RIP Revisited

You are currently viewing RIP Revisited

The man wakes up in his hospital bed, slightly confused. He is unaware that for several months, the bed which he occupies has been his; it has since moulded to suit the creases of his skin. The madame finds him posed as in David’s Death of Socrates, finger raised, reaching for an invisible poison.

However, he does not have the same resolve that Socrates had. Instead, his expression is discomposed and the madame thinks he looks rather silly.

She hands him a mirror after he asks, and the man finds that no one did him the courtesy of shaving his beard. It is, by now, long and grey.

A few hours later he bids the madame farewell.

He thinks of taking a bus, but opts for a scenic stroll, one that would remind him of his childhood. Instead of nostalgia, nausea gives him a gut punch. Muttering to himself that it would have been better to take the bus, he mistakenly assumes that nostalgia had handed him the blow. Yet, as he wanders ever further along the busy street, he grows ever queasier. Later he has to cover his nose with a handkerchief, which helps a bit. Then, as there exists a slight parting in the throng of people, he glimpses the source of his troubles. It lies there on a table, feeble and defunct. A lettuce leaf – and here, the narrator must attest that he does not mean this metaphorically.

The man cries a little, not understanding why. Ashamed, he bounds on home.

There, he longs for sleep. His body politely declines; it tells him that he has already been asleep for far too long. Instead, it subverts his longing, urging one hand to his fair, round belly. He needs food, but any given possibility of what to eat reminds him of the smell in the street.

In his yard, there is an apple tree – there is a washing line with pegs on it, too. Peg on nose, he carefully approaches the stately old tree. The apples, which he so dreads and desires, are contorted, and marred by birds. They are ugly apples, but at least the man does not remember their taste.

Elevating his burly frame (on tiptoes), he plucks one.

‘Ow,’ says the tree. ‘Squirrel’ – to one of his henchmen – ‘go pick a few strands out of that man’s beard so that he might feel a similar sensation.’

The old man, understandably aghast, falls flat on his back. Then, responding from where he lies, he begs, in a whisper-like voice: ‘Please, honourable sir, though I at first disliked my grey beard, I now enjoy its voluminous warmth.’ After a pause, seeing that the squirrel did not move from his perch on a lower branch, he continued. ‘I do not intend to bereave you your’ – considering his words – ‘apples’.

‘I merely wish to satisfy my stomach – there, see how it rumbles.’ His stomach did rumble.

‘Why do you have a peg on your nose?’ thunders the tree.

The man, seeing a malicious glare in the squirrel’s beady eyes, decides against telling the lie he is currently formulating. He tells the tree about the smell and the lettuce, and the tree, in
turn, listens tactfully. The man concludes and, clearly, after giving the matter some thought, the tree replies, but now in an altogether different tone to the one earlier adopted. It is soft and compassionate, even able to ease the man into a sitting position:

‘But my dear fellow’, says the tree, ‘you have merely experienced what my kinsmen and I have experienced since God created this world. I am lucky since I am not prone – as grass is – to being trampled upon. Nor have I been much disturbed by you. The most I have had to endure is the birds –damnable creatures – they pick at me, excrete my digested self upon me, and even have the audacity to try to make a house out of me. Yet I am grateful. I have made friends of the squirrels, and I am not grass, or lettuce, or like some other poor soul beneath me. I just wish that we had a God vying for us as yours does for you.’

He ends this address with a sigh; a groaning of wood as heard by the man.

‘But what am I to do?’ laments the man. ‘I don’t want to eat something that screams as I chew.’

‘I am afraid that you will have to, my friend, though I do have a suggestion, one that might ease your conscience. You will naturally have to eat a lot of meat, but to prevent scurvy, eating plants is unavoidable. I admit it is regrettable, though I can point you in the direction of some particularly mischievous ones: you’d be doing the garden a service by eating them.’

The man is all too happy to concede to this suggestion and, upon being prompted to do so, trots to the other end of the garden.

There, he finds the tomato plant. It is hollering all sorts of nonsense at a neighbouring lemon tree.

‘Oh, do shut up,’ he overhears the lemon tree, saying to the tomato plant in an exasperated tone. Then, as the rabid tomato plant does not listen, he hears the lemon tree again: ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up…’

‘This is chaos,’ thinks the man. After a few moments of consideration – prolonged by the consistent exchange occurring before him – he steps forward and yanks at both plants’ stems. He pulls so hard that both are now aloft, though still firmly in his grip. While the tomato continues hollering, the lemon tree now shrieks terribly. The man’s stomach controls him, and he starts eating the tomato plant whole (quite unlike any normal person). This is too much for the young lemon tree to bear; he faints for a moment, but almost immediately regains consciousness.

‘Please eat me too,’ asks the lemon tree softly.

‘Bitter,’ replies the man, like some daft Neanderthal. He is crouched over the mangled tomato plant, hands still busy, his beard full of sap and seeds and the like…

The peg lies next to him in the grass. He seems not to have realised its absence. The garden despairs. Its mood, however tangible, does not even motivate the man to lift his head. The lemon tree is left to die out in the sun. Rootless, his leaves slowly discolour, and his stem gradually twists out of shape.

A hadeda, pitying the dying tree, carries him away to a peaceful stream, where the natural order has not yet been disturbed. He is left there, and he is happy to die between unspeaking trees.

Jan Brümmer

Jan Brümmer

Jan Conrad Schoonbee Brümmer comprises a quarter Conradie, a quarter Schoonbee, a quarter Brümmer, and one quarter his own man – this he regards as his intellectual composition. Physically, he is a 19-year-old who leans more towards the Schoonbee side. According to Hemingway, ‘writing, at its best, is a lonely life… [the good writer] must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.’ Ostensibly, then, Jan would make a good writer. He developed a late interest in writing at school, but remains sceptical of ever making it into a career. He is currently studying towards an engineering degree at Stellenbosch University.