Sunday, February 7, 2010

More than Dreams (an anecdote of iAfrika!)

It is after midnight, 27th January, 2010. Seven or maybe six of us stand anxiously waiting by the cement column near the long brick wall. The two adjudicators in the early morning mist try not to notice us directly. They hover around the night-deposit machine at the side of the bank. One is a stork-like young man with close-cropped black hair and horn-rimmed glasses; the other is a young giraffe-like female in a dark aubergine suite, her blonde hair tied up in a bun, and she wears glasses in the shape of two hearts, with twinkling little diamonds embedded in the frame. And then the wall-machine between them incongruously spits out this great big sheet of news-print, and they pull it out from the stainless-steel dispenser and come forward to our eager little group, and I see my name, big and bold and black across the top: PENTELBURY.

I marvel. I feel excited. But then I feel disconcerted. Something is not right. A voice at my shoulder urges, “Your name wasn’t supposed to be known!” I turn to see a black man, friendly enough, older than me, dressed in a dark brown suit, but clearly discomforted as the print comes into focus again, bold and black across the news-page: PENTELBURY.

Peering through his horn-rims the young judge admonishes, “That’s a pity, but we may have to allow this oversight since the work itself is so very …”

“But that’s not fair!” comes another participant’s voice from behind me, and the surging crowd, other writers in the competition, press in on me in their agitation as they too inspect my name, big and bold: PENTELBURY!

“Not too late! Better change that,” says the young woman judge, her diamond glasses twinkling. (Diamonds? Again?)

“But names are for later,” emphasises the black man, and he now carries a spear and appears to be my old M’dhalha, and…

“Whuh?” I wake up.

It is still dark. My bedside alarm reads 1.00 a.m. My mind reels. I feel at once elated and disconcerted. iAfrika!, my novel, resonates in me. Premonition provokes. A black man? M’dhalha, my protagonist, giving me a message? Surely I need to check the admission criteria again? The submission of my manuscript simply is far too important to chance it. I’ll check it all out in the… and I drift back to sleep.

And indeed, at the computer first thing in the morning the long list of regulations for the International First Novel Award reveals at item (f), under Entry Requirements, that one must “not include your name anywhere in the Manuscript, Excerpt, or the Pitch.”

I download last midnight’s submission, and sure enough, my name is there, in the heading of each page of iAfrika!, as well as in the copyright notice at the footer. Easily, I delete it, and upload the submission again. “Accepted,” it reads. Whew! Thank goodness changes are allowed between the submission dates! And whew! Thank goodness for dreams!

Then again, did M’dhalha, the old Matabele mentor of my childhood in Africa, really reach across to me after all these years?

iAfrika! So much more than dreams!