Its just after 2am on a September night in Melbourne. I find myself at my local sports bar in Toorak, watching the Manchester derby with fellow fanatics. We are united in our passion for the game,undeterred by the difference in time zones. A time difference , the consequence of which means we are huddled up in this sports bar at this ungodly hour on a Sunday. Even though the match is being played on a Sunday afternoon across the pond. Tonight, more than any other night though it has been worth it. The match has reached an unbelievable climax. Its a remarkable conclusion to an enthralling Manchester derby. Manchester City had looked to have snatched an unlikely point after coming from behind for the third time to level only seconds before the end of the 90 minutes. The board goes up, 4 minutes of injury time( popularly known amongst United’s detractors as “Fergie time”). Needless to say Michael Owen latches onto a sumptuous through ball from the evergreen Ryan Giggs and scores with was it to be last kick of the match. In the 6th minuteoif injury time. Pure Bliss.
The scene both on screen and in the bar is one of pure euphoria.The resulting hysteria is nothing short of intoxicating. This is embodied by Sir Alex Ferguson celebration. He sets off on an impromptu wild dance along the touchline. I mirror his celebration by partaking in an impromptu little jig and fist pumping of my own in the bar before joining the rest of the fanatics in a rendition of “Glory Glory Man United”. Shortly after I leave the sports bar, deciding to walk home which is 5 min away. In my state of euphoria as I often do I retreat to my own little world. Glory. I am preoccupied with updating my facebook status. I am keen to share my smugness , which is more pronounced than usual tonight given the manner in which we have won. Glory.
Next thing I know my back is against the wall. I am wearing a arrogant but slightly bemused smirk on my face. These two young Italian punks are demanding I hand over my wallet. The absurdity of the scene disarms me more than their demands. Who would have thought, me an African man, being robbed by two younger males of Italian descent. All this on a Sunday night in what is supposed of the safest suburbs in Melbourne. My brain races. My initial thoughts are, I can probably make a break for it.They would never catch me. They either read my mind or are peeved by my apparent lack of fear.That’s when I felt a warm fuzzy feeling in my inner thigh. In the camouflage of darkness I had not noticed the knife.The bastard had stabbed me dangerously close to my groin area. Shock settles in, wiping the smirk of my face. They steal my wallet. They try to grab my phone, I swing a punch in their direction rather feebly, before collapsing in a heap on the ground.They bolt. I resign myself to my fate. I am lying alone in the middle of the street , not a soul in sight.Could I be dying? I have never contemplated dying before. If I am really dying, how could it happen like this? Here. Now. On the pavement – in Toorak. I engage a fleeting image of my parents thought of my parents which is just as quickly interrupted by thoughts of how stupid it would all be for my life to end this way.This is it. Things start becoming fuzzy, I m losing consciousness.I am gasping for air.A futile exercise.
The next thing I recall. My eyes are being assaulted by a bright light.The pearly gates perhaps? I try and recall the last time I saw the inside of a church. The memory is too distant. Before I can reach it, I am interrupted by a booming voice which promptly brings me back to earth. “How you going mate?. “Are you OK ?”. At that moment I recognise the source of the light. Its the policeman flashlight. I am lying on the side of the road drowning in a pool of my own blood. Blood is gushing out of my leg as if from a burst fire hydrant. My entire right leg is completely drenched in blood. Am I OK? Do I look OK? I think to myself. Before I get the chance to respond an Ambulance arrives on the scene and Paramedics rush to my aid. In between what look like exaggerated attempts to catch my breath I manage to draw on the little reserve of energy that I have. “I need morphine please, I am in pain” , I plead. No sooner have they hauled me onto the stretcher a taxi arrives on the scene.
To this day I can only imagine how my then girlfriend at the time felt. Oh what was going through her mind being confronted by that scene. The flashing lights.The blood. I can only imagine she was looking scared as hell as she made her way towards the Ambulance.In that moment it came back to me. How I had casually rang her and nonchalantly told her I had been robbed.Why I didn’t think to call 000 myself remains a mystery even to to this day. She later confided that when she arrived on the scene. She was pretty sure I was dead. Fortunately for me she had been more alert and rung emergency services. Who in turn rang me and managed to keep me conscious till their arrival. A quick instinctive chain of events that saved my life. For that I will eternally be indebted to her. She saved my life. Thank you. This was in 2009.
The present day
Last week I attended a reading for a book entitled , My Father, My Monster, by McIntosh Polela at the Centre of the book in Cape Town. My Father, My Monster is a memoir that The Sunday Independent newspaper referred to as being so painful it bleeds of the page. Now, to be honest I wasn’t particularity drawn to this book.In fact I had never even heard of the book prior to the reading.It just happened to be on the agenda for this particular Soirée. How did I come to be at the Centre of the book? Well since my protracted return from the writing wilderness, something I wrote about in my very first blog, I had started attending these Soiree’s. All in a concerted effort to surround myself with fellow writers as well as convince myself I was one of them. Ironically,as I was soon to discover it is during these soirées that I always find myself feeling less of a writer than I usually do when I m punching away at my laptop. I always feel like an amateur.(Well in truth I am), like everybody else there is better than me. Paranoia teases me relentlessly. As a result I m usually preoccupied with this nagging suspicion that someone will eventually find me out, and call me out on my little charade. In the process bringing attention to the fact that I am the literary equivalent of a vagrant painting on the side of a wall with a piece of calcified excrement. But I digress.
Let me get back to this particular Soirée. I am clearly no book reviewer or critic , no do wish to be one. There is a purpose in me sharing my literary excursions to the Centre of the Book. On this particularly day I was particularly moved by the author. His story struck a chord on a very intimate and personal level . The reading of excerpts from the book and the subsequent discussions that followed had stirred emotions that had been idle for a long time. Most significant if which was when the author detailed the effect that the process of writing the story had had.
My Father, My Monster is a story about how his mother was murdered by his father when he was just five years old, apparently because she had charged his father for sexual assault and had tried to flee. How even though he was found guilty of the murder , he served a suspended sentence and only spent a few weeks in jail.The author discusses how he dealt with the trauma. He initially entertains thoughts of revenge, allowing himself to get lost in fantasies about killing his father. He keeps a brightly polished gun, nursing his anger for the day he meets his father. When he does confront his father as an adult about his mother’s brutal death. He is in for a shock. He finds himself dealing with the worst predicament a son can ever have. How can he possibly forgive, when his father remains a remorseless, brutal and heartless murderer? During the Soirée he discusses how the lack of remorse affected him.”He would not say he was sorry”.“There was no closure.”His father refused to take responsibility.So instead he decided to write about it.The whole writing process ended up being cathartic and therapeutic and by his own admission was the catalyst in him subsequently healing and gaining closure.
The author emphasised that “Writing the book was not about wallowing in grief – it was about confronting my pain, it was about putting my pain into chapters.” Polela went on to detail how the path to forgiveness was not an easy one. In fact it was riddled with land mines. How he procrastinated a reconciliation and confrontation with his father for years. He wasn’t ready to forgive his father. Scared to test his forgiveness. In his mind he still handed reached that place were he could summon grace. For forgiveness must come with a costly grace. He felt his father had no entitlement to that grace. I knew this story.I had lived my own variation of this. In that moment I realised I had unwittingly walked into an emotional ambush.I would have to confront my own demons.
The story brought up certain issues for me that at different stages I have tried to camouflage in the bushes of normality. As I attempted to detail at the start , I had my own flirtation with death, a fling that was to change the course of my life forever.To quote Kanye West in his break out single Through the wire, ” Good dude, Bad night, Right place, Wrong time In the blink of an eye his whole life changed “. The scars I carry from that encounter both physical and emotional have been indelible.
I have since long recovered from the physical injury and for close to a year after underwent counselling to help me deal with the emotional trauma. I was fortunate that all this happened in a environment that was very supportive , from my family and friends to the counsellor. One thing thing though that I have constantly struggled with has been the fact that the morons who stabbed me where never brought to justice. That they were out there oblivious of the severity of the injuries that they inflicted on me.They have no way of knowing whether I survived or not. They have not been made accountable for their actions.The hardest thing during this whole post stabbing period has been summoning the grace to completely forgive and let go. This is compounded by what my counsellor referred to as “Survivor’s guilt”. Which basically for me was about this.
That had the ambulance been 10 minutes late, I would have bled to death.That though I have lost the use of a vein in my leg I am fortunate that they only scratched an artery , any further damage would have been fatal. That I lost so much blood , I needed eighteen satchets of blood ( 500ml each) , during a 5 hour long surgery.That I had to spend a week in intensive care on life support and a further month in hospital immobile and bedridden . Unable to eat,relieve myself ,walk. But I recovered fully and eventually the garish hole in my inner thigh, which had started out the size of a tennis ball eventually morphed into a beautiful scar . A permanent tattoo that always serves as a reminder if only to myself of my brief dalliance with that bastard death. In essence that given that I overcame all these obstacles it seems petty & maybe ungrateful to hold on to that. The guilt had its foundation in that despite all that I couldn’t summon the grace to forgive them. Though it is something I have never shared openly that I often entertained thoughts of revenge.A process that in manifested itself in self loathing because deep down I knew I was incapable of going through with any act of revenge.
This for me is where My Father , My Monster drew parallels with my own experience. Clearly no life was lost in my case but the resulting trauma was just as real. During the Soirée , the author detailed the injustice he felt at his fathers sentence. How that threatened to derail humans put his life of course.What was more important though is that he managed to turn his life around. He turned his tragedy into triumph. He is currently the national spokesman of the Hawks , a special branch of the South African security forces as well as a best selling author.
This is the hardest thing I think I have written. In fact I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface in laying to rest some of the demons that I still wrestle with. That attack which in all reality lasted not more than 5 minutes has had everlasting impact on my life. It was a life changing experience. One that brings with it a story with many different trajectories , most of which are still playing themselves out. So in that regard I m grateful that I was at that reading . Because it sparked something in me. Writing this as difficult and lonely an experience as it been has been therapeutic and cathartic. Who knows maybe one day I will write my own book. In the meantime let me ensure that my story is one worth telling.
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim—letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
Written by Tafadzwa Tichawangana