Heat Stroke

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Damaged by an abusive mother, Mariah has “never been well” and is not about to change the status quo in a hurry as she makes an impulsive move to Malawi. Scarred with words she has carved into her skin, and face-to-face with the history of Apartheid in South Africa, Mariah hopes to find some kind of salvation. Instead she discovers the narrow, feral nature of ex-patriot life in Africa. Appalled but incapable of rising above it, she stumbles into an obsessive relationship with Jeff. Acutely aware of what she is doing and of her own nature, Mariah can’t stop herself. The past has her burning herself and cutting her skin – now she deliberately chooses actions to further pain which feels obligatory. Ill prepared for the volatile rage which follows the offhand, negligent withdrawal of Jeff’s love and, pregnant with his child, she tailspins into testing limits in dark skins and violent humiliation. Mariah almost dies from a back-street abortion for which Joe covers her actions, whilst insisting that she understand her suffering is no more important than the next person’s. In a remote bush camp in Tanzania to where Mariah moves with Joe after Jeff dies in dubious circumstances for which the police find no final answer, she begins the small negotiations of peace with many of the people who have moved through her life either adding to her ruin or trying to love her despite herself.

Age Rating:

Observation: Hard On

Obsession. Love. Does it matter? In Africa it’s said that life’s problems should be tackled the way one would eat an elephant. And it’s impossible to swallow an elephant in a single mouthful, so it must be eaten bite by bite, piece by piece. Then, eventually, only the bones are left, and those can be licked and sucked clean. The time it takes to consume the elephant allows the space into which some sort of control over life must slip. But the truth is, paying attention has never been one of my strong suites and, anyway, I’ve had to eat the elephant whole and fast. Even as it has choked me.

Sorrow or grief, and the rage that trails after those tender things were things I thought I knew well, but nothing that came before ever suggested that the only way to get it all down was bite by small mouthful. Would that I had some small lesson, some sharper indication that I knew absolutely nothing at all, and that this particular elephant would more than likely be the death of me. At the very least it would stopper my breath so that I would, blue and terrified, commit crime after crime against myself.

I should have known better, but I’ve learned since. Oh, yes, a great deal has been learned. This grief and rage have ruined me, has laid so much scar tissue down that those smaller keloid things that came from before seem quite insignificant in comparison. It’s always only a matter of degree, though, isn’t it? This or that, this pain, that one. One survives. There is little choice but to survive and to take along with one the package, bulged and fraught, which carries all the weapons – and the scars. It belongs to oneself; no-one else will ever want to take care of it. And so, one lives on. And on and on.

But it’s not enough to just keep living, There’s the constancy of death that one must take care not to forget. And Africa has a plan for that, too. She makes sure that just as immediate is the living of life, hand to mouth, sometimes empty fisted, so too does death have a place at every table, in every room. Death holds our names in a hard and tight hand, waiting for us.

Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter where in the world one is, death is too. Whilst facts might force me to concede that, I will still insist that Africa knows better about death, and keeps a hovel made from mud and grass, blood and shit, for it right down every dirt road here. Africa has a million ways of getting under one’s skin and sometimes death is the gentlest release from those itches and aches.

Here we live harder and we love harder. And I’ve done both. Headlong. The past cannot matter, however much we long to hold onto it. The past is what we are given and the future has no shape. The sum of the collisions of all our private worlds, the future is not especially romantic or even exciting. It merely is so. And death waits for us all. Collision, chaos, life. Death and love. In the present the immediacy of living is either tormented by past shortfalls, or is terrified of future losses. Death and the future are absolute, just as is the past, and so we must choose. Do we live? Or do we cheat, and die before death decides to fetch us? Mostly, we just live on. And in living, we love. No matter what, we will love until we die.

This is the final truth, perhaps the one I wanted all along. I will love until I die. And of the things that exist to remind me to live, I shall find them, and Africa and I will go on, for the meantime, hard on.

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