Internet hanging today and I’m struggling to connect. I feel a knot in my stomach and it probably doesn’t help that I’ve just read Henrietta Rose-Innes’ prize-winning short story Poison over at Guardian Books. (The Caine prize is for the best short-story written in English by an African writer.)
Poison is apocalyptic and impersonal. Well-written and I can imagine that petrol station she describes very well. There’s a similar one just down the N2 from here. It is a model of efficiency and consumer-friendliness but I wonder what it would be like if there was a shortage of petrol and everyone was scrambling to get out of the city (as in her story). Every time I stop in there for some Wimpy coffee or fill up on the way to a weekend away I’ll probably be reminded of Lynn, the resigned and rather helpless heroine (not completely resigned, she is also resourceful) who is waiting for the emergency men to come and save her with their sirens and flashing lights and shiny vests. There’s clearly a metaphor waiting to be unpacked here (with political and social and environmental overtones).
But the story left me dissatisfied, perhaps because I was looking for an example of empathy and there’s none to be had in that apocalyptic landscape. Clearly that could be seen as a sign of the ‘new’ South Africa. Not much empathy. And not much of a plan other than waiting around to be rescued by someone else. If that doesn’t work out she’ll take a rusty bicycle and ride off to find something else.