The Restless Supermarket
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"Vladislavic is amazing!"—Teju Cole
It is 1993, and Aubrey Tearle's world is shutting down. He has recently retired from a lifetime of proofreading telephone directories. His favorite neighborhood haunt in Johannesburg, the Café Europa, is about to close its doors; the familiar old South Africa is already gone. Standards, he grumbles, are in decline, so bad-tempered, conservative Tearle embarks on a grandiose plan to enlighten his fellow citizens. The results are disastrous, hilarious, and poignant.
Ivan Vladislavic is the author of a number of prize-winning fiction and nonfiction books. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
* They came shouting ‘Viva!’ and dancing the highveld fling. A mob. Capering about like baboons. From the Latin babewynus: an Old World monkey with naked callosities on its buttocks. To think that the Café Europa had once been a haven in an urban jungle, and now the jungle was in here too, on our side of the pale. I looked for a fist waving an apple as a credible excuse, but found no such comfort. Hunky Dory ran away. The hurdy-gurdy soldiered on without him. Patronymić flung Bogey down in a
turned to the crossword, painstakingly removed the straight clues, and went on with the puzzle. So I had the opportunity to measure his skill against my own after all. I discovered that he was a very good crossword solver indeed. Almost superhuman. He usually finished the puzzle in under fifteen minutes! At least, I assumed that he finished it, although I could not tell at that distance. Proofreaders (one may retire from the post but not the profession) generally have suspicious minds and long
to the problem of declining standards lay with the individual, in the revivification of outmoded notions of personal responsibility, and so I turned from tending my garden to ‘cleaning up my own backyard’, as the expression goes (in point of fact, I don’t have a backyard at all). I am no Dictionary-thumper and I try to be tactful, but my patience was often tested. Take the Haifa débâcle. The speciality of the Haifa Hebrew Restaurant was not, as one might have expected, traditional delicacies
name was Emergy. That Ali Baba had a brother Cassim (not nearly as famous, but treacherous as a snake). And she once told me, without batting an eyelid, that Judy Garland had been born Frances Gumm, which surprised me no end. After I’d introduced her to the System of Records, she started bringing in her reference books and lists to show me. There issued from the black bag in rapid succession (I was keeping track in my notebook) anatomical charts of the alimentary canal, the musculature, the
portents?’ I asked, being friendly. ‘Excellent, Aubrey. We’re going to give you a wonderful send-off.’ Silly old bat. You’d think it was a farewell do for me. We ascended in Indian file, nostalgically and irritably respectively. The Café Europa was dark. I could barely make out the sign on the door: Private Function – Members Only. We stepped into the coffee-stained hush. Paper chains strung from the ceiling, and looped over one another, sketched a series of vaults upon the twilight above. A