BOOK EXTRACT | Masande Ntshanga's Triangulum

Masande Ntshanga's Triangulum (Photo: Supplied)
Masande Ntshanga's Triangulum (Photo: Supplied)

About The Book

In the Eastern Cape, a schoolgirl maths prodigy is haunted by the loss of her mother, who disappeared during the demise of the country’s homeland system. 

When a strange apparition – “the machine” – visits the girl at night, she’s convinced it’s a sign from her mother, and connected to a series of abductions of local girls. With her two closest friends, she sets out to find the truth, exposing links to the area’s murky past. 

Are her visions disturbed hallucinations to be medicated away? Or are they evidence of supernatural – perhaps even extraterrestrial – contact? Years later, as a gifted data scientist in a dystopic surveillance-state, she is drawn into a world of espionage, shadowy corporations, eco-terrorists and hackers through the love she feels for an elusive artist. 

Presented as a message from the future, Masande Ntshanga’s Triangulum boldly mixes science-fiction with philosophy and details of South African history seldom examined. An affecting exploration of bereavement, sexuality and coming of age, this multilayered novel showcases a completely original talent coming into his full powers.

Triangulum by Masande Ntshanga
ISBN: 9781415210062
Format: Paperback
Price: R260.0
Publisher: Penguin Random House

RTR: 005

Date of Recollection: 29:05:2002

Duration: 6 min

When I get home, I walk past my aunt, who’s fallen asleep with The Daily Dispatch on her lap. It’s been her m.o. since going on leave this month. I make out the photos of the three missing girls on the front page.

In my room I draw the curtains, take Celexa and Paxil, fit in my earphones and try to sleep. But when I hear Doris closing the door to her room, and then the bed springs creaking under her weight, I get up.

Out in the garage, boxes of Mom’s old newspapers sit stacked in the corner. She never could toss them, even after Dad told her they were a fire hazard. I used to think the reason she kept them was because she was in them, but after she was gone, when I read through one of the piles, I realised there was more to it. Mom believed they’d be useful again one day. That there was no expiration date on what bothered the world.

I open a box and take out a bundle, looking for articles on missing girls, but I don’t find them. Instead, I read about dead bodies. Most of them are women and children from the region.

In Qumbu, a mother of four was shot, the bullet passing through her and into the forehead of her daughter, who was four and strapped to her back.

In Peddie, a mother and daughter on a fishing trip were thrown into the boot of a car; the mother was raped and killed and the girl escaped. I pack the papers back into the box, the world feeling dimmer.

In the living room, I switch on the VHS and push in the dub I got from Litha. In Where Have All the People Gone, a middle-aged woman walks into the ocean, unable to live in a world without humans, the global population incinerated into heaps of powder. It was released in 1974 to a US TV audience, and never recouped its production costs. Litha, Part and I have watched it together twice now.

The first time I saw it, I’d walked into Mr Movie to look for Litha after school, and found him watching it on the TV hung above the Returns Box. He looked tired, leaning against the counter with a cup of tea.

“I don’t get it,” I said, after a moment. “How did the vegetation survive?”

Litha dipped behind the counter and pulled up the tape’s cover. “The solar flare didn’t burn them,” he said. “It activated a viral outbreak. A percentage of the population is immune.”

Then Tom, his colleague, walked in and dropped his backpack behind the counter. “The mother of all hangovers,” he announced, opening a can of Coke.

I’d never liked him. Tom always stared at me like I was a coin at the bottom of a pond, a habit that made me want him covered in paper cuts, but I knew Litha admired him for his videogaming talent. In fact, I knew too much about that. Litha could never quit talking about how Tom had locked himself in his room one weekend, not leaving until he’d solved the piano puzzle in Silent Hill. He’d also shown Litha that the frequency for Meryl’s codec in Metal Gear Solid was printed at the back of the jewel CD case, over the Konami logo, which the rental customers couldn’t take home with them. Tom found that funny. He was twenty-three with a nursing diploma from UKZN, and had moved back in with his parents. His blond hair grew out in a mullet at the back,and his prominent Adam’s apple rolled whenever he gulped one of his countless sodas.

I turned to Litha. “I have to go, but I’d like to watch more of it.”

“The movie?”

“It’s calming.”

“I’ll make a dub of it when I get home.”

“Thanks.”

Now my vegetable soup’s gone cold and the film hasn’t worked.

I let the credits roll until the end, then text Litha that I need to see him: “It’s urgent.”

Later, we sit watching TV in the one-bedroom flat his new foster parents rent in Alexandra. Part’s still on a field-trip to the aquarium in East London. I tell him about the articles with the murders and the rapes and he winces.

“I don’t know how you read the news.”

The two of us go quiet for a bit. Then I turn to him again.“The machine’s back.”

It takes him a while to nod. Then I tell him how the school thinks Kiran’s on acid.“He might’ve been ratted out by a senior he sold a cap to, I don’t know,” I say. “Now he’s on the run and the school doesn’t care. I think it’s because he’s not a girl.”

Litha sighs. “I think so, too.” Then he asks me to describe the machine.

“It’s still the same.”

“The same?”

“Except for one thing.” I tell him about the triangle.

“You think the three are connected? Kiran, the girls, the machine?”

I pause, relieved: at least he doesn’t think I’m insane.

Then he asks to see my exercise book. He turns to a sketch of the machine and one of Kiran’s house. “Let’s talk to Part about it at the bazaar.” Then he hands me a dubbed tape of 2010 and tells me the same thing as always: that TV’s not a pollutant, it’s the inflation of our realities.

There’s rap music on the TV now, and the way I feel is that my inflated reality is sexual ambiguity. Next, there’s a sitcom and the characters get introduced one by one. Mom, dad, daughter, son, baby: a nucleus.

“The dad looks like my one father, the lawyer,” Litha says. “I can’t remember the year, but he beat me so hard I had to chew with my left molars for a week. They sent me back to Syringa Road after that, remember, next to Phakamisa Clinic, and gave me that bunk bed with Mongezi, who wanted to burn the place down?”

I nod. It happened in 1999: a year before we met. Litha’s told us.

I rest my head on the couch and listen to him talk. At night, Litha says the TV illuminates the whole flat, making it hard to sleep, but now, the daylight from the windows makes it look as if it’s off.

Litha says when you’re a child, what you think is that you can eat anything, and when you’re a parent, what you think is that you can teach anything. Leaning back on the sofa, with the light flooding in from Alexandra, he says when you’re a kid, everything you see is real. There are people inside your TV and plastic fruit is edible. “That’s the world you’re given.”

I get up and put on my scholar-patrol vest, and Litha opens the front door for me.

“The thing is,” he says, “when your father has his hands clenched around your neck and your mother’s screaming, trying to pull him off, what he wants everyone to think is that you’ve swallowed a plastic grape. He wants everyone to think you’re a child, and to you, plastic is another type of fruit,” he says. “That’s the world we’re given.

I take the stairs. Outside, the glare from the sun is blinding. I remember how my urine smelled metallic yesterday, so I stop over at Parbhoo’s for tampons, but it’s closed.


Masande Ntshanga is the author of the acclaimed novel, The Reactive.  He is the winner of the Betty Trask Award (2018), winner of the inaugural PEN International New Voices Award in 2013, and a finalist for the Caine Prize in 2015. He was born in East London, South Africa, in 1986 and graduated with a degree in Film and Media and an Honours degree in English Studies from UCT, where he became a creative writing fellow, completing his Masters in Creative Writing under the Mellon Mays Foundation. He received a Fulbright Award, an NRF Freestanding Masters scholarship, a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship and a Bundanon Trust Award. His work has appeared in The White Review,  Chimurenga, VICE, The Los Angeles Review of Books and  n+1.  He has also written for Rolling Stone magazine. Triangulum is his second novel.