Monday, October 25, 2021

Tale 7: Madagascar 1902 Rough Draft

  (CW: this contains all manner of extreme slurs and violence. I have determined not to spell out the offending words themselves in full, because while I consider the current necessity of doing so an abomination - artistic integrity might as well shoot itself in the head, such is the nature of today that I could become person non grata from thousands by spelling slurs out, which is misery inducing because, of course, the people would have no sense of the context and, of course, a mob wouldn't care. I'd be cancelled without having even been subscribed to. On the other hand, it would be the first attention I've ever gotten from a wide public in my entire life - maybe I should just do it and if I'm hated by thousands at least I'd finally get some readers...)

...The company commander's a gentleman named Hastings, queer upper class chap, clearly of the original Norman lineage whose very name showed his family's been ruling Old Blighty since 1066. Every sentence of his starts with 'dear boy' and every word has a hundred vowels; and though we're in Madagascar his office has a library with a thousand books. When he saw my papers said I was born in Poland he asked me if I know a writer friend of his named Conrad. Of course I don't know English books from Egyptian bokhers but he told me to take some book called Heart of Darkness; second shelf, third row down, fifth from the right. I've been trying to read it every day since I got here but I still can't get past page 3 or 4. Then he starts reciting some poem called 'Jerusalem' and gives me some speech about how the Empire accepts all people and I'm an Englishman now and we're the light unto nations who has to save the world from itself. Then he goes on about Disraeli and how he was the Empire's great champion who stabbed us in the back about the Belgian Congo. I know what he's saying but of course I stay respectful, and then he starts on the 'bloody Boers' and how every savage is a Shakespeare compared to them so the Empire has to take every part of Africa 'from Cape Town to Cairo' to stop the slaughter.

Then I meet the soldiers, from every part of the Empire - limeys, scotches, micks, orientals, w**s, even a few n*****s. It doesn't take two minutes for some cockney arsehole to identify me as a k**e from my name, which doesn't sound particularly Jewish but they sure know their Yids in London Town. They know I'm a Yid, I know I'm a Yid, but I have to pretend I'm not and they have to pretend they believe me while every other sentence I hear is "thief this" and "cheat that."

It's not five minutes before more Boers arrive and we have to register them, and it's not five more minutes before one of them does something that makes the on-duty sergeant beat some poor Boer lad in front of his family. The first few times you're gobsmacked, half the times the lads end up dead and I could only think of the pogroms. After the third or so time I said to one of the n****r soldiers "won't these Boers respond better if we earn their trust?", the n****r just laughed at me "You don't know the Boers yet, but you will." Of course you get used to it eventually; it's just the way things are done in these camps. There are thousands of them against a hundred of us. Who knows how they'd rise up if we didn't make examples?

After about a month of this, the night sergeant is feeling particularly stroppy. The lad looks dead, and he orders me and two n*****s to tie the Boer to a fence as an example. The lad looks dead but the moment we tie him up, he starts convulsing. He might die, he might live. One of the n*****s says we should shoot him and not draw it out, the other says we should bring him to the infirmary, fuck the sergeant's orders, he's always piss drunk and'll forget he said anything the next day. They look at me as though I'm the whitey with authority - for all I know they've both been here a hundred times longer than me, but the lad is looking a little better so we might as well tie him to the fence and leave him there.

So the n*****s and I get to talking, they say they see there's 'something different about me' and soon they get to arguing with each other like I'm not there. They're disputing like Rabbis about what's the Brits' fault and what's the Boers', turns out they might be the only guys who know what's what in this war and give me any rundown of the events that led this war to shambles. One of the n*****s thinks Brits are the one thing saving Africa, the other thinks Brits are a curse, but then a bomb goes off and I wake up the next morning in the infirmary. Not a trace of the Boer is left, one of the n*****s is dead and the other's lost an arm and a leg.

So the question is, did the Boer hide the bomb on himself all the while he was being thrashed or did someone plant the bomb right where he was. Who knows who cares I think. These Boers are in Madagascar, 2000 miles from home and kept on starvation rations so that they can't do anything or think straight. Ain't not more than one bomb coming in or out per Boer terrorist and ain't no way correspondence is coming in or out which we don't never see.

I've got a small concussion but the doctor tells me I'm ultimately none the worse for wear and tells me the worst thing I can do is stay off my feet and work. I'm feeling dizzy but I'm obviously not the doctor so i'm put back on my feet and Hastings calls me into his office; tells me that the officers are handling the interrogations but I'm the lead on it. I ask him why, he says he needs someone with brains and some sense. I don't know why he thinks I have any brains except that he thinks I'm a K**e, and I have to pretend he doesn't think that I'm a Yid even though he's right, and now I'm stuck figuring out how to get the soldiers to scare the information out of the prisoners without hurting them too badly. I need this like a hole in the head, which apparently I already had.

And of course by the time I get there, the guards have already walloped the shite out of every prisoner they want to talk. It's one thing to bruise the prisoners or even break an arm, but they all come out missing a couple fingernails and a couple of them no longer have two eyes. The fact that the Commander is making them do all this for the sake of a disappearing Boer and a dead n****r makes them that much more harried, which makes them thrash the Boers even more. Finally, I come up with a solution that makes everybody happy: beat them up less, threaten them more. There isn't a single Boer in the camp who doesn't know what we'll do to them if they don't cooperate, so I busy the men coming up with all sorts of new ways to threaten torture without actually torturing any more prisoners, while I go to the barracks, ask some questions and try to settle on a few suspects.

Before they can even threaten anybody, all the answers that night point to this guy named Botha. Everybody in Boerland is named Botha, but Botha is not your usual Boer. Everybody in the camp seems to know that Maarten Botha was a smuggler who ran guns in the First War to Praetoria from here in Madagascar.

So we drag Botha in. I suppose I expected one of those strapping Dutch farmers who look too large to ride a horse but Botha's kind of a short bloke: thin, balding, glasses (which the guards of course broke), and then he opens his mouth and you instantly realize this is the type who reads a new book every time he plows a field. He doesn't look like the he'd know how to build a bomb any more than I do. Scotland Yard teaches that the smart ones are the ones who kill the most people with no conscience but this lad sounds like he has more conscience than any soldier in my army. Talking to me before I can ask any question about how they're not getting no medicine and more than half the kids in the camp are dying, and of course we know all that but we just keep our heads down, orders is orders and we'd have to be daft to let these Boers run free after what they done to us.

And of course his English is perfect, which he learned at some old Dutch university then moved to the Transvaal to be a doctor. Put him in Knightsbridge and he'll seem like a proper English gent long before I do, but this is not your usual farmer. I don't know what guys like this go out into the wilderness for, but it's not to grow wheat or even to find diamonds.

I don't know how we got on politics but I figure it'll be good to let him talk and let a guy like this sound off because he might tip us off on in a fit of pique, but he baits me right away.

He says the Brits are no better than the Boers, worse even. We don't care about the land, we already have the whole world and all we want is blood diamonds. The Boers are here to make a state of their own where they can live unoppressed as free men. So I told him it only seems like the Boers want to conquer the Africans and enslave them, and repeated what Commander Hastings told me that one in five blacks dies in Johannesburg every year. I expected him to deny it but instead he says 'And you limeys are gonna liberate those k*****s by conquering them? You might as well tell the girls you guards rape they can be virgins again." So then I talk to him about all the progress we brought to South Africa and the world, and being obviously being a smart gent he brings up the famines in India, and having a Yiddish head it occurs to me to say that our famines weren't any worse than the ones under the old Mughal Emperors, but he bested me: "So you admit then that your precious empire is no more competent than the w***s!"

By this time, I've done a right bodge job of the interrogation. I'm in such a quagmire that it isn't even about the bomb anymore, it's about winning. At this point, if I don't come out of there with both information and an unscarred prisoner, the other guards get more proof positive they should be as violent as they always were.

So I bring up all the things the Empire did for them: roads, sanitation, medicine, farmland, schools. I thought he'd deny it but he agreed with it all and says "You men have no idea how evil you are. You're so much worse than us because you can hide your greed with good deeds. We only want the southern tip of Africa, you want the whole continent and the rest of the world besides, and you've almost got it."

I had no idea what to say but he plowed through my silence: "We Boers admire you so much! We wish we knew how to hide the stink of our shit the way you do." I thought I would wear him down, but he completely wore me down and before I knew it he caught me a slight "Oy..." in a sigh I should never have let out and he pounced right away:

"Mijn God you're a Lijp!"


"We have all kinds of Joden in Holland! You Yids should be on our side!"

At this point I was too exhausted to keep going.

"We don't want anything different than you k***s want in Palestine! And do you Jews think you're going to get a state without killing off the native population and putting them to work?"

"I'm not a Yid."

"You're going to kill off your natives just like we kill off ours, and if you don't do kill them off soon enough you might end up in a place like here."

"I'm not a Jew."

"Sure you are, you're not a Brit, I should have seen that on your nose from the other side of the camp. You think they don't know?"
"I'm not a Jew."

"They know you're a Yid just like they know I'm a Boer, and to them we're the same thing. No matter how much you you think you're one of them, no matter what rank they call you, no matter how many shiny piles of shit they pin on your chest, to them you'll always be a bloody k**e."

And then I beat him to death and spent the night in the brig.

The next morning I was called into Hastings office. Hasting pours me a brandy, gives me a cigar, sits me down. "I know what happened without reading any report."

He knew exactly who planted the bomb, it was the drunk sergeant who beat the man. He's an undercover 'Irish Commando' helping the Boers, "but we can't have the Boers knowing there's dissension in our ranks" so he files the report saying that the two n*****s planted the bomb themselves on a suicide mission and the disfigured one will spend the rest of his life in jail. "Prison is the best thing that can happen to that poor chap."

He asks me about my family name, Charlap, and says that my papers say I was born in Poland but my name indicates I'm from Portuguese Jews. I'm of course horrified that he has evidence of my family. I knew he knew, everybody knows, but nothing could have prepared me for what he told me next.

His name is Hastings, but his mother's name was Montefiore, his grandmother was Abravanel, Spanish Jews all the way back to the first millennium. "Whatever happened in the interrogation room, nobody out here's a Jew, and the British Empire never loses control. Mr. Botha fell off a wall, accidental circumstances. This never happened dear boy. You're an Englishman now."

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