The Black Notebook
When Paul and I left the kitchen he greeted us as was customary: ‘Morning, Nkos. ‘Morning, Nkosikaas - that is, Good morning, Chief and Chieftainess.
‘Christ,’ said Paul, with irritation and anger, when we were outside the kitchen. And then, in the whimsical cool tone of his self-preservation: ‘But it’s strange I should mind at all. After all, it has pleased God to call me into the station of life which will so clearly suit my tastes and talents, so why should I care? But all the same …’
We walked up to the big room through the hot sunlight, the dust warm and fragrant under our shoes. His arm was around me again and now I was pleased to have it there for other reasons than that Willi was watching. I remember feeling the intimate pressure of his arm in the small of my back, and thinking that, living in a group as we did, these quick flares of attraction could flare and die in a moment, leaving behind them tenderness, unfulfilled curiosity, a slightly wry and not unpleasant pain of loss; and I thought that perhaps it was above all the tender pain of unfulfilled possibilities that bound us. Under a big jacaranda tree that grew beside the big room, out of sight of Willi, Paul turned me around towards him and smiled down at me, and the sweet pain shot through me again and again. ‘Anna,’ he said, or chanted. ‘Anna, beautiful Anna, absurd Anna, mad Anna, our consolation in this wilderness, Anna of the tolerantly amused black eyes.’ We smiled at each other, with the sun stabbing down at us through the thick green lace of the tree in sharp gold needles. What he said then was a kind of revelation. Because I was permanently confused, dissatisfied, unhappy, tormented by inadequacy, driven by wanting towards every kind of impossible future, the attitude of mind described by ‘tolerantly amused eyes’ was years away from me. I don’t think I really saw people then, except as appendages to my needs. It’s only now, looking back, that I understand, but at the time I lived in a brilliantly lit haze, shifting and flickering according to my changing desires. Of course, that is only a description of being young. But it was Paul who, alone among us, had ‘amused eyes’ and as we went into the big room hand in hand, I was looking at him and wondering if it were possible that such a self-possessed youth could conceivably be as unhappy and tormented as I was; and if it was true that I had, like him, ‘amused eyes’ - what on earth could that mean? I fell all of a sudden into an acute irritable depression, as in those days I did very often, and from one second to the next, and I left Paul and went by myself into the bay of a window.