Woensdag, Februarie 25, 2015

Cold Stone Jug

Hierdie is 'n bietjie lank, maar dit is so 'n wonderlike stuk uit Herman Charles Bosman se boek "Cold Stone Jug" - sy memoir oor die jare wat hy in die tronk deurgebring het vir die moord van sy broer.

Dit beskryf 'n klein tower oomblik, 'n paar jaar nadat sy vonnis begin het, waar hy skielik toegelaat word om na die buitekant van die tronk te gaan om klein stukkie herstelwerk te doen. 


During the fourth year of my imprisonment a very beautiful thing happened to me. I was working in the carpenters' shop, still. A bracket had to be fitted into a guard-post on the pavement in front of the' prison. The head-warder sent me out to do the job. I went there escorted by a discipline warder and accompanied by another convict. It was a wonderful adventure. Even now, when I think of it, twenty years later that old thrill comes back to me once more.

"Get your tools," the head-warder said to me, "And the timber for a bracket." To the discipline-warder he said, "Get your gun."

So we went out through the back-gate of the prison, the warder, the other convict and I. At the gate the warder got his revolver, which he slung over his shoulder on a strap. The other convict and I were searched. The outside warder opened the gate.

Slowly, much too slowly, the gate creaked outward on its heavy iron hinges - and we saw the outside world.

Stout Cortez seeing the Pacific for the first time, from a peak on Darien...

All that sentimental rubbish. As though one piece of ocean could be different from any other piece of ocean... But in that moment of the gate swinging open very slowly, I saw the outside world again, after a period of four years. "Forward," the discipline- warder said. It sounded like the voice of Divinity talking. It meant we were going down that road which I had seen only once before, four years ago, and the sight of which had made my throat contract,

Because I had been under sentence of death, then, and as we.had approached the gloomy exterior of the prison, and those forbidding-looking portals had reared up before me, it was with an unutterable despair that I had looked on that same road, for the last time.

We continued down that road, towards the front of the prison, where the guard-post was. Several times the discipline -warder had to shout at me to pick up my step. For every moment was ecstasy to me. I walked with an awful deliberation. I wanted to miss nothing. I wanted to go as slow as possible; those moments that we were outside the prison had to be stretched as long as days and hours and years; oh, we hadn't to go at more than a snail's pace. And I saw to it that we didn't. The warder could shout his head off. This dreadful ecstasy had to linger.

I have never in my life, before or since, beheld a scene as entrancing in its splendour as what I viewed from that dusty road, that was impregnated with a heady fragrance - that dusty red road skirting the prison. I have seen Funchal from the sea; I have walked those cobbled roads, green with young grass-blades like sprinkled confetti, and I couldn't see what there was in Madeira to thrill the tourists, who all said, "Oh," and "Oh," as though it was paradise. And I have seen middle-aged men standing in St. James' park and looking over the bridge at the part of London other side Whitehall, with the early light of a summer morning on it: and I wondered what they saw in it. And the Paris boulevards, and in Brussels the Avenue Louise, and all sorts of other places and scenes - and among them, not least, the Hex River mountains from the train-window. I have seen lots of sights - since that day when I walked out of the back-gate of the prison, to go and put up that bracket at the guard-post. And all those sights have left me cold.

I don't think that even love has had for me the warmth and the beauty and the deep-drawn delight that came to me on that road, red with perfumed dust, skirting the prison. Love. Well, I was young. And I was in love with the whole world. And life had not yet been made sick for me through the poison of introspection. And so I walked slowly, in spite of the discipline warder's bellowings, in' order to miss nothing, in order that this incredible joy that had come to me, suddenly and undeservedly, should fill my entire being, dropping rose-petals on the places where my shoulders were bruised.

It was a dream-world that I walked into. For four years I had been dreaming of a moment such as this was. I was outside. It was all world. I was walking along a road where free people walked, where members of the public walked - men and women and children: and above all, women. Sunlight and shadow and distance played queer tricks with my eyes. Because I had been confined within cramped walls for four years, my eyes were unable to accommodate them- selves to the majesty of distance. To be able to see far away - fruit-trees a long way off, for instance, and a white-washed fence at the bottom of the road: all these things were very beautiful. They were invested with the magic of strangeness. I was in a painted world, queerly different from what I had expected the outside to be. I had so forgotten common things, that when I saw a couple of fowls in a back-yard I stopped and stared at them in an unspeakable joy.

For four years I had had only memories of what the world was really like. And what I saw now, distance and hues, and pale lights and patches of grass: they no longer corresponded to my ideas about them. They were quite different from my memories of them. And they were even more lovely than I had expected them to be. 

For years I had dreamt of the world. I had tried, in the nights when I had lain awake, to recall that gaudy lost world that I had known up to the time when I was twenty. And I saw now that it was less brightly-coloured than I had pictured it to be. But I was not disappointed. On the contrary, this pallid reality was something infinitely more exquisite than my black and scarlet visionings of it had been.

We got to the guard-post much too soon. But before we entered it a woman and a girl came past: the wife and daughter of a warder. And they didn't look at us, of course. Because this was on the prison reserve, where they lived; and so they were used to seeing convicts.

But I stared at them, at this woman and girl. I couldn't look at them enough. I had to see them, and I had to remember. I had to remember every- thing about them, every detail of how they looked, and what they felt like. I had to remember everything about what that divine moment of their nearness did to my senses, and every single detail of their faces and their bodies and their eyes and their dresses, and the folds in their frocks, and the crinkles in the woman's legs, at the back of her knees and the way their bodies swayed when they walked, and the way their light, summery dresses fluttered in the breeze when they walked. Above all, I had to remember that sublime impact on my soul, on my blood, of their having passed close to me. I must not forget that feeling of thick silence that was fragrant with the inside of the .

For I had to remember all that when I was locked up again. I had to treasure it all up; not a drop of it was to be spilt; and I did, as a matter of fact, succeed in keeping that memory vivid for at least a year after that - perhaps even longer.

The woman's dress was short. I hadn't expected that. How was I to know that women' fashions had undergone so much change during the four years in which I was shut away from the sound and sight of all women? And the little girl's frock was a washed-out sort of blue. I don't mean that the colour really was washed out, of course. It was only that I had expected the colours of materials to be more startling-hued than what they actually were. And I knew, instantly, that those really were the colours of the outside world, the colours of trees and the colours of dresses. I knew immediately that that girl wasn't wearing a faded dress. It was only that I had, during the years, come to imagine, in waking dreams of the outside world, that there was a brilliance about the things of living and the acts of living which was not really there.

But, of course, this pallor only enhanced the incredible miracle of the life that people lived. It made the mystery all the more refined. The glitter was all the more alluring, because it was subdued. Life was washed out, faded. So its attractiveness was a haunted thing. The outside world was deadly artistry.
After the bracket had been nailed into place, the convict who went with me having made holes in the wall with the cold chisel in the places where I showed him - mine being the higher- up job of hammering in the plugs and securing the bracket - we went back along the road we had come. But this time the convict who had come with me joined with the warder in making us hurry up. For it was getting on towards lunchtime, and my convict- colleague was hungry. He was only a short-timer; so in the walk between the guard-post and the back-gate of the prison there was little novelty for him.

But this time I didn't mind hurrying. I had already seen so much. I had a whole world of things to remember in the days to come. I had been allowed into fairy-land. I had thrilled to the earth and its beauty and its secrets. The faces and the figures of that woman and girl had not come up to my expectations in respect of the dark loveliness that I had come to associate with woman. But their beauty seemed all the more ethereal because it was not held fast in swift contours and vivid colouring. And their beauty had become all the more intangible because it made contact with my senses not as spirit but as clay.

Paradise was so much nearer to me than the soil, during those years of my dreaming of the outside world. And what there was of clay in that girl and woman was a thing of far greater mystery to me than their quality of soul. Reality was more trance-like than a vision, more breathtaking than any dream. 

During the many months that followed, of my sojourning inside the walls, that saunter along the dusty road was a warm and luscious memory for me. It was an excursion into realms of gaudy adventure where my sight had been dazzled with shining fresh flowers and my ears had been filled with the sound of old gold. And life had been broken open like a ripe pomegranate, and tropical fronds had bent low in laughter, and spring had exulted in the stillness of young growth.

I had tiptoed down the corridors of ancient palaces, richly arrassed and niched with armorial bearings; my footsteps had wandered through sacred groves. And I would look at my feet, alone in my cell for many nights thereafter, and I would think that these feet, shod in these same boots, had walked down that road, once, and had got red dust on them, had walked in the same dust in which people of the outside world had walked, in which that girl and that woman had walked. And thinking like that I would not feel cut off from the world at all. For my boots were tangible proof that I was one with the earth and with life; proof - that any court of law would accept - that I belonged with people.

And, of course, the immediate effect of my adventure into Avalon was that my dreamings of the outside world became again exotic things of black and scarlet, heavy with perfumes, low-hung with the night. In my envisioning the world outside the prison was invested with more vivid colours than ever before...

(Only the other day I passed that same spot again, by car. After an interval of twenty years. And the red road had been tarred. And I saw then that the whole distance we had walked, the distance from the back- gate to the guard-post, which still stood there on the corner - with the bracket still in place, no doubt, for I nailed it in solid - was less than a hundred yards.)

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