Read an excerpt from Nick Wood’s debut Azanian Bridges, an alternate reality thriller where apartheid still rules
Azanian Bridges, Nick Wood’s debut novel, is published and due to be launched at the British Science Fiction Association Convention this Easter, and the author has kindly given Books LIVE an excerpt to share.
Wood is a South African-British clinical psychologist, researcher and genre writer, with stories in two recently published anthologies, Afrosfv2 and African Monsters. His Young Adult novel The Stone Chameleon was published in 2004. He is also a reader for the Short Story Africa Day Prize.
Like Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West, which we featured as our Fiction Friday recently, Azanian Bridges was longlisted for the inaugural Kwani? Manuscript Prize in 2013. It has impressive shouts from authors such as Sarah Lotz, Ian Watson and Ursula K Le Guin, who says: “I read Bridges with much pleasure … chilling and fascinating.”
The novel’s cover art is by Capetonian illustrator Vincent Sammy.
Azanian Bridges is a socially acute fast-paced thriller that takes place in an alternate modern day South Africa where apartheid still rules, and a young man, Sibusiso Mchunu, finds himself in possession of a secret that could offer hope to his people. Pursued by the ANC on one side and Special Branch agents on the other, Sibusiso has little choice but to run.
Wood explained a little bit about the process of writing the novel, and his decision to partner with Long Story Short.
“Busisiwe Siyathola, a clinical psychologist working at the hospital where some of the novel’s scenes are set (I worked there too, a good few years ago now), helped with beta advice, particularly with Sibusiso and all the Zulu references.
“I also agreed to share author royalties with Long Story Short as it felt unethical for a white writer to solely benefit from a tale around apartheid.”
Read the excerpt:
I never knew it would be so hard to say goodbye – especially to my father. (I leave him until last.)
“Sala kahle, tata!” I say, bowing my face so he cannot see my eyes.
For a brief moment, he holds me close to him and I can smell the Earth, sweet, sharp sweat and the decades of cattle manure on his skin. His jacket buttons poke into my stomach – he has indeed dressed for this occasion too. He is so like a fragile bird – a kiewietjie comes to mind for some reason – but then he pushes me away, turns and walks off in a hurry and without looking back. He has left me with a little gift, a small beige plastic digi-disc, on which I can record the happenings in my life. I put it in my pocket.
Since when did my father get so old, so delicate, so suddenly?
I look over my brother and sisters’ heads to watch his stiff blue-jacketed back disappear into the house. The brown door shuts against yellow brick and the late afternoon sun glints off the corrugated silver eaves and roof.
Behind our master’s house, I hear the cows sounding out as a dog barks, unsettling them.
Lindiwe is crying openly but I keep my own eyes dry. I am the eldest son; I am strong.
There is time for one last hug before the taxi arrives.
Mandla grips my arm tight. ”Careful brother,” his eyes are almost on a level with my own, despite the three years I have on him, “There is much danger and distraction in the city.”
I nod and brush my lips with the back of my left hand to hide my smile: “I hear what you say, Mandla – you repeat father too – but I will be careful.”
He grins and puffs his 15-year old chest, which looks increasingly like a solid drum of utshwala besizulu – but only the finest of beer.
There is a high-pitched car hooter sounding behind me. Father had to pay much to have the man detour off his route to come here.
My five sisters wave as I step with difficulty into the crowded taxi; the door is slid fully open, the minibus is silver and muddy brown from the farm tracks splatter of early-summer showers.
The driver accelerates before I can sit. I fall into a large woman’s lap and realise there is indeed no seat. She shovels me aside with a large forearm and I sway, trapped between her fat hip and a thin man’s sharp thighbone. He wriggles a bit like a contortionist and my buttocks manage to find some sticky leather to ease the weight off my feet.
My grey Sunday slacks sticks to the seat, as we sway around and bump over farm potholes.
The ‘gamchee’, as the Cape Coloured people call them, waves a hand towards me from the front seat: “Where you going again, boy?”
“Fundimiso College, Im-, Imbali,” I say, finding it hard to breathe, crushed as I am as the large woman squeezes against me.
The gamchee turns to the driver, who is accelerating into a violent right-turn onto the tarred road: “Seems like we have a clever boy in our taxi, hey Smokes?”
Smokes just grunts from under his Man U cap and shakes his dreads. I see he has an OPod plugged into his ears.
I plug an earpiece into my ears, folding my arms tightly over my old music pod and the rands strapped in a leather purse across my stomach inside my white buttoned shirt, the purse hot and wet against my skin from the late afternoon heat.
The sky still looks clear – no gathering thunderstorm tonight it seems. I glance across at the passengers swaying and talking in front of me. They’re arguing about the price of bread.
I am too tired to listen and try to sleep. Keeping my arms crossed across my hidden money pouch, I doze in fits and starts to random braking, accelerations and Church-Rap from the Crischen-Niggaz.
I finally fall asleep to Muth’fuckas Who Don’t Know Jesus …
The fat woman is climbing over me and I see she has a baby hanging off her right hip, swinging it onto her back as she steps outside. It’s built like me; it keeps right on sleeping …
Then I see the driver getting out too – what’s his name?
I look across to the open door and see I’m the last one inside. I stretch and rub my eyes. My OPod has gone silent.
A big white man with a fierce brown handlebar moustache and blue police cap sticks his head inside: “Out, kaffir!”
Hayi no, it must be a roadblock.
I step outside, sweating hard, although the sun is low and the air is cooling.
There’s a mellow yellow police van parked in front of us. We’re pulled off to the side of the road, traffic whooshing past us and down the hill, down into the smoky valley of umGungundlovu – or Pietermaritzburg as the boere like to call it.
So close, why did they have to stop us now?
Fierce-moustache policeman is going through the driver’s papers. Two other black cops are rummaging through our taxi, looking for guns or drugs, probably both.
“Hey, line up!” the white cop shouts, throwing the driver’s papers back at him – Smokes, that’s his name, catches the papers deftly with a weary shrug of his shoulders and turns back to his cab.
We stand in a ragged line, all nine of us, as he slowly works his way through our dompas. My hands are clammy as I pull mine out of my hip pocket.
He moves alongside me and snatches it from my hand; as if angry they’ve all been in order so far.
I sweat, even though it’s getting cold, the sun sinking below the city’s smog.
He looks at me and I’m reminded of Ballie Boetze, the big white South African world-boxing champion from several decades ago – whose face has received a nostalgic comeback on TV since his death, advertising Rocket Jungle Weetie-Oats.
“Hey, why you sweating so much, boy, what you hiding?”
“Nothing, sir!” I hate my sweat and my use of “sir”, but all I want is to get to College safely.
“Ach man, they can go!” He slaps my dompas into my open palms.
I see the two black cops are standing behind him, hands on hips, empty.
“Next time I’ll give you a bledy fine for over-crowding, hey!” he shouts at us as we climb back into the taxi.
Smokes lights a cigarette, but no one says anything.
This time I find a space next to the window and keep my face averted from the others, watching the lights popping up like fireflies, as the quick dusk deepens into murky darkness.
The rest of the journey is made in a tense silence – as for me, I shake until the end.
I miss my father already.
- African Monsters edited by Jo Thomas
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- The Stone Chameleon by Nick Wood
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