Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Battle Was Over Before it Even Started

A couple of years ago my boy B. called and invited me to his 45th birthday party.  He sounded excited and I heard the melodic voice of a twenty-sumthen significant other in the background saying "Tell him he can stay with us especially if he brings a date ..."

The staying part had to do with me traveling from Village Hell where I was doing time and penance teaching political science to an almost post-Mandela generation and one faculty member who may have been older than dirt.

I was not eager to go.  Not because I did not want to see my Muslim brown boy B. suck in his middle and introduce his much younger Christian white English bride as his partner.

And I was not even dreading listening to his defeated mother telling me at length that it was OK for Muslim men to marry Christian women as long as they installed a bidet for her.

My trepidation had to do with hitting the long road to Joburg in the 1996 Isuzu pick-up truck (bakkie) I had reconditioned to drive around after my dad passed.

The Isuzu was my space for communing with my dad on trips from Kimberley to Village Hell.  I knew he loved that truck because it never failed him even after a drunk white man rear-ended him with an eighteen- wheeler and left him with a broken back in the middle of Namibia.

He fixed the truck but he was never the same.

The truck did not fit the car loving image of my dad.  He was known for the flashy American sports cars he drove throughout the 80s and early 90s.

But my dad reached a place when he set aside pretense and flash.  By the time I returned to South Africa the same process was unraveling in my head.

Most days I would sit alongside him in the garden.  Often in contemplative silence.  He was the quintessential pacifist.  A measured man who would just laugh at me when I tried to draw him into a play scrap.

I often thought that my father's non-violent nature would turn Gandhi violent.

"I am a peace loving man Ridi," he would often say.

I decided to attend B's birthday party if only for the chance to escape Village Hell.  The party was held at a posh hotel where a dude in a penguin suit wanted to valet park the Isuzu.

"Ummm no broer just point me in the direction of where I should park," I said to a quizzical disbelieving face.

Moments later B. introduced me to his partner for the 50th time and she gushed about having me come and then asked about the date I should have brought along.

"There is so much space at home.  You really should not be shy.  If you meet someone tonight just bring her over.  We won't mind. We not judgmental."

I looked at the white girl wondering why she was so f*cking happy and giddy.

"Ridwan will be OK darling," my boy said to his candy stick waif in training.

"Oh I know love.  Just wanted to be open to whatever," she replied from inside his wrapped arms.

Being the jolly dateless man I walked toward a group of men and introduced myself.  "Oh yeah B. mentioned you were coming.  You the American guy."

"I'm South African."  "But you have been there in and amongst the ugly Americans for most of your life.  Please don't be offended but what would make any sane person live there?"

My short fuse was being tested and by non other than a spiked haired Anglo-Indian with a medical degree and twiggy tight jeans that matched his pink crocodile emblem golf shirt and over-sized wrist watch.

My limit was on full.  And two or so more American insults and it was on like Donkey Kong.

"You know it is exactly calorie deficient f*cks like you who test my peaceful resolve not to just beat the living sh*t out of your greasy sinewy ass."

Prakesh or Imtiaz or Hitesh or whatever the f*ck his mamma named him the day she enrolled him in medical school seemed to go limp and he and his Golf GTI and BMW M3 crew fell silent.

I stood my ground.  Militant but decidedly peaceful.   The battle was over before it even started.

My thoughts turned to my dad and his memory that I had been revisiting inside long bumpy and noisy Isuzu rides for almost a year.

I recalled an early Saturday evening in my late teens sitting on my red Kawasaki outside my friend Gary's house when this car full of wannabe thugs stopped by to rearrange my grill.

The head neanderthal had a huge crush on the one who rode pillion on my motorcycle and he decided to prove his 'manliness' in the street.

Right about the time when he was about to jump my ass my dad pulled up in his brand new imported Chevy Corvette.  He got out and walked over to where we were standing.

"You touch my boy and I'll shoot your f*cking knee caps off," he said as the neanderthal backed off and profusely apologized calling the episode a misunderstanding.

My dad saved my ass.  He, the non-violent pacifist, took a militant stand and it worked.  The battle was over before it even started.

Three decades later I reminded him about that day and he smiled quietly.  "And if they touched you I would have shot them," he said.

"But I thought you abhor violence?" I replied.

"I do but there are some times when you just use the threat of violence and it is enough.  Other times the only option is violence for self-preservation.  But violence must never be prescribed over settling things peacefully even where you may need to use the threat of violence to ensure peace.  Read your Qur'an.  It is all in there."

My dad was literally half the size I am but he was very much stronger in ways that count more than just how much one can bench press in the gym.

My mouth and impatience gets me into a lot of trouble and on more than one occasion his silent strength saved me.  And it still does.

I will never sell that Isuzu.  You can't disentangle his presence from that truck.  And if you show up at number 11 any day soon I will take you out for a ride so you can experience its peaceful noise.



Dade said...

Fantastic story, Ridwan!

Ridwan said...

Thank you my brother. Your encouragement means the world to me.

Peace hey,

Anonymous said...

that bidet comment made me laugh. now the line is -you're spreading the deen;)

I echo dade- this was a gorgeous stroll down memory lane.


Ridwan said...


Thank you ever so kindly for your words. It means a ton coming from you.

Be well.


Aasia said...

Hey Prof Ridi.

Excellent story, most South africans I know can't wait to escape. I have a similar affection for Isuzu's because of my dad.

Onward with the touchy feely. Love it.
when we doing coffee.

Ridwan said...

Hey Aasia:

I hear you sista. And I am just about tired of those who layer guilt about leaving too :0)

You must tell me about your dad and his Isuzu.

Yeah I am 'feeling' the "touchy feely" a lot more now that I have taken Dade's advice.

We need to do coffee soon. Shabs says that your workplace has great eats!

Will call ya later,