The Jazz Box That Haunted Me


What a pity that the sound of a trumpet reminds me of a wrinkled old man who drank his youth away! For my high school graduation, my mother handed me a treasure box filled with old records.

“Your father would have loved for you to have this,” she said in her chair-screeching-like voice.

I was not a musician, a record collector or hoarder of musical items.  I have no interest in things that sound like cars beeping in a Johannesburg traffic jam during rush hour; sounds of goats getting slaughtered or metals beaten together to create a melody. I was not tempted to be polite or appreciative of the gift but I had already stretched out my arm in respect of my mother’s gesture. These records hid under my mother’s bed like an envelope waiting to be handed over to its owner.

I watched my mother place them in my arms and her dazzling eyes meeting our record player, inviting me to play it. I watched as her eyes fill with water like a bath tub waiting for someone to hop into it. With each goat-sounding note that hit across the room from the record player, droplets of defeat hung in her eyes. Perhaps her tears were not that of a woman proud of her son for being the first one to obtain a high school diploma. It was the tears of a woman who filled with agony. Anguished by loving a man who had chosen an instrument over her and her son. It was tears of a woman who ran away from her home to help a trumpet boy become a star. She had been warned of trumpet boys like my father. Boys who carried trumpets were said to have empty tin-like heads—they cluttered space with their noise and sold dreams to young girls. They were the reason why young girls like my mother neglected engineering scholarships, and chose men who worshiped the throbbing sound of a saxophone; men whose voices infused in the thick air.

“I can’t believe we regard such noise as music,” I burst into laughter hoping to straighten the frown on my mother’s face. She gasped in laughter, a worried sigh and goggled my cold enjoyment of the tune that gave me deadly migraines.

That evening, I went to bed thinking about my father’s goat sounding voice. I hid his voice where old secrets are archived—in the past where they should remain. Hearing it was like being woken up from a good dream and forced to live in a nightmare. His voice was like being put into the same room as the devil, all over again, after being delivered from his demonic possession. It hung in the air like a stench of death and past pain that remains unforgiven. I forced myself to hang the records like trophies of a man who gratified himself by dragging wife’s head on the floor whenever he was drunk, and I would be forcing my teeth between his left leg, while fisting his lower thigh.

With each sunray fighting through my curtains, I was wrestling with sleep and my father’s demonic voice. Our narrow, cheaply furnished and low hanging ceiling apartment mounted in between buildings facing a barren field. I booted the windows of my bedroom like a man possessed and the records flew across the field.

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