Great news everyone. I have just published my first novel.
“While there may not be a book in every one of us, there is so often a damned good short story” Jeffry Archer .
She used to go to school, study, a post grad in Anthropology. She used to have friends, friends who laughed and ate and went dancing. She used to have a boyfriend, who loved her thick thighs and full buttocks. He would appraise her breasts and say how they were the best he had ever had the privilege of laying on every night. She used to have a dog, she would run with him to the park, she would play fetch and laugh at his small tiny figure get buried in the leaves in autumn.
She has a family, different now from how it used to be. She has a brother whom she had played with as children, competed with in squash, gossiped with about her parents and friends. Oh! how they used to laugh at the world. She has an aunt who loved her ability to see the world in wonderment, her joie de vivre. She has a father who loved her intellect, who would share a whisky with her on the nights she was back home for a visit. She has a mother, who loved her long hair and brushed it until it shined, every night. That was her life before, now she was consumed with different desires and needs. She perceived her world to have changed, she was woke now to who she truly should be. Thin.
She wakes up and looks around her room, it feels as though it is winter. It is spring. The sun shines wanly through her drawn curtains, it hurts her eyes, the light. She is weak and feels as though her stomach is eating itself. She drinks some water and her stomach complains, “That is not what we need” she seems to hear it say. No matter.
She returned from the clinic yesterday afternoon and had gone straight to her room. Avoidance of people is a must, they have teeth.
“No food darling.” Mum had said. “Surely you eat now?”
“No thanks mum, I’m full, they fed me before I left.”
That had been true. She had eaten a whole banana; from the plate of fruits she had been served for afternoon snack.
Mum had made what used to be her favorite, beef lasagna with blue cheese in the middle layer. She could smell the cheese when she had entered the house. It had brought back memories of, of things that used to be in the tunnel. She had gone to her room and under her bed in the floorboards she had hidden a small scale and a measuring tape. Mum had not found the hiding place yet. Quietly and with relish she took them out. She went into her bathroom and stood on the scale. She had gained 5kg’s and her waist was two inches thicker. With violence and determination, she had stuck two finger way, way down into her throat and retched. Nothing came out. The clinic had made her fat. The clinic had lied to her about finding happiness in kg’s and inches.
“You will feel better.”
“You will return to your old life.”
“Your body will not give out.”
“Your beautiful hair will grow back. Look like in your picture there.”
“You can return to school.”
“Remember how happy you used to be?”
She had believed them at first because her brain had become cotton balls and she could no longer think straight. But by the second and the third week it became excruciating, the feeding and cooing of delight they got from it. They would not allow her to weigh herself, they scanned their rooms for vomit, they force-fed you if you refused food for a day. Worst yet, they asked you why.
“Why do this to yourself honey.”
She sat up and looked around her childhood room. She had taken down the many pictures of horses she had pinned on her wall. She had painted it a clean white. She was about to remove the scale when she heard mum.
“Darling? Breakfast.” Six weeks, she thought, and candy floss headed mum probably thought she was cured.
Before she went in, they had stopped calling to her for meals. They had stopped asking her to wake up, do something. They had accepted her. Until.
“I’m coming mum.” She called out already feeling nauseous.
“Come on darling, we can go for a walk afterwards.”
She went down the stairs. She felt weighted down. By all the fat that had accumulated in her body.
“Oh darling, daddy already left. It’s just the two of us. Come sit. I made pancakes.”
She calculated the calories in her head. She sat down and moved the pancake around on her plate. Her mum watched her.
“Did you make any friends darling?”
“Oh that’s nice. Where the doctors good to you?”
“Yes mum, you always ask that.”
“Do you want some syrup, hm, they are a bit dry aren’t they?”
“No thanks mum. They are delicious.”
Munch, munch her mums mouth moved, spit and pieces of food on her teeth as she smiled.
“Well I hoped you liked that.” Mum said as she began to tidy up.
“Yes mum, it was good.” She pushed her plate away, the pancake sat perfectly round on it.
“Do you wanna go for a walk or call up some of your friends. I’m sure they would love to see you.”
“I’m going to take my iPad and watch some movies. I am so tired mum. Sorry.”
“Oh OK darling. I’m making Cesar salad for lunch. Daddy will join us.” She kisses her on the forehead. Her eyes are so sad that she almost wants to pick up the pancakes, one, two, three and stuff them down. She almost wants to, but her waist, they have destroyed her waist.
She walks up to her room and puts a movie on. She lies down, sit ups. She does a hundred. she does bicycles and squats. She has the energy, all that food that she has consumed will see her through a whole two weeks of exercise. Before she went in, she could only do fifty sit ups.
She has a shower, her heart beating fast, her body happy. She weighs herself again. Nothing much has changed. It’s alright, she has time, all the days that stretch out before her will be used to get thin. Nothing else. She takes a nap.
“Darling, daddy’s here. Come down for lunch.” Mum calls out.
How will she not eat in front of dad, he gets angry, bangs the table and threatens.
“Hi dad.” She says.
“Baby. You look so much better. Sorry I missed your homecoming. Look at you. Ha-ha almost back to my little girl.” He kisses her cheek. But his eyes are sad too. She will have to eat something.
“Let’s sit outside, I’ve set everything up.” Mum says.
They sit. There is the salad, oozing with dressing, lettuce drenched. She counts the calories in just one bite of that. She looks at the coke. She could drink that but not yet.
“Here baby. This looks nice mother.”
“Yes, her favorite. Remember this is all you sued to eat in high school, wouldn’t touch any other salad.”
“Hm.” She says.
She eats a lettuce leaf and almost cries. She eats more and now she does cry.
“God damit, you were there for weeks, you have put on weight, no dark marks under your eyes. We did all that fucking therapy. I thought we were past this now. Don’t you want a life, what a fucking waste. Mother say something.”
“I’m sorry daddy. I just can’t.”
She runs upstairs and into the bathroom, her toilet bowl is splattered with lettuce.
They don’t understand. They never will. She does have a life, this is her life.
She locks her door and takes out her phone. She logs back into her group.
-Hi guys, I am back from hell.
Judy van Niekerk stood at her full length mirror in her bedroom. She was wearing the Springbok rugby shirt Darrel had bought her last weekend especially for today’s rugby game. She pulled at the sides of the shirt, trying to desperately stretch it out. It showed the three rolls of fat around her belly and her bust almost burst out of the V-neck. How horribly cruel Darrel was, she thought. He always insisted on buying most of her clothing and they were always a size too small. Was he trying to say something? Loose weight or go around looking like her clothes were getting too small. So she wore the same clothes almost every day, the ones she had bought herself. She looked at herself again, maybe she should lose some weight. Judy stifled a sob, putting her hand to her mouth. She should not cry, her face became red with blotches on her cheeks when she did. Darrel would notice and admonish her for it.
Darrel had a few people coming over for the match today. South Africa was playing England in the Rugby world cup final. She was dreading the guests, they were not really her friends, they were his. Her friends from her Pilates classes did not watch rugby. They had a book club she went to once a week.
Judy wished that they could just all go and watch it at a bar or sports club like normal sports fanatics. And Darrel was obnoxious when he watched sports. He drank too much and got loud and verbally abusive.
She changed her pants. Black jeans. They would make her look slimmer. She examined her hair, it was thinning out, she should have washed and blow dried it. She tied it into a tight bun.
“Judy man!” Darrel shouted.
“Coming.” She replied.
She walked out to the back stoep, in quick little steps. The kids were in the pool and they were splashing and squealing. She stared at them. Feeling nothing when she knew she should at least smile or call out pleasantries.
“Can you start on the marinades man Judy. Don’t just stand there.”
“Yah! Ok. Sure.”
She walked into the kitchen. Which was now a mess of plastic trays, bloody from the meat. Why could he never clean up after himself. The bafoon. She began tidying up. Once thrown away, she cleaned the surfaces, heavy on the Jik. She loved the smell of Jik. She marinated the chicken and chops.
In the top cupboard, where the children could not reach, she took down a chocolate bar. She bit into two rows at once. The chocolate landed softly in her stomach.
“The beer-bread. Where is it?”
“Uh.” Judy said, swallowing another two lines of chocolate.
“Stop eating and get the beers in the fridge. It’s almost time.”
It was mid-morning and the guests would be arriving soon. Judy scuttled, organizing the food and snacks. Putting the beer in the fridge and throwing away plastic. We should recycle more, she deduced and shrugged. Darrel had already polished off a six pack. He stood by the braai area fanning the coals. Coals where better than ‘the electric shit’, he had once said. She reached for another bar of chocolate. Munching quickly this time. Barely allowing it to melt on her tongue.
“Darrel. Do you want another beer?”
“That’s great. Judy sort the kids out please, and I don’t want them running around when the game starts.”
She went inside to fetch some towels.
“Come guys, out.”
“Last ten minutes.” They said.
“Come now. Your Pa said so.”
They left the pool reluctantly and took the towels from her and ran inside.
The house had green streamers everywhere and green confetti. What a load of nonsense this was. She looked at her husband and wished at least they were like Anika and her Dutch husband Henry, the perfect couple in every way. Slim, full heads of blonde hair, and tanned. They would never put these kinds of decorations in their house. She sighed and decided that she would change the Springbok shirt and wear one of Darrel’s, it would fit better.
“Judy, why did you change? What was wrong with the other shirt?”
“It was too small Darrel.”
“Too small?” he looked confused.
“I bought it in your size. How could it have been too small. You look frumpy now.”
Judy sighed, she was not going to change. She tucked the shirt in.
“Ag no man!” Darrel said exasperated. “If you insist on looking like that, at least put some make up on. Really Judy. What will people think.”
He behaved as if he was the good looking one in the marriage. His hair was balding, he was medium height and he had a beer belly. His beard made him look like a farmer who had lost all interest in appearances. At least she was younger than him, by twelve years. She took the chocolate from her pocket bit into it.
“I hope we win hey.” Darrel said.
“I said yes. It would be nice.”
“Nice? We are only in the finals here, we need this win. We need to show those English bastards that we are better… We need…” he trailed off gazing upwards. “Yeah, anyway.”
She did hope they won. For his sake and hers.
“We’ll be fine.” She replied.
“This fire is good and ready, not too hot. I will braai after the guests arrived.”
It was all too early for this. Judy thought. Meat, beer, spirits. She wished she could be firm in her stance to be vegetarian. None of their, his friends were, and she always found herself eating the meat disgustedly at these gatherings. “You don’t eat meat? Why?” was always the common question. So she had stopped saying she was a vegetarian. She was only vegetarian with her friends from Pilates and when they did not have visitors. Her parents or in-laws did not understand either. She belonged to a culture of meat eating, braaiing and potjies. Darrel used to turn red when she announced she could not eat a sosatie or boerewors. “Why do you have to be so difficult” he would tell her later.
Now she looked at all the meat on the table and felt nauseous.
The doorbell rang. The guests where here.
Sehonghong Health Care Centre was not close, but it was also the best health facility they had near to her home. Winter was coming and she wanted to get there earlier this year to get vitamins and cough syrup for her children. As well as her own medication. She woke up at three and lighted her candle. It had been a good month, she had been able to save up more money than usual. The woman she worked for in her town at the tourist centre had given her a raise. She had not expected it and had been surprised at the generosity. Now she had more maloti this month to get the medication she needed.
Her sister lived in Cape Town and she had been generous this month as well. She had sent her a thousand Rands to help cloth the kids for the winter. God was truly great! As she went to wash her face and wake the children, she smiled. Sometimes things worked out for the best. Today she would shop. She had not shopped for anything other than food for months. The children slept soundly in the corner of their two-roomed house. She did not want to wake them up. They looked so peaceful.
She shook them gently and whispered good morning. Her youngest daughter, always with a smile woke and looked up at her. She was a gentle child and always did as she was told. Thabe shook her eldest, she grumbled and complained as she woke up. She was leaving them with her neighbour today as she wanted to have the day to herself. The girls would only grumble at how far they would have to walk. It was ten kilometers to the town, sometimes one got a lift if you left early but more likely not.
The girls ate their breakfast silently and sleepily. Thabe could have left them alone at home but they were too young. Her eldest was only eight and her youngest three. A full day alone would be too much for them to handle. The ques at the health centre could be atrocious and sometimes take half a day, even when you arrived early. Doctors were not always available and nurses where in bad moods. The amount of people they had to cater for did not help their mood.
Thabe walked the children to Ma Abagail’s. She welcomed the children with a smile and told Thabe to take her time. Thabe took the list of things Ma Abagail wanted from town. She would use her own money to buy them, as a thank you. She started down the road and started coughing. The coughing racked her lungs and she had to stop and gather her breath for a while. She had TB. The drugs they had given her did not seem to be working and she wondered why. Her anti-retrovirals were also not working. Three months ago, when she had gone to the health centre, they had told her that she needed a second line treatment.
She had tried to understand what the doctor had said to her, but she had never been past grade seven to understand some of the terminologies. The drugs were not working that was all she knew. She had to go to Paray to get the new drugs that she needed. She did not know how she would do this. It was far away and she was lucky enough to get a day off today. She depended on Ma Abagail too much with the children. She was an old woman and sick herself. As she walked down the dusty road, she pulled her jersey closer to her. There were so many things that she had to think about. She was scared for her children; no father and their relatives had shunned them. Living with this disease did not make it any easier. She had contracted it from her husband, but she had no ill feelings towards him. He was a man and he strayed, it happened to so many women. She was just a face among millions.
She heard a truck coming along the dirt road. She moved back out of the way and held up her hand. “Mama sorry. I have no space for you today.”
“I can sit with goat’s baba I don’t mind. It is better than walking.”
“Are you sure? It is smelly back there and it looks like you are going to town?”
“Eh yes, but I don’t mind.”
“Ok come in then. But we are turning off a few kilometres from town.”
“At least it is something. I don’t mind.”
She climbed into the back of the truck. There were five goats packed in at the back and there was already excrement on the floors. It did not smell well. She took of her jersey and sat right in the corner. She should have brought her winter jacket. It was cold.
The truck racked on and moved slowly ahead, and she coughed as they hit some bumps. She really hoped they could help her with some medication this month. Her children had been spared the disease and if nothing else, that was a kind blessing. She was grateful for it. She thought about her sister. Apart from the money she had been sending, she had told her that she had a new man in her life and had a home and security she had always wanted. Thabe had been relieved and had told her about her status. Her sister had not been to Lesotho in years, so she would not have known what had happened. Maybe through relatives but those people gossiped about rubbish.
“Thabe! So that is how your husband had died? Why did you not tell me?”
“Well you know people had been saying that he was bewitched. You heard how it was in the end. He went a bit insane. At some point he ran stark naked in the village. People were not impressed.”
“Yes, I know sis, but you should have told me.”
“But how could I begin. It is not something you tell everyone.”
“I am your only sister. And you know nana all our brothers died of it.”
“Yes and look how the community treated them. Anyway, I did not want to add to your troubles. I know you work very hard there.”
“Always the modest one eh. Are you on treatment?”
“Not yet sis. The healthcare is far away and my job.”
“Your job will understand. You have to get treatment. People live a long time with this disease now and you can see your girls grow up.”
That was a year ago, she had taken her sisters advice and began treatment. But sometimes Thabe thought that it was too late. She was always sick. She was happy that her sister was settled. If things got worse they could always go to her. The truck stopped and she climbed out.
“Ok mama. Have fun in town.”
She gave them a weak smile. But yes, today she would have fun. Be carefree and not think about her problems. She put her jersey on and started up the dirt path.
Abigail opened the front door and stood in her doorway. The house was dark, and she turned to her left to switch on the passage light. Light flooded the passage, but it was not welcoming, instead she could see the dust that had covered the table where she put her keys and the small bookshelf. The house was dusty everywhere. She had not cleaned or moved anything in the house for weeks. She walked to the table and put her keys in the bowl. She closed the front door and double locked it. She walked to the door that lead into the lounge. It was pitch dark in there and she again turned to her left and put the lights on there. Her eyes went straight to the chair. It sat in the corner of the room at an angle, so you could see the television from there.
The chair seemed to take up all the space. It was not a big chair and it was really nothing to look at, it had floral patterns on it and the cushion was squashed in a manner that suggested that someone had been sitting in it for a long time. She hated the way it sat there invitingly waiting for someone to sit on it. she hated that like herself, it was waiting for her husband to come back home. He had loved the chair and had had it since he had been a young man. He had sat in it while watching television, while eating sometimes and all those long nights patting the children’s back as he put them to sleep. He would sit with their children on that chair and read them stories at night. He would sit in while watching sports or while he had a something serious to say. Of course, the children were gone now and all she thought she had left was that chair and the memories it kept.
Abigail walked to the chair and sat down in it. She had not done this in a long time, sit on that chair. Whenever her husband was not around she would curl up and read in the chair, always with her feet tucked under her and a cup of tea sitting close by to the chairs handmaiden, the little table on the right. She sat down and sank deep in the chair. She tucked her feet underneath her and her toes found the spot, it was a small rip on the inside of the chair. She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw. Tears started forming in her eyes and all she wanted to do was cry. But she knew if she did that she would never stop. So, she swallowed her hurt but her jaw remained clenched.
With her eyes closed, she thought back to that day. The day she had started hating the chair. She had been out shopping and she came home and found her husband as usual, sitting in the chair. What day was that? Oh yes, a Saturday. She always shopped early on a Saturday. As she had passed the living room door to head to the kitchen at the back of the house, she had greeted him, and he had looked up from his paper and smiled at her. She blew him a kiss and continued to the kitchen. She had put the kettle on to boil and she was going to make some bacon and eggs. She had prepared a tray with their breakfast and coffee. They would sit and eat breakfast in the lounge as they did most Saturdays. She had sang as she worked setting up the breakfast. She looked forward to the day and later they would go for a long walk. Saturdays in their home, was a time of rest and general lying around. Ever since their children had left, they never bothered so much with the dinning room, unless they had visitors.
She had gotten their tray and smiling, she walked to the lounge. “breakfast is early today my love”, she had said. she had been balancing the tray on one hand so that she could be able to put it down on the table as she moved a few books. He was quiet. She looked towards the chair. Slowly, she lay the tray on the table and she had had a shiver. The room had turned ice cold and her heart was pounding and she felt as though she could not breathe. He looked so peaceful sitting there on the chair. His eyes were closed, and his face did not show any signs of pain. The only tell-tale sign was the way his hands slumped to his sides and the newspaper lay scattered on the floor. She knew then that he had died.
The shock of it sent her to the floor and she kneeled on the carpet looking up at him, her heart felt ripped out and her strength had all but left her. Why hadn’t he made a noise, why hadn’t he called out to her. It seemed like he had just slipped away. He had slipped away from her as she had made breakfast. Of all the things.
Later when they came to take him away, they said it had been a heart attack and he most likely had not suffered much.
She opened her eyes and looked at the table in front of her. She put her head down and smelt his him, sometimes, she thought he haunted this house. She felt as though he stull sat there day and night. She thought this because she could still smell him.
She lay her head on the arm rest. They say people could never really die of a broken heart. But as she sat there she knew it was not true. People could die of a broken heart all right and hers was dying. He had been everything to her and they had done everything together and now all she had was this chair. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.
when her daughter found her two days later because she had not been answering the phone, she was still in that same position. Legs tucked in, head on the arm rest and she looked like she had just fallen asleep.
The children sold the house and as they were going through the furniture in the house, Abigail’s daughter said of the chair “its old and it smells, I don’t know why mum and dad kept it all these years. And to have them both die in it. Well that’s just plain creepy. We should just burn it.” The children burned the chair.
We have a new tenant in our servant’s quarters, the Chansa’s. They have two children, a boy and a girl twins. The servant’s quarters has not been lived in since we arrived at this house two years ago. So the day before they moved in we had to do some serious cleaning. The servant’s quarters has two rooms. One used as a bedroom and another as a dining room/kitchen/sitting room. The shower and the toilets are outside. The toilet is not really a toilet but it is rather a hole in the ground and you have to be careful when you are showering not to fall into the hole. My father had tried to fix the shower head but the pipes are jammed and no water comes out. They use a bucket to bathe now.
The Chansa’s are nice, but they do not let their children play with us. Their father, when he is at home spends his time in their little yard by the house reading bible stories to his children. Even though they live at the servant’s quarters, they are always clean and we look like street children next to them. We are not allowed by my father to play near their house and he says to leave them in peace.
My father met the Chansa’s at the new church we now go to.my father and mother leave before us too. I walk there with a few kids from my neighbourhood. It is not a church built from bricks but it is tent. It is across the great north road in a shanty about a fifteen minute walk from our house. The Chansa’s are deacons in the church and always at church most evenings and they leave early every morning on Sundays to get there before the congregation arrives. So we never go with them and their children.
The church tent is very hot and humid. Even early on Sunday mornings. We usually arrive a bit late, but I don’t mind. The singing starts early and last for more than an hour and people scream and shout and praise God. Everyone wants to be seen there and some people are so zealous they walk around the pews touching other people speaking in tongues and gesturing wildly. I usually sing along, obviously but I have never felt the spirit like the others and I have never spoken in tongues. I have always been a sceptical child. When people hear a favourite hymn, some dance around and dust gathers in the tent and it goes in your eyes.
After the singing and shouting, we all sit down to hear the word. There are a few pastors there and for everyone’s benefit, they preach in English. This is so that they do not have to translate the sermon into several languages. The preaching usually lasts up to two hours. It gets hotter and hotter as the morning goes by. Sometimes I listen to the sermon and sometimes I just watch people’s faces and their reactions to the message. There are always some who stand up and shout “halleluiah, yes Jesus!”.
After the sermon we usually have to stand and all the people who are sick, lame or have demons are ordered to go to the front. We sit and the preaching resumes as people are prayed for and demons cast out. Usually at this time the children are allowed to go outside and play and wait for their parents. My parents never stay too long after this and leave after the sermon. They insist we stay. I don’t know why, because we could just then walk with them. We get very hungry. That is the one thing I cannot stand, it’s the dust, the heat and hunger.
One particular Sunday, we were walking home from the tent church, when the Chansa’s children joined us. They never joined us. And they told us that their parents were on an important mission that Sunday and they should go home with us. We started walking home. Now the walk home is alright because we know that there will be ubwali and chicken waiting for us. With our stomachs grumbling, it is a great treat. But before we have to cross the great north road to get to our side of the neighbourhood, we have to pass this one house. They have two of the most vicious dogs you have ever seen. Usually the dogs just bark from the gate and don not chase us. But we saw that this time, the owner must have forgotten to close the gate. We could not hear any barks and we crept by slowly trying not to wake the dogs in case they were sleeping. We managed to pass by the gate. But as soon as we reached the corner we heard barks. “run!” someone shouted. And we did. It’s a good few hundred meters to the main road from there and we ran with everything we had. But the road was coming up and we would have to stop. Luckily we heard a whistle and the dogs retreated. We were getting tired of running, and vowed to find another route to get home. We were five kids in total.
As we crossed the big road safely, the Chansa’s girl said, “me and my brother can show you how to pray so that those dogs never chase you again. You guys probably have demons in you and they smell it.”
I laughed and looked around at the others. They were not laughing.
“Really?” Dala said.
“Sure why don’t you guys come to our house now and we can pray. Our father and mother are prayer warriors and they have shown us how to do it.”
It seemed that some of my friends had forgotten how hungry we were and all readily agreed to go to the Chansa’s and engage in this prayer. I was sceptical and worried that a bunch of kids were going to cast out demons. I followed everyone anyway.
We got through to our back yard and my mother and aunt were busy plucking some chickens. They saw us and just waved. We walked waved and walked through to the Chansa’s place and the girl showed us in.
In their main room, there were two chairs and in the corner of the room there was a table. It had the cross on it with Jesus and there were candles all wound it. Those candles looked very used. The only light in the room was the naked lightbulb hanging close above our heads. There was no window in this room and it gave it an eerie sort of feel.
“Ok everyone we will hold hands and stand in a circle. If you feel the spirit compels you, you can speak in tongues.” The girl said.
So we started praying. Each saying their own things. I kept my eyes opened and I saw that everyone was really into it. A few kids had started speaking in tongues and soon everyone was. I tried to but all that came out was gibberish. I grew more sceptical. Suddenly I caught the eye of the girl, she was staring at me. She smiled and walked towards me and she shouted,
“Come out demon, come out!”
She lay her hands on my head. Her hands were clammy and hot.
“she has the demon!” she said
All the kids came up to me and some were shaking and going on. I don’t know if it was the heat combined with the hunger, but I started swaying and my feet felt light as though they were just touching the ground. I fell to the ground and I must have blacked out.
“Are you ok?” it was Dala. He had his face right down next to mine and was checking if I was breathing.
“I am fine. what happened?”
“The demon you had in you has left you. You are free now.” the girl said. Everyone clapped and cheered and they got me up. I was confused and I could not tell you to this day if they had been right or not. The girl placed a hand on my chest and said something under her breath. She opened her eyes and smiled at me. She had a wild look about her and I moved her hand away.
“Our parents will be back soon. You have to leave now.” she said.
We left, each kid went to their own house. I walked towards my mother and aunt who were now frying the chicken at the mbaula’s.
She woke up just as the alarm went off. As she opened her eyes she reached out to get her phone and switch the alarm off. She always battelled to get up. She looked at the time and let out a huge sigh.
It is not that Rosalinda was unhappy with her life. But it was with much contention that she realised that the time had come when she was past the time in her life when she could be something new. Get a new career or study to be a veterinarian like she always wanted.
Ever since she was a child growing up in the Free State, she had loved animals. Her father had raised cattle and farmed. Rosalinda was able to see first hand how cattle bore their young and she was there when animals died. None of it had bothered her, life and death meant the same thing. It was a time to celebrate as some things begin and some end. As Rosalinda grew older her father had seen her potential to care for animals and he had let her deal with ailments and general care around the farm. It had been a great time for her. However, Rosalinda was not a gifted child or even average in class. She did badly at every subject. It was not until much later that they discovered that she was dyslexic amongst other things. She had managed to go through school on the bare minimal. When she matriculated, her marks were not good enough for her to go and study further.
Her father did not agree with the school system at all, he thought his only child had been cheated. He had raised her himself, her mother had died shortly after child birth. He thought Rosalinda to be bright and intuitive child. She was able to identify plant species anywhere in the bush when he would let her go hunting or fishing with him. Although he was angry that Rosalinda would not be able to be a Veterinarian like she wanted, if he was being honest with himself, he knew that she had never been able to read well, spell or do maths. He had never been discouraged by this when she was a child but as she grew older he was content that she managed to pass a grade. He had told her all of this when he had been on his death bed, lung cancer and he had never smoked a day in his life.
She turned over in her bed and stared at the empty space besides her. Her husband was already up. She would start the day with a hearty breakfast and she would call her husband to join her. She was a woman with a huge appetite, especially in the mornings. She always had to have a good fried eggs, fried potatoes nests and bacon sausages. Maybe she would eat a fruit every now and then. She was not worried about her figure anymore. She thought herself lucky that she was able to at least stay the same size for over ten years. If it aint broke why fix it, she would tell herself.
She went into the kitchen and got pans out on the ready. As she made the breakfast, she stared out of the window every now and then, she noticed just how isolated she was and she wished they would get better security. Not only was it not safe but their animals could get out of their enclosures and cause them serious harm. They had been at this farm now for ten years. They raised and rescued cheetahs. So she was able to work with animals like she always wanted. Except her husband never really let her do much work with the animals. He thought she was not smart enough to handle as he put it ‘complicated stuff’. He had always treated her with contempt and had once told her that he had only married her for her father’s farm. That was when they had lived at her father’s farm.
She had met him at a braai a few months before they had gotten married. She had been swept away with the attention he had given her. He had brought her to meet his friends after their third date and he had gushed about how he had found the best boer woman in the Free State. She had been impressed at the kind of attention he got from everyone and had agreed to marry him straight away.
The marriage, a disaster, and yet he had never divorced her. Even after they lost the farm. They had settled into a quiet rhythm and somehow managed never to be in the same room at the same time except when she cooked. He seemed to enjoy her cooking.
When she had set the table, she called him in. He washed his hands and sat down to eat. They ate in silence. When he was done he looked up at her.
“Don’t forget. A few people are coming for the cheetah tour today. You are doing the presentation. Do not mess it up. It is a big group and we are getting a lot of money for it.” And he left.
She looked down at her food and scratched her varicose veined legs. She continued eating and thought about how she was going to survive this day.
My weave has turned into a beehive and I know Alude is not going to be happy with me. I have been putting off going for a retouch for days. I am excited as I drive to the hair salon, I need my scalp to breathe again. I pat my hair in several places, weaves get so itchy. I have been using a knitting needle to get to my scalp and scratch.
The salon I go to is your typical black hair salon. It has the smell of burnt hair, which you wonder if it will survive being cremated like that. It has the little girls who’s hair is being pulled so tight and she looks as if she would cry any minute. It has your Nigerian guy who cuts hair fall day long. This guy will usually play the most outrageous tunes you have heard of, and usually only he understands the lyrics. There is also the one hair dresser who sits and gossips but never seems to have any clients. And then there is the nail lady, applying so much nail glue your need pliars to pry them apart.
I usually do not do weaves, but I was somehow talked in to it by my hair dresser Alude. “It will look nice and you won’t have to worry about combing and blow-drying”, I agreed and we settled on a style that would suite me. Alude is young and judging by the accent and language I would say she is from Zimbabwe. She has a great touch and is at times overly friendly. One would not mind this so much, she is nice. But I have awkward moments when I have to speak with people. But she seems to understand this, and she does my hair in silence so I do not feel I have to engage.
I walk into the salon and I am greeted with a waft of hair products. The television is off today. Sometimes it is on and they will usually put on MTV base, today there is only the sound of Nigerian music coming from the barbers corner.
All the women greet me in unison and I walk straight to Alude. She is eating Russian sausage. She wipes her hands and gets up to greet me. I wonder if she will wash them before getting to work on my hair.
“Long time. come and sit down.” It has only been two weeks since I last came. But I am used to it, the women always say that to everyone, “long time” ,whenever you come back. Even if it has only been a few days.
I sit down in the swivel chair and explain what I want done. I look at myself in the mirrors ahead of me. The whole salon is adorned with mirrors all across the room. Its hard to run away from your reflection here. Last time I was here. I looked like a real mess. No foundation and my hair was uncombed. The reflection I got from them was not pretty.
“I am going to wash your hair and then put you under the dryer ok” she puts a towel around my shoulders. I notice she did not wash her hands after eating. And I also wonder about the towel. I always wonder about the towel, how many shoulders does it drape before being washed. I put the thought from my mind and concentrate on my reflection. My weave is a mess and Alude holds it up from the back for me to see.
“You have not combed the back in a while have you? Its ok most people have clumps at the back. Come on lets go and wash.”
We walk over to the washing station. It is at the back of the room and there are two sinks. I sit down and try and make myself comfortable. It is always tricky because the chairs are way too low and you have to sort of cock your head backwards in a weird angle. This is important or else the water goes down your back and you get wet. I find a position and enjoy having my hair washed.
“It is very tangled. But don’t worry I will have it looking smooth again”, I smile and hope so. This hair cost me a pretty penny and I have not exactly been taking care of it well. We finish up and I am directed to the hair dryer. The hair dryer is by the hair washing station. So close in fact I will be able to watch people coming through to wash their hair.
The dryer goes on and I settle into a comfortable position. To dry this hair, it will take a while. I look around the salon. There are only two hair dressers who are busy. One lady is dressed in jeans and really high heels. Red heels. I have not seen her before, she must be new. Her shirt is tight over her midriff and I am not really sure how she got those pants on. She is busy curling someone’s weave. Every now and then she does a dance to the music. She is quite impressive actually. She starts speaking to the hair dresser next to her.
“Eh, you know I do not feel so great today. I had Amarula last night.” She does not look like a person who is hangover. But then again, she has a thick layer of foundation on, her eyebrows looked tattooed on and are massive. She has red lipstick and blush. She does another foot step dance and laughs, her red heels clicking. The others laugh with her and all offer an opinion on the dangers of drinking amarula.
It is still early so most of the hairdressers have no clients. Every time someone paces by the salon, one of them shouts out, “come! come in! we will make you beautiful.” They all say it just like that, as if it’s the slogan they were taught by the owner to use. No one steps at present steps in, they just stare and walk by. Two hairdressers start conversing.
“You, you said you would do my hair. I do your hair always and you won’t do mine. That is not fare.”
“I told you I had a client and I could not leave them to help you.”
“That’s what you always say. You and your clients. You must do the favour back. I did your hair. Look at my hair now. I have nothing in it. It is dry and breaking.”
“I can’t do your hair now. maybe another time. I have a client..”
“Again about clients.” She turns to red heels and utters something to her I cannot hear. She looks very angry. She looks like the kind of woman you would not dare to cross. But the other woman just takes out her phone and takes a call. She walks out of the salon. The scary woman clicks her tongue several times and puts up her feet. She remains quiet looking sullen and patting her hair.
By this time a few people have walked in. I listen and notice they each wanted different things. Phones were taken out to show the hairdressers what they wanted. The woman closest to me wants braids and have them placed on top of her head in a swirl like manner. Her hairdressers walks to another to ask how this can be done. Most of the other women seem to want weaves. There is a flurry of activity and the women get to work. It is almost lunch time though. A few of the women get up to go and buy lunch, including red heels. She walks out dancing again. Heels clicking again.
I have been in the dryer for a while now and I am beginning to get impatient.
Red heels returns with a few other women with their food. Without even considering hair flying around, some of them settle down to eat. Through the mirrors I can see some exasperated faces. You always just want your hairdresser to get on with it and not stop. It already takes too long. The smell of fish, chips and chicken overtakes the salon.
I am starting to get a cramp in my neck from holding my head up to the dryer. I shift around. Alude comes to check on my hair and declares it still wet. A few more minutes she says. I return to staring at people. The lunch smells are making me hungry. Lunch is eaten quickly and boxes thrown out. Conversation and work begins again. Some of the women are conversing so quietly I cannot really follow what they are saying, some converse in Chichewa and Shona. I close my eyes for a bit. It would be so nice to have a nap. But I might slide out of the dryer. I continue watching.
The Nigerian barbers are the busiest, they just cut hair one after the other. They have also changed the music. They are now playing UB40, and I hear one of them signing along to Kingston Town. I love that song. The mood is light and everyone is busy.
Finally I am done and we walk to Alude’s station and she begins her untangling mission. She blow dry’s my hair and stiches back any loose hair. I close my eyes and enjoy the music.
“There your hair can breathe now. You are done my dear.” She says dear as though she was speaking to a little girl. She combs it and I look. It is great she always does a great job. I pay her. Look around the salon and wave at the ladies. Until the next time.
It is not as bad as everyone says it is really. I rehearsed that phrase for at least ten times. That was what I was going to say to my family this afternoon when they came to visit me. I lit my fourth cigarette. It is so weird that when certain things are taken away from you and all you have is smoking, you do it a lot. And I mean a lot. Smoking is the only thing that keeps the time moving, a welcome distraction. It also helps with the nerves of being in this place. I do not know when was the last time that I was calm enough to breathe properly. With smoking, it slows you down a bit and you breathe normally for a while. That’s my reason anyway and I guess I am sticking to it.
I am not alone in the courtyard. No one is ever alone here. There is a girl in the corner and she seems to be reading something. I have never introduced myself to her so I do not know her name. She is so thin I can see her ribs sticking out from the heavy coat that she is wearing. Well she is always wearing that thing. She must be cold all the time. She is the worst to watch when we eat. I sat down opposite her once and I could not help watching how she ate. She sliced the egg into such a tiny piece I thought it was a mistake. But she put it in her mouth anyways. But the way she put it in her mouth was strange. She seemed to lay it on her tongue and tried not to have it touch her lips. She then closed her eyes and began to chew. Her eyelids were moving as if she was really trying to concentrate. She could have been counting. I tried to eat but she kept doing the same thing. By the time I was done, she had managed to eat a mouthful for a normal person. She had then left the table. I have never sat down next to her again, it is frustrating. I am sure she has her reasons but I do not need to watch her do that.
“Hey, can I have a skafe?”
“Hey man. Who calls it a skafe anymore.”
I turned to look at skip. Skip has been here longer than I have. He is tall and always wears the same sweatshirt. I always wonder if it ever goes in the wash. He was just wearing it this morning when we were doing exercises. I do not know why they call him skip. I have never asked and he has never volunteered to tell me. Skip is one of the few people here that I can have a smoke with, without losing my mind. Most of the time when they put him on new medication, he seems to bounce off the walls. But It usually only lasts for a few days. And then he is back to his normal state of stooping and skulking when he walks. This has happened a few times that I have been here. His mood swings. I heard some girls gossiping about him in the Television room. Apparently he is a special case, he does not respond to medication for too long. It works for a while and then the shrinks are back on the drawing board. I would not have believed the gossip, but I have seen him change, it is very sad to watch sometimes.
Skip is a good guy though and he has an amazing ability to pick up on people’s moods. When I do not feel like talking, he does not talk either. When I am chatty, he responds.
“Ah well you know me.”
“yeah. Born too late.”
I handed him a cigarette. And I had one question to ask him.
“skip. How long have you been here?”
“what? Are you serious?”
I looked at him for a moment and he looked back at me and just shrugged.
“That is a long time skip. Don’t you want to go home?”
“Sure I do. But I have to stay here until they can sort me out.”
“Like a suicide watch?”
“Something like that.”
“That’s heavy man. I had no idea.”
He looked down at his shoes as he smoked. I was leaving in a few months and that was hard enough, but two years was a long time. He must have been through a few groups of nut cases in this place. He must have seen it all.
The cigarette I was smoking suddenly made me feel weak and nauseous. I had to go and get ready for my families visit.
“Have to go skip. See you later? I might be getting more smokes later.”
I walked away laughing.
To get to our rooms from the smoker’s yard, one must go through the dining area. I walked past the table for tea and grabbed an apple. That’s the other thing. When I am not smoking, I am eating a lot. I am sure I have gained shit loads. Anyways that’s the least of my worries. I walked through the dining area and started climbing the stairs to get to the third floor. There was a lift but I am very sceptical of them. I always imagine being trapped in there. Suffocating! Stairs where ok, the exercise was good. I rounded up to the second floor when I met Mildred. Mildred lives on the second floor. The second floor is reserved for manics. Mildred is not just manic, she is all sorts of things in my opinion. I have seen her walking the hall ways naked. She talks a lot too. All night long sometimes you can hear her muttering and pacing the walls, until one of the nurses gets fed up probably and gives her a shot. She always screams and then you hear silence. The walls are very thin in this place.
“I saw him today.” She grabbed my hand. She had a tight grip.
“Finally, you saw him. Good for you Mildred. I am sure he was happy to see you”
“Yes very. Look you must come tonight. He will be back.” She looked around.
Sarcasm was completely lost on this girl. I yanked my hand away and she grabbed it again.
“They don’t want me to see him you know.”
“Mildred!” One of the nurses was coming down the flight of stairs. Mildred looked up at her and ran away.
“Are you ok dear?”
“I am fine she didn’t hurt me. Excuse me.”
I walked around her and bounded up the last flight of stairs. I walked past the television room and headed for the nurse’s station. I was hoping they could give me something to calm my nerves. My family was coming and I was getting nervous.
“Hi sis Doreen. It is almost my medication time and you know my family is coming right? Can I have it early today?”
Once you have been here for a while, you start appreciating medication time. They dose us up pretty good in here. The afternoon medication is the best. You can just sit in the television room and be a bit mindless for a few.
“Sweetie, it is your lucky day. Since this is your first family visit. I will help you out my lovey.”
“ooooh thank you.”
She went to the back room to get my medication. This visit was not going to be so bad after all. I took the pills and swallowed gratefully. I went to my room and put the shower on. As it steamed up. I undressed. As I lifted my shirt I was shocked to find I had no hair. I looked in the mirror. Yep I was bold, freshly shaved this morning. The medication works quickly. I smiled and thought yeah! It is not that bad here.