I saw a pumpkin-faced man soaking his dry red beard in a beaker of winter-night black beer refusing to pay and disgusted I left the tavern and outside I saw a youth with one rotten little hand held uselessly like a limp rose to his chest he wore pink shoes and I walked down the splash-wet road with wind in my trouser legs past a tree leaning into the road with its branches rested on a ring wall whistling at the girls and I entered a blue door up the stairs and showed my teeth in a narrow smile to a cat and a dog and a snot-nosed baby and a woman with cruddy toenails and a man with shoulders as apologetic as the knees of schoolgirls and I sat down on a chair and ate fish and ketchup and radishes and peas and potatoes in their jackets and butter and bread and salad and sweets and burped and laughed and I heard the rain like the sharp claws of pigeons on the roof against the windows and an aircraft god knows how high in the sky and I looked into the green bumps of the man’s eyes and looked away and looked again and trod on the cat’s tail and got up and scratched my ear and surreptitiously let go a fart in the corner and walked down the stairs out the blue door and saw that the road was wild and blue like a winter sky and walked in it and with commiseration thought about the fate of my poor soaked toes but never mind and I saw a man holding up a lamppost and a woman peeling potatoes on the sidewalk and mountains looming above the towers of the cathedrals of a town and a bus tinkling like an old piano and a newspaper with a hat on the steps of an apartment block and a sparrow with bare feet perched and smoking in a palm tree and I told all my sweet secrets to my nose and ears.

 

 

Breyten Breytenbach was a committed opponent of the policy of apartheid. In France he was a founding member of Okhela, a resistance group fighting apartheid in exile. On an illegal trip to South Africa in 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for high treason: his work The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist describes aspects of his imprisonment. “Fragment of a Receipt” is an excerpt  from his collection Catastrophes that will be published by Archipelago Books in February, 2014.