The man who died in his car

I religiously read the daily obituaries in our local newspaper.
There, I said it.
I was confronted by my wife about this morbid practice, but I couldn’t answer her other than to venture that I wanted to know who died in my area. Is that so bad? I always rationalize it by saying how embarrassing it would be to inquire after someone’s health, only to be confronted by hurt stares and a terse reply that the said person died two months ago, right? If it was coupled with black eyeliner, piercings and nocturnal visits to the cemetery, then it be something else, right? Anyway, besides the eye roll I received from my supposedly better half, let me get on with my story…
A small notice grimly informed the world that Boeta Achmat Bedford was no longer with us and that he passed away suddenly at home at the age of 82. The article goes further to say that he is fondly remembered by his seven surviving children, 29 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Everyone who knew the family knew that there were two facts omitted from the article. The first one was that Boeta Achmat died in an engine-less, beaten-up old car in the street in front of his house and the other is that he was a contented old man and he probably died one too.
I met Boeta Achmat many decades ago through my acquaintance with his youngest son, who was at school with me at the time. We were both avid rugby players and, after practice, I would sometimes accompany him to his house for a glass of watered-down Kool-Aid. Raspberry, with precious little sugar. My goodness, as I am writing this, my throat is restricting at the mere memory of it, and, although I now shudder at the memory of the taste, I can assure you that after a long summer’s day in Cape Town with no money to speak of, the Kool-Aid was like manna from heaven.
The house was in a suburb very close to the slopes of Table Mountain, so the street was at a 45-degree incline running down to the city bowl. It was a small semi-detached one that had a long passage with bedrooms running off the one side and ending up in an open lounge and kitchen. The toilet was outside in the yard. The one thing that always struck me about the house was that it resembled one of those ant farms that were interesting only for the first few hours after you bought it. It was busy beyond belief. There were kids everywhere. I swore that if you did not look where you stepped in that house, you would have stepped on a child. Boeta Achmat had nine children and although he was happily married to a sweet round woman that never said a word, the same could not be said about his children holding on to spouses. Inevitably, after disastrous liaisons that ended up in either divorce or death, his children would find their way back to their parental home with their own children in tow. Unfortunately, all of the daughters inherited the fertility streak from their mother and procreated with frightening regularity.
After the mother passed away suddenly in her sleep, again, without a word or sound, the elder set of daughters, took it upon themselves to arrange the house in a proper dormitory for the siblings and their kids and relegated poor Boeta Achmat to the stoep-room. This was the hastily enclosed veranda that was converted to a small little room with a dresser and a single bed. The room was so small and narrow that the single bed barely fit and that he had to shuffle sideways to get past it to get to the dresser that were shoved into the back of the veranda. Through all of this, Boeta Achmat never said a word and never complained. He even held his tongue when they assigned one of the older boys, whose roaming eye could not be controlled in the crowded bedrooms, to his bed.
No one knew how it started, but by popular opinion, they say it started in the middle of summery January in Cape Town. This usually meant blustering south-easter and high temperatures. Boeta Achmat was tinkering with the indicator switches of the car that was parked in the road. It was an old Mercury whose engine was sorely in need of another engine and the body was slowly being devoured by the rain and sea-air. By this time, thieves had made off with the car wheels and it was standing on cement blocks. The winds were especially fierce that day, so he had all the windows rolled up. After an hour or so, the warmth in the car made him sleepy and rather than braving the winds to go for a lie-down, he reclined the seat and closed his eyes. This proved to be a watershed moment for the old man. When he woke up a few hours later, he felt refreshed and mellow. He told his daughter that evening that he liked the quietness of the car. After breakfast the following morning, he took a slow walk to the corner shop, bought his Cape Times and his three loose cigarettes for the day and promptly made himself comfortable on the backseat of the car. This became a ritual for Boeta Achmat as well as the afternoon siesta when returning from mosque for the afternoon prayers.
He also became uncharacteristically possessive over that space and defended it fiercely against invading grandchildren who all wanted to see what Boeya was doing in the car. He raised his voice and put his foot down when the scrap metal wagon offered a ‘great’ deal that involved a box of snoek off-cuts and tail-less crayfish to the daughters on removing the eyesore from their front door. He, in the end, conceded to them removing the engine a few months later.
As the months passed and winter rolled in on the back of a tablecloth spilling over the cliffs of Table Mountain, he used discarded newspaper and duct-tape to meticulously close up all the holes the North-Wester was using to spew rain and dust into the car. He was not particularly successful as the interior of the car had a constant smell of wet socks, cigarette butts and, well, old people.
Boeta Achmat had always been plagued by a constant cough that became more pronounced during the winter months, probably because of the countless years of dust he inhaled while worked in the building trade as a bricklayer. The three-Stuyvesants-a-day smoking habit didn’t help either. During a particularly bad patch, the children ganged up on him and physically forced him indoors for a couple of weeks. He moped around the house and uncharacteristically snapped at everyone. It is not known who were happier when his chest cleared sufficiently for him to venture back into his car, Boeta Achmat or his children. After that particular episode, no one messed with him again.
When summer rolled around again, Boeta Achmat was virtually living in the car, apart from toilet breaks, eating, changing clothes and trips to the mosque to pray. By this time, the family had resigned themselves to the situation and ascribed it quietly to the eccentricity of an old man.
No one knew when exactly Boeta Achmat died. The rumour-mongers were spreading vicious stories that the old man was dead for three days before the smell forced someone to check. In reality, the eldest daughter discovered his lifeless body when he did not come in for supper.
The car was gone two days after the funeral.

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.”

The Life of a White Bird

I was about 10 when I left home, a sad day that was. I know it was for the best, however if I could turn back the hands of time I would. My parents seemed to be used to letting go, I am not surprised though: I was the seventh of a total of twelve. I was not their first and nor was I their last. I guess like they all say: “life goes on”, or was that a tupac song. I must say, leaving the house is quite an experience that I would not trade for anything in the world; not even my beautiful girls.
First day out of the house was the worst ever. It was worse than sharing a toilet with 6 brothers and 5 sisters. I couldn’t tell left from right, I had no friends and I had no idea of the whereabouts of my other brothers. I was all alone. Although I was used to being alone, this was a new type of lonely. I have never been the type to make friends. The only people I knew were my siblings and my parents. This was not entirely my fault though; I didn’t fit in with the others.
Let me not get too emotional as of yet, I’m not ready for it. After about 5 days of being out of the house I soon got a hang of things. I knew where and how to get food. I met a cool stranger, my first ever friend. Trevor is his name; he was and still is the best. He was the first person who embraced my appearance and did not judge me. Well I guess he understood because we had a similar yet different condition.
Trevor and I vowed to have each other’s backs no matter what happened. We believed that nothing would separate us; I guess we didn’t think we would ever get married. Together we were untouchable; in a weird way I found confidence in Trevor. Without him I was just as before; a shy loner. Trevor is a year older than me. That meant that he had an entire years experience being out in the “wild”.
“Hey Top, what’s for supper tonight” asks Trevor all the time. He was hungry all the time. “Top” was a nickname Trevor gave me the second we met. He is truly special to me. Being a loner as a young boy, I would be in the kitchen with my mother learning to cook. This came in handy living with a person who sees having 8 slices of bread with 6 fried eggs and bacon, as a starter or as he calls it an appetiser. Sometimes I think that he only stuck with me because I could feed him well, but I know we connected at a deeper level.
After six months of being out the house, Trevor and I decided to start travelling. I was at first not very open to moving to another town because it meant that I would be even further away from home. However Trevor managed to convince me to tag along his quest to explore the world. Starting over would be a problem for me, I thought. Trevor on the other hand seemed to have had it all figured out
“I’ll go with you Trev, only if you promise me we won’t be crossing any seas” I said just 2 days before we set out to explore. The great thing about this entire trip was that wherever we went we would have the best view of it all. It’s a bird thing. This trip helped me accept me for who I am and my abilities. We travelled on boats for most of the trip, yes I know I didn’t want to cross the seas but the second I got on board the first boat, I was hooked. I could always take the boat back if I ever wanted to go back home, Trevor reassured me all the time.
The first boat we were on was heading to Italy. The best thing Trevor and I enjoyed was the food; the pasta was exquisite. Trevor wanted to not only eat but also learn different languages as we went along. His ambition inspired me as well. Trevor was kind of a bully and a ladies’ man. He always found ways to convince me to do what he wanted, I didn’t mind because I had never dreamt of doing all the things we set out to do on this trip.
“We need mingle with the local Top. First we need to acquaint ourselves with the language” said the eager beaver, Trevor. The following day we set out to find a language school. I could read and write, but Trevor could only spell his name and that was it. He didn’t like it if I would write letters back home because he knew that all he could do was write his name. I had a secret quest; I wanted to make sure by the end of this trip Trevor would be able to read and write. It’s the least I could do after all that he has done for me.
We found the perfect school just off Milan; Lodi. Every morning at 8 am we would sit up on the window seal of the tourist classes. We learnt the basics the first two days. We learnt to say thank you; Grazie, and excuse me; Mi scusi. “Wow the food here is delicious, grazie” I would say that every evening when we would go get something to eat. After a week or so, Trevor and I could construct a few sentences. We were able to “mingle” now.
Trevor always loses focus when he sees beautiful girls passing by. “Focus Trev! We need to find our own place before we start approaching any girls” I said to him. I am always his voice of reason and I know how to get him to focus. “Look over there, there is a to-let sign” said Trevor. The place we found as bigger than the one we had back home; two bedrooms and a magnificent kitchen. The place didn’t come at a cheap price, but Trevor took care of it.
I don’t know where he got the money. Every time I would offer to pay, he would slap me and say “Top the only thing you have to do is make sure there is food on the kitchen counter for us”. I didn’t mind though because I loved to cook, it’s sort of therapeutic and it calmed me down every time I felt home-sick. However I still don’t know where he got the money. We had the same job back home and we got paid the same amount. I am very savvy with money but Trevor is the kind to spend money. He never runs out. This was a mystery.
One morning, Trevor got up before the sun came up. For him that was a first. He kept on walking up and down the room. I knew something was wrong but Trevor and I didn’t like to talk about what was bothering us. We made a deal that if there was something wrong and we wanted to talk, we would talk but neither of us was to ask until the other mentioned it.
He took his bag and put a brown folder in it and head out the door. It was still dark out, I tried to look out the window to see where he was going but he was long gone by the time I got to the window. It was a Saturday and neither of us were going to work. I was quite worried, for a second I thought that he had left for good. After six hours I decided to take a stroll outside. I was hoping to run into him and the local bar just 2 streets away; he was nowhere to be found.
I bought a few vegetables and headed back home to start cooking. I didn’t cook a lot because I was almost certain that he was not coming back. At around eight pm, he walked in. he was in a cheerful mood as compared to when he left this morning. He three bags in his hand. They all looked full to the maximum. He put them away and came into the kitchen. “Top if I didn’t love the ladies so much, I would marry you” he said while starring at the pots. “You are crazy Trev! Let me dish up for us” I said.
That night as we were eating I waited for him to say what it was that made him sweat like a pig in the morning. He said nothing at all. “What did you get up today?” he asked. I guess he was trying to get rid of the awkward silence at the table. “Nothing much, I just went to the bar and bought a few veggies” I responded.
The next morning he left early again but this time I knew why. I snooped around to try and find the bags. I found them but they were empty. I found a 100 dollar note in one. Could the bags have been filled with money? How was I to find out? I let it go for a while and forgot all about it.
“How about we hit the streets tomorrow night and explore the local bars here?” I have never suggested anything since we met, well at least not anything that we would both enjoy. Trevor was quite amazed and began to laugh to a point where he almost choked on his steak. “Sure thing Top, I guess you are getting into the Italian spirit” he said with a mouth full of broccoli.
I was proud of myself that night. For once I could be considered to be cool. I woke up super early; I wanted to write a letter home before Trevor woke up. I didn’t want to ruin his cheerful mood. I sat in the bathroom and wrote the letter. I always make it out to my mother; she is the only one that I was okay.
Dear mama
Mama I hope you are well. Trevor and I
are in Italy now. I am having the best
time of our lives. I wish you were here too.
Give my love to everyone back home, even
Love your 7th son
Boo-bear isn’t my real name. My mother gave me that nickname because I always wanted hugs just like a teddy bear. “You must really be excited for tonight!” Trevor said while banging on the door. “I had an upset tummy! I am excited but not to that extant” I said as I hid my notebook in my suitcase in the bathroom cupboard.
At 8 am we were at the window seal. Trevor wanted to learn a new phrase that would help him charm the ladies. We bought English to Italian translation manual. I helped him find the phrase he wanted. “I want to be able to say: you are beautiful” he said. I scanned through the book and we found it. “Its siete belle” I said when I found it.
Trevor practiced that phrase all day. “I think I’ve got it now” he said. I was concerned though, I wondered what he would do if the girl said something back. At round lunch time, we headed home to get something to eat and get some rest before our big night out in Italy. Any night out with Trevor is an epic one.
It’s strange how the next morning neither of us can remember a thing. I have never got why I could not remember what happened when we got to the bar. Trevor would always say that I passed out after a drink or two and he brought me back home and went back out. The rest was always a blur, he would say.
I think I might have given the impression that Trevor and I are together at all times. We may be working at the same place back home and we came on this trip together, but we are not always together. Some days, especially after a night out, Trevor would insist on staying in and I would head out and explore all on my own.
The Italians are a fascinating bunch. I would sit on the window seal of a young couple’s apartment. The apartment was perfectly furnished from the door mat to the living room lamps. The colours complemented each other exquisitely. Julian was the house keeper’s name. She had a very weird relationship with the man who seemed to be related to her.
At first I paid no attention to their endeavours, but then one day the paramedics had to be called in. from that day on I was hooked like those people who spend so much time watching television series over and over again. I wanted to see what would happen next. I was at that window seal so many times that I got used to their schedule.
Mr. Benedict was Julian’s employer. For about a week or so there seemed to be no Mrs. Benedict, until one day at around noon she appeared. She had long blonde hair. She reminded me of the characters in the stories that my mother made me read. She was pure perfection. I noticed that while she was around Julian only came once a week instead of every day from 8am until 5 pm.
There was something that was odd about their living arrangement. Mr. Benedict slept in what seemed to be the master bedroom and, the person whom I had thought was Mrs. Benedict, slept in the other room. I watched their apartment as though I was being paid to. On occasion Trevor would agree to head out with. Trevor would only tag along only if he knew that there is a football match that day.
“One day they will catch you on their window seal” mentioned Trevor. I was determined to see the season finale of this apartment and I wouldn’t budge. I would rather risk being caught than miss a single moment. “Don’t be silly Trev, I have been very careful. No one will ever notice me” I said. Trevor was ready to move on to the next city or else we would have to find employment before we ran out of food and money for rent.
Obviously I found a job just next to my favourite apartment. It wasn’t mush but it paid enough to help around at the apartment. Trevor found employment at his favourite sports bar. It seemed as though we would never leave Italy, I was ready to settle. We stayed in Italy for about two months, during this time I sat every day from 10 pm until early hours of the morning.
I felt like a little detective or that fly o the wall. I knew everything, I had their schedule all figured out. Trevor would bring me supper every night and sit next to me as I did my daily spying. “Tony honey?” that was the voice of an angel. I have never seen her before. She stood at the door with her tight red dress on and very high heels. “What do you want? You know you shouldn’t be here?” whispered Mr. Benedict.
Little did Mr. Benedict know that the Mrs was wide awake and was listening in to everything. “Stacie did you come all this way to just stand there and stare at me?” whispered Mr. Benedict again. “Well Tony, if you must know, I was kicked out of my apartment because you forgot to pay rent for over three months” said Stacie. At first, being little naïve me, I thought that Stacie was Mr. Benedict’s sister or step daughter or plain relative.
“I’ll call you in the morning and I will take care of it” whispered Mr. Benedict as he closed the door quietly. “Who were you talking to?” asked Mrs. Benedict. He stood there for ten seconds flat and didn’t move, not even an inch. “You are still up. It was nothing, I just heard a noise and thought something was wrong” said Mr. Benedict. “You must have not heard me clearly. Who were you talking to?” she repeated he question.
“It was Mr. Jackson from down the hall, he just got back home and was making a raucous” Mr. Benedict answered. She didn’t seem to believe his story. Mrs. Benedict walked away and went back to bed but this time she was in the master bedroom as well. “So you have forgiven me now?” said Mr. Benedict. “Forgiven you for what, you have denied all my accusation; even the ones where I had concrete evidence” said Mrs. Benedict. I left soon after, my eyes were beginning to itch and they were burning red.
The next day was my last day ever. Firstly it was because Trevor and I were leaving the next morning. Secondly it was because the Benedict family was moving out that day. I woke up bright and early that day. When I got there, Mrs. Benedict was loading what seemed to be a body into the boot of her car. The windows I sat at showed the living room floor, there was blood all over the floor. At first it looked like ketchup but then it was too thick to be ketchup.
I could not believe what I had just witnessed. It was like a scene from those crime investigation shows. “Trevor! Come quick please” I said on the phone. He took his time as usual. “Honey, this was for the best and you know it too” said Mrs. Benedict. “What was for the best?” I kept asking myself. Mr. Benedict looked quite melancholic as compared to his rude and egoistic self. They left in such a hurry. What or who -ever laid in that boot was still a mystery to me.
“Who died Top?” Trevor asked when he finally arrived. I was still in shock and didn’t say a word. Moments later we were off. “Where are we off to now?” I asked Trevor. He said it was a surprise, just like Italy was a surprise. All I knew about this place was that this was where we were to settle. This was where we would find all that we had been looking for or what I had been longing for my entire life.
Trevor had never been so nervous on a flight before. I felt coerced into asking if there was something bothering him but I didn’t. “We are almost there” said Trevor anxiously. Whenever he didn’t finish a sentence by saying my nickname I knew something was wrong. I didn’t say a word until we landed. When we landed, Trevor was still shaking. “Does that say OR Thambo Airport?” he asked. “Yes it does” I responded.
He calmed down a bit. We carried our bags to a hotel. “We need to find a more permanent place Top, these places are not that cheap” he said but this time with a little more enthusiasm. I didn’t unpack my bag because I knew this was not our final resting place. We headed down the elevator to the dining area. “The food here is…” before I could finish my sentence, Trevor stood up and went into the bar. He would always finish his mountain of food before I would.
Eventually when I finished my meal, I went into the bar to look for him. It’s not a mystery where I would find him. He was seated a table surrounded by bunch of women. “Hey Top! Ladies this man knows his way around the kitchen” he said to the ladies at the table. They were all certain that I was homosexual. “I’m off to bed Trev” I said to him. He ignored me and carried on chatting to the women.
The next day he was up before me. “Time is money and sleep is for the dead Top” he said as he shook me. He was an early bed and I liked to sleep in until late. “Where are off to now?” I asked Trevor. I always wake up quite cranky especially if I was woken up. “Well we need to find jobs and a more permanent place to stay” he responded. I for one was astonished, why would he want to settle here. It is not as fun as Italy was.
By the time we had found a place cheap enough for us, Trevor had become the towns favourites person. I don’t know how he does it. He is just so good with people, how does he do it? I guess his good looks put him above my average by far. I am just glad that him and I are friends, I get to get the rejects to be in my life because they think they are getting closer to being friends with him. A cool guy that Trevor of mine, supercool.
Amazingly where ever we go we veer struggle to get jobs, must be the magic hand of chance playing in our favour all the time. “Up so early Top” murmured Trevor as he got up from bed. “You know what they say Trev, the early bird catches the worm and plus it’s our first day on the job and I aim to impress” I said. Trevor starred at me and laughed. “You getting yourself all made up for Mr Rou” he said.
Mr Rou is our new boss. He is quite strict in how he likes his employees to dress and behave. We have always gotten jobs at places were the boss immediately becomes your buddy. They were quite lonely folk. Mr Rou is different, he has a wife, two children and a pet dog. I did my research, I figure that this will definitely impress Mr Rou even further.
I know people always prefer to interact with Trevor more than me, but Mr Rou liked him way too much if you ask me or any one for that matter. Mr Rou even said he prefers to call me Top as well, “just like Trevor calls you” those wee his exact words. I choose to brush people’s comments or judgements about me under a carpet so it doesn’t hurt me as much.
“Trev, how’s about you come for dinner at my place tonight? My wife makes the best lasagne” said Mr Rou. “hmm I’m not quite sure, I…” said Trevor. Right there, his response, is the reason we are great friends. “Please, you can bring Top along with you.” Mr Rou said as he put his arm around my shoulder. I was like a bargaining chip, I guess. “I guess we can come “ Trevor responded.
At this point I wondered if it had occurred to any of them that I might just have plans or better yet wouldn’t want to go to Mr Rou’s house. Anyway being the good fellow that I am I played along and accompanied Trevor to Mr Rous place. Not what I imagined, I though a well established man like him would have something a little more decent. I guess the cost of living is too high these days, even for the big boss himself. Mrs Rou is the most beautiful women I have ever set eyes on. She is the perfect shade, shape and height. I think I’m in love or maybe just attracted to her.
“Hello, come in come in!” she said as she welcomed us into her home. Although the house was old and not what you would expect from a big shot like Mr Rou, Mrs Rou made it look beautiful. “What a lovely home you have Mrs Rou” said the charmer, Trevor, as he softly kissed her hand. “Oh thank you, please just call me Evelyn” she said as she blushed like every other one night stand that Trevor has been with.
“Boys don’t just stand there drilling at my lovely wife, come in and join me for a drink or two before we sup” said Mr Rou sitting in the lounge area. Evelyn said something, neither myself nor Trevor could make out what she had said. I had a strong feeling that there was trouble in paradise. “Come tell me about your trip to Italy” Mr Rou requested very enthusiastically. What was thee to tell? Nothing really, just great food, great people and a little snippet of what could have been a murder.

To be continued….

Another Summer’s Day

A beautiful summer’s day greets us congenially as my sister Gayle and I stroll into the bar area of the luxurious Bush veld resort. Tables nestle casually under the luscious thorn trees, with a live band of various cheerfully twittering birds entertaining us free of charge. We have a whole weekend planned to recharge, chat, reminisce, and solve the world’s problems, and our own, at leisure.

We get seated at a table that allows for a generous panoramic view of the surrounding hills and valleys, the tranquil earth instilling an inner peace even to the most restless soul.

A waiter, dressed in colourful traditional clothes, introduces a special offer: with every cocktail, a complimentary cigar is served. We giggle like teenagers, as we have never smoked, and then I decide to try the novelty – after all, we are on holiday!

Gayle, the table, surroundings and sounds fade suddenly. It goes completely dark. When I wake up, all shaky and blurry, with no idea how much time has passed, the first thing I notice is that my sister is gone. All our belongings are missing too. No cellular phones, no wallets. Unable to process what has happened, I suddenly focus on her jacket, still hanging over the chair’s back, and my brain screams at me that something is terribly wrong.

I struggle to my feet, fervently looking for any sign of my sister, the scene rising and falling in and out of focus in waves of dizziness. Everything around me seems disturbingly normal. Waiters are moving back and forth with orders, and guests leisurely talk to each other, sipping on marvellous outlandish cocktails and drinks. When I try to get the attention of a waiter, I know without a doubt that I have not been imagining things – I croak when I try to speak, and the harder I try to scream, the less any eligible sound escapes my mouth, albeit a hoarse raspy moan.

I grab onto one of the waiter’s arms as he walks past, and lose my balance in the process, but hang on for dear life, while I croak to the best of my ability: “Help me, please. My sister is missing..” The waiter stares at me as if I have the plague, or lost my mind, or both. I refuse to let go, shaking him and screaming silently: “My sister is missing, my sister is missing!”

The sheer terror in my eyes must convince him that there might be merit to my story, and he assists me quickly to the manager’s office, eager to be rid of the wild mad woman. The manager forces me to sit down on the closest chair, summons a glass of water and begs me to take a sip, in order to calm me down. I obligingly take two quick sips, hoping that it might help my voice to return to normal, but when I try to speak, I have to strain to get out the slightest whisper: “My sister is gone! We were having cocktails and I lit up that complimentary cigar that the waiter told us about, and I blacked out, and when I woke up my sister was gone. All our belongings are gone too. But here is her jacket, see, it is her jacket, but she is not here, she is gone!” Exhausted from the exertion, I slump back into the chair and close my eyes for a moment to catch my breath.

I burst into tears, as the only response from the manager is a thoroughly confused look. Wild and disorganised thoughts race through my mind: “What am I going to do if no one believes me? How will I find Gayle? How will I be able to look for her if I am still dazed and dizzy?”

It takes another hour to be taken seriously by management, who reluctantly agrees to call the police after I threaten to call the media to assist me. The possibility of bad publicity definitely weighs more than the perceived peril by a mad woman and her “missing” sister.

It is four hours later. I sit despondently on a chair at the bar, my sister’s jacket draped around me for emotional comfort. I have relayed my dazed experience a few times to different officers now, and they definitely do not share my concern. One officer even hesitantly offer what she thinks is a viable explanation for my sister’s disappearance: “Ma’am, you and your sister are like best friends, right? It is possible that you drank your cocktail too fast, and got slightly intoxicated, don’t you agree? Don’t you think she might have gone for a walk to give you time to sober up?” I warily shake my head. Obviously, the officer do not know what kind of a relationship we have.

I am the youngest of three daughters, born and raised in a smallish town in the North Western Province. Our childhood was neither spectacularly happy nor sad. Both our parents worked, and we were often left to our own devices after school. Very conservative child rearing rules were followed when they were home though, and we were expected to be seen and not heard.

My closest sibling is two years older than me, but I have been sort of taking care of her since early childhood. Gayle was the shy one, with impeccable manners, always diligent and kind, and a model daughter. She was quiet in her ways, and never demanded any special attention. Unfortunately, she was also a little overweight, and had mousy fine hair that my mother always pulled back in two tight ponytails to reveal protruding ears. Being the cruellest species alive on earth, children at school teased her constantly about this, and although she visibly cringed at the insults cruelly tossed at her, she never retaliated.

It happened more than once that I jumped in, quite literally, and defended her like the proverbial mother tiger defending her vulnerable cub against advancing predators. I did not only attack them physically, but also did not hesitate to inform the closest teacher of their bullying in explicit detail, grinning happily when they got into trouble, and had to apologise to her.

Since then I became her guardian of sorts, defending, cheering, or mothering, as dictated by the situation. A very close bond developed over the years, even to the point where the one could feel when the other was sad, or in trouble, without fail, and we often telephoned each other simultaneously, giggling at our telepathic capabilities where each other is concerned.

That is what the officer does not understand. I know she is in grave danger, and that she was harmed in the most horrible way possible, and that I had to find her sooner than later, or it will be too late. My mind search desperately for a way to convince the police of the serious nature of the situation, and make him listen, because I know!

An urgent shout shakes me from my thoughts. A police officer is running down the hill that borders the bush pub, arms flapping, shouting something intelligible.

The feeling of dread rises like springtide in my chest as the officer explains that various barefoot adult footprints as well as drag marks were found in the soil that leads up the hill. A team is despatched and I follow as best I can, struggling against the lingering giddiness, ignoring the manager of the bar that tries to stop me.

What they find at the end of the footprint trail, buried in a communal shallow grave, covered hastily with small rocks, are human remains. I die a thousand deaths as I randomly grab at the cloth rags covering the faces of the victims, allowing a tiny sigh of relief to slip out every time it is not my beloved sister I uncover.

My search becomes more and more fervent as I do not find any trace of Gayle, no pieces of familiar clothing or our cell phones and wallets. At last I have to relent that she is not at the scene, but with the initial relief another wave of desperation fills my heart and brain. “Where is she? Is she alive? What are they doing to her?”

I cringe involuntarily and fall to my knees while sobs explode from my chest when I examine the bodies found. The fifteen victims I count have the most horrific mutilations inflicted to various parts of their bodies. Eyelids are stapled closed, mouths sewn shut with a crude implement of some sorts, leaving ugly jarred cuts. Grotesque ornate wooden plugs protrude from the ears of the nameless victims. Signs of severe struggling are evident, as not only their fingernails are badly broken, but fractures also show that they were restrained forcefully and without any mercy. Bruises to the lower parts of their bodies unmistakably point to sexual assault, and I realize with horror that they were alive while these inexplicable atrocities were executed. The gruesomeness of the situation floods me again without warning and I have to retreat to a few rocks nearby quickly to relieve the nausea that engulfs me!

The search is resumed with new fervour by the team of police officers, all doubt now pushed aside that my sister, and possibly others, are indeed in very grave danger. More footprints are found, and the search escalates with intense velocity.

I stumble after the police, ignoring their pleas to go back to the resort. The next hour and a half passes in a daze, with police officers alternating between running, walking, retracing their steps and shouting instructions, all set against a majestic South African sunset. There is no time to appreciate the beauty of nature’s way of bidding a gracious good bye to a long day, as the team realize that daylight is running out quickly, and with that the chances of finding any possible victims alive in time.

As the midges quiet down and the shadows lengthen, we increase the pace even more, following the tracker as closely as possible, without disturbing the trail. I have never felt so alone…

As we cut cross yet another hill, an officer spots what looks like an outbuilding of some sorts, in the distance. I am forced to stay behind this time with an officer that has to restrain me as the team advances carefully. A lifetime of sorrow ages me visibly while we wait. Half an hour crawls past at the pace of a dead tortoise trying to cross a highway. Little sweat streams run uncontrollably down my back to stain my shirt, while fear, anger and despair well up at will.

When an officer appears eventually, my heart sinks to a new low, and the dizziness and nausea threatens to make me retch again. He looks at me with so much sympathy, I suddenly do not want to hear what he has to say, and I involuntarily cover my ears.

“Ma’am, please come with me,” he pleads uncomfortably. “There is something that the captain wants you to see.” I stumble forward, clinging to his arm for support, while fresh tears stream across my cheeks, anticipating the most terrible of outcomes to the ordeal.

As I reluctantly move towards the building, my mind starts processing the images. A rugged outbuilding the size of a rondavel is outlined against the horizon. There is no sign of life, apart from police officers busily scurrying about. Nothing bodes any evil or wrongdoing from the outside, and I know that whatever the police want me to see, is waiting inside.

The first sense that heightens involuntarily is my sense of smell. As we approach the entrance gingerly, I smell conflicting scents, ranging from damp clothing and sweat, to faint traces of perfume, quite unbefitting a seemingly uninhabited ruin in the middle of the Bushveld.

The scene that unfolds inside initially confuses me. There is a tattered desk and chair propped against one wall, with an old calendar dangling skew from a nail. The roof, made of grass, is in dire disrepair, and the early night sky is clearly visible through the wooden beams. An empty box or two were discarded carelessly in one corner, while a dirty bucket without a bottom keeps the swinging half-hinged door open.

The floor on the other side of the small building has been covered by flattened boxes. On the boxes, piles of clothes are neatly stacked. T-shirts, pants, shorts and jackets have been sorted into lots. All the clothes were clearly second hand, some dirty, displaying disconcerting stains that resemble dried blood and mud.

A sort of relief runs through me when my darting eyes tell me that there are no bodies piled up covered with rocks, as we have seen on the hill. But relief only lasts for a second, as I recognise my sister’s sarong, the bright primary colours taunting me from the top of one of the batches of garments stacked at the far end. I fall on my knees, grabbing the piece of material, and press it to my face. The unmistakable smell of Royal Secret, my sister’s favourite perfume since we were teenagers, fills my nose.

Trying to comprehend and process what we have found temporarily turns me into a mute as I stare at the floor. The captain’s voice forcefully returns me to the present: “Miss Peterson, I assume you recognise the sarong?” I manage to nod my head slowly, painfully, and he continues: “Is it possible that you are mistaken? That design is fairly popular, and many women use it?” I jump up and unceremoniously thrust the sarong under his nose and demand in a hoarse voice: “Smell! Royal Secret. My sister’s favourite perfume. Stop trying to convince me that something is wrong. I know something terrible has happened!” My outburst ends in a hysterical shriek, and I bury my face in the silent piece of material, tears disappearing into the red, blue and yellow.

The captain allows me to grieve for a few moments, but then urges me: “Miss, I have something else to show you. It seems to be connected to the mutilated bodies we found, unfortunately…” His voice trails down to a whisper at the sight of the anguished stricken look on my face.

I get up reluctantly, unable to handle more terrible information, and walks slowly towards the desk that I saw when I entered the shack, where the captain is waiting.

An old, tattered and well-worn Bible lies open in front of me. Various pieces of paper of different colours and sizes stick out from apparent places of interest to whoever the owner was. Several parts of the visible passages have been underlined heavily, with hand written notes in an untidy handwriting clearly visible in the margins.

The passage is from the Old Testament, the book of Isiah, chapter 6… and I feel my blood churning as the words turn into intelligible sentences…

(1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
8 Also I heard the voice of the LORD, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
11 Then said I, LORD, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
12 And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.)

The images of the mutilated bodies we found earlier flash before my eyes, with their eyes stapled closed, their ears plugged, and their mouths sewn shut. I turn to the captain in horror: “He or they think that they are fulfilling a divine instruction?!”

Thankfully, we are interrupted by excited voices, and I found myself outside the building, inhaling large amounts of clean air, to try calming my thoughts.

I vaguely hear, as if from a great distance, that a new set of fresher footprints were followed, and that a number of men were rounded up, ready for interrogation by the captain. I follow with dread, wanting to know, but not wanting to find what seems to be the inevitable outcome.

We reach an opening in the bush, and the first thing I notice is an ornate spear, carefully arranged amongst a pile of rocks, resembling the proverbial Excalibur sword of Arthur. Next my attention moves to a tall figure who is detained by two officers. He is dressed in a hideous head dress and badly fitting colourful western clothes, clearly belonging to some of his victims. His face has been painted to depict a wrathful and vicious expression.

Fear is a funny emotion. When it lingers too long, snubbed, it turns into anger, a hatred so powerful, it engulfs all reason, igniting a fight response more powerful

I do not think. I act as my primordial brain instructs me to do. I lunge forward, rush past the officers, grab the Excalibur spear, and with inhuman power I attack the creature that took my sister away from me. I must have looked like the devil reincarnated to that god-awful being as I raged towards him. Thick waist length dark brown wavy hair are spread disorderly around my head like a misshapen halo and my full lips are pulled back into a cruel grin. Everything happens in slow motion as I jump up and raise the spear at the same time, then crashing down with every ounce of energy I can muster, to bury the spear hilt deep in his chest, watching with diabolic pleasure as the blood spurts from his chest and mouth. Some of the blood spurts on my face, and I turn my head in disgust.

It takes more than just a few minutes to regain control of my own brain. Air rushes in gasps through my nose and throat, making frightening animal like noises. I shake uncontrollably, and my heart pounds in my chest like a sledgehammer. I am not sorry for what I have done. In fact, I wish I could do it over and over and over, until the hurt in my heart subsides to a level I can endure.

Above the confusion, I discern an anxious officer’s voice shouting to the captain: “Cap, more bodies!” My legs refuse to carry me, and I crawl like a wild dog towards the voice. Then I see it. Three bodies on the ground, discarded like used paper bags, only covered partly by rags. Raw screams rack my ribs as I recognise my sister’s wrist with upturned palm, protruding from a blood-covered cloth, begging me to find her.

The hurt and sorrow is unbearable, yet I cannot take my eyes away from the humble bundle. I reach her and remove the cloth attempting to cover the brutal mortification inflicted. Three rag strips have been arranged purposefully over her eyes, nose and mouth, as if part of a ritual performed. I will never be able to describe in words what I feel as I carefully lift the first rag slowly from her eyes. Her eyelids have been stapled closed in crude fashion, as with the other victims. I see with exaggerated clarity that some of her eyelashes are missing, and it feels as if the pain in my heart physically rips my chest apart, bending me double and I find my head resting on her chest, while uncontrollable sobs blur my vision.

Then I hear it. So feint, I think I might have imagined it. A heartbeat. “O, God, no, please” the thought races through my mind. “Please don’t let her be alive through this torture”, and simultaneously: “O, thank you God, thank you for letting me find her alive!”

What happens next feels surreal. I experience an almost out of body experience, my soul floating somewhere between myself and my sister. Thankfully, I cannot feel the pain in my chest any more, and a blue calmness wraps itself tightly around me, focusing every sense I have to the most of my ability. My hands stop shaking, pins and needles indicate that additional blood flow has been restored to my extremities, I focus like an eagle, consciously shut out all sounds, and with infinite care and love, I remove the staples from Gayle’ eyelids one by one, guided by the light of a torch held by a police officer.

What happens next, however, let my soul crash back unceremoniously back into my psychologically battered body with such force I almost lose consciousness. Gayle opens her eyes. What I see saddens me so, I will not forget it until the day I die, and it will most probably even follow me into eternity.

The sheer terror, sorrow, shock and grief that stare at me, is unbearable. She does not seem to recognise me, and cringes at my touch, fighting against me, trying to get away. She grabs the piece of torn cloth and with desperation tries to cover her eyes with it, trying to get away from the piercing light of the torch shining in her face. The white of her eyes are a horrible colour, a mixture of red and orange, irritated by the cruel metal staples. I instinctively start making soothing clicking sounds, and cradle her as close as possible to my chest.

“I’m here, Gayle, I found you”, I whisper softly, while maintaining eye contact. “You are safe, you are safe, you are safe, I have you now, I won’t let go” She stares at me without comprehension, collapses, then fight again with the strength of a mad person, wild eyes and groping hands searching frantically for the cloth to cover her eyes.

I keep my voice calm, although my soul dies little by little of sorrow moment by moment, as I repeat soothingly over and over: “I have you now, you are safe.”

Although I weigh a mere 48kg, I bear against gravity, not letting go for a moment, holding my dearest sister as close to my heart as possible. One vicious look that makes my hazel eyes look like glowing gold, stops the officer in his tracks as he steps forward to relieve me of my burden.

The hours that follow are blurry, without substance. I have vague memories of an ambulance, nurses, doctors and police officers. The only clear recollections that I have are that of the occasional jolts from Gayle, as she desperately fights me to see where she is, only attempting to vanish behind any piece of material she can grab onto as soon as light shines in her face. This alternates with me trying to keep the rags from touching her mutilated eyelids and me cradling her closer and closer, and whispering: “You are safe, I won’t let you go, you are safe.”

Days turn into weeks. Recovery is slow. By the grace of God they did not have time to sew her mouth shut, or harm her ears with wooden plugs. Doctors tend to the wounds to her eyelids and ravaging rape injuries using the best medication. The emotional damage, however, is severe. Gayle do not talk. At all. She shows no interest to participate in any conversation, and is cared for like an infant. During this time, I never let go of her hand, and even though she does not react to anything I say, I repeat a million times and more: “You are safe.”

Physical wounds heal, and new wispy eyelashes grow back. Occupational therapists eventually help her to walk again. She stays silent.

The day arrives when she is allowed to return home. I hold her limp hand on my lap as we are driven to our parents’ house. I lovingly help her out of the car, and hold her as close as possible while we ascend the steps to the front door.

Home, at last! We walk slowly into the lounge, where my parents anxiously await us. And then, for the first time since the incident, Gayle shows signs of life. She walks forward slowly, and with a low, broken voice announces: “Mom, Dad, I have been assaulted in the most horrific way possible.”

For hours, days and weeks I was strong. I ignored every time my body or soul demanded my attention, pushing it to the subconscious, concentrating on my sister, and her well-being only. The sentence uttered is so unexpected, it breaks through my fragile defences completely, and I just notice vaguely that everything goes dark around me, and I float off in a quiet dark and cool blissful oblivion.
It does not fit, I think, and frown. The clear cheerful melody playing aloud has no place in this sad and awful tale? Slowly, oh so slowly, I resurface, and return to the world of reality. My eyes fly open, and as I jolt upright, arms aching, body shaking, with eyelids swollen heavily from crying, I finally realize: “It was a dream! Just a dream!”

The dream refuses to leave my mind’s eye. I see Gayle’ eyes, all red and orange, ducking away from the intruding light of the flashlight and bright hospital lights, I see where the eyelashes are missing. I smell the dried blood, feel her limp body in my arms, and relive the terror in explicit detail.

I force down a very strong cup of coffee, and decide to call my sister. I have to reassure myself that this was only a very bad nightmare.

The phone rings for a long time before it is answered eventually. It is her husband: “ Hi, Jane. Funny you should call. I am actually a bit worried…. Gayle and a friend were invited to a luxury resort in the Bushveld, and I have just received a call from the manager at the resort. Gayle seem to be missing. Only her jacket was found hanging over a chair…”


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


Soweto Love Follies

“Hurry up Tshepo, the taxi is almost full” said Mrs. Gumbu to her son, “But ma, I am trying, these things are far too heavy” referring to the plastic grocery bags he way carrying. “You are becoming lazy Tshepo” she said and shook her head. She was carrying more bags than Tshepo but she was not complaining, the spirit of a lady raised under black oppression. She was A house maid; she took care of a family’s child. Shaun was his name, he did not know that his parents, uncles and many who shared his skin color were doing was bad but there was a certain way he treated Mrs. Gumbu that proved that the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Tshepo went to a boarding school; he was handsome but still had the tummy of childhood, not old enough to stand with a girl on the corner as most of the older boys did when the parents were not around. He had the stature of a freedom fighter but his mother treated him like a three month old baby. His friends would often tease him and call him a “mama’s baby”. I guess that’s what it takes to raise up a child in the township as a single mother, you have to be extra strict so that he does not turn out like most of them do, a drunkard, criminal, terrorist or rapist. Tshepo’s father was shot when the little man was only three months old. He was coming from work after a pay day and some boys tried mugging him, but knowing that the money was needed by his wife and a three month year old baby, he fought back and that led to him being shot. It was ironic how much this did not affect Mrs. Gumbu, she knew that her husband died with honor, he was not killed for the meaningless struggle of apartheid but he died for the love of his wife and child. For the sake of grabbing the bull by the horns, this was still black on black murder.
“Sorry mama are you going to Zola?” asked the queue marshal as he gave her a hand with her groceries, even though it was really ever spoken of, these men found at taxi ranks were the closest you could get to a gentleman during those times. “Yes my boy, thank you…I am so tired” she said as she on the seat positioned behind the driver’s seat in an old blue E-20 Nissan taxi.
Tshepo came in at last and they left as the taxi was short with two passengers before they arrived.
As if it was a way of making people pay whether they liked it or not, the taxi driver drove half the way and he said with a soft voice “pay up please”. Mrs. Gumbu reached into her bra searching for money for the fair but there was nothing.
“Tshepo please pay up my boy, I used up all the money for food” Tshepo smiled as he went for his pocket, he felt like he was considered a man for doing something as simple as paying for the taxi. Suddenly his facial expression changed from pride to fear and then to panic when he came down to the hard hitting fact that he did not have the money with him.
“Ma, I lost my money bag” he said softly trying not to draw as much attention as possible.
“What!?” said the taxi driver who overheard their conversation. Without waiting to hear the statement again, he pulled over and turned his big body clothed with a leopard print vest to the back of the taxi. The vest telling everyone that he was true Zulu warrior. “I am sorry sir, I will give you the money in minute” she tried to sound sure of herself, but she had no clue where she was going to get the money from. He shook his head while collecting the rest of the money. This had turned the whole situation around, he felt obliged to get his money personally, even if that meant he would be last on the taxi queue, it did not matter, a man had to live and to do that a man needed money. After the minute ended or rather after collecting all the money, Mrs. Gumbu had not yet given the gentleman his money and there were no signs of mercy in his eyes. “Well I will have to take your food ma” he said. Worry fell upon her face, what were they going to eat? “I will pay!” a voice said from the back. “Huh?” Mr. Gumbu remarked and the rest of the taxi looked to the back seat and there sat a man with a pressed suite, he looked important, not important to have his own business, but he was important enough to be a teacher or doctor if he was lucky enough. “Thank you sir” she said, trying not to say anything else, this was already embarrassing. Even though they lived under the principle of Ubuntu, sometimes Ubuntu can turn you into a desperate woman with just enough to get through the month, no husband and no money for taxi. And this was not something she was going to embrace.
“Short right driver” Tshepo said as he saw his friends playing soccer in front of their yard which had a two roomed shack, a long drop toilet and spinach and potato garden. “I will send Tshepo to your house to bring the money sir” Mrs. Gumbu said. The gentleman just shook his head and said that it was okay but Mrs. Gumbu was adamant about giving him back his money the last thing she wanted was a man who would take advantage of her and her son.
There was a reason why she thought this way; she was very beautiful lady with an afro, not to big but just enough to give her a respectable look. She had round hips, boobs which were large due to the sucking of Tshepo during his diaper days. Even though it was a rude thing to mention, Mrs. Gumbu had an “arse” for days.
Who was this man, what made him so different from all the man he had ever met, was the question that Tshepo asked himself as he helped his mother offload the grocery bags.
The gentleman’s name was Vuyo Lelimo; he knew Mrs. Gumbu and her son very well. Actually he knew more than they thought he knew them, he knew Katlego Gumbu, Tshepo’s father and his best friend.
The stories to Katlego Gumbu’s murder were two, one was true and the other was not. Only those with a certain degree of thinking or more or less a forensic mind could unfold what had happened.
In the mid-seventies when there was political violence galore, Katlego and Vuyo were young men who wanted to live the American lifestyle. They wanted to change Soweto into America, if Martin Luther King Junior could speak his mind and make change to a certain degree; they wanted to do the same. And that meant they had to join politics, and politics would give them status and a respectable reputation among the ladies and the youth. Being the black supper man in the township was a big deal. The art of sacrifice was enough; even if you died on the first day of the job you were still considered a hero. This foundation leads to Katlego’s death.
After a meeting which was usually held at night, Vuyo and Katlego went out for drinks or rather “amaBEER “or “Izamalek”. They were not chronic drinkers they were chronic good-time-havers if there is such a noun. But that night they kissed to many bottles and they were surely drunk. This led to Katlego flirting with a young girl, promising her the world and all that he did not have but wished he could offer. One thing led to the other (by now all the kids should skip to the next paragraph). Sex is a strange and unfathomable thing. Why account for every groan of pleasure and moan. Katlego was a man and a man deserves his privacy, for that simple reason I will not go into it, but if you are of a PG brain I’d advise you to dig deep into your imagination.
Don’t think this was love is disguise, not it was not, it was exactly what it looked like from the beginning, just a quickie. But where is the sport in that, Katlego had to keep contact. It was the rebirth of the gigolo inside him, a little demon as many would say.
Hours, days, weeks and months passed while this happened. Things were already serious with Grace (who is known as Mrs. Gumbu), she was eight months pregnant, and they had just got married. On the other side of the fence things were serious too, even though the grass was not a green but there was still hope. The young girl who her name cannot be disclosed was falling in love with Katlego. She had found a good looking man, who had enough money for a few beers and an occasional trip to the fish and chips spot around the corner. He was a jack pot. A tender, it is wanted by so many but only a few can get their hands on it and she was the one who did. Stupid naïve girl!
But she did not stay naïve for so long; having friends that turned out to be jealous and told her that Katlego was married. She got mad, did a bit of researching herself, got a bottle of brandy and went to pay Katlego a small visit.
Katlego was out drinking with Vuyo, he was drinking more than he did in the past few months. The demon of cheating was eating him up inside, he wanted something to happen he wanted the young girl to leave or get tired of him. Little did he know what was coming his way!
Little girl: “hello baby, hello Vuyo”
Katlego: “hey, didn’t expect you tonight”
Little girl: “yeah I just thought I should come see you, you know I miss you”
Katlego: “I miss you too, how about we go to the back of the shabeen and have a talk”
Vuyo: “Hahaha, I will go get some beers while you guys “talk”” (knowing that it was quote for a quickie)
Katlego: “Easy!!”
He held her by the waist, dragging her in a way that showed that he couldn’t wait for the “talk”. “Ish, I forgot my handbag” she said as she turned around and went to the table. Vuyo winked at her and she blew him a kiss and turned around and headed back to Katlego, but the imbalance in her walk was obvious that the brandy had taken its toll on her. But Katlego could not see that. It is hard for a blind mouse to lead a blind mouse as it is for a drunkard to spot another drunkard.
Katlego: “you look good tonight, come here”
Little girl: “yeah I know but I want to ask you one question before we begin”
Katlego: “anything you wish my love”
Little girl: “are you married?”
He paused for a while, asking himself how things had come to this, he thought they were coming out to have a good time, but that was not the case. He had dug his own grave by asking her to come “talk”. There was nothing he could do but lie, there was no way he was going to betray his erection with the truth. ‘The truth will set you free’ was not a phrase he did want bouncing in his head at this moment. Frankly speaking, the truth would not set him free at all more especially from his sexual desire.
Katlego: “now where did you hear that?”
Little girl: “Katlego I’m damm serious, stop playing games with me”
Katlego smiled at her
Little girl: “please I’m serious, I’m warning you!”
Katlego: “what are you going to do?”
Little girl: “just tell him”
Katlego: “look I don’t owe you any explanation. What did you think was going to happen with us, did you think I was going to marry you and start a family? For God’s sake we met in a bar and that’s where we will always meet!”
Little: “I hate you, you are a pig!!”
She reached into her handbag and pulled out a gun, like a hot knife on butter, the bullet pierced his flesh, hot blood staining his shirt while making way to the ground. The reunion of blood and soil, a sacrifice to the ancestors, a sin offering to the gods.
He felt cold, fell to his knees and gently laid down in his own pool of blood, he tired saying something but there was nobody to hear him “my son, my s….” and that was the end of it. Vuyo was scared and the tears were seen on his face, he called for help, he sent someone to go to Katlego’s house and tell his wife that his husband was shot by two ‘tsotis’ that was true to a certain degree because the little girl had taken his wallet and dompass. Truth be told Vuyo did not know what else to think, he thought that the little girl ran away after they were attacked.
The baby was kicking more than he did that night, Grace was so happy that night and when he heard the knock on the door he thought it was her husband, so she we went to the door humming a gospel song. When she opened the door she was met by two hard breathing and sweating youngsters. “Who are you and what do you want?” She asked “sister we were sent here to tell you that Katlego Gumbu was just shot next to Bra Jake’s Shabeen” “What? Piss off I don’t have time for games!” hoping that this was a joke, but she noticed that there was no change in their facial expressions. Dust to dust, the end was here and there was nothing she could do about it. The baby was not kicking anymore. It felt as if he knew that the one who was meant to be his hero was gone, that he would look up to movie stars. A true shame.
She wept, she was scared, a young mother with no money no husband. Her family helped her but for how long would they do that? She was not educated, she had fallen pregnant after matric and Katlego had promised her that he would take her to school right after the baby was old enough. And now the baby was coming in a month. Did this mean that Tshepo’s life was doomed before he was born? Maybe it was, depending on what you think doomed means.

Here she was fourteen years later, and the man who could have been more of friend to Katlego had paid the taxi for his best friend’s widow. The best friends are the ones who tell us when we do something wrong, they are the very ones who are “hating on us” when our enemies are laughing with us while we self-destruct. A simple look from Vuyo could have made Katlego think twice about cheating.
The sad part was that Vuyo did not see his fault, he did not see that he was involved in his friend’s murder whether he liked it or not. He was responsible for Grace and Katlego, and after so many years, who was he to just pitch in front of their door and tell them his life with Katlego. Did he even have any right to do that? Would he tell the truth or part of the truth?
Whatever he did, he too will still be in the dark. Because he would not know that Katlego’s Marriage to Grace was the reason the little girl had pulled the trigger.
Who I am to judge? There is too much folly in this story and the biggest of all is that nobody knows that the little girl killed Katlego and funny enough is that she is sitting right next to me.
I’m just kidding
-The end!-
It would be an injustice to not continue the story talking about the young but now mature Tshepo. You do want to know his fate right?
Time was not worrying to him, he was in a pale taxi, with a brown dashboard which could be considered vintage if only the driver too care of it, but he did not, so it was a peace of dung. It was four years since the first time I had introduced you to Tshepo with his mom in a taxi. Well he had worked hard enough in school and was awarded a bursary. He was a law student at the University of Pretoria, a year after the 1994 democratic elections. Things were turning around especially for him, he would have never dreamed of making it this far in life. Even though the motivation from the likes of Napoleon Hill, Hendry Ford and Nelson Mandela gave him hope when he was studying under candle light, he was convinced that all was a pipe dream. But he was wrong, dreams do come true.
Handsome like his father, graceful and strict like his mother he was man’s man, envied by many and loved by most. He was a young man, and enemies were under his arm, he needed him, they made him push hard. He wanted to be like his father, or maybe the idea he had of his father. Just like have you would have guessed Vuyo had done the noble thing. He did not want to put salt on the wound, so he told them half the truth about his life with Katlego. He did not mention the fact that they were into politics, that would distract Tshepo and did not say a word about our famous killer, the little girl, as that would crush Grace’s spirit. So he played with his tongue good enough and that did more good than harm. And this is only what he saw; the smaller picture any man sees when he tells a lie.
Sin is pleasurable and lies have large profits, Vuyo ended up under the sheets with Grace and that led to the debate if she should change her last name to Lelimo or not. Not a bad idea for a widow who had not encountered affection in almost fifteen years. Some would think the vertical smile had closed up.
Vuyo went from being mom’s friend, to uncle Vuyo and then to Tshepo’s step dad. I don’t know how you see it, but friends can betray you even if you are six feet under.
Tshepo became one of the most renowned lawyers in South Africa, his mom and step dad grew happy together. Tshepo got married, and it was not to the daughter of the “little girl”. It was to Vuyo’s long lost daughter. They lived happy in folly, like fools they told their children about grandfather “Katlego Gumbu”, how much of a good man he was.
Who had killed him was a mystery… did Vuyo have a hand in it, did he always have a thing for Grace from the time Katlego was around? Who knows? When he told me this story he did not say but the look in his eyes told me a different story. Don’t conclude maybe I might be wrong!
-The end-

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.

The Maple Syrup Tree

The yellow-orange leaves decorated the floor as Chuck gazed at the magnificent maple syrup tree. It was like no other tree. Standing upright searching… Chuck under the gaze of its watchful eyes. Its beauty and majesty refused to escape his very thoughts. The image of the tree would forever haunt him. It stood there watching, erect as the sphinx. If you gaze closer, you will notice wounds engraved on the tree. “James loves Loretta” is the permanent scar the maple syrup tree is unfortunately abashed with. Chuck wondered whether it felt any pain or if it had perhaps responded to the burn of the sharp and torturous instrument against its wrinkled skin. He ran his nimble infant fingers along the crestfallen scar, “James loves Loretta.” He suddenly felt a gradual trickle of golden liquid ooze onto his supple index finger. He sucked at his fingers like teats and felt a delicious honey-suckle flood his tongue. An overwhelming sensation filled Chuck with excitement as he kicked off his leather shoes, releasing an extremely unbearable pungent odour. His toes sunk into the earth like sand at the beach. Such an inescapable feeling shattered the very core of Chuck’s soul. What in his monotonous life had he done to experience such a pleasurably intense and excruciating sensation?

Chuck raced home. He would appear athletic from an unfit person’s perspective with his feet pounding the ground as if racing against time in heightened anticipation to inform mamma about his Christopher Columbus discovery. Images of the tree remained fresh in his mind like sweet, precious photographic memories of Chuck’s vulnerable and erratic childhood. A sense of urgency and purpose was endowed upon Chuck with the need to tell mamma. He glided up the stairs in a ghost-like fashion. “Mamma, Mamma! You won’t believe!” Mrs. Brown looked at him through curious dead cat eyes. The thought suddenly escaped him as if he had never stumbled across such a glorious discovery. He forgot the sensation, that trickling feeling. Suddenly Chuck realised that the hot and syrupy sensation had left his tongue dry and bare.

The maple syrup tree clouded Chuck’s thoughts. He was unable to think of anything else but that looming tree. At supper time, Chuck played around with his food like a dog incapable of resisting a game of fetch. He poked around the wormy spaghetti mamma had so meticulously prepared for her darling baby. He thought the spaghetti wriggled on his plate as it reminded him of a heap of worms squirming in the dirt. He soon grew furious for no apparent reason and threw the pathetic plate of blood-curdling spaghetti against the flowered- covered wall. “I cannot eat this mamma! How many times do I have to remind you that I hate your spaghetti!” She looked plainly at him through cold, calculating eyes and menacingly responded, “that’s nice dear, off to bed now, I’ll stop by later to tuck you in.”

He lay awake that night with grotesque eyes, widened in terror. She had misunderstood him to an extent which he could no longer withstand. The image of that tree remained imprinted in his mind as he could not abandon the thought that the maple syrup tree stood watching over him. A mixture of fear and excitement surmounted Chuck as he lay conscious in his moth-eaten, handcrafted bassinet like a mad insomniac.

Arms outstretched, chasing mamma with a noose in one hand and a cleaver hidden in one of his pockets. He was unable to comprehend whether or not he was conscious. “HERE MAMMA, MAMMA, MAMMA! Come out wherever you are.” Mrs. Brown hid in the corner like a rat confined in an unbreathable space. Like a butcher, a cleaver appeared out of his pocket. He drove the cleaver into her heart, butchering her in the corner like the ripper himself. He repeatedly stabbed her with the release and finality of an orgasmic screech. Pure pleasure pumped Chuck’s heart at that very moment. Count Dracula’s reign of terror had finally reached a halt. Almost instantly, Chuck awoke in a hot sweat, realising that his fantasy was a mere nonsensical dream. His euphoric state had met a bitter end. His heavy head collapsed onto the soft pillow filled with concern.

Chuck awoke the next morning as a corpse; his throat felt bare and chalky. He lacked the desire to eat or drink. All that remained in his mind was the maple syrup tree with the golden glaze syrup flooding his tongue and intensifying his senses. Chuck rushed out the door like a dog in heat with the need to possess the sensation again. He blatantly ignored the desperate cries of mamma, urging him to eat something, pretending to be a proper caregiver, yet alone a mother.
“Mamma!” he desperately wanted to scream till his pipes had lost all its air and got snatched from his throat. He was convinced mamma was a bitter old woman. She had taken him for granted and used him just as she had with daddy. Chuck was convinced that he deserved better. The maple syrup tree haunted him that night, its omniscient presence being extremely hypnotic. He had to possess that enchanting tree. At least he would possess one thing immaculate in his god forsaken life.

He stood before it, savouring the pleasure of the maple syrup tree. It was different this time, punctured with wide gaping empty holes, releasing fountains of golden, gushing liquid. At the moment, all senses left his body, devoid of any feeling. He held out his hands like a beggar, scooping the golden liquid and lapping the delicious honey-suckle like a dog. The syrup was different this time, Chuck remained utterly perplexed. The golden liquid remained hypnotic yet bitter at the same time. The sweet taste of the syrup faded as the sweetness of the maple syrup tree was liquidated. No person could fully understand the maple syrup tree. One would have to taste its contents in order to experience its full cosmic power.

Chuck walked home savouring the intense toxic flavour. The maple syrup tree had been different today by favouring him with chocolate bitterness instead of overwhelming sweetness. His gut ached all the way home with an engulfing sense of satisfaction. Chuck thought James and Loretta were lucky to have come across such an archaic tree. Lying awake in his bassinet all day with a gut ache of bitterness was the only idea that entertained Chuck’s mind. Mamma would not dare to disturb him today or she might meet her end with that treacherous noose around her neck. Chuck would be her only audience, watching her face turn cyanotic with glee. She would scream only “Chuck” as precious life left her decrepit body. He imagined detaching her piece by piece like a helpless lamb and throwing the remnants in the void of the sea where she would soon be united with daddy.

It was not long before Chuck visited and drank yet again from the maple syrup tree. The taste was not that of sweetness or bitterness but was that of death itself. The taste filled his mind with reassurance and nullified his senses. He drank from the pool of golden ooze like that of a mad man. Excruciating pain crept upon Chuck’s body, turning his bones to ash. He could not stop; he could not resist the tree and the mystical power that it contained. His gut began to bulge in disgust so much so that onlookers would think him to resemble that of a pig with an apple gagged in his mouth ready for Christmas dinner. His once athletic frame had hastily undergone a grotesque transformation which was far from the celebratory transition into puberty.

Suddenly a thin voice whispered in the air, “What are you doing?” The voice was so mellow, harmonious and soft that the wind easily swallowed it up whole, resulting in the mere apparition of a sound heard. Chuck’s eyes followed the source of the quaint voice. She was tall as a surfboard with golden locks falling harmoniously and sculpting her shoulders; she had the appearance of an angel. She had wanted to know what he was doing, as curious as his feline mamma. Despite her divine state, she appeared to be nothing but a nonentity beside the grandiose maple syrup tree. An overwhelming scent filled the air. It was obvious that this golden-haired, Grace Kelly angel had the desire to claim the tree for herself. Greed fell over Chuck, blinding the remaining sanity that he possessed. Chuck pounced on the angelic girl like a creature sentenced to a minuscule cage for eternity. He tore off a branch from the tree and beat her bloody to a state of nothingness. He had done his duty and walked home with steady but heavy feet. Crimson footprints read like breadcrumbs left, hinting to the whereabouts of a cold and calculated butcher.

He lay awake staring at an empty space haunted by the maple syrup tree. The tree offered treasures beyond any measure and fulfilled wishes as unbroken promises. Chuck savoured the bitter pleasure the tree had offered. He quickly unbuckled his leather belt as his belly swelled beyond mountainous measure. Something was wrong, as he released his leather belt buckle; his gut began swelling to an unimaginable height. The belly blew up toward the height of the ceiling. Golden bubbles issued from Chuck’s mouth forcing him to choke on the golden ooze he had one too many times delighted in. Chuck fell into a deep unawakening slumber haunted by that maple syrup tree for an eternity in the afterlife, restlessly roaming with coins for eyes.

Mrs. Brown rushed through the door, grateful that her tedious job was done. It was not easy to entertain a string of jobs in order to provide for their small non-existent family of two. She absolved herself of her leather patent shoes and red kimono dress. She slowly eased into her grandmother’s leather coach with a bitter scotch in one hand. The radio flared up with The Fleetwood’s, “Come softly to me.” Mrs. Brown poured herself another bitter scotch as the symphony of music played in the background with her tapping her toes placidly against the warmth of the soft carpet floor.

Time passed by as a century would. Mrs. Brown awoke to the placid drip of golden ooze originating from the fresh dampened spot of the ceiling where Chuck’s room supposedly was. She awakened like a tired retired antique man and slowly crept up the stairs like an insect upon inspection. She had not heard Chuck since she relieved herself from her cloak of tired superficiality. Huffing and wheezing like an asthmatic, she finally reached the tip of the stairs, staring at her son’s room door. She knocked. No answer. The air was quiet and dead, harvesting flies and maggots. She finally opened his door like an intruder, evasive like an alien from the void of space. The aftermath of the scorching sun had preserved the room in a cocoon of heat leaving the contents to bake. The air was filled with a pungent smell of honey; there had been no room to breathe. A large puddle of golden ooze lay in the middle of the bassinet with an overflow of honey, dripping at the sides of the perfectly constructed wooden crib.

A glimpse of madness passed over Mrs. Brown’s face as she subconsciously drank in the liquid resulting in a picture of perfection to fall before her very eyes. Suddenly, a drop of golden ooze trickled from the ceiling and landed in her trap. She drank the trickle of ooze and delighted in its taste. If heaven had in fact existed, she would have already received confirmation to enter through the holy gates. She licked her thin lips to reveal sharp, supernatural feline teeth of Satan himself; crimson ooze dripped from her fangs. She sneered with satisfaction and instantly thought of her son which was a thought that had barely entertained her mind for over six years. She was filled with a sense of satisfaction yet sadness. She uttered a few words that her son had rarely heard her mouth before, “I love you” and this time she meant it.

Hell on a hill

The air was filled with excitement. It was a long weekend and most people were planning trips to the lake or recreational spots to unwind and have fun. At age 15, I was just so excited about the excitement and my nephews and I were running around sharing in everything from people just passing, carrying large water- melons or some lugging crates of beer and meat for their barbecues. It felt like Christmas, yet it was the first day in May. It was also the last month of Fall or Autumn as we know it. The weather was unusually warm, though windy. The hustle and bustle of the day continued well into the late afternoon and it suddenly died down. Everyone had gone to their respective lake trips or picnic areas and the township was quiet.

My nephews and I went back in the house to play “Karate Kid” moves. The two boys adored me, and they’d hang onto my every word. I loved telling stories. I used to be able to just make up a tale and tell it. They most especially loved the story of “Vera, the ghost lady”. I believed that story since it was an urban legend as I grew up. They were my older sister’s sons. Ronny, the older and Reggy, 6yrs old. He was younger by just a year and a half. Ronny was much closer to me. He’d shadow me in whatever chores I was given and he’d follow me everywhere. The house they lived in was their mother and their stepdad’s. It was an ordinary four-roomed house in a busy township in Soweto. Most people who lived on the same street knew one another. I was relatively new there as I had recently moved in at my sisters house to keep her boys company after school, during the day while my sister and her husband were at work.

On this bright sunny afternoon, my brother in law sent us on a errand. He used the train to work and his monthly train-stub had expired. He gave me the exact amount to go buy him another monthly stub at the train station, about three kilometers away. My nephew Ronny and I were excited because it’d give us the chance to take a nice long walk, watching people’s comings and goings along the way. We made it to the station, and bought the ticket. The long walk back suddenly didn’t seem so nice anymore because we were so tired and thirsty. Most times we had to keep jumping out of the way of a reckless driver or watch some very drunk people swearing their way through the streets of Soweto. I pocketed the stub and we started our trek back home. A few meters away from the station, we were walking on a gravel path in a very rocky part of the area. It had a nice view over the nearby neighborhood and was very quiet. Suddenly I hear my nephew cry out. I thought he might have stepped on something and I ignored him. Then it went eerily quiet and I turned around. A young man, probably in his early twenties was pulling my nephew by his arm and I could see he was hurting him. The guy stood there sneering at me with his bloodshot eyes and two missing front teeth. I asked him what he thought he was doing and demanded that he let go of my nephew. He asked me in the Zulu dialect what I was gonna do for him to let my nephew go. I was so naive for not understanding what he was getting at and I feebly answered that I’d say thank you to him. Someone behind me laughed out loud and there were three of his friends approaching. My nephew started crying and I was suddenly very scared. People were passing by and no one stopped to see what was going on. The guy behind me pushed something into my rib cage and ordered me to start walking. I resisted and begged him to let us go, but he kept laughing, then he whispered something in my ear. He told me his name was Themba and he was the leader of the gang in that area and everyone was scared of them. He showed me a pistol and told me killed many people and was wanted by the police, but even they couldn’t catch him. He then pointed the weapon at my nephew. I started screaming but he hit me so hard on the side of my head, I saw stars. The guy who had my nephew started slapping him around and I screamed at him to leave him alone. I begged them to let him go. He was just a little boy. My captor, Themba, started pushing me against a huge rock and told me to lift my skirt. I started crying even harder, because I was terrified. I’ve heard people talk about what men do to women once they lifted their skirts or take off their clothes and I had sworn that I’d rather die than ever do that. I heard my nephew cry again and this other guy threatened to use a weapon on him if I don’t hurry up. I cried and held on tightly to my skirts. The guy Themba slapped me dizzy and while I put my hands up to my face to ward off more slaps, his filthy, smelly, crusty hands found their way up my skirts and I felt my underwear rip. I started screaming, but he held his smelly hand over my mouth and nose, while with the other hand he unzipped his pants. I couldn’t breath and fought him with my free hands. I felt my neck twist at some stage and I must have lost consciousness. When I resurfaced, the guy who had my nephew captive was on top of me. My hands were held by the other two who had, until then, not said anything. They were laughing and pushing one another to have another “go” at me.

Somewhere during the confusion, I heard a dog bark. I saw a large Alsatian coming from behind the huge rock they’ve been keeping me. It barked viciously at them then a voice from behind the rock came. An older man came leeping from behind the rock and started shouting at them. The guys scattered around and the one who was still on top of me was pulled roughly by his neck. The scuffling brought the dog in a hurry and I could hear screaming. The dog must have sunk its teeth into one of them. The old man came to me and pulled down my skirt and fastened my shirt around me. Suddenly I remembered my nephew. I told the old man I was not alone. I heard whimpering a few steps away and my nephew was lying there, bleeding from his nose. Those thugs had really worked him over. I started crying again and when he saw me, he cried even louder. The old man asked us a lot of questions, but we (my nephew and I) were just too happy to see each other. We grabbed one another and started running. All the way home, I felt so sad. I felt bad for what had happened and my biggest relief was when I found the ticket stub still in my pocket. I wondered what I had done wrong for those men to do that to us. All the time we were running home, we never stopped or spoke to one another or anyone, although we kept looking over our shoulders. Once home, no one was around. My sister and her husband were out and I was even more relieved. I’m not sure how I was going to explain my torn shirt and underwear. I made sure the ticket stub was in a safe place where my brother in law would find it and I ran straight to the back of the house where there was an out-house. I filled a tub with cold water, added washing powder and some bleach and got inside. I sat in there for a long time, washing off the stench of those men. Trying to wash away everything that happened. I scrubbed myself so hard till my skin burned. I never cried while I did that. I took the clothes I was wearing and the underwear and dumped it in the dustbin. Afterwards, I flushed the water down the drain and every single memory of what happened that afternoon.

It all came back to me like a ton of bricks seventeen years later as I was taking a nap. It returned with such an overwhelming rush, I felt I was drowning. At first I thought I was dreaming, then it hit me. I was re-living every moment of that horrible day. For all those years I managed to carry on with my life. I got married, had a child, miscarriages and even managed to fall in love. I went to see a physiatrist who told me that I was able to lock away all the bad experiences at the back of my mind, and it was just waiting to come back out without warning. This experience had a life altering effect on my nephew, because he had to watch. I’m still filled with guilt for his ordeal at the age of seven. He never deserved to see something so cruel. We spoke about it once after it came back to me in a dream. He told me he never forgot and he always wondered how I could just carry on living my life as though nothing happened to me. Today, he is married and has a brilliant son. I pray daily that he is happy. My life changed at a few moments’ notice. Today, houses are built on that hill and the place is called Mountain-side. I can’t help staring at the very spot every time I drive past the place, on my way to visit relatives in Soweto.
Because I dared to dream bout what happened to me on a hill in Soweto on the first day of May, I live with a large wound in the pit of my stomach, and it does not allow me to trust or to love again. I am divorced now, and living with my son in our home.
I dream of finding the best of what this world has to offer me. I know I will find it. I live with hope, but also with the inability to forget.