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Experiment 9

The Exile

page 15

The Exile

Late Friday Night, after the shoppers had disappeared like howling ghosts from the bowels of the city, leaving the streets to picturegoers searching for the technicolor dream, screwed up newspapers, harsh neon light, the stink of another frantic day, and to a giant of a man, huddled in an overcoat, drifting over the footpath like a distorted shadow.

As he had done all Friday nights, as far as he could remember, he had abandoned his plan to go to the pictures, donned his overcoat, and stepped on to the street, his feet leading him aimlessly through the metal corridors of shops and buildings. He didn't care whether he was going to enjoy his walk or not. There was simply an eternity of time to kill; a future of four hours that would surely tire his body, prepare it for a hollow sleep. He dipped a hand in his pocket, pulled out a packet of cigarettes, halted in front of a sign which read Repent Now For Tomorrow May Be The End Of The World, lit a match, coupled it to the end of the cigarette in his mouth, and sucked in the dry smoke, discarding the match as he continued down the moaning street. His hand scratched at his face which was wrinkled like the skin of an overripe mango. He remembered that he was half a century old. He shoved his hand back into his pocket. He had no destination, no real purpose for walking; just killing time, thinking about nothing; just pretending to be interested in the shop wares stacked in the windows like adolescent dreams.

He paused in front of a large window and peered in. Half-naked statues displayed an array of panties and corsets. His eyes ran from the eyes of the figures to their feet. Dead, he thought automatically, dead. The face of his wife erupted from the depths of his mind. But the image was dead, sexless like the figures in the window. He left it dead. It was better that way. When had he married her? He couldn't remember. He refused to remember. Her name? Blank. He had married her when she got pregnant. At the time he thought it was the right thing to do; right by his family and her family. It hadn't worked out. She had been obedient, doing everything that was expected of a wife. But it had been no good. She withdrew into herself, and in silence hated him, blamed him for everything that had gone wrong with their marriage. Maybe we tried too hard to succeed, he thought, abruptly banishing her from his mind. He turned, walked a few paces, and then suddenly remembered that he had a daughter. What had they called her? page 16Yes, Pua, after his mother. Her age? He didn't want to recall. Maybe she's dead, he thought, not really caring if she was or not. He blinked and ceased remembering.

Further on he stopped in front of a news stand, in front of a placard which read, "Samoan Stabs Youth in Knife Fight". Wonder who he is? he asked himself. Probably from the back, drinks too much, then gets violent. Inserting threepence into the slot, he picked up a paper and shuffled through it. He found the name of the boy, and jumped with fright. It was a boy who had lived next door to him in Samoa. He would go and visit the boy tomorrow. No. No, he wasn't going to get involved. He folded the paper and sheathed it into his pocket, walking away with a spark of guilt disrupting his apparent calm. He stopped and gazed about him; at the same grey buildings, the same neon-filled streets, the same road, and became his same composed self again. He shrugged his shoulders and guilt was gone, taking with it the memory of what he had read in the paper.

Through the light-pregnant maze he strolled, penetrating deeper and deeper into the caverns of his familiar world, feeling nothing. A man brushed past him, but he was just a shadow to the man as he looked up to find himself on the edge of a pedestrian crossing. He looked across. Another Samoan man stood at the bus stop. He wanted to turn back for he knew the man. The man called to him, so he turned and walked reluctantly over the crossing which united him to his past—the man on the other side.

"Where are you going, Lotu?" asked the other man, "haven't seen you for a long time."

"Hello," replied Lotu, trying to smile, "are you waiting for a bus?"

"Yes, been waiting for the last hour."

"Don't think there are any buses running at this time," he mumbled, noticing that the other man was dressed only in a red shirt, shorts, and a pair of sandals. "How's your family?"

"Oh, they're well. Wife keeps asking after you. She's still got some of your clothes." The man paused, sensing that Lotu was feeling uncomfortable. "Why don't you come and have dinner with us this Sunday?"

"Don't think I'll be able to. Got to go and visit some friends," he lied.

"Did you see in the paper? You know, about that Samoan who knifed that boy?" asked the man, trying to make conversation. "You know the boy, Taimi's son."

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"Can't . . . can't recall," lied Lotu.

"Don't suppose you do. You've been here too long," sighed the man. "Where are you working now?" Lotu wished the man would let him go.

"At a factory; we make spades."

"Good pay?"

"Not bad."

"Why don't you come down and work at the wharves? I'm making a lot there. Do very little work."

"Might," mumbled Lotu, "don't think there'll be any more buses. Why don't you go by taxi?" Then he suddenly realized that the other man didn't have enough money. He took out some change, gave it to the man, muttered good-night, and hurried away. He scurried for shelter behind the corner of a building, where he closed his eyes, trying to bar the gates of memory. But he couldn't. Memories flooded his mind, destroying all the barriers he had erected to hide them from his conscious world. Memories which accused him, frightened him. He tried the usual cure, but the sameness around him did not help him. The dam was down, and the guilt of his past imprisoned him like an interrogator . . .

. . . A young man, in his early twenties, sat in the fale facing his wife, who sat humming a child in her arms to sleep. For a while he remained silent, softly gazing at the child, his girl child. Then he said, "Made up my mind. I'm going to New Zealand." The woman didn't say anything. She didn't seem to care. "They tell me you can make a lot of money there. Good education, too." He paused, withdrawing into his dream of the promised land to which he was soon going. "Here we make nothing. Spend all our time serving, Won't make anything that way. I'll work in New Zealand, make money, then send for you and Pua." He stopped. His wife remained silent. She didn't believe him. "You don't believe me?" She said nothing. But he knew. "Wait and see," he added, "wait and see." The child awoke, howled, rolled away from her mother's arms, and ran to her father.

"Look what you've done," his wife snapped. The child clembered into his arms. He embraced her. "Everything I do is wrong." She was jealous. "Go to your New Zealand. Pua and I are going to stay here."

"Quiet, woman," he commanded. She bowed her head and sulked. "I'll send for you, wait and see." Then, tickling his daughter, he laughed, "Eh, Pua, I'll send for you. Your father's going to be page 18a millionaire. An educated millionaire." He felt good, alive, sure of himself . . .

Lotu cringed against the wall. It was a nightmare of guilt. His fists drummed against the concrete; the blood from his cut fingers staining the blaring whitness of the wall. He closed his eyes; the scene changed . . .

. . . The young man stepped boldly from the plane on to the soil of the promised land. A short, fat woman, his aunt, rushed forward and embraced him, their cheeks kissing as was the custom.

"It is good," he sighed, gazing in wonder at the world about him. He sat next to his aunt in the taxithe golden chariotthat bore him like a conqueror through the soul of the new kingdom. He looked out, surveyed with glee the domain that he was going to rule, the life, he believed, he was going to lead and love. "It is good. It is good," he kept repeating to himself . . .

"Fool! Fool!" Lotu yelled, completely trapped in the maze of memory. "You young ignorant fool!"

. . . The young conqueror attended night school, and gradually mastered the language of those he hoped to conquer. After two years they gave him a certificate. Now you can work in an office, they told him. So he left night schoolthe institution which caters for young conquerorsand ventured forth armed for battle. He wanted moneymoney to bring his Queen and Heir to his kingdom. He drifted from office to office unable to get a job. The conqueror began to tire with his enemies closing in round him, forcing him to seek refuge in a factory where he spent a year mastering the art of making tins. Boredom and pride drove him out at night to seek allies. He soon found them in dance halls, billiard saloons, and parties. A group of young amazons and warriors assembled round him; a group of fragile butterflies which were attracted by his vitality and strength. Soon he thought it expedient to forget his wife and child. The white amazons were easy to lay, easy to conquer, and then forget. He grew bold and took his conquests to his room in his aunt's house. One night, his spinster aunt burst into his room to find, with horror, a chubby amazon astride her young hero. Out flew the conquered and, with her, the young conqueror. Another two years found him bored. The sparkle of the promised land had vanished. He drifed from factory to factory, losing interest in his allies, and pride in himself. One day a white man who had fought against the "yellow peril" called him a black bastard. The warrior did nothing. He was too tired to care. He aged quickly; his huge body fattened from neglect. A hot-blooded, middle-aged widow dis-page 19covered him at a party, praised him, and he became her lovera lover who needed a long time to arouse before he was able to mount his fiery mare. Occasionally, he mustered enough energy and interest to beat her, show her that he was still a man. After two years he fled from her and found sanctuary in a boarding-house owned by an old man who chased little boys. Here he found time to hide himself. The old man didn't care for him. He was above the age limit. He was father confessor for the old man, who insisted on telling him every detail about what he termed "his extraordinary sex life among the male nymphs". In these three years he paid penance for not keeping his promise to his wife and child. But guilt gradually sank, with time, to smoulder in the mudbank of his mind. One day he awoke to find that he didn't really care about anything any more. Guilt lay in his past. He was safe, secure, invisible from the world and himself . . .

. . . The pain of memory ceased, subsiding like a storm. Lotu sighed in relief, and stood gazing at the gutter. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He wheeled abruptly, ready to defend himself. A negro sailor confronted him, flashing a smile of white teeth.

"'Cuse me, mister," said the negro, "'fraid I'm lost. Can you tell me where Queen's Wharf is?" The negro swayed from side to side, obviously drunk. Lotu's arm shot out and steadied him as he sarted to crumple to the footpath. "Thanks, mister," mumbled the negro, "'fraid I can't stand on ma own two feet." Lotu found himself chuckling as the negro laughed.

"I'll show you the way. You'll never find it alone." Lotu wound an arm round the sailor to hold him up as they headed for the wharf.

"Sorry to trouble you, mister," apologized the negro, "but this place is like a jigsaw puzzle. Bin here four days. Can't find ma way anywhere."

"It's all right," replied Lotu lightly, "I often lose my way. And I've been here nineteen years."

"You're not a kiwi?" the sailor asked, feeling safe with Lotu's arm supporting him.

"No, I'm not a kiwi," chuckled Lotu, "don't think so, anyway."

"Sorry for not introducin' maself. Name's Joe. Joe Hawkins." Lotu's arm tightened round the sailor.

"Mine's Lotu," he confessed. It was the first time, for a long while, that his named seemed to mean something.

page 20

"Pleased to meet ya, sir," greeted the negro, patting Lotu's back. Lotu felt good. "Where are you from, Lot?"

"From . . . from Samoa," he replied. "I'm an exile, you might say." He had suddenly found the courage to admit it to himself.

"Where's that?" the negro asked.

"It's a dot in the South Pacific," laughed Lotu.

"I'm from da United States of America," the sailor said proudly. "Bes' goddamn country in da whole world. They, the whites Ah mean, treat us like dirt. But I don't care. I love ma country. Wouldn't swap it for anythin'."

Lotu felt his guilt bite deep. He knew where he had gone astray, where he had begun to die. They rounded the corner, crossed the intersection, and stopped before the gates of the wharf.

"Here we are," he said to the sailor. "Do you want me to help you to the ship?"

"No," smiled the negro, "think I can walk alone from here. Thanks for everything, mister. Would have spent a cold night out there if it weren't for you."

"Quite all right. Glad to help." Lotu turned to go.

"Wait!" the sailor grabbed his arm, stuffed some money into Lotu's pocket, turned, and vanished through the gates. Lotu stood for a while gazing into the darkness where the negro had disappeared; then he dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crinkled five-dollar bill. Chuckling, he flattened it out, and as he danced across the road, he tore it into little pieces, tossed the pieces into the air, and laughed as they fluttered down upon him. He straightened his shoulders, and whistled as he marched home through a city bursting with newness, for he was new, alive again.

As he lay in bed, he saw the faces of his wife and child. They were alive, laughing, as if calling for him. He knew what he was going to do. He was fifty years old, but he didn't care. He sat up and gazed out of the window next to his bed. The darkness was lifting from the roofs of the buildings, the streets, and the sea. He smiled, shoved himself deeper under the blankets, and soon fell asleep with the Saturday dawn thawing away the dark east like hot water melting away ice.