Self-flagellation and masochism are not new to the man who was the good child. As much as, throughout his life, he has feared the rod that promised to keep him unspoilt, he has found the utmost pleasure in applying it to himself. An allergic child, he wrestled with persistent bouts of crusty eczema that compelled him to scratch himself until he bled, shivering with peri-orgasmic pleasure. Or when he made a mistake during piano lessons, after having practised all week, he had to resist the urge to slap himself across the face. He grew up shunning sports and interactions with other kids in physical play. Both pleasure and pain were to come from his own hand. He became selfish with his body.
He grows up around voluptuous women with wide hips; aunts and nannies. When, as a teenager, he begins to be aroused by some of their bodies, he is consumed by regret for his ‘dirty’ thoughts. For the Bible tells him so, and so does society. He can’t lust after these people. No, no, no! That is wrong! An abomination. A disgrace.
But does he know what lust actually is? All he knows is that whatever has been happening makes him feel good, albeit briefly. Until it goes away, leaving a wet spot near his zip, or preventing him from sleeping, face down, as he prefers to.
The promise of hellfire looms large and, gradually, pleasure becomes dirty. He is now aware of the ‘glue’ sticking some of his laundry items together. The crusty residue just below his navel in the mornings. He sees the strange looks given him by the cleaner at home who washes his laundry. He feels some shame but, as long as nobody talks about it, it hadn’t happened. Nothing happened. I could never ever do something so disgusting, he begins to believe.
As a young adult, he often thinks back to the childhood desperation that came with wanting to be the ‘good child’ and the emotional hard-ons that such affirmations erected. The way everything would be okay when the mum or dad utters the words, “Well done, mntanami. I’m proud of you.” The feel-good goosebumps would come down his spine in waves, emitting a rich optimism from his body and accelerating his heartbeat. This feeling became the object of pursuit, like the initial pulses of euphoria from a narcotic. He pursued this feeling with a frenzy, both at home and at the new ‘white’ school his parents sent him to. This school would let him speak English ‘the right way’ and afford him better opportunities in life. Thus it began: white people began to become the embodiment of purity.
The good black child
In class, the good boy wants to be ‘the good black’ child, pursuing a strange way of ‘purity’. He picks up the white accent quickly and within two months of second grade at the traditional English boys’ school, he has mastered much of the language. He copes well in all subjects and is even a bit of the class joker. But his body still houses shame and loathing; he feels hollow and small when compared to everyone else. He avoids playing sports at school, even though his grandfather, with whom he lives, is an avid sports fan. His selfishness with his body compels him to go to great lengths to hide this about himself, making him used to deceiving others and himself.
His sense of physical self is not developed, even when he leaves the boys’ school and starts being regularly exposed to girls and the possibilities of sex. He is super-awkward and self-conscious around women. He experiences physical anxiety when in the close proximity of a woman – scared, perhaps, because he doesn’t know how to articulate physical attraction in reality, not with images. Oh no, he loves images and his relationship with women is limited to magazine pictures and moving images at various levels of crudeness. He receives pleasure from all of them, studying them closely, consuming the different textures in head via a glossy A4 page. Or from some VHSs at a friend’s place.
White women: the forbidden fruit
She is blonde and has a remarkably pointy nose. Her surname is Polish. Even as he avoids looking at her, afraid of what his gaze might unleash in him, the good black is incomprehensibly drawn to her for all that she represents: an authority figure, a source of painful pleasure. When she, in her swimwear, catches him assessing her butt, she asks, What the fuck are you looking at? He is unable to answer and looks away, wishing he hadn’t looked, as if his eyes were not good enough to look at her in that way. What he saw was too pure for his dirty ways.
Some years later, in the course of a destructively drunken night, he manages to seduce a white woman three years his senior. A regrettable night of whisky, malva pudding, biltong, racial slurs, condoms, semen and vomit. Through the unifying nastiness of two bodies he feels temporarily cleansed. Yet he can’t shake off the feeling that what has happened was not really supposed to happen. This was supposed to have taken place in his mind, in his room, where the pleasure would seep through his own hands.
He eventually learns that the body will always betray him, no matter how much he wants to shelter it. It wants its dues. It wants pleasure and he struggles to control where his eyes go. The hard-ons arrive unannounced at the most awkward times. During church, when having to stand to take part in hymns. When encountering voluptuous nurses at the hospital while visiting a dying relative. The good lad is forced to face the facts: Purity isn’t real, the body knows what it wants. And it knows that the only way to get it is to come out of its shell and learn to show its vulnerability.
The article is part of a series of articles under This is Africa’s collection titled, Flame, Fever and Fantasy – A collection of African desire and pleasure.