She redacted the whole book, turning it from a profoundly racist book into a book singing the praises of the oppressed. The only thing she did not do was change the title and author that were her source material. Her used bookstore was called “Scratch Bookstore” and you bought at your own risk. Hers was a labour of love. She refused no book, redacted as she read along. The books were sealed, and you decided how much you put in the tin. She wasn’t in it for the money, she enjoyed creating new pieces of work.

Some authors were harder to redact. There was an awe around their works. As the fame of her art grew, more people would drop in books and she had a hard time keeping up. Her specialties were with biographies, but she did well with horror stories which she turned into fairy tales or romance novels. She was a Scratcher before scratch music was in vogue. She created music from words on paper.

She was made famous with obscure books that, once redacted, were sought after. She did not redact the same book twice and was scrupulous at keeping a tally of those she had done. She did not want comparisons. She did it all in one go, as the inspiration struck, and signed and dated them. She had quite a cult following, with collectors fighting over her works of art. They were not all great, but then that is true of all art, and she did not worry about it.

She had started as a child. Her parents read her bedtime stories that she would listen to sternly, sometimes uttering a tut tut sound. As soon as she was able to read, she started scribbling in books, to the consternation of the adults. They did not try to see what she was creating. They just scolded her for defacing books. But she persevered with an obstinacy verging on obsession. She would then present to them the fruits of her labour. All they could see was another book destroyed. She did not learn her lesson. She had a truth to tell and she would tell it. Eventually, she found fertile ground with her grandma.

She presented her Little Red Riding Hood to read. Grandma opened the book and saw the scribbles. She had heard that her granddaughter was defacing books and should not be encouraged. The girl was practically mute by then, and grandma thought she might be trying to communicate by other means. She smiled at the child. Her smile was tender and welcoming. She said, “Would you like me to read you this story?” The child beamed back and settled comfortably against her. Grandma cleared her throat “Once upon a time…” there followed a beautiful story that read like a poem. Grandma was choked with emotion. “The end,” she whispered as she held the child against her. “Thank you, Mabel, may I keep this book? I will treasure it.” Mabel replied, in a normal voice, “I love you, Grandma.” She hadn’t spoken in months. They both looked at each other deeply, with joy at seeing the best in each other.

Grandma waited with trepidation for Mabel’s visits and new books. She started buying her second-hand books for her art. Her daughter was displeased but had to recognize Mabel was doing better and started talking again. Grandma praised the child when Mabel was not in the room and encouraged her daughter to read the books with an open mind. When she finally did, she was an instant convert. Of course, the child still had to curb her actions, as the parents could not afford to replace library and school books. As everybody, Mabel redacted what she heard as well. Unlike others, she was well aware of the filters she was applying and could regurgitate the official line “Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492” instead of her own version where Columbus covered America. She had her own opinions about life, and freely expressed them. She was deemed an activist by age 4, a rebel by 5, a revolutionary by 6. Her parents did not know what to expect in her teenage years. She was expelled from high school which was later seen as proof of her genius.

Her assassination at age 35 rocked the artistic community. She had done so much in so little time, and touched so many lives, that her funeral drew hundreds and was covered by the media. Mourners left redacted works at the spot of her murder where they stood vigil. The murderer’s name had been redacted, never to be uttered, banished from memory.


The sound wave hit me with the staccato of a jackhammer, syllables resonating until my eyes grew wide and my jaw slacked. I searched around the room for a fellow reaction. Our eyes locked and we swallowed our faces. Tearing away our gaze, we feigned an indifference we did not feel. Allowing feeling would put us in harm’s way so we joined in the revelry until such time as we could leave. I pretexted a headache, not really a pretext as the tightening of my jaw was threatening to detonate my head. I did not acknowledge to myself the depth of the despair that had engulfed me.

I left the party early as it was a school day. My fellow gazer was retching outside. I had consumed two beers before hearing the news – my lips had touched the rim of the glass since but nothing else had gone down. The plants near where I had stood all night would be pretty hung over in the morning. I waited for him to regain his composure and we walked away together, though we had been stranger before that eye contact.

I had rehearsed the discussion many times during the evening but now it all seemed superfluous. Of course he knew her. How they had met did not really matter. Their relationship was obviously strong – he did not strike me as a possible sibling. Perhaps boyfriend material or confidante. I bet he was asking himself the same thing. What I wanted to know was if I could count on him for action. And did he have a plan? We turned to each other at the same time, eyes locking again, again refraining from talking. Ears everywhere. He indicated a trail in the bush and took it without checking whether I was following. I was, of course. We walked slowly, with an economy of moves. I felt numb, focusing on being discreet, summoning my inner tracker, the invisible one who walked noiselessly. We happened on an old silo – that was to be our destination. He knew the way in. The rust and dust reassured me. It was low and confined. There was no other exit than the entrance. Not an ideal scenario but the fact that he knew of its existence hinted at more.

I was not guarded around him and allowed myself to turn my back to him as I took in the surroundings. Some type of husks on the dirt floor, obviously remnants of the foodstuff the silo had housed. A pitchfork in a corner, its tines twisted so that it was no longer usable as a tool or a weapon. He showed me wires, the pitchfork, made white noise with his mouth. Ah, it used to connect to one of those devices that made white noise where clandestine meetings were held. I raised my eyebrows. He shrugged. We moved on.

We sat on the ground and spoke in hushed tones, the emotions we had withheld rushing out in a cascading river of hurt and urgency, boulders of silence diverting the flow now and then, eddies of anguish throwing us off course until we settled on an unhurried pace, dried tears on our cheeks. Our moist eyes and bared white fangs gleamed in the half-light. He was more practiced in the art of survival. He did not seem overly affected by the drinks he had imbibed earlier. His mind seemed clear, his plan simple: revenge at all costs.