Lindiwe Mthembu-Salter

Saved by an albatross

It all began with a gift, and a girl called Happiness.

Happiness was taught young to learn to care, she learned that caring is a gift; giving care to others is a virtue and an honour. Oh, that was a nourishing message, a source of being as Happiness grew, as her eyes and ears connected with the strength of her spirit-soul.

In her normal day-to-day activities she would say Yebo. She would say Yes to others with a satisfied look on her face that proclaimed that all was just as it should be! Yebo. Yes. This sounds good, she thought. Happiness never learned how to say No.

One day the clouds turned grey. All was not well. Happiness’s friend was very ill. Her face was pale and she was bent and sore with pain. In great worry, Happiness asked her heart for help to look after her friend, whom we will call Patience. The healer was consulted to mediate on this ill-health situation. Happiness wanted her friend to get better, to be well and happy again. The healer gave advice and said Patience now needed to stir the healing from her insides.

This started Happiness wondering: Who cares for this healer’s wounds? Perhaps the answer to the mystery lies in how the healer goes about keeping the heart beating against pain and despite visible and invisible wounds. Is it the power of a loving caring heartbeat that keeps the living pumping?

Lost in these thoughts, seduced by them, Happiness decided to become a caregiver. She loved her job and soon became lost in the gift of giving. She kept going without looking after herself. Her heart, the supreme house of compassion, grew weary but she did not consult it. Messages from her heart filled her body with pain. The pain was directed to various internal organs, it shaped itself into a sore back, regular headaches. Happiness forgot to be concerned about what she ate and drank. She neglected her heart and her soul and her body; all she cared about was caring for others.

Happiness wandered in the corridors of giving without searching for the milk and honey she needed to keep her fit and well. She looked after Patience, she looked after others, but she forgot to look after herself. Happiness wandered in the midst of the dark grey cloud; she dived into the forest of demands on her. Happiness’s goal was to strive for the gift of life for others and put aside the sight and sound of her own need for care.

One day, one of her friends, Hope, arrived from a long journey across the river to say to Happiness, ‘Hey, You got the power! – more power – reclaim it from this over-giving wilderness, but only if you are ready to!’

‘Ready for what?’ asked Happiness.

Hope continued, ‘Learn to receive, learn how to check that your life is in balance and that you are not doing too much for others and too little for your self. That’s the gift of power, Girl!’

Oh well! Happiness thought. But what if someone needs me? She frowned.

As she had this thought, Happiness was swept up by a mighty albatross. It soared with her into the air and over the sea water. Hanging tight to the soft white feathers Happiness screamed with all her voice. Happiness’s voice faded as she panicked. And then, she paused. She felt the wind on her face. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on her body. She felt the thud of the albatross’s heart, she fell into the rhythm of its firm sure wingbeat. Slowly she relaxed her grip. Slowly she opened her eyes. She looked down, down, down and saw a tiny woman rushing here, rushing there, caring caring caring for others. She looked like someone who would say, ‘Others will always need me. I cannot stop. What I need is unimportant.” Happiness was worried when she saw this sad little woman. She wanted to call down to her, ‘Take care of yourself too!’

But even so, as the bird flew back to earth, as Happiness descended to the world of continuous needs, a voice inside her said, ‘It would be selfish to think that I matter.’

But the gift of the albatross had entered Happiness’s mind. As she prepared for sleep she wondered whether caring for the wounds of others was smearing their pain into her soul. Was excessive empathy masquerading as a virtue? Did all these virtues accumulate to a song with no melody? The wordless song was in her head. Then, slowly the tune changed and words began to form: `Never give up – you matter too.’ Happiness sang herself to sleep. A dream swept Happiness back onto the large bird’s back as the albatross provided shield for a peaceful sleep.

The next day Happiness woke up, encircled in the gift of self-love – she finally knew that she mattered too. Happiness shared her albatross dreams in great detail with her friend Patience. The healer was consulted. She confirmed the meaning of the albatross dream: hearing the heart takes time.

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Fatima Damon

Ties of blood

I stood in the doorway and saw my youngest brother crying uncontrollably. My mother was trying to calm him. I wasn’t sure why he was so upset but by the look of the leash cradled in his hand, it was about Boomer, the dog he had begged my father for. “Don’t cry, Fareed. Boomer might still come home.”

I moved into the living room, dropping my school bag next to his feet. His big brown eyes were bloodshot, his head shaking. My mother turned to me. “Some-one stole Boomer this morning. We went searching everywhere for him. We only found his leash tied to the washing line in the yard.” My brother was barely seven years old. This was not a toy that could be replaced. Tears welled up in my eyes – not for the dog but for the loss my brother felt. For the first time I felt emotionally tied to Fareed. He was my brother and I felt his pain because I dearly loved and cared about him.

Boomer never returned. Fareed showed affinity for other animals and for the environment but never again did he have another dog. And nor did I ever see him cry like this again. In the years that followed, Fareed hid his pain and emotions with a drug addiction that ruined him and our family. At the age of 15, he was a brilliant student looking at Maths and Physics as key subjects in standard eight. Then his schoolwork started going downhill. He dropped out of school after failing standard eight. When Fareed turned 19, he had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed schizophrenic. All my mother knew was that her son would never be the same again.

Fareed was permanently high on whatever was available on the streets. He lied and stole, selling everything he could get his hands on. He became more and more aggressive, more and more desperate. Fareed turned into a monster and my mother had to pay ransom money for a peaceful hour. She gave in to Fareed’s manipulations even though interdicts and court orders should have prevented him from harassing her.

“Give me the fuckin’ R10!” Fareed’s words jolted me awake. He was screaming at my mother. He pulled her small thin arms forcing her to sit up. She was so frail that she could not even breathe. His eyes were big in his head, his body a skeleton, his voice controlling and demandingly aggressive. My mother was shivering. I wasn’t sure if it was the cold weather or her fear. I was asleep next to her. The curtains were still drawn, the morning light dim and already my mother’s daily hell already had begun. She slumped back onto the pillow exhausted. This was my mother whom I had feared and marvelled at all my life! She had sacrificed her life for us. How dare he!

“Who do you think you’re talking to! She is sick and you dare to pull her out of her own bed! You’re not sick; you’re pure filth, pure evil! Get out! ”

“Hey! You stay out of my life. I’ll grab a knife for you. I don’t care! You are nothing to me, nothing!” He turned to my mother. “Where’s the fuckin’ money!” He pulled the cushions from her head to find her purse. Her body was limp as he turned to me eyes bulging, “Stay out of my fuckin’ way. I’ll kill you!”

I laughed at him “You’re not mad enough!” I pushed him away from my mother.

As he fell forward my mother screamed at me, “Pack your bags, take the children and go home.”

I was shocked! She didn’t want my help. Was she then satisfied with this monster driving her to her death? I left, promising myself never to defend her again. I needed to overcome my hurt. So for three weeks I didn’t phone or visit her. Little did I know that the morning of the argument would be the last day I would see her alive. Three weeks later she suffered a brain hemorrhage, and was rushed to hospital where she died after two massive strokes. I couldn’t look at Fareed, think of him or pray for him. He stopped me from having a mother. He tortured her into her grave. I could also not live with myself for deserting her at the time she needed me most.

Then, one day, a snow white ridgeback came scampering across the road. It was obviously lost and hungry. Its eyes met those of my son’s and without hesitation, he picked the dog up. He turned to me as the dog licked his face. “Can we have him, Mummy, can we?” My son’s big round brown eyes trusting, hoping and yearning, looked into mine. Out of nowhere, I saw my brother at the age of seven playing with Boomer in our back garden. I remembered the day Fareed lost Boomer and how I felt his pain. I forgot the monster, I only remembered Fareed. I found him again. I hated what he had done, but still loved him for who he was – my brother.

Stephanie Loy

Returning home

Alone, afraid and sad, he nestles his head towards his chest and hugs his knees. Everything trusting and humble about himself was ripped from it’s place like a tornado, carelessly uprooting everything in its path. Emptied of emotions, he prays for a ray of hope to rejuvenate his tainted spirit.

A plague of sorrow started eight weeks earlier while Rupert, a simple craftsman, was working in his tiny workspace. His daily routine consists of carving simple and quirky wooden characters to pass the minutes of the day. The characters inspired by his muse, Lolo, have rough, unfinished textures, others are smooth to the touch. One cumbersome day; the air hot and stale, the gravel loosely lifts off the dusty road, a well-dressed man walks into his studio.

Sebastian, not used to the weather, looks awkward in his designer suit. He walks through the small door frame; feeling more cramped inside than out and asks Rupert for a glass of water.

Rupert obliges and thinks nothing more.

“Are you Rupert?” asks Sebastian.

Sebastian explains his intrigue in Rupert’s quirky carvings, and offers him a show in Prague. The show will give him maximum exposure.

With shock, Rupert nearly gouges a hole in his finger. Not sure, he takes a minute and as he does his older sister walks in. A high pitch shrill sends Sebastian and Rupert into the streets. She’s on the phone to various family members to tell them the good news and Sebastian, in need of a butcher’s cooling room, takes this as a yes. He will be back to discuss the details.

That evening, relatives and neighbours fill the family home with celebrations. Lolo, arrives in a bright green and orange tulle-like dress. She’s never known about Rupert’s secret love for her, but being his closest confidant, she knows him very well and takes him aside. His demeanour is not that of a man who is content. He confesses he isn’t; the arrival of his sister was poorly timed and had a snowball effect on the day and the emotions of everyone. Lolo, as supportive as ever, calmly reminds him that it’s never too late. Letting others down, will be disappointing, but if the heart isn’t sure, the head should follow suit.

Interrupted, he is dragged from her comforting voice towards the crowd of people. How can he throw this moment away, this opportunity to look after his family?

“Seize the day!” he whispers as he disappears into the crowd.

Rupert is on a plane to Prague, never has he flown. Never has he owned a suit. The excitement after three weeks finally sets in.

Sold out! It is an overnight success, and in the following weeks he visits other countries. Bowled over by the  attention of so many people, he takes advantage of the luxuries. In his need to share, he calls home but quickly estranges himself by insulting the way of home and his upbringing. He ignores their pleas for his return home, when his cousin and best friend, Jono falls ill. Lolo uses the last of her monthly wage to call him in New York, his guilt avoids returning her call.

The tour of Rupert’s work is coming to an end. Stemmed from his high flying fame, he finds himself short tempered and disparate. Saddened by what he has become and his short trip to fame, he calls Lolo to confide in her, and soon finds out she has been seen with another friend.

Surely his Lolo can’t be with another man? Angered by the news, he is impelled to find a way home.

On arrival in the familiar, dusty streets, he finds his home deserted and his neighbours playing cards in front of Lolo’s house. Surprised and elated they hug and welcome home the prodigal son.  Rupert questions the empty house. Sam, an elderly man, sits Rupert down. Jono died. Everyone has gone to the family village to mourn. Weakened at the knees Rupert falls to the ground and wails in anger for his loss – his irresponsible way has left him without his best friend, without the welcoming embrace of his loving family and most of all his twin spirit, Lolo.

Neighbours carry him into the house, where he falls asleep out of exhaustion and anguish.

The sun is still high when he awakens; the house is dark and cool because of the drawn curtains. Still weak from the news, he crawls through the house toward the light peering through the kitchen door. He hopes that the light cast on his head will dissipate the load of his loss.

Here, eight weeks on from his first encounter with Sebastian he hugs his knees feeling empty and alone and sad.

In the distance he hears a familiar voice and he smiles.

On hearing of his return, she makes her way home. Lolo feels the anxiety round and full in her throat. The sun’s rays tap at the window pane of her heart. As she casts her eyes on the curled up figure on the dusty steps, she feels her heart jump into the palm of her hands. The familiarity of their togetherness allows their senses to peak. The light is brighter. The greens and blues of the day are accentuated. The sense of hope returns. And he thinks of the finite differences of two worlds, how easily it breaks what we know and trust; only on our return do we realise we bring our hearts home to be mended.
His sad eyes turn towards her familiar smile, his being filled with apologies. She wraps her arms around him and rocks with him.

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.

Isobel Terry

The sounds of light

He has chosen this day. A sultry day in July. He takes a seat facing the way the train is travelling. He removes his grey sweat shirt, veins protrude from his forearms. A smell of stale air. His bag nestles into his right side. He lowers his eyes on to a hard backed book with a plastic covering ‘The last man in Rome ‘. He holds it in both hands, one cupped over the spine. The pages are creamy grey, worn. He opens his wallet attached to a chain slithering from his trouser pocket. He shows his ticket to the guard.

Suddenly the voice of a woman. She is sitting opposite him. He had not noticed her. He stays transfixed on his book. Is she speaking to him? He hopes not. She says several words before he hears. He rests his book on his lap and looks up. Something in the tone of her voice momentarily anchors him. A strange distraction, of attention.

You want to know about the sounds in my life? Well, it’s mostly silent. I don’t even whistle. The sounds I hear are from somewhere else. The man in the flat below plays his jazz pieces on the piano. It drives me crazy. The ice cracks melting in the fridge. The thermostat broke. The murmur of traffic I keep out by pulling the curtains and keeping the windows closed. I can’t tolerate the sound of light. And the sound of my own voice. Strange for me, speaking these words to you. He blows out a deep breath. Oh I made a sigh then didn’t I? You ask about sounds and more sounds appear. He looks down, his eye lids flicker. He rubs his right thigh firmly with the flat of his hand. She wonders what he is brushing away. A sensation of tingling lingers in his palm.

Suddenly a vortex of wind. The daylight is shattered. It is the long tunnel through the hill. The lights come on dimly. A roar of sound. In the gloom a deep frown appears between his sunken eyes. A veil of grey drops over his retinas, his skin turns an ashen yellow. She feels cold, zips up her jacket. He becomes completely still. The window catches their reflections both suspended in another silence, looking in different directions. He catches a glimpse of himself on the other side, death is the glass. It seems to last for ever.

Then abruptly, light. From the window he sees the canal. It runs parallel through the hill. A echo of watery darkness, strangely ponderous. His heart beats fast, drops of sweat gather on his forehead, saliva drains from his mouth. A sensation in his head, of a band of steel tightening around it. A line of tension pulls him towards the door. The train is still moving. He stands up. He walks along the line to the door, his eyes focusing on the open button he must press to exit. She follows him. Are you OK? The membranes in his ears have closed over, her voice is faint. A gentle hand, firm and steady, is pushing him towards something. First he feels the heat of it, her right hand on his upper back. At the back of his heart. He closes his eyes. A space opens up between his lungs and fills with an undulating breath. It is a place of translucence, of a lateral dimension, of no fear. And here there is a voice. Not one he has heard before. A fading voice to be quickly captured. It is quiet and rambling with a shallow breath. She listens attentively, with endocrine attention.

I am lost in a strange landscape. I am falling fast, yet of no speed, in a vortex of no stopping. A time before sound, an infinity, a kind of bliss, of going nowhere. I am a cell, the last cell of all. I am afloat in mineral filled fluids. I am alone implanted by the spirits of souls yet unborn. I am breathing, vigorously for my life. I spiral in a space of buoyancy. My heart beat is imprinted in my pathway of evolution. I am a call of awakening, of redemption. I am in search of air, of oxygen, I refuse to die of my own suffocation. I am what is vital in the darkness of the galaxy, where stardust is in the making.

Silence. She stands beside him looking at him, her head slightly tipped to the side, looking at him. She notices in the flesh on his face blood returning. She takes her hand from his upper back. The train stops. It terminates here. Time for departure. She steps onto the platform. She disappears through the ticket barrier. He turns and sits, facing the other way.

Lucille Byrnes

The day remembered, nothing lost

Losing things, even simply misplacing them, was not an everyday occurrence for her.   After all, she didn’t win “PA of the year” back in ’92 for nothing.   That accolade carried a prize of a full set of travelling luggage – leather but lightweight to boot.   The holdall and cosmetic case were packed, ready for tonight’s flight.   She hoped she wasn’t overweight – the luggage, that is.   After all, for two months she had worked diligently at losing those extra six kilos.   They meant the difference between svelte and sumptuous – like a stacked buffet table, she mused.

The dress was a mélange of white meringue-iness, but if she wasn’t careful she could end up looking like a baked Alaska if those tenacious last nasty three kays didn’t disappear.   Trudge, trudge on the treadmill; whrr-whrr went the wheels.   She didn’t lose a beat, adjusted the seat, a frown etched on her forehead.   ‘Mustn’t lost concentration.   Eleven laps to go.’

In the day of every bride there are those little moments that string together strands of time, hers were the memory of when they met.   (How they met, actually – in, of all places, a lift that faltered between floors.)   She recalls the comfort of their courtship and her resolve when, simultaneously with the pull of the cork from a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, he popped the question and she said ‘Yes’ to, “love, honour and …”.   OK, so perhaps “obey” was a tad old-fashioned but she was determined to give it her best shot.

She’d had four years working towards today.   Now those strands of time, the little moments would pay off and they’d tell the world, shout it to their family and friends that today was merely the start of new memories, never to be forgotten.

Had she indeed forgotten anything?

The invitations had been mailed the requisite six weeks before the countdown to D-Day – or in her case The Day.   ‘I’ve got the “something old”,’ she recalled, ‘Granny’s veil’.   Thank goodness that didn’t get lost in transit.   The “new” bit could be just about anything – from shoes to shift, as long as it’s never been used before.   The “something borrowed” could mean that the original must have been lost.   She couldn’t think what that could possibly be – that she had lost, that is.   Had she not rather gained?   Debatable, one could argue, but then, opinions are always subjective.

Her hair had lost none of its lustre albeit she had been talked into cutting and colouring it.   The bob is very much the rage and that luminous gel will add a touch of glamour to the rather secretarial style, they’d said.   But is a fringe really flattering, she wondered.   No mind, no matter.   What’s done can’t be undone.

Now she knew how Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters must have felt, wincing at the pain of trying on the white brocade shoes.   Tight they are – as a duck’s you-know-what at 60 fathoms.   Oh well, it’ll all be over in a couple of hours and then to the Drakensberg where they’ll lose themselves on honeymoon.
Hope the photographer remembers to feed film into the camera.   He looked a little young to be taking on a society wedding.   Nice Nikon, long lenses.   He didn’t lose an f-stop in presenting a professional portfolio either.

There’s a three-piece band with a five-star sound.   Neat name: A-rhythmix.   Price was way out, but no bloody discount for cash.   Glad Dad’s paying.   We’ll make them earn their bread though by playing till one.   Bloody hell.   The first dance is supposed to be a waltz – that 1-2-3 bit.   Maybe DIY Riaan gives lessons.   Mmm – fancy “True Love” but have they even heard of Pat Boone?

The sauvignon blanc is labelled Lost Horizons and the reds are from Allesverloren.   Hope the best man doesn’t mislay his speech – or the rings for that matter.

The florist lost the original order for the posy and the bouquet.   That made Mom lose her temper at the waste of good time.  Hope the deliveryman doesn’t go and lose his way.   Or the chauffeur steering the stretch limousine.   It’s the in-thing for a bride to be late, but she’s so excited she’ll probably arrive early, before the guests have filed into the pews edged at each end with huge white satin bows, their initials entwined in a hoop of a heart.

The dress is buttoned and her veil is in place.   She slips on her shoes and slides into the car.   At the church Dad takes the arm of his one and only child.   They step onto the red carpet.   Da-dum-dee-dum, da-dum-de dah.   The familiar strain of the Wedding March refrain resonates around the arches.   Let the games begin!

Slow of step, his hand tightly gripping her elbow, her father turns to her and mouths, ‘I haven’t lost a daughter; I’m gaining a son’.   Then he regains his poise, picks up the pace and proudly leads her down the aisle.   At the altar he releases her — lets her go — and hands her over to her new life.

Ronel Lourens

I switch on the light. It is three o’clock in the morning. The night is quiet, but not as quiet as I am.

I, Cecilia, shut down yesterday.

“Illegal operation … shutting down” – like a computer message. No warning signs of something “hanging” – just shut down.

I try to read. There are no words – only letters mocking me are left on the pages. I put the book down.

With one phone call my whole world fell apart and so did I. My best friend is dead. Is it for real? Maybe I was just dreaming. It’s the middle of the night and I’m in bed, so it is possible.

Maybe a cup of tea will make me help to sleep. I get out of bed and make my way to the kitchen. Every step in the unfamiliar darkness reflects my life at this moment.

Why didn’t she talk to me, say something? We always talk about everything and we’ve always been honest and open to each other about everything. Why didn’t I pick up that something was wrong? If I had known, could I have said something, done something, anything to change her mind? If I had told her exactly how much I loved her and that she meant the world to me, it would have made a difference. I could have reminded her about all the good times and how we got through difficult times by being there for each other. She would have realised that life is still worth it. Did she even think about me when she did it? Was she so focused on herself that no-one else mattered? My life will never be the same again. I will never be alive again and I blame her for it.

Steam burning my hand makes me realise that I’ve been gripping the lid while waiting for the water to boil. How many cups of tea did we share along with our thoughts and dreams? The smell of my favourite tea turns my stomach and I run for the bathroom, my body rebelling against what my mind has to accept.

Back in bed I stare in front of me. Now even the thoughts have left me. Silence is not so golden after all, is it? My alarm clock brings me back to reality. I get up and start preparing for the first empty day of the rest of my life.

At the office my daily chores begin. Every now and then I catch myself staring. My phone rings. I have to sit in at a workshop to take notes. Maybe it will keep my mind occupied.

There is one chair empty in the conference room and not looking at anybody, I sit down. They have already started so I don’t greet anyone.

Issues are being discussed and plans are made. “He said, she suggested, he emphasized, she pointed out, he reminded”. I jot down everything being said. At least my silence is being filled. A silence so loud that it kept me awake last night.

The man next to me scribbles on a piece of paper and pushes it closer for me to read. “YOU LOOK LOST”. How does this stranger know? Did someone tell him? What do I do? If I look up, he will see that I’m more than lost – I’m dead. I gather my strength and look at him trying to hide myself. I move my hand back and knock his glass of water over. Within seconds he is up and back drying what I spilt. I look at the piece of paper. Smudged black ink is all that is left of the three words with which he described my soul.

The meeting ends at twelve o’clock. Everybody start to pack up. “Hello, I’m Brian,” he introduces himself to me. With a “Cecilia,” I shake his hand and then he is out the door.

I go back to my office and do my best to get some work done.

Later that evening, staring at nothing again, an sms snaps me back from my empty world. “Let me help you find yourself. Brian” He must have found my number on the attendance register that was sent out along with the minutes. I read the words again and with no replay I switch off the light.

After two months, life as usual is going on, but not me. I’m still taking unfamiliar steps in the darkness – a stranger in my own house. I still stare. The steam is still burning me and I still can’t stomach the smell of tea. The silence is louder and the rest of my life is empty every day.

Again, my regular sms “Let me help you find yourself. Brian”

“Please do”, I reply for the first time.

Audrey Harry

A new beginning

Bill was angry; someone had reported him to the police as an incompetent older driver, and now his license had been revoked.

He had a pretty good idea who that someone was. His son Jim had been in the car when Bill went through the red light. He picked up the phone and dialed his son’s number. His hands were shaking as he blurted out, “You betrayed me! You went behind my back and reported me to the Traffic Police.”

“Dad” Jim said calmly, “I told you —.”

Bill slammed the phone down. He had heard enough about his unsafe driving skills from Jim and he wasn’t about to listen to any more of that stuff. Here he was, still living independently; he cooked his own food and managed remarkably well on the whole. His greatest fear was losing his independence and now it looked as if he was on the slippery slope. He wanted nothing more than to die in his own home in his own bed when his time came. He now feared his family might try and control that too.
He picked up his coffee, muttering to himself, and marched off to his den. The den was his retreat and always had been. He flopped into his big recliner chair and looked despondently round the room. It was a comfortable room, with a few books, photos and various odds and ends lying haphazardly about. He and his wife had bought most of the furniture when they first married, so it was getting a little shabby, but every piece and picture held memories for him. Somehow his haven didn’t feel so friendly today, and he didn’t feel very friendly towards any of the family whose pictures lined the walls.

He had not spoken to his son since that phone call. Jim had phoned and invited him for supper, but Bill maintained an offended silence. He was sad, a heavy cloud hung over him. His old car had been a faithful and loyal friend and now it had been taken away from him. How thoughtless and unkind his son had been. He had been able to drive to so many of the places where he and his dear wife had joyful times. Now she was gone, and so was the old car. He felt as if all life’s pleasures had abandoned him.

Since the day when the fateful letter had arrived from the Traffic Department, Bill had learned to ride the buses and occasionally he took a taxi. At first he resented every trip he took. In fact he avoided going out if at all possible, but time seemed to hang heavily on his hands and he began to feel cocooned in his house. When the weather warmed up he started walking, just to get out. After a few weeks he secretly admitted to himself that he rather enjoyed walking. He was feeling much fitter and furthermore he had been chatting to quite a few of the neighbours he had never met before. He enjoyed the sunshine and even walked in the rain occasionally. On his way back from his daily visit to the store he usually stopped for a rest in the park. He enjoyed watching the children on the swings. There were two little girls who liked to come and say hello to him, he looked forward to their chatter.

He rode the bus to the library regularly. He had befriended an elderly woman, Francis Hatley, who, like him, used the bus to get around. They frequently stopped for a cup of coffee at the café before they caught the bus home. He enjoyed her company, and on one occasion he asked her if she would like to go to the movies with him. Imagine that! An old man of eighty-seven on a date! He might be eighty-seven but he didn’t feel any different from the young swain he used to be back in the 40s. Francis thought he was a pretty handsome date too. He smiled to himself, and wondered what Jim would think if he knew his old Dad had a date! “Maybe, Bill chuckled to himself, “if Francis agrees I‘ll invite the family to meet her.”

And so, as he walked the streets and chatted to his neighbours, and as he sat next to Francis on the bus, Bill missed his car less and less. One morning as he scanned the headlines he saw the picture of one of the little girls from the park. She had been hit by an elderly driver and was in critical condition. The story made his blood run cold. He sat down suddenly in his chair, as the cold hands of reality grasped him. Tears filled his eyes. That driver could have been him running a red light, hurting a pedestrian, possibly even killing someone. He had resented his son but now he believed he might have been spared from causing a terrible accident.

Now he felt a gentle hand, steadily pushing him towards something. He picked up the phone slowly and tentatively, and dialled Jim’s number. Jim answered. Bill struggled to get the words out, his voice seemed to crack, and all he could find to say was, “Thank you for caring.”

Marion Marchand

About time

In the wedding speeches they said I wasn’t losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law, but that’s all words really. Of course you lose her. Her pretty room in your house is empty; she doesn’t belong to you any more.

Still, we were really lucky. A small house came up for sale just a few doors away, and because an annuity fell due then, I put down the deposit and gave it to them for a wedding present, so there wasn’t that much change really.

I felt I had to keep an eye on her. Cindy had always been sickly from a baby – in and out of hospital the first few years. It was always just her and me; Joe and I divorced when she was only two, then he died in America so I used to call myself a widow. I did it all – drove her to school, ballet, music, sent her to university nearby so I was always on hand.

Anyway, she met Gary at university and they seemed to get married very quickly, too quickly I thought. We got on all right, though he went all vague when I hinted about her health and about not overtaxing her. So what did he do but go and get her pregnant right away! I thought they could have waited to settle down first, let her get the hang of housekeeping.

So I had to go in most days to clean the house properly and cook supper so she could rest – she felt sick all nine months. Little John was born by Caesarian, so of course I was kept busy letting her rest, carrying the baby to her to be fed, making nourishing meals. Whisked out of the house as soon as I heard Gary coming; I don’t think he realised how much I did.

But the real problem was his strange ideas about babies. They must be allowed to swallow some germs, he said, I needn’t boil everything like I had for Cindy, must get the baby outside even on a cool day, dress him lightly – it really irritated me, and we had quite a few words. Cindy got more tired looking, I could see she was trying to keep the peace, but really how could I back down? Endangering my grandson!

Well, I was proved right, in the saddest way. The doctors called it a Cot Death, which really meant they didn’t know what it was, but I kept my mouth shut. Only five months old. Terrible, terrible thing to go through. The tiny coffin there in the church – there wasn’t a dry eye, and I was afraid Cindy would never get through it. I must say though, Gary was really good to her. And I behaved well too. Not once an ‘I told you so’, but nursed my darling girl, tried to cheer her up and looked the other way when he came home.

After quite a few months they went away for a long holiday to the sea. I had the nursery and the rest of the house repainted. When they came back Cindy had a little colour in her cheeks.

Then, I’ll never forget it. She came in very quiet and serious one day and said I must sit down and she had to talk to me. And she said they were moving. To Jo’burg. In two weeks.

“But I can’t sell the house!” I said. I’d lived in that house forty years.

“No, Mom”, she said. “We’re moving away and you can drive over and see us maybe once a month, but I need to manage on my own, you see. I’m pregnant again, Mom. With twins. But Gary will be very good with them and I’ll get a domestic help and we’ll manage, you’ll see, Mom.”

I felt terribly hurt. After all I’d done! But even more, worried to death. Two sad young people. And twins. They’d never cope.

Well. You’d be amazed. She took Pilot classes or something, sailed through the pregnancy. They asked me over when the bonny little girls were three weeks old. Nice, capable little maid. Gary home on leave. And Cindy like another person; calm, relaxed, in charge. I felt all mixed up – partly just a useless old woman, but partly proud of the way she was coping.

Last time they stayed over, Cindy gave me a present. A scrapbook (did I tell you she’s a writer now – has a job as a copywriter, from home?) with a fancy title: “Flotsam rescued from the stream of life”: poems and mementos and pictures of her growing up and now with the twins and Gary and me. And she gave me a hug – a motherly hug.

And I thought: Now I’ve really lost my little girl. And it’s about time.