And Then There Are The Stories-- WHITE CAT BOOKS - inspirational reflective fiction, semi-fiction, non-fiction, about humanity and relationship

inspirational reflective fiction, semi-fiction, non-fiction, about humanity and relationship

And Then There Are The Stories - a sequel to White Cat

The feel of an epic...
You can come from 'White Cat' or you can start here for an unforgettable journey...

"Hugh was damaged, and that is how you meet him here, but so was Nobomi... a daughter's destruction, a mother's agony... Hugh... Nobomi... they travel together to the place where their paths separate and they find resolution in a mutual resignation. Ubuntu was their code and so the thread can go on spinning."
The story win
ds its way between Vienna and the Eastern Cape, between post-war Europe and pre-apartheid South Africa, from the turmoil of occupation to the ferment of segregation. With his particular style of reflective fiction, and the eye of a lifelong therapist, the author follows the footsteps of his two main players through the unpredictable passages of their lives. In places mystical, in places challenging, in places terrifying - confronting revenge and the aftermath of trauma - the narrative takes unexpected turns as it traces a path to its final conclusion in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains.

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       Scroll down to read extracts
Read from the Opening

“This isn’t right. Where’s Barbara?”

“Who is Barbara?”

“You can’t be Barbara, you’re black.”

“There’s no-one else here, Hugh.”

“How do you know my name?”

“You tell me. Every time you came, you always told me.”

“Every time I came? But who are you?”

“I don’t tell you. I don’t speak.”

“You are speaking.”

“Now, but not then.”
“It should have been Barbara… we are going to have tea… in Bath… You’re not… Have I seen you before?”

“Many times.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Nobomi.”

“Nobomi. I’ve heard Nobomi. Somewhere… and Harry. Where is Harry?”

“I don’t know Harry. Who is he?”

“I don’t know. They keep on asking me, but I don’t know. Every time they want to know - who is Harry? I tell them I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. But they don’t stop. They scream at me. Every time and…

“Nobomi… Nobomi… Will you stay?”

“Yes, I am staying, Hugh.”

He fell asleep.
It happened often, that he appeared to wake up in a dream, no, it was more like a nightmare. She did not understand what it was, even though she might have guessed where it came from. But she just waited.
She knew that she had her own evil spirit.
Read from chapter : a sighting, not the first...
Bathandwa the herder
I can’t remember how long it was before I realised that they had always been there, somewhere over there on the veldt, where it starts to rise, far beyond the deep valley the river cuts. Of course the river is still a long way off, but you lose all sense of scale with the Drakensberg. It sits there massive and forbidding in the distance. My ancestors thought it was the wall at the end of the world. Dragon’s mountain, that’s Drakensberg, but they called it uKhahlamba, the wall of spears.
You might look out across the veldt at that end of the world for your whole life and see nothing moving, my father used to say. Its presence - the intaba and its skirt, he said - it’s like it draws everything into itself and gives back nothing.
So there I was, I had been grazing my cattle most of that summer season, slowly moving them across the plain eastwards, the dragon’s wall looming up alongside me. I had come a long way before I even realised they were over there. At first they had been so far away I could not even tell whether they were on foot or on horseback. But no, they were riding. They were on the course grass slopes below that bare rocky outcrop there, that breaks away from the far side of the plain. It looks like it’s a miniature of the great monster looming above it. They were scarcely more than dots from this distance, those two, so it didn’t surprise me that I hadn’t seen them before. Why today? Why did they appear today?
Of course I wondered who they were. In my life I had a lot of time to wonder. I was curious - were they two men - that’s most likely - or a man and a woman? Were they Xhosa or Sotho or Zulu. Less likely they would be Afrikaners, but they could be Boers. Two Europeans would not be very likely up here, but it could be a white man and a black girl. This is silly speculation. I’ll most likely never know. Look how your mind wanders along all sorts of pathways when you are on your own without any human company. But one thing I realised was - black, white, man, woman, African, European - those weren’t things that you could tell from this distance, no, you just saw two people living through their own stuff, whatever that was. I suppose that’s how ’tis - we mostly live our lives in parallel, we mostly never know what’s happening for other people, even if it’s happening right alongside. We might see what they’re doing, but we’ve no idea what it’s about.
They’ve gone. I don’t see them any more. I’ve been helping a limping calf all morning - it’d panicked when it saw a snake, tried to clamber up some rocks and got a sharp stone wedged deep between its hooves. I just finished and looked up and they were not there any longer. It could be they’ve gone behind where the veldt rises, or they might have gone down to the river, but it’s dangerous that way. Me, I would keep to the track, the valley sides are steep and treacherous. Horses don’t like it much down in there.
I’ll get to Matatiele in a few days. I know a few folks there and I’m staying for a while with my brother, so I think I will ask and see if they arrived there. It’s a very scattered place, but no-one comes into these upland regions without being seen by someone. Of course, I don’t know who I’m asking after, just two travellers on horseback. But there are still a lot of horses up here, so it’s likely someone will have seen them.
Read from chapter : hope again...
John 'the doctor'
After a while I was able to talk to Nobomi alone as well, because Hugh could tolerate a half-hour without her. I was concerned about her for the sake of Hugh’s recovery and I was also concerned for her own health because of those periods of fear which seemed to stalk her and grip her at unexpected times. And, I’ll be honest, I was curious, and curiosity for its own sake is not an easy thing for a therapist to face up to - I had never spent time with a black person in any capacity, and in these circumstances I was interested in how the fact that her roots and culture were so different from my own would affect this work. More than that, though, I was interested to see how spending this time with her was going to affect me.
At first she would not respond when I asked her directly about her fear. But I was too direct. She just sat impassive, head bowed. “Slowly, gently, step by step” I heard my father say. I wondered aloud what was the last thing she could remember that wasn’t Vienna. “Mbulu”, she said quite suddenly. As she said the word she looked up at me and I saw that her eyes had lost the peaceful serenity they normally had, her body became rigid, her face was taut, her eyes wide open with a fearful stare.
“What is Mbulu?”
But she was not staring at me, she was looking way beyond, I could not imagine into what dark place. “Not fingers, claws”, her face creased in horror, her hands lifted to try to blot out some image, then a scream like nothing I had ever heard before, “Nooooooooooooo…..”
The scream brought Mariana running. She burst into the room, another carer in tow. I was relieved that she didn’t immediately rush to comfort Nobomi. I had learnt we must beware not to rend the fragile tissue which holds a life together, just. There were other chairs around us and I motioned to the ladies to sit and together we waited, the four of us, a silent congregation, until Nobomi’s vision faded.
Nobomi did not seem surprised that I was wanting to talk about where they might move from here. Hugh seemed indifferent, which itself caused me concern. I was having a joint talk with them, something we had started to do over the last couple of weeks. I sensed in Nobomi a yearning to be away from the confinement of the city - she was after all a child of open spaces, at least to the extent that I was able to imagine her homeland. At this point perhaps I should confess that one afternoon when my services were not needed I had visited the library in Felderstrasse - not too far from here in the Town Hall buildings - to see if I could find the place where “the ducks have flown away”. After a lot of searching through indexes and enormous leather-bound atlases with pages as big as newspapers, some interleaved with fine semi-transparent india paper, I found it. Matatiele. It seemed to be on its own in the middle of an area of green-brown shading on the map. Just to the north wound a wide band of grey, light in places but dark grey along a central thread with snaking blue rivers intersecting. I worked out it must have stretched some 600 miles in all. Its name, one word, wove along its length: Drakensberg. With the help of an old Dutch dictionary I worked out that it meant Dragon’s Mountain. I was in South Africa. Words like Eastern Cape and Basuto and KwaZulu were lying around and cities I only knew as names, Johannesberg, Durban, Cape Town. East London caught my eye, perhaps because it sounded a little incongruous, perhaps because on this sheet it lay on the coast above the cartographer’s florid inscription of ‘Indian Ocean’. I looked around again to find Matatiele, a long way inland, and wondered what it had been like for a teenage Xhosa country girl from the mountains to walk well over 100 miles to the Ocean and arrive at a European town called East London. The Nobomi I hadn’t met. Yet.
I’ve digressed. I hope your imagination is not inventing any unseemly sub-conscious promptings. I was going to lose my clients and I was floundering, partly from professional concern and partly, well, lives which had been part of my life were about to disappear. It is human to want to keep a connection. We rarely simply walk away.
They were both in our meeting that afternoon and I managed to prompt Hugh to give the same sort of account of his stress episode to the three of us as he had done to me on my own previously. The fact that he went there so easily was both a comfort and a worry, but I was hoping to use his openness to lead into a shared discussion on how they would handle such episodes together in the future, for they would certainly happen again. I wanted Nobomi to hear about the result of sustained senseless suffering and its indelible effect on Hugh’s thinking and reactions, such as the insidious infiltration of self-blame and ‘just deserts’, the unpredictability and vulnerability which may stay with him always, the ever-present possibility of suicide. At the same time I was conscious that it all seemed a monstrous burden to place on one who had her own ‘evil spirit’ lurking - that Fear with claws, which caused her scream. Hugh was composed and considerate now, archetypal British officer-class, but always willing to admit that, yes, depression could come upon him. He was seeming to believe he could rely on his voice of reason to talk him through the trough when the need arose, but I was afraid that he was unable to recognise that he could lose this self-control in an instant, unexpectedly, unforeseen and unaware, and the impenetrable black mist descend again. For him, the quiet, unquestioning, patient, presence of this girl whose name meant Life, who walked so lightly on the earth and seemed to see beyond horizons, was the best therapist he could ever have. For Nobomi, though, there would not be the same security, and this thought cut through me like a blade. Where lies the true therapist’s responsibility? The master might tell his new practitioner - this is only one and you have many more, equally deserving, who are waiting.
Yes, but in each single moment there is only one.
I chose not to mention the man who had been seen following them on their walks. Speaking to you now, I can still feel the swing between anxiety and complacency as I try to decide the right course. But I did not tell them.
In the end I found myself wondering who was preparing who for the parting. Hugh was steady and I concluded that his bouts of severe depression were set off by random sightings or events, which I thought might be as little as a turn of phrase in a particular tone of voice, but being random could not be predicted, or part of any cycle. To construct a life around un-knowable happenstance was inconceivable. Nobomi seemed concerned for me, as if the course of my life had somehow become connected with their’s… or hers? I had told her nothing of myself and I wondered whether our unit of three, this place, Vienna, and my therapist persona had become fused as an entity, and with others took its place somewhere on the open plane of her homeland which she seemed to carry always with her. Perhaps that was as it should be.
I didn’t see them leave the last time. We had come together the previous evening, the three of us up in that mansard room looking out over the lights of the city. The midnight blue of a clear night sky allowed the horizon to be just discernible like the marker of another world. We each knew the meaning and the ritual of this gazing over the city and we spoke very little. The following morning I called at their room because I needed to re-arrange the time for our meeting that day, but the room was bare. Mariana said that one of the staff had told her she saw them go out on their walk earlier than usual and the man who followed them was there as always, but this time, she couldn’t be sure, but she thought he was walking between them as they went out of sight through the trees in the park.
A yawning emptiness opened up inside me. I went out of the building and walked aimlessly into the park, scanning the cruelly ordered paths and lawns, as if… as if, what?
No, Father, she wasn’t just a patient.
Read from part two
Adam, reporter
I had got into the habit of wandering around neighbourhoods, aimlessly, you might say, but then I’m in my fifties now. When I started as a reporter in my twenties, I needed an assignment, something to give me direction, but now it’s different, it’s more like following where the action beckons. I suppose you could call it the reporter’s nose. And the new editor in chief eventually loosened up a bit on me.
So I wander. Like today. I scan the groups on walkways, in shops, hanging around at corners, sitting at the roadside, black white coloured Asian Afrikaaner Xhosa Mfengu British Dutch French German Khoisan… we’re all colours of the rainbow. There is a crowd over there on the other side of the road, they’ve stopped under a brabejum tree, which is sprawling its umbrella-covering out from a small waste patch by the road; a couple of men are lounging on the ground propping their heads on their hands, a few men are crouched looking up at two animated debaters. Most of the group are men, but there are four or five women standing relaxed, their chins on one hand, elbows supported by the other arm, pelvis loosely flexed to one side, a common pose for looking on. They are Xhosa. I only understand a little Xhosa. The argument looks political but all have the same reactions, so I am interested in how much difference there is between the two contenders. I cross the road, I only have the small camera, but I catch the eye of one of the women who looks in my direction and I motion for permission to take a photograph. She looks alarmed, her eyes show it immediately, and she grabs the arm of the woman alongside her and gesticulates in my direction, the men now look over my way, but more impassive than aggressive, and the second woman starts to walk towards me, slowly, calmly, gracefully. Her presence was familiar. It was the mother of the bride at that wedding, the assignment I wasn’t interested in, until the next day when I saw the photographs. And… before that… yes, now I remember… it was her… with a baby… that was it, East London… 20 years ago, no, more… “thank you Mr Neumann… this is my daughter Ngoxolo…” With Frank, the English Frank, that’s it…
“You are Nobomi”.
She showed no surprise. Just that look again. And she smiled.
“Please come and meet my friends.”
It was the start of a new chapter.
You will already have an idea from what I have said, that politics in a community such as ours was complicated. I saw it as a kind of screen on which the image was constantly shifting and re-forming. So many significant groups, and these were not small minorities, the Indians, the Asians, the coloureds, the several Europeans, but the largest population in Eastern Cape were black African, mainly Xhosa, like Nobomi and her friends. In their different ways all somehow sometime found a voice, but that did not mean they were heard where it mattered. For the Africans, certainly, there were African newspapers, but the Establishment was white, and, despite a growing African middle class, the Eastern Province Herald, my employer, was an establishment (and therefore White-orientated) newspaper.
The men in the group were cautious - that would do for me, at least they were not hostile - but the women were nervous. Nobomi introduced me as the reporter at her daughter’s wedding, that’s all - did she remember me from East London I wondered? - and she thought I might listen to what they wanted for their community and how they wanted their village - Korsten - to have help to improve conditions, but not at the expense of losing out to control by the city.
“Would you help us by telling people what we want without having them think we are dangerous?”
“They think you are dangerous because they are afraid of the African unions,” I replied, “and black people are a majority.”
“We are not the unions, but unions give black people a voice. Do you think it is bad, what the unions want?”
“I am a reporter. What I think myself does not matter.”
“But your words can be like your camera. What is in the photograph is what you choose to be there. Your report is what you choose to say. Please help us. We need a voice which doesn’t make white people afraid. Not everything ought to be black or white.”
I don’t mind saying… no, I do mind saying, because I am a seasoned reporter… but I felt uneasy. I can’t put my finger on it. Reporter’s instinct? But not just that, because reporter’s instinct is the objective view, whatever it is you’re reporting on, however bad, it’s out there and you’re just in it to tell the story and you don’t get involved. And I wasn’t involved. I just happened to have recognised this woman Nobomi, I had photographed her for a friend and I had caught that look of hers, but that’s what photographers do, so why should I be uneasy, and anyway that was over 20 years ago. No, this uneasiness, it can’t be that…
No, it was that. She was my ghost. That’s Mr Crosby again at the Dispatch, he used to say that anyone who had been in our business more than a few years had a ghost, a person who had come off the page and would stay in your mind for ever. Nobomi was my ghost. She had come off the page, that was certain. And now she was wandering around my life. I was excited, and a little afraid.
Read from chapter : ndiyakuthanda...
John 'the doctor'
If you have found this, you will probably think it’s a bit strange. It’s a kind of journal, I suppose. It’s reflective, but not in an as-you-go-along sort of way because everything has happened. Finished (in the sense of moved past). And it’s my journal, so why write it in the third person, you will say? Why call myself ‘he’? Well, it came out that way quite naturally, without thinking about it, without really noticing, and then I realised that the reason was sub-conscious, but that didn’t make it any less valid, I thought. The things that happened in those few days, affected me like nothing else ever had, or has since. So I think I used ‘he’, in order that I could get some sort of clarity, otherwise I would not have been able to see beyond my own emotions. Perhaps I also used ‘he’ so that I could feel a little more distanced from some of my actions, which, in other circumstances I might have questioned. But none of that matters now because the thread of life has gathered more staple and goes on spinning.
It was its own world. We were, that is. A very small world, just three people, who each, in their different ways loved each other deeply. At first I thought that world had ended there, but perhaps it didn’t, perhaps it simply metamorphosed. Maybe that’s what worlds do, they don’t end, they metamorphose.
You can decide for yourself…
“When her second letter came he was immediately engulfed by a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, which had thrown him completely off balance for a couple of days before he had even tried to confront practicalities. Perhaps he genuinely believed he had been engaged in a rational assessment of pros and cons and means, but during the long periods of enforced inaction on the voyage from Southampton, he had finally admitted to having deluded himself if he had thought that there was ever going to be any other outcome. That was not a comfortable admission. If I were a religious man - he had thought on several occasions - I would have to confess and atone in some way. Maybe that thought in itself was a godsend. The atonement could only be to hold to the precious ethic of a doctor (which he knew he was not, and therefore no need to feel bound by their code, but that of course was a specious argument because he knew an ethic such as that of a doctor was clearcut. He hoped.) Many times during those languid hours on deck or ensconced in a corner of the saloon, he had wished his internal saboteur would give up the battle. Of course he knew it was easier to commit to the honest and honourable course when shielded from moral turmoil by a disinterested Ocean and this maritime cosseting - ‘but it won’t be so easy when you land’, it niggled.
She was on the quayside. He knew she would be, even though he had said he would find his own way to the Beach Hotel. She was behind the crowd in a space on her own - did she want to make sure he didn’t miss her?… there was no chance of that - she was wearing an eye-catching white dress with black designs, quite long, without sleeves, a sheen on dark brown arms, alluring, slender, striking, yes, very striking, her curly black hair in short fine plaits taken up into a bunch on top of her head, her look restrained, composed, watching… he was still on the companion-way, he raised his arm and waved hesitantly, he thought she saw him but she did not wave back, just looked his way. He felt a fool. His ‘doctor’ was fighting with his schoolboy admirer still - neither had enough experience, but he knew which one had to win, he was here to do a job, to save a life perhaps, he could not be distracted. Metaphorically he strapped his arm to his side as he bustled through the crowd; there could be no expectant peering over heads on tiptoe, no excited rushing to be close…
“I am very pleased to see you again, John, thank you, thank you from both of us.”
“I am very pleased you knew to ask.”
Read from chapter : umzukulwana wam...
re was rumours of occasional sightings long time ‘fore we really knew anything. You know how it is, one person says something in conversation and that starts off a memory for someone else which hadn’t meant nothing at all at the time, and they pass it on, then another person remembers something, which would never have connected as well, but slowly it starts to get a story. Then people are looking to find things. Thinking back, the first I heard was from a friend of my brother’s who ‘ad gone to Maclear to collect some cattle coming by train and he was talking to the guard who said he’d let two passengers travel in his van from Sterkstroom, had to keep quiet about it - it wasn’t a passenger line by that time you see - an English man and a Xhosa girl, least he thought she was Xhosa but she might have been Coloured, didn’t say where they were going at first, just said they needed horses. He told them where to find Khwezi’s kraal and then they said they needed a guide to take them to Matatiele by the mountain track. He thought they were crazy, said it would take them at least a week and likely much longer, but if anyone could find a guide it would be Khwezi, might even go with them himself if it suited him. Two travellers on horses, that’s why I remembered it you see, I thought it could ‘ave been them I saw on the mountainside as I was bringing my herd over this year. Then there was the occasional hunter or herder that came down from the mountains and said they’d seen a couple of strangers. One stayed a night with them and said there was a white man about 30 and a young Xhosa woman. He thought they must be lost but they said they weren’t, just that their guide had needed to return to Maclear. He remembered the girl’s name - Nobomi. Now, that started me thinking, because I know a Nobomi, here in Matatiele. Not just me, everyone knows Nobomi. It’s not a big place, but you know how it is, sometimes you get someone who seems to stand for a place, like a celebrity you would say. Well this old lady was one of those. Must have been well into her seventies, almost blind, but she still lived on her own, just outside on the hillside in a traditional round ikhava with a small shanty built on. When word had started getting around about her past, the council tried to get her to move to the edge of town, they offered her a free house, but she wouldn’t take it. She said she was in her family’s house that she had left when she was 15 to walk to the Ocean, and she had come back to complete a circle. I don’t think that was the reason - how could she have remembered which house it was after 50 years? - nay, I think it was principle, and pride. Blacks are not allowed to live in the town under the apartheid regulations, I think there were a few on the council felt guilty - not all Whites agreed with the regulations - and being the council they wanted to keep the peace. So they would ‘ave put her right on the edge of town, probably moved the boundary, and pretended they believed in doing right by everybody. Anyway she stayed put where she was. There were all sorts of stories about her, I think when she dies she will become a legend. Some say she took on the municipality at Port Elizabeth, and someone who came from there was sure she had been in that riot when all those people were killed. And the African union resistance, when that started she was in that somehow, she might even have been one of the activists who went to prison. They knew about her in Mthatha as well; there they thought she was with an Englishman down in East London and had a daughter. But up here even those that knew ‘er well and visited ‘er a lot said she never talked about any family except the family she had left behind here in Matatiele all those years before. You’d have thought if she had had a daughter, she’d have said something to someone, wouldn’t you?
Over the next few days I kept wondering whether that hunter’s story had got to Nobomi’s ears. I even thought about going to her place and telling her myself, but I didn’t really know her like that and with her having this status in people’s minds, well, that made me nervous a bit. That’s silly, I know, because people who do know her say she listens and just lets everyone be as they are.
You may be wondering how it could be that a whole story could have built up about those two people before they arrived, when most news comes by word of mouth in these parts and those carrying it had to get around same way as the travellers themselves. But you have to remember that this is how things are here. ‘Course we have telephones and the wireless and a few even have television, that’s the Whites of course, but this is Africa and we talk about anything that’s happening. I was the first person who heard the story from the herder because he had needed some help with an injured cow calving, so I went out. Anyway, he said he didn’t think they were in any hurry. He’d asked them why they were going to Matatiele. The girl said, “I came from there a long time ago”. He asked her how long ago because he might know someone she knew, and she thought for a bit, like she was working it out, then she said, “I think it was over 50 years ago.” Well that was it, he didn’t ask ‘er anything else after that, I think he was a bit scared - “she looked 20, Bathandwa, how could she’ve left here 50 years ago?” You would prob’ly say he was the superstitious sort, but you’ve got to remember that our older people think the ancestors are watching us and we believe that they can be angry sometimes. Our healers make contact with the ancestors to bring healing and they can appear in different ways. So after she said that poor Thandiwe just wanted to get away. But you can imagine how that story grew as it got told around. Mm, suppose that was my part. The older kids who looked after the sheep got to riding up into the hills to try and get sight of them. In the end it was like the whole place was holding its breath. When were they going to appear? Even the Whites were talking about it. But her name didn’t get into the story. I think I was the only one knew her name because that hunter was not from here and he was going up into Basuto when I met him. With it being Nobomi, I thought I shouldn’t tell it.