It is with my utmost sincerity that I send you this response.
To your message’s kind beginning—I hope this finds you doing well—I must, as always between us, commence with the absolute truth: we are dying. I have looked for ways to circumvent such an inconvenient topic in this missive but it is an unavoidable feature of the present.
We are dying.
Morning, noon, and night. Monday to Sunday and back around again. We have run out of coffins but not condolences. I am so sorry for your loss. I am sorry and saddened to hear that your uncle has passed on. I am sorry I cannot be there for your grandmother’s funeral. All we have are apologies.
The schools, churches, and restaurants are empty. The hospitals and graves are full. The streets have slowed down. Traffic is a distant thing. There is no where to go. We stay at home and wait to die or hear about someone else who has been taken before us.
We are burying. In haste and without dignity.
We are dishonouring our cultures, our ancestors, and our gods. We are sending our loved ones into the ground over YouTube and Facebook. Death sucks, bandwidth is a bitch. We are distressed and angry when a hand holding a live-streaming cellphone shakes (from fatigue or sorrow—we cannot know) and cuts us from the distant proceedings. Everyone knows an undertaker.
My sense of time is slipping. Without birthday parties, weddings, or dinner outings with friends every day feels the same. I cannot recall whether it is June or July, this year or last year. In this season of death it is hard to keep a proper accounting of one’s hours. Breakfast could be lunch, snacks can be supper. There is no time like the present, I am told, but I think that is a lie. I have seen the passage of time in other far away places. Their future has already started. Ours is postponed until further notice.
Those with jobs attend to them as best as they can, for as long as they can; those without employment attend to the ones who are still able to earn a living. We who have had to shutter our businesses are finally dropping any pretence of reopening. We are confronting the reality: we will join the unemployed or the dead—we are not certain which is preferable. No goals, no ambitions, no plans for tomorrow, for growth, for adventure, for travel. If you have, you hold; if you do not, you watch those who have. We are sleepless, each eyeing the other. Watching. Waiting.
I saw the attempts to make us a space-faring and interplanetary species. I am amazed by the fierce determination to live in an environment designed to kill us and disappointed by the lack of efforts to save our habitable one. I heard a strange proposal the other day: we do not have to eat all the rich—just one billionaire and the rest will fall in line. One wonders.
You asked me about the writing, how it is coming along, and what I am currently working on. My second act is staying alive and surviving this pandemic. I have no drafts, titles, introductions, characters, plots, or lines of wit. When life is being hollowed out around you art becomes quite empty since the latter imitates the former, I am told.
But enough about me and these desperate days.
How are you?
It gladdened my heart to know you were able to go to the park again, and that you are running and hiking once more. I know how much you love the outdoors. How was the concert? Tell me about the press of bodies, of the close contact between strangers. How are the beaches, the lakes, and the rivers? Write to me about stadiums and festivals, and reunions with friends and family. How are handshakes and hugs? How is it seeing people’s teeth when they laugh? Tell me about the summer the world started up again. I need to hear about life before I forget what it means to live.
In the midst of our winter of great discontent, disconnection, distance, detention, and death, I send you greetings and kind regards from the third wave.
POSTSCRIPT: On 22 July 2008, in a cold residence room at the University of Cape Town, I started a blog called remythequill. It was raining that day. My first post was a picture of the raindrops running down the misty window pane. (Of course, true to form, there was a cheesy caption to go with it.) It was a different time. Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” (featuring Static Major), Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” were topping the charts. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” had just been released. The world was in the advent of the Obama Years and the 2010 FIFA World Cup was two years away. Optimism was a way of life. remythequill—“a blog or something like it”—was a haven for oddities. Photography, awkward poetry, and some hesitant fiction and nonfiction writing. It was a lot of things. It migrated from Blogger to WordPress and, finally, in 2010, to its own dot-com address. After numerous cosmetic and thematic surgeries it has settled in this current form, the one it has been most comfortable in the longest. Thirteen years of stop-start-go writing. Damn. Anyway, distractions have lost their meaning since there is no purpose, routine, or task from which to be waylaid. So I will not call this list of things to watch, read, listen to, or play “distractions”. Rather, I shall call them curiosities for those still living.
READ—Books: Samarkand by Amin Maalouf • Always Another Country: A Memoir Of Exile And Home by Sisonke Msimang | Short fiction: “Here Come The Portuguese Women” by João Melo (Lolwe) • “Cursing Mrs Murphy” by Roland Watson-Grant (PREE) | Long-form nonfiction: “Ouma Sofie’s Gold” by Natasha Uys (Doek!) | Poetry: “How I Became A God” by Wallace Lane (Lolwe) | Visual art: “Never Too Old To Cut The Banana When Erected” by Keyezua (Doek!) | Comics: Saga: The Complete Collection by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples | WATCH—Documentary: The Price Of Everything (2018) • Black Art In The Absence of Light (2021) | Film: The Little Death (2014) • Two Distant Strangers (2020) | Series: The Wire, season 1 (2002) | LISTEN—Music: “Dare Shit (Gorillaz & Megan Thee Stallion Mashup)” by DJ Veggies • “Whitey On The Moon” by Gil Scott-Heron • “Tomorrow” by The Roots featuring Raheem DeVaugn | Podcast: “Zadie Smith: Grand Union” (Tin House/Beneath The Covers) | PLAY: Ghost Of Tsushima | TRY: Enpass password management app.