Saturday 4 June 2011

Chapter One of a Possible New Novel

I'd strongly request feedback on this. It may, or may not, be Chapter One of a new novel. I don't know how it will go - yet. I'm experimenting. There will certainly be a Chapter Two and Three; after that I don't know.

This story is set in the fictional African state of Bisaria, a few years after the events of the stories of the Bisaria Quartet:

  You can read them first, or go right ahead with this story:

                                                  THE DREAM

He’d been having the same dream again.

Dingane opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. The morning light stole through the chinks in the curtains and painted the walls a granular greyish-white, mottled in places where the water had stained the plaster after the previous month’s water leak. It wasn’t an attractive room even at the best of times, but in the dawn it looked particularly bleak.

Dingane ignored the room. He lay on his back, eyes half-open, and worked at exorcising the dream. He had long ago evolved a routine for ridding himself of it, because until it was pushed back into the darkness, he couldn’t function.

He started off by imagining a huge sheet of tough black cloth, so large that it spread over his memory of the dream, from the bloodstained grass to the smoke-stained sky. He allowed the cloth to grow, until it blotted out everything, until he could see nothing but black cloth, so thick that not a single ray of light, not a single sound, could pass through it. He then began to push the cloth from the edges, to fold it over the dream, until it was wrapped up in a black parcel. He then dug a grave and buried the parcel as deep as he could, and shovelled the earth back over it.

Sighing, he sat up and swung his feet to the floor. He had won. The dream was dead again.

Until next time.

He could hear his girl, Stellah, moving around in the kitchen. When he came out of the bathroom, she was sitting on the bed, a mug of coffee for him, tea for her. She patted the mattress next to her and stared at him.

“Dreaming again?”

Shrugging, Dingane took the coffee. It was too hot, too strong and not sweet enough, as usual. Stellah never drank coffee herself and hadn’t the faintest idea how to brew it, but Dingane let her make it because she liked thinking that she was caring for him.

“I asked,” she repeated, “if you’d been dreaming again. I heard you moaning. It woke me.”

Dispassionately, Dingane nodded and sipped the coffee. “Yeah.” It came out sounding like “You.” He stretched his legs, one by one, feeling the muscles expand and contract. He didn’t look at Stellah.

“It’s been happening more often, hasn’t it?” Stellah slurped her tea with enjoyment, and ran her bare toes up Dingane’s shin. Annoyed, he moved his leg away, and turned so he was facing away from her. Stellah sighed.

“Why don’t you see a psychiatrist?” she asked. It wasn’t the first time she’d asked the question. “Why don’t you get help?

“I can’t afford it. You know that.” It was true, his salary as a security guard barely paid his bills. “Besides, it won’t help. It’s not as if I’m imagining all that. It really happened.”

“So you say. But how do you know unless you try?”

Without answering, Dingane got up and walked to the kitchen. He dumped the remaining coffee into the sink, rinsed the mug out, and returned to the bedroom to dress. Stellah sat on the bed watching him.

“One of these days,” she told him suddenly, “I’m going to leave you.”

Dingane shrugged, pulling on his T shirt. “You’ve said that before.”

“This time I mean it.” There was a new, intense note in her voice. “One day you’ll get home and I just...won’t be here.” She paused, looking down into what was left of her tea. “You don’t really care about us, do you?”

“I care about you,” he told her. It was true.

“Oh yeah. But you don’t care about you. Which means you don’t care about us.”

Dingane looked at her, as though seeing her for the first time. She was pretty – he had always thought someone like him didn’t deserve anyone as pretty as she was – with the figure of one of the models in the ads on the billboards, her features marred only by the scar across her forehead and down the bridge of her nose. For all the world it looked like someone had struck her with a machete, and well it might, because back during the civil war someone had done that precise thing. She, like him, was a child of the war.

“I do care about us,” he said slowly. “I care...whichever way I can.” The thought of losing her was a novel one. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it. He decided to keep it for later, and finished dressing.

“You aren’t going to have breakfast?” she asked. “Where are you going?”

“Out. I have to clear my head. Do you mind if I take the car?”

“I don’t have to go to work till ten.” She was a cashier at a women’s clothing emporium. It wasn’t a bad job at all, considering the alternatives. “As long as you’re back before that.”

“I’ll be here by nine,” he promised, hardly thinking about it. His thoughts were drifting back towards the dream. “Don’t worry.”

Silently, she raised her face to his for the brush of his lips on hers. The kisses had become a formality in recent days, like most else between them, and he didn’t even remember when he’d last made love to her of his own desire. It was another thing to think about. Later.

As he left, he glanced at her one last time over his shoulder. She was peering back down again, into her mug of tea, as though she could read the future there.


The car had once been blue, but had been repainted so many times that it was impossible to decide which shade it had originally been. It belonged to Stellah. She was probably its fourth or fifth owner, and it looked as though the previous three or four had used it to bulldoze their way through roadblocks and piles of brick. Its bodywork was dented, rust showing through where the paint had worn away, and the glass of one headlight was missing. But it ran well enough, as long as one didn’t stress the engine too much.

Dingane drove slowly and carefully. He’d learned to drive on heavy trucks with clutches that had to be pressed almost to the floor, and gearshifts that had to be yanked back with all the strength of his shoulder, and the car still seemed absurdly light on the touch for him. At this hour, the streets were mostly empty, and he could afford to drive along with most of his mind considering the dream he’d had.

It had first come to him about a year ago, and he’d woken screaming, tangled in the sheet and wet with his own sweat. Stellah hadn’t been with him that night – she’d been away, visiting her parents in the country – and he’d trembled, lying awake till the dawn. Only many hours later had he been finally able to shake off the effects of it, and that night he’d dreaded going to bed, trying desperately to keep himself awake as long as possible until exhaustion claimed him. But the dream hadn’t visited him again for three weeks, and when it had come again, Stellah had been there to hold and soothe him.

But he’d grown used enough to the dream not to wake screaming with fear, and Stellah no longer had to hold him to her breast while he trembled. On the surface of it, he’d learned to handle the dream much better.

In reality, though, he was slipping.

He knew he was slipping, the dream coming closer, the memories no longer content to be wrapped away in black cloth and buried. He dreamed it more often now, at least once a week in recent months, and now, in this last week, it had already visited him thrice.

It varied a little in details, but the essentials were always the same. It began with the waving grass, so long that they could crawl through it without anyone’s head showing. The grass was green before his face, his hands pushing it aside as he crawled. And alongside him, behind him, there were the others, all together, their guns over their shoulders, their machetes at their waists, and the drugs burning in their brains.

Ahead of them was the village. They were going to the village, for food and women and then for some fun. They had done it many times before, and they’d do it many times again.

The houses had already been on fire when they’d reached them. Dingane never knew who had set the fire, and at the time none of them had cared. The people were cowering where they could hide, and he and the other boys had pulled them out, laughing, smacking them with the flats of their blades, driving them together into the village square, the women screaming and the old men mumbling. There had been no young men; all the young men were in some army or other. The boys had been angry because the village was on fire and they couldn’t find any food. But they had the women, and once they were through with the women, they could have some fun.

By the time they’d finished with the fun the village was a heap of smouldering ashes and the village square had been slippery with blood. That was nothing new, and they’d all seen it often enough before. Dingane, all of thirteen that summer, had sat unconcernedly on the naked corpse of a woman and smoked a cigarette. The woman had taken a long time to die, and had been a lot of fun. But the cigarette didn’t quite take away the hunger in his belly.

That time there had been a few survivors. One had been the daughter of the woman Dingane had killed. The girl had been five, maybe six years old, all stick-thin limbs, a mass of frizzled hair, and huge frightened eyes. Her face had seemed to be all eyes and screaming mouth when Dingane had ripped her from her mother’s arms and thrown her aside. The others had dragged her off to one side to wait with the other kids. Some of the kids were usable sometimes; Dingane had been one such child, in the early days of the conflict. So Dingane hadn’t killed the girl, just thrown her aside, and continued with his fun, and later sat on the woman smoking his cigarette.

Until this point the dream always followed reality more or less accurately, with the sky raining pieces of burning village and the ground underneath sticky with blood. But, as Dingane finished smoking, he knew now that he was dreaming, and that something bad was going to happen.

He jumped off the woman and looked all around. Always, in the dream, he was suddenly alone at this point, standing in the middle of a monochrome waste of ash and smoke. The colour had gone from the sky and the land, and everything was white and grey, and the blood was black.

Stirring slowly, the ash began to rise, mixing itself with the black blood to mould itself into shapes monstrous and terrible, with huge round mouths studded with crystal teeth. They reached for him, shuffling slowly through the grey murk, and he turned and ran, but he could never run quite fast enough. The faster he ran, it seemed, the less far he got, and the monsters came crowding round him, reaching.

Sometimes, he woke up at that point. But most times the dream went on, and she was there – the young girl, the one he’d pulled away from her mother, running through the ashes in her flower-patterned dress, the torn cloth flapping round her bare legs. Usually, he merely stumbled after her, desperately following but never quite catching up. Once or twice, though, he’d actually caught up with her, and touched her – grabbed her arm or her shoulder, and she’d turned and looked up at him.

And this was the point Dingane had never been able to sleep past. Nor could he ever bring himself to remember what he saw when the girl had looked back at him.

Up ahead, police had erected a roadblock and were checking vehicle papers. Dingane fumbled in his pocket to make sure he’d remembered to bring his driver’s licence, and feeling the edge of the laminated card, relaxed slightly. The last thing he could afford was a bribe to the police to let him go without a fine.

The face of a policeman appeared at the window, fat and round, the skin shiny with sweat even this early in the morning. “Licence.”

While the cop was dubiously turning the licence over and over, Dingane went back to thinking about the dream. He would have to do something about it, he thought, and soon. He couldn’t go to a psychiatrist – he couldn’t afford one, and besides his past was something better hidden. The former child soldiers had a rough time of it these days. If a word of his past got to his employer’s ear, he would be on the streets looking for a job before the hour was out.

The policeman returned the licence with a surly frown, unhappy at not having found something wrong. “Where you going?”

“Goodtown,” Dingane said, without thinking. It was the oldest part of the city, now mostly a sprawling slum. “I’m going to Goodtown,” he repeated, suddenly realising that it was where he’d wanted to go.

The policeman peered suspiciously at him for a moment longer, and at the inside of the car. “All right,” he said finally. “Go on, get out of here.”

The lanes of Goodtown were narrow and rutted, the sky between the unpainted concrete walls of the buildings sieved through a net of wires. Dingane hadn’t been here for a long time, and at first he drove around aimlessly, trying to get his bearings. A line of women in colourful skirts and headscarves stood at a tap for water, and stared at the car as he passed. A fat man in a dirty white T shirt straightened up from under the hood of a small truck and spat on the road, glaring at Dingane with incomprehensible hatred. A few children scattered screaming from an alley mouth, almost coming under the car’s wheels. It was just another morning in Goodtown.

Dingane now knew where he was going. He hadn’t been there before, but knew the place by reputation; past the old market, where later in the day squawking chickens and stacks of thick green bananas would share space with second hand clothes and picture frames, and up the narrow alley towards the top of the little hill.

The old woman lived there, in a tall narrow house with peeling green shutters on the windows and faded yellow paint on the walls. She had a reputation built over many years, and Dingane had heard tales about her that he’d never credited. But maybe it was time to begin believing them now.

At least, she might be able to help him, where no one else could.

“Is Mama Cynthia up?” he asked the gnome-like servant who answered his knock. “I need to consult her.”

The gnome wrinkled his brow, “She will be able to talk to you in half an hour.”

Dingane glanced at his watch. It was old, with a scratched dial, and hadn’t told accurate time to within fifteen minutes in years. He still had an hour before he had to get back to Stellah, anyway. And if he couldn’t make it in time, she could take the bus for once.

“I’ll wait,” he said.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011


  1. Its good..and intresting..and yes waiting for the chapter 2 be there fast...the subject is been haunted with his old bad deeds..which he is getting worried upon....nice one let it come..soon...

  2. Your style reminds me of Hemingway (that's a compliment) - the character development is good, without being overdone; the dream-sequence can be followed and makes good sense (again; without being overdone) - you have the elements of a good book (an interpersonal storyline; a larger storyline of man vs. himself/man vs. environment), and you've made it work together.

    Scale of one to ten - 8.5. I'd be sufficiently interested to seek out chapter 2.

  3. Thanks, both of you. I've just put up Chapter Two. Hopefully it maintains the standard of the first chapter. Please let me know what you think.

  4. Will follow this after exams..
    Yay! hopefully another novel!


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