WORDS: SISCA JULIUS
IMAGE: Tess (@tesswilcox)
On those mornings she reluctantly put the kettle on to boil water for washing in the skotteltjie. The yellow one they still have from when she was a baby. Those mornings feel so very far away now, like her father probably is by now, his ship came in, whether that was literal or figurative, they still don’t know.
Hated her mother now like she hated taking out the pisemmer every morning to empty it into the long drop. She resented the smallness of their home ever since she went away and saw how people could actually live, with baths and hot water and toilets that flush, the living room with its dirty green walls sporting spots and bumps that look kind of like Jungle oats boiling in a pot, gathering dust, the way she resents her mother right now. She rushed straight to the open Bible on her mother’s dressing table, and just as the thought of changing her mind raced through her like an electric current, she grabbed it. “Love is patient? Love is kind?” she started violently ripping pages out of the Book like a tikkop pulling his hair out of his scalp.
She took the crumpled pages off the floor and gathered them in her trembling hands. Then went out the back door to the makeshift braai her father had made from half an old geyser and the trolley part of a hospital catering pulley. She threw it all in there. His eyes, an ear, a mouth, a tooth, a man in the stomach of a whale, a parted sea, a honey comb in a lion’s carcass, and watched it all go down into flames. It was in grade nine when she woke up one morning and saw that the sheets were blood stained. Her mother walked in with a cigarette dangling from her lips and said, “uhh, you will mos, don’t think about bringing home any babies”. It was also in grade nine that she started rolling up her skirt at the waistband and straightening her thick, coarse hair. It was in grade nine when she went to high school in Upington and saw him, tall and broad shouldered, milky-coffee skinned. It was as if an electric current ran through her. He could command every room he walk into.
He was quiet, but not timid. He didn’t seem to be anything like the boys she knew. He never day dreamed about wheel caps and GTI’s. He didn’t get angry when other boys spoke to her. He didn’t become sulky when his cricket team lost. And he was always elbow-deep inside of a book instead of a bottle. In turn, he noticed the way her cheeks crimsoned when he was near. He liked how rude she was, it made him think of a chihuahua barking at an elephant. He of course couldn’t ask her out directly, he would make sure to always stand near the school gate so that when she came, late as usual, he would offer to carry her bag that looked to be almost twice her size on her tiny frame, to which she would always reply, “If you like carrying bags so much, why don’t you go work at Shoprite”. The same year he wrote his name on her thigh with a permanent marker under the pavilion at the rugby field during break. “Yirre Fhiekie, my mommy’s gunna see it! Then it’s again another thing. Next thing you know my curfew is ‘when the streetlights come on’” “The course of true love never did run smooth, my love”
She was angry now. Shivering, like she did back in her Primary school days on the cold winter mornings in Grootdrink, before she went to Upington like only the clever kids who want to do more than work the vineyards or pack the shelves in Shoprite do.
“Would’ve been romantic if Mrs Du Plessis didn’t make us read that thing. Rather pass the gwaai you fool”. They walked hand in hand through streets where the grass was green, to coffee shops where they had mocha lattés and did their homework while she playfully punched him if he said something stupid. She felt, with him, what it must feel like to dream of a better life. He made her like herself, but he also made her want to better herself. He took her to museums that smelled of fresh carpets and potpourri. They would bunk school and sneak off to his house which was close to the school and after a while, his dog, ‘Voetsek’ did not bark at her. Laying on the old rug in the garage, smoking cigarettes and listening to Tracy Chapman, it didn’t seem that there were shades of brown. To him, it didn’t matter that her hair would mimic cotton candy the second the wind started to blow, or the first rain drops started to fall. She was startled by his world. The electric remote-controlled gate, the TV that descends from the ceiling at the press of a button, the ice cream machine. She’d never had anything so good in her life.
But there was always something gnawing at her insides when he came too close. Something that sounded somewhat like her mother. Something that said that a goat and a sheep could graze in the same field but would never sleep in the same kraal. It was like being completely content in your little house but always fearing a knock at the door. She would never let him pick her up or drop her off at home. It would always have to be two blocks away, so she would get off at Joan’s corner and climb through the wired fence and then walk the five houses down to her house. She didn’t want his pity. She didn’t want to be the girl who needs to escape her circumstances and turn around the hand she was given. She just wanted to be a girl being taken out by a boy who she was terribly in love with.
There were countless times when she considered doing it. Maybe things wouldn’t be so scary. Maybe he’d be okay in her world. Maybe her world would be okay with him in it. She would take him home in a mini bus taxi. The ones where the drivers ask the high school girls to sit in front because “school sandwiches taste better”. The ones where you don’t have to give a location or directions. The ones where you say “Jum’ boy, mulberry tree, please”and he’d reply “Ohk antie, the one where the old lady extended the house with the road accident moneys. Next to the child who’s fat now cos of the abortion?.”He’d hopefully laugh because it’s funny. When you lived like this, in colourful match boxes and untarred streets, you’d have to look at any bright side you could get. She’d have to warn him beforehand not to sit in the front seat, because that would mean you count the money. Maybe they’d get off there, stroll hand in hand up the dusty streets, past the old library that was hardly ever open, past the green shop on the corner where you had to pay an extra “pipty cent” for a R5 Vodacom. They’d pass the shocking pink house where Aunty Vroutjie always hides behind the curtain. Jesus and Allah would bury the hatchet. Just for a little while. It would all be okay. She would make two ends meet.
One Friday afternoon after school, they had packed a cooler box with ciders and sandwiches and drove out to the lake twenty-five kilometres out of town. The sky was so blue, as though it had never before been grey. They laid out an old blanket on the grass next to a large oak tree, she in his big arms, with her head rested against his chest. They talked for hours, about Star Wars and dark chocolate and Edith Piaf. And for a small moment the gears of time got stuck. The Bible and the Qu’ran were buried and they were just a boy and a girl kissing at the side of the lake. But of course, as she always knew it would, the knock at the door came. The were making their way back. Rhafiek was driving with his hand on her thigh and she was beaming at him. “Can we just stay like this, here? “he asked. “I wish”she said, for once with no sarcastic comment. At that moment it felt as though they were infinite.
Until they made the sharp corner of the dusty road, Joan’s house, and saw her mother standing there, fire burning in her eyes.
“Let that boy come with!”and she knew the knock at the door, the one she was all along fearing, caused her little house of sticks to come crumbling down. She walked in and with his hand burning in hers and as if for the first time, noticed how simple her people actually were. It was as if she’d never seen it before that moment- the bouquet of plastic fruit on the table, the room divider full of trinkets and photographs, a wedding photograph with her father cropped out, the tear in the sofa that was covered by a crocheted doily, the wooden board with “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”engraved. She felt so small. “I want nothing more of this. You hear me? I’m not losing my sleep over another baby. And you, samosa-vretertjie, you are not our kind. Two gods in the same bed, worships the devil instead!” She ran after Rhafiek all the way to the gate. Begging. Pleading. He didn’t look back. She came back inside to her mother, watching 7de Laan as if nothing happened. “You lied to me mummy! You said there’s only white and black. Your heart is white or your heart is black! You fucking lied!”