The Power of One
Peekay awakens on the train to see "koppies" (little hills) and "lowveld" (bushland) flashing by outside. He finds a letter and a ten-shilling note attached to the front of his shirt-it is from Hoppie. Hoppie tells Peekay that the ten-shilling note is the money Peekay won from his bet, and in the note he reminds Peekay that "Small can beat big" and "first with the head and then with the heart." Peekay is upset that Hoppie has disappeared from his life, but realizes that Hoppie has given him something to take away-the power of one. Peekay defines this as "one idea, one heart, one mind, one plan, one determination." Soon Peekay notices a stench in the train compartment. He looks down from his bunk to see Big Hettie, fully dressed, sprawled on the bed below "like a beached sperm whale." She reeks of brandy. When Peekay returns from the toilets, he finds that Big Hettie has half-collapsed onto the floor, with her dress over her ears. Peekay restores her to a normal position by shifting her legs onto the ground. Big Hettie belches in reply and Peekay exclaims "Boy, did she stink!" The conductor, Pik Botha, arrives and gives a melodramatic lament when he realizes that Big Hettie is on his train. He gets even angrier when he discovers that Peekay's ticket is not clipped, and he blames it on Hoppie. Peekay pleads for Hoppie and succeeds.
Pik Botha takes Peekay to breakfast, where the boy meets Hennie Venter, a waiter. When they return to the compartment, Botha—a born-again Christian—tells Peekay that Hettie is a "good example of God's terrible vengeance." Hettie, however, wakes up to defend herself, calling Botha a "self- righteous little shit." She sends Peekay to fetch water for her. Peekay returns, and looks after Hettie by cooling her chest with a damp cloth. Hettie orders Botha to engineer a way to get her out of the compartment since she cannot get up. As Botha attempts to climb over Hettie to get a grasp on her, Hettie belches and Botha falls on top of her. Hettie begins to laugh and Peekay realizes that they are "in a real pickle." They try a different tactic, with both Botha and Peekay pulling. Peekay loses his grip, however, and falls into Botha's crotch, causing him enormous pain in his "waterworks." They give up for the moment, and Hettie orders a lavish breakfast for herself and Peekay from Hennie. Peekay, not hungry, gives his helping to Hettie, who scoffs everything. While Hettie eats, she tells Peekay that Hoppie could have been a famous boxer if it were not for the fact that he does not know how to hate. Peekay decides that he needs to learn how to hate. Hettie also tells Peekay about her love affair with a flyweight, who used to beat her up because he could not beat up his opponents. He died of a brain hemorrhage, during a match.
Peekay watches Hettie binge herself on food all day, and intuitively realizes that he is witnessing "a sickness or a sadness or even both." Hettie cries for herself, and Peekay comforts her. That afternoon the train arrives at the Kaapmuiden station. The railwaymen have to employ monkey wrenches to try to get Hettie out of the compartment. After telling Peekay she has faith in his becoming a great boxer, she dies quietly.
In Chapter Seven, Peekay takes a detour, describing the tragicomic events that occur on his train ride between the towns of Gravelotte and Kaapmuiden. Big Hettie is representative of the "passing characters" pattern in the novel-some characters remain, while others coexist only briefly with Peekay. As with Hoppie, Peekay takes something away from Big Hettie. He learns about pride and courage. Peekay is learning how to absorb the essence of other people, how to remember what they say. Thus, "the power of one" does not refer to an individualistic sentiment, but rather to an all-encompassing notion, which acknowledges that the individual is shaped by all those people who pass through his life, whether for a brief or lengthy time.
Peekay describes the events of the novel with humor and compassion; events are often both funny and sad. Big Hettie becomes one of the novel's caricatured, burlesque characters, and this chapter could almost be called a tribute to her. Chapter Seven thus deviates from the overarching plot. Hoppie's letter to Peekay, included at the beginning of the chapter, also works to disrupt the neat, narrative flow and-as Peekay's first letter (and wager won)-it acts as a kind of mark of initiation into a more adult world. The "toilet humor" apparent in this chapter (Big Hettie's belches, for example) not only works as part of the burlesque, but constructs an invisible hierarchy amongst the characters- proximity to bodily
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