was like coming up for air. To shake off its eeriness I took a break and headed straight for the garden.

For once the sunshine was welcome, and the peacock sitting partially fanned upon a tree stump a fine complement. As I passed by the great bird, it let off one of those atrocious cries unique to its kind, and flew away cumbersomely, scattering powdered red earth. I happily took its place on the tree stump, which was a good couple of yards wide and must have been the base of a spathodia or a similar tree of large proportions common to southern African cities.

But I had only been seated for a few seconds when I felt something tickling my legs: white ants inhabited the surface of the stump; it was the earth of their red baked tunnelling that had been partially scattered by the peacock, and further disturbed by me; already workers were hurrying to repair the damage. After brushing off the termites, I knelt down to watch their frenetic scurrying, and marvel at their tireless energy. When I eventually stood up, it was to walk around the garden seeing if I could find their nest. It lay close to the front boundary wall next to a clump of bamboos. Fresh and still open, the refuge had developed the beginning of a hill – no more then six inches of a twenty-foot tower that would never be built; António, the diligent gardener, would make sure of that.

It took some courage to go back into the strange and unhappy house with the intention of penetrating the room I was really anxious to see: the one leading directly off the lounge – Rainer’s bedroom.

Not unexpectedly, the room was dim and shambolic. Despite the occupant’s precautions against obnoxious “interferences”, a handful of sun rays were pushing through tattered breaches in the curtains to brush over magazines, books and papers that were strewn everywhere, to dapple the scrunched-up double bed and chaotic bookcase, to pry into open cupboards full of untidy clothes, and finally to cast a pattern of secrets on the beige tiled floor.

At the centre of this mess stood a desk upon which paperwork from the yeast factory served as bolstering for further books and magazines. A faded hardback entitled Genetics is Easy bore the legend “R. Kruger, Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, 1967” on its inside cover, written in a spidery script. Pushed to one side was an old microscope … a leaf on its mirror powdered by the passage of time. Next to the desk a 14-inch telescope aimed at the curtained window sat on a tripod, the eye-piece made blind by dust. Presumably, the development of Rainer’s psi power had rendered such tools of observation obsolete.

The bookshelves were my next port of call: some science fiction; old text books on chemistry, physics, biology, along with Gray’s Anatomy and some medical manuals; also a slim paperback, Mozambique – The Revolution Under Fire, the only evidence of potential political activity.

Serious magazines were by far the occupant’s favoured reading material. Many, including Scientific American and Nature, were familiar to me. Some were crumpled, others had pages torn out. I found one such page lying on the bed: in red ink, Rainer had ringed a section of text about Russian scientists who had isolated genes in a mustard plant.

Then an open notepad on a rumpled bed pillow caught my attention. Although I did not anticipate discovering anything of interest in something so carelessly abandoned, my hands were trembling as I sat down with it and focused on the open page. At the top was my name and, beneath, an entry dated the day of my arrival. What followed was an unflattering picture of me based on our first meeting at the Polana Hotel. As if gathering evidence against my host, I copied down the whole wretched piece, even interpreting, wherever possible, the abbreviations that he used.

Michael Raeburn. Writer/Film Director on Polana bar stool.
LL (Life-Line): purple, compressed, oscillates shapelessly even at rest. Vitality globules heavy. Instant dislike of me briefly solidified his contours. I had to force myself to shake his hand through the stink of his excitotoxins. Completely stuck in his Line, he believes it is all about some woman.
Psi : low capacity – axons/dendrites shredded – neuron motor worse than my 504. Little connection with the Fields.
Field System : Bottom Field 2. No rec. No transmat.
Universal Field : In/Out focussing gives no clear SLL (Specific-Life-Line) due to weak trajectory. “A” (António) claims I misrouted him. “A” says he is Judas. I say what is mine shall know my face. Will ride his LL for more info.
I flushed with anger. I could have told him that I had no psychic ability, in itself neither a crime nor a weakness. I had no idea what a “Field System” was or “rec” or “transmat”, all of which my weedy soul was, apparently, deficient in. It struck me that he might have left the pad on the bed so that I would find it, take offence and leave the house. It had been a serious misjudgement on my part to believe that he wanted me to stay on.

I snapped the pad shut. Elar Shorthand Note Book was printed on the front in gold letters, Supplied by L. Rubin, 82 Nugget Street, Johannesburg. Curiosity soon got the better of me and I started flipping through it, looking for further damning comments. There were none. Basically the pad was stuffed with scientific comments or quotes taken from his assorted reading. At first, my resentment weakened my concentration, until I found a page dated 6 January 1984 that was intriguing enough to revive my interest.

NATURAL BARRIERS ARE: The horizon of the Universal Field, and the horizon of a specific Field, also Black Holes … Black Holes: sometimes heavier than a million suns, yet no bigger than an egg; sometimes less than a light year wide, but with the mass of a galaxy. The Universal Field’s agent of destruction sent to burn rocks to ash, pulverize metal to gas. … Just like my LIVING HELL when approaching the bands of Zeega.

ABNORMAL BARRIER: zero connection with Zeega. What have they blocked me with? With a furnace from the core of atoms? With fine-grained gales diverted from the Universal Field?
ONE WAY FORWARD: I hear its message on the Lines. I listen to it a hundred times a day. It says: “DO NOT HESITATE!”
The intensity of the fit I had observed earlier could well have been generated by Rainer’s nightmarish descriptions of black holes. Was I to believe that he visited black holes while sitting on his veranda chair? Or was it his reading that caused his imagination to run amok?

Elsewhere – referring to the Russian attempt to isolate the genes in the mustard plant – he had written:

Russians are trying to mutate the seed by working on the master switch. They have found 3 of its genes. Little do they know they have another 30 to go! They must study the proteins regulating the gene programme or they will carry on getting lost in cell pathways every time they leave the control box – lost in labyrinths of LLs (Life-Lines).
New Russian plant similar to vegetable-animal mutant Rodeenon they fed us on in Zeega. I will meet them soon. The countdown is on.

The date on the magazine page – August 1984 – meant that the “countdown” was going on at that very moment. Perhaps he had driven off at lunchtime with António to help push his D-Day along!

I carried on copying out some of his thoughts on various scientific topics, although there was much I did not understand. I suspected that for Rainer the purpose of making these notes was to try and establish the affinities between his psychic understanding of nature and the discoveries scientists were making; and this particular quest of his certainly aroused my interest. (An opportunity arose during my stay – as will be revealed later – to expand fully the rapid notes I made in his room.)

14 October 1983

Azimov ponders ways of getting from A to B across great distances. Chained down by the speed of light, he toys with relativity, refrigeration, rejuvenation!

... Scientists do not realise that the unified field system cannot exist. The forces they have discovered will not be made one, and soon they will find more.
... Dark matter detected by American scientists: “Mysterious particles in the cosmos that shun all else – strong gravitational pull – 10 times more of it than bright matter – surrounds everything at the edge of light – spreads all the time and grows colder.” … Amusing to find they have come close to Universal Field congelations without knowing it.
2 November 1984

I wish for the build-up – at the same time I am frightened. Do I REALLY carry the code of my future within me? …

Rainer’s notes made me no wiser about where politics began and psychic tomfoolery ended. Nevertheless, with the memory of the soldier’s mended body still very much in my mind, I was ready to give him credit for sending out rays, tuning into frequencies and somehow latching on to microcosmic structures. No matter what the risks were – and with Rainer, danger was never likely to be far away – I was beginning to realise that the only way to come to grips with his enigmatic mind on all levels was to delve more intimately and directly into his psi interests. Something that I was certainly not prepared to do empirically, but could perhaps continue to do more safely just by talking with him.

There was a hooting at the gate. Placing the notebook back exactly where I had found it, I fled the room.

I barely had time to sit down on the living room sofa before Mr Kruger and the Greeks entered the hall. Without noticing me, they made straight for the card table.

My day exploded into happiness a short while later when Kudzi called and suggested we meet on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. We could meet before an “Om” meeting, she said, at 10:00a.m. at the Institute of Agricultural Investigation, off the Praça dos Heróis. I asked if she had become a Buddhist. She laughed and, mimicking the militant tone of a Party official, said that “O-M-M” (spelling it out) stood for the Organização da Mulher Moçambicana (Organisation of Mozambican Women). “We’ll have half an hour or so before the meeting,” she said before ringing off and leaving me tingling with expectation but worried about the time limit she had placed on our encounter.

Seconds later it dawned on me that seeing Kudzi on Wednesday meant I would miss my plane back to Zimbabwe and would have to wait a week for the next flight. I called her back at once. She gave me no choice: she was leaving that afternoon to spend Christmas off the northern coast on the Ilha da Moçambique.

It was late afternoon when the 504 brought home a tense-looking António and a joyous Rainer who greeted his Rosa with more than usual exuberance. Apparently whatever they had gone off to do had turned out satisfactorily for Rainer, and less so for his companion.

That night we ate by lamplight. Renamo had re-cut the power lines – not a difficult task as the cables ran from the Cabora Bassa hydroelectric dam on the River Zambezi in the north, via South Africa, and then across to Maputo: a thousand-mile open target.

The first course was asparagus tips provided by me from my canned stash from Zimbabwe, which everyone made a fuss about except Mr Kruger. During the excellent main course of roast garden chicken, the Parfitis asked me a number of predictable questions about Zimbabwe, and even Mr Kruger Senior managed dinner conversation of a sort with an anecdote about hunting one of “the big five”, which he delivered in confused barking sentences running back to back. From what I could gather, Kruger had been after a bull elephant that had tossed his African guide on to a thorn tree where he remained until he died of his injuries. Despite the fact that the narrator found this incident particularly entertaining, I nevertheless made the effort to build a better picture of him by imagining him as a young German in Volga Russia; for if his son’s description of his wonderful stepmother were true, then it implied that his father must have once been a charming and seductive aristocrat who – fate would have it – had been reduced over the years by three communist revolutions in three separate corners of the globe, into an embittered old fool.

Things changed for the worse after dessert was served. Scuttling under the table, Rosa had managed to entangle herself between the old man’s legs. Ordering Rainer to remove the animal from the room, Klaus Kruger flew into a rage so mighty that Rainer got up, cursing, and carried the dog out. He failed to return. I escaped as soon as I could to the library.

Stretched out on the bunk bed I said to myself as sternly as possible: In order to recover Kudzi you must keep your head down, get through tomorrow with the American boat party, traverse Christmas Day, then you will arrive at the meeting that will make it all worthwhile.

As my breathing slowed and I prepared for sleep, I peered around at the library, which now had a comforting familiarity about it. When I was a boy, I would line up every single thing in my room before getting into bed each night: the slippers would be parked, just so, next to the bed; my hair brush lined up parallel to the edge of the dresser; my clothes folded into a pile in order of size; and so forth. In a house where my parents so often fought bitter battles into the night, my mother wailing and my father even firing his revolver through the ceiling, this nightly ritual had helped me keep a lid on sanity.

So, now, I got up and did some arranging of a similar kind with my effects in the library. Then I climbed back on to the bunk bed, checked over the room with satisfaction, extinguished the candle, placed the palms of my hands over my eyes and recited a childhood prayer:
I have four corners to my bed,

And each one has an angel spread,

There’s one to watch,

And two to pray,

And one to take my sins away. Amen.
When I recited this as a boy I would meditate on each symbolic corner of the bed with reference to the people and events that awaited me at school next day, and thus, full of cosy reassurance, I would fall asleep.

Knowing that sleep could no longer be bought so cheaply, I took two sleeping pills.

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