Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (1946)

Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy.

Malay Camp. A row of streets crossing another row of streets. Mostly narrow streets. Mostly dirty streets. Mostly dark streets. A row of houses crossing another row of houses. And so it went on. Streets crossing streets. Houses crossing houses.

Leaning, dark houses that hid life and death and love and hate and would not show anything to the passing stranger. Puddles of dirty muddy water on the sandy pavements. Little children playing in these puddles. Groups of men gambling on street corners. Groups of children walking down the streets carefully studying the gutters and vying with each other to pounce on dirty edibles, and fighting each other for them. Prostitutes on street corners and pimps calling after them.

And from somewhere, the low monotonous wail of a broken-down piano thumping out an unchanging rhythm, and the sound of thudding feet dancing to it. Shouts and screams and curses. Fighting and thieving and lying.

But above it all, the real Malay Camp. The warmth in the air even on a cold night. The warmth of living bodies; of living, breathing, moving people. A warmth that was richer than the air and the earth and the sun. Richer than all things. The warmth of life, throbbing. Of hearts pounding. Of silence and of sound. Of movement and of lack of movement. A warm, thick, dark, blanket of life. That was Malay Camp. Something nameless and living. A stream of dark life.

Xuma tried to think clearly and to arrange his thoughts in word-patterns, but failed. When he looked at the streets and houses and people, they were just streets and houses and people. The feeling that had passed over him was like a dream, unreal.

—Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy. (1946) Oxford: Heineman Educational Publishers, 1989. pp.77-8.

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