Excerpt of Disgrace by J M Coetzee
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FOR A MAN of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the
problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point.
Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor
Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is
Soraya. He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and
softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe,
slides into bed beside him. 'Have you missed me?' she asks. 'I miss you all the
time,' he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he
stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.
Soraya is tall and slim, with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. Technically
he is old enough to be her father; but then, technically, one can be a father at
twelve. He has been on her books for over a year; he finds her entirely
satisfactory. In the desert of the week Thursday has become an oasis of luxe et
In bed Soraya is not effusive. Her temperament is in fact rather quiet, quiet
and docile. In her general opinions she is surprisingly moralistic. She is
offended by tourists who bare their breasts ('udders', she calls them) on public
beaches; she thinks vagabonds should be rounded up and put to work sweeping the
streets. How she reconciles her opinions with her line of business he does not
Because he takes pleasure in her, because his pleasure is unfailing, an
affection has grown up in him for her. To some degree, he believes, this
affection is reciprocated. Affection may not be love, but it is at least its
cousin. Given their unpromising beginnings, they have been lucky, the two of
them: he to have found her, she to have found him.
His sentiments are, he is aware, complacent, even uxorious. Nevertheless he does
not cease to hold to them.
For a ninety-minute session he pays her R400, of which half goes to Discreet
Escorts. It seems a pity that Discreet Escorts should get so much. But they own
No. 113 and other flats in Windsor Mansions; in a sense they own Soraya too,
this part of her, this function.
He has toyed with the idea of asking her to see him in her own time. He would
like to spend an evening with her, perhaps even a whole night. But not the
morning after. He knows too much about himself to subject her to a morning
after, when he will be cold, surly, impatient to be alone.
That is his temperament. His temperament is not going to change, he is too old
for that. His temperament is fixed, set. The skull, followed by the temperament:
the two hardest parts of the body.
Follow your temperament. It is not a philosophy, he would not dignify it with
that name. It is a rule, like the Rule of St Benedict.
He is in good health, his mind is clear. By profession he is, or has been, a
scholar, and scholarship still engages, intermittently, the core of him. He
lives within his income, within his temperament, within his emotional means. Is
he happy? By most measurements, yes, he believes he is. However, he has not
forgotten the last chorus of Oedipus: Call no man happy until he is dead.
In the field of sex his temperament, though intense, has never been passionate.
Were he to choose a totem, it would be the snake. Intercourse between Soraya and
himself must be, he imagines, rather like the copulation of snakes: lengthy,
absorbed, but rather abstract, rather dry, even at its hottest.
Is Soraya's totem the snake too? No doubt with other men she becomes another
woman: la donna è mobile. Yet at the level of temperament her affinity with him
can surely not be feigned.
Though by occupation she is a loose woman he trusts her, within limits. During
their sessions he speaks to her with a certain freedom, even on occasion
unburdens himself. She knows the facts of his life. She has heard the stories of
his two marriages, knows about his daughter and his daughter's ups and downs.
She knows many of his opinions.
From "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee. (c) November, 1999,
used by permission of the publisher, Penguin Group.