a while ago, a friend told me about a writing contest. the brief was to write an original story of no more than six hundred words, based on a message on an answering machine. i decided to give it a go and see how i did. unfortunately, once i'd written the story and edited it down to the required number of words, when i tried to submit it, i discovered it was only for residents of the united states. so i decided to publish it here, having nothing better to do with it. please remember it is completely fictional and was written with the aim of entering a competition. it must be viewed in this light.
so without further ado, here follows the story.
johan was messed up. how could he not be? the war in angola, a war which, according to the south african government, didn't ever even take place, had done it to him. all the things he had seen there officially didn't happen. everything he had done, far from home, deep in enemy territory, whatever that meant, hadn't happened if you were to believe official government communique. but it had messed him up even if it hadn't happened.
johan was simply not suited to normal life. he had no skills and just didn't get along with normal people... alive people anyway. he felt quite at home with the dead, his time in angola had taught him that. the other guys used to laugh at him when he was always willing to drag the bodies of the dead and load them onto the front of the armoured car for transport to the quickly dug mass graves.
"johan, your wife seems a bit stiff there." everyone would laugh, except the dead, of course. they didn't laugh and johan appreciated that. maybe they understood him just like he understood them.
back in the real world, away from the war and the killings and the dead, no one understood him and he understood them even less. he tried a few jobs, but he couldn't hold them.
finally he got a job in the anatomy department of the medical faculty in pretoria. they needed someone to embalm the bodies for dissection and johan immediately jumped at the opportunity.
embalming was easy to learn and johan very soon had mastered all the necessary skills. quite quickly he moved up the ranks and after a few short years found himself to be the boss. it was something he felt he could be proud of. most people weren't quite as at home as he was with the dead and they simply couldn't do the work for all that long. johan, on the other hand found working with the dead therapeutic. it was also different from his days behind enemy lines where they were required to kill them before he could enjoy their solace...the killing never really appealed to him. he saw it as a necessity, initially for his government, but later for himself, but he never quite got the pleasure from it that some of the other soldiers did.
now, many years later, the dead still comforted him in a way no one could understand. he sat in his office in the mornings, before anyone else had even arrived at work, eagerly awaiting the quiet companionship that came with the day's embalming. he used this time to browse the internet or do any other necessary mundane administration of the department. and it was on one of these mornings that he listened to the voicemail recorded in the early hours of the morning.
"uum....hello? uum, i'd like to donate my brother's body for medical research...is that ok? uum...he died about a minute ago. i don't know what from, but he just.....wait a minute.....no, he seems to still be alive. he just moved.....no, i think that was his last movement. he is dead. he is only breathing a little bit, but I think he is about dead. do i maybe get some money? hang on, he's trying to say something now. no, he's not dead yet. i'll call you back tomorrow morning. i'm sure he will be dead by then...."
johan smiled. the living never ceased to amaze him. well, he thought, another companion on the way, or at least maybe.
As always, powerful and powerfully written.
Now I'm very interested in hearing the REAL story behind that telephone conversation. My goodness, South Africa really is a unique place...
The mostly dead are on the whole, somewhat uncooperative.
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