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