Reading 23

The following passage is adapted from the short story “Exile” by Rose Moss. Here, the South African narrator struggles to adjust to life in the United States.

  1. The road twisted and heaved.
  2. They had come off the smooth
  3. turnpike, homogeneous from
  4. Virginia to Maine, that made
  5. Stephen feel that this whole lecture
  6. tour was a hallucination in which
  7. distance had no more dimension
  8. than in a dream. Every road was
  9. the same road. The arrangement
  10. played with slightly differing signs
  11. and overpasses, discreet banks of
  12. grass, and trees that only gradually
  13. and reluctantly admitted the grey
  14. agglomeration of cities whose
  15. suburbs had long been
  16. suppressed by the same green
  17. uniform as the countryside. At last
  18. off the highway, an idiosyncratic
  19. thrust from the land moulded the
  20. road into a pliant index of fields
  21. and streams, pulled straight over
  22. flats, packed more densely in
  23. steep valleys and rises. From the
  24. dancing swell of the road he could
  25. imagine himself back on the
  26. stretch between Mooi River and
  27. Pietermaritzburg where frequent
  28. mists nourished the land, and
  29. cattle condensed the airy whiteness
  30. into substances richly edible—for
  31. those who could afford to buy
  32. them.
  33. But every now and then a leafy
  34. intrusion over the road caught
  35. his eyes, the uneven bars of a
  36. wooden fence, or irregular stone
  37. globules of a wall, and Stephen
  38. was reminded by these foreign
  39. shapes and colours that he was not
  40. on that Natal road, he was
  41. somewhere in New England, going
  42. to spend the night in a strange
  43. house among strangers. These
  44. sights, like foreign substances
  45. grafted among the tissues of what
  46. he had seen, lived, and
  47. compounded into organic
  48. constituents of his own self set up
  49. a resistance. Each reminder that
  50. he was not home accelerated an
  51. irritation, a process of rejection.
  52. His body, his perception, the
  53. accumulated chemicals of his own
  54. being barred these alien elements
  55. and tried to seal their pernicious
  56. proximity off from himself,
  57. to expel all toxic strangeness.
  58. He shut his eyes. He did not want
  59. to think that if he did not learn
  60. how to assimilate America there
  61. would be nothing left for him to
  62. see, no place where he could retain
  63. that dwindling self he felt to be
  64. his own. He thought of his brother
  65. and the dusty soccer field where
  66. they used to play when their
  67. mother went off with the baby
  68. and a bundle of washing wrapped
  69. in a sheet, to the white city where
  70. she worked until night came.
  71. How did that theme shape him?
  72. His host was also a composer.
  73. Stephen had heard a quartet by
  74. him. It had been played at one of
  75. the colleges where Stephen had
  76. contributed to a symposium on
  77. modern music. There had been
  78. lectures and workshops during the
  79. day. In the evening there was a
  80. concert and Ken Bradley’s String
  81. Quartet, cited as an example of
  82. some of the finest composition in
  83. the United States, was played to
  84. instruct an audience that might
  85. find such compositions hard to
  86. come by. To Stephen, the quartet
  87. seemed unintelligible, thin, and
  88. boring, but he blamed his response
  89. on his own ignorance. Ken’s
  90. quartet was one of the many signs,
  91. like billboards on the road, that
  92. said to Stephen, “We don’t speak
  93. to you. We are not written in your
  94. language. You have nothing to
  95. say to us.”
  96. The car slowed, turned up a
  97. driveway, and they had come.
  98. “We’re here,” Janet announced
  99. smiling. This was her home.
  100. Stephen smiled to her. They were
  101. so kind. Ken opened the door and
  102. light flared out of the amber hall
  103. over damp steps. Inside there was
  104. more light.
  105. “Why don’t we wash and have a
  106. drink while Janet’s preparing
  107. supper” Ken suggested. “I’ll show
  108. you to your room,” and he took
  109. Stephen’s suitcase, which he had
  110. already fetched from the car. He
  111. led the way up carpeted stairs,
  112. pointed out the bathroom, and
  113. gestured inside the doorway of a
  114. room at the end of the passage.
  115. “This is yours. See you downstairs.”
  116. Stephen noted the artefacts of
  117. someone else’s life. A childhood
  118. unimaginably like his own
  119. surrounded him. Behind the bed
  120. hung a drawing of the beach.
  121. The sea was a properly undulating
  122. blue on whose conventional waves
  123. there sailed the black outline of a
  124. yacht, innocent of the relatively
  125. immense fish whose profile stood
  126. mute, motionless, and symbolic
  127. between it and the yellow and
  128. purple sand, where a green scribble
  129. suggested grass. In a low bookcase
  130. under the window, children’s books
  131. about shells and birds, Webster’s
  132. illustrate dictionary, a microscope
  133. under a plastic cover, indicated
  134. another layer of the American
  135. boy’s life. The most recent stratum
  136. was evidenced near the dressing
  137. table where a poster of Humphrey
  138. Bogart ignored college pennants
  139. and the image of the alien in the
  140. mirror.