End of the World

2009-08-15 00:00

SHAME, my niece tells me about a poor friend who got robbed in the street of her purse and cellphone, and the nasty part is that she knew it was going to happen, she could tell by the robber’s body language at a distance that he was going to cross the street and do it. But being a brave soul and sturdy of build she gripped his hand and sank her teeth into his thumb and wouldn’t let go. Well I mean when the thumb was coming detached in her jaws she just had to, but the consolation was that he had paid for his haul, so to speak. And my point here is that we all have to think hard beforehand about these things: should we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take up arms against such highwaymen? As in Sao Paulo where this dreadful thing happened, so also here. I myself decided that I would be nobody’s dead hero, thanks, but would go about without purse or cellphone and but R50 in my pocket. If you turn out to have nothing at all worth stealing it makes the robber terribly irritable and he might stab you anyway. Or she, that is.

So it’s a fine autumn morning and I’m on my way to the art gallery where I work. On foot for the joy of it, the quiet, no traffic noise, past the calm greenery of the race course, and suddenly there up ahead I see them waiting, waiting … I read their body language, two of them working as a pair. The heart sinks. I will do exactly as they demand. They stand with their feet close together lest some sexual pervert on an escalator should use a small pocket mirror to peep up their skirts and catch a glimpse of their broeks. They are Christian ladies, they wear fixed Christian smiles with spectacle thingummies that hook over the ears, at night they take off such a smile and put it in a glass of water on the bedside table with drops of disinfectant. They clasp discreet sheets of dismal literature beneath their dismal tits, for distribution. I shall get it all over fast, smile and accept a pamphlet and say sorry I’m late for work, and chuck it in the next street bin. But there’s always that damned thing called impulse.

The younger one lays the disinfected smile on me and steps forward. Only a small step, lest a sudden breeze should puff up her skirt and I catch a glimpse of her broeks. This is her first day on the field of battle against Satan, who might indeed turn out to be me, but the training manual says smile anyway. The supervisor smiles too, grimly. 100% so far. Would you like this small book about the end of the world according to the word of God? says novice, it’s free. I alread­y know about the end of the world according to the word of Nasa, say I, but thanks for the offer, hey! Yes but if you would only read the Bible according to this booklet you would see where Jesus says we can prevent the end of the world if we all stop sinning, says she. Missy, say I, I read the Bible a hundred times before you were born and I tried not sinning, but it made no difference, and anyway I’m a rabbi that’s why I wear this Greek fisherman’s black cap like Desmond Tutu. Supervisor thinks: 51%. But where could you read the Bible a hundred times? says novice, you must have read it in a great hurry, without very much care. In jail, say I, and no hurry. iiiiii! she squeaks, WHAT FOR? Communism, say I. She presses her knees together and covers her fanny with the holy literature and turns desperately to the supervisor. Supervisor thinks: 15%.

Novice tries a last throw. I just know, says she, if you would only read this book you would believe what Jesus says. Surely you could do that? Okay, say I, let’s do a deal: I will give you a small book explaining what Darwin says, I just know you will believe in him if only you read it, surely. We will read each other’s books. You mean the monkey man? says she. Himself, say I. She opens her mouth to speak, but shuts it again. Look, says she after a bit, I’m not trying to tell you what you should believe … Of course you are, I smile, that’s why you’re here. Isn’t it? say I to Supervisor, sweetly. Supervisor nods. Novice looks at her appealingly. Supervisor shakes her head. Thinks: 0%. Out for a duck, the dread finger points. Novice looks at me appealingly. Shame, I have bitten off her thumb, I wish I could say something sweet for her too. Something like Cara mia, giz a kiz! But that would be the same sort of sin as glimpsing her broeks and the world would surely come to an end.

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