Native Commissioner, by Shaun Johnson
In Shaun Johnson's novel 'Native Commissioner', the protagonist is trying to piece together a picture of his unknown father. He discovers a troubled, doomed, but extraordinary man and an extraordinary story.
ON the morning it all started, I woke and sat in one movement. I remember the feeling clearly; it was as if I'd been propelled upright by a forklift. The sunlight was bouncing gently off the sea and feeding through the gaps where we'd closed the bedroom curtains haphazardly the night before. Outside it was warm and still with wisps of mist burning themselves off the ocean surface as the sun spread over the hills. The only sound in the room was soft breathing from the bed. I slipped to the floor, padded along the corridor and down the stairs past my son's room, then made my way over our veranda to the gate that leads to the sea. It was one of those limpid days; the flatness of the blue-green water stretched far out into the distance of the bay and I could see the outlines of the big ships on the horizon, jostling for access to the port. The local fishing fleet was also at work, seabirds watching. I fiddled with the rusted padlock, then jogged barefoot around the front wall to the cellar whose decaying wooden door faced the full salt blast of the swell below. I told myself I needn't be self-conscious about my tall barrelly frame, balding head, morning stubble and curious errand - there was no one to see me. The cellar door opened easily. When my eyes had adjusted I saw that there, in the far corner in the dank half-light amongst gently rusting garden implements and the crowding flotsam of too many moves to too many homes in too many places, sat the box. It was propped up against a sodden wall on an ill-fashioned shelf comprising a broken plank resting on trestles from another time and purpose. The plank sagged in sympathy with the box of superannuated cardboard. It was a very long time since I had allowed myself to register that the box was still there, still unopened. The privileged enclave in which we lived was motionless, the houses clinging to the slopes unroused, a pleasant surprise awaiting them when doors would be flung open to the dome of clear sky. The day had chosen itself well. There was not yet a sound to drown out the gulls' caws; you would never have known that a city sprawled not half an hour's drive away. First I considered the box without touching it, respectful of its travel-weariness and fragility in this untended cavern. It was very large and, I allowed myself to remember, heavy. The tape that had sealed it for thirty-five years appeared to be holding, applied with vigour all that time ago as if to discourage any thought of reopening. On the sides were peeling stickers and smudged stamps, the insignia of removal companies, towns, countries, destinations; I had the sudden impression of a scuffed overused passport, no longer valid for travel. I took the box in a fireman's embrace, gingerly, spreading my legs wide for purchase but not taking the full weight; just tested to see if it would hold together. It shifted shape and seemed to yield under protest with a wet tearing sound. I left the cellar door open and retraced my steps through the mixture of low bush and wild seaside grass. I went up to the garage and rummaged until I found what I was looking for: a folding metal trolley like a railway porter's miniature and, from the toolbox, a clean sharp knife. With the trolley wedged under the shelf in the cellar, it looked like there was a good chance of manoeuvring the box down slowly and I was pleased when this worked without any spillage. I could push it quite easily, and all that was needed was to keep it balanced because the sides protruded. I got safely through the gate and back to the bottom of the stone stairs leading up to the veranda. I turned the trolley around and heaved, bumping the small rubber wheels up each step, one by one. The slate flagstones of the veranda floor offered a wide flat expanse, like a giant's operating table. I tipped the trolley forward to slide the box to its final resting place, where it settled and waited. My mother had spoken to me only once about the box; a few sentences I could still recall to the word. That was all those years ago when she gave it over to my care. [...]
This is an excerpt from the novel 'Native Commissioner', by Shaun Johnson.
Title: Native Commissioner
Author: Shaun Johnson
Publisher: The Penguin Group (SA)
Cape Town, South Africa 2007
ISBN 9780143025436 / ISBN 978-0-14-302543-6
Softcover, 14 x 21 cm, 250 pages, sketches
Johnson, Shaun im Namibiana-Buchangebot
Adult South African discovers his long dead father's life and personality from family memorabilia.