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Authors: Troy Blacklaws

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Cruel Crazy Beautiful World

BOOK: Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
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Karoo Boy

“The most colorful book I have ever read.” —Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay

Karoo Boy
is told in the voice of a spectacularly original young male protagonist who in his own way is as captivating and memorable as Holden Caulfield.” —John Berendt, author of
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

“A beautifully evocative coming-of-age story.” —Bryce Courtenay, author of
The Power of One

Blood Orange

“Tantalizingly beautiful.” —Desmond Tutu

“Troy Blacklaws beautifully lays bare how it took raw guts for a young white boy to resist apartheid.” —Antjie Krog, author of
Country of My Skull

Blood Orange
is an important, vital voice to add to the tapestry of literature coming out of Southern Africa. Such vibrancy is rare in any literature. Coming out of such a legacy of violence and pain, it is nothing less than a miracle.” —Alexandra Fuller, author of
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World

“Mesmerizing and evocative. I am in awe.” —Deon Meyer, author of
Blood Safari

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
beautifully chronicles the hazardous fates of the scatterlings that immense historical waves leave on the beach.” —Phillip Noyce, director of
Rabbit-Proof Fence
The Quiet American

“Bold, poetic, terrifying.” —Terry Westby-Nunn, author of
The Sea of Wise Insects

“The words immediately took me into the world of the novel and made me look in a fresh way into the room behind the eyes.” —Witi Ihimaera, author of
The Whale Rider

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
A Novel
Troy Blacklaws


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

for Daniela Bows

Johnny Clegg for letting me snatch words from his song. Peter Godwin for casting an eye over Zimbabwe storyline. Isobel Dixon, Scott Eddington, Jason Hinojosa, Andrew MacDonald and James Scorer for reading pencil-in-hand. Lisa C. for her deft editing and Megan Southey at Jacana for proofreading. Nigel Gwynne-Evans for being my
on Table Mountain. Anderson Tepper, Chris Crutcher, Cindy Hood, John Johnson, Juliet, Leon Kandelaars, Zakes Mda, Micha, Geoff Roberts, Helena Spring, Joshua Sternlicht, Tim Volem for their faith in my storytelling. Craig Morris and Greig Coetzee for lending my words wings. Hugh Masekela, and Bafo Bafo for magic tunes.

It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world ...

– Johnny Clegg & Savuka



A boy tracks a skinny dun cow along a caged footbridge over the N2 highway out of town. The bridge is wired in to keep crazy cows from jumping and bitter boys from dropping bricks onto motorcars that shark along the tarmac below. For such boys Mandela’s longed-for freedom is a joke.

A haze of smoke and summer dust hangs low over Crossroads shantytown.

Behind us the sun hovers over Table Mountain.

On the roadside a tow truck, like a morbid mantis, dreams up its next victim.

And on the radio Miles Davis blows high, cicada notes.

See my old man with a lazy palm on the wheel of his mystic-green ’74 Benz and his other hand combing his ducktail. Zero Cupido: in his faring Hawaiian shirt and snakeskin boots, he looks the part of a dodgy Cuban dealer in an American film. In fact he’s half Cape Malay, half Cuban. With just a jot of Hottentot blood. In theory he’s Muslim. In reality he loves his whisky and pig and hasn’t gone to mosque for a long time. He has no intent to go on
, yet he enjoys orientating his life to Mecca. He draws an arrow in the sand with his foot whenever he’s on a beach. He has pencilled an arrow under the roof of the veranda. Ghosting through Cape Town, he’ll cast his eyes starwards to find south and then figure out the angle to Mecca. That imaginary notch in his mind
keeps the world from spinning too randomly
, he tells me.

Now, out of the blue, Zero’s put his snakeskinned foot down.
Jero, the freeloading’s over
, he said to me. He’ll no longer fork out
good money
(?!) on a son who is
a drifter and a dreamer: forever lolling on the harbour wall, forever sipping cocktails with flaky gay artists, forever writing sappy po-ems.
He spat out the word
as he might a litchi stone. He has no time for
fucking daffodils dancing in the breeze
. It’s unclear whether he is recycling the one line of poetry he recalls from his school days, or is calling all poets and other artists

My old man sees himself as a realist. He endlessly waxes his Benz, fills his hands with a whore’s tits, slices kudu
against his thumb, douses his fish and chips in vinegar, turns sizzling chops with his bare fingers and licks them off. He has zero finesse at the bone. His idea of fine-tuning is running a kind of spit cloth through the barrel of his Colt 45, or measuring and adjusting the gap in his spark plug. He wants the spark to jump far ... so it
burns clean

I silently scorn his world of dabbling and dealing, of whistling at schoolgirls in skimpy skirts and shooting pool in murky bars, of totting up takings on a Lion matchbox and smoking fat Havana cigars.

It’s a mystery to Zero how I’m so tuned into the ephemeral, into things neither here nor there. I’m fazed by the sound of old men sucking air through gaps in their teeth. I sniff the wispy smoke from under a just-unlidded beer bottle as if it is perfume. I love Parma ham shaved in opaque slivers. I linger in a cinema long after a film ends to ride out the vibe as long as I can. I enjoy arthouse films with their
endings that hang in midair. I gaze into a lava lamp until I see flamingos and phantoms. I listen to indie folk and whimsical garage instead of hard rock. All this renders me a
in his eyes. A free-verse fairy with a footloose soul.

He has a point. I still have zip on paper after two years of reading for my thesis on García Márquez at the University of Cape Town. I got lost in the dusty labyrinth of his Latin American mind. All the thoughts I placed on paper somehow became poems ... and a play.
This is beyond imagining for Zero. He never goes beyond the Cape Flats without a map in hand. He loves to unfold a road map and follow the N2 all the way to Durban with a finger. Then to laugh at my fumbling bid to origami the map along the original folds again. Ironic, for a man of such hazy ethics to be so focused on compass points in a land where booming shantytowns render maps old overnight.

I curse him for exiling me to survive all alone out in Hermanus: boondock harbour town south-east of Cape Town.
. I hope you’ve never heard of it.

We go by a fire raging on a highway island. A wizardy old man shakes a fly whisk at the flames.

My amigos pity me. At dusk today they’ll all head down to the Cape Town harbour for sundowners. They’ll jabber their dreams of recording music and put forward their beer-foam theories on why Mandela’s rainbow dream fell out of focus in this land of antithesis. And where will I be? In Hermanus, other side of Hangklip, far from the jazzy verve of Cape Town.

– My father and my father’s father were fishermen in Kalk Bay, Zero intones. Jero, my boy, you come from a long line of fishermen.

He swivels his focus away from the Benz icon to glare unblinking eyes at me, to spook me out.

This is, I think, his bid to prove the futility and absurdity of my reading García Márquez.

– But Dad, this sea’s been fished dry and the fishermen are dying out. Besides, my other grandfather taught philosophy.

He taught in Vienna until 1937. Then he sailed for Cape Town. He was one of the few lucky Jews. Lucky to have eluded the Nazis then. Lucky too to have keeled over before his daughter fell for a Muslim.

Zero flicks my words out the wound-down window with his ducktailing hand.

– And he had to sell newspapers to put a roof over his head when he came out to Cape Town. Philosophy won’t put fish and a beer in your hands. I tell you flat, my boy, if you want to survive ... you have to have something to trade.

That’s Zero’s Survival Tip #1.

He’ll hand you his hard-earned wisdom free of charge. One hand palm up (as if balancing the circle of the wheel) and the other with fingers down (tapping on his drum-taut gut), he may just remind you of Buddha calling on the earth to witness his moment of illumination.

I look away out my window and see four nude youths on the rim of the road: painted from head to foot in white clay, they perch on the roof of a gutted motorcar. I catch the thudding of a boom-box bass and see their eyes pan after us.

They linger in my mind long after they fade in the rearview. The white clay renders them invisible to the spirits who want to waylay them during this hazardous limbo time when they’re no longer cow-herding, lizard-catching boys and not yet men.

In the past, when they verged on manhood, Xhosa boys would be sent out of their mother’s hut far into the untamed
to learn to survive by hunting and foraging. You’d never see them during the in-between time. Now there’s hardly any
left and the only wild animals are tourist-hustling baboons, feral dogs and cocky rats. Each day another row of shanty huts is conjured out of the dust of dying, dwindling
. And each day folk stray further and further out to seek firewood.

Zero takes the exit for the Strand. Bullet holes scar the sign. This is a surreal Nevada rather than the Nirvana foretold.

Apartheid depended on static, unequivocal signposts. Nowadays signs shift all the time. Words on them fade, or hang skew after kamikaze taxivans wipe out a post. They become shanty roofs or, flipped, advertise a barbershop or a shebeen or second-hand coffins. Even roadside milestones get pinched to hold down canvas tents in the southeaster banshee-wind. Names of the dead vanish from graveyards, the brass letters traded for drug money. The time when words stood still on poles is long gone. Words just won’t stay put.

– But
don’t catch fish, Dad, I dare shoot back at Zero after the long lull.

This too is scripted. I find holes in his logic and he just shifts the focus.

– I trade in other things.

– And one day they’ll put you in jail.

Zero laughs. He levels his eyes at me again and taps his forehead.

– I’m too savvy for them, my boy.

Then he winks slyly.

– I leave no spoor. No proof.

He blows air through fluttering lips. His shot at drama falls flat. You’d think he’d ditch the theatrics with me. I’m not duped by his act. His mates, on the other hand, hang on his quips and tips as if he’s a god.

BOOK: Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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