A bookshelf, a bed and a teak railway-issue desk.  Thick and solid and on that table I worked and worked and re-worked my manuscript.  I might sit down and only get up ten hours later.  I’d often re-write a section that took me four hours to write.

Sometimes I beautified my room with a vase of cornflowers or purple irises.  There were prints on my wall.  Pink harlequins in the Spanish desert.  A woman bent over an ironing board in a navy blue dress.  An old man with a guitar against a pale blue sea.

I was trying to develop an understanding of a historical period on the one hand; and, on the other, I was coming to terms with the present and that had a lot to do with the lifestyle I was leading.  The magnitude of what I was trying to achieve seemed endless.  It was frustrating trying to blend the minutiae of research with the philosophical vision I was developing.  How could the two be combined?  Was I being practical.  The fact that I did not have the support of my immediate family was soul-destroying.

I sent all my worldly belongings up to Johannesburg in a blue steel trunk.  The same trunk I had used to transport my things down to Cape Town when I had embarked on my studies.  I returned to Cape Town at the beginning of 1997 with a bundle of clothing and some computer disks.  Seven painstaking years at UCT were drawing to a close.  I was at a watershed in my life.  What would I do now?  I needed a change.  I felt like I was just wasting away, ‘I am twenty-three years old, but I am waking up tired.  My peers are at the peak of their physical and mental powers.  And I am just wasting away!’  I began to exercise, read holy scriptures and work more consistently on my MA thesis.

I would scuttle out of the bakkie, off De Waal drive, and walk along the footpath that flanked Newlands Forest.  I sometimes walked past the abandoned zoo, overrun with creepers and grass, where Cecil John Rhodes kept his lions.  I sometimes rested on the gardens outside the Arts Faculty, until the sprinklers were released and woke me up.  Devil’s Peak loomed majestically in the blue sky.  UCT was a mix of modern and classical architecture.  The train ride to Fishoek flanked False Bay from Muizemburg.  I liked to look over the sea – now turquoise, now silver-grey and deep blue – and let my mind settle on some thought or other.  Andrew’s house was a ten minute walk from the train station.  It was dark by the time I got home.

‘You are a real non-coper, Michael.  Don’t you know, there’s no room for the weak’, my mother’s harsh words rang over in my head.  Why did I have to participate in your madness?  Why did we have to have highways and shopping-malls and cars, cars, cars.  All I wanted was to be happy.  To live a life of peace.  The parables of Jesus Christ inspired me.  Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.  A man is walking in a field and he finds a treasure.  What does he do?  He goes and sells everything he owns, and buys that field’.  What was that treasure?  The Kingdom of God.  By giving up our material attachments, we can purchase our heart’s true treasure – the Spiritual Kingdom.

I began to identify with the young prince, Siddhartha.  His father, detecting his leanings towards spiritual life, sheltered him from the sufferings of this world.  He lived in the penthouse of the palace in a room with a ceiling like the sky and many beautiful young women.  He asked the driver of his chariot to stop when he saw a man squirming at the side of the road.  His driver said, ‘This is a man with a terrible disease’.  On another occasion he saw a very elderly person and his driver said, ‘This is someone who is afflicted with old age’.  On a third occasion they saw a dead corpse in the road.  ‘What is this?’, asked the young prince.  ‘That is death’, responded his driver.  One night he passed the sleeping beauties of his harem and climbed over the walls of his father’s palace and left for a life of introspection in the forest.  Seeing the rotting leaves on the ground, he determined that there must be more to life than sensual pleasures.

My personal victories seemed limited to the restricted goals and expectations of both family and teachers.  Life was bigger than my little world.  There was a deep need within myself for personal improvement, but I didn’t know where to begin.  By slowly giving up bad habits like drinking and smoking and eating meat, I realized that there was more to life than studying and hanging out in pool-bars.  I remember seeing a film about an alcoholic footballer who pulled his life together  with my father when I was eight years old.

I liked to read philosophy when I woke up in the morning.  Afterwards, I’d read from the Bible or from Buddhist writings.  I would bath, take a light breakfast and get ready to go to Campus.  I lived like a monk: no TV, no music or social life.  My only recreation was exercise.  I found that I only really needed potatoes, pasta and rice for energy.  I was slowly phasing meat out of my diet.  I took cold showers and practised celibacy.  I developed an ethic of exercise, morality and self-improvement.  Around this time, I remember driving back from a party from Teena and Andrew’s house.  I slapped my hands against the steering wheel of my red Volkswagen Beetle and said, ‘Enough! This must stop!’  From that moment, I quit drinking completely.

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