by Eric G. Müller
I was almost done spraying a blue, sickle moon on the concrete wall of the upper level of Senate House when I heard the shout – more like a wild, guttural bark.  Having uttered that savage war-cry, the night watchman gave chase.  Both John and I jumped up and ran – we didn’t quite know where, but in the opposite direction of the hulk.  At the end of the landing we pushed through a glass door and hurtled down the long hallway, lined with offices.  I looked back and saw the colossal, African brandishing his lethal knobkerrie, his army-green coat flapping like giant bat wings on either side of him.  His heavy boots hammered the floor like nine inch nails into the cross of our crime, amplified by the cavernous building.  This was no joke; we hadn’t anticipated this.  It had never even occurred to us that we might get caught.
It had begun innocently enough, as we sat in the courtyard one morning, sipping coffee.  We’d looked around and noted how ugly Senate House was, compared to the other stately buildings at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.  Every concrete wall was a drab grey – no color anywhere.  We’d change that.  Armed with an arsenal of aerosol cans we returned late that night and spray painted a slew of pretty pictures all over the walls.
The next day they’d already assigned a crew to get rid of the paint.  Later, while nobody was around, we stuck a crude poster onto the scaffolding: “Paint this place or we’ll strike again!”  As expected, nothing happened, and a week later we struck again.  In the narrow a.m. hours of the night we returned and set to work, covering the walls with not so pretty pictures – peace and anarchy signs, random and abstract shapes and forms.  John, an art major, was dancing like a banshee in front of the walls, delivering bold movements, full of momentum and strength of line.  My attempts were less successful, but I hummed along with the polyphonic hiss of aerosol, a Colt-Can in each hand, shooting color over the barren concrete.  I was spewing the finishing touches on that sickle moon when our ecstatic act of idealistic, but misguided, vandalism got eclipsed by the aboriginal battle cry.  That’s when we saw him – and that’s when we ran!
Intermittently, and above the frenetic polyrhythm of the wild chase, the giant guard bellowed, which sounded like a chilling invocation inaugurating a ritual killing.  When I glanced over my shoulder he looked like evil incarnate – a projection of our own culpability.  Our hemorrhaged fear morphed him into a preternatural apparition, and the unleashed beast was gaining on us.  His wrath fueled him on.  He was as intent on catching us as we were intent on getting away.  Coming to a stairwell we leaped down five, eight, ten steps at a time, holding onto the railing as we turned to race down the next flight of stairs.  Luckily for us the stairs slowed him down.  We reached ground level and were stopped by another glass door – the only way out.  In a panic I thought: what if it’s locked!  But it wasn’t and we escaped into the shadows.  We scampered into the dark and hid behind the auditorium.  As soon as we heard his heavy footsteps and coarse panting we doubled back to the engineering department, on the west side of campus, opposite Senate House.  After catching our breath in an alcove we made a dash for the M1 and crossed over the walkway to the parking lot on the other side, where we jumped into our waiting VW bug and sped off.  We’d escaped.
Over the next few days we watched the expanded work crew scrupulously remove the graffiti, though they missed my little, blue moon.  By now we’d had enough of pursuing our beautification plan.  Moreover, we felt a tad remorseful about our juvenile behavior – especially in regard to the night watchman, whose time we’d wasted through our delinquent behavior. Yet, we couldn’t help but brag about our subversive exploits to our friends.  Soon enough John and I settled down to serious work again and forgot the incident.
A few weeks later, while sitting in my favorite spot in the William Cullen library, overlooking the expansive library lawn, a fellow student approached and told me I was wanted by the administration.  I was ushered into an office behind the Great hall.  Of course, I intimated immediately what it was all about.  And I admitted everything to the kindly old gentleman who questioned me from behind his hardwood, paper-crammed desk.  It would have been futile to do otherwise; John had already confessed.  An acquaintance of ours had split on us.
An on-campus court case followed and we were facing expulsion.  Both John and I were about to graduate.  We were only weeks away from the final exams.  To lose everything now would be a catastrophe.  We hired a law student to defend us – it was his first case.  The court proceedings were formal and drawn out.  This was serious business.  And in the light of the consequences our escapade seemed not only juvenile, but downright infantile.
In the end we got off with a hefty fine, which drained me of most of the money I’d saved for my trip to Europe (to escape the apartheid system and South Africa’s military service).  I paid it willingly, thankful that I could still graduate without forfeiting my degree.  I wonder what the night watchman would have said had they brought him in to testify.  The haunting image of him chasing us down the hallway still remains indelibly etched in my mind.

0 thoughts on “Graffiti

  1. I was glued to this piece and read it straight thru. I’m assuming it to be from long ago when the apartheid system was prevalent in South Africa. I appreciated the craft in storytelling here and am wondering now if it was an actual account. hmm. In any case, with anachronisms like “His heavy boots hammered the floor like nine inch nails into the cross of our crime” at least tells me it’s written with present-world perspective–excellent simile by the way! Who says you can’t have poetic craft in flash fiction? lol.
    I found the writing style very descriptive and colorful…like the main action in the story. Metaphors abound–comparing spray cans to Colt 45′s and it’s like the writer is really into the main character’s heads–their youthful needs to speak out and express…and their foolhardiness! Wonderful read! thx!

  2. Yes, it’s a story from long ago when the apartheid system was still the reigning beast. And yes, it did happen (with some added creative brushstrokes — or aerosol hisses). I appreciate your comments.

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