They bring me to my senses at 4.00 a.m. each morning. Whether Pretoria, the Kruger Game Reserve, Johannesburg, or Valhalla. And as I sit here and type in the dawn, their happy sound is a chirp-chirrup of greetings to the slightest slivers and smudges of light.
Would that mankind be so cheerful. Would that mankind be so free. But I have heard the long moan of man for his lot, and it is a smatter and a chatter of what’s the matter almost continually. And the problem with this country is, is the pitch-phrase. Then comes the diathesis, the antithesis, and the catachresis. Then comes the complaining and the explaining and the pontificating. Then comes mankind in the throes of his self-assumed dissolution with the evident greyness of the dawn in his ineluctable evolution, for he sees but through his perpetual pain darkly, and he draws the curtains lest others look inside. It is the dirt and filth and fear and locks, bolts, gates, barbed wire, dogs, and caution with his lot that causes man so to enfold. And in the long years of his essentially self-protected life he withers and desiccates and looks hardly even within for he is too busy in his watchfulness for the without. We are neither birds nor animals; it is not natural for us so to live in perpetual fear.
The dogs alert me. I’d stopped writing even to raise my head and peer through the crack of the curtain next to me, as though perhaps I may espy, dark as it is, what the commotion is all about at what sounds as near as the neighbour’s house. And I realize that my vulnerability is aroused. And I realize that I am becoming immersed in the ebb and flow of the populace, that grand sweep of faces and bodies and glances and voices that are somehow each so caught up in the: what’s about to happen to me? Do the birds sing so too? Or are they giving songs of praise for a new day?
She was the song-bird of this experience of my time here in Africa, Colli Fora. She was the new blackbird, the new South Africa, the rare species of my cognizance in a country that has shown me, both in my life here before now as well as in the present, a female populace of generally uncommunicative dimension, chiefly for my own lack of knowing beyond the contextual meaning of their sounds. But Colli, a journalist with AIDC, spoke my language, perfectly. Cauliflower, the kids used to tease me, she laughed. She was beautiful and elegant and cultured and sophisticated and educated and perhaps only 26. And she interviewed me for the paper and she accepted my token of the maple-leaf pin and she asked for my card. She was appreciative of my old man’s presentation, and then she waited on the periphery and took photos of those others who came up to my chair to greet me. And some others too were black birds of all shapes and sizes amongst the usually bland. One other, in particular, could not articulate sufficiently for my untrained ear to gather sense. And I thought of the maid at Courtyard Hotel, Ebwon, who tended to the room and our laundry for four days, who had not spoken but five words of English the entire time. Even her name, repeated about four times, escaped me, until she lifted her name tag for me to read. Oh! Yvonne. It is difficult for man to discern intelligence when we make no sense of another’s sounds. Is that why we sometimes call the birds and beast dumb? But sing for me birds, sing that I may yet learn your language too. Sing for us all, until yet another day in the evolution of Africa, in the evolution of us all, is done.