Story number six

A friend of mine works with rural children. We talked over a weekend and that conversation inspired this story.

As they left she put up her hand to shake. Linda smiled her best smile, wanting them to see how content and happy she was. They smiled back at her and said that they would see her soon. She sat in the gloomy room. The room was lit by a naked bulb hanging at an angle by the wall. There was a window but it was so small it did not provide enough natural light. It was a relief that the women had left. She did not like having visitors over. Her aunt got very angry when she spoke with people. She lived just a few feet from their one roomed shack and she would be there soon to ask about what the women had wanted. Aunt Ntsepe was nosy and knew everything that happened in their community. She was both afraid and suspicious about strangers visiting their compound. The women had first spoken with her aunt and a few minutes later they had been at her door.

Linda put the radio on, it was lunch time and the news was on. After the news, there was usually a short story reading. She enjoyed the readings. So many stories from books she had never heard of. Linda was too nervous about her aunt coming over that she could not concentrate on the news.

It must have been over half an hour when she heard the heavy footsteps coming towards the shack. A bead of sweat formed on her upper lip. She did not know how this was going to go. Sometimes her aunt became violent.

Aunt Ntsepe opened the heavy iron door. She was a big woman, she stood at the entrance legs apart, hands on hips.

“Linda?” she gave her that dreadful smile.

“What did those women from the government want.”

“Aunty they were not from the government, they were from an NGO.”

“Girl you had better speak up, honestly I can never hear a word you say sometimes. Now what did they want?”

“They wanted to find out if we have any water and how many people lived in the house”

“Did they ask about the grant?”

“Yes” [whisper]

“What?”

“Yes aunty”

“What did they say exactly?”

Her voice boomed in the small room. She started walking towards her, swatting clothes that were hanging on lines in the small room. She stooped inches from her and bent down. That smile again.

“You did not tell them anything about ‘that’, did you?”

“No aunty, I explained that my disability grant was collected by my aunt who took care of us”

“Ok girl, good. If they come back again tell them to come and speak to me.”

She stood in front of her and poked her big toe towards her.

“When was the last time you bathed girl. I want you to clean up. You stink. How can you have people in the house looking like that.”

She frowned, stood there thinking for a few seconds and without another word she left. Linda was relieved. She had not hit her today. She needed to go to the pit latrine outside. It was not easy getting there. Linda looked down at her lower body. She had not walked since she was two years old. Her legs had gradually weakened. As she grew older, her legs had become twisted and mangled. When her parents were alive she could move around in a wheelchair and she had attended school with her brothers. Her father would put her wheelchair in his old bakkie. Her parents had died six years ago, they had been well off compared to their neighbours. Their house had been made of brick with a toilet inside. She had had her own room.

Her aunt Ntsepe lived in their house now. Being the only living relative in the area to help take care of them no one had objected to her taking everything they owned except their clothes and the radio. She had sold the wheelchair.

Her story reading would be starting soon. She needed to get a move on. She reached for her gloves in the cardboard box where she kept her belongings. The floor was concrete and smoothed over with red polish, so she could make it easily to the door. Dragging her feet behind her she reached for the iron hook and started prying the door open. It had been slammed shut by her aunt. It opened and she blinked adjusting her eyes to the light. Crawling to the pit latrine was an issue. She would get dirty and her hands often hurt afterwards. Her brothers, when they were home, usually carried her there. But she could not wait. Who knew when they would be home. They stayed out for long periods of time after school.

When she got back, the announcer on the radio was introducing the new short story. She had to change first. Her hands were bleeding.

She took off all her clothes and placed them in a pile that was growing in the corner. Aunt Ntsepe had not bought the sunlight for a while. She put on her nightgown from the box and placed herself on the mattress. She closed her eyes and listened to the story.

Sarah Pennington

I was on my way to fetch my children from school. As I came to traffic stop, I turned the corner and caught sight of a woman with short blonde hair. Her eyes just seemed to stare into the distance, a million miles away. So, I decided to write a story about her.

Sarah Pennington stopped at the traffic lights. Her mind had wandered to how she had spent the last two hours. A blasting horn interrupted her thoughts. Oh god, she thought, I had drifted off there for a while. She speedily put her foot on the gas. She heard more horns blaring as she crossed.

She slowly turned to her left. Nothing. Then she turned to her right. Yes, she thought, she had made a grave mistake. It had not been her turn to cross the street and the horn that had just sounded was in fact an ambulance siren. She had failed to hear the first few decibels of the sirens. The ambulance seemed to come at her at such a slow speed. She thought, I am going to miss it, or it is going to miss me. Again, she was wrong. It was just slow because she was dangerously close to the end of her life. This was it. The ambulance hit her directly on the driver’s side, she bounced around like a rag doll.

Sarah Pennington, stood over her coffin. It was a closed casket. There had been too much damage done to her body to repair. She looked around her in the funeral house, everyone was very upset and a lot of people had showed up.

“The impact was made worse by the fact that she had no seatbelt.”

“It was a fast and dangerous accident. She had died instantly. There was no saving her really.”

“Look at those poor kids. They are so devastated about this. I do not know how they will cope without her. She was their whole life”

It was strange to be at one’s funeral, hearing all the comments people were making. As soon as she had died she had appeared here. Although a few days must have passed since she died. Sarah could not see her children or her husband anywhere. She seemed to be glued to the spot where she sttod by the coffin. Lamenting on her broken body.

Sarah thought back to the morning of the accident. She had been with her lover that morning and on her way to pick up the kids. She had been so distracted. A sadness came over her, dead was dead but her mind was still functioning. She could still remember her last few hours before the accident.

She had woken up early that morning. Just as she woke up she had heard the phone vibrate.

Come after dropping the children off. You know what I want you to wear.

Sarah had looked over to where her husband was sleeping. She had been a bit late waking up that morning and had to rush the kids through breakfast. She had rushed dressing them. When she got back from dropping the kids off she had to rush her husband out of the house. She had to shower and change. He hated it when she was late.

As she got out of the bath her phone rang. Shit, she had thought as she ran to answer. Nothing can spoil this.

“Hello?”

“Hi I need you” [a whimper].

“What now? What’s happened?”

“He left me Sarah. He got up this morning and packed up his shit and left me”

“Well look, can this wait a few hours. I have somewhere important I have to be”

“Are you going to the kids’ school? I can come with you. That might cheer me up”

“No. Look you cannot come to this.”

“Is it him? No come on. I really need you. I never ask you for much. He cannot be more important than this. Why do you see him anyway? You are happily married and I would kill to have your life.”

“Look I can’t. I must go. I will call you later I promise”

Sarah had sighed and dropped her phone in her bag. No more distractions. She had not seen him in over a month. This was their thing, and she just could not miss it. She put on her dress that he had bought her. She remembered feeling so happy. He made her feel like no one else mattered in the world. With him she could be herself and fulfil every fantasy, in ways that no one had done before.

All that was gone now. She stood by her coffin and watched on. All she could think about now, was if she could have done things differently that morning.

 

 

The sisters from number four

This story came about while I was having a conversation with Stuart about a group of women in Malawi, who are believed to be possessed by evil spirits. They are taken to a camp where they are ‘cured’ and prayed for.

We lived at number eight President Road in a block of flats; there were eight apartments. All the kids in our block would play together. We did not stray too much from our block and play with other kids in our neighbourhood. We had everything we wanted in our compound. We would climb trees and play rounder’s after school in the red dusty earth.

Our flat was on the ground floor. Above us on the second floor, at number four, lived two old twin sisters. They had come to live in the flat about six years ago. They came from Malawi and only spoke Nyanja, which is very similar to Chichewa. They had greying hair which they kept in a short afro. They had no children or seemed to be married. But they lived well, it was believed. Although they were not identical twins, they usually wore matching chitenges. That was what we saw, on the rare occasion when they left their flat. They often kept to themselves. We were all scared of them and named them ‘ifiwa’, meaning ghosts. The grownups often talked about them as they fetched water from the communal tap, shaded by a big mango tree.

“They come from a healing camp in Malawi you know. I heard that they moved here after that. They used to have children and husbands but they all passed away. And no one knows where they get their money from.”

“Imwe hmm. Did you know, these Malawian women get possessed. I heard that they killed their children and husbands. They were sent to the camp because they were possessed and would carry their children upside down. I do not want my children to associate with people like that. They should just keep to themselves”

“Yes, and I have seen them come out at night to fetch water. Which is better. I do not want to speak to them or touch them. Who knows what kind of muti they have. How can they just live up there all day and not have jobs?”

“The stories must be true, they are witches. Bana Dala that is why they only come out at night”

Although the grownups did not want us to go up to their flat, we did. Dala, my best friend had been in their flat a few times. He always came out of their flat with treats. Once he even shared a donought with me that they had given him. If his mother knew she would really ‘give it to him’. Not only was he going up there and talking with them, he was eating their food as well. He said their house was filled with all sorts of plants and that they had a big television, and even a VCR.They asked him to do strange things when he went up there, but he never said what.

One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in the yard watching a procession of ants carrying sugar. It was after church and everyone was inside watching the football. I hated football. I felt a shadow blocking the sun behind me and I looked up. One of the twins was standing behind me.

“Hello.”

“Hi.”

“Can you come up to my flat and help me with something?”

I was one of the few kids who had not been up to their flat. Even though I was scared by her request, I was curious to find out what their flat really looked like.

“Sure”

I followed her up. When we got there, I paused at the open door. Inside their corridor, that lead to rooms in the flat, was lined with large leafy plants.

“Come in”

I followed her in. She was a big woman so she had to squeeze through the narrow passageway. The flat was cooler inside. She led me to the living area. Here there were more plants. It looked like a green house. Some plants were hanging from the ceiling. Every available space in the room was littered with pot plants. The smell of geraniums was over powering.

Her sister was lying on a mat in the middle of the room on her back.

“Please can you walk on my sisters back.”

Her sisters looked up at me and smiled. I stared at her. She turned on to her stomach. I just stood there.

“You see she has a bad back. I cannot do it because I am too heavy and I could hurt her. You are small enough to do it. Please.”

“Ok sure. But what do I get for doing this?”

I found it strange that no one had mentioned that they simply had to help the sisters with their backs..

“A cold Fanta?” she smiled and pushed me forward.

“Sure”

I walked out of the flat a few moments later with an ice-cold Fanta.

 

There is no such thing as ghosts

This story is for a girl I knew in fifth grade. She was apparently murdered. We never found out why.

We usually walked home from school to get to the bus station. Every day we passed by a very old cemetery. You could not see the markings on the grave because they had all faded not that we got very close to the tombstones. We would laugh nervously as we walked through the graveyard. Telling ghost stories. Charity usually came up with the best stories. She swore that they were real but we all knew she had just heard them from her mother. There was no such thing as snakes that you could grow large, feed on tiny babies and had human faces, just like the owner.

Today we were quiet as we walked towards the station. A girl in our class had been murdered and they were saying it was a muti murder. Her body had been found lying in a ditch and her organs were missing. Other stories had surfaced throughout the day as our classmates each had a theory. Some of them said they had heard from their parents that she had been murdered by her own mother who was believed to be a witch.

Her name had been Easter. I had sat next to her in class. She had been very quiet and shy. I had to take care of her and show her around because she was new. She had only been with us for a week, so we did not get to know her for long. At break, she would sit quietly with me and some of my other friends, as I said she did not talk much. She was thin but had the most beautiful hair I had seen. It was jet black and very long. She always had it tied in a simple elastic band.

The stories about her mother and how she was murdered messed me up that day. It was just before midterm exams and all we had to do was revise our work. That meant we had a lot of time to chat. everyone in school kept asking me if I knew what had happened to her and whether her mother was really a witch. I could not reply because I never got to know her at all. I did not even know where she lived.

As we walked on charity asked me if I really knew what had happened. Again, I said I did not and they knew it because I had been with them for most of that weekend.

“come on” charity said, “you sat next to her, didn’t you?”

I got angry and shouted “just because I sat next to her in class, it doesn’t mean I knew everything about her”.

“ok sure, we just wanted to know.  I thought maybe you were waiting to tell us instead. I heard that her mother actually sold her and then they used her body parts for muti”

I was tired of hearing the same story all day. No one had the facts and all we knew was from someone who lived in her neighbourhood.

“charity please just shut up. I don’t think we want to hear any more of your stories today”

“ok, what is wrong with you anyway? We are just talking”

“talk to chewe then I am taking a new route today”

I walked off and fought back tears. I do not know why but suddenly I felt a deep sense of loss. I took a different road. I looked back and charity and chewe went towards our usually route.

I was not familiar with this route and wished I had not been so touchy and had gone with the others. As I walked I realised that the road was leading towards the cemetery. There was no other way I had to go through the cemetery if I wanted to catch the bus on time. It wasent a big cemetery but it was creepy anyway. I hated the idea of dead people, so still and well just dead. As I walked through it trying not to look at the graves I heard someone crying softly. The crying was coming from behind a headstone a few meters ahead. I walked slowly towards it. I poked my head around slowly to see who was there. I gave a startled cry and backed away, I tripped and fell backwards. It was Easter, I could not believe it. She was supposed to be dead. I got up and stared at her. She was sitting on the grave knees up and had her head resting in her arms. I knew it was her because of her hair and the familiar elastic band.

“Easter is that you?”

She did not reply. I walked closer to her and tried to put my hand on her shoulder. Before I could she wailed and lifted her head to face me. I gasped, her eyes were blood shot and there seemed to be blood coming out of them.

“look what they have done to me…look” she shouted.

She up her hands for me to see. They looked like she had been crucified and had huge holes in them.

“look what they have done”

I backed away. This could not be real; she could not be real. Why would they do that to her. Her hands were bleeding a lot and so was her face. Huge tears of blood started flowing. It was a scary sight.

I started to run, and as I was running away I could still hear her shouting “look what they have done” she was shrieking now. I just kept running.

I finally made it to the bus station. I could see charity and chewe sitting down on the benches. They looked up and stared at me. I stood there shaking. I could still hear her shrieks, but they sounded further away now.

“hey what happened to you, look at you your uniform is sweaty. You went the wrong way you know. That road leads through to the graveyard. What did you see a ghost or something?” charity laughed and so did a few of the other kids.

“yes I think so charity, it’s not funny. It was Easter. She was crying. Can’t you hear her?”

“sure, we believe you. Dead Easter appeared to you, her best friend”

It was no use they would never believe me. I sat down next to chewe. She looked concerned.

“are you ok?”

“I don’t know”

I could not sleep for a week.

Father’s Day

This is a story I thought about a few days before Father’s Day.

 Mathew was the sort of man who was happy to admit that he had a quiet sort of temperament. He prided himself on the fact that he was very good under pressure and never lost his temper. His friends came to him for help when they had big problems. Especially the ones involving the ‘wife’.

He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. He opened his mouth to see if he had created a stain on his tongue from the shiraz. He never drank beer, but preferred to sit and talk with people and it all seemed much better if one was drinking wine. His tongue was a slight purple, not too bad considering how many glasses he had had. He smiled at himself again and made his way back to the garden for the braai.

every Father’s Day, he invited a few of his friends over and their families to have braai. Too bad it was on a Sunday he thought, you could have a good party on a Saturday and not feel bad about it. His children had given him cards and the usual coffee cup, but he did not mind. Today was his day to enjoy and not have to do any house work or errands. His wife had made a cake and organised all the food and what the children should do, so that they could enjoy their company.

He was about to walk down the stoep when he heard the all too familiar laugh. It was Evie his wife, he knew that laugh. She must have had some wine. She hardly ever drunk but he had a mind to tell her one day that she was a bit too much when she did. His feet landed on the grass and he turned to the left. And there she was doing some kind of jiggle dance with the children. He stared at her and it appeared as if she was about to drop the wine glass. Of course, she caught it in time. Evie stopped dancing and walked to him. A big grin on her face. She was not walking very straight.

“hello”

“you’ve been drinking Evie, oh come on you promised me you were not going to drink today”

“I just had one glass Mathew”

“one too many don’t you think. Look just don’t drink anymore and let us enjoy this day”, he hissed

“I am going to talk to Sipo over there. Go inside and have some water.

She looked at him and felt a sense of defiance. One glass too many, the nerve of him. She walked into the house and went straight to the wine. She poured herself a glass. She drunk it all at once and poured herself another. Just because it was Father’s Day she had to behave and be all proper. Well she was going to have a party too whether he liked it or not. Everything was ready and set, they just had to eat and feed the children. She took her wine out to the garden. She felt invincible. She walked towards the group standing by the fire pit. Mathew looked at her wine glass and gave her a look. Evie smiled at him.

There was a woman there she had never met before, Nancy Sipos new girlfriend. Nancy was talking about her job and how much she travelled. She swayed a bit as she listened to her. The wine had gone to her head now. She laughed at something Nancy said except it came out as a snort. More glares from Mathew.

Nancy turned around towards her and asked her what she did, Mathew turned around so fast when he heard the question, and braced himself for what Evie was going to say. He knew she hated that question.

“well” Evie said “I run a restaurant, a causality ward, a school, I am a musicologist, a sports coach, a swimming teacher, oh and a part time life saver. And that Nancy is on a good day” she laughed again but again it came out as a snort, “who needs Father’s Day anyway.”

Mathew stared at her in absolute disbelief.

Nancy looked around and tried not to stare at Evie. The woman was a nut or just a little drunk either way what a comment. She looked at Mathew and she felt sorry for him.

“ok food is almost ready guys, we can move to the table,” Mathew said as he quickly composed himself and smiled at everyone. People started moving towards the table. He was just going to get on with it. When Evie was like this he could not do much about it but keep his composure.

Evie looked at Mathew and gave him a little salute. Mathew groaned inside.

“I’m going to get some water” she said.

She went up to the house again and into the kitchen, she stood by the sink and had some water. What a great comment she had made, that would show that Nancy she thought, her and her perfect weave. She turned to go back outside but through the corner of her eye she saw the wine. Hmm she thought one more glass would not hurt would it.

 

Sunday mornings

This story came about when I was looking back at our Sunday morning services at the cathedral in Grahamstown. There was one priest there who was such a character and he made services very interesting. To my siblings Maia, Penny and Shadreck, I think this will tickle you.

It was Sunday morning again. It was the middle of winter and there was sure to be frost on the grass outside. Our father insisted that we attend the morning prayers every Sunday at the cathedral of the holy cross. I did not mind attending the services so much, there was a certain calmness and predictability with the services. You always knew what to expect.

This has been the standard of course but recently we have had a new priest, Father Rob. He started holding the services about a few months back. He had started making the services something to look forward to. Not because he was a particularly good priest but rather because of his strange behaviour. Most times he seemed to be drunk or in some sort of trance. Only last Sunday he had nodded off during the Eucharist. He sometimes mumbled his way through scripture readings and did not seem to know when it was his turn to speak. It was very funny to watch him throughout these service. He could however sing very well and his voice boomed through the church as he enthusiastically sung his heart out.

We got ready and started walking towards the church, we always walked in silence and we tried to fight sleep and the cold. It was a good ten-minute walk and as I thought there was frost on the grass and our breathes looked like someone smoking a vapour. We rounded the corner towards the main road in the town. We could see the church right at the end of the high street, the street was empty and only a few people could be seen walking towards the church. The cathedral was large and its spire was tall and you could see the large bells hanging at the centre. You could hear those bells from anywhere in the town. In its glory days, the church must have housed large congregations. Now only a few people attended morning services and we scarcely filled the pews.

As we approached the entrance, old Mr Nettleton the head usher shook our hands as we entered the church and gave us a smile. I lead the way into the church bowed at the alter and moved into the third pew. We sat for a while in silence and waited for the service to begin.

Father Rob entered the church and we stood for the blessing. He seemed to be in high spirits and he walked to the benches at the back of the church behind the lectern-pulpit. He waved at the congregation and stumbled over a step and sat down. He was wearing his black and white cassock and his greying hair seemed to have a mind of its own and stood up in places. we stood waiting for him to offer the blessing but he remained sitting. Someone coughed loudly.

“Oh yes, right “he said and stood up.

“Well in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. Be blessed and let us start the service. You may be seated” he called loudly and sat down.

The services went without a hitch as deacons approached the pulpit and read scripture and prayers from the prayer book. I watched father Rob every now and then and he did doze off a few times but when we sung hymns he seemed to bolt upright and stand up far too quickly.

It came time for him to offer his sermon. He seemed to have forgotten his cue again and remained standing after the hymn. I looked over to where the deacons were sitting and someone seemed to be waving at father Rob from the opposite side of where he sat. he waved back. We stifled giggles. A few minutes passed and the deacon was now red in the face and gesturing openly for him to stand up and go to the pulpit. This was getting too much. He finally seemed to get the point and he walked joyfully towards the pulpit. I think I heard a sigh of relief from someone.

“Good morning church. Today’s service is about com com.. comfort, yes. The lord comforts us all in many ways” he began.

He looked down at the notes he was holding and cleared his throat.

“C-o-m-fort. We are all Gods lovely loving children and without his comfort we cannot begin to start our day. Is it not so ladies and gentlemen? What we need today is a big hug from the lord and a breath of his most comforting spirit and we can strive” he chuckled at this.

“Well yes that is why we come here isn’t it, to feel that comfort and to hold it dear to our hearts and be blessed by it. In the name of the father, and of the son and the holy spirit. Go now and feel the lords comfort today,” he smiled eagerly at us gave a bow and closed his eye clutching his chest.

He stood there for a minute. There was utter silence. One thing I liked about the morning service was that the sermons were long. But this was the shortest sermon I had ever heard. Everyone was staring at him. I looked around and some of the congregation was frowning. He opened his eyes and started making his way down from the pulpit. He came to the front of the church and gave the benediction. We were free to go.