READING

Coupla Tuskers | Shaun Pieter Clamp

Coupla Tuskers | Shaun Pieter Clamp

Gold flashed from the turning bodies on the upper-deck. Their voices carried to you. They didn’t carry to you when you were on the boat. There they stood in circles of good humour and idleness. They took photos and then gathered to look. They laughed at Hamish and nodded to the music and began simple conversations that could always lead somewhere if you were willing. You stood on the wings, hung from a metal railing, turned your face to the sunset and the treeline above the silvery soft water and imagined that beauty was not simply a refuge. And as the rills of wake cut shadows across the surface, across the forever warble of that screen, you imagined you weren’t a petrified child staring off somewhere again.

You turned on your back and water pooled in your ears. It was quiet and warm and you couldn’t hear them. Only water and the tearing of another boat far away. You liked to see everything in the circle of your eyes. The trees and the boat were dark peripheries. The glowing band above rose to milk orange clouds much like the water surface. You imagined, weightless, floating there, that you were falling into the clouds, into another surface.

When you jumped from the upper-deck you imagined it was suicide. When your feet hit the water you thought, headfirst. The quietude of you lying there was close enough to what you’d been pining for. You wondered if all writers were cowards. You knew they weren’t but you were.

You could imagine.     

……

To dance you had to think it was a dream. A red dream of moving bodies and spindly black palms. They were all in your dream. You moved among them confidently. 

They weren’t what you were. One person in his red dream. Moving bodies in your spinning tilt. One had big hair and mad eyes. One came close, nodded, and went away. Another gave you a hug. You were the king of your red dream.

The walls were white but the light on them was red. When the spinning slowed and individuals moved out of the murk, slowing and solidifying from the whir, other positions in the whir of drifting bodies and potted palms, there were white walls, red disco lights, other yous.  Nothing really mattered.

……

Palm leaves clattered overhead. A sand dancefloor between your toes. Jack gave you a hug. You kept dancing in a way that was slow and peculiar. Passive as a wind sock. Slackening as night poured in.

The night poured in, reaching its waves across the sand. Lights tripped over the water and dissolved on the shore. Crabs are curious creatures. They don’t walk straight. They run for their holes or, failing that, charge for the breaking swell and disappear. In the day the beach is blinding and you can barely see. At night the grey drifts to black headlands, past the port lights of beach houses and soft rub palms. The quiet moon behind the wall of the sea.

The antidepressants stop you from crushing into your sadness. Booze stops you from thinking. Your friends stop you from loneliness. Locked outside your room on the uncushioned sunlounger you were neither sad nor thinking nor lonely. A thatched-roof eave beneath a yellow light. Pine branches blacker than the sky.

……

Morning chats with Hamish. Expelling twin-bed regrets into the mosquito net. He said he kissed a girl in the waves. He said he walked her home along the beach and didn’t get any. You imagined them rolling together in the waves and said, “That’s fine.”

He ironically bragged, “I do everything with girls but sex.” He sighed, “I haven’t had sex in a year.”

“At least you kissed her in the waves.”

“It was average.”

“You didn’t relax in your soul,” you said, remembering joining their table briefly before leaving, telling them to relax in their souls.

“Fuck off,” he laughed. “And did you spy any honeys?”

“I caught eyes with a few crabs on the way back.”

“Nice.”

“I figured out the trick to dancing, though. You just tell yourself that you’re in a dream and they’re all in your dream. Then you don’t have to care.”

“Your dancing is shit, though.”

“I didn’t say it makes you good,” you laughed. “Just bearable.”

“You don’t even dance to the beat. You sway around like a zombie. You gotta do stuff with your hands.”

“Like this?” You did a rodeo motion with your hand over your head. “You’re all in my dream, you’re all in my dream.”

“You’re all my pussies, you’re all my pussies.”

You both laughed.

“Why was the kiss average?”

“I had to think about a lot. The conversation was dying. I had to keep the vibe going. The fucking waves.”

“That’s why I was telling you to relax in your soul, you idiot.” 

“There were other girls I was interested in but then she was there and I—”

“Relax in your soul.”

“There was no chase.”

Then Hamish turned on a party song, stepped out of the mosquito net, and danced for you in his boxers.

……

Hamish pulled the boat over to the creek’s mangrove beach. The leaves were a horrible bright green. You finished your beer and grabbed another from the cooler box.

“I’ll drive away to not make it obvious,” he said.

“Thanks.”

You heard, “Where is Shaun going?” as you slipped off the boat and waded ashore. Warm water pooled about your buttocks. You walked with your head down for the treeline, following a rivulet to where it seeped through the sand among the dark mangrove roots. You couldn’t see the boat from there. Bright orange crabs watched you dig a black hole with your hands that filled with water. You took off your shorts and underwear, threw them away, and stood in your baby-posture nakedness. You felt like the infant who ran around the pool naked at the house. You stared at your body, your dick. You had gone beneath humiliation. You squatted, balanced on the spread fingers beneath your bad wrist, and watched the crabs crawl slowly away as you defiled their home, the mangrove leaves which afforded no wiping. 

……

There was a pantomime put on by the white Kenyan community at Maritime Sports to raise money for the family of someone who had died. It was crowded, wind upset the speakers. Hamish stood with his friends who you couldn’t talk to. One asked, “So what do you think of Watamu?” and you said, “It’s interesting. It’s like a weird colonial bubble of rich English people,” then added, “It’s cool.” He had nothing for that.

You went to the bar and ordered two beers and stood alone by the stairs where you could watch the god-awful pantomime and not hear it. You drank quickly.

You had thought English people were clever and funny and you were realising that not all were. These ones were rich, so you thought they should be. You hadn’t heard one conversation on art or philosophy or literature, and you didn’t even want to try because you were either too hungover or drunk, clumsy at explaining things orally, and really a bummer, a saddo who couldn’t just get on with it. You thought, no one likes a saddo, and finished your beer and went to the bar. You asked the person next to you if there was any difference between a Tusker and a Tusker Malt and he said, “No idea.”

……

You followed Hamish through Maritime Sports. He was tall and had a big head. He called to the guys he knew or walked over to them and chatted while you waited. Sometimes he was scathing.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Dom, you fucking idiot,” he said to a guy who approached him in a playfully aggressive way. “Fuck off.”

Dom made a face and a noise. Hamish shook his head.

“That guy’s going to be blind drunk in an hour. Idiot.”

“Bit harsh,” you said.

“Trust me, he’s an idiot. He’s the kind of guy who gets drunk and looks for fights. He did boxing at Uni.”

“Oh.”

Hamish ordered beers and shots. Dom had taken off his shirt. He winged his arms, flexed his biceps and chest, shoaled a group of young girls to the centre of the dancefloor. You thought he was good-looking.

……

There were a lot of handsome guys at Maritime Sports. There were a lot of pretty girls. A bazaar of flower faces. The Faulkner line a new mantra for dancing. You weren’t going to do anything, didn’t ask for eye contact, danced alone among them, thinking, grim duenna row, grim duenna row, like a bazaar of flower faces.

……

Hamish went to a scattering of ashes. You took the opportunity to masturbate. The mosquito net still hung about the beds. You thought it drew in and out with your breaths. Barring friends, you thought about everyone under the sun and nothing worked. You sat in the toilet because you were worried about noise and looked at your dick and imagined it was someone else’s and that didn’t work. You went back to bed and imagined the mosquito net becoming cold air-conditioned air. You were in a hospital. Sophie stood over you. “I’m just sad,” you admitted, “I’m just sad.” A great relief poured from your chest as she leant over you and you told her again and she held you. You were both loosening out of your structures like the air between your bodies as the two of you rode. The mosquito net ballooning with the milky air. The shades of her upturned neck in orgasm.

……

New Year’s Eve was glitter themed at Maritime Sports. Your table played Never Have I Ever and on the suicide round you said, “Never have I ever masturbated on this holiday,” and drank. You were nice to Sophie and pulled out her chair and got her drinks. You flirted with her but not seriously. Hamish put his fingers in girls’ faces and negged them. He was worried they wouldn’t like him. He told Sophie her sex life with her boyfriend must be boring because she didn’t drink for any of the Never Have I Evers and she left the table crying. Hamish went to apologise and when he came back he told you he was wing-manning you.

Later at the table, after the countdown, Sophie gave you advice on how to pick up women and you said you didn’t really give a fuck. 

“You don’t really give a fuck?” She turned her face away as if offended.

“No.”

“Why don’t you give a fuck, Shaun?”

“I’m just out of a relationship and I’m depressed.”

“Are you on the happy pills, Shaun?”

“Yes and they don’t really work.”

“No, they don’t. I think you should just try and stop moping.”

“Yup.”

She sighed. “And stop being so boring. Shaun’s boring,” she said.

“I don’t think you’re boring, Shaun,” said Emily.

“Great.”

“Not boring, just…” Sophie wrinkled her mouth, “I dunno.”

“So what happened with your girlfriend, Shaun?” said Emily.

“Concerns about my sexuality.”

“You’re gay?”

“Probably bi. But difficult to come to terms with in a relationship.”

“No, you’re gay, Shaun.”

“I’ve heard it’s a spectrum. I’ve been attracted to women. I was attracted to her.”

“No you weren’t, listen to how you’re saying it.”

“I’m not trying to convince you.”

“Trust me, I’ve been with women. You have to go out there and explore.”

“I agree.”

“You just like Sophie because she’s your idea of an ideal woman.”

You laughed. “I like her because she’s pretty.”

“I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

Emily left the table holding her mouth. Sophie studied her Instagram. Gay and boring, the dancefloor was a nightmare. You fled before sunrise.

……

Hamish came in out of the papery dawn and collapsed on the bed. 

“I had sex with Olivia.”

“Woohey. Congratulations.”

“It wasn’t my best sexual performance.”

“Because you were hammered.”

“I kept losing my boner so I’d finger her until I got hard again and go like that.”

“Well, that’s alright.”

“Good thing I have these long fingers. I think I made her cum. But when I woke up I thought I was in hell. They don’t have air-conditioning and you know how two bodies make heat between them? I was in a pool of sweat, staring at the ceiling fan, and it couldn’t push air through the mosquito netting. Our bodies were like oily fish left overnight in an oven’s warming drawer.”

You imagined the sun showing green through the curtain.

“And her parent’s room was next door and at one point the dad walked in. We’d left the door open.”

“Did you tell him it was a pleasure?”

“And when I got up they were all at the breakfast table within greeting distance. I turned on my heels and headed straight for the beach.”

“Whose shorts are those?”

“Hers.”

You both laughed.

“At least you weren’t called boring.”

……

On the toilet you made Fuck fear in the arse your New Year’s resolution.

……

The girls were gymnasts. They slapped and tucked their legs as they rolled through the air and straightened, hands high, into the water with their feet pointed. The thin streams of bubbles that darted from their pointed legs and bodies and from their nostrils plumed bluely from the water. When their sheen heads surfaced they were smiling and their eyes flashed. You threw your head back and didn’t mind dying and landed fine. The other guys followed suit except Hamish who had never done one before. He practiced from the lower deck, called for everyone’s attention, a slow clap. At the point of jumping he froze in a spasm of fear and fell arse-first into the water. You told him to throw his head back, imagine he was dying. Everyone was giving him advice and he kept trying. Watched from the water the gold bodies flying and plunging. The green murk of treading limbs beneath. You told him to practice submerged from the ladder off the side of the boat. After that he almost had it. The next time he had it. He wouldn’t stop doing them. “It is like dying,” he said. Then you were all to do a backflip from the upper-deck. Hamish was next to you and the first time he went early because he was afraid he couldn’t do it when the time came. 

……

You sat sweating in a cubicle at Maritime Sports. You couldn’t piss in front of other people. Hamish asked if you were taking a shit.

“Yes,” you lied, then thought you may as well try. 

“Hamish, where’s your homosexual friend?” came a blokey voice that sounded like Dom’s.

You stared at the brown door. You thought you had to confront him. With your ACL torn you’d probably lose in a fight. You wiped your face of sweat in the mirror.

You found him on the dancefloor wearing a speedo. You put your hand on his shoulder. “Dom, I heard what you said to Hamish. If you have something to say, say it to my face and we can sort it out on the beach.”

“I don’t remember saying anything.”

“I heard you. You said, ‘Hamish, where’s your homosexual friend?’ If you have a problem, rather say it to my face.”

“I’m sorry. If I did say anything, I didn’t mean it.”

You looked hard at him. “Okay. No worries.”

“Cheers.”

You shook hands. Later, you told Hamish what happened.

“Yeah, that wasn’t Dom. And the guy meant it as a joke.”

“Oh God.”

Dom was dancing nearby. You put your hand on his shoulder again and apologised.

“Yeah mate, I had no idea what you were on about.”

You closed your eyes in shame.

……

You entered your room. Hamish and Olivia shifted under the covers.

“I’m sorry.”

You left to get a glass of water. Drank it in the living room and waited.

When you re-entered the room they were side by side.

“I’m sorry about that.”

“We weren’t doing anything.”

“I sleep with a podcast in my ear and a pillow over my head. Don’t mind me.”

You felt the muffled cold thumps as you fell asleep. You don’t know when you woke up. Glanced across and the bed was empty. You took out your earphones and heard Hamish’s voice whisper beyond the window.

“I’m not gay, Olivia. I like women. I promise. It just happens sometimes.” 

……

“A coupla Tuskers,” said Hamish from his bed in the morning. You heard the sadness in it. 

A self-aware veil, a new shell, asking you to catch it. 

“Coupla Tusker Malts,” you said.

……

On his last night Hamish wanted photographs of the two of you. He wore a white shirt and white kikoy trousers. He held your shoulders beneath his arm as if you were his first boyfriend. You tried to soften. 

His exposed smile under the patio lights. Unbroachable tenderness. 

What sideways duty forced you to walk straight, together, down the beach that night with the nightclub at its end?

……

The final morning you both swam for the fishing boat parked in the bay. Your arms plunged about your ears and the water flowed down your flanks. You got there first and climbed onto the railing. Once aboard, Hamish grinned at you warmly. You thought, looking at him, how grateful you were for old friends, that they would love you no matter what you became.

The moment of the backflip quickly disappeared before your feet broke the hard water, the murmur where you couldn’t breathe, the gulp, sunlight, bay, and your friend across from you treading water.

“My New Year’s resolution is to fuck fear in the arse,” you said. “I think yours should be to backflip into the pussy. You have to let yourself die there and be brought back.”

“Backflip into that poonani.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Backflip into the pussy. Fuck fear in the arse…”

“Yours is a bit gayer.”

That cracked him up.


Shaun Pieter Clamp

Shaun Pieter Clamp is a writer and literary agent with the World Arts Agency. He is a graduate of Rhodes University, holding a BA in English, Philosophy and Law, and a BA(Hons) in Philosophy, for which he received the DCS Oosthuizen Prize. He was the co-editor of Aerial 2018, an annual ISEA writing class anthology. In 2019, he was the co-editor of Abantu: Our Zine, an art and literary zine published through Instagram. His writing has been published in New Contrast, Aerial 2018 and Coming Home: Poems of the Grahamstown Diaspora.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash


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