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Umuzi

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“Kind of Blue”: An Excerpt from John Hunt’s Debut Novel The Space Between the Space Between

 
The Space Between the Space BetweenThe Space Between the Space Between is John Hunt’s wonderfully entertaining debut novel about living life in the turbulent waves of a South African reality.

Hunt’s previous book was the non-fiction The Art of the Idea, a best-seller about the the power of original thinking to transform both companies and individuals.

Without political or moral agenda, the narrative of The Space Between the Space Between follows Jethro, an average South African man, as he tries to stay afloat. A traumatising event sends him to see Dr Chatwin, who helps him to make sense of what has happened to him.

In the excerpt below, Jethro explains what happened to his nose and cheek, starting with an anecdote about staring at a beautiful sunset and hooting at a ‘Hoot if you love Jesus’ bumper sticker to illustrate just how nonpartisan he was about the misfortune that struck him.

Read an excerpt from Hunt’s novel:

* * * * * * * * *

 

‘Shall we start?’
    ‘Sure.’
    ‘Over to you.’
    ‘Okay … Where is Start?’
    ‘Wherever you’d like to begin … Maybe the cheek?’
    ‘The cheek came after the nose. Can we start with the nose?’
    ‘Okay.’
    ‘I’m not sure if the eye is from the nose or the cheek, probably both. But the nose definitely came first.’
    ‘The nose it is then.’
    ‘The nose happened yesterday, late afternoon. I don’t know if you saw it, there was a spectacular sunset. So, although it was rush hour, the universe seemed to be begging everyone to slow down and take notice.’
    ‘And you did?’
    ‘The traffic light turned red so it wasn’t a very difficult choice. I just sat there and stared. It was as if God’s thumb had smudged the clouds with purple and orange. I know it was all the pollutants and chemicals in the air, yet for that moment I felt good. Everything made sense. Thinking about it now, it was really a dramatic reminder of how we’re killing the planet. Less God’s thumb and more his middle finger. But that’s not how I felt at the time.’
    ‘Would you like a drink of water?’
    ‘No thank you … I was just wondering how you keep a sunset. At the time it’s so deep and meaningful. Half an hour later it’s just a fading colour swatch. The more you try to focus on it, the more it leaks away. Anyway, back to the nose. I looked at the pickup in front of me and noticed it had one of those stickers on the bumper, “Hoot if you love Jesus”. When last did you see one of those?’
    ‘Not for quite a while.’
    ‘Exactly. So I hooted. I wasn’t sure if he heard so I hooted again. Next thing this huge guy dressed in khakis climbs out and comes walking to my car. I stick my head out the window to greet him and he punches me in the face. Strange how the mind works, can’t quite recall the sunset, yet I can still see the black hairs above his knuckles in minute detail. They were singed, ginger on the very ends. Perhaps from the weekend’s braai.’
    ‘What happened next?’
    ‘Blood everywhere. Couldn’t see a thing. Tried to use my shirt as a hanky. You don’t notice your nose much, but when it changes direction it gets your attention.’
    ‘You should probably see a doctor about that … Why do you think the man in khaki hit you?’
    ‘Maybe the giraffe pissed him off.’
    ‘Giraffe?’
    ‘I had a giraffe in the car with me. Obviously the neck and head had to go through the sunroof.’
    ‘Obviously.’
    ‘Maybe he looked in his rear-view mirror, thought the giraffe was hooting at him and snapped. I think he was one of those diehard right-wingers. And God gave man dominion over all the creatures of the earth.’
    ‘What car do you drive?’
    ‘A very old Volkswagen Beetle … By the way, I’m also Jerry.’
    ‘You’re also Jerry?’
    ‘Mostly on Saturdays, but sometimes on Fridays too.’
    ‘Why aren’t you Jerry for the other days of the week?’
    ‘They can’t afford me. And if you’re going to be sexually promiscuous, you’re more likely to do it over the weekend.’
    ‘Maybe we should start again.’
    ‘That’s my point.’
    ‘What’s your point?’
    ‘Where is Start? Maybe everything intersects with everything simultaneously. Maybe Start makes you think you can reach Finish.’
    ‘Well, let’s try. Your real name is Jethro?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Who is Jerry?’
    ‘Jerry was meant to be Jabu.’
    ‘Jabu?’
    ‘But everyone just called it Jerry.’
    ‘It?’
    ‘Jerry. Jerry the Giraffe.’
    ‘Jerry is the giraffe who was in the car with you?’
    ‘Correct.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Well, it was Friday. And in theory everyone was getting ready to be promiscuous. Jerry is made out of wire mesh and condoms. He goes around Soweto schools telling everyone to ABC. Abstain. Be faithful. Condomise. Technically, it should be ABFC. It’s a job Sam managed to get for me from the local Aids Awareness Programme.’
    ‘Sam is a friend?’
    ‘Sam Ngcaba. He lives next door to me. It’s one house really with an interleading door. Sam should really be the giraffe – they wanted a black giraffe. Obviously when I’m inside no one can see me much, but when I talk they can tell I’m white.’
    ‘Does that make any difference?’
    ‘I don’t think so. Besides Sam sometimes comes along when we have pamphlets and free condoms. It’s difficult to hand them out with my wire legs.’
    ‘Do the children take you seriously?’
    ‘They’re pretty forgiving, especially now with some of the condoms falling off the left side. I look a little mangy. It would also help if the back part of the giraffe worked. The rear legs used to just drag on the ground, so we put them in a supermarket trolley. And you know how those wheels have a mind of their own.’
    ‘Do you feel a sense of purpose with the message you’re trying to spread?’
    ‘I read from the prepared text the Aids Awareness counsellor gave us, although it seems to work better when Sam comes with.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘He just grabs the megaphone and keeps shouting, “Don’t fuck without a condom.”’
    ‘I see.’
    ‘There’s also a special hip-hop song they recorded that I’m meant to dance to. But with a top-heavy neck and those wheels, I tend to stagger a lot.’
    ‘So the broken nose was courtesy of the large man in khakis. Shall we talk a little about your cheek?’
    ‘My cheek was from an iron.’
    ‘What kind of iron?’
    ‘The kind you use to get the wrinkles out of your clothes.’
    ‘And this happened last night?’
    ‘In the early hours of this morning.’
    ‘Would you feel comfortable telling me what happened?’
    ‘Sure. By the time I reached home the bleeding had stopped, but I had a huge circle of blood on my shirt. Mrs Lewis from across the road saw this and rushed over. She kept asking me if I’d got the bullet out. She means well but she’s about ninety years old. Eventually, to calm her down, I told her I had got the bullet out. She then went to Sam and told him I’d been shot in the stomach.’
    ‘And how did Sam react?’
    ‘He laughed. A lot. Anyway, I began to feel a little light-headed so Mrs Lewis went back to her house to make me some soup and also returned with a sleeping pill. After I’d changed and finished the bowl, they made me take the pill in front of them. Sam then gave me another capsule which he said was a muscle relaxant, but now I’m not so sure.’
    ‘How were you feeling at this stage?’
    ‘Pretty tired. The last thing I remember was climbing into bed. Sam put on Miles Davis for me and the two of them left.’
    ‘You fell into a deep sleep?’
    ‘I guess so.’
    ‘And then?’
    ‘At first I thought I had two balloons hovering over my face. Party balloons, the kind you have at children’s birthdays. I flicked at one and sure enough it bopped up before coming back to land in its original position. I was about to flick it again when it suddenly developed teeth. I remember thinking that was the best smile I’d ever seen. Happy, perfect whiteness that stretched for miles.’
    ‘You were dreaming?’
    ‘Well, that’s what I thought. Then the overpowering smell of recent meat made it through to my consciousness. The balloon apologised for burping in my face and put the bedside lamp on.’
    ‘You were fully awake now?’
    ‘Sort of. They were both wearing hoodies with string tassels down their chests. Half of me was still wondering how balloons could have arms and legs.’
    ‘You must have been terrified?’
    ‘Not really. Sam had hit the repeat button so “Kind of Blue” was still playing. Burglary with Miles Davis is always going to be a fairly chilled affair. They were both gently moving to the beat and occasionally clicking their fingers. Besides, thanks to the sleeping pill and whatever was in the capsule, I could barely walk.’

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