Saturday, November 23, 2013
An Excerpt from "The Beast"
This week's blog entry is a taste of what we're talking about here. It is the opening of "The Beast". This was written approximately twenty minutes after the events told within it transpired. It is interesting that I knew kind of where the book would be going - but not in a precise sort of way.
I couldn't obviously control the events upon the bus to make a readable story about a bus ride, but I could not escape my own personal context either. I carried that with me to the bus: my ethos, my experiences, my deep feelings for why I am on this earth, and my voice. Of all my books, this one bears my writer's voice perhaps the best of any - maybe because it is the book that means the most to me.
7:24 am – LaGanga: The Beast is unforgiving. It moves to its own internal rhythm – at its own pace. It cares not whether those it claims as its passengers are early, or are late, or are precisely on time. To The Beast, it simply matters not.
No. It cares only for its own selfish, belching, rheuming, fuming journey along the Bara-Bara (main thoroughfare) of the Arusha Road from Usa River to Morogoro, Tanzania, East Africa.
The Servant of the Dust stood quietly at the bus station at LaGanga with his young Tanzanian friend MeHost who had driven him there. Together they patiently waited. And waited. Tanzanian Time, you know. Meanwhile a long line of small, local Dalla-Dalla buses – so called because they cost only a ‘Dalla!’ (dollar) – scurried frantically to and fro, spewing forth passengers and chaos like so many African fire ants.
But no Beast.
The Servant of the Dust chuckled in spite of himself. Though he was at that dark, reflective, intensely-introspective part of his present journey, he found he still had a small portion of lightness left within his being to share with MeHost. He felt there was something about the antics of the desperate little men, the hangers-on, who rode along with the Dalla-Dallas that was infinitely amusing.
They seemed to be an entire circus unto themselves. Part Ringmaster, a little bit Lion Tamer, a larger bit buffoonish Clown and a whole lot of Sideshow Barker calling out to those gathered at the bus stop – the children arrayed in the multi-hued styles of their respective school uniforms, gnawing on empty water bottles and sucking every last ounce of sustenance from soggy husks of corn, poking and prodding and pummeling each other noisily in the red dust of the bus station – and then there were the elders, bent and lame, moving with shuffling deliberation across a cruel landscape of age that hobbled their every footfall with wracks of silently-born pain.
And yet the Sideshow Barkers called on. “Dalla! Dalla!”
They beseeched groups of confident young men to join them on the bus. The Young men seemed to clump together in gregarious groups of threes or fours catcalling the pretty – and equally confident – young women promenading proudly on the other side of the street in their colorful Tanzanian finery, safe in the distance between to play along with their youthful game.
Finding no takers for their mobile Sideshows, the Barkers would ultimately concede defeat and then magically transform themselves into skillfully reckless Trapeze Artists, leaping, grabbing, swinging dangerously through the open doors of the accelerating Dalla-Dalla’s with graceful defiance as they sped off to their next Circus Stop.
For the Servant of the Dust, it was a welcome distraction from the slight trepidation of anticipation of the arrival of The Beast. He was self-aware to know that it was not in fact The Beast that troubled his fragile countenance but something else, something deeper, something darker at the core of his very essence.
Empathy. He was helpless to it here.
Something inside of him changed with every subsequent trip to Africa. Deepened. Heightened. Each time it seemed to transform him from the inside out. The ubiquitous choking dust of this raw and insistent place seemed to find its way to the very veins of his soul, lining them with ever-thickening layers of the ancient grit of blessed humanity itself.
Blissfully, just as the metaphysical sway of internal tumultuous discourse threatened to spiral completely out of control, The Beast rolled into sight – the large green BM of its visor visible clearly and not a little ominously from a distance. The Servant worked his way through the massing throng to the front of the line – past the multi-hued children, the hobbling elders – through the confident young men and away from the pull of the chortling Sideshow Barkers as the next wave of Dalla-Dallas arrived just ahead of The Beast with a screeching of tires and clamor of activity.
And then it was there.
With a flash of his ticket and a quick and earnest embrace for his friend MeHost, the Servant climbed the steep twisting staircase onto the bus that would take him to Morogoro by nightfall.
Into the belly of The Beast he went. And in that instant, he was consumed. He walked (or was carried) up the narrow aisle careering, veering, lunging, and plunging off of elbows and shoulders and God-knows-what as he found his designated spot and slumped heavily into his seat.
The Beast lurched forth, surging forward with full throaty throttle. It had claimed him.
The journey had begun.