Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Service: * * * *
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Babe Count: * * * * *
"Jeeez, Roy. I think you've made too much pasta," says Charl.
I'm notorious for overcatering.
Charl says to Bianca and Eran, "You should have seen Roy on the last hike we went on together!"
I've invited a few buddies over to watch a movie on my big screen. I've got an old video projector and a lovely pull-down screen, and light-proofing, and, when I connect the system, surround-sound.
"Luckily," I tell them, "I do tai chi, so my legs are pretty potent."
"And he needed potent legs," says Charl. "His pack must have weighed about 30 kilograms."
"It was my turn to cook supper on the second night," I say. "And I'll never forgive Damon's girlfriend, Wendy. I had all the ingredients for making Lionel Murcott's famous lentil briyani, enough to feed twelve people. I figured there might be other people in the hut with us, so I didn't want to undercater. The ONLY thing I asked Wendy to carry was the lentils. We got to the hut, and I started to cook, and Wendy admitted that her pack was too heavy, so she left the lentils behind at the last hut."
"But it was unbelievably delicious anyway," says Charl.
"This pasta sauce is amazing," says Eran. "Did you make it from scratch?"
"Nah. Three different kinds of bottled pasta sauce, cooked up with red wine and pan-fried onion."
I bought the movie, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE on dvd a few days ago as a sort of reward for getting through the Ethiopian educational tv stuff without losing my mind. I've heard it's a brilliant movie, and it's by the guy who wrote and directed MAGNOLIA, which is a hottie deluxe. So I'm really looking foward to seeing it.
But I'm more looking forward to cuddling up to Bianca in the dark, under a blanket, on my couch. Beats a car seat anytime. And I've invited her to spend the night, and I have a spare set of keys, so she doesn't need to wake up when I do, and she can sleep in if she wants. And she's okay to eat musli for breakfast, cos I don't have eggs in the house, but anyway, she says, "I don't eat eggs in the morning, so it's fine. Musli's good."
And it's really cool to have her here, with my friends. Cos I'm not having a great day. I learned on Monday night that Lionel Abrahams, my writing mentor, has died. And it's hit me harder than the death of my own father. Here's the eulogy I wrote for him on the UCT Poetry Web, a discussion forum for some of South Africa's top poets:
Ah, what can I say about Lionel? I spent 13 years of Monday nights in his company. He turned me from a cocky, arrogant, self-styled literary genius into a humble, knowledgeable, able writer. Didn't cure me of the "genius" affliction. But hey. He wasn't God.
Jane Fox, his widow, said something beautiful on the radio this morning. When asked what she'll miss about him, she said she'll miss his eyes, his infinitely kind eyes.
When we still had the famous Lionel Abrahams Writers' Workshop at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, before it moved to his and Jane's home in Rivonia, I used to help him in and out of his car. Manhandling the wheelchair into place, jamming my foot behind the wheel, putting one hand on top of his wispy-haired head to prevent him from cracking his noggin. What a light man he was. And yet such a heavyweight.
I watched him typing on his computer. Because of his back operation a coupla years ago, Lionel was confined to the wheelchair. It was the op that damaged nerves in his spine, and lost him the use of his hands. Sure, he was palsied before, and had difficulty. But nothing like the ten or so years in the chair.
Typing, for Lionel, was a matter of grasping a long stick in his clawed hand. On one end was a bundle of tissue held in place by sticky tape. That was to protect his palm, or to give a little comfort. Maybe it was there for leverage? The other end was for him to prod, painstakingly, inaccurately, in the general direction of a letter on the keyboard. It took Lionel about ten or twenty seconds per letter to type THE WHITE LIFE OF FELIX GREENSPAN. And his letters to the press. And his reviews. And his comments on peoples' writing. And he didn't stop doing those things.
I visited him last in January or February. Could have been March.
"I can't really eat more than two mouthfuls of food now," he said. It was a Saturday, and I'd dropped in, and Jane invited me to lunch. He'd just gulped a fistful of pills, all in aid of his digestion.
I remember thinking, "Goodbye, Lionel, and thanks for everything. I love you." But I don't think I actually said the words. Who knows? Sometimes thoughts transmit. Instead, I said something along the lines of, "Nah. Please don't die yet, Lionel. You're only 76." It could have been funny, but it was far too true.
Jane's jaw set, and I could tell I'd spoken their big fear. But more. I realised that this was a fear that was on the table. Unhidden. They were alive to it.
The light man I'd helped in and out of his car years back was now half the weight he'd been. A baby bird. His voice indistinct, and very difficult for me to make out, even though my ears have been tuned to his nuances.
"I just don't have energy," he said.
And the "Goodbye, Lionel!" roared in my sinuses, a curious spinning feeling, a letting go. I remember biting my lip and wishing I'd visited much more often than I had in the past three years. When I stopped attending his workshop, I kinda drifted out of touch. Relationships. Fulltime employment. Tons of writing. These things are my excuses for not visiting my mentor, the man who made me into something of a writer.
I can't think why I didn't see him more often. Maybe a fear that this day would come? Maybe a distancing of myself from him so I wouldn't feel pain?
Well, the thing that stunned me as I listened to Jane on the radio this morning is that this man's death hurts me more than my own father's death. I cared more for Lionel than my own dad. What does this say about me? Who knows. But it says a lot about Lionel. It tells me that he was my father in important ways. I can't count them. I won't list any. And I don't need to. Because a thousand South African writers are feeling the same way right now. Their father is dead.
Lionel, may you find a place where you're free of your wheelchair. May you have unfettered access to typing that's as fast as your thoughts. Or at least a private secretary every bit as beautiful and devoted as Jane ready to take dictation. May Herman Charles Bosman thank you for your editing of his work, with only a few queries about certain of your editorial decisions. May you run a Monday workshop in heaven to teach those illiterate apostles how to write. Thank you, Lionel.Love
I decided not to go to his funeral today. I don't really do funerals, and it's just hectic for me. I figured that the best thing about going to his funeral would be to rub shoulders with some of South Africa's literary hotshots, and have my photo taken with them. But that would be the worst kind of reason to go, cos it dishonours Lionel. So I didn't go.
Instead, I'm at home, thinking about him while I watch a movie with my friends, and Bianca is helping me forget about my various sorrows.