Peter van Straten Art by Peter van Straten

The most beautiful day in the world

A late summer afternoon in Johannesburg, and the teatime sunlight slanted down in straight lines through the canopy of leaves overhead.

“Like light through the bullet holes in an old abandoned fridge,” thought Michael van Zyl.

He was more or less walking down a broad avenue of Jacaranda trees with other children from his school. He wore grey pants and a blazer that was brown with golden stripes.

He shuffled his left leg forward, then dragged his right leg behind him, his right arm swinging in a spastic arc at his side. His left hand clutched his school case with a tight claw. This style of moving was excellent because it was so much slower than everyone else’s, and that meant that he could spend more time looking at the girls. Girls who were talking intimately sometimes walked almost as slowly as him.

They were so beautiful it was incredible. He knew it couldn’t be true: but he even felt that his class was like the best class in the world. Or that this was the best day ever in the world for God. And he was in it, with the guys from his class!

Michelle Lotz lived in the same road as him. Everyday he walked passed her garden. Once he saw her panty at school when she kneeled on one leg to put something in her suitcase. That’s the thing: he had actually seen that!

Michael’s eyes shone. He constantly had to make sucking noises as he moved along because his lips couldn’t quite close properly and so he got a lot of spit forming in the right hand corner of his mouth and it always felt as if it was just about to run down his chin.

Three bigger boys walked passed him, two on one side, one on the other, and the one’s blazer brushed against him. They were matrics and, compared to him, they were running the hundred metres all the time.

He looked down at the bees that were investigating fallen jacaranda blossoms. The bees were crazy. They must have known that all the kids came out at the same time each day – except for Fridays – but still they hovered around, having to get out of the way the whole time.

Another group of boys came past him from behind. They were grade nines. One of them, Dion Ogilvee, drooled and dragged his leg for a moment as he passed. Michael smiled. It wouldn’t have looked like it to anyone but he did, and his whole brain felt warm. He wished he could have walked like Dion Ogilvee for a moment.

On the other side of the road walked Ashley Dean and Nomi Sisulu. They were doing that thing that girls sometimes did with their school bags – holding them with both hands behind their backs and letting them fall against their calves as they rose and fell. Slomp slamp slomp slamp. That would also have been awesome, he thought, to walk like Ashley and Nomi. Then Michael got the idea that for the school play he would just practice walking like Dion Oglivee and then like Ashley and Nomi. That’s all he would do.

This was the funniest thought he had had the whole day and he let out a strange sort of moan. It was so funny that he couldn’t catch the little bit of spit in the corner of his mouth in time and also his head felt itchy on the sides. His whole head felt like a huge hole of a smile and it was like that kind of itchiness you get from yawning.

The kids had started thinning out now. Only kids who had been kept in after class, or girls who were having very serious conversations were left and the avenue was becoming quiet. This quietness was the most massive, massive wave.

It was exactly to the tops of the trees and he was underwater walking on the sand. Sometimes when he saw how things actually were he thought he might get a heart attack. Things were so incredible that he couldn’t believe he was actually seeing them happen!

When he heard no more children coming from behind him he stopped to rest. He let his head roll back so that it could just lie on his shoulders and give his neck a rest. He looked up into the arms of the Jacaranda trees and he saw a squirrel talking to a bird.

They were on the same branch and they were facing each other and they were making noises. Michael laughed again. This time it sounded like someone rapidly opening and closing a squeaky cupboard door. That was the funniest thing: he never knew from one time to the next how his laugh was going to come out. It always depended on the position of his head. Then the squirrel and the bird stopped talking and looked at him. Michael smiled at them with the reflections in the liquid on the surfaces of his eyes then he carried on moving forward again.

He knew it was statistically unlikely, but still, it really felt like this was the best day in the world, ever! For him, sure, but mainly for the world itself. It was a good day for the world. That was the whole thing. It’s true that he often thought a certain day was the best day ever, but he had been influenced by something he had realized about three months ago, and that was that everything was trying its best! Even the pavement was trying its absolute best to be the pavement. That was The Rule of The World: every single thing in existence was literally doing its absolute best to be itself. Once you understood that you could understand the Big Bang, and then you could understand that the Big Bang was continuing everywhere all the time! Even an ant or a grain of sand, he had realized, was like the most hectic atomic explosion! Every molecule of everything was like a pinprick in the blackness, through which all the light that ever was, was shining! It was incredible, and he was so lucky to know it.

Michael started to rise slowly and gracefully into the air. He moved forward through the air about one hundred metres, and then sank softly to the pavement again. The massive wave of silence broke around him, bringing a breeze in its aftermath, and a thousand jacaranda flowers trickled down. One of the flowers fell right on Michael’s eye. It felt cold. He slowly tipped his head to the side and the flower fell out.

About half an hour after the last of the children had vanished from sight, Michael arrived at his block of flats.

It was called “Tillbury” and there were actually only four flats, two at the top and two at the bottom. His flat was the first on the bottom but he still had to go up seven steps to get to his and his Mom’s door.

Today was Tuesday, so Patience wouldn’t be there to help him, but Anthea was always there. Anthea was Mrs. Wheelan’s cat, from number four. Michael had learned his love of the stairs from Anthea. As he lay down against the steps to start his ascent she rubbed her back against his face and then rubbed her cheeks against the step, and then she started drooling. It was the funniest thing in the world, and Michael laughed and laughed as he pulled himself up the steps. This time, he realized, his laugh sounded exactly like the dustbin at his aunt’s house, which was one of those dustbins with a pedal that you stand on to make the lid go open.

Anthea was actually in love with him. It was the best thing! Imagine someone actually being in love with you.

He couldn’t go up with his school case at the same time so he unraveled the string that was tied to the handle and went up without it. After about ten minutes he got to the top.

He rolled over onto his back to rest. Anthea was purring so loudly now that it sounded like a little engine of a boat or something. She purred her drool all over his face, and he lay there staring at the bottom of the stairs that went up to three and four, and he laughed, and laughed and laughed. Firstly he laughed because he had reached the top, which always felt incredible. Secondly he laughed because he had just worked out why Anthea was in love with him: it was because she thought he was trying to be a cat! He just knew it! She thought he went up the steps like that because he also wanted to rub his cheeks against the tops of the shiny, warm, red steps!

He was so happy about realizing this that his chest got very sore.

Suddenly he felt utterly overwhelmed by it all. He was probably having a heart attack, because:

1.He was the luckiest person in the world, (because he knew that he was the luckiest.)

2.He knew the rule of the world. Which is that everything is really trying its best just to be itself !

and !

3.He knew the best thing in the world! He was actually having the best thing in the world right there and then. It was so incredible. (The best thing in the world is when you are lying on your back at the top of some steps, with someone that’s in love with you.)

It was the most beautiful day in the world.

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