The JRB presents an excerpt from Three Egg Dilemma, the forthcoming novel from Morabo Morojele.
Three Egg Dilemma,
Jacana Media, 2023
Late into the afternoon, the sun’s rays painting the distant mountains a weak sepia and the wind swirling leaves and debris, my friends returned. Sponkie hung on ‘Mota as usual and followed him about the porch and then into the house like a small child its mother. He didn’t sit down and was stoned again, laughed often and looked at me with his heavy-lidded eyes. I poured them drinks and then raised the music and sang along, a man alone, so that I wouldn’t hear their endearments.
‘Mota shouted something at me, and then lowered the music, coughed phlegm and said we needed to get out of the house. I agreed to go with them to an ‘after tears’ at a bar, an after-funeral gathering of people who that morning had buried someone I knew, a not very salient rascal I thought of him, yet whose funeral I should have attended.
We got into ‘Mota’s car. I sat at the back. ‘Mota suggested we take a normally deserted ring road which would be quiet and devoid of the falling apart, always hooting taxis, four-plus-ones they call them—four passengers and a driver—that normally congest the streets. Sponkie put on the radio and I was glad when ‘Mota changed it to something more familiar. There was a fifteen year gap between them. ‘You are a different genre of people’ she had once described he and I. She put her hand to his face but he brushed it away. She stared out of the window. We barely spoke and stared instead into the empty road ahead, illuminated by the bright lights of the car. We conversed in short bursts about the buried man, about things observed outside—it had been a long time since I had been along this road, and things had changed—as Sponkie sang along with poor skill to the songs on the radio.
We slowed for dogs scavenging at the rutted curbsides and for curves marked by fallen street signs, and ignored men at intersections waving their hands asking for lifts. The houses and the few cafes on the sides of the road sat pressed into the ground at angles it seemed, as if huddling against the cold and dark. Above them, the stars were faint against the white moon, but blinked at the horizon, like lost souls.
Our course followed a long rising curve around which all of a sudden, a figure was standing. I say a figure because standing there naked, pale and ashen and flailing its long arms above its head, it was immediately evident that it was not a person.
It lurched in front of the car. ‘Mota stopped. It rushed to a back door, pulled it open, and was quickly inside. A putrid smell of decay was instantly in the car, a smell I later remembered, after I had been amongst the dead, as the smell of death. The thing was sitting beside me, its thighs pressed against me, its knees lifted on long sinuous legs to the height of his chin. It turned towards me. It had an internal luminescence so that despite the darkness in the car, I could see its eyes, the yellow colour of old eggs, its long white eyelashes like a sheep’s, the flaking skin on its face. Its lips were purple and bruised, and it licked them, spitting with its tongue, a blue bloated thing between small, buckled teeth. It had dirty sideburns, like the hessian hair of a wet unwashed dog. It blinked and looked me up and down, as if taking a measure of me. Its breath wafted across my face and burned into my mouth and nostrils and into my lungs, and my throat was suddenly inflamed and sore. Bile shot up my oesophagus and squirted into my mouth. I retched and wanted to vomit. The thing lifted an arm, placed its large calloused hand on my crotch and started to knead my penis. A searing pain shot through my testicles, as if it had kicked me there. It grinned knowingly as I was immediately aroused.
The thing turned to lean into the front of the car. Past its lanky hair and broad pink ear, I could see ‘Mota looking ahead and slowly driving again, though he turned to look at the back to steal a glance at the thing amongst us, and then said, quickly, ‘hullo,’ almost casually, as if greeting someone who had cadged a lift, sitting deferentially at the back of the car. It brought its face to Sponkie’s, who had sunk into her seat. Lifting its hand off my lap, it shifted it first to the nape of her neck, then onto her shoulder and then onto her breast which it briefly massaged, before dropping it into her lap. I tried not to look at the thing, at the bones of its vertebrae, its protruding ribs under its pitted skin, its nappy hair, its knotted elbow lifted over the seat. I looked at ‘Mota who was staring ahead, his head shrunken into his shoulders, his mouth agape, his breath a grey plume as he exhaled in the cold of the car.
The radio was turned off somehow. I could hear the thing’s rasping breathing, its fingers scratching beneath the folds of the woman’s dress and from outside, as if a backdrop, the round swirl of the tyres of the car against the road. I could barely make out the road ahead. The windows were fogged over as if it was raining, though outside, the air was as thin and dry as splintered, cast-off bone. I thought ‘Mota might have dimmed the lights.
We proceeded for a distance, the car steadily and faithfully clinging to the road. In the front, Sponkie started to cry and to rock forwards and backwards in her seat. ‘Mota put his hand to his mouth. He tried to say something but his voice was locked in his throat and he could not speak. I couldn’t move. My arms were crossed over my shoulders, a useless shield, and my legs were pressed together, squeezed between the door and the thing beside me. Suddenly, the lights of an approaching car blinded us, and then, the thing was simply gone.
‘Mota quickly opened his window, the air was sucked out and my ears popped as if I’d fallen out of the sky. The windscreen cleared and ‘Mota, blinded by the lights of another car, swerved to the side of the road and stopped. We did not say a word and the only sound was of the windscreen wiper squeaking against the screen, a sound as of a man sanding a rock.
Sponkie ran her hand across her hair and lifted herself in her seat. She pulled her jacket and dress back over her shoulders and turned on the radio. ‘Mota started the car and we drove off, silent, the whirr of the wheels an incantation. I opened a window and lit a cigarette. ‘Mota drove blind I thought, and Sponkie did not sing. Outside, the lights of houses and a few late people still walking about.
The bar was crowded with familiar faces. They greeted us as we entered but wouldn’t linger for something to say. They seemed pulled away. We found a small round table at the corner of the bar. Seated elsewhere, the friends would turn to look at us and become silent and seem to stare. Despite the chill, someone stood up and opened the doors to the bar.
We hardly spoke and left the place after a few drinks. We took the more congested road through town and the drive was a ponderous battle through traffic, through a police road block and past an accident that had recently occurred. We were quickly to bed. I didn’t sit on the porch as usual and was strangely fast to sleep. I dreamt of sparkling lights and of someone walking under stones beneath the earth. I woke deep into the night to the shouted call-and-response of my friends’ fucking, screaming and blood.
They left in the morning and I followed my dogs about the yard. I called my lover with the heavy thighs to come, to distract me. She shouted at me and refused to come. I smirked that she would have turned her phone off with an angry thumb, of less sanguine pleasure than slamming down an old phone. I called again later and she still wouldn’t come, and I never saw her again, although several months later, I came across someone who looked just like her tripping along the road with her arms draped around a man. She hustled them to the other side of the street.
Things to put away, and the days were just that, days and days I do not remember. ‘Mota arrived one day. He walked me to look at his car. One part of the back seat had been seared, and there was a similar burn mark on the roof the car where the thing’s head had rubbed against it. The shoulder of the front passenger seat was similarly singed. ‘Mota took out a rag and wiped a window. It was scratchy, frosted and wouldn’t clean. ‘The radio changes stations all the time,’ he said, ‘or simply switches itself off.’
‘Mota continued to visit from time to time but never ever came with Sponkie again. They seemed to disagree about everything, he explained. She’d said she detested him and loathed everything he stood for, his age, his lust, his failed marriage, his ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ money. She’d said most of her life was still in front of her, whereas most of his was behind him. They were now disentangled. ‘Mota and I looked at each other and laughed. Most of our lives were indeed behind us.
- Morabo Morojele was born in Lesotho and grew up in several countries in Africa and Europe. He has degrees from the London School of Economics and the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague. Morojele has spent most of his life working for international organisations and not-for profit organisation in the development sector. Morojele’s debut novel, How We Buried Puso, was published in 2006, and his second, Three Egg Dilemma, will be published in 2023 by Jacana Media. He is also a musician who has performed and recorded with many of Southern Africa’s leading jazz musicians.