The writing is rich with perceptive metaphors, making startling connections between the human condition and the universe. All the stories, long or short, are well told, well informed and observed.
The stories are engaging - the narratives driven by an inventive style of writing, which keeps the reader alert. The characters, many of them lost souls, are also intri-guing with their disillusioned cynicism, yet they never quite snuff out their kernel of humanity. In the ambiguous endings, there is always a smidgeon of hope for spiritual reawakening. Often their human self-expression emerges from lessons through suffering, through art, even surviving somehow in the wake of unremitting de-struction and metamorphosis centuries hence.
REVIEW BY LuLi Callinicos
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Read an Excerpt
Hurakan and Other Short Stories
By Boitumelo Moroka
Partridge AfricaCopyright © 2017 Boitumelo Moroka
All rights reserved.
Birdie always imagined that a great and grand procession would follow her coffin to the graveyard; a vibrantly saturated parade that did not lack in wild fun or pictorial beauty, a fine balance between jubilation and utter mourning.
The state orchestra would accompany the coffin down main roads while big volcanic drums trailed lazily behind; booming, resounding deep; summoning judgment day from the concealed future while steel pans and timpani drums are beaten brutally as though punished for the sins of this cold and callous world. Horns too would be blown in rhythmic unison, saxophones and trumpets celebrating; swaying solemnly alongside each other; loud enough to awaken gods from peaceful slumber while balloons and confetti peacefully float in the sweltering midday heat.
Birdie's vanity leads her to further visualize ... rows of bereaved women weeping into ironed handkerchiefs while groups of stern men stand motionless with top hats removed, in show of respect for the newly departed.
In the distance a sweetheart from the past is looking younger and more handsome than what Birdie remembers; he smoking a pipe, blowing thick dirty smoke into the calm humid clean air.
"There goes a feisty lady if ever I knew one" he salutes and calmly spits wet phlegm to his side.
At the graveside stands a podium occupied by none other than the Great el Comandante Mario Cristofor Fernandez who speaks with his right hand on his heart and head slightly lowered, "Never have I met anyone considered an equal until I met my match in Birdie, LONG LIVE BIRDIE!!!"
"Hurricanes and tropical storms are part of life", Birdie tells the children as they look over the debris, remnants of their home in pieces; their belongings spread out for all to see under the flirtatious sun. Their house is knee deep in mud and all the electrical equipment is layered in sludge and damaged. A grand piano stands naked on three legs clumsily blocking the entrance of the abode.
Aluwa is standing on a fridge; it is now in the driveway, inside the food has scattered and begun to rot. She manoeuvres around the yard with caution and bounce while balancing on whatever she can find; 'life has retained adventure' she thinks as she makes her way through the open obstacle course.
A fierce and passionate wind had passed through hours ago with unforgiving impetus; travelling faster than the world's fastest rollercoaster, it snatched lifeless trees from the Earth and pulled off rooftops in defiance, toppled cars in might and dispelled man in fear; in flight they carried only their most cherished belongings.
It was a relentless struggle, accompanied by a violent surge of water with fast momentum; a liquid wall moving forward like a well-orchestrated army intent on massacre, it flooded streets and swept neighbourhoods clean along the shore line, it rained unyielding drops of water that were sharp and stabbing. Within twelve hours it had come and gone, back into the warm ocean from where it came; taking whatever it so desired, leaving the midday sun to shine in somber severity.
"A natural catastrophe if you live in hurricane country" Birdie continued in sorrow. She thought about how the landscapes continuously evolved; the island had changed with her youth many times.
"If you cannot move with the winds you shall be left behind, where the whirlwind stops nobody knows ...
Did you know that the word Taino means good or noble people? They were named so by the Spanish conquistadors to differentiate them from the fierce cannibal Carib Indians that plagued the area.
It is said that the Taino would sit in their thatched homes and beat their drums loudly; in hope of swerving the direction of the Hurricane or even perhaps scaring it away. Their home structures were made from wooden frames topped by straw with earthen floor but yet what they constructed was strong enough to withstand hurricanes, amazing don't you think? They had little possessions, and therefore never lost much, not like us"
Sam is in peaceful shock, his ears tuned to the roaring ocean not too far off, large black birds circle the sky; the stench of gas leaking from a cylinder is combined with the stink of a dead dog whose carcass is half buried in the mud. His eyes are fixed on a ruined house at the end of the street, his tears growing large; he, a mere block of dead wood.
"It's going to be alright Sam; all of this can be replaced, no need crying for what's gone. At least we still have each other, alright?" Oliver is rubbing his son's head.
Winds travel from as far as the Sahara deserts in Africa to ride the vast skies with only one purpose, destruction; for this reason tropical storms are commonly mistaken as the 'evil gods'.
The ancient Taino named the storms Juracan.
Juracan was controlled by the creator goddess deity Guabancex, one whose fury destroys everything. When the Taino first met the great Mayans of Mexico they were impressed and in awe of their magnificent and complex civilization; their sophistication and advanced technology, but they remained cautious still. For it was known that the Mayans made human sacrifices to the gods. The Taino sought to understand the Mayans instead; and in so doing became profoundly influenced by their magic, legends and folklore.
The Taino were also known to be an open minded people, peaceful and accepting of other ideologies, easily merging or holding dual beliefs ... So after generations of trading and exchange with the Mayans, the Taino consented in fear and agreed upon the Great powers of Hurakan, seeking to please him rather than use their powerful drums to torment the deity.
Mythology says that Hurakan caused the Great Flood after the first humans angered the gods. Known as the "red ones" these humans were identical in both appearance and height. Hurakan is described thus: has one stout humanoid leg, the other leg a serpent. His nose snout-like, his mouth has the ability to speak earth until land comes from beneath the seas. He resides in the windy mists above flowing floodwater carrying nothing but a thundering spear as weapon.
Hurakan from Mayan Jun Raqan, meaning one legged, is the ancient weather god of wind, storm and fire; one of three creator deities who collectively are known as the "Heart of Heaven".
It is said that the gods made three separate attempts at creating humanity; first from mud, then wood and finally from maize.
Hurakan boldly took on the bulk of the work, sacrificing from his own blood to create human flesh under strict and direct instruction from Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and Tepeu the god of lightning and fire.
The Church Santa Maria was built in the year 1605, by the great Spanish conquistador Mario Cristofor Fernandez, comandante del armada, at the age of 33. He was said to be a tall man, strongly built, with a lean unbending back, engineered especially for hard battle and long-term endurance.
His hair pristine; black and lengthy like a prize stallion, too thick to flow in the winds, falls down his broad, cross-like shoulders. Neatly kept in one long silky plait and vainly washed under morning sunlight with cold water on the daily.
A matching ebony moustache twirls around the edges of his rough face and droops like spaghetti around his small lips. His sideburns long; stretching to the bottom of his lazy jaw, giving him a permanent expression of bleak dumbness or constant surprise. His eyes dark and piercing like an uneasy owl, darting from side to side in stern suspicion. His Moorish tan; crisp like the glow of the eternal sunsets on the beaches of Crete.
He travelled the seas rough and tame and killed many bandits and pirates and escorted many slaves to new abodes. Slave songs etched scars on his overly ambitious heart, even the dead thrown overboard continued to sing to him; calling him sweetly toward death. He loved the storms and rode them with confidence and excitement, a man impossible to kill, even for the gods.
El Comandante Mario Cristofor Fernandez relied on the stars for navigation and his nose to point the direction of sail. He enjoyed fine wines and exotic fruits which often came in the guise of beautiful women. He had become deeply religious while travelling changing waters, swearing heart and soul to God and Queen alone.
From across the Mediterranean ocean to the Atlantic seas he sailed upon a ship called La Valantina, named after his beautiful petit and late wife Maria Valantina Valerio, who had died in the year 1602 from contracting syphilis from her husband; 'the wayward sea man'.
By demand of the Queen, Mario Cristofor Fernandez was chosen; among many other captains, to sail large fleets to the West Indies and Americas in the acquisition of gold. As soon as his wife was buried he accepted the request with haste and turned with eyes ablaze, towards newer and bolder horizons.
On arrival to the small island the conquistador y poblador retained his title as El Comandante, and was known to be just as vicious on land as he was at sea; rarely leaving any enemies alive during battle. He was a real brute who sought to live his title eternally.
Disliked for his grandiose by the locals and natives, most simply called him el coronel to his face, for no matter how hard he tried, he could not hide his obvious dismal disapproval at the relegation. To humiliate him further, el Padre; the then high priest, who was also scribe of the time, did not refrain from using el coronel when depicting the events in history.
El coronel built a church to commemorate his great love affair with Maria ... barely 25 years of age when death snatched her so unkindly. The church was built with stones and cobbles from mainland Spain.
An original portrait of el coronel can be seen on the wall of the entrance to the Church. Behind him on the canvas stretches a vast banana plantation with one dozen thin native Taino Indians in hard toil, their teeth extraordinarily white; forced smiles painted across their brown faces, by then many had already committed suicide or had died from the smallpox; posing for the painting was merely another step toward an untimely death.
The Great El Comandante Fernandez met his own death when killed in bed at the age of 45, drunk, poisoned with rum and set alight like bonfire by a young native Taino girl with whom he had been frolicking. It is said she later fled into the sacred forests; never to be seen again.
Santa Maria is now a home for the elderly.
The Home is pretty and quaint and sits on a little lush hill just on the outskirts of a gritty Caribbean city. The building has broken down and been rebuilt three times over the course of history.
In the year 1645, only 40 years after its construction, it was partially destroyed by a raging hurricane.
The second time was in the year 1903; when an Earthquake brought the structure down, almost to dust. It was as though Jericho had blown his horn and the angels had gleefully joined him in full force.
A third time in the year 1970, during the civil unrests ... The rigged elections and CIA interference. The police and military assassinations. The burnings and lootings. The murders and the endless lines of crying mothers on the 7 o'clock news.
Santa Maria was completely defaced then, while the portrait of el Comandante and his Taino slaves remained smiling faces; even when the smoke twirled to choke, even when it darkened and engulfed the period.
The original stones shipped from Spain were always inclusive of the newly resurrected structure, while the main chapel remained partially unchanged for centuries.
The Home now boards 40 of the aged, all women who at one point in their lives were either, nurses, social workers or midwives, all worthy patrons of the Saint who they believed the home was named after.
Santa Maria is run by a total of 8 staff members, whose main priority is to provide primary health care: feeding, bathing, cleaning, cooking, and the administration of medication.
Birdie has been in the same Old Age Home for almost two decades and the number of years is ever increasing. Once she stood here, a powerful figure like el Comandante Cristofor Mario himself, erect like an obelisk; an ancient tower refusing to crumble in the sands of time. She was a beautiful woman in her youth, with finely chiseled features that resembled the marble statues of the Egyptian Goddess Isis. Her body tall, big boned yet lean like a super athlete. She was unapproachable then and remains so to this day.
Today her spine persists on bending; time is forcing her back to the Earth from which she was made. Her face has become inflexible; rigid. Her eyes sturdy, her hands coarse, always tight-fisted as though intent on punching you in the face for a wrong you have done, are about to do or a thought read and disliked upon your face.
Each room in the compound measures 3 meters by 4 meters. In her room Birdie manages to fit a king sized bed, a small refrigerator, two household fans, four sitting chairs, a medium sized round table, a wardrobe to hang her clothes and a huge painting of Christ which hangs on the wall; serenading the whole room. It is the furthest from the Nurses' Station and the closest to the old gloomy Chapel; for this reason Birdie's room has been deemed somewhat ominous.
A beautiful orchard triumphs in the centre of the compound with a large avocado tree as its main attraction. Many birds nest here singing sweet sonorous songs that resound eminence. The grass is always green and the fruit trees bear sweet succulent fruits. Mangos drop to the floor in dozens; oranges are collected and served with breakfast and cool lime juice made in the hot late afternoons. Life continues to unfold vibrantly before the weary minded, before fading feeble bones; abandoned bodies presumed lifeless. Behind wooden panes eyes gaze out into a past existence that cannot be merged, forever gone.
To be forgotten is one of the worst inflictions a human can endure.
Many craved for the end; let it come sooner rather than later, but Death had forgotten them too.
The Old ladies can be seen shuffling in hoards along long corridors at any given time of the day; wearing their best smiles in hopes of receiving even a little attention for a little while. They are like zombies fast approaching, from all directions, blocking all possible exits; hungry, desperate ... undead.
But it is not all doom and gloom for all pains and regrets die with the mind's memory eventually.
Cynical Birdie complained about everything; her bed was too rectangular, her porridge served dangerously hot, her clothing never cleaned to her requirements. She even went as far as to curse the nurses for the unbearable heat, her complaints were endless, every instant burdened with blame; nothing worse than hearing Birdie's croaking voice.
Whispers came to a complete stop when she appeared. People naturally dispersed into hiding or gravitated away when her slippers were heard; quite a phenomenon to witness, like watching Moses part the Red Sea.
Those hard of hearing knew it was time to dash when the corridors suddenly became empty, while those with poor eyesight held on tightly to the closest departing body in hopes of being led to safety.
One day a cleaner stumbled upon a light tapping sound that caught his attention, at first he thought it to be mice and the thought of cleaning the traps aggravated his hangover further. He approached the pantry door; the tapping grew to groans, a slight worry stretched across his twitching face. He reached for a weapon, a kitchen mop, his hands shaking as they loomed uncertainly over the cold doorknob. Inside, he was dryly amused to find huddled together 6 or 7 grannies wide eyed; dehydrated and compact like sardines in a can well preserved.
Birdie is the apple of envy to some as she has a visitor who comes every second week like a loyal lap dog, her nephew; the last-born son of her late sister.
Tall and thin; he wears reading glasses that hang on his bald head. He works at the District Attorney's office as secretary at the front desk, he has a beautiful wife and two children; a daughter and son. A Christian man who lives by righteous values and feels it his duty to visit his temperamental aunt.
Oliver Otis goes to church every Sunday and attends Bible study groups once a week after work on Tuesdays. He gives to the poor and always attends the overnight services during Christmas. In addition he has purchased a new home for his family and two pet dogs to complete his picture perfect life. He often wore suits without jackets; enjoyed playing tennis; appreciated crossword puzzles as a way of leisure and did not drink or smoke. At the age of 17 he was desired by most women including his class teacher Mrs. Martha Brown, who would keep him back after school to administer punishment in private. She would leap over him and kiss him roughly across his fresh, stubbled face. Oliver was aroused; at 33 she was attractive and definitely more knowledgeable in the ways of pleasure than he.
Excerpted from Hurakan and Other Short Stories by Boitumelo Moroka. Copyright © 2017 Boitumelo Moroka. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART 2 THE INTENTION,
1 The Gods: Suns, 71,
2 Alchemy: From Metal to Gold, 73,
3 Introspection: The Addict, 76,
4 The Alpha & The Omega: A Journey Toward the Sun, 86,
5 Revelations: Metal City, 97,