by Peter Anderson
They catch the collaborator and tie his hands and feet
Together with wire. Twisted like that, the wire
Bites through the skin. There are smudges of blood
On his ankles and wrists as they bundle and drag him
Through the crowd to the middle of the street.
All around him, people are struggling—
Haranguing, cursing, pinching, cuffing, spitting.
The collaborator wails like a cow.
One young boy, who has got hold of a petrol can,
Goes swinging around, banging at the can
With the heel of his palm. Everyone is still shouting,
And a young man with red eyes
Is squatting beside the collaborator
And telling him,
Hissing in his hear
Things I cannot hear,
Though I try to get
Closer. Suddenly, petrol spills in a gout
From the can. It is full. I
Had not expected. The man crouching down
Gets wetted on the hand and sleeve. He stands up
And shouts at the boy, who wriggles and shrugs and grins
Down at his bare toes in the dust.
“Move!” yells the man. “Go fetch me a tyre.”
The boy presses himself backwards through the crowd,
While the collaborator, I see, is gagging
And crying. He is dribbling all down his chin
And his teeth are bubbled around with saliva.
He is a man in a suit, but the suit is covered in dust,
And, too big for him, anyway, probably never looked good.
His head, too, has a thick patch of dust on it,
The way they’ve been dragging him. “Who was he?” I ask
The man next to me. He shakes his head. “A collaborator,”
He says. But a woman in the crowd ululates,
Her hands on her hips. "It is here!” she cries.
“The necklace!” The boy is back, rolling an old used tyre
Along the road, its canvas showing at one point
Like an eye. The young man, who has so far been
Carefully smelling at his sleeve, waits for the boy
To come right up to him,
And then takes the tyre
And in one hard movement
Forces it round and over
The head, hands, and feet
Of the trussed-up man. Again,
He squats beside him and begins
Urgently to speak. But the woman who cried out before,
Impatient now, shrieks: “Moerskont! Stinkhound!”
And snatching up the can
Shakes petrol in a clear golden
All over the man in the necklace.
His voice, which seemed entirely gone
In terror, comes back in a gust. The man with red eyes
Jumps back and stares round angrily at everyone.
Then a couple of people from the other side of the crowd,
Scratching at a matchbox between them, flick
And drop a single match.
There is a blast like a bomb,
A bush of fire,
And everyone is trampling on everyone else,
Trying to get back. I stop myself falling
By putting out a hand, somebody steps on my
Fingers but I rip them away,
Get up, and go on.
We gather around
The tap at the end of the street. Black smoke
Is twisting from the fire
And I can still see the shape of the human.
There is the smell of rubber burning
And another smell. I am standing
Beside the young man who did all the talking.
“What is it?” I say under my breath.
He misunderstands. Though reluctant to speak,
He brings out one word, heavy as iron.
“Discipline.” I nod.
I don’t want to say any more. I examine my fingers.
Copyright © 2000 by Peter Anderson.
Reprinted from Vanishing Ground
by Peter Anderson, with the permission of Quartz Press, Republic
of South Africa.