[The JRB exclusive] ‘Windhoek has three temperatures: hot, mosquito, and fucking cold’—Read an excerpt from The Eternal Audience of One, the debut novel by Rémy Ngamije

The JRB presents an exclusive excerpt from The Eternal Audience of One, the forthcoming debut novel by Rwandan-born Namibian writer Rémy Ngamije.

The Eternal Audience of One will be published by BlackBird Books in June. The cover is one of the first to feature the publisher’s new-look design.

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— PROLOGUE —

A long forgotten essay:

The Last Ticket Out of Town—by Séraphin Turihamwe

Windhoek has three temperatures: hot, mosquito, and fucking cold. The city is allowed two or three days of mild spring weather in early September before the unrelenting heat crowds them out until May. The summers are long and sweaty, so much so that job offers can be sweetened by throwing in the promise of air-conditioning (and an overseeing committee to adjudicate on room temperature disputes because white people do not know how to share). Summer nights are stifling. Cooling breezes heed their curfews and leave the night air still and warm from the day’s lingering heat. The departing sun brings out the mosquitoes. They are organised, they are driven. If they could be employed they would be the city’s most reliable workforce. Alas, people do not have my vision. From sunset to sunrise they make enjoying a quiet evening drink on a balcony a buzzing and bloody affair. June, July, and August are bitter and cold. An ill wind clears out the gyms. Running noses are the only exercise anyone gets in the winter.

The city is called a city because the country needs one but, really, city is a big word for such a small place. But it would probably be offensive to have a capital town or a capital village so someone called it a city. The title stuck.

Life is not hard in Windhoek, but it is not easy either. The poor are either falling behind or falling pregnant. The rich refuse to send the elevator back down when they reach the top. And since cities require a sturdy foundation of tolerated inequalities, Windhoek is like many other big places in the world. It is a haven for more, but a place of less. If you are not politically connected or don’t come from old white money, then the best thing to be is a tourist. The city and the country fawn over tourists. The country’s economy does too. That is when it is not digging itself poor.

That is Windhoek. The best thing to do in the city is arrive and leave.

The mistake you want to avoid making is trying to ‘make the most of it’. My parents did that. I have not forgiven them for their sense of optimism. You will notice it in many people. There is a strange national pride I cannot explain, a patriotic denial of the reality.

Beware of that optimism. It will creep up on you. It will make you notice how, in the early morning, the streets are hushed and the city’s pulse is slowed down to a rhythmic, nearly non-existent thump-thump. The only people to be seen on the streets are drowsy night shift security guards, the garbage collectors hanging from the back of dumpster trucks as they do their rounds, and a few stray cats. That is when it is at its best. Windhoek has not yet prostituted itself to neon and skyscrapers so a horizon is always a short hill climb away and nature still squats on its outer extremities. The views are spectacular.

The same optimism might lead an early riser to be up before the sun to see how the approaching light gently shakes the city awake. Alarm bells ring as children and parents prepare for school; the blue collars make their way to a bus or truck stop and wait to be carried towards places of cheap labour; and the white collars take their time getting to desks and offices. As the day brightens, the cracked tarmac which lines the city’s main arteries sighs and stretches, preparing for the new day when the increasing traffic will become a viscous mess of commuters and taxis.

When it is going at full tilt, Windhoek does so at a slow hum. It pays respects to the Gregorian calendar and then some. Mondays and Tuesdays are busy. Wednesdays and Thursdays are reserved for concluding auxiliary matters. On Fridays everything shuts down with the firm understanding that the weekend is in session and nothing and nobody should upset the established order of things. The city has strict boredom and business hours and it keeps them.

The autumn days after the high summer are the best. The sky is afire with an intense passion; it burns with bright orange and red hues which tug at unprepared heartstrings before blushing into cooler pinks that tickle the clouds. The day’s fervour cools down into violent violets as evening approaches.

Windhoek has good days and it has bad days. But, ideally, you should not be here long enough to know that. If you have made the mistake of tarrying too long in the city, and forgotten to purchase the last ticket out of town, you might have to do something more challenging: actually live here.

 

— 1 —

Beginnings are tricky because there are no countdowns to the start of a start. There is nobody to point out that this moment right here is where it all begins. Life starts in the middle and leaves people trying to piece the plot together as they go along. The only certainty is this: everything that is not the end, must be the start of something else.

So disappointment must be curbed when one sits down to this story to find the trailers have already been missed and the action is already devolving. It would be rude to walk out in a huff, squeezing past sourly retracted legs while spilling popcorn all over the other patrons, to demand a refund or ask what time the second screening starts.

Nobody ever makes it to the start of a story, not even the people in it. The most one can do is make some sort of start and then work towards some kind of ending. Endings are tricky, too. But that is a discussion for another time.

Right now, we are concerned with starts.

It occurred to Séraphin, as he sank lower into the uncomfortable three-seater sofa in the lounge, and not for the first or last time, that family was something which had to be survived. He reckoned the public acknowledgement of such a truth would irrevocably destroy the foundation of human happiness. Stock photography would never be the same again. Married men would have to admit secret cross-town visits to young mistresses who stoked and stroked their fading and flaccid fires with carefully timed moans and encouraging sighs. The joys of motherhood, stretched wombs and tolerated infidelities would have to be vaunted over career advancement, independence, and the freedom to find lovers who did not labour under the illusion that the female clitoris was in fact located somewhere between the navel and Alpha Centauri. Brothers would have to like brothers, and sisters would have to like leering uncles.

The length of the advancing day already felt insufferable: twelve or more hours spent cooking, cleaning, and arranging furniture in preparation for the New Year’s party with the handful of Rwandan families clinging together for community in Windhoek. He took private comfort in the fact that after tonight, it would only be two weeks before he could return to his university, with its curated diversity, its distance from family, and its perpetual air of youth in the fickle-weathered city of Cape Town. Séraphin wondered whether his desire to be distant from his family marked him as an ungrateful son. Or whether his sentiments were mirrored in other twenty-somethings who flourished in the absence of parents and siblings, whose characters were compressed and restricted by the proximity of dinnertime disagreements about religion, education, or the trajectory of a career. What he knew for certain, though, was how easy he breathed as soon as his family was behind him, when the adventure and uncertainty of Cape Town lay ahead, with Table Mountain’s flat top commandeering the horizon, a monolith which said, ‘Here be adventure, kid. Welcome,’ every time his bus pulled in to the Cape Town Central Station.

~~~

  • Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian columnist, essayist, short story writer, poet, photographer and novelist currently living and working in Namibia. His stories have appeared in Litro Magazine and are forthcoming in AFREADA and American Chordata. His debut novel The Eternal Audience Of One will be published in 2019 by BlackBird Books. Follow him on Twitter.

One thought on “[The JRB exclusive] ‘Windhoek has three temperatures: hot, mosquito, and fucking cold’—Read an excerpt from The Eternal Audience of One, the debut novel by Rémy Ngamije”

  1. This is brilliant. Resonates with another expat growing up in Namibia! Can I preorder the book somewhere?

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