Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier
When Alexandra ("Bo") Fuller was home in Zambia a few years ago, visiting her parents for Christmas, she asked her father about a nearby banana farmer who was known for being a "tough bugger." Her father's response was a warning to steer clear of him; he told Bo: "Curiosity scribbled the cat." Nonetheless, Fuller began her strange friendship with the man she calls K, a white African and veteran of the Rhodesian war. With the same fiercely beautiful prose that won her acclaim for Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Fuller here recounts her friendship with K.
K is, seemingly, a man of contradictions: tattooed, battle scarred, and weathered by farm work, he is a lion of a man, feral and bulletproof. Yet he is also a born-again Christian, given to weeping when he recollects his failed romantic life, and more than anything else welling up inside with memories of battle. For his war, like all wars, was a brutal one, marked by racial strife, jungle battles, unimaginable tortures, and the murdering of innocent civilians—and K, like all the veterans of the war, has blood on his hands.
Driven by K's memories, Fuller and K decide to enter the heart of darkness in the most literal way—by traveling from Zambia through Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Mozambique to visit the scenes of the war and to meet other veterans. It is a strange journey into the past, one marked at once by somber reflections and odd humor and featuring characters such as Mapenga, a fellow veteran who lives with his pet lion on a little island in the middle of a lake and is known to cope with his personal demons by refusing to speak for days on end. What results from Fuller's journey is a remarkably unbiased and unsentimental glimpse of men who have killed, mutilated, tortured, and scrambled to survive during wartime and who now must attempt to live with their past and live past their sins. In these men, too, we get a glimpse of life in Africa, a land that besets its creatures with pests, plagues, and natural disasters, making the people there at once more hardened and more vulnerable than elsewhere.
Scribbling the Cat is an engrossing and haunting look at war, Africa, and the lines of sanity.
indigenous to this area—look displaced by their own homes, like refugees who are trying to flee their place of refuge. And where the Tonga people—the nation that was shifted here in the 1950s, when the colonial government flooded them out of their ancestral valley to create Lake Kariwa—look unrequitedly vengeful and correspondingly despondent. And where everyone else looks like a refugee worker; sweat-drained, drunk, malarial, hungover, tragic, recently assaulted. Down here, even those who don’t
turned up to the light that shattered through their window. I sat on the edge of their beds and kissed them both, hungry for the kind of peace they usually instilled in me. My daughter turned over and hugged her blanket to her belly. My son muttered. It felt as if I was imparting disquiet into my children, as if my embrace were poisoned. I went through to the kitchen—feeling exiled by who I was—and made some tea and sat on the sofa with a blanket over my knees. It was the time of night that
quickly and he showed that he has a head for responsibility. “Now what usually happens around here is that you find a decent gondie, you train them, and then the poor bastard gets Henry the Fourth and dies. Now how do you explain this? Michael can’t get a stiffy. I have the only gondie in Zambia who can’t screw himself to death. Do you think that’s a coincidence? And he’s so bloody good. He’s sent by God, and he has been protected by God.” I said, “Poor Michael. I am sure he’d rather not be
Thirty Ritalin in two days.” “That’s terrible stuff,” said St. Medard. “The more pills I took, the worse I felt. I didn’t sleep for days. I was walking up the walls, man. It started out like this—I took a pill and I waited half an hour and I didn’t feel any calmer, no different than usual, so I took six or seven and then I felt worse, so I took another ten and then I felt really kak and before I knew it I’d taken all the pills and I’ve never felt so mad in my life. Horrible stuff, that.” It
Katundu: luggage Kudala: far away Kutsamwa: to sulk (Shona) Lapa: over there Lekker: nice (Afrikaans) Laaities: children (Afrikaans) Mai we: my mother! (from amai [Shona]) Mambo: king (Shona) Maninge: a lot (Shona) Mapenga: relating to madness (Shona) Mawhori: whore Mbambaira: Shona for “potatoes” but also used as slang for land mines Moffs: homosexual, short for Moffies Mopane: a kind of tree found in low-lying areas Munts: people; also used by whites as derogative term for