The JRB presents an excerpt from The Eyes of the Naked, the debut novel by Litha Hermanus.
The Eyes of the Naked will be published by Penguin Random House in January 2020.
‘Haraba shan-dera bakun-dera, hara-shara basan-tera-’
Nakedi slowly opened the door to his mother’s bedroom after a few unanswered knocks. He found her with her hands raised to the ceiling, walking barefoot over Buntu’s clothes, which were strewn all over the floor. She was praying more wildly than he had ever seen her pray before.
It was even worse than those nights when he was still in high school, and she would sneak quietly and carefully into his bedroom to cover him with the blood of the Lamb. She would tiptoe in as if not to wake him, only to wail in long refrains and sniffle wildly as though she were drowning in something.
‘Hara-kara basa-ntera bakun-dera,’ his mother continued.
He remembered when he too would be commanded to pray this way, to let the Holy Spirit take over and make his heart speak directly to the Lord.
‘Hi, Ma,’ he whispered eventually, as loudly as he could without disrespecting her state of prayer. He’d already had supper, given Donovan a bath, and spoken with his sisters. They told him there would be a meeting tomorrow at noon. He did not want to converse with any one person in the house for longer than was necessary. The less he said, the less likely he was to betray news of his own situation. But he wanted at least to let Aunt Eve know he was home.
‘Hi, Ma,’ he said again as his mother continued her incantation, not heeding him. Donovan ran up the stairs. He stopped behind his dad, his wide frame half-hidden behind his father’s leg. He too watched his Khulu.
‘What is wrong with you, boy?’ Nakedi said. ‘I said wait at the bottom of the stairs.’
Aunt Eve stopped her prayer mid-syllable and opened her eyes. A smile began growing on her lips but came crashing down before being fully formed.
‘No, this is not my son,’ she let out in a long, chilling yelp, thrashing her arms around as though she was fighting off an unseen horde. ‘This is not my son! Bring back my son, Lord!’
She looked through Nakedi and Donovan as though they were made of nothing but air. The boy was terrified of his Khulu. Nakedi grabbed him by the head and hid his face fully behind his leg.
‘This is why I didn’t want you here,’ Nakedi squeezed the boy’s head as he scolded him in a rasping whisper, ‘but you don’t bloody listen.’
Just as Donovan was beginning to cry, his Aunt Mandi came up the stairs and rescued him.
‘What are you guys doing here? I said you can talk to her tomorrow before the meeting.’ Mandi pulled the door just enough to shield Donovan from the sight of his grandmother. ‘Leave her alone. She’ll be done soon.’
‘And when is that?’ Nakedi asked.
‘Whenever she is done, Kedi.’ Mandi shrugged her shoulders and her voice became stern. ‘I don’t think the boy should be here watching her like this. Look at him!’ She said these last words in isiXhosa so her nephew wouldn’t understand.
Nakedi watched as Mandi took the boy downstairs by the hand. He had an urge to follow them, but he lingered a moment and pushed the door open again. Since mistaking him for Buntu, Aunt Eve hadn’t missed a beat with her prayer. Her pain was raw, and the sadness Nakedi felt for her was debilitating.
He wanted to walk over to her and wrap her up in his arms. Instead, he pulled the door closed and turned to follow the boy and his aunt. He needed to be next to his son at all times, to make sure the boy didn’t accidentally incriminate him. But Nakedi had not pulled his mother’s door completely closed, and what he heard as he retreated down the stairs startled him beyond all comprehension.
Even if he sleeps with other boys, he is still my son, Lord,’ she cried out. ‘I did not mean to kick him out. Don’t let him kill himself over this, Father. Haraba shan-dera bakun-dera hara-shara basanti …’ Aunt Eve made a final plea in tongues before her voice collapsed into a wave of wanton weeping.
- Litha Hermanus has worked as an international cabin attendant, a language teacher, and a radio producer and co-presenter. He has also done some acting and worked in music. Currently a development consultant at the Embassy of Japan, he lives with his wife and son in Pretoria. He is a student and speaker of the Japanese language and holds a joint honours degree in Media Studies and English Literature, as well as a master’s degree in Creative Writing, from Wits University.
About the book
Amid the chaos, he’d fled on foot from the crime scene. He ran under the cover of night, his escape aided by a series of broken street lamps. He’d come away with nothing save the clothes on his back—and now his son.
After becoming embroiled in a robbery, Nakedi Solomon flees to Mthatha, taking his boy with him—without his ex-wife’s knowledge.
But the Eastern Cape offers no refuge: his young brother has run away from home, possibly to a suspicious circumcision school.
Drawn into the hunt for his sibling while dodging the law, Nakedi smashes into history and the norms of society and culture. What does it mean to be a man? To be a father?
On this unexpected journey, a new consciousness awakens inside him.