“Do I love her? ‘Love’ is a word that frightens me in the way that these two letters frighten me and if I were to say ‘yes’, I would qualify that by adding that – in our case and from my side – love is an emotion too often threatened by ennui to attain to the grand passion for which I have long since ceased to hope.
Certainly, though, I loved her enough to be able to say, ‘No, everything is fine,’ and turn around and smile into the once so startling blue eyes that now – under certain lights and when looked at in a certain way – have faded into the almost as startling white stare of the blind.
Whether she believed me or not, I cannot say, and equally do I not know why I have bothered to even mention a wife, and a second one at that – the first having absconded to fleshlier fields a lifetime ago – who does not in any way figure in the now so distant and tangled happenings with which the letters deal. Or do I, indeed, know why and have I subconsciously allowed Carina to surface in a manner and image that have more to do with me than her and that will save me the pain of having to explain in so many words why, in those years of warping and war, an oddness in my psyche became set in stone?
Whatever the case, I am now back with the package and the letters, leaving Carina sleeping – or pretending to, she being disconcertingly perceptive at times – and no commonplace papers or gulls beyond the window to divert me: only a darkness that is as inward as it is outward as – yielding to the persuasion of the tide I thought had ebbed beyond recall – I turn to the package and start to unwrap it, then stop, not wanting this from him and as afraid of it as though it held his severed hand.
Or is this all fancifulness? Am I permitting a phantom a power that belongs to me alone? What relevance do they still have – a war that time has tamed into the damp squib of every other war, a love whose strangeness is best left buried where it lies?
Haplessly, unable to resist, I listen for the nightingale that will never sing again, hear only the screaming of an ambulance or a patrol car, a woman crying to deaf ears of a murder or a raping in a lane, and lower my face into the emptiness of my hands.”
Tatamkhulu Afrika (7 december 1920 – 23 december 2002)