Issue #41: August 1st - 7th, 2003
(Short Holiday Edition)
Impressions of Matthew (part 2)
Matthew stood there, not retreating, and - as I remember - smiling, though that might be a trick of memory. He knew what was coming though. It is the single clearest guiding image I have of what it means to be a man.
By JohaN Hugo
A New Season/An O.K Kind Of Moment/Festivities
Tramps dance and/suck loyally on cheap bottles;/Everything basks in this millennial indistinctness/and genial resignation-/EVERYTHING IS O.K
By Chris Weaver
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Impressions of Matthew (part two)
At school, it was music, drama and art that first drew us together. That, and the sense that there was a way of being manly other than the exaggerated machismo that was the order of the day at our traditional and rugby-mad boys' school. We weren't gay or effeminate, but we didn't like the brutishness of the system where rank and physical presence was all that counted. We were all from liberal homes that taught that respect was something earned, not due purely to age and position. We liked poetry and theatre and music for its sake, not because it was popular. Sure, we were as pretentious and as arrogant in our own way as that sounds, but it was a way of trying to hold our own in an environment that sometimes felt very hostile indeed. I was gay-bashed solely on the grounds that I sang in the choir. That was later. When I had got there, I had tried at first to fit into the dominant mould, and I could if I wanted, but there a sense of unease remained. Matthew never bothered. He would always have a journal for spare time in class, or long boring double-maths. The book was covered in little poems, sketches (in line and words), dried flowers etc. It showed me a different way. Later there were photo's of and letters from his girlfriends. He was popular with girls, but I can hardly remember him not being in a stable and long-term relationship, and he was always cut up pretty badly when they ended. Sometimes there was tobacco in his pencil-case, and we would chew on it in class. Little acts of assertion.
Later, when we had learnt to keep to ourselves, we used to gather at breaktimes at a remote spot behind the assembly-hall, to play footbag, generally with tightly-bundled and taped plastic-bags... and to pick up and smoke to the dregs the cigarette-butts Mr. Holder would flick over the balcony of the hall once he'd had his smoke-breaks there.
Other breaks would be spent in the art-room, which was not really allowed, but silently condoned by Ms. Hartley, who was glad for any interest in her subject, and a wonderfully gentle woman. Matthew and Caleb both took art, though I did not, and they would mould little sculptures from bits of clay. There would be a radio there on which we'd play tapes. The Cure, The Clash, Beck, Talking Heads. Matthew would bring old sheets from home to pin onto the walls, unstretched and unstarched, and thickly slab large paintings onto them. Flowers on abstract backgrounds. Strange nudes. These would become Christmas- or birthday-presents. I still have two.
Things had to come to a head. As we became too senior to victimise, those who disliked us - and disliked us actively - started to take it out on our younger brothers. My brother, who is less of a shrinking violet than I am, stood up and wrote a letter to the Headmaster. We all signed, being less vulnerable. This was seen as a betrayal of the Holy system. All Hell broke loose. At breaks I could find refuge at choir practise. Matthew and Caleb were literally chased all around the school, and eventually had to flee to the staff-room, that first day. Later, when things had calmed down as much as they would, gangs outnumbering us five to one would stand on the balconies, pelting us with orange-peels to the accompaniment of yells: "Coward! Coward!". By that stage we could smile at the irony.
They broke his nose. A particularly aggressive matric-boy, hooker of the second Rugby team, came to seek him out at break. The other boys hemmed him in, in a circle. I tried to get in, got thrown out, kept out. The matric tried to draw him out. Matthew stood there, not retreating, and - as I remember - smiling, though that might be a trick of memory. He knew what was coming though. It is the single clearest guiding image I have of what it means to be a man. He told the matric he wasn't going to retreat - and he didn't - but that he also wasn't going to fight... and he didn't. Instead he stood dead-still as the big boy started to walk away, then suddenly turned, lunged and head-butted him on the nose. He went down, but got up straightaway, his nose skew and bleeding, and still just stood there, calmly waiting for more, his hands relaxed and at his side. What could the other boy do? He turned and left. The school did nothing either.
Eventually it was over. None of us went to the Matric Ball. I went off to Stellenbosch, Caleb and Matthew to Durban.
At the old house we scratched around a little in the rubble. Of course we weren't the first people there, but none of the other graffiti showed much imagination. Matthew started painting - simple geometric shapes overlaid with softer trees. I tried to take some photo's of the piles of rubble, puddles and peeling plaster. Some came out better than others. It was hard to make out what the building had been. One side looked like a normal house, but slapped onto it was what could only have been some sort of industrial site - high square ceiling and an array of strange pipes and electrical conduits, long since stripped of their contents. The windows had not been broken, but removed, and there was already some fairly large plants growing in the building. One of the bathrooms still had running water. Finished inside, we climbed onto the flat roof by a rusty ladder still attached to the wall, taking the beer with us. The roof was on several levels, and there were stacks of ceramic roof-tiles that could not have been used unless they were planning a never-completed sloping roof higher up. We drank beer and took turns taking aim at a hapless tree someways off with the tiles. Though the house was entirely surrounded by tall and leafy trees, there was plenty of sun on the roof, and it was January, and hot. I took off my shirt. My chest and upper arms still clearly showed the old and new cigarette-burns and cuts from a long-running broken heart. We had discussed her somewhat, on the phone, but I couldn't talk about it to anyone, even then. It was already two years old by then, and should have been forgotten, but wasn't. We didn't talk about it now either. He just said: "I didn't know you'd taken it that badly". And then: "Please don't do that any more. You shouldn't. It's stupid." We talked a bit more, and left. I didn't want to go home straightaway. I was leaving for the Netherlands in a few days, and wouldn't see him again for almost a year... We took a long drive to the filling-station to get some fuel, and a cool-drink.
And there he is again, through the windscreen, coming towards the car from the shop, sleeves rolled and cool-drink-can in one hand. He sees me raise the camera, and I delay long enough to capture the grin. He drops me off at home, and says goodbye.
Three months later I'm in the Netherlands, my arms and heart healing nicely under foreign skies. A drunken driver speeds late at night and does not see the flame-red Volkswagen stopped at the traffic-light straight in front. A phone-call two days later, my mother crying. It's too distant and too unreal for me to do the same, and it's only later Zoe tells me what Caleb had said after the funeral: "It's so stupid - no-one writes the main character out of the movie a third of the way through".
Matthew Lee Paulo 04/06/1978 - 10/3/2002
More By This Author
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A New Season
It's all or nothing,
as the wind stabs at the windows
of a late Portuguese summer
and sorry contemplation makes me
contract in my sleep.
I have made some mistakes in my life,
but do yours ooze like black hell
through every craggy DNA,
and bones are contorted and pummelled by
with an unrelenting, unforgiving
THUD THUD THUD,
and with a dark smile and a scythe, he sighs,
and with a bilious swipe
reminds you that there is no near-worldly penance
I can stab my thigh with the pen until
I'm blood bone dry,
I can be a slave to great intentions
and give everybody everything,
but with his dagger cloaked in a grin
I feel him outside
An O.K Kind Of Moment
cushioned on the Sabbath
by a boisterous sun,
its earthy, pock-marked tarmac wears
my shoes well.
Tramps dance and
suck loyally on cheap bottles;
Everything basks in this millennial indistinctness
and genial resignation-
EVERYTHING IS O.K
Tolerating days and
confiding in ourselves and
stuttering to a
Christmas Eve rumbled and
but I hung on.
And hamburger joints
throwing my loneliness
back at me
Next year, I thought,
Perhaps I'll become a whore...
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