Vuyiseka Dubula

My Humanity

 

All I can say to you is that humanity is very strange. They say our values are humaneness, inclusiveness, respect, love, peace and kindness. This apparently is what sets us apart from the animals. But human beings can be unkind. Even animals are not as unkind as humans.  Being born “free” gives life meaningful sounds: sounds of love, joy, peace, respect and kindness. Being born “free may not mean we live freely. We are restricted and often it all comes down to power and resources: those have it and those who do not. You know that classic, Animal Farm? Well it’s like that.  It is survival of the fittest.

Why do I go on like this as if I am trying to make sense of something that I find quite incomprehensible? Well sit a little closer, and I’ll tell you.

How else can I begin to explain how a young girl experiences abuse from someone who calls himself her father? Or I should not put the blame to the father but to something bigger. Why does she kneel down and reach out to powers above   wishing and praying daily that good news will reach her ears telling her that her father is no more and to celebrate his death?
Look at her. Crying almost every weekend instead of enjoying childhood, deprived of a father’s honest love, sleeping in layers of clothes to avoid incest, for all her life keeping close the secret that he touched her in a way that a father should never do, wondering whether he does the same with her sisters and i lying about the rape of her siblings and being forced to say, ‘I did not hear anything,’ because he is the provider. Look at her.

Where is the freedom and humanity there, does it exist in homes like these, can this girl really live freely? Look at her becoming accustomed to the sounds of fights until she could not hear them anymore, becoming numb to her stepmother’s cries and to the banging and shouting.
Look at her. She cannot smile on the outside and as she grows she continues to search for freedom and identity from the inside. She creates her invisible bubble; only she knows it is there and it shields her.

I see you shaking your head. What hope is there for her if she is not acting her anger out? Will she crack and probably end up in a mental institution? But this girl is strong and resilient. She knew what she was doing. She planned the right time to run away from this unkind situation to an unknown situation wishing that it might be better than here. Only to land up in a worse one. Because what could she do? She had to be an adult early; she needed a sense of belonging and love just to have relief from the home situation. Can you understand this? How sexual relations with a stranger are easier than those with her father? But seeking that relief ended up being her biggest mistake. It led to her current health condition. And now I have to ask you a question. I need you to think carefully.  Is she a victim of her situation or is it that she did not know that she was one of many other victims of the bigger system? The vulnerability created by her situation led to that mistake. And why? How could this happen to someone born to be free, living in a society that believes in being humane? What went wrong?

And could anything ever go right for her? She learned that you can easily get lost in the tunes, sounds and rhythms of life. She also learned that it was possible to find herself, to smile, love, have peace, be humble and hold fast to the encouraging principles and values of humanity. That it was possible to shed tears, not of sadness, but of joy and happiness and to hold her head high, liberate her from the childhood monsters that lived in her dream. That it might be possible to see men differently and find those positive male role models. That she could relate to others who had the same fears that she did, that she had the power to encourage others to find solutions to the problems of an unnatural and unjust world. She learned that she could find strength in humanity and she learned to trust again.

But how, you ask. How could a girl who had suffered so much do this? It wasn’t easy. Self-liberation, self-esteem and shaping a new identity are all processes that need help. There is no short cut. At the age of seven years her father told her that she was worthless and he said this repeatedly as she grew. What did she do? She tackled it head on and she proved him wrong. First she went into therapy. Then she went back to school. She showed that she was worth something.
You look relieved. You were worried about her, weren’t you? Don’t be. She’s strong. She’s a fighter, a survivor. Educating herself gave new meaning to humanity and she gained a sense of control over her destiny.

And then, wonder of wonders, she found a new home, filled with people full of energy, many of whom had suffered the same injustices as her.
 
She found the Treatment Action Campaign, representative of  new hope and home,  a group that brings the true meaning of humanity to those forgotten or even denied by society.

Don’t worry about her. She now draws strength and courage from working with other young women who face similar challenges in their life. She works with them as a collective to revive our hopes and dreams to be reality. And through her work, and the work of others like her she hopes that our ears will no longer be deaf to the sounds, tunes and rhythms of life. Because now she knows that life actually has singing birds early in the morning, that there are bright full moons that bring the honest natural light. That we can rise above all like the sun rising above the sea and mountains in the morning giving us new day light. Sounds that we hear every day do not have to have to be the sounds that we have to get used to, we can choose to listen to the beautiful and inspiring sounds of our humanity that show how unique we are and change the bad rhythms of the bad sounds by adding a tunes and drums in the velocity and come up with a beautiful melody. Humaneness is possible although it does not always come easily and it is not as obvious as we think. 

And so here she is, looking at humanity and humaneness again. Still trying to make sense of it all.  The sounds of life have different velocities and rhythms. Sounds of humanity are those rhythms and velocities. We may find comfort in the sounds and tunes, but when life seems impossible and stripped of humaneness, the art of living comes from knowing how to deal with the different sounds so that a life can come to life again.

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Karien Nortje

“Till death do us part”

It took only a few minutes to tell me.  I try to stay focused, act normal.  Normal?  I pick up dirty laundry from our bedroom floor.  Put the lid back on the Panado bottle.  (We had a rough night.)  You grab me by the arm, force me down on the chair facing you.  You say you need to know how I feel.  You need to know if I’ll be okay.  Okay??  Speechless I stare into your beautiful green eyes.  I used to think I could enter into the most secret places of your soul, through those eyes.  I thought I knew every expression.

Answers I don’t have.  Desperately I search for sounds that symbolise and communicate meaning.  I have lost my ability to talk.  There’s no way of putting these scary, messy feelings into words.

Three years ago you whispered: “Till death do us part”.  You kissed me with warm promises of a lifetime together.  I believed you.  I believed you so much!  Our life together was built on love and laughter, moments of passion and desire.  I used to be the extrovert.  The energy you craved for.  Dancing with life.  The successful executive you admired.  Then, “life” happened to us.  I fell pregnant.  At first, you loved the idea.  The reality of constant morning sickness, a changing body shape and weird emotions, hit us hard.  I became the serious one, not fun to be with.  You took every chance to enhance your social life without me.  I knew everything would return to normal once Sarah was born.  I loved you so much.  I just knew you felt the same.

But now, my mind starts playing games with me.  Shows me teasing bits of information I hadn’t seen.  A slow motion replay of broken promises smashing to the ground.  All this time, you have been the amazing conductor of an orchestra of lies and deception.  And I, a complete fool, lost in the music of love.

A cry from the room next door, jerks me to reality.  It’s Sarah, waking from her afternoon nap.  My body responds automatically with motherly instinct.  As if controlled by an outside force, I get up to fetch our eight month old baby girl.  She awaits me with outstretched arms.  Her cry dissolves into a smile of relief and excitement.  Seeing Sarah makes me realise the enormity of what is happening to us.  Our little angel will have to face this world without a daddy by her side.  Grow up with shame and pain, always defending the normality.  I wipe away a curl from her sweaty cheek and plant a kiss on her forehead.  How can she ever comprehend what is happening to us today?

I turn to see that you have followed me quietly, your green eyes pulled down by heavy shame.  I press Sarah’s warm sleepy body against my chest.  The cry breaks loose in my chest and escapes from my mouth.  At first, just a harsh whisper from my throat: “Get out”. Then, in a stranger’s voice: “I said, GET OUT!”  Sarah, frightened by my loss of control, reaches to you.  You take her into your steady arms and you watch me crash helplessly into a heap on the floor.  My sobbing, jerking body curls into the foetal position.  I want to rest in my pain for just a little while.  The life we had is over.

I get up painfully, slowly.  You back off as I approach to claim back our daughter.  You give Sarah to me.  Then, turn around and walk away.  Neither of us is a victor in this war.  We are dead soldiers who once fought for love and hope.  We are bodies scattered on a battlefield I never knew existed.  “Till death do us part?” In this war victory belongs to a third party, claiming land that was never intended to be available.

From the corner of my eye I see your shadow closing in.  Before I get the chance to move away, you wrap us both in strong, protective arms.  Your embrace hurts and I don’t mind.  For now I choose to be the helpless victim in my abuser’s arms.  Still.  Perfect.  Whole …  For just a little while longer …

But time is not patient and moves on.  We both realize the intensity of this farewell.  Broken souls part and move towards an unknown future.  With nothing still, nothing perfect and nothing whole.

Vanessa Moffett

Our Hearts – count beats

Rachel had run for so long without looking back, but she could not ignore a dying man’s wish. She climbed the stairs reluctantly and slowly. “I’ll follow with tea,” called her mom.

Rachel didn’t answer. She stood in the doorway and looked with stranger’s eyes at the small, sparsely-furnished bedroom. Pink and blue floral curtains framing a steely grey sky, posters of Jim Morrison looking down on rag dolls and frilly cushions. She sat on the narrow bed. The rough crocheted pattern pressed into her legs and she remembered Ouma’s slow, crooked hands making it for her birthday. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, crooned a laughing Ouma. The irony hurt.

Feeling too big for this child’s room under the eaves, she slipped off her expensive shoes and curled up, fitting her body to the familiar hollow. She closed her eyes, hearing the tin roof ping and pop. A massive roll of thunder exploding directly above her started her awake. She tussled with the stubborn window, opened it wide to swallow fat, cold raindrops. Lightening illuminated the darkening room, showed her mom, standing in the doorway carrying a cup of tea.

“Just like old times,” said her mom. “You always loved being part of a storm.”

Rachel took the tea, two rusks on the saucer. “From Auntie Nora, especially for you.” The tea was milky, so sweet after years of drinking black herbal concoctions. Rachel sipped, then dunked a rusk.

“You’re too thin. Men like something to keep them warm.’ Her mom laughed wryly, patting her own midriff, then broke into a sob. “Your Dad …” She blinked tears away and stood up. “Come down when you’re ready.”

But Rachel didn’t want to leave the safe cocoon of childhood. She crouched on the floor, faint, raw, assailed by memories and emotions buried deep.

Her last summons to his study had been a descent into Hell. Stiff back to her, hard voice – a stranger throwing questions.

“Father?”

“Josh………….Just Josh”

His nurturing hands clenched the bible as he turned.

“I am shamed………..all that I preach………..a mockery……….just 16. I will not be judged by your sin.”

His plans fell thick around her ears, hurting. She swirled like the red leaves being cast adrift outside.

“She is our only child, let her stay.” pleaded Mom.

His face was granite, “Her actions were not one of a child. She leaves tomorrow.”

Rachel had accepted adoption, but this loss of love and home. Was his position in the community more important than her?

She had shut her heart, excluded him from her life.

Now cracks were opening.

Head between knees, deep stabilising breaths, blood pounding in ears. She scraped red nails through her long, dark hair. Treat it as a job and leave, she repeated like a mantra.

Wait. What was that? That whiteness? She reached under the bed and kneeling as she had done as a child, looked at the box between her hands. Slowly she opened it, and was startled by the tinkle of sweet music. Behind the twirling, golden ballerina, she saw her face in the little mirror, strained and thin.

Her precious stash now looked tawdry, childish. Old letters, movie ticket stubs, fake sparkly jewellery, lip-gloss. Incongruous amongst this was her small pocket bible. How well-handled it looked, phrases marked. Could this have been her?

Under the bible, a bundle of envelopes. Who had put them there? Her mother perhaps? Unopened letters, addressed in her father’s strong, slanting cursive. Deliberately, carefully, he had written: Rachel Botha, c/o Erica Botha, Cape Town; Rachel Botha, Boston College. U.S.A; Rachel Botha, 59 11th Street, New York City.

And below this, her own handwriting – hard and uncompromising: Return to Sender, on the first five. The other letters were simply addressed, Rachel Botha. The date on each was the same, 16 April – her birthday. One every year. Twenty years in total.

As she untied the ribbon binding them, a photograph fell out. She looked at it, puzzled.

Her Dad, standing gravely, holding a small bundle in his arms.

A baby. But who? She didn’t recognise the scrunched-up face.

But the blanket was a blow to the stomach.

How?

She felt sick. Felt again the stark loneliness of the “mother’s home”. No visitors. No exceptions. Grim-faced matrons reigned, reminding them of their perilous condition. Self-esteem grew smaller as bellies grew larger. A parcel from Ouma, containing the colourful blanket just days before she went into labour. She knew the rules. No-one ever saw their babies. Taken away to pre-arranged, adoptive parents immediately. Leaving empty, slack-bellied shells with aching breasts.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and a soft voice said, “He drove all night when he heard your waters had broken. Got there just in time to see him.”

“Him?” said Rachel, only then noticing the blue booties in the picture. Him. She hadn’t even known that.

“He christened him. Said it was only right, his being a priest and grandfather.”

Rachel turned the photo, 7 September 1969, Joseph.

“Broke his heart, handing him over, losing you.”

Sobbing, Rachel allowed herself to be hugged. Breathed in her mom’s warm-bread smell.

Clutching the photograph, she stumbled downstairs, into the stale smell of death. In the hospital bed beneath the window the motionless body was frail and thin. She bent and clasped his hand, feeling the thin soft skin. She looked deep into his old, saggy eyes, connecting with the spark still glowing there.

‘Look Dad.’ She showed him the picture. Surely that was a faint squeeze? She placed his hand on the small bulge hidden beneath her loose coat. As his tears spilled, so did hers.

“Yes,” she said. “This is a good home for children.”

Natasha Paulse

Finding the true meaning of life …

I feel a bit silly sitting here – sure I’m the only one who has remembered the pact we made ten years ago: that we would meet again at this precise time at our old hang-out, Jojo’s. It had been Shannon’s idea. ‘Wouldn’t it be cool,’ she’d said. ‘To see if we’ve done what we think we’ll do?’

Jojo’s is like I remembered it. Black walls, signed photographs of sports stars, old numbered jerseys and balls boxed into glass cases.

Amy is first to arrive. Olive-skinned, her hair still black and curly, she looks exactly the same, a grown-up version of the girl I first met in standard seven biology when we’d landed up as lab partners. We hug, and I remember how we’d clicked straight away – the moment we saw we’d both covered our books with a New Kids on the Block poster.

We met Shannon when she transferred in from another school. She stood out like a sore thumb, with her funkily spiked blue and purple hair, four earrings in one ear. She looked so weird we were afraid to talk to her, but we were fascinated by this girl who had so much attitude even the boys were afraid of her.

We later discovered Shannon was very much like us – just weird enough to be interesting. We were all single children, and our parents were, we thought, madly overprotective. This made us rebellious. Not that we took drugs and stuff like that, more a case of saying we were going to the movies and instead heading off to a party, one that our parents would never have dreamed of letting us go to.

When we left school, we’d drifted apart, our lives taking us in different directions, to different parts of the world.

Shannon arrives next. I hardly recognize her. She looks amazing, sporting short cropped hair and stylish jeans with not a patch in sight.

‘Ten years! I can’t believe it!’ say Shannon, sliding into the familiar old red leather booth named after our favourite, James Small. ‘I’m so glad we all made it, I thought I’d be the only one here.’

“Me too! Amy and I chorus, and we giggle like the schoolgirls we used to be.

‘So, Carly, did you bring it?’

‘Of course,’ I say solemnly. I place the box on the scarred wooden table. ‘Amy, have you got the key?’

Amy takes a key from her pocket. ‘I’ve kept this safe in my jewellery box.’ She fits it into the small brass padlock.

I let my breath out in a long sigh as Shannon opens the box – the one holding the predictions we made for each other’s futures. On top is a photograph.

‘Oh my,’ says Shannon. ‘How young we were.’

‘17 years old, and ready to take on the world,’ I say.

‘Do you remember the afternoon we wrote these?’ Amy lifts six letters from the box, and I see us again, scribbling furiously, the table cluttered with cheeseburgers, onion rings, chocolate milkshakes. We’d each written two letters, one to ourselves, one to another of our group.

‘Let’s just read the opening line,’ I suggest. I open my letter, covered in Shannon’s teenage scrawl. ‘ “You will one day see that home is where your heart is…”,’ I read aloud.

‘My turn,’ says Shannon. ‘ “Music will always be important in your life”.’ She folds the letter and smiles. ‘What does yours say Amy?’

Amy clears her throat and says dramatically: ‘ “People, places and things …”.’ She picks up the next letter. ‘Well girls, let’s see how accurate were we about ourselves.’ She scans it quickly and laughs. ‘I was going to become a journalist, report on the latest news, and eventually be discovered by CNN.’

‘A world famous rock star,’ says Shannon. ‘What about you Carly?’

‘Me?’ I ask. ‘Oh, travel the world, become stinking rich.’

The next hour flies by as we catch up on each other’s lives. Amy studied Journalism and is now in Public Relations at Media 24. Shannon is Manager of Sound and Programming at BMG South Africa. She did start a band after school, ‘but the money was lousy,’ she says ruefully. ‘So I decided to chuck it in and study Sound Engineering.’

‘Well, my life has taken me all over the world, I say. I tell them how I’ve travelled – London for six months, backpacking across Europe, the Middle East, and India. ‘When I came home, I went into tourism, and finally started my own business, CK’s Travel, arranging township tours all over South Africa.’

“That takes care of travelling the world,’ says Amy. ‘But what about the stinking rich bit?’

Well, two years ago I married a special guy – I met him in London …’

I stop.

‘Go on,’ urges Shannon.

Well, I always thought that money was so important, you know?’

The other two roll their eyes. ‘Tell us about it,’ Shannon drawls.

‘And then, my life came full circle. I realized you can be anywhere, any country, it doesn’t matter. If you have family and friends who love you, you’re the richest person in the world. So,’ I laugh and shrug my shoulders, ‘here I am – stinking rich! Travelling was great, I met so many different people, but you know something? It was only when I came back that I realized that home is where the heart is.’

‘We made such a great team,’ Shannon sniffs and blinks back tears.

‘Such good friends,’ says Amy.

‘We mustn’t lose touch. Friendships like ours keep us all rich.’ I raise my milkshake in a toast: ‘Same time, same place – next week!’

Karin Schimke

The mole
 

Tara stood in the school yard in the easy light of an early spring afternoon listening to Sandy saying how important it was to get one’s daughter to do as many after school activities as possible. It could do no harm at all, she honked at Tara, as though Tara had offered a counter opinion.

Tara’s left thumb reached back to rub the mole on the plump part of her hand between her thumb and forefinger. Already the skin there was rougher than anywhere else. The mole wasn’t new, but since she’d moved to Cape Town, she had begun this obsessive reaching for it. It both comforted and irritated her. It had become than a mole: perhaps a reminder of something she had been, or could have been.

Sandy, a coffin of a woman, who towered over her and cast a shadow on Tara’s indistinct, slightly freckled face, was telling Tara about market day and what was generally required of “the mother’s who take an interest”. She tipped her forehead forward meaningfully as she said this. Sandy, it seemed, never missed a word in the weekly school newsletter, for which Tara was mildly grateful. She read it, but never remembered a thing it said.

At 37 Tara still felt underdeveloped as an adult, and a little dazed by life, which had carried her along on events, rather than by her own decisions, tastes and dislikes. Unlike Sandy, who appeared to be in control of every aspect of her and her family’s life, Tara never felt in control of anything. Life controlled her. She hadn’t made a decision to marry, or to marry Ted in particular. She hadn’t thought of falling pregnant, she just had. She’d never imagined what it would be like to be a mother, until she was holding a red-faced monkey apparently belonging to her. She had also not decided to move to Camps Bay from London. But then, she’d never protested against anything either.

And she did try very hard to be engaged by things.

Tara asked her where Sandy would send Jemma after junior school. The answer was long and Tara became distracted by Sandy’s sunglasses. They were black Wayfarer’s, like George Michael’s when he became famous in Wham. These were scratched and African beadwork straps looped past Sandy’s squarish jowls. They were too small for Sandy’s large face, too dark for her complexion.

Sandy’s words emerged like a scarf from the needles of an expert knitter. That such a simple question would elicit such a long response – encapsulating Sandy’s entire theory on parenting – astonished Tara. How much thinking this all must have cost, and how long ago. It was a well-rehearsed and oft-repeated speech, too slick to have been recently edited.

Tara she felt an unusual stirring of nastiness flapping against her consciousness. From the five previous times she’d been sucked into Sandy’s shadow, Tara knew that everything she was wearing accentuated her length and angularity. The T-shirt she had on was too long, too boxy and too pink. Its neckline was so high it left a vast unflattering wasteland of magenta between her thick neck and her badly packaged breasts. She wore only granny trousers, elastic-waisted, shapeless and beige, and they stopped an inch short of her feet. Sandy always wore flip-flops, Tara knew, and her toenails were incongruously tiny and were probably painted a glittering burgundy.

The school bell gave Tara a fright. She’d been dwelling in a part of her brain she didn’t know she had, a part that had to do with aversion and judgment. She didn’t know she possessed such strong feelings – hadn’t had them for almost 20 years.
 
Then she realized that she’d touched the edge of her mole. Her thumb seemed to be getting looser with practise. It was a funny accomplishment, not the sort of thing you’d share with your friends, but she felt glad that she might soon be able to feel the whole mole with the thumb of the same hand. Like a yogi eventually getting into the headstand position and keeping it.

Two nights later, Tara dreamt about a woman who looked like Sandy, but wasn’t Sandy. The woman was telling Tara what to put on a big orange plate, where to find glasses and what Tara should think of the guests who were coming. In the dream, Tara kept getting things wrong. She put soap on the plate between the strawberries, but didn’t know how she got to be holding soap. She poured beer from cans into a jug that was meant for juice. She knew the woman would be irritated by her, and she felt silly for not being able to follow simple instructions. But when she was finished doing all the wrong things, she felt a little smug. She went to the woman and said “I can’t stay.”

Then she went for a run that went on and on and on. She didn’t get tired. And she started laughing so loudly people stared at her.

Terry Flint

Blood is thicker than water

 

Jessie and I stand across the room from each other, looking at ourselves. We are mirror images, my twin and I, but each with our own soul, and each with our own personality. ‘You can see a personality but you can’t see a soul,’ Mama used to say, ‘unless of course you look deep into that person’s eyes. Your eyes are the windows to your soul, be careful what lies there’. Today, I see what Jessie cannot hide. I see exactly what she feels. The resentment that she has allowed to fester inside her soul shoots through her sapphire-blue eyes into mine, numbing my brain. I look away, not knowing what to say. I feel so saddened that our relationship has come to this.

I glance uneasily around the large living-room, furnished with so many childhood memories. It seems like yesterday that we were playing with our dolls on the large green carpet and chasing each other round the sofa. I can see our beautiful Mama, sitting in her favourite rocking chair, reading to us, telling us we are her two little raven-haired angels, with dimples like sunshine when we smile. It was always just the three of us, Mama, Jessie and I. And now she’s gone.

Mama died last week after ‘a long illness bravely borne’. That’s what it said in the obituary column. I still think she died of a broken heart. I think her shattered heart never fully healed when she let my father go to follow his dream. Jessie and I were too small to remember and Mama never spoke of him. Ever. I often wondered if Mama had ever looked deeply enough into his eyes, unless of course, she had been blinded by love. But it was something I thought, rather than said. The yearning to know my father grew as I grew, but Mama was silent on the matter and Jessie just seemed to accept that. I never did. ‘Annie, just leave well enough alone’, Jessie would say to me, whenever I asked any questions. ‘Can’t you see you are upsetting Mama?’

I fix my eyes back on Jessie. Serious, dependable Jessie, who never left Mama’s side. Not flighty, like me, the one who took off in search of fame and fortune on Broadway, leaving her to cope with everything. I want to tell her how I nearly came back so many times. How I nearly gave it all up because I felt so alone and missed them so much. Then a chance meeting with him, a talented producer who understood my dream gave me my first big break. I know in my heart that Mama believed this would happen one day. I need to tell Jessie everything I told Mama before she died. It is something that Mama had made peace with in her heart. It is something I hope Jessie is also able to do.

I walk toward the sofa and sit down. ‘Jessie, please come here and sit with me’, I say softly, patting the empty place next to me. I see tears in her eyes as she makes her way over and sits in the chair opposite me. Always on the other side, I think to myself. When are we ever going to be on the same side, looking in the same direction, seeing things the same way?

‘You left us, just like he did,’ Jessie sobs, ‘and now you are going to leave me. I don’t have any other life to go back to, only this one.’ I start to say something, but she bursts out, ‘Don’t you get it? This is it. It’s just us now. Mama is gone and we only have each other. We have no other family. All of a sudden I feel so alone and so scared and I don’t know what to do.’

I am overcome with emotion. I reach out and grab her hands. All the resentment I thought she harboured was actually fear. Fear of being left alone. I pull her towards me and hold her, stroking her long dark hair. I want to tell her that everything will be okay, that I will never leave her, that she can come back and live in Los Angeles with me, that I want us to be a family again. But first I need to tell her something. Something I’m not so sure she will accept easily. I swallow hard. ‘Jessie, before we go any further, there is someone I’d like you to meet’.

I step away, walk to the front door and open it. I motion for him to come in. Jessie stares, opening her mouth but nothing comes out. She knows him already. This tall, slightly greying raven-haired man with sapphire-blue eyes and dimples like sunshine when he smiles.

By Penny Lorimer

Sunday fantasy
 

Saturdays were abrasive. He and she scraped against each other constantly, like two pieces of sandpaper. It was as if, at the end of each stressful work week, they needed a day apart to recover their equilibrium. When forced to interact they’d carp over minor things, causing the children to roll their eyes and fix their teenage attentions on screens of some description.

So they tried to stay apart. He would lounge on the sofa in front of TV sport broadcasts. She would go to movies or coffee with friends. They would nap or read in different bedrooms. By Sunday, they were usually able to communicate like two rational adults – unless a Saturday disagreement had been so bad that it had spilled over. Then she would not speak to him unless absolutely necessary – briefly. She was a sulker.

“Are you going to clean the pool today?” Instructions, pretending to be questions. That was all. And always involving the fucking pool in some way. God he was sick of it.

It was usually on one of these Sundays, (often when vacuuming the pool), that he’d drift into what he privately called his ‘divorce fantasy’. He’d start by sifting through their accumulated possessions in his head and deciding who would get what if they split. He’d get the cds – because he’d bought them. She could have a few – their musical tastes were different.

She would be devastated by his departure and he determined to be kind to her – remote, but kind. He’d be generous with the furniture and fittings. She liked flouncy, cottagey, oregan pine stuff that he couldn’t stand, so she could have it.

His new place would be a light-filled apartment on the Waterfront. Minimalist modern lines, leather couches, glass-topped tables, open plan, granite counters, blinds – all monochrome. He’d keep the flat-screen TV. She and the kids could have the other one, it was still perfectly good. He’d keep his music centre – she hardly used it anyway.

The kids would visit him every second weekend and they’d do fun things. They’d eat out nights. They’d go on boat trips or horse rides. He’d play Playstation games with his son, dispense welcome, masculine advice to his daughter. They’d moan privately about their mother and he’d urge understanding. He’d be a port in a storm. Holidays – he’d take them to his parents. Spread the load.

He’d meet another woman, dark and sultry. Too independent to live with him but they’d spend nights together. Sex would be amazing. She’d be adventurous and appreciative of him (at this point he’d suck his gut in). He imagined himself trim and fit – he’d ‘gym’ regularly and his membership would never lapse. They’d go to art movies together, have coffee and browse bookshops. She’d pay her own way.
    

Here he’d remember that he’d have to pay maintenance – at least while the kids were still dependent. Financial reality caused the divorce fantasy to fizzle out, leaving him feeling faintly cheered and slightly superior.

This Saturday he’d been unable to avoid a petty confrontation. She’d pushed all his buttons and he’d been driven to respond. Things escalated to a point where he heard himself suggesting separation.

“It’s obvious you’re not happy with who I am,” he said. “We don’t seem to have much in common any more. Perhaps it would be better if we called it a day.”

Strangely, she didn’t cry at this point, simply looked at him calmly.

“We can work something out if we sell the house,” he said. “We both work so it should be financially possible. The children would probably be happier and of course,” he looked at her kindly, “I’d make sure that you got fair monthly maintenance.”

I don’t recall saying that I would take custody of the children,” she said.

All the air disappeared from his lungs.

“What d’you mean?” he croaked.

“Well, you earn more and your hours are better, so it would make more sense for you to be primary parent. We could share weekends and holidays.”

It sounded as if she’d worked it all out! “I’d pay you maintenance. In fact, you could stay here and I could get a flat somewhere,” she said.

Modern furniture, clean lines, bookshop browsings were instantly sucked away, as if into a disposal unit.

“Maybe we’re being too hasty!” He had a new vision now. One of relentless school lifts, teenage bathrooms and hormone-fuelled arguments. “I think we should consider this more carefully. I mean one doesn’t want to throw away eighteen years.” He ran a shaking hand over his head, feeling, for a disconcerting moment, a small, bald patch on the crown. He sat down, avoiding her cool, opaque eyes, and picked up the paper.

Monica de Wet

De Profundis

She stands with her back to the room, looking out over the familiar landscape of fields and meadows, a view she has known all her life. Her arms are crossed protectively over her chest, her green cardigan and floral dress as much her as the room. She stands silently for a minute, and then with a sigh she reaches up and closes the curtains. Lovely curtains, a blue floral which matches the chairs. You really can’t beat Sanderson linen for wear and comfort. For a minute she is back in the distant past when they were newly married, and doing up the old farmhouse. But enough of that now, the nights are drawing in, and she has her evening chores to do.

She crosses the sitting room on her way to the kitchen.  She can just glimpse the top of Jim’s head above the back of his favourite chair. Amazing to think that they have been married for nearly fifty years, and that their love for each other has not diminished in all that time. Yes, they’d had their fights and disagreements, and their tragedies, losing baby John when he was only six months old, but in the end all the ups and downs, though frightening at the time, had drawn them even closer.

She walks over to Jim’s chair, just to look at him again. He is still a good-looking man, thick grey hair, and a straight nose. He leans back; eyes closed, one hand loosely on his lap, the other resting on the arm of his chair as if reaching for his beloved pipe. He is rather pale, but that is inevitable, and she rests her hand for a moment on the top of his head to comfort him. 

She must get on with her work, but just wants to look at him for a little while longer. He has such beautiful hands, long, slim fingers, always immaculately clean. They tease him, saying that he should be a pianist or a surgeon with those hands, not just a GP. She knows those hands so well; gentle with the sick, with children, with the frightened and the malingerers.  She can feel their touch, cupping her face; her skin recognises his every touch. A shiver of longing rips through her.

Well, she can’t hang around; she has things to do. She hopes desperately that their youngest daughter, Margie won’t decide to drop in. She lives just down the street, and often pops in unexpectedly. This is her time, hers and Jim’s and nobody else has the right to interfere. She realizes that she isn’t thinking straight. How can she after the shock, and the fact that she hadn’t slept all night? But she must stop thinking about it – things will work out. As long as she keeps herself busy, and her thoughts in control, she will be all right. If only she had not slept late yesterday morning, and had come down to make the tea as usual, this wouldn’t have happened. Stop it; she scolds herself. Just carry on as normal, and the future will take care of itself.

She decides to make sausage and mash for supper; it’s one of Jim’s favourites. As she bustles about the kitchen, doing what has now become second nature, the forbidden thoughts creep into her mind. She should really tell the children, and the relevant authorities …

NO, NO, NOT YET! She needs time for just the two of them. You can’t love someone for so long, and then just let them go. She knows she is being ridiculous, and a huge sob rises in her throat.

NO, she will not let herself go, she has too much to do.

What would Jim say if he could see her breaking down? He always admired her strength and relied on her, and she wasn’t about to let him down now. Dinner is finished and in the oven. She’ll go and sit down in her chair opposite Jim, and they can relax until dinnertime.

There is so much she wants to ask him. How will she manage without him? And how is she going to tell the children? Where will she live? Bitter, bitter thoughts; she wishes she could vomit them up like bad food, but not now.

Sitting in her chair, facing her beloved husband, she tries to see things clearly, to put them into perspective, but the thoughts dart around in her mind like demented hamsters.

She must try and relax, but her brain is mush. And then, clear as a bell, she hears Jim’s voice; “Ag, love, you know what you have to do – let me go.”

The tears come at last, cascading down her face. She lifts the phone.

Mikki van Zyl

Casual cruelty


 

Bertie got to camp late and went straight to bed. He fell asleep thinking about Kaz. How they had been friends for almost sixteen years! As students, they were both outsiders. Though an Afrikaner in an Afrikaner establishment, Bertie didn’t fit in with the other guys … brawny, loud and … rugby-ish. Kaz the Indian girl. She inspired quietude.

Her drawings first attracted him – eyes transfixed by the pencil swaying and curving on the page. In a few lines animals would emerge from the paper.‘Please may I have it?’ he surprised himself one day.

After that they felt free to greet each other. Became lab partners, the undisputed ‘A-team’ of their year. They shared an abhorrence of cruelty, though both understood nature’s violence. She accepted the protection of his friendship and he fell hopelessly in love with her.

Bertie still remembers the day she got this job. She burst into his lab, waving the letter triumphantly. The dreaded moment had come. He hated himself for wanting her so desperately he could thwart what she wanted most – to be a wildlife vet. She had paid with her youth for this moment.

‘Do your folks know?’

‘No. You’re the first.’

He barely contained his joy, secure now with knowing his place in her life.

‘Let’s have some lab coffee, for oulaas. Celebrate our rites of passage.’

Soon the aroma of coffee stilled the chemical smells.

‘Bertie. Bert. Wake up!’

Kaz was standing over him with an enormous mug of coffee.

He remembered. He was visiting Kaz at her lion project.

But something in her voice was awry. She looked hunched and miserable.

‘What’s up? Why do you look so …’

‘ … awful? … After you’d gone to bed, I overheard Mku talking to Desmond, you know, the pilot from Kaligari safaris. He came up from Mana pools yesterday … Something terrible happened near there.’

He waited. She would tell him in her own time. She walked over to the back of the tent, staring through the opening overlooking wheat fields. He came to stand next to her.

They looked at Mt Meru, a quarter moon riding behind wispy clouds, high above the dawnlit snows. A row of bluegums threw dark shadows on the other side of the golden field, a light wind rippling a sad song through the stalks.

Finally he laid his hand lightly on her arm. She sat on the bed, perched against his knees.

‘It was in the Zambezi.’

‘Someone we know?’

‘Manie Burger’s outfit.’

‘A little boy was eaten by a croc. An American and his son and daughter were in one canoe, and Manie and Sinza, his tracker, in another. They were paddling downriver when he noticed a big croc in the shallows. He told them to get to the bank, leave the croc space to go into deep water. They were a few yards ahead. Then a shout. He turned round just in time to see this massive croc lunge at the other boat. There was a huge splash, the canoe rocking dangerously. The little boy was holding onto the girl and their dad was desperately trying to still the boat. Next thing, the croc came shooting out of the water again, this time grabbing the boy. The girl also fell into the water. By now Manie had his handgun out. Everybody was trying to get hold of the boy. For one moment the croc let go of him, then gripped him firmly and swam off. Manie shot at the croc, but nothing happened. The boy was gone. Sinza had managed to get the girl into their boat. Manie had to hang onto the father who was ready to dive in. He went near hysterical when Manie was shooting at the croc.’

‘What then?’

‘They searched for two nights and two days. Eventually Manie shot the croc; they cut it open, found body parts of the little boy.’

‘What a terrible way to die? What a terrible thing to witness. Your son dying like that.’

‘Ja. Now apparently the American is trying to blame Manie, saying he should have been more careful, and accusing him of shooting the boy.’

‘It would have been a blessing if he had.’

‘Well, they could find no evidence to suggest that he’d been shot.’

‘Where was the child’s mother?’

‘In Harare. Doesn’t like the bush. Didn’t want the girl to go. Said it was for boys.’

They both know. Bad things happen in the bush. Often due to carelessness. Sometimes through pure chance.

‘Now there’s an enquiry. Manie won’t be happy. It’ll put a stop to his game plans for a while.’

‘Why? Why should he worry?’

Kaz looked at him askance. ‘I thought you knew.’

‘What?!’

‘Some of his trophy lions are very suspect.’

Bertie sighed. Why were things never clearcut?