I Know The Way

With my heart an empty void, and my soul a desolate land. The efforts of few have begun to show. The desert land flourishes with grass and flowers as my soul is touched by the hand of someone who cares. Yes it may be small, but it belongs to me now. The real me. I run as fast as I can through the inky and barren wasteland with my demons nipping at my feet as I try to break free from their curse and enter the light. My demons, who laugh at me as I once again forget their power, suddenly erect a mighty fence between me and the land of hope. They mock me with their construction as I can still see through to the other side and touch the blades of grass growing though. I need to get over this fence. I must. It’s the only way I can be happy. Time and time again, I try to scale this barrier between myself and who I have become. I realise that I can not, because this fence is in fact what I have built myself. A perfect way to keep myself from the hate that floods into my life daily. All I can do is collapse on the floor and cry, because my future I’ve wanted all my life is just barely out of reach once again. But not all shadows are the same, some are comforting. The warm shadow of a kind soul gracefully wraps around me and pulls me to my feet. I look to the owner of it. “It’s okay. You can get through this” they say as they grab my hands through the fence. “The gate is this way. Walk by my side. I know the way.”


One day as I was sitting and looking into an empty pool, inside it was a pair of black water boots, two rubbish plastics bags, a broom with beautiful red and black colour in the middle of the brush and water gloves with an ugly red colour.
The wall of the pool from the deep end was as high as a wall of an ordinary house, at the other end was the swallow end at the deep end the stairs were of a house, but they were kind of strange they did not start from the bottom, in other words the stairs were leading into the pool and not outside
The floor of the pool was like the sky, blue and white, the paint was tearing off, but this resembles of the sky looked ugly because there were black lines drawn across the sky, I felt like the pool, I compared my life to this pool and the lives of those around me.
The black in the pool represented darkness to me a place of death where no one was safe and the ugly red colour of the gloves seemed like blood of older people who had perished before and the beautiful red of the broom symbolised all those younger ones that lost their life to this pool
It all started to make sense to me, life was like this pool, we all started at the swallow end of the pool where it was safe, the deep end of the pool is inviting here is where the deep trouble is and everyone wants to get into deep trouble.
Children are also there beautiful people, rich people and poor and broken people everyone is swimming. Those in the swallow end don’t want to be at the swallow end no more, they also want to get into the deep end; the pool is really a pull
Those in the deep end will make fun of you, mocking you to join them in this deadly path they find themselves in, some will give in and follow the deep end, but a few will remain and stand their ground firm, wise souls indeed.
Those who follow will die young or old and some unlucky will perish on their first attempt, how many drowned I wondered?
The black boots were in the empty pool for a reason, all those who had drowned were maybe wearing them, the struggle to go up and the water entering the boots and keeping them down, how terrible even my soul mate went to the deep end and left me all alone where we were safe and content. Even where it is safe it is not when you are all alone, all your enemies attack you from every direction, you may be stay strong for a while, then like a lady named hope, you become the little girl named hopeless, the wounds all over your body makes you weak, the tears rolling down your cheeks and asking no one but yourself and say why me?.. Why me?
You gave in what other people said to you, you weak, ugly, useless, boring and so on, I gave in and went to join the deep end. It was good it was really great at first I thought to myself, but that was only for a short while, I was in and I couldn’t get out, it was a struggle to get out of this deep end. The people walking around you and you want to be with them were it is safe, but is a battle against those who are keeping you down and deeper in the pool and drowning you, laughing at you the very same people who told you it was fun in the deep end.
When I have nearly given up, I looked around and I saw a stretch hand, but was too weak to reach and grab it… This hand never grew tired of stretching, every time I looked around it was still there, this stretched hand gave me power and a little voice said you can do it. With all the power left inside of me, I stretched my hand and got hold of a finger, but He held on my hands and brought me closer to him, he held me with both hands and pulled me out of the pool of misery and sorrows
He embraced me and I started to feel safe again. He asked me what my name was, I told him and He was no stranger I felt like I knew him from the day before I saw light.
I felt strong and not weak like many told me before. He told me to look around and I looked, nothing was useless, plants were growing, babies crying, people laughing and hugging each other, birds are singing and a cool breeze brushing against my face I cried and smiled at the same time. I said to myself I ;am whatever I want to be, I was my best friend and I became my worst enemy, but now I’m where I belong it feels good to be with the people you love and who equally loves you back and finding our ways was not easy thing to do. I thanks Him for not giving up on me and I thank her for never stop loving me, but most importantly I give my gratitude for teaching me this wordless song.
We have learned a lesson not, but the beauty inside of us and say pain is nothing, fear is crippling , but a smile a genuine smile is everything and us we were made simple but complicated is what we are now


Moving On

We met in a biker bar outside of Joburg. She was dressed in white fake leather and glitter. I stood out like a black man at a Bar Mitzvah. Everyone was in boots and biker gear. I was wearing a pink dress, white angel wings and green sneakers. I don’t do half measures, so I even had the crown and blue mascara to match. My mates thought it would be a laugh to tell me that we were going to a cross-dressing party. They all showed up in their jeans and jackets, while I looked like a drag queen with an identity crisis. I was obviously meant to be the punch line of a bad joke.

I decided to take it like a man. Man being a very loose term under the circumstances. Bravely I walked up to the bar, trying to look as macho as a man in pink with a princess crown can possibly look.

“We don’t serve queens asshole. Get the hell out of my bar!” The last words I heard before I felt the pain shoot through my nose.

When I came to, the boys were nowhere in sight. I was outside the backdoor, with a few cigarette stubs clinging to my angelic wings and my crown lying broken next to my head. My friends probably didn’t see all the action across the crowded bar. My head was pounding and my snozz was at least four times the size it had been when I arrived.

She appeared out of nowhere – my eighties angel in leather and sequins.
“Are you ok?” She held some ice against my aching head and I noticed a piece of string hanging from my nose.

“Sorry, your nose wouldn’t stop bleeding and there’s no crap paper here, so it’s the best I could come up with.” She explained quickly, noticing the confused expression on my face.

“It’s cool that you put yourself out there like that, but it’s a bit stupid to come to a biker bar in drag my darling. Can I take you somewhere more, um… fairy friendly?” She said sympathetically. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much.

I’ve never felt more embarrassed. Dressed like a queen, with a bleeding mouth and a tampon stuck up my nose. No amount of explaining could make me look any better or worse at this point, so I told her that I’d get where I needed to go on my own.

“Can I come with you? This isn’t really my scene.” Not her scene? She looked like she’d been conceived, born and raised in a biker bar? But I decided to let her tag along anyway, she helped me out after all, and she seemed pretty harmless.

“Let’s go bowling.” She suggested.

Why the hell not I thought, this evening couldn’t get any worse. I hate bowling by the way, but putting on dirty shoes and showing off my complete lack of coordination just seemed like the way this night was destined to go.

So there we were, the biker babe and the fairy queen sharing a lane, our game stinking worse than my sockless feet in the scary maroon shoes. She was either the worst bowler ever or she was just trying to protect my fragile ego, because she sucked like… well something that sucks a lot.

“Oh shit! I just broke a nail.” She exclaimed, looking completely shattered. I thought that I should at least try to feign some concern.

“Can it be saved?” I asked as sincerely as possible.

“No honey. It’s a goner.”

“Does it hurt?” I said taking her cold hand in mine.

“Only when I laugh.” She replied, calling my bluff.

“It’s only a fricken nail. It’ll grow again. But I think it’s a sign that this game is over. Besides, we’re making everybody else look bad.” She said and smiled.

Only then did I notice how pretty she was, or could be for that matter. Underneath the clothes that were much too tight and the thickly painted on make-up she wasn’t half-bad. I smiled back self-consciously, wondering if she noticed me staring a bit too long.

“Could you drop me back at Full Throttle please?” She asked as she slipped on her blinding white boots again.

“Sure, but I know you’ll understand if I don’t go in again.”

“Why not? You were so popular there earlier on.” She smiled casually again. I liked the easy way she could smile and laugh.

I drove back to the hellhole and dropped her at the gate.

“Will you get home ok?” I said, giving her a bit of an awkward hug.

“I’m always ok.” She said, and somehow I believed her. I thanked her again for coming to my rescue. She said something about me actually being her hero, but before I could ask her to repeat or explain it, she was already out of earshot.


“So you picked up a chick, and you didn’t even introduce us to her friends?” George belted as he came running up to my car. Apparently they were looking for me in the parking lot.

“I didn’t pick up a girl. She saved my ass, when you guys were too busy partying to even notice that I’d been beaten up and thrown outside.” I said, pointing to my nose for effect.

“Geeze dude, that’s hectic! Are you ok?” George said as he finally realised that my blue nose wasn’t just part of the outfit.

Apparently they had been trying to phone me for ages, but my phone had been switched off. Only then did I realise that my mobile was gone. Maybe it was because I was a bit concussed, or the confusion of it all, but I didn’t even think of using it. My wallet and car keys were still with me, so I couldn’t figure out at which point I might have lost it.

All the guys started apologising and asking me to retell the night’s events. I may have embellished some of the details slightly, but it’s like an unwritten rule “if you get beaten up, you’re allowed to tell your version of the events.” Once I’d given a blow-by-blow account of the night, everyone wanted to know about the biker babe. They made the typical laddish comments, asking if she mounted me like a Harley and whether she kept her boots on.

Usually I would laugh along and play it all up. But this time I got angry. She was sweet and I didn’t think for a second that she had any ulterior motives. As I thought about the night, I realised that there was no point where she was trying to seduce me. She was just being genuinely friendly. The boys didn’t get why I was so offended, but for some reason I felt like she deserved to be defended.

At last, at three in the morning, I made my way home feeling ill from the pain and very tired, but even with a couple of painkillers and a shot of Jack I still couldn’t sleep. I didn’t even take her number, in fact, I wasn’t really sure if her name was Gina or Bernie. Then again, I didn’t even have a phone to call her with even if I did get her details. Maybe I was better off not dreaming with my subconscious floating to scenes of bowling balls, broken nails and broken noses. What a night!

I woke up to a breezy: “Whoohooo! Mikey” Somebody was shouting right outside, nails tapping on my window. “Mikey! You awake sweetie?” As I pulled away the curtain, I saw my mom, smiling like she just became a grandmother. O crap, I thought to myself… please don’t tell me my sister and her numb-nuts husband actually decided the world needed to be punished with a little numb-nuts junior. But, this wasn’t the reason for the happy visit.

Mom pulled my cell phone from her purse and waved it around. “Looking for this? Ah, Mikey, she’s lovely. Why haven’t you told me about her? She’s so polite and smart and a looker… oh Mikey, I’m so happy for you. This is so great. You should bring her over for dinner.” Mom made all this sound like one long sentence. I had no clue who she was talking about and what the hell it had to do with my phone. Turns out, my friend from last night, had my phone and she assumed MOM would be the safest number to phone, to make sure it gets back to me. Not only has she already met my mom, but she also happens to live just three blocks down from my parents, which is why she decided to just quickly drop it off there.

“Why didn’t she just ask me to come and pick it up? It wasn’t necessary for her to go to you guys?”

“I also thought she could just give it to you when you see each other again. But she insisted on just dropping it off there.”

“When we see each other again? Did she mention anything like that?”

“No, but I just assumed… Well, she did have your phone with her…”

Suddenly Mom went quiet, and her eyes and mouth shot open, with that same horrified look she gave me the first time she found me defiling her new Cosmo magazine.

“Michael! Your nose! What happened. Your beautiful, beautiful nose. My baby!”

“It’s not a big deal mom. I dove into the shallow end of the pool. It hurts, but it’s going to be ok.”

I wasn’t about to tell her that I got beat up at a biker bar, because I looked like a cross-dresser. It just raises too many questions… Like what’s a cross-dresser? Mom is so innocent and naïve. The kind that still thinks Lesbia is a country and spells out D-I-V-O-R-C-E like it’s a swearword.

“A pool? How awful. You look awful. Do you need me to take you to the doctor?” She asked studying my nose up close.

“I’m fine mom. Everything’s fine. Thanks for bringing my phone, but I really have to get ready now. I’ll see you later.”

I gave her a kiss on the cheek and closed the curtain, hoping she’d understand that she wasn’t going to be invited in. But Bernice (yes her name was Bernie, not Gina) had invited herself into my life.


I found Bernie’s number on my phone, she must have saved it. I made a call, I made her dinner that night. Since then I’ve made her laugh countless times, made her bed and years later we made the decision that it was time to end things. We stopped remembering what was good about us and started fighting about everything. Fond memories of a broken nose, became two broken people, who put white leather and fairy wings in a black bag to give away. In the same way we started stuffing who we once were into the bottom drawer. We used to love each others smells and quirks, but now we sit with them hanging in a room, stifling us and silencing the nice things we used to say to each other.

We said our final goodbye at a coffee shop, neutral territory.

No amount of talking could make me feel any better or worse at this point, so I told her that I’d get where I needed to go on my own.

“Will you get home ok?” I said, giving her a bit of an awkward hug.

“I’m always ok, Mike.” She said, and again I believed her.

I thanked her for everything, for coming to my rescue so many times. She said something about me actually being her hero, but before I could ask her to explain what she meant, she’d already moved on.

Recipe Recollections

Its funny how life turns on itself. I was about to find out just how much , as I sat oblivious to the future, sipping a coffee and waiting for the woman to arrive.
She had seen my interview on the morning show and wanted to chat with me about my new book. It sat proudly in front of me on the table and I slowly paged through it again as I had done a thousand times before. I had written a recipe book with a twist, “A brave glimpse into the collective sin of a nation” as one critic had put it. The book was written through the eyes of a child growing up during apartheid, on the white side of the fence. I was that child. And I am this woman, because of someone named Mavis, a maid to my mother, a mother to me.
My finger traced the dedication I had written for her on the front page and I wondered where she was or if she ever thought of me. My mind picked over memories of her, most of them wonderful, and skittered over those that weren’t.
I sat back, sipping my coffee, remembering the times her and I had spent in the kitchen together. Boy could that lady cook! I could almost smell the vetkoek, the koeksisters and the butternut soup with a twist, as she would chirp with a wink. Mavis had taught me an art, wrapped in flour and love. She had created magic in that awful eighties kitchen, with its chipped formica tops, linolium tiles lifting in places and heavily barred windows.
My childhood home was a Benoni special, right on the railway, two blocks down from the veld I wasn’t allowed to walk through. The house was typical government issue and sat on a small plot. It was surrounded by cement walls topped with the jagged edges of broken bottles. Cosmos grew in clumps in the garden and that was about the only attempt my mother made at making the place look pretty. It somehow just ended up looking sad though. Just like my mother. Sad and crumpled. She would try to pretty up when my father came home, spraying her hair into stiff peaks, slashing on her pink lipstick, and generally fluttering around like a bird with a broken wing. When my father was due home she would make sure that Mavis got down and scrubbed floors and cleaned windows and all that stuff. I always asked if I could help but my mother said that it wasn’t a good idea, that if I gave a finger, Mavis would want an arm. I never understood what she meant by that, but was too afraid to ask because it sounded rather painful. My mother was a vague figure in our house when my father wasn’t home, tucking into her gin and ciggies on the stoep most of the time. It was great because Mavis and I could cook and sing songs and generally have a good time without feeling guilty. But, then my father would arrive and the house would become dark. Mavis would become quietly efficient, almost invisible and my mother would suddenly become a bossy missus to her, would smother me with wet gin kisses and jump up and down like a jack in the box if my father so much as cleared his throat.
He was a huge man, with massive hands and quite a boep on him. He smelled of cigarettes and Brut aftershave and booze most of the time.
My father came home every couple of weeks. He worked as a policeman, in the townships, doing “township tours”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded like he enjoyed it. I overheard him telling my mother once that he had ridden over a ‘munt’ in his ‘Caspir’ in Alexandra township just for fun… that it was the eighties and that if we didn’t keep the ‘munts’ in their place, they would murder us all in our sleep!
I wondered who these ‘munts’ were that my father had to keep under control with his ‘Caspir’. All I did know was that if they were half as afraid of him as I was, they would know better than to behave badly or my father would give them such a klap, like he would to me and my mom when he was angry with us.
He needed to drink to get things that he had seen in the townships out of his head. That’s what he said to my mother after he had flat handed her across the face one day and then came back with some cosmos out of the garden to say sorry. I tried to stay out of my father’s way and with the help of Mavis I succeeded most of the time.
Then one day everything changed.
That day, I lay hidden beneath Mavis’ bed and counted her tokolosh bricks over and over. Mavis said that those bricks holding her bed high off the ground, were what kept her safe at night from the tokolosh.
My father was the tokolosh in my life. So I figured the best place to stay hidden when he came home, was under Mavis’ bed, in her warm little room at the end of the garden.
Her room was dark and smelled of paraffin and pap. My mother would delicately wrinkle her nose and clutch at her throat ever so slightly when she had to come anywhere near Mavis’ room. She made sure it wasn’t often. Most times she would just stick her head out of the kitchen door and yell “Maviiisss!”,and boy, if Mavis wasn’t at the kitchen door in a shot, you would see my mother clucking her tongue and muttering something like, “Bleddy ousies.”
My mother always had lots to say about the ‘Bleddy ousies’to her friends. Then they would also shake their heads and cluck back. I could never understand what this was about, so one day I asked Mavis what ‘Bleddy ousies’was . Oh how she laughed, tears running down her shiny black cheeks, bosom jiggling like no one’s business.
My mother was like a stick insect, all jerky and angles. She gave awkward hugs, you know, when they just don’t feel right. But now, Mavis, boy, could she hug! It was where I loved to be most on earth, folded in amongst Mavis’ huge boobs, smelling moth balls and zambuk and love. It was my safest place, followed closely by my hiding spot here, under her bed, counting bricks while my father tore the house apart. I felt as though I were in a dark bubble where no one could touch me.
I could hear my mother shrieking in the lounge and so I put my hands over my ears and started to sing the song Mavis had been teaching me that morning. We had been in the kitchen and I was writing down recipes for her because she couldn’t read or write. Can you imagine not being able to read or write? So I did my absolute best, dotting my i’s with hearts, poking my tongue this way and that with intense concentration.
Mavis’ cooking was the best and we’d put together quite a collection of recipes already. She said that one day she would give the recipes to her daughter, if she ever had children, but that the ‘missus’ kept her too busy here in Benoni at our house for her to get back to her homeland in Venda.
It was a shock for me to hear that Mavis had another family far away! I always thought she just lived here! Mavis told me that my father kept her passbook, so she was stuck here, but that she would one day make a plan. I just hoped that when she did make a plan, she would take me with her.When I asked her about this, she just shook her head and said white people couldn’t live in Venda. She had tears in her eyes and stroked my head softly. I could tell she was sad, and that made me feel sad too, though I wasn’t sure why. Anyway, I thought, Mavis would be with me forever, just as she had always been.
I carried on singing my song, but as loud as I sang, my mother and father were louder. I pulled my knees up against my chest and drew patterns on the dusty floor under the bed, counting bricks as fast as I could. This was the worst fight my parents had ever had. I squeezed my eyes tight, watching the splotches of colour against my eyelids. I listened to my breathing and felt my heart wanting to fly right out of my chest. Opening my eyes, I wished for Mavis’ feet to magically shuffle into my line of sight, but all I saw were little dust balls floating upward on my breath.
My mother was sobbing now and so I peeped out from under the bed to see what was happening. She was in a heap on the courtyard floor outside the kitchen door. Mavis was holding a lappie to my mother’s face, trying to stop blood from trickling onto her blouse.
My fathers’ large form darkened the kitchen door. Just as my mother tried to flatten herself further into the cement floor, so rose Mavis to her full height and planted herself firmly in front of my father. She crossed her arms over her bosom and said, “No more Baas.”.
His back hand snapped her head back and with one movement he had her on the ground, face down on the concrete. With one hand he pulled up her skirt and yanked his belt out of his pants with the other.
Spit flying from his mouth he shouted, “You don’t fucking tell me what to do with my family. You are a kaffir! A nothing!” All anger turned upon Mavis, my father brought the belt down hard on the back of her body. Then with his knees, he spread her legs apart, tearing at her pantyhose.
When he pulled his pants down, I closed my eyes. My mother always told me that it was very unladylike to see a mans naked parts. So I shut my eyes and sang my song, not noticing the muddy puddle that I had made when I let myself go in fright.
Eventually everything was quiet and eyes screwed tight, I sang myself to sleep under Mavis’ bed.
When my mother eventually found me and brought me into the house, life had changed forever. I could feel that the house was empty. My father was gone, but so was Mavis.
I asked my mother where she was and she told me that Mavis had been a bit ‘voor’ . She had interfered with family business and we just couldn’t have that in our house. A maid must know her place. So Mavis had been fired.
At this piece of information, given to me in ice cold chunks, I collapsed into gulping tears.
“Don’t be silly!” my mother said, “You are 10! Girls your age don’t cry like babies over a maid! There are plenty more looking for work so we will just get another one.”
I looked at my mother and realised that I had just somehow participated in evil. I just wasn’t sure how. Already what I thought I had seen was becoming strangely distorted. Reality seemed to melt into a nightmare.
That was the summer I grew – inwards mostly. From then on I kept the memory of Mavis close to me. My love of cooking grew from those memories because I felt closest to her in the kitchen, perfecting the recipes I had written down for her.
And so here I was, sitting at a restaurant, twenty years on, paging through the recipe book and waiting for my appointment, remembering the woman who had given love to me, when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. My appointment had arrived.
I turned around to face a young woman, the image of Mavis, with the lovliest honey brown face and eyes as blue as my fathers.

Persephone and Zeus

Question? You ask me if I love you or just admire the hell out of you. I have this to say in return.

I like you. Your eyes house collections of self-portraits of every kind of material possession imaginable. Almosts. All I have are gorgeous almosts. Forgive me; I am afraid I may have already drunk the poison that was meant for the rats. It was an accident. The waves of a good man like Zeus will always come with a map. Some kind of atlas. A succession of cloud people will learn to tolerate you because the man who has fallen for you not only has an intellect but has empires too. There is something written in him.

Your hair was as thick as syrup. Your hair is a swarm of bees that awaits the fortunate villagers. Your hair was a specific colour. Dark and sometime I would see our children in your hair. As if, your hair was something otherworldly, ethereal and magical. You are my heart’s assignment. The object of my affection. Sometimes when I dream I see that the fishermen have caught malignant fish in their nets. You saw the girl inside me. Destroyed her in the end. I already know the ending to this story. I feel as if I have wasted something.

All along, I knew you would break my heart, even though I called you beloved. I can see you in the dark with your pig’s heart. I asked you quite timidly. Are you done with me now? You said, I am quite done with you now. I have no further use for you. Do not love me if the only thing you are going to do is break my heart? Do not love me if all you are going to do is the proof a hypothesis. The stars unite with the night. The details were left up to you. Completely up to you. You were the one who had to include me in your life.

All I want to remember is pleasure and the pleasure that you give me but it is never quite enough. I long to be loved and admired by both men and women. I tell myself that this is no big deal. It is what everyone wants but I know at the heart of it all it is not so. Heterosexual women want to be desired by heterosexual men and not by other women. I never wanted to be anointed or a prophet. Do not go on so. As if, it is a big deal or something. I change. With each autumn’s birthday that approaches, I change. It is comforting to believe we are just bodies.

With every fall, with every friendship, with every city or country that I move to, with every Kafkaesque movement inside my head, you, my blonde gravedigger one day I am afraid I will have to give you up to your children. I know the gist of your knowledge. I know the translations of your language and I want to be lost in neither. I slip into your skin. Afternoon delight. I slip into your skin. I become a woman. When I finally give up your butch flesh, sweat, tears, blood, bone, straw I become a girl again.

It is wonderful to be a girl and to see the world through the eyes of a girl even though you are a woman. There are the details of us in the grass. The outline of our bodies. Yours crashing and crashing like waves into mine repeatedly until we are one. Solidity. Anchor. I think of words like that when you are with me. You deliver your messages with such confidence that I just have to kiss your sweet face. I know that one day I will return to this ground. I will walk here but you will have passed on to the hereafter never to be seen from a distance again or heard from again.

I saw you. Love at first sight. I buried themes in the ground hoping that you would find them and when you did that, first you would find my eyes and put them to good use. Wear them as if you would wear rose coloured glasses and see the world through my perspective. I am elated that at my age I have discovered love. The love of mountains and of dogs. I will never forget that day that you made for a bed for me out of a field. I can hear you breathing and it is the most beautiful sound in the world to me. This journey has been strange.

I want to waste nothing of the sweetness of it. All I can remember of your passing through my life to the other side is your mouth and from here on out that is all I have been searching for. Duplicates of it. There was something so comforting lying down next to you, putting my arm around your waist, and feeling you breathe in and breathe out. It reminded me of childhood except we were not children. We were grown women. I was older. You were younger but at the end of the day, it did not matter. We were women in love.

Nothing could camouflage that. The shadow of pain lasts and lasts and lasts. For a while, whenever you lingered and I languished in your arms it was forgotten but only briefly. Let us build a home in the desert and we could make love all afternoon there if we wanted, you said. Your breath smelled like cake. What did my breath smell like? I was a late bloomer. You showed me photographs of you and your family. In one, you are posing with all of your friends in swimming costumes. You were the bravest one out of them all. You were wearing a bikini.

You hardly had any breasts late bloomer but you looked at the camera zooming in on you with a swagger and an honest confidence. I was finished.

Two Sisters: Bhavam and Katha

Centuries ago an evil demon kidnapped twin sisters from their widowed mother because she wouldn’t return his love. In order that she would never find them again, he left the one in North India and the other in South India, Tamil Nandu, with strangers, whom he thought would kill them. The strangers however fell in love with the girls and adopted them as their own. The one sister from Tamil Nandu was named Bhavam, which means expression as the little girl always serious and expressed her emotions through her face and the other sister from North India was named Katha as she was always telling tall tales.

Both sisters were very different though. Bhavam, who was raised in a strict religious home, worshipped the gods in her dance and was a meticulous and disciplined dancer. Katha, raised in a less strict home was very mischievous and naughty. She too though worshipped the gods in dance but would frequently forget her steps and then just make her own up as the music played. Bhavam desired only to maintain her family’s good name by being a good daughter and the gods appreciated her soulful dancing and blessed her parents because of her. Katha however gave her parents many headaches, abandoning their rules as she saw fit and thoroughly entertained and annoyed the gods with her reckless ways. Their mother however never forgot about her daughters and searched for them relentlessly. Seeing her pain, gods eventually managed to convince the demon to reveals the girls’ whereabouts by tricking him with promises of great riches. The daughters were returned to their mother but sadly they didn’t like her or each other. Too much time had passed and neither could speak the other’s language. The playful Katha found Bhavam too boring and Bhavam couldn’t handle the energetic Katha. Their mother’s dream of reuniting with her daughters were crushed and she wept bitterly at her ill-fate. But, a very poor pedlar, who had loved their mother all his life, couldn’t bear to see her cry and he started playing his Tabla, just had he’d done when she was pregnant with the girls. Immediately both girls started moving their feet, as if magic. Bhavam moved to dance steps carefully thought out and was graceful as she danced to the music, while Katha just made up the steps as she went along, but was equally graceful. And it was in their dancing that they started to smile and play together. Every day they would wake up and dance to the pedlar’s drum, learning each other’s ways and their love for each other grew. When it was finally time for them to go home the sisters cried bitterly but made a vow that they would never remain apart again. Their love for their mother grew and eventually she and the pedlar married in their old age. While the girls and their mother forgave the evil demon, the gods sentenced him to eternally sit and watch the girls dance and live happy lives. Bhavam would eventually become the mother of Bharatanatyam while Kathak, the mother of Kathak.

Today disciples of both dance forms are spread all across the world. Both dance forms celebrate love, light and victory of good over evil. And just like the sisters, both dances prove that our souls will never forget where it comes from and its only real goal in life is to bring joy to all who see it.

By Jacqueline Friedman


James O’Connor
Edna Braithwaite was a slim, dark haired woman, intense, very much inside herself. Outwardly she appeared conventional and fitting into the desired norms of her social circle, but inside she was different, seething with unexpressed desires and feelings.
Now, as she stood on the long veranda of her High Constantia home, looking out over the bright lights of the Cape that lay like sparkling jewels on the black velvet of the night, she thought to herself that she had the things that most of the people she knew desired and yet she was not satisfied. She craved something, she did not know what. Excitement perhaps, perhaps fulfilment of some sort.
This dichotomy caused her to be irritable sometimes and moody and her husband would wonder what had got into her. He was more straightforward and uncomplicated and this showed in his candid manner and blonde, open face, which was different from her slightly sharp features .
“We’re so different, Edna and I. That’s why we get on so well,” she had once overheard him saying to a friend.
Her inner conflict caused her also to rebel and was part of the reason for her taking a lover. She was at a time of her life when she was particularly bored with her married life and dissatisfied with the conventional ideas of their friends and acquaintances.
It was a hot night and Richard, her husband, sat nearby, sipping a gin and tonic. His blonde hair and the light complexion of his open face gleamed in the light from the lamp above him.
“You’re sure you won’t have a g and t?” he asked, repeating the question he had asked when he had poured one for himself.
“I told you no,” she said over her shoulder in a snappy tone and then a moment later regretted her rudeness. She knew she could be as spiky as the hedge hog that had wandered into their garden one night.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so rude,” she said, turning to her husband.
He said, nothing, merely nodding his head in acknowledgement. How good natured he was, she thought. She had always admired him for making a big success of his business without being arrogant or pushy. The furniture business was pretty cutthroat, yet he was not hard, as some of their friends in business could be. Although a shrewd businessman he was honest, straightforward and uncomplicated, she knew.
“Don’t forget to go in to Stevenson’s tomorrow to have a look at that BM cabriolet I’d like to buy for you,” he said.
“Thanks. No I won’t forget.”
When he had finished his drink they went inside, locked up and went to bed.

The BM was sleek, silver grey, a honey. The salesman was attentive, keen to sell the expensive car, especially now that sales of used cars were so bad. He was in his thirties, fairly good looking, in a slightly disreputable way, his hair greased and combed back and she noticed that as he looked at her his eyes seemed to narrow slightly. There was something sexually suggestive in the look. This irritated her, she was not used to car salesmen being familiar with her, they normally adopted a respectful attitude, and yet she was pleased by it.
When she left she told him that she liked the car but hadn’t made up her mind yet.
“You’re welcome to test drive it any time you like, Mrs Braithwaite,”
Back at home that afternoon she worked on her roses a bit, fertilising and spraying them and found herself thinking of the salesman. A picture of him with that slightly insinuating look would come to her. Scornfully she said to herself that he was just a cut-rate Casanova. Yet he excited her and a certain tension gripped her loins at thought of him.
She tried to put the thoughts of the salesman out of her mind, but two days later she was sitting in the lounge reading Vogue when suddenly she stood up and walked to the bedroom to get the handbag in which she had put the business card the salesman had given her.
David Jordan it read. She picked up the phone and asked for him in the confident tone of a woman of her position.
There was a moment’s wait and then his voice came over the phone. For a second she felt uncertainty, almost fear. Then she said who she was.
“I would like to road test the car. Would you bring it out to my house?” she asked him.
He brought it that morning. From her window she watched the casual, skilful way he parked it, like a man obviously used to all sorts of cars. She wondered if he handled women that way, but although his eyes still held a trace of that narrowed look, he spoke to her in a businesslike way. Perhaps he was short-sighted and narrowed his eyes merely to focus better, she thought, but she noticed he had not worn glasses to drive or to read from the sales pamphlets he had brought.
She drove through the quiet, tree lined roads of the area, noting that the car handled very well and conscious all the time of his presence next to her.
“Would you like to take it on the Blue Route? Open it up a bit?” Jordan asked.
“Yes. Good idea.”
On the freeway she drove fairly fast, the top down and the wind beating in her hair. It made her feel young, driving with this man in an open car. The words of Peter Gabriel’s song about the woman driving through Paris with the wind in her hair came to her. She wondered what the salesman, David Jordan, was thinking.
When she pulled in at her gates she felt flushed and invigorated and her normally slightly dull complexion glowed a little. If Richard had seen her at that moment he would have felt a slight unease, even if he had not been able to pinpoint exactly why. Turning in her seat towards David Jordan she brushed her hair out of her eyes with her hand. “I like the car, but I’ll think about it.”
“I knew you’d like the car once you’d driven it. Let me know when you’ve decided, Mrs Braithwaite. You’ve got my number.”
At times during the week end she thought about him and ways to go about meeting him. This was not something she had done before. She had to be very careful. It was strange, she had had fantasies before of meeting some charming, handsome Richard Gere look-alike, a leading lawyer perhaps or a surgeon, but never of a rather seedy car salesman, and yet she found herself pulled towards this man. It would be a big risk. Her friends wouldn’t like the idea, but she would have to see that they never found out
On the Monday morning, after she had eaten breakfast on the patio, she brought her laptop out to the table and emailed the address on his business card.
I want to discuss buying the BM. Can we meet somewhere not too public?
She felt on edge after she had sent the email and a couple of times she checked her laptop to see if there was an answer.
That afternoon when she checked again there was an answer:
My flat, 7 Cranbrooke Mansions, Adelphi Road, Claremont, would be the least public. 5.15 pm tomorrow. Try to park behind the trees in the car park.
Her stomach trembled slightly as she read the email. She was nervous about betraying Richard like this but it was also sexual excitement that gripped her. She hadn’t felt like this since the early days of her courting by Richard. The nervous feeling stayed with her and she had to try hard to hide it from Richard that evening and the Tuesday morning.
That afternoon she drove to David Jordan’s flat. It was a nondescript block and as she drove in to the parking lot she thought she would hate to live in one of these boxes. She noticed that the trees hid her car from the view of passers-by.
After a few minutes David drove in. When they entered his flat she noted with slight distaste the drab vulgarity of the furnishings and the gaudy print of the woman on the wall, which looked as if it had been bought from a bazaar. She wondered if it was indicative of his taste in women. She had a moment of doubt but as he took her in his arms that quickly began to fade away.
David Jordan was obviously not of much class, but the way she felt, that perhaps added to his attraction.
Because of the nature of his work David was able to move around fairly freely and she began to meet him at his flat regularly. There was no question of his coming to the house, that was too dangerous, there were the servants and the CCTV cameras, the neighbours and the friends who visited. Also, she would not have felt right, betraying Richard in his own house. She was careful to keep up the lunches and teas with her women friends; to discontinue them would arouse suspicions.
She realised how much better a man Richard was, how different they were. David had fewer scruples, was less responsible. Even his looks were very different. Where Richard was a little stout, David was a little thin, where Richard was fair David was dark. And, of course, David was younger.
It was risky but it was the best of both worlds, a good, stable marriage to a successful, loving businessman and an exciting relationship with another man. And she deceived herself by thinking that she was not really being unfaithful to Richard, after all she didn’t love David, he was just an adventure to her. This was one of the oldest clichés in the world, she knew, the older, wealthier woman falling for the physical attraction of a younger man socially beneath her. She smiled slightly at the irony, he might be beneath her, but the way things were nowadays she was often beneath him.

She had from the beginning felt the prickings of conscience but in the heat of desire had put them out of her mind. After a while her misgivings began to plague her. She tried to shake them off but they stuck like the burs in the fields near her house. Eventually she resolved to give David up. She did not visit him or even phone and wandered around the house, bored and distracted. After a few days her thighs almost ached with desire for him. Sex with her husband was not unpleasant but it was not the same as with David, there was not the same dizzying excitement as she had felt when riding pillion on a motorbike in her student days. With David she felt as if she were diving into a sea of ecstasy. Having the two different kinds of men and sex, the reliable, pleasant calm and the wild, almost wicked, stimulated her. She felt that she was a highly desirable, attractive woman, wanted by two men. Lying in Richard’s arms she thought of David and lying in David’s bed she sometimes thought of Richard. And this excited her even more.
David, she thought, had no qualms of conscience. Basically he was not a very decent fellow, she knew. But then, she supposed, she wasn’t perfect herself, was she?
One cool autumn day, after an afternoon of lovemaking, she lay on David’s bed thinking that she knew so little about him. She raised herself up on one slender arm, the sheet falling back as she did so, to reveal her pale, naked body with the slight looseness of middle age.
“Have you ever been married, David?” she asked.
He was standing naked at the chest of drawers, his body not well muscled but still firm, and turned to look at her as she asked. She seemed to see a slight resentment in his eyes at her question.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m divorced.”
“Divorced?” she repeated. “Where is your wife?”
“In East London.” He did not seem eager to discuss it and she did not ask him anything else about it.
The fact that he had been married before interested her though and the following week at his flat as they were drinking the good instant coffee she had bought, not liking the cheap coffee he usually bought, she asked if he had children.
“Yes, a boy.”
“You didn’t mention him when I asked if you’d been married.”
“You didn’t ask,” he said, as if that was all there was to it.
His answer seemed so uncaring and she wondered if he would feel just as uncaring if he never saw her again. He probably would, she thought, but the idea did not upset her.
The trouble with the relationship was she had to be so damned careful. Once, after, she had spent part of the afternoon with David, her husband asked her that evening what she had done that day.
“Oh, I did some shopping at Woolworths,” she said, and went on reading her magazine, trying to hide the sudden tension in her.
“Is the food still good at their tea room?” her husband asked a few moments later.
She looked up at him blankly. “Whose tea room?” she asked.
He looked at her puzzledly. “Woolworths. You’ve just said you were there.”
“Oh,” she said, almost blushing, “I didn’t have tea there. I just shopped.”
Fuck, she thought, I hope he doesn’t ask what I bought. But he didn’t question her any further.
Sometimes she said she had been with a woman friend, and often this was true but there were times when she left the women early to be with David, who worked irregular hours. She knew she could get caught out if the women mentioned in front of Richard what time she had left them. It was not very likely but it was possible. At times she felt the way she thought a spy must feel, leading a double life. She felt caught up in the deception, carried along by it as if it had a power of its own, like a strong river that carried you downstream to a soft, sandy beach, or perhaps out to sea to be lost forever. But when David spoke to her on the phone and she heard that slightly roguish sounding voice she could not wait to be with him again and all the scheming and the deviousness and tension seemed worth it.

Now the Cape winter began, bringing its days of rain and cold and Richard suggested they holiday in England and France. The idea didn’t appeal to Edna at all, she didn’t want to leave David, but she couldn’t think of an excuse not to go. So they left in June, midsummer in England.
In London they went to the theatres and visited the Tower and the other historical sites and she thought of David and his lovemaking and missed him. Then they moved to a hotel in the Lake District and one beautiful day, looking out over the masses of daffodils, the calm lake shining in the distance, her husband beside her, she suddenly realised that she was no longer thinking of David.
Later they visited old friends in France and it was exciting and warming to see them again and remember the times they had spent together in South Africa when they were younger. It made them feel young again.
After a few days with their friends they left to visit Provence. They drove through the hot countryside, with its green vineyards and leafy orchards, thinking how it reminded them of the Boland of the Western Cape, and it seemed she had forgotten David altogether.
When they got back to Cape Town, though, and Richard returned to work, she began to think of David again. One day she phoned him and the next day as she drove to his flat she felt that stomach tingling, thigh tightening excitement of before. They began meeting regularly again.
At home sometimes she felt so excited by the prospect of being with David or by having been with him that she wondered if Richard could see it in her. She felt exposed, like a fish in a bowl. The effort of trying to suppress the signs of excitement in her made her seem cold and aloof at times.
It was the afternoon of a cold, windy day and she was lying in bed with David. Outside you could hear the rain dripping dismally down and it was warm and comfortable in bed. David was lying on his back with his hands clasped under his head. He spoke without turning to her.
“Do you think you could lend me ten thousand rands?”
“Ten thousand rands! What for?”
He was silent for a moment. “I’ve got a business scheme I want to develop. I need the money to help start it up.”
“Where would I get ten thousand rands?”
“Oh, come on, that’s nothing to you.”
“My husband may have a good business, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got money of my own.”
He turned to look at her. “Does that mean you won’t lend it to me?”
“No, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t lend it to you, if I could. It means I haven’t got it to lend you.”
David turned away and lay looking up at the ceiling. After a while he said, “And if I went to your husband? You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
She could not believe that she had understood him properly. “That almost sounds like blackmail.”
“Oh come on.” His tone was hard. You can’t tell me you haven’t got ten thousand rands. It’s not as if you won’t get it back. It would be better for you to lend it to me than for me to go to him for it.”
“Why would he lend it to you?”
He smiled, a nasty smile. “I’m sure he wouldn’t want the whole of Cape Town to know about us.”
She was aghast. A coldness came over her limbs. She was by now sitting up, looking into his eyes and she saw that he meant it.
“You know, up to this moment I didn’t know what a shit you are.”
She rose from the bed and pulled her clothes on, feeling suddenly degraded by his seeing her so.
When she walked out of the door he was lying with his back to her. They did not say a word to each other. What a fool I have been she was thinking. Even the sight of the rumpled bed and the creased sheets as she closed the door repelled her. They seemed like the props of a porn film. To have given herself, her body and feelings to a man like this, what had been wrong with her? What had happened to all her fine ideals? What must Richard think of her if he ever found out? And now it came to her in an icy flash, he could easily find out. Or be told by this common little man.
When she got home she quickly showered and changed to get rid of the smells of sex that might betray her, but also to rid herself of the feel of him on her, as a woman who has been raped would wish to. Although she had certainly not been raped, she had freely given herself to this bastard, even chased him, she knew.
She was so upset that she could not think clearly. Should she forestall David by speaking to Richard before David got to him or should she say nothing? Perhaps David would not go to him. Thinking about it she ran her hands through her hair despondently.
When Richard came home he said to her, “You’re not looking well. You should go to bed. Perhaps you’re getting flu.” There was genuine concern in his voice and on his face.
“Perhaps. I’ll go to bed early.”
For the next few weeks she was on tenterhooks for signs that David had approached Richard, but she tried not to show it. The tension was wearing her down. One Friday evening after supper she was having a drink with Richard in the lounge. There was a Tchaikovsky piano concerto CD playing, the mood was relaxed and she felt that she had to speak to Richard now or she would never be able to. She would tell him that she had made a terrible mistake and was more sorry than she could say. Perhaps he would leave her, get a divorce, but she had to confess.
She had her back half turned to him, facing the Regency striped wall paper. “Richard,” she began.
She could not turn to face him. The stripes seemed to converge and move in on her and she had to blink to clear her mind before speaking.
“Are we still going to the Grangers on Monday?”
“Yes, if it’s all right with you.”
“Yes, it’s fine. It’ll be nice.”
For the next few weeks the tension continued for her. She pedalled furiously on the exercise bike so that her T- shirt was soaked with sweat, but it relieved her only temporarily. Secretly she watched Richard for any sign that he knew of the affair but she was unable to pick up anything. All desire for David had left her but what he might do worried her.
She decided that she must try to find out if David had approached Richard or spoken to anyone else about the affair. About six weeks after she had left David she drove to his flat.
There was another name on his letter box. She knocked on the caretaker’s door.
“Mr Jordan left about two weeks ago. He went to Jo’burg, I think,” the little, elderly man who answered the door said in response to her enquiry.

During the following weeks she felt even more mixed up and full of unexpressed emotions than she had been before the affair. Somewhere she had read or heard that it was healing to put your feelings down on paper and she began to sit down every day and write.
For the first few days she wrote about her feelings during the affair with David and after. She carefully tore up these writings into small bits, wet them well and threw them into the garbage bin. Then she began to write about anything else that came into her mind. Memories of her childhood in Kenya came to her and gradually a theme began to fall into place and the words took form. She wrote of a fictional white family in Kenya and used those childhood memories as background.
The writing brought her some relief and after more than a year she showed it to a publisher friend. He read a little of it at her house; said it seemed good and asked if he could take it home to read. She thought perhaps he was just being nice but he phoned to tell her that he was impressed and wanted to keep it a little longer.
Eight months later, and after a little revision, it was published, to some acclaim. She began her next book, finding that the writing was cathartic and gave her a sense of fulfilment. Her feelings of rebellion lessened, she no longer felt the need for a lover and she mixed with her friends and acquaintances more acceptingly.
She began to devote more time and care to Richard and he seemed healthier and happier. She too became happier and more contented.
However, she found that the second book was more difficult to write and that she felt more anxious about her writing, whereas she had written the first book with no burden of expectation, nobody to please but herself. Now doubts came upon her, there were times when she did not know how to continue. She confided her doubts to her friend the publisher, who looked through what she had written.
“Just relax,” he said, “and write as you feel. Don’t try to be literary.”
She tried to follow his advice. It was hard going. There were still some doubts and anxieties in her but finally she managed to write more freely.
The second book was greeted enthusiastically. Second book better than the first. Edna Braithwaite exceeds expectations, the Cape Times review headline read and the Argus and the Johannesburg papers echoed that. She continued writing and in the years that followed Edna Braithwaite became a well known and respected name in South African literary circles and Richard seemed proud of her.
He never mentioned David to her or gave any indication that he had known about the affair and years later she still sometimes wondered about it. Many scenarios crossed her mind. Perhaps David had approached him but Richard wasn’t interested enough in her to worry about it. Perhaps Richard had been having an affair himself at the time and had been only too glad that she was involved with another man, so that she was too busy to notice and he was therefore spared the constant vigilance and the lying and deception. After all, she had neglected him at the time. Possibly Richard had even been sorry that her affair with David had ended. Perhaps none of these were true and he would have been deeply hurt if he had learned of her deception.
There was also the rather Hollywoodish possibility that David had approached Richard for the money and that Richard had paid him to leave, but surely, she thought, if that were the case Richard would have mentioned it at some time.
Sometimes, as they grew older, they sat together in the lounge reading, watching TV or listening to music and they made a pleasant picture, a happy couple enjoying simple pleasures together. Unlike some people whose mild faults seem to grow worse with the years, she had mellowed and even her face had grown fuller and warmer looking as if to express physically what had changed in her emotionally.
All the years of her life she wondered if Richard had ever found out, but she could never bring herself to ask.
The end

Munich Sheep in Winter

There’s a woman reading a book in a museum while imagining she should be cleaning house.There it was. The thread of a winter’s bone communicating the royalty of flowering suffering, the dangers of it while I lay sleeping. I awoke as if from a dream. The woman with hair like silk had not left me, not left him, her family. I took to gardening like voodoo, growing spinach like Mozart composed his music. Blood stings like a wasp, dragonflies draw near, so does sleeping, sleeping it off and the articulate words. Stubborn ghost that I just can’t get rid of. I was a woman under a lifetime of dirt, sun and touch where heaven meets earth’s paradise. Never have I seen such poverty in a town of mines, borne of flame, grit, coals, dark light, goals and dreams caught in ears. Such drama. Tender is every burden masked and unmasked, is flesh, the image of Christ and the origins of wedding cake. There it is. Nearly fifteen years ago. The affair. The matters of the heart. The man and a guarded woman, child in her belly, an orchard prospering like a constellation, the Milky Way. I got in the way.

When someone has broken your heart what do you do? You come home, you clean house.

I wanted to know if you still think of me, dream of me, the elements and dimensions of our relationship, with one eye open and the other shut as moonlight and your soul killed me. I try and not think of your cold touch close to my ice heart. Dark blooms as sin suns. Scorched violence so early in the morning is not becoming. My thoughts are becoming darker and darker. Where do people go, where do they come from (swimming with the fishes)? The glare of the brightness of it was like an illness. It is easy to blame the hunt, the red chakra light seeping through the woman’s physical body. It has its own relevance, silence, compulsion from whence it came and its own opinion. It was as sane to me as the day I realised he would not, could not let go of his family’s life. He had white hands. A veteran’s eyes. At night he would open my veins, true blood, spilling it into the lake that covered Canada in my heart, it would hiss like a flap, pressure building into a force of torture, illness.

Women know about abortions in Johannesburg. You can go to a hospital or a private clinic.

Down the winter road came people walking past me more damaged, and serious than I was. I pulled my scarf around my neck tighter, balled my hands into fists in the pockets of my coat. The moon people I called them with stars in their eyes with their celebrity hanger-on style, their exposes that I can’t fathom, nor understand. I detest it in my world, in my reality. I watched a man out of the corner of my eye on the opposite side of the street with his pose. His Hitler moustache. He looked sinister. As sinister as the double life in the history of Germany. I switch off all the lights when I leave the room. Hit the repeat button on classical music. I am mystified by the onion and all of its layers. The thrill of the knife in my hand as if I am going in the for the kill. Its intricate patterns will be no more like the married man who seduced all of me at twenty-two boldly, bravely who found me bright, capable, extraordinary, exceptional, and brilliant. Of course he doesn’t remember tragi-comic me.

In a house filled with books from top to bottom, in layers how can you ever feel wounded?

I never believed in diamonds, furs, the monthly maintenance cheque, finding love after Mr Muirhead, wifedom and children, being a mistress beyond my thirties, religion and church. Men can teach a girl many things outside of the bedroom. They can educate them on grief, sacrifice, manipulation, mean smiles, standing solitude, music, desperation, loneliness, self-help, rejection, the adult game of motherhood’s throne and even though they are barking mad at you their words sound as simple as a tree leaving you to think where do these petals fall.

He taught me primarily, how to cry in the bathroom and that the Immaculate Conception is not theirs. A family is only perfect in a photograph. They’re discreet about sex, romance, death and being dysfunctional. Do the Munich sheep in winter feel the cold as the sheep on farms in post-apartheid South Africa? I only believed in hitting the repeat button to hear the spiritual madness of classical music over and over again. Muirhead taught me that.

For a long time I didn’t feel anything, no love for anything green that grew nimbly.

I dreamed we were perfect but the flesh at my wrists was calling me, the shark teeth of a razor blade. There’s no welcome mat at the door for people here anymore. I am a shell, purified through ritual, through ceremony, sometimes a dazzling thinker, sometimes a child in a fairy tale childhood continued standing on the shore facing the emerald hypomanic Monday ghost of a sea. Jean Rhys dances. She dances her heart out on the stage but she knows it will never be enough to make up for her lost childhood in Dominica. The rolling hills and green feast of valleys ahead of her. Her wounds are not yet evaporated. Disturbingly so they entertain us. Tragedy. Freeze. Closer. That door to childhood is shut forever. And we both believed that love would save us. Tenderness in the dark that would chill us both forever to the bone. He was the enemy. The thief. Women writers. Watch out for them for they flex their muscles sharply, collect their day’s work, creativity and spirits in a warm bath.

Their brains are like crumbs, cuckoo clocks and the think tanks of war poets all inseparable.

They say, ‘I am turning over a new leaf, destination anywhere collaborating with transport, and people.’ They keep time and routine operating with shocking maturity and a brilliant clarity of vision like any great poet, great thinker would. Oh to move without any sense of direction, to think only pure thoughts, of rituals and nothing else but then again there is the mocking, terrifying and informed needle, the doctor in her white lab coat (who exactly is the rat here), the merry bunch of student nurses, the mansion, the doll house, the swimming pool, the library, the teenagers with their liberal mannerisms, romantic eating disorders, tik, marijuana addictions. Alcoholics everyone by the time they turned twenty-one I predicted. This was the next phase of my life. Loss, breathing lessons, physical science for matriculants at twenty-two and tongue. Every day at Tara the air had a curious oppressive ring to it, the texture, the awareness of the sun. I could not function extraordinarily anymore.

I had to manage being silenced, pray at night that the footsteps in the corridor wasn’t a ghost.

North America wooed me although I couldn’t accomplish anything anymore and think straight. My writing room is quite comfortable. The room is quiet and receives a lot of light, the room is bare with just a few essentials. My writing desk which I can’t do without and my bed pushed against the wall. It’s a small space but it is my space. If I want to sleep, I sleep. If I want to read, I read. And I have left the Johannesburg people and the Swazi girls swanning at St. Marks High far behind me. The air was filled with sweetness in Swaziland. Bad memories are bad for you, they’re wasteful, starve you of goodness and intrigue. Good memories give you stories, allure but they’re also quick to ambush you, quick to forget. Mantra, meditation or prayer? He needed to explore the world. I didn’t. He had a collected detachment. Friendship ended and a great suffering began for me. He needed to be the curator of his own museum. The light went out of my eyes, so did the world’s moon, the innocence he touched.

Cry for your children Africa, not me, cry for courage, pray that your sins will be forgiven.

And so my life began with my father and my mother in Port Elizabeth once again at twenty-two with ripe figs and children in a post-apartheid Rainbow Nation African Renaissance kitchen. The fig trees were slowly dying in the backyard. We would go outside my father and myself and stare up at the stars in the polluted sky (we lived on the industrial side of town) as if the stars were divided into districts. The intricate lines on his face did not bother me, every ripple, every wave multiplied. He was still ‘daddy’ made out of the sight of grit, stupid gossip and distraction pulling him in every direction now that his first grandson was born. The sleeper. Ethan the three month old cherub whose name would have been Heath or Ambrose. Babies do not run on electricity. They run on milk feedings not pasta or films that Tarantino directed. And so I began to feel again. I began to feel love again. You can never let go of the past completely because it has made you the person you have become.

There’s the smell of love coming out of our kitchen that hasn’t been there for years.

Love, passion, empathy, it has influenced me in some way, I have been its slave even though I haven’t gone swimming with dolphins yet or gone to Starbucks on Wiltshire Boulevard. This is a family made for eight. This was a family made for five once upon a time and then we were four but now we are eight. Eight is a wonderfully elegant number. Eight plates, eight knives, eight forks, eight glasses. Pots cooking away on the stove, fragrant meat, this house is a home again. And I adored this marriage almost as much as I adored studying history in school. Old shoe. Old shoe. What to do? What to do? Wait for it to dissolve, dissolve, dissolve but then those who live in poverty will have nothing to live for. I recognise them by their old shoes. They drink water like there’s no tomorrow and possibly retch it all out of their system anyway because they’re starved to death, scared to death just thinking about where their next meal is going to come from. And it’s not focaccia, chicken and it’s not spaghetti.

Is the glare of poverty, disillusionment is this a test God, my assignment, my grand purpose?

My sister tells me she stands atop buildings in the Johannesburg Central Business District to take pictures of sunsets over the skyline and the rooftops of other buildings. For a beginner she is not bad at all. While either people dream of London, Thailand, India, North America (Florida and New York), Cancun, Mexico she is ready to book the plane ticket, get a visa and pack her bags. My sister is the wedding photographer. She takes pictures. One in a while she takes a break, talks to someone who has taken an interest in her, her friend calls it ‘love at first sight’. She wants everyone to be paired off, to drink sparkling wine, to compliment her on her dress, to talk about my sister’s speech at the reception at Thorny Bush a self-catering game reserve in the middle of nowhere that the bride’s parent’s own and visit twice a year over weekends but my sister is having none of that. She is friendly. She is always friendly but if she’s not interested she’s not interested.

‘He can’t take his eyes off you.’ The bride says. My sister just rolls her eyes ingloriously.

You see he isn’t the first. My sister wears ivory and rain in her hair. She has golden hands, is light-skinned like my mother (that Germanic, St. Helena blood in her I think) and her palms are a-glitter. I remember how we used to feed the chickens biscuits in my paternal grandmother’s backyard, eat ripe figs, pick as many as we wanted, could carry in our t-shirts. But it was an acquired taste and as children we didn’t very much like the taste of it. It was a strange fruit. The seeds tasted like confetti on my tongue. We would split them in half and almost stare in awe and wonder at them because we had never seen a fruit like this before with a beautiful white flower inside that looked like jasmine. But we ate it in front of her because we loved her. I loved her hands, she had beautiful hair, a fine collection of hats for church, her cooking, and her roast potatoes after church on a Sunday, and the pickings of her Sunday lunch. She loved making soup for us and wholesome nutty homemade bread as she welcomed us from school in the afternoons. She loved watching us eat, couldn’t take her eyes off us as we did.

But now that door is shut to her forever.

Look At Me

I miss you most when I am most alone with my innermost thoughts. When I am walking, perhaps talking to another student at the college. My innermost thoughts are just dreams, waking memories. I turn to look for you and then I chastise myself because you are never there. I turn to look for you hard sometimes in a passing embrace between a couple or perhaps when I see someone who looks like you from afar. A fleeting gesture of romance – passé and after all your hard work that was all that you achieved in the end. The solution was love or what you imagined it to be. Your nose had been caught often in a book. Now when we pass each other we both stare coolly ahead, oblivious to the world at large, to each other’s past impassioned pleas, imagined infidelities and shielded by an impenetrable gaze.

Professor Mahola was startled out of his reverie by a passing student’s greeting.

A simple remainder of what has passed – what is left behind is this: a self-righteous person who is lovelorn, a Prima Donna who aspires to lead both a hermetic life and to be incredulously pious. Lecherous prig, pig, leech. She screeched a thousand, a hundred murderous, damning insults in her head but nothing, nothing can calm, can dull the quandary that she found herself in. He remembered her slipping into something slinky. The negligee felt, soft and cool against his skin as she lay beside him in the bed. The fabric was silky, slinky and smooth. No longer the teen screaming drama queen but the sordid little drama queen. You had the evening perfectly prepared. You had lectured yourself over and over how to catch your professor’s eye and now you had the perfect opportunity to be the elegant hostess.

She watched the daytime dramas after her lectures; talk shows and she taped any show that she missed. When she took her bath at night or stood in the shower she imagined that she could see into and through her body at the democracy of the veins. The past sometimes left fingerprints for future reference.

She was no longer a girl who was demure and docile in the presence of the opposite sex but a woman who was alluring and feminine. Whose walk was sensuous, whose body was curved and talk light hearted, conversation intelligent.

The geometric patterns of light at play on the leaves reminded her of the cufflinks on his sleeve as he prepared to leave to a literary awards ceremony. With a backward glance he would say, “I promise I won’t be back too late.”

Sumaya Naidoo’s upbringing had taught her that discretion was the better part of valour. Professor Mahola, of the English Literature department at the University of Port Elizabeth seemed perfect and she was the partner who seemed less than perfect – flawed. She watched him sleep and wondered what the language of love was; picture perfect or alchemic.

She wondered why she hadn’t noticed his haggardness (which she had mistaken for rugged handsomeness), his dark, black hair, slightly curling and greying at the edges, lean frame, his hubris, turkey neck, his indifference towards what she championed for or whether or not her preference for that evening’s meal was the mundane or for the exotic. He didn’t like lipstick. He dismissed it as hedonistic. A streak of red across her lips always signalled emergency. Kohl-rimmed eyes, perfume, teeth stained yellow, eyes bloodshot the morning after promiscuity. Her mood swings signalled depression and emotional instability.

Perhaps that is why in retrospect he had chosen her out of all the girls in the class. She was intelligent, she did not smoke or drink, frequent bars, nightclubs, and she was attractive but also insecure.

He always disregarded her impertinence, rudeness, cruelty and her standoffishness, arrogance and recklessness as immaturity in class when she aggressively debated. Once they had met in a supermarket aisle and they briefly nodded to each other. He remembered her although then she seemed devoid of sexuality. What she was wearing and wore to class never betrayed her sensuality; her mouth was provocative and sensual. After that meeting they spoke after class, on the telephone, at a film festival and they emailed each other. He had brown eyes, dark hair and he was taller than her. She had always thought that was romantic like Lord Byron – a knight in shining armour. She excelled at fidelity, secrecy, privacy, the ownership of both persuasion and possession and so she thought, guarding her rights against the whispered voices that say, he is married you know and standing up for her self. He was married. He was divorced now. His wife had remarried and moved abroad with their two young sons.

Her arms, her back, the back of her legs and her neck were moth brown like driftwood. She proofread the book he was working on as extra credit. She was his best student. They lived in harmony unlike his married friends, he confided in her and the one friend he had who was separated.

She wondered sometimes if it was appropriate that he told her since some of them worked at the university but then she dismissed it, thinking that he had probably told his male friends about her. Did that make her a mistress, a harlot? When he started talking about his children for the nth time she finally began to ask herself divorce or denial?

There were the ones who really hurt. There were names that belonged in a little black book of secrets, misery, heartbreak, lies and loss.

Sweet talk. Sweet nothings. He runs his fingers up her spine. If this was happiness then on some days it felt as if she had died and gone to heaven.

You have made me so happy, she said but he could not bring himself to say the same words, even though he felt the same. Slowly as he realised before her that day by day they were no longer in sync. They were moving out of reach. He was the first, he realised, in a line, a succession.

Soon she will find him tiresome. Handsome! He scoffed. There is a vacancy and urgency behind her eyes. She was an amalgamation of the woman of his dreams or as close as he could come at this age. Wouldn’t that intimidate anyone? He would hold her hand, charming, old school, old fashioned. Whenever they watched television he reached for her hand and they would sit with their fingers intertwined. Now when she came into the room and took up her seat at the back of the class he realised she was beautiful. Striking. Crikey!

Gone were the baggy clothes, the extra pounds mysteriously disappeared and the dark circles under her eyes. The unsmiling, serious student, articulate and domineering whenever her intelligence materialised. She laughs and embraces people non-discriminately on the campus.

He would notice that others were beginning to notice too – the male students clamoured around her outside of class and the female students – Amazons from another time zone – are attracted to her for different reasons.

She is formidable. Intense. Intensity has been replaced by wisdom, worldly laissez faire sophistication.

He would take charge. End the affair. Say it was for the best. He has his male pride.

In the beginning he made risotto, chicken tetrazzini. Everything was always very fancy, to impress and he was always going out of his way to show off his experience in the kitchen.

First he admonished her and then he reminded her. “Take care of yourself.” She always promised she would. She had subsisted on comfort food, macaroni and cheese, lots of pasta and fattening sauces, greasy pizza, fried chicken, roast chicken, mashed potato, spaghetti, potato salad, cheese (feta and cheddar) and creamy apple pie.

Later that evening he looks taken aback when she puts her arms around his neck and stands on tiptoe, kisses his cheek. He smiles. “What? What? I read a lot. I watch a lot of films. In the bedroom she confesses quietly that it is her first time. Ambitious would sum up her academic career in one word. How could he have missed that on the first day of the new semester as she floated into his class with a slipstream of other students? He had taken her for a dilettante. Everything had come too easy for her.

He is excited by her ideas, her impressions on everything; they debated about everything whether they were in his office working together or in his bedroom. He convinced himself perhaps this time it was different. She was older in more ways than one – than the others – even though she was younger than them and more emotionally mature and grounded. He likes the way she fusses around him to make sure that he is comfortable. She has decorated her own place – a flat where she lives alone – with flair. He approves. He catches her off guard when he kisses her on the mouth. He anticipates reproach but none is forthcoming. He kisses her forehead. He kisses her lips and only then does she withdraw from his embrace. He watches her with intelligence. Her pose, her extroversion that is uncharacteristic of her. He reads her external behaviour and her non-verbal cues like a scientist. She is forward (pretence) and too trusting of his practised and elegant advances but he finds her electrifying.

Her face unsmiling. She looks like a goddess. She is innocent. “How should I wear my hair for class? Up or down? Which do you prefer?” He would prefer down but he is noncommittal even though he can see it is important to her. When she wears her hair down it frames her face. It had been shorter at the beginning of the year like a pixie cut but another boyfriend who she was no longer seeing asked her to grow it back. Later that evening as they lay side by side there is a new desire, a new fire in her eyes. To forego discretion as he had once put it so succinctly one evening would mean that a woman is no better than a common whore.

What do you think inspires home wreckers and misanthropes? Prostitutes bill sex as a means to an end, he continued while he wondering what exactly was he flailing at.

She said nothing in her defence, unsmiling, lips pursed in a moue. She wondered just how quickly she could get rid of him. She had been running and he had been waiting outside her flat in his car for her. Her feet hurt and she was tired. Volunteering had taken up all of her free time and she was thinking of doing a diploma in management the following year but only if she had the spare time. He was jealous, he was cold, he was snivelling and she felt irritated, annoyed even and she felt she had every right to be. This is what men do. Men are weak. When they are uncharitable, malign your character and accuse you of unimaginable sins.

She went into the kitchenette for a glass of water, came back into the sitting room and sat down on the sofa. He was smoking. We were both consenting adults. I think you should leave now. She decided that was what she was going to say and leave it at that. She had enough credits in his class to pass and it was only a few more weeks until the exams and she would leave the campus and find a new place to stay or decide whether or not she wanted to go home for Christmas.

“I am not a monster. It would be very cunning of you to lay a charge of sexual harassment against me. To say that I raped you.” It was his reputation and tenure at stake here so he had to cover all his bases.

He had expected histrionics. Perhaps he should not have come at all. Her demeanour had frightened him when he left. Her face was blank. What people don’t understand, she said time and time over and over again to herself, misanthropes are incapable of love. She was strong and he was weak. Perhaps all men who were brilliant, who were educated, cultured at some indecipherable turning point in their lives were misogynists.

If he had hurt her, it didn’t mean she would love him any less. Like all the rest he would go unequivocally into her little black book. Silly men! Men like boys, women like girls. Sometimes she would cry herself to sleep when she watched orphans, refugee camps on television, children who were soldiers in war-torn African countries or the violent backlash between activists and the police in protest marches across the globe.

The next day his beautiful, independent and wise protégé was in class. She was alone in the world. She didn’t have anyone. The protagonist in the story she had written was estranged from her family because she had a mental illness. He tried to catch her eye and to imagine what she was thinking or what she was feeling. He felt like kicking himself. A glimpse was all he was longing for. But not once as he read the story she had written aloud to the class did she look up. When the bell rang, she was the first out the door.

So it went on for the rest of the term. He was embarrassed and mortified at what he had said and alluded to in a moment of supreme weakness.

He saw her at the track one day and watched her from afar as she stretched her limbs, jogged on the spot, ran up and down the bleachers. He noticed that she looked thinner. Her face haggard and her face looked tired; as if she was carried the weight of the world or the wars of the world on her shoulders. She sat down and took a gulp of what he presumes to be a sports drink. Those things were filled with electrolytes so he supposed they were good for her. She hunched over to tie what he assumed was her lace but then he noticed that her shoulders were trembling. She was crying. Tears, perspiration, moisture blended together.

She wiped her tears away with her sleeve and he realised she was just a child. Everything had been pretence. She acted older, she assuaged his insecurities about his teaching abilities, she was gifted, talented and that went without saying. She assumed responsibility when she didn’t have to. What he remembered most of all was that to her their relationship had never been a game. Mind games. She had never posed being sultry or that their lovemaking was a thrill, always spoke respectfully of his wife and she never asked him questions about the divorce or why didn’t he see his children more often instead of spending time with her. She understood things about him that he could never put into words, with one look; with one gesture they could, as odd as it sounded almost telepathically communicate. What had he described her as being? Formidable. She was fashioning a life for herself, a conjugal love, a husband who was a friend, gentle teacher, mentor, educated, clever and a best friend who would also protect her. They would represent the family she always wanted. He could see that now clear as day why now she had always loved making him smile. She mistook his seriousness for grumpiness.
It had all been an act. He walked slowly to his car, dragging his heels.

Oh, God, he asked himself. Forgive me, what have I done?

Just like people say when something bad has happened and they call an emergency service.

The Life of a Bohemian

Pale are the ripples that curl on top of these drinks we are having. Mine tastes like dark chocolate (the expensive kind you can only get at specific shops). We’re sitting outside the benches of a restaurant, not rushing to get anywhere. I want to be saturated by you, launched into oblivion. Paul walks by and waves. I ignore him but you don’t. You wave back. I feel something curl up inside of me and dive into a small nothingness.

You’re on the phone talking to someone about ‘the New York people’. Good heavens, how small I feel. I feel as small as the cup they have brought my coffee in. I hate this coffee but I drink it anyway. I wished I had ordered something I really would have enjoyed like a milkshake or ice cream. But that’s what girls do in high school when they go out with their friends over the weekend, not when you go out with a man much older than you.

Next to you I want to seem more grown up. I don’t know what the dos and don’ts are yet of this relationship. I know Paul does not like me. I am not his type of girl but then I am not your type of girl too and I have no idea why you are wasting your time on me. A chill runs through me, down my spine. I am itching to leave, to want to talk to you. Your telephone call is making me become hysterical.

Who on earth are these ‘New York people’ and what do you have in common with them, why are you meeting up with them for lunch, why don’t you take me out for lunch instead, what does this mean for your career; is there a promotion in the offing? Of course I forget to ask you about all of this later on when we’re finally alone and as it ends up I discover you’re not much of a talker, you’re not funny, you’re different in a special kind of way from anyone I’ve ever met. The side I see is the side of the dark horse. I call you up all the time. I have not learnt yet that men can sense your desperation at getting their attention. You’re either with him, your son, you won’t even tell me his name, or you did and I’ve forgotten but that is what the state of our relationship means to you. It is purely physical. It is based on me not opening my mouth when I strongly dislike something you have done or said. For example when you raise your voice to me and when you’ve become tired of me and drop me off in the middle of the night racing off to get home to tuck him in and say goodnight. I see red. When we eat it is always catered food from a shoot or from the production house where you work.

I did so many things wrong. So many things I can’t take back. Have you built your empire yet, my experiment? Everything, everything was an experiment. I had to learn how to eat in front of a man, brush crumbs, specks of food off my chest in a pretty way, all ladylike. I had to learn how to dress myself in the dark when the entire planet was pitch black. I wanted to see how you looked at women my age through your eyes. Did you find them magical? I know you did not find me magical for long. I was too young and I was silly, naive. I would say stupid things not to be mean, petty or nasty or jealous but just because it was in the heat of the history of the moment. I didn’t feel I was growing older with you. I felt as if I was growing younger and younger. There were days when I played the ‘good girl’ and days when I didn’t.

I gave you my blood as we lay side by side, your body was cool (a winter tree in the Balkans), my face pale, drained to the colour of water. Your eyes are black circles and for now, at least, it is my property, the last frontier where I care about every word. Lying here, I give you ‘your space’. Your voice is Tolstoy’s, Hemingway’s, Updike’s, Styron’s, Mcewan’s, Greene’s, Fugard’s, Kundera’s, Rilke’s while I am the incarnate of Radcliffe Hall crossing both genders effortlessly. You betray nothing. There is a small boy in the picture but you don’t introduce him to me. Obsessions are unhealthy creatures. They make you mentally ill, emotionally unstable; leave you with a chemistry of deep sadness in your life. I have my writing. It keeps me from disintegrating into fractions. I should stop now before I begin to make myself cry.

In the early hours of the morning everything you say is said slowly. Words no longer hold any meaning to them.

In my dreams I would walk on hot, shouts of needy blue air, driftwood that came from the ocean bed, white bones as white as white writing, and musings. I made Johannesburg my temporary home. I had known no love like this before. The love of a city’s life, its motions, its vibrant pulse, its people and its daily sacrifice of life in muti murders, stabbings, assaults, cars, trucks and taxis piled up on the highway, accidents that could have been avoided if the driver had not fallen asleep at the wheel or speeded. There was always meat being cooked in the city. Restaurants set up just with a chair and table on the pavement while pap was being stirred and a stew was being cooked, here next to the skyline. There was never any shortage of inspiration. I could not stand people with all their grassroots foibles and they could not stand me, me, the intellectual.

I didn’t really believe or want to believe in love. I had seen nothing of it growing up, only glassy-eyed semblances of it that drove me stir-crazy as a child, stir-crazy as a young woman, so much so that I landed in a clinic in Port Elizabeth. And then just as this stir-craziness would seem to settle I would land up in another phase, I would become infatuated with melancholy, what do they call it now, depression and a sickening sadness that seeped into my body right down to my bones, soaking, saturating everything I touched. There would come periods of my life that I would find difficulty explaining away in recovery. But how would you have known this. There was no one around from my previous life, thank God, to tell you this.

Women around me became still. Composed in light, iced me out, with one stroke, with words or none, they could kill. They were mute monuments with mouths that had hard, angry lines. In the future, a time far off from the time of light, in a dry spell, in a passage of darkness then only would they embrace me. Women are emotional and jealous over little nothings, painting red over blue feelings, feeling triumphant when they have humiliated or made someone feel pitiful, pathetic. Women are omnipotent like that, that’s where they get there pillars of strength from. From putting other, younger, more or less vulnerable women down, bringing them down to earth, shoving dirt and filth and rubbish into their gaping, fishy mouths, the dead abstract, the ethereal in their heads. Because it was done to them, now they do it to others.

You, the man in my life, made me cry. When I tried to eat everything tasted like paper. I could not keep anything down so I stopped forcing myself to eat. I drank water and coffee, ate fruit. But everything tasted bitter. I willed myself to stop but could not. How could I know back then it was all a part of growing up? Weeping would come after the scorched earth systems of the sunset. Instead tongues are silenced permanently and one is left to wonder where the dead goes when they die. The death trap sucks your breath away. Perhaps fatally I wanted to insert too much of myself in you, that unseen intellectual side of me that was as cold as a frozen lake. Lipstick on a the body of a dead woman in an open casket, even in death she must be made to look attractive, lovely, even when she can no longer look you in the eye and smile or heaven forbid, flirt. And yet you taught me so much about everything It hurt when you squeezed the truth out of me, when you mocked me, when you scolded me like an errant child, told me to shut up, stop screaming, stop being so loud. You said it so fiercely, with such force that I immediately did what you asked me to and felt smaller in your prescence, young but then I was young, I was a girl. You were grown up. We were a wrong fit from the start. More than a decade between us with nothing in common to keep us glued together in conversation, in laughter; it was work, hard, disciplined work (that was what we were committed to together). Without it we would drift apart, fall into discontent, feel disconnected. I would give habitation to speechlessness and you to your pride (as we already know pride and the knife-edge of arrogance comes before a fall).

Where are you now, gone long into history? No longer a satellite orbiting my world, my planet, are you far flung into the galaxy, into Hawking’s A Brief History of Time? Our time together was not so brief. We lasted a year and then I was ‘widowed’. I’m thankful now for the words you drilled inside my head, I wasn’t then. I showered you with gifts, there were books, old films I thought you’d appreciate. You thought you didn’t have to make much of an effort. I was just a friend with benefits. Listen, becoming a woman means much more than learning about ‘the birds and the bees’, the rub, the stain of love, the infatuation of a college girl’s crush, feminism, how women’s self-esteem evolved in Gloria Steinem’s ‘Revolution from within’ and menstruation but I gathered that when you spent time with me, it was like a vapour. There was no absolute reason for you to listen to me, even now when we have nothing in common.

There were days when I wanted to scream with the roar of a lioness. Sounds coming from deep inside of me that were unfamiliar yet relevant, peeling and unpeeling from the back of my throat in the night air, but it failed in some trivial manner and didn’t balk at your indifference to me. There were nights when nothing was said between the two of us. When my thoughts were grotesque and yet I still couldn’t express myself. Who made me this way, I asked the universe? What God is this, so big on action that speaks louder than words. So big on human beings being attuned into a return to love, that many splendid thing on the one hand and on the other hand a man picks up a rock to smash against another man’s head because of a rumour going around. A rumour of a man who had been sleeping with his wife, and if he had been sober he would have divorced his wife.

A child, who does not know how to swim, drowns in the sea. On the other hand there’s been a murder in a family, paedophiles walk the streets, human bodies are for rent on beds with flowers of urine stains and missing persons with faces that do not rot, grow old, do not receive a burial in a marked grave. No one was charged. There’s a rape with no docket because the victim did not give a statement. There’s an entire family wiped out in a blaze of fire. I knew nothing of this because I was young and delicate, a white swan who thought this life was getting expensive and even when your fingers were greasy from the fish and chips I still thought you were magnificent. Every winter has a guest and that year you were mine. You polished and refined me and I found a splendid freedom in you, in what you did.

When it comes to men I am always left neglected. How can this be the best part of my life when I haven’t yet given the best part of me? You gave nothing while I, a shy animal, a quivering bird gave everything, everything away for free. You drained me of my ordinariness, my pretensions, expelled ice crystals in the language of your body, stimulated fire in my brain, left me to observe you, your cauldron of needs and your arrows of nerves. The stars in your dark eyes were my arrows too except, only my losses were my losses, it split me in two, nothing in the end very masculine about their substance as they melted into the distance.