The veil is thin right now, says the wise Reya. So that's why my dreams are populated with people who have passed over. My grandfather last night, totally himself, with all his wit intact, his gurgly chuckles. Only thing strange was he was lying down in bed, which is not how I remember him, although I suppose it is how I last saw him. He was in that house I've dreamed about before - a double story with a huge pine tree outside and leaded windows, high up in that funny little attic room with a window seat. The house that, last time I dreamed of it, was stuffed full of treasures that my grandmother had left, spiling out of empty suitcases. In the dream I had to cross a river, just shallow enough to wade. There were wooden nyau masks in the long grass on the riverbank, empty eyed, but hanging there, chaperoning us across. When I got to the other side I had a vantage point and saw there was a flashflood coming. Torrents of huge angry waters barrelling towards us. I had to get us back, back to the other side before the waters came, or we would be stranded, on the wrong side. When I woke, I was sure that the river was about crossing over, to where the others are.
And its a year since dear Kevin didn't wake up.
And still, I see C/Karl, all the time. And this is my letter to him.
Its years later and I still miss you. I often see your face, momentarily edited over the head of a passing stranger.
I remember, at Varsity. I met you during orientation week, noticed you immediately. Would have had a crush on you immediately, except it was more than that. It was never going to be That. Your blonde hair, the shock of your eyes, how they probed and concealed at the same time. Your slightly wounded artist look. I wouldn't know how wounded until much, much later.
Billie and I, we were best mates and went everywhere together, first and second year. We ran into you that one night on Beaufort street, you seemed as hunted as the wind that was chasing litter down towards the cathedral. We spent that evening with you – weird and magical, in your sparse little room, where was it, near Cross street? That bare floor, single chair. You were never much into possessions. That evening still haunts me, why? Only one of many otherworldly Grahamstown nights, but something stays with me still. Your eyes. All that was not said.
Years later, your bookshelf still amazed me. Your small collection of books that signalled how very very clever you were. To read them at all, much less understand them. But we knew that. Your thoughts were much too big for your head, my friend.
At my dad's place once, when I was waitressing at the Russian Tea House with Thandi and we were all a little wild. But I fought with you when you came to the house crazy eyed, opening and shutting the fridge, looking for sugar. You'd been in Hillbrow, and I got so mad. Didn't want that, knew then already it seemed so irreversable. Didn't understand.
You wanted me to. You never asked me to do what you were doing, but you wanted me to understand. So I went with you, to a bar in Hillbrow, where lost souls congregate. I wasn't frightened. It wasn't like that. I was sad. I remember the Nigerian guy who sold to you. His kind eyes, his concern. His love. I remember the very trashed white boy, stranded from the suburbs, he looked so close to death, slumped in the doorway like that.
We went to the toilets. Peach coloured walls and concrete floors, but not filthy. It wasn't like that. And the white smoke curled around your heads and you offered but didn't mind that I said no thanks.
You battled for years. Crack. Welkinol. Pinks. You went to that dreadful place that calls itself a rehab. Noupoort. Christian ubermorality, shame and guilt. Breeding house for suicides and back-on-the-wagon-as-soon-as-I'm-out-of-here derelicts. Was it a rumour, that you worked at a vet so you could swipe the ketamine? Or was that one of your jokes?
Beautiful c/karl. The way you spelt your name redolent of your ambivalence, your humour, your wanting it all. But also – the way you say it aloud. Not a stutter, but see karl. An instruction. An invitation. Did we, any of us?
I remember, in that flat on Buckingham avenue, how you started to loosen the strings holding you here, giving away what little you still owned. I lay next to you on the bed, you just wanted someone there. You couldn't say what you wanted. You gave me the little Scheherezade badge that I still wear. You gave me those two stories you had written. I said I'd do something with them. I still haven't. I held your body, so skinny, already detached, orbiting. I still didn't understand. You had glimpsed something else by then. Another way to be, or to go. I wanted to plant your feet in soil.
Long time later, Thandi told me some of your demons. I wonder why you couldn't speak to me? Now I get it, a little. How sometimes there's just too much pain and confusion too early – we get hardwired with so much pain. How the child doesn't know how to unravel this and it gets pounded down like the way they ram the earth when they build foundations. It just fuses into your psyche. If you add psycho active substances into that, I guess the path can just open up the way it did for you.
Lots of years passed before I got the news that had been sleeping in my heart. A few days before the millenium, Thandi phones me in Luangwa. On the crackly Kapani phone she tells me. Carl is dead from an overdose. I didn't feel much at the time. You and I, we'd said our goodbyes, I guess. I'd hardened part of myself to that.
But I often see your face. I blink – and it's a stranger. Are you restless, c/karl? Or is it I who has unfinished business? Those stories of yours. What shall I do with them?
I miss you. I'm having a marvellous time. I wish you were here.