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Excerpt: Read “Skin Costs Extra” from Strange Pilgrimages by Achmat Dangor

Strange PilgrimagesAchmat Dangor tells a story of desire, alienation and betrayal in “Skin Costs Extra”, which appears in his latest short story collection, Strange Pilgrimages.

Aerodrome has shared the story in which protagonist Simon Mashaba accepts the post of Special Investment Adviser to the consulate in New York and decides to stop over in London to contact old Sussex varsity friends, before going to America where his wife is to join him.

Simon Mashaba accepted the New York posting reluctantly. It was so inopportune, barely two months after he and Nomsa had – finally – moved out of their small Soweto home into a house on a quiet, tree-lined street in the northern suburbs. He had remained faithful to his late father’s request: ‘Stay true to your roots, live among your people’, for as long as he could. It was Nomsa who had pointed out that many of his comrades in the struggle – some were now his colleagues in government – had fled the township as soon as they could. She was a professor at a prestigious university close to the city and she resented her daily commute along roads clogged with crazy ‘kombi’ taxis as a needless – Quixotic – gesture.

Despite the lingering sense of guilt, he soon came to like their new home as much as Nomsa did. It was large enough for them to have separate studies overlooking different parts of the garden. He was able to walk from his desk to a stone bench nestled in the shade of a giant old jacaranda tree with gnarled but sturdy branches that defied the wind and hardly creaked. She often fell asleep, a book clutched to her chest, beneath an older magnolia tree that flowered only in the evening, giving off a strong, womanly fragrance. At the centre of the garden water gurgled from the mouth of a metal bird standing in an ancient fountain, adding to the gentle texture of sounds.

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