The Story of tía Amalia


There was a time when lines didn’t crossed the face of Amalia, and nobody called her “tia” as she was a young girl of seventeen. Her eyes were as black and as flaming as they are now, but at that time they made men go crazy. Her slim and elegant body made them turn their heads when they crossed her way on the street. She had a boyfriend called Juan, also slim, tall, blue eyed and blonde, always with a smile on his face and a sweet word hanging from his lips. They were both so much in love with each other, or that, at least, is what Amalia thought. They had planned to get married soon.

One evening, Amalia had just gotten back home from the fields in which she had been taking care of her family’s cattle. After a hard day she decided she would take a bath and then would surprise her boyfriend as they were not supposed to meet that day. She sprayed herself with perfume, put on her Sunday clothes and headed to her boyfriend’s.

On her way to where her boyfriend lived she found a black cat that triggered the mechanism of distrust in her superstitious mind. What could that unexpected encounter mean? Certainly nothing good.

“Go back home Amalia!” the young girl heard as the cat’s eyes drilled hers. To a more scientific or rational mind the very fact of a cat talking would have been more than enough to suffer a heart attack, but that wasn’t the case with Amalia. In her brain, the knots that separate reality from dreams were loose and she was more worried about what was about to happen than about being addressed by a black (or any color for that matter) cat. “Go back to where you came from and forget about that man, Amalia!!” the cat went on, “or thou shall see things you don’t want to see and feel feelings no one should ever feel.”

If Amalia wasn’t reasonable enough to doubt the oratory skills of a cat, it cannot be expected that she would follow its advice no matter how wise it was. Thus, she turned her steps into a mad run that led her right to Juan’s door. She stormed in and began to look around the room, looking for her wicked rival. Juan was completely amazed, covered by a blanket but obviously naked as his clothes were lying chaotically on the floor. Amalia acted like a wild beast looking for its prey but there was no one to be seen, nor any evidence of anyone’s presence there prior to her arrival.

All of a sudden she reached for an old China teapot that was on a nearby table and violently threw it to the floor but only the handle broke. Afterwards she said something like, “I’ve just screwed you, asshole.” Well, at least no less than he had previously done to her, but in another sense. Then she took the candle that was on the side table next to Juan’s bed and approached him, saying the following: “You shall slowly fade away like this candle.” And that being said, squeezed the candle that bent over itself and finally the flame vanished, leaving only darkness and a thin column of smoke. Juan didn’t dare to utter a single word, astonished and terrified as he was – he didn’t have a scientific mind either. Afterwards, Amalia turned tail and left the room.

Amalia cried her heart out the following hours and probably the following days and weeks, but life in the countryside doesn’t allow for depression, and survival requires daily digging, planting, milking and giving water to the family’s cattle. At some point, she had to walk the village streets and found a woman called Maria Sabina with one arm in a sling. Juan began to feel sick and was sent to receive treatment in Tenerife. He never came back and died a few weeks later at the hospital.

Since nothing good can come of bad feelings, Amalia became the dark sad figure that even today scares children. She never married, never had another partner.

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: El Hierro, Spain – Foggy street – Calla Hamburg (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

III

Kids at school were welcoming from the start. There are not too many, and I guess they are curious about any new face in the classroom. Most of them look taller, stronger, and their skin is much more tanned than mine. I guess that apart from playing videogames, which they also like, they might spend some time doing more things out in the open. They practice a lot of outdoor sports like soccer, swimming, mountain biking, fishing, etc. Eventually they are also supposed to give a hand to their parents at whatever their jobs are. Many of them know how to milk a cow, a sheep or a goat, have worked the fields, and I even heard about a boy from the village I live in who is sixteen years old and is about to finish the construction of his own house. Apparently, his father is a mason and in the past it was a tradition for parents to give plots of land to their children so they could build their future homes near their parent’s houses, and the family could remain together. Armiche, that is his name, was told by his father: “Now you are ready to marry, it is not good to go to your future wife empty handed.” I love that name, Armiche, I’ve been told that was the name of one of the last kings of the bimbaches, the original people who lived here before the Normans first and the Spaniards second conquered this island.

Next to our house live two twin sisters, Moneiba and Luisa, who seem to have some sort of kinship with Edelmiro. I like to play with them sometimes, but lately we have just been hanging out and talking about stuff or listening to music and trying to sing and dance like the original singers/bands. We laughed so high and were so noisy that were told off by tía Amalia, a very sinister woman who lived in the girls’ house. She was an old single great aunt to the girls and also was Edelmiro’s aunty, or something like that; in this place, everyone seems to be related to each other. That was the main reason for us to call her tia. You could really feel the chill run down your spine when she looked at you with those black flaming eyes of hers.

The girls, especially Moneiba, used to say that she was a good woman; it was just that she had had a hard life. And that wasn’t the only thing Moneiba told me about tia Amalia. She mentioned one day that the old lady had a doll beneath her bed that she used for her magic rituals and spells, stabbing it with needles, as she was also a powerful witch. They used to tell me these things with half a smile so I never knew whether they were really serious about their remarks or not. I also had the feeling that tia Amalia knew about the fear she inspired in all the kids of that small village and sometimes had a little fun at our expense. One day she said: “Alright girls, you better be good, treat your elders with respect and trust no man, as they are all the same, sooner or later they will betray you.” She went on, “if you don’t believe me, just listen to what happened to me when I wasn’t much older than you are now…”

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: El Hierro, Spain – Hut – Salvador Aznar (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

I

It was already 10:40 AM and still the foggy sky refused to deliver any sunlight. Chilly as it was, the air wrapped the small village in a refreshing rather than a freezing breeze. A symphony of distant barks, squawks, moos and neighs was the general soundtrack for the rural scenery. With utmost diligence, Mr. Sanchez the baker was baking the last loafs of bread while Emilio, his son, did el reparto as quick as he could in his old van. Time in this lonely and small corner of the world was slow and regarded laxly, but it remained relentless like on the rest of the planet.

Old pedazos marked by stone walls covered the landscape up to the sea. The Atlantic Ocean remained the guardian of this island, on a watch that had lasted a million years. Different tones of green, ochre, gray, yellow and black stained the hills and valleys as if the earth was a dormant animal. The old sleepy craters were now covered with green vineyards, and clouds played getting in and out of them, giving them the appearance of huge fuming teacups.

Kunta entertained a small number of pussycats without engaging with any of them seriously. He used to boastfully lick one of his paws and then carefully curb his whiskers. Living on a rural island had increased his opportunities for socializing in ways that seemed almost unimaginable in Madrid. Cats were a booming species in this place, as he had learned since his arrival. He just couldn’t believe how lucky he had been to cross paths with Edelmiro. Life back in the poblado on the outskirts of Madrid seemed like a nightmare. At first, he had feared Edelmiro abandoning him, just like almost every human seems to do sooner or later, but he had the immense luck that his new master had included him in his new bizarre “family.”

II

It’s been almost a year since we arrived here. I was very sad at first. I had left my friends in Madrid and all the things I knew. It is not that I had so many friends, just my cousins in San Blas and one or two girls from my class who lived in Vallecas. Because of dad’s bad temper, neither my mom nor me were used to hanging out with people outside home. I’d rather visit some of my friends at their places and come back at a prudent time in the evening, before dad began to wonder where I was. The contact to a few people you know and relatives is something to be missed, but I felt deprived of other things, things like churros and barquillos from the barquilleros at the San Isidro festival, the shops and shop windows at la Gran Vía, the Retiro park and the smell and rare colors of the fallen leaves from the trees in the park next to my building. As parks are intended to bring a little bit of nature to the cities, there are none of them in El Hierro. Nature rules everything in this place, and you don’t need to walk to find trees, flowers or animals as they are all over the place.

Well, since I’ve arrived on this island, I have lived at the old house that Edelmiro inherited from his parents, who passed away long ago. The three of us have formed a bizarre family – sorry, I forgot to mention Kunta Kinte, our cat. At first, we were distrustful of everyone. I don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with dad.

I felt quite disappointed and amazed about our sudden departure from Madrid. Edelmiro, up to that moment, had always been just another neighbor with whom we weren’t in much contact. I always knew that dad hadn’t gone to Zaragoza for work.

I wasn’t sure about it, but I knew mom and Edelmiro were up to something. It wasn’t very clear what it was. Sometimes I feel like a weird pressure in my stomach and a little nausea afterwards when I think about what happened back then in Madrid. I still don’t know what their relationship is.

I kind of like Edelmiro. He is quiet and serious but also very nice to me. He seems to have changed a lot since we have been here. He started to work his family’s fields and now we eat at home the fresh fruits and vegetables he grows. He also seems a little bit more talkative. It feels kind of safe here with him. They both, mom and him, look like strangers living under the same roof, but I suspect that Edelmiro would like to be something else…

This old house is scary sometimes because of the little noises that so much wood makes, but it feels cozy here and I have plenty of space. I have a much bigger room than the one I had in our flat in Madrid. I’m too old to play with dolls and toys, but I wasn’t able to bring all my stuff to this place. So I miss it. Mom and Edelmiro have bought me new clothes, books and all sorts of things so I can manage here. I have a huge wooden window through which I can see the green hills and the ocean. There is also old wooden furniture in which I keep my belongings.

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: El Hierro, Spain – Lost in the mist – Victor Suarez Naranjo (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

“All you whites must just get back on your ships and go back to where you came from.”

We were in History class. It was 1998 and we were preparing for our Matric exams to graduate. The subject was colonialism.

As usual, Nandipha had a very strong opinion. It didn’t go down well. The class was small – only eight girls – and all were very outspoken. I also no longer sat quietly at the back of the room. I was the head of the debating society and her comment seemed unsubstantiated.

“And where the hell do you think we’re supposed to go?” I asked.

“You go to Portugal,” Nandipha retorted. “Rachel can go back to England and Celeste, where are you from, Holland? Well, go back to where you belong.”

Rachel was having none of it. “I was born in South Africa. So were my parents and grandparents. England is not our home. South Africa is.”

“Only black people are from Africa,” Nandipha spat out viciously. “The rest of you came to steal our cattle and our land. You brought us brandewyn (fire wine, an expression for alcohol) to make us stupid. You bought us with coloured beads and made our people slaves. In the Battle of Blood River, the blood of the Zulus that you English killed, gave the river its name.”

The teacher observed this latest argument anxiously. Mrs McCrae had long since left the school. Our current teacher, Miss Rebelo, was a young, new teacher. She had no idea how to navigate the almost daily disagreements that broke out in her class.

“Come girls, this is going nowhere. Let’s focus on the lesson. The textbook explains how colonialism wasn’t all bad. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English brought good things too.”

“Get real, Miss,” Nandipha interrupted. “Colonialism was only good for the white man. For us blacks it was the beginning of 400 years of oppression.”

Celeste decided to join the conversation. “Maybe it’s a bit of both. The colonialists brought some bad things but maybe also some good things. Think of the missionaries. Many of them came here to start churches and be teachers.”

“More bad than good,” Nandipha muttered under her breath. She picked up her history textbook and threw it across the room, declaring: “And this, this is apartheid history. The whole book tells us that colonialism was good, that African countries cannot rule themselves, that communism is bad and capitalism is good.”

Finally, something Nandipha said made sense to me. I remembered the question from last week’s test: Explain why the rise of capitalism is a better economic model than Stalin’s Five-Year Plan. I had read the two models in my textbook. Nandipha was right, the textbook made capitalism sound good and communism bad. But to me, sharing possessions equally seemed a lot better than some people having a lot and others having nothing.

“Well, maybe Nandipha is right,” I said. “Maybe the textbooks do need rewriting.” I turned to the front of the book. “See, this book was published in 1987. This is before Mandela was released. This is before democracy. I read somewhere that education during apartheid was indoctrination. Maybe they wanted us to believe this stuff. But maybe it doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Nandipha and I had never been friends. Yet, we shared a mutual respect. She had first arrived at the school in Standard Four (sixth grade) and she’d been paired with me as her “buddy” to help her catch up with her schoolwork. We had shared a double desk. For the first few weeks, she refused to speak to me. Then one day, in knitting class, she dropped her needle. I picked it up and gave it to her. That was the day she began speaking to me.

Years later, Nandipha explained that the moment I did that was the first time a white person had done anything nice for her. While I was under no illusions that she liked me, I felt that she perhaps hated me less than some of our other classmates.

Maybe this is why her next comment in that tension-fraught History class was worth more to me than gold.

Nandipha knew that I wanted to be a teacher after I left school. “Ok,” she said. “When I become South Africa’s first female black president, I’ll make Toni my Education Minister.” She looked at me. “Your job will be to write new textbooks. You can stay. But the rest of you,” she said, waving her hand at the others in the class, “the rest of you can voetsek (bugger off) to where you came from.”

Looking back, I realize that those History lesson disagreements were unique in the South Africa of the late 90s. In our “mixed school,” many of us had been classmates for between 5 and 12 years. We were comfortable enough with each other to talk about race and politics so openly. I often felt sorry for our teachers, who looked on helplessly during these conversations. And not all conversations ended as tamely as this one!

Over the last 26 years, the issue of race has made the headlines frequently. Often it involves allegations against a white person who has made racial slurs against a black person or a politician who sees criticism of policy or corruption as racist if it comes from someone who is not black.

These incidents, more often than not, generate hateful racist conversations on social media. Looking at how people of my generation engage in these conversations, I realize that they are having them for the first time, whereas my classmates and I were debating these weighty issues in the classroom 20 years ago.

We need to talk about race. We need to talk about the wounds of the past. We have realized that the “rainbow nation” is deeply flawed. Mandela tried very hard to unite all the people of South Africa around a common narrative that encouraged us to work together to build a country that belongs to everyone.

But the “rainbow nation” is a myth. There are deep-seated resentments, fears, and trauma. Until we can speak about these openly and find the necessary healing, our rainbow will remain a faint hue against a stormy sky.

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Capetown, South Africa – Musicians – Angela Perryman (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

It was a cold winter’s day when I first experienced the pride of being a child of South Africa’s “rainbow nation.” It was June 1995. It was the afternoon South Africa beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final.

Rugby is more than a national sport. It is a national religion. You can’t be South African if you don’t like rugby and braais (barbecue).

I suppose in many ways I wasn’t a true South African. My parents were immigrants. We were Portuguese. The only sport we watched in our household was soccer. We didn’t have braais; I didn’t even know the rules of rugby. But that final match at Ellis Park Stadium, less than 15km from my house, remains in my memory forever.

Like everyone else in South Africa, I was caught up in the euphoria of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Our new president, Nelson Mandela, took a personal interest in the World Cup. He recognized that there was never a better chance to unite black and white in a moment of national pride as we hosted the Cup and were on display for the world to see our brand-new democracy.

From the moment that Vicky Sampson sang “African Dream” at the opening ceremony, the hearts of a nation were united behind a common goal: to show the world that South Africa was different from the rest of the continent. We could undergo a political transition without bloodshed and civil war.

To this day, when I hear the lyrics of that deeply patriotic and hopeful song, my eyes fill with tears. It captures the nostalgia of my youthful belief that we could become a united country:

I listen for your call, I listen for your heartbeat
Alone my dream is just a dream
Another false illusion, a shadow in the night
All I want is for our hearts to be beating just as one.

Ultimately that was the South African dream – for the horrors of apartheid and division to be behind us. For us to live side by side without hatred, without rancour. The international rugby anthem, “World in Union,” for a few weeks meant much more to us than just another rugby song. It captured the gees (spirit) of this hopeful, young nation:

Gathering together
One mind, one heart
Every creed, every colour
Once joined never apart.

We were a nation reborn. In the words of the World Cup anthem, we were indeed “a new age [that] has begun” and we were anxious to “take our place in history and live with dignity.” In those early days of democracy, we had no idea how hard – and at times seemingly impossible – that dream would be to achieve. Many times over the next 25 years, we would falter. The wounds of the past would fester and would emerge in ugly incidents of racism, barbaric crime, an aggression almost unequalled in any other part of the world.

But on that June afternoon in 1995, everything was possible. And I was unmistakeably, proudly South African. My parents had gone out for the day. I was home alone. I should have been studying for mid-year exams.

As I sat in my room, I could hear the festive mood outside the window in my neighbourhood. Every television was set at full blast. Cars in the street were hooting in expectant celebration, waiting for kick-off. I couldn’t possibly study.

Giving up on my books, I turned on the television and sat down to watch my first rugby match (and only one of two rugby matches I have ever watched from start to finish). I had heard my friends at school saying that it would be impossible for us to beat the All Blacks. South Africa had only recently been allowed back into world sports after years of political sanctions. It was our first World Cup as participants and as hosts.

Miraculously, we had passed the group stages, the quarterfinals, the semi-finals. And here we were, facing the world’s best rugby team and the favourites to win. Realistically we couldn’t win. Despite the odds, the entire country stood behind the Springboks, willing them to play the best rugby of their lives. This was about so much more than rugby. This was to be a foundational moment for our new nation. We, the people, knew this. The 15 players on the field knew this.

Defying all odds, South Africa took the victory in extra time, when Joel Stransky scored a drop goal that brought the Webb Ellis cup home to South Africa. Although I was watching alone, without a single friend to share the moment, I cried with joy and pride when Mandela and the South African captain Francois Pienaar raised the cup in what would become one of the most iconic photographs in the history of sport.

If we could win a rugby world cup against all odds, surely we could achieve anything. Over the years, whenever South Africa found itself on its knees due to poor leadership, corruption, and social instability, sport has always helped to restore our national pride and remind us of the nation we want to become.

During the “Zuma years,” when corruption under the watch of President Jacob Zuma had reached unparalleled levels of impunity, South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, and we showed the world what we could achieve when we work together. International media said that we’d never be able to pull it off. But we did, in style. A nation united around soccer for a month.

In 2019, amid service delivery protests, political wrangling, and what seemed to be an endless spate of killings of women across the country, optimism was at an all-time low. Rugby once raised our national spirit. We had lost one of our matches in the group stages and the pundits had written us off as a contender for the trophy. The first-ever black Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, again led the team to victory against England in the final in Japan.

For the second time, now as an adult, I watched the rugby match alone in my house. For 60 minutes, I was reminded of the youthful euphoria of the 14-year-old who watched the Springboks capture the hearts of the nation and the world all those years ago.

Realism has replaced the youthful illusions that all obstacles can be overcome. But somewhere, deep down inside, the girl who became a woman during the early days of the “rainbow nation” still carries the hope that this country, my South Africa, will one day stand proud among the nations as a success story despite all its difficulties.

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: South Africa – Watching – Nicolene Olckers (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

South Africa’s first democratic elections came and went. Nandipha was right. Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. The four days of elections were a national celebration, and the television showed hours of footage of long, snaking lines across the country as people waited patiently to vote for the first time.

In rural areas, people travelled and queued for days to cast their vote. In the cities, black and white people stood together in the long queues. People chatted with one another, some for the very first time. My parents were not citizens and couldn’t vote, but my dad and I walked to the two polling stations near our house and watched how people had brought garden chairs and picnic baskets, preparing to share a few snacks with their neighbors during the long wait.

There had been so much violence leading up to the election that no one could have imagined that the four days of voting would be a peaceful celebration of our new-born democracy. It was so peaceful, that we would be eating the tinned food we had bought “just in case” for months afterwards!

The tone of the election was like a breath of new air that spread throughout the country. When Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president in early May, there was a sense of hope that we could become a “rainbow nation,” a home for people of all races and all backgrounds.

Of course, there were those who wanted revenge for years of oppression. Some seem hellbent on restoring the old status quo. Others believed that the rainbow dream wouldn’t last. Despite its traumatic history, South Africa began the slow, arduous task of rebuilding a society.

Part of that rebuilding was the education of a new generation of children like my classmates and me, who would become the business and political leaders of the future. A first step was the desegregation of schools.

The government announced that from January 1995, all schools should be open to children of all races. For me and my peers at our “mixed” Catholic school, nothing changed. We had shared school desks and played the school grounds together since we were six.

But for my friends who attended government schools, the long summer holiday of December 1994 carried a sense of foreboding and nervousness.

Roberta and I were lying in the grass on a hot summer afternoon. We were sharing earphones and listening to Roxette’s new “Crash! Boom! Bang” cassette on Roberta’s Walkman. We talked about boys. We paged through Seventeen magazine, looking at the latest fashion and the clothes we wanted for Christmas.

Suddenly Roberta said: “I’m really scared about school next year.”

“Why?” I asked. Roberta was a year younger than me and she was starting high school. I figured she was nervous about meeting the new kids, missing some of her old friends, especially since her best friend was going to a different school.

But her answer surprised me: “What’s it going to be like with black kids? My mom says the standard of education is going to go down, because the blacks haven’t learned the same things at their old school. They can’t speak English properly either.”

For me, that had never been an issue. There had always been black and white kids in my class. In fact, if ever anyone had complained about a student holding others back, that student would have been me. I arrived in Grade 1 with only a smattering of English. My native language was Portuguese. I learned to speak English at school.

I don’t remember all that much about my first few years at primary school, but I know that it was probably only in about Grade 4 when I realized that we were taught two languages at school. English was our language of instruction. Afrikaans was taught to us as a second language. I probably never excelled at Afrikaans in 12 years of school because I missed out on some foundational taal rules in Grade 1 when I didn’t know the difference.

I don’t remember any teacher making a special effort to ensure that I understood what was going on. What I did remember was constantly being in trouble for having got the wrong end of the stick!

It had never occurred to me that my inability to speak English properly could hold back the academic progress of the other children. So, it seemed strange that my friend was expressing fears that another child’s language skills would somehow deprive her of an education.

I had learned in History class that the apartheid government had created the Bantu Education Act of 1953 to educate the children of different races for the kind of life they were expected to lead. White children were educated in a very classical way, preparing them for university studies and other academic pursuits. Black children were educated to enter the laborer classes.

I agreed with my friend that maybe the level of Math among the black kids who would be coming into her class would different, but my youthful idealism didn’t see that as a problem.

At our “mixed school,” we had a buddy system. When a new came from another school and the teacher perceived them to be “behind” in their subjects, they would pair the new student with one of the top performing students and have them help their new classmate. I was sure Roberta’s new school would do the same.

I sought to reassure Roberta: “Eish, it won’t be so bad. Black kids are just like us. Some listen to the teacher, others don’t. If they want to be there, they’ll learn. If they can’t keep up, the teachers need to do something.”

Roberta wasn’t convinced: “But what about other stuff? Like hanging out at break? What if they don’t like us? What if we don’t like them? Are the teachers going to force us all to be friends?”

I wasn’t really sure how to answer her. Even at my school, friendships were for the most part divided according to color lines. The black kids hung out together and spoke their mother tongue at break time. The cool kids – mostly white – hung out together and made everyone else’s lives miserable. Then there were the “nerds” like me. We were a multicultural group of misfits – black, white, Indian. Among us there was no color. We were defined simply as being too “uncool” for anyone else to talk to.

It probably would take another two generations for South African schoolkids to learn to interact more freely with each other, something that I saw years later as a teacher. In 1995, official apartheid was over. But the clearly defined social groups were still divided along the lines of color. Mandela’s “rainbow nation” was still more dream than reality.

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Cape Town, South Africa – Walking home from school – Chadolfski (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

“Lekker! No school for a week!” Patricia exclaimed loudly, so that the whole class could hear.

“That is not what I said,” Mrs McCrae replied drily.

“Ja, but you’re the only teacher who hasn’t given us homework to hand in,” Rachel retorted, somewhat defiantly.

Mrs McCrae stared pointedly at Rachel. Then she looked at each of us in turn. The silence became a little awkward. Finally, the History teacher spoke. “Girls, I don’t think you appreciate this moment. We are all about to witness history being made. Things in our country will never be the same.”

“What I’ve asked you to do next week is to observe and document. Watch the news. Go and look at the voting lines. Take photographs.”

Patricia interrupted: “The news is boring. It’s just old men talking. And what’s the big deal about an election anyway?”

Nandipha stood up and waved a finger at Patricia: “You don’t know anything. You’re so stupid. All of you are. Ma’am is right. The election is going to make Nelson Mandela our new president. Then black people will be free.”

I sat at my desk quietly in the back of the class, watching with concern. Nandipha had a temper. She’d been known to slap girls who disagreed with her. The last time that had happened, the whole class had to stay after school for detention. I really didn’t want to have to stay at school longer on a Friday before a week off.

It was April 1994. It was our first year in high school. We had just come back from Easter holidays. Less than a fortnight later, all the schools were closing for a week. There was going to be a big election. It would be the first time in the history of South Africa that all citizens would be allowed to vote to choose their new president.

Nobody knew how it would all turn out. But everyone knew one thing: Nandipha was right. White rule in South Africa was over. Twenty million people would be voting for a new president. Most of these people had never been allowed to vote before because under the apartheid system, black people in South Africa had no voting rights.

Now that the majority of the country’s population would finally be able to say who they wanted as their president, it was clear that they would not choose a government that had oppressed them for nearly five decades.

Kristen raised her hand: “Ma’am, I’m not sure that it will be safe to go out during the voting.” My dad says there’s going to be lot of violence. We’ve bought a large amount of tinned food so that we don’t need to go outside next week.”

Mrs McCrae’s look softened somewhat. “Girls,” she said, “none of us know what is going to happen next week. Maybe there will be people shooting in the streets. Maybe there won’t. That is why the school is closing for a week. To make sure that you’re all safe. But that doesn’t mean that this election has nothing to do with you. Nandipha is right. Apartheid kept black people from having the same rights as white people. That has to change.”

This was a bold statement to say out loud in South Africa in the early 90s. But it was not bold for our school. Ours was a “mixed school.” This meant that our school had children of all races in it. For example, our Standard Six (eighth grade) class had 25 girls. Ten girls were black, three were Indian, and 12 were white.

Under apartheid, mixed schools were not really allowed. The government schools (public ones) were all segregated. Ours was a Catholic school and their part in the struggle for true freedom was to provide equal education to all children.

Right from my first years of primary school, I knew that it did not support apartheid. We used to sing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God bless Africa) instead of the national anthem “Die Stem van Suid Afrika” (the Call of South Africa). At the time, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was a banned struggle hymn. Today it is our national anthem.

Our teachers constantly reminded us that apartheid was bad because it divided people. In religion class, the nuns taught us that God loved all people and he made them all equal. They encouraged us to treat one another with respect.

Some parents sent their children to a “mixed school” because they wanted them to have a Catholic education, while the interracial aspect was the price they paid. Other parents shared the school’s mission. Black parents often worked very hard to afford the fees, because they knew their children would not receive a good education in the black government schools.

But with the country’s political reality about to change, many of the white parents were concerned that the new dispensation might be worse than the old. They must have spoken about their fears because these played out in the classroom among my peers.

Angie raised her hand and asked fearfully: “Ma’am, will white people still be safe in the new South Africa?”

Palesa replied: “Of course, Mandela wants a South Africa that belongs to everyone.”

Angie wasn’t convinced: “But didn’t Mandela go to prison because he was a terrorist?”

Nandipha, as always, had an opinion, interjecting: “Mandela isn’t a terrorist. He is a freedom fighter. He went to prison because he was fighting for black people.”

Mrs McCrae must have realized that this was a good time to bring the lesson to a close. She stopped the discussion and reminded us once again that we were witnessing history in the making. She urged us to keep a diary, watch the news, go out on voting day if it was safe to do so. She reminded us: “We can’t see the future. But you are the ones who will build this new South Africa. Make it the country you want to live in.”

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Augrabies, South Africa – Assumpta Roman Catholic Church – Grobler du Preez (shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

by Gennady Bondarenko

School over, the beginning of adulthood caught us unexpectedly. I didn’t go anywhere, even if I did finally decide what institute I wanted to enroll in. Just after the school departure party in June, Kit and I crashed on his “Jawa” motorbike at a bend in the road. Kit broke his jaw, nose and shin. As for me, my arm, ribs and two toes on my right foot. Plus, we both had concussions, bruises and abrasions. I fully recovered only by mid-August. Kit was checked out of the hospital in September.

By that time, Klaus had already started studying to be a Ukrainian philologist in Kyiv. The decision came wholly unexpectedly for everyone, probably, except for Papa Nikolai. He only smiled mysteriously into his beard, responding to questions by saying, “I eto pravilno!”,18 mimicking Gorbachev’s southern accent. However, I also expected something in that vein. When Klaus returned from the capital and visited me, I asked, “No possible regrets, after all those years studying English?”

Klaus just shrugged, “I already know English – but the same can’t be said for Ukrainian. Admit this, bro: it’s plain weird when you don’t know your native language.” Copying Alisa, I only could say that this was quite an act altogether.

Still Klaus obviously wasn’t going to part ways with English. Judging by his enthusiastic comments on the Ukrainian translation of “The Godfather” he shared with me, the future was spread before his eyes, which could not be said about mine. Klaus seemed to read my thoughts, “Join the race, Tigris! Foreign language is always the quest! He was a Steppenwolf, who found a love at last! Maybe you’ll need English for this?”

We did not see each other all autumn. He came home only for the October Revolution holidays, having asked for a few days off at the university. In October, the USSR Ministry of Defense, represented by the local military registration and enlistment office, examined my health and found that I had recovered enough to serve in the Navy. I received a draft notice for the ninth of November. On the sixth, Klaus dragged me to school for the holiday event. The program, by tradition, included an official part in honor of the anniversary of Great October, a concert with amateur children’s performances and a dance party.

But instead of the disco, they invited the vocal and instrumental ensemble called Druzhba, known also as The Dynamites to its fans, the rock stars of our neighborhood. The Dynamites were older guys, already a semi-professional group that performed constantly, never missing a chance to play at restaurants and rich weddings, earned decent money and remained in patronizing friendship with us.

We skipped the official part and arrived during the dancing. In the semidarkness of the school gym turned into a dance floor for the occasion, some couples were already lazily swaying to a slow dance. Dimon Kovalchuk, vocalist and lead guitarist of the Dynamites, was drawling out a popular hit song imitating a famous singer:

Быть может, мы могли бы быть и счастливее,
Но в чем наше счастье, не знал бы никто.
19

Dimon finished singing, looked over and nodded for us to join in. We went up and shook hands.

“Want to play, dude? Kinda shaking up good ol’ days?” he asked Klaus. “While I take a breather? We still have all the holidays’ work in the kabak20 ahead of us.” Klaus looked enviously at Dimon’s semi-acoustic Cremona electric guitar. Dimon intercepted his gaze, grinned approvingly and went to the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he said into the microphone. “Cuties and beauties, and their gallant companions. Please welcome the famous guitarist, who has immortalized your school’s name forever and ever. And this, as you, of course, know, is……Klaus! Let’s greet him with your applause!”

The audience responded with languid clapping. Taking advantage of the break, the gallant companions picked out the cuties and beauties from the flock and swept them into the autumn darkness right outside the school gym’s back entrance. Dimon, in the meantime, took the guitar off his shoulder, brought Klaus aside and they quietly talked over something. Apparently, Klaus was checking the playlist.

Unlike Dimon, who liked to show off in front of the microphone, Klaus seldom drew attention when playing. He just lightly tried the strings on the guitar’s fret-board, tuning the instrument. I looked around the gym space, at teenagers fidgeting as they waited for the next song to dance to, and saw Alisa. She stood in the far corner of the gym, talking with the fizruk.21 Apparently, the youngest teachers ‘volunteered’ to ensure order for the teenage event. Finally, Klaus struck the strings and the crowd began to move. Having played some more teenage hits, he looked around for Dimon and motioned to his throat: No way! Out of practice! Dimon accepted the guitar and in the same nonchalant way, as if he were in a restaurant and not at school party, announced in the microphone:

“It’s twenty to eight, our dear gals and guys, and one need not explain what that means,” he said in a soft rolling voice. His audience answered with an understanding hum: Who in our seaside town hadn’t heard this merry song about ‘seven-forty’?

“And this means that our one-man orchestra has a right to deserved rest too. So let’s ask him to perform an encore!”

Yes, Klaus indeed switched from an electric guitar to an acoustic one. Setting the one microphone to the strings, he sang another, this time a solo:

When I’m walking beside her
People tell me I’m lucky
Yes, I know I’m a lucky guy

Klaus would not be himself if he didn’t finish his performance with some of his favorite pieces from the Beatles:

Every little thing she does,
She does for me, yeah
And you know the things she does,
She does for me, ooh…

No encore followed this one. Hardly anyone listened to the acoustic song in the gym-turned-disco. The same teenage rampage was going on, as always, which I had used to watch with such delight from my drummer’s place. Now, when Klaus sang to the guitar, all this commotion seemed wrong to me, and even annoying. “Well, well, young man,” I said to myself and shook my head, “it only took you a few months after school to become such a…”

However, I was mistaken. Someone was really listening to Klaus, and with such intense attention that it was electrifying the atmosphere around that listener. Unwittingly, I turned my gaze to Alisa. She was drawn into the words of the song, like raindrops to soft sand. A shadow fell on her forehead, as if she was trying to answer some uneasy questions to herself, as if putting the question marks after those lines of the Beatles song: I remember the first time I was lonely…? Can’t stop thinking about…? Finally, as if waking up, she turned and headed for the exit, followed by the surprised look of the PE teacher. I didn’t even have time to think how nice it would be to meet her again, and to tell myself how improper this thought was – so quickly did she disappeared through the doorway. After that, I never saw Alisa again.

Footnotes

18. That’s the right thing to do! (phrase that became popular after Gorbachev).

19. Maybe we could be happier / But nobody would know what our happiness is.

20. Rus., vulgar, for restaurant.

21. Physical education teacher.

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Odessa, Ukraine – Youth – Darya (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

by Gennady Bondarenko

On the way she told us that she lived in a rented one-room apartment, and received the appointment to our school right after graduation from the pedagogical institute. “I never planned to work as a teacher at all,” she admitted easily, “and even less did I plan to move here. If it hadn’t been…. hadn’t been for your wonderful southern city, I’d be elsewhere,” she finished quickly. Yet another surprise was still waiting for us in her dwelling, Spartan-looking in every other way.

Right on the floor stood a powerful Sharp double-decker, quite a luxury in a typical Soviet home. The big cassette tape recorder rose up almost to the knees of diminutive Alisa. Near it was a neat cassette rack with music matching the owner’s tastes: Duran Duran, Men at Work, Eurythmics, the ubiquitous Sade and Bryan Ferry.

Anticipating our questions, she explained that the Japanese tape recorder, quite simply, was a gift from her boyfriend, her would-be fiancé. A young lieutenant, and a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, he too served in our city (“Actually, that’s why I’m here,” she said with a relaxed smile). Recently he’d been assigned to some friendly near-Eastern country to help build up their naval forces. However, Alisa explained that when he returned from that international deployment, they would get married. After that, he would serve a little more and become a first-rank captain, and then they would be happy. “Not necessarily in that order,” she added hastily, as if catching herself on some unexpected thought.

I searched with my eyes for a picture of this all-too-lucky lieutenant, some kind of photo in a picture frame but found none. Meanwhile, Klaus and Kit exchanged knowing looks. To them, the children of military servicemen, it was no secret what it took to get such an assignment.

“What papa does one need to have?” sneered Kit. “Or what paw must you grease to be promoted for such… eeer…foreign trips?”

Alisa was seemingly hurt by his words:

“You, too, don’t look like some kids from troubled families,” she retorted quickly, “judging by your prikid.”16

We chuckled.

“My dear young English lady,” Kit replied with delicate familiarity, trying to smooth over the awkwardness of his remarks. “We are not kids – we too are men at work! We don’t ask our parents for money. We earn it ourselves!”

…And this was the sheer truth. The whole summer we’d played on the dance floor, and got paid seventy rubles a month. Having such riches, it was no problem to buy brand-name jeans without asking our parents for money. Still, if they had allowed us to perform our neformals only, we would have agreed to play eight days a week, asking for no money whatsoever.

We opened the package.

In addition to a typewritten fan club letter, it also included a Beatles poster. Alisa carefully unfolded what turned out to be the famous picture of the Beatles “in squares,” upon which someone had written sweepingly in a thick red marker, BACK IN THE USSR, for real this time!

Kit’s eyebrows went up to his forehead.

“Man, you’re what, a psychic?”

“No, I’m not a magician,” said Klaus, apparently no less surprised. “I’m just learning, you know!”17

Alisa, meanwhile, began to read the letter, in a sing-song voice, mockingly pretending as if she were delivering a speech from some high tribune at a Komsomol meeting:

“Dear Nicholas, our faraway but yet so close friend from behind the Curtain…”

Hiding our smiles, we exaggeratedly nodded our heads in “unanimous approval.” Still, I noticed that our man of the hour, Nicholas, was pondering something:

“Have this poster for yourself,” he said at last and looked at Alisa. “This is a gift. I already have all the walls in my room plastered with them – one more, one less won’t make a difference. I hope it fits right in here.”

Alisa scanned him for a brief moment:

“That is a kind gesture,” she said, again seriously, as it was when we met in that alley, but I saw laughter in her blue eyes, “of a real man at work.”

(…to be continued…)

Footnotes

16. Russian, slang: outfit.

17. Another popular meme-phrase

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Lviv, Ukraine – Gathering at Market square – Kristi Blokhin (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

Gennady Bondarenko

The magical mystery day wasn’t going to end there. After the lessons, there was an event awaiting us and no less intriguing than the arrival of a new teacher. Some time ago, Klaus had sent a letter to the Beatles fan club, the real one, in Britain. He’d found its address in a Polish youth magazine that our school library subscribed to. Somehow Klaus mastered this language, too. “A real treat for an amateur decoder,” – he laughed it off. “The Ukrainian language written in English letters!” Still, he’d been hesitant to send the letter by regular mail. Yes, there was Gorbi13 with his perestroika, “new thinking” and all that … but somewhere out there, in Moscow. However, our faraway city life went on as usual. Nobody fought with the “pernicious influence of the West,” as it had been a few years ago, so Klaus decided to play it safe. He’d handed the package to one of his father’s friends, a master mariner, whom he jokingly called Captain Flint, asked him to send it to the addressee in the nearest foreign port. To his letter he added a compact cassette with the Beatles’ songs he recorded by himself with a guitar on his home tape recorder. With pirate cunning, Captain Flint smuggled all this stuff through customs, and now, it seemed, the reward had found our hero.

It just couldn’t be otherwise because the day before Klaus had discovered in his mailbox a post office receipt with his name on a registered letter from London. Assuming the possible consequences of such correspondence, Klaus secretly told the news only to me and our bass player Nikita, who was studying in a parallel class in our school. Our keyboardist Gosha went to another school, so we decided to show him the letter in the evening at rehearsal. No time to traipse through half the city. Every minute is precious! For that matter, it was unclear whether they would give us the letter without inquiries or start asking questions right at the post office.

Hardly waiting for the end of the last lesson, we stood for some time at the trolleybus stop, then went on foot, shifting over to a speed-walk. The trolleybus caught up with us, and the rest of the way we rode. Somehow, we travelled the whole way in silence. I thought I could hear Klaus’s heart pounding. He, however, tried to look carefree and only fiddled with his passport. At the post office, approaching the window, he took a deep breath and handed the receipt and passport to a post office clerk with thick square glasses. She sighed and waddled off to a dimly lit room at the back of the room. We waited in silence. Before long she returned with a thick package in her hands.

Klaus put his signature on the blank, took back his passport, and we went outside. The envelope’s thick brown paper sported a row of stamps, again with a lady, but not with glasses – this time with a tiara.

“See this, guys?” he pointed excitedly at the envelope. On its right side, below the stamps, was written clearly by hand…Mr. Nicholas Motrych!

“Nicholas, that’s it! Any idea who that might be?”

We looked around the street. No one was going to arrest us, neither the militsiya nor the KGB seemed to have any interest in our little adventure.

“Let’s go back and open it in the school park,” said Klaus. “We aren’t supposed to open it right here, are we?”

No sooner had we gotten off the trolleybus than we saw Alisa, apparently returning from school and leisurely strolling down the park’s central alley. Klaus was the first to notice her.

“Look, Kit!” he said to Nikita, “Our new anglichanka.14 Instead of Roza.”

“And where is Roza?”

“Sort of called it quits.”

“Emigrated, or what? And they let her out, did they?”

“Why not? Isn’t she a secret physicist… or a rocket scientist?”

“Good for them, these émigrés,” Kit sighed. “Fade away quietly abroad, without a sound.”

“Probably they do exactly that,” agreed Klaus. “You know what, guys? Let’s show Alisa our letter!”

Nikita looked at him in bewilderment.

“You say! Mind playing “Zeppelins” to direktrysa?”

“Don’t worry, she’s a cool dudette.” Klaus stood up for the young teacher. “Gave us ‘fives’, me and Igor…we read her ‘Penny Lane’.”

“Fives – for that?” Kit repeated incredulously.

“You bet!” confirmed Klaus, and shouted at the top of his voice:

“Alisa Arturovna! Alisa Arturovna!” With the stress on the second syllable.

She stopped abruptly, as if expecting some kind of catch again, this time less innocent.

“Back to school, guys?” she asked at last.

“Back to the USSR! And we mean it!” said Klaus in an excited tone, and seeing that she hadn’t grasped it, handed her the envelope.

She turned the letter from London in her hands while listening to his story. Eyeing Klaus intently for some time, she finally said in a serious tone:

Da, eto postupok15 and then, to my great surprise, added the phrase Klaus has said just minutes ago, almost word for word: “Let’s go to my place and read it. I live nearby. We aren’t going to open it right here, are we?”

(…to be continued…)

Footnotes

13. Gorbachev

14. Russian: Englishwoman (informal name of the English language teacher)

15. Russian: That’s a real act!

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: I Can’t Breathe – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Odessa, Ukraine – On Potemkin steps – Pink Candy (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed