Moederland, Part Two: Memorable Humiliations, by Johannes Klabbers

Johannes Klabbers is a Dutch/Australian writer and posthumanist therapist, currently living in Europe. He is the author of I Am Here: Stories From A Cancer Ward (Scribe Aus/UK 2016), which tells the story of an academic in the Australian outback who takes a voluntary redundancy and reinvents himself as a secular pastoral worker in the largest cancer hospital in the southern hemisphere. The Australian described it as “wonderfully insightful”. His website is johannesk.com and he tweets @johklab, is on Facebook @johkla and blogs on Medium @johannesk.

Johannes Klabbers is thinking through what it could mean to write postfiction. This is the second of four postfiction pieces to be published in Tincture in 2017 (the first is available here). See also postfiction.space. Please consider subscribing to Tincture to support our work.

Of all the exotic and unusual cities in the world that I could have moved to, I find myself in a place with which I am intimately familiar while at the same time being disconcertingly strange.

It is strange because it ought to be familiar—and then it can be suddenly and unexpectedly familiar when it should be strange. It is familiar because I was born here, almost sixty years ago, and I lived here until I was fourteen. Since then I have visited briefly a few times while learning how to be an adult in England and then Australia. It is strange because half the town is no longer there. It was demolished and rebuilt and now it is being partially demolished again and refurbished to make it look more like every other big shopping mall in the world instead of some dreamy Dutch architect’s imperfectly executed vision from the sixties when town planners predicted that no one in the twenty-first century would be riding bicycles.

And now I live, not just anywhere in that town, but in the familiar half, in the very street where I went to school. Why, if I had money, which I don’t, I could live in my old school, which like many significant buildings in towns and cities the world over, is no longer considered fit for its original purpose and has been converted into luxury apartments.

Almost every day I walk past this building and perhaps because I’ve lived abroad most of my adult life, it still retains some of its power to frighten me and make me sad. It was the scene of some of the most memorable humiliations of my childhood years.

One example, the concierge (since it was a posh school the caretaker was given that moniker), an ugly and angry old man, in a fit of rage about one or other of my minor misdemeanours, told me that he’d heard I was as stupid as the rear end of a pig. It’s a clever tactic to claim that you’ve heard something, rather than presenting it as a conclusion you’ve drawn on the basis of your own observations. Even at the age of nine I knew the opinion of the ‘concierge’ was of little consequence, but was my stupidity the subject of conversations in the school? Someone was saying this about me? To the concierge!? Who could it be? My favourite teacher Mr Wensing? His opinion of me mattered more than anything in the world.

When I came home and told Moeder what the concierge had said, she furiously rang the Headmaster to complain. This, if anything, made it worse. It was as if she gave substance to the alleged rumour. To compensate she was forever telling me, and her friends and members of our extended family, how smart I was, to the point that they must have dreaded her elaborate stories about witty remarks I’d made or clever things I had done—as indeed did I, although I ended up believing her and it took a lot of evidence to the contrary before I learnt that, although quite opinionated, I was in fact of no more than average intelligence.

Sometimes as I walk past the building, I can elicit a small pearl of adrenalin by raising my middle finger or, when the shutters of the ground floor apartment which once housed the Headmaster’s office where I stood shaking in my shorts when I was sent out of the classroom for talking to Irene de Groen or not doing what I was supposed to or not doing it well enough, are up, by growling GET FUCKED through gritted teeth at the wood panelling inside. Each grain and knot in that wood, and the pattern in the marble of the old fireplace that surrounds it, is indelibly engraved on my synapses.

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