Ten cents

My father was a great gambler. When he won he came home with pockets weighed down by jingling coins and a nip of brandy. On those days we knew that he got lucky with a fafi number, the chinese game that was so popular in the township;still is. It made no difference to us, my mother and I, whether he won or lost, because we knew that we would not get even a cent from that man.

He was a tall and imposing man. His shoes where always dusty because he kicked up the dust when he walked. He shuffled rather than walked. And when he was drunk the dust went up to his pants. On some ocassions the dust even went up to his shirt. My mother was constantly scrubbing away at his clothes, but no matter how much she scrubbed they never got clean because there was never any soap with wich to wash. My father couldn’t even bring himself to buy soap, but he was constantly complaining about his clothes not being clean.

One day, while I was pushing a brick around the yard, and my mother was inside the house (a one room shack that was divided into a bedroom, a sitting room and a kitchen through various ingenuities) cooking the wild spinach that grew in abandon on our backyard, I saw my father approach. Our house looked directly into the main street, all who came and went passed this way. He shuffled his way through the street, singing to himself. He had a great baritone voice wich made an impression on anyone who heard it. I unfortunately did not inherit that voice, when people hear me speak or sing (if ever they could catch a glimpse of those private moments) I imagine some doubt is kindled as to whether I am indeed my father’s son.
He pushed open the small metal wire gate, wich sagged to the side like an injured dog. Both of his pockets where also sagging, the tinkling coins accompanying the melody of his voice, and the nip of brandy adding a jolly enthusiasm to that rich baritone. The dust had enveloped him from his shoes, to the collar of his shirt.
I stood up from my game, swinging my hands and walking like I was in a robotic marching band, I approached him.

“Pa?” I said.
“Yes, son of mine” he bellowed.
“Can I have ten cents?”

I was not in the habit of asking my father for money, and he was not in the habit of giving me any, but I wanted to test him on that day.
He looked at me with one eye closed, as if I was the subject of a very intense study, and the other eye was getting in the way of close and proper inspection.

“Ten cent, ten cent, ten cent…” he said, as if contemplating the wonderful concept of a ten cent.
“Ten cent…Matemusho,” he called to my mother.
“Eya papa.” answered my mother from inside the house.
“This child of yours is asking me for ten cent, did you send him to ask me for money?”
“Ha ah papa Temusho, I did no such thing.”
“Children of today…When I was your age I never asked my father for money. When I was your age my back was already bent from hard work.”
His back showed no trace of that particular childhood affliction.
“But I am too young to work” I said.
“Too young to work? Listen to this boy…Matemusho, how old is this child of ours?”
“He has ten years papa.”
“Ten years? And he says he is too young to work? Children of today, have you ever heard of such a thing…”
He shuffled off and is swallowed by the door, to regale my mother with tales of wich she has no interest.

I went back to my game of pushing bricks, with a plan formulating in my head. My father didnt care anyway. He didn’t care that I wore the same shirt to school five days in a row, washing it once a week in the gentlest way because I was afraid of getting it torn. He didn’t care that my pants were riddled with stitch after stitch, that my feet licked the ground because the soles of my shoes were gone, eaten away by one too many steps.
I knew that by the next day the money would be gone. He would drink it all or gamble it away, and arrive home looking like a wet cat, not at all like the jovial singing maestro he now was.

At night my father gave me his dusty shoes to polish, or atleast make them look presentable for another tussle with the dusty streets. My mother had already gone to bed, and I could hear my father fiddling with his belt, getting ready to get into bed as well. I brushed the shoes slowly, letting the time pass. When I heard him snore, I went into their bedroom and put the shoes under the old chair next to their bed where my father put his clothes, folded neatly and ready for another day. I was always amazed at how he managed to fold his clothes with such military precision, even when drunk. I took another look at him to make sure that he was still sleeping. He snored with his mouth open, drool running onto his pillow.
I tool all the money from his pocket. There was a small amount of brandy in the bottle of nip. I thought of drinking it, but then decided against it. I was about to leave when an idea occured to me. I went back to the chair and left a ten cent coin in his pocket.

In the morning I was woken by my fathers bellowing voice, as I expected, and I tossed my blanket aside, bracing myself for trouble.

“Wake that boy up, I’m killing someone today, I swear it.” said my father.

My mother came into the living room slash place where I slept, my father following behind with a belt in hand. I stood up immediately.

“Did you take your father’s money?” asked my mother.

“No I didn’t…”

“Hey don’t lie tome boy, give me that money!” said my father.

“I didn’t take it I am telling you I didn’t take it, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

My father raised his hand, the belt came down, I ducked and he missed. My mother had positioned herself on the door. when I ran towards her she opened the door and we ran out, my father following closely behind. There we where, me in only my underwear, my mother still wearing her once white but now yellowing hand me down silk night dress, and my topless father chasing us around the house, vomiting all manner of expletives known to man. At times he stopped and ran in the opposite direction hoping that we would run into him, but we we also stopped, and waited to see him turn the corner, at wich point we ran in the opposite direction. He would never catch us with that shuffling run. He soon got tired of chasing us, so he made his way into the house to get ready for work. We could hear him cursing to himself inside the house while we stood shivering in the early morning cold.

“Mama, I did take father’s money.” I confessed.

“I know…”

“You know?”

“I saw you last night when you took it,” she said with a smile, “Where did you put it?”

“I put it in a tin and buried it in that patch of ground where the wild spinach grows.”

“You did well, but you father is going to be angry for some time, so as soon as he leaves we get our things and head to mama Josephina’s house.”

Mama Josephina was the old woman next door who always provided us with shelter whenever my father went on a rampage. We stayed for four days at her house. After wich my father, singing with a jovial baritone, his pockets rattling with coins, came to fetch us.

“Mama Josephina, give me my people, I have come to fetch them”

He looked with one eye closed at the new shoes on my feet. I lifted them up for inspection unconsciously, my hands in the pockets of my new pants. he patted me on my head, rummaging in his pockets, and gave a ten cent coin.

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