Sandra Hill

Incognito

Anonymity is a scarcity she’s ready for. And finally there are only a few more steps down the meagre strip of faded carpet, a few words to repeat, a kiss to exchange. Her name is Elizabeth, and if you are tempted to call her Liz, or worse still Beth or Betsy, don’t. Her style may be bohemian and her morals careless, but don’t mess with her name.

Outside the sun is summer bright. Early risers are leaving the beach, vacating their parking spots for those foolish enough to lie in. The chapel is musty from want of recent use. Most of the congregation sprawl outside in the wall-hugging shade, unable to fit into the little, thatched ‘rondavel’. The bride pauses at the door, a sudden posy picked from the neighbour’s garden in her hands. Her dress, a white cotton shift. Her feet bare, with sand between unpolished toes.

At the other end of the worn carpet stands Teddy, tall and skinny. Bones poking out in sharp exclamations where shoulders, elbows, bum and knees should be. Big hair spills across his boyish face. He smiles down from an open necked shirt and gaily coloured waistcoat she hasn’t seen before.

Teddy has a delightful surname, as if to compensate for the embarrassment of his first. Feast. In her mind she sees banquets, parties and endless celebration. Images of goblets, platters laden with food, music, minstrels and medieval castles. Abundance and prosperity. Feast, a name she could camouflage herself in.

Her own name writes a trail of austerity and oppression she has dragged behind her for twenty five years. Almost as restrictive to her as it has been to millions of others, she avoids it as often as she can. Never introduces herself as anything other than Elizabeth, she says it with a firmness that brooks no further questions, and answers to nothing more. And though you may think she should be used to it by now, grownup that she is, she is not. Some women can’t abide disclosing their age. Elizabeth can’t abide disclosing her name. Unlike most things she has achieved in life, getting rid of it is not something she can easily do on her own. Too much bureaucracy and family politics involved.

She sees Daneel as she walks the few steps down the aisle, kind, old Prof. Wilkes substituting for the father she is no longer talking to. She wonders at his presence. This brother who has disowned her so many times. Perhaps Ma persuaded him? Or perhaps he’s practicing the forgiveness he preaches as a Dutch Reformed Dominee? He looks ridiculous, she thinks, in that black suit and tie, so out of place among the Tshirts and beach dresses.

‘If there is anyone here, who knows of any reason why these two should not be joined in Holy Matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace’ says Father Michael, hardly glancing up. Then turning to Teddy he says, ‘Now then … ‘‘Excuse me, Dominee,’ cuts in Daneel, eldest son of the eldest son. ‘Excuse me,’he says again, and clears his throat. ‘But I must tell you … you must know … wat ek wousê is …, it’s that you…, that I had confirmation just this morning, that she is not of our blood. She is adopted. Ja. Ek is jammer. But you must know it. Born to one Evelyn Smith of East London and adopted into our family at the age of 4 months. I have the papers to prove it.’ He concludes triumphantly waving a thick brown envelope in the air.

Elizabeth blinks. Smith? That’s about as incognito as you can get. ‘Is it true, Ma?’ sheturns to the only woman wearing a hat, seated a little off to the side, not knowing anyone and with no-one to reserve a front row seat for her as they should. Mrs Verwoerd stands up, sways a little on her black high heels and abruptly sits down again. Her face pale, her mouth opens, but no words come out. Her large bossom, embossed in a shrimp coloured silk blouse heaves up and down. ‘Is dit waar, Ma?’ Elizabeth asks a little louder, shrugging Teddy’s hand off her bare shoulder. Her mother nods a slow, imperceptible ‘Yes’. And still not looking at her daughter says, ‘Maar Betsy, jy is nog altyd my kind.’ Elizabeth stiffens. Teddy reaches for her again …‘Oh honey …’ he says. But she isn’t paying him any attention, brushes him aside. ‘My name isn’t Betsy,’ she whispers.‘And as it turns out,’ she looks over at Daneel, ‘it isn’t Verwoerd either’.

Advertisements