In the early morning dark
I find myself falling
in love with life.
the stars still in the sky
the roosters crowing – a web
to capture the morning light.
The clouds warn of sunrise
as the milkman leaves home.
The first turtle doves begin to call
a lamb cries somewhere,
separated from its mother.
Each basil leaf wears a diamond,
a robin searches between the lace
of carrot leaves.
An empty nest has fallen
from the oak tree.
It’s a stinging hot day but we’re in the shade of Dad’s wattle plantation now. I’ve got her to myself at last. Grannie has her knobbly wooden walking stick with the little black rubber cap on the bottom. She’s wearing one of her pretty silky dresses. You can see through the material to her lacy petticoat underneath. She likes purply colours all linked up with black, swirling curls. If I look across at her, I can see her two melon-titties pointing out in front of her.
I sat on the bed this morning and watched her dressing. She puts on a corset which goes from her shoulder straps down to her waist with the two enormous bowls for her melons. Then the corset goes even further down, to just above the top of her legs and it has four suspenders hanging off it to attach to the dark rim at the top of her purplish nylon stockings.
She has to lean her titties into the bowls made for them and she has to do the whole thing up with hooks and eyes which go all the way down her back. She squeezes her face – open and shut, open and shut – as she curls her arms round to the hooks and eyes behind her. If she joins the wrong ones up at the top, then they’ll all be wrong and the bottom of the corset will be uneven and she’ll have to start all over again. Sometimes she looks at me with her pointy dark eyes after she’s heaved the first hook and eye together.
“Are they right? Do they match?”
And I’m allowed to say, “Yes” or “No”.
I don’t need to worry about the silver hooks and eyes stabbing into her puffy back. That’s because there’s a flap of pale, smooth satin that goes underneath them to keep her skin safe. Sometimes I’m allowed to pull it out into its right place if it’s been flapped backwards while she’s been hooking and eyeing.
It all takes a long time, and my mother is usually shouting down the passage, “Mummy, it’s nearly breakfast time. Boef, are you there with Grannie? Peter and your sisters will be back from milking any minute. Are you dressed?” Of course I’m dressed but Grannie is still struggling like a tortoise trying to turn onto its little feet from lying on its shell-back.
There’s still the stockings to do. She gets them out of my little sister’s drawer where she packed all her things after she got off the Orange Express from Cape Town. My little sister has moved all her things to our room. Her room is Grannie’s now for the Christmas holidays.
This morning I looked around at how it is when Grannie owns it. There’s a forest of creams and lipsticks and even eye-shadow and a bottle of rose water on the dressing table beneath the window. And all her hair brushes and the stick with a pad on the end for hitting under her chin at night to make her extra chin go away. There’s a rolled-up newspaper on the small wooden bedside cupboard.
That newspaper is The Natal Witness. We get it every day at the post office inside the railway station where the Orange Express stops for a few minutes to hurtle Grannie out into our arms and our kisses and bursting tears. Sometimes the guard has to blow his whistle twice before the train chuffs off again because there’s so much hello-ing that we nearly forget her suitcases.
Grannie opens The Natal Witness and wears it on her head in an upside-down long V-shape when she has to go the bathroom for a wee at night. That’s because a bat once got tangled in her long, thin, grey hair in the middle of the night. She screamed and screamed and every one of us five – my Dad, my Mum, my two sisters and I, all rushed into the passage to see what was happening.
At first I thought there was a snake, like the one that held my mother prisoner in the passage for ages one summer day while my Dad was on the hill. The kitchen girls were too scared to do anything. And so was Mshwathi, my nanny. Mswhathi and I watched from the dining room. My mother was as still as a stone. And so was the snake. It stood up on its own tummy and stared at my mother in a mean sort of way. The only thing that moved were the two silent streams down my mother’s cheeks and the spots of wet that grew on each front side of her green dress. In the end, the garden boy came in with a broom and killed it quite a few times and my mother fled to her bedroom and locked the door. I could hear her choking herself with loud tears but she wouldn’t let Mshwathi and me in. She stayed there, all locked, till my Dad came home from milking. I just sat in the passage on the green concrete floor outside her door, guarding her from snakes and everything.
I was quite shocked about the bat. So shocked to see it dancing in my Grannie’s hair in the moonlight that came in through the bathroom window with the dark poinsettia flowers shadowing the wall above the bath. The bat was busy lifting her grey hairs like strings on a silver harp in a crazy dance in that moonlight. Her scream didn’t stop – even when we were all pouring ourselves into the bathroom from the passage. Us three in our flowery shortie pyjamas, Mum in her nightie with no knickers and Dad with his no clothes on and his thing hanging down.
Grannie had her plastic suit pants pushed down to the floor. The plastic top – neck to wrists to waist – was all in place. You could see her through it, especially her titties. They were a bit flopped because of no corset in bed. At night she wore the plastic suit for sweating and getting thin while you sleep. As we pushed through the door, she was standing and screaming and her hands were trying to beat that little bat out. But it wouldn’t.
So even though you could see her bottom and everything, my Dad went straight in and, with his arm that has no hand, he pushed his way into her hair to reach and hold down the little bat. And with his hand-arm, he untangled the tiny mouse-thing and let it use its wings to fly out through the white-framed bathroom window.
My mother had done quite a few shrieks and had raced off down the passage before my Dad got the bat free. She came back with her giant silver sewing scissors to cut Grannie’s hair off and free the bat. Grannie yelled at her to NOT. Her boyfriend, Eric, was coming soon, she said, to take her away to a more civilised place.
I was laughing with terrified tears, and crying with scary feelings at the wildness and funniness of what was going on. And then she said about the boyfriend. Everything in me went still and very cold in my chest, like a hard chunk of ice from the freezer. What did she mean? My little sister blinked quite a few times as we turned away to go down the passage to our bedroom. She blinked and she whispered, “Grannies don’t have boyfriends – do they?”
“Don’t be stupid. They can’t. Because they’ve already been married.” My voice was hot, not like the ice block in my chest.
“Go to bed. Shoesh now. Go to bed and go to sleep,” my mother said.
I turned to look at her down her end of the passage. My Dad had his hand-arm on her shoulder and was looking right at her face. She had a terrible face on. It was the face she got when she was sad and cross with all of us – especially with Dad – because we lived on a dairy farm with cabbages and mielies and cows and wattle trees and not on Boyes Drive in the big, pale-yellow double-storey house in Muizenberg with Grannie in it and the sea down Jacob’s Ladder below, and with the grandfather clock in the hallway with the ship that sailed across the clock face, across the face and back, across and back, with each tick and each tock.
While I looked at her under the passage light, I saw she was crying again.
So, anyhow, there was the rolled-up The Natal Witness newspaper on the little white bedside cupboard this morning. (Of course my Dad always puts it there now when Grannie comes for Christmas so he doesn’t have to do the bat-saving thing with Grannie’s tricky hair.
There are always a few gum tree leaves sticking out from under her mattress. Dad puts those there when Grannie comes to stay. She says we have fleas in the house. So he gets one of the umfaans to bring some gum tree leaves from the bush and he stuffs a ton of them under her mattress which is really my little sister’s mattress. And, like I said, some of them stick out. I think my Dad does that on purpose so he doesn’t have to have the conversation with Grannie about the gum tree leaves and the dreadful fleas we breed all over the farm and in every crack in our house.
The thing we just can’t understand is why we never have fleas in our beds but Grannie does. Maybe it’s because she is from Cape Town, and Natal people maybe don’t get bothered by fleas. Maybe the fleas like Cape Town blood. Or maybe sweat. Because that plastic sleeping suit for getting thin has elastic at the neck, the wrists, the waist and the ankles and really makes a lot of sweat. Actually, perspiration or glow – my other grandmother has taught me that only farm workers and factory workers actually SWEAT. Gentlemen PERSPIRE and ladies GLOW. But I can promise you, what I see in the morning when she takes off the slimming suit…it is sweat. It really is. I can smell it. It makes my nose and my mouth and my eyes crunch up and salt burn my eyes under the lids.
Just about at the end of doing all the little silver hooks, Mummy is still calling us to come for breakfast.
So she gets her rolled-down stockings ready, one for each leg. She sits down on the bed and rolls them up each leg very carefully and very slowly. “They snag so easily,” she says, as if she is telling me a very important thing. I nod and look and swing my feet a bit to show I am listening.
Up, up – to nearly her bottom. Then she stands and hooks the little round, covered, silky buttons into the metal loop with the top end of the stocking stuck into each loop. Her bottom and everything is sticking out a bit because the corset ends before they end. Not like a swimming costume that goes over everything so there’s nothing to see.
Corsets are lovely things if you consider the front which has a satiny panel. Somehow the corset factory-people manage to put beautiful patterns on the panel which, if you look very carefully, are roses. “Barely visible roses,” she showed me once in a secret voice as if nobody else should know. Now I always see them. The panel goes right up to the bowl part and even is the bowl part. So there are roses shining and sliding all over the front of Grannie.
“Tummy control,” she teaches me.
Then it’s the silky knickers that go over it all. She likes those. She slides them out of the drawer and then softly skids them across her face, covering every bit: her cheeks, her nose, her closed eyes.
“Ah…silk,” she says.
When they are on, everything is covered up at last.
She really truly loves those silk knickers. She has lots. I picture all of them sliding around inside the knicker drawer all by themselves, even when the drawer is shut.
Then it’s the petticoat and the slippery purple dress – or one of her others. It can be a pinkish one, or mainly blue, or sometimes grey. They all have the dark swirls winding through the colour. All her dresses open low down the at the front and, where her corset pushes her bosoms together, you can see soft pink skin with a few of what she calls beauty spots (my mother calls them age blemishes) decorating them.
Today, she puts on a purply dress and her black walking shoes with laces. She has promised me, promised me at last, that she’ll go for a walk down to the wattle plantation and back and that we’ll go alone without my sisters, only with Gretel, my black Daxie, allowed to come with us. We’ll wait till my sisters have gone off with my Dad onto the farm and my mother has gone to town.
She’ll do this because I’m her favourite, I think. She’ll do it even though her knees, she says, are “riddled with arthritis” and the doctor in Howick has injected her right in the knees with a needle as big as her knitting needles. She’ll be fine, she says. She’ll take her shining knobbly walking stick to help.
And so here we are in the wattle plantation. The air is crackling with hot December sun. There are still yellow puff-ball flowers on the wattles. My nose is itching already. I hate that – and the line of joined-up sneezes that follow. But I don’t care. I’ve got Grannie. Gretel is yapping around us. She runs ahead and comes back. She yaps some more and then scuffles in the dust and dashes off the path into the trees for no good reason. Grannie loves Gretel and says dogs don’t need a reason.
This is Heaven and Grannie is telling me all the stories about how she was a grand lady in Norfolk in England, where I haven’t been, before my grandfather found her between The Great Wars and captured her heart and brought her back on the Union Castle Line to Muizenberg.
My grandfather had the garage on Main Road and bought her the huge house on Boyes Drive and they had three children, lickety-spit, then twins five years after the others. My Mum was third, after the two boys. The smallest twin shocked everybody because nobody – not even the doctor – knew she was there. She was so tiny and such a surprise she had to sleep in a shoe-box in an open drawer in the big bedroom and she was blue when she was born.
My grandfather doesn’t live in the big house anymore. Something bad in a foreign language happened. Whenever my parents speak about it, it is definitely foreign stuff that made my grandfather have to leave. My Grannie did in flagranto dilecto with the GP, that’s the doctor who didn’t know the smallest twin was there, in the lounge in the big house and then my grandfather left. I think it was something to do with having those twins and one of them so small. I think the doctor had to go to the big house a lot to check on the shoe-box baby.
I’ve heard the grown-ups talk about how, on the flagranto day, my mother, who was ten years old, got on her two-wheeler and rode away when no-one was looking. They always say how she was found half way to Cape Point, peddling like mad into the darkening sky, with tears like flags of solid water streaming off her face in the wind she made with her speed. They say it was like she was pursued by the Devil. I don’t like thinking about that little girl. I think they found her near Boulders Beach. They captured her and took her home. I think her Dad was the main person capturing her. My Grannie had locked herself in the big bedroom that looked over the Muizenberg sea. Only she wasn’t looking at the sea, I think, because I heard the grown-ups say she was howling on the bed with shame.
But now, here, in the wattle plantation, everything is perfect. I have Grannie all to myself. I keep saying that in my head. The world is big and hot and endless all around us. And when we get home I’ll have a swim in the pool my Dad built for my Mum in the front garden. “Her little bit of Muizenberg,” he calls it. My Mum is lucky. Grannie won’t swim. I think it’s because of being a Norfolk grand lady. They don’t swim.
Grannie suddenly stops her story in the middle.
There’s a cloud of dust hurtling down the summer road. She strains her neck upwards to look through the trees. It’s a car. I can see it. But it’s not my Mum coming back from town. I don’t know this car that’s coming so fast.
Grannie gets her walking stick going – step, snap, step, snap – back down the path towards the farm road. I call Gretel and run after her.
“What’s the matter, Grannie?”
She flies on and her grey hairs begin to fall out of the little bun at the back of her head. She begins to glow, but she doesn’t stop.
“It’s Eric. He’s come! He’s come to take me for Christmas. You’ll have to tell your mother when she gets back from town. Tell her Eric’s a member of Parliament, you know.”
But I don’t know. I don’t know anything about Parliament. Or Eric.
Grannie has very little breath but she waves her stick in the air. The big brown car with wings at the back sees her stick and it stops exactly where the wattle plantation path meets the farm road.
Grannie’s face is red. She leans right into the car window where the man is. And then she stands up and Eric is unfolding himself out of the car door and then he is folding his long arms all around my Grannie.
I feel a bit sick. Vomitty sick. I don’t know what Parliament is, or why I must say that to my mother. I just know my mother won’t like Parliament at all. Maybe it’s a flagranto foreign sort of thing.
“I’ve got to pack,” she says and rushes round to the passenger door. Her knees are fine. Our doctor’s knitting needle injections must be so strong. She’s nearly been running. Eric rushes after her and he opens the car door. She looks up at him as she melts into the car and her eyes are all silly. I hate Eric’s poky face.
“You walk home with Gretel. We can’t put a dog in this car,” she yells out of her wound-down window as the car jumps up and runs away from me and my small black dog.
I’m not even home, and I’m sweating, yes, sweating, in the hell of heat because I’ve been walking so fast to catch Grannie and the car, when I see that Eric’s fierce tiger-car has already turned around, and it’s coming back towards me. It swoops past, not slowing one bit as Gretel and I jump out of the way.
There’s dust on my face. And wet tracks through that dust. Like my Mum’s when she was ten years old and flying away from the Devil near Boulders Beach. There’s no-one here to come after me and capture me on the farm road, though. I have to blink my eyes a million times to stop the tears so I can see properly.
I won’t be able to tell my mother. Her face will be too angry and too sad. I’ll find my Dad and I’ll tell him what happened when he comes in from the farm.
Then I’ll go down past the camdeboo stinkwood tree, through the archway in the hedge and into the plumtree orchard. And wait.
The terrible fault lines left by apartheid run very deep. Mostly the disturbances they cause
pass unnoticed. Not part of any statistics. Not cause for any marches. But sometimes there’s a reminder. This story is one of those reminders. It is all true. Only the names are fictional.
In a post-apartheid middle class Johannesburg primary school, there was William, grave, small for his ten years, his shoes a little heavy for his thin legs. He walked with a rather measured tread which immediately endeared him to me, because it reminded me of my grandfather who came from Northampton, where people are known for their studied steps. He would appear on the threshold of my classroom on Tuesday afternoons for extra English; he would pause and greet me courteously before entering, then decorously seat himself opposite me, eyes wide and solemn.
To start with he was quiet, a little stiff. In the conversations between us, the rules of English seemed to become like the dictates of an irascible and illogical old lady, too old to be bothered with consistency or logic. Because he was keen to learn and also hard-working, William would have preferred some hard and fast guidelines.
“First we say “cough”, then we say “through”, then we say “tough!”’, with a sad shake of his head.
However, he came to accept the vagaries of the old lady, because of the riches she yielded. He spent a lot of time in the school library and talked about what he had read. He would melt a little, become expansive, start telling me stories, making jokes. These were heralded by a crinkling on the outside corners of his eyes, which would shift to a twinkle.
“Do you know how many active volcanoes there are in the world?”
“No. How many?”
“One thousand five hundred,” slowly, with great emphasis. “But don’t be worried. None of them are near us.”
I imagined that he came from a home where people listened to each other. It seemed clear that he was a well-loved child, who knew he was a source of joy to his mother. He became one of those delights that lightens the increasingly onerous burdens of teaching.
But at the beginning of the following year, he was disturbingly different. Now he was in my Arts and Culture class.
He would slouch to the back, silent, heavy, producing no work, bringing no file, shrugging dumbly when I inquired about these things. Anxiety, exasperation, irritation, wrath; I went through them all. I tried talking to him. I gave him the usual demerits and detentions – all to no avail. He was a non-person in my lessons. I ambushed him alone, wanting to understand what had brought about this change, but the face and the silence remained stony.
More anxious than ever, I spoke to him again in the second term. He could not continue this way. Clearly, something was seriously amiss in his life. Could we not sort it out? The same stony silence. Well, if he couldn’t discuss it with me, was there someone else he might like to discuss it with? Still stony silence. Mr D, perhaps (a lovely humane man)? A reluctant nod. So, I sent him off to Mr D, checked that a conversation had taken place and concerned myself with more urgent but less important educational matters: the correct completion of my register, mark deadlines, meetings, book perusals, forms. William produced a grubby file at the next lesson and started doing a little work. I allowed myself to feel a little hopeful.
One third term morning, I was sitting on a step at the edge of the playground, on duty. I became aware that William had just slumped disconsolately onto a tree stump a little way behind me. He’d taken to associating with younger boys and they’d been playing marbles on a bare patch of ground. There was a sudden rising of exasperated voices. William was apparently being irritating, and, in the definite terms that little boys use, he was being told so.
“William, dude, you can’t just throw your ghoen like that!”
“Stop it, William, man! Give those ironies back. We’re playing for keeps!’ Now William’s head was bowed, the brim of his white floppy hat hiding his face. But sliding off his chin and plopping down into the dust were treacherous tears.
“Hey, you guys! Now he’s crying!” The younger boys clustered around him, peering up under the brim. No place to hide in a rule-bound school.
“William,’ I said, ‘would you like to sit in my classroom for a bit?’ Without a word he took my keys and went.
After break I found him. He didn’t want to talk.
“You seem to be so unhappy,” I said. Bowed head. “I know you don’t want to talk about it to me, but I think you need to talk about it to someone.” Bowed head. “Nobody should be so unhappy all alone.” Bowed head. “Does your mother know how unhappy you are?” Bowed head, then anguished sobs.
I’d touched the tender spot. Out it all came. From the beginning of the year, he had no longer been allowed to live with his mother. She was a domestic worker and until the end of the previous year, he had lived with her in the backyard of her employers’ home. But at Christmas time her employers had emigrated. Now she had a new job in Bryanston, and her new employers would not allow William to live with her in their yard. He had to stay with his aunt in Klipspruit. He was permitted to visit his mother certain Saturday afternoons. He caught taxis alone to school, to his mother. No, his aunt and her family were not unkind. He was his mother’s only child.
I discussed the matter with two sympathetic staff members. The short-term solution seemed to be to find domestic work for his mother nearby. Nearby and with understanding employers. It didn’t seem hopeful. And anyway, we weren’t quick enough.
Two weeks later William wasn’t at school. Breathless children came to my garden gate that afternoon with the bad news. He had been knocked down by a car. He had been only a few hundred metres from his aunt’s place in Klipspruit. On his way home from school. Killed instantly. He’d just alighted from the taxi.
I imagined his small figure, head bowed, schoolbag heavy, plodding through the dust, not caring much.
The big funeral was held far away in Bushbuck Ridge. A memorial service was held at the school. His mother came. Like him, she was slight and gentle. Nevertheless she climbed the steps onto the stage to address the whole assembly. I saw her son’s gravity and courtesy. She thanked the school for the money collected for William’s funeral. She wanted to say how grateful she was for the opportunity he’d had to get a good education. That was very, very important to her. And she was grateful for the kindness and care of the teachers. She had always trusted that he was in very good hands. She had always known that they were doing their best for him. She had faith in our school.
Of his ever having been unhappy she made no mention and nor did I. The fault lines separated us.
As kids, my sister Sisanda and I spent our time in the garden. It was south of our homestead, a kilometre or so away. In addition to maize, my parents grew tomatoes, onions, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, chomollier, cabbage and other leafy vegetables from time to time. The total garden area was about a kilometre long and half a kilometre wide. There was a well at the extreme end for watering the plants during the dry season. We loved to play with tadpoles during the rainy season whenever there was no adult in sight. My mother forbade us from going near the well.
“You will slip in and drown,” she would say.
What she did not know was that we had slipped into that deep well and, on one occasion, I almost drowned. But no one ever got to know that. I made sure my sister kept her mouth shut about it, or else…
“Do you promise to keep your mouth shut?” I asked her. I was holding both her hands tight and looking at her, straight in the eye.
“Yes, I will,” she said.
“If you ever open that little mouth of yours about this incident, I swear I will get you out of bed in the middle of the night and lock you out… and the monsters will eat you alive. Do you understand?”
She just nodded her head in agreement. She was terrified of monsters.
Sometimes we could be lucky to see the big frogs when they got out to enjoy the sun. We would chase them, hoping to catch one and put it in our little buckets that we used to water the vegetables. We rarely succeeded, they were faster, and if we managed to catch one, too slippery to hold. Their song was also an attraction. The tune was not good, but the noise was a lot of fun to us.
It was our duty after school to go to the garden to guard against monkeys that always came to steal the maize and tomatoes. We sat on a hill at the extreme end of the garden to enable us to have a better view of the area. When monkeys came, we would beat the drum to make a noise and they would run away, but they became more clever. Once they noticed that the noise was coming from children, they bared their teeth at us and we ran away to hide. They could then have their meal in peace! My father decided that the dogs were a better match for them. The dogs would be on a leash. Once the monkeys showed up, we would release the dogs to drive them away. The dogs charged at them, and for a long time they stayed away, but they would be back. It was like that during the crop season, when the maize was ripe.
The garden also had guava trees. The monkeys sneaked in for those. Sometimes they came in groups. The first group would go for the maize and attract the dogs’ attention. While the dogs were busy with that group, the second group went to the guavas, confusing the dogs who ran in different directions. At one time, our parents thought to put two scarecrows at strategic places in the garden. This worked for a while. The monkeys wised up and one day the monkey sat on the scarecrow while chewing away at a cob of maize, not scared at all. Those animals were more intelligent than we gave them credit for. I suppose they figured out that no living person would just stand in one spot that long, wearing the same clothes. I am sure they moved closer and discovered that there was no life in ‘that person’. I think the act of sitting on it was to show us that our plan was not clever.
The other unwelcome visitors to our garden were animals from our neighbours: goats, donkeys and cattle. The garden was fenced, but sometimes they tried to get in by going around the fence until they came across a weakness. They were also very calculating. They approached the weak spot at such speed so that by the time we got off the hill to chase them, they had a few mouthfuls of the crop. We were also equally calculating and sometimes met them when they were still a few metres from the fence. Our dogs assisted us in driving them away too.
Our cattle never gave us any trouble. It was as if they knew that they had to leave the place alone, but not other people’s gardens. We were told that they behaved the same way; they just devoured any green crop in sight. My brother, Al, was responsible for herding the cattle and ensuring that they did not stray. My brother preferred to play with his friends and sometimes the cows would stray into other people’s fields. He would have to drive them quickly out with his friends before the owners discovered what was happening; so he got away with it.
My father’s nephew, Mr. Tshibani, lived about 2 kilometres from our homestead. He had a grinding mill. People from surrounding areas could bring their maize for grinding into mealie meal, for a price. One Saturday afternoon, we were helping my mother to prepare the evening meal when we heard a commotion outside; it was the sound of a male voice. My Dad had gone to town on business and it was too early for him to be back. It could be some visitors. My mother stopped what she was doing and walked towards the door to meet the visitors.
“I cannot take this nonsense anymore. Either my uncle goes to the grave and I go to jail or vice versa,” he said.
“Who is that?” my mother asked.
I ran out past her to find out. It was Mr Tshibani. He was walking towards the house so fast, throwing his hands in the air. I had to get out of the way or he would have walked over me. He did not even give the customary greeting, “Ekuhle” (‘I come in peace, I bear good tidings’), which is expected of grown-ups, a form of respect when you enter someone’s homestead. He was carrying an axe in his right hand, a rod and a knobkerrie in his left hand. His eyes were red, like he had been drinking. I noticed that our herd of cattle was already in the kraal. My brother was nowhere to be seen. This was unusual; the animals only came home after 5pm. It was half past 2. I immediately smelt trouble. Could Mr Tshibani have brought the cattle home, I wondered? He walked straight towards the kitchen and stood at the door. I moved out of the way.
“Greetings,” said my mother, as she pointed to the chair inside for him to seat. He did not move.
“Where is your son?” he asked, still standing at the door and ignoring the chair she was gesturing him to sit on.
“Where is he woman? Today I will kill him. I worked so hard on those crops and your animals have ruined me. Are you deaf? I will repeat the question: Where is your son? Answer me!”
He gave her no chance to answer. Now he was asking her where my father was. I did not know which question he wanted her to answer first. Besides, I could not understand why it was now my father’s fault that the cattle had strayed.
“He is away in town,” she answered. That answer infuriated him.
“Do you think I am playing? Today there will be death in this house,” he said, as he shook his axe violently.
For a minute, I thought he was going to harm her and stood behind her holding tightly to her dress. I wished my father could miraculously appear to save us from this man. My mother apologised for what had happened and said she would talk to her son about the situation.
“Situation! Situation! Is that what you call it now? I am financially ruined and you dare call it a s-i-t-u-a-t-i-o-n? So, you don’t believe me woman?” He was now pacing up and down, stomping his feet and shaking his head. He stopped, turned around and wagged his finger at my mother. He had now moved from the door enabling my mother to quickly slip past him with my sister and I clinging to her skirt. If she was afraid, she did not show it. I think this was a clever trick. It was unsafe to be inside the house with her children while an armed man stood at the door, once outside, my mother told him that while she understood and felt his pain about ruined crops, it was rude of him to be threatening to kill people over his loss. She said she would relay the message to my father when he came back from the city the following day. She made excuses for my brother, stating that he was probably still looking for the animals. She told him about the troublesome bull that my father wanted to sell because it was creating problems with the neighbours. Mr Tshibani was having none of it.
“If I had found either of them, you would be a widow now, and also with a dead son. He must come and see the damage done by his animals. He has to come. And he better be armed too.”
He then picked up his axe that he had placed against the wall and walked away. He disappeared, still talking to himself and threatening harm to my father and his son. Mother rushed to the kraal. She started to count the animals and was relieved to find that the bull was the only one missing. That is where her son was, looking for the bull, she concluded. She had a perfect idea why the flock was unattended and as a result, why he had strayed into Mr Tshibani’s fields. There was no harm done to the animals. She was thankful for that. In the distance she could still hear the man’s voice. Was he going to continue talking and cursing until he got to his home, she wondered? She prayed that her son didn’t run into him in that state. Those didn’t seem like empty threats he was making. She was thinking about this as she walked back to the house with her arms folded against her chest.
“What did you find?”, asked my grandmother. She had stayed in her room and heard everything. I was concerned for her. How must it feel for a grown man to come into your son’s house using threatening language and revealing that he would have killed your son and grandson because animals had destroyed his crop?
“All is well, mama,” my mother answered as she spread a mat to sit next to her. Mother turned around and gave Sisanda and me a look which meant we were not welcome in that conversation. It said, “Adults are talking, get out of here!” We retreated to our room. She seemed to have forgotten that we had witnessed everything. We moved very quickly; she did not believe in sparing the rod. When adults were talking, we had to give them privacy. We knew that there was punishment coming our way because we did not move away when Mr Tshibani approached the house. We just could not, we had not witnessed conversation like that before. Perhaps she would understand. She had to; we were convinced that she was not attacked because we were there. We started picturing the fight, with my brother fighting on my father’s side. We saw Tshibani cornered and beaten to a pulp but miraculously jumping up and begging for his weapons. We saw our father, now holding all of Tshibani’s weapons moving in slow motion towards him.
“You want another beating?” he asked. Tshibani getting up and dashing out towards the gate with our father in hot pursuit! To us, it was such a fascinating scene. That is why we were still standing there with all this drama playing like a movie in our little heads. I was directing the script:
Our mother was spoiling our fun. But it was no fun. This was a life or death situation. To a seven-year-old though, it was news to take to school the next day. There was no school though the next day, not your normal school. The next day was Sunday. Perhaps one could tell the story in Sunday school? Unlike the normal school where there was time to tell the teacher about what happened over the weekend, in Sunday school there was only memory verses, singing and Bible-based teaching. So, I had to wait until Monday. I knew I would tell the story to Mandisa first before I got to school. I couldn’t wait.
Al came back in the evening looking very tired after running after the bull which wanted to get into Mr Nyoni’s field. The following day, my father was back from town. My mother must have told him the story. He comforted my brother and thanked him for working that hard. He had bought him a Highlanders soccer team cap inscribed “Ongafuniyo Kayekele.” Al was excited. I knew that he would not share it with me. He was in our school soccer team and it was his dream to play for Highlanders one day.
We were up and early to go to church, mother and her two girls. When we came back, we couldn’t believe our eyes. My father and Mr Tshibani were sitting under a tree sharing a calabash of amahewu, the local brew. They were laughing and sharing stories of their trip to South Africa and how they escaped up a tree with the lion in hot pursuit.
“For a moment I thought you had a bad case of diarrhoea,” Mr Tshibani said. He was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Oh, shut up, I was only passing…” my father stopped abruptly when he noticed my mother standing next to him with her eyes fixed on Mr Tshibani who was already on his feet with his hand extended to my mother.
“Malume, I didn’t see you,” he said, smiling cheek to cheek.
“We have sorted this out, man to man. I think you misunderstood Mr Tshibani,” said my father, winking at my mother in a dismissive way. Apparently, Mr Tshibani had told my father he had brought the cattle just to report what had happened and unfortunately, he found my father away.
Mother was upset, but I believe she decided to let it go. My father had been given sweet potatoes by Tshibani’s wife to give to my mother. The two men had then walked from Mr Tshibani’s homestead chatting away until they came to our house. Gone were the threats of killing one another while the other went to prison. My mother had exaggerated the whole thing, and it looked like my father chose to believe his nephew over his wife!
“So, what happens when adults tell lies?” Sisanda asked aloud.
“Shhhh,” I said, as I pulled her into our bedroom.
She was right to ask that question. We had been discussing that in the children’s Sunday school. It centred only on us. I believe she wanted my mother to answer that question. I on the other hand would have liked to hear Mr Tshibani’s response to that question.
Ron and Phyllis are a struggling couple in their late 70s. Until recently they lived directly opposite me in our quiet, friendly suburban street. Well, mostly quiet and friendly during the twenty years that I’ve lived here, the only exceptions being, two cases of arson, one accidental kitchen fire started by the computer geek in the cottage adjoining mine, and two murders. But those are stories for another time. Here I aim to recount what I’ve seen of Ron’s story, one about the private hells churning beneath the tranquil surface of daily pleasantries about the lovely sunny weather and the need for some rain to favour our summer-stressed gardens.
A short while before they left, on a Saturday morning, I was up to my elbows in soap suds at the kitchen sink, trying to reverse the entropy generated by the previous evening’s meal, when I heard a thump from the direction of the front door – an errant bird hitting the front window maybe? Hands dripping, I went through to investigate and found Ron standing uncertainly on the front stoep, looking like he was on the verge of leaving before he’d arrived. He was in slippers, wearing his usual baggy brown sweater, and his gaunt face was unshaven. The morning back-lighting accentuated a drip suspended from his lean nose, and his eyes were red.
“Ron,” I said, “what’s the matter?”
“Phyllis is dead,” he squeezed out between a couple of stifled sobs. “The hospital called to tell me this morning.”
I knew she had been hospitalized few days earlier and had been admitted to ICU to deal with an acute case of septic gall stones. I also knew that his sister-in-law, Phyllis’ sister, was seeing to his needs.
“Have you let Phyllis’ sister know?,” I asked after some awkward attempts at sympathetic consolation.
“No, I don’t know how to use the cell phone she’s left me.”
“Let me try,” I suggested, taking the phone and going to the contact list to look for ‘Ingrid’. She answered almost immediately, and was flabbergasted at the news, but also level-headed enough to say she’d call back after she’d spoken to the hospital. Minutes later the phone rang and the sister could report the good news that Phyllis was in good spirits and recovering well.
When I moved into my house two decades ago, Ron had an old brown Ford Escort with a seriously noisy silencer parked in their driveway. He only drove it occasionally, and after a while not at all. He seemed to be retired, while she went off to work every day at an insurance company, and played golf with a work colleague at the week-ends. The going started getting tough for them when she was retrenched. The car lapsed into total disuse, and the weeds grew up around it. One day, several years after its last outing, it was towed away by a rough and ready backyard mechanic for spare parts. So the sliding steel gate became a pedestrian portal to the property, and the electric motor was only called upon to make a 2-foot wide gap for Phyllis to take her daily walk up to the village to visit the library, buy supplies and probably meet a friend for coffee. Once a week it needed to be opened a little extra to accommodate the passage of her bag of golf clubs out and into the BMW boot of her ex-work colleague. In time this pattern also fell by the wayside, possibly because the green fees had become a drain on their now meagre resources. The next thing to go was the gate motor. For a while Ron took to unlocking the mechanism so that he could slide it by hand to let Phyllis out on her daily excursions. I never saw her operate the gate manually herself, and don’t know if it was beyond her physical strength, or whether Ron regarded it as his male role to be the gate-keeper. He would let her out, go back inside to do whatever he spent his time doing, then returning to gate duty to watch out for her to let her in again, sometimes posting himself there for up to an hour, peering up the road waiting for her to come around the corner.
I more or less got to know Ron through the bars of his gate during this period. Sometimes I would take advantage of his ritual guard duty to go across the road and put in an appearance to do a non-invasive neighbourly check on their well-being over a short chat.
If I waved and shouted “Hi Ron,” he would chirpily respond with one of two standard greetings – either: “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert,” or otherwise a wave and: “Good morrow kind sir.” If I were to ask him about his state of well-being, he would usually dig for a Scottish accent and respond with: “Nae sa wirse.” The first quote I Googled as being from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To a Skylark, but the last has evaded me.
The next stage of the compounding gate crisis was when the override mechanism also failed. The procedure that Ron applied to get the gate open was one often used by strong-arm burglars wanting access to a property. Lifting one end of the tonne of steel off its tracks will disengage the driving gear from the toothed rack on the gate, making it possible to edge the gate sideways until there is enough room to provide passage for burglars and their swag, or in this case the gangly septuagenarian body of Phyllis.
Because of the demanding nature of the new opening technique, Ron would take considerably longer to open and close the gate. It was quite a noisy process as well, involving a metre and a half of heavy duty chain wrapped around gate and gate post several times, a sturdy padlock, and an enormous bunch of keys that, somewhere in its midst, was the one that fitted the lock. So from inside my house I would know by the clinks, rattles, clanks and creaks when an exit was being prepared for Phyllis … and then the reverse process to maintain security while she was out, and the whole procedure repeated in reverse when she returned.
This operational system was maintained for at least a year. I sometimes tried to help him lift the gate, but he would become irritated by my interference, while Phyllis stood by waiting to get in or out with a beatific smile.
That was until the gate jammed. One day I was aware of the opening ritual being in progress, but at a certain point I realized that the usual sequence of auditory markers didn’t reach the end of its cycle. It was replaced by random, indeterminate klinks and klanks, but no sound of a rolling steel wheel. I ventured out onto my front porch, and saw Ron doing battle to shift his cold steel nemesis. I sensed an element of panic rising out of their potential incarceration.
I crossed the road and waved a hullo to Phyllis, who stood on the steps of the house, her shopping bag over her arm, while Ron, straining, with his back to me, was putting in weight-lifting efforts trying to budge the jammed portal. Without being invited, I added my own energy, but to no avail. Sensing an opportunity, I went back home and rounded up a likely arsenal of heavy tools: crow-bar, pick-axe, sledge-hammer, hack-saw, monkey-wrench, and a few others. I first set to work with my long steel crow-bar to force a skinny-person sized gap so that I could be in direct contact with the offending mechanism. It was time for liberation! Ron hardly protested as I set about removing the rusty and seized electric motor, smashing the concrete pedestal to which it was bolted, and levering it out like a rotten wisdom tooth. It took me the best part of a sweaty hour to remove the machinery, but after that, with a dollop of grease on each of the little wheels, the gate could move relatively easily along its track. It was during that hour that I got some insight into Ron’s condition which I hadn’t picked up in my previous short interactions and pleasantries with him. The motorsectomy was an energetic one person job, necessitating him to stand back as a spectator, out of range of flying crow-bars and picks. While I was toiling away he said to no-one in particular: “At this point in the movie, someone will say ‘Son of a gun! This is one helluva stubborn customer’.” I responded with a between-swings chuckle of agreement. But for the remainder of the operation he repeated that piece of dialogue, word for word, about five times before I had finished the task and was ready to enter into conversation with him. I’m sure that each time he presented the line it was, in his mind, equally fresh, innovative and witty.
Phyllis was highly appreciative of the physical and psychological release, and the next day they came together across the road and gave me a punnet of cloyingly sweet home-made fudge prepared from contents in her meagre social security grant kitchen.
Unfortunately, as life proceeds, small victories start to lose their promise as building blocks for a brighter future, and take on the role of softening the blows of mortality. Phyllis’ daily solo outings over the railway bridge and up into the village became weekly trips to the nearer convenience store, now with a walking stick and Ron for support and company.
Shortly after the taming of the gate, the two of them went out to do some shopping one day, but on the way they lost the keys to the front door. I happened to coincide with them on the street, and they explained the problem. There was a spare key, Phyllis said, in the bread bin standing on a table close to the back door, but how could we reach it? Luckily an adjacent window was not securely fastened and, with the help of sticks and wire found in the chaos of the back yard, we managed to pull the bread bin close enough to lift the prize between the burglar bars. I hoped that this would not prompt another batch of thank-you fudge. What fascinated me, though, was the fibre-glass body of a Dart sports car, which, like the Escort in the driveway, was in the process of being overtaken by the feral grass. The GSM Dart was a South African made sports car produced in small numbers in the late 50s/early 60s. It was surely a very valuable item, even in its current state of neglect. I asked Ron about it.
“I’ve got two engines for it in the garage. It’s a project I must get back to now that I’ve got rid of the bee colony.” Indeed, for a couple of years or more, the back corner of his garage had been taken over by a swarm of bees. They had built a large irregular hive easily the size of my writing desk, which took a bee expert nearly a week to remove.
Ron’s obsession with security went deeper than chains and locks, keys and gates. We were talking about security one day through the gate when he told me that if I ever had trouble with intruders, I should call him. He would come over, he said, and sort things out with his Smith and Wesson 38. I baulked at the thought of Ron’s infirm hand waving around a snub-nosed revolver and firing it into the darkness from between the bars of his securely locked gate at my assailant. “I don’t believe in guns,” was the limp response I could give in my state of shock.
One day I arrived home to find an ambulance outside their house. Phyllis had been loaded into it by the friendly pair of paramedics, while Ron came and went between the ambulance and the house looking for her ID book, in a bit of a spin. There was some support from Phyllis’s sister, who would keep an eye on things, but essentially Ron was going to be on his own while the hospital was sorting out Phyllis’ painful gall stone problem. I took the precaution of taking the sister’s phone number.
A morning, two or three days after her admission to hospital, I came out of my house to take my dog for a walk and to pick up the newspaper, and found Ron peering up and down the road in agitation.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“It’s Phyllis. She’s just disappeared. She went out and hasn’t come back. This is absolutely atypical behaviour. She always tells me where she’s going, and when she’ll be back.”
“Isn’t she still in hospital?” I suggested.
“I’m very worried,” he said, ignoring my suggestion. “This is not like her.”
I emptily consoled him and assured him that she would probably be back very soon. He was still there at his post when I returned from the corner store with the newspaper. I called his sister-in-law, and she said she would be fetching him within half an hour to go and see Phyllis. I reported that to him, but his eyes reflected fear and confusion and remained fixed on the horizon.
Ron’s dementia didn’t allow him much rest while Phyllis was absent, even with the support and care of Precious, a care-giver arranged by his sister-in-law. Precious was a cheerful young woman with a broad smile, and someone familiar with geriatric problems and the quirks of mentally disturbed souls.
A couple of mornings later, at the crack of dawn, Ron wandered out again before Precious arrived, and knocked on another door in the immediate neighbourhood, that of Hermione, a retired magistrate. There was something to discuss that was criminal. I paraphrase the conversation told me by Hermione:
Ron: “Phyllis is dead.”
Hermione: “Oh no! I’m so sorry.”
Ron: “My gun has been stolen. It was in a plastic bag hanging on the back of a dining room chair, but now it’s gone and I believe has been used to kill Phyllis.”
Hermione: “Who stole the gun?”
Ron: “Precious. She’s a thief and steals everything, and also hides my keys. I don’t trust her an inch. The gun is probably in some Eastern Cape village by now, in the hands of criminals or anarchists.”
Hermione: “Is Phyllis’s body still in the house?”
Ron: “I can’t find it … But there’s a well in the back yard …”
At this point Hermione was sure that this was paranoid dementia speaking.
Hermione: “Ron, you have to report this to the police, both the stolen gun and the suspected murder. Do you have a valid firearm licence?”
Ron: “No, I don’t need a licence. It was issued to me as part of a Special Forces operation to assassinate Robert Mugabe.”
Ron was correct in saying that the gun had been removed from behind the dining-room chair. But it wasn’t the much maligned Precious who did it. This was the work of Phyllis’s sister and her husband, Billybob. They had spirited it away and taken it to the local Police Station where it was checked in with an appropriate affidavit to the Officer responsible for gun and liquor licences. On interrogation of the firearms register, he determined that, yes, the gun was registered to Ronald S of said address, but no valid licence had been issued. This is a serious offence that can carry a prison sentence. The records also revealed that there were three other unlicensed firearms registered to Ron. The Officer said that they would need to conduct a search of the house in an attempt to recover them. He made a concession that they could arrange to take Ron out, and that they would conduct the search in his absence. This was done, and indeed these items, plus ammunition, were found and confiscated.
Not long after this that Phyllis was discharged from hospital. I saw Ron the day she arrived back. If before this he had been drifting, panic-stricken through deep oceanic water with no land in sight and unseen predators circling beneath his feet hanging into the dark water, he now at least had been provided with a friendly bobbing life-boat. The storm clouds moved off. Light and hope were restored, and the panic paranoia of torture and torment were discernible only as miniscule dots on the horizon, easy enough to ignore in favour of unfettered fantasy.
Plans were already afoot to relocate the couple to a home where Phyllis would have a private room on the first floor, and Ron would be cared for in the ground-floor dementia ward. Probably uninformed about some of the details, Ron seemed happy with the arrangement and said that he would finish rebuilding the Dart so that he could get out and about, and would be able to drive around on occasions to say hello to his former neighbours on the street. This was a different story to the one I heard from Billybob later that same day. He confided that he had managed to find a buyer for the pieces of the little Dart sports car, and got a good price that would cover at least three months of their accommodation in the old age home.
What will Ron remember about the gate, the guns and the Dart? What dim and fragmented memories will give him joy, and what dark voids will remain to haunt him?
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit…bird thou never wert
*Photo credit: Pixabay
“Stick fighting is our tradition and it has been there for years unshaken by death or any other crisis, that is how we differentiate men from boys, in fact bravery from cowardice,” once said Makhaleyiphethe, a 57 year old, tall, dark and a well-built man airing out his views on the stick fighting that has taken Ngqamakhwe villages by storm. Shushu means sunny, or hot. In most cases when the sun is really hitting the village, people just become weak and lazy and always go for the shade of their houses or big trees, but on this SHUSHU day I will tell you about, one guy promised a fight he will engage in and win regardless of hot weather.
What citizens could not understand was why this stick fighting is meddling with school sports, causing fear and chaos when most junior primary schools are having a sports day at Jongabantu High School. Everyone knew that come 5pm, as hundreds of children are walking from the sports fields to their homes, they will be faced with older boys who will come out of the blue to hit boys of a location that are not on speaking terms with them. Some run and cry for their lives as they are caught unawares, only to come back the next day to mobilise other village boys, singing songs like “Ngcono ndibambe two nditshone apha ethambekeni”. Translated this means: let me just take two sticks and go deep into the open field; in other words I am ready to fight with anyone.
Some believe that this type of practice was suitable for a socio-cultural sect or set called the Amajakwa. They are those older boys who quit school at a primary level, maybe because they complain about poverty or not having proper school uniforms, or just because of reasons known to them only they prefer to just quit school. They make sure their voices are heard when a viĺlage hosts traditional ceremonies, and they demand their own share of traditional beer called umqombothi which they nickname it Isqo. They usually choose to be in the forest where they smoke their marijuana without confrontation. Stick fighting is what they know best; they always carry induku (sticks for stick fighting , not just the usual stick). They have guitars made of paraffin containers and create loads of lyrics that can cover an entire musical festival if a top national music talent scout could acknowledge them. Their songs are about their wishes, fantasies and dreams, but in most instances they create lyrics about love. They just love what’s close to their hearts, like singing about their favourite car Mercedes Benz to their favourite girl in the village. No one writes their lyrics down, but the Amajakwa have a special ability to free style, practising those verses, finding a matching dance skill, and they will create their own show. They don’t mind travelling the longest of distances singing but in most instances you would hear stories of how they ended up stick fighting with so and so and how blood came out claiming its position on the surface. Most of these songs were in the deep zone when we speak foul language.
They draw their inspiration from violence, domestic violence, faction fighting and the idea of being the most feared in their own village or the villages nearby.
As a villager you must always have a Minora blade, towel with water and Sunlight soap so you can shave and wash the wound of the stick fighting victim. No ambulance or professional first aid help needed, only encouraging proverbs to go back and continue the fight. Crying is taboo no matter how painful it is, and this would mean you are the Champion of all Cowards under the Sun.
When one of the village boys goes to the initiation school, there is a pre-initiation ceremony. It’s called Umtshotsho, as they say the aim is to have great time of music and traditional dancing called umteyo, with lots of traditional beer and modern liquor if available. The family hosting the boy who is about to go to initiation will make a rondavel or any extra house available. Girls will be invited to lead the songs of cheer and just create a jolly mood for everyone. Some boys seeing that there are girls in the room will start having ideas fueled by ego and jealousy.
This is where things could easily get messy. The Stick will start finding its way, either to the enemy from another village or the same village. Another cause of fighting at Umtshotsho might be about positions that need to shift in the boyhood hierarchy. Some boys want to graduate from being the younger unappreciated boys to be amongst the respected great elder boys’ league. No matter the age, stick fighting prowess and stamina will undoubtedly carry them to this higher level. You hear sounds of sticks ravaging the ribs or legs as those parts are always targeted. I do not know whether the intention is to kill or not, because sometimes they will go for the head. Some boys cover themselves with girls as shields. The hut is dark as those few candles that illuminated the room also suffer and lie down, hurrying themselves with their only light of the dark night.
Remember Amajakwa, right? They come and steal the show here. They regard ceremonies of this nature as their Durban July. This is a place and the right time to reveal what they are made of in terms of battle skills, and fighting the other boys, beating them with sticks to the core while finding joy in that practice.
One day, a shushu day,there was a football match near the Mpukane Junior Secondary School where they had just built a clinic. The two sides were teams from our village. One team called Eleven Attackers was the mother team, while RDP was the child of the source team, but now they were rivals. There was lot of enmity among some of the players and this caused so much interest to go see this game as the Derby was only known through Chiefs and Pirates.
The beautiful game started, fans cheering from both sides of the field and players showing great dribbling skills, firing some shots to the strong and woke goalkeepers. I cannot remember the score or who scored and who did not, and why and so on, but I will never forget this day. There was a player who had the most influence in the Eleven Attackers team and he was known as Pele. He was super fit, true to the laws of the game, disciplined, passionate about football, and on the field he was a gifted middle-fielder who could easily determine the flow of the game and skillfully had his teammates give their best at all times. He was a leader on and off the field, and you could see that the future would be bright for him. He was a role model to all wannabe footballers in our village, and he was also selected to play in his high school team of soccer. That was a great achievement as high schools in the former Transkei were made of vast villages who feed them through their junior schools.
That day, as disciplined as he was, he had a dispute with an opponent, a guy called Manyathi, very strong physically and tall. A guy who is known to be one of the best stick fighters ever because he was raised in a location that is far more advanced as far as stick fighting is concerned. The match ended as these two started to set their tongues wagging, the swearing and calling for fight direction. They both sent their younger brothers home to bring them ikoko. Ikoko is a very strong stick that has a heavy, sharp object obtained from broken car parts and it is very dangerous. The little boys did as they were told.
Under the tree near the mission the fight started and it was over in five minutes. Manyathi hit his opponent on the back of his head. Down he fell and that was the day I will never forget. One day, shushu day.
My cousin lost his sight because he was beaten by a stick, later he died when he was hit by an incoming car because he could not see clearly. Most women, when they were abused and did not cooperate with abuse techniques, the stick fighter used his stick. Some women were forced to learn stick fighting so that they could protect themselves.
Stick fighting brings eternal pain to families, and villages become more alienated from each other.
*Photo Credit: Photograph-Alex-Duval-Smith Guardian.co.uk
A wasteland mourns in silence,
her quiet grieving interrupted only
by the busyness of chirping birds
and the continuous sound of distant traffic.
A sense of loss still haunts her vacant grounds;
she longs for the community
and the vibrancy of its life
she had sustained for so long
A brutal scourging of her landscape has left her violated,
her neighborhoods reduced to dust and rubble
and her land has become a barren waste.
Now weeds, shrubs and bushes flourish,
a blatant exploitation of her vulnerability,
yet their insatiable conquest
for gain and new territory
cannot conceal the evidence of her once famous legacy
The remnants of paving, pot-holed streets and lanes remain
barely visible, their identities long ago discarded,
though lamentably reminiscent
in the familiar names of the far flung township ghettos
Streets once boasted market stalls
displayed with fruit and veg,
freshly caught fish and fragrant flowers
and traders who beckoned all to spend,
transacting more than just the bargained deal
Spontaneous talk and humorous sharing
of the latest local news exploding into laughter
echoes off cracked walls with peeling paint,
and children’s voices, at their play in dimly sunlit alleyways.
Then all became this silence,
a quiet grieving interrupted only by the busyness of chirping birds
and the continuous sound of distant traffic.
Still amidst a frenzied invasion of weeds, shrubs and bushes,
the pain and precious memories linger,
confined to photographs and a generation now passing on;
the snapshots of moments in time
old and fading in worn out albums with its pages torn.