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Beginnings of a Dream

Beginnings of a Dream

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Published by LittleWhiteBakkie
Short stories by Zachariah Rapola. Published by Jacana Media. Winner of the 2008 Noma Award for African Publishing.
http://www.jacana.co.za
http://jacana.book.co.za/blog
http://lwb.book.co.za/blog
Short stories by Zachariah Rapola. Published by Jacana Media. Winner of the 2008 Noma Award for African Publishing.
http://www.jacana.co.za
http://jacana.book.co.za/blog
http://lwb.book.co.za/blog

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Published by: LittleWhiteBakkie on Nov 03, 2009
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Sections

  • BEGINNINGS OF A DREAM
  • FRAGMENTS OF A DREAM
  • RITUALS FOR MARTHA
  • LAST PARADE AT GOLGOTHA
  • STREET FEATURES
  • A SOOTHSAYER’S DEPOSIT
  • WHEN A NAME AWAKES
  • ARUNAH’S JIGSAW PUZZLE
  • ALLEY-ALLEY, WHERE IS MY LOVER?
  • LESIBA THE CALLIGRAPHER
  • EPILOGUE

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C M Y CM MY CY CMY K
Beginnings of a Dream
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Beg_of_Dreams.indd 2 3/29/07 2:52:52 PM
Beginnings of a
Dream
Zachariah Rapola
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Some of the stories in this collection have appeared previously in
the following publications:
Mayibuye, Tribute, Botsotso, Imprint, Staffrider, Running Towards Us –
New Writing from South Africa, Unity in Flight, Oprud, Post Traumatic,
and Words Gone Too Soon.
First published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2007
10 Orange Street
Sunnyside
Auckland Park 2092
South Africa
+2711 628 3200
www.jacana.co.za
© Zachariah Rapola, 2007
All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-1-77009-210-5
Cover design by Michiel Botha
Set in Bembo 10/12pt
Printed by CTP Book Printers, Cape Town
Job No. 000281
See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za
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CONTENTS
Introduction ix
Prologue xv
Beginnings of a Dream 1
Fragments of a Dream 31
Rituals for Martha 45
Last Parade at Golgotha 61
Street Features 73
Death and the Palmist (Letter from the dead) 85
A Soothsayer’s Deposit 105
When a Name Awakes 121
Arunah’s Jigsaw Puzzle 133
Alley-Alley, Where is My Lover? 143
Lesiba the Calligrapher 155
Epilogue 179
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DEDICATION
I dedicate this book to my late father
for being generous enough to sow the
dream before leaving.
Agee! Motau, robala o nabe maoto.
Re ka se tsoge re go lebatse, wena ga
mmogo le ba bina Tau ka moka ba
robetsego.
Hle! Le se re furalle, re thekgeng, re feng
matla le bohlale bosego le mosegare
ge re kalokana le go hemahemitshwa ke tsa
lefase la ka keno.
A salute also to my former mentors,
Professor Ezekia Mphahlele,
Nadine Gordimer and the late
Lionel Abrahams for nurturing and tending
to the dream to maturity.
vii
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I NTRODUCTION
Gobane lefatshe ruri le humile ka
marapo a bahu gammogo le digahla
tša marapo a bona le phušuphušu
yeo bogologolong e bego e le marapo
a bona.

For the earth is rich with the bones of
the dead, as well as the remains of their
bones and the powder which in the past
used to be their bones.
– O K Matsepe
With Beginnings of a Dream, Zachariah Rapola
takes the reader into a phantasmagoric world
where streets are paved with human remains, men
are apocalyptically condemned to death by the fre
of their loins, Indian goddesses are reincarnated
as young women who never menstruate and can’t

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stop playing with jigsaw puzzles, and children
are the issue of botched abortions; virgins can no
longer be found in the villages, the wisdom of
elders is ridiculed, and those who commit suicide
are unable to counter the weight of tradition. And
yet, despite recurrent nightmares, the world is also
home to calligraphers, who continue to record
dreams that encompass the past, present, and future
in a sort of Borgesian circularity.
In ‘Street Features’, Rapola personifes a street
in downtown Johannesburg. Everything happens
on it: couples mate, children fy kites, drunkards
brawl, sex workers stroll, pickpockets steal, the
homeless seek refuge. It is a bewitched path; a
snake is said to breathe beneath the street. The
narrative voice observes the changes the street
undergoes over a period of ten years and remarks
on how the street witnesses people’s lives from
childhood to old age, on how many battered souls
leave the city for the rural areas. Palesa, a prostitute
and ‘a weaver of words’, captures the narrator’s
attention, but after he becomes infatuated with
the woman he is unable to disentangle her from
the structure of the place. So she becomes a ‘street
feature’, just like the narrator himself: forever
embedded in its sediments. With a foreboding of
×
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×i
endless repetition, Rapola endows the street with
human qualities while depicting the indissoluble
union between the urban space and people: the
street as witness, fat dwellers as the foodstuff of its
existence.
The absolute certitude that life begins in dream,
that the world beyond is what lends ours a semblance
of reality, and that only the mediation of ancestors
offers a link to the gods – this has seldom been
expressed with the depth of conviction one fnds
in this collection. In the title story, a grandmother
is prevented from dying until her namesake is
born to her youngest daughter; in ‘Fragments
of a Dream’, the celibate main character suffers
not one but three deaths; in ‘Death of a Palmist
(Letter from the Dead)’, a deceased sibling posts
letters from the underworld; and in ‘Lesiba the
Calligrapher’, the most anguished dream is one
where the ability to dream is lost.
While Bloke Modisane infused life into the
disappearing rubble of Sophiatown in Blame Me
on History, K Sello Duiker diverted our gaze from
Table Mountain towards the troubling shadows
it casts in Thirteen Cents, and Phaswane Mpe
embodied the metamorphosis of Johannesburg’s
inner city in Welcome to Our Hillbrow, Rapola is the
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×ii
chronicler of contemporary Alexandra: ‘a giant sea
of darkness that feeds on remnants of frightened
life’.
Beginnings of a Dream bursts the seams of a
township gone haywire. Through surrealist
imagery and a haunting poetic force, we are
exposed to the glare of social collapse; we see the
sores apartheid left in the people who most painfully
experienced it, and for which the post-apartheid
dispensation has, as yet, not offered redress. The
burden is heaviest on children who are the prey
of rapists, on girls driven to clandestine abortions,
on ageing women who have lost the place of
honour traditional society once granted them, on
young men turned into alcoholics by the affiction
of AIDS. At the same time, the viciousness of
place (which refects a vicious history punctuated
by forced removals, overcrowding, poverty and
unemployment) is humanised through Rapola’s
fction. Township ‘gangland’ territory contains
also the mischievous grins of toddlers, the fear of
mothers, the bravado of young boys. ‘Gangland’
is a word that conjures up hard-core images, a
hard, man’s world. People’s faces, their eyes, get
lost in the term. Rapola’s writing, in stories such
as ‘Rituals for Martha’, ‘Last Parade at Golgotha’
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×iii
and ‘Arunah’s Jigsaw Puzzle’, cuts through the
hardness and lets us appreciate from within the
fears of young boys and girls growing up in that
environment, life being short and brutal – and all
the other truisms that pervade conversations in
Alexandra and beyond.
This collection refects Rapola’s relationship
to English as it fuses with his mother tongue and
with colloquial South Africanisms. In some cases,
one cannot say whether the story was originally
written in English or Sepedi. And this carries
with it a linguistic sedimentation that helps re-
invent current South African literary life; in
these stories, the movement from one language to
another occurs seamlessly. It is a narrative suffused
with the reality of linguistic pluralism that young
South African writers enjoy today. The translated
Pedi proverbs, rather than distracting from plot,
provide links to the cultural and literary traditions
Rapola is tapping. More visible, or perhaps just
more immediately recognisable to a westernised
reader, may be the Christian ethos traversing the
collection, as well as the appearance of Greco-
Roman mythological fgures.
Zachariah Rapola fgures prominently among
a new generation of South African writers whose
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×iv
fction brings to life the literary zeitgeist of their
continent. And yet, for all its contemporary
relevance and vibe, Beginnings of a Dream has
at its core a dialogue between the living and
the ancestors that creates a powerful resonance
between the bones of the dead and the echoes of
their survivors.

Isabel Balseiro
Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Professor
of Humanities
Harvey Mudd College
Claremont, California, USA

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×v
PROLOGUE
DREAMERS
dreamers have come & gone
long before the dawn of capital
long before the tide of servitude
dreamers have come & gone
peasant dreamers of long & fugitive
dreams
i have shared in their longings
when bound & shackled skies mocked
their wandering thoughts
peasant dreamers of long & fugitive
dreams
dreamers here & gone
a nomad
nourished on intuition i weaved through
their desires
dreamers here & gone
i have cried & longed too
when they dream of oceans & winds
for i too am a dreamer
a dreamer
of long & fugitive dreams
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1
BEGI NNI NGS OF A DREAM
Birth is the beginning of a dream
a meditative pose over knights and queens
on the tightrope,
a juggle of divining bones
striving to interpret man’s prodigal wanderings
through the Minotaur’s labyrinth…
Birth is the Beginning of a dream… In my old
age, I am able to muse. My grandchildren dismiss
my observations as senile rattling – and how can I
chastise them for their ignorance, when even my
four adult children push aside my accumulated
insights as ‘grandmother’s tales’? Perhaps they are
right, how can I tell? Increasingly, my thoughts are
becoming blurred by dust and drifting winds.
I overheard Thekiso, my sixteen-year-old
grandson, whisper to Itumeleng, his ten-year-
old sister: ‘Hai! Tsamaya, go keep grandmother
company. Can’t you see she is desperate for an
audience?’
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Desperate for an audience! This is how the
insights of my old age are viewed. Trivialised and
trampled upon. Dismissed as bothersome.
Maybe Thekiso is right. I know I am constantly
talking to them – when they are doing their
homework; when they are trying to enjoy their
favourite television and radio programmes. In
regard to interrupting their homework, I too feel I
might be intruding. But I cannot agree with them
when it comes to the other things. For, in my
long years, I have learnt a lot. I have accumulated
knowledge and information, and discovered that
these two instruments, radio and television, offer
nothing good. The parables and wisdom that age
has nurtured in my head are lacking in them, as are
the revelations and inner resourcefulness that rains
and winds have nourished in me. Increasingly, with
the advance of age, I realise that these appliances
are contraptions designed to curb the growth of
inner knowledge.
Innocent grandchildren, how can I chastise
them? Their innocence and ignorance is the
mandatory price of youth.
It is Raisibe whom I cannot forgive. Raisibe,
my frst-born. I could have excused her were she a
boy, for then there might have been a wife whom
2
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I could blame instead, since it is true that wives are
experts at souring relations between mother and
son. The worst was when she called me a witch.
That was seven years ago. I wonder how that
husband of hers copes?
Birth is the beginning of a dream… and a
fragment of that epic dream exploded into a
nightmare in 1980. That is when Madika died.
At sixty-eight, I found myself a widow. Maybe
because we had got so used to each other,
the two of us had started believing in our
immortality. Not that death didn’t visit us; it was
just that we were too stubborn to host him. We
were prepared to sink into the grave together, so
that we might walk side by side in the hereafter. It
is now almost twelve years since Madika’s death.
And here I am, alone. Still, I am grateful for my
luck. Few people can withstand the assaults of old
age as I have. I have also given up counting the
white hairs on my head. And you wonder whether
I am grateful or not – of course I am. But here I
am, all alone in this shadeless world. Occasionally,
I venture outdoors. But a hostile world always sends
me scuttling back into the familiar comfort of the
house. My ears can no longer wander out to visit
different sounds or voices. My eyes, too, no longer
3
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4
can sprint about, entering the sealed windows of
other homes. Only my voice strolls around the
house. Still, my children and grandchildren, like
everyone around me, at times erect walls around
their ears. ‘Oh grandmother, please…’ In my old
age, when the word ‘please’ should be pleasing to
hear, it is now like a needle that pierces the core
of my heart. I blame Raisibe for that. Raisibe is
the worst. On her occasional visits, she uses the
standard: ‘Oh grandmother, please – you’ve had
your breakfast / lunch / supper / snuff… what
more do you want?’
As if I live only for food and snuff. As if I were
not her mother. She surely treats me like her
stepmother – one of those frowned-upon feas that
drain the blood bond between fathers and their
children.
That is why I feel betrayed by Madika. His
sneaking away to the beyond without taking
me. Had death made his advances to me instead,
I certainly would have informed Madika, and
invited him to come along – even dragged him.
‘Hai! Tsamaya, go keep your grandmother
company...’
Thekiso has changed a lot. He has changed for
the worse. It must be that mother of his who is
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5
putting bad things into his head. I remember how
attached the boy was to me. That was until he
turned eleven. Then he discovered the bioscope.
He stopped brewing grandmother’s favourite
coffee; stopped boiling grandmother’s Maltabella
porridge. He didn’t care any more to bring
her warm milk after supper. I spent hours
contemplating these disappointments, and
concluded that old age was a curse.
Looking after my grandchildren is my greatest
pride. Caressing their innocent little faces used to
thrill me. Mother! Foundation rock of the family.
Like the baobab tree, sustaining life throughout
the centuries; stretching out her frm hands to
protect her children, like the bark of the baobab
protects its roots so they don’t get bruised when
drawing water. And Madika is looking after our
children and grandchildren from the beyond – the
world of the ancestors.
I know I will join him. All the meandering
footpaths in this world lead to death. One day I
will escape from this lonely life… this bondage of
old age.
Old age contains a curse, the curse of extreme
loneliness. During the years of supervising the birth
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6
of my grandchildren, I was always looking for the
arrival of my other self, a granddaughter who would
bear my name, thus ensuring my resurrection. I had
seen her in my many visits to the other world, when
dreams transported me to the beyond. On the left
side of her forehead, immediately below the hairline,
there would be a tiny pink spot. A red thread-like
line would cut from her left collarbone down to her
navel. After the birth of each girl, I would strain my
eyes trying to identify these features. But each birth
followed the last without the new arrival sporting
these marks. Then I knew the waiting was going to
be long. But it was a wait worth all my patience, for
I knew the birth would signal my time to depart to
join Madika.
Of late, he had been visiting me frequently, to
give assurances that such a child would come.
Still, I was sceptical. Wasn’t he the same person
who reneged on our promise to depart together?
His visits, though, served to confrm another
thing – the level of my perception. My eyes, in
surrendering my journeys of discovery in this
world, were now attuned to seeing the inviting
doors to the other world.
Sleep is temporary death; Madika told me this
on one visit. For nights after that, I awaited his
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arrival. But he did not reappear. Later, I was to learn
that his non-appearances were a protest against my
quarrel with Raisibe. They are attached, those
two. I understand. Raisibe was our frst child. Her
birth had a great impact on Madika’s life. Already
in his late thirties, he was a notorious skirt-chaser.
I could sense his fear of not fathering a child. That
was clear from the varied aphrodisiacs he drank
before making love. I recall one time he brought
home a litre bottle of bull’s urine. Days later, in a
hidden plastic container, I saw a stallion’s testicles.
Then I saw him eating them raw. Eventually he
started accusing me of being barren. Meanwhile,
his skirt-chasing continued unabated.
It was only when he started chasing fourteen-
and ffteen-year-olds that I became alarmed. Then
he said to me: ‘Wena! Your parents should bring
back half the amount of my lobola. So much for a
wombless thing, e-ehee!’
But Raisibe came, and Madika relaxed.
During his life, Madika favoured Raisibe. This
attachment had to do with Madika’s restored
confdence in his virility. This close bond between
father and daughter was viewed suspiciously, for
in our village fathers were supposed to be closer
to their sons. Also, I suspect our other children
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8
were jealous, since they tended to tease her about
everything.
Madika’s repeated assurances that my other self
would come flled me with pleasure; but there was
also that uneasy feeling that I was waiting for my
vanquisher. For though she was to issue from my
daughter’s loins, it was only by usurping my life
that she would be able to carry on with hers.
My life and hers were intertwined like those
of larva and butterfy, where the former must
undergo complete transformation for the other to
appear. Or I was like a snake, that must shed its
worn skin to renew itself.
Would this girl, my replica, uphold the dignity
and virtue which I had maintained throughout my
life? Kana! Girls these days like competing with
men. As if our ancestors were foolish to make
them female.
Why couldn’t it be a boy? Boys never become
rivals to their grandmothers. How I wished for a
little boy. And I realised that, in old age, I had
fewer and fewer wishes.
My last quarrel with Raisibe took place after one of
those rare good suppers she is capable of cooking.
As I knew, things between her and Modise were
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9
bad. It was as if she had made the meal to infuriate
him, for it was said that good food was bad for
tempers in his family. A pig is their totem; a pig is
known to relish flth. So was it true that anything
above flthiness raised Modise’s ire?
As a son-in-law, he was not my favourite. I
was only grateful that he had relieved me of a
bad-tempered daughter – and, to a lesser degree,
that he’d saved us from having a spinster in the
family.
Shame, poor Tidimalo, my sweet younger
daughter. She and her husband, Tshepo, hardly
visited us. I understood. Their life was more
settled. Two sweet things, they were like twins.
Peaceful creatures who take after their names:
Tshepo, trusty and reliable, and Tidimalo, quiet
and withdrawn. But Raisibe and Modise… joo
badimo!
I was quietly talking to my grandchildren.
Sharing with them the wisdom old age had
helped me accumulate. Modise, that hopeless
horse-betting addict, was absorbed in his TAB
calculations, while Raisibe was busy with her
ironing. What was it that stopped her? Maybe it
was Thabang’s insistence that he would never again
go to sleep. I remember that just before he said this,
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10
I had said something like: ‘Yes, children of my
child, we too as children used to hear of it from
our elders. Of course we never believed it. Until
two days ago...’
At which Thabang exclaimed, in the innocent
high-pitched voice of little boys his age, ‘Two days
ago! Nkgono, what happened?’
‘Your grandfather told me…’
‘Told you! How could he tell you? Dead people
don’t talk.’ That was Mmabotle, my nine-year-old
granddaughter. That one should have been named
Tidimalo, after her aunt, who in her quiet way
always insisted on fnding answers. Her mother
complained that she was dull. But I knew, and
it flled me with grandmotherly pride to see this
bright girl. With time I knew she would open up,
absorb the sun and radiate. She was destined to be
the exception in a family where daughters did not
excel, despite the naughtiness they displayed when
young.
‘They do talk, my little one – they talk to us
during night visits that seem like dreams. Or at
times it is we who cross over to their land.’
‘How come I sometimes dream of the stove
and wardrobe chasing or fghting me, but I don’t
cross over anywhere?’ That was Thabang.
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11
‘Yes my child, we all do. We all do in our
dreams. For sleep is temporary death, where the
worlds of the living and dead merge into one…’
‘Ooo! Grandmother please, stop telling those
children nonsense. I know it is because of that
good food you ate.’
Was that talk from Raisibe, my own daughter!
‘What! Am I a pig?’
‘Yes! Grandmother, you are. Hoji ka mphela.’
‘Yes-yes, go on – I am one because you bewitched
me.’
‘Howoo! What about you old people who refuse
to die – killing young people so you can sustain
your lives on theirs?’
At this point, Modise picked up the children and
disappeared with them to the bedrooms. Finally
he came and dragged Raisibe away.
Within me a voice kept repeating, ‘Damn your
cursed good food.’ I was having great diffculty in
breathing… and then suddenly everything stopped.
When I awoke, I was in a strange country.
Birds, bees and fowers, all radiant despite the fog
that was drifting about. All my deceased relatives
were there, feasting in a welcoming ceremony.
Except Madika. ‘Where is he?’ I kept on asking.
I was fnally told that he would not appear until
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12
I had gone back to make peace with Raisibe. I
started to look for her, but she was nowhere. I
looked everywhere. And I was moving further and
further away from the assembled relatives.
I returned to consciousness alone in my house.
It took a while to forget the insult of my own
daughter calling me a witch. After that, it was
diffcult for us to relate. I heard she had forbidden
her children to visit me. Modise was the only
one who did come by occasionally. He kept those
visits secret from Raisibe – as I knew by a
strange dream I had. In my dream, I saw a
mourning Raisibe in a strange forest. She was
wandering about in circles like a dog sniffng
for the lost spoor of a hare. Then Modise and I
appeared to her. When she saw us she turned into
a python, which started its death-dance, preparing
itself to strike. When Modise charged forward to
face it, it changed back into Raisibe. And she fed
from him, despite his vowing not to do her any
harm.
When I asked him about her and my
grandchildren on his next visit, Modise responded
by weeping. That confrmed another suspicion of
mine – that whenever my name was mentioned
before her, Raisibe responded with tears.
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13
After a year of us not seeing each other, I fnally
resolved to go and visit her. I thought it right that I
not tell anybody about this visit. I quietly wrapped
myself in my green and white mjajana and off I set.
I arrived at her house at noon. I was hesitant to
step onto the dirty front stoep. I could see she was
still busy cleaning. I stood for a while, not daring
to venture across the accumulated dust that all
households manufacture at night. For who knows,
among those bits and pieces of dirt might be a pin
or granule dropped by witches the previous night,
with a spell cast on it to cause a stroke in anybody
who might tramp on it. I did not trust Raisibe.
When I entered the kitchen door, she stared at
me like someone seeing an apparition. She started
sliding backwards, her arms raised protectively to
her chest. And I knew what was happening, and
started laughing.
‘Hela ngwana tena. Tlaa! Daytime is a blanket
which the dead cannot wrap themselves with.
Come. It’s me – your mother.’
That broke her trance. She shrieked, gasped,
‘Mme! Mme!’ and ran into my arms. It reminded
me of years gone by, when she was still a little
girl, always seeking my arms for reassurance and
comfort.
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14
‘Mme! How did you manage…?’
‘I walked, my child.’
‘Walked! But Mme… why? You should have
asked Modise to drive you.’
‘Huwii, you spoiled children! Even now you
don’t appreciate the saying of our ancestors, that
no elephant has ever complained of its trunk as a
burden.’
‘Oo Mme dear… grandmother of my children.
What can I do…?’
‘Nothing, my child. The moon cradles her
burden, and has never asked the sun for help.’
‘Mme… I feel so bad. Forgive me…’
I knew she was going to embark on a confession,
which I wasn’t eager to hear. In tearing the entrails
of that long-dead animal, we were bound to pierce
the gall bladder. ‘Aowa Raisibe. The sun’s rays have
dried the skin, clearing the foul smell as well. Let us
not like ungrateful hunters go back searching for
maggots to plant on it.’
She hastily baked fatcakes and then made tea.
We sat drinking and eyeing each other like
orphans, separated in childhood, who have
managed to trace each other.
‘Eya! Mme, your grandchildren are still at
school.’
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15
‘How is Thabang? The naughty one. You should
take him to Ga-Mamahlola. The boy should learn
to herd and milk cows.’
‘Haa! Nkgono, is there time for cows and goats
these days?’
‘You should have seen my own herd. I had
twelve calves, twenty cattle – no… fve – fve –
fve… about twenty-fve cattle.’
‘Mme, when was that? Because you said you
came to Ferndale in ffty-nine.’
‘Yes, that was the year red ants descended on us.’
I think it was this talk of the old days that helped
heal the rift. It reminded me again of when she
was young. She would always pester me to tell her
more. Sometimes my memory would fail me, and
then I would invent events. She enjoyed them all
the same.
The children came back from school. At
frst they skirted around us, not sure whether
to come and embrace Nkgono or not. Thabang
was the frst to approach me. ‘Nkgono, yesterday
I again dreamt of the wardrobe,’ he said. ‘It stole
my toys. Then it joined Mmabotle in beating
me…’
‘O-maka!’ That was Mmabotle.
‘Ke nnete,’ Thabang insisted. ‘See, Nkgono.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 15 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
16
You see this scratch. It was caused by both with
the brown belt.’
‘Thabang, you didn’t show me that,’ Raisibe
said, edging forward.
‘She said she would buy me sweets at school if I
don’t tell.’
‘Joo! Maka. A makana?’ said Mmabotle. ‘Such
big lies.’
‘It’s true, Nkgono. I’m telling because she never
bought the sweets.’
Bana ba ngwanaka… that pride of seeing my
grandchildren came again. Soon they would be
man and woman, raising their own children.
Modise arrived. Like the children, he was at frst
unsure of how to relate to me, but soon joined in
the happy reunion. They wanted to buy a frozen
chicken, but I insisted they buy a live one. We
made an offering to the ancestors with its blood.
After that, we had a ritual supper. Thabang
grumbled at being denied the opportunity to
crush the bones, but we explained that those would
be offered to the ancestors. Afterwards, Modise
drove me home.
That night, as expected, Madika appeared to
me. I smiled as he went about crushing chicken
bones with relish. I couldn’t resist bursting into
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 16 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
17
laughter when he started licking his fngers and
choking.
‘Eehee! Rakgolo-a-bana, don’t shame me,’ I
said. ‘You mean I haven’t been feeding you?’
‘Eya, mosadi. You were too busy with your
quarrels. Look, my nicely nourished belly is
gone.’
‘Aowa, Rakgolo-a-bana. You sit about with
your arms folded, your hunting spear rusting –
and you complain of hunger.’
‘Mosadi, you remember how much I paid for
lobola…’
‘Eshee! What was three pounds, after all?
Youngsters of today will shame you. Utlwa! Our
neighbour’s son paid six thousand last month.
That excludes expenses he will bear for presents to
his in-laws. And you boast of your pittance.’
‘Maka! Listen to me… I want two goats. Phoko
le tshadi – a billy- and a she-goat, wa ultwa!’
I again burst into laughter: ‘Why the billy? You
mean you still want to be the stud?’
‘Mosadi! You!… So you knew all along about me.’
We both laughed. In the morning when I awoke,
my ribs were still aching from that laughter.
Three days later, on Saturday, I called a family
meeting. I prepared mageu, thopi, mala le mogodu
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 17 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
18
and samp porridge. Tidimalo and Tshepo came in
their new car. Those two are going places, I tell
you. Raisibe and Modise came with their children.
A few of our other children came as well.
‘Bana-ka, taba ke ye; your father says he is
starving,’ I told them. ‘I teased him about it, but
you know what will happen if you ignore him.’
‘Mme, what should we do?’ Hau, Raisibe,
asking such a stupid question.
‘Mme, I think we should slaughter a cow.’ That
was Tshepo, the pride of any mother-in-law.
‘Aowa, bana-ka. Your father explicitly said he
wants a male and a female goat.’
‘Look, Mme, if he is really starving as he says,
then a cow would be appropriate. He’ll feast on
bigger chunks. What do you think, Modise?’ That
was Raisibe again.
‘Hmm! Not that, child. Give the ancestors what
they want. Not what you think is good for them.
Your father said two goats. And it should be that.’
‘I agree, Mme,’ said Modise. ‘Let us respect his
preference.’
And so it was settled.
Of course, Madika had his reasons for his
demand. That I know. But I couldn’t tell them.
I couldn’t tell them that he had said he was lonely
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 18 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
19
and missed me terribly. That it was time I
considered joining him. He had confded in me that
the billy’s virility would fnally help sire the awaited
infant. He also said that Tidimalo would be the
passage through which that infant would come.
‘But Rrakgolo-a-bo, you have always said
Raisibe would be the bearer,’ I had challenged
him.
‘I did not come to argue, but to deliver a
message,’ was his response. His instructions were
that Tidimalo’s name be chanted when the billy
was slaughtered. She was also to eat the she-goat’s
womb.
‘No-no,’ she said when I told her all this. ‘That I
don’t like. I am not barren.’ It was understandable.
No woman likes that kind of insult.
‘Aowa! Tidimalo, nobody said that,’ I soothed
her.
‘Then why, why should I be the one chosen to
eat the she-goat’s womb? Why? I guess my husband
will be expected to eat the billy’s testicles as well.
Hee! Isn’t that so? Tell me, Mme, is it wrong if we
prefer to have children later? Look, you think my
womb is tied. No-no, I prevent.’
‘Whaaat? Tidimalo! Why, you too… you too
use those things?’
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 19 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
20
‘What things, Mme?’
‘Don’t they use dead people’s ovaries and such
things, ijoo! Ke ya go tshaba ngwang tena.’ I
looked at her in shock. ‘Tidimalo! I thought you
were a sensible and responsible girl.’
I spent a long time trying to convince Tidimalo
to do as requested. Tshepo was also sceptical. They
fnally asked to be given time to think the matter
over.
A week later, a sobbing Tidimalo phoned me.
‘It’s Raisibe, Mme…’
‘What about her?’
‘She said it serves us right for disregarding the
ancestors.’
‘Ngwanaka, what is this all about?’
‘Tshepo’s new car was dented from behind…
and… I phoned Raisibe… and Mme, she said it
is just the beginning. My own sister talking like
that. I know she has always been jealous of me and
Tshepo…’
‘Maybe you didn’t hear her properly…’
‘No Mme, I did. I could hear the suppressed
laughter in her voice.’
‘And how is Tshepo?’
‘He is okay, Mme. Only he is becoming
nervous.’
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 20 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
21
‘Nonsense, man, Tidi. Why should he? Accidents
happen everyday. Not to trees or stones, but to
people…’
‘But Mme, the day before, his cheque book
and credit cards were lost. He said it was as if they
simply disappeared. He too is starting to suspect
that something terrible will happen.’
‘Ngwanaka, your father and our ancestors
are not evil people. Why this terrible conclusion
then?’
After the telephone call, I offered a silent prayer
to our ancestors. I also resolved to discuss the
matter with Madika that night.
When it was already past one o’clock and sleep
had not come, I became worried. I slipped out of
bed, took my snuff pouch, sprinkled some snuff
on the foor and invited him to visit me. Sleep
followed immediately.
‘Why do you disturb my peace?’ he demanded
as soon as he appeared.
‘Ga go bjalo papa. The coop is broken into,
and I am worried that the mongoose might steal
the newly hatched chickens. Rra-bo, your
children are panicking. Why, tell me, are you
offended?’
‘You wake me from my sleep for that?’
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 21 3/29/07 2:52:58 PM
22
‘Rra-bo, don’t brew a storm where there is none.
Tidimalo and Tshepo believe you are punishing
them…’
‘A bird does not build a nest so as to destroy it
later. Ga go bjalo, mma-go bana. Tell the children
not to worry. Tell them my only worries are
occasional hunger and loneliness.’
After that he disappeared. I tried to call him
back, but he refused to come again. Then I knew
my time to join him was a wink away.
Age is a time of withering, a battle with worldly
storms. I came to that conclusion through toil and
pain. I realised that childhood was a blessing. I
could no longer understand what was happening
around me. It was a shock for me to see little
children argue with or insult adults.
Later, I saw them running around in the streets
carrying placards with slogans: Forward with
Children’s Rights… Down with Capital Punishment…
Freedom Now, Education Later. What nonsense was
all that! I knew a child’s freedom consisted in having
enough to eat before going to sleep and on waking
up. Children at meetings telling their parents how
they should be treated… what nonsense. It became
clear then why old people hasten to the grave.
To avoid witnessing all this humiliation.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 22 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
23
In my case, I decided to withdraw into myself.
I found solace in talking to myself. My ignorant
grandchildren labelled it ‘old-age mumblings’.
It was all due to my desperation to depart this
damned world.
At last, Tidimalo and Tshepo relieved me.
‘Mama, nna le Tshepo, we have decided to go
ahead… isn’t that so, Tshepo?’
‘Eya, Mama. We think for our sake and yours
we should partake in the ancestor-appeasing
ceremony.’
I looked at them proudly. Sweet things. ‘A
badimo ba le thogonolofatse.’
Four weeks later, on a Sunday morning, we
performed the ritual. Tidimalo and Tshepo’s only
concern was that none of the other relatives should
know that they were to eat the animals’ testicles
and womb. How could I deny them that request?
Thereafter, it looked as if a well-fed Madika
was dispensing largesse. My monthly pension was
increased. Then: ‘Mahlogonolo! Tshepo has been
promoted at work.’ That was Tidimalo’s phone
call a couple of weeks later.
‘We’ve done it, Mme! We’ve done it!’ That was
Raisibe.
‘What… what is it Ngwanaka?’ I asked.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 23 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
24
She laughed, cried and kept on clapping her
hands. ‘Yooooo! Mme, Modise got the Pick 6…
he got ffteen thousand!’
But Tidimalo, on hearing of Tshepo and
Raisibe’s good fortune, complained, ‘But Mme,
that money rightly belongs to us. I mean, if we had
refused to eat those things during the ceremony,
they wouldn’t have got that money.’
‘What talk is that now, Tidi. Don’t be jealous.’
‘I’m not. How could I be – those low-class
people, so many children…?’
‘Tidimalo! What has got into you?’
‘Mme, it’s just that I fnd it unfair. Tshepo and
I partake in the ritual… then those two get such a
lot of money…’
The call left me shivering with shock. Tidimalo
– I had always thought she was rational and
mature. It dawned on me that I didn’t really know
my children as well as I’d thought I did.
A few months later, Tidimalo called again to
inform me that she was pregnant. I knew my time
for celebration had come. I stocked up on wool
and cloth and started knitting and sewing for my
granddaughter.
‘But Mme, shouldn’t you wait frst?’ Tidimalo
asked. ‘What if it is a boy?’
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 24 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
25
‘Tidi, I know what I am doing.’
‘You know, Mme, distant fountains cannot be
relied upon.’
‘Eshee! What do you know? For ffty years
I relied on my dreams to place bets with the
Chinaman. And every time I got him.’
Tidimalo reached her ninth month. As
instructed by Madika, we performed another
ancestor-appeasing ceremony. Raisibe refused to
attend the ceremony. The reason she gave was that
Tidimalo had insulted her and Modise – referring
to them as ‘that starving, fea-infested lot’ that her
generosity had rescued. Also, Tidimalo made the
habit of reminding them that she had eaten the
goat’s womb.
That night, after the ceremony, I waited for
Madika to come. But he did not show up. Instead,
his late sister, the one our Raisibe is named after,
came. She informed me that the insult directed at
Raisibe was an insult to herself and Madika. The
next day I asked Tidimalo to apologise to Raisibe.
She refused.
The expected birth pains arrived. And I braced
myself to be the frst to see that infant. When
thirty-six hours had elapsed without the child
coming out, we realised something was wrong.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 25 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
26
Tidimalo was rushed to hospital. After examining
her, doctors pronounced her ft to go through a
normal birth – though it proved otherwise.
With worry, Tidimalo kept asking me, ‘Mme, is
my child “tied”?’
‘No. Such delays do happen.’
‘Why then, why is it refusing to come? Tell me,
Mme, who is refusing its entry into this world?’
I took snuff, home-brewed mageu and beer,
and made an offering to the ancestors. That night,
the aunt came to me. And again stressed that until
the insult directed at her namesake, Raisibe, was
withdrawn, the child would never come out.
Innocent Tidi – how would she take that rebuke?
‘Why? Why should I apologise? Isn’t it true
that they are poor? How many times have I and
Tshepo saved them by lending them money?
Everybody knows that throughout his life, father
favoured Raisibe. The only inheritance he left her
was being spoiled. I won’t, Mme, I won’t apologise.’
‘Aowa! Tidi, you know the consequences.
Always remember: don’t interfere with those
whom the ancestors turn to with a warm smile,
lest they direct the cold hand against you.’
My words eventually persuaded her. She went
to Raisibe and apologised.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 26 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
27
Madika came that night. He was beaming in
triumph. Yet this time I knew I had to admonish
him. ‘Rra-go bana, what is all this? Are you short
of better games to play?‘
‘Mosadi! Ga ke batle selo ka nyakea Raisibe,
kwaa! I swear, woman – Raisibe is don’t-touch.’
‘Isn’t Tidimalo your child as well, hee? Is a
simple apology worth a human life?’
‘Thaetsa faa! Your sister-in-law says she is tired
of cooking for me. You must make haste over to
this side.’
‘Listen, Rra-gwe, I was never lazy or scared of
the pots during our life together. What’s all this
talk about now?’ Men! As if I was lingering merely
to avoiding providing him with a square meal
every day.
One morning a couple of days later, as I was
sweeping my stoep, I slipped and fell. I awoke
with a cast on my right leg. Shame! What did
I think would happen, at my age? And the
doctors said I would have to spend a week in
hospital.
It was during that time of my confnement in
hospital that I received the message that Tidimalo
had given birth.
‘When? Is it a girl? How does she look? What
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 27 3/29/07 2:52:59 PM
28
is on her forehead and collarbone?… Go fetch the
child… take me to her, now-now!’
‘She is beautiful, Mme,’ said Tshepo.
‘Where is she? I want to see her. Her forehead
and collarbone… what did you see there?’
‘Please, Mme, relax. Your granddaughter is fne.
You will see her when you are able to walk…’
‘What! I want to see her now! Go fetch her.’
Finally the baby was brought to me. Those
little eyes, unseeing still, responded to me. All
the foretold birthmarks were there. I turned to
Tidimalo. ‘It is her, everything about her. It is a
pity, my child, she will never enjoy the privilege
of being nursed by her grandmother.’
‘What do you mean, Mme? You know we won’t
take her to any crèche.’
‘I know, Tidi. There are bones galore, yet the
dogs have lost their teeth; I no longer have the
strength to bear her on my back or rock her on
my lap.’ Unlike Thekiso, Itumeleng, Thabang
or Mmabotle, she would never enjoy my tender
care.
‘And Tidi, who are you going to name her
after?’
‘Mme… Tshepo and I haven’t decided
everything yet. She will at least be called Mmogedi.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 28 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
29
Of course among her names she will have your
name, Molatedi, as well.’
‘How did she respond… when you gave her my
name?’
‘She gurgled with joy.’
‘Yes, she should, she should… my faithful one…
grandmother’s own mother.’
Extreme fatigue then took hold of me. I knew
I needed sleep.
Sleep is the beginning of consummation. A
blanket which all wrap themselves in, offering
comfort to all, widows, orphans and the poor.
I know my sleep will be a well-earned one. I will
awake again when the world starts making sense to
my little other self.
Old age is the winter of disintegration. Or season
of hibernation and renewal…
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 29 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 30 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
31
FRAGMENTS OF A DREAM
Cyprian was a siCkly Boy. He grew up to become
a lonely young man. When I frst met him, he
was still in the habit of wetting his bed. He was
twenty-three then. But you shouldn’t mistake him
for abnormal. He was sane, in his own way. At
times he even appeared old, like the emaciated,
young-old men of Biafra. There were times, at
night, when I saw something like a phosphorescent
halo around him. Maybe it was my imagination.
There were also times during the day when he
would appear embalmed in a haunting paleness
– again, maybe that was my imagination. It was
in this context that I came to know Cyprian more
closely. We became friends. Even our friendship
was strange. I myself was twenty.
‘You are a funny girl,’ my mother used to say.
And of course she was right. Then, girls of my
age were not supposed to be tomboys. At my age,
I was supposed to be being groomed for marriage.
I was strange. When I did eventually start to
experience normal urges, I was desperate to fnd
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 31 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
32
some impressive attachment, before it was too
late.
And Cyprian was there. He was sick, but
there was always an aura around him. So my
insignifcance found solace in his patronage. With
time, I would come to model my fantasies about
men on Cyprian. While to many people his passage
on this earth was light and feathery, to me he was
the exact opposite. There were times when, in my
sleep, I could hear the tremors of the earth caused
by his vibrant footsteps.
And yet his manhood couldn’t make a tremor.
Because Cyprian couldn’t kiss. Neither could he
make love.
‘Do you masturbate, then?’ I asked him one
evening, as we stood by a dead ‘Apollo’ lamp-post.
‘No, I don’t,’ was his response.
I looked deep in his eyes, which refected only
calm and innocence.
‘Do you do other men, then?’ I jabbed.
To this he responded that he didn’t know how.
‘You are certainly sick… you must see a doctor,
or a sangoma,’ I told him. My eyes scanned him
from his feet up. At the same time, a strange
tingling shiver crept all over me. There and then I
knew I was in love.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 32 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
‘I am in love… in love with a sick man.’ The
words kept spurting from deep within my
consciousness. My attempts to stife them were
futile.
‘You are sick!’ my mother would yell at me,
years later. ‘It is because of that sick boy of yours.’
This was after I had confded in her about the
strange feelings that by then had become familiar to
me. Whenever I reached an orgasm when making
love to my husband, Cyprian would appear.
Sometimes he would just watch me accusingly.
But then there were times when he would become
violent. He would grab Dikapeso, my husband, and
shove him aside. Then he would mount and ride
me to unimaginable ecstasy. Perhaps my mother
was right about me being sick. How else could
one explain those incidents? For Cyprian had been
dead then for eight years.
I remember when he died. He told me that on that
night he was awakened by a commotion outside
his room. He said he heard blaring police sirens
and tiptoed to his window to look. He fipped
back his curtains slightly, but then a gust tossed
them wide open and fung his window open at the
same time. There was a giant searchlight trained
33
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 33 3/29/07 2:53:00 PM
34
on him. He noticed a platoon of uniformed men,
all with sniffer dogs, and marksmen ready to storm
his room. He recognised them as members of the
well-known and feared counter-insurgency unit.
A blaring loudhailer commanded him and his
accomplices to come out with their hands raised.
Laden with terror and confusion, he dragged
himself to the door.
The scene outside was even more terrifying.
A squadron of six Alpha XH1 helicopters was
hovering above. Further on, surrounding his yard,
was a division of Ratel-90s, their hungry turrets
zeroed in on his one-roomed house. When he
hesitantly descended the four steps to the ground,
a pack of sniffer dogs hurled themselves at him.
But no. That was not the day he actually died. In
fact he was to die six years later.
My affair with Cyprian was passionate but non-
erotic. We were lovers before all except ourselves.
For I could not reach him. I could not arouse
him – because he had other desires. And it was
only on his death-bed, in hospital, that he opened
his heart’s secret to me.
Throughout that ordeal, he implored me to
remain with him. It was now my turn to comfort
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 34 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
35
his traumatised soul. That was also to be the frst
and last time he kissed me. I well remember that
kiss, for it left an imprint on my lips.
And then Cyprian told me about his relationship
with another woman. For many hours I listened,
and became familiar with my rival. I kept quiet.
There were times I thought he would fall silent
from sheer exhaustion. But he went on and on. She
was thirty-three… she lived alone… she was still
a virgin… they were in love, and were planning
to marry some day… she stayed at Nineteenth
Avenue, near the Jukskei River… she was the
perfect, prettiest, most innocent woman…
But then he contradicted himself. He explained
that his bed-wetting was a result of his erotic
couplings with her.
I was suddenly jerked to full alertness when he
told me she was there in the room.
He introduced us and made teasing comments.
‘I swear, Mmabatho,’ he said to me, ‘should you
once again postpone our wedding, I am going to
take off with this angel.’ His face radiated a waxy
glow of contentment. His eyes would now and
then fx on me, then stare back at her.
I knew something was wrong. Either I was
dreaming, imagining things or plainly mad… or
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 35 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
36
else he was. For there was nobody except the two
of us in the room. After his long monologue, a
period of silence followed. It was only when he
had ceased breathing that I saw, or thought I saw,
two shadowy fgures clinging to each other as
they left the room. In that misty apparition I could
well make out his tall and bony profle, and the
silhouette of a beautiful woman.
It seem to me that he had fnally died.
I jumped up from his bedside and uttered
a hollow, prolonged shriek – quite unlike my
normal, restrained self. It was a strange, hideous
scream.
‘She’s mad! She’s mad.’
‘Get her, man, get her – strap her on the bed.’ A
stampede of nurses and orderlies came after me.
My mother later told me that I’d brayed like a
donkey. And years later, she said that the same sort
of sound was repeated when I gave birth to my
quadruplets.
But not exactly… for Cyprian did not die that day
either. In fact, it was another three years before he
really did die.
One day, out of nowhere, just when I was
longing for some romantic sweet-talk from him,
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 36 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
37
he said: ‘From tomorrow, I start with my hunger
strike.’
‘Why do you want to go on a hunger strike?’ I
asked.
‘I want to know my origins.’
‘But that is ridiculous – how can a hunger strike,
or fast or whatever you call it, help you in that?’
He seemed to think deeply, then said: ‘I don’t
have a father or mother; still, I’m no fool. I want to
know why I was born in such circumstances, and
the only source left to reveal that to me is nature.’
‘Look, Cyprian, I do understand your
situation…’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘Okay, maybe I don’t. I’m just trying to
understand.’
‘No, no! You certainly do not, and never will!’
‘But Cyprian, I am your friend, your lover!’
‘No, you are not. And stop pretending you are.’
I stood there, humiliated and stunned by that
explicit rejection. Yet there was no malice in his
eyes. I struggled to remain calm, but fnally gave
in. I felt the veins in my soul bleed, and fnally
the fbre of my composure burst. A stream spilled
from my eyes as that fragile inner river turned into
tears: sour, salty and bitter they were. Trickles that
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 37 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
38
neither my palms nor handkerchief could restrain.
Nothing except his gentle touch and hesitant,
comforting whispers.
His response triggered a memory of a conversation
I’d once overheard between a decorated Koevoet
veteran and a conscientious objector. The two
were debating the moral rightness or wrongness
of hunger strikes for political convictions, as
compared to fasting for spiritual redemption. After
hours of arguing, the two ended in tense silence
– then chuckled, laughed and fnally embraced
in fraternal solidarity, because they realised that
logic and rationality were merely transient states
of the mind. The war veteran was still a passionate
humanist at heart, while the pacifst was still a
maniac, only temporarily strutting in robes of
peace to pacify his troubled conscience. During
one of his previous lives, he had butchered his
fancée.
Cyprian argued that a fast cleanses the bowels.
‘This simple ritual enables man to communicate
with greater powers and to fulfl his potential,
which overloaded bowels deny him.’ He was
convinced that the ritual, as he preferred to call
his hunger strike, has the same effect as baptism
– to purify. Psychopaths, paedophiles and other
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 38 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
39
rogues would only have to go on a fast to redeem
their sins, while monks, nuns and pacifsts could
embark on hunger strikes to purge the occasional
lust and temptation.
After this revelation he became restful; his eyes
stopped wandering about, jabbing at space for
answers. ‘A sad soul like mine was not meant to be
tortured by such an existence… my only regret is
that I am going to leave you behind.’
‘What about Squiza?’ I teased him, referring to
my rival. ‘Aren’t you taking her along?’
‘I doubt she will agree. You know, after four
years of dating, she hasn’t yet made up her mind
about a lesser commitment like marriage…’
‘Cyprian, you are really extreme. You consider
marriage a lesser commitment. For me, for us
simpler people, it is the ultimate factor in life.’
‘Then what I would like her to do is to walk
with me for the last mile of the journey. Just wait
and see…’
Cyprian’s voice was to keep on echoing in my
mind. ‘Damn fool!’ I sighed. This boy was certainly
sick. Now I believed my mother.
I did wait and see. And what I saw wasn’t
pleasing. From that time, I began to know and
understand. But all the sympathy I offered him
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 39 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
40
was not suffcient to cushion him against the
knowledge that was to come, nor the renewed
torrent of emotions it would precipitate. After that
day, I could never again face him without feeling
ashamed. Though he never said it, I knew also that
I represented shame to him. At times I thought
it was contempt. He had made his most damning
revelation, and I was the only witness.
For a long time, we tried to downplay the
inhumanity we represented to each other. For
Cyprian was male, and I was female. Two beings
who were now exposed in our nakedness. For in
truth we were executioners – wild, heartless beasts
feeding on each other. Our passion was an epitaph,
a hollow oratory peddled as a serenade. A love song
we both diligently sang while with lustful glee we
sharpened axes to terminate each other’s lives – the
eternally estranged twins.
I could see his large, wandering, depressed eyes.
Struggling to understand his life, his existence. But
there was no one to give him hints or provide him
with answers… until his haunted quest stumbled
upon the truth. And that made him swallow his
heart. For Cyprian was conceived after the rape
of his girl-mother by her child-boyfriend’s friend.
And to erase and escape the shame, she’d gone for
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 40 3/29/07 2:53:01 PM
41
an abortion. All of that was mirrored in his eyes:
the dingy, flthy, smelly, inhospitable ‘operating
theatre’.
Doesn’t it make sense now? His insisting I
wouldn’t understand him. Of course I could never
have understood that his dreams would forever
be blemished by endless harrowing screams and
pools of blood. A nightmarish sacrifce that he
miraculously survived – and yet fnally succumbed
to. Could he always then, even in me, his beloved,
have been seeing those phantoms – predatory
monsters masquerading as human beings?
That scenario when soldiers came for him was
yet another episode of an epic nightmare. Those
soldiers were toys or puppets, manipulated to
perform another scene in a million-act play.
The play was a tragedy, starting with the Chief
of Counter-insurgency dreaming of a holed-up
band of operatives at 324 Nineteenth Avenue. It
climaxed with the storming of Cyprian’s room,
and ended in a fop when only rats and mice
were found there, screeching. But because the
tragedy’s appetite could not be satisfed, it chose
to extend its tragic grip until Cyprian’s will to live
gave in.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 41 3/29/07 2:53:02 PM
42
In the end, I could only sigh in guarded relief.
Because it was a self-defeating nightmare. A death
long dead before its birth. An apparition whose
attempt at haunting brings only mild irritation. For
Cyprian, as I knew him, or as I would have liked
to have known him, was long dead. He quietly
died on that fateful night in a darkened alley when
he was conceived. He was yet again to die, on
that rainy day in a dark mkhukhu when he was
hastily expelled from his mother’s womb. Though
he survived, the darkness of the alley and the
mkhukhu were forever stamped on his forehead.
In the end, he disappeared into the multitude of
the condemned, into the giant sea of darkness that
feeds on the remnants of frightened life in what is
called Alexandra.
The elegy in its unravelling became complex.
For the odds were stacked against him. How was
he to be normal when all elements that shaped his
existence were abnormal? His veins, his whole
being was contaminated with spiteful semen. That
organ, swelled with greed and rage and vengeance.
With those pictures and thoughts crystallising,
I started choking and throwing up…
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43
It has been ten years since Cyprian’s death. The
passage of time seems to have tamed his jealousy,
as he appears less and less during my love-making
sessions with Dikapeso. But nostalgically, I still
remember my Cyprian. I agree, I am a happily
married woman with four children. But what can
I tell my boys and girls? They are still babies. I
wish that they could grow up to adulthood and
die still being babies at heart. Knowing nothing.
Immune from life’s realities. I am also happy that
Cyprian never lived to see them.
Out of respect for our love, I named one of
my children Cyprian. Both my husband and his
parents opposed the move, arguing that there was
no one with that name in the family lineage. But
I remained steadfast, and fnally prevailed. The
act seemed like a soothing antidote, for not long
thereafter Cyprian, the late, stopped his vigil over
my love-making.
As I look through the frill-curtained windows,
there runs little Kapi, as I affectionately call my
youngest son, chasing after his old car tyre, which
he has christened Thunderbird.
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Beg_of_Dreams.indd 44 3/29/07 2:53:02 PM
45
RITUALS FOR MARTHA
mmarita gave Birth to her first child when
she was seventeen. That did not cause a scandal
in a township where sex was an addiction and
childbearing nothing unusual among teenagers. If
the newborns were girls, it soothed most families,
because of the prospects of lobola. At least, that’s
what I thought until, after my marriage, I started
attending funerals, burial society meetings and
occasional weddings (for weddings were indeed
a rarity in our township). I was a neighbour of
Mmarita’s parents.
It was always the younger participants who
exhibited irritation at burial society meetings.
Understandably so, when agenda items would be
sacrifced so that the old people could indulge in
their laments. Who could blame the young for
becoming irritated? For it was they and their peers
who were the chief subjects of these dirges. Fathers
moaned about sons who were lazy, who seemed to
enjoy no occupation except fathering kids. Mothers
bemoaned their daughters whose heads were flled
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 45 3/29/07 2:53:02 PM
with boys and whose cleverness was only realised
in dark alleys, where they let boys strain the tissues
of their frm breasts until they were left sagging.
Who could blame those old people for lamenting,
when girls forgot to kindle fres at fve o’clock,
forgot to attend to their pots around six or seven,
and wasted precious time and youth staring into
the eyes of boys?
‘What! Not only boys. Wena! Those girls are
wanton. They are not ashamed of undressing men
old enough to be their fathers.’
‘It wasn’t like that in our time, Mmawena.’
‘Ohoo! Do you think there are any men left?
These boys are not scared of leaving a child with a
suckling baby.’
It was a perpetual cycle. Fathers blaming mothers
and mothers blaming fathers, each accusing the
other of either spoiling the children or not teaching
them manners. Sometimes, those accusations and
counter-accusations resulted in beatings. Some
even developed into fst-fghts as more and more
women started asserting their independence.
The fghts at times made their way into our local
newspaper. And we would relish those stories,
making press cuttings which we would photocopy
and circulate.
46
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47
But at the same time, peace was quickly forged.
‘How am I expected to cope? I am supporting
not only my own children, but broods of these
little bastards, whose mothers and fathers don’t
know the meaning of “support”.’
‘Let alone “work”. How many of them have
experienced the tyranny of waking up at four
o’clock every weekday for a full nineteen-year
stretch…?
‘Don’t you wonder why they settle for “vat en
sit”? Useless bastards – can’t afford lobola.’
‘Hear this one: my son asked for money to buy
bread the other day. You know what I said to him?
“Buti! You are a man. If you can so quickly master
child-making, boy, you are man enough to learn
the art of money-making.”’
‘Yours is better, Rra Tommy. Mine is always
borrowing money for taxi fares – to where?
I don’t know. So yesterday he came again:
“Er… ou lady, ke vraiza tiger daa…” “What?”
“I said, can you lend me ten rands?” he repeated.
“Hau! You surprise me. Wasn’t it you last week
who was boasting about having bought a leather
suit worth three thousand rands?” Hee! After
that he tucked his tail between his legs and
disappeared.’
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48
Sometimes these conversations, or rather
laments, would be punctuated with roars of
laughter. From a distance, one would think the
old people were enjoying the rewards of life.
As I have already said, Mmarita’s childbearing
did not cause a scandal. Though what it led to,
some years later, would be a scandal of unparalleled
proportions in the whole township. A dozen daring
priests introduced it into their sermons. Burial
society meetings digressed from their agendas to
ponder it.
But why begin at the end?
Mmarita’s real name was Martha, but everybody
called her Mmarita, an Africanised version. Her
aunt, Aunty Pheladi, who was known to have been
schooled only up to standard three, was said to be
the source of this name change. She was also known
to be possessed by ancestral spirits. It was said that
this would have led to her becoming a diviner or
medium, if she hadn’t failed her initiation rituals.
She’d then been advised by her muti mentor to
select somebody in the family, preferably a female,
to replace her. And she chose Mmarita.
When Mmarita was a pretty little baby, her
mother composed a lullaby for her:
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 48 3/29/07 2:53:04 PM
49
Mmarita – yoo, Mmarita –
Kgarebe tsa geso di sa yo tansa
dikgekolo le dikgalabje di
boa ka madila…
Kgarebe tsa geso di sa you tansa
masogana le baditi
ba boa ka dikosa-thunsa-lerule
Mmarita – yoo, Mmarita –
Kgadi-ya-mma tsea lebese
That song is now forgotten. The voices that used
to render it are tuneless. The ears that used to be
enraptured by its soothing melodies are now deaf,
sealed by the oily wax that has been accumulating
since childhood. The song was forgotten even as
Mmarita grew up, her ears readjusting to other
frequencies: the rasping voices of males. The bearers
of these voices came with different presentations
– some sly and evasive, some soft and suggestive,
others confdent and persuasive, still others confused
and hesitant. But their tune was the same.
Mmarita’s curiosity was fuelled when she heard
older women laughing: ‘Hahaa! Ora Jacky. He
couldn’t even fnish one sentence without biting
his tongue…’
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50
‘Not my Ruben – that one! On our frst night
together, he kept rushing to the toilet with a
running stomach. I took pity on the poor thing
and pretended to fall asleep. And you know what,
he came creeping to bed… and had a peaceful
sleep. The running stomach miraculously cured.’
Mmarita took up with one boy of sixteen. She
wondered how the ‘poor thing’ would make his
proposition – and how he would behave on their
frst night together.
By then she was twelve. It was at this stage
that Aunty Pheladi resolved to start preparing her
niece for her future role. She needed to inform the
girl what undergoing initiation as a medium, and
getting approval of the ancestors, entailed. The
frst rule was chastity, until the trainee graduated.
Thereafter, one had to observe a strict code of
abstinence at certain times.
Of course, these were extremely complex issues
for a girl who savoured soap operas, her favourites
being Loving and The Bold and the Beautiful. No sexual
contact the night before attending to a patient…
Ridge and Brooke drowning in passion… no
lustful thoughts when attending to male patients…
Ava and Jack smouldering with desire… and she
was to be a vessel for ancestral spirits!
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51
But it seemed Aunty Pheladi never properly
communicated her choice of Mmarita to the
ancestors, for no ancestral communiqués were
transmitted to Mmarita. She carried on with her
life like any other young girl. She marvelled at
seeing her breasts swell. When she was fourteen,
she panicked at seeing blood fow out of her body,
until her cousin introduced her to sanitary pads.
Thus she graduated from being a township ‘sqwaka’,
who uses folds of toilet paper, to being an ‘ousie’.
She then naturally stopped talking about boys with
girls who still used folded toilet paper. She also
started curling her hair and wearing jeans.
All these things troubled Aunty Pheladi.
‘Aowa, don’t worry. She’s simply sampling life,’
said one of Mmarita’s neighbours.
‘Mma-wena! Mothers always say that – “She’s
sampling life”. Next time you see them – eyes
rolling in their sockets, bellies swollen and tongues
stiff against their palates.’
How sad and true it was. More and more young
girls were swelling and bulging, the sad reality
fermenting inside them. It was at such times that
parents acknowledged that lobola was as elusive as
a son-in-law. It was also then that they awakened
to the fact that little Dorah or Phuti or Lerato was
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 51 3/29/07 2:53:04 PM
52
a failure. The girls, in turn, confrmed their failure
as parents. And their parents would wait for the
next burial society meeting, silently rehearsing
their sad tales. There, they would bow their heads
as they listened to each other pouring out sorrow
and disappointment in their daughters, on whom
they had placed all their hopes. Some would
lament the price society was paying for its drive to
progress. And all would wish they had only sons.
At that point, parents whose sons were culprits
would pretend their ears were itching and would
start scratching them with matchsticks or grass
stalks until that part of the conversation was over.
Mmarita started making evening excursions,
supposedly to attend neighbourhood study groups.
The glow that permeated her face on her return
would tell another story, though.
‘Mmarita ngwanaka, please my child, take care.
You are the only one your father and I have. Not all
the sweet melodies in the valleys originate from the
lips of larks. Always remember that malnourished
snakes also learn to sing so as to entice their prey.
And some of them appear in the form of men.’
Of course, Mmarita repeated her mother’s
counsel to her friends. They burst into laughter.
One or two repeated the words to their boyfriends.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 52 3/29/07 2:53:04 PM
53
Their boyfriends did not laugh, though. They just
stroked their darlings affectionately, and repeated
with emphasis the need for them to be open and
confde in each other, as true lovers are supposed
to do.
Throughout the neighbourhood, the girls’
‘Hihihiii!’ would be heard. Then the boys’ ‘Kwa-
kwaaakwaaaa!’ – almost sadistic laughter emanating
from fragile vocal chords already starting to rust
from cigarette and alcohol abuse.
The young people in our township did not
regard making love while standing a disgrace. But
the older people viewed it with contempt. ‘What
kind of offspring will come out of such copulation?’
they sneered. They insisted that young people
should wait until after marriage.
But waiting was anathema to young people.
It was as if they suspected that death would rob
them of the pleasures that love had in store. The
forbidden honeycomb was too tempting to resist,
and daring each other to taste it became a second
hobby, after truancy.
Mmarita got tired of her teenage boyfriend. She
gave the reason that she was tired of ‘hitch-hiking’,
for that is what young people in our township
called vertical lovemaking. She also confded in
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 53 3/29/07 2:53:04 PM
54
her friends that she was bored with her young
lover: ‘A ke sa di kena, he is always nervous and
hurried, looking over his shoulder and ready to run
whenever he hears or sees someone approaching.’
How could he not be? He was not sure when
Mmarita’s mother or father might apprehend them.
Or when one of the older ‘toughies’ might bump
into them, pump a bullet through his head and
‘ jackroll’ his Mmarita.
In his place, she got herself a taxi-driver. Luckily
he owned a backyard shack, which proved cosy
for their intimate sessions. Like all girls of her
generation, and those before, and probably even
those to come, she knew it was hard to come
by a millionaire in the townships; but divine
intervention could still deliver her own personal
chauffeur. Besides, Mmarita had to get herself a
taxi-driver boyfriend because all her friends had
one. For them it meant graduation into a higher
social order. Of course, they looked down upon
those who still dated schoolboys, even if they used
sanitary pads and curled their hair as well.
What was the bait? A miniskirt? Tight-ftting
pants? A pretty face? Wrong! Every girl growing up
knew the mentality of taxi-drivers. What worked
was to play-act coyness and delicacy, and frequent
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 54 3/29/07 2:53:05 PM
55
their haunts. Mmarita followed this advice to the
letter. And so she got her ‘Lunch Boy’.
True to his nickname, her taxi-driver would
appear punctually every school-day around lunch
time, bearing a package of Chicken Licken or
Kentucky. Later on, she informed him that the
now thing was Nando’s. That added an extra four
kilometres of detour from his main route. But, like
any solicitous lover, he endured. His Sundays were
given over to transporting her and her friends
to Moretela Park. He knew it was a detour the
taxi owner wouldn’t approve of, but the yearning
lover in him gave him a sense of adventure and
boldness.
And the old people continued with their
laments:
‘This Moretela Park of theirs! Kare, it is their
new-found church.’
‘I say, they can’t even afford lobola, but are
wasteful on these Moretela Park outings of theirs.’
Who could blame the old people? Theirs was an
era long effaced from the brow of reality, an illusion
they occasionally brought back to life in memory,
a rainbow diluted by the tears of lamenting gods.
What a shame! The girl who was at the forefront
of a generation of fornicators was tired of vertical
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 55 3/29/07 2:53:05 PM
56
love-making. She should not have scorned it,
though, for that was exactly the position she was in
three years later when she conceived. The physical
features of her baby confrmed speculation that
children conceived vertically suffered defects. Just
to be sure, dozens of people thronged to her place
to see the baby.
Afterwards, some of them started spreading
the rumour that at birth the infant had been as
upright as a reed. Some even said his little penis
maintained an erection, which collapsed soon
after someone mentioned the little bastard’s father
by name. Agaa! Who can believe those township
gossip-mongers?
The frst reaction of Aunty Pheladi on hearing
that Mmarita was pregnant was to consider rushing
her for an abortion. But then she recalled that
nothing can be hidden from the ancestors. And she
knew that her pretty niece was lost: ‘Like Jezebel!
Like Lot’s wife! She will suffer the vengeance of
the gods.’
And there was nothing mortal man could do
to save her. All diviners shied away from her, for
they declared tampering with her would be akin
to challenging the ancestors. Like Prometheus,
her heart would feed the wild birds of prey.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 56 3/29/07 2:53:05 PM
57
Like Joan of Arc, her fesh and bones would kindle
the greatest bonfre.
I used to be one of the many sceptics about
such prophecies of doom. We were justifed in
this: hadn’t we grown up on the precipice of an
apocalypse, orated to by Watchtower evangelists
throughout the years? Warnings that had not
only been proved wrong, but had also turned the
messengers into buskers and their testimony into
a mockery. I held frmly to my doubts until 1982.
That is when I saw a man being roasted with three
tyres around him. Later, I saw mongrels fghting
over parts of his charred remains. Then, in those
dark days, it dawned on me that my perceptions
might be only as solid as the rainbow. The world
might well be coming to a fery end.
Like all reluctant grandparents, Mmarita’s parents
had a grudging fondness for their grandchild. Fate
decided that they would become his legal guardians,
for a couple of weeks after the birth, Mmarita was
knocked over by a car on her way from Kwa Muhle,
where she had gone to fle a paternity suit. Her
taxi-driver disappeared, and resurfaced months
later, driving around with one of her friends.
Initially we thought she had been committed
to an institution. But no – it was only that she
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 57 3/29/07 2:53:05 PM
58
was never seen venturing out except at night. It
was Aunt Pheladi who ended up at Witkoppen. It
started with her exclaiming over the tragic fate of
her niece. When two hours had elapsed and she
was still mumbling the same words, a sangoma was
called. After a couple of minutes with the patient,
she told the family that there was nothing she
could do.
A long consultation followed. Some of the
relatives recommended taking her to Giyani,
others said Mozambican muti-men were better
equipped to handle such a case. It was at the
mention of taking her to Phafula, great muti-
man of the Northern Transvaal, that Aunt Pheladi
stood up and bolted. Two days later, the traffc
police apprehended her marching up and down
the Ben Schoeman Highway. She was naked, still
lamenting the fate of her niece.
The frst sighting of Mmarita, or rather her
silhouette, occurred at twenty to nine on the night
of the twelfth of April, 1987. It was on the eighth
anniversary of her self-exile into darkness.
Her son, Kgetsi, was then of course eight years
old. It was as though she had never existed for him.
When asked about her, he would always respond
by talking about his grandmother.
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59
‘No – I mean your mother, your real mother.’
He would pause, thinking through the question
again. ‘Mmmm… my mother, she is at work. She
does washing and ironing piece-jobs.’
Kgetsi didn’t suffer a complex though, as most
people feared. He was an adventurous, daring boy.
Maybe that was the cause of his downfall.
Together with other boys his age, he would taunt
and jeer at young girls. That was understandable.
They were past the age of playing husbands and
wives, fathers and mothers. And they asserted their
‘bigness’ with the girls. During playtime they were
now preoccupied with TV heroes like Zorro and
MacGyver. However, they always got confused
when these heroes of theirs expressed attraction to
pretty women. This dilemma was solved by the
bright Kgetsi. He called a council and reviewed
the play rules. He employed his eloquence to win
over the other boys, despite their doubts. Soon his
proposal was accepted by all.
‘Yaa! There is Mantwa. There is Zodwa. There
is Thembi. From today, they will be our women.’
And he chose for himself the fairest, Zodwa.
She was nine then.
On the sly, he got the girls to accompany the
boys to a run-down, abandoned house. There they
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60
had the time of their childhood. Playing familiar
and recently invented games… until the beckoning
of the serious game, the one that men and women
play in their bedrooms.
It was probably curiosity that led Zodwa to take
off her panties. It was probably the same curiosity
that led Kgetsi to take off his underpants.
‘Let us do it like they always do on TV.’
They were still marvelling at the strange and
funny sensation of each other’s bodies when
Mmarita pounced on them. She went for Kgetsi’s
throat and started squeezing. It was the frst time
in eight years that she had ventured out in broad
daylight, while her parents were at work. Trailing
behind her were some of the neighbours.
When they managed to free the little boy from
her grip he was already unconscious and frothing.
Later, the neighbours saw his limp body being
hoisted onto a stretcher by frantic ambulance
attendants. Still later, they told the police they had
frst been alerted by Mmarita’s screaming: ‘Get off
me… get off meee!!!’
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61
LAST PARADE AT GOLGOTHA
ondangwa realised he was extremely exhausted,
although he was not yet at his destination. That was
strange, considering it was a mere three kilometres;
in the past he had easily made that sort of distance.
At times he had doubled, even trebled, that. Why
this odd feeling today? He shrugged at the thought
that it might be old age.
Thirty-fve was, indeed, old age – it was a
miraculous achievement for a young man to reach
such an age these days. Yes, mankind was about to
follow the dinosaurs into extinction. Maybe the
world would soon be populated and ruled by ants
and little bacteria, which sustain themselves on
almost nothing.
With the many forces lurking to snatch away
one’s life, it was apparent that the odyssey of living
was ended before it began. If these forces were
not human-inspired, like witchcraft, car accidents
or murder, then they were natural disasters like
droughts, starvation, foods or earthquakes.
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62
Ondangwa could not decide how to classify
AIDS, but concluded the disease was certainly a
curse on human survival and progression. And
possibly the ultimate curse on the sex act itself.
It was a fulflment of the biblical prophecy of
Apocalypse. End of the world through fre… fre
of loins.
Before going deeper into these thoughts,
Ondangwa felt the skin of his soles start to burn.
On closer scrutiny, he noticed corns and blisters.
Why, he could not understand, for he washed and
scrubbed his feet every day. In fact, his morning
bath was said to last a full sixty minutes. This had
always been source of confict between himself
and his mother-in-law. She eventually managed
to infuence his wife. Days later, he noticed that
Ntsiki was starting to fll his bath with less and less
water. Moreover, the water was becoming cooler
and cooler. But this did not affect his bath duration;
instead it widened the rift between them.
Ag shame! Of all worldly treasures, the woman
chose to horde water. Stingy woman! What
uniqueness was there in water, after all? An
element with which you couldn’t even rinse your
sins. Although there was the baptismal ritual,
which was supposed to erase one’s previous sins and
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63
make one new-born. Some said ‘Born Again’.
Then he remembered the communion. He
wondered at times if the sacrament wasn’t just
an excuse to indulge in drink. What was this
fascination with liquid among Christians? Could
it be that their faith was not strong enough to be
tested on a bed of red-hot coals, like the Hindus’?
He recalled the case of the Samaritan harlot who
denied Jesus water. For stinginess, she had earned a
curse from the Son of Man. Maybe Ntsiki was some
remote cousin or even latter-day reincarnation of
that Samaritan harlot. He wished he could curse
her…
As a Catholic, he did not believe in divorce. Or
care much to divorce over a mere bath. But that
was exactly what his mother advised him to do.
‘Beat her at least,’ she advised again.
‘But Mme! That’s taking it too far…’
‘Taking it too fa-aar, wwhaaat?’ she responded,
fuming. ‘Wasn’t that fve thousand they demanded
for lobola too much?… Yerreee! Ngwana-ke-
wena-wa-reng!’
Ondangwa looked deep in his mother’s eyes. He
saw his own refection and started thinking about
his childhood, the days of his youth. Both relatives
and complete strangers used to say how much he
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 63 3/29/07 2:53:06 PM
64
looked like her, and that he shared her character
traits. But he knew he wasn’t like her. When he
looked in her eyes, he tried to see himself – or the
specks that were supposed to represent her in him,
or him in her. But there were none. The only thing
he did manage to see was his own refection, a tiny
blob shrunk to the size of a pin by her iris… his
esteemed masculinity and ego dwarfed, rendered
insignifcant by her fragile feminine iris.
Even at thirty-fve, he realised, he remained
an infant in her eyes, an infant she would mother
until the grave relieved her of that burden. And
that made him feel extremely vulnerable. He had
tried to overcome that by falling in love with her
eyes. Not only hers, but also those of other women.
And eyes had ended up constituting the epitome
of feminine sensuality and erotic passion for him.
Throughout his life, they would wield hypnotic
power over him.
The spell would only be broken ten years later,
when he was hanged with a burning tyre around
his neck, having been sentenced to death by a
‘People’s Court’ in Alexandra. (Maybe the act
would have been gratifying had it occurred in
reality – pity that it was only enacted in the recesses
of his mind, where his conscience was struggling
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 64 3/29/07 2:53:06 PM
65
to come to terms with the realities of the times.)
Up to the last moment, his eyes were glued to those
of a twenty-one-year-old virgin, one of the weeping
spectators. Crying! An emotional act that is slowly
wringing the world dry. It is only organisms that
are incapable of this act that are destined to inherit
the earth. Despite his proclaimed supremacy,
man’s ability to shed tears cancels his status as
lord over other living creatures – a status that has
eluded him since creation. Hasn’t man, armed with
knowledge, matured enough to recognise crying
for what it is – a trife, a nonsensical expression of
happiness or tragedy that is draining the world of the
moistness and dampness it so desperately needs?
He recalled how his father regularly used to beat
his mother. Never understanding or appreciating
her big, moist eyes, he would beat her terribly, so
that she usually ended up with ‘blue eyes’. That
would happen, in particular, after his father had
drunk four or six pints at Auntie Kikilha’s.
His mother was different from other women
in the township. During those terrible beatings,
she never cried or attracted attention. She never
screamed or ran outside, but would obediently
submit herself, bent or kneeling before her husband,
pleading or mumbling his praise-poems and totem.
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66
He recalled how he’d once tried to intervene by
snatching the broomstick from his father.
‘Hey-wena ngwana tena! Bring that back!’ his
mother had yelled at him.
‘I won’t, I won’t… he’s killing you,’ he’d tried to
reason with her.
But it was to no avail. She would hobble after
him, take the broomstick and give it back to her
husband, who would resume his punishment.
Nx! Why was he thinking about all that? He
couldn’t fnd a reason, except that he was putting
his mind through the dark alleys of his childhood;
alleys with sore and sticky edges. He only knew
that he was extremely exhausted.
It was that damning state of exhaustion that
had driven him to trains and taxis. But he’d started
missing his long walks, missing the pedestrian’s
unbridled monopoly of the roads and arrogance
towards motorists. Train rides irritated him.
Crowding, pick-pocketing and shoe trampling were
the rule.
Reluctantly, his mind drifted to one memorable
ride, years ago…
‘Exhausted, like a donkey… no, like a mongrel.
No, like a farmhand… or maybe like a tokoloshe,’
he mumbled softly.
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67
‘Are you talking?’ the young woman sitting
next to him on the train asked.
‘What… err… why?’ he stammered.
‘I heard something about tokoloshe,’ she
continued.
Clearly, she was in the mood for talking.
‘Damn,’ he muttered. He was not in that mood.
He also noticed she’d stopped pretending to read
a copy of True Love magazine. It occurred to him
that she was in the mood for being proposed to…
‘Damn!’ He was not in that mood either.
He realised his ankles were strained. He become
conscious of the fact that even his knees were
creaking. ‘Agg! Why doesn’t this bloody train
have an accident…’
An outcry erupted from his fellow commuters.
‘Whaaaat!!’ one voice echoed.
‘Whyyy?!’ two others chorused.
‘Accident! Afa ga o moloi wena,’ another
accused.
The whole compartment was staring at him in
shock. Why? He hadn’t messed his trousers. No,
neither had he urinated in his trousers, nor was
his fy open. Why… no, neither was his ‘small
boy’ excitedly outstretched alongside his thighs.
He noticed that even the Watchtower mobile
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68
evangelist was in shocked silence, the koppie-dice
game abandoned halfway.
‘Damn it! I didn’t say that aloud,’ he told himself.
But he should have known. His mind and senses
were so numb they were reacting mechanically,
rambling on by themselves. Mental lethargy was
upon him, mercilessly collaring and dragging him
to the scrapyard.
He began thinking about Ntsiki. Her shabby
appearance. Her fabby shape. Her grouchy
company. Her ever-increasing disregard for basic
hygiene… and the young woman who was sitting
next to him. The young woman who was in the
mood for being talked to… the young woman who
was conscious and proud of her appearance, who
also was in the mood for being proposed to… the
young woman whose eyes were like almonds, like
a radiant sunfower. Regretful thoughts about his
fve-thousand-rand lobola weren’t that far behind.
‘Yerreee! Pshooo!!’ He puffed deeply. Yaa!
Maybe Bra Ntikzo was right: ‘Leave the magogo
home, ntwana maan! Check bana outie maan!
Nothing better than bana en s’putla.’ Yaa! That
was Ntikzo talk.
Nx! Bugger-off, Bra Ntikzo and his twak. Why
should he care, Ondangwa reasoned. Sapped of
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69
energy as he was, human existence was reduced
to a mere fraction of a feeling – a feeling of
exhaustion. He became aware that his mind was
operating at low gear. In laborious chugs and
pauses. And his vision was becoming more and
more blurred. Mirages and stars appeared with
unabashed exhibitionism.
He fumbled for his cigarettes. Eshoooo! He’d
got none. How about trying some fellow puffer…
‘Skeif daar, broer?’
‘Eeii! Broer, ke draai.’
Agaa! He was tired of having to grovel, to lick
others’ shoes for ‘nkauza’.
‘O-yaa!’ The smokers’ brotherhood and solidarity
was fast dying. One hardly got even a stompie…
‘Nx! Bongame fela!’ He shot up and moved to
another coach. ‘What’s wrong with you fucking,
bloody, flthy train commuters!’
His eyes fell on the red-sprayed graffti on the
coach walls. Then he noticed that underneath was
pencilled:
‘Yu were fuking! bloody! having yur senses
sarender to your erekshin when you rote thes –
thes is no fuking puplic toilet.’
It occurred to Ondangwa that he would have to
visit all the public toilets in Johannesburg to view
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 69 3/29/07 2:53:07 PM
70
all the graffti. Maybe that way he might come
across some creativity. Rebellious creativity from
society’s oppressed individuals. Those like him,
but who didn’t utter their wayward statements,
but preferred to paint, scribble or spray them on
public walls.
Then his eyes fell on a young man, a bearded
animal. They were animals, that he was certain of,
despite protestations the other might have offered.
Animals destined for extinction, culled by their
own civilisation. He noticed the Peter Stuyvesant
dangling from the other’s lips. He grinned,
exposing his own nicotine-stained teeth. But the
other turned aside.
He started biting his lips. Then he licked them
and swallowed a trickle of blood… Ntsiki, portly as
ever. She was probably busy with her unappetising
pots on the coal stove…
Tshoooo! He yawned and stretched himself.
No, it wasn’t his body that was exhausted. It was a
feeling that emanated from deep within his heart.
If human existence was fatigue of both the mind
and body, Silenus was probably right when he
advised King Midas that the most desirable
thing for mankind was not to be born at all, or
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71
alternatively to die soon. Still walking, Ondangwa
felt the urge to continue living dissipate. There
was no regret or remorse though – he realised
that in all his walks, extremely exhausting walks,
he’d been going nowhere. Remote, beyond his
immediate and possible reach, was life and love
decked on a giant table, with a great blue tablecloth
and giant golden serviettes. Only with telescopic
sight could he peep with malnourished longing at
that splayed scenery. But would he reach it? Didn’t
Moses falter at Mount Pisgah? Gibran also sought
eternal rest in New York. And Icarus at Crete.
Then there was Modjadji, the frst rainmaker, she
too fnally sought the company of the ancestors at
Ga-Modjadji. Darwin, who embraced mortality
at Down. No, not even Bedford Forrest could
bear the Klan Cross beyond, but had to surrender
it at Pulaski. Not even the mystic poet himself,
Saint John of the Cross, could sustain himself; he
too had to seek eternal solitude with his God at
Ubeda.
And with shocked fnality, he realised that in
all his long walks, the meadow he’d thought he
was journeying towards was in fact a valley of
death, the fnal resting place, layered with multiple
mirrors for self-refection, self-appreciation and
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72
self-indulgence. Biding its time, waiting to crush
its tenants. To smash them to smithereens.
Then the awakening took possession of him.
He matured instantly as knowledge enfolded him.
Then he aged. He could see he was the odd, and
at times even bothersome cockroach, ant, bedbug
or mosquito that arrogantly prances around,
trespassing on prohibited sacred grounds.
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73
STREET FEATURES
the street Could Be anywhere. It stretches along
an even gradient, punctuated by four-way junctions
every fve hundred metres or so. At longer intervals
there are robots that maintain guard night and day.
But, like any other mechanical thing, they become
sick once in a while, so that instead of their electric
winks and blinkings, the traffc is confronted by
their human counterparts. But these too, like
anything mortal, are prone to error – with the
result that stretches of crawling motorcars idle and
doze in that outstretched path. For in fact it is a
path, like any in the bush, except that this one is
decorated with tar, granite paving, and permanent
yellow and white markings…
This is the street I dreamed about and longed
for throughout my childhood. But now we are
estranged. It has become possessed by four-wheeled
chameleons, snails, sparrows, eagles, sharks and
whales, some of them belching loudly and puffng
smog from their narrow nostrils. Kites I longed to
manoeuvre and chase after in its wide skies have
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74
been displaced, mocked by helicopters, gliders,
aeroplanes and all sorts of mechanical monsters that
overwhelm and dwarf everything else up there.
This is a street I don’t dream of anymore. It is now
sandwiched between tall buildings, most of them
not less than seven storeys high. Often it slides a little
way into squalor, but then municipality sanitation
offcers remember it. Kind-heartedly, they retrieve
it from complete disintegration. This is usually
on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons. Of
course, it does get a nightly scrubbing, in the
shape of garbage removal every evening around
eight. Still, like a self-indulgent pig, it is back to its
former state the following day, immediately after
lunch time. I conclude that spring-cleaning for this
street is hopeless.
My frst observation, on seeing the street again
after nearly ten years, was that it could be anywhere.
It could be heaven, travelled by the few who’ve
attained salvation. Or even hell, strewn with the
multitudes of those who’ve fouted salvation – the
revelry-drugged mob, swarming like ants around
jam or bees over honey.
This view isn’t mine alone, for those who see,
use and abuse the street every day, over and over
again, are of the same verdict.
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75
‘But the path to heaven is narrow… doesn’t the
bible testify to that?’
‘Ya! That was before the clever ones died. The
ones with an IQ of 150. They have probably
introduced grinders and caterpillars there as well.’
‘That’s sickening blasphemy.’
‘Don’t you agree, heaven too needs to be
modernised? Otherwise it would lose potential
recruits to places like Sun City. Boy, fesh merchants
have also awoken to the dangers of AIDS. They
prescribe condoms. And that’s modernisation. I
don’t see any reason why heaven shouldn’t go for a
face-lift as well.’
‘Alley to social utopia!’ bold newspaper headlines
might shout.
‘Red-light main road to moral degradation!’
moralists might pronounce with condemnation.
Certainly the street is confused – just like all those
who walk or drag themselves over its granite and
tar. Going westward, one always has the unsettling
feeling of approaching a lion’s den, maybe because
of the hot, smelly air that drifts from that direction.
It is also like ascending an extremely steep hill.
But going eastward is like feeing a horde of living
corpses with iron clamps chained to your ankles.
It is a gentle down-slope, but the drag!
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76
Some say it is a bewitched street. Others attribute
its strangeness to perennial tremors caused by
geological forces in its bowels. Still others say there
is a natural pool underneath the street, where a
great serpent lives. Its breathing is the cause of all
the abnormal feelings people experience there.
The street also witnesses the birth of boys and
girls. In adolescence they discover each other, drawn
by the magnetic force that emanates from their
loins. They become acquainted, become husbands
and wives, and start copulating. Little children,
some resembling them and others not resembling
them, are born. Then age starts mistreating the
children as they grow to adulthood. It is then that
some choose to return to the rural areas, while
others are hastily claimed by the grave.
It was here that the longing to meet a girl frst
took root in me. But because of my erratic stay, I
was unable to stretch my roots deep enough for
them to entangle and intertwine with those of a
girl.
Were you to stop and inspect the street more
appreciatively, you would see it differently. It is the
kind of street that goes straight to wooing, grabbing
and clinging onto your affections. At one angle, it
appears shaped like a maiden’s torso. And men of
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77
all ages are in one way or another infatuated with
that. There are times it appears like a Michelangelo
sculpture, and women are ever consumed with
trying to remodel their husbands’ and boyfriends’
age-battered and life-battered bodies on it.
At times I have seen young men, probably lonely
ones, lie prostrate on its alabaster slabs. They weep
silently, or roll around. Sometimes they behave
obscenely, rocking themselves up and down.
Embarrassed passers-by realise they are simulating
love-making.
‘Disgusting! Why don’t they go buy it in
Hillbrow.’
Young women strolling with their boyfriends
turn against them when walking on that street.
Trouble starts when they frst insist on taking off
their shoes.
‘He-wena! Ke eng tse, hee?’
‘Let’s lie down.’
‘Lie down! Where? Why?’
‘Isn’t it romantic? To let the wind caress you. To
feel the pavement whisper and tickle your feet.’
The boyfriends then either drag their girls away
or slap them. But one or two try playing the game.
And they pay the price. For, once down, the girls’
attention is diverted – scribbling on the concrete
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78
what the boyfriends call nonsense, like ‘Sex me
up’ or ‘Shake-shake-shake, shake your body,’ and
similar song lyrics. After that they kiss the slab,
whispering how gentle its touch is on their bodies,
cooing how sweet it is. And the inference is quickly
picked up by the boyfriends, even the dull ones:
‘You mean I don’t satisfy you, ne?’
Or: ‘Look here, Kedi! I don’t dig your attitude.’
‘Huwii! Listen, he doesn’t dig my attitude. What
attitude is that, dear?’
‘Kedi! Don’t get funny, ne!’ Whaaaa! – and a
klap puts a stop to the women’s funniness.
No! The street was never a piece of architectural
genius. On closer inspection, especially with a
microscope or magnifying glass, one notices little
cracks here and there. There are bigger crevices in
unsuspected places. These are places of refuge or
asylum, where cents from the poor and rich alike
are likely to wedge, therein to embrace posterity.
They are spared the abuse of sweaty palms.
No! The street was never a piece of inspired
technological engineering either. In many places,
its edges have given in to the pressures of shoes and
car tyres. Careless drunkards now and then sprain
ankles or even break fngers. A dozen naughty
kids are always available to testify to the foul mood
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 78 3/29/07 2:53:08 PM
79
and erratic behaviour of that street. Their bruised
knees and foreheads and missing teeth are witness
to that.
But the street has its patrons, lots and lots of
them. The plain, the odd, the attractive, the rowdy
and ugly ones.
In the old days, Saturday afternoons meant ‘woza
weekend’. The inhabitants would creep out from
their holes: labourers’ top-foor rooms, ground-
foor store-rooms… and on Sunday evenings
they would disappear, to hole up again until the
next weekend. At that point, when they chose
to dematerialise, you would be unlikely to trace
them. Even with the assistance of giant searchlights.
For they had learned to evade the clutches of the
Group Areas Act. It was at night that one could
hear them whispering in muffed tones as they
stole to deserted elevators, or indulged themselves
in the pleasures of forbidden love.
Their life began after fve, when the offce
workers and their bosses were gone. Then they
would emerge, mothers with legions of children
hanging on their aprons. Children whose fathers
had forgotten their existence. Husbands with
long-forgotten, rural wives; sons and daughters
with bundu-confned parents. Again they would
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80
materialise. Appendages, human relics relegated
to social scrap-heaps. With the setting of the sun
they would emerge: gangs of women reduced to
selling their bodies for survival; vulture-like young
men haunting bags, purses and pockets; vagrants
terrorising dustbins and rubble piles for edibles.
After ten years, I came back, hoping to rekindle
my acquaintance with the street. To end our
estrangement and take up where we left off. Instead
I met her…
Her name was Palesa, she told me. Her age
was twenty-three. Her place of birth was Tsomo.
In the Transkei, she added. I asked about her
occupation. She looked me deep in the eyes, but
would not tell. Her stare was bold, challenging,
yet femininely sensuous. In the mirror-like centre
of her eyes, I saw childhood dreams gone wrong.
Ambitions misdirected by ignorance and hopes
betrayed by realities. I saw a whole existence
derailed, immature ears crowded by a barrage of
manipulative words – the snakes and ladders game
of adolescence.
After a while she relaxed. She told me of the
male cousins she stayed with. Then I noticed
her bosom. It was limp, like a defated balloon.
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81
It bore witness to an untimely motherhood.
A motherhood that overnight had shuttled her
from the harmonies of girlhood to the battering
perils of single parenthood; that had served as a
passport to exile. Away from the verbal abuse of
parents, the scorn of neighbours and peers. From
the jeers and sneers of former boyfriends. She had
sought and found comfort in fight; whereupon the
unknown had taken pity on her, welcomed and
consoled her.
It was then that I realised everything she had
told me about herself was not true – yet she was
not a liar. She was a weaver of words. Words woven
around her fragile inner being. Like Scheherazade,
cheating loneliness and death by inventing stories
of hope. Narrating them to herself. Constantly
weaving courage, daring the possibilities of AIDS
and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Two weeks later, I went to the corner on which
we’d met. She was not there. I asked around for
her. None of the girls seemed to know her. Her
name was unfamiliar to most. I gave a short but
desperate description, and then a few recalled her.
I noted that in some of those recollections were
evident both pleasure and spite, while in others
I noticed pity.
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82
‘I last saw her with a white man in a red Sierra,’
one of the girls told me.
‘No-no! It was a black man in a grey Golf,’
another insisted.
Did it matter or make any difference? Palesa,
Melisa, or whoever she was, was nowhere. I noticed
that some of the girls were eyeing me suspiciously,
while others exhibited salespersons’ interest, as if I
might be persuaded into a deal. Finally, overcome
by both uneasiness and pity, I turned away from
them. Slowly I dragged myself westwards. My
eyes would now and then fasten on distant female
fgures and fsh around their profles for familiar
features. At times my gaze would hook onto kerb-
crawling cars. Would she emerge from that car?
Was it her, that one tucking her legs into the front
seat?
My ears sucked onto familiar sounds: distant
laughter, whistles, motorcar hooters. Would she
emerge in a dazed rush for that one particular,
favourite client? Would that car hooter or whistle
nurse her from her sick-bed or intensive care unit…
or awaken her from the grave?
Where are you, dear one?
Would she tear free from the clutches of a new
client for the customary caresses of her consistent
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 82 3/29/07 2:53:09 PM
83
client? Yet I knew I did not have the power or
resources to rescue her. I couldn’t re-dress the stage
to offer her a better act. An act devoid of those
beds, the posturing, the life-consuming embraces.
Palesa or Melisa, or whoever she was, was no
longer there. No more a feature of the street.
I fumbled along that merciless street. Now and
then my vision would blur, and it was in such a
state that she would become clearer… the one
woman I might have loved. The one woman
whose roots might have intertwined with mine to
form a nourishing tree for little boys and girls of our
own. That would have been possible, in another
time and other circumstances.
In the end, she merged with the other
insignifcant particles of that street – artlessly
laid granite paving-stones, hurriedly levelled tar.
Fresh and rain-stained cigarette stubs. Tastelessly
grafftied walls and corners permeated with
sulphuric urine odour. And here and there, orange
and banana peels strewn around.
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85
DEATH AND THE PALMIST
(Letter from the dead)
it was on the third day of the incident that we
braced ourselves for something sinister. Not that
an itching palm was a riddle, something to shame
the beards of our wisdom. We knew, though, that
it was an omen. ‘Incident’ might not even be the
appropriate term, but then, having chased the same
sun behind the same trees and mountain for the
better part of our lives, we were prone to employing
hyperbole in our descriptions of everything,
merely to give a semblance of signifcance to our
monotonous lives.
And it was bound to happen that we individually
and collectively bore grudges against Pontsho.
Who was she, anyway, to pour scorn onto our
communal pride? Pontsho ridiculed everything
– our employment of riddles, hyperbole and jokes,
our indulging in sorghum and marula beer, our
morabaraba games and our habitual lounging in
the shade after midday meals. All the while, we
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 85 3/29/07 2:53:09 PM
kept reminding her that these were mere diversions
to lessen the burden of drudgery in our lives. She
countered by accusing us of ineptitude and laziness,
using a lot of other similarly degrading terms.
You will understand our triumph at what we
later collectively referred to as ‘Pontsho’s affiction’.
Pontsho, grouchy over a palm-itch, continuously
scratching and scratching, like strumming a minute
guitar. Or ‘like a mongrel or pig with lekker krap,’
someone intoned. For this comic relief, the speaker
earned himself a gourd of frothing sorghum beer.
Our triumph was not gratifying, though, because
Pontsho treated our making an issue out of her
palm-itch with scorn: ‘Come off it, you illiterates.
None of you invented a fart or a belch. So stop
pretending that you know my itching palm is a
countdown to the end of the world.’
Our degree of shock prompted us to consult
ngaka-ya-ditaola, for we all agreed only one
bewitched could degenerate that badly in
neighbourliness.
Pontsho’s palm was not the only village issue.
She was beautiful as well. The kind of bewitching
beauty only angels or she-devils possess. What else
could we term it? At a time when women’s worth
was the number of babies their wombs could
86
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87
produce or menial tasks their arms could carry out,
she chose to parade the pains beauty was capable
of inficting.
All mothers in our village used to advise their
marriageable sons: ‘Mosadi ke tshwene, o lewa
mabogo.’ Prospective mothers-in-law pointed out
that Pontsho’s kind of beauty fed only the eyes
while sucking out men’s guts, rendering them
zombies. We thought the mothers’ warnings were
motivated by female jealousy, until we started
hearing rumours about bizarre behaviour by some
of our brothers: boys, married men and old men
were so besotted with Pontsho that they would
wander about in the streets or nearby woods at
full moon, crooning, chanting or whispering her
name. Younger women were known to fall into
stuttering and swooning spells in her presence.
These affictions were known to disappear when
she withdrew.
It was because of this that some of us started
believing certain preachers – that Pontsho was a
she-devil incarnate, bent on corrupting Christian
youths tantalised by her beauty, convinced she was
the Madonna. Kgwedi, the village boomelaar,
nearly started an inter-religious bloodbath between
Catholics and Protestants by insisting that waters
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 87 3/29/07 2:53:10 PM
88
of everlasting life fowed between her legs –
the idiot! The Protestant deserter forgot in his
drunken stupor that the guzzler on his left was the
local Catholic priest.
From those before us, we had learnt that when
your palm itches, it is an omen. It means you will
receive money – if you were owed, or perhaps if a
rich uncle on his death-bed forgot you were worse
than a piece of dog shit and decided to bequeath
his entire estate to you. Or it means that a long-
lost acquaintance will soon reappear, and you will
shake his hand repeatedly. Relief will embrace you
with the realisation that the cure for your itching
palm has arrived.
We learnt of all the body’s different signs and their
interpretations. Itching foot-soles foretold travel,
or being soaked in rain; a palpitating upper eyelid
meant seeing a long-lost acquaintance; an itching
lower eyelid foretold crying or mourning for a
loved one. Then there was the best of all, choking on
saliva – that foretold a feast. Most of us enjoyed this
last sign. How could we not, when meat and other
delicacies were scarce? It was only the occasional
funeral that guaranteed us those treats.
Collective panic would set in if none of us
reported such an omen. Then we would set about
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lamenting terrible times, a soup-drought for our
palates.
As tradition demanded, we passed these signs on
to our grandchildren as a legacy. Especially as there
was little else we could show to them as proof of
our having suckled from Mother Nature. It wasn’t
as if our grandchildren appreciated our wisdom.
Word carried by bats and owls reached us about
their condemnation of us as a generation of failures.
We knew, and were powerless to reverse that…
had we but left them herds of goats and cows, or
mielie-felds, our failures would be erased.
With time, we became convinced that Pontsho
was the prophetess of the generation of ridiculers,
because all the young ones were starting to adopt
her attitude.
Over frothing sorghum beer, we worked out
counter-strategies. We ridiculed the young by
pointing out that they conducted themselves that
way because they were conceived during the day
– yea! It was only dogs and donkeys that mated
during daytime. Not surprising, then, that the
offspring of drunkards and daytime fornicators
behaved like animals.
After these strategising sessions, we would turn
to our favourite songs:
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90
Couzy-motswala is for sale
Buy her and fll our bellies
Tswang-tswang motswala
Couzy-motswala is for sale
Bed my wife, I’ll bed yours…
A new refrain was added to the popular ditty:
Tswang-tswang motswala
motswala-ka ngwana malome
kare ntsee oa gana
Kgomo di boela sakeng…
Come forth cousin
cousin, beloved child of my uncle’s
marry me so cattle can remain in the
family kraal
but he refuses…
Our days were spent in such humorous sentiment –
until Pontsho started referring to ‘poor old women
and men’s tales’.
‘Did you hear that little witch? She refers to our
warning regarding her palm-itch as –’
‘Stop right there before curses follow you, to the
seventh generation!’ – so anybody daring to echo
her blasphemy would be cautioned.
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We all pointed out to her what would befall
her, but Pontsho, being Pontsho, chose to dare our
collective indignation, if not that of the ancestors.
From that day onwards, we all waited with baited
breath to witness Pontsho reaping the bitter rewards
of disrespect for our customs.
Our anticipation was at fever point when we
heard rumour that her palm-itch was getting
itchier by the day.
We reasoned with her that to break the omen of
death, maybe hers or that of someone close to her,
she needed to act quickly. When it appeared that
she was going to do nothing, we resolved to act.
Our frst action was to send children, little ones
whom we reckoned hadn’t yet committed sin.
Their task was to scratch her palm, because that
was the remedy we all applied when our palms
itched. When that failed, we reasoned: ‘You call
those children – they are miniature monsters! No
manners or shame in them. With the bad infuence
of those moving pictures they see, kare ruri you
get little playground serial killers. At three they
are already experts at torturing frogs, ants and
dung-beetles. They also poke sticks, stones and all
sorts of funny things in the rear ends of domestic
animals.’
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‘Ka mma ruri, with chickens born with four
legs. The world is truly nearing its end.’
At a village kgotla, we resolved a virgin was
our next-best bet. Though we were all equally
jealous of Pontsho, we were wholeheartedly
united in our effort to shield her from a
destructive fate. Although we were preoccupied
with seeing her humiliated and humbled, secretly
we knew that we did not want her to die from the
curse.
After patiently waiting for one parent, just one,
to volunteer his or her child, panic broke out
when that seemed unlikely to happen. We were
all shocked to realise that moral decadence in the
village was so bad that not a single virgin boy or
girl could be found among hundreds of children
and teenagers. Some jumped in to cite this as
the reason the village was experiencing so much
drought of late.
We probably would have sat there the whole
day if Mme-Makgatho had not come dragging
her mentally retarded eighteen-year-old daughter.
Relief loosened our tongues. The customary
riddles, jokes and anecdotes followed. In our
excitement, we formed a guard of honour to lead
the dribbling girl to Pontsho’s compound.
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‘Why abuse the poor thing?’ Pontsho jeered.
‘Homola wena, be grateful that we share in your
suffering.’
‘What! Call an itching palm an affiction? You
backward natives.’
Maybe, in fairness, we might indeed be termed
backward natives, but being called that by a woman
– well, a girl really, and an unmarried one for that
matter – was extreme; a trampling, trivialisation
and spitting-on of the manhoods hanging between
our legs. A couple of grouchy men were about
to let their tempers descend to the level of their
ridiculed manhoods, but we pointed out to them
that, as always, arguing with Pontsho was like
pissing in your sorghum beer – an act that not only
spoils the beer, but your day as well. We all agreed
that such time would be more productively utilised
guzzling down our beloved wives’ brews.
Some of us enjoyed provoking her like this,
especially during ploughing season, when the
sun conspired with our lazy limbs to usher in
yet another harvest shortfall. We nonetheless got
Mapule to scratch Pontsho’s palm. That night,
none of us slept as we raced the night to a new day.
While we kept vigil outside her house, Pontsho
had a good night’s sleep.
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94
Despite the warnings by a village elder that the
sun would rise draped in an unusually red halo,
the third day of our suspense dawned like any
other. The cocks crowed at the usual time, the
dawn breeze sprayed the roofs of our huts with
dew, calves demanded their succour at the right
times. And we were reminded of Nongqawuse
and her dream-interpreting uncle, Mhlagaza. But
our dreams were different. We dreamt that the
mielie-felds tended themselves, that benevolent
spirits did the reaping, grinding and cooking for
us, that our enemies turned into cow dung so that
we could fertilise our felds. Those dreams were
fed by our longing to spend more time duelling
with ants, beetles and fies for the shade.
Our disappointment in seeing the sun rise without
any unusual red halo led us dejectedly to our
different compounds. We started counselling each
other: ‘Patience, patience, bathong. The day is still
young. Who knows, irresponsible midwives might
still sour our celebrations with news of a stillborn.’
That was the kind of language we all wanted to
hear: it gave comfort, it promised drama.
Our dread of ongoing boredom was broken
at midday, when news reached us that Pontsho’s
palm was itching again. Like bees heeding the call
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95
of their queen, we converged on her compound.
For wasn’t that what she had become, a queen?
An umbilical cord threaded its way from her navel
through her palm to the core of our brains.
Once again, we were united in laying blame for the
failure of our efforts to eradicate Pontsho’s affiction.
Our condemnation was piled on Mapule’s mother.
Some among us recalled having heard rumours of
her selling her retarded daughter’s womanhood
to supplement her meagre pension. Some recalled
earlier stories that the daughter was the offspring
of the mother’s incestuous relationship with her
own brother. That was said to have happened after
the death of her husband a few months after the
marriage.
It was bound to happen. Those of us who
understood Pontsho’s attitude knew that she would
lose patience with our interference in her palm and
its omen. She berated us, told us to go swap our
trousers for skirts; as she put it, real men would fnd
worthier employment for their time than counting
goat and chicken droppings. Really, was respect
for one’s elders, and male ones for that matter, so
reduced that unmarried girls could allude to our
manhood in public? We knew then that man’s
dignity was eroded.
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96
Later, we wished we had taken more offence;
that would have confrmed we still took pride in
being men. But it was like she had cast a spell over
us. Some said all who stood close enough to her to
inhale the smell of her armpits behaved strangely
afterwards. One old man went even further: he
said the eyes of those who had crossed her path
or touched her during her menstrual period were
forever glazed – immune to any sight except her.
Were it not for his age, we were certain the younger
men who were constantly wooing Pontsho would
have burned him alive. For his insinuation was
that their potential bride was a witch. What they
did not know, though, was that Pontsho would
one day marry death.
The saga of Pontsho’s affiction culminated
when she received a letter from her twin brother.
The one known to have died at the age of
twelve in a fall from his bicycle. How strange
things were becoming these days. When we
were growing boys, we would fall from tall trees,
bruising our knees or breaking the occasional
rib, fnger, leg or arm. But really! To die of a
fall from something that creeps on the ground –
what punishment were the ancestors meting out,
and for what?
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97
That letter certainly had an impact on Pontsho,
and on all of us. We once again converged on her
compound. We trampled and crushed each other as
we vied to see, touch and smell the envelope from
the dead, because Pontsho refused to let us see the
contents of the letter itself. Each of us scrutinised
and sniffed it for signs or proof that it was indeed
from the beyond.
‘Say, how much postage stamp did it cost?’
‘Did it take two months to deliver, like other
letters?’
‘I don’t know… I don’t know,’ Pontsho
mumbled.
‘Was it an owl, a white chicken or goat that
delivered it?’
‘Does he say if there is abundant beer, meat and
shade?
These were some of the questions that Pontsho
had to deal with. We salivated as we echoed the
last question. But Pontsho spoiled our longing for
the other world by mumbling, ‘I know nothing…
I know nothing.’
Poor Pontsho. It was the frst time we’d seen
her tongue-tied and speechless. Her eyes darting
about, appealing, searching for volunteers to
provide answers.
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98
‘What does he say… what does he want?’ in one
collective voice we asked.
She just looked at us and hid her face in her
palms, as if in prayer.
‘Hahaa! A reye, go on, fnd a way to ridicule
her for this as well,’ we secretly intoned, passing
around the yellow, soil-stained envelope.
Some of the womenfolk tried to soothe Pontsho:
‘Relax Pontsho, it is probably one of your suitors
playing tricks on you.’
‘Patience, the drunkard behind all this will
emerge.’
‘It’s just pranks by that besotted Tumpus.’
But Pontsho started crying, ranting and tearing
at her clothes. Oh! Such a beauty gone mad, what
a waste of human art, what a waste of fne wife
material – so thought the men, both young and old.
For them, it meant losing a potential frst, second
or even third wife. But no, it was not yet time
for jealous spinsters and witches to celebrate, for
Pontsho stopped her wild behaviour. She gathered
herself, went into one of the huts and collected a
hoe, a gourd of beer, some one-cent coins, two
candles and a plate. Then we knew where she was
going. We followed her at a distance as she made
her hasty way to the cemetery.
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99
It was only at the cemetery gates that we stopped
her. Sounds of a cock crowing from the village
could be heard. We reminded her it was taboo
to enter graveyards during daytime, except for
burials.
‘You can’t, Pontsho; you can’t tend your
brother’s grave at this time. That will bring bad
luck. You have to go before sunrise,’ Mme-
Makgatho told her.
We heard the distant cock crowing again.
Without arguing, Pontsho let herself be led back to
her compound by the old woman. Our procession
followed at a safe distance. When the crowing
came the third time, we could only wonder who
was being betrayed this time.
It was noticed by all that the letter incident
marked the fnal transformation of Pontsho. While
she did not go out of her way to be polite, she
stopped mocking us. As if in reaction to this, our
banter, jokes and marathon beer-drinking sessions
lost their momentum. It was like the whole village
was suffering from a virus of anti-humour.
Unlike normally, when our ears would quickly
pick up and interpret the whisperings of the
wind, it took us a whole four months to get the
information regarding the contents of Pontsho’s
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 99 3/29/07 2:53:11 PM
100
letter from her late twin brother. That those
sketchy dribs and drabs came through Mapule,
Mme-Makgatho’s retarded daughter, irritated
us the most. Did Pontsho have to stoop that low
to show her contempt for us, by confding in a
dribbling and drooling human waste? That made
us swallow our pride. We reluctantly also found
ourselves forced to censor those who still persisted
in ridiculing the retarded girl.
One Wednesday morning, the retarded girl
surprised us by informing us that we should prepare
for Pontsho’s betrothal party. The village entered
a period of pandemonium: most men neglected
kgotla and village council affairs to busy themselves
with sorting cattle, goats and hens for possible
lobola. But then the retarded girl infuriated us by
telling us that none of us, despite our vast wealth,
were a match for Pontsho’s husband-to-be.
‘What pomposity!’
‘What a presumptuous insult!’
‘What disrespectful gibberish!’
The words foated around us.
‘What upstart is this?’
‘From whose womb did he come?’
By then, we were convinced that the upstart was
not from our village. No, he was certainly not.
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101
Because all the young men had turned to accusing
us of stealing their bride, while we in turn had
been pointing crooked forefngers at them. Most
had ducked or hidden behind tree trunks and
stumps, for they feared bad luck would strike them
from our spite- and muti-imbued fngers.
This time around, chewing our beards did not
offer any comfort. How could it, when we were
robbed of a young thoroughbred – a mount to
rejuvenate our blood fow?
‘Fragile old beards cannot replace brooms to clear
our soiled huts. Why, then, do old and young poke
each other’s eyes with dirty fngernails? Pontsho
belongs to the ones that reside in the shades…’
We all turned, mouths and eyes wide open,
palms glued to our cheeks as we listened to the
retarded Mapule. Gathering ourselves, we hastily
pulled away from the girl. Then, like chastised
children, we huddled together.
‘Cry for yourselves, lost men. In your prime,
armed with impatience, you charged forward to
fnd infancy in old age. Retreating, you will fnd
infancy in childhood… Pontsho is loved by spirits
whose shadows are mist…’
That fnally convinced us that Mapule, apart
from being retarded, was in fact mad. Young men
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102
jumped forward and started tying her up with
ropes. Dead tree-trunks and logs were hastily
brought and a bonfre made. We retreated, and
had to cover our noses as the burning witch flled
the air with nauseating odour.
Days after the roasting, we went about comforting
each other. ‘Yaa! I’ve always warned you that
Pontsho’s conduct was that of one bewitched.
But who would have known that the witch was
a retarded girl?’ one old man said, repeatedly
stroking his beard.
‘Indeed… indeed, your words strike the very
tip of the cow’s horns. What can we say?’ another
added.
In former times, those words would have been
downed with nicely brewed sorghum or marula
beer. But not today, or for a couple days after
the frying. Our stomachs could not retain
anything.
Early one morning, not long after Mapule’s death,
Pontsho once again collected snuff, sorghum beer
and grave-cleaning tools and left for the graveyard.
And that was the last time we ever saw her.
Rumour would later reach us that she had eloped
with this or that old or young man, but those men
would spend days thereafter cursing and wishing
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103
that our accusations were true. Another rumour
was that she had dug open her brother’s grave.
‘Aowa, lena. Then how did she manage to refll
the grave?’
Almost thirty years have passed since Pontsho’s
affiction, but the village hasn’t forgotten it. Maybe
it is because, here in the village, time hobbles along
like old men and women, whose spouses are the
marula and mokgope beers that caress their gullets
and soothe their old-age loneliness.
Our grandchildren feel it is their duty to offer
constant reminders of the incident in their games.
They invented a new game called ‘greet-scratch’;
the playing entails pretending to meet for the
frst time. Two children extend their hands as if
to shake, as is customary; and that is where the
climax of the game comes. Just before clasping,
each pretends his or her hand is itching, and starts
scratching vigorously, frst with the fngers of
the same hand, then with the other. Then both
pretend surprise to see each other thus engaged in
scratching.
‘Mokgotsi! What is poverty doing to me, me?
Receive money – hao! batho, are the ancestors
mocking my suffering?’
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104
Or, ‘O ra nna, everything repossessed, including
relatives and friends. But who is it that will shake
my hand in greeting? A re itse, maybe the cold-
and-bones palms of the dead?’
The children then laugh so heartily that some
roll on the gravel.
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105
A SOOTHSAYER’S DEPOSIT
‘ousie, hey! ousie, give ten rands and I will tell
your future,’ the malnourished stranger said to
Karabo.
‘That’s too cheap, hee?’
‘What…?’ he stammered, his eyes shifting from
the hem of her skirt to her handbag. A potential
bag-snatcher or serial-killer, she concluded.
‘Such a cheap future doesn’t need any telling,’
she snapped, walking on.
‘Please, ousie, I’m serious. Listen, I see you touting
a vase. The vase for sale is flled with your future
husband’s blood,’ he whispered, sauntering behind
her, his right hand extended to receive payment.
‘Uu! Shame. Try somebody else. If I were you,
I would concentrate more on seeing employment
opportunities in my own future.’ Karabo was
amused by her own response to the hustler. That’s
what he was, a deceptive rogue and a parasite.
What do you expect, with so much unemployment
and hunger around? Conniving charlatans were
hard at their trade.
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106
Later, when she remembered the prediction, she
was really infuriated. How could that demented
bastard tell such a lie about her? About Karabo, the
groomed and cultured daughter of Rre Thekiso
and Mme Kagiso Makgatho.
‘Ka mma ruri! A twisted upbringing does indeed
affect the brain.’
She realised it was one’s moral duty to sympathise
with such souls, reduced to roguery by poverty.
But nonetheless, in the days that followed, her
indignation grew. She went out into the streets in
search of what she now referred to as ‘her charlatan’,
to give him a dressing-down.
Her friends advised her that that wouldn’t be
enough: ‘Take the bastard to court. Sue him.’
‘My dear, your humility is scandalous. You
should be more assertive. None of us can stand
these cheap, lying bastards.’
‘A lazy one too.’
‘If he were driving a Merc, I mean that would
be understandable,’ another friend added with
bravado.
Her search for her bastard in the streets proved
unsuccessful.
‘Mogotsi! Set a private detective onto him. I tell
you, we shouldn’t let him get away with it.’
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107
To Karabo, the suggestion that she hire a contract
killer was an insult. ‘Me! Put a deposit on another
human being’s life? What nonsense.’ She abhorred
violence – so much so that she cursed people who
killed rats and mice, be it with poisonous bait or
mouse traps, or who trampled on ants and took
swipes at fies. She even began to use a catapult
with pebbles against beggars who crushed feas and
bugs.
That was twelve years ago.
The riddle intensifes. Chris had come into her
life while she was still in mourning. Eight months
earlier, her lover, Tiro, had died in a car-hijacking
incident. Of the three who were in the car, only
her little boy had survived.
Now and then, Karabo would chastise herself…
those vile thoughts. What was their source? Why
did she at times wish her little son had perished
with the others?
His nightmares and piercing screams. Every
Friday towards dawn, he would repeat the same
word: ‘Noooooooooooo...! ’ But even in his sleep, he
could not bring himself to fnish his plea: ‘Don’t
kill my father.’ And she would cuddle him, her
tears mingling with his sweat. Which together
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108
seeped down like Tiro’s blood, oozing out with
his life.
‘Your child is haunted,’ a sangoma told her family
and the late Tiro’s when they went to inquire about
the boy’s disturbed state.
‘That’s rubbish! Our son was a Christian,’ Tiro’s
mother snapped. What sacrilege! Dead Christians
don’t roam about haunting the living – and that
was the sangoma’s insinuation.
‘Aowa Mma…’ the sangoma began to plead with
Tiro’s mother.
‘Listen! Even if he never burned candles in
church at Easter, that doesn’t mean that he was not
committed,’ the furious mother continued.
After protracted arguing along these lines, the
sangoma was forced to clarify his statement: ‘The
child is haunted by fear. Fear that all male fgures
in his life will be killed in hijack incidents.’
Tiro’s mother was calmed, and grudgingly
accepted this explanation.
It was only later, when she was alone, that the
sangoma’s warning struck Karabo as peculiar. She
regretted not having challenged him to clarify his
divination there and then. Then she would not
have this inner torment… worrying is addictive,
like a drug.
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109
Because she was preoccupied with raising her
son, she never had the time to ponder the possibility
of a thread between the sangoma’s words and the
soothsayer’s prediction. She saw life as a bed, a
smooth bed on which you stretch yourself out
to enjoy a good night’s sleep. At times you really
enjoy it, while at other times it feels like gravel
particles have crawled into your sheets, and during
your sleep proceed to scratch your skin, kneading
it roughly, so that you wake up with tiny pains and
pricks. Sometimes, nightmares creep into your
sleep like the nimble fngers of pick-pockets, and
you wake up with the nagging feeling that all was
not well in your sleep. Or, worse still, nightmares
like a stampede of buffaloes storm into your
solitude, and you jerk from your bed screaming.
If life was like that, especially if you were
Karabo, what would you do? You would simply
soldier on, carrying on with the business of getting
the best out of life and dumping the bothersome
rest into the nearest dustbin.
That was seven years ago.
From the outset, when he came into her life,
Karabo was convinced Chris was her God-chosen
partner. That is, after Tiro. Now and then, in fact
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110
frequently, a bodiless male voice would urge her
to embrace him with all her heart. With time, she
started associating that voice with Tiro. It appeared
that Chris had been hand-picked by her late fancé
to partner her in shouldering the toils of life.
Chris was her opposite. To him, life was a menu
of repulsive dishes, maybe with an occasional
serving of fner desserts. But the rest… ‘I swear, it
is horrible. This is the explanation for degrading,
trivial human ailments like running stomachs,
running noses, headaches and so on… they might
appear minor irritations, but they are permanent
reminders of our mortality.’ (In this, Chris was in
fact paraphrasing the farewell statement of Queen
Mamahlola on her death-bed in 1903.)
Yet, despite this disadvantage, as Karabo termed
his negative philosophy of life, Chris had the
potential to be a fne husband.
The noose. Though she didn’t believe in
fortune-tellers, sangomas and others who tamper
with the future or the supernatural, Karabo was
increasingly becoming convinced that the dead
could, and do, engage in dialogue with the living.
Certainly, Tiro was busy grooming Chris as his
successor in her affections. Having reached this
conclusion, her mood was celebratory. But all she
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111
managed was to have an unpleasant dream.
Her dream was on an intriguing encounter with
a man from up north. He telephoned to inform
her that he had stolen her husband’s manhood. He
offered to restore the stolen potency on condition
she consented to sleep with him: ‘Yebo Mkhatsi,
wena shleep wid me. Mi give bag yoou husiband’s
shing.’
It was an unsavoury bargain.
‘Never! That you will never get. You flthy
scoundrel. I would rather give whatever ransom
you demand. Anything but that.’
And what was anything? Anything was anything.
‘I am prepared for whatever to save my potential
marriage.’
The dream could have continued, except that
in trying to grab the man by the scruff of his neck
and wring it, she fell from the sofa. Karabo sighed
with relief.
Her relief was short-lived though. The noose
tightened. The dream’s spell was not broken. She
had to conquer her enemy in dreams for it to
translate into reality. A vicious circle.
Another source of relief was that she had a child
– comfort in itself, defnite proof of her fertility.
A child, a boy: triumphant testimony of her loins.
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112
The dead… when they speak, they say,
‘Habahabahaba,’ or mumble similar unfamiliar
sounds. It is a cryptic language very few people
can understand. Maybe that is why diviners and
spirit mediums are needed. To decode that ethereal
talk. It was because of this that Karabo resolved to
consult a spirit medium. To inquire with the dead
about the soothsayer’s prediction. Illusions do bring
comfort at times. People like to be told that they
will live to a thousand years, or that in their next
life they’ll be reincarnated as billionaires. Karabo
was no exception.
The spirit medium took her into a future of
fascinations, a future infested with brothels selling
private parts for sex-change operations, restaurants
and take-aways serving streaming human blood,
butcheries offering lay-bye purchase on human
embryos, sperm and ovaries. Twists in the
labyrinth.
That future held everything except what she
wanted to know – how could she, Karabo, a God-
fearing Christian, hire killers to take her future
husband’s life? For this is how she understood the
medium’s words. More twists in the labyrinth.
Resolved to fnd the answer, she decided to
consult another spirit medium. He was sympathetic
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113
to her situation, but like Alexander the Great’s
sorcerer, he demanded she present jewellery to
unseal the lips of the dead.
They could be exorbitant, the dead, she cursed.
To think that during their time they may have
subsisted on a couple of cattle and goats, and prided
themselves on being frugal. And their agents –
fortune-tellers, sangomas and spirit mediums, and
a few charlatans – seemed resolved to undo that
injustice by living in opulence.
She was far, far better, the third spirit medium.
Like all such people, she frst took Karabo on a
detour. She led her through a future where nursery
schools offered tuition in pick-pocketing, bag-
snatching and other petty crimes; a tomorrow in
which lower grades offered courses in car-hijacking,
kidnapping and extortion. She shrieked, sneezed
and belched repeatedly. And uttered the damning
warning that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
were frantic, grooming and harnessing their wild
stallions, sharpening their swords, preparing for the
fnal battle. It was then that Karabo felt convinced
that her Chris would not survive… that she was
fated to lose another man. She thought of Lot’s
wife, turned into a pillar of salt. Her destiny was
dim, cursed and sealed, like Jocasta’s or Medea’s.
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114
Unless…
That was fve years ago.
Karabo grew up in the faith that good does triumph
over evil. Or is supposed to. It was because of this
that she prepared herself to beat the bad omens.
She started giving more alms to the poor. She
reasoned that if beggars could sustain themselves,
the whole economic equation would be balanced.
Secure people wouldn’t harass the pavements for
coins.
Like pigeons gathering around their feeders at
Joubert Park, legions of beggars would swarm
around her, pecking and nibbling at pennies. To
keep them nourished, she started growing coins in
her pockets, purse and parcels. This didn’t worry
her bankers: ‘Never mind the young lady, our
vaults can hardly cope with all those coins. Let her
take them.’ But they became alarmed when she
started drawing from her retirement and pension
investments.
Beggars and muggers, beggars and muggers
give me beggars and muggers
give me one, two, three coins
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115
beggars and muggers, beggars and muggers
round the corner, somewhere
round that alley, one, two, three
give me beggars and muggers…
Karabo had a harmonious voice. She would
whistle as she sat feeding the assembled beggars.
All who heard the refrain would unconsciously
start repeating it. Including beggars and muggers.
Within a short time, it hit the charts of local radio
and television stations. It was no surprise when,
months later, it topped the Billboard Charts.
Beggars and muggers…
The beggar is king of the concrete jungle,
ruthlessly preying for coins; muggers come
afterwards to scrape for leftovers. Karabo
rationalised that, with the removal of beggars,
society’s cancer would be cured. Then vicious
species like car-hijackers wouldn’t endanger her
Chris.
With time, she realised how pathetic her spirit
medium’s diatribes, as she now termed them,
were. Had she, the spirit medium, any decency,
she would throw her necromancy into the sewers
where it belonged.
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116
But Chris threw her back into confusion by
winning a 5-Series BMW in a charity competition.
He further earned her ire by insisting on keeping
it.
‘Please, darling, sell it… swap it for money
instead, please. Anything but that car. I don’t want
the whole township queuing to rob us,’ she pleaded
with him.
‘C’mon, dear.’ She so hated it when he put
on that American accent. ‘You can’t be serious,
Karabo. You really mean we give away a gift from
the ancestors?’
‘Please, dear, for my sake…’
‘What about their sake?’
‘Chris! ’ she stopped immediately, shock on her
face. Was it really her, screaming at her husband?
‘I’m sorry, Chris, I didn’t mean to shout. But you
know the danger such things expose us to.’
‘They gave it as a present. They will probably
look after it.’
‘But Chris, are you serious? Car-hijackers are
everywhere, whereas your ancestors are long rotten
down below…’
For the frst time, Chris hit her. She was so
stunned that she could not bring herself to speak
to him for several weeks.
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117
In his naïveté, like most men, he was convinced
it was out of anger or because she begrudged
his infringing on her freedom of expression. He
pleaded that he would never hurt her again. He
vowed that he would do anything to please her,
even forfeit his right to life to make amends with
his angel. His repentance touched her, but she could
not utter a word to him for days; such humility
and remorse left her speechless. Throughout that
period, he maintained his vigil of coming to kneel
before her, entreating her to have mercy on her
chastised little devil. But he kept the car all the
same. That was a year ago.
She started having frequent dreams of him
driving in a brakeless car. The precipice edge.
Sometimes the car would topple over a cliff, at
times it would plunge into a speeding train at a
level crossing; sometimes, like a powerboat, it
would streak over water. It wouldn’t stop at robots.
Without consulting any spirit medium, she knew
it was a bad omen. The precipice edge again.
She visited a private detective. The detective
passed her on to his buddy who sold car security
systems. He told her about new advances in
technology, the advantages of satellite-tracking
devices for cars.
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118
‘With those little chips, you would be able
to monitor the exact movements of your
husband.’
‘Don’t misunderstand me. It is not his movements
but those of his car that I am interested in.’
‘Come now, lady, don’t be shy or guilty about
it. It is common these days for spouses to spy on
each other. Who can blame them, with so much
unfaithfulness going around? Add the high tax
levies on single and divorced parties, it is only
reasonable that we all take precautions.’
‘My husband is not that type – the divorcing
or deserting kind. You see, I need to be on the
alert about his security. Sort of install a warning
message for him to avoid certain roads. Like a
bleeper or a panic-button or some such thing…
of course I want it done anonymously. I mean it
must sound like… you know, like the traffc report.
But this one should advise against using certain
routes because of hijacking dangers.’
‘Lady, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
You’re looking for some high-tech James Bond
type gadget. Are you in the espionage profession
or what?’
‘Look! Can you install it or not? And for how
much?’
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119
‘I certainly can. But unfortunately, we don’t have
such a gadget at the moment. Come and inquire
after a decade, say. Hey, in the meantime, talk it
over with your neighbourhood watch.’
Sarcasm in such bad taste was infuriating to
Karabo, especially by groomed salespeople who
joke about everything.
Having considered the matter for some months,
Karabo found she couldn’t bear to sit idly by and
wait, so she revisited the salesman, that crusader
of merriment and good cheer, to sign the contract
for a custom-made device. The device was highly
rated, supposedly only in use by the CIA. Because
of that, the crusader demanded a hundred-
thousand-rand advance payment.
‘Christ! Where do I get such money?’
‘How much is a human life, tell me, lady? How
much would you say your spouse is worth?’
‘It’s not how much he’s worth. You’ve already
put a price on him.’
‘Come on, lady. It is an arbitrary number. I
could have said a hundred rand. You most certainly
would have felt insulted then.’
‘I just can’t afford such money right away…’
‘Put a deposit then. A couple of thousands
now, say ten, and the rest later. How’s that, hmm?
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120
I see relief in your face, hmm! I’ll be damned if we
don’t have a deal.’
That Friday dawn her son didn’t scream, and
Karabo had one of the longest and most relaxing
sleeps she’d ever had.
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121
WHEN A NAME AWAKES
though he looked forty, tutankhamen was in
fact thirty. He had a slight stoop, bowed legs and
a hardened face, a mask of wrinkles and furrows.
What interested me, though, was not the face. In
our part of the world, there are many faces like
his – faces defaced by suffering, distorted by the
merciless hand of hard labour, faces on which the
tortures of life have been drawn. In some, the loss
of loved ones is written in their eyes: the loss of
children, of friends. Because there is no more room
in their hearts to hide and harbour it, the pain
seeps out and ends up etching its hideous signature
on their faces. In a way, Tutankhamen’s face was
like those crumbled facades, on which nature has
chosen to paint its saddest murals. Murals that
compliment those painted by the political masters
of our land in the early sixties.
But what interested me, and others, about him
was that precious yet dispensable thing we call a
name. There was much speculation about its origin.
On several occasions, he’d been asked about his
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122
hereditary name – the sacred one that is passed
from one generation to another, serving as a link,
or proof of one’s allegiance to tradition. The one
that is usually accompanied by totems and praise
poems.
Tutankhamen told me his family were descendants
of the great Khazimola. Then he looked at me
sternly, maybe because he thought I would chuckle
or giggle, as most people did. But I couldn’t. I could
not laugh at the bearer of the name while that
tormented face was staring at me.
Old rumour had it that Khazimola, meaning ‘the
one who always yawns’, got the name because his
every emotion was expressed in yawning. He was
known to spend days without uttering a word. His
wives were always keen to give testimony to that.
His drinking friends also attested to the fact that
he could share calabashes of beer for hours on end
without laughing, even at the most amusing jokes.
It was also said that he was incapable of shedding
tears, even on the tragic loss of four of his fve
wives. Then there was the death of seven of his
children. Again, that did not induce his tear ducts
to relent and show his humanity.
A seven-year drought followed. Everybody,
including the chief, was desperate. Khazimola’s
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123
only reaction during those days was said to be fts
of yawning. Then the chief ’s only son and heir
died. Khazimola would have yawned as well,
except that, as the village’s chief muti-man, his
honour and wisdom were now questioned.
Then he wept, a seven-day wail that is said to
have disturbed the repose of the ancestors. After
that, he was given a new name, Nyembezi. He
could not bear the ridicule of that name – the
wailer, the lamenter, the teary one – and he opted
to do what all disgraced men do. He took a mixture
made of a crocodile’s brain.
The village entered a period of renewal as they
went about initiating their new chief muti-man. A
few tears were shed in mourning for Khazimola,
but everybody knew it was an empty ceremony,
bidding farewell to an unlamented failure. For
how could a great muti-man, as Khazimola, later
Nyembezi, have failed to protect and shield the
chief ’s son?
That is how the Khazimolas ended up being
called the Nyembezis. The family had to live
with the new name, which served as a reminder
of their fall from grace. That was until
Tutankhamen’s grandfather returned from the
Great War, having been in one of the few black
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124
platoons that had faced and survived ‘Mjeremane’.
It was there, in the vast desert, that Tutankhamen’s
grandfather frst heard about the mummifed
Egyptian pharaohs. His fascination with them was
great. He asked and gathered information about
them. And he vowed that, should he survive
Mjeremane’s ferce bullets, he would erase his
family’s imposed servility and restore it to greatness
again.
On his return from the war, he was one of the
few local heroes. He was held in high esteem.
Crowds used to hang around him as he narrated
his adventures. Everybody was awed and fascinated
when he talked of the great dry land where sand
and sky embrace; where wind-storms and heat
are partners that squash man between them. With
time, his stories became longer and more varied,
but none could argue with him. For in the village,
most men had chosen to hide in the caves and
mountains rather than answer the call to go fght
the great witch-doctor from the north.
That is how that noble name, Tutankhamen,
took root at the foot of the Hlabati Mountains.
Until the second-generation Tutankhamen choose
to profane it, thirty years later in Alexandra.
Tutankhamen was to blame for this. But then, the
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125
time and world he lived in wasn’t that innocent
either. Had he been someone else, he would have
led a happy life. But Tutankhamen choose to be
ambitious in a land where ambition for people of a
darker skin was sacrilege.
There were many times he wished that the gods
had endowed him with a lighter skin. A skin that
would have ensured him the warmest rays of sun
in winter, the coolest shade in the harsh summer.
He’d grown up hearing stories of Santa Claus,
who distributed beautiful goods not only in white
households, but in their dustbins as well.
That he was one of only two surviving members
of the 1959 Sub A class at Ikageng Primary School
was achievement enough. But he made the terrible
mistake of thinking that all men were equal.
He thought that because all have incubated in a
woman’s womb for the same duration of time, and
sucked from a breast where warmth and tenderness
fows, that all would be warm and tender towards
each other. But no; the warmth and tenderness
nurtured in human beings from conception onwards
is soon wiped away by greed and ambition. Wasn’t
that the reason he and his older brother were now
estranged? There was bitter rivalry to inherit their
late father’s possessions.
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126
Or was it because those who start kicking
violently while still in the womb, or those who take
savage bites at their mother’s tits while sucking, are
destined to be equally savage in later life?
It didn’t take long before the rumour started
circulating that Tutankhamen was a direct
descendant of the great pharaoh himself. The
drunkards at the shebeen argued about it: ‘You are
a liar!’
‘Hey! Mamela… why do people always name
their children after somebody else in the family?
Usually somebody late. Hee! Tell me?’
‘Life is a circle. We sleep in death and awake
again in birth. Fools! Can’t you see, the great man
himself is back.’
‘Liar! Where is your kingdom?’
‘Hey! Kgosi, re botse, where are your subjects?’
‘Ba-gaetsho! Tlang le bone se-tsoga bahung,
Kgosi Tutankhamen.’ People joked and laughed.
However, Tutankhamen’s life did not change.
Instead, he plunged deeper into his suffering.
Fleeing that, and the inhumanity of his
countrymen, he found solace in the bottle. He
embraced and wrapped his solitude in its acids.
It was only when boasting about being the
reincarnation of Tutankhamen that his sense
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127
of self-worth was restored. And he relentlessly
peddled that story.
Township gossip-mongers gave the story wings
to fy. In their re-telling, new narrators added new
plots to rescue the story from becoming a cliché.
These stories started reaching Tutankhamen
at his different drinking spots. He would roar
with laughter, buy beers and offer toasts to the
narrators.
Soon the story became known throughout
Alexandra, from First to Twenty-second Avenue.
It spilled over and was recounted at garden parties
in the East Bank. Then it invaded Lombardy East.
New settlers from Alexandra related it to their
white neighbours across pre-cast fences. Inquisitive
children built platforms next to the fences to hear
their elders better. Eager dogs burrowed and dug
fervently, collapsing the walls. Most people thought
they were after treasured bones, but it soon became
clear they were pioneers in destroying divisions
between neighbours.
Youngsters from Lombardy East started relating
the story to their school classmates from other
suburbs. Soon it spread to Linksfeld and Fourways.
Innovative essays that surprised English masters
with their poignancy followed.
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128
‘Huwiii! Tutankhamen in Alexandra, hahaa!
What a joke! Of all places.’
‘But dear, they say it is true. Several newspapers
are said to have assigned their investigative reporters
to look into the rumour…’
‘Huwii! What a waste, kana those illiterates like
exaggerating their worth. And for newspapers to
buy such rubbish!’
It wasn’t long before a local newspaper ran a
front-page teaser:
HOAX OR EIGHTH WONDER?
Alex man claims to be reincarnation
of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
Page 2
‘Shame! Unscrupulous reporters out for a cheap
scoop,’ said the editor of a rival newspaper.
But then he, too, saw ft to send his chief reporter
to investigate the rumour. And Tutankhamen
found himself enjoying some measure of the good
life. He was wined, dined and chauffeured around
by different newspapers, each determined to out-
bid the other for an exclusive interview.
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129
This was one of the major reasons why he
believed he was superior to Rambane. The latter
was the only other surviving member of the 1959
Sub A class.
‘O-hwoo! don’t bother to mention that one.
The alcoholic, the hobo, the idiot,’ Tutankhamen
would say dismissively whenever people mentioned
his former buddy. ‘Who? Rambane, e’sbotho leso.’
Still, between them there wasn’t much of a
difference.
‘Of course there is,’ one of Tutenkhamen’s
drinking companions might say. ‘Rambane has
never had his picture in the newspapers…’
‘Except that time when he appeared in the
Community News section – for relatives to come
identify a near-frozen hobo found in a donga.’
This was despite Rambane having once
challenged members of the Young Ones gangsters
after the kidnapping of his younger sister and
girlfriend. And despite him telling the story
over and over, and storming the local newspaper
and insisting that they publish it. His audience
would always ignore his animated gesticulations,
frothings and swearings. The worst was when
they dismissed his offer of money. He realised that
prosperity has destroyed humanity, when time-
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130
honoured gestures like honoraria were so easily
dismissed.
Tutankhamen started telling everybody that
a large reward was coming his way. He would
contentedly stoke his beard and rub his belly. He
also added that he was going to marry Sis Phuti.
Everybody envied him, for Sis Phuti was one of the
elegant beauties on the shebeen circuit. The stories
reached Sis Phuti. She stopped going to shebeens
with us. Her face lost some of its furrows. Even
the bitterness around her mouth disappeared. A
swagger replaced her habitual dragging gait. Her
female friends said she was grooming herself for
a life in the East Bank or Lombardy East, where
the couple was naturally expected to live. She was
also said to spend most of her Friday and Saturday
nights practising new drinking manners: the
delicacy that was reputed to go with wine sipping,
the tilting of the head when talking, the throwing
back of the neck, thrusting out of the bosom and
gentle fapping of the hands when chatting and
laughing with important people.
With concealed envy for both of them –
and openly expressed congratulations – we
waited for the cash reward to be delivered. After
months of patient waiting, it became clear that
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131
somebody’s tongue had slipped terribly. Word
was that Sis Phuti now frequented little-known,
remote shebeens. It was said she only stayed for
brief moments.
By the time we caught up with her, it was three
months later. During which period Tutankhamen
had grown a distinct stoop. He was said to be
heavily weighed down by Sis Phuti’s abuse and
insults. I was there when she fnally slapped and
ridiculed him publicly.
‘S’botho tena! Hhmmm? Am I cheap, hmm?
Where is your Lombardy East? Sis! Nja ena. Futsek!
With your cheap beers… cheap babalaas… cheap,
smelly socks… Se-azi abanqono thena. Not cheap
dogs. Smelly underwear – sis! Smelly armpits.’
In stunned silence, we watched. Despite the
effect of the beer in our heads, the lessons of our
elders held frm: never ever interfere in the affairs
of a man and his woman. Never! That is why we
had always viewed marriage counsellors as idling
meddlers.
Then I saw Tutankhamen’s wrinkles and furrows
draw tighter under the weight of that silence. Sis
Phuti stood up, walked up to Tutankhamen, spat
in his face and walked out. Everybody knew she
was gone for good.
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132
‘It’s true… ka rre! the newspapers said so. Please
call her back. It’s true, my brother is gone. I am the
sole survivor to inherit my grandfather’s pension,’
he kept on repeating.
At four in the morning, when I left the shebeen,
he was still wailing his misfortunes.
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133
ARUNAH’S JIGSAW PUZZLE
SHE,
Arunah, will emerge
bearing the universe on her shoulders,
sampling tomorrows
arranged like her plaited hair…
arunah was a Compulsive jigsaw puzzle builder.
‘Addict’ might be an appropriate term. Her
twenty-ffth birthday would be in 1997. As a
mother, I was confdent of my predictions of
good fortune for her. I was certain that my schemes
for her future would be successful and that her
life, that revered jigsaw puzzle, would ft one piece
into another.
A jigsaw puzzle was the only heirloom bestowed
upon her, despite being the cause of heated and
ugly quarrels between her father and I.
‘You! Let the child play with dolls like any other
normal girl,’ my husband used to rant.
‘Not my special child,’ I would respond.
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134
But later on, I would only mumble the words.
Who wouldn’t, with those terrible beatings I used to
receive? All this despite Thabiso’s pretences of being
a gentleman – that was the image he projected to the
world, to friends, lovers and strangers. He had the
enviable status in the township of being one of the
few town council clerks who possessed a standard
eight certifcate.
Yet in the end, as always, womanly will-power
prevailed, and Arunah was permitted to play with
her jigsaw puzzle whenever she wished.
My suspicions that the puzzle was becoming an
increasingly life-distorting feature were confrmed
by the time of Arunah’s sixteenth birthday. With
apprehension, anxiety and hope, I waited and
watched for her to start showing an interest in
boys. Anxiety changed to panic when I discovered
that she was not even menstruating.
Visits to different gynaecologists followed
– at frst reluctant forays, later on in desperate
hysteria. Then to urologists. And all concluded
and confrmed: ‘There is nothing wrong with the
physical features of your daughter, ma’am.’
Then those doctors gave way to psychiatrists.
Spurred on by the haranguing of relatives, we ended
up consulting sangomas and Zionist prophets.
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135
By then, Arunah was eighteen.
All my paranoia, self-blame and panic went
unappreciated. For despite all my trials, Arunah
remained calm and unperturbed. She blossomed
and gained that oily radiance of the celibate.
It was then that legions of young men started
patrolling our street. Some settled down opposite
our gate, opting to wait. Some even recruited
the neighbourhood kids to maintain surveillance
of her movements. Our block became a hive of
activity: cheerful young men full of confdence;
jerky, nervous boys with unsteady eyes; ridiculous,
bald-headed, pot-bellied local businessmen; those
skinny, snot-sucking young taxi-drivers. Not
to be left out of the snare were young sergeants,
detectives and even informers. The labyrinth set to
weaving itself into an all-consuming black hole.
My motherly anxieties were left suspended
on a tightrope. Each morning, the rays of the
sun fuelled and fed the emotional inferno raging
within me. ‘Badimo! Nthuseng maimeng akhuii!’
I ended up lamenting. The hope that my daughter
was becoming normal was gradually confrmed.
But oh! The consequences!
One afternoon, spying from behind my curtains,
I saw them. That they liked each other was
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136
apparent in the way she beamed and kept turning
shyly aside, and the way his eyes radiated. Then I
saw him taking her hand and edging closer. My
heartbeat quickened.
Then Arunah was nineteen…
She would
rave, scribble and unscramble words,
works and rites deformed by
metaphoric speeches…
One night I was awakened by mournful wailings.
It turned out to be our neighbour’s four dogs. An
owl then decided to add its hooting to the chorus.
Fearful, I tiptoed to my daughter’s bedroom. I
found her sitting on her bed, looking through the
east-facing window that overlooked East Bank and
Lombardy East.
My mind immediately set to work to unravel
the meaning of her behaviour. No matter what, I
had to come to the conclusion that that all would
be right in the end. I quickly and quietly started
ftting the jigsaw pieces together. ‘I see!… Her
young man must be living in East Bank, probably
from some well-to-do family, hmmmm!’ I proudly
decided.
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137
But it was immediately after that incident that
the nagging feelings that Arunah was relapsing
into her strange world started resurfacing. She
now preferred the company of female dolls. Dumb
lifeless dolls! Little white-people dolls, because
then black dolls were rare. And she would spend
hours on end with them.
Hopelessly, I realised that, even at that age, she
persisted with her childhood fantasy of growing
up to be white. I couldn’t stand the thought of
psychologists and herbal-healers’ consultation fees
– again!
My only comfort was that she had not yet seemed
to notice that the real jigsaw puzzle, her own life,
was not ftting into a single integrated picture. She
continued with her devoted task of putting the
puzzle together, convinced that she was fashioning
a classical masterpiece. But it was a sketch shaped
with brush strokes of make-believe and wishes. In
reality, it could not ft together, could not make
one inspired painting. Nothing that Magandela,
Mahlangu or Sekoto would have given a second
glance.
I was still absorbed in those thoughts when
lingering memory brought back Mrs Rosettenville,
the palm-reader and fortune-teller from whom we
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138
got warnings about the potent omen of the jigsaw
puzzle. Even now, I can still vividly remember our
encounter with her. Arunah was still an infant then,
and we had just come from seeing Dr Leeuesmann,
the paediatrician at 97 Claim Street.
Then I recalled what my grandmother used
to say: women are not twin sisters. Each is given
according to the dictates of the gods. Even their
wombs are not the same or equal. Some give birth
to sweety-lovely things that will take care of them
in their later years, while others waste their precious
nine months carrying little snakes in their wombs.
With me – what could I say was my portion?
Some women in the stokvel and manyano hinted
that I had given birth to an old princess who was
reluctant to accept the fact that she had came back
among commoners.
‘Mosadi! Had you known… were she mine, I
would have wrung her pompous little neck
immediately after birth.’
‘And then go claim someone else’s baby
afterwards?’
‘Anyway, I don’t care much about children. If it
wasn’t for that stupid Mamazala of mine…’
‘Who can listen to you – except those who don’t
know that you have ten children?’
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139
Then Arunah was twenty.
It was predictable that the words of that fortune-
teller would haunt me forever. Every time I think
of them, a chilling shiver runs down my spine:
‘Her crown will sink in… then it will result in
her main palm lines crossing each other, and…’
Her next words had been drowned out by the
drone of a passing double-decker bus. And despite
my pleading, Mrs Rosettenville would not repeat
herself. Ever since, I’ve dreaded touching or
looking at my daughter’s palms.
It was then not surprising that on her twenty-
second birthday I should be obsessed with
determining her future. More especially, what she
would be at twenty-fve. I had all the time then for
such leisurely thoughts, with my husband divorced.
And the fact that his new wife was a husband-
abuser did go some way towards compensating for
my punch-bag past with him.
Even my Arunah was gone. She was lost and
buried in desperate attempts at solving the jigsaw
puzzle – attempts which were increasingly
becoming affected by her unpredictable moods.
One moment she would be excited and chattering
like a well-nourished infant, while the next she
would be moaning and swearing like a spoiled
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140
brat having her tooth extracted. And between
these moods, she was never stable enough to have
the patience to ft the little jigsaw puzzle pieces
together. There were times when she would
literally cry when she failed to ft them.
Some of the pieces could ft interchangeably
in various positions. But there were a couple that
constituted the core of the jigsaw puzzle, and those
could only ft in particular positions. Yet, of late,
it seemed they had acquired awkward curves and
edges, losing their prime status.
I kept on going back to this thing of mine
– having given birth to a reincarnated princess.
I talked to my church minister. He reprimanded
me, and told me not to let the devil lead me
astray. He threatened to excommunicate me
should I bring the subject up again. Meanwhile,
the women in the manyano advised me to marry
her off quickly, with the assertion that once she
tasted the pleasures of sex she would be cured. I
pondered this for hours, and recalled that women
are not twin sisters. So shouldn’t I take comfort in
what the gods had given me?
In desperation I threw myself into books and
articles – anything that dealt with withdrawal,
reincarnation and people possessed by spirits. I
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141
only stopped reading those after encountering one
that offended me terribly. It said people who
believed in those things were primitive heathens.
The writer attributed such cases to mental
retardation.
‘No-no! My pretty daughter isn’t mentally
retarded. I swear. Maybe she is bewitched, that I
can believe.’
None of this made my daughter any better.
Instead, my frantic impatience grew. I sat engrossed
in patching together those little threads that would
shape her destiny. And that approaching twenty-
ffth birthday worried me, for it was at that same
age that my mother, like my grandmother and
great-grandmother before her, got married and
gave birth to their frst child. And incidentally, it
was at that same age that I too got married and
gave birth to Arunah.
‘No-no! My pretty daughter is not retarded.
She is normal… she is normal. It is just that
she is dealing with her adolescence in a different
way.’
Who knows, maybe there was some truth in
talk of her being a princess from long ago. With
time, I started dreaming a lot about her. She would
appear dressed in strange, long gowns, not any style
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142
worn these days. Sometimes I thought I heard her
screaming: ‘Mme, Mme!!… take me home… take
me to Arunah.’
Then I would see her wandering by the banks
of a great river. Sometimes she would wade in,
summoning the courage to swim. Thankfully, the
courage never came to fetch her across.
And what was this ‘take me to Arunah’ thing?
Arunah was her Christian name. I recalled that
she’d cried continuously during the name-giving
ceremony. She’d rejected all the names that we’d
come up with. It was only after one of the aunties
mentioned the name of one of the Indian nuns
at the hospital that she suddenly stopped crying.
And all resolved to adopt that name for her.
She would
brave the four winds lashing
from tempest’s vengeful mouth,
cohabit with Prometheus, and
set to weaving bulrushes by the
Nile until apocalypse comes
to set man free.
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143
ALLEY-ALLEY, WHERE IS MY LOVER?
that was the lament of almost every girl in our
township. Lerato was one of them. She was one
of the loners whose potential lover had skipped
the country. Hopes of being reunited with him
were slim, mainly because those strange lands
seemed infatuated with young men from our
land. Who could blame them? For those young
men were dreamers. They dreamed aloud. Talked
confdently about the future, when they would be
ministers, deputy-ministers or diplomats. Some
were even confdent enough to predict that they
would be Minister of Finance. And those foreign
women would marvel at the prospect of playing
personal assistant to their husbands as they signed
and balanced treasury cheques.
Lerato knew that in her case the chance of cutting
ribbons at offcial functions was remote. Her only
salvation was probably to disappear into exile for a
couple of months. Once there, to publicise herself
as much as possible. Strive to meet one or two
potential ministers-in-waiting. There was also the
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144
possibility of changing her surname and accent. With
that, she would be assured affuent returnee status.
Her friend, Thandi, was different. She enjoyed
the chat of local boys. Sometimes she would drag
Lerato out for a stroll: ‘Let’s go meet the outies,
mhlambe unga thola e ou encha.’
And Lerato would reluctantly accompany her.
Then they would go around teasing all the boys
they met. On those excursions, it was always
Thandi who managed to get new telephone
numbers and addresses in her diary.
Lerato thought all that was demeaning. She
believed in picking potential lovers at decent places.
Yet time was running out for her, after she’d failed
to meet any at soccer matches and music concerts.
What other places were left? There were street
corners, shop stoeps and alleys. Those were far
safer than venturing into shebeens.
‘Would you mind accompanying me to First
Avenue?’ Thandi asked one day.
‘Wena! I’d love to, but isn’t it too late?’
‘Come on lovey, it’s only half past fve.’
‘Remember, my mother comes back from work
at six. And she likes things to be ready.’
‘Ashee! Never mind. We will be back then.
A little walk might earn somebody a “prospective”.’
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145
‘Please, Thandi, promise that we will be back by
quarter to six.’
They set off. On the way, Thandi continued
teasing the boys. ‘Hey! look at that one. See the
little lips. Not good for delivering a good kiss…
Uuuu! What about that one? Small feet. Probably
his thing is small as well – I’m sure of it. Won’t be
able to satisfy you or make a baby.’
‘Yoo! Thandi… sis!’
‘Do you want to prove it? Hey! Sonny, come
here. What is your name?’
‘Ke Lesiba ousie.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Ke na le fourteen, ousie.’
‘Have you ever got it?’
‘What?’
‘A girl – has any woman ever given you?’
‘Err… ousie, they refuse.’
‘You see, Lerato? Take him and go try it. Hey!
Sonny, ousie ona would like to give you.’
‘I’m afraid,’ said the boy.
Of course the fun continued through the
evening. Lerato only managed to be back at home
by quarter past twelve. She was in a bad state. Her
face was bruised and swollen.
‘Where have you been, dear?‘ her mother asked.
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 145 3/29/07 2:53:17 PM
146
Lerato responded with a blank stare, tears rolling
from her eyes. Her mother tried to press for an
answer, but couldn’t get one.
The friendship between the two girls suffered as
well. ‘Lovey, come for a walk,’ said Thandi several
weeks later.
‘I’m sorry, I’m too busy.’
‘Why, what’s wrong with you? By the way, how
did it go last time?’
‘Thandi, we better not talk about that.’
Meanwhile, Lerato’s mother asked herself over
and over what had happened to her. She fnally
came back to Lerato.
‘Don’t be ashamed, Lerato. Tell me.’
‘Mme… I know I shouldn’t have gone along
with Thandi.’
‘Yes, what about her? Tell me everything.’
‘We started off at the Red Flame Tavern, then
ended up at Mapetla’s. She insisted on ordering
beers, even though we didn’t have any money. She
banked on one of the gents there footing our bill.
But when none paid… you know…’
‘Hmmm! So they moered you?’
‘Sort of.’
Then Lerato’s longings turned into a dream.
And the dream produced a young man. The
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147
dream would slip into her sleep at odd times,
during the night when she was asleep, and during
the day when she was awake. She saw herself in
his arms. With the recurrence of the dream, she
became familiar with his features. She would be
able to pick him out of a crowd with confdence.
But suppose the dream did not materialise? Would
she have to settle for some lousy loafer?
With time, as the sun rose and set with its
relentless, dull regularity, she realised she had to
do something. And that meant going out into the
streets. She scouted for months. Still, her dream
prince refused to appear.
Lerato, in desperation to fnd and interpret her
dream, ended up jolling with different young
men. And her mother would always scold her:
‘Hey! Ngwanenyana ke wena? Can’t kuku eo ya
gago stay without boys for a while?’ Or: ‘Where
do you think all that changing of boyfriends like
underwear will lead you?’
Her mother’s words would strike her whenever
she came from seeing one of those boyfriends
of hers. For she would always feel dejected and
abused by their methods: hurried, ungentle and at
times even hostile. And after a couple of minutes,
they were exhausted. Their major concern was to
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 147 3/29/07 2:53:17 PM
148
dash off should a group approach. Their unwashed
mouths couldn’t spare any tender words, nor
a thank-you kiss for her favour – just an acrid,
nauseating smell. That always left her shattered.
On refection, she concluded that all the sane
young men were no more. It was probably true: all
potential partners, those who would have staked out
a matrimonial future with her, were either married
to foreign lands or in foreign graves. What was left?
A marauding lot of pick-pockets, rapists, bank
robbers and child molesters.
‘That’s a shame, Lerato. I mean, there must
be some exceptions,’ her white colleague, also a
cashier at Checkers, said.
‘You don’t know them. The ones around here
are only interested in SSBS.’
‘Oooooo! What…?’
‘It’s Sex, Soccer, Beer and Score – robbery.’
That’s when the colleague advised her to join
dating and singles’ clubs. ‘Who knows? Maybe
you’ll meet your ideal man at one of those places.’
After a couple months of trying dating clubs,
Lerato gave up. Her colleague advised her to join
voluntary organisations. ‘You know, sometimes
doing all that keeps you preoccupied. You kind
of forget the loneliness. And there is a plus – you
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 148 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
149
might meet some really nice gentleman in one of
those programmes.’
Again, Lerato endured doing voluntary work
for a couple of months. She would always come
home dejected.
One evening her mother said, ‘Why not visit
your friend?’
‘I’m fne here, Mme.’
‘No, Lerato. It’s a sin for one your age to sit
brooding every evening like a widow.’
Lerato forced herself to the door. She gave her
mother that vacant look of hers. Seconds later,
darkness enveloped her.
Aimlessly, she walked the streets. Searching and
searching, for what she knew not. Big dogs greeted
her with their hollow booming barks: Bawoo-
bawoooooo…! and the ‘brakkies’ echoed with shrill
voices: Bao-bao-bao-bao…! Bats welcomed her with
their haunting whistles: Tswiee-tswiee…
She turned a corner into an alley adjoining
Fifteenth Avenue. She saw a group of four men
standing there. Their profles took on grotesque
shapes when she drew closer.
What if she invited one, would the other three
force themselves on her? What if they were zombies,
or the restless spirits of the Msomi Gang? Still,
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 149 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
150
she resolved to move on, edge forward, one bold
step at a time. It was only when she was opposite
them that she could take a guess at their age. Men
long past their prime and interest in women. Yet
that they were men fuelled the fames burning
within her heart and loins. She nonetheless resolved
to pass them – tired, spent things. Somewhere
in the streets and alleys, she was bound to meet
someone. Someone younger, eager and willing to
get ‘it’ for free.
Then, twenty metres ahead of her, she saw him.
A solitary man in his prime – that she could tell
from his frm, confdent steps. He had a solid
build, was tall and well fed. He walked on, his
shoes ruthlessly crushing the gravel. Ggrin-ggrin,
ggrin-ggrin, they went. No girl ahead or behind
him. As he was approaching, her eyes fxed on
his silhouetted profle. She dare not remove
them, lest he disappear like her dream. A split
second, and he would be gone and lost for ever.
‘O-tch!’ she whispered. He was already one step
past her.
‘Dumela, Oubutie,’ she said, her voice coming
out in a choking rasp.
‘Hello Ousikie! Saying anything?’ He paused
and turned to her.
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151
Her panic was mounting. Then she saw his
smile, and was reassured. ‘Eerr… err… I only
was… said… dumela.’
‘Come, Ousikie. I see you are not in a hurry,
ne.’ He came and stood in front of her. She felt her
body tense up. He looked at her face for a while.
She felt like a commodity, gauged for its value.
He then gently took her hand and led her to
a corner of the derelict alley, next to the wall.
Unhurriedly he laid her down. Then on the rough
and flthy foor the act was done. It left lingering
passion in her. The traffc of passing male voices
did not unsettle or disturb him. Afterwards, he
awarded her with a cuddle and kiss. She stood
watching him as with delicate care he dusted his
clothing with a white handkerchief.
‘Have… er… do you have ’n ousie?… I would
like to become your…’
‘Err… don’t you think that is a bit rushed?’
‘But… just now we enjoyed each other. We
could continue seeing each other.’
‘I don’t know. Maybe… okay. Say… let us meet
next Thursday. Say around fve in the afternoon.
Is that okay?’
On Thursday at four o’clock, Lerato was already
prepared. Waiting for him and trying to visualise
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 151 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
152
him. Hopefully he didn’t sport knife scars and
the like. She wondered what kind of dreams
haunted his sleep. Did he see himself like the other
dreamers? Or were his dreams fooded with stolen
cars feeing from yellow, white and blue Monza
squad cars, fashing blue lights?
While still preoccupied with those thoughts, she
saw him coming. He was young and cheerful, full
of the energy he’d displayed on the night of their
frst encounter.
As he moved closer, she could feel her body
respond; a burning surge emanating from her
loins. His eyes were fxed on her. Stripping her
naked with longing and lust. Three steps from
her… two… one…
He turned his head away and passed her.
She was stunned. How could he behave like
that? The son of a bitch… the shameless piece
of donkey dung… the sperm-flled skull! It was
only when she paused to think of worse and more
beftting curses to heap on him that she realised he
wasn’t her alley partner.
She bowed her head. When she raised it again, it
was fve-thirty. She looked around. The township
streets were drying up. Stretching themselves for a
temporary rest, that is until young lovers invaded
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 152 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
153
them. Her mother was probably already home
preparing supper.
Lerato sat waiting. Her head sank down on her
breast, tears streaming down her cheeks. She didn’t
care anymore whether he came or not. She didn’t
care about anything. When she raised her head
again, it was already ten at night. She tried to raise
herself, but couldn’t. Her head sank forward again.
The dogs quietened down. Sounds of speeding
cars faded forever.
The following dawn, at four o’clock, the early
risers and workers passed her, still in that posture.
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Beg_of_Dreams.indd 154 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
155
LESIBA THE CALLIGRAPHER
lesiBa sCreamed when he woke from his
nightmare. As wakefulness took possession of
him, he was struck by three things: the sour taste
in his mouth, the meowing of his neighbour’s
cat and the recollection of the dream. It was the
third time in fve years that he’d had the same
dream. Each time, he would see himself wading
through a snake-infested pit. There was this one
green and blue snake that would strike his heel.
And his attempts at bashing its head were always
unsuccessful. He was not over-concerned by the
bad omen; rather, he was irritated by the fact
that it retarded the completion of his Book of
Dreams – a diary in which he recorded all his
dreams, past, present and future. He was already at
Chapter One Hundred and Two.
Unlike previous times, when he had dismissed
the dream, he started thinking of his potential
enemies. Among his friends, Peter, Sonto, Mandla
and Eddy, the last was the one who was starting
to give signs of growing into a rival. They had in
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 155 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
the past clashed over women. There were his work
colleagues. Among them, Ketso, his departmental
supervisor, was the one with potential for trouble.
Though married, he was determined to frustrate
Lesiba’s chances of jolling with Benita. He knew,
though, that Ketso was not a threat. The man
was a lousy dresser, a lousy smoker who still stuck
with BB Tobacco in the era of Peter Stuyvesant.
He couldn’t charm women or tell convincing lies.
His only speciality was ‘pimping’ his subordinates
to the bosses. It was common talk that Ketso’s
position was more of an affrmative-action gesture
than a recognition of competency.
Outside Lesiba’s door, lording over the whole
township, there was Bra Shine, the ginsta with
the perpetually clean-shaved scalp. Bra Morgan,
the one with a panga scar running down the left
side of his face. Both were rumoured to be
members of one of the local Big Five gangs.
Both drove colossal ‘Be My Wife’ BMWs. Though
both were constantly associated with this or that
crime, no life-valuing gossip-monger was foolish
enough to sink his teeth into any of those rumours.
Lesiba was one of the clever ones.
Jwalane was his common-law wife. She was a
‘live-in’ domestic maid in Craighhall Park and he
156
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 156 3/29/07 2:53:18 PM
157
saw very little of her. The few times she visited him
in the township, she brought food parcels. Most
of which, he was certain, had been ‘self-donated’
from the Madam’s kitchen – wealth distribution
on the smallest scale. He thanked his ancestors for
such a considerate wife. It enabled him to spend
his extra cash on luxuries like the horse races
and regular church pilgrimages to different parts
of the country. It was only when he missed
her that he considered getting himself ‘mmane-
a-bana’. Those had their own problems: money
or the other men they were involved with. He
knew also that men of his times, like those of
generations before, were brave and loving enough
to kill over a woman – even if not to marry her,
but to settle her with a dozen kids, and then spend
the next ten years lamenting the lack of virgins to
marry.
Jwalane… could he depend on her? Like men,
most women were loving and caring – enough to
spurn the advances of humble men besotted with
them for the company of ‘ jackpots’ like Bra Shine
and Bra Morgan, who valued money. Not enough
to work and earn it, but enough to kill for it.
He thanked his ancestors for their stinginess in
not giving him some semblance of wealth. He was
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 157 3/29/07 2:53:19 PM
158
certain that Bra Shine and his bras would otherwise
repossess it.
The dream of the snake-infested pit… that was
not the only dream he dreamt. There were others.
Dreams that would mount him and ride him to
strange lands. Dreams that took him through streets
paved with human fesh and bones. And there were
times when bits of his own fesh would peel off to
merge with the tar spread on the streets.
His refections about the dream were disturbed
by sounds of an AK-47 rife. There was no need
for panic, for he knew it was one of the local gangs
engaged in target practice in preparation for yet
another bank raid. With that comforting thought,
he went back to sleep.
Arriving at work the following day, Lesiba
found Ketso at his locker. On seeing him, Ketso
hurried away. The previous night’s dream came
to mind, and Lesiba resolved to give the locker
a thorough search later. He went looking for
Mandla.
‘Hey monna! What was old Kickso doing in my
locker?’
‘Scouting for love notes from Benita.’
‘I’m serious, man. That ndala is up to
something…’
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159
‘Kahle monna! He was probably after your
scoff-tin.’
‘I don’t believe that. You know Kickso doesn’t
go vir jou smiley and runaways. He is ’n ou vir
pizzas and buffet tables.’
It was one of the pair’s lunch-time rituals to
ridicule their supervisor.
Lesiba gave his locker thorough scrutiny. After
patient searching, he found it: a copperish piece of
tree bark. He wrapped it in a piece of A4 typing
paper and took it home.
His dreams that night were erratic. He could
not pin any of them down. He could see faces
and fgures, but they would lose their profles the
minute he tried to focus on them. The customary
numbers that had helped him throughout the
years to correctly bet the Chinaman and horses
were also elusive that night. It was then that he
regretted having taken Ketso’s herb. Once more,
the completion of his Book of Dreams was to be
deferred because of a stupid error.
Three days later, he dreamt of himself having
lost the ability to dream. That was not the
only dream he dreamt. There were others as
well…
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160
Dreams that drew back their curtains before
his eyes and screened gory pictures of his death
in a car accident. Dreams that unveiled scenes of
his hanging. At times it was punishment for the
murder of his mistress’s husband; at other times
it was punishment for pick-pocketing infrm
beggars.
The dream so shocked him that he resolved to
go and consult an inyanga the following day. The
man endowed with ancestral powers addressed
him: ‘Thank your ancestors for leading you to
me in time. Had you wasted one more day, I tell
you… your enemies are already sharpening their
teeth to feast at your funeral.’
‘There is a man… uyavuma? A tall, dark-
complexioned man… uyavuma? There is a woman.
Sometimes she steals your gourd and drinks from
your stream. But I see her stealing from the streams
of other men as well. Avoid her, her mouth is
cursed and contaminated with the saliva of wild
animals… uyavuma? There is a big tree… the
tall dark man sometimes hides behind its trunk,
sometimes he climbs it. His shadow always hangs
about you. He absorbs all the sun-rays meant for
you… uyavuma? I also see pages written, many
lines of parables. The parables foat around you.
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161
Mostly you grab them, but of late they drift far
and far away… Angry shadows hover around you.
They want your parables…’
When the consultation ended, Lesiba was dazed.
Arriving late at work, he told a lie – that his taxi
had been involved in an accident. He noticed that
everybody looked at him in a queer way. All were
distant and aloof. Whenever he approached any of
his colleagues, they dispersed.
The incident prompted him to amend the title
of his book to the Book of Dreams and Parables.
That night, he again dreamt of the snake pit.
He could distinctly see the other snakes. They all
had human faces: his colleagues, neighbours and
relatives. This time, though, he was able to make
additions to his Book of Dreams.
The dream that would lead to his social ruin
followed. It was a couple of weeks before the
period of political turmoil in 1984. He titled it
Dream Number Ninety-Seven, as it was his custom
to title them numerically. In his dream, he saw
black smoke descending over Alexandra. Men and
women were choking and vomiting before falling
to die in the alleys and gutters. An angel came and
lifted him up above the smoke.
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162
He made the terrible mistake of telling this
dream to his priest during confession. He could
tell the priest didn’t like it by his frown. Much
later, he was called by the Archbishop to clarify
the matter. He was instructed never to tell other
church members the dream, and to renounce the
part about the angel as blasphemy. He was therefore
surprised, days later, to see the Archbishop address
a press conference. He told of the tragedy that
would befall Alexandra.
Ten days later, the insurrection erupted. The
Archbishop was hailed as a latter-day Nostradamus.
Journalists besieged his house and the church.
More converts joined. Lesiba secretly hoped to be
promoted to the position of elder, but that never
came. Instead, he was ostracised and accused of
aspirations to usurp the Archbishop’s position.
After that episode, he learned to keep his dreams
to himself. He resolved to keep the book a secret.
He spent sleepless nights consuming ink and
paper, revising and recording the dreams. After
recording sessions lasting weeks, he would go out
gallivanting. It wasn’t long before he awakened to
the costs of that revelry. He would temporarily
lose the power to retain or recall his dreams. This
worried him a lot.
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163
He consulted one of the church elders.
‘Your ancestors are angry. They are taking what
they gave. Worse will follow. Stop your gluttony,
stop your gallivanting,’ the elder cautioned.
Lesiba pondered these instructions. Finally, he
concluded that it was better to sacrifce the pleasures
of life – not out of desperation to fnish the book
or longing for the possible fame it might bring
him, but because he knew that feeding some of the
church elders with his prophecies was advancing
his aspirations to the position of Archbishop, and
the power and money that involved.
He was nonetheless haunted by worries that he
had not as yet dreamt the ultimate dream. The
dream that would reveal his destiny. He started
fasting. On the third night of his fasting, the
late Archbishop of Mount Galilee Christ Over
the Cross Church in Zion appeared to him. He
instructed Lesiba to part with Jwalane and devote
his life to spreading the gospel.
Lesiba spend days brooding over these
instructions, and fnally sent Jwalane a letter:
Dear Jwalane
A couple of nights ago, a strange dream came to
me. You are aware of my many previous dreams.
Like the time I dreamt your mother was bitten by
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164
a crab. You will recall that, days later, she suffered
a paralysing stroke. I constantly pray, Jwalane, that
the dreams remain just that, but unfortunately they
don’t. Terrible happenings have followed after each.
My church elders have warned that unless I
heed and obey this latest dream, my days in this
world are numbered. Our late Archbishop, Baba
Mandevu, has instructed me to forsake all earthly
possessions and devote my remaining days to
gathering his scattered sheep before the Seven Angels
of Destruction descend on the earth.
Baba Nhlapho constantly preaches in church that
Russia and America possess strange birds above
the clouds that will converge on earth to announce
Armageddon with terrible fres. He says all the waters
from the world’s seas will never put out those fres.
My wife, Jwalane, I know that by obeying
Baba’s instructions, I will be saving not only myself,
but you and the Lord’s many many children. As
a devout Christian, I know you will understand.
Until we meet again in the Lord’s Ark.
I pray and wish you the Lord’s blessings and
forgiveness for all your sins.

Your devoted brother in the Lord
Lesiba
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165
After hearing about the letter, Jwalane’s parents
called an urgent family kgotla. ‘Take the fool for
a good sjambokking at a people’s court!’ Jwalane’s
brother shouted.
‘Kahle… that is not our custom. Call him and
his parents to resolve the matter,’ Jwalane’s aunty
countered.
‘I tell you, he is sick. With those nonsense
dreams. I heard he’s after the Archbishop’s chair.’
‘Why not start his own little sect? Pretoria
doesn’t even bother registering them.’
‘You all call him and resolve it, or I’ll sort him.
Nobody plays around with a sister of mine.’
Meanwhile, Lesiba’s life continued. The frequency
of his strange dreams increased. Those were not
the only dreams he dreamt. There were others as
well…
Dreams that used to blind his eyes with the
inferno stoked at the holiest shrines. Dreams that
would part like the Red Sea during Moses’s exodus
from Egypt and surrender his enemies to the
torrid waves. There were also dreams of necklace
victims. They would emerge riding on chariots,
brandishing Eiffel Tower-sized torches, charging
after their executioners.
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166
Sometimes he would dream during the day. That
was when he would engage in trying to interpret
the dreams. He would close his eyes and see
crowds of devotees prostrate before him, offering
their reverence for the salvation he brought them.
He started nurturing that dream into a probability;
with time it matured into a reality. Except that
reality occurred to him alone.
When the late Archbishop appeared again,
he impressed upon Lesiba the need to double
up the tempo of spreading the gospel. He
stressed that the end was around the corner, ‘and
the Lord’s Ark has only a driblet. Look at your
sagging belly! I instructed you to forfeit earthly
pursuits, yet you continue stuffng yourself.’
‘But how will I survive? I don’t know the
difference between fasting and starving.’
‘The One who commands will provide.’
Yes, he recalled that the One referred to did
provide for John the Baptist in the desert.
The following day, Lesiba sent a message to
Mandla to collect all the belongings from his
locker and bring them to him.
Ketso relished the whole turn of events. When
word spread around the factory that Lesiba
had left work, he went about boasting, ‘Who
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 166 3/29/07 2:53:20 PM
167
does he think he is? He is only a sick fanatic.
I tell you, no stupid prayers can withstand my
muti.’
Lesiba devoted his time to prayers and the
interpretation of dreams. Multitudes started
arriving to have their dreams interpreted. Some
pleaded with him: ‘Please, give me muti so that I
can dream.’
‘I am scared of my recent dream. Every time I
dream about being run over by a bus packed with
tourists.’
‘Let us listen to the giver of dreams.’
Lesiba would always say: ‘Let us ask the One
who gives dreams to interpret them.’ They then
would bow their heads while he communicated
with his God. At times it would happen quickly,
while at other times he would be forced to remain
bowed for close to an hour. Then, after another
moment’s meditative silence, Lesiba might say:
‘I see you crossing mountains and rivers. Going
to places where none of your people has ever been
before.’
‘Oh! Please, make it happen. I love to travel.’
Multitudes of young men and women started
sniffng each other’s heels as they raced to his house.
Sometimes he would muffe a chuckle during these
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 167 3/29/07 2:53:20 PM
168
consultations. The young men mostly asked for help
in being brought into contact with this or that virgin
whom they claimed to have seen in their dreams.
Some lamented the failure of their prayers: ‘For six
months, I have being praying to meet and marry
Miss Alexandra. In my dreams it happens, yet all my
efforts to meet her have failed.’
‘The woman I constantly dream of making
love to tells me I’m not her type when I propose to
her.’
The young women also came in their droves.
‘The man I love has a wife and two children. I
have been praying for their death; it is now almost
a year. Instead, the wife is getting fatter.’
‘None of the fathers of my fve children wants
to marry me.’
To these, Lesiba would say: ‘Be patient. The giver
of dreams will unveil them when He is ready.’
Widows would come. They asked him to pray
for them so that they would meet new husbands.
Some would even confess to him that it was
revealed to them in dreams that he was the man
they should get married to. Among them were
beautiful ones, and he would feel tempted. Not
long after that, he started having the same strange
dream for three consecutive weeks.
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169
He tried to shut off the dream, dampen it
with singing hymns and chants, but it refused
to be expunged from his mind. The arrival of
more widows, younger and more beautiful than
previously, started interfering with his telepathic
frequency. Meanwhile, the strange dream
continued. He recorded it in his book as Dream
Number One Hundred and Twenty-eight, and
subtitled it: The Dream of a Dozen Orgies.
In the dream, I saw twelve men and women
emerge from the Jukskei River. Their hands
turned into knives and forks. They ran about
sharpening these on rocks, brick walls and concrete
pavements. They then turned and started chasing
after each other. They sliced off each others’ sex
organs and roasted them on rocks along the river
bank. They indulged in frenzied dancing and
feasting. They ululated, while others started
wailing, ranting and scratching their bodies. They
poured the blood into wine glasses and offered
toasts to each other.
Women suffered double, for once they had
sliced off men’s dangling members, they were left
with nothing else. The men, however, came back
running to slice off their remaining breasts.
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170
The well-nourished, full-bellied men cut the
left-over breasts into thin strands which they
dried in the sun to make biltong. They then
held a contest to see who had the largest store of
biltong.
A chanting Jwalane appeared. She ran
brandishing a panga, determined to slice off my
penis. Divine clemency prevailed, and I managed
to break free from my trance before she could
accomplish her mission.
This dream shocked Lesiba. He could not reconcile
it with the reality he so wished for. He wondered
whether the dream had any telepathic link to his
latest legion of followers, the widows.
This was not the only dream he dreamt. There
were others as well…
Dreams that ripped the lids off coffns,
tombstones off graves to reveal marytrs. Dreams
of the blood of all murder and violent death
victims, from Abel to those of modern carnages,
gelling into giant waves and clouds that fooded
the land, drowning all living organisms on earth.
Dreams of aborted foetuses sealing closed the
fallopian tubes of females universally. Dreams of
harsh martial law and executions to counter the
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171
international solidarity and protest marches of
redundant gynaecologists.
Mmadieketse, better known throughout the
township as ‘Cinzano Widow’ or ‘Ousie Deli’,
joined Lesiba’s followers later. She was a strikingly
beautiful twenty-seven-year-old. It was rumoured
that her late bank robber boyfriend had left her
a fortune: a shebeen in East Bank, a tavern
in Selection Park, a ten-roomed double-storey
mansion in Mmabatho and three cars: a 7-Series,
a s’lahla and a dolphin. Of course, Lesiba was not
attracted by her material status. He heard that she was
haunted by a curse of losing all her men. They were
snatched from her by either a knife or a bullet. He also
wasn’t interested in another rumour – that at the age
of fourteen, she’d sold the life of her frst boyfriend
for a bottle of Cinzano. Others countered that it was
Aurora whiskey.
‘It is sheer luck that none of them has shown
her his true colours. But I tell you, she’ll meet her
match one of these days.’
‘Yaa! She double-crosses them against each
other. Once they take hikes six-feet, she inherits
their loot.’
‘Who, Deli? Ka papa-ntsetse! That fat belly of
hers is stuffed with jackrollers. Wait until they start
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 171 3/29/07 2:53:20 PM
172
coming out. The whole of Alex will be swarming
with them. All these fancy privately owned cars
will be repossessed by Deli & Sons Incorporated.’
Deli was loathed by women. Maybe it was
just natural – very few of them could match her
magnetic charms, or her talent at hitting ‘ jackpots’.
But wasn’t the Son of Man despised?
One night she came to see him. He prayed
fervently for her: ‘Lord, give me strength to guide
this soul to salvation. Your stray lamb seeks Your
embrace.’
‘Baba, I am frightened. A Zionist prophet has
warned that I will be knifed to death within days
unless I repent. Please, Baba, pray for me.’
‘Talk to the One above, His ears are sanctuary
for wandering voices.’
‘All the men I have planned to marry have passed
away. The last one was shot two weeks ago.’
‘To the One above let us turn. His generous ears
are always there to offer refuge to wearied words.
Let us pray for your soul, his soul and the souls of
all the departed.’
As the two bowed their heads, Lesiba was
aware of Deli’s perfume. He was also aware
that their heads were touching. In contrast to
his audible praying, he could only hear her
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 172 3/29/07 2:53:20 PM
173
whispered murmur. It was then that he became
aware of the minty fragrance drifting from her
mouth.
‘Baba, is it true…?’ she suddenly whispered.
‘Shhh! Pray, my child.’
‘Is it true what they say, Baba?’
‘What?’
‘That since I didn’t observe amasiko wethu after
the death of my frst boyfriend, all men who sleep
with me will die.’
‘You undoubtedly have sinned, my child. But
remember the One above forgives seventy-seven
times seventy-seven.’
Lesiba’s prayer rhythm was disturbed. He
stopped. He raised his face to fnd her looking at
him appealingly. The deeper he looked into her
eyes, the further and further away into oblivion
he saw the desperate lost soul drift. He reached his
hands out to save it from getting sucked into the
abyss. ‘Open your heart and soul to Him. Pray, my
child. Remember He forgives seventy-seven times
seventy-seven…’
At those comforting words, she collapsed into
his arms. Hopeless, fragile body, already resigned
to spiritual widowhood at twenty-seven. As her
feminine body brushed against his, he felt a reversal
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 173 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
174
of roles: he in the role of Mary, and she the baby
Christ in his tender embrace.
When he woke up, it was one in the morning.
Ousie Deli was snoring softly by his side. He slowly
got off the bed and knelt by the door to perform
his prayers of absolution. When he came back to
bed, she was awake.
‘I must go, Baba.’
‘The world has grown teeth… I cannot allow
you to venture out.’
‘I am okay, Baba. I feel cleansed. I know
nothing will harm me.’ She kissed him before
jumping off the bed and preparing to leave.
He rubbed his eyes repeatedly, for he saw what
appeared to be devilish silhouettes hovering around
her. They were making obscene, threatening
gestures at him.
A heavy pall wrapped around him. He shrugged
his head to chase away sleep, but like a sedated
patient on the operating table, he drifted back into
slumber. He was in the depths of the pall when the
late Baba Mandevu appeared.
‘Heed! Adulterer, fornicator, where is my
fock?’
‘Baba, why do you frown on your devoted
servant?’
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 174 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
175
‘Go, sinner! You could not resist for one single
night the temptations of earthly pleasures. Where
have you led my lamb? Into the jaws of marauding
wolves. With whom will I trust my fock, when
my appointed shepherds turn to wolves?’
Lesiba tried to plead his case, but the Archbishop
remained unrelenting.
‘I have given you your dreams as your reward
for leading my fock. All that you scorn to appease
your lust.’
Lesiba tried harder to plead for forgiveness for
his moral lapse. The late Archbishop remained
steadfast in disclaiming him. He then instructed
Lesiba to burn the manuscript of Dreams and
Parables.
Lesiba woke up and sat on the bed. He could feel
the rain lashing the roof. His blankets were warm
and comforting. He found the idea of destroying
his valuable book unacceptable and unappetising.
He concluded that the late elder had confused his
commands. Maybe he meant to instruct him to
destroy all the newspapers and other books and
magazines he read. With that comforting thought,
he went back to sleep.
Much later, he was woken by the shattering
of one of his windows. Vibrations of thunder
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 175 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
176
followed. He turned to fnd the window bars
mangled. The smell of burning paper drew his
attention to the sideboard, where he kept the
manuscript of his Book of Dreams and Parables.
He saw only black, charred crisps of what used
to be his valuable pages of concrete proof that
dreams are part of reality. He could not decipher
his delicate handwriting in that soot.
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179
EPILOGUE
MY DUNGEON
from this side of the abyss
i constantly revisit the living
my hoarse voice takes fight
on drifting winds
to gather ears to warm its chilliness
i am wearied of wrestling
with the sun
yesterday a cat sneezed
at my strangeness
today my infant niece gave up
initiating me into the ways of life
spirits of laughter and smiles
firt beyond my reach
from this side of the abyss
i re-enter my asylum
where darkness and my fury fnds
patronage
boldly i will re-emerge
for a last heroic stance
an escape from myself.
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Beg_of_Dreams.indd 180 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
OTHER FICTION TITLES BY JACANA
Ice in the Lungs
Gerald Kraak
The Silent Minaret
Ishtiyaq Shukri
Song of the Atman
Ronnie Govender
Uselessly
Aryan Kaganof
How We Buried Puso
Morabo Morojele
Kitchen Casualties
Willemien de Villiers
In Tangier We Killed the Blue Parrot
Barbara Adair
The Track
Katy Bauer
The Dreamcloth
Joanne Fedler
Bitches’ Brew
Fred Khumalo
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 181 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 182 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 183 3/29/07 2:53:21 PM
Beg_of_Dreams.indd 184 3/29/07 2:53:22 PM

Beginnings of a Dream

Beginnings of a Dream
Zachariah Rapola

Some of the stories in this collection have appeared previously in the following publications: Mayibuye, Tribute, Botsotso, Imprint, Staffrider, Running Towards Us – New Writing from South Africa, Unity in Flight, Oprud, Post Traumatic, and Words Gone Too Soon.

First published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2007 10 Orange Street Sunnyside Auckland Park 2092 South Africa +2711 628 3200 www.jacana.co.za © Zachariah Rapola, 2007 All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-77009-210-5 Cover design by Michiel Botha Set in Bembo 10/12pt Printed by CTP Book Printers, Cape Town Job No. 000281 See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za

C ON T E N T S

Introduction Prologue Beginnings of a Dream Fragments of a Dream Rituals for Martha Last Parade at Golgotha Street Features Death and the Palmist (Letter from the dead) A Soothsayer’s Deposit When a Name Awakes Arunah’s Jigsaw Puzzle Alley-Alley, Where is My Lover? Lesiba the Calligrapher Epilogue

ix xv 1 31 45 61 73 85 105 121 133 143 155 179

DE DIC AT ION

I dedicate this book to my late father for being generous enough to sow the dream before leaving. Agee! Motau, robala o nabe maoto. Re ka se tsoge re go lebatse, wena ga mmogo le ba bina Tau ka moka ba robetsego. Hle! Le se re furalle, re thekgeng, re feng matla le bohlale bosego le mosegare ge re kalokana le go hemahemitshwa ke tsa lefase la ka keno. A salute also to my former mentors, Professor Ezekia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer and the late Lionel Abrahams for nurturing and tending to the dream to maturity.

vii

.

Indian goddesses are reincarnated as young women who never menstruate and can’t ix . as well as the remains of their bones and the powder which in the past used to be their bones. – O K Matsepe With Beginnings of a Dream. For the earth is rich with the bones of the dead. men are apocalyptically condemned to death by the fire of their loins. Zachariah Rapola takes the reader into a phantasmagoric world where streets are paved with human remains.I N T RODUC T ION Gobane lefatshe ruri le humile ka marapo a bahu gammogo le digahla tša marapo a bona le phušuphušu yeo bogologolong e bego e le marapo a bona.

just like the narrator himself: forever embedded in its sediments. With a foreboding of x . Palesa. It is a bewitched path. a prostitute and ‘a weaver of words’. pickpockets steal. the wisdom of elders is ridiculed. sex workers stroll. and future in a sort of Borgesian circularity. present. captures the narrator’s attention. Everything happens on it: couples mate. despite recurrent nightmares. In ‘Street Features’. the homeless seek refuge. who continue to record dreams that encompass the past. a snake is said to breathe beneath the street. The narrative voice observes the changes the street undergoes over a period of ten years and remarks on how the street witnesses people’s lives from childhood to old age.stop playing with jigsaw puzzles. on how many battered souls leave the city for the rural areas. and children are the issue of botched abortions. Rapola personifies a street in downtown Johannesburg. the world is also home to calligraphers. virgins can no longer be found in the villages. drunkards brawl. And yet. So she becomes a ‘street feature’. children fly kites. but after he becomes infatuated with the woman he is unable to disentangle her from the structure of the place. and those who commit suicide are unable to counter the weight of tradition.

While Bloke Modisane infused life into the disappearing rubble of Sophiatown in Blame Me on History. in ‘Death of a Palmist (Letter from the Dead)’. a deceased sibling posts letters from the underworld. a grandmother is prevented from dying until her namesake is born to her youngest daughter. that the world beyond is what lends ours a semblance of reality. K Sello Duiker diverted our gaze from Table Mountain towards the troubling shadows it casts in Thirteen Cents. the most anguished dream is one where the ability to dream is lost. Rapola is the xi . Rapola endows the street with human qualities while depicting the indissoluble union between the urban space and people: the street as witness. and Phaswane Mpe embodied the metamorphosis of Johannesburg’s inner city in Welcome to Our Hillbrow.endless repetition. flat dwellers as the foodstuff of its existence. In the title story. The absolute certitude that life begins in dream. in ‘Fragments of a Dream’. the celibate main character suffers not one but three deaths. and that only the mediation of ancestors offers a link to the gods – this has seldom been expressed with the depth of conviction one finds in this collection. and in ‘Lesiba the Calligrapher’.

‘Gangland’ is a word that conjures up hard-core images. and for which the post-apartheid dispensation has. The burden is heaviest on children who are the prey of rapists. a hard. Through surrealist imagery and a haunting poetic force. the fear of mothers. overcrowding. Rapola’s writing. their eyes. get lost in the term. Beginnings of a Dream bursts the seams of a township gone haywire. in stories such as ‘Rituals for Martha’. on ageing women who have lost the place of honour traditional society once granted them. ‘Last Parade at Golgotha’ xii . Township ‘gangland’ territory contains also the mischievous grins of toddlers. the viciousness of place (which reflects a vicious history punctuated by forced removals. on young men turned into alcoholics by the affliction of AIDS. we are exposed to the glare of social collapse. the bravado of young boys. on girls driven to clandestine abortions. we see the sores apartheid left in the people who most painfully experienced it. People’s faces. man’s world.chronicler of contemporary Alexandra: ‘a giant sea of darkness that feeds on remnants of frightened life’. as yet. At the same time. poverty and unemployment) is humanised through Rapola’s fiction. not offered redress.

In some cases. in these stories. or perhaps just more immediately recognisable to a westernised reader. as well as the appearance of GrecoRoman mythological figures. the movement from one language to another occurs seamlessly. one cannot say whether the story was originally written in English or Sepedi. provide links to the cultural and literary traditions Rapola is tapping.and ‘Arunah’s Jigsaw Puzzle’. cuts through the hardness and lets us appreciate from within the fears of young boys and girls growing up in that environment. Zachariah Rapola figures prominently among a new generation of South African writers whose xiii . More visible. rather than distracting from plot. This collection reflects Rapola’s relationship to English as it fuses with his mother tongue and with colloquial South Africanisms. life being short and brutal – and all the other truisms that pervade conversations in Alexandra and beyond. The translated Pedi proverbs. may be the Christian ethos traversing the collection. It is a narrative suffused with the reality of linguistic pluralism that young South African writers enjoy today. And this carries with it a linguistic sedimentation that helps reinvent current South African literary life.

California. USA xiv . Isabel Balseiro Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Professor of Humanities Harvey Mudd College Claremont. And yet. for all its contemporary relevance and vibe. Beginnings of a Dream has at its core a dialogue between the living and the ancestors that creates a powerful resonance between the bones of the dead and the echoes of their survivors.fiction brings to life the literary zeitgeist of their continent.

P ROL O G U E DREAMERS dreamers have come & gone long before the dawn of capital long before the tide of servitude dreamers have come & gone peasant dreamers of long & fugitive dreams i have shared in their longings when bound & shackled skies mocked their wandering thoughts peasant dreamers of long & fugitive dreams dreamers here & gone a nomad nourished on intuition i weaved through their desires dreamers here & gone i have cried & longed too when they dream of oceans & winds for i too am a dreamer a dreamer of long & fugitive dreams xv .

.

I overheard Thekiso. Can’t you see she is desperate for an audience?’  . go keep grandmother company. his ten-yearold sister: ‘Hai! Tsamaya. whisper to Itumeleng. I am able to muse. my thoughts are becoming blurred by dust and drifting winds. My grandchildren dismiss my observations as senile rattling – and how can I chastise them for their ignorance. when even my four adult children push aside my accumulated insights as ‘grandmother’s tales’? Perhaps they are right.BE G I N N I NG S OF A DR E A M Birth is the beginning of a dream a meditative pose over knights and queens on the tightrope. my sixteen-year-old grandson. a juggle of divining bones striving to interpret man’s prodigal wanderings through the Minotaur’s labyrinth… Birth is the Beginning of a dream… In my old age. how can I tell? Increasingly.

and discovered that these two instruments. Raisibe. The parables and wisdom that age has nurtured in my head are lacking in them. Dismissed as bothersome. for then there might have been a wife whom  .Desperate for an audience! This is how the insights of my old age are viewed. when they are trying to enjoy their favourite television and radio programmes. Increasingly. Trivialised and trampled upon. radio and television. For. Innocent grandchildren. But I cannot agree with them when it comes to the other things. in my long years. I know I am constantly talking to them – when they are doing their homework. It is Raisibe whom I cannot forgive. In regard to interrupting their homework. I have accumulated knowledge and information. I could have excused her were she a boy. I have learnt a lot. Maybe Thekiso is right. with the advance of age. my first-born. offer nothing good. I realise that these appliances are contraptions designed to curb the growth of inner knowledge. as are the revelations and inner resourcefulness that rains and winds have nourished in me. I too feel I might be intruding. how can I chastise them? Their innocence and ignorance is the mandatory price of youth.

Few people can withstand the assaults of old age as I have. Occasionally. That was seven years ago. since it is true that wives are experts at souring relations between mother and son. the two of us had started believing in our immortality. it was just that we were too stubborn to host him. no longer  . My eyes. I wonder how that husband of hers copes? Birth is the beginning of a dream… and a fragment of that epic dream exploded into a nightmare in 1980. And here I am.I could blame instead. I venture outdoors. too. And you wonder whether I am grateful or not – of course I am. But a hostile world always sends me scuttling back into the familiar comfort of the house. We were prepared to sink into the grave together. That is when Madika died. But here I am. Maybe because we had got so used to each other. It is now almost twelve years since Madika’s death. At sixty-eight. so that we might walk side by side in the hereafter. I found myself a widow. My ears can no longer wander out to visit different sounds or voices. Not that death didn’t visit us. The worst was when she called me a witch. I have also given up counting the white hairs on my head. Still. I am grateful for my luck. alone. all alone in this shadeless world.

it is now like a needle that pierces the core of my heart.. and invited him to come along – even dragged him. His sneaking away to the beyond without taking me. entering the sealed windows of other homes. when the word ‘please’ should be pleasing to hear.’ Thekiso has changed a lot. please…’ In my old age. Had death made his advances to me instead. like everyone around me. she uses the standard: ‘Oh grandmother.can sprint about. As if I were not her mother. I certainly would have informed Madika. On her occasional visits. please – you’ve had your breakfast / lunch / supper / snuff… what more do you want?’ As if I live only for food and snuff.. He has changed for the worse. at times erect walls around their ears. Still. Only my voice strolls around the house. my children and grandchildren. Raisibe is the worst. It must be that mother of his who is  . That is why I feel betrayed by Madika. I blame Raisibe for that. She surely treats me like her stepmother – one of those frowned-upon fleas that drain the blood bond between fathers and their children. ‘Hai! Tsamaya. ‘Oh grandmother. go keep your grandmother company.

He stopped brewing grandmother’s favourite coffee. I remember how attached the boy was to me. Caressing their innocent little faces used to thrill me. Like the baobab tree. Mother! Foundation rock of the family. During the years of supervising the birth  . He didn’t care any more to bring her warm milk after supper. Looking after my grandchildren is my greatest pride. sustaining life throughout the centuries. I know I will join him. the curse of extreme loneliness. All the meandering footpaths in this world lead to death. like the bark of the baobab protects its roots so they don’t get bruised when drawing water. Old age contains a curse. Then he discovered the bioscope.putting bad things into his head. stopped boiling grandmother’s Maltabella porridge. stretching out her firm hands to protect her children. I spent hours contemplating these disappointments. and concluded that old age was a curse. And Madika is looking after our children and grandchildren from the beyond – the world of the ancestors. That was until he turned eleven. One day I will escape from this lonely life… this bondage of old age.

immediately below the hairline. a granddaughter who would bear my name. for I knew the birth would signal my time to depart to join Madika. though. Still. My eyes. Then I knew the waiting was going to be long. served to confirm another thing – the level of my perception. But it was a wait worth all my patience. A red thread-like line would cut from her left collarbone down to her navel. were now attuned to seeing the inviting doors to the other world. I had seen her in my many visits to the other world. in surrendering my journeys of discovery in this world. I was sceptical. But each birth followed the last without the new arrival sporting these marks. there would be a tiny pink spot. For nights after that. I would strain my eyes trying to identify these features. Wasn’t he the same person who reneged on our promise to depart together? His visits. I was always looking for the arrival of my other self. to give assurances that such a child would come. Of late. Sleep is temporary death. he had been visiting me frequently. After the birth of each girl.of my grandchildren. Madika told me this on one visit. I awaited his  . On the left side of her forehead. thus ensuring my resurrection. when dreams transported me to the beyond.

I could sense his fear of not fathering a child. Also. Then he said to me: ‘Wena! Your parents should bring back half the amount of my lobola. Meanwhile. Then I saw him eating them raw. I recall one time he brought home a litre bottle of bull’s urine. During his life. So much for a wombless thing. Eventually he started accusing me of being barren. for in our village fathers were supposed to be closer to their sons.arrival. But he did not reappear. Madika favoured Raisibe. Her birth had a great impact on Madika’s life. This close bond between father and daughter was viewed suspiciously. he was a notorious skirt-chaser. and Madika relaxed. those two. Already in his late thirties. They are attached. It was only when he started chasing fourteenand fifteen-year-olds that I became alarmed. Later. I was to learn that his non-appearances were a protest against my quarrel with Raisibe. That was clear from the varied aphrodisiacs he drank before making love. Raisibe was our first child. I saw a stallion’s testicles. e-ehee!’ But Raisibe came. in a hidden plastic container. I suspect our other children  . Days later. This attachment had to do with Madika’s restored confidence in his virility. his skirt-chasing continued unabated. I understand.

Would this girl. My last quarrel with Raisibe took place after one of those rare good suppers she is capable of cooking. where the former must undergo complete transformation for the other to appear. And I realised that. As I knew. Or I was like a snake. Madika’s repeated assurances that my other self would come filled me with pleasure. How I wished for a little boy. For though she was to issue from my daughter’s loins. I had fewer and fewer wishes. but there was also that uneasy feeling that I was waiting for my vanquisher. in old age. As if our ancestors were foolish to make them female.were jealous. My life and hers were intertwined like those of larva and butterfly. it was only by usurping my life that she would be able to carry on with hers. since they tended to tease her about everything. that must shed its worn skin to renew itself. uphold the dignity and virtue which I had maintained throughout my life? Kana! Girls these days like competing with men. Why couldn’t it be a boy? Boys never become rivals to their grandmothers. my replica. things between her and Modise were  .

they were like twins. my sweet younger daughter. But Raisibe and Modise… joo badimo! I was quietly talking to my grandchildren. he was not my favourite.  . Modise. I understood. Shame. Sharing with them the wisdom old age had helped me accumulate. to a lesser degree. was absorbed in his TAB calculations. for it was said that good food was bad for tempers in his family. It was as if she had made the meal to infuriate him. Two sweet things. A pig is their totem. Peaceful creatures who take after their names: Tshepo. and Tidimalo. Tshepo. that he’d saved us from having a spinster in the family. Their life was more settled. while Raisibe was busy with her ironing. She and her husband. hardly visited us. What was it that stopped her? Maybe it was Thabang’s insistence that he would never again go to sleep. poor Tidimalo. a pig is known to relish filth. trusty and reliable. I remember that just before he said this. quiet and withdrawn. that hopeless horse-betting addict. I was only grateful that he had relieved me of a bad-tempered daughter – and. So was it true that anything above filthiness raised Modise’s ire? As a son-in-law.bad.

I had said something like: ‘Yes. who in her quiet way always insisted on finding answers. Or at times it is we who cross over to their land. But I knew. what happened?’ ‘Your grandfather told me…’ ‘Told you! How could he tell you? Dead people don’t talk. She was destined to be the exception in a family where daughters did not excel. but I don’t cross over anywhere?’ That was Thabang.’ That was Mmabotle. 0 . despite the naughtiness they displayed when young... my little one – they talk to us during night visits that seem like dreams. That one should have been named Tidimalo.’ At which Thabang exclaimed. after her aunt. children of my child. my nine-year-old granddaughter. Her mother complained that she was dull. Of course we never believed it. absorb the sun and radiate. in the innocent high-pitched voice of little boys his age. ‘Two days ago! Nkgono. we too as children used to hear of it from our elders. and it filled me with grandmotherly pride to see this bright girl. Until two days ago. ‘They do talk.’ ‘How come I sometimes dream of the stove and wardrobe chasing or fighting me. With time I knew she would open up.

When I awoke. Except Madika. Hoji ka mphela. I was in a strange country. I was finally told that he would not appear until  .’ Was that talk from Raisibe. stop telling those children nonsense. ‘Where is he?’ I kept on asking. my own daughter! ‘What! Am I a pig?’ ‘Yes! Grandmother. feasting in a welcoming ceremony.’ ‘Howoo! What about you old people who refuse to die – killing young people so you can sustain your lives on theirs?’ At this point. bees and flowers. you are. We all do in our dreams.‘Yes my child. Modise picked up the children and disappeared with them to the bedrooms. I know it is because of that good food you ate.’ ‘Yes-yes. Finally he came and dragged Raisibe away. we all do. go on – I am one because you bewitched me. where the worlds of the living and dead merge into one…’ ‘Ooo! Grandmother please. Birds. all radiant despite the fog that was drifting about.’ I was having great difficulty in breathing… and then suddenly everything stopped. ‘Damn your cursed good food. For sleep is temporary death. Within me a voice kept repeating. All my deceased relatives were there.

Modise responded by weeping. I saw a mourning Raisibe in a strange forest. When she saw us she turned into a python. which started its death-dance. it was difficult for us to relate. When Modise charged forward to face it. That confirmed another suspicion of mine – that whenever my name was mentioned before her. It took a while to forget the insult of my own daughter calling me a witch. I returned to consciousness alone in my house. it changed back into Raisibe. I started to look for her. preparing itself to strike. Then Modise and I appeared to her. In my dream. And she fled from him. but she was nowhere. He kept those visits secret from Raisibe – as I knew by a strange dream I had. Modise was the only one who did come by occasionally. She was wandering about in circles like a dog sniffing for the lost spoor of a hare.  . despite his vowing not to do her any harm. After that. When I asked him about her and my grandchildren on his next visit. I looked everywhere. Raisibe responded with tears. I heard she had forbidden her children to visit me. And I was moving further and further away from the assembled relatives.I had gone back to make peace with Raisibe.

when she was still a little girl. I stood for a while. gasped. For who knows. not daring to venture across the accumulated dust that all households manufacture at night. ‘Mme! Mme!’ and ran into my arms. ‘Hela ngwana tena.After a year of us not seeing each other. with a spell cast on it to cause a stroke in anybody who might tramp on it. It reminded me of years gone by. her arms raised protectively to her chest. Come. among those bits and pieces of dirt might be a pin or granule dropped by witches the previous night. she stared at me like someone seeing an apparition. I was hesitant to step onto the dirty front stoep. I finally resolved to go and visit her.’ That broke her trance. She started sliding backwards. When I entered the kitchen door.  . I could see she was still busy cleaning. She shrieked. I did not trust Raisibe. I arrived at her house at noon. and started laughing. I quietly wrapped myself in my green and white mjajana and off I set. It’s me – your mother. Tlaa! Daytime is a blanket which the dead cannot wrap themselves with. I thought it right that I not tell anybody about this visit. always seeking my arms for reassurance and comfort. And I knew what was happening.

my child. Let us not like ungrateful hunters go back searching for maggots to plant on it. that no elephant has ever complained of its trunk as a burden.’ ‘Oo Mme dear… grandmother of my children. which I wasn’t eager to hear. In tearing the entrails of that long-dead animal. ‘Eya! Mme. The moon cradles her burden. my child. We sat drinking and eyeing each other like orphans. your grandchildren are still at school. The sun’s rays have dried the skin.‘Mme! How did you manage…?’ ‘I walked. who have managed to trace each other. and has never asked the sun for help. you spoiled children! Even now you don’t appreciate the saying of our ancestors. Forgive me…’ I knew she was going to embark on a confession.’  . clearing the foul smell as well.’ ‘Huwii. ‘Aowa Raisibe.’ ‘Mme… I feel so bad. separated in childhood. What can I do…?’ ‘Nothing.’ She hastily baked fatcakes and then made tea.’ ‘Walked! But Mme… why? You should have asked Modise to drive you. we were bound to pierce the gall bladder.

‘Ke nnete. twenty cattle – no… five – five – five… about twenty-five cattle. not sure whether to come and embrace Nkgono or not. and then I would invent events. Thabang was the first to approach me.’ ‘Haa! Nkgono. It reminded me again of when she was young. At first they skirted around us. that was the year red ants descended on us.’ ‘Mme.‘How is Thabang? The naughty one. ‘See.’ I think it was this talk of the old days that helped heal the rift. She enjoyed them all the same.’ ‘Yes.’ Thabang insisted. Nkgono. She would always pester me to tell her more. The children came back from school. ‘Nkgono. is there time for cows and goats these days?’ ‘You should have seen my own herd. I had twelve calves. when was that? Because you said you came to Ferndale in fifty-nine.  . Sometimes my memory would fail me. The boy should learn to herd and milk cows. ‘It stole my toys. You should take him to Ga-Mamahlola. Then it joined Mmabotle in beating me…’ ‘O-maka!’ That was Mmabotle.’ he said. yesterday I again dreamt of the wardrobe.

Modise arrived. Madika appeared to me. After that.You see this scratch. That night. We made an offering to the ancestors with its blood. I smiled as he went about crushing chicken bones with relish. Nkgono.’ Bana ba ngwanaka… that pride of seeing my grandchildren came again. but soon joined in the happy reunion. ‘She said she would buy me sweets at school if I don’t tell. Like the children. we had a ritual supper. I’m telling because she never bought the sweets.’ ‘Joo! Maka. you didn’t show me that. but we explained that those would be offered to the ancestors. raising their own children. as expected. but I insisted they buy a live one. They wanted to buy a frozen chicken.’ ‘Thabang. Soon they would be man and woman. I couldn’t resist bursting into  .’ Raisibe said. ‘Such big lies. he was at first unsure of how to relate to me. A makana?’ said Mmabotle. It was caused by both with the brown belt.’ ‘It’s true. Afterwards. edging forward. Thabang grumbled at being denied the opportunity to crush the bones. Modise drove me home.

‘Eehee! Rakgolo-a-bana. on Saturday. my nicely nourished belly is gone. You were too busy with your quarrels. That excludes expenses he will bear for presents to his in-laws.laughter when he started licking his fingers and choking. mala le mogodu  .’ I said. ‘You mean I haven’t been feeding you?’ ‘Eya. after all? Youngsters of today will shame you.’ ‘Aowa.’ ‘Maka! Listen to me… I want two goats. You sit about with your arms folded. my ribs were still aching from that laughter. I called a family meeting. Rakgolo-a-bana. your hunting spear rusting – and you complain of hunger. I prepared mageu. wa ultwa!’ I again burst into laughter: ‘Why the billy? You mean you still want to be the stud?’ ‘Mosadi! You!… So you knew all along about me. Three days later. mosadi. Phoko le tshadi – a billy.’ ‘Mosadi.and a she-goat. you remember how much I paid for lobola…’ ‘Eshee! What was three pounds. Look. In the morning when I awoke. thopi. And you boast of your pittance. don’t shame me.’ We both laughed. Utlwa! Our neighbour’s son paid six thousand last month.

but you know what will happen if you ignore him. Mme. Give the ancestors what they want. A few of our other children came as well.’ ‘I agree. Modise?’ That was Raisibe again. then a cow would be appropriate.and samp porridge. Your father explicitly said he wants a male and a female goat. What do you think. Of course. Madika had his reasons for his demand. Not what you think is good for them. bana-ka. That I know. ‘Mme. Mme. Raisibe and Modise came with their children.’ That was Tshepo. ‘Aowa. I tell you. ‘Hmm! Not that.’ said Modise. taba ke ye. He’ll feast on bigger chunks. Tidimalo and Tshepo came in their new car. I couldn’t tell them that he had said he was lonely  . And it should be that.’ ‘Look. what should we do?’ Hau. ‘I teased him about it.’ And so it was settled. the pride of any mother-in-law. ‘Bana-ka. I think we should slaughter a cow. Raisibe.’ ‘Mme. ‘Let us respect his preference. if he is really starving as he says. But I couldn’t tell them. your father says he is starving. asking such a stupid question. child. Those two are going places.’ I told them. Your father said two goats.

‘But Rrakgolo-a-bo. you have always said Raisibe would be the bearer.’ I soothed her. I prevent.’ ‘Whaaat? Tidimalo! Why. He also said that Tidimalo would be the passage through which that infant would come. you too… you too use those things?’  . No woman likes that kind of insult.’ she said when I told her all this.’ I had challenged him. ‘No-no. No-no. That it was time I considered joining him. He had confided in me that the billy’s virility would finally help sire the awaited infant.’ was his response. is it wrong if we prefer to have children later? Look. ‘Aowa! Tidimalo. I am not barren. Mme. Hee! Isn’t that so? Tell me. ‘That I don’t like. ‘Then why. ‘I did not come to argue. why should I be the one chosen to eat the she-goat’s womb? Why? I guess my husband will be expected to eat the billy’s testicles as well. you think my womb is tied. but to deliver a message. His instructions were that Tidimalo’s name be chanted when the billy was slaughtered. She was also to eat the she-goat’s womb.’ It was understandable. nobody said that.and missed me terribly.

a sobbing Tidimalo phoned me. Mme…’ ‘What about her?’ ‘She said it serves us right for disregarding the ancestors. Mme. I could hear the suppressed laughter in her voice. Only he is becoming nervous. Mme?’ ‘Don’t they use dead people’s ovaries and such things.’ ‘And how is Tshepo?’ ‘He is okay. A week later. ‘It’s Raisibe. ijoo! Ke ya go tshaba ngwang tena.‘What things. Tshepo was also sceptical. she said it is just the beginning. ‘Tidimalo! I thought you were a sensible and responsible girl. My own sister talking like that.’ 0 .’ ‘Ngwanaka. They finally asked to be given time to think the matter over.’ I spent a long time trying to convince Tidimalo to do as requested. what is this all about?’ ‘Tshepo’s new car was dented from behind… and… I phoned Raisibe… and Mme.’ I looked at her in shock. I did. I know she has always been jealous of me and Tshepo…’ ‘Maybe you didn’t hear her properly…’ ‘No Mme.

Tidi. Why. I also resolved to discuss the matter with Madika that night. Rra-bo. took my snuff pouch. man. I slipped out of bed.’ ‘Ngwanaka. and I am worried that the mongoose might steal the newly hatched chickens. are you offended?’ ‘You wake me from my sleep for that?’  . but to people…’ ‘But Mme. ‘Why do you disturb my peace?’ he demanded as soon as he appeared. He too is starting to suspect that something terrible will happen. He said it was as if they simply disappeared. sprinkled some snuff on the floor and invited him to visit me. ‘Ga go bjalo papa. your father and our ancestors are not evil people.‘Nonsense. When it was already past one o’clock and sleep had not come. Sleep followed immediately. Not to trees or stones. his cheque book and credit cards were lost. I became worried. tell me. I offered a silent prayer to our ancestors. your children are panicking. Why this terrible conclusion then?’ After the telephone call. Why should he? Accidents happen everyday. the day before. The coop is broken into.

Later. Ga go bjalo. mma-go bana. Tidimalo and Tshepo believe you are punishing them…’ ‘A bird does not build a nest so as to destroy it later. but he refused to come again. I saw them running around in the streets carrying placards with slogans: Forward with Children’s Rights… Down with Capital Punishment… Freedom Now. Tell them my only worries are occasional hunger and loneliness.‘Rra-bo. It was a shock for me to see little children argue with or insult adults. I could no longer understand what was happening around me. Then I knew my time to join him was a wink away. I realised that childhood was a blessing. To avoid witnessing all this humiliation. Tell the children not to worry. Children at meetings telling their parents how they should be treated… what nonsense. I came to that conclusion through toil and pain.  .’ After that he disappeared. I tried to call him back. Education Later. a battle with worldly storms. don’t brew a storm where there is none. What nonsense was all that! I knew a child’s freedom consisted in having enough to eat before going to sleep and on waking up. Age is a time of withering. It became clear then why old people hasten to the grave.

We think for our sake and yours we should partake in the ancestor-appeasing ceremony.’ Four weeks later. Mama. we performed the ritual. My ignorant grandchildren labelled it ‘old-age mumblings’. ‘A badimo ba le thogonolofatse. How could I deny them that request? Thereafter. ‘What… what is it Ngwanaka?’ I asked. it looked as if a well-fed Madika was dispensing largesse. we have decided to go ahead… isn’t that so. nna le Tshepo. I found solace in talking to myself. Tidimalo and Tshepo relieved me. Tidimalo and Tshepo’s only concern was that none of the other relatives should know that they were to eat the animals’ testicles and womb.In my case.’ I looked at them proudly. ‘Mama. on a Sunday morning. Tshepo?’ ‘Eya. Then: ‘Mahlogonolo! Tshepo has been promoted at work.  . It was all due to my desperation to depart this damned world. My monthly pension was increased. Sweet things. ‘We’ve done it. I decided to withdraw into myself. Mme! We’ve done it!’ That was Raisibe.’ That was Tidimalo’s phone call a couple of weeks later. At last.

‘But Mme. Tidimalo – I had always thought she was rational and mature. How could I be – those low-class people. complained. cried and kept on clapping her hands. ‘What if it is a boy?’  . on hearing of Tshepo and Raisibe’s good fortune.’ ‘I’m not. if we had refused to eat those things during the ceremony. Don’t be jealous. I knew my time for celebration had come. that money rightly belongs to us.She laughed. I stocked up on wool and cloth and started knitting and sewing for my granddaughter. It dawned on me that I didn’t really know my children as well as I’d thought I did. I mean. ‘But Mme. so many children…?’ ‘Tidimalo! What has got into you?’ ‘Mme. Tidimalo called again to inform me that she was pregnant. ‘Yooooo! Mme. Modise got the Pick 6… he got fifteen thousand!’ But Tidimalo. Tshepo and I partake in the ritual… then those two get such a lot of money…’ The call left me shivering with shock. they wouldn’t have got that money. A few months later. shouldn’t you wait first?’ Tidimalo asked.’ ‘What talk is that now. it’s just that I find it unfair. Tidi.

’ ‘Eshee! What do you know? For fifty years I relied on my dreams to place bets with the Chinaman. I waited for Madika to come. The expected birth pains arrived. Mme. When thirty-six hours had elapsed without the child coming out. As instructed by Madika. after the ceremony. his late sister. She refused. The reason she gave was that Tidimalo had insulted her and Modise – referring to them as ‘that starving. came. Also.  . And I braced myself to be the first to see that infant. Tidimalo made the habit of reminding them that she had eaten the goat’s womb. But he did not show up. She informed me that the insult directed at Raisibe was an insult to herself and Madika. distant fountains cannot be relied upon. Instead. we performed another ancestor-appeasing ceremony. And every time I got him. the one our Raisibe is named after. I know what I am doing. That night.‘Tidi. The next day I asked Tidimalo to apologise to Raisibe. we realised something was wrong. flea-infested lot’ that her generosity had rescued. Raisibe refused to attend the ceremony.’ Tidimalo reached her ninth month.’ ‘You know.

Mme. Mme. Innocent Tidi – how would she take that rebuke? ‘Why? Why should I apologise? Isn’t it true that they are poor? How many times have I and Tshepo saved them by lending them money? Everybody knows that throughout his life. doctors pronounced her fit to go through a normal birth – though it proved otherwise. Raisibe. Such delays do happen.  . and made an offering to the ancestors. home-brewed mageu and beer. She went to Raisibe and apologised. you know the consequences.’ ‘Why then. Always remember: don’t interfere with those whom the ancestors turn to with a warm smile. the child would never come out. who is refusing its entry into this world?’ I took snuff. I won’t. The only inheritance he left her was being spoiled. was withdrawn. lest they direct the cold hand against you.’ ‘Aowa! Tidi. Tidimalo kept asking me. And again stressed that until the insult directed at her namesake. After examining her. why is it refusing to come? Tell me. the aunt came to me. ‘Mme.Tidimalo was rushed to hospital. father favoured Raisibe. I won’t apologise.’ My words eventually persuaded her. That night. is my child “tied”?’ ‘No. With worry.

Yet this time I knew I had to admonish him.’ ‘Isn’t Tidimalo your child as well.Madika came that night. what is all this? Are you short of better games to play?‘ ‘Mosadi! Ga ke batle selo ka nyakea Raisibe. as I was sweeping my stoep. Shame! What did I think would happen. hee? Is a simple apology worth a human life?’ ‘Thaetsa faa! Your sister-in-law says she is tired of cooking for me. I awoke with a cast on my right leg. He was beaming in triumph. You must make haste over to this side. at my age? And the doctors said I would have to spend a week in hospital. Rra-gwe. One morning a couple of days later. It was during that time of my confinement in hospital that I received the message that Tidimalo had given birth. What’s all this talk about now?’ Men! As if I was lingering merely to avoiding providing him with a square meal every day. ‘Rra-go bana. I slipped and fell. kwaa! I swear. woman – Raisibe is don’t-touch. I was never lazy or scared of the pots during our life together.’ ‘Listen. ‘When? Is it a girl? How does she look? What  .

Mme.  .is on her forehead and collarbone?… Go fetch the child… take me to her. she will never enjoy the privilege of being nursed by her grandmother. now-now!’ ‘She is beautiful. There are bones galore. responded to me. who are you going to name her after?’ ‘Mme… Tshepo and I haven’t decided everything yet. Itumeleng.’ ‘What do you mean.’ Unlike Thekiso. It is a pity. Mme? You know we won’t take her to any crèche. ‘And Tidi.’ Finally the baby was brought to me. You will see her when you are able to walk…’ ‘What! I want to see her now! Go fetch her. I no longer have the strength to bear her on my back or rock her on my lap.’ ‘I know. Tidi.’ said Tshepo. Those little eyes. everything about her. She will at least be called Mmogedi. Your granddaughter is fine. Thabang or Mmabotle. unseeing still. she would never enjoy my tender care. Mme. All the foretold birthmarks were there. yet the dogs have lost their teeth. my child. ‘It is her. Her forehead and collarbone… what did you see there?’ ‘Please. relax. I turned to Tidimalo. ‘Where is she? I want to see her.

Of course among her names she will have your name, Molatedi, as well.’ ‘How did she respond… when you gave her my name?’ ‘She gurgled with joy.’ ‘Yes, she should, she should… my faithful one… grandmother’s own mother.’ Extreme fatigue then took hold of me. I knew I needed sleep. Sleep is the beginning of consummation. A blanket which all wrap themselves in, offering comfort to all, widows, orphans and the poor. I know my sleep will be a well-earned one. I will awake again when the world starts making sense to my little other self. Old age is the winter of disintegration. Or season of hibernation and renewal… 

FRAGMENTS OF A DREAM

Cyprian was a siCkly Boy. He grew up to become a lonely young man. When I first met him, he was still in the habit of wetting his bed. He was twenty-three then. But you shouldn’t mistake him for abnormal. He was sane, in his own way. At times he even appeared old, like the emaciated, young-old men of Biafra. There were times, at night, when I saw something like a phosphorescent halo around him. Maybe it was my imagination. There were also times during the day when he would appear embalmed in a haunting paleness – again, maybe that was my imagination. It was in this context that I came to know Cyprian more closely. We became friends. Even our friendship was strange. I myself was twenty. ‘You are a funny girl,’ my mother used to say. And of course she was right. Then, girls of my age were not supposed to be tomboys. At my age, I was supposed to be being groomed for marriage. I was strange. When I did eventually start to experience normal urges, I was desperate to find 

some impressive attachment, before it was too late. And Cyprian was there. He was sick, but there was always an aura around him. So my insignificance found solace in his patronage. With time, I would come to model my fantasies about men on Cyprian. While to many people his passage on this earth was light and feathery, to me he was the exact opposite. There were times when, in my sleep, I could hear the tremors of the earth caused by his vibrant footsteps. And yet his manhood couldn’t make a tremor. Because Cyprian couldn’t kiss. Neither could he make love. ‘Do you masturbate, then?’ I asked him one evening, as we stood by a dead ‘Apollo’ lamp-post. ‘No, I don’t,’ was his response. I looked deep in his eyes, which reflected only calm and innocence. ‘Do you do other men, then?’ I jabbed. To this he responded that he didn’t know how. ‘You are certainly sick… you must see a doctor, or a sangoma,’ I told him. My eyes scanned him from his feet up. At the same time, a strange tingling shiver crept all over me. There and then I knew I was in love. 

He said he heard blaring police sirens and tiptoed to his window to look. My attempts to stifle them were futile. Sometimes he would just watch me accusingly. years later. and shove him aside. There was a giant searchlight trained  . He told me that on that night he was awakened by a commotion outside his room. He would grab Dikapeso. my husband. Whenever I reached an orgasm when making love to my husband.’ This was after I had confided in her about the strange feelings that by then had become familiar to me. ‘You are sick!’ my mother would yell at me. But then there were times when he would become violent. He flipped back his curtains slightly. but then a gust tossed them wide open and flung his window open at the same time. How else could one explain those incidents? For Cyprian had been dead then for eight years. ‘It is because of that sick boy of yours. I remember when he died. Then he would mount and ride me to unimaginable ecstasy.‘I am in love… in love with a sick man. Cyprian would appear.’ The words kept spurting from deep within my consciousness. Perhaps my mother was right about me being sick.

But no. their hungry turrets zeroed in on his one-roomed house. A blaring loudhailer commanded him and his accomplices to come out with their hands raised. that he opened his heart’s secret to me. When he hesitantly descended the four steps to the ground. surrounding his yard. A squadron of six Alpha XH1 helicopters was hovering above. all with sniffer dogs. He noticed a platoon of uniformed men. I could not arouse him – because he had other desires. Laden with terror and confusion. he implored me to remain with him. The scene outside was even more terrifying. he dragged himself to the door. Throughout that ordeal. was a division of Ratel-90s.on him. And it was only on his death-bed. My affair with Cyprian was passionate but nonerotic. It was now my turn to comfort  . We were lovers before all except ourselves. and marksmen ready to storm his room. That was not the day he actually died. a pack of sniffer dogs hurled themselves at him. Further on. in hospital. In fact he was to die six years later. He recognised them as members of the well-known and feared counter-insurgency unit. For I could not reach him.

Mmabatho. imagining things or plainly mad… or  . ‘I swear. There were times I thought he would fall silent from sheer exhaustion. For many hours I listened. most innocent woman… But then he contradicted himself. Either I was dreaming. And then Cyprian told me about his relationship with another woman. ‘should you once again postpone our wedding. and were planning to marry some day… she stayed at Nineteenth Avenue. He explained that his bed-wetting was a result of his erotic couplings with her. for it left an imprint on my lips.’ His face radiated a waxy glow of contentment. then stare back at her. I was suddenly jerked to full alertness when he told me she was there in the room. That was also to be the first and last time he kissed me. He introduced us and made teasing comments.’ he said to me. near the Jukskei River… she was the perfect. I kept quiet. She was thirty-three… she lived alone… she was still a virgin… they were in love. But he went on and on. His eyes would now and then fix on me. and became familiar with my rival. prettiest. I well remember that kiss.his traumatised soul. I knew something was wrong. I am going to take off with this angel.

two shadowy figures clinging to each other as they left the room. It was only when he had ceased breathing that I saw. and the silhouette of a beautiful woman. It seem to me that he had finally died.  . My mother later told me that I’d brayed like a donkey. And years later. In fact. get her – strap her on the bed. she said that the same sort of sound was repeated when I gave birth to my quadruplets. In that misty apparition I could well make out his tall and bony profile. hideous scream. prolonged shriek – quite unlike my normal. After his long monologue. it was another three years before he really did die. I jumped up from his bedside and uttered a hollow. a period of silence followed. just when I was longing for some romantic sweet-talk from him. out of nowhere. It was a strange. For there was nobody except the two of us in the room. restrained self. man. ‘She’s mad! She’s mad. But not exactly… for Cyprian did not die that day either.’ A stampede of nurses and orderlies came after me.’ ‘Get her.else he was. or thought I saw. One day.

or fast or whatever you call it. Cyprian.’ I stood there.’ ‘But that is ridiculous – how can a hunger strike. and never will!’ ‘But Cyprian. I felt the veins in my soul bleed. and the only source left to reveal that to me is nature. I start with my hunger strike. humiliated and stunned by that explicit rejection. I’m just trying to understand. your lover!’ ‘No. Trickles that  . I do understand your situation…’ ‘No. I am your friend. but finally gave in.’ ‘Okay. Yet there was no malice in his eyes. help you in that?’ He seemed to think deeply. you don’t.’ ‘Why do you want to go on a hunger strike?’ I asked. And stop pretending you are. still. salty and bitter they were. ‘I want to know my origins. I’m no fool.’ ‘No. no! You certainly do not. and finally the fibre of my composure burst.he said: ‘From tomorrow.’ ‘Look. I struggled to remain calm. you are not. maybe I don’t. I want to know why I was born in such circumstances. A stream spilled from my eyes as that fragile inner river turned into tears: sour. then said: ‘I don’t have a father or mother.

only temporarily strutting in robes of peace to pacify his troubled conscience. while the pacifist was still a maniac. His response triggered a memory of a conversation I’d once overheard between a decorated Koevoet veteran and a conscientious objector. ‘This simple ritual enables man to communicate with greater powers and to fulfil his potential. laughed and finally embraced in fraternal solidarity. The two were debating the moral rightness or wrongness of hunger strikes for political convictions. paedophiles and other  . The war veteran was still a passionate humanist at heart. Nothing except his gentle touch and hesitant. has the same effect as baptism – to purify. During one of his previous lives. After hours of arguing.neither my palms nor handkerchief could restrain. as he preferred to call his hunger strike. Psychopaths. as compared to fasting for spiritual redemption. Cyprian argued that a fast cleanses the bowels. which overloaded bowels deny him. comforting whispers. he had butchered his fiancée. because they realised that logic and rationality were merely transient states of the mind. the two ended in tense silence – then chuckled.’ He was convinced that the ritual.

You consider marriage a lesser commitment. Just wait and see…’ Cyprian’s voice was to keep on echoing in my mind. After this revelation he became restful. From that time. nuns and pacifists could embark on hunger strikes to purge the occasional lust and temptation. I did wait and see. I began to know and understand. ‘Damn fool!’ I sighed. it is the ultimate factor in life.’ ‘Then what I would like her to do is to walk with me for the last mile of the journey. referring to my rival. you are really extreme. she hasn’t yet made up her mind about a lesser commitment like marriage…’ ‘Cyprian. ‘Aren’t you taking her along?’ ‘I doubt she will agree. jabbing at space for answers. This boy was certainly sick. ‘A sad soul like mine was not meant to be tortured by such an existence… my only regret is that I am going to leave you behind. You know. And what I saw wasn’t pleasing.’ ‘What about Squiza?’ I teased him. after four years of dating. For me. while monks. Now I believed my mother.rogues would only have to go on a fast to redeem their sins. for us simpler people. his eyes stopped wandering about. But all the sympathy I offered him  .

was not sufficient to cushion him against the knowledge that was to come. At times I thought it was contempt. Our passion was an epitaph. wandering. And to erase and escape the shame. And that made him swallow his heart. and I was female. his existence. nor the renewed torrent of emotions it would precipitate. we tried to downplay the inhumanity we represented to each other. and I was the only witness. Though he never said it. I could see his large. Struggling to understand his life. depressed eyes. Two beings who were now exposed in our nakedness. A love song we both diligently sang while with lustful glee we sharpened axes to terminate each other’s lives – the eternally estranged twins. For a long time. After that day. she’d gone for 0 . heartless beasts feeding on each other. For Cyprian was male. a hollow oratory peddled as a serenade. For in truth we were executioners – wild. For Cyprian was conceived after the rape of his girl-mother by her child-boyfriend’s friend. I could never again face him without feeling ashamed. He had made his most damning revelation. But there was no one to give him hints or provide him with answers… until his haunted quest stumbled upon the truth. I knew also that I represented shame to him.

Could he always then. All of that was mirrored in his eyes: the dingy. it chose to extend its tragic grip until Cyprian’s will to live gave in. Of course I could never have understood that his dreams would forever be blemished by endless harrowing screams and pools of blood. have been seeing those phantoms – predatory monsters masquerading as human beings? That scenario when soldiers came for him was yet another episode of an epic nightmare. smelly. It climaxed with the storming of Cyprian’s room. But because the tragedy’s appetite could not be satisfied. Doesn’t it make sense now? His insisting I wouldn’t understand him. his beloved. The play was a tragedy. A nightmarish sacrifice that he miraculously survived – and yet finally succumbed to. screeching. manipulated to perform another scene in a million-act play. inhospitable ‘operating theatre’. starting with the Chief of Counter-insurgency dreaming of a holed-up band of operatives at 324 Nineteenth Avenue.an abortion. filthy. even in me.  . and ended in a flop when only rats and mice were found there. Those soldiers were toys or puppets.

He was yet again to die. The elegy in its unravelling became complex. Because it was a self-defeating nightmare. I started choking and throwing up…  . That organ. An apparition whose attempt at haunting brings only mild irritation. For the odds were stacked against him. on that rainy day in a dark mkhukhu when he was hastily expelled from his mother’s womb.In the end. into the giant sea of darkness that feeds on the remnants of frightened life in what is called Alexandra. Though he survived. A death long dead before its birth. the darkness of the alley and the mkhukhu were forever stamped on his forehead. How was he to be normal when all elements that shaped his existence were abnormal? His veins. his whole being was contaminated with spiteful semen. he disappeared into the multitude of the condemned. or as I would have liked to have known him. was long dead. With those pictures and thoughts crystallising. For Cyprian. swelled with greed and rage and vengeance. He quietly died on that fateful night in a darkened alley when he was conceived. I could only sigh in guarded relief. In the end. as I knew him.

Out of respect for our love. as I affectionately call my youngest son. arguing that there was no one with that name in the family lineage.It has been ten years since Cyprian’s death. I wish that they could grow up to adulthood and die still being babies at heart. Both my husband and his parents opposed the move. Knowing nothing. But what can I tell my boys and girls? They are still babies. stopped his vigil over my love-making. I still remember my Cyprian. the late.  . and finally prevailed. I named one of my children Cyprian. I am a happily married woman with four children. for not long thereafter Cyprian. The passage of time seems to have tamed his jealousy. The act seemed like a soothing antidote. Immune from life’s realities. As I look through the frill-curtained windows. But nostalgically. as he appears less and less during my love-making sessions with Dikapeso. But I remained steadfast. I am also happy that Cyprian never lived to see them. there runs little Kapi. I agree. chasing after his old car tyre. which he has christened Thunderbird.

.

Understandably so. That did not cause a scandal in a township where sex was an addiction and childbearing nothing unusual among teenagers. who seemed to enjoy no occupation except fathering kids. I started attending funerals. Who could blame the young for becoming irritated? For it was they and their peers who were the chief subjects of these dirges. burial society meetings and occasional weddings (for weddings were indeed a rarity in our township). At least. after my marriage. that’s what I thought until. because of the prospects of lobola. It was always the younger participants who exhibited irritation at burial society meetings. Mothers bemoaned their daughters whose heads were filled  . it soothed most families. when agenda items would be sacrificed so that the old people could indulge in their laments. Fathers moaned about sons who were lazy. If the newborns were girls.RITUALS FOR MARTHA mmarita gave Birth to her first child when she was seventeen. I was a neighbour of Mmarita’s parents.

and wasted precious time and youth staring into the eyes of boys? ‘What! Not only boys.’ ‘Ohoo! Do you think there are any men left? These boys are not scared of leaving a child with a suckling baby.’ It was a perpetual cycle. They are not ashamed of undressing men old enough to be their fathers. The fights at times made their way into our local newspaper. making press cuttings which we would photocopy and circulate. each accusing the other of either spoiling the children or not teaching them manners. where they let boys strain the tissues of their firm breasts until they were left sagging. Who could blame those old people for lamenting. those accusations and counter-accusations resulted in beatings. forgot to attend to their pots around six or seven. Mmawena. Wena! Those girls are wanton.’ ‘It wasn’t like that in our time. Fathers blaming mothers and mothers blaming fathers. Some even developed into fist-fights as more and more women started asserting their independence.  . And we would relish those stories.with boys and whose cleverness was only realised in dark alleys. when girls forgot to kindle fires at five o’clock. Sometimes.

ke vraiza tiger daa…” “What?” “I said. ‘How am I expected to cope? I am supporting not only my own children.But at the same time. You know what I said to him? “Buti! You are a man. Wasn’t it you last week who was boasting about having bought a leather suit worth three thousand rands?” Hee! After that he tucked his tail between his legs and disappeared.’  .’ ‘Hear this one: my son asked for money to buy bread the other day. If you can so quickly master child-making. Mine is always borrowing money for taxi fares – to where? I don’t know. boy. How many of them have experienced the tyranny of waking up at four o’clock every weekday for a full nineteen-year stretch…? ‘Don’t you wonder why they settle for “vat en sit”? Useless bastards – can’t afford lobola. can you lend me ten rands?” he repeated. “Hau! You surprise me. you are man enough to learn the art of money-making.’ ‘Let alone “work”. So yesterday he came again: “Er… ou lady.”’ ‘Yours is better. Rra Tommy. peace was quickly forged. whose mothers and fathers don’t know the meaning of “support”. but broods of these little bastards.

Burial society meetings digressed from their agendas to ponder it.Sometimes these conversations. or rather laments. her mother composed a lullaby for her:  . who was known to have been schooled only up to standard three. if she hadn’t failed her initiation rituals. It was said that this would have led to her becoming a diviner or medium. Though what it led to. preferably a female. would be a scandal of unparalleled proportions in the whole township. From a distance. was said to be the source of this name change. Mmarita’s childbearing did not cause a scandal. A dozen daring priests introduced it into their sermons. And she chose Mmarita. But why begin at the end? Mmarita’s real name was Martha. one would think the old people were enjoying the rewards of life. to replace her. an Africanised version. some years later. As I have already said. but everybody called her Mmarita. She was also known to be possessed by ancestral spirits. She’d then been advised by her muti mentor to select somebody in the family. Aunty Pheladi. would be punctuated with roars of laughter. Her aunt. When Mmarita was a pretty little baby.

But their tune was the same. her ears readjusting to other frequencies: the rasping voices of males. others confident and persuasive. Mmarita – Kgarebe tsa geso di sa yo tansa dikgekolo le dikgalabje di boa ka madila… Kgarebe tsa geso di sa you tansa masogana le baditi ba boa ka dikosa-thunsa-lerule Mmarita – yoo. The bearers of these voices came with different presentations – some sly and evasive. He couldn’t even finish one sentence without biting his tongue…’  .Mmarita – yoo. still others confused and hesitant. Mmarita – Kgadi-ya-mma tsea lebese That song is now forgotten. sealed by the oily wax that has been accumulating since childhood. The voices that used to render it are tuneless. The song was forgotten even as Mmarita grew up. Mmarita’s curiosity was fuelled when she heard older women laughing: ‘Hahaa! Ora Jacky. some soft and suggestive. The ears that used to be enraptured by its soothing melodies are now deaf.

these were extremely complex issues for a girl who savoured soap operas. one had to observe a strict code of abstinence at certain times. until the trainee graduated.’ Mmarita took up with one boy of sixteen.‘Not my Ruben – that one! On our first night together. and getting approval of the ancestors. Of course. And you know what. No sexual contact the night before attending to a patient… Ridge and Brooke drowning in passion… no lustful thoughts when attending to male patients… Ava and Jack smouldering with desire… and she was to be a vessel for ancestral spirits! 0 . I took pity on the poor thing and pretended to fall asleep. The first rule was chastity. her favourites being Loving and The Bold and the Beautiful. By then she was twelve. She needed to inform the girl what undergoing initiation as a medium. It was at this stage that Aunty Pheladi resolved to start preparing her niece for her future role. She wondered how the ‘poor thing’ would make his proposition – and how he would behave on their first night together. The running stomach miraculously cured. Thereafter. entailed. he kept rushing to the toilet with a running stomach. he came creeping to bed… and had a peaceful sleep.

More and more young girls were swelling and bulging. She carried on with her life like any other young girl. She marvelled at seeing her breasts swell. She then naturally stopped talking about boys with girls who still used folded toilet paper. ‘Mma-wena! Mothers always say that – “She’s sampling life”. who uses folds of toilet paper.But it seemed Aunty Pheladi never properly communicated her choice of Mmarita to the ancestors. Next time you see them – eyes rolling in their sockets. don’t worry. Thus she graduated from being a township ‘sqwaka’.’ How sad and true it was. She also started curling her hair and wearing jeans. ‘Aowa. All these things troubled Aunty Pheladi. It was at such times that parents acknowledged that lobola was as elusive as a son-in-law. She’s simply sampling life. she panicked at seeing blood flow out of her body. It was also then that they awakened to the fact that little Dorah or Phuti or Lerato was  . When she was fourteen.’ said one of Mmarita’s neighbours. the sad reality fermenting inside them. until her cousin introduced her to sanitary pads. to being an ‘ousie’. bellies swollen and tongues stiff against their palates. for no ancestral communiqués were transmitted to Mmarita.

At that point. Mmarita repeated her mother’s counsel to her friends. Not all the sweet melodies in the valleys originate from the lips of larks. silently rehearsing their sad tales. You are the only one your father and I have. One or two repeated the words to their boyfriends. please my child. in turn. though. confirmed their failure as parents. And their parents would wait for the next burial society meeting.  . ‘Mmarita ngwanaka. And all would wish they had only sons. take care. The glow that permeated her face on her return would tell another story. There. they would bow their heads as they listened to each other pouring out sorrow and disappointment in their daughters. They burst into laughter. Always remember that malnourished snakes also learn to sing so as to entice their prey. Some would lament the price society was paying for its drive to progress. parents whose sons were culprits would pretend their ears were itching and would start scratching them with matchsticks or grass stalks until that part of the conversation was over. supposedly to attend neighbourhood study groups.a failure. The girls.’ Of course. on whom they had placed all their hopes. And some of them appear in the form of men. Mmarita started making evening excursions.

They insisted that young people should wait until after marriage. after truancy. ‘What kind of offspring will come out of such copulation?’ they sneered. the girls’ ‘Hihihiii!’ would be heard. It was as if they suspected that death would rob them of the pleasures that love had in store. The young people in our township did not regard making love while standing a disgrace. She also confided in  . They just stroked their darlings affectionately. She gave the reason that she was tired of ‘hitch-hiking’. and repeated with emphasis the need for them to be open and confide in each other. The forbidden honeycomb was too tempting to resist. Throughout the neighbourhood. But the older people viewed it with contempt.Their boyfriends did not laugh. Then the boys’ ‘Kwakwaaakwaaaa!’ – almost sadistic laughter emanating from fragile vocal chords already starting to rust from cigarette and alcohol abuse. for that is what young people in our township called vertical lovemaking. Mmarita got tired of her teenage boyfriend. But waiting was anathema to young people. though. as true lovers are supposed to do. and daring each other to taste it became a second hobby.

which proved cosy for their intimate sessions. looking over his shoulder and ready to run whenever he hears or sees someone approaching.her friends that she was bored with her young lover: ‘A ke sa di kena.’ How could he not be? He was not sure when Mmarita’s mother or father might apprehend them. they looked down upon those who still dated schoolboys. Besides. pump a bullet through his head and ‘jackroll’ his Mmarita. Or when one of the older ‘toughies’ might bump into them. she got herself a taxi-driver. and those before. he is always nervous and hurried. and probably even those to come. What was the bait? A miniskirt? Tight-fitting pants? A pretty face? Wrong! Every girl growing up knew the mentality of taxi-drivers. What worked was to play-act coyness and delicacy. Mmarita had to get herself a taxi-driver boyfriend because all her friends had one. In his place. she knew it was hard to come by a millionaire in the townships. even if they used sanitary pads and curled their hair as well. Like all girls of her generation. and frequent  . Luckily he owned a backyard shack. For them it meant graduation into a higher social order. Of course. but divine intervention could still deliver her own personal chauffeur.

a rainbow diluted by the tears of lamenting gods. He knew it was a detour the taxi owner wouldn’t approve of. But. That added an extra four kilometres of detour from his main route. he endured. His Sundays were given over to transporting her and her friends to Moretela Park. True to his nickname. she informed him that the now thing was Nando’s. bearing a package of Chicken Licken or Kentucky. Mmarita followed this advice to the letter.’ ‘I say. And the old people continued with their laments: ‘This Moretela Park of theirs! Kare. like any solicitous lover. What a shame! The girl who was at the forefront of a generation of fornicators was tired of vertical  . an illusion they occasionally brought back to life in memory. And so she got her ‘Lunch Boy’. they can’t even afford lobola.their haunts. but the yearning lover in him gave him a sense of adventure and boldness. it is their new-found church.’ Who could blame the old people? Theirs was an era long effaced from the brow of reality. her taxi-driver would appear punctually every school-day around lunch time. Later on. but are wasteful on these Moretela Park outings of theirs.

dozens of people thronged to her place to see the baby. Like Prometheus.love-making. Agaa! Who can believe those township gossip-mongers? The first reaction of Aunty Pheladi on hearing that Mmarita was pregnant was to consider rushing her for an abortion. Afterwards.  . The physical features of her baby confirmed speculation that children conceived vertically suffered defects. Some even said his little penis maintained an erection. her heart would feed the wild birds of prey. some of them started spreading the rumour that at birth the infant had been as upright as a reed.’ And there was nothing mortal man could do to save her. for they declared tampering with her would be akin to challenging the ancestors. And she knew that her pretty niece was lost: ‘Like Jezebel! Like Lot’s wife! She will suffer the vengeance of the gods. Just to be sure. for that was exactly the position she was in three years later when she conceived. But then she recalled that nothing can be hidden from the ancestors. which collapsed soon after someone mentioned the little bastard’s father by name. All diviners shied away from her. though. She should not have scorned it.

We were justified in this: hadn’t we grown up on the precipice of an apocalypse. I used to be one of the many sceptics about such prophecies of doom. driving around with one of her friends.Like Joan of Arc. Like all reluctant grandparents. where she had gone to file a paternity suit. but had also turned the messengers into buskers and their testimony into a mockery. Later. I held firmly to my doubts until 1982. But no – it was only that she  . Mmarita was knocked over by a car on her way from Kwa Muhle. Fate decided that they would become his legal guardians. for a couple of weeks after the birth. Mmarita’s parents had a grudging fondness for their grandchild. Then. orated to by Watchtower evangelists throughout the years? Warnings that had not only been proved wrong. Her taxi-driver disappeared. and resurfaced months later. it dawned on me that my perceptions might be only as solid as the rainbow. Initially we thought she had been committed to an institution. in those dark days. The world might well be coming to a fiery end. That is when I saw a man being roasted with three tyres around him. her flesh and bones would kindle the greatest bonfire. I saw mongrels fighting over parts of his charred remains.

Some of the relatives recommended taking her to Giyani. Two days later. or rather her silhouette. It was as though she had never existed for him. When two hours had elapsed and she was still mumbling the same words. She was naked. occurred at twenty to nine on the night of the twelfth of April. A long consultation followed. he would always respond by talking about his grandmother.was never seen venturing out except at night. was then of course eight years old. that Aunt Pheladi stood up and bolted. It was Aunt Pheladi who ended up at Witkoppen. Kgetsi. great mutiman of the Northern Transvaal. When asked about her. It was on the eighth anniversary of her self-exile into darkness. Her son. others said Mozambican muti-men were better equipped to handle such a case. she told the family that there was nothing she could do. The first sighting of Mmarita. the traffic police apprehended her marching up and down the Ben Schoeman Highway. It was at the mention of taking her to Phafula. a sangoma was called. still lamenting the fate of her niece. 1987. It started with her exclaiming over the tragic fate of her niece. After a couple of minutes with the patient.  .

’ He would pause. She does washing and ironing piece-jobs. ‘Yaa! There is Mantwa. There is Zodwa.‘No – I mean your mother. he would taunt and jeer at young girls. And they asserted their ‘bigness’ with the girls. despite their doubts. He was an adventurous. This dilemma was solved by the bright Kgetsi. During playtime they were now preoccupied with TV heroes like Zorro and MacGyver. She was nine then.’ And he chose for himself the fairest. He called a council and reviewed the play rules. That was understandable. ‘Mmmm… my mother. as most people feared. There is Thembi. daring boy. thinking through the question again. They were past the age of playing husbands and wives. From today. There they  . Soon his proposal was accepted by all. they always got confused when these heroes of theirs expressed attraction to pretty women. he got the girls to accompany the boys to a run-down. Zodwa. your real mother. Maybe that was the cause of his downfall. fathers and mothers. they will be our women.’ Kgetsi didn’t suffer a complex though. However. Together with other boys his age. He employed his eloquence to win over the other boys. On the sly. she is at work. abandoned house.

It was probably curiosity that led Zodwa to take off her panties.’ They were still marvelling at the strange and funny sensation of each other’s bodies when Mmarita pounced on them. She went for Kgetsi’s throat and started squeezing. Still later. It was probably the same curiosity that led Kgetsi to take off his underpants.had the time of their childhood. while her parents were at work. It was the first time in eight years that she had ventured out in broad daylight. the neighbours saw his limp body being hoisted onto a stretcher by frantic ambulance attendants. Playing familiar and recently invented games… until the beckoning of the serious game. When they managed to free the little boy from her grip he was already unconscious and frothing. ‘Let us do it like they always do on TV. Trailing behind her were some of the neighbours. they told the police they had first been alerted by Mmarita’s screaming: ‘Get off me… get off meee!!!’ 0 . Later. the one that men and women play in their bedrooms.

If these forces were not human-inspired. floods or earthquakes. indeed. old age – it was a miraculous achievement for a young man to reach such an age these days. Why this odd feeling today? He shrugged at the thought that it might be old age. like witchcraft. which sustain themselves on almost nothing. that. starvation. although he was not yet at his destination. then they were natural disasters like droughts. considering it was a mere three kilometres. it was apparent that the odyssey of living was ended before it began. At times he had doubled. Maybe the world would soon be populated and ruled by ants and little bacteria. car accidents or murder.LAST PARADE AT GOLGOTHA ondangwa realised he was extremely exhausted. With the many forces lurking to snatch away one’s life. Yes.  . mankind was about to follow the dinosaurs into extinction. in the past he had easily made that sort of distance. That was strange. Thirty-five was. even trebled.

the woman chose to horde water. the water was becoming cooler and cooler. Why. Ondangwa felt the skin of his soles start to burn. Ag shame! Of all worldly treasures. Stingy woman! What uniqueness was there in water. Moreover. This had always been source of conflict between himself and his mother-in-law. On closer scrutiny. after all? An element with which you couldn’t even rinse your sins. Days later. End of the world through fire… fire of loins.Ondangwa could not decide how to classify AIDS. Before going deeper into these thoughts. She eventually managed to influence his wife. In fact. But this did not affect his bath duration. he noticed that Ntsiki was starting to fill his bath with less and less water. Although there was the baptismal ritual. And possibly the ultimate curse on the sex act itself. he noticed corns and blisters. he could not understand. but concluded the disease was certainly a curse on human survival and progression. his morning bath was said to last a full sixty minutes. It was a fulfilment of the biblical prophecy of Apocalypse. instead it widened the rift between them. which was supposed to erase one’s previous sins and  . for he washed and scrubbed his feet every day.

wwhaaat?’ she responded. the days of his youth. ‘Wasn’t that five thousand they demanded for lobola too much?… Yerreee! Ngwana-kewena-wa-reng!’ Ondangwa looked deep in his mother’s eyes. she had earned a curse from the Son of Man. Both relatives and complete strangers used to say how much he  . For stinginess. Then he remembered the communion. like the Hindus’? He recalled the case of the Samaritan harlot who denied Jesus water. Maybe Ntsiki was some remote cousin or even latter-day reincarnation of that Samaritan harlot. fuming. He wondered at times if the sacrament wasn’t just an excuse to indulge in drink.make one new-born. he did not believe in divorce. Or care much to divorce over a mere bath. Some said ‘Born Again’. What was this fascination with liquid among Christians? Could it be that their faith was not strong enough to be tested on a bed of red-hot coals. ‘Beat her at least.’ she advised again. But that was exactly what his mother advised him to do. ‘But Mme! That’s taking it too far…’ ‘Taking it too fa-aar. He saw his own reflection and started thinking about his childhood. He wished he could curse her… As a Catholic.

looked like her. having been sentenced to death by a ‘People’s Court’ in Alexandra. he realised. Not only hers. The only thing he did manage to see was his own reflection. he remained an infant in her eyes. he tried to see himself – or the specks that were supposed to represent her in him. Even at thirty-five. (Maybe the act would have been gratifying had it occurred in reality – pity that it was only enacted in the recesses of his mind. when he was hanged with a burning tyre around his neck. Throughout his life. they would wield hypnotic power over him. or him in her. And that made him feel extremely vulnerable. But there were none. But he knew he wasn’t like her. rendered insignificant by her fragile feminine iris. He had tried to overcome that by falling in love with her eyes. an infant she would mother until the grave relieved her of that burden. The spell would only be broken ten years later. When he looked in her eyes. where his conscience was struggling  . and that he shared her character traits. a tiny blob shrunk to the size of a pin by her iris… his esteemed masculinity and ego dwarfed. And eyes had ended up constituting the epitome of feminine sensuality and erotic passion for him. but also those of other women.

but would obediently submit herself. matured enough to recognise crying for what it is – a trifle. pleading or mumbling his praise-poems and totem.to come to terms with the realities of the times. a nonsensical expression of happiness or tragedy that is draining the world of the moistness and dampness it so desperately needs? He recalled how his father regularly used to beat his mother. Hasn’t man. he would beat her terribly. armed with knowledge. bent or kneeling before her husband. after his father had drunk four or six pints at Auntie Kikilha’s. she never cried or attracted attention. in particular. moist eyes. Never understanding or appreciating her big.) Up to the last moment. She never screamed or ran outside. His mother was different from other women in the township. It is only organisms that are incapable of this act that are destined to inherit the earth. Crying! An emotional act that is slowly wringing the world dry.  . During those terrible beatings. his eyes were glued to those of a twenty-one-year-old virgin. one of the weeping spectators. so that she usually ended up with ‘blue eyes’. That would happen. Despite his proclaimed supremacy. man’s ability to shed tears cancels his status as lord over other living creatures – a status that has eluded him since creation.

He only knew that he was extremely exhausted. missing the pedestrian’s unbridled monopoly of the roads and arrogance towards motorists. alleys with sore and sticky edges. like a donkey… no.He recalled how he’d once tried to intervene by snatching the broomstick from his father. ‘Hey-wena ngwana tena! Bring that back!’ his mother had yelled at him. But it was to no avail. pick-pocketing and shoe trampling were the rule.’ he’d tried to reason with her. except that he was putting his mind through the dark alleys of his childhood. It was that damning state of exhaustion that had driven him to trains and taxis. like a mongrel.’ he mumbled softly. ‘I won’t. Reluctantly. She would hobble after him. But he’d started missing his long walks.  . like a farmhand… or maybe like a tokoloshe. who would resume his punishment. take the broomstick and give it back to her husband. years ago… ‘Exhausted. Crowding. I won’t… he’s killing you. Nx! Why was he thinking about all that? He couldn’t find a reason. his mind drifted to one memorable ride. Train rides irritated him. No.

It occurred to him that she was in the mood for being proposed to… ‘Damn!’ He was not in that mood either. ‘Agg! Why doesn’t this bloody train have an accident…’ An outcry erupted from his fellow commuters. she was in the mood for talking. ‘I heard something about tokoloshe. neither was his ‘small boy’ excitedly outstretched alongside his thighs. ‘What… err… why?’ he stammered. He also noticed she’d stopped pretending to read a copy of True Love magazine. He realised his ankles were strained. ‘Damn. The whole compartment was staring at him in shock. Why? He hadn’t messed his trousers. ‘Whaaaat!!’ one voice echoed. No.’ another accused. neither had he urinated in his trousers. ‘Whyyy?!’ two others chorused. He become conscious of the fact that even his knees were creaking.’ she continued. Clearly. He noticed that even the Watchtower mobile  . Why… no.’ he muttered. ‘Accident! Afa ga o moloi wena. nor was his fly open. He was not in that mood.‘Are you talking?’ the young woman sitting next to him on the train asked.

who also was in the mood for being proposed to… the young woman whose eyes were like almonds.evangelist was in shocked silence. like a radiant sunflower. Her grouchy company. The young woman who was in the mood for being talked to… the young woman who was conscious and proud of her appearance. Her flabby shape. He began thinking about Ntsiki. ‘Yerreee! Pshooo!!’ He puffed deeply. Nx! Bugger-off. Sapped of  . Yaa! Maybe Bra Ntikzo was right: ‘Leave the magogo home. rambling on by themselves.’ Yaa! That was Ntikzo talk. ntwana maan! Check bana outie maan! Nothing better than bana en s’putla. ‘Damn it! I didn’t say that aloud. Why should he care. the koppie-dice game abandoned halfway. mercilessly collaring and dragging him to the scrapyard. Bra Ntikzo and his twak. Her shabby appearance. His mind and senses were so numb they were reacting mechanically. Ondangwa reasoned. But he should have known. Her ever-increasing disregard for basic hygiene… and the young woman who was sitting next to him. Mental lethargy was upon him. Regretful thoughts about his five-thousand-rand lobola weren’t that far behind.’ he told himself.

How about trying some fellow puffer… ‘Skeif daar. One hardly got even a stompie… ‘Nx! Bongame fela!’ He shot up and moved to another coach. And his vision was becoming more and more blurred.’ Agaa! He was tired of having to grovel.energy as he was. bloody. Mirages and stars appeared with unabashed exhibitionism. ‘O-yaa!’ The smokers’ brotherhood and solidarity was fast dying. ke draai. filthy train commuters!’ His eyes fell on the red-sprayed graffiti on the coach walls. Then he noticed that underneath was pencilled: ‘Yu were fuking! bloody! having yur senses sarender to your erekshin when you rote thes – thes is no fuking puplic toilet. broer?’ ‘Eeii! Broer. He became aware that his mind was operating at low gear. In laborious chugs and pauses. to lick others’ shoes for ‘nkauza’. He fumbled for his cigarettes. human existence was reduced to a mere fraction of a feeling – a feeling of exhaustion.’ It occurred to Ondangwa that he would have to visit all the public toilets in Johannesburg to view  . ‘What’s wrong with you fucking. Eshoooo! He’d got none.

that he was certain of. scribble or spray them on public walls. culled by their own civilisation. If human existence was fatigue of both the mind and body. Those like him. portly as ever. it wasn’t his body that was exhausted. Then his eyes fell on a young man. but preferred to paint. He grinned. despite protestations the other might have offered. or 0 . Rebellious creativity from society’s oppressed individuals. He started biting his lips. a bearded animal. Animals destined for extinction. Then he licked them and swallowed a trickle of blood… Ntsiki. Maybe that way he might come across some creativity. Silenus was probably right when he advised King Midas that the most desirable thing for mankind was not to be born at all. She was probably busy with her unappetising pots on the coal stove… Tshoooo! He yawned and stretched himself. But the other turned aside. They were animals. No. but who didn’t utter their wayward statements. He noticed the Peter Stuyvesant dangling from the other’s lips.all the graffiti. It was a feeling that emanated from deep within his heart. exposing his own nicotine-stained teeth.

alternatively to die soon. Then there was Modjadji. beyond his immediate and possible reach. with a great blue tablecloth and giant golden serviettes. the meadow he’d thought he was journeying towards was in fact a valley of death. self-appreciation and  . he realised that in all his long walks. was life and love decked on a giant table. And Icarus at Crete. Still walking. And with shocked finality. No. but had to surrender it at Pulaski. he’d been going nowhere. extremely exhausting walks. the final resting place. Not even the mystic poet himself. There was no regret or remorse though – he realised that in all his walks. she too finally sought the company of the ancestors at Ga-Modjadji. Only with telescopic sight could he peep with malnourished longing at that splayed scenery. he too had to seek eternal solitude with his God at Ubeda. Remote. But would he reach it? Didn’t Moses falter at Mount Pisgah? Gibran also sought eternal rest in New York. could sustain himself. Ondangwa felt the urge to continue living dissipate. the first rainmaker. Darwin. who embraced mortality at Down. layered with multiple mirrors for self-reflection. not even Bedford Forrest could bear the Klan Cross beyond. Saint John of the Cross.

waiting to crush its tenants.  . He could see he was the odd. trespassing on prohibited sacred grounds. Then the awakening took possession of him. To smash them to smithereens.self-indulgence. bedbug or mosquito that arrogantly prances around. He matured instantly as knowledge enfolded him. ant. Biding its time. Then he aged. and at times even bothersome cockroach.

sharks and whales. It has become possessed by four-wheeled chameleons. snails. are prone to error – with the result that stretches of crawling motorcars idle and doze in that outstretched path. like any other mechanical thing. Kites I longed to manoeuvre and chase after in its wide skies have  . It stretches along an even gradient. For in fact it is a path. like anything mortal. so that instead of their electric winks and blinkings. the traffic is confronted by their human counterparts. But. they become sick once in a while. sparrows.STREET FEATURES the street Could Be anywhere. At longer intervals there are robots that maintain guard night and day. But now we are estranged. punctuated by four-way junctions every five hundred metres or so. eagles. granite paving. except that this one is decorated with tar. like any in the bush. But these too. some of them belching loudly and puffing smog from their narrow nostrils. and permanent yellow and white markings… This is the street I dreamed about and longed for throughout my childhood.

over and over again. swarming like ants around jam or bees over honey. Still. immediately after lunch time. travelled by the few who’ve attained salvation. for those who see.  . most of them not less than seven storeys high. they retrieve it from complete disintegration. Or even hell. are of the same verdict. use and abuse the street every day. it is back to its former state the following day. strewn with the multitudes of those who’ve flouted salvation – the revelry-drugged mob. Often it slides a little way into squalor. It could be heaven. Of course. it does get a nightly scrubbing. This is a street I don’t dream of anymore. was that it could be anywhere. like a self-indulgent pig. This view isn’t mine alone. My first observation. on seeing the street again after nearly ten years. but then municipality sanitation officers remember it. mocked by helicopters. I conclude that spring-cleaning for this street is hopeless.been displaced. gliders. This is usually on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons. in the shape of garbage removal every evening around eight. Kind-heartedly. aeroplanes and all sorts of mechanical monsters that overwhelm and dwarf everything else up there. It is now sandwiched between tall buildings.

’ ‘That’s sickening blasphemy. Going westward. The ones with an IQ of 150. They have probably introduced grinders and caterpillars there as well. smelly air that drifts from that direction. And that’s modernisation.‘But the path to heaven is narrow… doesn’t the bible testify to that?’ ‘Ya! That was before the clever ones died. They prescribe condoms. But going eastward is like fleeing a horde of living corpses with iron clamps chained to your ankles. but the drag!  .’ ‘Don’t you agree. It is a gentle down-slope.’ ‘Alley to social utopia!’ bold newspaper headlines might shout. one always has the unsettling feeling of approaching a lion’s den. Boy. I don’t see any reason why heaven shouldn’t go for a face-lift as well. flesh merchants have also awoken to the dangers of AIDS. ‘Red-light main road to moral degradation!’ moralists might pronounce with condemnation. maybe because of the hot. It is also like ascending an extremely steep hill. heaven too needs to be modernised? Otherwise it would lose potential recruits to places like Sun City. Certainly the street is confused – just like all those who walk or drag themselves over its granite and tar.

It is the kind of street that goes straight to wooing. you would see it differently. I was unable to stretch my roots deep enough for them to entangle and intertwine with those of a girl. Little children. Then age starts mistreating the children as they grow to adulthood. They become acquainted. It was here that the longing to meet a girl first took root in me. It is then that some choose to return to the rural areas. The street also witnesses the birth of boys and girls. it appears shaped like a maiden’s torso.Some say it is a bewitched street. grabbing and clinging onto your affections. Others attribute its strangeness to perennial tremors caused by geological forces in its bowels. In adolescence they discover each other. where a great serpent lives. are born. drawn by the magnetic force that emanates from their loins. become husbands and wives. some resembling them and others not resembling them. Still others say there is a natural pool underneath the street. and start copulating. while others are hastily claimed by the grave. Its breathing is the cause of all the abnormal feelings people experience there. At one angle. And men of  . Were you to stop and inspect the street more appreciatively. But because of my erratic stay.

Trouble starts when they first insist on taking off their shoes. lie prostrate on its alabaster slabs.all ages are in one way or another infatuated with that. ‘Disgusting! Why don’t they go buy it in Hillbrow. and women are ever consumed with trying to remodel their husbands’ and boyfriends’ age-battered and life-battered bodies on it. But one or two try playing the game. probably lonely ones. ‘He-wena! Ke eng tse. the girls’ attention is diverted – scribbling on the concrete  . To feel the pavement whisper and tickle your feet.’ ‘Lie down! Where? Why?’ ‘Isn’t it romantic? To let the wind caress you. hee?’ ‘Let’s lie down. Sometimes they behave obscenely. rocking themselves up and down. They weep silently. For. once down. Embarrassed passers-by realise they are simulating love-making. There are times it appears like a Michelangelo sculpture.’ The boyfriends then either drag their girls away or slap them. or roll around. And they pay the price. At times I have seen young men.’ Young women strolling with their boyfriends turn against them when walking on that street.

dear?’ ‘Kedi! Don’t get funny. No! The street was never a piece of inspired technological engineering either.’ ‘Huwii! Listen.’ and similar song lyrics. shake your body. therein to embrace posterity. cooing how sweet it is. No! The street was never a piece of architectural genius. And the inference is quickly picked up by the boyfriends. These are places of refuge or asylum. On closer inspection. especially with a microscope or magnifying glass. even the dull ones: ‘You mean I don’t satisfy you. After that they kiss the slab. ne?’ Or: ‘Look here. one notices little cracks here and there. A dozen naughty kids are always available to testify to the foul mood  . What attitude is that. There are bigger crevices in unsuspected places. its edges have given in to the pressures of shoes and car tyres. Careless drunkards now and then sprain ankles or even break fingers. ne!’ Whaaaa! – and a klap puts a stop to the women’s funniness. where cents from the poor and rich alike are likely to wedge. like ‘Sex me up’ or ‘Shake-shake-shake. Kedi! I don’t dig your attitude. In many places.what the boyfriends call nonsense. whispering how gentle its touch is on their bodies. They are spared the abuse of sweaty palms. he doesn’t dig my attitude.

groundfloor store-rooms… and on Sunday evenings they would disappear. sons and daughters with bundu-confined parents. It was at night that one could hear them whispering in muffled tones as they stole to deserted elevators. Saturday afternoons meant ‘woza weekend’. the odd. rural wives. Even with the assistance of giant searchlights. or indulged themselves in the pleasures of forbidden love. Then they would emerge. the rowdy and ugly ones. when the office workers and their bosses were gone. At that point. Their bruised knees and foreheads and missing teeth are witness to that. Their life began after five. But the street has its patrons. the attractive. The inhabitants would creep out from their holes: labourers’ top-floor rooms. to hole up again until the next weekend. In the old days. mothers with legions of children hanging on their aprons. Husbands with long-forgotten. Again they would  . lots and lots of them. you would be unlikely to trace them. For they had learned to evade the clutches of the Group Areas Act. Children whose fathers had forgotten their existence. when they chose to dematerialise. The plain.and erratic behaviour of that street.

vagrants terrorising dustbins and rubble piles for edibles. Ambitions misdirected by ignorance and hopes betrayed by realities. Her stare was bold. Appendages.materialise. challenging. she told me. In the Transkei. immature ears crowded by a barrage of manipulative words – the snakes and ladders game of adolescence. I saw a whole existence derailed. She told me of the male cousins she stayed with. In the mirror-like centre of her eyes. 0 . vulture-like young men haunting bags. hoping to rekindle my acquaintance with the street. After a while she relaxed. Then I noticed her bosom. Her age was twenty-three. Her place of birth was Tsomo. After ten years. Instead I met her… Her name was Palesa. I asked about her occupation. With the setting of the sun they would emerge: gangs of women reduced to selling their bodies for survival. human relics relegated to social scrap-heaps. like a deflated balloon. she added. purses and pockets. yet femininely sensuous. I came back. She looked me deep in the eyes. but would not tell. I saw childhood dreams gone wrong. To end our estrangement and take up where we left off. It was limp.

that had served as a passport to exile. Words woven around her fragile inner being. A motherhood that overnight had shuttled her from the harmonies of girlhood to the battering perils of single parenthood. while in others I noticed pity. Narrating them to herself. Her name was unfamiliar to most. whereupon the unknown had taken pity on her. I asked around for her. She was not there.It bore witness to an untimely motherhood. Like Scheherazade. Constantly weaving courage. Two weeks later.  . and then a few recalled her. the scorn of neighbours and peers. welcomed and consoled her. I gave a short but desperate description. Away from the verbal abuse of parents. I noted that in some of those recollections were evident both pleasure and spite. I went to the corner on which we’d met. None of the girls seemed to know her. From the jeers and sneers of former boyfriends. She had sought and found comfort in flight. cheating loneliness and death by inventing stories of hope. daring the possibilities of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. She was a weaver of words. It was then that I realised everything she had told me about herself was not true – yet she was not a liar.

’ one of the girls told me. Finally. dear one? Would she tear free from the clutches of a new client for the customary caresses of her consistent  . while others exhibited salespersons’ interest. overcome by both uneasiness and pity. At times my gaze would hook onto kerbcrawling cars. as if I might be persuaded into a deal. Did it matter or make any difference? Palesa. that one tucking her legs into the front seat? My ears sucked onto familiar sounds: distant laughter. I turned away from them. motorcar hooters. Slowly I dragged myself westwards. whistles. Would she emerge from that car? Was it her.’ another insisted. Melisa. I noticed that some of the girls were eyeing me suspiciously. favourite client? Would that car hooter or whistle nurse her from her sick-bed or intensive care unit… or awaken her from the grave? Where are you. ‘No-no! It was a black man in a grey Golf. or whoever she was. was nowhere. Would she emerge in a dazed rush for that one particular.‘I last saw her with a white man in a red Sierra. My eyes would now and then fasten on distant female figures and fish around their profiles for familiar features.

and it was in such a state that she would become clearer… the one woman I might have loved. No more a feature of the street.client? Yet I knew I did not have the power or resources to rescue her. That would have been possible. Palesa or Melisa. in another time and other circumstances.  . I fumbled along that merciless street. hurriedly levelled tar. I couldn’t re-dress the stage to offer her a better act. Fresh and rain-stained cigarette stubs. An act devoid of those beds. was no longer there. or whoever she was. The one woman whose roots might have intertwined with mine to form a nourishing tree for little boys and girls of our own. Tastelessly graffitied walls and corners permeated with sulphuric urine odour. And here and there. she merged with the other insignificant particles of that street – artlessly laid granite paving-stones. the posturing. In the end. orange and banana peels strewn around. the life-consuming embraces. Now and then my vision would blur.

.

DEATH AND THE PALMIST (Letter from the dead)

it was on the third day of the incident that we braced ourselves for something sinister. Not that an itching palm was a riddle, something to shame the beards of our wisdom. We knew, though, that it was an omen. ‘Incident’ might not even be the appropriate term, but then, having chased the same sun behind the same trees and mountain for the better part of our lives, we were prone to employing hyperbole in our descriptions of everything, merely to give a semblance of significance to our monotonous lives. And it was bound to happen that we individually and collectively bore grudges against Pontsho. Who was she, anyway, to pour scorn onto our communal pride? Pontsho ridiculed everything – our employment of riddles, hyperbole and jokes, our indulging in sorghum and marula beer, our morabaraba games and our habitual lounging in the shade after midday meals. All the while, we 

kept reminding her that these were mere diversions to lessen the burden of drudgery in our lives. She countered by accusing us of ineptitude and laziness, using a lot of other similarly degrading terms. You will understand our triumph at what we later collectively referred to as ‘Pontsho’s affliction’. Pontsho, grouchy over a palm-itch, continuously scratching and scratching, like strumming a minute guitar. Or ‘like a mongrel or pig with lekker krap,’ someone intoned. For this comic relief, the speaker earned himself a gourd of frothing sorghum beer. Our triumph was not gratifying, though, because Pontsho treated our making an issue out of her palm-itch with scorn: ‘Come off it, you illiterates. None of you invented a fart or a belch. So stop pretending that you know my itching palm is a countdown to the end of the world.’ Our degree of shock prompted us to consult ngaka-ya-ditaola, for we all agreed only one bewitched could degenerate that badly in neighbourliness. Pontsho’s palm was not the only village issue. She was beautiful as well. The kind of bewitching beauty only angels or she-devils possess. What else could we term it? At a time when women’s worth was the number of babies their wombs could 

produce or menial tasks their arms could carry out, she chose to parade the pains beauty was capable of inflicting. All mothers in our village used to advise their marriageable sons: ‘Mosadi ke tshwene, o lewa mabogo.’ Prospective mothers-in-law pointed out that Pontsho’s kind of beauty fed only the eyes while sucking out men’s guts, rendering them zombies. We thought the mothers’ warnings were motivated by female jealousy, until we started hearing rumours about bizarre behaviour by some of our brothers: boys, married men and old men were so besotted with Pontsho that they would wander about in the streets or nearby woods at full moon, crooning, chanting or whispering her name. Younger women were known to fall into stuttering and swooning spells in her presence. These afflictions were known to disappear when she withdrew. It was because of this that some of us started believing certain preachers – that Pontsho was a she-devil incarnate, bent on corrupting Christian youths tantalised by her beauty, convinced she was the Madonna. Kgwedi, the village boomelaar, nearly started an inter-religious bloodbath between Catholics and Protestants by insisting that waters 

of everlasting life flowed between her legs – the idiot! The Protestant deserter forgot in his drunken stupor that the guzzler on his left was the local Catholic priest. From those before us, we had learnt that when your palm itches, it is an omen. It means you will receive money – if you were owed, or perhaps if a rich uncle on his death-bed forgot you were worse than a piece of dog shit and decided to bequeath his entire estate to you. Or it means that a longlost acquaintance will soon reappear, and you will shake his hand repeatedly. Relief will embrace you with the realisation that the cure for your itching palm has arrived. We learnt of all the body’s different signs and their interpretations. Itching foot-soles foretold travel, or being soaked in rain; a palpitating upper eyelid meant seeing a long-lost acquaintance; an itching lower eyelid foretold crying or mourning for a loved one. Then there was the best of all, choking on saliva – that foretold a feast. Most of us enjoyed this last sign. How could we not, when meat and other delicacies were scarce? It was only the occasional funeral that guaranteed us those treats. Collective panic would set in if none of us reported such an omen. Then we would set about 

a soup-drought for our palates. Over frothing sorghum beer. We ridiculed the young by pointing out that they conducted themselves that way because they were conceived during the day – yea! It was only dogs and donkeys that mated during daytime. Word carried by bats and owls reached us about their condemnation of us as a generation of failures. then. With time. because all the young ones were starting to adopt her attitude. we would turn to our favourite songs:  . that the offspring of drunkards and daytime fornicators behaved like animals. After these strategising sessions. we became convinced that Pontsho was the prophetess of the generation of ridiculers.lamenting terrible times. we worked out counter-strategies. Not surprising. our failures would be erased. or mielie-fields. As tradition demanded. and were powerless to reverse that… had we but left them herds of goats and cows. It wasn’t as if our grandchildren appreciated our wisdom. we passed these signs on to our grandchildren as a legacy. Especially as there was little else we could show to them as proof of our having suckled from Mother Nature. We knew.

Couzy-motswala is for sale Buy her and fill our bellies Tswang-tswang motswala Couzy-motswala is for sale Bed my wife. to the seventh generation!’ – so anybody daring to echo her blasphemy would be cautioned. I’ll bed yours… A new refrain was added to the popular ditty: Tswang-tswang motswala motswala-ka ngwana malome kare ntsee oa gana Kgomo di boela sakeng… Come forth cousin cousin. beloved child of my uncle’s marry me so cattle can remain in the family kraal but he refuses… Our days were spent in such humorous sentiment – until Pontsho started referring to ‘poor old women and men’s tales’. 0 . ‘Did you hear that little witch? She refers to our warning regarding her palm-itch as –’ ‘Stop right there before curses follow you.

little ones whom we reckoned hadn’t yet committed sin. Our anticipation was at fever point when we heard rumour that her palm-itch was getting itchier by the day. Our first action was to send children. we resolved to act. she needed to act quickly. When it appeared that she was going to do nothing. but Pontsho. if not that of the ancestors. When that failed. We reasoned with her that to break the omen of death. chose to dare our collective indignation. At three they are already experts at torturing frogs.’  . ants and dung-beetles. kare ruri you get little playground serial killers. we all waited with baited breath to witness Pontsho reaping the bitter rewards of disrespect for our customs. Their task was to scratch her palm. being Pontsho. They also poke sticks. because that was the remedy we all applied when our palms itched. stones and all sorts of funny things in the rear ends of domestic animals. With the bad influence of those moving pictures they see. maybe hers or that of someone close to her. From that day onwards.We all pointed out to her what would befall her. we reasoned: ‘You call those children – they are miniature monsters! No manners or shame in them.

We were all shocked to realise that moral decadence in the village was so bad that not a single virgin boy or girl could be found among hundreds of children and teenagers. We probably would have sat there the whole day if Mme-Makgatho had not come dragging her mentally retarded eighteen-year-old daughter. we resolved a virgin was our next-best bet. we were wholeheartedly united in our effort to shield her from a destructive fate. panic broke out when that seemed unlikely to happen.‘Ka mma ruri. with chickens born with four legs. After patiently waiting for one parent. Some jumped in to cite this as the reason the village was experiencing so much drought of late. to volunteer his or her child. Though we were all equally jealous of Pontsho. The world is truly nearing its end. jokes and anecdotes followed.’ At a village kgotla. we formed a guard of honour to lead the dribbling girl to Pontsho’s compound.  . In our excitement. Relief loosened our tongues. Although we were preoccupied with seeing her humiliated and humbled. The customary riddles. just one. secretly we knew that we did not want her to die from the curse.

but being called that by a woman – well. a trampling.‘Why abuse the poor thing?’ Pontsho jeered. be grateful that we share in your suffering. as always. Some of us enjoyed provoking her like this. in fairness. and an unmarried one for that matter – was extreme. but we pointed out to them that. That night. but your day as well. A couple of grouchy men were about to let their tempers descend to the level of their ridiculed manhoods. when the sun conspired with our lazy limbs to usher in yet another harvest shortfall. a girl really. Pontsho had a good night’s sleep.’ Maybe.’ ‘What! Call an itching palm an affliction? You backward natives. ‘Homola wena. We nonetheless got Mapule to scratch Pontsho’s palm. We all agreed that such time would be more productively utilised guzzling down our beloved wives’ brews. none of us slept as we raced the night to a new day. trivialisation and spitting-on of the manhoods hanging between our legs. While we kept vigil outside her house.  . we might indeed be termed backward natives. especially during ploughing season. arguing with Pontsho was like pissing in your sorghum beer – an act that not only spoils the beer.

We started counselling each other: ‘Patience. Who knows. irresponsible midwives might still sour our celebrations with news of a stillborn. The day is still young. Like bees heeding the call  . patience. grinding and cooking for us. But our dreams were different. that our enemies turned into cow dung so that we could fertilise our fields. beetles and flies for the shade. Those dreams were fed by our longing to spend more time duelling with ants. calves demanded their succour at the right times. that benevolent spirits did the reaping. bathong. The cocks crowed at the usual time. Our dread of ongoing boredom was broken at midday. when news reached us that Pontsho’s palm was itching again.’ That was the kind of language we all wanted to hear: it gave comfort. it promised drama. the dawn breeze sprayed the roofs of our huts with dew. We dreamt that the mielie-fields tended themselves. Mhlagaza. And we were reminded of Nongqawuse and her dream-interpreting uncle. Our disappointment in seeing the sun rise without any unusual red halo led us dejectedly to our different compounds. the third day of our suspense dawned like any other.Despite the warnings by a village elder that the sun would rise draped in an unusually red halo.

Really. a queen? An umbilical cord threaded its way from her navel through her palm to the core of our brains. and male ones for that matter. real men would find worthier employment for their time than counting goat and chicken droppings. we converged on her compound. She berated us. Those of us who understood Pontsho’s attitude knew that she would lose patience with our interference in her palm and its omen. Some recalled earlier stories that the daughter was the offspring of the mother’s incestuous relationship with her own brother. It was bound to happen. so reduced that unmarried girls could allude to our manhood in public? We knew then that man’s dignity was eroded. told us to go swap our trousers for skirts. Once again. was respect for one’s elders. Our condemnation was piled on Mapule’s mother. Some among us recalled having heard rumours of her selling her retarded daughter’s womanhood to supplement her meagre pension. we were united in laying blame for the failure of our efforts to eradicate Pontsho’s affliction. as she put it.  . For wasn’t that what she had become.of their queen. That was said to have happened after the death of her husband a few months after the marriage.

How strange things were becoming these days. What they did not know. For his insinuation was that their potential bride was a witch. But it was like she had cast a spell over us. we were certain the younger men who were constantly wooing Pontsho would have burned him alive. though. was that Pontsho would one day marry death. we wished we had taken more offence. Were it not for his age. finger. The saga of Pontsho’s affliction culminated when she received a letter from her twin brother. we would fall from tall trees.Later. that would have confirmed we still took pride in being men. But really! To die of a fall from something that creeps on the ground – what punishment were the ancestors meting out. bruising our knees or breaking the occasional rib. and for what?  . One old man went even further: he said the eyes of those who had crossed her path or touched her during her menstrual period were forever glazed – immune to any sight except her. leg or arm. The one known to have died at the age of twelve in a fall from his bicycle. Some said all who stood close enough to her to inhale the smell of her armpits behaved strangely afterwards. When we were growing boys.

’ Poor Pontsho. and on all of us. ‘Say. like other letters?’ ‘I don’t know… I don’t know. It was the first time we’d seen her tongue-tied and speechless. We trampled and crushed each other as we vied to see. We salivated as we echoed the last question. ‘I know nothing… I know nothing. a white chicken or goat that delivered it?’ ‘Does he say if there is abundant beer. meat and shade? These were some of the questions that Pontsho had to deal with. touch and smell the envelope from the dead.’ Pontsho mumbled. Each of us scrutinised and sniffed it for signs or proof that it was indeed from the beyond. how much postage stamp did it cost?’ ‘Did it take two months to deliver.  . searching for volunteers to provide answers. Her eyes darting about. We once again converged on her compound. But Pontsho spoiled our longing for the other world by mumbling.That letter certainly had an impact on Pontsho. because Pontsho refused to let us see the contents of the letter itself. appealing. ‘Was it an owl.

went into one of the huts and collected a hoe.‘What does he say… what does he want?’ in one collective voice we asked. find a way to ridicule her for this as well. some one-cent coins.’ ‘Patience. the drunkard behind all this will emerge. soil-stained envelope. ‘Hahaa! A reye. it is probably one of your suitors playing tricks on you. it meant losing a potential first. both young and old. ranting and tearing at her clothes.’ ‘It’s just pranks by that besotted Tumpus. She gathered herself. Some of the womenfolk tried to soothe Pontsho: ‘Relax Pontsho. For them. But no. a gourd of beer.’ But Pontsho started crying.  . Then we knew where she was going. She just looked at us and hid her face in her palms. what a waste of human art. as if in prayer. go on. two candles and a plate. it was not yet time for jealous spinsters and witches to celebrate. passing around the yellow. for Pontsho stopped her wild behaviour. second or even third wife. what a waste of fine wife material – so thought the men. We followed her at a distance as she made her hasty way to the cemetery.’ we secretly intoned. Oh! Such a beauty gone mad.

our banter. jokes and marathon beer-drinking sessions lost their momentum. Pontsho. it took us a whole four months to get the information regarding the contents of Pontsho’s  . Without arguing. As if in reaction to this. except for burials. It was like the whole village was suffering from a virus of anti-humour. That will bring bad luck. Pontsho let herself be led back to her compound by the old woman. ‘You can’t. When the crowing came the third time. You have to go before sunrise. Unlike normally. we could only wonder who was being betrayed this time. when our ears would quickly pick up and interpret the whisperings of the wind. We heard the distant cock crowing again. you can’t tend your brother’s grave at this time.It was only at the cemetery gates that we stopped her. Our procession followed at a safe distance. We reminded her it was taboo to enter graveyards during daytime. While she did not go out of her way to be polite.’ MmeMakgatho told her. It was noticed by all that the letter incident marked the final transformation of Pontsho. she stopped mocking us. Sounds of a cock crowing from the village could be heard.

The village entered a period of pandemonium: most men neglected kgotla and village council affairs to busy themselves with sorting cattle. That those sketchy dribs and drabs came through Mapule. the retarded girl surprised us by informing us that we should prepare for Pontsho’s betrothal party. Mme-Makgatho’s retarded daughter. he was certainly not. We reluctantly also found ourselves forced to censor those who still persisted in ridiculing the retarded girl. But then the retarded girl infuriated us by telling us that none of us. ‘What upstart is this?’ ‘From whose womb did he come?’ By then. Did Pontsho have to stoop that low to show her contempt for us. despite our vast wealth. irritated us the most. No. One Wednesday morning. by confiding in a dribbling and drooling human waste? That made us swallow our pride. ‘What pomposity!’ ‘What a presumptuous insult!’ ‘What disrespectful gibberish!’ The words floated around us. 00 . were a match for Pontsho’s husband-to-be.letter from her late twin brother. we were convinced that the upstart was not from our village. goats and hens for possible lobola.

chewing our beards did not offer any comfort. when we were robbed of a young thoroughbred – a mount to rejuvenate our blood flow? ‘Fragile old beards cannot replace brooms to clear our soiled huts. we hastily pulled away from the girl. for they feared bad luck would strike them from our spite. we huddled together. How could it.and muti-imbued fingers. you charged forward to find infancy in old age. Retreating. In your prime. Then. Why. palms glued to our cheeks as we listened to the retarded Mapule. like chastised children. armed with impatience. lost men. was in fact mad.Because all the young men had turned to accusing us of stealing their bride. mouths and eyes wide open. do old and young poke each other’s eyes with dirty fingernails? Pontsho belongs to the ones that reside in the shades…’ We all turned. you will find infancy in childhood… Pontsho is loved by spirits whose shadows are mist…’ That finally convinced us that Mapule. Gathering ourselves. ‘Cry for yourselves. Most had ducked or hidden behind tree trunks and stumps. This time around. then. while we in turn had been pointing crooked forefingers at them. apart from being retarded. Young men 0 .

Pontsho once again collected snuff. we went about comforting each other. But not today. Rumour would later reach us that she had eloped with this or that old or young man. and had to cover our noses as the burning witch filled the air with nauseating odour. or for a couple days after the frying. your words strike the very tip of the cow’s horns. Early one morning. sorghum beer and grave-cleaning tools and left for the graveyard. We retreated.jumped forward and started tying her up with ropes. repeatedly stroking his beard. Days after the roasting. Our stomachs could not retain anything. those words would have been downed with nicely brewed sorghum or marula beer. ‘Indeed… indeed. In former times. But who would have known that the witch was a retarded girl?’ one old man said. What can we say?’ another added. but those men would spend days thereafter cursing and wishing 0 . Dead tree-trunks and logs were hastily brought and a bonfire made. And that was the last time we ever saw her. ‘Yaa! I’ve always warned you that Pontsho’s conduct was that of one bewitched. not long after Mapule’s death.

and that is where the climax of the game comes.that our accusations were true. Then how did she manage to refill the grave?’ Almost thirty years have passed since Pontsho’s affliction. as is customary. first with the fingers of the same hand. each pretends his or her hand is itching. Maybe it is because. me? Receive money – hao! batho. lena. ‘Aowa. Our grandchildren feel it is their duty to offer constant reminders of the incident in their games. Another rumour was that she had dug open her brother’s grave. Two children extend their hands as if to shake. ‘Mokgotsi! What is poverty doing to me. and starts scratching vigorously. Just before clasping. the playing entails pretending to meet for the first time. They invented a new game called ‘greet-scratch’. Then both pretend surprise to see each other thus engaged in scratching. here in the village. are the ancestors mocking my suffering?’ 0 . time hobbles along like old men and women. whose spouses are the marula and mokgope beers that caress their gullets and soothe their old-age loneliness. then with the other. but the village hasn’t forgotten it.

maybe the coldand-bones palms of the dead?’ The children then laugh so heartily that some roll on the gravel. ‘O ra nna. everything repossessed. But who is it that will shake my hand in greeting? A re itse. including relatives and friends.Or. 0 .

Listen.’ she snapped. a deceptive rogue and a parasite. ‘Such a cheap future doesn’t need any telling. ‘Uu! Shame. If I were you. she concluded. hey! ousie.’ he whispered.A SOOTHSAYER’S DEPOSIT ‘ousie. That’s what he was. sauntering behind her. 0 . I would concentrate more on seeing employment opportunities in my own future. his eyes shifting from the hem of her skirt to her handbag. A potential bag-snatcher or serial-killer. give ten rands and I will tell your future. I’m serious. What do you expect. walking on. with so much unemployment and hunger around? Conniving charlatans were hard at their trade.’ Karabo was amused by her own response to the hustler. The vase for sale is filled with your future husband’s blood. his right hand extended to receive payment. ‘That’s too cheap. Try somebody else. ‘Please. hee?’ ‘What…?’ he stammered. ousie.’ the malnourished stranger said to Karabo. I see you touting a vase.

to give him a dressing-down. ‘Ka mma ruri! A twisted upbringing does indeed affect the brain. reduced to roguery by poverty. How could that demented bastard tell such a lie about her? About Karabo. the groomed and cultured daughter of Rre Thekiso and Mme Kagiso Makgatho. her indignation grew. I mean that would be understandable. in the days that followed. Her friends advised her that that wouldn’t be enough: ‘Take the bastard to court. You should be more assertive.’ another friend added with bravado. we shouldn’t let him get away with it.’ ‘If he were driving a Merc. lying bastards. your humility is scandalous. ‘Mogotsi! Set a private detective onto him. Sue him. She went out into the streets in search of what she now referred to as ‘her charlatan’. But nonetheless. when she remembered the prediction.’ ‘My dear.Later. I tell you. she was really infuriated. None of us can stand these cheap.’ ‘A lazy one too. Her search for her bastard in the streets proved unsuccessful.’ She realised it was one’s moral duty to sympathise with such souls.’ 0 .

Karabo would chastise herself… those vile thoughts. Which together 0 . ‘Me! Put a deposit on another human being’s life? What nonsense.To Karabo.’ And she would cuddle him. She even began to use a catapult with pebbles against beggars who crushed fleas and bugs. What was their source? Why did she at times wish her little son had perished with the others? His nightmares and piercing screams. only her little boy had survived. or who trampled on ants and took swipes at flies. her lover.!’ But even in his sleep. Now and then. her tears mingling with his sweat... Chris had come into her life while she was still in mourning. That was twelve years ago. Eight months earlier. The riddle intensifies. the suggestion that she hire a contract killer was an insult. Of the three who were in the car. he could not bring himself to finish his plea: ‘Don’t kill my father. Tiro. he would repeat the same word: ‘Noooooooooooo.’ She abhorred violence – so much so that she cursed people who killed rats and mice. be it with poisonous bait or mouse traps. Every Friday towards dawn. had died in a car-hijacking incident.

oozing out with his life.’ the furious mother continued. 0 . ‘Aowa Mma…’ the sangoma began to plead with Tiro’s mother.’ Tiro’s mother was calmed. ‘That’s rubbish! Our son was a Christian.’ Tiro’s mother snapped. like a drug. ‘Listen! Even if he never burned candles in church at Easter. ‘Your child is haunted. and grudgingly accepted this explanation. After protracted arguing along these lines. that doesn’t mean that he was not committed.seeped down like Tiro’s blood.’ a sangoma told her family and the late Tiro’s when they went to inquire about the boy’s disturbed state. She regretted not having challenged him to clarify his divination there and then. What sacrilege! Dead Christians don’t roam about haunting the living – and that was the sangoma’s insinuation. the sangoma was forced to clarify his statement: ‘The child is haunted by fear. It was only later. when she was alone. Then she would not have this inner torment… worrying is addictive. that the sangoma’s warning struck Karabo as peculiar. Fear that all male figures in his life will be killed in hijack incidents.

especially if you were Karabo. If life was like that. what would you do? You would simply soldier on. a smooth bed on which you stretch yourself out to enjoy a good night’s sleep. That is. while at other times it feels like gravel particles have crawled into your sheets. after Tiro. That was seven years ago. and you jerk from your bed screaming. and during your sleep proceed to scratch your skin. Now and then. Karabo was convinced Chris was her God-chosen partner. when he came into her life. so that you wake up with tiny pains and pricks. She saw life as a bed. Or. in fact 0 . From the outset. she never had the time to ponder the possibility of a thread between the sangoma’s words and the soothsayer’s prediction. Sometimes. worse still. nightmares creep into your sleep like the nimble fingers of pick-pockets. kneading it roughly. nightmares like a stampede of buffaloes storm into your solitude.Because she was preoccupied with raising her son. carrying on with the business of getting the best out of life and dumping the bothersome rest into the nearest dustbin. and you wake up with the nagging feeling that all was not well in your sleep. At times you really enjoy it.

) Yet.frequently. running noses. life was a menu of repulsive dishes. The noose. sangomas and others who tamper with the future or the supernatural. With time. Chris was in fact paraphrasing the farewell statement of Queen Mamahlola on her death-bed in 1903. Karabo was increasingly becoming convinced that the dead could. a bodiless male voice would urge her to embrace him with all her heart. she started associating that voice with Tiro. Though she didn’t believe in fortune-tellers. Chris had the potential to be a fine husband. But all she 0 . It appeared that Chris had been hand-picked by her late fiancé to partner her in shouldering the toils of life. it is horrible. But the rest… ‘I swear. but they are permanent reminders of our mortality. as Karabo termed his negative philosophy of life. engage in dialogue with the living. trivial human ailments like running stomachs. To him. This is the explanation for degrading. Having reached this conclusion. Chris was her opposite. despite this disadvantage. and do. her mood was celebratory. Certainly. headaches and so on… they might appear minor irritations. Tiro was busy grooming Chris as his successor in her affections.’ (In this. maybe with an occasional serving of finer desserts.

definite proof of her fertility. She had to conquer her enemy in dreams for it to translate into reality.’ And what was anything? Anything was anything.  . she fell from the sofa. Karabo sighed with relief. except that in trying to grab the man by the scruff of his neck and wring it. He offered to restore the stolen potency on condition she consented to sleep with him: ‘Yebo Mkhatsi. Her dream was on an intriguing encounter with a man from up north. A child.managed was to have an unpleasant dream. A vicious circle. Mi give bag yoou husiband’s shing. Her relief was short-lived though. Another source of relief was that she had a child – comfort in itself.’ The dream could have continued. Anything but that. He telephoned to inform her that he had stolen her husband’s manhood. The dream’s spell was not broken. a boy: triumphant testimony of her loins. wena shleep wid me. The noose tightened. I would rather give whatever ransom you demand. You filthy scoundrel. ‘Never! That you will never get. ‘I am prepared for whatever to save my potential marriage.’ It was an unsavoury bargain.

More twists in the labyrinth. It is a cryptic language very few people can understand. a future infested with brothels selling private parts for sex-change operations. butcheries offering lay-bye purchase on human embryos. Resolved to find the answer. To inquire with the dead about the soothsayer’s prediction. or that in their next life they’ll be reincarnated as billionaires. Karabo. restaurants and take-aways serving streaming human blood. He was sympathetic  . Illusions do bring comfort at times. The spirit medium took her into a future of fascinations. People like to be told that they will live to a thousand years. That future held everything except what she wanted to know – how could she. Twists in the labyrinth.The dead… when they speak. sperm and ovaries. hire killers to take her future husband’s life? For this is how she understood the medium’s words.’ or mumble similar unfamiliar sounds. they say. ‘Habahabahaba. Karabo was no exception. a Godfearing Christian. Maybe that is why diviners and spirit mediums are needed. she decided to consult another spirit medium. It was because of this that Karabo resolved to consult a spirit medium. To decode that ethereal talk.

far better. bagsnatching and other petty crimes. She shrieked. turned into a pillar of salt. They could be exorbitant. To think that during their time they may have subsisted on a couple of cattle and goats. and a few charlatans – seemed resolved to undo that injustice by living in opulence. the third spirit medium.  . sangomas and spirit mediums. And uttered the damning warning that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were frantic. grooming and harnessing their wild stallions. she cursed.to her situation. and prided themselves on being frugal. sneezed and belched repeatedly. She led her through a future where nursery schools offered tuition in pick-pocketing. Like all such people. Her destiny was dim. like Jocasta’s or Medea’s. the dead. but like Alexander the Great’s sorcerer. he demanded she present jewellery to unseal the lips of the dead. a tomorrow in which lower grades offered courses in car-hijacking. And their agents – fortune-tellers. cursed and sealed. kidnapping and extortion. preparing for the final battle. She was far. sharpening their swords. she first took Karabo on a detour. It was then that Karabo felt convinced that her Chris would not survive… that she was fated to lose another man. She thought of Lot’s wife.

This didn’t worry her bankers: ‘Never mind the young lady. two. To keep them nourished. purse and parcels. Beggars and muggers. legions of beggars would swarm around her.’ But they became alarmed when she started drawing from her retirement and pension investments. Karabo grew up in the faith that good does triumph over evil. the whole economic equation would be balanced. It was because of this that she prepared herself to beat the bad omens. Like pigeons gathering around their feeders at Joubert Park. beggars and muggers give me beggars and muggers give me one. three coins  . Let her take them. She started giving more alms to the poor. Secure people wouldn’t harass the pavements for coins. our vaults can hardly cope with all those coins. pecking and nibbling at pennies. Or is supposed to. She reasoned that if beggars could sustain themselves. she started growing coins in her pockets.Unless… That was five years ago.

Had she. She would whistle as she sat feeding the assembled beggars. were. as she now termed them. three give me beggars and muggers… Karabo had a harmonious voice. she realised how pathetic her spirit medium’s diatribes. two.  . one. All who heard the refrain would unconsciously start repeating it. Then vicious species like car-hijackers wouldn’t endanger her Chris. months later. Within a short time. with the removal of beggars. the spirit medium. ruthlessly preying for coins. muggers come afterwards to scrape for leftovers. it hit the charts of local radio and television stations.beggars and muggers. she would throw her necromancy into the sewers where it belonged. society’s cancer would be cured. somewhere round that alley. Karabo rationalised that. any decency. With time. Including beggars and muggers. Beggars and muggers… The beggar is king of the concrete jungle. it topped the Billboard Charts. It was no surprise when. beggars and muggers round the corner.

’ ‘But Chris.But Chris threw her back into confusion by winning a 5-Series BMW in a charity competition. dear. dear. Was it really her. She was so stunned that she could not bring herself to speak to him for several weeks. They will probably look after it. Karabo. He further earned her ire by insisting on keeping it. But you know the danger such things expose us to. Chris hit her. shock on her face. sell it… swap it for money instead. for my sake…’ ‘What about their sake?’ ‘Chris!’ she stopped immediately. I don’t want the whole township queuing to rob us. You really mean we give away a gift from the ancestors?’ ‘Please.’ she pleaded with him. darling. are you serious? Car-hijackers are everywhere. I didn’t mean to shout. Anything but that car.  . ‘You can’t be serious.’ ‘They gave it as a present. ‘Please. ‘C’mon.’ She so hated it when he put on that American accent. Chris. whereas your ancestors are long rotten down below…’ For the first time. screaming at her husband? ‘I’m sorry. please.

But he kept the car all the same. sometimes. but she could not utter a word to him for days. He told her about new advances in technology. at times it would plunge into a speeding train at a level crossing. even forfeit his right to life to make amends with his angel. The detective passed her on to his buddy who sold car security systems. Throughout that period. Without consulting any spirit medium. such humility and remorse left her speechless. Sometimes the car would topple over a cliff. His repentance touched her.  . She visited a private detective. The precipice edge again. he was convinced it was out of anger or because she begrudged his infringing on her freedom of expression. like most men. That was a year ago. like a powerboat. It wouldn’t stop at robots. the advantages of satellite-tracking devices for cars. She started having frequent dreams of him driving in a brakeless car. He vowed that he would do anything to please her.In his naïveté. she knew it was a bad omen. He pleaded that he would never hurt her again. he maintained his vigil of coming to kneel before her. entreating her to have mercy on her chastised little devil. it would streak over water. The precipice edge.

’ ‘Lady. It is not his movements but those of his car that I am interested in. I don’t know what you’re talking about.‘With those little chips. I need to be on the alert about his security. Who can blame them. with so much unfaithfulness going around? Add the high tax levies on single and divorced parties. Sort of install a warning message for him to avoid certain roads. It is common these days for spouses to spy on each other. You see. like the traffic report. Like a bleeper or a panic-button or some such thing… of course I want it done anonymously. it is only reasonable that we all take precautions. You’re looking for some high-tech James Bond type gadget.’ ‘My husband is not that type – the divorcing or deserting kind. don’t be shy or guilty about it. lady.’ ‘Don’t misunderstand me. you would be able to monitor the exact movements of your husband. Are you in the espionage profession or what?’ ‘Look! Can you install it or not? And for how much?’  . But this one should advise against using certain routes because of hijacking dangers.’ ‘Come now. I mean it must sound like… you know.

especially by groomed salespeople who joke about everything.’ ‘Come on. tell me. supposedly only in use by the CIA. I could have said a hundred rand. You’ve already put a price on him. Hey. that crusader of merriment and good cheer. talk it over with your neighbourhood watch. How’s that. The device was highly rated. A couple of thousands now.’ Sarcasm in such bad taste was infuriating to Karabo. Having considered the matter for some months. say ten. and the rest later. lady. say. we don’t have such a gadget at the moment. Come and inquire after a decade. Because of that. the crusader demanded a hundredthousand-rand advance payment. in the meantime. You most certainly would have felt insulted then. But unfortunately. hmm?  .‘I certainly can. Karabo found she couldn’t bear to sit idly by and wait.’ ‘I just can’t afford such money right away…’ ‘Put a deposit then. lady? How much would you say your spouse is worth?’ ‘It’s not how much he’s worth. so she revisited the salesman. ‘Christ! Where do I get such money?’ ‘How much is a human life. It is an arbitrary number. to sign the contract for a custom-made device.

’ That Friday dawn her son didn’t scream. and Karabo had one of the longest and most relaxing sleeps she’d ever had.I see relief in your face. 0 . hmm! I’ll be damned if we don’t have a deal.

a mask of wrinkles and furrows. In our part of the world. In some. distorted by the merciless hand of hard labour. Tutankhamen’s face was like those crumbled facades. though. there are many faces like his – faces defaced by suffering. the loss of loved ones is written in their eyes: the loss of children. of friends. What interested me. Because there is no more room in their hearts to hide and harbour it. about him was that precious yet dispensable thing we call a name. on which nature has chosen to paint its saddest murals. Murals that compliment those painted by the political masters of our land in the early sixties. was not the face. tutankhamen was in fact thirty. He had a slight stoop. the pain seeps out and ends up etching its hideous signature on their faces. and others. faces on which the tortures of life have been drawn.WHEN A NAME AWAKES though he looked forty. In a way. bowed legs and a hardened face. On several occasions. There was much speculation about its origin. he’d been asked about his  . But what interested me.

serving as a link. even at the most amusing jokes. The one that is usually accompanied by totems and praise poems. Then he looked at me sternly. Tutankhamen told me his family were descendants of the great Khazimola. even on the tragic loss of four of his five wives. A seven-year drought followed. as most people did. Old rumour had it that Khazimola. His wives were always keen to give testimony to that. Then there was the death of seven of his children.hereditary name – the sacred one that is passed from one generation to another. Everybody. including the chief. His drinking friends also attested to the fact that he could share calabashes of beer for hours on end without laughing. that did not induce his tear ducts to relent and show his humanity. He was known to spend days without uttering a word. maybe because he thought I would chuckle or giggle. It was also said that he was incapable of shedding tears. was desperate. But I couldn’t. or proof of one’s allegiance to tradition. Khazimola’s  . meaning ‘the one who always yawns’. I could not laugh at the bearer of the name while that tormented face was staring at me. Again. got the name because his every emotion was expressed in yawning.

a seven-day wail that is said to have disturbed the repose of the ancestors. After that. bidding farewell to an unlamented failure. he was given a new name. The family had to live with the new name.only reaction during those days was said to be fits of yawning. That was until Tutankhamen’s grandfather returned from the Great War. which served as a reminder of their fall from grace. have failed to protect and shield the chief ’s son? That is how the Khazimolas ended up being called the Nyembezis. later Nyembezi. except that. but everybody knew it was an empty ceremony. as Khazimola. He took a mixture made of a crocodile’s brain. For how could a great muti-man. the lamenter. The village entered a period of renewal as they went about initiating their new chief muti-man. his honour and wisdom were now questioned. as the village’s chief muti-man. A few tears were shed in mourning for Khazimola. He could not bear the ridicule of that name – the wailer. having been in one of the few black  . Nyembezi. Then the chief ’s only son and heir died. Khazimola would have yawned as well. the teary one – and he opted to do what all disgraced men do. Then he wept.

Crowds used to hang around him as he narrated his adventures. And he vowed that. in the vast desert. most men had chosen to hide in the caves and mountains rather than answer the call to go fight the great witch-doctor from the north. Tutankhamen was to blame for this. that Tutankhamen’s grandfather first heard about the mummified Egyptian pharaohs. That is how that noble name.platoons that had faced and survived ‘Mjeremane’. where wind-storms and heat are partners that squash man between them. he would erase his family’s imposed servility and restore it to greatness again. but none could argue with him. his stories became longer and more varied. But then. On his return from the war. he was one of the few local heroes. took root at the foot of the Hlabati Mountains. He was held in high esteem. thirty years later in Alexandra. the  . Everybody was awed and fascinated when he talked of the great dry land where sand and sky embrace. Tutankhamen. He asked and gathered information about them. His fascination with them was great. For in the village. should he survive Mjeremane’s fierce bullets. With time. It was there. Until the second-generation Tutankhamen choose to profane it.

There were many times he wished that the gods had endowed him with a lighter skin. who distributed beautiful goods not only in white households. That he was one of only two surviving members of the 1959 Sub A class at Ikageng Primary School was achievement enough. Wasn’t that the reason he and his older brother were now estranged? There was bitter rivalry to inherit their late father’s possessions.time and world he lived in wasn’t that innocent either. and sucked from a breast where warmth and tenderness flows. Had he been someone else. But Tutankhamen choose to be ambitious in a land where ambition for people of a darker skin was sacrilege. the warmth and tenderness nurtured in human beings from conception onwards is soon wiped away by greed and ambition. But no. He thought that because all have incubated in a woman’s womb for the same duration of time. the coolest shade in the harsh summer.  . But he made the terrible mistake of thinking that all men were equal. A skin that would have ensured him the warmest rays of sun in winter. He’d grown up hearing stories of Santa Claus. that all would be warm and tender towards each other. he would have led a happy life. but in their dustbins as well.

the great man himself is back.’ ‘Liar! Where is your kingdom?’ ‘Hey! Kgosi. Kgosi Tutankhamen.’ People joked and laughed. He embraced and wrapped his solitude in its acids. However. or those who take savage bites at their mother’s tits while sucking. and the inhumanity of his countrymen.Or was it because those who start kicking violently while still in the womb. Instead. The drunkards at the shebeen argued about it: ‘You are a liar!’ ‘Hey! Mamela… why do people always name their children after somebody else in the family? Usually somebody late. We sleep in death and awake again in birth. re botse. Fleeing that. Fools! Can’t you see. are destined to be equally savage in later life? It didn’t take long before the rumour started circulating that Tutankhamen was a direct descendant of the great pharaoh himself. where are your subjects?’ ‘Ba-gaetsho! Tlang le bone se-tsoga bahung. It was only when boasting about being the reincarnation of Tutankhamen that his sense  . Tutankhamen’s life did not change. Hee! Tell me?’ ‘Life is a circle. he found solace in the bottle. he plunged deeper into his suffering.

buy beers and offer toasts to the narrators. Inquisitive children built platforms next to the fences to hear their elders better. Township gossip-mongers gave the story wings to fly. It spilled over and was recounted at garden parties in the East Bank. Soon it spread to Linksfield and Fourways.of self-worth was restored. but it soon became clear they were pioneers in destroying divisions between neighbours. New settlers from Alexandra related it to their white neighbours across pre-cast fences. from First to Twenty-second Avenue. Most people thought they were after treasured bones. new narrators added new plots to rescue the story from becoming a cliché. And he relentlessly peddled that story. These stories started reaching Tutankhamen at his different drinking spots. Soon the story became known throughout Alexandra. In their re-telling. He would roar with laughter. collapsing the walls. Eager dogs burrowed and dug fervently. Youngsters from Lombardy East started relating the story to their school classmates from other suburbs. Innovative essays that surprised English masters with their poignancy followed.  . Then it invaded Lombardy East.

they say it is true.  . He was wined.’ said the editor of a rival newspaper. Several newspapers are said to have assigned their investigative reporters to look into the rumour…’ ‘Huwii! What a waste. saw fit to send his chief reporter to investigate the rumour. too. And for newspapers to buy such rubbish!’ It wasn’t long before a local newspaper ran a front-page teaser: HOAX OR EIGHTH WONDER? Alex man claims to be reincarnation of Pharaoh Tutankhamen. kana those illiterates like exaggerating their worth. And Tutankhamen found himself enjoying some measure of the good life. But then he. each determined to outbid the other for an exclusive interview. hahaa! What a joke! Of all places.‘Huwiii! Tutankhamen in Alexandra. dined and chauffeured around by different newspapers. Page 2 ‘Shame! Unscrupulous reporters out for a cheap scoop.’ ‘But dear.

The latter was the only other surviving member of the 1959 Sub A class. His audience would always ignore his animated gesticulations. ‘Rambane has never had his picture in the newspapers…’ ‘Except that time when he appeared in the Community News section – for relatives to come identify a near-frozen hobo found in a donga. when time-  . the idiot. He realised that prosperity has destroyed humanity. The worst was when they dismissed his offer of money. And despite him telling the story over and over.’ one of Tutenkhamen’s drinking companions might say. e’sbotho leso. and storming the local newspaper and insisting that they publish it. the hobo.’ Still. ‘Of course there is. ‘Who? Rambane. frothings and swearings.’ This was despite Rambane having once challenged members of the Young Ones gangsters after the kidnapping of his younger sister and girlfriend. between them there wasn’t much of a difference.’ Tutankhamen would say dismissively whenever people mentioned his former buddy.This was one of the major reasons why he believed he was superior to Rambane. ‘O-hwoo! don’t bother to mention that one. The alcoholic.

where the couple was naturally expected to live. With concealed envy for both of them – and openly expressed congratulations – we waited for the cash reward to be delivered. He would contentedly stoke his beard and rub his belly. The stories reached Sis Phuti. Tutankhamen started telling everybody that a large reward was coming his way. Her female friends said she was grooming herself for a life in the East Bank or Lombardy East. Even the bitterness around her mouth disappeared. After months of patient waiting. He also added that he was going to marry Sis Phuti. for Sis Phuti was one of the elegant beauties on the shebeen circuit. it became clear that 0 . She stopped going to shebeens with us. She was also said to spend most of her Friday and Saturday nights practising new drinking manners: the delicacy that was reputed to go with wine sipping. Everybody envied him. thrusting out of the bosom and gentle flapping of the hands when chatting and laughing with important people. Her face lost some of its furrows.honoured gestures like honoraria were so easily dismissed. the throwing back of the neck. A swagger replaced her habitual dragging gait. the tilting of the head when talking.

Futsek! With your cheap beers… cheap babalaas… cheap. Sis Phuti stood up. remote shebeens. walked up to Tutankhamen.  .somebody’s tongue had slipped terribly. Smelly underwear – sis! Smelly armpits. Despite the effect of the beer in our heads. Never! That is why we had always viewed marriage counsellors as idling meddlers. He was said to be heavily weighed down by Sis Phuti’s abuse and insults. it was three months later. Everybody knew she was gone for good. During which period Tutankhamen had grown a distinct stoop.’ In stunned silence. smelly socks… Se-azi abanqono thena. It was said she only stayed for brief moments. Word was that Sis Phuti now frequented little-known. Not cheap dogs. the lessons of our elders held firm: never ever interfere in the affairs of a man and his woman. spat in his face and walked out. Then I saw Tutankhamen’s wrinkles and furrows draw tighter under the weight of that silence. By the time we caught up with her. hmm? Where is your Lombardy East? Sis! Nja ena. I was there when she finally slapped and ridiculed him publicly. ‘S’botho tena! Hhmmm? Am I cheap. we watched.

I am the sole survivor to inherit my grandfather’s pension. he was still wailing his misfortunes. when I left the shebeen.’ he kept on repeating. Please call her back. At four in the morning. It’s true. my brother is gone.  .‘It’s true… ka rre! the newspapers said so.

will emerge bearing the universe on her shoulders.’ I would respond. A jigsaw puzzle was the only heirloom bestowed upon her.  . As a mother.’ my husband used to rant. despite being the cause of heated and ugly quarrels between her father and I.ARUNAH’S JIGSAW PUZZLE SHE. I was certain that my schemes for her future would be successful and that her life. would fit one piece into another. ‘You! Let the child play with dolls like any other normal girl. sampling tomorrows arranged like her plaited hair… a runah was a Compulsive jigsaw puzzle builder. I was confident of my predictions of good fortune for her. that revered jigsaw puzzle. ‘Not my special child. ‘Addict’ might be an appropriate term. Her twenty-fifth birthday would be in 1997. Arunah.

with those terrible beatings I used to receive? All this despite Thabiso’s pretences of being a gentleman – that was the image he projected to the world. anxiety and hope. My suspicions that the puzzle was becoming an increasingly life-distorting feature were confirmed by the time of Arunah’s sixteenth birthday. Spurred on by the haranguing of relatives. He had the enviable status in the township of being one of the few town council clerks who possessed a standard eight certificate.But later on. I would only mumble the words. ma’am. we ended up consulting sangomas and Zionist prophets. I waited and watched for her to start showing an interest in boys.’ Then those doctors gave way to psychiatrists. And all concluded and confirmed: ‘There is nothing wrong with the physical features of your daughter. Anxiety changed to panic when I discovered that she was not even menstruating.  . and Arunah was permitted to play with her jigsaw puzzle whenever she wished. Then to urologists. later on in desperate hysteria. as always. Visits to different gynaecologists followed – at first reluctant forays. Yet in the end. to friends. Who wouldn’t. With apprehension. lovers and strangers. womanly will-power prevailed.

But oh! The consequences! One afternoon. The hope that my daughter was becoming normal was gradually confirmed. those skinny. snot-sucking young taxi-drivers. Our block became a hive of activity: cheerful young men full of confidence. Some settled down opposite our gate. Arunah remained calm and unperturbed. bald-headed. spying from behind my curtains. My motherly anxieties were left suspended on a tightrope. Some even recruited the neighbourhood kids to maintain surveillance of her movements. jerky. That they liked each other was  . detectives and even informers. I saw them. Not to be left out of the snare were young sergeants. nervous boys with unsteady eyes. ridiculous. It was then that legions of young men started patrolling our street. For despite all my trials. Arunah was eighteen. the rays of the sun fuelled and fed the emotional inferno raging within me. The labyrinth set to weaving itself into an all-consuming black hole. Each morning. self-blame and panic went unappreciated. opting to wait. ‘Badimo! Nthuseng maimeng akhuii!’ I ended up lamenting. She blossomed and gained that oily radiance of the celibate. pot-bellied local businessmen.By then. All my paranoia.

I found her sitting on her bed. I quickly and quietly started fitting the jigsaw pieces together. and the way his eyes radiated. ‘I see!… Her young man must be living in East Bank.  . hmmmm!’ I proudly decided. No matter what. works and rites deformed by metaphoric speeches… One night I was awakened by mournful wailings. Fearful. It turned out to be our neighbour’s four dogs. Then I saw him taking her hand and edging closer. probably from some well-to-do family. An owl then decided to add its hooting to the chorus. Then Arunah was nineteen… She would rave. I had to come to the conclusion that that all would be right in the end. scribble and unscramble words. My mind immediately set to work to unravel the meaning of her behaviour. I tiptoed to my daughter’s bedroom. looking through the east-facing window that overlooked East Bank and Lombardy East.apparent in the way she beamed and kept turning shyly aside. My heartbeat quickened.

it could not fit together. the palm-reader and fortune-teller from whom we  . I couldn’t stand the thought of psychologists and herbal-healers’ consultation fees – again! My only comfort was that she had not yet seemed to notice that the real jigsaw puzzle. I was still absorbed in those thoughts when lingering memory brought back Mrs Rosettenville. she persisted with her childhood fantasy of growing up to be white. Hopelessly. She now preferred the company of female dolls. I realised that. But it was a sketch shaped with brush strokes of make-believe and wishes. And she would spend hours on end with them. Dumb lifeless dolls! Little white-people dolls. because then black dolls were rare. was not fitting into a single integrated picture. could not make one inspired painting. her own life. even at that age. In reality. Nothing that Magandela. Mahlangu or Sekoto would have given a second glance. convinced that she was fashioning a classical masterpiece. She continued with her devoted task of putting the puzzle together.But it was immediately after that incident that the nagging feelings that Arunah was relapsing into her strange world started resurfacing.

With me – what could I say was my portion? Some women in the stokvel and manyano hinted that I had given birth to an old princess who was reluctant to accept the fact that she had came back among commoners.got warnings about the potent omen of the jigsaw puzzle. Even their wombs are not the same or equal. Some give birth to sweety-lovely things that will take care of them in their later years. while others waste their precious nine months carrying little snakes in their wombs. I don’t care much about children. If it wasn’t for that stupid Mamazala of mine…’ ‘Who can listen to you – except those who don’t know that you have ten children?’  . I can still vividly remember our encounter with her. Even now. the paediatrician at 97 Claim Street. Each is given according to the dictates of the gods. I would have wrung her pompous little neck immediately after birth. Then I recalled what my grandmother used to say: women are not twin sisters. Arunah was still an infant then. and we had just come from seeing Dr Leeuesmann. ‘Mosadi! Had you known… were she mine.’ ‘And then go claim someone else’s baby afterwards?’ ‘Anyway.

She was lost and buried in desperate attempts at solving the jigsaw puzzle – attempts which were increasingly becoming affected by her unpredictable moods. And despite my pleading. It was predictable that the words of that fortuneteller would haunt me forever. I’ve dreaded touching or looking at my daughter’s palms. Ever since. what she would be at twenty-five. I had all the time then for such leisurely thoughts. More especially.Then Arunah was twenty. Mrs Rosettenville would not repeat herself. And the fact that his new wife was a husbandabuser did go some way towards compensating for my punch-bag past with him. and…’ Her next words had been drowned out by the drone of a passing double-decker bus. while the next she would be moaning and swearing like a spoiled  . with my husband divorced. Even my Arunah was gone. Every time I think of them. It was then not surprising that on her twentysecond birthday I should be obsessed with determining her future. a chilling shiver runs down my spine: ‘Her crown will sink in… then it will result in her main palm lines crossing each other. One moment she would be excited and chattering like a well-nourished infant.

But there were a couple that constituted the core of the jigsaw puzzle. I 0 . So shouldn’t I take comfort in what the gods had given me? In desperation I threw myself into books and articles – anything that dealt with withdrawal. I pondered this for hours. losing their prime status. Meanwhile. of late. and told me not to let the devil lead me astray. and those could only fit in particular positions. with the assertion that once she tasted the pleasures of sex she would be cured. and recalled that women are not twin sisters. Some of the pieces could fit interchangeably in various positions. I talked to my church minister. He reprimanded me. she was never stable enough to have the patience to fit the little jigsaw puzzle pieces together. reincarnation and people possessed by spirits. There were times when she would literally cry when she failed to fit them. it seemed they had acquired awkward curves and edges. He threatened to excommunicate me should I bring the subject up again. And between these moods. Yet.brat having her tooth extracted. I kept on going back to this thing of mine – having given birth to a reincarnated princess. the women in the manyano advised me to marry her off quickly.

It said people who believed in those things were primitive heathens. not any style  . Instead. it was at that same age that I too got married and gave birth to Arunah. got married and gave birth to their first child. I swear. Maybe she is bewitched. With time. It is just that she is dealing with her adolescence in a different way. like my grandmother and great-grandmother before her.’ Who knows. And incidentally.’ None of this made my daughter any better. long gowns. She is normal… she is normal. I sat engrossed in patching together those little threads that would shape her destiny. ‘No-no! My pretty daughter isn’t mentally retarded. ‘No-no! My pretty daughter is not retarded. for it was at that same age that my mother.only stopped reading those after encountering one that offended me terribly. that I can believe. my frantic impatience grew. The writer attributed such cases to mental retardation. maybe there was some truth in talk of her being a princess from long ago. She would appear dressed in strange. I started dreaming a lot about her. And that approaching twentyfifth birthday worried me.

 .’ Then I would see her wandering by the banks of a great river. Mme!!… take me home… take me to Arunah. cohabit with Prometheus. Sometimes she would wade in.worn these days. I recalled that she’d cried continuously during the name-giving ceremony. and set to weaving bulrushes by the Nile until apocalypse comes to set man free. She’d rejected all the names that we’d come up with. the courage never came to fetch her across. Sometimes I thought I heard her screaming: ‘Mme. Thankfully. And all resolved to adopt that name for her. summoning the courage to swim. She would brave the four winds lashing from tempest’s vengeful mouth. It was only after one of the aunties mentioned the name of one of the Indian nuns at the hospital that she suddenly stopped crying. And what was this ‘take me to Arunah’ thing? Arunah was her Christian name.

Her only salvation was probably to disappear into exile for a couple of months. She was one of the loners whose potential lover had skipped the country.ALLEY-ALLEY. Hopes of being reunited with him were slim. deputy-ministers or diplomats. They dreamed aloud. Once there. And those foreign women would marvel at the prospect of playing personal assistant to their husbands as they signed and balanced treasury cheques. Lerato knew that in her case the chance of cutting ribbons at official functions was remote. to publicise herself as much as possible. Talked confidently about the future. Lerato was one of them. Some were even confident enough to predict that they would be Minister of Finance. There was also the  . mainly because those strange lands seemed infatuated with young men from our land. when they would be ministers. Who could blame them? For those young men were dreamers. Strive to meet one or two potential ministers-in-waiting. WHERE IS MY LOVER? that was the lament of almost every girl in our township.

’  . Sometimes she would drag Lerato out for a stroll: ‘Let’s go meet the outies. Lerato thought all that was demeaning. Then they would go around teasing all the boys they met. was different. Yet time was running out for her.’ And Lerato would reluctantly accompany her. ‘Would you mind accompanying me to First Avenue?’ Thandi asked one day.’ ‘Remember.’ ‘Ashee! Never mind. mhlambe unga thola e ou encha. shop stoeps and alleys. On those excursions. Thandi.possibility of changing her surname and accent. We will be back then. With that. Her friend. my mother comes back from work at six. she would be assured affluent returnee status. it was always Thandi who managed to get new telephone numbers and addresses in her diary. And she likes things to be ready. She believed in picking potential lovers at decent places. Those were far safer than venturing into shebeens. but isn’t it too late?’ ‘Come on lovey. after she’d failed to meet any at soccer matches and music concerts. She enjoyed the chat of local boys. A little walk might earn somebody a “prospective”. What other places were left? There were street corners. ‘Wena! I’d love to. it’s only half past five.

Lerato only managed to be back at home by quarter past twelve.  . Her face was bruised and swollen. they refuse. ousie. She was in a bad state. Won’t be able to satisfy you or make a baby. Of course the fun continued through the evening. ‘Where have you been. Probably his thing is small as well – I’m sure of it. Lerato? Take him and go try it. promise that we will be back by quarter to six.‘Please.’ They set off.’ said the boy. Hey! Sonny. ousie ona would like to give you.’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Ke na le fourteen.’ ‘Yoo! Thandi… sis!’ ‘Do you want to prove it? Hey! Sonny. Not good for delivering a good kiss… Uuuu! What about that one? Small feet. On the way. Thandi continued teasing the boys.’ ‘You see. See the little lips.’ ‘Have you ever got it?’ ‘What?’ ‘A girl – has any woman ever given you?’ ‘Err… ousie. come here.’ ‘I’m afraid. Thandi. What is your name?’ ‘Ke Lesiba ousie. dear?‘ her mother asked. ‘Hey! look at that one.

She finally came back to Lerato. Lerato. ‘I’m sorry. but couldn’t get one. But when none paid… you know…’ ‘Hmmm! So they moered you?’ ‘Sort of. we better not talk about that.’ ‘Mme… I know I shouldn’t have gone along with Thandi.’ Then Lerato’s longings turned into a dream. what about her? Tell me everything. how did it go last time?’ ‘Thandi. I’m too busy.’ Meanwhile. The friendship between the two girls suffered as well. ‘Lovey.’ ‘We started off at the Red Flame Tavern. She insisted on ordering beers.’ ‘Yes. what’s wrong with you? By the way. tears rolling from her eyes. And the dream produced a young man. Lerato’s mother asked herself over and over what had happened to her. even though we didn’t have any money. The  . She banked on one of the gents there footing our bill. then ended up at Mapetla’s. Tell me.’ said Thandi several weeks later.’ ‘Why. ‘Don’t be ashamed.Lerato responded with a blank stare. Her mother tried to press for an answer. come for a walk.

Still. they were exhausted. For she would always feel dejected and abused by their methods: hurried. She would be able to pick him out of a crowd with confidence. Lerato. And that meant going out into the streets. And her mother would always scold her: ‘Hey! Ngwanenyana ke wena? Can’t kuku eo ya gago stay without boys for a while?’ Or: ‘Where do you think all that changing of boyfriends like underwear will lead you?’ Her mother’s words would strike her whenever she came from seeing one of those boyfriends of hers. ended up jolling with different young men. she realised she had to do something. and during the day when she was awake. And after a couple of minutes. She scouted for months. during the night when she was asleep. But suppose the dream did not materialise? Would she have to settle for some lousy loafer? With time.dream would slip into her sleep at odd times. Their major concern was to  . With the recurrence of the dream. as the sun rose and set with its relentless. in desperation to find and interpret her dream. her dream prince refused to appear. ungentle and at times even hostile. She saw herself in his arms. dull regularity. she became familiar with his features.

What was left? A marauding lot of pick-pockets.’ her white colleague. Lerato gave up. nor a thank-you kiss for her favour – just an acrid. nauseating smell. Their unwashed mouths couldn’t spare any tender words.dash off should a group approach. Lerato. said. Her colleague advised her to join voluntary organisations. those who would have staked out a matrimonial future with her. ‘You don’t know them. That always left her shattered. sometimes doing all that keeps you preoccupied. On reflection. And there is a plus – you  . ‘You know. Soccer. also a cashier at Checkers.’ After a couple months of trying dating clubs. ‘Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet your ideal man at one of those places. ‘That’s a shame. It was probably true: all potential partners. were either married to foreign lands or in foreign graves. she concluded that all the sane young men were no more. rapists. there must be some exceptions.’ ‘Oooooo! What…?’ ‘It’s Sex. I mean. You kind of forget the loneliness. bank robbers and child molesters. Beer and Score – robbery. The ones around here are only interested in SSBS.’ That’s when the colleague advised her to join dating and singles’ clubs.

Searching and searching. She gave her mother that vacant look of hers. It’s a sin for one your age to sit brooding every evening like a widow. or the restless spirits of the Msomi Gang? Still. darkness enveloped her. Seconds later. One evening her mother said. Lerato endured doing voluntary work for a couple of months. Lerato. ‘Why not visit your friend?’ ‘I’m fine here. She saw a group of four men standing there.’ ‘No. What if she invited one. would the other three force themselves on her? What if they were zombies. Big dogs greeted her with their hollow booming barks: Bawoobawoooooo…! and the ‘brakkies’ echoed with shrill voices: Bao-bao-bao-bao…! Bats welcomed her with their haunting whistles: Tswiee-tswiee… She turned a corner into an alley adjoining Fifteenth Avenue. She would always come home dejected. Aimlessly.’ Lerato forced herself to the door.’ Again. Mme.might meet some really nice gentleman in one of those programmes. for what she knew not.  . she walked the streets. Their profiles took on grotesque shapes when she drew closer.

A split second. Then. ‘Hello Ousikie! Saying anything?’ He paused and turned to her. his shoes ruthlessly crushing the gravel. He had a solid build. one bold step at a time. Oubutie. No girl ahead or behind him. eager and willing to get ‘it’ for free. her eyes fixed on his silhouetted profile. Yet that they were men fuelled the flames burning within her heart and loins. ‘O-tch!’ she whispered. He was already one step past her. As he was approaching. spent things. edge forward. she was bound to meet someone. Someone younger. her voice coming out in a choking rasp. A solitary man in his prime – that she could tell from his firm. was tall and well fed. It was only when she was opposite them that she could take a guess at their age. lest he disappear like her dream.she resolved to move on. she saw him. ‘Dumela.’ she said. She nonetheless resolved to pass them – tired. they went. Somewhere in the streets and alleys. Ggrin-ggrin. He walked on. and he would be gone and lost for ever. She dare not remove them. twenty metres ahead of her. ggrin-ggrin. Men long past their prime and interest in women. confident steps. 0 .

She felt her body tense up. Unhurriedly he laid her down. Is that okay?’ On Thursday at four o’clock. Afterwards. She felt like a commodity. ‘Eerr… err… I only was… said… dumela. The traffic of passing male voices did not unsettle or disturb him. Maybe… okay. and was reassured. We could continue seeing each other. Waiting for him and trying to visualise  . ne. ‘Have… er… do you have ’n ousie?… I would like to become your…’ ‘Err… don’t you think that is a bit rushed?’ ‘But… just now we enjoyed each other. He looked at her face for a while. Then she saw his smile. he awarded her with a cuddle and kiss. Ousikie. Then on the rough and filthy floor the act was done. It left lingering passion in her.’ He came and stood in front of her.Her panic was mounting.’ ‘Come. I see you are not in a hurry. Say around five in the afternoon. gauged for its value.’ ‘I don’t know. She stood watching him as with delicate care he dusted his clothing with a white handkerchief. Say… let us meet next Thursday. next to the wall. Lerato was already prepared. He then gently took her hand and led her to a corner of the derelict alley.

she saw him coming. She was stunned. Did he see himself like the other dreamers? Or were his dreams flooded with stolen cars fleeing from yellow. She bowed her head. She looked around. Hopefully he didn’t sport knife scars and the like. full of the energy he’d displayed on the night of their first encounter. a burning surge emanating from her loins. His eyes were fixed on her. Three steps from her… two… one… He turned his head away and passed her. The township streets were drying up. flashing blue lights? While still preoccupied with those thoughts.him. she could feel her body respond. He was young and cheerful. white and blue Monza squad cars. As he moved closer. Stretching themselves for a temporary rest. How could he behave like that? The son of a bitch… the shameless piece of donkey dung… the sperm-filled skull! It was only when she paused to think of worse and more befitting curses to heap on him that she realised he wasn’t her alley partner. that is until young lovers invaded  . Stripping her naked with longing and lust. When she raised it again. it was five-thirty. She wondered what kind of dreams haunted his sleep.

Sounds of speeding cars faded forever. She tried to raise herself. Her head sank down on her breast. the early risers and workers passed her. at four o’clock.  . The following dawn. still in that posture.them. Lerato sat waiting. tears streaming down her cheeks. She didn’t care anymore whether he came or not. When she raised her head again. it was already ten at night. but couldn’t. The dogs quietened down. Her mother was probably already home preparing supper. Her head sank forward again. She didn’t care about anything.

.

the meowing of his neighbour’s cat and the recollection of the dream. when he had dismissed the dream. Peter. past. he was irritated by the fact that it retarded the completion of his Book of Dreams – a diary in which he recorded all his dreams. There was this one green and blue snake that would strike his heel. Among his friends. Mandla and Eddy. They had in  . he started thinking of his potential enemies. And his attempts at bashing its head were always unsuccessful. He was already at Chapter One Hundred and Two. present and future. It was the third time in five years that he’d had the same dream. He was not over-concerned by the bad omen. he would see himself wading through a snake-infested pit. Unlike previous times. Each time.LESIBA THE CALLIGRAPHER lesiBa sCreamed when he woke from his nightmare. the last was the one who was starting to give signs of growing into a rival. As wakefulness took possession of him. he was struck by three things: the sour taste in his mouth. Sonto. rather.

lording over the whole township. a lousy smoker who still stuck with BB Tobacco in the era of Peter Stuyvesant. Jwalane was his common-law wife. Outside Lesiba’s door. his departmental supervisor. no life-valuing gossip-monger was foolish enough to sink his teeth into any of those rumours. He knew. that Ketso was not a threat. Though both were constantly associated with this or that crime. She was a ‘live-in’ domestic maid in Craighhall Park and he  .the past clashed over women. His only speciality was ‘pimping’ his subordinates to the bosses. There were his work colleagues. It was common talk that Ketso’s position was more of an affirmative-action gesture than a recognition of competency. there was Bra Shine. the ginsta with the perpetually clean-shaved scalp. Among them. though. The man was a lousy dresser. He couldn’t charm women or tell convincing lies. Both were rumoured to be members of one of the local Big Five gangs. Bra Morgan. Though married. was the one with potential for trouble. Both drove colossal ‘Be My Wife’ BMWs. he was determined to frustrate Lesiba’s chances of jolling with Benita. Lesiba was one of the clever ones. the one with a panga scar running down the left side of his face. Ketso.

like those of generations before. He thanked his ancestors for their stinginess in not giving him some semblance of wealth. Jwalane… could he depend on her? Like men. Not enough to work and earn it. He was  . she brought food parcels. who valued money. He knew also that men of his times. but to settle her with a dozen kids. and then spend the next ten years lamenting the lack of virgins to marry. It was only when he missed her that he considered getting himself ‘mmanea-bana’.saw very little of her. most women were loving and caring – enough to spurn the advances of humble men besotted with them for the company of ‘jackpots’ like Bra Shine and Bra Morgan. Those had their own problems: money or the other men they were involved with. were brave and loving enough to kill over a woman – even if not to marry her. he was certain. The few times she visited him in the township. but enough to kill for it. had been ‘self-donated’ from the Madam’s kitchen – wealth distribution on the smallest scale. Most of which. He thanked his ancestors for such a considerate wife. It enabled him to spend his extra cash on luxuries like the horse races and regular church pilgrimages to different parts of the country.

The previous night’s dream came to mind. Dreams that would mount him and ride him to strange lands.certain that Bra Shine and his bras would otherwise repossess it. His reflections about the dream were disturbed by sounds of an AK-47 rifle. Arriving at work the following day. With that comforting thought. and Lesiba resolved to give the locker a thorough search later. There was no need for panic. He went looking for Mandla. man. for he knew it was one of the local gangs engaged in target practice in preparation for yet another bank raid. ‘Hey monna! What was old Kickso doing in my locker?’ ‘Scouting for love notes from Benita. Lesiba found Ketso at his locker. On seeing him. There were others. Dreams that took him through streets paved with human flesh and bones. The dream of the snake-infested pit… that was not the only dream he dreamt. And there were times when bits of his own flesh would peel off to merge with the tar spread on the streets. Ketso hurried away. he went back to sleep. That ndala is up to something…’  .’ ‘I’m serious.

’ ‘I don’t believe that. Lesiba gave his locker thorough scrutiny. He is ’n ou vir pizzas and buffet tables. That was not the only dream he dreamt.’ It was one of the pair’s lunch-time rituals to ridicule their supervisor. You know Kickso doesn’t go vir jou smiley and runaways. Once more. Three days later. The customary numbers that had helped him throughout the years to correctly bet the Chinaman and horses were also elusive that night. After patient searching. he found it: a copperish piece of tree bark. His dreams that night were erratic. but they would lose their profiles the minute he tried to focus on them. There were others as well…  . He could not pin any of them down. he dreamt of himself having lost the ability to dream. He wrapped it in a piece of A4 typing paper and took it home. It was then that he regretted having taken Ketso’s herb.‘Kahle monna! He was probably after your scoff-tin. He could see faces and figures. the completion of his Book of Dreams was to be deferred because of a stupid error.

Avoid her. 0 . her mouth is cursed and contaminated with the saliva of wild animals… uyavuma? There is a big tree… the tall dark man sometimes hides behind its trunk. His shadow always hangs about you. Sometimes she steals your gourd and drinks from your stream. The parables float around you. The dream so shocked him that he resolved to go and consult an inyanga the following day.Dreams that drew back their curtains before his eyes and screened gory pictures of his death in a car accident.’ ‘There is a man… uyavuma? A tall. I tell you… your enemies are already sharpening their teeth to feast at your funeral. sometimes he climbs it. But I see her stealing from the streams of other men as well. darkcomplexioned man… uyavuma? There is a woman. at other times it was punishment for pick-pocketing infirm beggars. The man endowed with ancestral powers addressed him: ‘Thank your ancestors for leading you to me in time. He absorbs all the sun-rays meant for you… uyavuma? I also see pages written. At times it was punishment for the murder of his mistress’s husband. Dreams that unveiled scenes of his hanging. Had you wasted one more day. many lines of parables.

He titled it Dream Number Ninety-Seven. The dream that would lead to his social ruin followed. neighbours and relatives.  . they dispersed. The incident prompted him to amend the title of his book to the Book of Dreams and Parables. That night. Lesiba was dazed. Men and women were choking and vomiting before falling to die in the alleys and gutters. he again dreamt of the snake pit. He could distinctly see the other snakes. This time. Arriving late at work. as it was his custom to title them numerically. They want your parables…’ When the consultation ended. though. An angel came and lifted him up above the smoke. He noticed that everybody looked at him in a queer way. he saw black smoke descending over Alexandra. All were distant and aloof. They all had human faces: his colleagues. Whenever he approached any of his colleagues.Mostly you grab them. It was a couple of weeks before the period of political turmoil in 1984. he was able to make additions to his Book of Dreams. In his dream. he told a lie – that his taxi had been involved in an accident. but of late they drift far and far away… Angry shadows hover around you.

to see the Archbishop address a press conference. he learned to keep his dreams to himself. Lesiba secretly hoped to be promoted to the position of elder. He resolved to keep the book a secret. he was called by the Archbishop to clarify the matter. he would go out gallivanting.He made the terrible mistake of telling this dream to his priest during confession. After that episode. The Archbishop was hailed as a latter-day Nostradamus. Instead. and to renounce the part about the angel as blasphemy.  . He spent sleepless nights consuming ink and paper. He could tell the priest didn’t like it by his frown. revising and recording the dreams. Ten days later. He was therefore surprised. Journalists besieged his house and the church. days later. This worried him a lot. the insurrection erupted. He would temporarily lose the power to retain or recall his dreams. It wasn’t long before he awakened to the costs of that revelry. He told of the tragedy that would befall Alexandra. he was ostracised and accused of aspirations to usurp the Archbishop’s position. Much later. After recording sessions lasting weeks. More converts joined. He was instructed never to tell other church members the dream. but that never came.

Lesiba spend days brooding over these instructions. and finally sent Jwalane a letter: Dear Jwalane A couple of nights ago. He started fasting. but because he knew that feeding some of the church elders with his prophecies was advancing his aspirations to the position of Archbishop. They are taking what they gave. On the third night of his fasting.’ the elder cautioned. and the power and money that involved. He instructed Lesiba to part with Jwalane and devote his life to spreading the gospel. You are aware of my many previous dreams. ‘Your ancestors are angry. He was nonetheless haunted by worries that he had not as yet dreamt the ultimate dream. Finally. The dream that would reveal his destiny.He consulted one of the church elders. Stop your gluttony. he concluded that it was better to sacrifice the pleasures of life – not out of desperation to finish the book or longing for the possible fame it might bring him. stop your gallivanting. a strange dream came to me. Worse will follow. Like the time I dreamt your mother was bitten by  . Lesiba pondered these instructions. the late Archbishop of Mount Galilee Christ Over the Cross Church in Zion appeared to him.

has instructed me to forsake all earthly possessions and devote my remaining days to gathering his scattered sheep before the Seven Angels of Destruction descend on the earth. I know that by obeying Baba’s instructions. Jwalane. My wife. but you and the Lord’s many many children. He says all the waters from the world’s seas will never put out those fires. but unfortunately they don’t. I constantly pray. she suffered a paralysing stroke. Baba Mandevu. I know you will understand. You will recall that. My church elders have warned that unless I heed and obey this latest dream. Our late Archbishop. I will be saving not only myself. Jwalane. I pray and wish you the Lord’s blessings and forgiveness for all your sins.a crab. Baba Nhlapho constantly preaches in church that Russia and America possess strange birds above the clouds that will converge on earth to announce Armageddon with terrible fires. Your devoted brother in the Lord Lesiba  . Terrible happenings have followed after each. days later. As a devout Christian. my days in this world are numbered. Until we meet again in the Lord’s Ark. that the dreams remain just that.

’ Jwalane’s aunty countered.After hearing about the letter. charging after their executioners. Those were not the only dreams he dreamt. ‘I tell you. brandishing Eiffel Tower-sized torches. The frequency of his strange dreams increased. Jwalane’s parents called an urgent family kgotla.’ Meanwhile. Dreams that would part like the Red Sea during Moses’s exodus from Egypt and surrender his enemies to the torrid waves. or I’ll sort him. There were others as well… Dreams that used to blind his eyes with the inferno stoked at the holiest shrines. Lesiba’s life continued. I heard he’s after the Archbishop’s chair.’ ‘You all call him and resolve it. ‘Take the fool for a good sjambokking at a people’s court!’ Jwalane’s brother shouted. They would emerge riding on chariots.’ ‘Why not start his own little sect? Pretoria doesn’t even bother registering them. he is sick. Call him and his parents to resolve the matter. With those nonsense dreams.  . Nobody plays around with a sister of mine. ‘Kahle… that is not our custom. There were also dreams of necklace victims.

’ ‘But how will I survive? I don’t know the difference between fasting and starving. he recalled that the One referred to did provide for John the Baptist in the desert. he went about boasting. Lesiba sent a message to Mandla to collect all the belongings from his locker and bring them to him. with time it matured into a reality. ‘and the Lord’s Ark has only a driblet. he impressed upon Lesiba the need to double up the tempo of spreading the gospel. He would close his eyes and see crowds of devotees prostrate before him. When word spread around the factory that Lesiba had left work.’ Yes. That was when he would engage in trying to interpret the dreams.’ ‘The One who commands will provide. He stressed that the end was around the corner.Sometimes he would dream during the day. yet you continue stuffing yourself. Except that reality occurred to him alone. ‘Who  . offering their reverence for the salvation he brought them. He started nurturing that dream into a probability. Ketso relished the whole turn of events. When the late Archbishop appeared again. The following day. Look at your sagging belly! I instructed you to forfeit earthly pursuits.

’ ‘I am scared of my recent dream. Sometimes he would muffle a chuckle during these  .’ Lesiba devoted his time to prayers and the interpretation of dreams. no stupid prayers can withstand my muti. I tell you.’ They then would bow their heads while he communicated with his God. Lesiba might say: ‘I see you crossing mountains and rivers. Every time I dream about being run over by a bus packed with tourists. I love to travel. after another moment’s meditative silence. while at other times he would be forced to remain bowed for close to an hour.’ Multitudes of young men and women started sniffing each other’s heels as they raced to his house. Multitudes started arriving to have their dreams interpreted. At times it would happen quickly. Then.’ Lesiba would always say: ‘Let us ask the One who gives dreams to interpret them.does he think he is? He is only a sick fanatic.’ ‘Oh! Please. give me muti so that I can dream. Going to places where none of your people has ever been before. Some pleaded with him: ‘Please.’ ‘Let us listen to the giver of dreams. make it happen.

and he would feel tempted.consultations. Instead. he started having the same strange dream for three consecutive weeks. Not long after that. it is now almost a year.  .’ ‘None of the fathers of my five children wants to marry me. I have been praying for their death. Some lamented the failure of their prayers: ‘For six months.’ To these. The young men mostly asked for help in being brought into contact with this or that virgin whom they claimed to have seen in their dreams.’ Widows would come. Lesiba would say: ‘Be patient. The giver of dreams will unveil them when He is ready. I have being praying to meet and marry Miss Alexandra. the wife is getting fatter. yet all my efforts to meet her have failed. ‘The man I love has a wife and two children. They asked him to pray for them so that they would meet new husbands. In my dreams it happens. Among them were beautiful ones. Some would even confess to him that it was revealed to them in dreams that he was the man they should get married to.’ ‘The woman I constantly dream of making love to tells me I’m not her type when I propose to her.’ The young women also came in their droves.

The arrival of more widows.He tried to shut off the dream. I saw twelve men and women emerge from the Jukskei River. They ululated. He recorded it in his book as Dream Number One Hundred and Twenty-eight.  . The men. came back running to slice off their remaining breasts. They ran about sharpening these on rocks. dampen it with singing hymns and chants. They indulged in frenzied dancing and feasting. In the dream. for once they had sliced off men’s dangling members. They poured the blood into wine glasses and offered toasts to each other. brick walls and concrete pavements. they were left with nothing else. but it refused to be expunged from his mind. Women suffered double. younger and more beautiful than previously. Their hands turned into knives and forks. the strange dream continued. They sliced off each others’ sex organs and roasted them on rocks along the river bank. and subtitled it: The Dream of a Dozen Orgies. however. while others started wailing. started interfering with his telepathic frequency. Meanwhile. They then turned and started chasing after each other. ranting and scratching their bodies.

This was not the only dream he dreamt. There were others as well… Dreams that ripped the lids off coffins. and I managed to break free from my trance before she could accomplish her mission. from Abel to those of modern carnages. Dreams of harsh martial law and executions to counter the 0 . He could not reconcile it with the reality he so wished for. He wondered whether the dream had any telepathic link to his latest legion of followers. This dream shocked Lesiba. the widows. They then held a contest to see who had the largest store of biltong. She ran brandishing a panga. Dreams of the blood of all murder and violent death victims. A chanting Jwalane appeared. gelling into giant waves and clouds that flooded the land. determined to slice off my penis. Dreams of aborted foetuses sealing closed the fallopian tubes of females universally. tombstones off graves to reveal marytrs.The well-nourished. Divine clemency prevailed. drowning all living organisms on earth. full-bellied men cut the left-over breasts into thin strands which they dried in the sun to make biltong.

Deli? Ka papa-ntsetse! That flat belly of hers is stuffed with jackrollers. He also wasn’t interested in another rumour – that at the age of fourteen.international solidarity and protest marches of redundant gynaecologists. better known throughout the township as ‘Cinzano Widow’ or ‘Ousie Deli’. They were snatched from her by either a knife or a bullet.’ ‘Who. She was a strikingly beautiful twenty-seven-year-old. Others countered that it was Aurora whiskey. she’d sold the life of her first boyfriend for a bottle of Cinzano. joined Lesiba’s followers later. Of course. a ten-roomed double-storey mansion in Mmabatho and three cars: a 7-Series.’ ‘Yaa! She double-crosses them against each other. Mmadieketse. ‘It is sheer luck that none of them has shown her his true colours. Once they take hikes six-feet. she’ll meet her match one of these days. Wait until they start  . He heard that she was haunted by a curse of losing all her men. she inherits their loot. It was rumoured that her late bank robber boyfriend had left her a fortune: a shebeen in East Bank. a tavern in Selection Park. But I tell you. a s’lahla and a dolphin. Lesiba was not attracted by her material status.

Please. His generous ears are always there to offer refuge to wearied words. All these fancy privately owned cars will be repossessed by Deli & Sons Incorporated. Maybe it was just natural – very few of them could match her magnetic charms. his soul and the souls of all the departed. Baba. But wasn’t the Son of Man despised? One night she came to see him. Lesiba was aware of Deli’s perfume. His ears are sanctuary for wandering voices.’ ‘Talk to the One above.’ Deli was loathed by women. Your stray lamb seeks Your embrace. The last one was shot two weeks ago.’ ‘All the men I have planned to marry have passed away. pray for me. He prayed fervently for her: ‘Lord. I am frightened. The whole of Alex will be swarming with them. Let us pray for your soul.coming out. give me strength to guide this soul to salvation. He was also aware that their heads were touching.’ ‘Baba. he could only hear her  . In contrast to his audible praying. A Zionist prophet has warned that I will be knifed to death within days unless I repent. or her talent at hitting ‘jackpots’.’ As the two bowed their heads.’ ‘To the One above let us turn.

fragile body.whispered murmur. He raised his face to find her looking at him appealingly. all men who sleep with me will die. Pray. It was then that he became aware of the minty fragrance drifting from her mouth. ‘Baba. The deeper he looked into her eyes. he felt a reversal  . He stopped.’ ‘You undoubtedly have sinned. my child. Baba?’ ‘What?’ ‘That since I didn’t observe amasiko wethu after the death of my first boyfriend. is it true…?’ she suddenly whispered.’ ‘Is it true what they say.’ Lesiba’s prayer rhythm was disturbed. my child. ‘Shhh! Pray. Hopeless. Remember He forgives seventy-seven times seventy-seven…’ At those comforting words. she collapsed into his arms. But remember the One above forgives seventy-seven times seventy-seven. ‘Open your heart and soul to Him. He reached his hands out to save it from getting sucked into the abyss. the further and further away into oblivion he saw the desperate lost soul drift. As her feminine body brushed against his. already resigned to spiritual widowhood at twenty-seven. my child.

’ She kissed him before jumping off the bed and preparing to leave. and she the baby Christ in his tender embrace. threatening gestures at him.of roles: he in the role of Mary. He shrugged his head to chase away sleep. but like a sedated patient on the operating table. she was awake.’ ‘I am okay. A heavy pall wrapped around him. I feel cleansed. fornicator. Baba. He slowly got off the bed and knelt by the door to perform his prayers of absolution. They were making obscene. where is my flock?’ ‘Baba. Ousie Deli was snoring softly by his side. for he saw what appeared to be devilish silhouettes hovering around her. why do you frown on your devoted servant?’  . he drifted back into slumber. He was in the depths of the pall when the late Baba Mandevu appeared. ‘I must go. I know nothing will harm me. ‘Heed! Adulterer. When he came back to bed. He rubbed his eyes repeatedly. Baba.’ ‘The world has grown teeth… I cannot allow you to venture out. it was one in the morning. When he woke up.

He then instructed Lesiba to burn the manuscript of Dreams and Parables. but the Archbishop remained unrelenting. sinner! You could not resist for one single night the temptations of earthly pleasures. Lesiba woke up and sat on the bed. He could feel the rain lashing the roof. he was woken by the shattering of one of his windows. He concluded that the late elder had confused his commands. ‘I have given you your dreams as your reward for leading my flock. he went back to sleep. He found the idea of destroying his valuable book unacceptable and unappetising. Maybe he meant to instruct him to destroy all the newspapers and other books and magazines he read. The late Archbishop remained steadfast in disclaiming him. Where have you led my lamb? Into the jaws of marauding wolves. Vibrations of thunder  . His blankets were warm and comforting.’ Lesiba tried harder to plead for forgiveness for his moral lapse. Much later. With whom will I trust my flock. With that comforting thought. All that you scorn to appease your lust. when my appointed shepherds turn to wolves?’ Lesiba tried to plead his case.‘Go.

 . where he kept the manuscript of his Book of Dreams and Parables. He could not decipher his delicate handwriting in that soot. He turned to find the window bars mangled. charred crisps of what used to be his valuable pages of concrete proof that dreams are part of reality. He saw only black. The smell of burning paper drew his attention to the sideboard.followed.

.

.

EPILOGUE MY DUNGEON from this side of the abyss i constantly revisit the living my hoarse voice takes flight on drifting winds to gather ears to warm its chilliness i am wearied of wrestling with the sun yesterday a cat sneezed at my strangeness today my infant niece gave up initiating me into the ways of life spirits of laughter and smiles flirt beyond my reach from this side of the abyss i re-enter my asylum where darkness and my fury finds patronage boldly i will re-emerge for a last heroic stance an escape from myself.  .

.

OTHER FICTION TITLES BY JACANA Ice in the Lungs Gerald Kraak The Silent Minaret Ishtiyaq Shukri Song of the Atman Ronnie Govender Uselessly Aryan Kaganof How We Buried Puso Morabo Morojele Kitchen Casualties Willemien de Villiers In Tangier We Killed the Blue Parrot Barbara Adair The Track Katy Bauer The Dreamcloth Joanne Fedler Bitches’ Brew Fred Khumalo .

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