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com http://modjaji.za www.co. Cape Town Set in Garamond and Kabel .firstname.lastname@example.org/ ISBN 9781920397081 Book and cover design by Jacqui Stecher Cover Illustration and Lettering by Jesse Breytenbach Photograph of author by TJ Lemon Printed and bound by Megadigital.blogspot.Publication © Modjaji Books 2010 Text © Arja Salafranca Migdale 2010 First published in 2010 by Modjaji Books CC P O Box 385.za http://arjasalafranca. 7760. South Africa modjaji.modjajibooks.book.co. Athlone.
cold ash Patterns At the table of the short story Ten minutes to hate Cul-de-sacs A car is a weapon The game Friends Cleo and Nic A man sits in a Johannesburg park Schmalz Solly Bernstein’s story Desire. a meeting 9 18 33 44 51 61 77 87 102 106 119 133 149 161 175 194 204 .CONTENTS The thin line Couple on the beach Collage Sour milk. with borders Finally.
be creative. It wasn’t an option for them. Egg smells lingered. There 9 . dance. the other replied. making the atmosphere cloudy. The woman who was not involved asked the other how everything was going with her boyfriend. voices hurting. wonderful. The other woman stirred lemon wedges and brown sugar into her cup – acid and sweetness mingling soothingly on her tongue. A group of businessmen came to occupy a table near the window. write.The thin line Two women sat at a table in a restaurant drinking herbal tea. They sat and talked about life and work. laughing raucously. The tea was getting cold. The women strained to talk above the noise. wanting to be free of the grind of everyday existence and how they wished they could stop working – be free to paint. Fine. The men were loud. Behind one of the women a man smoked.
ARJA SALAFRANCA was nothing wrong there. a man and a woman took a holiday on Lake Malawi. They had not fought.’ the other woman said. too suddenly. She was a stockbroker. The woman was angry. something had stretched wide. This holiday was not going to restore their hastily repaired relationship. be alone. I don’t know what goes on in your relationship. drank a last sip of tea and said: ‘People have market value. wider than it should have. impatient and tired. She came up behind him. ‘Forget it. some time ago. realising that she should not have said anything. and I think you can do a lot better. understands your need to paint. I’m sorry. They had come out after lunch for a bit of exercise. sweaty. and then it had closed.’ ‘Okay.’ The other woman shot back: ‘Why?’ The friend. Now they walked along the shores of the lake. * * * One year. The man walked ahead of her. The woman without a boyfriend paused. There was tension between them. kicking up the sand with her effort. Sorry. It was humid. Forget what I said. her hair scrunched into a ponytail. They looked at each other. It’s erased. They had broken up a few months before going on this holiday and then had come together again after bumping into each other at a shopping mall. searching each other’s faces. They had simply walked along the shores of the lake. with ten days still to go before the end of the 10 . He was a photographer. This was clear now. too abruptly. Something had opened up between them. The water lapped gently. she looked her friend in the eye. She gasped slightly as she walked behind him. They rented a chalet on the shores of the lake. The woman sweated. replied. He’s good for you in a lot of ways. She could hardly breathe in this close air.
He felt calm. She wiped sweat off her forehead with the raw back of her hand. She took off her dark glasses. The boy carried on looking at her. She sat down on the sand and squinted into the white distance. The woman was distracted by a little boy who was trying to sell her something. not looking back at her. She was hot and sticky. The man’s camera dangled around his neck. 11 . He felt something for the woman he’d left behind sitting on the shores of the lake. The man paused again when the girlfriend had become a speck in the distance. The sky was dark and the lake was churning. He went toward the fringes of the lake and watched the surface churning up. he felt too detached to be angry or irritated. or somebody else. She watched him as he paused. I told you. there was a storm coming up and white foam capped the waves. Water lapped at her feet. The woman smiled wanly. the boy. assessing something. look at her. On a base of dark wood. He walked ahead. The ﬁshermen smiled at him. But he didn’t know what. ‘I don’t have any money on me now. had carved a slimhipped ﬁsherman. his legs tanned by the tropical sun. thrusting a wooden statue at her. staring after him. only a few behind them. admiring his broad back. She tried to take a few deep breaths in this coiled thick air. She could not see the expression behind the shades. and I don’t have any dollars. He’d walked a long way away from the chalet. He sat on an upturned ﬁshing boat and watched the ﬁshermen hauling in their loads.THE THIN LINE holiday. sauntering. He looked forward to the rain. spear raised in one hand.’ The boy smiled at her. She watched him. Not concern. not irritation. as though he were snifﬁng the air. ‘Ten dollar!’ the boy beamed. He did look back eventually. He seemed to pause. eyes hidden behind sunglasses. then stared into the distance.’ ‘Five dollar!’ the boy smiled demandingly. No money. held her eyes. ‘I don’t have any money.
although he will only realise this after a few weeks. ﬁled away. and when you least expect it. toast burning and juice spilling. they could not go forward. It happens when someone says something that is not meant to wound or estrange. He doesn’t know it. and neither does she. regret. and perhaps sadness. he sat in the bar. and she slouches. Sadness for her. It could be a dark candlelit restaurant. used as ammunition. Except he will no longer need to keep it as ammunition.ARJA SALAFRANCA Regret. ‘I never enjoyed sex with you. fans whirring the hot air around the room. Later. that she had come all this way. hoping to restore their relationship and it was all too clear that they could not go back.’ The man’s eyes cloud over. 12 . and then his heart will snap shut. His eyes will cloud over further. trying to see if they can still be together. but now it is deﬁnitely over. and a couple are testing the waters. It can only be remembered. Past hurts bristle around the table and the man says he doesn’t know what he wants. over scrambled eggs. * * * It happens at the oddest times. you know. And they are sitting in this restaurant. His snapped heart will harden. What she has just said will never be erased. and drank beer and thought about the pictures he wanted to shoot on this trip. that was it. * * * It ﬁnally struck one morning over breakfast. but it still does. which probably holds memories for them and they can see the desired reconciliation will not take place. yes. And he will stop caring and start to realise that her feet are ugly and there are lines around her mouth. and the woman says.
. ‘I’m going to eat breakfast at the hotel. She had started to notice things: faults in him that she had been able to ignore before. ‘Yes.’ she started. He smiled. ‘I can’t eat that . dear. bouncing off the woman’s startled expression.’ he said calmly. ‘Yes. I am.. She smiled. irritations she had once accepted as being part of living with another person.. He was 13 ..’ ‘You can’t do that . ‘I can help. You hide them behind justiﬁcations and excuses. the cold. but still they repeat. they come back. watching each other in the bathroom mirror. She tried not to say anything. and no matter how hard you try to erase them.’ the woman protested. The words looked back at this other woman and her boyfriend as they hugged. I’m helping you to make breakfast.’ he said. lines deepening at the corners of her mouth. * * * But words grow up and reverberate. put on sandals and sunglasses and left. spreading thick globs of butter on the blackened surfaces.THE THIN LINE ‘Can’t you help!’ she yelled as the smell of burnt toast ﬁlled the kitchen. They repeat like indigestion. the dishes in the sink.’ He took the toast out from under the grill. sparkly and unaware. bunched-up eggs in the pan. eyes jovial. watching as the man pocketed his wallet. exerting inﬂuence. Other things started to grate on her. the sun glinting off the water outside. ‘You’re getting crumbs in the butter dish. transferring the crumbs into the butter dish.’ she said. darling. ‘I’m going out. She looked at the toast. but gradually she began to criticise him and snap at him over minor details.’ The dears and darlings hung in the air.
hoping her good feelings would return and she would remember her love and forget the comments of her friend who had sprayed words like poison across a table in a coffee shop. and he smiled and kissed her and said that he loved her. And they multiplied.ARJA SALAFRANCA good-natured. even as 14 . the cycle was bound to close. She saw omens everywhere: it had been nearly a year that they had been together. but are you soul mates? It was the man in the restaurant so long ago who spoke of soul mates. he laughed off her bad moods and understood her need to paint. He was haunted by the idea of ﬁnding ‘the one’. those words of his. And they were genuine. he respects your need for privacy and aloneness. and sometimes she’d ﬁnd her love again. ‘Please don’t leave me. * * * Sometimes you have to accept things: it is probably a good relationship. and he had put that desire into you. and could not.’ she said to him one night. it receded in the tide of irritation and she’d be forced to pretend. She tried to remember how much she loved him. The omens were chilling. Sometimes. to smile and cook and say nice things. They did things they hadn’t done in nearly a year. and there is love. with a man that is kind to you. But as the weeks went on she grew sad and could not remember her love. and she started imagining the ending. and more often. and how he didn’t think you were a soul mate. or forget the words. he wasn’t about to leave her. and you laugh together. perhaps that’s what ended that particular relationship. of a sort. The weight of sadness and endings grew oppressive. but still it felt unreal. she tried to ignore them. ate a kind of cake they hadn’t had since the beginning. She tried to imagine coping without him.
THE THIN LINE you scorned the idea. not really believing that this was the end. whatever that might mean. So. haunted by the need for passion. passion and liking. porous hate almost as easily as the attraction had begun. she’d lie awake. She had watched him go that day. She’d remember him that day at the lake. the woman with the boyfriend remembers what her friend said about market value and that she thought the boyfriend wasn’t good enough. at night. love and hate. whatever that might lead to. in the same way that her lover no longer had any feelings for her. demanding dollars she didn’t have. The line is so thin between desire and lust. But they did not remain together. imagining it moved in her still. nor did she forget her love for him. years later. this woman will lie beside her husband and she will 15 . Three months later she met the man she’d marry and have three children with. They broke up for the second time soon after returning to Johannesburg. and her husband beside her. the photographer with golden shoulders. the way he had walked away from her. tanned legs and a future ahead of him. the need to ﬁnd your soul mate. She did not forget the photographer. When problems crop up. Love had turned to indifference and then to a vague. they both knew it. She would think of that other man. But it had not been over for her. not looking back. It was over then. It means that here you are. waiting for the sleeping pills to take effect. The man became a famous photographer. and couldn’t quite believe in it. At night. with the children asleep in their beds. nor for the rest of that badly planned holiday. Friendship hovers somewhere in between. It was as though he was already imagining another future. * * * The couple came back from their holiday in Malawi. A young boy had tugged at her arm. She had not cried that night.
What is that moment. because. keeps forgetting to turn it down to a lower temperature. sometimes saying yes when you mean no. There’s also the shower door left hanging open once too often. every time you yell because the toaster’s dial is set too high and he. and she. There’s no way of knowing why or how it happens. and there’s the need for solitude and independence. She is not happy about it. shopping when the sky’s already turned dark because you’ve both worked so late. tolerance and muted passion. the woman with the light brown hair. loves him. But as she sighs she knows that will never happen. The other. The one. It’s simply there. with the dark brown hair. that ﬁnal act that causes something to snap. but it is not the same. A bad temper in the morning. does not. * * * A woman is having coffee with her friend. but it’s okay somehow. The other has put on weight. She does not like 16 . The love mutates into acceptance. Yet there are other relationships where the toaster is set too high and the shower door is open all the time. It cannot be the same. she loves him.ARJA SALAFRANCA listen to his heavy breathing and she will gently touch him. through deciding what to have for dinner. has a boyfriend. wanting her again. because somewhere there’s love and somehow that love keeps growing. The thin line between love and hate fades and evaporates. begging her to see him. She will never fall out of love with that photographer. and her boyfriend tells her not to worry. When they ﬁght she imagines the photographer divorced. yes. She has lost weight. start up something new. what makes hate follow love? Who knows? A certain expression used too often. through mornings of spilled coffee and rushed goodbyes. even though her husband loves her. but she minds and the extra weight is heavy on her. or she. as his wife.
The other indulges in full-fat foam. this time they drink cappuccinos. They are older and another year will be dying soon. She won’t buy new clothes until she’s lost weight. about living together. They do not talk about the suitability of the boyfriend. she’s never quite sure if these are normal or not. or the possibility of marriage. the inﬂuence of parents and how they hurt their children when they’re just trying to express love. It is a long discussion. The one with the boyfriend has never lived with a man and is ﬁnding the experience strange. They sit in the same coffee shop. they both open up. looking into each other’s eyes. the thinner friend drinks hers with low-fat foam. Whether they skirt the issue out of fear of opening up a rift that shouldn’t have been touched at all. connected by a thin thread of like. pouring out emotions and experiences they have not shared before. The other still doesn’t have a boyfriend but is moving on in her life in other ways. It’s nearly a year later. or whether they skirt it because there are more interesting things to talk about is unclear. There is some discomfort. They sip coffee and talk. They talk around the issues. It’s muggy. some embarrassment. there’s another month to go before the new year.THE THIN LINE tight clothes or her breasts bulging out of her bra. 17 . There are all sorts of masculine habits that she’s never had to live with. there is little need for low-fat milk when she’s putting sugar in her coffee instead of sweetener and she’ll probably have dessert later on. there are no more pretences. how all the potential problems of divorce manifest in your twenties when you’re ﬁrst loving and sharing homes with men. The one woman has now moved in with her boyfriend. They talk about the boyfriend. They talk. They have moved on. and the decisions that await them. the afternoon stretches out. Outside the sky is brown and grey. The coffee shop is empty now. But it isn’t happening. threatening rain. They talk about therapy.
and they are using up their ﬁlm before they leave Knysna. It is nearly the end of their holiday together. It is low tide. toes squelching into the coarse grains. it is not a cold night. The couple stand in it with bare feet splayed. She can’t be cold. The woman is wearing a smart jacket on this summer evening. leaving a vast expanse of wet beige sand. the 18 . It is too smart and too warm for this seaside town. It is the beginning of a new year. The middle-aged woman wonders why she wears it. They make an odd couple.Couple on the beach A middle-aged woman sits on the edge of the lagoon and watches a young couple take photographs of each other. taking photos with their expensive cameras. when her feet are bare and her jeans rolled up to reveal pinkly white legs. and the waters of the lagoon have receded. as they take photos. Although there is a breeze blowing.
She knows all about gaining weight and hiding behind big clothes. He is uncomfortable in the casual T-shirt he’s wearing. her gloriously auburn hair long and ﬂying in the dusk’s breeze. Perhaps his partner. Perhaps it is to cover her body.day was warm. slightly overweight. She needs him and that is her weakness. perhaps she has gained weight and wants to hide behind her big black jacket. and the middle-aged woman wonders why he wears it. as awkward as the woman is in hers. He is skinny and awkward in his body. daring to be found. compliant and soft. and the heat remains trapped as the sun goes slowly down. She knows she is getting past the age of appraisal. menopause – she welcomes it. as though playing hide and seek. fall in love with him. although she does not like him. The middle-aged woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on the cement boulder and watches the couple. They dart in and out between the dark strands. It is only now that she is older that she can afford to be freer. who is shorter. but lately she has been seeing the ﬂash of silver streaks in it. are looking at her. that she can wear anything and not be self-conscious and concerned that others. or whatever that girl is to him. awkward in his body. He is that kind of person. She has done it too. The middle-aged woman has a feeling that he would be uncomfortable no matter what he wore. asked him to wear it. that’s what makes her hate him. she needs him. She has read of the liberation that comes from middle-age – the loss of youth. Her hair is still mainly auburn. men. hanging after this partner like a puppy dog eager to please her. as opposed to the female. The middleaged woman can see this as she smokes into the pale blue dusk. and hate a part of herself too. But she won’t let him go yet. appraising her. in his life. willing to do whatever it is that would make her like him. and 19 . The male half of the couple is tall and thin. something beyond this cold dismissive need of hers.
is hungry. preferring the domestic peace of the lagoon to the endless deep. Her holiday companion. just ride straight through. She watches the sea at the Heads. or how it disappears on him. whose name is Mark. as though the sea was a caged. be free from this friend who has shared her bed. She doesn’t know where all the food goes. she puts more make-up over the day’s sweat while he watches the news. She is afraid of the sea. Ailsa wants to get the hell out of here. wild animal wanting to get into this quiet piece of solitude. where he lies sprawled in front of the TV. Her boyfriend keeps wanting to take her on the sea. leaving him skinny and perpetually hungry. Again. her holiday.’ Mark emphasises from the bedroom. a dark mark on the ﬂeshy folds of her baby ﬁnger. he wants it to be special. as it foams and dashes. Her name is Ailsa.ARJA SALAFRANCA watches the lagoon recede from this couple. They watch TV. clutching the cigarette in her ﬁnger. It looks limp. her life. perhaps on a small yacht. to be home. go home as quickly as possible. and brushes her heavy hair again. * * * The couple don’t know where to go for supper. sixteen hours straight. I’m hungry. time and time again she refuses. ‘Hell. She smokes on the cement boulder. She would like to go tonight. there is not much she can do about it. looking at the beauty spot on her little ﬁnger that a man once found so attractive years ago. Once home to the tiny cottage they are renting for the week she tries to stall him. She watches the couple take photos as the sky darkens and ﬁsh burns in a house nearby. The woman is full from a sweet cinnamon pancake eaten late that afternoon. It is their last night in Knysna. back to Johannesburg. it always sags in summer when it’s hot. away from this 20 .
’ she calls from the bathroom. to make them look like a couple in the eyes of the world. pack. they make plans for the next day. bringing plates. not this time. talking quietly. She hates the way he does this. She looks away. to each other. now that everything has fallen back on only 21 . meaningless conversation falls awkwardly into the music and hollow of the restaurant. Ailsa adds a little to the conversation. talk is desultory. trying to ﬁnd something new to say.COUPLE ON THE BEACH man who is as tangled in her life as a ﬁsh caught in a net. He talks on. The waiter serves them. appraises her. Ailsa hasn’t wanted to ﬁght. so very tired. she wants to shake him off like a bad smell. but it is impossible. The waiter. This time Ailsa picks at a calamari salad. Only years later will she learn not to eat when she’s not hungry. a salad that Mark will ﬁnish after she’s stopped pushing her fork around the bowl. Mark again makes plans for the next morning. as tangled and as messy. She is so tired. They land up at the same place that sells the pancakes. it’s early still and yet all she wants is to go sleep. Mark makes small talk with the waiter as well. ‘I’m still not hungry. It is exhausting being nice. ‘Can’t we wait?’ They wait. something she hasn’t learnt yet. She leans back as though to tell the world that they are not really together. she doesn’t want anyone to know they are together. and drags her out to eat when she is not hungry. she thinks. Mark leans close to her. unintelligent conversation. It’s a simple thing. distant. eating when she’s not hungry. Ailsa thinks he does this deliberately. They eat dinner. cringing. beaming. and Ailsa simply cannot shut off her disgust. Mark’s stupid. taking away plates. There is dessert for him. for days on end. deciding what time they should get up. not getting irritated. They have said the same things now. leave. looks her up and down. wonders why she is with this man who makes stupid.
and then been cast aside by as easily as they had come together? A year later. the hard sharp face dissolved into vulnerabilities. I’m in love with Ailsa!” What do you think of that?’ Ailsa had sighed in the bright lounge with its glaring overhead lights and dim wall brackets. dishes unwashed. She needed him for the friendship and for the soft pliancy of his weakness. and because she is his life. She needed him because she needed people around her to stave off something unmentionable. ‘I fell in love with you. I’m not ready for a new relationship. the ﬂames crackling in the silence. who had never fallen in love before and now said he loved her. eating chocolate-covered nuts bought by a man who said he was in love with her. And all she said was that she was not ready for another relationship. Ailsa. she knows that now. “Hell. not enough time for herself. But I’m not ready. There have been irritations. she cannot shake him off. ‘I’ve known for a long time now.’ she had said. a feeling of frustration at his helplessness. Mark. and here he was. She needed him. ‘I know. One day a few months ago I woke up and thought. and she needed. stripped bare of its usual arrogance. As long as he was in love with her she could mould him or break him or twist his desires. 22 . saying he loved her. and she was left nursing a bruised heart.’ Mark had looked at her then. She is his life. now. How could she hurt him? How could she hurt him the way she’d been hurt by the man she’d fallen in love with. Mark. hauling in logs and setting the stone ﬁreplace blazing in the smart lounge. ‘I’m in love with you. the way you look at me. the ﬁre her father insisted on making every winter.ARJA SALAFRANCA the two of them.’ he had told her months before as they sat in a lounge in her parents’ home eating chocolate-covered nuts in front of a ﬁre. a man to say he loved her.
Sitting in the ofﬁce they both worked in. He started noticing Ailsa after her break-up from James. the girl he’d asked to the matric dance hadn’t even come to the after party with him. They went. she’d say. She reminded him that his own father had only married in his thirties. He didn’t know if it was because his stammer grew worse when he asked them out. and then she’d describe James’s actions and words. when he tried to talk to her about it. that she could not love him. His mother had told him to wait. She did not help. a man in his late twenties. James. but she did not help. emerging tear-eyed. clutching the Valium the receptionist pressed into her hands and life. Or did Mark think that James regarded her simply as a friend? Mark had no answers. would fall in love with her. if she could go out to supper with him one night. He’d plucked up the courage many times after to ask women out. He couldn’t believe it was that serious. but invariably they said no. she’d wonder aloud to him.COUPLE ON THE BEACH Years later she would have said. that he wasn’t her type – but on that night she could only suck chocolate off a nut and tell him she was sorry. the next with James while still hoping that he. This was even when she was still with James. perhaps. as friends. to movies and plays. and spent long times behind locked doors. There’s plenty of time. 23 . and cooked his favourite foods and complained to him about her unfeeling husband. He’d never even kissed a woman. They ate supper. asking if he thought James liked her. or if it was because he was so skinny. She brushed hair from his eyes in a gesture of tenderness. and let him massage her feet for her. or if it was the fact that he lived at home still. as friends. It was only long after she ﬁnally asked and found out the answer to her questions.
But he didn’t understand it. although he tried. or cupping a cappuccino. grateful for her kindness. He felt grateful too. and his penis hadn’t been that big. He fell in love. was a woman who did not run away. simple as that. She took the time to listen to him. She hadn’t yet asked him into the house. the way she took care not to let the food spill. Here. and one night. her shy way of talking and her fear of hurting anyone. like light was coming in through fog and murk. and later he was glad: would he have felt so free. That’s what he’d tell people years later. That he had fallen in love with her soft gentle brown eyes. And there was so much more to sex than a large penis. He thought his penis was too small. and said she’d only known one man. He noticed this and thought she was a nice person. or catch in the corners of her mouth. And then he fell in love. and Ailsa stared into the darkness of the car. He noticed the way she ate. for the fact that she listened to him. He found out what her 24 . he told her his greatest fear about having sex. and the beauty spot on her little ﬁnger. or make excuses that she was involved. They saw more movies. ‘Besides. with her small hands ﬁsted around a spoon. to go out with him. after drinks at a neighbourhood restaurant. He stared across at her day after day in the open-plan ofﬁce and walked with her to the shops at lunch time and got close enough to her to smell her sweat and perfume mingling in a heady mixture that made him dream and fantasise in his narrow lonely bed in his own parents’ house. so uninhibited in the house where her parents could have heard him? The next morning he phoned her and thanked her for their talk. instead. when it gets big it gets big enough!’ she’d laughed into the inky night as they sat in the car.ARJA SALAFRANCA He ﬁrst noticed her kindness and gentleness. She stayed and listened. and the long lashes and the thick wavy auburn hair. at last. and that it didn’t matter anyway. delicately. He could not tell her. It felt like a veil was lifting. the way she wiped her mouth.
It is clean. He kneaded and caressed and looked at her. they ﬁnd themselves booked into a grim. the holiday. trying to get sleep. Mark spoke about a woman he really liked. but had to make do with tepid coffee and the smooth curved muscles of her feet. she had eaten when she wasn’t hungry. the only restaurant open in town on a Saturday night. and a grand elegant hotel that Mark wanted to go was expensive and had a set meal. and he tried to hide it and eventually it came out. that man whom Mark had met only once. A Chinese restaurant was closed. Mark had said he simply wanted their last night to be special. the curtains threadbare. Anger had hovered in the air.COUPLE ON THE BEACH feelings for James were. feeling exhaustion snatching her. * * * On their last night on holiday. trying to get away from the situation. And she could not reciprocate his love for her as she ate his chocolate-covered nuts and let him take off her boots and knead her feet into submission. The bathroom is white and clinical. There are no lamps and the beds are two singles pushed apart. he’d never touched breasts before. but plain. she was obsessed by that love. the sun beating down. away from Knysna. the man driving the big car through the sun-baked Karoo desert. and she said tell me more. Again. one-star hotel in a small town in the Karoo. Ailsa’s supper sits hard and rocky in her stomach. They had eaten supper at an American steakhouse. 25 . wanting to kiss her and touch her breasts. ‘I’m not going to spend all that money on a three-course meal that I’m not hungry enough to eat!’ she had retorted. A half a day riding in the car. the endless miles of scrubby. The mattresses are lumpy and once more. and found out she was still in love with him. shrimp-like plants crouching over the dry earth.
body angular and bent as an old man’s. and goes to the bathroom to clean himself up. She doesn’t mind. after eating and coming back and undressing and washing their faces and brushing teeth and getting into their single beds. there is no joy for her. He comes outside of her (she doesn’t want to get pregnant). He moans as he comes and she shuts off. smoothing the white sperm away from her stomach into the wet toilet paper. He tries to ﬁnd her secret spot. She lies there passive in the white light streaming from the bathroom. the unfeminine-like trail of dark hair. Still. Again. there is always an elbow he doesn’t know what to do with. sinking away into the sheet and the pillows. as always. it is unsatisfactory.’ he says matter-of-factly as he drifts off. and he cleans her between the legs. his pleasure sounds an irritation in the dark room.’ he’d replied. He knows that when the holiday is over she will ﬁnally ﬁnd the strength 26 . and she lets him have sex with her. turning on the hard white light. He knows that’s it. The bed is too narrow. ‘That’s probably the last time we’ll do it. He always misses the mark. and he is hard. she lets him come into hers. she doesn’t care. to trace her scars with love. But. or to run his hands around her soft hips and belly. and hates him. She’s told him she is not in love with him. and she grows tired of his fumbling. the scars. Ailsa lies there and thinks this man is as cold as the one before. the imperfect body. and she doesn’t even mind that he sees her naked. and sometimes he gets it. his hard bony body offering little comfort. He lies against her for a while. she doesn’t love this one. and that is that. She watches his limp penis dangling. he comes too quickly. the swelling of it. but conversation died in the steakhouse. She hates him then.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘Okay. she tries to love him as he cleans her up. He does not know how to hold her. but never for long enough.
kept exclaiming over it. remembering sex a year earlier. That they will not have sex and she will not try to control her temper with him. he argued. He couldn’t believe he’d done it. silent night. forced him through that ﬁnal border. or hide her irritation. * * * It had started earlier than this trip to Knysna though. she’d completed the cycle. even though he was quick. stolen his virginity. She had squeezed it in the mirror. the night before the new year. It had been like a dance. his name behind the other one. the day after she wasn’t a virgin anymore. just oily pus. Early in the morning before she had forced him into her. After the night he said he loved her she’d agreed to go away with him. ‘I suppose I have to do it. The sex had started a few days earlier. against the silver metal. ‘Are you ready?’ she’d whispered. Fat and white and ﬁlled with pus. a name she had to grope for in her head. it spattered against her ﬁngers. showed him love and sex and kissing and lying in bed together. Get off it! It was a relief ﬁnally. She’d broken her own barrier too.’ He’d drunk champagne after they’d done it. blue eyes big. mouth agape. the cold. the pimple that sprouted the morning after on her breast. She felt triumphant. then didn’t call him anything at all. and she wanted something slower.COUPLE ON THE BEACH to call a halt to this. There was no blood that morning. as she clutched a towel around her. 27 . She almost called him James. thinking. the man who slipped off into his own single bed. something more. sitting up in bed with a wineglass while she lay there. They both needed a holiday. He’d opened the bottle and toasted the event.
choking on the cliché. his hands moving further. the silence of exhaustion as they forced food into their mouths in the hotel restaurant later. But there were two bodies naked. the pale watery beginnings of summer present in the heat of the day. then pulled towards him. Told him it had to end. wanting more. And the touching would stop for a while. Once she’d sex with someone else she could get on with her life. they didn’t seem to know how. She was starving. and then start up again. the sordid details of an unmade bed in the waning afternoon. with her need to love and be loved. dancing around his own wants the way he danced around hers. she sucked and sucked at his dry orange. ‘But I don’t want you to look pretty for other men!’ And she rolled her eyes at him. craving love. getting warmer. hair hastily combed. affection. clothes piled up. a drink. didn’t believe in sex before marriage. She pulled away. She wasn’t ready. Was he saying it to ﬂatter her. a deserted chalet in the shadow of snowy peaks. She could forget 28 . the pale afternoon light coming in as he picked off her clothes. the restaurant emptying. abused him. but they couldn’t get the condom on. wanting something else. She was excising James’s ghost.ARJA SALAFRANCA Over a long weekend they ran away to the mountains in the east. They tried it one morning. like she always did. She accused him. it started off as a massage. and she was dry and sore. She let him caress her. this was the way she’d get rid of him: by having sex with another man she’d be over him. disgusted with herself. the mornings and nights capped with cold. No sex. famished. He wasn’t ready. and shoved the food in her mouth. putting make-up on. At times she even thought she saw that old hardness and sarcasm she’d ﬁrst glimpsed in him. he was a virgin. conversation dead between them. or because he’d read it or heard it said? Or did he actually mean it? She put the make-up on. she wasn’t in love. that had made her recoil away from even friendship with him. a Christian.
I fell in love with you and you can’t reciprocate. what he was like. You’ve already hurt me. He is not a bad man. till she knew she’d never be alone if she didn’t want to.COUPLE ON THE BEACH James. she stared at the black streets and heard him talk into the darkness. She wouldn’t let him touch her. it had to stop. they’d see a movie. the way he treated her. forget Mark. The time passed. as easy as an old armchair.’ she told Mark as they lay together. simply a boring man. be free to ﬁnd someone new. She pushed him away again. no need to risk being hurt with anyone else. He is tired. He smiles with her. and thought. * * * On the last day of their holiday she is happy. She points her camera at the ﬂat Free State farms and bubbly storm clouds and takes pictures. maybe this is it. There was no need to phone anyone else. what she had loved about him. 29 . the tensions of the last few days dissolved. as though he could appropriate the other man’s abilities and qualities and thus make her fall in love with him.’ ‘It doesn’t matter. driving home with him.’ ‘I don’t want to be like James. She could not let him go. Mark watches as she laughs and gets enthusiastic. He was simply getting hurt. ‘I can’t hurt you. a ghost with presence and shadow and a history. go to a play. Maybe I must accept this. They have coffee in a restaurant attached to a highway garage. she could phone him at any time. So you have hurt me. Maybe there won’t be anyone else. but he is happy. The dancing continued. he came to ﬁll up all the crevices of her life. Mark asked her all sort of questions about James. and again felt that frustration.’ James lay beside them. One night. He’d be there. ‘It doesn’t matter. it was secure. The blanket grew tighter.
barely touching her. It is like watching something ﬂy away from you.ARJA SALAFRANCA He wishes she could have been as happy a few days ago. She ﬂirts with the waiter in the restaurant. the miraculous warmth of another body. and her smell. ‘I like you the way you are!’ he protests. her stomach. on his hands. ﬁnally like an adult. leaves a tip. The sun goes down. he cannot get enough. with the light radiating out from the clouds. She is twenty-ﬁve. like watching bubbles dissolve in the sunlight. trying to give her what she wants. spoons ice-cream into her mouth and tells him she’s going to diet when they get back. * * * A middle-aged woman watches as a couple take pictures of each other. She has lived here for many years. eat ice-cream. Only when she protests does he cup her stomach or her breasts. I’m not doing this for you. doing as she asks him. you try to capture a sunset. what he cannot give. before it all disappears. she won’t be there. He goes back to work the next day. He’ll miss her in bed at night. that sweet smell that lingers in her hair. the waiter is a teenager. although he feels changed. It is all overwhelming as he puts his hands lightly on her. He does not want to return. A vague sweetness remains. She feels older. the warmth. One perfect moment. back in Knysna. He watches her ﬂirt. and the clouds spill out into the frame. the clouds come out blurred. or her buttery feel as he slides his hands along her hips. It is quiet. It feels like going back into darkness. like candyﬂoss melting on your tongue. a thick rough fur left on your teeth. she thinks. she can paint in 30 . take pictures. an arm pokes out the corner of a photograph. There is one perfect photo.
this season’s lover. she has lovers. the men she loves now know how to ﬁnd her spot and take their time. harsh lamps don’t give her paintings the same look. the way she did on her ﬁrst trip here years and years and years ago. Her paintings sell well enough for her to make a living. in a big city. It’s a habit. She had a dog when she ﬁrst moved here. and she remembers what that feels like. but now. in the landscape and gentle lights. who are still ﬁnding themselves. Unlike the others it is a soft gentle painting one done in pastel blues and pinks and light whitish colours. And she has simply continued the ritual of her evening walks. He is younger than her. He is a good lover. There. she prefers to paint by daylight. trousers rolled up. who wear hard bright colours and stare out of the canvas with hard accusatory looks. smokes on the cement barrier. She has a boyfriend waiting in her house. feet splayed in the coarse sand. she has a canvas opened wide against the window that faces one of the hills of brown and green vegetation. or walks on the sand. used to take him for walks but he died. But she doesn’t. She expects her mother to paint soft gentle ﬂowers and landscapes. to mirror this land she lives in. She has sex. so is she. she goes down to the lagoon. and every few years she has boyfriends. She paints young people – angry young people who don’t know where they’re going. When the tide goes out. Sometimes her daughter comes to visit. There is a tall skinny man who holds a camera taking photographs of a short 31 . Her latest painting though is different. her works shout with anger and despair and hard modern living. A couple takes photographs of each other on a beach. a break from the day’s work.COUPLE ON THE BEACH peace. Her mother paints from long ago. He lives far away. She has ﬁnally learned to be loved. a walk in the fading light. when she was young.
makes you go back through the tunnel of memories and time. more bloody. tell her where not to go. The past doesn’t fade. at twenty. fascinated as always by the luminosity of her white hairs. she tries to peer at herself of sixty. the lines are jagged. of disturbed lives. Somehow. The future woman walks away. it is a long time ago. or attends a certain dinner she refused to once. It never works. It is all intermingled as Ailsa puts the ﬁnal touches to her latest painting. Instead you’re left with the present. it too is jarring. how. But it’s all impossible. where she went wrong. asking. tie-dyed shirts. always asking questions of her older self. catches a piece of her auburn hair. the man stands too far away. it may lie sleeping and then it comes seeping out through the cracks in your life – in a painting. Till you stand in the vortex. There’s a sense of unease in the picture. the absence of pigment and the way sun shines right through. The middle-aged woman wears a red top. more violent. watching the past unfolding before her. if she leaves half an hour earlier. Ailsa sighs. even as it dissolves rapidly into the past. 32 . smiling uncertainly into the orb of his lens. refusing to answer questions: ‘Live your own life!’ she would be saying if she could talk. makes you cry. though. Sitting on a cement boulder a middle-aged woman edges into the distance. wishing you could give advice. watching a younger self. body turned away. now at ﬁfty. a piece of music. like a ﬂash of blood. nor that one in the kitchen. she would meet a certain man. the woman is too uncertain. at thirty. smoking cigarettes. to reach back as she reaches forward. making the red of the top harder. seventy. a movie that reminds you and perhaps. face in shadow. not this one. jeans that ﬂare at the ankles. memories swirling away.woman with auburn hair blowing in the wind. pulls out a silver strand and holds it to the light. They wear old-fashioned clothes.
round doughnut.Collage She moved through the stalls at the fête. Her name was Chloe. I was so far away. and in its place was pleasant warmth. and focused on the face laughing and dancing out of view. and I clicked. I rolled the name over and over again on my tongue. It tasted good – it tasted of air. a crushed velvet skirt lightly sweeping the ground. 33 . It simply looked like I was taking pictures of the general scene. of caramel coating on candy bars. a medieval ring of ﬂowers on her blonde hair. The day was beautiful. I snapped my long lens into place. She screwed up her face to bite. of the chocolate between the wafers. she would not know I was taking pictures of her. winter seemed to have been suddenly swept away. biting into a soft. a promise of more to come. She smiled at her friends. of wafers.
the mouth. As I walked out the school gates. We’re looking for a front page pic. yellow lights in the darkroom. ‘Oh. I approached her. Later I would blow the face up big. it’s Tyra. bold. A group of her pupils had gathered around. I had her then. ‘I’ll call you. I look like such a mess. She looked up. taking in the soft eyeliner around the eyes. bright.’ She nodded again. The 34 . maybe with some of the children?’ She started to shake her head. taking photos for the paper. as I concentrated on the eyes. She’d never know I had cut the others out.’ I said as I packed up my stuff to go. The photographs were beautiful. you look ﬁne. I watched her sitting on a chair in the sun. So I snapped the photo as they sat on the small lap. this posse of medieval make-believes. big smile on my face. Chloe smiling uncertainly at the lens. if you want. ‘I think I’ve got some really lovely pics. a group of men in kilts started up on the bagpipes. the throat swiftly swallowing the sweet stuff. I called out her name. you look great.’ I said. can’t you try someone else?’ I wouldn’t budge. the breasts. ‘No. the arms with the light fuzz. she couldn’t place the face. the sun beaming on the fair skin. Scotland reached me at the start of a hot Johannesburg summer. ‘Hi. remember me. so you can select a few. pleased to see me leave. ‘I’m just wandering around. Chloe’s features shone out luminously beneath the dull. I met you last year when you came with Tim to that party?’ She nodded nervously. Would you mind if I took one of you. joined by the other teachers.ARJA SALAFRANCA The camera clicked on.
I wanted to hold her in my grip for a change. To see her through my eyes. I didn’t tell Tim that I had seen Chloe at the fête. red wine. making notes. But I wanted her. I watched him through the haze of a heavy. These black and whites were just for me. I looked at him and thought about what he and Chloe had looked like as a couple. but her presence bristled in the atmosphere. ‘Don’t you want to know what she looks like now?’ I asked. he was satisﬁed. No one said anything.’ ‘What does she look like?’ he asked wearily. but was fatter and didn’t have the same reﬁned accent? When my fork slipped and clattered to the ﬂoor. saw the grinning. they turned to me. Her image swam around the table as I realised all his friends had known her. and I could feel hate and pressure burning in their eyes. and smiles. I’ll show you the pictures. I didn’t say a thing. He was happy. ‘How is she?’ ‘She’s ﬁne. I had lots of expressions. He was silent. Undressing to go to bed that night. You’ll see them in the paper anyway. heard the jokes.’ 35 . had known them together. Were they all comparing me to her.COLLAGE face expanded as I cranked up the enlarger and exposed her over and over again. He didn’t look at me. I told Tim I’d seen Chloe. I saw him that night and we went out for supper with a group of his friends. ‘Why did you take pictures of her? There must have been others you could have taken pictures of ?’ ‘There were. She’s beautiful. thinking this one may be taller. I had a front page pic – I also had a gallery of Chloe. joined in. had taken pictures of her. He reached out for my hand and held it. not through yours.
He was suddenly sober. It was harder with those I didn’t. She asked about buying some of the prints. Patience. I made love to Tim. and I was good at it. some black and white. Don’t worry about the cost. waiters rushing. I could befriend anybody I liked. I touched the soft spots on my body pretending it was 36 . Shall I meet you somewhere?’ It was as easy as that. refusing her offers. I turned over and went to sleep. and I simply stared at her. you’ve got something else. ‘For a friend. I was in control. but even then I managed. She shrugged. I phoned her the following week. and said how nice she looked. She didn’t even know Tim and I were involved. I come out looking awful. I spread the glossy photos in front of her. biting delicately like a kitten. bringing the ﬂesh to her mouth. staring at the blonde chest hairs and thinking of Chloe. She even managed a quiet thank you. rolling her name over my tongue. patience. her face swirling around in my head.’ ‘And you’re a wonderful subject. I told myself. It was a skill I had learned when I needed to. plates clattering. Events moved quickly after that.ARJA SALAFRANCA Tim groaned. ‘I hate having my picture taken.’ I said. and holding back. The restaurant hummed with noise. some colour. ‘You really are good. a tenor singing arias in the background. I watched her consuming the thin pink salmon. They’re wonderful. She’d seen the photo in the paper. But you. I met her at an Italian bistro. And after that it was easy to become friends with her. drinking her gentle body in.’ she complimented me. as I paid the bill for us both. I jumped in straight away. I’ll do it as a favour.
My job was a convenient scapegoat: whenever I needed to. the sweet. And all the time I lay back as he pumped me and I thought of 37 . ‘We really did love each other. we’d become involved because it had seemed like a good idea. or as he touched me.COLLAGE her doing the touching. Chloe spilled out the story between her and Tim: the recriminations. There was always a photograph to be taken somewhere. I kept that secret from him. When I’d listened hard enough. I sucked in the details greedily. the plans they had made to go overseas after their wedding. Those dull aches you read about in cheap romances existed. returned. and then brought them together again. the gestures felt hollow and lacking. went. the ﬁghts. Some kind of possessive need on his part. there was kindness. I invented the excuse of work and went off to see Chloe. Tim never suspected. He didn’t know I had become friends with his ex-girlfriend. The passion that fuelled their roaring arguments. as I did so many other things. came. There was tenderness in them. fond memories came through: and I heard of their holidays. I faked my pleasure. as a machine might. mechanically. but not love. storing them in my head as a sort of a collage. And slowly it happened. We’d been only vague friends before he and Chloe split up.’ she’d sigh. ‘but we couldn’t get past all the problems. the misunderstandings. It felt as if I was being torn to shreds by starving animals as I listened to these details. then we grew friendlier and pretended a type of concern. but it wasn’t love. pretending it was her I was stroking. the presents they had given each other. on my part. But as I lay in his arms.’ I thought of Tim.
Parties. and falling asleep again. she was smiling. so I drank more. waking up to stare at the ceiling in the middle of the night. I rolled away. classical music playing in the gardens. I refused to stay home. There were friends from Chloe’s work. There were good times. saw him spewing out these lies with a straight face. clawing at me. Her 38 . Tim had put his past to bed. you must go off and do what you like. the soft expressions. making me stop my desperate questioning. run my tongue over it forever. hand in my hair. I couldn’t breathe like this. delicate face. her full mouth moving silently in my thoughts. squeezing. but I knew it was no good. and I sipped whatever alcohol was around. Her sweet. She invited me out on a picnic one Sunday.ARJA SALAFRANCA Chloe. We went everywhere. that mouth. and yet he couldn’t give me what he’d given Chloe. tasting those cheeks. He refused to talk about Chloe. I was falling in love.’ But I knew love didn’t die that easily. ‘I love you now. ‘It’s over. Dinners. It happened every night. When I was with Tim he worried about it. and that helped me sleep. ‘I was so obsessive and possessive with Chloe. I wanted to eat the silky smooth skin. Concerts. so considerate. I watched Tim’s arms go around me. falling into sleep. Plays. Exhausted. but it wasn’t with this man trying to please me. and his muscles felt like hot pink air. When I looked surprised. He was so nice. white wine and the slippery feel of Chloe’s hand in mine. He said he wanted me to be free. Jealousy woke me. Nights out. ate more. I told Tim I was off to do a job and couldn’t spend the day with him. He was used to my going off suddenly.’ So I did.’ he’d say. I craved something. so to speak. The sun highlighted her hair. I squeezed back. Tyra.
juggling my life. the friends faded. the sense of his strength. running from him to Chloe. each exploration new to Chloe. she said she wasn’t sure of it herself. Increasingly I slept over at Chloe’s. The skin was smooth. I relaxed ﬁnally. The man’s muscular body and hairiness. and then taking Chloe’s smell back to him. ‘The way you looked at me. you can love both men and women. Sleeping with him. I just assumed. with all the stresses that entails. starting a new job. Won’t they ever smell each other? I wondered. For the ﬁrst time in months.COLLAGE eyes were large. we laughed together. I spoke about women in my life. No threats that way. The thing is. then slowly. playing with me. green. I wanted her to think I belonged entirely to her sex. Tim was getting restless. She didn’t think she was gay. her softness. The irony was not lost on me. I loved Chloe. easier too. hoping it would never stop. She was emotionally fragile after the break-up of a relationship that had been leading to marriage. I showed her how. When I asked her. ‘How did you know?’ I whispered. I’d just caught her at a bad time. her small body cupping mine. When we turned together in bed. that was all. the body hairless. taking his smell to Chloe. the way I looked back. from Chloe to him. But I knew. I curled into her.’ I kissed her hurriedly. we held hands. given her friendship when she 39 . keeping the two lives secret. and at the same time drink in a woman’s perfume. leaving out the men. watched her every move. making up phantom jobs. I ﬂoated away. her pliancy. The music tinkled into the background. We made love one night. I had caught her drifting. The skin like silk. And she didn’t question why she was doing this with me. You never spoke about men. The two loves exist together. but they never did.
but inside I was hard and icy. But one day it would all be over. and would one day leave. male barmen – I could feel her slipping away before I had had a chance to have her. Except with Chloe. and went out with her friends. as so often in the past. And the more he accepted it. and now she responded. the familiarity of them. And he accepted it. 40 . my dreams. I feigned empathy and concern when friends and colleagues told me a love affair had ended or a mother was dead. All the while I clung to Tim. I continued asking about Tim. I knew this as clearly as I knew my own name. The way she ﬂirted with the male waiters. I knew she didn’t love me. I watched her at nights. yet never allowing him to come closer. the people moving in and out of the shadows. We had made a social group of our own. the more I realised how hollow and empty this whole thing was. male cashiers. possess her. hearing the old stories out of comfort. scraping amongst the facts for a new morsel. I’d make her repeat the old stories. But. I watched this all through a glaze of unreality. It was a strange relief to hear them. thinking I was trying to heal her. all the time knowing she would one day go. hard fact which I could not forget or ignore. I wanted to know everything – I was building up a picture of Tim and Chloe’s love. no one touched me. I had given her love. making her talk till she cried and held me. hold her. with my hands. This was a cold.ARJA SALAFRANCA needed it most. I devoured her in my sleep. I didn’t bother to ask if she loved me. sometimes with mine. never letting on. I observed the events unfolding. a new insight. I was playing my role in making her whole. It had to be that way.
embellishing and then remembering correctly. Suddenly I too had her blonde hair and her slight. to give me scraps. I was good at these passionless romances. following each other all the way. My ﬁrst. together they healed. the eyes of her relatives admiring and holding me. Bloodless passions. I felt the barriers falling. and wanted to shrink away from all that was happening. she had liked that particular perfume. I remembered the story about the weekend they’d driven to the coast to meet her family and the waves in my head were louder than they’d ever been in real-life. a movie repeated on TV that he had seen with her. They didn’t realise how close they were. And yet nothing in me was ever satisﬁed. The collage of their lives together was almost complete. I was bouncing around from man to woman to man. I was falling in love with a woman.COLLAGE Tim had begun to talk. A restaurant would remind him of a meal with Chloe. brief sketches. and he too thought I was trying to heal him. It had begun with a bloodless kiss in a nightclub at ﬁfteen. slim ﬁgure as 41 . Chloe and Tim. At night I replayed the stories in my head. congratulations in their eyes. Doing it mattered more than anything else. I don’t remember his face or his name. Now. going. went on a few months. imagining. Encounters that landed in bed. one even lasted eight months. but I wanted to stay. Tim went away on a trip to the Okavango. I was so high on Sambuca and champagne. I let it all drip out of him. to be close to Chloe. the sand grainy under my feet. They healed. I was not good at sustaining them. at twenty-four. He had asked me to come along. drinking greedily. to watch her. and I was not interested.
he would be there if I felt too weak to be capable. My body grew larger as I drank and ate. as I knew they could be one day. she told me how happy she felt now. and held her tight. I had to do something. I thought of Chloe constantly. I was a survivor. forcing myself up. mocking. He would be there every time I groaned. Chloe was so perfect. I’d wake up in the middle of the night. the wide-open. stuck in that little world. Tim adored me. At night the darkness pressed down on me. watching her. They smiled at each other. Storms passed over me. The world. There was nothing to disturb the stasis. surrounded by other teachers. She’d achieved exactly what she wanted. leaving great open spaces in you that cannot be concealed or ﬁlled. When we slept with each other. they push through you. and Chloe touched me and wondered what was happening. out. they are physical. But as usual I covered up.ARJA SALAFRANCA we made love. She was whole. I smiled. And my heart literally ached with jealousy. I took photographs of her and Tim and superimposed the two. In the mornings I had to crawl out of bed. was such an effort. ambitions. her hair streaming around her pillow. the sea sighing outside our window. I couldn’t sit and watch the only thing I’d ever loved trickle away. feeling ruined. tall old buildings and admiring pupils. I was sick with jealousy. friends. vulnerable 42 . She walked there effortlessly. he’d do anything for me – give up dreams. Emotions have power. and felt her slipping away more quickly than I could ever hold her. the waist that nipped in so neatly. I’d wake up from these reveries sobbing. living. I put my ﬁnger down my throat and vomited. I still looked eighteen. nothing seemed to age me. and how I’d helped her. hopes. together again.
and she’d been drinking as I’d never seen her drink before. I hate to think what I’m going to feel like in the morning!’ I was bigger and heavier than her.. and then ate pudding from her fridge. Half the night went by as I stuffed my mouth.. and called out my new name.. We had been to a heavy party.. knowing now that she’d always be mine. It was not hard to hold the pillow over her face. But a new life could begin. There were red spots that lingered days after the ﬁts were over. The memories Chloe had of her and Tim belonged to me now. Collapsing into bed. while she slept. The solution was very simple. and drank what I could out of her liquor cabinet. so it was easy to smother her.COLLAGE face. I knew I could not let this go. One night. Chloe . she’d said: ‘God. getting fuller and fuller with the sweet. And I knew I couldn’t bear it if someone else possessed her. mushy mousse she had bought for me. Tyra. I sagged beside her on the bed. I thought of her going and burst the blood vessels in my eyes. could not live without it. ‘Chloe . I cried.’ 43 . I’ve never done this before. So she was gone. the whole world spinning is in on me. She was senseless. While she lay there.
this beauty. It’s so easy. Her long. She ﬁngers Dale’s own ﬁne blonde hair. Dale. ‘Look at this. talking to her friend. sloping eyes rimmed in fashionable black eyeliner. and catch another one. but soon she’ll lower her head. ‘look at this power.Sour milk. drop her eyes demurely. You could kill men with this. cold ash Jude has ringlets of dyed blonde hair and big. ‘You’ve got to hurt them. These are the looks she uses to catch men. lean body is sheathed in a peach skin-tight dress. 44 .’ Jude is telling Dale.’ she says. She’s not using them now.’ She draws hard on a cigarette.
She can feel those eyes on her. hoping to get in the mood for this place. dancing slower and slower as the pace hots up.’ she says. high on rum and coke. ‘We’ll get pissed. and she shouts their orders to the bartender. Jude wanders off. Jude dances slowly. It’s difﬁcult. She won’t miss her. ‘We’ll get so pissed we won’t know where we are. So they have ended up watching the evening dissolve in waiting. Sometimes they get a ride with other friends. A band is screeching out a rhythm to which some are trying to dance. rolling her eyes. Standing there alone. For now Jude and Dale are sitting watching the evening go by. the rum has made her head spin around.It’s Saturday night. but tonight that has proved impossible. She stands in the middle of the dance ﬂoor in the skin-tight dress that hugs her body and reaches her ankles. She wanders back to the counter where Dale is talking to a group of people who have just walked in. taking in the body beneath the dress. but they still haven’t got driver’s licences.’ It seems like a good plan. 45 . people Jude doesn’t know. ‘This place is so dull. Dale agrees. She orders another drink.’ Jude decides. Dale’s involved in her conversation. in a neighbourhood that has no night life to talk of. Dale watches. It’ll probably close down soon. Jude dances. drinking cider. only a few others are dancing. The dance ﬂoor is deserted. They are sitting in a nightclub peppered by a sparse selection of neighbourhood locals. Jude forgets their names after the introductions have been made. But The Wild Monkey is anything but wild. The trouble is. there is nowhere else to go. Both eighteen. she is spotlighted. Jude stops talking. curving her body around the cacophony of sounds. Men stare hungrily at Jude.
in garden sheds. She digs out comps for Club Ashtray. There’s a rattle ﬂoating in one of the toilets. twice. Her eyes are dead. her eyes stand out hollow and empty. in some guy’s bed high on speed. It’s one in the morning as they drive through slumbering suburbia. Jude doesn’t like them much. Club Ashtray is packed as usual. distanced by a drink someone put in her hand.ARJA SALAFRANCA She walks into the toilet. suddenly grateful to her. Let’s go. and in a room with Led 46 . Now and again she smiles to let everyone know she’s there. Jude gets onto the dance ﬂoor and ignores the group. She had told Dale once. They’ve got a ride. She’ll never use them all. so earnest. for knowing all these people. coated thickly in mascara. The music is loud. hard. A girl is swallowing some pills by the basins. John’s got his dad’s minibus. She notices Dale talking to her friends. She smears shadow around her them. ‘I’ve done it in alley ways. She looks at Dale. But she doesn’t care. in a bakkie. There’s nothing happening here. distanced by her want. It seems to reassure them. The band is packing up.’ Jude nods. pumping. Dale shouts in her ear that they’re going onto the outside balcony. there’s place for us. that’s what counts. each time she goes they give her more. picks at her lashes. smacks her lips in red. doesn’t even smile as she swallows again. She has piles of them. They’re playing all her favourite songs. so proper. The girl catches her eye. She wonders how it got there. Jude watches as her throat moves once. They all seem so stiff. ‘Listen. Jude follows. it’s good. three times with every pill. we’re all going to Club Ashtray. Dale’s been looking for her. The harsh ﬂuorescent glow makes her skin look alabaster.
She smiles back. But I just can’t help it. Dale’s friends are so normal.SOUR MILK. Jude goes back to the dance ﬂoor. Dale ﬂicks her hair back. wondering why they are friends. Stuff them up and ignore them.’ She didn’t worry about Aids. and asked when she had ﬁrst had sex. She didn’t think she’d ever get it. But Dale doesn’t dress like that. although she has tried now and again to include Jude in the conversation. The night air is cold. I don’t know. Her body aches as she scans the place. the bars are hard. till they wanted more and she wouldn’t give it. ‘Don’t you ever worry about getting pregnant? Or getting Aids?’ Dale had often asked when they ﬁrst met. listening to the music. it’s boring. shorts. somewhere inside of her. Suddenly. Dale seems so much happier with these other people around her. Others are silent. ‘No. Jude thinks. a dress. She had been with a 47 . Sometimes the guy’s got a condom. Conversations are starting and stopping around her. anything. a low top. Jude wants to get up and shout at her. feeling it melt through her. COLD ASH Zeppelin on the walls and Metallica playing in the background. She could stuff men up if she wanted. ask her why for once in her life she doesn’t wear something more sexy. She thinks she met him two weeks ago. I just never fall pregnant. But mostly not. speaking to one of the guys in the group. A guy taps her on the shoulder. drinking rum. ‘It was really quick.’ Dale had just looked at her. She’s almost disregarding her. And it was sore. She’s wearing her usual jeans. smiling. I know it’s stupid. leaning her head against the railing. That much she knew.’ She watches Dale now. She stands back for a while. or high on something.’ said Jude. ‘Fourteen. watching.
A slightly meaty smell. He keeps on probing with his tongue and hands. ‘Do you remember me?’ he asks. He’s sweating too. and vaguely remembers being introduced to him. She wishes he’d do something. Chest to chest. Jude asks where his friend is tonight.’ he hisses into her ear. But that’s never happened.’ she says. So she dances with him instead. ‘My ﬂat’s just around the corner. She shakes her head. Jude’s head is far. she feels his shirt soaked with sweat. His hand circles her buttocks. Dale is still somewhere around. she slips hers around his. She always manages to stay inside her body. He forces his tongue into her mouth. He slips his arm around her. That familiar rubbery sensation of tongue against tongue. then decides to take a chance as she can’t see her anywhere. she feels almost as though she could watch herself from above. she can feel him breathing. * * * 48 . He gets her a drink. bodies sandwiched onto the dance ﬂoor. She cannot remember his name. ﬁrm and strong. her dress is also wet. ‘Of course. ‘Come home with me. Eventually he leads her away from the grind of the dance ﬂoor. The club is hot.ARJA SALAFRANCA friend of his.’ he says. Sweat is pouring down the front of her dress and her face. The guy just shrugs. Jude looks for Dale. His breath is hot above her ears. asks her to dance. He must be somewhere else. but feels nothing through the solid denim. Soon they are colliding as they move together. Jude’s head stretches back as they kiss and dance. and might miss her. his chest against her. discovers his name is Jack. I promise. far away from her body. making her forehead prickle.
and the milk is off anyway.SOUR MILK. this is when they have her where they want her. He enters her. Back in the pulsating hot club. These comments mean nothing. she’s still cold. He lives around the corner. As usual it starts quickly. He licks at her. when he says what a perfect little body she has. Afterwards. Like a drug. if she wants. 49 . the sink is spilling over with dishes. It’s like they’ve all gone to the same school to learn this. The journey back is less exhilarating. It’s just a way of them trying to make her feel good. She doesn’t. says he’ll call soon. writes down her number. the milk stands soured on the counter. she ﬁnds he told her the truth. Jack is serious now. A speedy shooting off of clothes. They need not bother. It’s in darkness as they clatter through the silence up the staircase. Exactly what she needs. this is what she’s aimed for the entire evening. They go through a deserted alley. they lie on his mattress. Jack asks the bartender for paper. the Formica-topped table is surrounded by chairs. This time she’s cold. He goes to work on her. gently. He cups her breasts. then builds up quicker and quicker till she’s throbbing. that familiar warmth. the dirty yellow bulbs illuminate the mattress on the ﬂoor. When she shivers. to the front door of a derelict building. When he ﬂings open the door. and how beautiful she is. She marvels at the uniformity in their difference. He offers her coffee. those ﬁrst few moments exploring bodies. and the clinging sweat makes her even colder. COLD ASH Running through the cool night air. Jack just looks at her.
Well. it had been better than she expected. Jude knows that’s when a warm hard cock can ﬁll you up. the sheets are cold. The fear of waking up and feeling the hard sunshine crush into your face. I met him through a friend.. it shuts away that great yawning emptiness that is every day. somehow the darkness makes everything more intense.Perhaps he will. The need is urgent. He kisses well.’ ‘Are you going to see him again?’ ‘Maybe . She kisses Jack goodbye. the bed is empty.’ 50 . desperate. She wants more. if he calls. rushing in to ﬁll the cave of loneliness and hunger. of walking through a house where aged parents are sleeping. Dale hadn’t even missed her. impatient. but for now there’s this. They’re leaving now. she knows it. The quickness that ﬁlls her up.. more frightening. It was always more comfortable doing it on a bed. regardless. ‘Jack. The warmth disappears by morning but Jude carries on. Body and mind are hungry. It comes mostly at night. She nods numbly as Dale comes toward her. or think she’s special. she would like these men to tell her she has a beautiful body because they love her. ‘Who was that guy you were with?’ Dale asks.
the people we choose to know. It was so real. Whether we do it consciously or whether the reason is hidden somewhere back in our brains. preferring to stay out of whatever would disturb the stasis.Patterns 1 I dreamed about you again last night. it felt just like old times. You were warm and funny as you helped me with some problem I had. you did not like to help me with my problems. I wondered then about the patterns in our lives and what brings us to the decisions we make. 51 . back then. somewhere that’s not easy to ﬁnd. Except.
But what if we’d been able to make the great leap. only to part so soon after. I wondered how it was that we came together. got on with the business of trying to ﬁnd the happiness we both knew was out there. by Richard Bach. You’re almost forgotten now. had to be out there? When we were busy breaking up I thought about time. 52 . Sitting in training the lecturer’s words were lost. And I wondered if we’d met in another time in our lives whether that would have made the difference. If it is a man. Occasionally I wonder about you. In the book he was exploring other possibilities of living. how we can simply leap into another pattern. Your body was so strong and I held it often in my mind as people came to talk to me or tell me something. it is another man or woman wanting something. It lasted only a day because I soon shut out of my mind what it had been like to have you as a lover. and when we’ve both had time enough to step back from the great wound that was us. your neutral sweet breath. the hairy feel of your naked chest. no matter how brieﬂy.ARJA SALAFRANCA I dreamed about you. the borders of our personalities. One. I can’t ignore you entirely. or what if we’d met sooner – before you were so hurt? Would the patterns of life have eddied around us. and I provide it. swallowing us into the inevitability of the situation anyway? It’s so easy to speculate now when this no longer matters. What if we had been different people. but there are bonds between us still. I remembered you between my legs. But it is never you. cross the divide of who we were? Could we have forced the barriers. I was reading the book. it is not you. your hands and arms draped over my body. and all of the next day I remembered what it was like to have sex again. Sometimes when I’m at work and the phone rings I get that old rush of enthusiasm and I wonder if it could be you. But such are the patterns in our lives.
and I speculate over it. and did not want to go on without you. I can’t believe in it. It was only later that I discovered I missed you. as students invariably don’t. And I had to say no. that we all have something in us. You were intrigued with the concept. warts. It still does. I could. when we might have met at a lunch you attended. strong. I was planning to go too.’ I spoke to you about the concept of a ‘higher self ’. I did not have the money. but that it 53 . Was that our downfall? The trouble was that I met you as you were coming out of your ﬁrst real relationship with a woman called Bianca. I had to be. That was before you met her. You were confused and that ﬂummoxed me. ‘Do you believe in fate?’ you asked me that ﬁrst night we went out. but I was studying. hooked nose. a hood. The irony is at that same lunch you met the friends I would get to know later on. I had hurt you. and you had gone off to the coast with a female colleague of yours. Just before Christmas. higher than us. There was a time years ago. good and bad. It was a difﬁcult time then. And they would introduce us. or you had hurt me. One decision affects our entire lives. But I did not understand that. so determined to be cheerful. We were both good at retaliating. I discovered that. Of attracting to yourself what you need. I had to convince myself I could go on without you. and so our coming together waited a few years. ‘For me fate is a witch clothed in black. I had never been so optimistic. But by then it was too late. I didn’t know if we were ending or simply starting something else – perhaps a friendship out of the tangle of what we had become. She had hurt you hard. I said. you said you’d have to think about it.PATTERNS how the forks in the road are so arbitrary.
noticing the patterns of our lives that came together. but I had never had a man or wanted one as much as I would grow to want you. surrendering my old-fashioned virginity. it means ‘fame’ and ‘bright’. But you were different. that ﬁrst night when you left near three in the morning. 2 Your name was Robert. Things now seem more predetermined and destined as I sit here. I had been kissed in the moonlight and told that I had beautiful breasts. You were an artist. Neither did I. A night lying next to each other in bed when you were drunk after a braai didn’t count. It was a name that suited you. And you were indefatigably enthusiastic. merging for a while. I introduced you to something that I would question over a year later. From the old German Hrodebert. you were going to be famous. Things moved after that ﬁrst night we attended a wedding.ARJA SALAFRANCA made sense. Friends of ours had long since left for home by the time we emerged from our talking. And I had never felt that same desire for that another man. I knew it then. We hadn’t deﬁned it. as a friend of mine once described you. You’d wanted me to lie with you the whole night. the one who had almost succeeded in taking me to bed. I had never had a man before. We had been going out a few months. You didn’t like the idea of not being in control of your life. 54 . I looked it up in my book of names. reﬂecting. which is what believing in fate presupposes.
so tired from trying to get above it all. I looked to you for security. And perhaps because I was so tired. asking for it. I had never been like that before. from earning a living. always sleeping. But I got so tired when I was with you. and I was falling deep. and did not say a word about us when they came up against everything that was about to happen. Remember that mutual friend. and I became convinced of the truth of it. 55 . But her words seemed to conﬁrm all that I had been feeling about you. Oh yes. But we were talking in abstracts. When everything in me was aching. expected more. Mostly everything promising had died by then. got more frustrated when you still didn’t touch me. and I looked in the mirror and thought I must be ugly. Lesley. But we were going nowhere. you and I argued about women changing their names after marriage. trying to get beyond the past. I had forgotten all I’d told you about fate. One day a fortune teller told me you would be the man I would marry. who was responsible for us knowing each other? It was Lesley who read the cards. snatching it wherever I could. I thought I shouldn’t. Not then. But I was not well either. There was nothing to stop me. Maybe from then I changed. Why were the stresses of being with you so overwhelming? It’s no use going into the feminist I had blossomed into at sixteen and seventeen. while you said if a woman loved a man she’d do it for him.PATTERNS But I couldn’t. being a success. who knows why I thought you might be able to provide it. I railed against it. Perhaps because I believed as intrinsically and idealistically in love as you did. and I pretended you’d tried. and still I went along with it. Even the doom and gloom message from the Tarot cards did not do it. ‘He hasn’t even kissed you!’ a guy I worked with exclaimed. or trying to.
you asked. I’d refused. and I said you were wrong. 56 .ARJA SALAFRANCA I was no longer the feminist I’d wanted to be as a teenager. We talked long into the night.’ But you didn’t know either. You’d wanted to do it then. that I ended it when I could no longer stand it. techniques. 3 We made love on my grandmother’s birthday. ‘I don’t know what’s happening between us. of course. but I had been also been working for a while by then. We had lain together then.’ I told you. And I was no feminist when it came to you. I was twenty-three. We had gone down to your aunt’s place in a little town in the Free State. but you were the one who led it all. shared a tent. I did not believe it was worth ﬁghting against now. But I’m getting ahead of myself. getting to know each other’s bodies. ‘I don’t want to do it till I know. You’d slept over once on a pretence of not wanting to be around while your parents’ chain-smoking visitors from America were in the house. All you knew was that you didn’t want to get hurt again. We had gone camping after that. There’s another irony. expressions of ‘sweetie’ or ‘lovey’ as strange men were introduced to me and thought it their due. And I had grown used to arms around me. We wanted privacy to build up to what we both knew was inevitable. I was too scared of it ending if it didn’t. You were so hesitant and uncertain about starting up another relationship. It had been six months since we’d started going out. We wanted to be alone. But I was already starting to compare yours to other techniques I’d known. Couldn’t I understand that. You called me a strong woman.
alone with my deed. I felt alone that night. and you’d been afraid to go in too far. You were gentle that night. I lay back on the mattress. But the next morning when I looked for the tell-tale signs of blood. When I thought I spotted a drop of brown on some clothing. By daylight you did not touch me at all. you tried it. I was conned into thinking this all mattered to you. refusing to stroke me in the way others had. Then I met Bianca. but it didn’t work. I hadn’t bled. that there was no sign to indicate what I’d done. 57 . cold. I had hurt as you pushed in. ‘And until I was twenty-ﬁve. my feelings. I took this to mean you were not attracted to me.’ I listened to you and sighed. and we made love.’ I murmured encouragement. I thought. that you still looked at other women. but that night even more so. but I did not say much. Despite that. there were none. already getting ready for the day. You were already gone. and I thought that was it.PATTERNS How could you throw me away like that. You continued. you were always gentle. to hurt me more. nothing. It has ﬁnally eased. I told you. You know.’ you told me that weekend in the Free State. I’ve got to be sure. ‘Ever since I was twelve I have wanted a girlfriend. It saddened me the next morning. We made love a few times after that. And you were less cautious because now you knew how far you could go. I don’t think I could ever love as intensely again. When I asked why you didn’t kiss me. I don’t think I could give of myself like that ever again. I was thinking the other day that it no longer hurts? For months and months there was a pain whenever I thought of her. a week later I went away with you to that sleepy dorp. It did to me. And later that night we made love again. ‘But it’s got to be right. But already you were cold. You told me you did not love me. But you were non-committal.
that made me certain I should carry on. sex. as I would tell you a couple of months later. The sex wasn’t great. You walked out. I didn’t know why you could not love. But by then I was obsessed. the physical. And I believed him as I stood in the cold night. listening to you. never making love. ‘I’m very fond of you. But I believed Eric.’ I couldn’t answer your queries. in fact it was awful. I had been fond of you too. Never touching. And I resolved that we were never going to sleep together again. I could only swirl around in my own complicated emotions and hopes and watch it all drain away. And we never did. and I always reply no. but there was something about being next to you. talking to you. ‘But maybe that’s all it was – lust. or you thought I just ‘lay there’. These things could be worked through. even if you did not bring me to orgasm. The one who held me that Saturday night as I cried in his arms. saw us together and said you hoped we were going to tell you what was going on. I wanted you as I’d never wanted another human being. with you. And there was your friend Eric. Friends ask if I was in love with you by then.’ you commented. but it wasn’t the way I’d planned. him telling me you had never been attracted to me.’ you told me that night when I was crying because you were so brutal with your honesty. But we carried on limping along. But there Bianca reared her head again. I already thought you did not like me enough. trafﬁc shooting past us on the main road outside the bar where all three of us had come to hear music. You remembered her all the time. ‘That was one thing that was right between Bianca and me. When we were forced to spend 58 . It was over from that moment. but that much I had now ﬁgured out.ARJA SALAFRANCA despite you being there. I didn’t know myself.
Arguments and passion and love-making and holidays together. wearing black cardigans with hoods that intensiﬁed the aesthetic appearance. for instance. We made the swap. ‘My parents took ten years to get it together. Do you think we could have made a go of it? Did you need to meet her and get hurt before you came to me and spurned what I had to offer? Perhaps we might not even have spoken if we had seen each other at that lunch? Or maybe we would have and been put off forever. the lack of any real commitment. You looked like a monk the last few times I saw you. 5 What if we had met earlier? Before Bianca. I had asked that you bring along all the books I had lent you. ‘spark’ you called it. and no longer eating meat. You chose it. We didn’t need to close the bedroom door that night.PATTERNS a night in the same bed. and I said I could not go on like this. the distance between us was wide. ‘What’s the rush?’ you asked. 4 In the end I was the one to ﬁnish it all properly and formally. You needed those ﬁfteen months of great sex. and you had then asked if I would bring along your CDs. Now Lesley tells me you’re into Buddhism. one early evening. Whatever. 59 . You needed Bianca. We met in another bar. I was going crazy with the indecision.’ I didn’t feel like I had ten years to wait. with your hair almost shaven. I was rushing off to the theatre after that. I had to know what was happening. maybe that higher self I convinced you about decreed it. ordered drinks.
another friend of mine commented. You couldn’t fall in love because all you saw in front of you was Bianca. But we both jumped in at the wrong time.ARJA SALAFRANCA But that’s all I now know of you. like the time you were into astral travelling or taking helicopter lessons. They were also the ones who suggested I break up with you. and mine another. I was going crazy with the indecision. like all the phrases before it. You wouldn’t let me. You thought I was desperate. My friends seem to be my advisors. That was the problem. 60 . for a start. You’d lost faith in love. I think of you. perhaps not. Perhaps I glimpsed something that could have been wonderful. That you’re into a Buddhist phase. I can’t help it. Perhaps I was. And me? I couldn’t love you either. temporarily. Your patterns were swirling one way. But we were not in love. and I stepped into that void. you were tearing me apart.
She ate herself to death. wearing only a sheet and covered in bed bugs. oozing a clear liquid. They measured her thighs as 137cm around and she weighed over 300 kilos. Her name was Corinna. some kind of suppurating red mess I suppose. were hamburger wrappers and take-away boxes. Around her. faeces and bedsores. There’s even a picture of her. so the magazine article says. her brother said she hadn’t even stood up in months. They found her lying on the ﬂoor in front of the TV. black bouncy hair around the fat face. looking uncomfortable.At the table of the short story Corinna A thirteen-year-old died last week. The report says her mother had stopped 61 . Such are the facts. and she had not left the ﬂat for months. I don’t even know what a bedsore looks like.
The coroner said she’d died of a heart attack due to morbid obesity. probably knowing what it would do to her. It’s a nightmare. but that she’d just keep getting fatter. Not that her daughter would die. even the school authorities when she didn’t turn up at school. You have to wonder about the mother who saw her daughter getting larger and larger. she had a few friends. Maybe Corinna had an aberrant gene that made her stuff her face and made her metabolism slow? But I can’t help thinking the mother could’ve done something. slowly eating and eating and shitting all over herself. her daughter has that same face. the smell? Who knows why she let her keep eating. herself appears hugely overweight in the pictures taken of her being arrested. her eyes blank and slightly malevolent. or I can try to. get rid of the shit. The mother looks dull in the photos. They had their pictures in the magazine complete with quotes.ARJA SALAFRANCA taking her to a nutritionist at seven. The kids made fun of her in school. in a ﬂat with only a TV for company while her mother went out to work. the more I think about it. Why didn’t her mother clean her up. Her mother just let her daughter eat herself to death. eating the fatty take-away food her mother brought her. reading magazines. Marlie. the more horriﬁed and sad I get for thirteen-year-old Corinna trapped in a body too large. or anything. or the brother. They say she stopped going to school about six months before she died. and from then on just let her daughter eat and eat and eat. at least wipe a rag over her. But no one did anything. and her brother visited occasionally. Or maybe that’s just what she looks like to me because I can imagine. her daughter lying there on the ﬂoor. 62 . watching TV. yet kept feeding her those fatty meals. Her mother. They’re charging her with some sort of crime. and that’s when she made the lounge into her bedroom. but despite her bulk.
and they discover how to dress and suddenly boys are desirable. I am fat. Then she laughs. of course. If her boyfriend comes over I never see her. there’s chips and chocolate and bread and meat. a whole pot of it. And soon your mother doesn’t say anything. Now of course I can’t... Corrie!’ Mom laughs. and I can just eat anything I like after that. I just put butter and salt on it. Some days I can make it to the kitchen. he works in a garage as a trainee mechanic – he says I am obese and I have a disease and Mom should take me to someone. She leaves milk and Coke on the coffee table and food near me. and it is hard to go to school and be faced with this daily. and. all she does is buy food to stock up the cupboards and bring home take-aways . She used to like to rub my tummy. When I was eight or nine I could still suck in my tummy and it would look sort of ﬂat.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY And what does it feel like to be thirteen and obese and ugly? This is the time when your school friends sprout breasts. but it was tight and it hurt and she left it. She’s long since stopped caring. and so one day you don’t go to school. all buttery and salty. they go into her room and fuck. Mom took away my clothes the other day. She says I’m fat and I’ll never have a boyfriend and I will be a virgin all my life and will never know what it is to have sex. If there’s no sauce. Mom says. I get up after Mom’s left for work. I hear them. get periods and buy make-up bags. Sometimes she’s nasty to me. there’s all that teasing. and when I do I boil spaghetti. I love spaghetti. ‘If you make it to the kitchen. but Danny – he’s my brother. then one day she bought a corset and tried to put it on me. And the next and the next and the next. they 63 . I hear the bed bouncing and I hear Mom screaming and her boyfriend grunts and I turn the TV louder and I look down at my own body under the sheet. but Mom disagrees. and there you are fat and thirteen and you have to wear old people’s clothes because nothing ﬁts in your age group. and I love the look of it. and I love the way it makes me feel. I love that slimy stuff sliding down my throat.
I will have a ﬂat tummy and my breasts won’t sag with all the weight. she does clean up sometimes. I can’t stop eating. put a clean sheet over me. and since then he’s left me alone. wiped my bottom. around seven or so. I hate him. she often brings take-aways. Mom comes home late. maybe I’d be thinner. I didn’t. so the day goes on. and once he joked that if I couldn’t ﬁnd a man he’d break my virginity for me. Mouth gritted. he’s old and fat and smelly. One day when I’m grown up and have a job I can get all those slimming pills and maybe have liposuction. when I get older I’m going to buy some of those diet pills and things on TV. But I don’t know if she cares. and I think I do. But she didn’t like it. she even gave me a bath on the lounge ﬂoor once. she said. I’ll go back to school next year. Sometimes I feel guilty. All I know is. I read about it in Heat the other day. I can’t buy the food that will make me thin or get dieting pills – Mom doesn’t believe in them. and I wasn’t going out to school anymore so I didn’t need them. Mom’s away at work and Danny’s at his job and I can’t read or watch TV without eating. I felt sick and I pushed my food away (this was when I was still going to school). When I’m older I’ll get a job. Anyway. I’ve promised her that. a thin line. Danny says I have my merits and my good side. It’s fun. I will lose my virginity. I think Mom is ashamed of everything. hair held back by butterﬂy clips. it’s easier to wear a sheet tucked around you. It’s getting dark by then. I don’t know why. a cigarette smouldering in an ashtray. Now he comes less. One day I will be thin. 64 . Mom and he thought it was funny. She turned me over. when I’m sad it helps to go into the kitchen and eat. And I will have sex. she loves to cook and show off to him. I’ll get those diet pills. because this is all just in the meantime.ARJA SALAFRANCA got too small. Anyway. He has a crinkled turtleneck. I know that if I didn’t eat. The kids at school used to say that if I ate less I’d be thinner. I’ll be thin one day. I feel okay after that. I try not to think I’m ugly. except I eat too much. If her boyfriend’s coming over she often cooks. But I can’t not eat. it ﬁlls me up. so yes.
I have a smart statistics calculator which I use to simply add. to weigh slices of toast. I like my life cut up strictly. and then to step on it last week. in its own way. but food I count in good old-fashioned calories. to buy lean hamburgers and convert the kilojoules into calories. lean burgers.5 kilos. amounts in grams. That’s all I do. cottage cheese. I stopped drinking iced tea and fruit juice because I can’t afford the calories. to level off tablespoons of skim milk cottage cheese. to step on the scale two weeks ago at 49. It is also fun to look in the mirror and see a trimmer body. to see 48.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY Alice F E B R UA RY I count calories. It gives some kind of order to the day. chutney. my height of 1. and so a slight weight gain is natural. We use kilojoules in this country but I grew up counting the energy in food as calories. The strict control is also fun. and it’s a habit I can’t break. I buy low-cal margarine (butter has too many calories. liquid in litres. it’s fun to count the calories. salad dressing and crackers. a leaner face.56cms. I feel. neatly into ordered little squares and allotments. I have been doing it for months now. my weight of 48 kilos. to my life. I count everything else in the metric system. perhaps. it’s success. then 48. I like knowing how much I’ve eaten. to measure out food. how much more I’m allowed. tomato sauce. but that didn’t bug me. It’s control. I count calories. my new superelectronic scale. I was back at 49 today. multiply and divide. subtract. From the time I get up in the morning. although it’s more tasty). I’d just got my period.8 kilos. to the time I drink my last cup of decaf at night. mozzarella cheese. 65 .9 kilos.
thinking the weight will come rushing back. I step on the scale. or me looking despairingly into the mirror? Who is madder? 66 . So I haul out the clothes I wore when I was 58 kilos. Yes. Size 36. I can ﬁt a couple of hands in them. stomach still curved. My stomach was not quite ﬂat. I have a stomach. why can’t I lose more weight? Why is my body stubbornly clinging on to this fat despite my careful counting and measuring? It is not fun if I don’t lose weight – it’s frustrating. view from the back. For now my head is ﬁlled with numbers. How far can I go? How far till I’m thin? There I am at the magic below 50 kilo mark. 45 kilos. to wear a size 34 jeans. counting. but I am still not thin as my electronic numbers wink red at me. having maintained it for a year. but who knows. the weight I was at fourteen when I dieted down and liked what I saw in the mirror. And now I want to go further. I want to get to 45 kilos. side view. measuring. dividing. but beyond the magic 45 kilos seems a bit dangerous. and yet I’m too afraid to gorge. I’ve been at 48 kilos for over a month. my stomach is smaller. But perhaps it will come. I have lost weight. How can I possibly hover around the 48 kilo mark and still feel so chunky.ARJA SALAFRANCA It is fun. cutting. thighs still rounded. The skirts and jeans are loose. compromising. Who is mad? The scale ﬂashing up these ﬁgures that should signal somebody thin. 46. my hips are smaller. subtracting. MARCH My thighs are thick. I step off in disbelief. Yes. levelling off. It is fun to lose weight. be so chunky? I am not thin – other people are skinny at 47. but it is also a game. even if I don’t feel thinner – my hips still feel big. even as I begin to doubt it as I stare at my stubbornly rounded body in the mirror: front view.
biscuits. desired. the stretched skin. desperate. Instead we live in a century where we can work and earn our own money and buy homes to live in on our own. loved. fear. the cake that revolves. And still we must have it. chips. hungry. preparing it. the battle goes on. our lives ﬁxated on food. life narrows to a tiny focus. have conversations about modern literature or crime or where the country’s going. where a cappuccino can be simply decaf or decaf with low-fat milk or rich and frothy with a generous sprinkling of chocolate ﬂakes. Or what happens when there’s chocolate in the house. the intimate stuff of what we do when there’s lemon meringue revolving on a cake stand in a restaurant and we must have it. revealed here. cheese. 67 . butter-ﬂavoured popcorn. Laid bare. clutching at me. counting the energy in a chocolate bar. I feel these women crowding in around. starving. If I was older I’d say I was having a heart attack. slabs of pinkly thin ham. avoiding it. These things happen at the edges. and my own. It’s like a breathlessness as I write these women’s lives. The food haunts us. the need is overwhelming. a sharp point. My chest feels clutched by somebody or something. endless. weight histories and battles. a tub of frozen yoghurt. Such are our choices – an abundance of choice that we spurn as we go through a range of sweeteners and low-fat yoghurts till we ﬁnd the one that isn’t too awful. socialise. Over coffee we lament that we don’t live in another century where our natural round womanly curves would be accepted. We must have that cake although something terrible will happen: the spreading thighs. and can order sparkling or still mineral water. plays games with us as we sleep. soda water or ﬂavoured water. fearful. from its position on the cake stand. taunts. getting it. in ﬂavours such as grapefruit and orange and berry. the dimpled buttocks. the list is intense.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY APRIL Desperation. go out.
I buy butter. although thin and slightly built. or folds to grab onto in the middle of the night. and I suddenly cut my hair and looked sophisticated. as we were going away over the holidays. or that perhaps I should think of exercising to get rid of my thighs that stick thickly out. that’s all. It was a simple marriage. no one can tease me nor touch my weakness. before marrying. Greg. Mel It started soon after I married. I am alone as I write. as though this had all hardly made a ripple on him. I was dieting. dark pink. but me. I want to be thin so that I’ll be perfect. not much. 68 . our shared bed and furniture and the lamps we selected together.ARJA SALAFRANCA I nibble on ice-cold papaw. he eats a lot. so that no one can touch me and tell me I’m imperfect. is a tall man. he ate more than me. Our parents suddenly looked old and their hair thinned and they started asking about grandchildren. because it’s not for anyone else. hunks of roasted potatoes. When I was nearly thirty our friends started having babies. juicy chunks. to tell me I look good. no bends or kinks. light in calories. I cook slabs of steak. At ﬁrst we both worked. Greg. one day my surname was different. or so everyone kept telling me. I went to work. and our lives did not change much after the wedding. But that doesn’t seem to matter. we cooked large portions and I’d watch him wolf it all down. his body slight and slim and straight as a tree. or that I should still lose weight. there is no man to look at my body. oily pumpkin fritters. Greg looked the same. trying to lose weight. because there won’t be any weakness. Like any tall man. just a few kilos. like most men in fact. we had lived together brieﬂy. and would come home and cook supper together. my husband.
And one day 69 . ‘Stretch marks are a real turn-off. so seen.’ they’ll say. he did not see me standing there. started staring at young women as they sashayed past in restaurants and shopping malls with bare belly buttons exposed. they say as much in bed. they were drinking – that tends to make everyone languorous.’ he said. The argument goes that it’s not so much what you look like as who you are.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY kind. sweet. sagging breasts. partners. I’d stare at myself for hours in the mirror. and yes they do love them.’ added another man. and thighs rich and gleaming.’ His sentence was drowned out by somebody’s toddler hitting his knee on the brick paving. ‘but sometimes you just wish they .’ said one guy.. you love them. he saw me looking. ‘I like something to grab onto. yet so visible. screaming out. It was a hot day. despite what they look like? I’ve seen them walking around with fat women or sagging women. there were faint lines stretching across my forehead. The men sat around the braai. But give them a braai. sensitive Greg. that you provide companionship and love. How many men love their wives. his hair beginning to recede as he climbed the corporate ladder to success. I saw him look.’ And they do. the man I fell in love with. a hot day. It was all so silent. watching the ﬁre burn down to a slow heat. adults rushing to attention. a hot spring day in Johannesburg. and the company of men while women make the salads in the cool. express as much when they put their arms around their middles. there were crow’s feet at the corners of my eyes. ‘You know. and they will talk like this. my stomach stuck out a little. girlfriends. calm kitchen. My husband shook his head.. I had cellulite. I remember a braai once. ‘Thin women aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. chugging on beers. a swimming pool sparkling invitingly. tongues become loose. towards the beginning of summer. so hidden. beers. ‘Nah.
and my husband will continue to love me. you can eat as many slices as you like. loving you. You are going to have a baby soon: the world belongs to you. In fact he ﬁnds my huge stomach sexy. and I feel desire and feeling in my vagina. You can have lemon meringue pie every day. I gain weight. I will hide it. you don’t have to worry about getting fat and you can say coyly. a relief. The heavier I get the more creative we become in trying to have sex. Mostly I simply feel my vagina nestling down there where I can no longer see it. It is a release. Instead it will grow. He phones from work. You can push food in your mouth at supper and sit slackly on the couch. I ache to hear it. and then a child is hurt and I cannot ever ask him what it was he wanted to say one day when I was eavesdropping. I stop work in my seventh month. I am horny all the time.ARJA SALAFRANCA I will come out of that kitchen to ﬁnd my husband about to voice a thought. I feel like I am on another time zone. I will tuck it back into the corners of my mind. that and a belly that is round and high and hard. another planet. We have sex before supper. that you’re eating for two. in an old-fashioned tone of voice. I will become pregnant just before we go on holiday and will never lose that slight bulge that I wanted to. I cannot ask. and in the morning. I eat. his hand deep down in you. I am happy to stay at home and eat. I am heavy. but it is nothing compared to his horniness. that is all I am when I am pregnant. your belly big. loving your bigness and everything you represent. We make love all the time when I am pregnant. * * * 70 . not once a week. your legs spread wide open as your husband ﬁnds your mouth. lazy. This is a world where forbidden pleasures are ﬁnally allowed: you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant because you already are.
Occasionally I’d have to open up my jeans after supper. I still had a middle that I could not get rid of. looked less skinny and tubercular. I knew that. It was not a good time. and now my waist was thicker after the children. After my second child was born Greg seemed to recover. doing things that Greg couldn’t do for me because he was sick. it wasn’t Greg’s. It was a weak. My ﬁrst-born was a toddler then. if more occasional now that we had the kids and we were older and both more tired than 71 .AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY Greg was sick in my second pregnancy. but that wasn’t often. say I’d get fat if I wasn’t careful. I bought cookery books and watched Greg eat. he would joke. went and then returned. I nursed him the times he had to stay at home. I had stopped working then. I had someone to help me with the children. corny joke. Greg was amused. I had all the time in the world to try out new recipes. he knew that. it wasn’t my decision. He was tired. And I believed him when he made love to me and called me beautiful. running around all day. but Greg said he loved me. teased each other with it. fetching and playing with my child. We wanted to complete our family. Greg did not want to make love often. we had time. I was all over the show. I was not out of control. and there was no time to sit around and get fat. I simply stopped. but we repeated it for years. some unnamed vague illness that came and went as ﬂu and aches and coughs. He lost weight. money and leisure. Greg earned a fat salary. because I had eaten too much. We weren’t sorry. I’d say he was just jealous because he’d never be able to get fat. The doctor said he needed to put on weight. (That seemed to happen sometime between my pregnancies. looked skinny for a while there. Sex was still good. Greg recovered his appetite. the magazine I worked for was sorry to lose me.) Soon I was pregnant again. Sometimes I even ate more than I used to. He ﬁlled out. ﬁlling up at supper when I cooked exotic dishes for Greg.
72 . then reaching for the dessert I normally denied myself. My friends were all my age. felt like I was still keeping my hand in. pretty. Our lives continued. after we came back from our holiday I went into a bakery and just ordered whatever looked good: a strawberry-covered cheesecake. I had a network of friends. He asked me to forgive him. The need for sweetness was acute. I ate and ate and ate. Greg was close to forty. I could not get enough. a woman who had just started work at his ﬁrm. slim and unencumbered. I said I loved him. Then. Our old joke died. Then I bought another. so to speak. Greg had an affair. I was happy. eating the big meals I cooked for him.ARJA SALAFRANCA before. and time. I was fairly slim. He said he loved me. except that I bought another box of fudge chocolates and ate it within a few days. pretzels covered in nuts and icing. I was round. we entertained often. I started to eat then. I didn’t try and hide this from Greg. as he had once said. I was raising my children. That’s how it happened. I did. He had an affair and I bought a box of fudge chocolates. I had a husband who loved me. I wrote the occasional freelance article. We went overseas once a year. Greg was rising fast in business. then I was plump. They had started seeing each other a few months before I found out. sweet petits fours. so much time. We took a holiday without the kids. I suppose that’s what you say. the two kind of happened in the same week. I was thirty-seven then. We saw a counsellor brieﬂy. And he did. It was not a long affair. and polished that off. I was getting fat. I did not miss working. He promised to give her up. He saw me and could not say anything after his affair. night after night. Perhaps it was a mid-life thing for him. Sylvia. She was young. and he was still wanting me to forgive him. I was the typical charming wife. Nothing changed really. golden koeksusters. He saw me.
And I do. from one year to the next. free of the need to control myself. deny myself. thighs big. Free of the need to please Greg. And as I grew big I felt free. spinach. He does not expect me to go back to working now that I no longer have very young children. he says. but sometimes he asks me what I weigh now and I tell him. me ﬂeshy. still. Sometimes we talk about what I have become physically. my body. Everything was fair game.’ I say sternly. my control. I am bigger than him. it is no longer taboo. he never says I shouldn’t eat this or that. 73 . He never calls me fat. stomach soft and round. He purses up his mouth a little. I have a husband who loves me and a beautiful home and children. and me there to love him.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY it happened quickly. How could he? His friends would laugh. But you love me as I am. I’ve done it now. and there’s no difference really. don’t you?’ And of course he replies yes. free of my sex. slim husband and he will sit with a beer in his hand at a braai. ‘it’s far too heavy. would think of me in the kitchen in my loose trousers and over-sized T-shirts. don’t you think that’s a little heavy for your height?’ ‘Yes. big. and we make love. there is meat. watching the man who is my husband watching me. Sex. I still love that man who is my husband. Everything exploded. the man I had loved and my security within that. slack. ‘Mel. fat women. He doesn’t expect much either. as though I am pregnant. and he will not say anything about sagging breasts or stretch marks or big. Now he would not sound convincing. I will eat till I feel I can’t breathe and will sit there. Fat and forty. that’s all. I am off to eat till I burst: there are big fat sweet potatoes bubbling in pineapple juices. ice-cream. chocolate sauce. I am a fat woman now. spreading in the bed. food. Soon I will weigh more than my tall.
but can never feel loved. warm bodies. even though she is not yet losing the weight she wants to. I remember her when her arms were skinny and she always skipped supper. When her mother died Meg started eating. the enjoyment she takes from really eating now. when she ate and grew big. The battle lines are clearly marked in this modern world. She visits me. 74 . putting on weight. this slender woman. She talks of her time overseas.’ she says. after years of denying herself. her bingeing. or too little. it does happen. she says. She is trying to work out what food means to her. She goes to a weekly support group. And others who are loved. I cannot imagine this. eating healthily. Yes. others who are loved and fat and sexy and happy. is trying to control food. pies. ﬁlling up on thick stuff like potatoes. She is happy now. I watch her. discussing breakfast with me when I mention what tomorrow’s menu will bring. ﬁnding that chocolate sometimes replaces men’s arms. despite all evidence to the contrary and so continue eating. She says she is working on her emotions. My friend. ‘Look at my stomach. or who cannot get love and gorge on food. turns sideways in the mirror when I complain about my weight. who fear being fat. who fear being sick or anorexic. enjoying fair-sized meals.ARJA SALAFRANCA Voices My friend with the curly blonde hair – her name is Anne – has thick arms and wants to be thinner. freed from having to be thin for a mother who criticised. trying to control her eating. living in London. instead of letting it control her. she is winning. happy as she points out her new rounded curves. Then there are others. who dieted and was only thin because her mother compared herself to Meg. the reckless abandon. who eat too much. saying she could ﬁt into a size 34 when she’d been her age. it is endless. Meg. The list goes on. kissing her cat.
And yes. my stomach’s nearly ﬂat. and I have these wide child-bearing hips. What happens 75 . feminine. that he wants to be loved for who and what he is. because one leg was growing longer than the other one.’ ‘I’m so afraid a man won’t love me unconditionally. although it is a superﬁcial affair. They stick out. ‘I hate my thick thighs. he has lamented his hollowed-in chest and stick arms while saying. It all depends on the type of skin you have. Now look. skinny..’ ‘Do you think my shoulders are too big? Why do I want small narrow shoulders? Because they’re delicate. underweight. I always thought if I got thin enough I’d have small hips. he has joined a gym. no matter how much I diet or exercise I can’t get rid of them. in the same breath.AT THE TABLE OF THE SHORT STORY And there is even a male friend. You have scars afterwards. He has been to nutritionists for body-building milkshakes. and now when I wear stockings people always say there’s a run in them. So he does not ﬁnd time to drink his milkshakes or build his muscles. Perhaps when it ends he will start again on his quest to gain weight. No matter how thin I am there’s still wobbly bits around them.’ ‘I’m going in for my breast reduction tomorrow morning! I’m so excited. it’s the best thing I ever did. It’s the only thing about my body I’m happy about!’ ‘Don’t complain! Do you have two vertical scars on your knees? I had an operation when I was fourteen. I have big hips too. and slim. are you sure it won’t be sore. Anne. besides the scars fade afterwards to almost nothing.’ ‘I hate my knees..’ ‘I have model knees! They’re straight when you look sideways. I suppose I have to admit that to myself. Alice?’ ‘I promise you. you look thinner then . I’m so scared. I want model knees. of course. he has a girlfriend. tall. but it’s worth it just to have small perky breasts.
the ghosts. all shapes and sizes drifting in and out as I write this. and yes. breathing down my neck. just around my tummy. I’m fat. anxious women. I admit it. He’s said so. I’ve even lost a little weight. you know. Not having to worry about getting pregnant is only one of the many advantages to being in a gay relationship. and I open up my shirt and say. Worried women.’ ‘He should love you for yourself.’ They are all here. you know.after. I’m swimming every morning and gyming too. Me? I want to lose around four or so kilos. animated women: here at the table of the short story. as round as pizzas. anaemic-looking as carrots. the presences.’ ‘Thank God I’m out of all that. 76 . look here’s the operation!’ ‘Do men mind cellulite and stretch marks?’ ‘Just keep the lights low. but my boyfriend loves me for me.’ ‘I’ve got scars and all that. bursting like cherries. as large as pears.
the minute forgotten as soon as it is past. captured by what the actress is doing to the words.’ she says. no present or past. and then. subsequently. enthralled. as interpreted by a South African actress in a pseudo American accent. We have listened spellbound.’ In the interval we talk. I swirl the ice around in mine. We are listening to the words of the American writer. the man 77 . captured by the words themselves. We drink sweet soft drinks on this cold winter night. whose only battle is for survival. Thomas. Annie Dillard. ‘I would like to be a weasel. crunching ice against my teeth. ‘with my mind blank and full of nothing. She is talking of the life of a weasel. I would like to know what that feels like.Ten minutes to hate I am sitting in a darkened theatre beside the man I hope will love me one day.
I hold on tight to Thomas. There’s a blast of cold air as a group of gunmen burst in. The second half stuns us.ARJA SALAFRANCA I am with. I scream. We are with another couple. getting up late. The audience screams. making bruises for the following morning. The narrator makes the scene come alive: we see the blue shrouded mountains. another world. Saturday morning. We go into the second half. But. We see her frightened face. Then there is a bang. The leader of the group raises his revolver. stripped of artiﬁce or pretence. It is all about an eclipse somewhere over central America. The leader climbs onto the stage. We are going to stand up soon. The actress stops smiling. We sit still for close on an hour. ﬁres shots at the ceiling. prefers his drinks with no ice because the cubes hurt his teeth. the blackness covering the land. I grip Thomas’s arm. He swallows his lukewarm soda water and I watch him. Jane and Allen. The gunmen have balaclavas over their heads so that we cannot see their faces. Gunshots. the actress bows.’ Now we are silent. leave the theatre. wrapped up in the drama. Jane I know from a course I did years ago. Shut up or we’ll shoot. we think about tomorrow. There is tremendous applause at the end. 78 . it is much more than an eclipse. fantastical. ‘Everybody shut up. we give her a standing ovation. and Allen is a man she met at an exhibition a few weeks ago. There are six or eight of them. We clap and clap. It is soaring beauty. and she smiles again. while a sidekick grips the actresses’ arm and holds her. warm with the knowledge of what this actress has brought us. the sudden brightness. ‘Shut up!’ he yells. the lights in the auditorium are still off and there is only a single spotlight on her. We think about where we will go after the show.
No one refuses. I am wearing my grandmother’s gold watch. He brings his face up to mine again.’ ‘Your grandmother’s?’ He turns to the audience who are watching this spectacle of my refusal to give up parts of memory. I show him my bag. ‘Give it!’ he hisses back. Am I mad? I’m taking on a gunman over a watch that belonged to a grandmother I hardly cared for. his eyes are as scared and wide as mine are. the man roars. ‘It was my grandmother’s.’ the gunman yells. swinging ominously. I show it to him. ripping into their purses. women thrust their bags at them. hide it. taking out the crisp clean notes withdrawn from the ATM for the weekend ahead. eyes inches away from mine. Drawn back up to his full height. The men proffer wallets. I want to take it off. Do I want to die? Eyes piercing into mine. ‘What shall I do?’ I whisper. jewellery. The riﬂe hangs perilously at his side. a remnant of onions eaten sometime tonight.’ Like children collecting candy. Give it or we’ll shoot. I smell that breath. Thomas gives him his wallet. I look at Thomas. the gangsters throw out the debris. ‘My grandmother died working for you! My grandmother died because she was always 79 . The man’s brown eyes bore into mine from behind the balaclava.TEN MINUTES TO HATE ‘We want whatever you have. He riﬂes through both. He is so close I can smell his breath. ‘We want money. ‘Then why you don’t give me that gold watch?’ I look at it. He leans against my face till I am looking into the dark. the gunmen make their way up and down the aisles. Thomas nudges me. ‘Do you want to die?’ I shake my head nervously. he looks down at it. but one of the gunmen is there already.
forgotten. in the main theatre. I give him the watch. a musical goes on.ARJA SALAFRANCA working. A tiny glass door leads off into the street and they show us where the robbers came in. people are sobbing or getting up in outrage. and sparse bits of jewellery: wedding rings. as a warning of hate. ‘Do you want to die tonight?’ I take the watch off. as a reminder. I do not want to die. I wince. We rush out into the foyer. The gunmen take money. The manager 80 . Then he presses his ﬁngers into the veins in my arms. some necklaces. It’s over. He takes it. pointing to that small glass door. ‘Shit!’ and ‘Jesus!’ and ‘Fucking bastards!’ The police have been called. bracelets. I want to wake up tomorrow morning. and they are gone. We mill around. this whole thing distant. it is a loud raucous celebration of Africa. No one has been hurt. commenting that security should be tighter. My life for my dead grandmother’s gold watch. The bar is deserted. knowing I mustn’t say anything to provoke him. we shake our heads in shock. Upstairs. yelling. The robbery continues. All in all it took ten minutes. sneering through the black-knitted balaclava. and miraculously the bullets lodged in the ceiling beneath the main auditorium. In situations like these. hands shaking. not one went through. I feel his hot breath against my ear. leaving a set of bullet holes in the ceiling. He leans closer. shut-up and comply. No one up there heard the gunshots. It is a modern day peace offering. There are no further hitches. Security guards are swarming all over the place. the bartenders were locked up in a cupboard so that they could not get help. I made a mistake by drawing attention to myself. My grandmother had no gold watch!’ I jump with the force of his anger. As it is. and he yells. we know to comply.
’ we reassure ourselves. this will be big. The one assigned to Thomas and I is young. 81 . A woman stands vomiting in the corner. Is there no place sacred. We talk in groups. They take our statements. A few ofﬁcers arrive.’ the woman emphasises. so that we can give our statements to the police. noting precisely and deliberately what was taken. When he reads back the statement. ‘We’re easy targets. the grammar is twisted and confused. Jane holds onto Allen. thrust out from a quiet night shift. ‘Only in South Africa are you considered lucky to get away with your life when you get robbed!’ Some of us laugh. Thomas is in the toilet. No one answers. dealing with us all. Security will be beefed up. The police want us to stay put. The fat man cracks a joke. we hover. They take our stories. It’s nearly a half an hour since the incident.’ a fat man laughs in reply. slowly writing down the details on their ofﬁcial forms. holding a mug of lukewarm coffee. I feel alone and cold. watching a play. Then. but the basic message is there. a group of theatre-goers is robbed. My coat is dangling over a seat in the theatre.’ ‘It’s disgusting. ‘I’m convinced it’s never going to stop. ‘At least no one was hurt. he looks barely out of high school. we pace. How could this have happened? The country’s gone mad. normality is returning.’ Jane says. I sit on one of the couches. ‘Sitting ducks. the manager assures us. I sit immobilised. ‘Why would they target theatre-goers?’ a woman asks. We are asked to stay. The police are late.TEN MINUTES TO HATE gives us drinks to calm our nerves. a man holds her. As part of the crime wave cresting the country. no place safe in this land of ours? I can see the headlines already. shivering in a skimpy dress. A few reporters arrive.
’ Jane says.ARJA SALAFRANCA Allen shakes his head. I’m getting out. Foreign passports. ‘I’m sorry. I’m getting out of here.’ I say. He is running a marathon in a month. I ask him if he’ll stay the night. No way. We all have our escape routes in our heads. the best alarm system. I could see it wasn’t as safe as ﬁve. but eventually it did stop.’ I add. ‘I’m afraid of my memories. he has to train. He does not hold me as Allen holds Jane. ‘Phone me if you need to. Working in London. Why should I have to face this every day just because the country’s sorting itself out. ‘I’ve had enough.’ ‘And then it’ll be tomorrow night and the next. ‘Everybody’s going mad all over the world. Thomas drops me off at my ﬂat. You’ll be ﬁne. whatever. There is nothing left to say. First thing Monday morning. You’ve got burglar bars. Greta. ‘Crime’s getting worse all over the world. I’m phoning the Canadian Embassy. ‘I don’t want to be alone tonight. It’s not worth it. Lock your doors. we saw no future.’ No one tries to argue her out of it.’ I plead. You’re not safe anywhere. okay? That marathon’s important to me. It is near twelve before we are allowed to leave. I’m going. ‘When I was in London a few months ago. ten years ago.’ But they simply look at me. I just need you here tonight. It took about ten. ‘Perhaps it’s all part of the turning of the century thing.’ ‘But it’s still not like here!’ exclaims Jane. I grew up in Zambia. eventually.’ he says. But he has to get up early. Nowhere is safe. After independence the crime was so bad it was just like here. Thomas looks far away. and the government doesn’t give a damn.’ ‘I’m not afraid of anyone getting in. the Australian Embassy. but it did stop. ﬁfteen years. You’ve got to get 82 .’ ‘I’m not prepared to wait that long.’ Allen shrugs out his weak argument. ‘It has to.
TEN MINUTES TO HATE
over this by yourself. You can’t use me as a crutch.’ ‘I had a gunman breathing down my throat tonight, and you tell me I need you as a crutch!’ He leaves in his smart red car. I hear it roar down the quiet road. I go to bed. I am surprisingly calm. I will sleep. It’s how I know it’s ﬁnally over: when the man I thought would love me leaves in the middle of the night so that he can train for some marathon. Thomas does not like to argue, hates ugly confrontations, he even told me so one night. I should have known. I could hold onto him if I could only keep quiet, make do with this little bit I get from him. But I can’t. I won’t. The papers are full of the story. It’s a national disgrace. On the radio bulletins politicians are being quoted. ‘When innocent people can’t even go to the theatre anymore, then it’s time to stop pussy-footing and start dealing with the crime problem,’ says a parliamentary minister. ‘It is a tragedy,’ says another, ‘but we must remember theatre is an elitist culture.’ He seems to suggest we stop going to the theatre so that this sort of thing does not happen. I can only laugh. No other response seems appropriate. I spend the day by myself. On Sunday my parents call from the coast where they are holidaying. They have heard about the incident. They are shocked when I say I was involved. In the afternoon my married sister comes over with cake and children. But I’m ﬁne. I tell her that much, and she asks why I didn’t call, why she had to hear it from our parents. ‘I suppose I thought Thomas would be around,’ I tell her. I haven’t heard from him all weekend. ‘Are you still hoping against hope?’ ‘Still am!’ I smile.
She doesn’t say anything to this. She leaves, wanting me to spend the night at her house. But I am safe here. I am in this cocoon where I do not feel or think about what has happened. I am sent for counselling to deal with my trauma. But as I tell the psychologist talking to me, I feel ﬁne. I do not have visions of the event. I am not at all affected. I carry on living my life normally. I refuse to be scared and overly cautious. The psychologist leans forward when I tell her this, concern on her face. ‘Greta,’ she says, her hands a pyramid beneath her chin, ‘you must deal with the trauma of the event. You were robbed. And this is not an isolated incident, it is happening all around you. You must take precautions, you have to be careful.’ I let the advice hang in the air. She goes on, ‘You must deal with the fact that you looked death in the face.’ I want to laugh at her melodrama. The words ﬂy over me, because suddenly I no longer care. The sunlight streams in, hurting my eyes. I cry, and the ﬂoodgates open. I can hardly talk; barely explain to her that I am crying because I haven’t seen Thomas since the incident, how we have only talked perfunctorily on the phone. He does not want to see me, he needs to sort through his confusion. But I am sobbing so much the psychologist does not know this. I cannot get the words out. The robbery seems unimportant. I am invincible against everything except the hurt this man has caused. But the psychologist does not know this, thinking I am crying about what has happened to me at the theatre. I cannot sob out the awful cliché that it is because I have a sour relationship with a man who has never loved me. At home I wonder why it is that this incident does not, cannot
TEN MINUTES TO HATE
touch me. Why I am not scared by it. Let them get me, I think. Just let them get me. It is as if nothing can hurt me anymore. Others react to the violence that is screwing our land into something hard and unbelievable, planning to leave while fortressing their houses till the immigration papers come through, but I refuse. I can see and smell the violence when I drive around the city. The fear is ever present. It is there in the furtive glances of scared people in their cars, the revving of engines at trafﬁc lights when they are red, and the anger of those who weren’t near enough to run the orange, and sit waiting at a red robot, ﬁngers drumming on the wheel, eyes scanning the rear-view mirrors, checking that no one is about to smash a brick through the window or point a gun at them. The fear lurks behind the high walls and the electriﬁed gates and the panic buttons that we wear when we go outside to hang washing. It is present in conversation at dinner parties, and it is there on the radio news every morning that we wake up. A father shot dead in his driveway by hijackers while his ten-yearold watches him bleed to death. A woman is tortured in her home because she has no money. The robbers brand her for life by pressing a hot iron against her face. A temporary remembrance wall is painted over with faces and names of the victims of crime, I drive past it daily before it is made white again. You cannot turn in this city without wondering when it will be your turn. Well, it was my turn. You cope. You go to braais and sit listening when a woman describes her hijacking. You stare, absorbed by her story, although it is nothing new. You are fascinated by what you perceive as her bravery, her courage, her decision to remain in the country. You do not realise it is only her
way of coping, that there is no other alternative for her. As there is no alternative for me. There is no alternative to the hope and the panic except to face up to it, stare at it in the face, stare it down, as brutal thugs breathe on you, wanting whatever it is you’ve got. If you let it stalk you, it will hunt you down. You can’t fear dying when the next bullet might be for you.
The farm belongs to the parents of the man driving the car.Cul-de-sacs Four people are bumping along a dusty road to a farm. when his parents would bring his large brood of brothers and sisters and leave them with their grandparents over the long school breaks. the sky swirls with clouds. and he has wispy strawberry blond hair that stands out in this landscape of bush and thorn. taking holidays here as a child. He has been here often. near this farm in the north western part of the country. trees cling to rocks. The army. 87 . university and a job have all prevented him from returning as often as he’d like. even though it’s the start of autumn. The landscape is dry. a new millennium ahead. It is sometime toward the end of the century. It’s boiling here. His name is Jake. He has come less frequently since leaving school.
’ ‘What else can we expect?’ asks Anna. They have been lovers for two years. ‘For snakes. they say there are leopards in the hills. ‘The animals will smell us and run off long before we even see them. petite. It is the second day of their Easter holiday. If we see any living thing today we’ll be lucky. ‘Also.’ Jake had said as he got them out the safe. twisted into her seat. but it is hard to erase doubts and to ignore a growing fear that something is about to become undone.’ 88 .’ says Jake. * * * They kick up brown earth as they walk along the rutted track to the river. clothes for her job in the city. Besides. She too has a job back in the city that prevents her from going away too often. near-orange colour is startling. The farmhouse is white and plain. They know this as they sit in the back. staring at the familiar landscape of this farm. riﬂes slung across Jake and Ian’s shoulders. seen from the back seat. new tyres. sitting within an attempt at an English country garden. although she has seen it only once before. ‘Not much. smiling at each other as Jake steers along the dirt road. there is often the question of money. An iron roof traps the heat. The contrast between her black hair and Jake’s high. but you never know. They charge along the track with lunch in a picnic basket. a rough concrete ﬂoor makes the house cool again. Neither knows it for sure. thorny landscape that surrounds it. dark-haired. it’s just for in case. although I’ve only seen them once. It is a sharp contrast to the dry. Danielle and Ian sit snug at the back. holding hands. lack of money. but that will change soon.ARJA SALAFRANCA Next to him sits Anna: small. or more important things to spend it on – a car service.
They smile in the sunshine.’ So they stride. The air is still.CUL-DE-SACS ‘Have you ever shot anything on the farm?’ Ian asks. As they sweat under the ﬁerce sun. There’s a low insistent hum of ﬂies. Ian and Jake in front. Kudu mainly. The photo will wither and yellow as Anna’s slight frame droops from the weight of the riﬂe. ‘Armed white males. but not so dangerous!’ laughs Ian.’ laughs Danielle. and they watch its sleek yellow and gold body as it slides off into the yellow grass. the ﬂies brush past. ‘Ag. examining the shotgun. It slithers stealthily away. and Danielle’s riﬂe dangles close to her feet. leaving her with a permanently disdainful expression as the photo withers. Anna’s black hair traps midnight as she sits in this harsh light that bleaches all colours white. but Ian and Jake scan the route and their training in the army comes to the fore before anyone can step on the snake. * * * They sit on a rock. beetles and the wind as it rufﬂes the veld. tickling Anna’s nose just as the shutter clicks. But we shoot so rarely that there’s plenty buck left. They encounter little that is dangerous along the way. Anna and Jake look benignly on. idly ﬂicking bits of bread and avocado into the river. Occasionally a bird calls or fruit ﬂies buzz past. For biltong and roasts. attracted by sweat. scanning the bush. ja. She eats an apple and complains of being too full 89 . Anna and Danielle will stand holding the guns as Ian takes their picture. as he slips Danielle into the crook of his arm. heaving riﬂes across their chests. They eat the packed sandwiches and drink mineral water. A puff adder suns itself in the path. ‘Armed. Later.
a gun thrust up your mouth. pets. but hasn’t yet found the courage (or the money) to leave. a wife. South Africa will fade into a memory of his past. He will ﬁnd a job. Ian looks out at this landscape of dry contours and thorn trees. as they both know they must. She cannot see herself getting old in this country of extremes. ﬁnd a new life. sucking you into its problems. And they are talking about how difﬁcult that is.ARJA SALAFRANCA from breakfast for anything else. She also wonders whether there is a strange pull that Africa exerts. Anna wonders when it will be her turn. The light ﬁlters through Jake’s fuzz. Danielle lies across his lap. 90 . picking out glints and highlights. They are talking about emigration and about the violence that is making them think twice about staying in this country they were born in. hearing cars whizz by – it is all too strong. He will join his mother in New Zealand. its heat. the country to which she has returned now that she is divorced. he will leave this country. When they break up. the fear of starting all over again. This last week Anna waved goodbye to a best friend who was setting out for London after her recent graduation. friends. her dark hair spilling out over his legs which have been scratched by thorns and insects. the threat of being raped in a ﬁeld. a life. They are talking about the need to save enough money to make a new life somewhere else. with the rand ailing fast against overseas currencies. Another friend has found a job in New York and is leaving soon. its ﬁerce divisions and extremes – something that can only be resisted when your life grows so bitter or unhappy that the only solution seems to be to get out. Anna does not doubt that she too will leave one day. but this country binds you to it with its heavy sense of trying to make do. Wrench yourself away. The ties are there: family. There’s the fear of a car hijacking at the manual gate. a new girlfriend.
CUL-DE-SACS Right now. Ian has tried to persuade her. And this is part of the reason Ian loves her. light salads and moulds with the English family. his family has been partitioned off into these two sides of the family. it is a way of letting go of the weight of her job with its stench of poverty and hopelessness that carries the destitute into the ofﬁce where she works. One year Christmas was spent with the Afrikaans side of the family. Born of an Afrikaans mother and an English-speaking father. but she refuses. She cannot let herself believe that this ﬂedging new country will not come right. For her. he looks at Danielle. It is the reason she goes out dancing and drinking most weekends. Her entire family is here. Even the food differed: a hot roast. Jake has always felt his life has been neatly split in two. isolated among huge groups of Afrikaners who forced them to adapt 91 . Jake remembers running through landscape like this when he was defending South Africa from terrorists in Angola. She is a social worker who helps broken families to mend. The English-speakers were separated from each other. and tries to imagine a life for them together. It was actually a relief to be in the army. sweet vegetables and a steaming fruit pudding on the Afrikaans side. and gave him a sense of fearlessness that sometimes makes him do incredibly stupid things now. It made his skin crinkle into the tight lines around his eyes. He speaks English with a slightly hard edge to it. It is a way of forgetting. From as long as he could remember. among mainly Afrikaans recruits. She works for a welfare organisation. one of the many that have mushroomed since the new government came to power. the next it was spent with the English side of the family. the more guttural tones of his mother’s language spilling out into his English. there is no choice. She does not want to leave.
Done something.’ 92 . It teaches you not to give a damn about anything. the topic comes up again. ‘Young guys today. skirting the border. When the sun beat down on training sessions and tough-looking corporals spoke of the need to defend the people back home and the threat of terrorists up north. It doesn’t matter. with the heat making their words slow. go overseas. He could forget the English side and revel in the low guttural sounds of Afrikaans that clipped his words neatly in two. has tried to explain why he didn’t get out of the army. No one had told them. But you’ve got to laugh at that. ‘I would have left. Jake began to feel as though he belonged in a way that had never seemed possible at home.’ she has said to him. and still condemns him for his small part in propping up the government. you can see they haven’t been. apartheid. No country could make me ﬁght for them. Jake has told all this to Anna.ARJA SALAFRANCA or suffer.’ Sitting on the massive rocks. They haven’t had toughening up. that nothing really matters. who don’t have to go into the army. there’s no way I would’ve gone to the army. Ian says. He did not have to worry that somebody wouldn’t understand: in a training camp outside Bloemfontein in the ﬂat Free State ﬁeld. everybody understood. and wouldn’t stand a chance in the outside world. they’ve got no sense of responsibility. but somehow they knew they were going to Angola to ﬁght in the war as their tanks moved further and further north. gone overseas. ‘If I’d been male. dodge the call-up papers. the war. like that some of those guys are real arseholes. man. It teaches you a whole lot of crap. Jake had begun to feel Afrikaans at last. Jake and Ian try to explain why they do not regret their time in the army. But he has seen by her angry look that she does not understand. The army teaches you to rely on yourself. They’re immature.
’ ‘But how could you willingly go ﬁght for the government?’ Anna persists. the choices that are taken away. They’d given us a purpose. Jake does not bring it up. You just had to go ahead. That’s the beauty of being born female. But by then it was too late for idealism.CUL-DE-SACS ‘You know what I enjoyed about the army?’ Jake asks. ‘After basic training I joined the police and spent my time opening and closing booms at the airport. ‘That feeling of togetherness. and the choices that are never presented. If you don’t know how to look after each other. or you’d die. Trying not to make too much noise or we’d be discovered. sitting self-absorbed and self-contained on her rock. It is easy for her to make judgements. There was no choice. They needed protection. You’re all in this together. has never had to make a life and death decision. Anna. I didn’t ﬁght. Jake thinks. the ﬂies sucking off your sweat. trying not to be too bored. if you don’t stick together. Because when it’s only you and those guys in miles of miles of bush. Sitting underneath those ratels.’ says Jake. He wonders if she will settle and marry. will 93 . Couldn’t you see through it?’ ‘No. and it was just days and days of heat. Jake saw all the action. a reason to go out and moer those Angolans. to be honest. perhaps have children.’ Jake looks at Anna.’ ‘It was brainwashing. She has never been tested to the limit. and decisions and choices are thrown in front of her like land mines. We were told we were ﬁghting for the people back home. ‘Only partly. That might change when she gets older. I couldn’t. Then we got there. ‘Well. that’s it.’ ‘Enough so. Or perhaps she will move away. and you’ve got to learn to rely on each other. It might not. that’s it. asking Ian and Jake together.’ Ian admits.’ ‘You forget I’m Afrikaans. I didn’t have to. We wanted to. Anna wouldn’t see it like that.
she again turns away. splashing her in T-shirt and rolled-up jeans. Anna ﬁnds it hard to explain that she doesn’t want to see it this time. It is a nagging desire that makes her want to leave. but for now is content. she looks again as Jake swims round and round. with full explanations.’ says Anna. She turns away from this friend with the red hair and the grinning face turned toward her. at the rough koppie behind. the heat creates a glaze over the faraway brown and green hills. and he asks her why. and the gnarled trees and plants in this dry landscape. quietly. ‘It’s probably cleaner and healthier than your average chlorinated swimming pool.’ Jake remarks as he plunges in naked. Anna ended the sex they had months ago.ARJA SALAFRANCA ﬁnd whatever excitement or peace she is looking for overseas. She stares at the mountains. It had been a business-like decision to 94 . He’d like to go one day. ‘Probably. Brown scum clings to her calves ﬂung over the dam wall. something he cannot relate to. * * * Bugs glide over Anna’s feet dangling in the warm green water of the round dam built to catch the overﬂow of the reservoir. Something was clearly not working. Leaves swirl among the debris. He’s never even been overseas. When he is in and swimming and she can no longer see anything of vital importance. You cannot see to the bottom of this shallow dam. his penis dangling stupidly like a toy wanting to be played with. She doesn’t want to be reminded of it. looking away as he swims. backside resting on the narrow curved shelf of the round enclosure. that it embarrasses her because their time of sleeping together is over. Jake had shrugged his shoulders. considers it a weakness that they even did it together. When he gets out. It’s not like she hasn’t seen him like this before. embarrassed by the sight of the penis she once let inside her. She announced it portentously.
Jake and Anna have gone off to swim. He doesn’t look her in the eye as he ﬂops heavily over her on the single bed. 95 . He puts his clothes back on as he goes in search of bottled water from the fridge. But that was it. angry gulps as they wait for Jake and Anna to come back. Danielle gets up and lies on the other bed.CUL-DE-SACS sleep with Jake while they were both between lovers and passions. The ﬂy screens keep the ﬂies out. but it grew no bigger. drinking loud. but still it might be nice to know if she could get pregnant. and no animals move in the late afternoon heat. and her waist remained deﬁned. * * * Ian’s face is tense above Danielle’s as he pushes through her reluctance and the heat and the sheer impact of what both know is going to happen. She didn’t want children. if she was fertile. They read old National Geographics laid on the coffee table. and she wonders idly if sperm can penetrate the soles of your feet and travel up your legs right into you. Maybe she couldn’t even conceive. They sit in the lounge. The crackle of hooves on the cinder-like veld will come later when the cattle are herded back into their kraal. She’d slipped once though. yet continuing to have mild bleeds. despite the regular if scanty appearance of her period every month. all odd wooden chairs and a long mattress that serves as an extra bed. The farmhouse is silent. Sweat runs off their bodies. with too much ouzo swimming around in her. despite the pill. not thickening as it would if she was pregnant. She kicks her feet around in the water while Jake dresses behind her. Ian looks across at her. the night of a party. Danielle joins him soon after. She’d wondered for sometime after that if she might be pregnant. She watched the bulge of her stomach anxiously. She had heard cases of women being pregnant.
both intense people who seem to exude tremendous noise and talk when they are around. ‘There has to be some reason they’re rubbing up against each other.’ ‘People don’t change.’ ‘You haven’t seen her in nearly a year. It was almost hate. Anna. I know her.ARJA SALAFRANCA They ﬂip through them. Trust me on this. it is joined by crushed empty beer cans. making loud noises about who is going to do what for supper.’ Danielle says. The house seems silent without Anna and Jake.’ The screen door is ﬂung open. she’s not in love with him. Did you see when Jake ﬂicked his banana skin into the river? Did you see that look of intense fear or disgust or loathing or something? It wasn’t a friendship look. The moon shines brightly from the sky. the smell of spices and meat hangs in the air.’ ‘Do you think they’re sleeping together?’ ‘Anna and Jake? No ways. a full moon that lights up the eerie evening. ‘Don’t you wonder what’s going on between Jake and Anna?’ Danielle asks. She wouldn’t sleep with Jake out of desperation. and Anna would never sleep with somebody she doesn’t love. Not those two. Jake and Anna arrive wet. so different from this brown. ‘I suppose so. Danielle and Ian have noticed the currents of irritation between their host and his friend. scorched continent. * * * The ﬁre crackles down low. A half-ﬁnished bottle of red wine lies on the concrete outdoor table. There is silence but for the static sounds of a battery-powered radio 96 .’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Well. for a start.’ ‘I think they do. There’s a lot of friction in the air. burnt a little by the sun. past ice-packed lands and green meadows. I worked with her.
something to ﬁre him up. Jackals yowl in the distance. and they will leave. They wonder when and if they will return. seemingly meaninglessly. the nights of talking around the hissing ﬁre. They have thoughts they do not want to question or probe. obsess him. Ian asks Jake if he can return. burnt ﬂesh and the aroma of smoke from the logs. They will go into winter. The smell of beer. drifting up the road to their farmhouse and he says. Jake will approach his thirtieth birthday and wonder why it is he can’t ﬁnd a passion in his life. Danielle clutches her cider. with his family and other friends. it is night at the start of autumn. and will ﬁnd another one. The nights spent braaing meat. It is a sweet. Occasionally they hear a bakkie growling along the sand road. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Danielle is half-asleep in her fold-up chair. Ian and Danielle will break up. It is their last night on the farm. They have hung a few kerosene lamps to light the way to the steps of the farmhouse. Life is passing. and Ian taps into their collective anger and fear when he listens to music in an African language. Something will happen. or life will catch up with them. Anna will grow to intensely dislike her new job. Jake’s smells of sour grapes. It is what farm life is all about. which looks like a star. what are the blacks good for anyway? It’s only 97 . Tonight they talk. Ian’s breath comes out in beer ﬂames.CUL-DE-SACS being played in the distance in one of the farm worker’s huts. They watch as a satellite. Jake remembers similar evenings on the farm. makes a dazzling fast circle around the earth. and Jake says anytime. perhaps she will no longer see Jake. ‘Tell me. nostalgic fragrance that clings and comes back in the creases of clothes when returning to the city. Out loud. There’s a warm glow as he remembers the people he has brought up here. eating it in the darkness. For now. They catch the occasional music from the kraals. Feelings that remain nameless. Anna thinks she will return here once more only.
’ she says to Ian and Jake and the almost-asleep Danielle. They grew up under apartheid and emergency laws. a rainbow nation – all those buzz words – apartheid still lingers. For us to get the hell out of here. and then they’ve got the country to themselves. as she does now. Maybe that’s what they want. Even more so now. It’s bullshit.ARJA SALAFRANCA the primitive stuff. Ian is expressing what they all feel now – the impotence at the increasing corruption that has swept the new government. it’s what’s going to drive me out of here. freedom. Now they live under a black government that both agree is necessary and just. ‘It’s not that they shouldn’t be given opportunities. having babies!’ Anna and Jake murmur uneasily. athletics. the races don’t mix.’ 98 . or haven’t had the same opportunities. Dancing. because resentment taints their views: resentment at the new crop of educated blacks who speak with an accent. She stood on the sidelines of the few protest marches still streaming across campuses on her ﬁrst year. Despite the promises of a new country. but doubts are creeping in. ‘but why must I be denied opportunities because I’m white? They’re going to chase me out of here. the postal system. the civil service. come from the same universities and whose mistakes in the language or the job are overlooked because they’ve been oppressed. because of all this. Anna attended a liberal university. and the dying years of the Nationalist government. it is becoming acceptable to become racist. What had changed? Why was she listening to Ian. It is not good to agree to racism. everywhere you look. thinks Anna. And somehow. Jake nods. in spite of herself ? When did that huge divide come about? At university she had not foreseen a time when she would have only white friends. they know that. and agreeing with what he said. For a while Anna even took to calling South Africa Azania and sending letters overseas with Azania written on them instead of South Africa.
’ ‘Ja. ‘Crime’s got to go down. Where apparently the prime minister changes every year and travels on the bus along with everybody else. We hovered somewhere between the two extremes for years and now we must just accept it.. ‘Anywhere in Africa. ‘I refused to sing Die Stem at school.’ ‘You’re not going to get that in Africa!’ laughs Jake. ‘And where am I going to go?’ asks Jake.’ ‘I think. ‘Like Sweden or somewhere else in Scandinavia. and nothing much matters.’ Ian announces. and then we’ll be happy. It’s a continent of heat and blazing tempers and wars and revolutions.’ says Jake hopefully. They sit in the grim silence that follows her bitter remarks. They laugh. that we’re living in a third world country now. ‘I want to live in a country where I don’t have to even know what or who the president is!’ Anna continues indignantly. and ministers bribing each other and everybody else. and standards and services going down .’ Anna mutters.’ ‘What I object to the fact that I don’t have a national anthem in my own language.’ adds Anna.CUL-DE-SACS ‘And what are they going to do without all the whites and their skills?’ Ian asks..’ Anna concludes.’ ‘Then I’m going to Norway. Where it’s cold. they’ve been here for hundreds of years. She has had this discussion before. ‘that we’ve just got to accept that if we’re going to stay here. with others. with books being taxed till you can’t afford them. her usual response. The 99 . How the hell am I supposed to feel South African when I don’t even have an anthem in English?’ The question mark hangs in the air. and people killing you for your car. ‘It’s got to get better. Or Iceland. ‘My family is here.
’ they said unsympathetically. part of the friendships that had shrivelled. My sister and her boyfriend are already there.’ There is no need to ask Jake. ‘Listen to them. ‘I wasn’t old enough to vote then. Anna envies him the fact that he doesn’t have to decide. By the time I was old enough to vote. see if I like the place.’ he says. Decisions are cut and dried for Jake on this score. I don’t! had reverberated round and round their argument till they’d given it up. and I am not going to sink with it. more so. They’re as racist as any old Afrikaner. visit my mom there. She wonders now what had happened to those friends – casualties of the years after university. and doesn’t understand what all the fuss about a grand. Anna. ‘Danielle thinks there’s a future here. turns away. ‘No. Now if I can only get Danielle to come with . I don’t know. She’d complained about the afﬁrmative action she’d encountered while looking for a job. Ian?’ Anna asks. grimaces..’ Anna recalls arguing with Indian friends a year after leaving university. The Jake who fought for the country that his friends are considering leaving. ‘You’ve got to pay for your privileges. ‘Are you staying. because they have to pretend not to be. I don’t!’ she’d argued back. I want to go to New Zealand. I was saying ‘yes’ in a referendum to give power to the blacks!’ You’ve got to pay.ARJA SALAFRANCA country has made racists of them all. the Jake who had never gone overseas.. as Ian points out now. and his girlfriend. ‘English white liberals. the country he’d almost died for. they’re not so liberal anymore. and No. Danielle groans. but I’ve only got my father here now. mythical overseas is about. I don’t see the country going anywhere fast. was all they kept repeating. ‘I don’t know. going back into her half sleep. 100 .’ he says. and all her family’s here. running a hand along her cheek.
She sleeps. Plans stretch ahead.CUL-DE-SACS The night is around them. the trees. falling asleep to the creaks and bends of the roof of the farmhouse that will one day be his. the dense shapes of trees stand stark against the moonlit sky. Ian and Danielle wrap up together in her bed before it grows too small and Ian leaps back onto his twin bed. They speak about Easter Sunday. the farm workers’ homes. He blows out his freshly lit candle. no further than that. Jake’s belief in Christianity against the disbelief of Anna and Ian who have refused religion. Anna goes to bed with a candle that blows in the breezes of the house. 101 . and Danielle who’s been brought up Jewish. The night goes on after they’ve gone to bed. The laughter and discussion enters the air. and he creeps back to his own room. He sighs. telling Jake she can’t sleep when it’s so dark. and discuss religion. and he caresses her cheek for a long time before she sleeps again. and leaves a lit lamp hanging outside her door. but when he gets up to turn it down later in the night. compromises. The debate dies down. the wild scrubby bush. a year at a time. the wind. the mud enclosures at the end of the long sandy road. She refuses to blow it out. but no longer lives at home to watch her mother light the Friday night candles. she wakes up.
in her strange accented English she says.’ She takes a sip of tea. She’s talking on condition of anonymity.’ She shrugs. 102 .A car is a weapon ‘Eight thousand rand. Without it I can’t get a better job. ‘you’re not really going to do it.’ I say. It’s easier this way. smiles. And it’s two thousand ﬁve hundred to get a learner’s. looks at her watch. ‘It’s eight thousand rand to get a driver’s licence. quicker. ‘You know I need a licence. I could wait years otherwise. What if I don’t pass my test?’ Pauli swallows the last of her tea. another half an hour remaining before her lunch hour is over.’ ‘You’re not serious.
it all counts towards credits to her degree.’ her voice trails off. She was handling too much. she had a nervous breakdown. and then go.’ But her mind is made up and I see Pauli pulling the blinds down on this conversation. an ID book.’ ‘Mike is going to teach me. As part of her psychology degree Pauli must put in a few hours at a local counselling centre. Whatever! So long as you have the money to pay for it. Pauli looks at me. We have known each a few months. wait till it was safe. You can’t do this Pauli. So now it takes a little longer. It was Mike who suggested it. They teach you things like defensive driving and all that. A driver’s licence. ‘there are things I need to do in the shop. trying to give something back to society. even a passport. That’s how we all got our licences. She was off for three weeks.‘The woman who organises it. She can’t not go. ‘because too many people are buying their licences and they don’t know how to drive. Her boyfriend though is refusing to take her to the once a week counselling slot. Sandra. Me.’ I am incensed. He probably bought his licence too. she couldn’t keep up with demand. volunteering.’ ‘No. She’s not even paying for her studies. but then you have it. I am just marking time. The other day a guy just pulled out of a parking space as I was driving by. He didn’t know to look in the mirror. meeting at a counselling course. Mike doesn’t know about that. a month they say. You must learn to drive. her boyfriend.’ I say. ‘Mike’s not a driving instructor. ‘That’s why there are so many accidents on our roads. Why don’t you just go for lessons and then book a test? And if you fail once you book again and eventually you’ll get it.’ 103 .’ Mike. He’d have to: what Pauli makes as a sales assistant in a boutique wouldn’t cover it. I won’t let you.’ ‘There’s still time before you get back. You must go through a driving instructor. said he’d pay. Hence the eight thousand rand. ‘I better get going. mouth closed yet twisted.
Her English is overlaid with the soft sounds of her Ethiopian origins. Pauli is getting up. I could report this Sandra woman who organises these fake passports.m. IDs. some of the things you had to learn were ridiculous but that’s why I am such a good driver today. I’m aware of the road 104 . You have to stand in line at 7 a. I’ve heard the stories: at work a colleague told me how her boyfriend has been waiting months to get an appointment to write the test. I am interviewing her about life as an immigrant in this country. for an hour. She’s going to get up and walk out. why she shouldn’t buy a licence. set upon? Could I make an anonymous tip off to the police? Would they do anything? ‘I’ll teach you to drive.. The window where you book is only open one day a week. ‘I took the tough K53 test. just an appointment. dusky skin and almondish brown eyes. or. Can I blame her? It may take months for Pauli to get an appointment. Sits back down. She may have to wait more months.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘What things.’ ‘I remember my driving lessons well enough. she stops.’ I say. if you don’t get one. But would I have the courage? Wouldn’t I be too scared of being found out. I keep staring at her. with dark. Pauli is beautiful. ‘When?’ she asks. She may fail the test. Instead this one-sided process has turned into a tirade about why she shouldn’t bribe her way into the system. interview over and tentative friendship shattered already. It’s as though the system is deliberately designed to test your patience. I am meant to be interviewing her.. make you pay the bribe.’ I say.’ It’s not a question. and there are only a few appointments. having lunch and drinking tea before she has to go back to the shop. you have to come back next week. ‘I work such odd hours and you’re busy . Men stare as hard as I do as we sit there.
‘Don’t play around. Pauli. Pauli. A man is beating a drum. as I walk away.’ ‘Promise me one thing. but you know I can’t wait. This is typical touristy Africa. standing up and throwing notes on the table. I really mean that. I pay the bill. it’s me.?’ She has me there. some sort of mother ﬁgure.’ ‘And if I don’t promise .’ ‘Thank you. All brought down to a market in Johannesburg.. She knows I have no recourse.’ ‘I know that Jill..’ I sound like a pedant. so if anyone should teach you. even though I am only a few years older than Pauli. and another man implores me to look at his set of wooden masks from the Congo. every time you drive anything you have people’s lives at stake. okay? And you must promise that every time you go anywhere with Mike you’ll do the driving so you’ll get some practice. ‘you won’t buy that licence till we’ve been out a few times. till I’m sure you can handle the road. who is twenty-four.’ I say. 105 . We walk out together through the African market.A CAR IS A WEAPON and looking for dangers. I think. a woman tries to get me interested in buying a batik from Zimbabwe. I know I need to learn. ‘A car is a weapon.’ she says.
but must keep quiet about this. The guessing and the role modelling begins. otherwise all the fun goes out of the game. I call her Marlene. I keep calling her Fettuccine. and he’s pretty dim to start with. which is her role: the appellation has stuck. I keep forgetting her real name. She has long sinewy legs that curve over the armrest of the chair. but her real name is Sara. I am the murderer. They keep summing up at the end of every scene by stating the obvious and coming to no conclusions. and an unruly moustache. The woman across from you has a surname like an Italian pasta. You wear dark shades with orange frames. a non-descript character. whom I’ve only just met. Your real name is much more ordinary. I dress in thrift shop gear and a long chain of pearls encircles my throat. one dimmer than the other. The other woman. and know that’s not your real name.The game You are the villain to my seductress. The policemen are clueless. She was introduced to me at the start as Marlene. dresses up like a 1920s ﬂapper and her skirt has shimmery blue tassels. she’s playing the role of an Italian countess. The men are dreary: a man in a slick suit. and two small frail policemen. I call you Harry Wrong-Long. the butler. 106 .
another pair of thermal pants. I do not tell the truth. I lie shamelessly. numbing. It resumes. or go to bed. We do not do anything important. Long white trails dissipating in the clear skies. You take off your orange-framed glasses and put on your real glasses. The cold is icy. we eat butternut lasagne. we saw a movie. or eat meals. The wine is red. it ﬂows smoothly. Clothes become stretched to accommodate the extra layers. You are looking away. but a marketing consultant. I am as bored as the man with the accent. We do not have ﬁxed hours. * * * The aeroplanes leave streaky plumes across the blue skies of London. But I should know. So. I am not drinking and try to catch your eye beneath the dark shades. triangle wedges of basil-ﬂavoured chips. Her name is Tina. one of the policemen. aubergine-coloured pâté. It is hard keeping everyone guessing. I have no idea what a marketing consultant does. so I say nothing. I play my part. I drop red herrings and false clues. raw. names revealed and used.Chips and dips are brought out. We are halfway through when the policemen disappear to buy cigars down the road. Our landlady is someone we met through a South African friend. gets bored halfway through the ﬁrst round. because I know I’m the killer. we eat late. rise late. The man with the accent. the game spread before us. It doesn’t matter what time we get up. because there is nothing important to do. During the break. The woman with the food name tells me her profession: she is not a model. It eats through layers of clothes. ate supper together. one pair of pants. characters dropped like masks. We will do without them. He ﬁnds it ridiculous. The guessing carries on. and when she visited Johannesburg I took her through the city. We had a 107 . and stockings with it.
rapport the few times we met. We spoke and found we had lives in common, or so we thought. In this new cold world of London, she is made redundant a month before we arrive. She is living on the dole; her boyfriend is a German graduate student of political studies. Peter works an afternoon a week, selling clothes at a charity shop. Soon after arriving, I laughingly record a new message on the answering machine. ‘Welcome to the house of the unemployed,’ I joke, ‘we’ll take any jobs, just leave your name and number!’ Tina is not amused, she records a more sober message, says nothing to us. One day she mutters a comment that she’s sick of everybody saying they are unemployed, it’s enough. I hold my tongue, in our room that night I mention it to you: ‘But we are all unemployed!’ It’s early days and we are trying to optimistic, trying to keep peace with Tina, tetchy, unemployed for a few months now, Christmas is approaching and jobs are drying up. We watch television, rent videos, walking along the cold streets to the video shop, and eat Heinz cake puddings that you heat up in the microwave, and then we watch the rented movies. It’s two or three in the morning before we all go to sleep, four people taking it in turns to use one bathroom. I sleep easily here, in a room where the window looks directly onto the street and I can hear the clip-clop of people walking to work, or the tube, the bus, walking home. I sleep through it all, noises, cars, footsteps. And we rise late. It’s eleven before we surface, twelve when we eat breakfast. When we decide we want to go into town early, we have to set the alarm for eight or nine. But mostly there is no purpose to the days. We rise late, eat, and wash under a lukewarm shower, and dress to go into the business centre. We go to internet cafes and check email, surf the web, sometimes we send out CVs. We browse in the mall, we look at books, we treat ourselves to coffee at a café. We buy food at Tesco
for the evening meal, we return home when it’s already dark. Night comes at four o’clock. Tina is at the dining room table when we return at night, sending emails from her laptop, looking for jobs. She is preoccupied, dressed in yesterday’s sweat pants and top. ‘She doesn’t bath every day,’ you notice. You see these things, having grown up in England, you notice, remembering your own childhood, the infrequent bathing. I shrug, not caring. Tina sands down the rot that is accumulating around the wood surrounding the sink. Peter can’t stand the rot, so Tina sands and varnishes. A job well done, she tells me when she’s ﬁnished. But mostly, she is preoccupied with her job hunt, her home. She cycles to the shop with her bags, we watch her, cycling back, handlebars balanced with groceries, a whirlpool of energy and noise. The days are slow and fast. Weeks melt into weekends, and back into weeks. No one is getting a job in the house of unemployment. Only Tina gets an interview, and ﬂubs it, she says, because she’s not technical enough and spoke too much. She calls us both ‘lads’ and says that when she ﬁrst came to England from Ireland she did anything to ensure that she could stay. She was a waitress, a chambermaid for a while, a secretary, a receptionist. We look at her incredulously when she suggests these things. ‘I can only type with two ﬁngers,’ I say by way of explanation, ‘I can’t be a secretary.’ As for being a chambermaid, you have seen the way I clean ﬂoors, leaving streaks and grime behind in a sludgy mess. We didn’t leave behind our highly paid professional jobs in South Africa to be maids and secretaries. We left because London was going through a boom, and jobs were plentiful, and I thought I could eventually become a writer, while you dreamed of swapping your corporate manager proﬁle to work in publishing.
That was before the planes slammed into the World Trade Centre. That was before the world’s economies started spiralling, and economies dwindled and jobs dried up. Our timing was off. We read daily of redundancies and downsizing. Tina gets impatient when we bring this up at the end of the day. She cleans, washes dishes, humming. She chops vegetables for her and Peter while we eat crumbed turkey breasts from Tesco with canned vegetables. We continue to scour the newspapers however, looking for jobs. We are convinced they are out there. We had been told that London was swarming with vacancies, there was hardly any unemployment. Months later we look back at our naivety in believing these ﬁgures. Such was our thirst to go that we believed all the good we had heard, and disregarded all the negatives. A friend of a friend said it was hard to get jobs, and she had to travel two hours each day to get to and from work. We thought she was just being negative and difﬁcult. Another friend who had emigrated said she had been tired for the ﬁrst ﬁve years in London. Another said the English were hard to get to know and difﬁcult to make friends with. We disregarded it all. The cold bites ears, nipping through gloves and sweaters. The streetlamps are yellow as we walk the frosty streets home, moving briskly, as briskly as those others, the real Londoners we call them, those who live here and have jobs. We stride as quickly, still uncertain that we are not going to be mugged or attacked. It still feels strange that we can do this, walk home in the dark, and it’s safe and it’s normal. As we walk we look into people’s homes, they do not draw curtains here, rooms are left open to prying eyes as souls are not. The rooms are painted in a variety of hues: dark kitchen blues and heavy varnished-looking reds, pale butter yellows. People read in them, or sit watching television. In the kitchens they cook as darkness and cold grip the city.
When we ﬁrst arrived here I wrote a bad poem about turning thirty and emigrating to another country with the wrong man, and knowing that the relationship was doomed. It was a lousy poem, I knew it as I wrote it, but it seemed the only way of expressing the situation I found myself in. As we lay together in that lumpy bed in our landlady’s ﬂat, silent, waiting for sleep to take hold, and thinking about the shape our new lives would take, I imagined that we would probably be together another six months till we had saved some money from the jobs we were going to ﬁnd soon, and then I thought we would ﬁnally separate. It had been a mistake to go overseas together, I thought as I lay and planned. You were the wrong man for me. We were never going to make it. Yet, here I was, just turned thirty, voluntarily unemployed, in London at the start of their winter. All we had was each other. We were stuck together, glued by force of circumstances, bound by the same uncertain futures. There were screaming matches in the streets of London as we strode towards the train station. I blamed you for bringing me here, I blamed you for the weather, I said you had blackmailed me into leaving everything I knew, and a good job, for this. You strode behind me, silent, accused, only occasionally arguing back. That made me even more angry. I wanted something to punch against, I needed you to ﬁght, to rage and scream, I needed you to say that this had been a mistake. But, you didn’t say it. You caught the trains and smiled as they rolled into the heart of London, you carried our backpack of waters and food uncomplainingly when we made the journeys. We could not afford to eat out and so carried food with us. Nothing got you down. You imagined our new life, you priced furniture with me, looked at adverts in the newspapers for computers. We registered with national health. We saw a nurse, a doctor. We were in the system. After six weeks I could ﬁnally open a bank
people walked home laden with their parcels from Next and WH Smith. Weeks after arriving I was more fully entrenched in the system that you were. drink coffee. even though it was I who was agitated. There was the comfort of the warmth of being indoors. the truth was bleak and uncomfortable. At Marks and Spencer we bought food. We walked through silent streets to shopping centres ﬁlled with Christmas shoppers looking for bargains. I didn’t belong in this country where people spoke English littered with question marks and rhetorical questions. I was starting to feel like I belonged. without proof of address conferred by that English bank account. leaving black marks on the lace curtains. we came across a panel debate about contraception. the windows streaked with moisture. the hot smoky mall where people still lit up cigarettes. We had left behind our lives and jobs in South Africa. uncomfortable. I didn’t belong here. which you. but it was good to look. I started copying them in mock parody. and yet. every time I heard an English person end a comment with. the vowels rounded and high.ARJA SALAFRANCA account and succeeded in opening two. As the end of the year approached. but ﬁlled with routine. ‘Innit?’ I wanted to scream. I couldn’t afford any of them. browse in the bookshop. The days were aimless. internet café. I could now join a library. I tried on coats and jackets. watching television. wrapped presents peeked out from the bags. so we each bought each other a book for Christmas. One night. We were outsiders then: we didn’t have jobs and were conserving our money. An Australian woman who had lived in England 112 . where the listening to the language was like riding along rolling hills. and that was that. as we nursed coffees. pick up food for supper. The pattern of our days followed the rhythm of library. We watched Londoners shopping. By the end. The radiators were hot to the touch in the mornings. could not. the days rolled on into each other. longing to return home.
for twenty years still had the twang in her voice and complained that there weren’t enough types of contraception available. ‘We need a supermarket of contraceptives,’ she whined. We looked at each other astonished. Such debates had never been discussed on South African TV. Life and death issues were more important: such as the growing Aids pandemic, rising unemployment and desperate poverty. Contraception was available, wasn’t that enough? And weren’t there enough types of contraception on the market? Apparently not. Not according to the Australian woman, and not according to some of the others taking part in the debate. Watching the Christmas shoppers, or walking home along the cold icy streets, or being buffeted by pedestrians as they strode quickly home along London’s streets, I had felt that I wasn’t English, would never be English, would never belong to this society. Listening to the debate on contraceptives, I thought I knew that I could never be English. I could not debate, or listen to a debate on the fact that there weren’t enough types of contraceptives available, without feeling outraged and then amused. The English had the luxury of debating such topics: I was still mired in the moral dilemmas of the life and death issues that dominated our lives in South Africa. Was this what I would be returning to? Did my lack of empathy towards such debates mean I wasn’t meant to be living in a cold, prosperous northern country? Christmas was a roast chicken from Tesco. In the supermarket, the day before Christmas, we shopped as frantically as everyone else, the shelves stripped bare almost, grabbing at what we wanted. As we rummaged for bread, an old woman muttered to me, ‘There’s nothing left. Some people don’t leave anything for anyone else. They’re just selﬁsh.’ I didn’t answer. Why blame everyone else, I thought, staring at the grease-wrapped packages of white lard lining the shelves. ‘Have a good Christmas,’ the teller called out, as we struggled to
pack our food, and pay at the same time. We trudged home in the dark, the house was ours that week. Tina and Peter had gone off on holiday. On Christmas Day we ate chicken and drew in your scrapbook and phoned family. It grew dark, and I was sad and sullen. I wasn’t angry then, just sad. We had decided to return home. The dream was dead then. I couldn’t wait to leave, now that we had decided to go, but I felt as sad as you, saying goodbye to all that we had hoped for. The lights of London reﬂected on the river Thames. Buses and trains moved across a bridge as we looked. I saw a man reading a paper, a woman spoke on a cellphone, and then it was just a blur as the train sped away. The interiors of double-decker buses were lit up, faces were blank, or absorbed in books, music from earphones, hands clutching parcels. We sat on seats outside the Poetry Library, waiting. Doors to an auditorium opened, and concert goers enjoyed interval. The real Londoners had the money to go to concerts, to structure their lives, to plan for these things. I drank water from one of the water bottles we carried, the Thames a mirage beyond the windows. It was one of our last nights. When the bus carried us away from the Thames, you looked, one last time, at the river, your face twisted, sad, resigned. I was taking you away from life, and I felt I was returning to life. I tried to tell you to stay, I tried to say that we didn’t have a future together, but you weren’t listening and I wasn’t trying hard enough. I needed you back with me, selﬁshly I admitted it, even though I knew I was taking you on, taking you back somehow, as we returned. I knew it couldn’t be the end then.
By the winter of our second year together I knew it was over. I preferred reading to sex. We tried so hard, and still we talked about England: what we would ﬁnd there, dreams would be realised, even
though we would be starting from scratch. I wondered then, often, if we were doing the right thing in leaving our lives, our jobs, families. I wondered if you were the right man to do it with. We decided to go, agreeing that we had to stick together for at least six months. We could break up after then, but we had to at least provide moral support for the other for that half a year. There were doubts then, but who listens to doubts when you’re about to go and live in a country where you believe you will be free?
A train roars past us at the station. Hair ﬂies in our faces, the noise loud, deafening, unbelievable. Talk stops as this express train goes past. It’s a sunny day in London, the light high and pale. But cold, so cold. We hug coats tight around ourselves, waiting for the train to take us to the City. It’s mid-morning, the train won’t be crowded. Others stand on the platform, waiting for the train, a man with a walking stick sits near me on the bench. We’re silent, waiting, no one talks as we scan the board with the times of trains seared across it. We wait. I think of the warm sunshine in Johannesburg. I wonder what’s waiting for us there. I can’t imagine the heat of summer at this moment, I try and then stop. It’s impossible. Instead I think of other things in Johannesburg: driving a car again, wondering what job I will ﬁnd, wondering where going back will lead me. Another train ﬂies past, windows blurring, wheels screeching on the metal, white and blue sparks crackle along the rail line.
One night we go to hear poetry being read in a little café off a side street near Covent Garden. Poets read in the little room underneath
the restaurant area. The place is packed, the poets are enthusiastic, loud, passionate. You feel it rippling across the room, the energy, even when the poetry is bad, it sounds good as the poets act out their verses. I know I am leaving something behind here.
We spent New Year’s Eve indoors. Tina and Peter suggested we go with them to a pub. I wanted to go, in some part of myself, even though there had been animosity between us all. But it was cold that night, minus eight degrees Celsius, said the radio. DJs warned motorists and pedestrians to beware of black ice and treacherous conditions on the roads. We are pedestrians in this new world, and you, with your English background and memories of English winters, warn me that it will be difﬁcult walking. By the time we celebrate the new year and return home it will be even colder, we might slip on the almost invisible black ice, and I am cold, so cold, even in the day, wearing my three layers of pants, my blood is still thin and used to the heat, you tell me. I will freeze. You are right. I reluctantly sigh. I don’t want to walk on black ice, I don’t even particularly like pubs, but I want to celebrate New Year, even if it’s unimportant to you. But I give in, and we stay indoors and watch a movie on TV, it seems a failure, but at least we are warm.
Johannesburg looked lush and tropical those ﬁrst few days after we returned. It looked like a jungle with its mass of trees. It looked exotic, different, another place. It felt passionate, it was colourful, people asked, ‘How are you?’ all the time. The sun was warm, bright, golden. It hadn’t started to burn yet.
I open windows to let the hot air out. England does not exist except in dreams and memories. and February is the hottest month in Johannesburg. The car is an oven standing in the sun. We hear the familiar South African accents. But I am here for you. One snide man. I am unmoved. We are dressed in black. One man has just lost his job. I read the words of the hymns as the family sings. a stranger to funerals in churches. As Harry Wrong-Long. A week later I have an interview. The next day I get a call about freelance work. I listen to hymns. you put your orange-framed glasses on again. quiet. You are so long winded. and the sun blisters my skin. My clothes are tight and hot. * * * We are now halfway through the game. I forget about England. I sweat in my black pants and long-sleeved top. and follow your example as to when to sit and rise. tearful. I start a permanent job a month later. and spoke of kafﬁrs. who said I wasn’t an oil painting. although we know where to get them. remarks on the fact 117 . Your stepfather dies a day before we return. holding my tongue again. Your mother cries. We attend the funeral.THE GAME * * * The days ﬂy past. once more we don’t have jobs. others speak of work and the heat. His best friend was a man who drowned puppies and kittens. it bores the rest of the players. leaning against your chest. I eat little cakes with icing in the hall next to the church. We still feel outside of society here. and start talking in a fake accent. I remember your stepfather as a racist who spoke harshly to the blacks he employed. Their eyes are red-rimmed. once more we are worried about money.
There is a ﬁnality to the game as the policemen return. and you are either grateful for the familiarity. quiet. I have swallowed too much. when the habit of familiarity takes over. the ridiculous orangerimmed glasses pushed back on your head. As honest as bleached bones. the clues. alone. He’s tried to worm it out of me. the props. You’re bare to the world then. no make-up. not wanting to spoil the game for everyone else. I throw everybody off my trail. pleased with my performance. and secretly I think I might have pulled it off. The snide man looks at me often. a few suspicions. I have been silent too often. but I act indignant when he accuses me. he suspects something. ‘There was something strange to you. When the others remark on your long winded playacting. The guessing goes on. ‘I knew it was you!’ the snide man exclaims when it is revealed that I am the murderer. He carries on staring at me suspiciously throughout the evening. The wine bottles are emptied quickly. or you stop. I reveal. They do not suspect me. There always comes a time when you stop complaining. the thrift shop owner. We buy the Sunday papers being sold on the street corners. proud. but he does not guess that I am the murderer. we drive home. But I don’t complain that you held the ﬂoor for too long when you spoke. The evening spent. 118 . the cards are shufﬂed. I toss the hat I wore into the back seat. We’re getting bored. clues revealed. the mistress of a rich man. and I felt embarrassed.that you take so long to get to the point. They haven’t missed much. You throw away the cards. I withdraw. The policemen haven’t returned from buying their thin cigars. I once wanted to be an actress. and resigned to the jagged edges that cut at you.’ I smile. lighting up in their corner. At one point you lean back in your chair. a few red herrings. the long chain of pearls. a bit fearful. naked.
I looked down. It was time to leave. even though my email address hadn’t changed in ten years. in the outdoor coffee shop.Friends It was ten to six. twenty-one? 119 . her married name. and the sun was still hot. dark glossy Greek hair. people walked. Did she really dye it as she had claimed all those years ago when we were twenty. cars reversed in the parking lot. Around us. We’d been talking barely an hour and it was time to leave. It would be another hour before it would go down. Athina pushed hair out of her face. Of course. children played. it was no longer Athina Kozma but Popadopolou. I got out my notebook and asked Athina to write down her address and telephone numbers so we wouldn’t lose touch again. I wrote my details down too. and she could have got hold of me anyway.
we were both twenty-ﬁve then. * * * In the weeks after that accidental meeting in a shopping mall I think of her often. I walked away. A momentary thought. just like now. as she watched me. the Mediterranean way. I had always been intuitive about her. after wasted years and false starts. ﬂitting across it repeatedly.’ said her mother as we parted. I remember that time. a ﬂeeting thought. cheek to cheek. We sat at yet another coffee shop and discussed the future. Christmas comes and I think of Athina with her family at Sun City Casino where her mother booked them for the holidays. ‘It’s just like old times. a pensive look on her face. I must have sensed that we were going to bump each other after all those years. Athina had ﬁnally ﬁnished her degree. and the air sluggish with heat. We kissed. her young son playing with the tin car on the pavement. ‘It could be ten years ago.’ It didn’t look dyed however. I got up to go.’ ‘See you in another ten years!’ I said.’ she had said. I barely acknowledged it. much as she had been on my mind for months now. ‘so I dye it. On a sweltering Johannesburg day. Athina was going on holiday and then coming back to South Africa: ‘I’ll work here 120 . in them she had black hair. jokingly. I think of her and her young son and husband. back in icy cold London. Once I even looked her up on Facebook but the Athina Popadopolou listed there had not responded. sitting there in the shade. She’s on my mind. when the sky is thick with wanting to rain. her mother. It just looks better. I think of her at New Year and wonder what she’s doing. And all those photos of her as a child beside her glamorous mother. She had graduated and was ﬂying off to Greece for a holiday. I waved goodbye again to Athina.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘It’s a mousy brown.
‘I saw Athina.’ ‘Did you get her number?’ I ask.’ I said suddenly. ‘You were right. I had known all along. ‘Marie!’ 121 .’ She was adamant she was coming back to Johannesburg. but restaurants are packed. Reached fabled London. ‘No.’ she said. popping in to see my mother at the boutique where she sells clothes. So I wasn’t surprised when I got a letter a few weeks later: she had decided to go straight to London. Weeks before Christmas and the mall is festooned with strings of lights. get some experience and then I’ll go to London. And again. We had ﬁrst met because of one of her boyfriends. I’m not going to see you for a few years. you won’t. merely telling me she hadn’t recognised her Athina. Boutiques are empty. but she hadn’t. my friend!’ she wrote. It’s the holiday season again and no-one is interested in working. She’d done it before me. London. the country shutting down for the silly season. A few weeks later I got another excited letter from her. I read the letter grimly. I was wrong. ‘I told her you’d be in later and she said maybe she’d pop in. saying no. I left work early.’ my mother says. she had found a boyfriend! There were exclamation marks all over the letter. * * * On a hot summer afternoon in December all these years later I bump into her in a busy shopping mall. and was bunking down in a tiny ﬂat. that golden beacon.FRIENDS a year. beckoning us both with our European passports. I wasn’t surprised. There is a sense of holiday and fun in the air. ‘you’re going to go straight to London from Greece.
‘No. ‘he kept me alive and together those ﬁrst few years. right?’ Athina does not acknowledge my comment as my drink arrives. 122 . Declan. but I want to. wearing those uncharacteristically thick glasses instead of the contacts. crawling. ‘Where’s your son?’ I ask.. blending into the background in a way that she hadn’t when we had ﬁrst met ﬁfteen years ago. ‘If it hadn’t been for George . Through our periodic meetings over the years I had watched her change.’ she says. the colour of the hair. I remember her pregnant the winter I was in London. the thick glasses worn instead of contact lenses. a presence in her life instead of a bump in front of her.’ Athina had told me. order an iced cappuccino on this hot day.ARJA SALAFRANCA It’s Athina. ‘They were seeing a kiddies’ movie while George and I went to see an adult one. a small gesture of their love still alive after the decade they have known each other. of course. named. ‘He’s with my mom. about the East Germans and the Stasi police.’ I sit. ‘Join us for coffee?’ When I approach the table I see Athina and her husband holding hands. We smile at each other.’ her voice had trailed off. a straw is inserted. ﬂanked by her tall husband. back in Johannesburg. I recognise her. where do you begin to capture what’s happened? The last time I had seen her was years and lifetimes ago. hair scraped back. The next time I had seen her.. The lined or unlined faces. her son was ﬁfteen months. have you seen it?’ I shake my head. settling around the crevices of mouths. for this was the boyfriend Athina had written to tell me she had met within months of arriving in London. face clear of make-up. the worry that creeps in. for a change! We’ve just seen The Lives of Others. ‘He was a very wanted baby. She is plumper now. registering the changes as women do when looking at their friends.
‘She’s going to be looking for two people. my mind keeps going back to that scene: meeting her at her ofﬁce.FRIENDS ‘But my mom will be here soon. not even resigned.’ We try to talk. the tight miniskirts. just simply accepting of the fact. She was going to stand reference for me.’ Athina explains anxiously. all that work getting my degree and then I’m just a PA!’ She didn’t seem unhappy. the off-the-shoulder tops. what is she doing? ‘George. they made her look dowdy.’ she smiled. and of course. The sexy expensive clothes. hair again scraped back then. ‘do you want to tell Marie what we’ve been doing?’ I remember her in London. She moves seats so that she can keep an eye out. Pregnant.’ says Athina to me now. they decided to be their own bosses and opened up their own business. George takes up the thread: instead of looking for jobs. plucking her eyebrows. an undertaking that seemed about as difﬁcult as ﬁnding a job. is she still working. help me open up a bank account in England. with the thick glasses that I had never seen her wear. ‘What do you do here?’ I had asked as I followed her as she got a coat.’ says Athina. going for regular facials. not three. ‘I am dying for you to see Declan now. They import crafts from South Africa and sell them to shops and 123 . ‘I lost my job and George was made redundant. the clothes.. but Athina is worried that her mother may not see us. ‘I’m a PA. I had barely recognised her myself that day in a dull ofﬁce in the East End.’ says Athina. Where was the beautiful friend I had known? Of all my friends Athina had been the most glamorous: dying and having her hair done regularly.. I want to know what they have been doing. ‘I know . waxing her legs.
I tell them about a new range we are developing. ‘Are you seeing anyone?’ Athina asks and I airily wave my hand. a respected job. And then I stop. She had studied journalism. We consult with a large supermarket group. communication. It bristles: the fact that this matters in their eyes. I should be on another kind of treadmill. they’re not really taking it in.’ I say. it’s the ﬁrst time this afternoon. you know. I tell them I manage a department of food scientists. a new low fat range of foods that is going to take the guesswork out for those who want to follow healthier diets. As you know it’s something I also want to do. But I have a good job. saying. I’m always talking about it. as I said. * * * We met.’ ‘More and more people our age are opening up their own businesses. ‘It was hard. if they do.ARJA SALAFRANCA galleries in London. She was barely twenty-one. but we did it. We’ve established that I am not married. or if they are. bits of men. we like the freedom of being our own bosses.’ she says. helping to create new foods and products. public relations. And we’re ﬁnally beginning to break even. but the tension soon returns. I should be having children.’ We laugh. ‘We didn’t have much money. it doesn’t matter. ‘We don’t like working for other people. She was engaged at the time to a doctor from Chile.’ It’s time to ask me what I am doing. She had met him somewhere out of her usual 124 . I should be married. because of one of Athina’s boyfriends. not really. Or. I stare at them astonished: I never knew Athina was interested in running a business. because they’re not really listening. ‘Bits and bobs.
‘man-free nights!’ we shouted as we drove through the silent. Of course. When she returned she was as exuberant as before and we resumed our friendship as she started studying at university. Did I ever say something? I might have. She invited me to lunch. and we became friends outside of the classes. We saw more and more of each other even as we stopped attending the lessons. I still didn’t drive then. I was also about to turn twenty-one – recently back from a trip to Spain where I had met long lost relatives – and I too wanted to communicate with them in their own language. even then we were afraid of the crime that was creeping through the country like a foul wind. She left for Athens to holiday there with her mother and father just before Christmas.FRIENDS social circle. the fact that she broke up with her ﬁancé halfway through the course also contributed to the lack of interest. We forgot about our lessons. Months later she met another man. I saw less and less of her. Greek this time. I was naïve then. neither of us very good at trying to learn the language. ﬁlled in the gaps with others. hurt as she threw all her energies into loving this man and 125 . and wanted to learn Spanish so that when she ﬂew to meet his family the next year she could try and communicate with them. we went to a movie. going out night after night: movies. But Athina wouldn’t let me open the windows too far. restaurants. dark streets of Johannesburg suburbia. but her absence was there now. When exams ended we hit the town. The air was hot and soupy in the car after days of sweltering heat. Friday nights were not sacrosanct as I had thought they would be. but became fast friends. She gave me lifts home. I missed her. We connected through those lessons. another December. coffee shops. theatre. moved on. We made a pact one night that even after we got boyfriends Friday nights would be our nights. an absence that had not existed before.
But she adored him. we watched art movies and thought we would land up with older men. makes me tense. Marie.’ A few years later I did know. ‘You’ll ﬁnd someone better.’ I looked at her aghast. she’s changed and yet her face is as smooth and unlined as it ever was. the eyes fresh. The light was hard and brightly ﬂuorescent as we sipped the sweet icy drinks and watched couples make out in corners. But there’s an anxiety there that makes me uncomfortable.’ We drank milkshakes that time at a Milky Lane. We wore make-up in a time when make-up was something older people wore. all I managed was an anguished. twenty-four. in yet another mall. and even spoke of stopping her studies after they had been together a year. But it gets better. It was real.’ she said. ‘He’ll look after me. but so much graver than people our ages. We were still so young then. she could still be in her twenties. I loved him as I have never loved another man. the face smooth. Except for a deepening somehow in her expression. although I will get used to it and it will get better. waving as her mother winds 126 . You know. you simply know. I never thought he was strong enough for you. ‘Ah there’s my mother!’ says Athina. disturbs the air. and she was there to commiserate as I had done. I loved him. I look at Athina’s face properly now. Years after they broke up she told me he was the real thing. unlined.ARJA SALAFRANCA our times together were relegated to lunch dates. we discussed with serious intent whether we were going to leave South Africa. ‘I don’t need to study and struggle to get my degree when he’s got more than enough to provide for me. ‘Will you change your name?’ But she needn’t have answered me. occasional movies and sometimes dinners at her house where I met the new boyfriend and instantly disliked him. ‘I would have married him and it will always hurt.
Athina picks him up. ‘No. of course her mother remembers me. drawing on her cigarette.’ Of course. the eyes crinkling mischievously. ‘Are you married?’ she asks. a tall boy of ﬁve. there’s something alive and something exuberant. And yet. an impending engagement? Why is it so important to say yes? Why doesn’t she ask what I do for a living and whether I am happy? The fact that I don’t have a ring on my 127 . lined. a signiﬁcant other. you remember Marie. her face lit up by the laugh. and I don’t disappoint. and yet. But why do I want to say yes? Why don’t I make up a boyfriend. with dark hair and long eyelashes. ‘Of course. She’s older now. I tell her he is beautiful and he is going to break women’s hearts one day. Years ﬂash by in an instant. She smiles. a dinner where her mother cooked a ﬁsh so drenched in garlic I was sick all night. ‘Mom. ﬁnd out who Athina is now. George looks indulgently at his son. and there are threads of grey along her forehead. something that’s lacking in her worried daughter. How could she not. another night. events. The release.FRIENDS her way through the table. naturally. I saw Athina often enough to become a presence in her home. I tell her I’m ﬁne and the next question is predictable. a dancing party with her mother zipped into a tight leather dress.’ I say. Athina is silent but I know but she’s savouring the praise. I want to talk. we need something to tear through the tension. days. And there’s Declan. nights. mixed in with disappointment. but that’s unlikely to happen with yet another person around. She fumbles for a cigarette as she orders a Coke Lite. face soft and misty. the relief that this disruption brings.’ says Athina. inserting a straw into the glass. ‘How are you Marie?’ her mother cuts in. memories compress. not expecting me to be to be.
‘I couldn’t have stayed in London. half turned in her chair to watch Declan and still hear us. and you should be settled.. I’m not used to 128 . a man to care for and to care for me..’ ‘And you have. it should be at least half paid off. ‘is it safe to let him play like this? I worry that someone will snatch him up in a second.’ It’s more of a statement that a question from Athina. are you glad you came back?’ It’s a long. we had to catch buses everywhere .’ she yells suddenly. ‘I am!’ her mother says. He was wrong for me – I realised that as soon as I woke up after a couple of days there.’ I say. You shouldn’t be thinking of emigrating. emigration. You shouldn’t be wondering what country you’re going to spend the rest of your life in .ARJA SALAFRANCA ﬁnger. And I buy into it. And we discuss the state of the nation instead now. eyes focused on Declan playing with a small tin car. ‘I get so scared. and I feel that hollow as keenly as they expect me too. and not with David. a man to share the mortgage. this matters so much. At thirty-six you should have your own place. And I couldn’t go on the Underground.. You should have been married for four to six years. ‘Mom! Watch Declan. you should not be sharing a ﬂat with a friend till you can decide what to do. I had to come back. ‘Are you happy here now Marie. I should have a man by now. not bits and bobs.’ says Athina. ‘Yes and no.’ says Athina as her mom looks at her. squatting in a spare room. not then. you shouldn’t have just sold a house and still have debts to pay off. to travel with. racing between people on this late afternoon. ‘My mom’s stopped asking me to move back. My thirtieth birthday and I realised he was the wrong man for me. Now she turns around entirely. complicated story. sort myself out. you can’t emigrate like that..
to be a mother.’ Athina looks resigned. There’s nothing wrong with me or George and yet nothing’s happened. surrounded by shops.FRIENDS the crime in this country – you have to watch your back all the time. I wake up violently. and still I can’t relate. I have nightmares in which I discover that I am pregnant. anything could happen. Instead I ask the obvious. ‘As long as your mom watches him. a parking lot. to have a man at my side to call my husband. and yet nothing’s happened. even though her mother is watching him. I’ve never felt that overwhelming desire to be pregnant. it’s ﬁne. Why do I feel a twinge of pleasure here? Why can’t I feel sorry for her.’ I say. Her attention is on her son. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he said a brother or a sister. the opposite. restaurants. I may now want to be married. but I think it’s pretty safe here. Except it’s not. not bringing a new life into the world. not expecting. and that I am not pregnant. for years now and nothing’s happened. sitting there. ‘Are you going to have another?’ ‘We’ve tried Marie. In fact. but I have never wanted children. It’s as safe as anywhere now. George has gone off to get rolls at a bakery around the corner and it’s just Athina and me.’ ‘Hmm. her brow frowning. wanting so much to have another child and unable to? What sort of a person am I that instead of feeling for her I am pleased that something’s wrong in her life. Declan keeps asking for a brother or a sister.’ Athina isn’t convinced. looking at Declan running.’ We’re in an open air shopping centre. ‘you do have to be careful. that it’s not as perfect as I thought it would be all those years ago? * * * 129 . and yet still Athina can’t relax. relieved that it’s all a dream.
‘You’re at a window.’ It’s yet another thing that I don’t understand. revealing as much about her as about any possible future.’ I’d said. a single mother. We were out with another friend of ours. Susan. both boys. What can I say to her remark? ‘Have you thought of adopting?’ ‘Oh no. wouldn’t have 130 .’ We laughed. If you can’t have another and you want your child to have a sibling. that in this slice of the future she was alone. not well enough to make any kind of living at it. ‘I don’t want to be one of those single desperate women you see. unmarried. start of the weekend. it’s night time. We all agreed that we wouldn’t want that. on the cusp of the holiday season. desperately searching for a man.’ ‘Oh. She did not ask me about a husband. I could sense things sometimes. ‘They’re predatory. Is that how Athina saw me now? A predator in her thirties looking for a man? * * * I think of this premonition as we sit there.’ Athina had said once.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘You’ll have two children. what could be simpler? We had discussed growing up as only children. ‘I see you with two children. And I wouldn’t have – even if she had asked. all only children. start of the holiday season. Susan and me. and I did not say that I did not see him. not after I have already had my own child! I could never do that. the lights of the city are glittering ahead of you. and a career.’ The picture was a bleak one. with two children. late Friday afternoon. Marie! I could never do that. In their thirties and forties. but enough that pictures sometimes came into my head and I could translate them into vague ideas of the future. Athina.’ I once told her.
have let old friendships slide. hardly needing to make an excuse. I ask.’ I nod. Australia. I hadn’t wanted children. overseas. England. it’s a complaint I have heard often from friends who now live overseas and return to visit. she’s just sitting 131 . but if I had planned on having any. You talk about the sliding rand. We let that tail off. Susan emigrated to New Zealand with her new husband eight or so years ago. Some friends have decided on a big lunch at which all the friends come and you must catch up as you will. She looks relieved.FRIENDS chosen it. ‘It became too tiring seeing everybody. or am I being sensitive? No. ‘No. and I ﬁnd myself rushing here there and everywhere seeing everybody and being exhausted by it all. this worried. it’s not right to remind her of this. of course.’ says Athina. dowdy-looking woman at the table.’ says Athina. She doesn’t know what was wrong. ‘Do you ever hear from Susan?’ Old friends. And somehow. dead. She knows slightly more than I do. Days become an endless round of coffees and lunch and then more coffees catching up on the years missed. I would have had at least two. memories. None of us would have planned on the lonely life of an only. but still.’ I say. Susan and Athina had agreed with me. as we wind up. clearly so in love still with her husband. We have both lost touch with others. Some are. the topics keep circulating toward the past. Who am I to tell her that she should adopt if she can’t have another? I barely know this Athina. Still others send emails from around the world asking when you’re going to visit them in Canada. What can I say? Instead. ‘Let’s exchange details before I go. inevitably. Others. ‘She was really sick though. We only really have two weeks here. Except that Susan couldn’t work for a while. New Zealand. We discuss other mutual friends. like Athina. ‘When I visit South Africa now I don’t contact my old friends.’ says Athina. news is old. enamoured of her son. it still feels like cheating.
Trying to somehow ﬁnd something you didn’t know you were looking for. Yet it’s not always about keeping in touch with people. We kiss. aware of their eyes on my back as I go. however brieﬂy and however many years have gone past. Europeanstyle. ‘have a good Christmas. not unless I visit London. and we know that I’m not coming to London anytime soon. uneventfully. and her telephone number in London. look after yourself. She made the decision not to stay in contact. on both cheeks. Maybe we can have coffee. wishes me well. ‘Well.’ she says. surrounded by her family and that’s the way she wants it. I can’t explain to myself why I wanted to see her again. I gave her my email address. Stay. ‘Bye bye my friend. to Declan. I glance quickly at the piece of paper with her address on. 132 . let’s keep in contact. and I have no immediate plans to do that.’ Athina nods. enjoy the rest of your time here. he shakes my hand. I say goodbye to her mother. I breathe a sigh of relief as I get into my car in the parkade. George is back from his bakery errand. but doubt I will hear from her. and people away at the coast. and stride away.there. And if I’m ever in London. I’ll let you know. now thinned by holidays. could I?).’ I say. I’m not going to write a letter either – that too is so much easier to ignore than an email. not saying. not making a move to say. it’s more like trying to touch a bit of the past. and that her holiday will pass peacefully. ease into the early evening trafﬁc. Why didn’t she give me her email address? I’m not going to phone her. let’s see each other again before I go back to London. have supper with us (would I. somehow.
some security now. and suddenly there’s a scar cut into your midriff where an appendix nearly burst at ﬁfty-ﬁve. A routine as ﬁxed as a marriage now. hers has grey showing through her red curls. the ﬂapping of a luxury tent in the middle 133 . What passes for a life? Forty years gone. is this. children. Years roll on. though. And while his hair is nearly gone. The sound of waterfalls rushing outside your window. a wife. He has a mark to indicate where his gallbladder was removed and most of his teeth are crowned now.Cleo and Nic It comes up quickly. What you really want is some contentment. Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. an eye on retirement? A mother passed away. and all you have.
Increasingly. Nic hasn’t discounted the fact that perhaps she knows. Namibia. now. noting marks and time. they had both just fallen asleep. They can’t waste it.ARJA SALAFRANCA of nowhere. but it’s not easy. wherever they are now. Ofﬁcially you’re in Namibia. Instead he’s here. visiting grandchildren or going to her women’s lunches. went for a water safari. but the past has marked everything they have done together. observing elephants and lechwes from their small boat. as did the noise of the waterfalls further downstream. Zambia. perched on an island that straddles three countries: Botswana. with the woman he has loved since the age of seventeen. they will go ﬂy ﬁshing with the other couple. after which. it’s like this. talking proﬁtability and shares and productivity. They will pass the day. After she had cleared out the room where her mother had slept. Instead there’s this: an early morning in late winter. but it’s all too late. The routine stamps itself powerfully on them. Why. Cleo next to him in a double-bed in a tent overlooking a river. ofﬁcially doesn’t count for much now. lunch. but still temperatures are going to rise soon. The woman he married is at home in Johannesburg. And then. They will have breakfast. He’s meant to be at a conference in Durban. They are both still tired this morning. They’re in another century now. on an island somewhere in Africa. a reluctance to begin. The birds woke them. despite their stolen time together and the briefness of it. the snatched hours lend an urgency to it. as though they had been married for the past forty years. as though life had taken a different turning all those years ago. They arrived late yesterday afternoon. They do it anyway. It started after her mother died. but the pulse is there. Americans. and transformed the space into a sort of spare room. 134 . had supper and talk with the other guests. thinks Cleo. and sex comes. according to your passport stamp. after she had rearranged the furniture. But. pruning roses.
neutral. She knew it was him: no name. She found herself giving away her mother’s pink chenille bedspread. just a message. they had families and lives of their own. Almost. It was months before he called. but she lived a long life… I had her for many years. X. There was that day at Woolworths. Cleo?’ she’d asked. it kept the family together. and the matching pink curtains. of course. for Xenopoulos. I am sorry. Her niece and nephew weren’t going to stay over now.’ The X was not for affection: and it would not be traced to him. for love and X for anonymous. Sent ﬂowers on the night she held prayers. grandchildren …’ 135 . He had sent a card. sitting on the table with the other ﬂowers and food for the guests. a duvet with a bold black and white African print. his surname.’ ‘Yes. ‘How are you. ‘I’m ﬁne. She knew where he lived. Unlike some of her friends whose family members had scattered to just about every other continent. after all those years. She bought neutral cream-coloured curtains. Occasionally she even ran into his wife. had children. her brother still lived a few minutes away by car. and made the room look anonymous. putting a packet of sirloin in her handheld basket.CLEO AND NIC she had no idea. she had a spare room now. Love. If you’d married. ‘I’m thinking of you. she thought. cousins were still in the country. X. Still. emigrating to English-speaking countries like Canada or Australia or New Zealand. Surprisingly other family members still lived in the city she had been born in. From time to time she even heard news of him. I’m so sorry …’ ‘Thank you. like a hotel room.’ ‘I heard about your mother. the day of the funeral. X. But still. their children close by. She was glad of it. his wife ﬁlling a trolley. Few of the Rosenbergs had gone overseas.
or had she wanted to stop them anyway? Was this her ﬁnal revenge. and Cleo had moved back home to be with her mother for a while.ARJA SALAFRANCA The words were out before she could stop. years unpeeled as she spoke. at forty. ‘But I got so scared. was widowed. in the middle of the afternoon. ‘So. Speared asparagus slices. moved back in. coming home. recklessly. But her mother hated being left alone. the last lingering weeks. ‘Goodbye. I just meant that they help you cope. he was at his ofﬁce. The death of her aunt had sparked it.’ she was saying. hated the thought of leaving her mother there. and Cleo. 136 . ‘I didn’t mean. You hear all those hijacking stories …’ Cleo said. her mother’s sister. her mother’s sister. driving at night. making everything bright and luminous. had shared a ﬂat. telling him of her mother’s death. A coming of age. so sorry to hear about her mother’s death. especially in the big house she had shared with her husband. at their lunch. So she gave up her lease. She had moved out two years previously.’ she said again. Her father had died. she thought. For years the three of them. we sold the house. placing another package of steak in her basket He’d called. Penelope. drinking rosé carelessly. Life rolled back. Another two years later. years and decades between them? ‘I’m sorry. open it as quickly as I could and bolt the door behind me. her mother and her aunt. getting your own place. He was sorry. she was at work. I used to drive straight up to the front door. opening the gates in the dark. The sun was shining. Safety in numbers. Crime was getting bad in Joburg now. What about lunch? Lunch. She moved into the big house with them. and her aunt. The spoke a while. frankly. ﬁnally. mixing her furniture in with the worn couches of her parents. Cleo. take your mind off things …’ But Cleo was already moving away.
‘Then Aunt Jennie died. Yet she wouldn’t go out. When she touched her face. So I went alone. He too was drinking wine in the afternoon now. Mom went downhill from then. it took a year. driving Mom and I both mad. or had the Bridge evenings at us. she couldn’t walk far now. My mother had companionship in the day. but she couldn’t ﬁnd it. or she wanted to read her book. wouldn’t put her in a home. doctor’s warnings be damned. but there was no tea. it took a while. she was tired. they thought she was getting better. but I just couldn’t take it anymore.’ ‘Yes. ‘I saw Penelope at Woolworths a few weeks after Mom died. I could go out at night. God.’ ‘But through it all I wasn’t wishing her dead …’ ‘Of course not. there was a guard who watched you come in at night. touched her hand. We rented a beautiful old ﬂat. I’d ask her to come to Bridge with me. Well. as though the sun had plunged behind buildings … but it was a bright hot February day.’ His tone was guarded. Her daughter wouldn’t have her.’ ‘Then she died. They were silent as he took her ﬁngers in his. she’d phone me every few hours from work. from time to time. She went senile. We had a nurse for her. Got pneumonia. Suddenly she felt cold.’ He reached across.’ 137 . in this day and age. I got the call as I was leaving work. These last few years have been a nightmare …’ ‘They must’ve been. Stopped phoning me every ﬁve minutes. three large bedrooms. ‘Did she tell you?’ ‘She says she sees you there. and she’d say no. or could I buy food for supper.’ ‘What happened?’ Nic asked. She was in hospital a week.CLEO AND NIC My mother was devastated. even though the fridge was full. that was it. she found she was sweating. and then. She wanted to make tea.
Then she moved out and was free for a while. it was. Clandestine meetings on odd evenings.’ ‘That was insensitive. She had tried. ﬁnd someone else? Let him go. she had called him. lose his hair and still she wanted him as much as the seventeen-year-old girl-woman she had been. She wondered if she could wait. they had both made choices. As though that would lessen the pain of losing someone you’ve known for nearly sixty years. grandchildren. years after it all ended. she thought. loved her equally. they could start over. Penny won’t suspect a thing. A decade had gone by. A married man – another married man – who kept her dangling.’ * * * It wasn’t the ﬁrst time they had met like this. Why couldn’t she let this man go? Why couldn’t she forget him. She believed him.’ ‘Yes.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘She said I should’ve married. had children. He said his marriage was over. Bridge evenings. After Cleo had moved out of home. again.. ﬁnally. a strange option. Years went by. and she couldn’t imagine ever loving anyone the way she had loved him. remembering him leaping up the steps to meet her. And he. seven years . and his children were teenagers. Why couldn’t they stick with them? What strange kind of lure drew them together? He was starting to put on weight. with his gifts and kisses. it began again. But he said he needed to wait until his children were at university. More kids. 138 . He said: ‘We can meet whenever you want. They had met in her ﬂat one night. This time her parents disapproved as much as before – but there was always the excuse of poker evenings. I travel often.’ It was an option. more years. And so. more time going by. he had made choices. ﬁve. six. more promises. let him be with his wife and children. and they still came together now..
a week off in winter. safe in the way she had always longed for it to be safe. She heard about him – as he. secure. She accepted this. Couldn’t turn him off like a movie become boring. whispering into the phone so that Penelope wouldn’t hear him. she admitted. he was only sixty-nine. or so he had promised. and unpleasant. And angry. angry at scared Nic. her mother widowed at sixty. At ﬁrst.CLEO AND NIC meeting him at conferences he was attending. She was busy arranging her mother’s life. She wondered if he would have. the button. she was so busy. Life was safe. so angry. She went away on her annual two-week break to the South Coast with friends. She now doubted it. That’s it. in the end. The children were young adults now. Then her father died. eating away at her days. radios. no doubt. couldn’t shut off the switch. Nic calling late at night. entered tournaments. fridges and sound systems. A year like this. her life. two weeks at the coast in summer. heard news and rumours of her and what she was doing. She didn’t hear from him. and that was that. predictable if you analysed it. Safe. Life ﬂowed on. This was the time he would have left his wife. A job as a secretary in a big company that manufactured TVs. ever again. so angry at the fact that she couldn’t get rid of him. so damn angry at Nic. sly shy evenings of removing your clothes and wondering where this one was going to lead. and still. She moved back home. she realised. But she was getting on too and had no patience for the cut and parry of new relationships. She played cards for money.’ She was ﬂaming angry. Was she ﬁnally getting to know him better? Was she ﬁnally getting to know him? 139 .’ She told him late at night over the phone. getting-to-know-you dinners. The December break led to a new year and something seemed to cut away from her. comfortable. Angry at losing her father to a heart attack. that she didn’t miss him at all. ‘I can’t see you for a while. ‘I can’t see you ever. ﬁlling her mother’s empty hours with suggested activities.
They took to him as a second son. this would have an impact. He became a part of Friday evenings at the Rosenbergs. Unless you’ve stood at the door watching him come up the stairs. that year after high school they went on holiday together with friends. of living now and only in this moment. all you have is now. two weeks in Greece on an island where no-one would ﬁnd them. she remembered this as a time of magic. Her parents liked him immediately. She was delighted to hear from him. more handsome than theirs.ARJA SALAFRANCA Then. his parents were still alive. but back then the false eyelashes and high 140 . Cleo and her friends would wonder how they had thought they looked good this way. and beehives grew higher. The cycle began again. Lazy days in a whitewashed village. more so. leather jacket on his masculine shoulders. Ten years later. she too graduated. She’d felt this way the ﬁrst time he had bounded up the stairs of her parents’ home. This time he took her to Greece. and that wide-eyed smile he reserves for you. as it always did. a cigarette smouldering in his lips. he ﬁnished his university degree in business. on her ﬁftieth birthday he called. She took a secretarial course. As it did. she said. You understand the concept of now. For this second son was brighter. * * * You can’t believe in love at ﬁrst sight unless you’ve felt it yourself. She was seventeen and he was nineteen and all that mattered was that moment. It was the middle of the sixties. miniskirts made their way to conservative South Africa. Years later. she from secretarial college and she started working. Then the words again: Penelope still needed him. tinged by the certainty that this time he would end it. In photos. poised to take over his father’s ﬁrm. He graduated.
Some part of them was waiting. waiting silently. six years in which each still lived with their parents – even though friends of each had married and set up home together. ‘No.. of course. ‘we’ll become Hindus and they’ll be perfect Hindus!’ ‘Buddhists!’ she yelled. there were parties. sharing a cigarette before she went in. Do you feel ready for it?’ ‘Ja. Her parents wouldn’t allow any grandchildren of theirs to be raised as anything but Jewish.?’ ‘I want us to get married Cleo. Sikhs!’ 141 . Neither was given to much introspection. Life happened as it did. his sister became her best friend. They had been together nearly six years.’ ‘When?’ ‘He wants to announce it at the next annual meeting. ‘Dad wants me to start taking over.’ They had discussed it before. ‘We can raise them as both Jews and Christians. ‘No.. But Cleo . The girl will be Jewish. we’ll have a boy and a girl. in his car. Nic. it was enough to go along. I think I do.’ Nic had said one night after love in the dark. the boy Christian!’ It was wildly funny.. she was twenty-three and he had just turned twenty-ﬁve. She was invited to his holiday home every year. ’ ‘Ja …’ ‘He’s been talking about me getting married …’ ‘Ja . to catch those moments of happiness. ‘You can’t have Jewish Christians!’ she had laughed. They sat outside her home. Cleo had become as much a part of his family as he had of hers. ‘That’s great. The future was out there somewhere. And then..CLEO AND NIC hairdos were the height of glamour and beauty.’ he said one night. I know.’ he said. but in the meantime there was fun. one day. ‘I know.
. you know that.ARJA SALAFRANCA It ended there.?’ ‘We’ll do a lumpectomy. you get cancer. What’s Penelope going to say.’ he said..’ ‘How long have I got to live?’ I’m ﬁfty-nine now. if you’re caring for me. this premature debate on what religion their future children would follow.’ Cancer. The scourge of modern living. We will test you and if.’ ‘In time . Don’t they say being pregnant or having children gives you protection?’ ‘Not breast cancer. The oncologist drew a lump of tissue. breathing in that familiar smell of leather jacket and smoke. and whispered in his ear: ‘I also want us to get married Nic. Maybe Penelope was right. dying alone somewhere?’ 142 . threw her arms around him. said with sad and grave eyes. ‘Let’s go away. you may go on to enjoy many more years of health. I think that’s uterine cancer or something. in ﬁve years. Now Cleo looked at him. then a course of radiation. I am sure you will die of nothing more serious than old age. Noone escapes.’ she said. Now I am going to die from a poisoned breast. I don’t know that.. we’ll have to see.’ her words trailed off. conﬁrmed the diagnosis. so . you are cancer-free. we caught it in time. ‘If you don’t get Aids from screwing around. ‘You’re lucky.. ‘We have caught it early.’ ‘No.’ ‘Who the fuck cares. I should have had children. ‘You going to be there for me?’ ‘Of course I am. It’s really at stage one only. she had told him bitterly.’ * * * She had felt the lump in her breast ten days ago.
* * * The ﬁrst words are lost. ‘You can’t marry Nic. her adored mother said. far away from doctors and crime-ﬁlled Joburg streets and hijackings and beggars at every corner.’ her mother. They were eating breakfast together in the dining room. They have made tremendous strides in cancer treatment. You know that. others have done it.’ ‘We’ve discussed all that.’ she said.CLEO AND NIC ‘You’re not going to die. You’ve always known that. we won’t have a daughter anymore. You won’t be welcome in this family again.’ ‘Cleo. 143 . You can’t marry Nic. ‘My god. Our children will be raised as Jews and Christians. but ﬁrst. Cleo honey. The doctor said he caught it in time. but she had found an article about a lodge on an island. but he was going into the ofﬁce later.’ He’d pay for everything.’ He booked. where we’ll bump into no-one we know. They’re not even going to remove your breast. ‘I want to go there. ‘if you marry Nic. what were you thinking?’ ‘Daddy?’ Cleo said turning to her father in his blue tartan dressing gown. ‘Your mother’s right. I want to go somewhere where there’s no electricity and the generator shuts down at night.’ her mother said. ‘I want to look at three countries at once. He had suggested a week at the coast. that’s it. longer even. Let’s hope Nic’s family will be accommodating. You’re going to live as long as your mother.’ ‘Why? Why? Because he’s not Jewish?’ ‘Cleo. we can’t let you marry Nic. the subsequent arguments remembered. at the conﬂuence of three countries. Saturday morning. he said. she wanted to go away. he’s not Jewish and no grandchild of ours will be raised Christian. Cleo.
’ ‘What do you mean?’ But her father was already getting up from his chair. I’ll have nothing Cleo. but I also can’t live without them. but I thought. They accepted you as part of the family.ARJA SALAFRANCA because that’s all the family you’ll have.’ ‘You’ll love others. My parents didn’t die in the Holocaust so that you would marry a Goyim!’ She was in tears as she left the room. Cleo.’ ‘We can start over.’ ‘What are you saying. No money. I just thought. Don’t break our hearts.’ ‘Why did you let me go out with him then?’ ‘You never seriously thought about marrying him did you?’ ‘He’s the only man I have ever loved.’ ‘It’s not that easy. ‘They threatened to cut me out of the family business. but we can’t let this happen. we’d work it out. cut me out of the will. Nic?’ ‘Nothing. Do what’s right. Not once…. Cleo.’ ‘We all learn to love other people. I’m just saying that if I marry you that’s what they said. You can build your own business. back and forth. They had endless conversations 144 .’ ‘I won’t. ‘Daddy?’ ‘We love you. I love my parents Nic. By now they were furtively sneaking around in order to see each other. that’s life. I knew that they would have preferred it if you were Jewish. I have to think this out. Nic. Cleo staring after her. Look at what your parents are saying. nothing. In all these years they haven’t said anything bad about you. her father staring down at his coffee cup. I have to ﬁnd a solution. I can’t believe this. What now?’ Back and forth.’ ‘I can’t believe this.
but she wasn’t Greek. His wife. He climbed into the driver’s seat. It was ten years before she saw him again. red roses. Not tall.’ Cleo watched him leave. Then there was the incident with the gun. Cleo’s father got his gun out. and she wasn’t Christian. going to convert. ‘What if we don’t have children?’ he asked. picnics in a park on Sundays. Cleo’s father was waiting for him at the door. Normally kept under the lock and key. they knew. hurried lunches by day. blowsy and red-haired as she was. They loved her like a daughter.’ she said. ‘You understand? Don’t call her.CLEO AND NIC on the telephone at night. ‘We’re not going to have Jewish grandchildren. don’t even think about her. ‘I want children. Back and forth. wearing a new blazer. When he bounded up the stairs. 145 .’ Cleo and Nic told each other. hair slicked on his boyish face. and put them in water in a vase he’d given her years before. Later. ﬂowers in one hand. Ten years before she saw him at a party. ‘If you ever come near my daughter again I’ll kill you!’ He pointed the gun at Nic. he had it cocked and ready when Nic showed up.’ his father said. dark and Greek. placed the ﬂowers on top of the post-box and glanced in at her watching from her bedroom window. One night Nic showed up. body drooping. determined to take her out. back and forth. there would be no more sneaking around. Back and forth. ‘It’s all about the future grandchildren. small. It’s over. a pretty Greek woman beside him. a tennis match that could not be won. then reversed. Cleo watched as he got out of the car. she picked up the ﬂowers. Nic’s parents were adamant: they’d disinherit him if he married Cleo. and she wasn’t.
she looks younger than the sixty 146 . a girl. and supper at a large wooden square table. and they ﬂy home. ‘How long have you been married?’ the Italian professor asks. Who is he talking to? Doesn’t he realise they have so little time now? In the bathroom adjoining the tent. he’ll look surprised. and back to Johannesburg for Cleo’s operation on Monday.’ Cleo says. still talking. The light here is dim and ﬂattering. That the Italian woman might still be there with him. It won’t be the ﬁrst time. a full one. lying on the bed. ‘Three boys and the last. not four. close to forty years later. two children. Canvas ﬂaps above the room. why hasn’t he come to bed? One more night. Now. talk with a the elderly Italian professor of science. It’s late. lunch. who is in animated conversation with the lodge owner. if asked. I’d better let Nic know that we now have four children and have been married nearly forty years. She looks over at her watch. out on her annual African holiday – ‘I always spend a few days here’ – a water safari. Leaves have fallen onto the ﬂoor. Cleo washes her face of the day’s sweat. looking over at Nic. of ﬂy ﬁshing. ‘Nearly forty years. ‘We married when I was twenty. I never married.’ ‘We were teen sweethearts. myself. realising what she has said. carpeting the bathroom in patterns of green and yellow. she remembers that she didn’t tell him. The day. she lies on an island hearing the waterfall in the distance.’ Cleo smiles proudly.’ ‘Do you have children?’ ‘We have four children.ARJA SALAFRANCA And now. as they are so frequently when they travel. A fake wedding band around her ﬁnger. they are Mr and Mrs Xenopolous. cocktails ordered around a deepening night. Automatically he’d be telling her about his real children. To all here. Perhaps. waiting for him to come back to the tent.’ Thinking.’ ‘How wonderful. asking him about his children. bluff his way through Cleo’s lie.
hey.’ her mother had said. looking at him through the mirror. ‘They’ve always wanted the best for me. half Christians. So. ‘but they stopped you from marrying the man you really. hearing the story. had other relationships.’ Cleo had replied.’ ‘No.’ the friend had faltered. you can’t raise kids as half Jews.’ ‘No.CLEO AND NIC she’ll be next year. ‘But you never met anyone else after that. no I couldn’t.. You have to choose.’ ‘But you could have had it all. staring at Cleo through the mirror.’ ‘They wanted the best for me. she often does pass for ﬁfty. it’s not fair to them. months after the break-up with Nic. you see. really wanted to marry. who meant as much. fascinating stuff. Thanks for warning me. ‘Yes. ‘I’ve always adored my parents.’ Cleo had replied. I mean. No-one compared. ‘You’ve never felt resentful towards your parents?’ a friend had asked once.’ * * * Nic stands at the entrance to the bathroom. I didn’t. whom you wanted to marry.’ ‘Sorry. okay.’ 147 .’ ‘Who were you talking to?’ ‘That Italian woman. Perhaps ﬁfty. Heard about our four kids by the way. Thought you’d ﬁgure it out. ‘You can have any man you want.’ ‘But . that’s right. she could. And the kids. My parents knew what was best for me after all. ‘Did you have a good time?’ she asks him. I met other men.. it couldn’t have worked out.
He comes towards her, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Fine, thanks. Just ﬁne.’ He grabs a towel off the railing, wipes his face. ‘Nic?’ ‘Yes?’ He looks at her, he looks worried, creases between his brows, and he looks so tired. You have to choose, she wants to say. You have to choose, I may be dying and now you have to make a decision. Will it be me, or Penelope? Choose. This is your last chance. ‘I love you,’ she says to his concerned face. ‘I have always loved you. I always will.’ ‘I know,’ he says, ‘I know.’ The words sound soothing, but ﬂat. She takes the towel from him, places it back on the railing. Looking down she sees the basin is strewn with leaves again.
A man sits in a Johannesburg park
A man sits in a Johannesburg park on a late summer’s afternoon. He releases the lead attached to his spaniel’s collar and she bounds off to sniff trees and play near the river, perhaps she will even go for a swim again. The man will then take her home and turn the hosepipe on her, washing off the slime of the river water. The man’s name is Andrew Barker, a good ordinary enough name, a solid name that is easy to pronounce, easy to give over the phone. It’s an afternoon late in the week. The man is alone. His wife and children are packing, and this is the dog’s last run in his company. Tomorrow he takes her into six-month quarantine. It’s hot, midsummer and Andrew’s face is red as he sits and waits for Lucy to ﬁnish bounding through trees and river. He sits, waiting, quite tired all of a sudden. He’s escaping the claustrophobia of the
house, now almost emptied of furniture. His wife and children packing suitcases, still busy throwing out black plastic bags of rubbish, and still anguishing over what should not be thrown away. And Lucy, running through the litter of lives being packed up, tongue lolling to one side, excited, excitable. ‘I’ll take her to the park,’ he had told Deborah, his wife. ‘One last time before we take her in tomorrow.’ He hadn’t planned on doing it. There was the packing to do, and then there were friends coming to take the rest of the furniture off their hands. One last night in the house they have lived in for ten years: one last night with a camping bed for him and his wife and an old futon for the kids. In the morning they will leave it on the pavement and it will be gone soon enough. A last night with no TV, no pots and pans, just takeaway dishes and memories surrounding them in the hollows of the house. Tomorrow they will stay with friends, and on Sunday these same friends will take them to the airport. Tomorrow Lucy will start her quarantine and Andrew just hopes that she passes all of Australia’s stringent tests and that they don’t ﬁnd some strange disease lurking in her ticks or blood. If they do, there’s a plan for that too: the friends who will take them to the airport will then keep Lucy, reclaim her from quarantine and add her to their menageries of dogs, cats, and a few birds. It’s for the children that they are taking Lucy – a reminder of home, a sense of continuity. Or so Andrew and Deborah have said. Yet, in some way, they also can’t bear to leave her here: Lucy with lolling tongue and puppy-soft eyes, Lucy who is as much a part of their family as their two children. Lucy, who is part of their lives here, and whom they want to be a part of their lives there – a link from continent to continent. It is perhaps a lot of pressure to put on a dog, but, of course, Lucy is delightfully unaware of these pressures as she bounds towards the river.
A MAN SITS IN A JOHANNESBURG PARK
Andrew sweats in the sun. He sits on a fence of logs, pulls a cap lower over his face, drinks from a bottle of sparkling water. It’ll be as hot over there, he thinks, and the seasons are all the same. Christmas will still be boiling; winter will still mark the middle of the year. At least the children won’t have to get used to new seasons, snow in December or biting freezing weather instead of sun and sun block. The Australian accent also isn’t that far off the South African one either – foreigners still mistake South Africans for Australians or New Zealanders, that peculiar ﬂattening of the vowels The kids, a boy and a girl, have been reading books about their new country: children’s guides to life in another place. Learning that Australia is about more than kangaroos and dangerous snakes and vast deserts whose heat eats you up if you let it. Andrew and Deborah have, of course, been reading other sorts of guides: Culture Shock Australia, how to set up a business, newspapers which list the price of houses, schools, cars, furniture and food. Night after night for months the TV has stayed off as Andrew and Deborah have devoured books, marking the pages with ﬂuorescent orange and green and yellow post-its. Drowning in information. ‘I feel like we’ve already left,’ Deborah said a few nights ago as she sat putting tape over the last few boxes. Andrew had sat down beside her, trees rustled outside the lounge window. ‘But we haven’t,’ said Andrew. Then, softly, like a traitor: ‘In some ways I wish we weren’t leaving.’ ‘You’ve said that before and I know what you mean and I also know that you don’t mean it,’ replied Deborah, mouth in a straight line, pinched red. ‘Yes,’ said Andrew, as the doorbell chimed, yet more friends coming to buy yet more furniture. It was, now, a closed subject. Whatever Andrew wished, or the
smoke curling into and around her dark head. 152 . with indecision. with the enormity of the decision to be made. they still loved each other as deeply as in the beginning. family. They were comfortable now. familiarity. and the kids were growing older. You resigned from a job. wait yet another year or so. in their cosy kitchen. you tied up the ends of your life as neatly as possible. They had applied for papers and waited over a year to be approved. Deborah smoked a rare cigarette. For though they had been married for years and years and had two children. applying ‘just in case’ as they told friends. with relief. they were approved and they had held the ofﬁcial documents in their hands that said they had so many months to take up the offer or it would lapse. or even Deborah. You got tax clearance certiﬁcates organised. and all the while the rand was sliding downhill. almost in spite of themselves. whether to do it. all too suddenly. you could not spend years wondering what to do. the decision had been made for them. and they would have to reapply. love. You became a robot. you had to make a decision and stick to it. furniture divided among friends and relatives. Then. stick with them. warm with wine. All the physical signs were in place. deciding. or what it would all mean in the end. And so it was that the house was sold. and was there a future now for them here? No. debates were useless. Both slightly tipsy on wine now.ARJA SALAFRANCA kids wished. the decision had been made. You had to make decisions. perhaps more so. you cashed in a life insurance policy. boxes were dispatched. That night they sat at the kitchen table while the kids played games on the computer and they laughed at the papers. They had been half-hearted about the idea now – after all this time of waiting. You did all this because a decision had been made: you did not question anymore whether you wanted to do this. They were laughing. In a sense though. took the kids out of school.
And the kids. But I can’t say we should stay. Let’s not get sappy and sentimental about this.’ said Deborah. ‘I feel like I know the place inside out.’ said Andrew.’ Deborah said on that night. But think of the future. We’re still young enough to make new lives for ourselves. ‘What do we want to do?’ Andrew replied absent-mindedly. It won’t make any difference to you at all.. as winter was just edging into spring. It pulls you back. rising from the table. Deborah was a lawyer. Deborah said. I can’t say we should go. you become a part of it. and she’ll miss her life here more than Thomas. You don’t just leave Africa.’ ‘Like we’re going because what’s wrong with us? If friends are going they must sense something.A MAN SITS IN A JOHANNESBURG PARK ‘I don’t know now. their future. stupidly clinging on to something that’s ﬁnished. ‘I feel like I belong here. ‘I’m the one who’s going to have to give up her career. You’re just going to go ahead and carry on ﬂying aeroplanes. We don’t want to be left here. he’ll be speaking Ozzie before we know it and Tara is adaptable. ‘What do we really want to do? We shouldn’t go just because so many of our friends are going or have already gone.’ ‘Not if you don’t let it.’ ‘She’ll be eleven soon …’ ‘Yes. That’s not a good enough reason to go .. know something that’s passed us by. months ago.’ She just about ﬂung her wineglass into the sink. Thomas is only eight. I’m the one who will be trying to start all over.’ ‘It’s hard to leave though. I just don’t know. I’m a part of it.’ Sharply now. Andrew. her years 153 . the animals. storming out to tell the kids it was bedtime soon. When you grow up on a farm and watch what the seasons do to the earth. except your layovers will be in different places.
Studying for a new career wasn’t something you did when you emigrated. a half day job as a receptionist if she could get it. It was when the gunman had ﬁrst burst into her room. The glass shattering. glasses. mouth useless with tape over it that the thought occurred. bottles of booze. and he’d curse about that. He had the gun beside her head then as he looked at her. The ﬁrst gunman returned and leaned over her. would be ﬁne. This was not an original story. They had discussed options: PR. Qantas already wanted him. the children. no panties. Andrew. But then the decision was taken out of their hands. as though language had been forgotten. she thought four or ﬁve. would they leave them alone? Why couldn’t she hear 154 . eyes stretched wide open. and except for a dislocated arm on Thomas’s part they didn’t really hurt the kids. they would say after. She couldn’t see herself going back to study – even if the kids were older. Deborah never knew how many there were. and all those they told had heard it before. the faces at the bedroom door in the middle of the night. tied her up and then had gone rampaging through the house leaving Deborah there. There was a moment when Deborah thought she might be raped.ARJA SALAFRANCA of studying would be useless there. They wanted money. He pushed her nightie up with the edge of his gun. recounting the events. adrenaline. and jewellery. Deborah’s hand already on the panic button. had read it before. heart thudding as a hand was clamped over her face. It was banal almost. the children? If she just gave in. after. made for them. They didn’t rape her. and moved roughly against her. crashing through the house. he grunted. She smelled him: old sweat and fear. of course. Andrew was away when it happened. then the car. alcohol on his breath. Deborah breathed raggedly. panic. smashing things. nightie raised. time to be with the kids and time enough to integrate into society by working. or had even experienced it.
thank her lucky stars and get on with it. Still she had been lucky. Except she dreamed of gunmen. of men with dark. there were shouts and it was over. bottles of HP and tomato sauce and more were all hauled away in rubbish bags. The security company apologised for not responding immediately but they just didn’t have enough cars to send out. over and over again she dreamed. shrugged their 155 . And the police. livid. or they probably would have shot her. She had been at the vet that night and thank God they said. Lucy. It was surreal. Deborah would joke weakly in months to come. they all agreed. The security company arrived. frozen meat. The fridge and freezer were bare. She hadn’t been raped and the kids were ﬁne. of husbands watching as wives were taken away to be raped. And there was Andrew. crazed eyes. There were worse stories: of being held at ransom for hours. And they were alive. because he had been away on one his ﬂights. There was silence. They had keys. or being forced to watch the rape. The dog. no house or car alarms going. salad. of guns caressing her thighs. helpless. had been of no help. At times Deborah almost felt like she had no right to complain: they hadn’t taken much at all. and. when they arrived the morning after. They hadn’t been shot and no one had died.A MAN SITS IN A JOHANNESBURG PARK them? But then another gunman burst in. they hadn’t even tried to take the cars. but not the TV. they had taken food. They had taken very little: some money from Deborah’s purse. releasing the kids who had been locked up in one of the bedrooms. but the joke was ﬂat. hadn’t hurt her … she almost felt like she should shut up. They left. a DVD machine. Downstairs was a mess. gave her a case number. that the gunmen were hungry. tied up. Perhaps the gunmen had heard them coming? They too burst in. who raged at himself. it smelled like a brewery with all the broken bottles of booze.
crime. vociferous. One day this country would be gold. They argued and debated and justiﬁed their reasons over and over again: ‘I’m not going to wait until next time. And so. nodding with eyes downcast. they said.’ she said to friends at dinner parties. They too had a lack of cars. This country had bred her and looked after her and she had beneﬁted from the fruits of apartheid and she should stay. wracked with guilt for not having been home that night.ARJA SALAFRANCA shoulders and implied that they too thought she had been lucky and had nothing to complain about.’ She was loud now. sotto voice. I’m not going to wait until I am raped in my bed. Equally sotto voiced. They went to his parents’ farm. Now her eyes weren’t downcast she was angry.’ she said.’ said Deborah. And there was Andrew. I’m not going to be around for a next time when the government has no intention of doing anything about it. They won’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem. if Deborah and her family had ever thought of going. helpless with rage and fear himself. ‘Crime. they decided. and no one could say why. ‘or when Tara is raped. Deborah had said yes. they couldn’t be everywhere. at lunch. I’m going before that happens. see the bad years out. took the kids to secret pools and places he had played in as a child himself and Deborah could see 156 . She recalled how. ‘One word: crime. They hadn’t come the night before. looking nervously around before she asked. He rode horses over the farm. at a breakfast meeting at work. desperate to do something even as he talked of his love for the land. she was one of those whingeing whites politicians ﬂayed in parliament. to colleagues at work when asked about her decision. grit her teeth. a woman had asked her. unapologetic even as she knew that their decision to leave was frowned upon. the place he had grown up and as they talked it over with his parents Deborah let herself see the tug of war in him. crime.
’ said Andrew.A MAN SITS IN A JOHANNESBURG PARK the thread that bound him to this place. wondering if they would really need so much in their new lives. the Sydney Harbour Bridge arched over the deep blue of the Paciﬁc Ocean. ‘You won’t need burglar bars and security alarms and rape gates over the doors. I still want them. ‘If we were younger we wouldn’t bring up kids here.’ Deborah saw the sea in her mind’s eye. but comforted themselves with other thoughts. to a place where the light was white hot and blinding. caught up. Andrew. I don’t think I can sleep now without them.’ ‘You’re not just giving us your blessing. ‘You’ll be able to sleep safely at home now.’ Andrew had said. Andrew had argued. and what’s waiting for them when they leave school?’ Shocked. ‘It’s not even about you and Deborah anymore. shaking his head. ignoring her last comment. you can walk to the shops instead of having to always drive everywhere and we’ll be living by the sea.’ Andrew continued. his parents. ‘Leave. slightly scared and exhilarated with the 157 . On their visit to see the place before applying for emigration papers they had done the Bridge Climb. disbelieving.’ his father said. But they were in a grip of a decision.’ his parents counselled. And you won’t worry about being hijacked every single time you come home. They knew they would have to need less: they would be surviving on one salary for a while and they wouldn’t be able to afford the same large house. harnessed.’ ‘And. this land. and as they went through the days they shed possessions like snake skins. ‘you can walk in the streets. you’re actually telling us to leave. ‘But how can you say that? You won’t see your grandchildren more than once a year maybe? You’ll grow old you might not be able to ﬂy out to see us then. even if I am away. day or night …’ ‘I can’t imagine not having burglar bars.’ ‘It’s not about us. it’s just too dangerous now.
herself. when Andrew spoke of the beach. people like ants. me and the kids. ‘I’m 158 . She was a woman in her mid-thirties preparing for a new life in a new country. he asked her again and again if she didn’t really want to go. He had done everything he could: all Deborah had to do was make the move. They were tense – but they put it down to the stress of the coming move. ‘I don’t want to get raped.ARJA SALAFRANCA thought that they might one day live here.’ they said.’ she ﬂung at him again and again. There was no beach in her mind. as Deborah ﬂung out these barbs. Hurt now. she didn’t even have to get a job until she was ready. Andrew felt bouncy and light-hearted: he had handed in his notice and was going to start ﬂying for Qantas even before they left. no waves and surfs or golden sands. That they would make new friends and it would all be so exciting.’ Deborah said to him. just a bridge over dark blue dangerous waters. we’ll go all over. ‘You’re not really leaving. They read the books about their new country and showed the children all the places they would visit. but you’re just going to carry on as normal. ‘We’re leaving. It was mostly Andrew who would make the reassurances. their grandparents and the farm and they reassured them that they would visit in a year’s time. except your home will be in a Sydney suburb not a Joburg one. on a bridge high up. That’s what Deborah saw. and one day she asked Andrew if he ever thought she would lose her accent. The kids spoke of missing their friends. Deborah listening as she wondered about their new life. ‘We’ll climb Ayers Rock. He was going to ﬂy the South Africa-Australia route as often as possible.’ ‘So?’ He was defensive. we’ll visit the Blue Mountains. for now and in the future. She strode through the house with something less like fear and anger and something more like lightness and pleasure. One day it was as though a light had gone on in Deborah.
He knows now. her red coat redder. buy airline tickets and wave goodbye. more intense perhaps. When she said those words he remembers feeling icy cold and then raging hot as though he had a temperature. and sounding like someone else. make a decision. that it’s not that easy to leave your home.A MAN SITS IN A JOHANNESBURG PARK not too old am I? Maybe by the time we’re in our ﬁfties or sixties I’ll sound like our kids will … And you. But decisions are made and you must stick to them. that it may be as white hot and burny. waiting for Lucy. in your ﬁfties too I wonder what you’ll sound like?’ Andrew wonders now. with a clarity that he wishes he had seen before. don’t do it! Fear crept up and down him like blood: Stop. he knows that as he gets up to look for Lucy.’ Yet he knew her sounds would mangle themselves into a mongrel mixture of the two continents. if that was the moment. the same burn. as he did. Even Lucy will look different. the same green in the grass. Nothing could bring it alive as forcefully as his wife aged before him in his mind’s eye. no matter how unintentional. or because your wife was nearly raped. don’t ever make yourself sound like another person from another country. He saw her then. But what if they bought into a secure townhouse complex? With a 24-hour guard and in a boomed-off area? That would be more secure. this isn’t what I want. and enjoying a close relationship 159 . He’d wanted to shout stop. why didn’t they think of it? Andrew would be less reluctant to ﬂy away every few days and the kids would still grow up knowing this country as theirs. He knows now that the sun will not be the same over there. But what could he say? ‘Don’t change your accent. and that’s when he knew. the aged face. but it won’t be the same white. You can’t just sell your house and possessions. speaking in a peculiar accent. simply because that is what your friends and countless strangers are doing. sitting on the wooden wall. an older woman with white-streaked brown hair.
A man walks in a Johannesburg park in the middle of summer. Here. wherever he is. calling to his dog Lucy. 160 .. as Deborah has said. Everything hinges on him: Deborah will be dependent on him over there. then what? He does not lose his job. it will be easy to go their separate ways. two days before he is due to leave the country of his birth. it’s over. she will still go.. She will walk home on a leash. can’t. If he leaves with her. the man beside her as insubstantial as a ghost. just in case . it’s over. grabbing onto that straw offered by another country? Why did they put in papers anyway. and if he stays. no longer our new home. knowing that he mustn’t. Decisions are made and you’ve got to stick to them even when you realise they may not be right. as dogs do. already it’s over there. waiting. he knows. he sits panic-stricken.with their grandparents. but then what? Deborah will go – if she doesn’t go to Australia. they still have two cousins. If he says no now. That’s it. won’t and yet will go. And their cousins? They will have no one in Sydney. smelling of the dirty buggy water. He walks toward the dark green mucky bed of the river and trails a stick through the water. life continues for him. Her sister lives in Canada with her husband and children. The dog will return. Why didn’t they think of other options? Why did they just automatically think of going. Deborah’s brother’s kids. despite the not inconsiderable expense? Because well. The house is sold. He’s changed their lives and they are all looking forward to it. wet and excited and excitable. Are they really that unoriginal? And now. She’s nowhere to be seen.
Schmalz! ‘That’s not what Dora and 161 . not that you will.Schmalz In 1781Emperor Josef II announced an Edict of Toleration for the Jews which established the requirement for hereditary family names. Chicken fat. ‘Here.’ Thrusts a piece of paper at me – not that I can read it – and says. says it there.’ Schmalz. Rivka Shlomo comes in and says. you tell them Schmalz. ‘Look. Grease. So if you need to tell anyone. you’re a Schmalz. You’re a Schmalz. Jews were required to assume German-sounding surnames.
He sets them down by the stove. ‘You’re a Schmalz. goes into the bedroom to change out of his good clothes. he carries on scraping in the weak sunlight. so when the tax inspectors come we know where to ﬁnd it. and ignores me. wait. wait. I hold the piece of paper under his nose. we must keep it safe. really. That piece of paper says so. I wait. as he does in these types of situations. through Sarah’s sewing..ARJA SALAFRANCA her family got!’ I go outside. in out. go away. runs a stick through the shit. and says I must look after this piece of paper. What Shlomo and I can get for our small efforts only keeps the roof over our head. ‘You’re Sarah Schmalz.’ But Sarah doesn’t stop.’ I tell her. till I know he must be back in his day clothes. sewing something as usual. the 162 . ‘How did we become Schmalz and Dora is a Goldfarber and Rosa and her family are now Diamond?’ Shlomo sighs. ‘They’re Goldfarbers! How did they end up with gold in their name and we’re just grease?’ Shlomo looks up at me. a line of neat. in out. fold the paper into four. He tells me to put it in the family Torah. tuck it into a pouch at the back. the needle ﬂashes. hands holding the leather boots. whatever I may think of it. I get the book. I stand behind Sarah. I deliver the babies when I am called. scratches his chin. quickly. He’s hoping I’ll shut up. runs his hand meditatively around his greying beard. but I’m not popular. and Shlomo’s just a teacher. the piece of paper with the scribbles in my hand. how many handkerchiefs can she sew in a day? How many dresses a month? Her father comes in. He’s scraping some kind of shit off his good leather shoes. Inside I ﬁnd Sarah sitting at the window. now scraped clean. it’s the only way we get any meat in this household. quick hands weaving in and out of the ivory fabric.. quick stitches . or the name.
rubbing at his feet. Shlomo sighs again. now named pocket grabbers! This is good. socks still good. as usual. ‘David and Leah are now Drachenblut (dragon’s breath).’ he nods wearily. I hit the bed with both hands. ‘And why haven’t you told me what they’re called?’ I gesture with a thumb toward the dirty grey wall that separates us. (shit!)’ We howl with laughter. I sit up. and Amos and Yenta are called Drek. Shlomo could always make me laugh! Hymie and his no-good. Looks down at me. Hilda. You know that .’ he says.. otherwise you’d yell your greetings and go. ‘Well. It’s old man David. it’s a name for the world. he’s sitting on the bed.. money-grabbing wife. It’s not who we are. and Saul and Muriel are now Plotz. I’m right. whatever. What must the neighbours think! Bang. ‘Rivka. eyes still avoiding mine. ‘Good. A pocket grabber! ‘What else?’ I ask. I always say. good. That’s all. for the gentiles. I pull the curtains dividing the room shut. (to die). ‘What does it matter Rivka? It’s not your real name? It’s not your Jewish name. stare at Shlomo. it’s only so the gentiles can keep track of us and make us pay our taxes. make a tiny squeak in bed and he bangs on the shared wall. Rivka.’ I tell him. but these names don’t matter. no doubt because of Sarah’s darning. scream to catch my breath. You know what is? He’s a Taschengreifer!’ We laugh. I know that sigh. No way can Hilda go past me in the street now with her haughty eyes. so deaf you have to have to shout at him a hundred times if you want him to hear you. bang goes the wall. You have to repeat everything and so you end up staying longer with him. even though she’s shorter than me by inches. Hymie couldn’t pay either.’ 163 . It’s a ploy.SCHMALZ good shirt hung up for the next time. What does it matter if you’re Schmalz or Gold. and yet. ‘I put it away.
164 . it’s a name for others.’ Sarah tries to touch me and I shake her off. I knew it!’ I storm out. I know I am roaring and must stop and cannot. I roar. sewing as she has since she was a child. a nice name. Besides. It’s only a gentile thing. I stand by the stove. we’re not what they call us. You think the neighbours aren’t going to throw it in my face that they’re the Rosenblatts? Or that Tovah isn’t going to remind me that she is now named for a beautiful sparkling stone and I’m nothing but grease in a pan? I turn around. a name you could be proud of. You want me to throw away good money on this. the others didn’t care. ‘But it doesn’t matter Mamma. why not make it pretty. ‘They’re the Rosenblatts!’ I bang the lid of a pot closed. I thought the name was so pretty. Everyone said it: it’s not your real name Rivka. special? I begged Shlomo. ‘I knew it. he wouldn’t cough up. Rivka.’ he said. But I was the only one. they will. ‘Shlomo? What are they?’ ‘They’re the Rosenblatts. and you had a good name. if I had the money you think I would spend it on a name?’ A few coins. The noise rings in the room.’ Sarah ﬁnally puts down her sewing. she knows it. and then we don’t eat for a month? We’ll get what we get. ﬁlling a pot with water and peeled vegetables. They didn’t know why I cared either. ‘I’m not paying for a name I don’t even want and that the synagogue won’t even recognise. rose leaf.’ he sighs again. if you have to have a surname. you think the Rabbi’s going to care what you’re called? You think anyone is even going to remember it? Ah. mad.ARJA SALAFRANCA I stand. She looks up at me. I knew it. You’re mad. I begged him day and night and no. scratching his chin. Sarah is still sitting at the window in her chair. She knows I wanted to be a Rosenblatt. but they will. startled. you know that. ‘Mamma. ‘They’ll give me what they give me.
hunched shoulders. scrawny like a chicken in the cooking pot and screwing up her eyes and not caring she hasn’t got any meat on her bones so that she can get a husband and get out of here. That’s all. Summer’s coming. And look at her. a decent name so I can ﬁnally hold my head up high. Rivka will have something to say about that. He knows he lumbers because he’s been told so.SCHMALZ Shlomo slopes out. the light’s brighter. or about the fact that Sarah is still home unmarried. He lumbers. my Shlomo. he thinks. and already nearly twenty! Twenty! At her age I was married and had a child already. Walks to the lessons he’s giving. Shlomo. about where the money is going to come from for this. Shlomo * * * Shlomo walks. A bit more weight on his stomach than he used to. deep grooves on either side of his face. but not heavy. and he feels like he lumbers. and Sarah sewing all day. No longer skinny Shlomo.. because it’s hot. Already her eyes are ruined. 165 . or that. or it’s cold. And couldn’t even get me a decent name. always near the window for light. You think I don’t see how she strains. no. like he’s heavy on his feet even though he’s not a heavy man. has to teach the Torah instead to spoiled Jews. or because when he gets home Rivka will have something to say. about the sweat staining his shirt in summer. the failure.. as he was as a youth. but still . about having to air his clothes outside and washing them more regularly. a burden. Sarah it was who I had then. so that we’re all squashed in here with the younger children sleeping by the stove to keep warm. he’s even beginning to sweat. holding the cloth so close. Couldn’t even make it as a Talmud scholar. He lumbers. Can’t get me a decent place to live.
All morning they waited. ready to show these boys with parents who have more than he has. and what prayers do you say if the food is milk or wheat or just a mixture of both? Shlomo can tell them in his sleep. half-hearted. It didn’t matter what the gentiles had called them. Isaac had shrugged. and it would be denied if anyone came asking questions. It will make it easier to take our taxes off us. you used them as you used a hat. even as the gentiles had acquired surnames. twisting his beard. It wasn’t ofﬁcial. lined up. stares up at the sky. why this happened in the scriptures and what it means. They were prepared to do that. to shield yourself from the elements. telling different boys the same thing.. giving extra classes to boys who won’t make it through their schooling if he doesn’t arrive. at night. he said. They were labels. But the emperor had decided. the sun or the snow. over and over. the clothes. 166 . It was that business this morning with the emperor’s inspectors that has made him so tired. teaching boys. had been old man Isaac’s assessment. Shlomo feels he’d be a younger man if there wasn’t always the money to think about. his rheumy blue eyes overﬂowing with tears. the food. the sun getting higher and hotter. First the decree: the emperor had decided all Jews were to have surnames. the lessons. wonders why his boys don’t already know the answers. but they all knew. the rumours spreading. Always the lessons. he’s tired.. A cousin of Rivka’s. Shlomo wipes sweat off his brow. clutching his books. high and bright and blue. stooped. German surnames. white-haired. Another few streets . he’s been doing it for twenty years. in the end. had known for months.ARJA SALAFRANCA The money. His own sons suffer of course. For years they had been able to get away with it. why they haven’t absorbed them. Isaac was ﬁfty-ﬁve now. Some men paid.
the sun is getting hotter. one more failing.. ‘Here. or some of the names the others were getting for greasing a man’s palm. more guts and courage.. ‘Nothing. he swayed back and forth. ram it in. as he set off for home..’ Shlomo had replied. more more more . one more reason for her to thrust in deeper. He walked away with the name of Eselskopf. saying he didn’t know he didn’t know . that he was a failure. An early summer they’ll have. But. of all names. His cheeks streaked with veins. takes off his black hat.SCHMALZ It didn’t matter.. he knew. you’ll remember me. Schmalz. ‘You want me to call you nothing?’ Shlomo had been silent. this name. Shlomo stops. eyes crinkling up in the folds of his face. Nothing. his face already perspiring. ‘Shmalz. donkey’s head. that Rivka wouldn’t let this go. The clerks could be malicious. again and again. with more money. For ever afterwards.’ said the man. with the piece of paper in Christian writing. fat man. ‘Nothing!’ The man wrote across a piece of paper. that she had found someone else. Schmalz!’ The man was cackling. It would be one more lance. a short. and Shlomo wasn’t going to waste valuable coins on acquiring a name like rose petals or mountain dew. She’d never said it – a good Jewish woman wouldn’t – but he knew that she wished she had never married him. wailing. Shlomo stepped up. chins wobbling. ‘What have you got?’ asked the ofﬁcial. this day. It shouldn’t matter. sweats dripping into his eyes. When Isaac was called up. whenever you spread some fat on your bread. He’s at 167 . Now. It doesn’t matter. he could hardly contain himself.
My younger sister. He came. I knew. It was the start of summer. Lost his parents in a famine in Russia. more. the cart is slow. no warning. he made friends with my father. one Sunday morning.ARJA SALAFRANCA the house. so hot. He came. as a young girl. I was married within six months. he’s hired a cart. wandered around with his brothers. The children whined and fought with irritation and excitement. Recites the lessons. just like now. took a whole morning. comes in. married at sixteen already. I didn’t need details. Mashka. picks up the children. didn’t need to know why or how. shows them what’s outside. How many days does twenty years of marriage hold? How many nights? Rivka * * * We had a day at the lake. The time passes. The children pick berries off the trees as we go. We were just married. hot. goes in. Shlomo had some extra money. I couldn’t show my head in the street. and there I had been an old maid. dusk becomes darkness and Shlomo will trudge home. A whole morning away! They had never been this far from the village! I went once. 168 . Schlomo wasn’t born here. The afternoon passes quickly. There has been no one. he’d worked harder. no one. Shlomo took me then too. I was. pale and skinny. I would have preferred a bit of warning. I was unmarried. Took a cart. the mares old. gives lessons. an orphan. with his face sunken in. Eighteen. yet doesn’t need to be. and we go. and I pack some bread and chicken. the boys recite back. Just like that. a disgrace. paid more and he came in one day and surprised me. As he has a thousand times before. But no. my younger sister already pregnant with her second child. He’s not really there.
Half the village had come too it seemed.SCHMALZ I knew what the others said. Face as rosy as a peach. Our sons at intervals after. I attended her. But now I could hold my head high. but Shlomo hadn’t told me. the years reached for me. Three children! Three! That’s all we had managed and I was becoming an old woman. Rivka?’ ‘Don’t know how to do it anymore?’ ‘Does your man need a lesson?’ Sly. Never had the children seen such a big body of water. And the questions! The questions people ask when you’re on holiday at a lake! ‘Why aren’t there more. I had respect. My younger sister. with children. It had been planned for months. thirty. Then nothing. I could walk down the street with a scarf over my head as a married woman. He turned away. We ate. A big bustling family. And now she was round with her eighth child. So pleased with her husband and children. carts laden with food. We nearly died. I knew the pity. laughing. plump from all her years of bearing children. big and round. She was too long and skinny. thirty-ﬁve. ‘We have to clear your cobwebs!’ These hysterical women shrieked like geese going overhead. Winking at each other. I blamed Shlomo for whatever lurked in his family. as I did with all the others. Two years I later I birthed Sarah. some eggs. happy. She was ripped from me by force after days of labouring. And 169 . Papa soon after. I felt so ashamed. smiling. Mamma died. Cold as ice in early summer – why couldn’t Shlomo pick a time when the water would be warmer? They dipped toes in. seven by then. We had a marvellous time at the lake in the beginning. My sister Mashke. shimmery blue. throwing her good fortune in my face like a dirty rag. All I had to offer was bread and chicken.
You boil the meat. But Mashke couldn’t: ‘Then they won’t be friends with me!’ Later on. All through the years. alone. Like you’re contaminated. They took it all. you boil it and boil it till it falls off the bone. shaking her head and then Mamma stopped asking. helping my mother at home in the afternoons while Mashke was out with her friends. I took food from home. They smell these things as an animal smells fear. eight years old. but that didn’t help. laughing too. How I tried. All my life I have heard this shrieking. Children know. At the age of ten I knew. I took Shlomo when I was eighteen. then ran away. I never smelled it. The knowledge was sour in my mouth. and you’re only eighteen years old. till the string separates from the muscle. Mashke was eight by then. it was just no. as she ruined so many before. I tried. But it’s not the same.’ my mother would implore her younger daughter. She ruined the day. a scent. I was no ugly duckling. someone who couldn’t smell that there was something wrong. seven. Occasionally I would pick someone. as one takes old dry meat. Do you know what it’s like to be the older unmarried sister? Do you know what people say and how they look at you? Like you have horns sprouting from your face. A cute girl. I took him. although 170 . this laughter like birds dying. Leaving me hungry. They pick it up.ARJA SALAFRANCA Mashke. Just knew. I knew it from the time I was six. ‘Take Rivka with you. with curly red hair. her belly grotesque. Just knew there was something wrong with me. till you can eat it. Beauty or no beauty. It didn’t help. avoided me they way you do a dog with a frothing mouth. they avoided me. with my long dark hair and my perfectly shaped eyes. I gave them my sweets.
How can you stay cool? I know immediately. You wipe a cloth over your face. ‘No. two hard bony ﬁngers. trying to learn how to play their games by watching. water frothing with potatoes. I’d forgotten. The anger boiling up like in a pot. She’s uncomfortable. * * * She calls me. sweating. Something wrong with that one. ‘perhaps the red in your cheeks will make you sweeter!’ Only once she was married would Mashke let the others see us together. they’ll come later. your hair clinging to your face. ‘Don’t be so mean!’ Mamma said. Summer has begun.’ 171 .’ ‘Oh that. The sister with a smell that you could sense a mile away. It’s tradition that a daughter follows her mother into midwifery. ‘They’re celebrating. but Sarah had no talent for it. Fainted at the sight of blood. wanting this pregnancy to be over.SCHMALZ they always drifted away. I have no idea what name he chose. I’m alone. or what we were given. pinching. Joseph’s not back yet. no way of getting cool. Had to get apprentices instead. ‘No apprentices?’ she asks. grunting slightly. ‘How are you ever going to ﬁnd a husband with such a sour face!’ Pinching my cheek. You sweat through the long daylight hours. and the days are hot.’ I’m gruff. Why do people say they enjoy this? This unbearable lack of dignity. dripping. I looked out of the windows at children playing. around your neck. That’s it.’ ‘Celebrating what?’ ‘Celebrating their Christian names.
then it’s time. she’s ready. covering the baby’s mouth and nose. a few long minutes as I hold her. we smell each other’s sweat. She didn’t know her own name. The baby comes. Mashke’s husband comes. eating. Sarah * * * She died nine months later. I take Mashke’s older daughter. as I knew she would eventually. It takes only a few minutes. pain tears through her. It should be easier every time. covered in the ﬂuids of her birth. I lean in. but not this time. Mashke’s soft. or where she had come from. Mashke is already crying out: ‘Where’s my baby? Why isn’t the baby crying?’ I let go. They called me a saint. Night comes. By daylight she’s still struggling. her fear. They said I had sacriﬁced so much. Then they brought little Hannah over. I need help. It takes hours. drooling child 172 .ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘That no-good Shlomo of mine got us called Schmalz! Schmalz! Can you imagine?’ But Mashke is gripped already. The child is nearly ready to be born. she’s the one training to be a midwife. that I deserved better. and then forgetting how to eat. She has had seven children. leaves the labouring woman. soiling the sheets. goes. It’s just enough. She’s attended a few births. my Mamma. calling names. a daughter of light. not hearing me. breath. The cry is like a trickle of blood. God’s angel. not enough to really know. not much. close. They said this to make me feel better. She wants to push.
I saw the grey threads in her hair and I saw how one day they threaded through the black like cotton. Hannah is smaller than the other children. I ate and ate and ate. I saw how her jaw creased and dropped. we blamed it on what had gone wrong that day. like stubborn old fat. They say that when you live with people you don’t see how time steals them. till it was him and me. Silent and old. She was always hard. and yet joy is so often bitter. It made no difference. the grooves never became deeper. I never did marry. except for the dull eyes. And then. ruins them. eyes glued to the material. I saw. sweetly smiling. there was no space to look after Hannah. I saw my mother harden. favoured child of God. He never aged though. I looked after him. She became old that day. who could come close enough? Who would want to? She sent out evil. who would take me. and then that was it – a strip of white through his brown hair. he never grew older. I saw her become old. sometimes not. scrawny. Sometimes I blame myself. the day Hannah was born. and always Hannah in a corner. but then she was old and hard. the child of joy. with all the children growing up. a noose. that’s all. 173 . He became ageless. I had watched my parents grow old. but that’s wrong. It means joy. a sweeter child you could not imagine.SCHMALZ from that terrible night. he was just newly old by the time of the summer of Hannah’s birth. when she was gone. more and more silent. Eyes weak. He just became more and more tired. They named her Hannah. and with her almondshaped face and small mouth she could almost be pretty. my brothers moving out of home. gristle and meat. swallowing lumps of fat and bread. Mashke needed rest. and then the next time I looked. Hannah. That’s the name that Mashke’s husband came back with. old by then. There were deep lines in his face. ringing the house like a web. And my father. Hannah Freud. I saw from the time I was a girl. the grey had taken over. and we had the room now.
There was no running away. her once plump hands now bony and scrawny. at night. ‘You’ll take Hannah.’ I looked.’ Then one night. Then. She said. hazel eyes that looked at me from a bony. ‘I did what I had to do. her eyes cold and clear. cold sunken-in face: ‘Look at me Sarah. She sat up in bed. near the end. So urgent. It was like she was suddenly clear. clutching me at night. 174 .’ ‘What do you mean Mamma?’ But her eyes are closed. again and again. Heavy-lidded. You don’t do that to a person. he died. What was she talking about? But her mind had gone. It was as though she had been pretending. one night. once: ‘You’ll take Hannah. and now she was back. the cobwebs dusted away. I felt the same cold fear that had encircled me since that night and my mother started losing her mind. clutching his chest. You don’t do that to a person. My mother died at the end of the winter. make them small and frightened.He didn’t speak much toward the end. Listen to me. She lingered for months. and later they brought Hannah to me. She stiffened in the night.’ Just once. like she was back from wherever she had been that night. and the next day she was gone.
who had come from the old country. and had a twitch which punctuated his speech: every ﬁve minutes his right shoulder would involuntarily go up to meet the down-turned corners of his lips. before it resided again. he in 1902. No one knew if he was aware of this afﬂiction or simply didn’t care. also a boy. Their ﬁrst child. eleven inches. The doctors had been helpless against this disease then. Solly Bernstein stood four feet. She in 1897. and had died of meningitis. had lived until the age of four. 175 . His whole body would prepare for this convolution.Solly Bernstein’s story Solly Bernstein was the second-last child born to Esther and Solomon.
Not novels. under which he wore a good jersey and a thick shirt. The Tarot. Since he had never married. Not only were novels read by silly women and love sick teenagers. which was certain to corrupt family life. His furniture was all wood and hard edges against which it was easy to knock your ankles. even if the temperature outside was climbing to sweltering temperatures. Isn’t that a nice touch?’ he told all he met. Suﬁsm. Next to it stood an old radio from the 1960s with a special TV attachment. set into the massive bookcase. and a gold corner glinted from a back tooth. His two dark eyebrows pulled up sharply from his green-grey eyes. Jesus’s Last Years. gaudy plastic. but they all opened to a high. His jacket was always buttoned. some were rich. His television dated from the time TV ﬁrst arrived in South Africa in 1976. They were books that did not allow Solly to consider other people’s lives or other possibilities. girlish giggle that seemed out of place in this bachelor apartment. manufactured when the country was hanging on its seats waiting to see if a minister was going to let them have this form of entertainment. they were dangerous: they let you see worlds you’d never seen and would never see. Of course they didn’t get TV. he lived alone.’ There were plenty of scholarly titles: Great Religions of the World.ARJA SALAFRANCA He dressed in neat suits. and they all waited again. ‘Not novels. ‘You can’t miss it – it’s called Santa Barbara. Ancient Philosophy and so on. His home was ﬁlled with music boxes: some were cheap. The books were hidden by glass. Everyday Meditations. dark wood. The I Ching. he would remind guests. Buddhism. now wrinkled.’ he would repeat. ‘I don’t waste my time on novels. He was very proud of the name of the ﬂats. 176 . He was sixty-four and living in a recently bought ﬂat in a block named Santa Barbara.
He spent his evenings among the friends he had made while studying or working. had dinner at the homes of the couples. all sharp edges. Solly Bernstein had followed his sister to Johannesburg in the late forties. He began to number and place his books. made money and bought a Porsche. Two modern posters adorned the walls. he took a job in the city. They bore down heavily. In his bedroom there were photos of the young Solly. neon yellows. Later. He had been an engineer. and periodically they fought and she called him names and then he’d stay away for a while. He went to their weddings. The kitchen was bare and clean. He went to movies with his still unattached friends. loomed over by scenes that threatened to fall out of their heavy gold frames. and studied at Witwatersrand University. In the same year his elderly parents sold up what 177 . In 1956 his older brother took his new wife and baby and moved to New Zealand. The surfaces were polished shiny and except for an old metal kettle and a single ﬂowered tea cup there was nothing to show that anyone used it. Another music box sat on top of it. extravagant paintings done in rich oils: restless seas with a farmyard idyll between them.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY Hanging over the packed-together lounge were three enormous. Periodically. bought good paintings. and started to read the occasional book on philosophy or religion. and visited his nieces and nephews when they were born. he visited his sister and her growing family. One when he had received his BA. making the visitor uncomfortable and uneasy. and enjoyed being young and unmarried. and the other commemorating his BSc. He had a ﬂat in Hillbrow then. oranges and screaming pinks. The dining room table was of yellowwood and was covered by a delicate lace tablecloth. And then he’d come back and take them for rides in his Porsche. And in the centre lay his double-bed.
Solly said it was late. Just never found the right girl!’ Solly said brightly. Solly liked her very much. he always had a lot of things to do on a Sunday morning. and had big black eyes in a pale. They rented a dark. except for the divorce. ‘No. They had coffee afterwards. said she understood. The next Saturday he and Edith went to a Mozart concert at the Civic Theatre. the papers spread out before 178 . ‘And you? You never married?’ she asked. saying nothing. We married too young.ARJA SALAFRANCA they had in East London and moved to Johannesburg. Solly reminded her of his busy schedule as he left her and got back in his car. milky face surrounded by a cloud of curly black hair. Would he call again? At her door she asked if he’d like to come in for a nightcap.’ Edith told him. ‘I still think that marriage can be wonderful. His friends winked at each other. they’d better get going. Edith nodded again. drove a car. She was twenty-six. She was quiet and petite. The next morning he lay in bed till late. sipping at the tepid coffee. awkward at the exchange of intimacies. and generally did what was expected of her. and spoke about their lives and background. She nodded. ‘We got divorced because we just could not get on. She smiled and continued. It was at one of his friend’s dinner parties that he met Edith Rosenthal. I was only seventeen! And as the years went by we found we had even less in common.’ Solly grimaced. pokey ﬂat and made noises about impending weddings and a desire for grandchildren. never married. if you don’t do it when you’re too young. and she returned the affection. She was recently divorced and was revelling in her freedom. and thanked him for a lovely evening.
Solly nodded grimly. They went out a few more times. ‘Come next Friday or Saturday. ‘Bring her to supper then! What are you waiting for?’ urged his mother. they got up hungrily. yet tonight he had sat there sweating. ‘That’s a wonderful looking woman you’ve got there. he had stopped attending such frivolous activities. ﬁddling with the food. once to a movie where Edith took up his clammy hand to hold it. tremendously scared and tremendously excited. she was a woman. He spent the day in a kind of eager anticipation. bringing in the warm smell of chicken soup. and then his father waved his hand in the air. still undressed. He told himself he’d never see her again. She helped Mrs Bernstein in the kitchen. As a rule. He was furious. early. while she sat coyly next to him. ‘Why did you hide her from us?’ Solomon Bernstein asked. his brother-in-law brought up the subject of Edith. followed by her 179 . and said what did it matter? She was a woman. both sucking their pipes. fussing over the pudding she had brought for afterwards.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY him.’ When Edith came in to announce that supper was served. and coming out of the theatre he couldn’t tell what the movie had been about. but he sat stifﬂy straight forward. Solly sat with his father in the lounge. Let us meet her at least!’ Edith was delighted to meet Solly’s parents. wasn’t she? Yes. It was noon when he got up to make breakfast. But the next Friday night when he was at his sister’s house with their parents. but on the rare occasions that he did he counted on being able to follow the dreadful things. and was she Jewish? And how old was she? Solly told them she was divorced and there was a heavy silence while the next course was served. Solly watched her ankles disappear around the door. his knees clapped together till the muscles hurt. and then you can go out together. His mother eagerly asked what her name was.
The conversation centred around the presumed prospective bride. and opened his eyes to ﬁnd Edith’s pretty face leaning above his. watching the stiffness that stood out from him. a useful material body. When Edith returned she had a tray of coffee. As if sensing this. and it needed food. they each forgave her the divorce. watching the contented faces of the Bernsteins. His parents liked Edith. more exposed than before. He lay inert on her bed. and she got along with them. and it went to the toilet. dumped him on her bed. the more he disliked her. until. with her sprayed dark hair. feeling all his tight control disperse in his alcoholic stupor. Nothing more. everyone fell far back. Two solid limbs. he thought and lay back once more. and later it was Edith who drove them back to her small cottage. and said she’d make them some coffee. She put her tongue in his mouth. it did things all bodies did. and wore a short frilly nightie. She soon undid his shirt. her too-red lips and the conservative dark blue dresses. a body. laughing at the jokes his father told them. and he doubted he could walk back to the lounge. So sensible and good. But the more he watched Edith. making his mouth tingle a little. and Solly grew angrier and angrier. He felt something hot and heavy on him. he told himself. he got drunk. and once a month it bled. and took off his shoes and pants and underwear. his mother gave him more and more wine. for Solly’s sake. staring through the blackness at the ceiling. helping his mother serve the food. It was just a body. trying not to offend his parents. Her legs were stark and bare against the light behind her. 180 . till he lay there. and he welcomed the foreign object exploring around his teeth. The table sped away. She sat pretty. made out of ﬂesh. He was proud and pleased with his achievement.ARJA SALAFRANCA rounded buttocks. swinging from side to side. She helped him in. for the ﬁrst time since he had left university.
She pulled him over and she was underneath. He found his clothes. feeling as though someone had kicked him around his head. and hurriedly dressed. tickling his face with her hair. Her little boy had driven away in a huff. His chin was rough with bristle. and felt him in her brieﬂy. Soon. Their 181 . Edith held up this one cold insult to the globe. wearing an expression of stricken puzzlement. carrying the comedy through. and told him what to do. That was how Edith came upon him when she entered the room carrying a tray with coffee and toast. she guided him and kissed him. He got his car keys. The sheets smelled faintly. saying nothing. but he refused to see her. he thought. determined not to acknowledge her. And then he lay back. ‘Solly?’ she asked him as he got in the car. like a dog. he had only seen her cottage when drunk. locked himself in the bathroom.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY She smelled of ﬂowers. as she bent over him. and found it came away in tatters. and when he saw he was naked. She put down the breakfast. he remembered. the narrow mouth clenched into a thin. easing a comb he found in the cupboard through his hair. He woke the next morning. ‘Solly! Talk to me!’ But he started up the car and reversed out the driveway. and stood there. panting crudely. The face staring back looked menacing. It explained nothing and meant nothing. The last he saw of her was a ridiculous ﬁgure. they fell asleep together. to show some grief when she thought she had never even seen his ﬂat. embarrassed and awkward. He heard food being fried in the kitchen. She tried to weep. quickly. He laughed whenever he thought of that. She put her hand on the handle of the door. and sensing his ignorance. while he put on his shoes and the blazer. and she followed him out the door. straight line. in her short gown. the furious expression of the eyes enhanced by his eyebrows.
‘I don’t need to go. and the night prior to leaving. Solly bumped his Porsche against a drainpipe when he tried to park it. his twitch became more frequent. He didn’t like the 182 . with the odours of food everywhere – but she could not weep or feel grief. a tea-room in the country. He was unapproachable. he kicked it and made up his mind to sell the machine. he said) and Solly delayed packing. as he knew he would. I don’t need overseas travel. there were wrinkles around his eyes and beside his nose. as he had let other difﬁculties slip out of his mind. I see no reason to travel all that distance. He went around with his mouth still clenched. and buried it in their own ways. so he forgot.’ he told the family. And he forgot Edith. a movie. an angry line on his face. One day it was suggested that Solly visit his older brother and family in New Zealand. Another year passed. I’m far too advanced for that. he grew more nervous. Train and boat tickets were bought (he could not tolerate aeroplanes. He had an offer to work in England or France – but he said no. far too warmly heated for September. Examining the dent on the plum-coloured bodywork. They left the subject of Edith alone. his parents’ ﬂat. nearly thirty. As the days were swallowed up. ‘I’m not going. He felt violated. he dreamed constantly of sinking ships and train crashes. It’s a waste of good money. He told his family and parents that Judaism was a farce. He moved into a two-bedroomed ﬂat with a better view and servants who serviced the block. but they made no comment. overstuffed and overbearing. his clothes lay neatly organised in his wardrobe. He was getting older.’ He cashed in the tickets and returned the money his parents had contributed to this trip.ARJA SALAFRANCA courting had been conducted only on neutral territory: at a concert. he tucked the reminders into some unreachable place. He started studying philosophies and religions then.
what was the point? All that he needed for happiness was right in himself.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY English. When he retired as a civil engineer in the mid-1980s. he ﬁnally bought a ﬂat in the Santa Barbara block. And anyway. and so he moved. He walked to the shops which were just a few streets away. He hardly used his dull. various bills and accounts took only a few hours to settle. He kept his desk in permanent disarray to persuade visitors that he was busy and active and enjoying retirement. he didn’t need women. white Golf anymore. he moved back to Johannesburg. and soon the emptiness in him began to ﬁll up with logic and theories and mysticism. although he took it out every few days to keep it running smoothly. He settled in and found that the old boredom that had arrived when he retired still lingered. he examined the beadwork and the carvings of faces and animals that the traders sold while they 183 . gradually the statements copied from books became his. Twelve years before he had joined the Freemasons and spent some time at the meetings. And all the time the hole was closing in. He opted for celibacy. He packed his belongings fastidiously. While strolling back. When he was thirty-one he was offered a job in Benoni. labelling alphabetically so he could pack the books in the new ﬂat as he had always had them. Dithering around in retirement for a few years. The noise of Johannesburg was getting louder and nearer. On odd evenings old friends came over. He purchased vegetables and fruit daily. occasionally he visited others. and found a good cheap place in the East Rand town. Every few months he went to the nearby hospital for a check-up. He had days and days to ﬁll. numbering each box. He studied more philosophy. and informed friends that he was advanced. and then slowly made his way back home. couldn’t speak French and was convinced it wasn’t worth his time learning the language of a people he regarded as dirty.
his power of knowing. stocky man. he came across pictures of exotic islands with clichéd white sands and palm trees and turquoise seas. tired out by the monotony. or a house gasping 184 . When acquaintances spoke about their latest trips and experiences with foreign cultures and languages he smiled. a few old friends who had nothing new to say. Life was relegated to a few streets where he lived. the sellers of wooden sculptures and the beadworkers watched him coming. But he never bought anything from them. He told those he knew or came into contact with about his beliefs. He sometimes thought he would go mad with the boredom. so they stopped looking up when he came. Sometimes he took his car to the post box he still kept at the Central Post Ofﬁce in town – but he hardly received mail there now. Once home he had the afternoons to dispose of. sarcastically repeating that he himself did not need to travel. only more than mildly contemptuous of those who insisted on the trappings and contradictions of religion. He had other things in his life: his study of metaphysics. He had no need to convince them because he felt secure in his position. He read the newspapers. He knew that he was superior to the vast majority of mankind by virtue of working himself free of religion. and the daily necessities of buying fruit and vegetables. and having chanced upon the only true way. He was an old familiar sight: a short. He felt the same way about religion as he did about travel: he did not need it.ARJA SALAFRANCA squatted on the pavement. He was a joke on the street: the knitters of jerseys. Occasionally. He slept the afternoons away. pretending to be busy. so he knew it was really a waste of petrol. he argued and debated – but he left others alone with what they held to. He displayed the same show of interest every day. jokes pounding at their lips. watched television and attending meetings at the Freemasons. ﬁdgeting and twisting in his sleep. and yet plotting time with a desperate desire to kill it.
One cold. this was his second last for the day. chanting his litany. The thought wearied him: ﬁnding clothes to take with him. and Solly followed him to the refreshments table. and Solly had heard such stories before – unremarkable. The man murmured some kind of polite agreement and looked for a way out. another time he had seen a shaft of light in the corner which only one other person. and he was too old. probably ﬁlthy. wet night in May he went to a Spiritualist Church to hear a talk about materialisation of objects. He saw no one he knew. that he had been to Smoke-Enders. when he had seen a friend die from lung cancer. It was disappointing. trusting friends to pick up his post. who stood next to him. The man smoked a cigarette. He asked Solly if he had been coming to such meetings for a long time. just like that. like smoking. he’d never done it before. had seen. The man replied that he had 185 . cake and coffee were served. leaving everything he knew for something unencountered. Once he had had a ﬂower ﬂy through the air and land at his feet. holding a cup. It seemed the man giving the talk could materialise objects out of nothing. there were prayers. fragmented accounts of the supernatural. And besides it was too late. disrupting his orderly ﬂat. he was too old. Added to that. He commented to Solly. A pale colourless man who had been sitting next to Solly got up. Solly said he had studied religion and metaphysics for thirty-ﬁve years and had been to places like this during that time. the lights came on. and he’d ﬂip over those pages.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY under snow in the Swiss Alps and he felt a quick intake of breath. covering up everything. a psychic. he no longer felt the need for personal crutches. his pulse rose. and anyway. looking suspiciously around the hall. that did nothing for him. and could only hurt the temple of his body. he was stopping slowly. by following a vegetarian diet and not drinking alcohol. After the talk. Solly told him he had stopped twenty years ago. which he monitored strictly. he continued. strange.
nipping at his ears. glancing at his watch constantly. Solly sat watching this and the people. Confronted with the hours of retirement stretching bleakly ahead. swooping at his eyes. he was an insurance advisor. At odd moments he had had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. he had felt there was something more. and Solly wondered what was wrong with him. At the next meeting a psychic asked them to form a circle. with heads bent or pointed at the ceiling. reluctant to end something they had begun with such idealism and ambition. beautiful place there. soaking him. screaming that he was useless. frittering away his time by doing nothing. the man’s name was Arthur. ‘Now. Outside cars went by. But they were stalled. They introduced themselves. He opened his eyes. or there could be more. heads bowed in the rain that was slapping the ground. everyone sat demurely with their eyes closed. brieﬂy ﬂooding the room with the yellow of their headlights. and they were considering divorce. But the mind that had studied engineering at university and 186 . ‘Here I leave you. She told them to imagine a scene at a cliff or a waterfall. that he was leading a hollow life. damp from an underground river that shifted and moved. Bats ﬂew.’ Solly found a black cave. but the room was dark. huge monstrosities stared at him. Afterward they went around the circle. and ﬁnd a peaceful. The hall was emptying. most recounted peaceful meditations. What can you see. try to go behind. They hurled criticisms at him. they promised to keep a seat for each other at the next meeting and left. He said he had been separated from his wife for nearly six months. insulting him.ARJA SALAFRANCA recently become interested in this stuff due to a personal crisis. what do you feel?’ There was a pause.
At the meeting he had appeared enthusiastic about the subject. He leaned back. and Solly pondered about the life he had led. Solly was taking a long time coming. Now the block had cracks on the corners. and Arthur left the books alone. 187 . his sparse hair was brushed to cover the bald spot. He shouldn’t think such things because he was above all that. Arthur was there that night. attempting to be comfortable against the wood and ﬂowered cushions. His eyes darted. The others were sympathetic when Solly said he too had nothing to tell. grimacing at the leering paintings. bored by the selection. Solly took out his books but Arthur was now only vaguely interested. After the meeting. was a bit eccentric and had a head swelled to bursting point. He didn’t read much. but he always returned to the three paintings looking down on the lounge. the artworks leered at them from the walls.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY parapsychology independently stopped at a block when it was turned inward. He had come in late so he did not have a meditation to tell. hardly glancing at the words. he read recent biographies and autobiographies that had been chosen by his wife. so Arthur got up to peer at the titles of the books. Afterwards Arthur and Solly met up again. teasing him slightly. ignoring the faults and dislikes each found in the other: Solly spoke too much. but when he did. They sat in the cramped lounge. he sometimes ignored Solly’s remarks. He observed the crowded room. opening the door proudly onto the place with its mixture of old and new art and furniture. Arthur went home with Solly who was going to show him his books on yoga and self-healing. He simply paged through them now. They gravitated toward each other. More often the doubts were trivia tossed aside because Solly knew he was superior to most human beings. His slightly stooped body was dressed in a suit. Arthur was rude. He took him into the ﬂat at Santa Barbara. taking in the rest of the room’s details. Solly went to pour the fruit juice in the kitchen.
He wanted to go on. he took pleasure in the new things it was doing. impatient. the warm breath weak on him. Solly stiffened. until Arthur began undoing the buttons of Solly’s shirt. Arthur held onto the loose skin. He continued massaging the shoulders. aren’t you?’ he asked. stroking slowly and rhythmically. He turned. putting his hands around Solly’s neck. clasping Solly. twisting. the glasses were lined up. and started rubbing his back. He put his hands around Solly’s plumpish waist. his face at Solly’s. though still a short man. his hands still holding the edges of the tray. Solly kept his back to him. he heard the tray being released. tingling. He was taller than Solly. gently moving his arms around the stomach. Finally he massaged the shoulders. caressing the potbelly. When Arthur arrived. Solly didn’t move. He had his back to Arthur. ‘You’re enjoying this. lightly touching the face. it was rough and needed shaving. bumping against the tray. but feeling the tongue excavate his mouth. who smiled. sliding his hands up and down. The juice was in a jug on a tray. and he leaned over Solly. going back to the waist. They kissed. hearing it rattle with the glasses. It assumed a life of its own. and was putting it back in the drawer. he was just about ready to bring it into the lounge. 188 . who came closer. feeling Solly relax. noting with satisfaction that Solly’s body was becoming limp. discovering a vest underneath.ARJA SALAFRANCA There was a clatter from the kitchen. protecting the bulging belly. His tongue was a sexual organ. Arthur bent down. he joined in. Solly had retrieved the scissors he’d used to cut the cardboard juice container. They kissed for a long time. giving into the feelings and arousal that Arthur’s hands were creating. simply letting Arthur do what he liked. At ﬁrst Solly was meek. Arthur went on stroking his waist. and faced Arthur. excavating in return.
quickly. dead to conversation. A small lamp cast its glow in an obscure corner. Solly could hardly wait. he still hadn’t done anything with his day. By six. and was abrupt with Solly. and ate and drank and sat. He noted the time – it was three. the room was dark. heavily. The next morning Arthur left just as Solly was waking up. they could only make out outlines and shadowy substances. dumping them. Eventually. but he could not fall asleep. he went to get water. saying he’d see him shortly. then four in the morning. He sat in the darkened lounge. When the pale. but still he just lay there. trying to relive the moments. he would phone. They looked at each other in the dim light. when he could take it no longer. tossing. They kissed again. just thinking. 189 . He was too disturbed and shaken. but his skin was more wrinkled. it folded over on itself as he sat round-shouldered. glimpsing his naked body in the mirror. He was in a rush. Arthur was thinner. dead to Solly. hot and sweaty. remembering Arthur’s touch. and then Solly led them back to his bedroom. the curtains cut off the sun. Tiredness drifted around. Solly nodded and went back to sleep. but except for that. His mouth was dry. yet could hardly believe he was going through with it. He put on a dressing gown. or dressed or shaved. Instead he had supper and watched TV. He lay in bed a long time. Arthur slept soon after. trying to ﬁnd a cool spot in the bed. and made lunch. but he felt clean. hurriedly taking off their clothes. sometimes coming into contact with the unfamiliar body.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY They kissed again. Solly lay awake that night. Deliberately and carefully they made love. he slept. blue light penetrated the curtains and the birds formed a choir. appraising what was on offer. hunched. He hadn’t shaved or had a bath. The grey chest hairs stood out as faint whispers in the dark. They sat on Solly’s bed. Arthur didn’t call. It was late when he ﬁnally got up.
looking drunk. ‘Haven’t you got a drink. Solly? My mouth’s sawdust. embellishing the story. He was subdued and docile. Arthur arrived. But they never spoke about their feelings or what was happening. Solly was confused by this strange and wonderful experience in his life. having one himself. He had been imagining their night all week. He enjoyed the manipulation.ARJA SALAFRANCA He phoned a week later. He was starting to feel vulnerable.’ Arthur grinned. and Solly would sit silent. saying he had had a difﬁcult week with his wife. adding and removing details. and on other nights. And Solly. perking up a bit. prompted by Arthur phoning and arriving. letting Arthur dictate the hours and what he did with them. trying to get Arthur to speak about it. anything. about what had happened. and tried to sort it out. letting Arthur lead. 190 . tidied the ﬂat. They made love that night. Solly agreed. the relationship entirely controlled by him. moaning about the ‘bitch’. the ‘old hag’. The hours went by. complaining that she hadn’t worked all these years. but she was demanding too much alimony. Arthur would turn up with a complaint. Yet Arthur only went on about his wife. totally under Arthur.) He waited for Arthur to say something. Solly? I’m exhausted. sacriﬁced herself to him. For the ﬁrst time ever he was letting someone else rule his life. making use of the power he didn’t have with other people. He was still absorbing the experience and wanting more. closed his mouth. He was in awe of this man. Now she was wanting to get divorced right away. the ‘whore’.’ he said. afraid of it ending. Then Arthur stopped talking about his wife. He was excited now. but Solly said little. ‘The usual garbage. asking if he could come over. tied down by what Arthur had done to him. or what this man had shown him. mumbling polite nods. ‘Why don’t we go to bed.’ Solly poured him a whiskey. (He still kept liquor in the ﬂat.
my wife. and left early in the mornings. Probably the marriage brought it on. like Arthur’s marriage. There was nothing to link them. both unhappy about their compromises. I don’t think I could do the same if it were the other way around. Divorce papers hadn’t been ﬁled yet.’ Arthur said. yet unwilling to see another way out. wondering what word. They had no common interests. Arthur dropped Solly to mollify Mabel. hey Sol?’ and he laughed.’ Arthur said. Arthur was content to let it carry on that way.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY Once Solly asked him if he had been doing this for very long. Arthur and Solly never went out together. Mabel was holding on. or introduced each other to their friends. ‘That was a large part of the reason Mabel and I separated. I know I couldn’t. Nearing seven months it was clear that Arthur and his wife were getting back together. ‘I’m probably bi – didn’t know that when I got married though. any sort of marriage. ‘affairs’ before? ‘Some. Arthur and Mabel moved in together again.’ He leaned back. If Arthur wanted to go on being gay. Solly could sense that he was being used – they didn’t really like each other. was better than none. But they hung together out of a common need.’ Had he had other. searching for a word. and Arthur laughed. then he must. In fact. assuming a marriage. ‘She’s a strong woman. She had forgiven him. ‘She’s got guts. they would have ignored each other. Arthur stopped going to the meetings. telling Solly about the new conditions. relief and admiration pinned to his face. Later 191 . neither caring about the other. Solly paused. but she wanted to know nothing about it. and to prove he was serious about the arrangement working out. snidely commenting. Mabel allowed him back that week. having had nothing else to do on those occasions. Arthur had only gone to those spiritualist meetings for fun. Ordinarily. Arthur arrived at night.
His ﬁrst real love affair had ended. like he was doing what he was ﬁnally meant to be doing. He did not miss Arthur the person. he could start up again. when enough time had elapsed. He had not felt any shock or horror that ﬁrst night or any other night with Arthur – he had felt at ease. He seldom made the initial move with others. but replaying the scenes in his head. twenty. Now he admitted to himself that he was probably a homosexual. As time went by he thought of Arthur more and more. Yet Solly kept hoping. he informed Solly. Arthur had never really said it was over. He had never really known another human being 192 . He continued with the dull tedium of his daily existence. He often thought about the bizarre relationship they had formed. It was a habit he did not think to break. relaxed. when his father had told him that men don’t cry. But he didn’t phone him. creating new ones. he missed everything else.ARJA SALAFRANCA on. but they both knew it was ﬁnished. when it was dark and late. Slowly he admitted to himself that just perhaps his life hadn’t been so successful. But the word was ﬂat and stale. although he thought of him constantly. And then he found it happening every night and didn’t bother stopping any of it. He cried at night. only to cool it for a while. His life carried on. thirty. reﬂecting that he’d actually had a homosexual affair. forty years ago he had scorned homosexuals. It was a release from the denial and the repression. and agreed with his brother-in-law that they should all be locked up like monkeys in cages. Retirement was more bearable for the interruption of the affair. afraid to phone. He waited for them to phone. but he still felt useless. He left Solly surprised and bewildered. somehow swimming through the boredom and the pain. for the ﬁrst time since he was fourteen. Once or twice he cried.
looking lost. He felt himself to be small.SOLLY BERNSTEIN’S STORY or shared in the lives of other people. He was old. again and again. They didn’t respect him. He hadn’t considered this a fault or a failure because the Great Men. Had Arthur precipitated it. he remained defeated. repeating it to the same visitors. He told the story often. in fact? Solly thought so. lingering on the pavement. despite all his studying. After small chatter and smiles. He liked to tell stories of how he would be buried in West Park Cemetery. he had developed sicknesses and age. He hadn’t believed in it. comical. frail. and he was just like everyone else. His life remained empty and lonely. forgetting they knew it off by heart. solitary. He would wave after the disappearing car and its occupants. somewhere in himself he clung to old thoughts and inﬂuences. There was nothing very special about him. hadn’t shared their lives or had women. It had come at the right time. despairing at the number of hours left in the day before going up to his ﬂat. He would live well into his eighties. He had always felt himself remote and aloof. but it had happened. when they came to get him. But it had happened. 193 . there never had been. Reluctantly he admitted he wasn’t a Great Man. Friends and acquaintances always treated him with hints of jocularity and condescension in their tones. He would always accompany them down in the lift. He had not worked miracles or walked on water or materialised things from out of the air. to be near the ‘folks’. He wondered if he would have realised this if he had not met Arthur. he thought. a short man stuffed into too many clothes. but there was no way of ﬁnding out. no matter how sure he had been. supposedly. and how it would be just a short leap from his ﬂat in Hillbrow. the experience had jolted him – but perhaps he had been ready to be jolted. just like his parents. they would leave him standing on the curb. He had welcomed Arthur and what the man had to give.
her female tabby was a shy frightened thing. with borders It was a type of desire. It was a hot February night in Johannesburg and the windows couldn’t be opened wide or the cat would get out. And instead of a man with no name. 194 . to awaken something. naked on her bed. hot. just a man. no names. She didn’t want the cat to get out. an ex-boyfriend who was now in the process of becoming involved with another woman. he had a name. to kiss her. If you shut your eyes it could be any man. fulﬁlling what a man is supposed to do. An exboyfriend. easily terrorised by the Toms in the neighbourhood. It was a desire without love. but still close enough for him to roll on top of her. a desire with borders.Desire. yet here they were.
If she closed her eyes. The spark of sexuality had long died. or wanted to make a life with. but days later. and as she held him and was moved by him. years in which they had remained friends. they stopped. but she didn’t want to let him go.’ he said. She’s meant to be a writer and hasn’t produced anything that has met with enthusiasm. the ex. but here they were. he could be anyone she desired. he was himself. But instead she closed her eyes accepting it. perhaps it would free her too. she knew that even if he brought condoms next time. Now that he was ﬁnally on the cusp of moving away from her. She’d release him to this other woman.It had been years since they had parted. She nodded then. She has a commission to write an erotic short story for an anthology of local women writers. She didn’t want him anymore. and she didn’t care. holding him. and she’s having problems trying to think of an idea. even as she was no longer prepared to love him? In the end. said you go 195 . * * * The writer stops tapping at her keyboard. Truth is it’s been a while since she has been able to write any kind of story. Accepting it. It’s not going right. It’s ﬁlled her with a quiet raging despair. this newly sprung desire. They had no condoms. a story that will go beyond sex. how long? Who knows. from herself or others in what. The man. she wondered guiltily if what she was doing was wrong. she was not on the pill anymore. It wasn’t even fair to him. there would be no going back. Rather not count or think about it. Holding him. involved with another. erotic or not. ‘I’ll bring condoms next time. Was she giving him false hope? Destroying his chances of a new life without her. she clung to him. He was not someone else. The desire ebbed away as quickly as it had come.
and mixing it with fantasy. She did write an erotic story once. these are not friends. No. a list of the characters she’s created. to muse on the possibility of creating friends. then republished in another 196 . playing with Barbie. Join us. and you go along with these creations. and yet the one married to another woman. You’re not really an omniscient God: you are not six years old. together. what you haven’t written about .. seemingly without your intervention. at twenty-one. now let us tell you what you don’t know. a couple in their sixties. So she bought books. and other times you must just wait. What if they were friends? Of course they wouldn’t invite her. the way you create characters. growing bigger. It had been published. They are born. She wonders idly if she would ever be invited into the lives of her characters. live. all together. her face blown out of proportion by the extra weight. collections of erotic ﬁction. although it is fun to peer into their world. they live on a page. The people she creates are not friends. as oblivious as to the why or how. drinking cappuccinos in a coffee shop. join us. laugh. Still. and using what she knew (because she had been groped by now in cars and nightclubs). stufﬁng cloth in front of her stomach to make her pregnant. lie fallow. this idea that you could look in and see them: there. eating her way into unhappiness. in total control of her and Ken. perhaps turning to welcome you. Or the fat women described in one story. Still a virgin. What if she met them. they say. it’s there. She doubts she would like to get to know them: a lesbian who kills her lover in one short story. love. you know something about each one of us. periods when you’re creative and productive.ARJA SALAFRANCA through waves. she wrote a story. a gay man who is too afraid to live in another. but she couldn’t refuse the commission. and they carry on having their clandestine affair. soul mates all life long. this anticipation. do whatever it is you need to replenish the well..
’ she says prudishly to anyone willing to listen. Had they both left it too late? Must you meet someone in your twenties and then gradually grow old together.DESIRE. as curiously. making sex a reality before she had had a chance to do so in her own life.’ The woman had divorced at twenty-eight. WITH BORDERS collection. ‘I couldn’t be bothered. reading a book. ‘instead of meeting another man for another drink in another bar I’d rather just be home. She started dating after she left the ex-boyfriend. she desperately wanted to meet someone. in bed. She went at it. and the heat of sex. She could mine February: 197 . too full of it to be published in a collection. But sex isn’t private: it’s on billboards. she didn’t. after a divorce. it’s between two people only. She was now thirty-four. It is anything but private: the suggestion is all around. whatever image is most evocative? Why does the thought of describing penises. it’s in most movies. So there is February. and yet. ‘Sex is private. and now she cannot think of describing all the bodily acts without wanting to run screaming. the primping and preening. She did meet a man she liked once.’ said the woman. and ﬁngers feeling seem so distasteful? Once she was told her stories were too sexy. that she has thought that she might be able to have sex again. on magazine covers. She feels like she has never known the rules of the dating game. So why now does the writer ﬂing down her pen. and soon after they sat together saying how tired they were. retiring happily from the singles scene? But what do you do if you haven’t met anyone. but the effort seemed intolerable. A colleague at work started dating too. It’s a fact of life. or stop tapping. but he was unscrupulously seeing another woman while courting her. She could return to February with her ex – the ﬁrst time in three years that she has felt desire. And yet somehow she has kept away from all this. and forty stares at you in the face? But the effort’s such a strain.
normally shaped bodies rather than the Hollywood ideal. refuses. the curtains billow. not sharp or angular. She is there. And she too can change: she’s tall and willowy with narrow shoulders. Start with the hot night. in a feminine way. so right. Take out the bit about the cat: open the windows and let the breeze blow in.’ you say. The man is tall. * * * That other woman. It’s only right he use a condom. yes surrendering. the face strong and chiselled. ‘Do you think we should be doing this? What would Brenda 198 . He’s right. but he. You want it now. She’ll write about closing her eyes and surrendering. ‘Pull out at the right time. she will add pimples. Change a few details. No. And then they do things to each other in a bedroom. more so than it is ever is. because that’s what it is. and he’s had sex in the time you have been apart. but deﬁned. sensibly. They forget about the intervening years. Her face too is chiselled. and early greying hair. the exes. instead she will add stretch marks. perhaps they even rediscover each other. actually. the shoulders broad from regular gym sessions. the muscles rippling beneath the cut-off white t-shirt. but that adds to the charm. you want it more than you’ve ever wanted it before and you’re even prepared to forget about using a condom.ARJA SALAFRANCA she could make it even more sexy. Dusky. he’s remarkably like the motivational speaker she met months ago. The brow is slightly furrowed at thirty-seven. black sleek hair. pretty and deﬁned. But now it’s starting to sound like a Mills and Boon romance. a balding spot. dark and handsome. It’s surrender to the physical: the body’s in control.
but only just.DESIRE. and nowhere dates. and the heat lessening up. but he has been to bed with her. her breasts just visible in the darkness.’ ‘You’d better not tell her. a long way from the years they ﬁrst met. the streetlamps illuminating the curve of them. He makes her feel sexy. She could write about encounters and gropes.’ he says. Or she could write about the man who was a virgin at twenty-eight when she met him. just. a failed attempt at one-night stands. Then he was in his mid-thirties and she was only edging towards the threshold of the thirties. they do not move. she feels good naked as she lies there. ‘I don’t know if I am cheating on her or on you!’ He makes her come.’ he says to her. 199 . She could write about the Canadian man and the ﬁancée he had spilt with a year before and how tied he was to the memory of her. * * * She could write about the men she has known since she was twentyone. the house in darkness. ‘I don’t know. the air is too oppressive. and he wonders if he’ll have a real relationship with her. now in her mid-thirties. lying back in her bed.’ He’s cheating on a woman he doesn’t know very well. but she suspects the answers aren’t there either. gasping out in that old familiar way.’ ‘No I won’t. reawakening what has lain dormant so longer. WITH BORDERS think?’ you ask him. The curtains do not billow. ‘You are still desirable. the shapes of them. ‘I don’t know what to feel. a virgin writing about things she knew nothing about. She could write about the intervening years. the man she subsequently deﬂowered. The breeze is there. For once.
instead of a ﬂowing crushed velvet plum skirt. red-haired woman and the overweight man with grey hair. In a corner are the older lovers: Cleo and Nic. the strands blending into her natural red. sleeping together. It’s life that happens in between. separate this face from that. smiling. The tall. He won’t leave his Greek wife. She sees them there. about the night you decided to separate. created you out of a story someone told me once. from the men who deﬁne you when you’re with them.’ They’d laugh. at a club. This couple have been together over forty years. Now they’re here. How do you reconcile a Jew marrying a man of the Greek Orthodox faith? They see each other in out of the way coffee bars. as it were. yet have never lived together as husband and wife. Should she go up to them and say. do whatever you do when a madwoman comes up to you. hastily ﬂung back on this morning. In another corner. look wary. all those years ago. still wearing the clothes from last night. a bag lady. letting Cleo stir sugar in his coffee. it happens. Nic enjoys being catered to. ‘I imagined you. They were out the whole of last night. I feel like I know you. Perhaps the man would call the manager or security. occasionally now. saying impossible stupid things. not to go against their parents’ wishes. Cleo’s just on the cusp of grey hair. Jude and Dale. they decided not to marry. Looking at this intrusive woman as though she were wearing old rags. I’ve written about you. vaguely. They’d edge away. wiping some sugar off the surface of the table. up too early this Sunday morning. and long ago. be non-committal. dissect this man. The bond will never be broken. and there they are: made ﬂesh. Cleo leans forward in her seat. I’ve written about other episodes in your life. * * * Walking into a restaurant.ARJA SALAFRANCA It seems too exhausting now to exhume the past. 200 . to the failed dreams.
DESIRE. sits down. People who cannot love. Tyra in love with Tim. he looks unhappy. a door is ﬂung wide open. was he beyond caring at that point? And the man. characters of her own imagining. * * * 201 . and then what she did afterwards? Did he want to know. sharing a croissant – students never have enough money. because the dog is with him. the relationships doomed by obsession and lust. Tyra who manipulated her way into Chloe’s life. marry someone else? Did he ever hear what Tyra did. He too drinks a cappuccino. by damaged psyches. move cities. walking in the park. WITH BORDERS drinking espressos to jolt them into the day. the main event of the story? She can’t tell. yet real. real as she sits reading a newspaper at her morning coffee. the man with the dog. until one day. both hung-over. Does that mean he didn’t go in the end? Did he stay while Deborah and the kids left? Or has she got the time frame wrong? Perhaps this is before he takes a dog for a walk. Are they all fragments of her: these wounded people looking for hope between the sheets? And on the pages. He is there too. sighs. with panda eyes as testimony to the night before.. But he’s pecking away at the meal. and orders her own morning coffee. What do they say about her? The failed relationships. Before him there’s a large breakfast. rolls. how she seduced Chloe to get to Tim. About to emigrate. What happened to Tim? Did he emigrate. yet was mad in the end. who switched sexuality ﬂuidly. and she’s not allowed inside the restaurant. People who never love. Silently they eat and drink. Tyra. Tim in love with Chloe once. disturbed . She can’t touch these people. sitting just outside the door on the pavement. omelette. sausages.. but by then it’s too late. no matter how much they may want to.
and yet. and here they come alive again. He wonders now.ARJA SALAFRANCA A year later. and then taking it away again. regretting that it happened. He doubted her. so scared he made excuses come out as reasons? * * * And was she too. He said hello. she was friendly enough toward him. and the guilt cuts into them both. All she knows of the language is a few fragments. But. part of sentences. looking into a lost world. and he’s there again. Had he simply been too suspicious. to blame. He still talks about her. couldn’t ﬁt the pieces of her life’s jigsaw together. mensch. words passed down in conversation: meshugenah. ‘Do you think we’ll ever get back together? We’ve been apart four years. to know lust again. faribels. He saw her once on an aeroplane coming up from Cape Town. the writer? She feels sometimes that she misled him. he too is running away from love. He thinks they could have been something. phrases. and people keep seeing us together 202 . Another night. a woman called Molly Picon. pointed to the man next to her. to feel desire. She invites him to watch preview copies of Yiddish ﬁlms from the 1920s and 30s. but she was involved. putz. She worries guiltily that he took her sudden interest after so many years as desire again. He ended it abruptly. He’s broken up with Brenda. They see the Madonna of that era. offering him something brieﬂy. neither one of us have met anyone else to be serious about. too scared of love. Her own need to be loved again. a rekindling. Where did she get the money to live in a beautiful hill-top ﬂat when she worked only occasionally? Why did she keep ﬂying down to Cape Town? He never knew. another world and culture. saying. hearing a language gone now.
blue dawn. She shrugs again. What remains is a memory of it. before they harden again. ‘So what. There’s a certain spark in the air.’ he says. the characters take shape again. certain boundaries shift and dissolve from time to time. Something has broken through. WITH BORDERS at movies and whatever. The cat wakes too and settles again on her blanket on the table. this thing called sex.’ He hesitates. but he won’t have it. She even manages to masturbate. As the blue light becomes gold. She cannot bring herself to climax. * * * She wakes up suddenly. Confuse them. another world. She goes back to the study. and they think we’re still together!’ She shrugs. wants to. as there always has been when she puts thoughts and people to paper. this morning after what isn’t really a morning after. It’s still early and the light is pale. procreate. this exchange. sex as a sort of present. ‘We shouldn’t be doing this. though.. but that’s all. just about. of what it can be. She tries to lead him to her bed. not unless we’re going to mean it .DESIRE. Who cares?’ She wants to offer it to him again. some prescient summoning of the future. Just hugging. The writer takes up the metaphoric pen and starts again.. yet doesn’t want to. They have sex. a man whispering love things to her. Instead they watch old black and white Yiddish movies of another time. There’s something new stirring. bring herself to the brink. hugging broad shoulders. ‘I feel uncomfortable. she can. once more they assume life. one even has a baby. It’s six in the morning and she has been dreaming about hugging a man. 203 .
And there you are. The red double-decker buses are going around the circle made by the open square. you’re all over from Canada for a holiday. I do not have my camera this day. and I am watching it all. the city I have decided to settle in. With your wife of two or three years. See. just like you did. although I am as much a tourist as the others without permanent London addresses. the way they do in all those brochures. The granite-coloured pigeons are ﬂuttering around me. I see you. a meeting It happens like this.Finally. It’s a cold. Aren’t you proud? 204 . but sunny day in Trafalgar Square in London. You see me. The tourists are snapping pictures of themselves feeding the birds and posing beside the statue of Lord Nelson. I also left. I also made it out of South Africa after all that time. and I am proud. I say.
end hunger. I was never as important to you as you were to me. Can they be for real? When I get up I declare my purely selﬁsh aims. You open your mouth. although the man and I are just friends. I just want love. and diamond engagement rings. Through imagining my goal by visualising it. it’s too ﬂat. once more. There are all sorts of reasons for that: you’ll think I’m involved. You’re not there on holiday from Canada among the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. and you’re too short and the shoulders aren’t broad enough. you couldn’t give a damn. cutting out pictures of fancy cars and houses. This is a fantasy I hold while watching another man I am with. and I’ve put on weight and I don’t want you to see me like this. reach a billion people. Except. smelling it and touching it. So. and you’ve got the wrong accent. I sit there with other hopefuls: we create dream maps.Except you aren’t proud. to be honest. I’m long out of your life. And yet you’re not really proud. at this course. the man is not you. in a restaurant. And this time I want to hide. and ﬁnd him wanting. yachts and laptops. poverty. you have the wrong accent. because I’m with a man. We’re sitting in an ordinary suburban mall in Johannesburg. who is feeding the birds bread crusts. eating supper with the family you’ve come back to visit. So many want to save the world. 205 . Then we write out what we’d like to achieve and declare our goals to the group. but why should I care about that? You’ll want to come over and say hello. tasting it. Then it is you. because you’re not there. and I don’t want you to see me with him. you’ll take a look at this other man. This is not the meeting. and if you haven’t quite forgotten me. Where are the round Canadian vowels that ﬂavoured your voice? Then you’re a participant in a training course where I have gone to realise my dreams. another meeting then. You’re a guide at a game lodge. Once more. I will achieve my heart’s desire.
You would look older. and rekindle the ﬂame. And we have sex. You’ve come back to visit your remaining family in Johannesburg. And then I realise I am seeing you as you would have looked thirteen years ago. And so. and perhaps you would have put on weight as well. you were balding back then. but it’s not. Although that isn’t really viable is it? Financially I mean. and still enjoy your beers and so you too have picked up weight. what with age and being married. and the broad shoulders. it’s not you. and you want to start dating again. How sad. and cue the MGM drums and cymbals. I would like to think that you still have that lean. It looks like you. back to the drawing board. you’re separated. So that’s when I see you. and you would have liked more. at your lowest. How accurate. You’re divorced after nearly a decade of being married. you’re a little bit broken. say. when you’re feeling defeated. So. You’re eager to have coffee together. You’re hoping distance will clarify matters for both of you. even though your wife (a lawyer?) earns more than you do and so does the lion’s share of bringing in the money to pay the bills. and have now probably lost your hair. It’s thirteen years later and it didn’t work out. that takes money and effort. life is as 206 . and it’s expensive enough having two kids anyway. But maybe you no longer go to gym. How fanciful. vulnerable. You have two children. that would make a whole lot more sense). living on your own again isn’t easy – all those weekends you’ve got to ﬁll. two kids. muscular frame. see if you can resolve anything with your wife (because. then we move onto having a meal. again. But still. You might play with them in the snow on Saturday mornings. to get away from the situation. and then I take you back to my place. you still do have to pay something. I have just realised. you’re not divorced. you might have ﬁlled out. when I see you. You’re no longer young. and having.ARJA SALAFRANCA Except.
He’s edging forty. I’m not in London. wouldn’t you say? Leo has a past. it happens as it never happened in any of my fantasies. concentrating as I am. but to hell with it. I am in Canada. intimate audience. A MEETING it was meant to be before it all came crashing down and we ended before it had begun. or South Africa. as you had at that age. because. I have been married six months to a man I have known for a year or two. isn’t it? My hair is newly coloured. would you believe? I’m married too. I’m in Canada. a deep almost auburn shade. you say? Well. well. And I am at a writers’ conference. an intense man with ambitions of being a novelist. his name is Leo. that isn’t your way. For a start. I’m there. it’s partly a delayed honeymoon as well. that’s not the way it happens either. But no. and after we are going on to California to see family there. a man of twenty-seven. hard to imagine that.FINALLY. So. See how easily the loose ends are tied up in real life?) So there I am. dark room I give a reading. that same intensity I remember from years ago. at a conference and in a small. You have not bought a copy of my book. and he has an ex-wife. I’m happy. when signing copies of my book I look up and there you are. and behind the smile. but I have become more daring as I get on in life. I do not see you in the smallish. I had a lover before him. age and wisdom won out. You are smiling. (Hang on. as we all do now. but in the end. He has children. Afterwards. who have grown used to me. and you have come to hear me read my work. 207 . Okay maybe happiness is not a permanent state. husbands don’t usually come with their wives to conferences. the same intensity that my younger lover wore. it’s just an instinctive thing. I’m in a small town in Canada. and I know it’s right. In fact. as you are now. not my natural shade. Why not? Instead of you coming to me. Happy at last.
And I am stopped somehow. not really. if not for the man down the passage who is my husband. This is like eating dessert after a good meal. or leaving me to my moments of glory. We drink and talk quickly. A few quick details spilled out. And you’re not separated. You have one child. When I introduce you to Leo. Isn’t that what you said those years ago as I apologised in yet another dark and intimate space and I tried to rescue us? It’s all just a little too late as I sip quickly and appraise you as you 208 . the simplest expression of our time.’ I say. Still handsome. Finally. This is all the time we have now. you had an affair and then another when you realised the difﬁculties in your relationship. We both know that at this meeting it would have been possible now. not two. in a small dark room. So you have one child. tasting it. he knows. The only changes are a more pronounced curve around your mouth. That’s why we sit together now. when you are full. and this wife is the woman you are going to spend the rest of your life with. Such are the details. I roll your name around my mouth. you’re balding.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘Hello Paul. gives us time alone. It is a little as I have imagined. Leo is at the bar getting drinks. But you had therapy. we’re hungry and yet not hungry. I won’t meet you anywhere else. And yes. And. and you are still together. not taken away from them. drifts away. your wife had a hysterectomy after the difﬁcult birth which almost killed her. with some small details differing from the fantasy. spilled out over a quick drink at the bar. and yet it’s all too late. not the boy you would have wanted to play games with. but still you want a taste of sweetness to round off a good evening. but that’s all. you’ve lost some hair. Age has deepened your looks. a girl. but your wife travels a lot and you know that something is missing from the relationship. just as I suspected all those years ago.
Night after night it goes on. but still not as slim as I would have hoped. But I won’t be able to work in Berlin. and it’s settled. the dead ends that deﬁne us. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up. don’t go. The ﬁrm will pay for both our ﬂights. made it count and not count. it would always be there. like dark paint beneath the surface of a cream wall. and he can ﬂy back often. My hotel room’s just down the street and we both know what would have happened were it not for all those dead ends stretching back into time. hair another colour almost and older. don’t break up what we have. yes older. but the present was now. Slimmish. I’ll resent myself for standing in his way. Leo says I can visit him in a few months. and I don’t want to lose my job here. Leo goes to live in Berlin. then marrying didn’t entirely assuage the past. instead of just for 209 . What do I think? What can I think? How can I tell him no. What if I had a similar opportunity? I could go with him. even if it is just for a few months? And I know he’ll resent me forever if I say no.FINALLY. of course. * * * A few months after Canada Leo has been offered a six-month exchange job in Berlin. The architects’ ﬁrm where he works wants to send him to one of their overseas ofﬁces. * * * Falling in love again. But time softened the edges. Leo tells me. we debate and argue the pros and cons. A MEETING are appraising me. perhaps I too had been frozen in your mind’s eye. blunted the past. Or that’s how it feels. how it comes out when I tell people. not knowing the language. You could leaf through the past. as though it were permanent.
because it’s true. I love it. years ago. and he’s in every room. When I knew you it was diluted. I can’t pretend. over a year since Leo and I were married. with its high skylights. ‘It’s good to see you.ARJA SALAFRANCA six months. the double-volume glass in the living room. all the architectural features he wanted to put in a house of his own. * * * I’m going to be in South Africa for a few weeks. It has been nearly a year since Canada.’ The accent is now so strong. the beacons that marked now and then. Not even after meeting Leo. as though you had never left that country. Because you look as beautiful as all those years ago. he designed it. the Canadian twang overlaid with the inﬂuence of ﬂat South African vowels. fourteen years ago. of every year without you in my life. saw it built. I so enjoyed meeting you again in Canada. What dates will you be here? This time we meet at a crowded shopping centre. I tell you that you look good too. but it’s his house. Before you and after you were the twin anchors in my life. I worked with a woman who was going out 210 . But nearly ten years back in Canada have sharpened your accent. Once. We sit outside in the winter sunshine. Can we meet up for coffee? There are some emails you wish you had never opened. I can’t pretend I am not counting the years or losing track.’ you tell me. ‘You look good. I can’t help feeling slightly resentful as I wander through the house where we live – Leo’s house – it made no sense to move into my tiny townhouse. Leo is away working in Berlin at the moment. I have been acutely aware of every year passing. You wish they had gone straight to trash and that you emptied your trash automatically. But it’s his house really.
It went on for years. that’s all it is. Do you see Kylie often?’ ‘Oh yes. even after all these years. He couldn’t pass it up. Waiters bring long tall drinks to the tables. You are in South Africa now to help your parents pack up. People are tucking into plates of food. The mall is full of shoppers on a late Friday afternoon. ‘It was just an exchange. too hungry after all these years. ‘Is that why Leo’s in Berlin. the words are light-hearted but not the feeling behind them. ‘This country is ﬁnished!’ you say. Your sister and brother and their families are now in Canada too. You’re not getting divorced. Women wear the latest fashions. 211 . I can’t tell you that I want to know everything.’ I say. After years they are also ﬁnally moving back to Canada. I want to ask. a sense of prosperity.FINALLY. not just yet.’ I answer ﬁnally. ‘hoping that it turns into something permanent and the two of you can get the fuck out of here?’ ‘No. hungry for details. I know somehow how you react to things. I have her every second weekend. you can’t do that to your daughter. We look. but I don’t. and they weren’t happy about the arrangement. a good opportunity for him. We could be anywhere in Europe or North America. You’re separated for now. looking around. so she went out with both. Just seeing what the future brings.’ you ask. I know you too well. We’d never ﬁght about Kylie. There’s an ease. I can’t give in to this. But you’re morose as you say it. They knew about each other. She couldn’t decide which one to be with.’ You and your wife have now separated after a long difﬁcult year. ‘I’m sorry to hear it. ‘That must be hard. From where we sit the country doesn’t look ﬁnished.’ What do you ﬁght about. A MEETING with two men. Knows how much I love Kylie who comes over to stay in the week. my wife’s good that way. but they knew that the only way they were going to have her was by sharing her. Kylie. she couldn’t decide.
you lean toward me. ever belong to me.’ ‘I like it!’ I say but I know what you mean. I really enjoyed it. We blow kisses at each other. But I do feel like I am in Europe here. friendly maybe. and I don’t want to talk about such things. Yet. he breaks up as he moves. so South African. a slight frown between your eyes. Leo does not want to hear such things.’ You nod. with the hotel rising above us. I don’t what the word is. after all these years. You still belong to her. I want to say.ARJA SALAFRANCA ‘That’s good. I ﬁnd myself wanting to lean across and undo a button of your shirt. ‘so. this time. that we met for coffee that turned into lunch and more coffee. I listen to words that still have the power to wound and hurt. say. I do not mention that Paul is in the country. I’m still in love with her. ‘So South African. and the kids playing on the square. You’ve done it. the fakeness doesn’t bother me. The straight nose. this constant grasping 212 .’ I say. not then. Perhaps because I too am married and no longer a threat. the blue eyes. ‘I still love her. even if we do get divorced. That night Leo and I talk on Skype. I love this place. You lean forward. The lights are pretty on the square which was built to look like an Italian piazza. Instead I listen. the long deep lines that run from nose to mouth. His movements are edgy and jagged. You’ll never. Twisted the knife in again.’ There. not ever. look away and I study your proﬁle. ‘That’s really good that you too can still be so. Could we meet again? Are you free for supper at all? We eat at Montego Bay on Nelson Mandela Square. racing in and out of the fountains. toward each other. the pixilation is low. I’ll never stop. not now.’ says Paul. you don’t know it. It was so nice talking to you on Friday.
but you won’t. We ate there. ‘Shall we order?’ 213 . We came to see.’ ‘It was long ago and yet not so long ago. the light. You have to move forward. It would be complete with glinting zinc roofs held down by rocks and walls made from recycled street signs. not get bogged down in the past. I sense you want to lean over the table and touch me somehow. I twist my wedding ring around my ﬁnger. ‘There was a ﬂea market in the square. ‘You just have to say that because you live here!’ you say. at overseas. live in fake Italian homes. You look strangely at me. ape Provence. after it had ﬁrst opened?’ I ask. ‘Do you remember that day we came here. I saw a play recently in which the performer asked if Italian architects would repay the compliment we pay with our love of all things Tuscan by building a shantytown in Italy. Europe. You lean back. things. no I don’t remember. aping the other world. ‘I like to live in the now. instead of embracing what we have here. the heat.’ I say pointing to an Italian restaurant across from us. ‘Time goes faster the older you get.. We pretend we’re somewhere else even as we proclaim we love Africa. just that I remember the past. A MEETING at Europe. but I still remember details.’ you shrug. We eat on a fake Italian square.’ you laugh.’ I say. The thought made us all laugh.FINALLY.’ ‘I’m not saying that you shouldn’t live for now.. of course. as dismissive as I remember you being many years ago. It was all so long ago. Too much hassle. ‘No. You shake your head. it was never going to happen. incidents as though they were yesterday. My mother was here. the space. and then we had lunch.’ ‘Rather you than me. How can you forget it?’ ‘Yeah well . America in our lifestyles. because. exhibiting her stuff. an exhibition of paintings.
Prawns! YUM! xxxxx. Something else we could never share. The detail is in the little things. It was like another country to me. had done a few wine tasting courses. space. add more brown eyeliner to my eyes. and the inﬂuence of petals.’ In the bathroom I apply lipstick. There’s static in the air. eat. ‘I’ll have them then. swirl the prawns around my plate in lemon butter sauce. that I couldn’t share a bottle with you.’ At the table you’re ﬁnishing the bottle of wine. with separate wings for his kids before his ex-wife took them to LA. It’s an architect’s place. again and again. could pontiﬁcate on the scent.’ The reply is almost instantaneous: ‘Lucky u! Wrkng 2nite. You hated that. I’ll take you home. What the hell am I doing here? I take out my cellphone and SMS Leo in Berlin. xxxx. the nose. You can leave your car here overnight. a place to dream. and fork your way into my plate when I say I am not that hungry after all.’ ‘Order another bottle. but say: ‘The rules are so damn strict here now. made with love at a time Leo thought he’d be alone forever. I always forget. You like the house.ARJA SALAFRANCA We order. Your parents’ house isn’t that far out of my way. and contemplate. ‘Not good?’ you ask. 214 . You loved wine. ‘I don’t want to get caught driving drunk and get thrown into jail. I knew you would like it. having supper. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s been here who doesn’t fall in love with it. You laugh. whatever. I still can’t drink wine. You want to order another bottle. It’s a place of light. ‘Out with Jayne.’ The night’s charged.’ The deal is sealed.’ You laugh. I get up to go to the toilet and my hand sparks against the chair. ‘It’s always so dry up here in winter. but as usual when I am nervous I lose my appetite.
Now I’m the one with the spouse. a Bloody Mary for me.’ you say joining me on the daybed.’ you said at dinner.’ ‘I guess. glass in hand. put you in touch with people. ‘This time it’s going to be it. Would he understand the hunger 215 . he’s not part of this. ‘I work at this little shit hole of a desk in the kitchenette of my rented apartment. One I converted into my study. I have always wanted that. there are various wings to this place. I can’t. and I can’t help taking pleasure in this. We kiss as we never did back then. I want you to succeed even as I take pleasure in your not having succeeded. Doesn’t matter where you work though.’ You stand. leaning against the wall. ‘This time I am going to ﬁnish it I know it. it’s been so many years. and a daybed against another wall. this reversal. ‘What I wouldn’t give to have this kind of set-up!’ I sit down on the daybed. awkward. I’ve written in some really grotty places. We’re clumsy. It doesn’t always matter. bright and airy.’ You have begun another novel. with a kitchenette. You whistle. to look out of the window at a garden. the one who has published. I feel it. And yet equally strangely I want to reach out. to all intents and purposes single again. a tree. I once had a place where I couldn’t open the windows or the curtains. with a huge table against one wall.FINALLY. you’re supposed to be staring at the computer screen!’ ‘I know. the big home. What happens next is a cliché. How the tables have turned. But it’s so nice to have a great space. It’s my dream study. A MEETING ‘Leo designed this all. I can’t help thinking. We move together. he’s far away. I’m really excited. You are reduced to a rented ﬂat. I try not to think of Leo. it’s light. As I said. It feels so cruelly right. hey. while you’re still battling to ﬁnish a novel. seeing you struggling. ‘I know.’ I am pouring you a glass of wine. I mean you’re not staring at the walls or the garden. before he met you?’ ‘Yes. you’ve started so many through the years.
The sex is awkward. It’s the same. You’ve never loved me. be there for him. have his children. see if I can make things right again. and not being able to step in the same river twice? You can’t go back. you and I never got beyond talking about it. and how disappointing it is to see that we still can’t connect this way. I can’t compare it to Leo. a man who could not love me back. Always that need to go back. He has never understood why I still carry feelings for you. Why? Why couldn’t you love me back? What was wrong with me? I have always had this terrible need to examine my past. 216 . I never wanted that. rotten. But I couldn’t pack you away. despite the years. The questions still niggled. What was that saying? Something about the past. There’s something else here. There’s no love here. even after falling in love again. How I still want to run my hands along your chest. There’s no way of knowing. When Leo and I met you were still a presence. You. but that doesn’t take away from how attracted I am to you.I have to know? Probably not. how beautiful I still ﬁnd you. had never gone away. again and again. Something earthy. could never let it go. different. but the same. smelling like mulch and leaves and autumn days. accept what has happened and take what’s in front of you. and not as you loved the ﬁancée you had all those years ago when we ﬁrst met. You can’t ﬁnd out why. something I have to grab at. a woman who would marry him. You just have to go forward. who wanted a lovely wife to be there for him. ﬁnd out. keeping his dreams alive instead of following her own. not as you love your wife.
USA . friend. (MODJAJI BOOKS 2010). who have been part of my life and have shaped both it and my ﬁction.africanwriting. African Writing: www.za.ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Publications in which these stories have previously appeared: THE FINISHING TOUCH (COSAW. 2001). NEW CONTRAST. and to family and friends. LITNET. SPEAKING FOR THE GENERATIONS: CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN SHORT STORIES AWP (Africa With enormous thanks to Colleen Higgs for her vision of Modjaji Books and her encouragement of my writing. my mother Leonie Carmen Migdale for also always encouraging my writing and creativity. literary journal. www. 2000. to the editors of journals and anthologies who have published my work and thus also nourished my writing through the years. THE BED BOOK OF SHORT STORIES. OPBRUD. IN THE RAPIDS and STROOMVERSNELLING (KWELA.bigbridge. BOTSOTSO ‘A car is a weapon’ is due to be published in World Press.com. to Maire Fisher for her considerate editing. and disbanded back in the 1990s. some not. to the members of the writing group Foursome. AKS/ Hjulet. . Trenton. to Gary Cummiskey. POST TRAUMATIC (BOTSOTSO PUBLISHING. and editor and for always encouraging my writing. BAOBAB Literary Journal and GREEN DRAGON.co. 1992). to fellow writer Meg Vandermerwe for her close reading of my stories.org. 2003). formed. New Jersey.donga. some present. www.
O T H E R TI T L E S BY MODJAJI BOOKS UNDISCIPLINED HEART by Jane Katjavivi THIS PLACE I CALL HOME by Meg Vandermerwe WHIPLASH by Tracey Farren INVISIBLE EARTHQUAKE: A WOMAN’S JOURNAL THROUGH STILLBIRTH by Malika Ndlovu HESTER SE BROOD by Hester van der Walt .
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