By Jenny Robson
-Teleport 2018 science fiction contest- 3rd place.
The Answer lies in her eyes.
That is what I will tell my Prof tomorrow. The Answer lies in her eyes.
My Prof will be annoyed, no doubt, and feel I’m not taking this job seriously. He pulled strings to get me hired – since I am currently unemployed. Truth to tell, I haven’t been employed since the summer of 2036!
Not much call for a pianist these days. My ex-audiences are more attuned to the staccato of machine-gun fire, the rhythmic crackle of an AK-47, the rising pitches of an ambulance on its way to a morgue. Da Capo with feeling!
“Don’t be facile, Josh.”
That’s what my Prof will say from beneath his wild-bush eyebrows. “Keep your libido under wraps. Your libido has always been your downfall.”
Outside his lecture-room, the Tuesday street-battles will be raging in full blood. Not much different from the Monday riots. Just another average day in Cape Town, South Africa, Planet Earth. Which is not very different from another average day in Paris. Or New York. Or Beijing. Yes, this is what the world of the twenty-thirties has come to.
But I will stick to my guns – pardon the pun.
“No, Prof. It’s not my libido at work. Just careful, professional observation. I tell you, comparisons with the harmonies and scale structures of Luthania will get us nowhere. The Answer is there in her eyes.”
Wild-bush eyebrows rising in irritation. Tomorrow. He is a man under pressure, my Prof. The Luthanians are growing exasperated. And I don’t blame them.
Already I am imagining how it will be: me, the hero and savior of our planet! Me, feted the world over. It has taken a young Zulu man from the southern reaches of Africa, from the grass roots of Soweto, to find the Answer! That’s how the media will no doubt report it. And he has found the Answer in the eyes of a Luthanian female.
Her eyes. Kali’s Luthanian-born eyes.
Her eyes dance before me now to music never composed, wrapped in their starburst wonder. Edged by golden arcs. Even as Kali’s chords shimmer between us: the chords of Luthania.
But they are very like Earth harmonies, these chords of Kali’s, as her fingers brush lightly over her stringed instrument. Which is very similar to our Earthly guitar.
And I am convinced: we could go on like this all night, on into another blood-soaked day, comparing melody-lines and rhythmic patterns of our respective planets. But we would not find any reasonable Answer buried in the music. Just as there will be no Answer found in comparisons of the transport or architecture or economics or botany of our respective planets. Or religions.
The difference must lie elsewhere.
They are scraping the barrel now, the United Nations, in their desperate search. Well, what little remains of the United Nations!
Kali says now, her arm resting lightly on her lyre, “You want to bed me, Josh? Yes?”
Her eyes rest lightly on my dark African skin where my shirt buttons are unloosed.
I look into the wonder of her eyes with their quiet confidence, their restful faith. What I would give to have those eyes looking up at me from my amber pillows in the next room!
A gunshot sounds somewhere in the darkness outside my Cape Town flat. (It is where I live these days: Cape Town under the shadow of majestic mountains.) A gunshot followed by an unsurprised scream followed by shrugged silence. Echoed no doubt in a hundred other average towns of the planet. Violence has become the number-one hobby here on Earth.
My desire for this alien woman swirls round the keys of my piano.
“Please,” I beg her. “Don’t say that. You know the regulations.”
I tell you: the Answer is there in her eyes.
I am a connoisseur of women’s eyes. From way back. Dark eyes ringed with passion; ice-blue eyes circled in lust. Gazing up at me from blue pillows or crisp white ones; frilled French pillows and embroidered Continentals; hotel pillows of three continents; even once in Trinidad, a pillow of rough beach-sand.
I am a global tourist when it comes to women’s eyes – on this planet, at least.
“You think you are such a stud, Josh” my sister Thandeka often mocks me.
She still lives in Soweto, that South African township made famous by conflict. Back in the days when conflict was not your average Earthly pastime. “You think you can read women like some train time-table. Haha, my brother.”
But my sister Thandeka has never traveled further than Johannesburg. Except once down to Durban to the sea. Which frightened her.
The knowledge of women’s eyes began early, back when I was a too-thin fifteen-year-old with dusty legs on the tree-less streets of Soweto.
My first women’s eyes belonged to Mama Dlamini: dark wise eyes, filled with amused compassion for my schoolboy fumblings.
“A Zulu man knows how to satisfy his woman,” she told me. “You come from a proud heritage.” Guiding my hands under a rough blanket.
By the time flaxen-haired Ilsa gazed up at me from her mother’s starched Afrikaner pillows, I was the one filled with wisdom and amused compassion.
“This is for our country,” breathed Ilsa in her thick Afrikaans accents. “Yes, we will break down the final bastions of Apartheid.”
So we lay together, wrapped in the summer warmth, Zulu man and Boermaid, finally putting to rest three hundred years of enmity between our peoples. It was a good feeling, to be part of something greater than our rushed love-making.
“No more fighting between blacks and whites,” she said. “Only love.”
“Only love,” I echoed as her shuddering muscle walls embraced my darkness.
Of course that was back in the time before fighting and aggression became the universal hobby of our kind. Overtaking sport, overtaking social media, even television and gaming. Why watch fake screen violence when you can create your own real-time, true-life mayhem?
“Shuddering muscle walls!? Oh, Josh, you are a scream!”
So says my dear sister, Thandeka. “You know nothing about women. Let me shine a little light into your dim understanding.”
What does she know!?
My sister Thandeka is still trapped in the electricity-challenged township of Soweto. Whilst I have been flying high: to Paris, to London, to Beijing. With my all-embracing, lightning-conducting fingers that can coax any foreign piano to orgasm. Or any foreign woman for that matter! While foreign neons flash.
“The Answer is in your eyes,” I tell Kali now as she sits golden in my small flat. Golden and alien and mysterious and enticing beyond bearing. Somehow the regulations seem small-minded. Like Ilsa’s mother.
“A black man, Ilsa? Races should not mix this way. It is bad for everyone.”
Any foreign woman. Like Doreen of the grey eyes – grey as the London streets.
“Yes, Josh. Yes… now!” Her grey-pale limbs squeezed around me. “You’re the best. Is Africa full of men like you?”
On behalf of my colonized forefathers, I brought her to screaming point once more. While outside in the gray English rain, gang warfare erupted. That was in the early days, when the eruptions seemed isolated, concentrated in large cities where psyches are naturally stretched to breaking point.
“Like animals in a zoo,” the sociologists explained. Back in the days when explanations seemed possible.
“Brought her to screaming point!?”
My sister Thandeka again.
You would think that my sister would show some respect, considering the expensive porcelain dolls I’d brought back to grace her cheap Sowetan sideboard.
“My dear brother, all women are actresses. Well-paid or poorly-paid, we are all actresses. How much did this Londoner get out of you?”
But what does Thandeka know? She cannot afford to pay her electricity bill.
When I left Doreen’s bedsit, my wallet seemed lighter. I went back next evening to discuss this slight problem. But Doreen lay dead and bloody on her threshold. Half in and half out of the gray mist, her pointless eyes staring southward. Towards Africa where the best men could be found.
It was about that time that the first Luthanians arrived. Full of wisdom and compassion for our violence-wracked planet. In space-vehicles that bore little resemblance to ships conjured up in our sci-fi movies.
LUTHANIANS, GO HOME! So read the placards of marching protesters. WE DON’T WANT YOUR FAKE PEACE.
Not that the protest marches ever lasted very long. Within half-an-hour, marchers would be turning on each other. Bloodied placards made pillows for bloodied heads.
“Why do you say the Answer is in my eyes?” asks Kali. This is not a coy question, no cheap desire for compliments. No. She just wants to consider my reasoning.
After all, the Luthanians are just as keen to find the Answer – as keen as those of us Earthlings who haven’t already flung ourselves lemming-like over the precipice of all-out violence. The lovers, not the fighters.
Kali strokes my skin with golden fingers. My nerves sing melodies from beyond both our galaxies.
“People of Earth…”
So says the Luthaninan commandant on Global News Network. He sounds hurt by the placards.
“We come only to help you. Our societies, our cultures, are so similar. We have so much in common. Yet Luthanian history has no tales of battles and wars and genocides and murder. Whilst here on your Earth, violence is has always been part of your lives. And now it leads you to the edge of extinction. But why?”
“What is the difference?” so continues his second-in-command. “Together with your people, we are investigating every possible aspect, comparing every trait. And when we find the Answer, we will leave. And there will be peace amongst you, the way it should be.”
“But there are the regulations,” says Kali. Her eyes tell me that she is saddened. I close the piano lid.
The regulations are clear and uncompromising, agreed to by both the Luthanian commandant and the United Nations – what little of it remains. Number One: No sexual congress between Earthlings and Luthanians.
I understand the logic. The commandant doesn’t want any half-caste Earthlings being birthed on their fair planet in nine months’ time. If their gestation period is indeed nine months. No little half-castes, half-crazed with aggression, polluting their peaceful world with fifty-per-cent genetic violence.
My Prof laughed as he pushed the contract across the desk for me to sign.
“No sexual congress, Josh my boy! That should test you to the limits! Their musicologist is a stunner! Good luck, my boy.”
“Don’t you see my point, Prof?” This is how I will state my case tomorrow. “What Luthanian in his right mind would go off to do battle and leave such breath-taking eyes behind? What Luthanian would want to cause pain and discomfort when his soul has been soothed by starbursts of peace? Haven’t you noticed them for yourself: those unbelievable eyes?”
Surely he has? But my Prof is a music fanatic. He would like nothing more than for the Answer to be found in the realm of music. It would be the crowning of his forty-five-year career. It would put the other faculties in their rightful place: a few steps below Man’s Greatest Accomplishment – Music.
But even so, surely he has noticed the utter tranquility, the magnificent assurance that shines from the eyes of Luthanian women?
Yes. That is what I will tell him tomorrow. If I make it through this night without breaking Regulation Number One.
And that might be difficult.
Kali is kneeling beside me now, her lyre put aside, her eyes stroking and soothing every nerve of my jangled Earth body.
And I long, beyond all wisdom, to see her eyes melt into waves of pleasure, there on my bed with her golden hair spread across my amber pillows.
“Sixty per cent of the time, my potent brother!”
My sister Thandeka again. Even though I have brought designer clothes from New York to fill her cramped Soweto wardrobe. Even though I have only mentioned Melissa in passing.
Melissa in the executive suite of a prominent New York hotel that has my name up in big letters outside. Josh Zondo – Africa’s foremost pianist.
Melissa is part of the promotion team, a personal assistant. She certainly does her best to assist me. Personally.
“Sixty per cent of the time, Josh. That’s the statistics. I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you.” My sister twists her foot to admire her designer trainers.
To hell with regulations! The strands between male and female are more cosmic than the piece of paper I have signed. And in Kali’s eyes I see an answering agreement.
I pick her up, her golden form looping across my breast. And I carry her through to the next room and my amber pillows.
She is smiling softly, her starburst eyes fixed on mine.
And I hold in my trembling fingers the honor of all mankind.
I risked my life to get my sister those trainers. There was a sudden clash on the streets between those endlessly rising New York buildings. Two groups armed with kitchen implements. Strange how lethal a kitchen implement can be!
I rushed back to the safety of my executive suite and Melissa who was waiting and naked under luxurious covers.
She was a five-minute wonder, Melissa. Minimum effort and maximum effect which was just as well since I was pretty jet-lagged.
“Woweee!” she shrieked.
Woweeee? I rolled over, well-pleased with myself – upholder of Zulu male pride and potency where-ever I roam.
Kali lies spread like a golden keyboard across my bed. My talented fingers draw golden glissandos from her skin. And this – this will be the pinnacle of my virtuosity. The climax of my well-travelled career as a performer of note.
“Yes, it is a well-documented fact,” says my sister with the tenacity of a pedigree bulldog. Which is strange, since no pedigree bulldogs roam the streets of Soweto.
“Sixty per cent of all female orgasms are faked. We squeal and we squirm and we shudder at the right moment. But it is all part of the act. And then we send you off on your arrogant male way. Be grateful, Josh. Only a sister would tell you this.”
Outside in the Soweto darkness, bloodcurdling screams fill the air and a knife reflects the moonlight.
Thandeka double-locks her flimsy Soweto door.
“What do you reckon, Josh? About those Luthanians? Did you see them in New York? Will they truly find the answer to why we have so much violence and they have none? Or maybe that is fake too – maybe they just want to colonise us and rape our planet of all its natural resources.”
This was in the days before the answer acquired its capital letter.
Thandeka slips the door-chain in. And I am stuck for the night with her and her ridiculous statistics. Just the thumb-sucked figures of some male-hating lesbians, no doubt!
I mean, really! Sixty per cent? Give me a break!
Perhaps they are the stats for some northern European country where I haven’t yet toured!
“No sis, I didn’t get to see any Luthanians in New York.”
Sorry, sis. I was too busy staring into Melissa backward-rolling, wowee-ing eyes to notice any self-righteous, charity-bent aliens.
And Melissa’s wowees definitely, oh most definitely fell into the forty-per-cent bracket of honest-to-goodness genuineness. No doubt.
Mind you, I sometimes find myself wondering about Melissa and her five-minute wonders. Nought to sonic boom in just three hundred seconds seems a bit far-fetched, even for New York. But that is only late at night when I am alone, playing sad minor-key melodies.
Here on my amber sheets, time has no power or meaning. We are a duet in perfect harmony, Kali and I.
I have tapped into the deepest, most complex rhythms of my African ancestry. And she joins me in a slow crescendo that works its way through andante and into allegro. Across inter-galactic bar-lines.
“I’m counting on you, my boy.” So said my Prof of the wild-bush eyebrows. “It is said that music soothes the savage breast. Perhaps our Earth music has somehow gone awry. I’m counting on you to find the Answer.”
Kali’s eyes are closed for the moment. A pity. A light sheen glows on her golden forehead. And time still has no meaning. Though it must be a good twenty minutes now, by my calculations.
I am still holding out manfully, tapping into my deepest resources of self-control. Mama Dlamini was a fine teacher.
But the end is in sight now.
Sixty per cent! What does my sister Thandeka know, stuck there in her sandy Sowetan backyard? While I have lain beneath the palm trees of the West Indies, watching a dusky maiden writhe in abandoned pleasure, a pillow of golden beach-sand beneath her arching back.
“Writhing in abandoned pleasure! Oh Josh!” My sister mocks me even as she strokes the sea shells I have brought her. Her lover of three years has left her for an eighteen-year-old.
Kali is moaning in breathless staccato bursts. We are on the verge of fortissimo now. The music of the spheres rushes through us both in a timeless, spaceless shudder. And I collapse exhausted on the amber pillow beside Kali’s golden, pleasured form. My self-belief is vindicated.
“The Answer is right there in her eyes, Prof. What Luthanian man in his right mind…”
Of course that creates a problem. How would we Earthlings ever replicate those quiet golden starbursts in the eyes of our own females? DNA tinkering? Doctored contact lenses?
Kali props her head up with her elbow on the amber pillow. Her starburst eyes regard me steadily. I wait for some congratulatory feminine compliment. Are all Earth males as accomplished as you?
But no compliment is forthcoming.
Instead she says, “Will you be ready again soon?”
I am thunderstruck. Confused.
I say, “But haven’t you… Didn’t you…?”
What term do they use on Luthania? Will she understand if I ask her bluntly: Didn’t you come? Didn’t you climax? Didn’t you reach the Big O after all my efforts!?
Now Kali is the one who looks confused. Her eyebrows meet in a frown above her starburst eyes.
“Of course not. Surely you know that? Don’t you Earthlings know when your women…?” She searches for what term we use on Earth.
I find a measure of comfort in considering the sexual semantics. I need comfort. I need to take my mind off my sense of hopeless failure and inferiority. Why hasn’t she reached orgasm yet? I have let down males everywhere: Zulu males, African males, Earth males.
I can hear my sister laughing even though she is far away in Soweto. And lover-less.
“Perhaps the Answer lies in some insignificant, overlooked detail.” said the Luthanian Commandant, earnest despite his hurt feelings.
Manfully I launch into a fresh attack, there on my amber sheets. I am on a mission and the entire manhood of Earth relies on me. I march through my entire repertoire. Da Capo. I soldier on, battle-worn but unbeaten.
I switch the light off. At least in the dark I will not be confronted by those demanding, irritating, never-satisfied eyes.
My bedside clock mocks me with its own luminous big Os. Midnight: 00:00. I slap it sideways to face the far wall.
“Wowee!” exploded my five-minute wonder Melissa. I long for her with a desperation that rips through the muscles of my abused body.
I am inadequate, useless. I am a disgrace to my entire species. Who did I think I was, crowing and cocksure. So damned cocksure! I am a pathetic amoeba, helpless in a vast and unimpressed ocean. A single striking of a triangle, lost in a contemptuous galactic symphony.
And I hate her, I think. I hate this throbbing, grasping being beneath me. I want to smother her unsatisfied mouth with my amber pillow.
Why the hell can’t she just fake it? Why the hell can’t she just join the sixty per cent Earth actresses and salve my male pride? What would be so difficult about that?
The grey light of early morning Cape Town steals down the mountain-side and into my flat.
“Aah yes, Josh. Aah yesss. There we go!” Kali’s eyes open now. Wide.
And it is the most amazing sight.
I am an experienced man of the world – well, this world at least. But I cannot believe what I am witnessing. I lean back, staring in awe. Dumbstruck.
As she reaches her long-awaited climax, the eyes of this Luthanian female beneath me turn suddenly luminous red! Is it a rush of blood? Is it some form of plankton ebbing through her optic blood vessels? Her eyes shine out into the greyness like colored headlights, twin orbs of glowing crimson that spread their incandescence across my amber pillows. Unmistakable. Beyond pretence. Impossible to fake. Thandeka’s statistics have no reference here.
“Aah, Josh. At last, at last!”
Slowly, gradually, the red orbs fade beneath me. De-lumescing.
And I understand now why Luthanian men do not go off to war, why they have not an ounce of aggression within their souls, why there is not the slightest hint of violence on their planet.
Poor emasculated, overwhelmed, insecure, exhausted bastards!
I am a music teacher, living in Maun in Botswana. I always set my stories in Africa – my beloved Motherland! Most of my writing has been for teenagers. One of my YA novels, Because Pula means Rain, was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Literature in the Service of Tolerance. That’s the most cherished compliment I ever got for my work.