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Records Cards

‘You look like him you know.’

She didn’t know. Her father was invisible to her. He went to work. He came home. He seldom laughed. Then he died. And her mum never mentioned him again after the funeral. Nothing. Ever Again. She couldn’t imagine resembling him in any way, even thought she wanted to a bit. Especially now that she was searching for him.

‘I can’t remember what he looked like.’

‘Tea?’ Modise asks, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. He uses a match to switch on the gas, carefully puts a pot filled with water on the ring of fire and then adds the teabags. She doesn’t say that she likes her tea weak. They stand uncomfortably, waiting for the tea to boil. The silence between them grows, like the clouds outside. Modise puts the pot and a faded Kaizer Chiefs mug on the table. It has two chips on the lip. They sit down at the matching yellow melamine table opposite each other. She’d packed up a similar looking one in her mother’s house the week before.

The room feels familiar in a peculiar way. But it also doesn’t. Maybe it’s the smell. Smokey in here. Pipe smoke maybe.

She’d found Modise F. Mopane quite quickly. In fact it was the first name to pop up in the browser when she searched for him. A Jazz enthusiast it said. He’d agreed to meet her. And now, right here, she feels out of her depth. As if she’s doing something she isn’t supposed to be doing. She feels like running. Back to her flat in a so-called white suburb, back to the smells of coffee and freshly cut grass. Trees towering over power lines. The old man’s eyes are muddy. Would he even be able to help her?

She decides to pour the tea, spills a bit.

‘I remember him so well. Sometimes it’s as if he’s around every corner you know. Just like the police. They drive past here, to mess with an old man’s head.’

Anne doesn’t know what to say. She looks at him, and then at the brown leather case at her feet. She’d been so sure that Modise would have all the answers. He had to have all the answers. She needs to show him the contents of the case, but she can’t yet. She takes a sip of tea. It’s too strong.

***

Anne packs up her mother’s house. She finds nothing that she’s after. She unearths small things like tins of zam-buk, a few curtain hooks, her mother’s driver’s license, a bookmark with a verse from the Bible printed at the bottom. There’s nothing of her father. The drawers must have been cleaned out when he died. Did her mother really keep nothing of him? It’s as if he never lived.

And then she finds it. In a place she never thought of looking. The garage. She never knew there were shelves in there with crates stacked upon them, one on top of the other, almost reaching the ceiling. All marked, and alphabetically labelled. Right at the top, on the extreme left, she spots one labeled André Personal. Her heart beats faster. She gets on a ladder. She struggles to lower the box, but she manages. She carries it off to the empty living room, and starts unpacking the contents.

At first it seems to be filled with newspapers. She checks the dates. All from the eighties. Are they significant? She can’t tell. In her frustration, she’s tempted to swear, but she doesn’t. She holds back.

She remembers her father coming home at exactly 5:30 every day. He was never late. He never talked about his work. It was forbidden. So many things were forbidden. Loud laughter. Yelling. Parties. Asking questions. Her next find is a stack of cards. At first they look blank, but when she takes the elastic off, and starts shuffling through them, she sees they are filled with upright lines crossed through- that look very much like the means by which prisoners count off the days on their cell walls. The cards follow a pattern.

The first inscription reads 9 June 1983. There are seven lines on the card, neatly crossed out. That’s all. She flips the card over, but there’s nothing on the back. She flicks through the cards. Some have dates on them, but no lines at all. Others have the same prison markings on them, mostly seven lines to a card. The last date is 29 September 1987. The day her father died. Coincidence? There are three lines on it, but only two are crossed through. The third is still standing, upright, as if the recording is incomplete.

What the heck Dad? She snaps the elastic back around the pack of cards, and replaces them on top of the newspapers. She finds clothes, neatly folded. Khaki-brown trousers and a shirt of the same colour. Printed in black lettering on the shirt, over the heart, is the surname and initial she shares with her father: STORM A. She brings the shirt to her nose. She can’t make out anything. No detergent, or aftershave, no smell of skin or sweat. Could this be what he wore to work? She can’t remember him in these. Not at all.

She finds a piggy bank. Odd. She shakes it. It’s empty.

At the very bottom of the crate is an old record. The world of Miriam Makeba. She doesn’t know who this is. The woman on the cover is black, and it looks as if an artificial sun is setting behind her. She doesn’t understand. They never listened to music. Music was banned. On the radio, she was permitted to listen to the news and quizzes. When she was alone, she listened to soap operas.

Anne can’t understand how her father comes to possess this record. And where would he have played it? She turns the cover over. There’s some writing on it. Father’s handwriting.

‘Recommended by Modise F. Mopane.’

***

Anne reaches into the case at her feet and brings out the record. She thrusts it at him. Her hand shakes.

‘Did you have a…’ She can’t think of polite words, and holds the record back. She hugs it to her chest. His eyes look longingly at the cover, but Modise sits in silence, waiting for her to speak. ‘Did you have a… sexual relationship with my father?’ She feels heat rush into her cheeks. She’s almost fifty and she can’t think of sex or even worse, gay sex over the colour line, without hearing her mother’s voice reprimanding her about music from hell or communists or instructing her to keep her legs crossed.

Modise laughs. She feels silly. He glances at her, but all his attention is reserved for the record. She gives it to him. He reads the words on it and then sighs, a deep sigh that makes it look as if he might topple and fall off the chair he is sitting on.

‘This wasn’t his favourite you know.’

‘My dad would never’ve listened to this. He didn’t listen to any music, let alone…’ She couldn’t say the words out loud.

‘I want to know how you knew each other.’ She can’t keep the frustration out of her voice.

‘He did listen to this. And many others. It’s what we talked about. Mostly.’

‘But where? I don’t understand.’

‘We met in prison.’

Anne stands up. This man is clearly not the right one. It must have been a different Modise. Her father! In prison! This man has to be unbalanced, not right in the head. She holds out her hand.

‘How’s Anmarie? Still sewing?’

Anne stares at him. ‘How do you know my mother’s name?’

‘Your dad told me about things when it all got too much for him.’

Anne sits down. She gives herself time to breathe. So he is the one. She doesn’t know what to do, or think. But then she reaches for the case again. ‘Okay. There’re a few more things in here. Do you mind looking at them?’

She takes the uniform out first. ‘If this was his prison outfit, then why did he come home every day?’ Modise strokes the nametag. ‘Storm, A…’ He reads it slowly. ‘But we called him Oom Stormie.’

Anne looks at him. She can’t make out his expression. Is it hatred? Is he revolted by this name? She wants to hurry him, but she doesn’t. She pours more tea. It’s lukewarm.

‘Where did you find all this?’ Anne can’t help but hear bitterness in his voice.

‘My mother passed away. I was clearing out her house.’

‘They never told you, did they? What your father did?’

She holds back tears and frustration, shakes her head. ‘There’s one last thing in here, but I don’t think it’s that important.’

She takes out the bundle of record cards, holds it out to him.

He takes the elastic off, squints at the cards. When he gets to the last one, his hands start shaking. He looks at the cards again. Then he starts reciting names, pointing to the crossed out lines.

‘Marcus Motaung, Solomon Mahlangu, Mangena Boesman, Jerry Mosololi…’ He points to a line for every name. She’s never heard of any of them. He doesn’t stop. He keeps on flipping.

‘Your father. He was a prison guard. He kept us alive till the time came for us to be hanged.’

His words are like whip lashes. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Seven at a time they did it. Pulled a lever. And bam! The trapdoor made them fall, all seven of them together.’ Anne’s head is on fire. ‘We all waited for our turn. Waited to die.’

She controls her breathing. She never knew this. The idea sits unevenly on her chest. How did her parents keep her from this?

‘Can you have a look at the last card? Please?’

Modise looks at it. He clears his throat. He holds the card out to her. He waits. As if it’s a trump card.

‘This one here…’ He points with a skeletal finger at the line that hasn’t been crossed out. ‘This one’s me. See. Here I am! Somebody pulled some strings on this day. Excuse the pun. I was released, the other two were hanged. I carry them in my nightmares.’

She puts her finger on the card’s date.

‘André died on this day you know. Heart attack. Late that night.’

It’s as if Modise doesn’t hear her.

‘They told me I was going to the pot you know. Even though they knew I was about to be released. I stumbled and fell when I heard this, knowing that I was going to die. They forced me out of my cell. I saw your dad in the passageway. He looked at me. And then he nodded. The guards didn’t take me to the right. The way to the pot. They took me in the opposite direction, to the exit. And then, after about two hours, I saw daylight. Colour. Sound. My wife.’

‘So my dad…’

‘He must have kept this.’ He points at the record cards.

‘To remember that one person lived.’

‘Or that plenty have died?’ Anne closes her eyes. She imagines her father walking around a prison every day of his life. She shivers.

‘You must’ve hated him.’ She looks at Modise, seeing him, as if for the first time.

He nods. He doesn’t bother to wipe tears off his face.

‘He tried some days. He listened to me. We talked. Music mostly. He said the music I recommended was his only way that he could escape the desperate faces that appeared in his sleep.’

Anne rubs the gooseflesh off her skin.

‘It’s you I had to find. No one wouldn’t have been better.’

 

She doesn’t want to go home anymore. She wants to stay with Modise. She wants to cry.

‘Do you have a record player?’ she asks instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tulbach by Gaslight

 

 

Honeybadger don’t give a shit, I reassured myself before dumping my luggage into the back of her bakkie, fifteen minutes late and one eventful Uber ride behind me.

‘Shit Honey, I’m sorry.’

‘Naa! No man it’s ok, mmm!’ Her voice all singsong, full frontal hug, safe behind the tortoiseshell of her D&G shades. ‘So jaaa, hi! I’ve moved back to Cape Town full-time. Not going to live in Gauteng my whole life. Me-heh!’

 

It had been over a year since I’d last seen Honey during a lecture series in Joburg, and I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten her cadence. The over modulated Mmm’s and Jaaaa’s of agreement. The throaty bark of her laugh at the end of a self-deprecating statement.

I glanced across at her while she laid in our route on a Garmin. Her strong hands manipulating the diesel bakkie through the knotted arteries of the CBD, too narrow streets clogged with the cholesterol of poorly parked cars and tourists with fishpaste smears for legs looking ever upward, a Humvee shaped infarction materializing mid-sentence at the final push onto the highway, a yank of the steering wheel and an unemotional middle finger to the driver a matter of reflex.

‘Even though it’s been really good for my career, up that side,’ she finished.

 

Honey wasn’t her real name, of course. Just one of those Afrikaans phonetic anomalies exploited by her rooinek friends, a joke long forgotten with an indelible punch-line.

She could easily have taken up her family’s trade, but a generations old Afrikaner linage in viticulture was supplanted by an academic wit that could jigsaw bits of information into tiny pieces and mash the puzzles together in new ways, where they had little baby ideas of their own. It was a beautiful thing to behold. ‘Brainfartlings’ she called them, usually followed by one of those meh-meheh jackal barks.

 

I distinctly remember when ‘Badger’ was tacked on by some well-meaning grad students in our faculty after that Randall guy re-voiced a certain nature doccie that went viral on Youtube. Like, 90 million views and counting viral. We had a good laugh; let’s just say her outspoken nature was not exactly a secret.

 

We’d done bemoaning our ailing public and larcenous private education systems by the time we reached the R44, and I knew something was bothering her beyond the ransacking of a generations future. She was tilting her head as if listening out for something, a high frequency complaint from the engine perhaps, or that persistent rattling sound from somewhere under the canopy. But l recognized the gesture and let the open road do its thing.

 

‘So jaaaa! Aah…I almost got married.’

‘What? Wow! Mazel tov! Hey, what do you mean ‘almost?’’

She checked the GPS.

‘Hmm! You remember when I was on that TV panel, after I got back from Nkandla? You know, before Nkandla was famous?’

‘Um, yeah…that thing about psychologists working with traditional healers, right? Community engagement stuff in rural areas, exchange of—’

‘Jaaa! Well, this guy watches the show and starts writing to me.’

‘Huh! Ok?’

‘He got my details from Maties and starts sending me these letters. He says…nice things.’

I glance at Honey and notice the top of her ear has gone red, her hands steady at 10 and 2.

‘But wasn’t that years ago?’

‘Net so! His letter is so funny and he’s just lis for a pen pal, like, old school vibes. He’s not on Facebook en al darrie kak.’

Honey reached for the aircon.

‘It’s really fun and light. We switch to email, and we start talking about personal stuff. And also…you know….’

‘Nice stuff?’

‘Mmmm! Meh-heh. But ag ja, this is before I went to Joburg and you know how small a doos Cape Town is. I’m showing a friend one of my letters and she says wag nou,’ Honey made her voice a kugel squeak, the words a small caliber barrage bouncing off the windscreen,

This-china-sounds-like-Claudette’s-guy-she-showed-me-a-letter-aaas well. Do you think it could be the same oke? Hey?’ Honey did not like drama.

‘It was so swak. ‘

I shifted in my seat. I didn’t want to interrupt but felt like I needed to commiserate somehow, be supportive.

‘Jeez, emotional affair 101, right? And everyone knows the Kevin Bacon rule in Cape Town is, like, one degree.’

Windmeul Cellars sprang up on our left, a haven of dark leaves amongst the squat fynbos and thirsty brown brush. Honey pulled the wheel hard.

‘Fok! I have to buy wine still!’

 

I’d remembered what Honey liked on her sandwiches and passed her some foil-clad padkos before asking, ‘What happened then?’

She flicked the aircon off, the thermostat had died years ago and it was an unconscious tick.

‘I told him to fuck off, he was in a relationship.’

‘Great!’

She chewed, nodded.

‘Ja, and then a year later he starts emailing me again. A year, hey! This time it’s even more…nice. He tells me how his girlfriend is totally co-dependent, that he wants to leave her but, you know, he’s really loyal. Even though she’s like a sister.’ Collective eye roll. ‘I told him to get lost.’

‘Nice!’

Aircon on.

‘Then around Christmas last year he emails me again and now I’m in Joburg. I’m thinking jinne fok, I don’t have time for this doos, meh-heh. He asks me to give him a chance. No funny business. He and Claudette aren’t together anymore and he just wants to write, like before. What’s the harm?’

‘…Ok?’
‘And you know, it’s really lekker. We write and we laugh and it’s easy. Next thing, he comes up to Joburg to see me. He says he’s in finance. He says flights aren’t a problem.’

 

I don’t know if Honey had a sense of this, but I started to feel as if the car was gaining speed, racing towards an inevitable pole or wall or person. I realized I was pressing the non-existent brake pedal in the passenger seat and relaxed my leg.

 

‘Then it got pretty hectic. We had dinner that night and he told me Claudette threatened to kill herself if he left her. They’d been together for five years and he just wanted to move on. He felt trapped.’

Aircon off.

‘But when we started writing it was like I was his soul mate, he said. The next day he told me I was The One.’

Honey dropped her pitch to intone ‘The One’ in her Verimark voice.

‘The next day?’

‘For real! But listen, we’d been writing for years and I thought about what we already had. And maybe this Claudette was like he said, hanging onto something that was done. Klaar. He called her weak.’

‘Weak tea more like.’
‘Ja well, I know that now.’ Honey’s shoulders wilted towards the steering wheel.

‘But hey, haven’t you ever lost your…sense? For someone?’

I couldn’t argue with that.

 

By the time we’d turned off the R44 towards Tulbagh, I was intimate with the dream he’d sold. They would put aside some time each month, just a quick flight to and fro. And even though he wasn’t the marrying type, he could see their union ‘in the Karoo under God and a starry sky.’ Because she was strong and independent, The One. And then maybe she’d move down to Cape Town, since he was a financier after all. When the time was right.

 

‘Ag, it’s easy to look back and be all shitty to yourself, but everyone loved him. Not just my friends hey, even ma and pa thought he was a ‘cool dude.’ ‘

We both laughed.

AC on. She turned it to full while adding,

‘Not that I ever met his family.’

So many alarm bells.

‘Why not?’

‘He said I’d embarrass him, because everyone knows he’s big on public displays of affection. That’s just how he is. And I’m not.’

‘Embarrassed? That’s…weird.’

‘Ja! But this is the same oke who asked why I didn’t want to sleep with him on the second date, serious! He said if I was seeing someone else, I must just tell him and not waste our time.’

I paused. I wasn’t imagining it this time, we really were going kind of fast. Honey leaned back in the driver’s seat and we slowed. I watched a group of kids in bright striped T’s offset by brown skin disgorge from an old eggshell blue Toyota Corolla on the side of the road with plastic canteens, heading towards a small concrete reservoir that shimmered in the heat. The youngest boys waved as we drove passed. I waved back.

‘Honey, that all sounds super dodgy. Foxy smells his own hole, right?’

She sighed, ‘Ja, I get it. Thing is, I…fell in love! Me! That never happens hey. Fok.’

 

Turned out even though she was The One, he seemed quite content with seeing her on a monthly basis or so, on weekends that worked best for him no doubt, being in finance.

‘I mean, if I’m The One, what the hell were we doing after a year like that? Why not more? I asked him hey, a week before my birthday. He said I was getting all needy and co-dependent.’

I choked on my padkos.

 

‘And how’s this, I asked my friend about Claudette and she’s a fokken international banker chick! I mean, if she couldn’t….’ Honey bit her bottom lip.

‘And there it is; three years of writing, a year long distance, and then he dumps me on email. Jirre.’ I squeezed her shoulder, feeling pretty useless and not a little ashamed of my gender.

 

I looked hard at Honey then as we entered Tulbagh. It hit me all at once, what he did to her, what he does to women, how they’re all just women.

 

The unsolicited contact, years of effort in fraying and splitting apart their roots and fibres, pressing them into a mould to collect the part that he likes, letting their nectar coat the sharp bits and fill the holes inside him. And then after, each of them conveniently reinvented in his own mind, ‘round the braai or at the bar: Ag shame hey that chick went all psycho. I thought she was cool but man, just a clingy mess. They’re all the same, hey okes? Ag ja, my conscience is clear, thanks boeta. Na it’s ok, let me get this round. I’m in finance hey.

 

An actual vampire. I wondered if Honey knew what he was. With all her astounding intellect, all her years of travel and learning at the University or in KZN with those sangomas, with all her fierce independence—did she truly know it wasn’t her fault?

 

We got out the bakkie at my B&B and leaned against the canopy with our arms linked, looking across the town from the vantage of Museum Street to the tune of cicadas and the metallic ping of the bonnet in the heat.

 

Tulbagh is left-wing objectionable, but I’d seen worse. At least the ‘onderdorp’ wasn’t an abstract notion, with its own shops and high street. In yet another museum to colonialism, there was a glimmer of honesty in that.

 

‘I’m sorry Honey, that’s a shitty story. Hey, I’m keen to talk more about it if you are. Call me when you’re back in town, ok?’

‘Hey jaaa! Let’s have a nice Saronsberg rose’, mmm?’

 

Thanking her for the lift I opened the canopy to grab my scant luggage and was instantly assaulted by the smell of burnt things. Of cedar and charcoal, afval and fynbos and old socks, reminiscent of the heavy herbal scent those rastas offered up from their woven mats outside Cape Town Metrorail.

The hessian sack had spilled its secret. The little wicker doll was tightly bound with a strip of torn cloth, the muted pattern of a formal men’s shirt barely recognizable. The doll’s bristle of hair impaled the dismembered circles of heads cut from photographs, the same smiling face, posing each time. He was good at posing.

 

Honey reached past me and put the effigy back in the sack. She closed the canopy and grinned. Her glasses were off for the first time that morning, as if it was ok to see her eyes now, and they were too bright.

‘Honeybadger don’t give a shit. Meh-heh.’

 

 

 

 

 

‘Sit Down; You’re Brown’

 

Whenever I was on the cusp of greatness, my uncle, who could drink more vodka than he could properly articulate himself, would utter his one true sentence:

‘Sit down, you’re brown!’

He wasn’t just a master of ensuring his glass never ran dry- he was also well equipped to make sure that both my posterior and my confidence managed to find its way back to earth, should I dare to dream.

I guess there are better colours to wear in South Africa than brown. White. Yes, privileged, well-taken-care-of white. With a hint of denial and dissociation of the past. Or black. BEE Black- top of the list of opportunity and streaks ahead of any other specimen hoping to land the right job.

I had always had grounds to question my self-destructing uncle. How could I trust a man who refrained from pouring any orange juice or soda into his vodka? How dare he breathe so heavily on me, with the thought that a clear drink brought him a clear argument?

Looking back, the dipsomaniac may have had a point. Growing into my Indianness or rather possessing a general inability to shun it, meant that I was soon walloped with the horrid realization that brown (excuse the ghastly pun) was a shitty colour. Indians are good at running their family businesses or striking up a good bargain, right? Or they’re supposedly the numbers kings- dominating engineering or accounting positions in companies, right? Well, I didn’t get that fucking manual. I was probably outside trying to get my uncle to keep his clothes on, when they were dishing out the modus operandi booklets on how to be a solid Indian.

In the end, I boasted no business skills, except the skill of making it my business to keep my head down and avoid any reason to feel that I mattered. To sit down at an average job in an average company. I especially refrained from following all the hyped-up ridiculousness that flows through this country in an attempt to celebrate its diversity. Because diversity means mixing. And I don’t know how to mix.

Sometimes you cannot avoid the coming together and you’re cemented into certain occasions. Occasions like this fucking day. Every year, I sit here wondering if I have gained more insight into my culture. If I can actually contribute to this ‘occasion’ in a fulfilling way. That's Heritage Day, ladies and gents. One of the many over-the-top public holidays celebrated by South Africans, annually. A corner is a lovely place to hide today, here at work, especially if you’re not entirely sure why you’re dressed the way you are. Or what you’re supposed to say. I look to the middle of our canteen and centre stage we have the Xhosa ladies in their bright traditional dresses; the Zulu clan in their leopard pattern clothing and the Boers in khaki outfits. They’re all so….ready.¶

I am the only Indian participating in Heritage Day. Which means I am the only one in a kurta top. In a company of over 4000 employees, not one other brown brother stood up for the challenge. God, even the Chileans outnumber me. The three of them came over in some exchange program. The tall one’s wearing a football kit. I love football. Why can’t the rest of India agree that it should be favoured over cricket? At least then I could wear an Indian football kit. Inconsiderate lot. Instead, I’ve got this kurta’s silk collar around me, like a noose.

What will I share today? Last year, I got away with bringing everyone the famous Indian treats that are sweetmeats (and possibly sped up that fat guy in HR’s type 2 diabetes). The year before I behearted an extract on Wikipedia about Diwali, the Festival of Lights. A day when people complain about fireworks (which somehow doesn’t affect pets as badly as it does on Guy Fawkes Day). You would think that would piss me off but, alas, you are sorely wrong. Whilst people of our Mzansi shores all seem to have a sense of pride about standing up for their respective groups in this melting pot of multi-culture, I have no urge to complain about those putting down my people on Diwali. Because I am nothing on that day. Nothing except the cheating employee who gets an extra chance to miss work by taking off a day of religious leave. I get all the other Christian holidays as well. Thank you, Jesus and Krishna- maybe you guys can co-exist. I won’t tell anyone, I promise. Imagine a world full of tolerance? Ya, neither can I.

Technically, Heritage Day is on Monday, but we must celebrate early this Friday, so that everyone can display their cultures proudly in a work environment, in front of people who do not even know each other's full names. Yeah, I get Diwali to stay away from the office, but the others can hardly grumble. There are enough days to make up for it. 1 May - celebrate equality amongst working conditions by not going to work.

9 August - you may not have a uterus but you can still take advantage of the fairer sex’s achievements by not going to work.

26 Dec - this is now called a Day of Goodwill because Boxing Day was brought to this lovely land by the Poms. Either way, you’re not going to work on that day.¶

And of course, Heritage Day, the bane of my existence.

Could our company be any more nauseating? Oh yes, here we go. Fredrick is up first. He’s the fat guy from HR who shits sunbeams when he gets to talk about his German heritage. To me, he’ll always be another guy from Boksburg. There’s no bond uber-strong enough to make me see him any differently. He normally sports that baggy jeans and 90s takkies combo (yes, you know which one) but today he’s come to us in his knee-high socks, short leather trousers with braces and an alpine hat. The fucker didn’t even bring any beer. He doesn’t speak German- not fluently anyway. He has been to the motherland often, however, thanks to the skewing of inherited wealth in this country. He doesn’t even know that Bayern Munich are playing Borussia Dortmund this weekend. I cannot take this tub of lard seriously. He rambles on. There’s an hour of this to get through. I look upwards towards the heavens. I know I don’t call often. But I need you to get me through this. Whoever you are and whatever form or shape you may take, rescue me. Fredrick is told to end his speech by our head of HR. Thank you, Lord. Tomorrow I’ll ask for world peace. And the day after that, for Fredrick’s release from captivity.¶

Thandekile goes next. She’s beautiful in a way I cannot quite describe. And that’s the problem. I fail to instantly recognise her radiance because we are grown up to be taught that ‘white is right’. That there are certain features that make a woman beautiful. The fair skin, the fine nose - all carved out by Western sculptors and chiseled into our brains that this is the desired form of the Goddesses. But I look at her and curly hair and wider hips are not as unattractive as we are made to believe. Thandekile (or TK as she affectionately known amongst peers) is Zimbabwean. She takes us through what it means that Uncle Bob is now finally out and whilst her homeland rejoices, she is far more subdued in that she knows corruption in politics is like the Lernaean Hydra. You cut one head off, another grows back. Who’s going to ruin her country next?

Given my love for colours as a kid, thanks to my art class filled with glorious minutes of pastels smudged on my fingers, you would think I’d have a general interest in the Rainbow Nation. And embrace days like this. I feel no connection to SA. Or India. But a strange itch seems to take over as I sit in this canteen. The thing is, no one is better than you. No one has a better crayon or pastel in their hand than you do. We have to colour in the grey areas on our own. If brown is my only pastel, then I will find a way. Perhaps that is what bonds us as South Africans. We bitch; we moan; but we endure.

I zone out and become concerned as to whether I should have bought that copy of Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ from the second hand bookshop on Oxford Road last week. It probably won’t be there the next time I visit. And this will haunt me for some time. Worry today, but worry less, for tomorrow brings us new hells. There’s always something else. Load-shedding. State Capture. A new hashtag to follow or an online racist to unfollow. We find new things to get under our skin, irrespective of the colour of our skin. No one is better. No one.

Suddenly, it’s my turn and they’re all looking at me like I’m Deepak Chopra, Sachin Tendulkar and that guy from the ‘Big Bang Theory’ all rolled into one.

Why must I move into the centre? Can I not remain corner stage; a periphery figure merely adding to the background as I listen in on the main showmen (and beautiful woman)? I trudge towards the middle. Their eyes are all heavy on me. My heart begins to pound like an African drum. That’s the closest form of association I have with this day. I am...I am fucked.

A tune goes through my head. ‘There’s a brown boy in the ring...tra la la la la...Brown boy in the ring...tra la la la la…He looks like his head’s up his bum...bum bum!!’

Here I am. The final act of this tragi-comedy. The fool and his soliloquy. I open my mouth but no words come. I look around. They’re just as tired as I am. I smile.

‘I’m not going to bore you with any arduous tales. The day has taken its toll. Instead, I will merely utter two words.’ They lean in.

‘SWEET MEATS!’I open the white box in my hand, filled with guilty pleasures that are laced with sugar and food colourants. Here’s your Rainbow Nation, right in this box. Every damn colour you can think of. They all cheer.

I’ve done it for another year at least. They greedily tuck in. I leave the box on the counter and return to corner stage.TK comes over with a piece of barfi made from condensed milk in her hand.

‘You know, technically “Sweetmeats” is one word.’

¶The Goddess winks and leaves.

This fucking day.

 

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NZ Writers College is a leading online writing school in New Zealand.

We offer specialised, online writing courses tutored by award-winning writers. Get the writing tools you need, expert insider advice and hours and hours of writing practice. Work one-to-one with a professional writer and realise your writing dreams.

 

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NZ Writers College offers online writing classes all over New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. We have students from Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier, Whangarei, Rotorua, Hastings, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, as well as Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne, Australia.

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Nichola Meyer or Koos Turenhout
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