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Gathering Words – An Introduction

I see him at the beginning of faint memory, a three year old boy. I see him on the seat of a swing. The seat is suspended from two metal hoops on a tubular steel crossbar, so that it moves freely and with the least possible restraint. I see him not sitting on the wooden seat of the swing; on the contrary he is standing on the seat his little hands wrapped tightly around the two sturdy ropes from which the seat is attached to the hoops on the crossbar. With rapt attention he bends his knees and a sudden upright jerk sends the swing forward and then backward in a pendulous motion. Again and again, he repeats the movement each time with more vigour. The trajectory of the swing becomes longer and finally the seat soars over the crossbar in a full circle. Again and again he pumps with his little legs until the swing becomes but a wheel spinning around the screeching crossbar.

An adult person walking by is alarmed and quickly halts the risky machine. Snatching him away from the seat the intruder sends him away with a sharp smack on the back. Breathless with excitement, he stumbles dizzily away homeward from the playground of the school in which his father was Vice-Principal and home was only about a hundred yards away in the staff quarters. Memory is too faint to see what his father thought of his unusual ways. Everyone would find much later in life that he delighted in unusual exploits beyond the purview of his age and indeed time.

I see him two years later in a new town and a bigger house. He is impatiently waiting outside, at the front of the house in the evening, for his father to return from work. Father comes at last and he jumps joyfully into his father’s arms. He is soon downcast when he looks into his father’s car and what he hoped to find is not there. Whether he cried or not, I cannot tell, but the rest of the evening passes in gloom. I cannot for sure tell how many days he faithfully waited outside in the evening with the stubborn hope that his father would fulfil his promise and bring home what he had promised. One happy day his father arrived as usual and from the back seat of his car hauled out a red bicycle. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. The bicycle came with a side car which was soon hitched to the frame and so it became a tricycle. He sat his little sister in the sidecar and gave her a wild ride around the inside of the big house. That night and several nights after, he slept with his new tricycle beside his bed as if afraid to lose it. If his father had previously been a big star in his life, he was now a god – a veritable maker of happiness.

I see him walking along the road that led from town, to his father’s quarters in the Government Reservation Area. I see him walking with his older sister and a minder. I see a herd of sheep passing by, their mangy hair quite repulsive. He runs after the biggest one regardless and quite intending to ride it like a horse he leaps on the back of the beast. The startled and terrified creature canters away in fear, throwing him off onto the dusty road. He laughs together with everyone else, but also wonders why it never happens that way to John Wayne on television.

I see him months later His father wondering where his father, his god had gone .He would later learn that his father had died. Not that this made any impression on him because he did not understand what being dead is about. He is still merely a child and children are easy to pacify with toys and delicacies. His mother was a marvellous cook and also knew where to purchase the finest confectionery. Thus were he and his five other siblings kept as happy as possible in the coming years. But as he advanced in age and whenever he gathered with friends to play and he listened to each of his friends boast about the qualities and achievements of their fathers, it dawned on him that a huge slice of his life had been taken away.

I see him driven more and more into himself and into his own private world where discussions about fathers did not exist. His father loved books and he left behind a personal library of educational books and storybooks for the children. I see him being driven away from stories about fathers because in the perpetually unfair world around him he had no stories to tell. I see him wandering away into more friendly worlds which the pages of those storybooks unfolded to him .

From the introduction to my coming book – a collection of essays , extracts from published books , autobiographical notes and more.

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