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BomBoy

BomBoy

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Published by LittleWhiteBakkie
by Yewande Omotoso published by Modjaji Books
by Yewande Omotoso published by Modjaji Books

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Published by: LittleWhiteBakkie on Sep 07, 2011
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Bom Boy

Yewande Omotoso

Publication © Modjaji Books 2011 Text © Yewande Omotoso 2011 First published in 2011 by Modjaji Books Pty Ltd PO Box 385, Athlone, 7760, South Africa modjaji.books@gmail.com http://modjaji.bookslive.co.za www.modjajibooks.co.za ISBN 978-1-920397-35-7 Book and cover design by Natascha Mostert Cover artwork by Jesse Breytenbach Author photographed by Alexander von Strauss Printed and bound by Mega Digital, Cape Town Set in Garamond

For my mother

at night. ‘Last of the “one digits”.’ Leke was certain that having his own party was a bad idea. a watery feeling. Jane had mentioned to him that they would have a party to celebrate – this was something that had never happened before. though. It was the same thing that grew when he was picked for the school play and it was there when he was later cut from the cast. he moved from class to class. He could barely hear what people said. ‘It’s a special one.’ she said. ‘Why?’ he was helping her in the kitchen. there was no question that he could be the life of a party. At school. but this certainty only existed during the day. Leke dreaded turning nine. As the day approached.Friday 13th July 2001 A thing had begun to grow like a tree in Leke Denton’s throat. Next is ten – two numbers instead of one. barely talk back. An invisible rash. dusting flour off his nose. how would he host a party? In his dreams. they were laughing and patting him Bom Boy 1 . It was there when girls glanced away as he walked down the corridors. He stood surrounded by a crowd of boys. his hearing dulled as if his head were submerged in liquid.

“Cardboard boy” the other kids called him because of the strange crackers Jane packed in his lunchbox.’ Marcus pulled off the verge.on the back. ‘Going past the rope shop. Where’ll we go?’ 2 Bom Boy . he’d got grass in his mouth. ‘Good day? How was cricket practice?’ Someone had tripped him. ‘Hey there. Leke settled himself. Early gift.’ he looked over at Leke. ‘Okay. They played on the school cricket grounds and Leke hit a century. Leke walked towards the familiar red car but was surprised to find a balding head and heavy brown leather jacket in place of Jane’s blonde hair peeping from underneath a scarf. running the pitch he’d tripped on during the day to a chorus of sniggers. Along with the threat of a party the other thing that changed with the coming of his birthday was the way Marcus treated him. At the red traffic light he reached his arm across and ruffled Leke’s afro.’ Marcus leaned across to unlock the passenger door. ‘Fine. Or “kidfor-hire” because one of the older boys had seen Jane and Marcus at the parent’s evening and worked out that Leke was adopted. alright? I’m taking you out sailing this weekend.

Can stop with the scarves now. She sighed. just go round the bay.’ Marcus answered. just long enough to stop the scarves.’ Jane spat into the sink. she thought. ‘He seems okay about it. sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling on a pair of grey woollen socks. She touched her hair again: Yes.‘We’ll leave from the Waterfront. ‘Come on Jane. Bom Boy 3 . ‘Does he even want to sail?’ she shouted to Marcus who was in the adjoining bedroom. She rinsed her toothbrush and placed it in the porcelain holder. it’s time he came out more. maybe it was the growing hair. you’ll love it. She smoothed balm over her lips and turned from the dresser to join her husband in bed. ‘And the whole cricket thing?’ Jane asked. studying herself briefly. Leke nine and she’d be forty-nine. He reached for the pile of books and papers balanced on his bedside table and switched on the wall-light positioned above his head. her hands smoothing over her short hair that had thankfully started growing back. walking into the room. I want to show you the view of Cape Town from sea – it’s great. Her regular ritual of putting on face cream had ended months before. but tonight.’ ‘Okay. Always shuffling around and playing by himself.’ Marcus removed his robe and climbed into the large bed covered in white linen. she enjoyed the cool paste against her skin and the glow it left on her cheek bones.

’ They held a gaze for a few seconds. I spoke to the coach.’ 4 Bom Boy . A progression of woos until she’d finally written: Let’s grow old together. He’ll get used to it. ‘He’ll be okay. ‘You okay?’ ‘It’s nothing. noticing a slight paunch where he leaned over what he read. The way blossoms curl up and their colours softly stir: let’s grow old and die together. Greying temples. Sunburnt bald pate.’ ‘Well. The school was happy for him to play chess. What happened? Jane asked herself.‘Marcus?’ she studied him. It’s good for him. While courting. that was the first thing she’d noticed about him twenty years ago when they’d met. Don’t worry so much.’ he leaned across and kissed her on the cheek. And she’d written him poetry. ‘Hmmm?’ Marcus looked up. The way green leaves turn brown together and fall from trees. Jane. And beautiful hands. he’d sent her photographs of fossils. Marcus had gone back to his scripts but noticed her frozen in thought. Marcus stroked her back and Jane remembered strong arms. let’s grow old together. ‘The cricket team? He said he didn’t want to play anymore.

Marcus picked up one of the red and green knots and said. ‘Okay good. Sheet bend and reef knot. Leke nodded. With his arms around Leke. You do it every day with your laces. Which knot do you want to learn first?’ Leke scanned the table.’ he collected Leke in his arms and settled on the chair. Let’s start with reef knot. Marcus had taken care to cover it with plastic before laying out the knotted ropes. Let’s get right in.Marcus smoothed a defiant tuft of her hair and smiled.’ Marcus pumped his thigh to emphasise his point and Leke’s shoes made scuffing noises on the beige tiles. He put away his papers and switched off the light. ‘You watching?’ he said as he untied and began retying the reef knot. using white rope. coaxing her head onto his chest. Sitting on Marcus. reef knot or square knot. ‘Very good. For the other knots he used red and green rope woven together. ‘Aah! You’re getting big. Jane fell asleep to the rhythm of his low-hum snoring.’ Leke’s heart pounded. my boy. Leke’s limbs. ‘You listening?’ Marcus shouted at Leke over the dining table on which were arranged a display of sailing knots. He’d tied two of the knots. straddled the man’s lap and his tennis shoes scraped the floor. is easy. Bom Boy 5 . around grey metal bars that had clanked when he’d laid them down. Leke pointed to these. ‘This one. long for his age.

stabbing it with his fork. Marcus. Marcus on the other and Jane in the middle. Jane could always get at the itch by placing her hands on his throat. Marcus had insisted Leke stop digging and come and learn “a real skill”. said. Leke sat at one end of the short wooden table.Leke nodded. Leke stuffed the A5-sized Spiderman invitations Jane insisted he distribute into his locker and left them there. studying the boy. Jane. ‘Should I call the mothers?’ Jane wondered out loud at dinner when no responses had come and the birthday was three days away. Leke played with the lettuce Jane had harvested from her vegetable patch. Jane had frowned but in that way that didn’t mean anything. Her presence alone made the irritation disappear. ‘You okay. ‘I think it’s fine. Like when he tried to explain the itch in his throat to her. It was happening now all over again.’ ‘What do you mean it’s fine?’ 6 Bom Boy . Lek?’ ‘It’s scratching. along the length of the table.’ ‘Where?’ Marcus challenged. Leke had seen her frown other times in ways that did mean something. but he called Jane who rescued Leke from the knot lesson. Leke rubbed his throat but he couldn’t get at the tightness. He wished Jane would come and break this up but they’d left her in the garden.

’ Jane stared long at Marcus and then at Leke. in his dreams they travelled the seas. As a birthday gift Leke received his wish. lying flat on his stomach. breaking promises and blowing hot and cold.‘Maybe let us celebrate. after Marcus’s rescue of Leke from the humiliation of a party none of his classmates wanted to be at. he retreated back into what Leke recognised: distant. ‘Let’s do that then. Even though Marcus never took Leke sailing in life.’ he winked at Leke who looked back down at his plate. There was no sailing. Leke’s ninth birthday passed at dinner with his adopted parents. Lightness is away – we’d have to do the clean-up ourselves. During the September holidays Leke spent his days either in the garden with Jane or on the cool wooden floor of his room. They bought him an atlas and a globe to place in his bedroom. Just us. his arm propping up his head as he scoured the large atlas. Bom Boy 7 . After another few minutes Marcus leaned over and squeezed Jane’s shoulder. You know? Don’t really feel like a hoard of marauding kids stampeding through the house. The days mushed like pages of a forgotten book glued together by rain. stabbing the lettuce leaf one final time before shoving it into his mouth.

Leke earned enough money gardening to tag along when Marcus did the grocery shopping. ‘Then you’ll take it seriously. With Jane ill. the house had begun to change.’ Marcus said dropping Leke off.’ she’d said. Jane had fallen ill again and her garden threatened to overrun itself in her absence. some not – as well as the surge of joy and life that powered his sleep. The wind blew different. when Leke turned ten.Back at school Leke struggled through. At the end of each day. She’d asked Leke to care for it while she got her strength back and offered to pay him a stipend. to stumble into his dreams – into a terrain he was adept at navigating – was a relief. listening harder and raising his voice to be heard. Leke?’ ‘No. Leke cherished the characters he’d encountered – some recognisable from the daytime. and visit the secondhand bookshop opposite the Spar to buy more atlases.’ They drove back home in silence. ‘Set the table. The confusions of the day slipped off his skin like sweat. 8 Bom Boy . ‘Don’t you have enough of those. His dreams were often more real than “real life”. I’ll go collect Mom. he owned a library of atlases and a collection of globes that ranged from a keyring to a basketball-sized sphere. either in bed or in the hospital. softer. A year later.

Leke entered the house and locked the door behind him. Bom Boy 9 . ‘Don’t be difficult. we’ll be back soon. Come on. Something made Leke think of Christmas and birthdays. Leke. Remembering where she kept them. His head hung down. She’s not feeling well. He heard the tap of his hand as he searched for the soft fabric. There was a special cream-coloured table cloth Jane liked to use: ‘hand-crocheted’ she always said with pride.They never answered his questions when he asked. Use this key. And there were her favourite place mats – white ducks waddling in front of a red background.’ Leke thought he’d watch the car pull off but Marcus kept the engine idling as he waited to see Leke safely in the house. climbed up the cupboard till he could reach the top section. Jane had been away for a week this time and when they’d spoken on the phone two nights before she’d sounded sad. he pulled and let the table cloth fall to the floor. watching his footing. His left foot was on a lower shelf and his right was bent and higher. Leke entered their bedroom and. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ he tried again. She’d bought it at a farm stall on one of their forages through the countryside looking for flower-shows. that’s all. happier times. and Leke was not allowed to come along to the hospital on either drop-offs or collections. Got it. He balanced himself by holding onto a strip of wood along the top of the open cupboard and with his right hand he reached over his head at the top-top section. Remember to lock the door behind you. He began to lay the table.

His shoulder was sore. At least that would make her smile. He heard the slam of a car door and ran out to spread the table cloth. 10 Bom Boy . A name.Next – the box with the mats. straining and almost losing his balance. he stepped his way back to the ground and collected the table cloth. but then something on the floor caught his eye. He reached a bit deeper. maybe. thinking that he would ask Jane when they were next gardening. He wiped the dust off. Not it. He turned it around and saw the face of a woman he didn’t know. he thought. just the two of them. He kept the photo. He reached again and felt something round. It was an old photograph. Tired. sepia-coloured and stained at the back so Leke couldn’t read what was written there. “E” something.

Saturday 25th July 1992
Oscar ignored the cardboard-like prison fabric chafing his skin. He took the pen and started writing: Dear Leke I was five when I first heard my father sing: Babalawo mo wa bebe Alugbinrin Ogun to se fun mi lere kan Alugbinrin Oni nma ma fowo kenu Alugbinrin Oni nma ma fese kenu Alugbinrin Gbongo lo ye mi ge ere Alugbinrin Mo fowo kan obe mo fi kenu Alugbinrin Mo boju wo kun, ori gbendu Alugbinrin Babalawo mo wa bebe, Alugbinrin

Bom Boy 11

‘Don’t scare the boy with your stories,’ my mother would say. I can hear my father singing, feel the vibration of his deep voice. His singing always makes me think of loam. I don’t know if that’s because of his heavy earthy voice or because invariably when there was singing we were on the farm. Lush soil, moist and almost black. ‘Bom Boy!’ my father would say after we’d planted the yam saplings. That was his nickname for me and it made me feel warm and part of something. Pidgin English for baby boy. There was one particular story my father would tell me at the farm that I knew was not just a bedtime story. My mother had no reason to worry though, I wasn’t scared by my father’s singing and his talk of curses and witch-doctors. The story made me feel important and, as I grew older, it leant a sense of purpose to my life.

12 Bom Boy

Wednesday 19th February 1992
As Oscar walked up towards Rhodes Memorial, the higher he got into the forest, the more the leaves sieved the noise from his head. The tangle of conversations got caught in the branches above. It was too late to go back. Oscar dug his hands into his pockets; his long legs took comfortable wide strides, the exertion and the crunch of the ground a welcome distraction. It was the middle of February and each day the Cape Town sun poured itself out. Later, simmering, it lay down in nights that were dark but not cool. The air was palpable as students stumbled back onto the campus: in a stupor from the heat, alcohol or the shock of work after being on holiday – Oscar couldn’t tell. He checked his watch, just after seven. He’d wait another few minutes before setting out. As he entered the parking lot he noticed a short plump girl with freckled cheeks and a skinny boy, carrying a picnic basket between them, the handles at different heights, askew; the straw squeaking as they lumbered back down towards the campus. There was a scattering of tourists climbing up the giant granite steps of the monument. Along either side of the steps, four life-size bronze lions, blue-green from a

Bom Boy 13

century of oxidation, sat on their haunches. A little girl and a man stood by one of the granite plinths and with some difficulty the man hoisted the girl onto the lion’s back. A woman a few steps down took a picture. Oscar walked up the steps; grudgingly taking in the palm-to-cheek bust of Cecil John Rhodes arranged on the top platform amidst imposing Doric columns. He turned to enjoy the view: the stoned terrace at the bottom of the monument; the curved stone wall; the forests with an army of towering skinny trees leaning away from the southeaster; and the familiar shapes and lines of the surrounding neighbourhoods. Visiting the monument had become a ritual of Oscar’s since he’d arrived from Nigeria, two years ago, to start his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology. The giant shrine to Rhodes contrasted with the simple life-size statue of the revered Moremi behind Oduduwa Hall back on Ile-Ife campus. Oscar remembered visiting the small courtyard as a little boy: a series of chalky statues memorialising Yoruba history. His favourite was Moremi: head bent, hands clasped together and resting on her raised thigh; the intricate detail of her braided hair in suku style. His father would lift him up so he could study the sculpted plaits. ‘That’s the hairstyle of queens,’ his father would say for the hundredth time. ‘Why?’

14 Bom Boy

‘Because you see how all the hair bunches up in the centre like that? Only women who don’t need to carry produce to the market can afford to plait their hair that way. Queens.’ ‘Was Moremi a queen?’ ‘Not in the beginning. But she made a huge sacrifice and became one.’ ‘How?’ Oscar walked down and back towards the parking lot. Moremi’s story had dotted his childhood with the consistency of birthdays. Oscar was surprised on arriving at the university to find that some of the people he shared a lab with had never heard of Moremi. Some of them didn’t even know where Nigeria was. ‘I thought you were coloured,’ one had said, confused by Oscar’s clay-brown skin and curly hair. He’d inherited little of his father’s deep chocolate complexion; and his light brown hair and “oyinbo” mother had made him an easy target for teasing in primary school. The ignorance of his lab mates mixed with the opulence of Rhodes Memorial had brewed distaste in Oscar. Here in this country, he’d realised, they memorialised wealthy men – thieves; back home in Nigeria, simple people who sacrificed for the group. Many a late evening at the Varsity Rugby Club Oscar had found himself defending a country that faced derision amongst his South African colleagues. He needed every

Bom Boy 15

but often they ended in blatant tension. She learnt all their secrets. She’d be part of a mass of people building whatever Rhodes had the foresight to envisage. ‘What are warriors?’ he’d asked his dad – he was six years old at the time. If his colleagues had listened Oscar would have told them. He closed his eyes. She joined his house and also became part of the town.’ ‘Rubbish! There would be no fight. Easy. leaving her only son and husband. Now listen and don’t interrupt me. ‘If Moremi got into a fight with Rhodes.’ ‘What secrets Daddy?’ 16 Bom Boy .detail he could find to play the game of one-upmanship.’ Oscar smiled and settled back into bed.’ ‘Ha! Foresight my ass! How much foresight does it take to steal land? Crooks!’ Sometimes the evenings maintained a strained joviality. Soldiers. the way his father had told him. The more beer consumed the more animated and irrational the conversation. ‘Fighters. enjoying how the springs bent towards his father’s weight on the edge. offered herself as a prisoner when Ile-Ife was being invaded by neighbouring Ugbo warriors. she’d finish him off. the story of Moremi who. the King noticed how beautiful she was and married her. ‘Once Moremi was captured.

Moremi went to her to make a sacrifice of thanks. She gave fowls and bullocks and sheep but the Goddess demanded her only son.’ ‘What happened?’ ‘Moremi threw her son into the raging river. a translucent orange peel coiled through the stone pines.’ His father always took long pauses as he neared the end of his stories. Parents never answered the important questions. all the children of Ife took Moremi as a mother. the silverleaf and the rugged fynbos in Bom Boy 17 . to Road 7? Or did she come to Staff School hall? Or Staff club?’ ‘Shhh. ‘Does that mean I got born two times?’ His father just smiled. She told the Ife army the secret and soon the Ugbos were defeated. Moremi then went to Esinmirin–’ ‘What is Esi…sin–’ ‘E-sin-mi-rin. you have two mothers.‘The things they were hiding.’ he patted the blanket. ‘To comfort her. The Goddess of the river. The sun dipped. always remember that. Ife cried.’ ‘Where did she come to? Did she come here. a sign that he was about to get up and switch the lights off. So you see Oscar. make her feel better. Back then there was no Road 7 or Staff anything. Now listen. An offering. she ran away from the palace and returned to Ife. as soon as she found out how to defeat them. Don’t interrupt! She returned to Ife.

the nature reserve. Oscar checked his watch again. a jet of water gushing between his ears. almost time. his head was pounding. In his car he switched on the radio although he couldn’t hear it. 18 Bom Boy . He walked back down to campus and set out.

A colleague coming behind him laughed. with people complaining to his manager that he was “unhygienic”.’ the security guard said as Leke clocked out and pushed open the glass door. He washed the shirts once a week and the pants every two weeks at the laundry near his home. Apart from the grey pants he had a pair of black pants and a light blue shirt with long sleeves and missing buttons. She was bending over the desk. Bom Boy 19 . poised above the open page in the visitors’ book. ‘Nice shirt. Leke’s lack of wardrobe became an issue for some of the staff. It wasn’t a compliment. HR tried to address the matter by circulating the company dress code as well as running a one-week campaign on “tolerance in the workplace”. but a jibe at Leke’s clothing and his routine of wearing the same dark grey pants and white short-sleeve shirt every day of the week.Friday 20th July 2012 ‘Date today?’ Leke heard a woman’s voice ask as he walked down into the reception area of his office. holding a pen. Lewis the guard rattled off the date as Leke walked past towards the entrance.

Leke made fewer trips to the barber shop Marcus used in Claremont. Leke watched the pavement as he walked. he was awarded the nickname Brownie. When he was around others whistling he studied them. So the curly afro was left to grow. He felt like whistling but he’d never picked it up as a child. but when he was alone again and tried it. His hair was the colour of his eyes and his skin and the effect evident and striking enough that. for a short period when he first arrived in high school. Leke was left alone. just his steely defiance and head set to the side looking down. 20 Bom Boy . little but a flush of air released from his lips. apart from the disguised teasing and his coworkers’ exaggerated avoidance of being near him. and now was too embarrassed to try. hoping to catch on to the secret. and his long legs swung a slow easy gait.After that. As he’d entered manhood. twisting bronze coloured strands standing out from his head like crooked wires. The walk from the Western Medical Fund office to Leke’s home was thirty minutes but it took him fifty on a Friday because he made a stop. Fights with Leke were wordless. Marcus realised he couldn’t force him and didn’t want a fight.

kissing and other intimacies his daylight life were barren of. Organic food markets in old warehouses and light industrial buildings spread out from the main road towards Queen Victoria Street and the railway line. Maturity thrust on him the need to disguise his dreams and dreaming world and “make it”. his sleep populated with intense friendships. Bom Boy 21 . somehow missed by the gentrification project. he’d learnt the quiet language of computers and was satisfied to do that for a living. galleries and restaurants. He had also. running from Mowbray into the city centre. Nights still swallowed him whole into far-off voyages. This creep of gaiety ended abruptly at a set of traffic lights beyond which began a sliver settlement – an off-cut. Families that had lived in the area for generations were bought out by large developers and the wealthy. by then. Main Road.At the technikon Leke’s silence and the manner with which he moved his tall slender body across the student piazza. greeting no one. learnt to speak loud enough to be heard. By the time Leke’d graduated from tech he knew all about programming. was now a long commercial strip with lowrise apartment blocks. were mistaken for arrogance. Salt River and Woodstock. offices. he’d transitioned like an amphibian into an uncomfortable adulthood. fashion stores. Over the past decade the suburbs adjacent to trendy Observatory. Singlestorey houses arranged amidst a series of cul-de-sacs and one-way streets – Wandenleigh was Leke’s neighbourhood. had gone through a process of re-development.

he sold flower seeds.Leke stopped at Elias’s shop on the corner of Nelson and Oxford. to those who cared to garden. a half-empty stippled bottle of calamine lotion. ‘Elias!’ Leke stuck his head through the entrance of the store. amongst the odd wares he sold. Keen customers who had been drawn in by the “five rand a sock” poster complained.’ Elias replied from somewhere at the back of the room. but Elias said socks didn’t need to match if you were going to wear them with boots. In the corner of the shop was a thin mattress where. that he’d been born there and any day now the old man would die there leaving on the shelves. At the entrance of the store was a basket full of un-matched socks. It was an eighteen-metre-square store called The Corner Shop. during the day. The Great Dane was eighty-four centimetres tall at the withers and just under one-ninety on her hind legs. the four-legged woman in his life. come. The rumour was that the shop was as old as Elias. At night he slept on the mattress with Whitie. shoes and old collectable tins. Elias arranged his goods of scarves. People wondered how Elias survived but. Her shiny jet black coat ironically explained the choice of her name. ‘Come. he sold a great number of heavy duty black bags to a loyal group of customers. while most of his stock never seemed to move. 22 Bom Boy . an ornate bird cage with the wire door missing and a multi-coloured selection of unpackaged toothbrushes.

Leke. ‘Come in. Okay. Five packs please.’ Leke said into the shadows. The ceiling was blackened from an old fire and a blue portable stove stood near the mattress. but he insisted it was for sale. You can come in. Leke. The cement screed floor was covered with a weary zebra rug that looked as if it had crawled into the middle of the space and died there. Always the same thing. how come? Look I’ve got Snapdragons. I won’t keep you. An orange sign with white lettering in the shop window had once claimed that everything inside had a price – including the shop owner. shifting his weight from one leg to the other and peering in. Can’t stay. some Bom Boy 23 . Why the rush?’ ‘Paying rent. One day a woman from another neighbourhood who came into his shop insisted she wanted to buy Whitie. What today?’ ‘Four O’Clocks. Leke understood this gesture was for his benefit.’ ‘Hey. After that Elias took the sign down. Four O’Clocks. Leke. Everyone knew Elias used it to cook.’ ‘No. ‘Whitie’s in the back.’ ‘Four O’Clocks. Today the door was locked – Leke stepped into the shop. Elias. The week before the back door had been unlocked and the Great Dane had pushed through and frightened Leke. Elias.’ he shifted his weight again. ‘Hey. Elias came out from the store-room and fiddled with the back doorknob.’ Leke stayed where he was.’ ‘Ah. Sweet Peas.‘I’m in a hurry today.

‘I insist.Daisies. He began to protest. ‘No. 24 Bom Boy . The old man gave him the five packs and tucked one pack of Snapdragons into Leke’s top pocket.’ Elias was enjoying the young man’s nervousness. ‘Thank you. It too had an exact amount of money in it.’ Elias shrugged and took five packs of the perennial seed out of the drawer behind the counter. Just want you to spread out a bit. hey?’ Elias shouted as Leke left his shop and walked up Oxford bridge. Leke took out a brown envelope from his backpack.’ he chuckled at his own joke. wheezing from a lifetime of smoking. Let me know when they come out. just the Four O’Clocks. When he got to his front gate he paused to catch his breath. ‘Well. No charge. His hoarse laughter exposed yellowed teeth and a purple tongue. you’re a Four O’Clocks kind a guy. He walked up to the front door and knocked.’ Elias pointed to pictures of various flowers pasted onto kebab sticks he’d planted in small flower pots and arranged on the counter. Walking up the driveway he pulled out another brown envelope. I guess some people like Roses.’ ‘You’re welcome. identical to the one he’d given to Elias. in it was the exact amount of money for the seeds. He placed the envelope on the counter and stared at it while he waited. He rubbed his thickened fingers over grey speckled jowls.

At the back of the house a room had been added and to the side was the garage where Leke lived. He imagined she had her whole life set up on the other side of the door that he knocked on every month. Leke didn’t know what happened but he realised she had never worked as a botanist.‘Who is it?’ It was a Victorian-style house. He made up a story that her husband had died of a violent disease and had. although she looked frail on all encounters with her. The only part he never ran through was the doorway. The pipes carrying the rain water from the roof down to the gutters were made of copper. He’d never been inside the house but he believed Widow Marais lived in the doorway. Jane had studied Botany. first rocking in a crib as she worked the soil and then planting with her. he imagined the tiles writhing. she’d talked hard. The flower show was a special occasion and Jane Bom Boy 25 . The grey roof shingles reminded Leke of the scales of a fish. He’d named her the Rhododendron because. in his last minutes of life. run crazy through most of the house. he grew up knowing his mom was a part-time Science teacher at a boys’ school in Rondebosch. Her love for plants never changed though and Leke spent most of his childhood in her large garden. so she moved her life into this threshold and was now waiting for her own death. Leke had first seen the Rhododendron plant at a flower show Jane had taken him to at the National Botanical gardens.

not on a visit of care. purple and wavy in the light wind. He pushed the envelope through.’ the Rhododendron screeched. ‘It has poison though. ‘Rent. sucking her tongue as Leke giggled from her touch. but didn’t hear it hit the floor. He heard the widow slap her cane against the flap in the door where the postman shoved the mail. ‘Bye. They’d walked between the flower beds. the family it came from and under what conditions it thrived. ‘This is the Rhododendrum ponticum Leke.wore a hat and her favourite dress which was purple and pink chiffon.’ and she’d clasped the back of his neck with her thumb and forefinger. Esmeralda. ‘Put it through.’ Leke shouted at the one-hundred-year-old hardwood door. The flower reminded him of Jane’s dress. don’t be fooled by its appearance. Leke thought.’ Leke said. but rather to see if her aunt had made it through another week. Leke liked putting his cheek to the fabric whenever she hugged him. 26 Bom Boy . came by. the name of the flower. holding hands and Jane had explained each display. Once a week her niece. She was going blind and never left her house. Widow Marais growled.’ she’d pointed at a collection of flowers and Leke forgot the icecream she’d bought him and listened.

Shower.There was a thick hedge along the side of the house that divided the Marais compound into two unequal halves. cutting through the hedge. Sink. R800 per month.’ ‘Where?’ Leke gave her his manager’s phone number.’ he’d lied. The next day Leke called Jeanine Marais back as she’d asked him to. ‘Children? Pets?’ ‘No. If he hadn’t needed to pay rent he’d just have used his own private entrance. Phone Jeanine Marais 021 448 5813. Available now. He’d been working there for almost a year and felt he could now afford to rent a place of his own. That was one of the things that had attracted him to the place.’ ‘Job?’ ‘Yes. careful not to scratch his ankles on the plant’s thorns. Your age?’ ‘Twenty-five. Widow Marais’s half was wild with overgrown bush. Separate entrance. I–. ‘Yes?’ ‘Uhm… I’m calling about–’ ‘Yes?’ ‘The garage room?’ ‘Still available. Toilet. Bom Boy 27 . No. Leke had called. Leke crossed into his half. How old?’ ‘I…you mean–’ ‘Age. The advert had said: Small converted garage room.

bringing all his possessions with him: his atlas collection. Beyond a squat wooden gate. Leke entered his studio. his mattress. 28 Bom Boy . his small wardrobe of clothing.’ It had been the reason he’d responded to her advert and if she’d thought it odd. his dark blue backpack. Not in the driveway but actually inside. This was part of Widow Marais’s confusion when Leke asked if he could park his car inside the flat.’ she said. and a fluorescent light lit up the space. she hadn’t cared enough to argue. He pulled a cord hanging by the door.‘Fine. The next day Leke moved into Widow Marais’s “garage room”. Inside his small home his eyes adjusted to the darkness. swollen with the winter rains. The entire garden on Leke’s side had been plucked out and as he walked. the end of the cul de sac was exposed. and Red. ‘How soon?’ ‘One question. A two-metre high wall with flecks of grey paint peeling off protected the space from the Cape Town winds. his half-worn brogues left muddied shoe prints on the rose-coloured brick paving. Leke’s dearest friend – an old rusting Volvo 200 series station wagon. It was a deep double garage that had been turned into a studio flat. ‘I’ve spent a lot of money converting the garage into a room and now you want to turn it back into a garage?’ But she’d agreed. the silence created a chilling stillness.

The name stuck. It gave a pain to see it when he walked past but he got accustomed to the pain. driving out to the flower farms and crowding the boot with pots of Clivias and Orchids. Back home they would transfer the plants into the garden while Marcus complained that Jane was using a luxurious car as if it were a pick-up truck. a dead part that now operated. When Jane died. Marcus protested initially but stopped when Leke ignored him. or a strong engine. mostly due to having to save in order to buy the parts. Leke couldn’t forget Red. it was familiar. The restored car pulled nothing in Marcus. When Leke moved out Marcus didn’t stop him from taking Red – he couldn’t recognise the car since Leke had started restoring it. one of a series of realisations over the many years that Jane was really gone. Bom Boy 29 . ‘Red.Red had been Jane’s car. It wasn’t the same and so was not worth keeping.’ Jane would say. speckled with dust and dying. At eighteen Leke began the task of reviving Red. Marcus parked it in a corner of the garage and it stayed there. It took him a year. Although the restored car resembled exactly what Jane had driven. Leke remembered learning the word. Marcus had become used to the dejected looking shadow he’d banished to the back of the garage. Each month Marcus noted an added shiny piece.’ Leke would say back. The car conjured Jane in his memory. and point to the car. ‘Red.

When he opened them the rain had stopped and darkness had arrived outside his window. Against the wall on the left. was a small shower. lying on his back to watch the heavy wooden beams that crossed the short length of his house and the overlapping corrugated roof sheets above. To maximise space he pulled her up right against the back wall.The studio had a second garage door fitted. on the side of his studio which faced the street. Immediately to the right of the front door was his mattress and a small fridge. this was Red’s entrance. 30 Bom Boy . he opened the left-hand-side doors so that. which opened directly onto the street. He kicked off his shoes and socks. which he never worried to sweep. The springs in his naked mattress creaked as he settled his bulk on them. he felt as though she was reaching out to him with a welcoming hug. When he left for work in the mornings. The wind squeezed through a gap under the doors bringing in debris that collected in the corners of the room. it was after 9pm. On top of the fridge were three boxes of rusks. on foot. tinkling against the metal. A small heap of his clothing lay on the floor by his bed. Leke closed his eyes. Inside the fridge was a sachet of salt. a toilet and a sink. on arriving home. and a kettle. he reversed her in so her nose always faced outwards. a stash of rooibos teabags. enjoying the cold grit and crunch of dirt under his soles. It started to rain and he could hear the water hitting the roof. When Leke returned after a Sunday drive with Red.

He shoved his feet back into his shoes and walked out onto the quiet street. Bom Boy 31 .

The cramps had been going since morning – intermittent – someone wringing out her intestines. Vanguard Superette. just enough coins in her pocket for the call. Boss says if you’re not giving birth right this moment get back to your post.’ ‘Coming. ‘Long queue. Should she call her doctor? Leave her post for a few minutes and use the public phones on the main road – Ursula could stand in for her and cash up. It stood opposite a petrol station where several minibus taxi drivers heading out of the Western Cape along the N2 stopped to fill up their tanks and the passengers walked 32 Bom Boy . Bus just pulled in. She planted her feet on the floor and grabbed onto a bar to lift up her body. She washed her hands and ran her fingers over her forehead and cheeks. She checked. owned by the Haddads. was situated off the R300 along a major taxi route. and then suddenly stopping. a Lebanese family. Elaine. She counted the days in her head.Monday 20th July 1992 The baby was shifting again. ‘Need you out here. too early by almost a month. Despite the coolness of the steel toilet seat Elaine’s upper lip was perspiring.’ Ursula cracked open the locker room door.’ Elaine said but she stood studying her face in the mirror for a few seconds.

She pulled the items across the counter. At certain times of the day the Superette would crowd with urgent queues at the check-out counters. Where had she ever been – born in Worcester. The excited energy of people starting or ending a journey irritated Elaine – their often brusque manner at the check-out counter always falling short of what she considered appropriate etiquette. raised in Salt River. Maybe she. She wasn’t a traveller. Elaine recognised her from the township nearby. How much so far?’ Elaine looked up at her.’ Outside the locker room. the glare of the fluorescent lights hurt her eyes. ‘Shoo. She rang up the goods. People are rude. was her grandmother’s recurring lament. the belt in a tight knot dangling on the side. A roll of toilet paper. now it was just the mindless work. ‘Wait. not bothering to look into the people’s faces. But maybe it wasn’t that.across to the Superette to buy provisions for the road. Bom Boy 33 . She could feel the hot stare of Bashir Haddad. sending an injection of panic through the Superette. Tins of tomato puree. the manager. Two Maggie cubes. was jealous of the people because they were travelling. Bus drivers would hoot from the carpark. The cramping had eased. she wore a dirty white scarf. skinny with a pink checkered pinafore. The baby shifted again and she laid her hand on her belly. on her neck as she sat back on her stool and started serving the customers that had gathered in her absence. Elaine.

’ the customer said. Elaine walked past to her assigned locker. ‘It’s not you.‘Ten-forty-two.’ Ursula said. taking a while as she counted out change from a plastic bank packet. a small tear in the packaging widened and a pink trickle of chickenjuice trailed on the counter. ‘Ag!’ Elaine said as the blood dripped.’ she said. didn’t feel cold but outside she could hear the wind blowing – even the short walk to the bus-stop would be unbearable without warm clothing. The customer paid. She pulled a grey sweater on over her uniform. Ursh. Look.’ Elaine added. then she went back to her nails. As Elaine pushed it through. ‘Five kids.’ she replied and the woman slowly took her hand off the rest of the contents in the basket. ‘Use a plastic first. No husband. Elaine continued ringing up the produce. the security guard shut the sliding doors and the last teller rang off. ‘Sorry. She avoided looking at Elaine. Tinned corn – no name brand. In the locker room there was a line for the toilet. Ursula pulled a cellophane bag off the roll and eased the chicken into it. use this. glared in response. watching her go. ‘Thank you. A whole chicken. 34 Bom Boy . At nine o’clock. taking the bag from Ursula and walking out of the store. Then she placed it in the bright green grocery bag. standing inspecting her nails.’ she yanked a bag from the box and shoved it at Ursula who.

She loved the over-sized cuffs and the collar she could pull up and button to keep the cold off her neck. it was still blue but dull and the fabric was worn.’ ‘When’s it coming?’ Ursula gestured and one of the new girls handed her a lighter. In her time working at the store she’d never seen anyone obey the “No-smoking” sign on the wall. Elaine watched the smoke rings form and disappear. catching the scent. At night she turned in her sleep and. The strong odour pervaded everything including Elaine’s coat which transferred the smell to her room when she hung it on the back of her bedroom door. she threw the lighter into her handbag. ‘You in tomorrow?’ Ursula asked.Elaine put on her blue coat. Her cigarette lit. finding it in the left pocket. She’d mended the lining several times but every few weeks the flannel-backed lining loosened at the seams. She took a deep breath. folded tight and held with a rubber band. Over the years the blue felt had faded. ‘No. frowned. it was the warmest thing she owned and at one point it had been the brightest – a deep-sea blue the sight of which always made her feel happy. Rumours circulated that she Bom Boy 35 . The new girl frowned but didn’t protest. Ursula’s cheek bones sharpened when she puckered her lips to send rings in the air. Elaine checked for Oscar’s letter. inhaling the locker-room smell of shoe polish and corned beef.

’ and she sucked her teeth. Her stomach chirped. but never did. She reached into her pocket to see how much change she had. ‘It’s a boy. stubbing out the cigarette and sticking it behind her ear. ‘But you know. Another lady washing her hands by the basin attempted to disguise her laughter. One month still. It’s a shame Elaine.was coloured passing for white but Ursula wielded enough power to kill off the gossip. She’d always meant to replace them. As she walked a cold wind blew the smell of roasting boerewors under her nose.’ Elaine winced.’ ‘I don’t know how you cope. nê?’ Elaine walked out. man. Over the five years she’d worn the coat one button had popped off after another. ‘who’s going to play rugby with the laatjie? I’ve seen you.’ ‘I mean. But there was nothing to call about now – the cramps had stopped. The coat pulled tight around her chest but it no longer covered her stomach. forgot about the doctor. ‘We’ll be fine.’ Ursula continued. my nana always warned me about African men. 36 Bom Boy . Ag. Met die pa in die tronk. Elaine hung her straw bag on her shoulder and held her bulging stomach. A woman sitting further down the bench crouched frozen over her laces. Maybe this winter. absorbing information for future gossip. If they started again she’d call. you can’t throw.

her toes were numb despite the heavy winter boots she was wearing. leaning into the light from the lamp he’d strung up. Elaine looked at the inflated price. The only person she’d tried to explain it to was Oscar and he seemed to understand.‘How much?’ she shouted at the trader as she studied her coins. A light drizzle had started and the baby was shifting again. By the time Elaine reached home the temperature had dropped. Although she’d heard pregnant women talk about a voracious appetite. She could barely feel her fingers. The trader moved and pointed at his sign behind him. all he did was shift. A week’s Bom Boy 37 . ‘You big. ‘Forget it. Stepping to avoid upsetting the rodent traps her landlady had set on the paving. sh. they were so cold. ‘Sh.’ she hushed as she laid a hand on her stomach and unhooked the rusted gate latch with her other hand. said. lady!’ ‘How much for the boerie?’ she repeated. She’d always imagined that babies in their mothers’ wombs kicked but this one didn’t. Elaine made her way to the front door.’ She wasn’t really hungry anyway. and it took a while to fish the house keys from her bag. although she was sure of it she couldn’t explain how. The door opened easily after she turned the key and placed her weight against its wooden frame. during this last stage of her pregnancy she often felt as if she’d swallowed a football – already bloated before any meal. It was different to kicking.

She dug the balding mop in and. She calculated how much time all the cleaning would take. ‘Sh. He was shifting again. pushing through caked dirt and chunks of hair. she let it stand in the corner by the door. Every few minutes Elaine used the plunger to unblock the drain. Her body was sore but it was a sensation to which she’d become accustomed. She took in a breath. When the bath had emptied completely there was a timeline of parallel brownish streaks along the sides. Elaine scrubbed them off. swam her hands with a cloth down to the bottom of the full tub and yanked the plug. The landlady had left a note with instructions on the kitchen counter.dishes jostled in the sink. pushing the bucket along with her bare feet. She’d try to get all the washing and ironing from last week done. aim for 1am and then sleep in a little. fighting with cockroaches for space.’ she said and it came out hoarse and scratchy. sh. A cockroach in the corner of the bathroom seemed to hear her and crawled away. she placed her hands on her lower back and stretched. Elaine tilted the blue bottle and as the milky liquid splashed into the bucket of water a clean hospital smell filled the bathroom. Elaine took off her coat. There was the floor to mop and the cat had vomited a brown mush onto the carpet. It burped and farted as the body of water began to drain. looking up at patches of the ceiling board sagging with brown crumbling pieces where the rain had come through. 38 Bom Boy .

I mean I can’t hear myself. Elaine rolled out of the bed. shifting her weight in search of a comfortable position. It was getting light outside. ready to burst. She’d struggled to fall asleep and was still awake at 3am when her landlady came in. I can’t sleep at night. only the sound of tyres on the road and the low moan of traffic on the nearby highway told her it was probably past 6am. She’d stepped over a pair of jeans and a hefty leather belt on the bathroom floor and perched on the toilet seat long enough to feel cold and wish she’d worn a sweater. I don’t know if I’m making sense. the skin over her belly had felt as if it were stretching. Already morning. Bom Boy 39 . My dear Elaine It’s so loud here. On contact with the chilled floor she curled her toes and tiptoed to where she’d left her coat – the familiar bump of the folded letter in the crease of her jacket pocket. I can hardly think. Sometimes I can’t feel myself. The sound of high heels and heavier footsteps in the passageway. She’d gotten up to go to the toilet and heard grunts coming from her landlady’s bedroom. The sound of this place is ugly and crude and grating. Through the night the wooden bed-frame had creaked at the joints as she’d moved. Knowing she’d never get back to sleep.Elaine opened her eyes and closed them again. an early winter morning. Elaine had drifted off and woke to a sharp ache in her stomach.

You had him strapped to your back and you were humming. Instead one of the gangs is making use of me for information. and they want ideas on how to decrease their sentences. They want information on their cases. I remember tearing down the hill on a dare. I think on my feet though. they come to me with complaints. Somehow they must have found out that I’m from the university. I don’t dare tell them I’m not a lawyer and that I work in a chemistry lab. Don’t laugh! Did you get the money I arranged? How are you doing? How’s that Bom Boy in your stomach? I dreamt he was born. realising the breaks were bust and zooming head first into the stop sign. you were doing something at the sink. I couldn’t see your face. Nobody bothers me. The scar helps too. the right words to use at their reviews. a learned man.I’m fine though. I can recite the periodic table backwards but my knowledge of the legal system is probably less impressive than theirs. They call me “The Professor”. I’m lucky to have survived that with just a keloid scar spoiling my good looks. don’t get me wrong. I could 40 Bom Boy . Did I ever tell you how I got the scar? Flying down Road 9 with my BMX.

I love you. I spent most of my childhood on my mother’s back. I’m fine. enjoying the soft feel of the paper between her fingers. and how to make cornrows. Send me a picture of yourself. Bom Boy 41 . Women wanted to carry me. The other women used to smile but my mother said it was the most sensible thing she’d been taught since she arrived in Ife. Oscar Elaine read the letter through two more times. I’m sorry about all this.hear water and glass bumping against glass. I put my hand on your shoulder and when you turned around I woke up. And don’t worry about me. I want to know how you’re doing. saying her daughter was cute. they argued with my mother when she said I was a boy! Please continue writing to me. She let my hair grow long as a baby and then she plaited cornrows all along my scalp. I must show you how to do that by the way – tie him to your back. That. She tore a piece of lined paper from an exam pad.

Dearest Oscar, I don’t know how I’ll wait for two years to see you. You know, with all that has happened that seems the worst. I know I’m selfish to think of me. How are you? I loved your letter, your stories. I’m fine, yes I got the money, thank you. You can stop worrying about me, I can take care of myself. Any more ideas for a name? I’m worried, I think he’ll come early. I have an ache that keeps coming back more and more. Maybe it’s normal I don’t know. I’ll call the doctor. I miss you. I miss seeing your face – your frown when you’re working – and I miss our arguments. I even miss you telling me to sit down and rest. Love, Elaine She always felt stupid writing to Oscar, as if she was whining. She read over her words and corrected some spelling. She pulled the last envelope from the pack she’d bought and wrote the now familiar words.

42 Bom Boy

Oscar Ogunde 1992-48110-45663 Cell 25-v Section C Medium 2b Joubert Prison Meadows 7001 Cape Town The shower was cold, the geyser needed fixing and her landlady had a stream of excuses for why it couldn’t be done immediately. Shivering, Elaine got dressed. It took long, every now and then she had to stop, hold onto the edge of her bed, doubled-over, until the pain subsided. Her room was bare, Oscar’s desk was the only piece of furniture she owned. The built-in-cupboard housed her modest array of clothes. She put on a wide smock-frock she’d bought at a flea market; it was the one thing she felt comfortable in these days. Oscar’s desk had a flap that opened up like the desk she remembered from primary school. Inside she kept a copy of the Bible, Oscar’s letters, a photograph of herself when she was five with her grandmother at the Grand Parade, and another photograph Oscar had taken of her just before his arrest. She took out the photograph remembering how she’d protested when he retrieved his hefty Canon camera from its case.

Bom Boy 43

Remembering the day detail by detail she fingered the photograph, studying it. ‘Come on E, I want some pictures of you pregnant. Stay still. Drop your hands.’ Feeling caught, Elaine had leaned against the wall in Oscar’s small apartment. She’d just gotten in from work and still had her coat on. ‘Relax. Talk to me, how was work?’ ‘Fine,’ she’d blurted, ‘My feet are killing me.’ ‘There,’ Oscar had lowered the camera and let it hang from his neck. ‘Painless.’ Relieved, she’d walked past his work desk sat in the unusually fat Victorian hallway, into the kitchen and flipped on the kettle. Instinctively her eyes went up to the electricity box. She laughed at herself. She’d moved in a few months already but couldn’t get used to it: ample electricity; good water pressure; hot water in the taps. And then there was Oscar’s habit of throwing two rand coins into a small cup by the front door – when had she ever had two rand coins to leave lying around in a cup? ‘What are you going to do with them?’ she’d asked. ‘I don’t know. Just don’t want them bulging up my wallet.’ The kettle clicked and Elaine pulled her favourite mug from the pile of wet dishes, adding a flush of cold water to cool down the rooibos. As she walked back into the hallway she saw Oscar, head down, scribbling. Fuzzy sunlight from the sandblasted glass of the front door lit up the space making his forehead shine.

44 Bom Boy

‘What are you writing?’ ‘Trying to get some work done. Can’t stand just waiting around, doing nothing.’ Elaine rested her back against the wall, surrendering to the warmth from the mug moving through her fingers, the skin on her arms and all the way along her neck. The trial was due to start in a week. ‘What a mess,’ Oscar sounded tired. ‘But you didn’t do it. You’re innocent!’ ‘Not the way the police see it.’ The police had arrived to find Oscar seated in the downstairs living room and four old people standing around him – three men and a woman. The policemen entered the room and the woman had immediately started explaining what she’d seen. The shorter of the two policemen had listened while his partner handcuffed Oscar. ‘Malcolm called to say he’d jump in the shower and then join me and the boys,’ she twirled her pearls as she spoke, slanting her head towards the three geriatrics standing beside her. ‘We play poker today,’ her eyes were blank. ‘We waited a bit then we started and then when he still didn’t come I came through. Then I–’ here she stopped and one of the old men took her hand. ‘I saw this…I saw him standing over Malcolm. He was dead.’ ‘How did you know he was dead Ma’am?’ ‘He wasn’t moving. He was still, frozen. His eyes were open but–’ she shook her head.

Bom Boy 45

‘Would you be prepared to come down to the station and make a statement?’ She’d nodded. Oscar was led through the house out towards the police car. He felt numb, had she been talking about him? Had she been describing something he’d done? The policeman put his hand on Oscar’s head as he ducked him into the backseat. If he had actually done something then it had been a last act, a final form of defiance against the tyranny of a life-long curse. Maybe finally spilled blood would wipe clean a stain that had haunted his life as well as his father’s life. Oscar couldn’t tell for sure yet if it actually would. ‘Do you think he planned it this way? Do you think Malcolm Feathers is laughing from the grave?’ ‘He can’t laugh anymore, E. He’s dead.’ ‘I’m worried Oscar.’ ‘Look, the trial starts Monday. It’ll blow over, I’m sure it will. It was just an accident.’ ‘Doesn’t look good though.’ ‘Don’t worry about it. Come.’ She stayed leaning against the wall and Oscar walked over and kissed her on the cheek. ‘What time Monday?’ ‘Doesn’t matter, I don’t want you there anyway. At the trial. And also I want you to stop working.’ ‘What?’ ‘I have enough saved up.’

46 Bom Boy

Oscar. She’d interviewed for the Haddad’s job behind his back after the news of the murder broke and the cleaning company fired her for what they called misconduct. Elaine.’ she said and closed the bedroom door behind her. You’re on your feet all day tallying up groceries. Leaving the kitchen she walked past Oscar towards the bedroom. let me take care of you.’ she bit her lip.’ ‘You’re carrying my son. You don’t have to stress anymore. ‘I can manage.’ Elaine shook her head but said nothing.’ It wasn’t the first time Oscar had pleaded with her. Bom Boy 47 . She went into the kitchen to wash her mug. her mother made a short dress from an old bedspread. I want you to relax. E. The laughter at her home-made dress was brazen but when she’d looked around no one made eye contact. ‘I’m going to have a nap. Once. Oscar had argued that she didn’t need to work but she’d insisted. Or on civvies day. engaging in private activity during working hours. she usually wore her school uniform and pretended she’d forgotten.’ ‘What about the legal bills?’ ‘Let me worry about that. I’ve always managed without anyone’s help. but when he spoke to her about money she could hear the children cackling in school when she came barefoot. why couldn’t she just say thank you? ‘I’m just saying you’re with me now. come on. Let me help where I can. he didn’t mean anything by it.‘I don’t need your money. She wished she could relax.

an attractive option. her fingers lingering over the scars along her jaw and neck. particularly the ones who had tormented her the most. He spread his hands along her shoulders. when she turned her head to the side. From her face her 48 Bom Boy . She was trying to remember all the names of the children in her class. Pale and freckled seemed to be. her mouth softened. The mean faces and harsh voices of Elaine’s past disappeared. She blinked and then closed her eyes for a few seconds before turning her attention to her hair. sometimes she thought she felt his skin on her body. she’d learnt to skip them. when she felt Oscar’s warm fingers on the back of her neck. his touch.’ he’d say. Her mother had always pointed out that she’d inherited her good skin. over the strap of her nightgown and massaged her skin. taking everything in. his standard statement meant to explain away most of her queries. she didn’t notice them anymore. She touched her face. including the memory of the pain. Mostly. Elaine put the photograph back down and looked at herself in the broken mirror on the cupboard door. Even though he was dead. ‘I’m from Nigeria. at least to her mother. Malcolm Feathers still frightened her. But occasionally she looked. short was easy to manage. she thought she smelled him.She couldn’t get used to the family of blankets Oscar piled onto the queen sized bed. She didn’t have nightmares and she seldom thought about him anymore but sometimes. She lay still.

Elaine looked again at the photograph then slipped it into the envelope. whether she was beautiful or not. The steps into the post office were slippery and Elaine leaned on the railing for support. ‘I’d like to buy stamps please. It must have rained in the night but despite a restless sleep she had not heard it. indicating the slat in the glass partition and Bom Boy 49 . The air smelled of rubber and dirt as well as the soft smell of fallen rain. ‘Good morning. all the other windows had “closed” signs on them. There were only two functioning tellers. ‘Next. the sun’s brightness tempered by the low slung clouds. she tapped the table top. Inside she joined the queue.’ Elaine said. squeezing it. She bought an orange and. Her stomach churned as she walked along the main road towards the post office. The light was grey. At a corner on a skinny road off Main a short man was arranging a table of fruit. bit a hole in the top and sucked on it.’ the woman behind the counter already looked tired. Even when Oscar complimented her she suspected he was lying.’ The postal worker had on thick glasses. she cupped her breasts which had swollen in the last few months.eyes moved downwards. At five feet she was diminutive and often had to shop for clothes in the children’s section. careful to avoid the puddles from the storm. She’d never been able to answer the question for herself.

she got good at knowing which would taste like what. ‘Oops! Sorry about that. Much later her grandmother told her about a neighbour who collected stamps.’ subconsciously Elaine’s neck stiffened and her nose rose up in the air. she couldn’t quite imagine it. as a little girl she wondered why they put sugar on the back of stamps. To make the letter happier? To make it more special? Some stamps were sweeter than others. ‘You okay?’ ‘I’m fine.’ ‘Wow. standing up close. taking them out every few months. She imagined a murmur ripple through the small post office. ‘Joubert Prison?’ A raised eyebrow. 50 Bom Boy . Elaine stood at one of the closed counters and began licking the stamps. thank you. of an old man keeping stamps in a box. Collecting the stamps she turned and bumped into the woman behind her. She never got the image out of her head.’ the woman bent to collect the letter that had fallen in the collision. ‘Just under a month to go.’ they traded smiles. Someone in the queue cleared their throat and the woman went on to the counter. She paid the money. On visits to the post office her grandmother would let her lick the stamps. how far along are you?’ Elaine noticed the watery light blue eyes. ‘Yes. through the line standing behind her. noticing the woman eyeing her belly. to lick them and taste them.Elaine pushed her letter through.

and realised it was coming from her own mouth – a low wail as she exhaled. She felt as if her body was fighting her as the claw.’ it was an expensive private hospital. her gold bangles jingling as she did so. Davis. Elaine thought. lady. with talons. had made the arrangements. He’s coming. Her long blonde hair was pulled back off her face which was flushed pink and she wrung her hands like drying a wet towel. ‘Where’s your husband?’ the postal worker asked as another contraction simmered. ‘Which hospital are you at?’ ‘Constantiaberg.’ as she spoke a flow of liquid began slipping from between her legs. Oscar’s colleague. A giant claw was yanking at what she had within her. started picking away at her intestines. Then nothing. ‘I’ll take her.’ the postal worker had left her seat.As Elaine walked out of the post office something stabbed at her insides forcing her to stop and grab hold of the edge of the door. She heard a sound. Almost a month early. ‘That’s your waters breaking.’ it was the woman who’d asked when the due date was. Bom Boy 51 . She panicked realising she still had not made the call to her doctor. but he’s coming. Prof. ‘Anyone you can call?’ Elaine shook her head. When Elaine didn’t respond she changed her question. ‘I’m fine. She looked down to see a clear puddle at her feet.

She felt in a trance. Six hours later. ‘You’re here!’ she said. please I need a ride. holding the baby up to her. ‘Well I guess it’s better than putting you on a bus. I’ll wait here. with a final intense burning sensation. holding onto the edge of the counter and breathing deeply as another contraction engulfed her. ‘What is it?’ the midwife asked Elaine. his feet.‘Who’re you?’ ‘No one.’ She’d carried him and understood the biology involved but his presence in the room seemed miraculous. her body went light. On the drive to Constantiaberg hospital Elaine felt as though she was asleep although she knew she wasn’t. Then softer. The woman spoke all the way through but Elaine only heard her in segments – a radio wave in and out of signal. But if she needs a ride I’ll take her. ‘A boy!’ The midwife laid him on her belly and he wriggled around. The disrupted queue remade itself and business continued as usual. ‘Hey you. she caressed his back. 52 Bom Boy .’ said Elaine. Yes. you’re here. watching Elaine with an intense stare.’ the postal worker stood by Elaine who was bent over. he slipped out. Okay lady go get the car.’ ‘Thank you. not logical. his legs. in a sudden stream of slime and blood.

I left my number on the table.’ ‘I need to be getting home. A smaller towel covered his head and stringy curls escaped at his temples. Elaine smiled and kissed her baby. Elaine ran her fingers along the soft hairy skin on his face. Elaine looked up at her smiling and then back down at the baby in her arms. His eyes were closed and his forehead crinkled so it looked as if the thirty-minutes-old baby was frowning. She kissed the wrinkled forehead. looking up at the woman who’d driven her to hospital. Jane. ‘So tiny.’ Jane said.’ ‘You pushed him out. The nurse had cleaned him and swathed him in a white flannel blanket. her arms were tired and her body ached. just call me if you need anything.The lady from the post office touched her shoulder. You did it – surely that’s thanks enough. He looks nothing like you by the way!’ Jane had been surprised to see a brown slippery body coming out of Elaine’s white one. ‘He is beautiful. holding her hand with the final push. Don’t think twice.’ she said.’ ‘Jane. Bom Boy 53 . She’d been there through the whole thing.’ ‘I don’t know how to thank you. ‘Thank you. But happy. and held him to her bosom. ‘Next to you I did nothing.’ she reached across and squeezed Elaine’s wrist. ‘How’re you feeling?’ ‘Sore.’ ‘I don’t even know your name.’ Elaine said.

Outside there was a tree with a wide trunk. a small head.’ Elaine watched as Jane left the room. the pain intensified and then stopped for good. We’re both fine. ‘Your son looks just like you.’ she laughed. Suddenly she got up and asked the driver to stop. He would call soon.’ the strange bird said to her. The kindness she showed was the cleanest Elaine had ever seen. She looked down and it looked up towards her. ‘I knew it was you. 54 Bom Boy . in her dream. She climbed and settled herself in the branches. Everything was dark but she knew there were other people on the bus with her. spindly feet and wet feathers inched out of her vagina.’ Later.’ ‘You were. next to Oscar’s.’ ‘What’s he doing now?’ ‘Frowning. The surges of pain came and receded. There was no pity. she lay back and spread her legs.’ He was silent.‘Thank you.’ ‘How are you doing?’ ‘I’m fine. ‘I wanted to be there. And then she’d tell him. only warmth. she knew. she was on a bus and her stomach was cramping. Her legs spread wide. She could hear drumming. Elaine waited for Oscar’s call. ‘He looks like he knows so much.

He chose you. ‘Well. Children are supposed to leave their parents. Oscar called again.’ ‘I just don’t want any sadness around him. My father used to tell me stories – not all of them were happy. so he is where he belongs – no mistake has happened.’ ‘What? Is it good?’ ‘He recognised you. he’ll be fine. I’ve heard of that happening.’ ‘What do we call him?’ Elaine asked.’ Oscar was silent. ‘It’s perfectly normal. but still they made me feel safe.As it spread its wings Elaine shielded her eyes from the fierce yellow light. should we base his name on the circumstance or base it on a hope – like a prayer?’ ‘Hope. And he used to sing to me. I want happy stories. Bom Boy 55 . ‘Hmmm. Elaine stayed in hospital one extra day with the baby. He’d caught jaundice and his eyes were bandaged while he was placed beneath a bright lamp that Elaine worried would scorch his skin. To have better lives. Oscar. ‘But he flies away so maybe he’ll leave us. Easier lives.’ ‘Don’t talk like that.’ ‘Come on.’ ‘Yes.’ Elaine told him her dream.’ Elaine nodded – she’d not thought about it that way. It’s a good thing. E.

‘Oscar?’ He sighed. We’d wave and then we’d look at our fingernails for white flecks that weren’t there before we waved – if we found flecks it meant the birds in flight had answered us. ‘Look. then.’ ‘Help you with what?’ ‘Good luck.’ ‘What does it mean?’ ‘Lekeleke gba mi leke Eye adaba gba mi leke White swan. This is how it has happened – this is our son. help me.’ ‘Leke. I’m sorry it’s happened like this. ‘It’s cute.’ ‘Now. this has to be right.’ Elaine smiled. Elaine. what do we call him?’ ‘I’m thinking of your dream of the bird. help me Dove. I shouldn’t have–’ ‘Don’t say it.’ ‘Okay. Whenever we saw these white birds – must have been doves or swans – flying across the sky we’d stop whatever we were doing – even if someone was about to score a goal – and wave at them.’ 56 Bom Boy .’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Lekeleke gbami leke–’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘A song I learnt in primary school on the playing fields.

his soft breathing. she didn’t know where she was. her mind aware of her new baby next to her. Elaine put her hand to her chest. The hospital TV was on mute but she could hear voices coming from the passageway. the squeak of wheels rolling on the floor. imagined he’d been released and was standing beside her singing to Leke. does it mean “bird”?’ ‘No. Something startled her and she awoke with a fright.‘Leke.’ Elaine drifted into a half-sleep. She thought she heard Oscar’s voice in her sleep. Ifa – the creator – is the victor. For a second. an arm’s length away. just as a nurse entered the room. Bom Boy 57 . sleeping. She exhaled audibly. her stomach ached and in between her legs was a throbbing sensation as though blood was gushing. The nurse must have come back and cleaned and burped him because when she woke up again it was dark outside and Leke had been laid in the crib. Lay-kay.’ ‘Leke. She felt weighed down by an invisible mass. with the morning light sneaking through the blinds. that’s just the song! The full name is Ifaleke. Leke was still in the white crib beside her bed. ‘Is that right? I can’t mispronounce my own son’s name. She wanted to ask him something but sleep held her back. So.’ ‘Lay-kay.’ Elaine said then frowned. but her clothes were dry. She thought of Oscar far away in a prison cell. The nurse woke her up to feed the baby and he fell asleep at her breast.

I don’t want that.’ ‘I’ll bring him to see you. This is no place for a baby. I know.’ ‘It’s too long. When will he be able to read? Not just ABC. He’ll be two by the time I get visiting rights. He’ll need something in the meantime. I don’t want him here. ‘A boy needs his father.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Letters. Don’t come to visit with him. ‘Yes.’ ‘No. and you can wait and tell them to him.’ ‘Maak vinnig man!’ Another prisoner waiting for the phone moved up closer behind Oscar so he could smell his sweat.’ she had to pat her chest to keep from crying. spent. looking to the couch where she’d lain down Leke. everything is fine. Oscar. Ever. when will he be able to really understand things?’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘They’re for him to read. Elaine?’ ‘Yes. 58 Bom Boy .’ ‘He’s just a baby. Davis was gone. but she didn’t know how to tell Oscar the money from Prof. Please.’ Elaine whispered.’ ‘I’m writing to him. Oscar!’ ‘I know. She’d started work again.’ ‘Yes.‘Everything okay.’ ‘But–’ ‘I don’t care. It’s filthy here. Elaine! And the smell… don’t bring him here. face to face.

I can’t let him remember this. you’ll see.’ Oscar continued.’ ‘He won’t. ‘It’ll be better that way.’ ‘Doesn’t matter. I can’t let him see me like this. The call went silent. reaching her hand to stroke Leke’s furrowed brow. Elaine held the receiver between her ear and her shoulder. the time will pass quickly. Bom Boy 59 .’ Oscar’s lie polluted the phone call. He’ll be too young. This is not the place for him.‘Please. I’ll be out. Elaine.

‘And I’m South African too?’ My mother nodded. ‘Why did you bite Temilade?’ I feigned as best I could the smile I’d seen too many times on their faces. the wax dribbling over the blue label. 60 Bom Boy . He nodded.’ ‘If you’re really my mother how come you’re oyinbo?’ They never answered my questions so I decided to try ignoring theirs too.Saturday 25th July 1992 For Leke: ‘Am I Nigerian?’ I asked my dad. ‘Oscar. Later he would come to get me. My father gave me a lecture and sent me to my room. ‘How come we don’t go there? And how come your skin is like that but Daddy and me are like this?’ ‘Daddy and I. while my mother went to bed. where are your school socks?’ I nodded and got a smack from my mother. A naked candle poking out of a Star beer bottle. NEPA would have turned off the electricity.

’ He shouldn’t have called it a story. Bom Boy 61 . I told her to let me take you to Ekiti!’ I loved my father. Maybe because he really talked to me. albeit he may have let slip what my mother referred to as “inappropriate details”.Babalawo mo wa bebe If he’d already had a bit to drink he would be impatient with my bad pronunciation as I tried to repeat the words. The point is he spoke freely to me and I felt important. ‘Bom Boy! Come here jo! Let me tell you a story. He didn’t have to pretend with me – I knew. ‘What are they teaching you in school?’ and ‘All that English with your mother all day – what a mistake.

damp from steam. despite a perpetual series of robberies in the neighbourhood. It seemed to work. Leke pushed the buzzer. The smell of steaming curry and basmati rice filled the small kitchen. Marcus’s fervour for locks. Leke would repeatedly return home to an added security measure or to tradesmen trying to convince compliant Marcus to bulk up on something he already had. padlocks and watchmen came after Jane’s death. When he’d been living in the house he’d always avoided getting in after dark – peace of mind eluded him. 62 Bom Boy . to the side of the kitchen table and pulled the cardboard tops off the foil containers. The camera flashed and he knew Marcus had seen and recognised him. The steel gates parted and as he pulled into the driveway and switched off Red he wished he hadn’t agreed to come.Friday 27th July 2012 Stretching his arm out of the car window. Leke always locked his car door. this house had never been touched. Still. He pushed the white plastic bags. It hadn’t always been like this. He locked the car doors even though this was the safest house in Cape Town. Leke watched Marcus as he unwrapped the take-away packets. He hated coming back here.

back and forth. They settled at the table although Leke knew Marcus. Well. ‘I… there’s something I want you to have. kept it… she asked me to make sure you get it… at the right time. Marcus shifted in his seat. expressionless. wrinkled. Jane always.’ Bom Boy 63 . Marcus hadn’t shaved in a few days and white shoots covered his chin. Dirty plates and bowls with hardened brown specks spread across the rug and underneath the settee – each dish at a different stage of decay. watching the National Geographic channel through his wire spectacles. hands with reddish-brown marks across the white skin. you know. Leke’s face remained flat. ate in front of the television when he was alone. setting down his fork. son. Leke had sat beside him as he switched channels to Animal Planet and then BBC. as a rule. ‘Here. he wiped them on his black trousers.Marcus’s bony hands twitched.’ Marcus said. He pulled cutlery from the basket near the sink and dried the forks with a damp kitchen rag. The clink of their glasses struck but then the silence took over again.’ Marcus said looking up at Leke who rose and got two plates from the cupboard. He’d come home one evening and found him eating pizza. ‘Happy belated birthday. ‘Let’s eat.’ Marcus raised his wine glass and the gold liquid caught the light from the hanging pendant. shovelling the pizza slices into his mouth. It had seemed reckless.

Silent data he called it. It gobbled up the sound of Leke’s feet stamping the old wooden floors. hardly took notice. seduced by relics. ‘An envelope. the sound of Red pulling away and he was alone again. I need to go. no words just markings 64 Bom Boy . The bang of the front door.’ He rose from the table and left the kitchen. he liked this – the quiet stories of rocks. the sound of his laughter as he splashed in the bathtub calling for her to play with him. ‘Give it a chance. He’d watched Marcus pull the envelope from a pile of innocent-looking mail. He would start a paper on trace fossils and radiometric dating and lose himself in the pre-historic past. Marcus didn’t protest. Thanks for dinner. ensconced in his own grief. I don’t want it. ‘I don’t want anything from before. the contents of his plate mostly untouched.’ he picked up his fork but put it down again. Leke. He worked late in his damp-smelling office at the university. crowding his mind with an unrelenting series of minute facts. It’s for you from…from before–’ ‘I don’t want it. Although he was never much of a talker.’ ‘No. for three months after her death Leke had stopped speaking completely.Leke put his fork down. I’ve told you. At first Marcus.’ Leke frowned. The large house his adopted son had once galloped around in seemed to swell to twice its size after Jane’s death.

she’d sit up and rub her eyes. Before going to bed he’d pass through Leke’s room – stop a while to watch him sleeping – collect blankets from the cupboard and settle in front of the television. In those days soon after the funeral Marcus would arrive home late. but he’d put his index finger between his teeth and bite down. then flicked his indicators and overtook the lorry. ‘Why are you home?’ Leke had asked Jane when he returned from school on his bike.’ Marcus would pay her and walk her out to her car. The babysitter would be sleeping on the couch with the TV on mute. ‘Mr. Back inside he’d turn off all the lights in the house and meander through it as if he were visiting an exhibition in a gallery.and lines. ‘I didn’t hear you come in. but to Jane in her bathrobe. Denton. Marcus and the envelope had disturbed something that up till then he’d succeeded in forgetting. talking had become extraneous. A speechless world – with Jane dead.’ it was always the same. her face gaunt. Lightness. Leke pressed his horn down. On the couch was the only place he found a good night’s sleep. ‘You’re sick again?’ Bom Boy 65 . not to the usual company of the house-keeper. He didn’t cry. not having to bend too low to hug him.’ She’d smiled. ‘To keep you company. Marcus would turn it off and touch her on the shoulder.

Trachelospermum jasminoides. 66 Bom Boy .’ They’d smiled a secret joke at one another across the slatted garden table.’ After a short silence Leke’d asked. beyond the rubber tree and head-height bougainvillea hedge that separated her garden from the neighbour’s.’ Leke had known she was lying. but look how it gorges itself. I might have to get someone to chop it down. Lek. She saw the tops of the other houses and Table Mountain presiding over the skyline. That they lived on and on which is not real life. away from those hungry rubber tree roots. ‘What else will you plant?’ ‘I’ve been thinking of a perennial maybe?’ ‘Thought you said those were fakes. ‘Star jasmine. in between pauses where she caught her breath. spring had eased away for the kind of harsh sunny days Jane adored and Leke tolerated.’ They’d stayed outside. ‘Maybe another vegetable patch to the side there. So it’s me and you.‘No. If we’re not careful it’ll uproot the whole house.’ ‘No!’ ‘I know I love it too. Goodness. They’d sat on the veranda.’ Jane didn’t respond but looked out in the distance. ‘Where’s Marcus?’ ‘Daddy’s gone away on a conference for the weekend. Just tired. about the flowers she would plant before the December holidays. Jane rattling on.

In her bed they would curl together. He closed his eyes and the memory released. Jane startled. I’ll go for a nap.’ she said still looking out over the view.‘I think I’ve changed my mind. but not really. his small skinny arms wound round her waist. It was his job to continue feeling. an old practice they only ever revived when Marcus was away. Pulling into the garage he switched off the engine and left the keys in his lap. Leke digging deeper and deeper into her stomach. her breath would be there too. As long as his ear was there. The next Bom Boy 67 . I was flipping through my old copies of House and Garden… they did a spread once on the Marvels of Peru. they open when the temperature drops in the evening and by morning they wilt.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Four O’Clocks. She’d hold and kiss him and he would fall asleep to the sensation of her damp breath on his ear. Perennial. It seemed like a fair compromise. his irritation had dissolved.’ Leke looked confused but Jane wasn’t really speaking to him. Mirabilis jalapa.’ At night she had let Leke sleep in her bed. ‘Having something that will always be here seems like a good idea. So long as he could feel her breath everything would be fine. By the time Leke entered the familiar cul de sac. ‘I’m feeling quite tired actually. The sun reddened and Lightness came to ask if they wanted tea outside. He would refuse to sleep unless Jane lay down with him.

‘Get me some water please. pushing Leke out of the bed.morning Leke had woken up and found the bed hot from Jane’s fever. Jane was staring.’ Jane had said. 68 Bom Boy . at the ceiling. unmoving. When he’d returned with the glass. darling.

They’d got married there. The caress of academic success was a welcome distraction.’ Marcus mouthed as he put down the invitation.Tuesday 5th November 2002 A month after Jane’s death. the Western Cape Earth Science Club invited Marcus to give a series of lectures on his speciality. several had heard of Prof. He enjoyed the challenge of working within the span of this era. room and board. sir. The town was overcome with holiday makers but there were a few people who were attending the conference. Marcus Denton and read his papers in journals.’ ‘What’s the matter? Is he upset?’ Bom Boy 69 . trace fossils within the Precambrian period. It was an amateur palaeontology institution and they offered a small stipend. ‘Knysna. He sent Lightness a text when he arrived and called home two days later. the trip was ten days long and he felt guilty at his eagerness to get away. He called the number on the invitation and accepted. a field where fossil records were poor yet it accounted for eighty-seven percent of geological time. ‘He’s not talking. He checked the dates again.

’ Marcus looked out the window. one emigrated to Australia and the other lived in Durban. ‘Put him on the phone. The Zimbabwean woman had worked for Jane’s sister.’ He waited while she put the phone down. On meeting her during a large family reunion Marcus was immediately jealous of the easy way Lightness had with both adults and children. not the one they’d said their vows in but – ‘Where’s he now? What’s he doing?’ ‘I left him in his room. When they call his name in class he says nothing. ‘Hello? Leke. His teacher called to say they were sending him home. raising her four kids. it’s Dad!’ There was no response. Jane was not particularly close to her sister but she was offered Lightness as a “life saver”.’ ‘Put him on the phone. He’s just not talking. There was a church across from his boarding house.’ Lightness made a sound of disapproval. By the time they decided to adopt Leke the kids had grown up and left the house. He heard someone pick up the receiver. Two lived in Canada. I told you that would cause trouble with a child. I left him a note. I needed to beat the traffic.’ ‘What happened?’ ‘He’s not talking. Lightness. he’s looking through his books.’ ‘He’s hardly a child.‘No. 70 Bom Boy .’ ‘You didn’t say goodbye to him.

He dropped his speed to avoid the hidden cameras and. Bom Boy 71 . his hands temporarily obscuring the view of the white church – to come all this way to cry.’ ‘I don’t think it’s such an emergency. Lightness. sir. calling home every two days to find out that nothing had changed. after passing the Pinelands off-ramp. I don’t want to leave him alone in his room at night. ‘Sir?’ He cleared his throat. I don’t know what he’s thinking. trying something he’d heard Jane do. The following day he set out late again and arrived back in Cape Town at dusk. Lightness. hoping Leke would be asleep by the time he got back. sir.’ ‘Haven’t you heard me? He’s not talking. telling himself that driving in the dark was a bad idea. Driving into town along the N1 he ignored the men selling car phone chargers and wire versions of “The Big Five”. turned towards the university. He needs you.‘Leke!’ he sang. ‘Soon.’ He stayed in Knysna for the duration of the conference. When are you back? You must come now. I’ll be there soon. putting off arriving home.’ How strange.’ ‘Put him back on. He started his drive back to Cape Town after 2pm and stopped in Swellendam to spend the night. Marcus thought as he wiped his eyes.’ ‘I just give him food when I think he’s hungry. ‘You cannot raise a child over the phone.

I need to be alone.’ ‘Nothing? This child needs help. Don’t make this difficult.’ In the last stages of her sickness. Marcus had missed the campus and his office. I’ll be fine. You can leave now. sir. ‘Sir?’ He cleared his throat. ‘What’s this?’ ‘I think it’s better if we…I think it’s–’ ‘I won’t leave him. On the way home from the university he stopped at the ATM. Lightness fraught with worry. Lightness had convinced Jane to allow her Sangoma to bless and guide her.If anything.’ ‘What of the boy? What does he need?’ 72 Bom Boy . ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘Nothing. ‘I have something to give you.’ ‘Please.’ ‘Oh please. Leke was asleep when he arrived. we don’t need that charade again.’ He handed her a thick envelope which she took. ‘It’s not a charade. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds then switched on the lights and ran his fingers over the hulking books on his desk.’ She picked up her bag. or even I can take him to my doctor. I say he’s fine. A normal doctor. two massive rocks as book ends. I’ve done nothing wrong.’ ‘I’m his father. looking confused.

he was already dressed in his pyjamas.’ Marcus said. ‘Hey there. you said so yourself. ‘Fine. Marcus had seen him playing this strange game before – Leke sitting with his legs open. over the course of four Bom Boy 73 . Marcus walked through the house.’ Marcus said.’ Leke spoke only when Marcus spoke to him so Marcus came home earlier in the day to engage with the boy.’ Leke said. Marcus stood still for a while in the doorway. He climbed into bed. his back to the door.‘He needs me. ‘Ah! So you do speak after all. water running from her nose. The door to Leke’s room was cracked open and he could hear a strange shuffling. Leke didn’t resist. playing on the floor. tearing strips of white paper and twisting the strips and then shuffling them around on the floor. What was all the fuss about?’ Marcus smiled but Leke just disentangled himself from the awkward embrace and returned to his game. He sighed and stepped into the room.’ he walked towards the bed and hugged Leke. He pushed the door open and found Leke. his smile disappearing and a heavy sense of fatigue settling onto his shoulders. ‘How are you?’ Marcus asked. Slowly he invited friends around and.’ She left. ‘Good night. I promise I’ll take care of him. ‘Bedtime my boy. The box of Lego Marcus’s sister had brought for him remained unopened in the corner. ‘Good night.

He rarely volunteered conversation but that. Marcus decided. 74 Bom Boy . life-after-Jane continued for Marcus.months. Leke was willing to answer any question put to him. boring and unremitting. was simply the child’s personality. Relieved to have cured Leke and relieved to have been extracted from what had seemed like a trance-like ritual of work and home with little or no contact with anyone in between.

cannot bear children. I loved the story and. Ijapa travels through a forest and visits the home of babalawo. I would find ways to interrupt my father. Yonibo. the Ifa diviner. it is for your wife. the babalawo’s warnings ringing in his ear – don’t drink the soup. to prolong it. I could first see the regret in his eyes that his only son didn’t speak Yoruba. Bom Boy 75 . the tortoise. but what about the rest? The song tells the story of Ijapa. Ijapa leaves his offerings and starts the journey home. She gives Ijapa a bowl of soup that he is to give to his wife to drink the minute he arrives home. I told him I knew what babalawo meant. whose wife. On the advice of a neighbour. to ask for guidance.Friday 31st July 1992 For Leke: Babalawo mo wa bebe I remember when I asked my father what that meant. The babalawo listens to his plight and performs the necessary rituals.

We cross a bridge. It was Harmattan season and the dry winds parched his skin and throat. avoiding where the slats are beginning to rot and give way. One of my cellmates just ordered me to shut up. each leg dangling off my father’s broad shoulders. I was safe. I didn’t finish telling you the rest of the “Babalawo story”. I’m four.Babalawo mo wa bebe Alugbinrin I didn’t realise I was singing out loud. It has rained. As they walked Ijapa sang: 76 Bom Boy . I’m high up. Within days Ijapa’s belly became engorged and an acute pain consumed him. We must be going to the farm because I’m wearing my blue rubber boots – I remember they were heavy to walk in – and when I look down the ground is far away. Almost faint from exhaustion. right there. He never did but in that moment. he stopped under a dried out tree and drank the tantalising soup. The journey home through the forest was long and arduous for Iajpa. Concerned. Arriving home he assured Yonibo the medicine had been in the form of incantations and that it would soon start to work. Yonibo decided to take him to the babalawo for a cure. I make my father promise to take me fishing.

Leke. I think about what I’ve done. ori gbendu Alugbinrin Babalawo mo wa bebe. That was what my father called the curse – darkness. Alugbinrin In Ijapa’s song he confessed his greed and supplicated the Ifa priest. even as I remember this story. Bom Boy 77 . I’ve worked very hard and tried many things but I am still uncertain about a way out of “darkness”. But you I have to tell. Yonibo suddenly understood what had happened. Sometimes.Babalawo mo wa bebe Alugbinrin Mo boju wo kun. I actually ask myself the question in my head. citing that she had warned Ijapa. ‘Oscar what have you done?’ I ask myself. ‘Are you crazy?’ I dare not tell anyone. He writhed in pain and died in the arms of his wife. When they arrived in front of the babalawo she offered no pity.

Instead of fruit. He entered under the bright lights of the mall. waiting to be picked. The Plaza Mall smelled of paint and brass polish.Monday 6th August 2012 Right at the edge of Leke’s suburb a new shopping centre had opened. like an enchanted forest. He walked the route to the back of the mall and slipped in through a delivery door. From the high ceilings warm coloured lights hung low. During the day this access was busy. but instead of trees and bushes there were elevators and escalators. Latin name Sansevieria trifasciata. an intricate dance that started when they entered the mall and ended as they left. and along the floors elaborate stone clay pots held palm fronds and cacti. clothes sprouted in the shop windows. Mother-in-law’s tongue. The crowds surprised him but he remembered seeing a flyer announcing that stores were open till 10pm to test out the late-night shopping market. and in place of animals there were sales people. 78 Bom Boy . but after 6pm it got quiet. All the shoppers in the mall seemed to Leke to be in a dance. After Leke’s first visit to the mall he’d returned regularly. The curves of the snake plant. he heard Jane’s voice in his ear. Lek. squinting but enjoying the glint on the tiled walls. The mall was hypnotic.

He regretted not answering back. took the belt and examined it. made a phone call. Leke followed her through the mall but he worried she’d recognise him. She’d caught him off guard. The assistant walked towards the customer. He pretended not to hear and. how much for this?’ a shopper asked. ‘What do you think?’ she turned and asked Leke with a coy smile. In her left hand she dangled a shiny red belt. ‘’Scuse me. She tied it around a thickened waist and turned from side to side to examine the effect in front of a full length mirror. Scolding himself. was grey at the roots. his heart pounding. shaking it in the direction of the sales assistant. ‘There is no price tag. from his counter. She had a walking stick which she leaned on with her ring-clad right hand.’ ‘Of course. At the cosmetics store he watched her try three shades of lipstick before he left.Leke wandered into a department store. Her plum red hair. turning the metal stand with silk scarves hanging from the hooks. While she waited the woman tried on the belt. sorry. Leke noticed. walked out of the shop.’ the assistant handed it back to her and. After half an hour of aimless wandering another woman caught his attention. usually he managed to blend into the background and no one ever noticed him. that’s why I asked you. Leke busied himself to one side of the store. her purchases inside. She was heavy-set but Bom Boy 79 . he waited down a passageway leading to the toilets and saw the woman walk past with the designer carrier bag.

younger than the first woman. giggled. He pretended she wasn’t there but she stood behind him. The December after Jane’s death Leke planted the perennials she’d mused about. Later. 80 Bom Boy .’ He smiled a response. Her ample bust was barely covered beneath a black net of fabric and a torn t-shirt. her brown fleshy arms were adorned in silver bangles. Leke rushed to assist. He forced the bangle up his bicep. enjoying the tightness of its hold on his skin. He’d hoped that the small patch of ground at the back of his studio would be completely his own but Jane still filled the space. A group of teenagers. he slipped the lone bangle from underneath his sweater. gathered nearby. When he moved out he took cuttings from the Four O’Clocks he’d planted in what he still thought of as “Jane’s garden”. teetering on spiky heels. on his walk back towards the house. made a loud whoop as she landed on her bum. helping her collect the scattered belongings. while he worked. She slipped and fell. but they only blossomed the following year. ‘Thank you. It was slender and delicate and he remembered how she had pushed it up along to the thicker part of her arms so that the silver dug into her flesh. telling him not to plant the seeds too close and not to overdo it with the mulching. Every two years he planted a new batch so that when one plant was dying another was blooming.

A small hole in the side but it was perfect for moving soil or mulch. ready for use when necessary. He mixed in the compost he’d picked up from Elias and started to dig out a small ditch. but it was frosted. tore it open. He used his fingers to dig out space for new seeds.There was no outside light at the back. steaming. He took the packet. little babies shooting out of the ground. he could fit in three lines. He’d divided the ground into three beds. and poured a few seeds into his palm. he spread it over Bom Boy 81 . Jane had taught him to collect garden refuse in a specific part of the garden. In another were spindly stems. Leke stood surveying the results of his work. the bright blossoms were open and oozing a sweet scent. Along one side there was a window into Widow Marais’s house. inhaling the smell of what he’d always thought of as earth-sweat. Filling it with the garden refuse he’d collected over the months and some extra bark Elias had given for free. One planted with rows of Four O’Clocks. The garden soil was soft and compliant from the rain. keep it there. He’d put on his gardening shorts so he could kneel on the ground without dirtying his work clothes. walking along the run and placing them in the holes he’d dug. Leke. Using a fork he began to turn the soil. at ruler-height. Leke took the tin bucket the Rhododendron had put out for the garbage collectors. Along the other three sides of the garden were high walls. barefoot. nothing to be seen. but a fat moon cast down giving the garden a muted glow. pulling up a run of dead daisies and tough grass growing in the corner against the wall. bent down and continued work on the last bed.

‘Sh.’ he whispered and afterwards wondered who he was talking to.the bed. 82 Bom Boy . and Jane kissing him goodnight. Sh. The mulch fell with soft thuds and Leke thought of blankets.

some of them are just boys. Bom Boy 83 . clenching my teeth. then I’m most awake! It’s this place. But when I smile there is also a pain in my chest. Even though I’m tired. Sorry to say these things. I might get lost here. I’m mostly left alone here. I am now in a cell with forty other men. Not when I’m speaking to you on the phone. I’m scared Elaine. my fists. really. I wake up tired. when I think of him I notice that I smile. Write to me. How is Leke? I can’t believe he’s almost a month old. I’ve noticed I feel tired a lot. I feel as if I’m always holding my breath. really. I’m okay. I’m grateful. but not everyone shares my fortune.Wednesday 19th August 1992 My dear Elaine How are you? Thanks for the photograph in your last letter. Life has confused me. I remember the day I took it.

My mattress is thinner than a cotton summer shirt and it stinks. the time to sit and write seemed to elude her. hell will be a holiday. I’ll send them with this one to you. Your lavender smell. 84 Bom Boy . Each night. The smell of semen and urine waft through my dreams. There are also pictures. I wake up gagging. I missed your letter last week. In the morning she expressed milk and then hurried to drop Leke off. After this prison. I cannot make out the words. Telkom had cut the phone-line and her landlady installed a pay as you go. Rather than spend the money on the call. A vagina with a speech bubble. I lie down and pretend you’re beside me. ‘Hey’ someone has written as if they are talking to me. as a distraction. I sleep with my head by the wall. I continue with my letters to Leke. perhaps it got lost in the mail. Elaine bought bread. I’ll put them in a separate envelope. Sweat and desperation.Elaine didn’t intentionally skip a week without writing or phoning but when she came home from work and collected Leke from her neighbour.

Often it was the memories that kept him awake.How is Leke? Kiss him for me. I think it will all be sorted out soon. On nights when he could not fall asleep. I cannot undo this. In prison Elaine’s letters were more human to Oscar than the men he shared a cell with. I’ve spoken to my lawyer about the money the university owes me. looked normal. I put a mental picture of him under my pillow. studying first one side of her face and then the other. She smoothed her shirt down her front. remembering helped but rest was not always assured. I’m so sorry Elaine. Sometimes he panicked and re-read old letters but it was like taking expired medication. Bom Boy 85 . and leaned closer. The letters kept him sane. violence and loneliness. Oscar What was it about letters from Oscar that had her standing in front of a mirror? Elaine turned sideways. When he missed a letter he could feel his blood slug through his veins. holding her stomach in. a kind of necessary course of medicine that he needed to stay alive. He lost his appetite and the environment around him. Love always. uninterested. I have asked her to send you something in the meantime. I sleep better now. noticing the small bulge still around her waist. useless and even counter productive.

I would’ve knocked. The reason he’d first noticed her was because she was so short. To the left of the desk was an aging wooden cabinet with dusty glass doors holding back a stack of books. wearing the distinct bright blue and red cleaner’s uniform. The woman shifted her weight then said. please. ‘They’d said this room was empty. Just a puff and off they went. He’d seen her from behind once. walking the passageways of his department. But you see some of the students complained to the faculty head that they can’t understand my accent. Do I sound like I’m speaking English to you?’ Oscar felt bad but why should he not unburden himself. facing the door. Oscar’s desk was set against the back wall. thought she was one of the lecturer’s children and wondered if she was lost. You’re actually right I was meant to be giving a tutorial.‘Oh excuse me. had spilled from their dried out spines. 86 Bom Boy . She was a small woman. ‘No problem.’ the woman said. some of them had pages that.’ She hesitated then entered the office. swollen with age. Some pages had fallen and were stuck between the glass doors. Don’t let me stop you.’ ‘No no no! Come in. Something about the books seemed restless. Despite lugging around the mop in a heavy steel bucket she looked as though you could scatter her with a puff of wind – what were those things called again? Oscar remembered them from the farm.’ Oscar had noticed her before. pale with liquidgrey eyes. ‘I’ll come back then.

‘Sorry for the trouble. I can finish this at home.’ he rose and started packing away the papers into his briefcase.When Elaine opened the cabinet doors to clean them the pages fell onto the ground.’ ‘Elaine. ‘Bless you.’ Bom Boy 87 . ‘What’s your name? I’m Oscar. pleased to meet you.’ ‘Thanks. Should I come back?’ ‘Listen. She had her back to him.’ ‘No trouble. Elaine turned around and caught him staring at her. a warm flush rising from the base of her neck to her temples.’ She crossed to the right of the desk and began cleaning the heavily wooden-framed windows. sending the dust into the air. and he emitted a series of coughs. I’ll go. She was small. ‘I need to vacuum.’ he tried marking scripts but was distracted. The red sash of the uniform fit round her small waist and ended in a bow with long ties that fell over the swell of her backside.’ ‘Ah. Simply looking away didn’t diminish Oscar’s embarrassment. She worked quietly but every few minutes let out a low hum. but she was definitely a woman. a piece of a song. hoping the brash sound would do the trick. he kept looking up. It’s fine. Oscar sneezed. Each time she did this Oscar looked up.

they can’t be that expensive.’ a few more seconds of silence passed before Oscar guessed that his candour had somehow offended her. the tyre?’ She looked confused. He veered towards the bush that bordered the paved lane. The following day. ‘I saw you the other day pumping it up – did you manage to fix it?’ ‘For now. yes but… I’ve already patched it twice.’ ‘I wouldn’t compromise on that if I were you. Her hands would fit into his palms. A strong scent he couldn’t place. He’d walked into the senior lecturers’ common room and found her paging through one of the 88 Bom Boy . walking on University Lane. He picked a sprig and kept it in his pocket. He drove home.’ he felt unclear about what he was apologising for.Elaine stood as he fumbled with the buckle of his worn leather bag. ‘How’s the bicycle? The. she looked down. Lavendar. ‘I didn’t mean to say…what I mean is…I’m sorry. The next time Oscar saw Elaine it was six o’clock on a Friday evening. Oscar apologised once more and left the office. Elaine’s mouth set firm. He glanced at her sideways. sitting at the green robot until the car behind him hooted. He enjoyed remembering as much detail as he’d managed to take in. Just get a new one. uhm. His earlier confrontation with his students was forgotten. he realised what the scent was. during their short encounter.

she collected her bags and left. picked up her mop and bucket at the entrance to the room and left. I need to get to work.’ ‘No. He went to find her in the locker room assigned to the cleaners. Despite her size. Take it. said. He walked quietly and. It was the end of the day-shift and Elaine’s shift was just beginning. unlined but stiff. ‘I have something for you. Elaine wore the serious face of an adult.fiction novels on the shelf. Read and…maybe tell me what you think.’ Bom Boy 89 . ‘I was just kidding about the sex. leaning over her shoulder. I’ve done it again.’ ‘What?’ One other cleaner was in the room. I’m an idiot…’ ‘No.’ her hands were shaking as she turned to put the book back. ‘Most of the book is tedious but there’s a great sex scene on page a hundred and twenty. It’s fine. ‘Why don’t you keep it? Take it for the weekend. A couple of weeks passed before he saw her again. In bed that night Oscar lay awake.’ Elaine blushed. Her hair was short and just where the brown strands ended along the base of her neck the skin thickened and had the colour of dried grass – some kind of injury. didn’t mean to be offensive. Thanks. Oscar handed her the book she’d been studying the last time he saw her. ‘I’m sorry. She didn’t hear him enter.’ she walked around him.

smiling. a pale pink colour.’ Oscar watched Elaine smile. puffing out his lips and feigned exasperation. He held his hands up in the air. the locker room had emptied. ‘I think you’re beautiful.’ Elaine said to his back.’ Oscar said to Elaine. Oscar turned back towards her. ‘What is it you want?’ ‘I want you to have this.’ he laughed. They sat 90 Bom Boy . ‘I could certainly do with some company. I don’t have many. lifted. and she had a chip in her front tooth.’ ‘I…’ Elaine looked around. The austerity of her face.’ ‘Is that all?’ ‘I don’t know. putting his arm around her shoulders.’ he said squeezing his face to signal frustration. although it was not all pretence. ‘Maybe friendship? Contrary to what you might think. taking advantage of the few hours before Elaine’s evening shift began. He leaned back on the giant steps of Rhodes Memorial.’ ‘Come on.’ He withdrew his hand and turned around. ‘You’re kind. ‘I don’t want to. ‘I’m trying here. They’d taken the steep but short walk up from the university. Her lips were full. her whole body.‘No. emboldened by the weeks that had passed and their growing contact. Thanks.’ he was facing her.

myths and history hanging over their burgeoning attraction.dwarfed by lions and a horse. ‘Only half of me. The shadows of the monument diminishing as the sun disappeared. Bom Boy 91 .’ Elaine replied.

While my parents walked around speaking of fertilizers and what they would put where. cutlass and hoe sticking out of the makeshift basket. My mother seldom came with us. Touchme-nots made a low green brush over most of the ground and ran tracks through the soft soil. each feathery leaf closing on the instant of my contact. They didn’t and I cried as if a best friend had said no to come out and play. 92 Bom Boy . That was where we could speak without my mother’s interruption.Sunday 13th September 1992 For Leke: It was always at the farm. She complained the sun blistered her skin and anyway she preferred the coolness of the university library. I frightened the weeds. But the first time we were all there together. I waited for the folded leaves to open again. My dad would collect me from school on his okada and we would ride fast.

’ ‘Listen. Okay?’ Ursula hung up.’ ‘Tell him I’m coming. draping him over her shoulder Bom Boy 93 . just waiting to see the day nurse.’ ‘Leke has a fever this morning.’ Elaine whispered putting her lips against Leke’s ear. A young boy dangled from the jungle gym with one hand.’ ‘Tell him I’m coming. he would be tall. she looked up at her son and smiled. ‘Where are you?’ asked Ursula. She settled back into the wooden park bench and arranged the baby in her lap so he suckled the way the nurse had shown her. ‘Mommy look!’ he shouted before letting go and landing in a bout of laughter on the ground.Monday 21st September 1992 ‘Lekeleke. In two months he’d grown so much. The boy’s mother stood a few metres away pushing a pink pram back and forth. when you’re not here he hassles me about that. I need the work. then down at Leke. I’m at the clinic. Elaine looked away. her arm ached if she held him for too long – his feet were long and bony. She had phoned the Superette earlier. He finished sucking and she rearranged her clothing. ‘Haddad’s asking.’ ‘He said you should quit and not cause problems.

as if she’d just washed them. She had a young face.’ The nurse gave her a sharp look then moved on to the next mother. it looked ahead. ‘He’s hot. inflamed and unseeing. and mothers moved with their babies to the weighing room with the young nurse. was Chapel Street Clinic. Holding the baby to her chest. She started calling out names. She went up to the woman with the toddler strapped on her back and with a small smile regained her place in the queue. doing a triage. Elaine hugged Leke tighter into her bosom. ‘I said he’s–’ 94 Bom Boy . ‘I need to see someone. The girl was crying but the toddler’s face was dry and still. The nurse collecting the cards got to Elaine.’ Elaine said. The child’s left eye had been gouged. a stack of files in the crook of her arm and a frown on her face. in front of the park. As she entered a young girl was leaving with a child in a wheelchair. One of the nurses was walking through the queue collecting the road-to-health cards. Elaine remembered her from her last immunisation visit – kind eyes with a funny habit of wiping her palms against the breast of her white shirt. Another nurse appeared from a room to the side of the waiting hall. She came back a few minutes later.and rubbing his back. More women had arrived since Elaine had been inside an hour ago. Across the wide road. Elaine crossed the road and walked into the dark coolness of the baby clinic. His little head resting against her ear was burning with the fever.

Yes. The nurse rifled through the cards. A bedspread with a thin blue coverlet was positioned against Bom Boy 95 . A side window let in a breeze and Elaine shivered. each with their own consulting room. The nurse retrieved Leke’s from the stack of cards and studied it. ‘Has he been immunised? Hmmm?’ ‘Yes. There were no seats left on the bench so she leaned against the cream-coloured wall.’ it sounded as if the nurse was talking with her hand covering her mouth. The line moved quickly.’ the nurse handed back Leke’s card. Elaine heard her name called and entered the small room.’ saying his name made her cry but she covered it up as best she could. They turned a corner and the passage widened.’ she said and Elaine followed her down a narrow corridor. ‘Please sit down.‘Wait. After she’d collected all the cards she came back to Elaine.’ ‘Name?’ ‘Leke.’ ‘On time?’ ‘Yes. ‘Wait here. sent through after being weighed. spilling some onto the grey-tiled floor. you!’ the nurse snapped. Elaine joined the other waiting mothers. A mother nearby picked them up and handed them to her. ‘Come with me. some of whom she recognised from the front room. there were two nurses seeing to them.

Elaine?’ ‘Salt River. and a wooden cupboard sat next to the wall with the open window. ‘Where do you live. ‘A few days?’ ‘Why did you wait so long?’ the nurse asked then her face softened and she shifted her chair closer so she could examine Leke. ‘Morning. maybe if she kept his road-to-health card safe that would make up for other things.’ ‘Is he vomiting? Diarrhoea?’ Elaine shook her head. ‘Does he feed regularly?’ ‘Not always. Cashier. The nurse was about 96 Bom Boy . ‘He’s not gaining? What’s wrong with baby. He’s hot and he doesn’t sleep at night.a wall. their chairs at an acute angle and Leke on Elaine’s lap. can I see the card please.’ ‘And work?’ ‘Grocery shop. is he drinking? Is he still on the breast?’ ‘Yes. When I check the blankets they’re wet with sweat.’ ‘Are you alone in the house? Baby’s father?’ Elaine shook her head but the nurse wasn’t sure which question she was answering.’ ‘For how long has this been going on?’ They sat.’ She always kept it safe in the house. Sometimes he doesn’t take the breast.

‘Always try and feed from the breast first though. The nurse smiled.After recording the mercury level. Leke let out a sharp continuous yelp – he didn’t like the cold instrument against his skin. Hold him. Sh. Let me examine baby. She pulled the stethoscope from around her neck and placed it to his chest. Like that. Bom Boy 97 . nodding to herself. blowing onto her hands to warm them. reaching a hand to Elaine’s shoulder.’ she sang and he was momentarily distracted by the pitch of her voice. She used a flat stick to hold his tongue down.to rephrase the question but stopped when she realised Elaine was crying. Leke stayed still as she put the thermometer underneath his arm. she’d been sleeping less and less over the past few nights. Nearly. ‘And food. Nearly. She could never get used to it. by now Elaine was wincing at the strident note of his cries – despite being sick he cried so seldom. ‘Sh..’ Elaine calmed Leke. But we’ll give you formula as a last measure. she checked his skin for dehydration. The nurse checked his ears. ‘Nearly done. Warming her hands again she checked his body for any rashes and she felt his tummy. ‘We can give baby formula to supplement.’ She leaned forward. sitting back down to scribble on Leke’s card.’ the nurse seemed relieved to be able to offer something.’ she pressed on. ‘Are you eating properly?’ Elaine looked down at the floor.

‘See you in a week. Elaine’s shift only ended at 9pm.‘He has a temperature. Panicked. nurse?’ ‘He’ll be fine. I’ll mix some antibiotics for him.’ Ursula pulled a face but moved to Elaine’s place behind the counter. put the money in the till and completed the transaction.’ she rose and Elaine stood too. filled with packets and tubes and medicines. Otitis media. Make sure he feeds.’ she indicated the trolley alongside her. ‘Ursula. 39. Elaine felt a cool wetness on her stomach and looked down.’ Elaine nodded. Also some Panado and vitamin syrup. she looked up but the customer was not paying attention. She’d left Leke with her neighbour but the woman had to leave for work at 7pm. Middle-ear infection. She prepared the antibiotics. 98 Bom Boy . She finished ringing up the items. taking the pen out again to write the instructions on the plastic packet. looking up with soft eyes every now and then. Elaine looked at her watch.’ she returned the pen to the pocket in her navyblue jacket and handed Elaine the road-to-health card. ‘His ear is red. I need to take a break. ‘Is he okay. he’s failing to thrive. Milk had soaked through her uniform. Elaine regarded it with suspicion.’ she wrote as she talked.7 degrees is very high. ‘And I’m concerned about his weight too. But let’s start giving the milk supplement and review within a week.

‘I’m requesting time off.She put on a sweater in the locker room and knocked on the manager’s door. his face remained unmoved. Please. ‘Yes?’ Elaine walked in. ‘My baby isn’t well. ‘Mr. Ursula and the girls hadn’t realised she was in the toilet.’ ‘I heard he was a client of hers. Elaine had overheard the gossip circulating amongst the staff about her. No marriage.’ He stared at her. She’d worked there for almost eight months – ever since she’d been dismissed from the cleaning agency – but regardless of how long they’d worked for him.’ ‘Marriot?’ he looked up from a stack of papers on his desk. He’s from Rwanda or somewhere. ‘No.’ He shook his head.’ ‘Rwanda? Where’s that?’ ‘Were they married?’ Elaine had held her breath.’ ‘A client? You mean…?’ Bom Boy 99 . shutting the door behind her. Haddad. ‘He’s a black. It seemed too late to clear her throat. waiting for her to speak further. Haddad called his employees by their surnames and insisted they do the same with him. she’d decided to just sit it out.

My baby is ill. ‘We’ll dock time off from your week’s wages.’ As Elaine left his office he said. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Is that all? Was there anything else?’ ‘I need the time off to take care of my baby.’ 100 Bom Boy .’ flecks of spit dropped on the papers he’d been working on. this isn’t Red Cross.’ He attempted to remain calm and hiss the words through his teeth. ‘There are many people who want to work Marriot. even if you do not.’ He nodded. ‘Anything else?’ ‘I…I need to leave early today. If you need help go to some other place.A snort. ‘Marriot. ‘Marriot?’ Elaine realised the manager had asked a question but she hadn’t been listening.

He crouched down and started arranging the flower pots he’d carried from the car. Leke cleared his throat. after his visit. Marcus brushed aside the dried leaves that had settled on Jane’s stone. Majestic chestnut trees grew along either side of the lane and gravestones sprouted out amongst the roots. Since Leke had moved out six months before. Marcus looked over his shoulder. He hadn’t seen Leke since the stunted birthday dinner. ‘You’re here. He vaguely remembered her derisive comments about perennial flowers. Leke had insisted they plant Four O’Clocks although Marcus had never heard her speak of them. The Rebecca Cemetery was a secluded graveyard nestled beneath the leafy trees of Kempton – a quiet Cape Town southern suburb.Sunday 26th August 2012 In the grove a squirrel scuttled from one chestnut tree to another and a bird perched on the top of a gravestone. Leke didn’t always make it to the cemetery and. they’d arranged to see each other every Sunday. As Marcus arranged the flowers he made uneven whistling sounds and didn’t hear Leke coming from behind him.’ Marcus said. Leke nodded in response but the old man didn’t see. Marcus would Bom Boy 101 .

Leke finished patting the soil down around the cutting he’d just planted. then went to a nearby bistro for Sunday lunch.’ Marcus wanted to bring up the letters again but didn’t know how. Getting a bite to eat with my son. and looked at the familiar engraved letters: Jane Denton 1953 . Marcus waved his hand in the air. Beloved wife and mother. Justin. You know?’ The waiter nodded his head and Marcus smiled. They stretched the conversation out as long as it would go. A heavy silence stayed between them. trying to get the waiter’s attention. He sat down on the ground next to Jane’s tombstone.2002. ‘Fine. 102 Bom Boy . Good to see you. Leke gave Marcus his order and got up to use the bathroom.’ Marcus said. The times when Leke did arrive Marcus was never sure how he really felt about it – a combination of irritated surprise and disappointment. ‘How’s it going Professor Denton?’ the waiter said. ‘Help me with this. replacing the wilting flowers with the new ones.’ Marcus said. ‘How’s your place? I should come by. ‘Ah. surprised to find himself serving his university lecturer. rising from his crouch to look at Leke now studying the ground in front of him. ‘Work?’ Marcus asked to ease his discomfort. The two worked on the well-tended grave site.eat lunch alone.

Marcus remembered how Jane would peer at the menu. Two steaks. as a family. but before Jane fell ill. and Leke liked his bloody. turning her wedding band the way she did whenever she was nervous. with Bom Boy 103 .’ Marcus would roll his eyes and Leke would giggle.’ he’d say. ‘What can I get for you?’ the waiter asked. The name and owners had changed over the years. a water and a coke. Finding his hands unsteady and shaking. behind a glass partition. they would come here together.His face was sunken and he looked ten years older than his sixty-seven. After they adopted Leke. The roof was low. ‘Come on Jane. with an earnest look. His well done. Behind his glasses his aging eyes watered regularly. She’d brush him aside and. teasing. He and Jane used to frequent this place. you could see the chef busy chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Jane always ordered the roast duck with orange sauce and a glass of sweet white. he’d recently stopped shaving and a rough beard was claiming his face. Marcus placed the orders. turn the pages and ask the waiter what specials they had. A fire crackled in the corner. ‘Maybe I should just have the duck. The waiter left to get the drinks. try something different. and no matter how long she stared at the menu. Finally she would say. Why did they keep coming back here? Across the room. a large table near the fire warmed with heavy voices and laughter.

Leke studied the picture. the clank of the towel machine and then the door click behind them. fishing from out of the boot a small folded cellophane bag. He never did get to ask Jane who the woman in the picture was. It had felt as though the question had stuck in his mouth. Her pale cheeks were freckled and her short hair cut around her ears. It had seemed like a good hiding place when he’d retrieved the photograph from the bottom of his suitcase in the morning. Inside was the photograph of the small woman in a blue coat. 104 Bom Boy . Was it some act of devotion to her? Her memory. He took off his right shoe. lodged there and sometimes threatened to choke him. And left to raise Leke after her death. it seemed to Marcus an uneven exchange. already having ordered her duck. her glass of wine in her hand raised? With her sickness. At the back of the photograph was the still indecipherable name.elaborate white stucco patterns against the golden glow of the ceiling. He heard someone wash their hands outside the closed door of his cubicle. leaned back and let his head hit against the wall. all joy was rinsed from life. Along the floor the stretch of terracotta tiles was broken up in places with colourful rugs. Was it a pretence? Did he think one day when they walked in there she’d be waiting for them. He’d suddenly wanted it close again. Leke. She was looking right at him with piercing large grey eyes. sitting on the toilet.

If he accepted the envelope he’d finally know for sure who his real parents were. the saliva of this beast like acid on his skin. He suddenly realised the air around him had disappeared and he was struggling to breathe. he fell asleep Bom Boy 105 . Block after block. Coaxed by the wind. That night he dreamt he was flying over a strange mass he could not recognise from above. ‘I should be there by now. She watched him die.Leke rubbed the face with his index finger. As he took his last breath he noticed that the inside of the belly of his captor was pasted with the same photograph he’d been staring at earlier. exhausted after a night of struggle. He couldn’t see them but indeed he had flown into the mass of dark wires.’ he said to the wind but there came no reply. They felt more like sticky roots grabbing at his limbs and body. The first time he’d realised who he was looking at he was ten years old. a strange collage. He just kept diving and diving and diving and diving. he imagined it was what his afro looked like if someone looked down on his head. Understanding that he had gone too far he moved to turn and fly back upwards but something gripped him. encouraging him to go everywhere. It looked like some kind of tangle of dark wires. More and more nightmares had invaded his dream-life so that. explore everything and leave nothing undiscovered. he dove down towards the strange thing. Making licking sounds.

he would wake up sweating and crying and Jane would come to comfort him. Maybe she 106 Bom Boy . not at all.’ Leke’s nightmares continued. ‘Is it hard at home?’ the young school guidance counsellor had asked. Dying.at his desk at school and dropped two grades by the end of term exams. Her bony hands found the bump of his legs and caressed him.’ ‘Then what?’ She came closer to hold him but he turned away and pulled deeper into the blankets. She was sick. But Leke couldn’t help himself. ‘Bad dream?’ she’d say not switching the lights on but coming and settling on the edge of the bed. The steel chair was cold and soothing against the backs of his knees exposed beneath the school shorts. sitting across from Leke. ‘Why did you call me Leke?’ ‘What?’ ‘Where did you get that name from?’ ‘I–’ Even though it was dark and his back was to her he could imagine her face as she decided to lie. ‘How did you find me? Did my mother throw me away? Forget me?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you have to take care of me? Did someone force you?’ ‘No.’ ‘She’s not my mom. ‘We know your mom is seriously ill.

Maybe she thought when she was strong again she’d explain properly. would calm him.thought any answer. sometimes missing that sleeping world of unbounded adventure hurt his heart and he cried when he was by himself. Jane never came again to comfort him. It didn’t explain the photograph. He had to bend down to catch the top of the mirror. After she died no one came. Over time the nightmares dimmed but his sleep was never the same again. Some nightmares persisted but fewer than before. The image in the bathroom mirror as he washed his hands grabbed his attention. Leke. she was sick. Or maybe she would leave it to Marcus which would be as good as leaving it to no one. ‘I don’t know what happened. They gave me your name with no explanation. All I know is every single nurse in that hospital was madly in love with you and I had to fight them to allow me to adopt you. my dear. Some of them cried when we came to collect you. He looked as though studying a stranger’s reflection. Leke placed the photograph back and put on his shoes.’ The mythic nurses would later appear in his dreams to hush away demons. That’s where you come from. but her invention absolved her. Not a dustbin but a warm nest of love. Bom Boy 107 . not the truth. Leke turned and let himself be hugged by Jane. Instead she sent Marcus. Maybe she was tired.

Back in the restaurant the heated air from the fire warmed his face but the conversation with Marcus remained tight and cold. digging his hands into his pockets. son. He counted his footsteps in groups of one hundred.’ Leke walked towards home. ‘Want some dessert Leke?’ The ice-cream shocked Leke’s teeth. jingling his car keys and scanning the parking lot for his car. Marcus signalled to the waiter. the chink of the spoon on the bowl joining the chorus of other eating noises in the restaurant. 108 Bom Boy . Leke nodded. starting again after each century. the pain was too much and he left his bowl half full. watching as Marcus drained his wine glass. ‘See you next week?’ Marcus asked. ignoring taxi drivers hooting and calling for him to jump in. ‘Take care. A pair of lovers held hands and kissed in the corner of a bus shelter. Another ragged woman cursed her husband who walked behind her pushing an empty trolley and cursing her back. Having spotted his car he turned to Leke and tried to hug him. ‘How’s Red? You fix the wipers yet?’ Leke nodded. but Marcus wasn’t looking. In the verge a homeless man jerked off underneath a tattered blanket. Leke tightened and he patted his shoulder instead. Marcus finished his.

it gleamed and Leke liked it when he stood beside it and saw his curved reflection on the body. their families and a bunch of school kids in uniform. Between Jane’s sister and her family. that Leke had never seen. the family was led in and seated. with puffy sleeves. when Leke asked Marcus what his mother was wearing. and he let them. They drove to the church in a long skinny black car. After everyone was seated Marcus and four of the matrics from Bremley High School walked with the coffin. The memories were coming easily now. ‘Why?’ Bom Boy 109 . Jane was to be cremated. She was sleeping. Jane was popular at the high school she’d taught at before she fell ill and Marcus had a big family. At the church. most of whom Leke didn’t recognise. and even though he couldn’t be sure it was the same one. The morning of the funeral the house was full of people. he thought of Jane and what he remembered of her burial. Leke didn’t recognise his own space – transformed from a familiar home into an uncertain place. He didn’t know where to sit. the large hall filled up with people. Marcus’s five older sisters. pushing it on a trolley. Later. And she was wearing a white dress. Marcus explained that Jane had asked to be buried in her wedding dress. Doves Funeral Parlour. not moving at all.He strolled past the familiar spot.

She went into the supermarket. In aisle two a shop attendant was stacking Cornflakes next to Rice Crispies. Leke waited at the entrance of the mall. Leke. Perhaps she’d had a fight with her husband? She filled two small baskets – frozen peas. a small koi pond near the veranda so you could hear it if you ate breakfast on the stoep. The Plaza Mall closed its doors at 10pm every night except Friday and Saturday nights when it closed at 11pm. On a Saturday or Sunday Leke arrived at 8 am ahead of the early morning shoppers. A woman in a peak cap and tennis shoes.‘I don’t know. barely concealing a bruised cheek and black eye. Jane had won best letter of the month and part of the prize was a garden makeover and photos in the following month’s issue: A giant rubber tree at the far corner where the grass dipped.’ they sat on a bench in the garden hiding from the guests eating and drinking in the house. staying behind the attendant. caught a better look at the woman – she had a bandage on her face. He followed her into the mall. He’d already spent the morning in the mall but after the lunch with Marcus he didn’t want to go back to his studio. tall but dressed simply in tracksuit pants and t-shirt. Further along Main Road there were people carrying shopping bags. canned goods. The garden had once been photographed by House & Garden. my boy. cleaning products and cereals – 110 Bom Boy .

Later that night he lay awake in bed. ‘Thank you so much. As she wandered out the glass doors with her bright bags her cellphone rang. Above his head he could hear the sound of digging and every few seconds soil rained down on him. well fuck you too! Fuck you! I hate you… I said I’m on my way for God’s sake!’ Click. ‘It’s me. ‘Who are you?’ he shouted. ‘What is it? … I’m on my way… Yah. obliged. walking past.and joined the short queue to check out. Bom Boy 111 .’ she said after she’d piled the bags into the back of the car. she looked around for someone to help her open the door. Beside her car. her hands full. ‘Yes?’ she shouted. Leke. ‘So kind. Other shoppers turned to stare as she walked towards the car park. ‘FFUUUCK!’ she flung her head back and screamed into the hollow insides of the mall.’ she continued. he’d wanted something to remember her by but couldn’t steal anything fast enough from the shopping bags. Leke nodded in response and backed away. snivelling.’ his voice called back at him. His sleep was disturbed by a recurring dream in which he was standing in a deep hole. her voice muffled as she tried to hide her face with her hand.

Leke walked past the auditors and went to his cubicle. Lewis was always watching.Monday 27th August 2012 Leke nodded in Lewis’s direction as he clocked in. and turned on his computer. ‘Hey. placed on the worn carpet. The security guard. endured. pursed his lips in response – Leke was ten minutes late. It was Lewis who had lodged the hygiene complaint against him. as if he didn’t notice. with spiky green leaves. sitting on a chair by the door. led into an open plan space. but a pot plant. There was no natural light on his side of the office. Leke looked back to see Lewis scowl as he climbed the steps to the first floor of the twostorey office building. A dark corridor. The workers who were friendly with Lewis would go to lunch without clocking out and he would look away while they were leaving. But with Leke. Leke sat down at his desk without removing his backpack. Leke!’ 112 Bom Boy . with the manager’s office to the left. surviving on the half-finished cups of rooibos tea that he emptied into its soil.

asked. ‘You watch the rugby?’ ‘No. ‘No.15pm Leke got up. as he punched in his computer password. He shrugged. confused. was tanned a light bronze. Gene sighed and turned back to his computer.’ Leke said. The talk in the tea pause area quietened as he dropped a teabag into his mug. Gene’s face. Leke tilted his head to acknowledge his new neighbour. At his desk he took off his backpack and pulled out a cellophane bag with five rusks in it. complaining to Leke over his shoulder that “they don’t make things for tall people like you and me. less pale than his hands. Gene was half distracted. adjusting the height of his monitor. He’d been doing this since he’d arrived. He ate one. At 12. careful to collect the crumbs that fell on the desk. ‘How was your weekend?’ Gene asked. and was still unaware of the hidden rule amongst the staff: ignore Leke.Gene had joined the company five days before. ‘Okay. stretching up and smoothing his hands over his brush-cut auburn hair. ‘Do anything interesting? Did you catch that movie with the hot chick on SABC 1? With the–’ he cupped his hands in front of his chest.’ Leke said.’ Someone sniggered and Gene looked around the office. Bom Boy 113 . and wipe them into the dustbin – the cleaner had complained about the bits of food and the cockroaches they’d attracted. pal”.

‘You do this often?’ Gene put the flyer aside. Two women chatted a few desks up.’ Gene dropped his voice a tone lower. She handed them each a flyer and waited while they skimmed through it. The tall one pointed towards a side wing where the board room was located.’ ‘Gene. Back at his desk again. Gene had wheeled his chair out between the desk clusters and was gawking at something. 114 Bom Boy . leaned back in his chair and pasted her with his eyes. ‘Hey sweetheart. I arranged with WPBC to have a blood clinic here. it said.Immediately after finishing his first cup of tea Leke got up to make himself a second. The tall woman walked on. her hands spread on the desk. was standing. leaning forward. One. The other sat holding a leaflet the tall one had handed to her. in bold lettering. ‘Not sure if you guys saw the posters. tall.’ he took her hand and she had to prise it back from him. will you come through and donate?’ ‘I will if you’re inviting me. ‘Hi. I’m Tsotso. He’s Leke. It’s today. stopping at each desk till finally she got to where Leke and Gene sat. “GIVE BLOOD”. Leke looked to see what he was staring at.’ She didn’t smile. After a few seconds the woman sitting down shook her head and returned the flyer. She scanned it and asked something.

very nice. ‘Nice. I guess their lectures on blood donation finally got to me. I hate blood. you know? You nervous?’ Leke scuffed his shoe into the carpet. ‘That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. ‘You think she’ll be hot? The nurse.’ she was very matter-of-fact. ‘Very.’ Tsotso frowned and looked towards Leke who had turned back to his computer.‘I spend a lot of time in hospitals. They looked out for Tsotso but didn’t see her. ‘Are you coming? ‘Yeah yeah yeah. Leke and Gene joined the queue. it wound through the office and ended at the boardroom door.’ A line formed. Can’t stand the prick of the needle. ‘I hate needles. craning his neck. Every ten minutes or so the boardroom door was opened and. Leke caught a glimpse of some beds and equipment. ‘Okay.’ he said.’ he leaned forward on his chair. That’s what I can’t take. starts at midday. we’re coming.’ he smirked. around nurses. ‘You must have special powers. And they make you watch. ‘How’d you get Robocop in on it? Boss man doesn’t even know I exist. by the way. ‘Nervous?’ Gene asked.’ Gene watched her walk on to the next desk.’ Gene said. Bom Boy 115 . Bring your IDs.’ Gene strained to see how fast the line was moving. She looked back at Gene and then Leke.

escort or sex worker. ‘Hey. drugs. ‘Finished?’ the nurse asked. he thought to himself. She glanced over it before adding it to a pile. Could you fill this in? It’s a lifestyle survey which is mandatory for all donors. Leke took long to fill in the form. Gene noticed a colleague butting into the queue. He wiped his palms on his chest. 116 Bom Boy .’ The nurse at one of the desks wore no lipstick and the flesh around the tips of her nails was raw and reddened.The mythic nurses had returned on and off to Leke’s dreams but in life he avoided hospitals and clinics. goods or favours in return for sex?’ He hesitated. or exchanged money. Have you donated before?’ ‘Blood?’ She smiled. ‘Thanks. The look on her face when he’d told her he’d changed his mind. nothing had happened that night though. what else?’ Leke shook his head.’ Gene went in before Leke and then the door opened and it was finally Leke’s turn. ‘Have you had sexual activity with a male or female prostitute. join from the back man! Some of us have been waiting a while. Inside there were three desks and three beds set up. ‘Please sit down. ‘Yes. remembering the woman’s caked make-up and wobbly high heels. Leke signed his name and handed her the form.

come lie on the bed. Bom Boy 117 . Leke winced at the pin prick. checking your iron levels. let’s register you.‘Okay. Give me your right hand please. Your ID. Next time you donate you can use it as identification.’ Her hand felt soft.’ Leke did as she asked. in contrast to her clammy palms against his skin. please. She left for a short while then returned. Other arm.’ he blurted out as she dabbed his arm with cool cotton wool. pudgy. ‘Place your arm here. A silver nametag on the breast of her white uniform said Adielah Moses. She tied a light grey strap around his bicep. ‘Next I need to do a finger prick test. to the side. a kind of confidence – she didn’t seem to mind that she took up space. The pressure from her touch excited him. She had horse-shoe earrings and fine dark hair grew along the sides of her face. other strands of hair escaping from the flowered scarf pinned around her head. I’ll issue you with a card. He worried that she would notice. Thanks. ‘Okay. Her neck sat in rolls of cream-coloured flesh beneath her chin. Thanks. ‘Okay. Let’s check your pressure and pulse.’ she handed Leke the card. ‘I’ve never done this before.’ Everything was fine. Your arm please. The scratch of the strap was rough.’ she had a young face but her ample figure lent her a maturity.

‘Quick nuh? Easy peasy. She noticed.She smiled. It had always fascinated him – the body was talking to itself. Just apply some pressure there for me. With her other hand she reached for the needle and a collection bag.’ Jane had encouraged when she saw his mesmerised look. that closeness. ‘Is that it?’ he heard himself say. ‘Remind me to ask Dr.’ He answered with a sigh. okay?’ ‘What’s a stretoscope?’ The memory. ‘Try and keep still please. He felt heavy again and disappointment came over him like the shadow of a rain cloud. He thought of his favourite moments growing up. lying on Jane’s stomach listening to the noises of her insides. At the sight of the bright burgundy his body prickled and his head filled with air. Leke.’ Leke put his hand on the cotton wool while Adielah applied a thin strip of gauze to hold it in place. ‘Finished.’ she said but Leke felt nothing as she pierced his skin. then Jane. ‘This might hurt. Naidoo to let you listen through the stethoscope when we go for your check-up. and his hand jerked. It seemed as though a lifetime had passed since he’d been so physically close to another human being. keeping her eyes on the vial she said. He thought of Red first.’ 118 Bom Boy . shocked him. ‘Maybe you’ll be a doctor when you grow up. watching as the blood pooled in the plastic collection bag.

Leke ate the biscuits on offer and wandered out of the make-shift blood clinic. While Adielah arranged some biscuits and a polystyrene cup of juice onto a tray. She couldn’t find my vein – stuck holes in me like a bloody pin cushion. ‘Woah! Careful. Leke thought.’ she said. and eat a good meal.He lifted into a sitting position. ‘That nurse hey? What do you say. Every few minutes he threw a comment at Leke over his shoulder. she would not have been beautiful. but within a few minutes his colour came back. Without it. a deep brown colour. Shaken. for a few seconds and left. ‘What are you – mute? Or is it ’cause your wing man isn’t here?’ she stared. Leke stayed sitting and looked around the room at the other two stations. unforgiving. How was yours?’ Bom Boy 119 . still feeling dazed he closed his eyes for thirty seconds. When he opened them Tsotso was standing over him. on rising he felt faint and grabbed hold of the nurse for support.’ ‘Thank you. almost blue in the face. just beneath her left eye. his eyes wide. I’ll bring you some juice and biscuits. surprised to find himself missing the sensation of her skin on his. He found Gene at his desk. Keep drinking throughout the day.’ Leke said. ‘sit there for a while. the size of a guava seed. Try not to do anything too strenuous. and she had a darker mole. ‘You alright?’ Leke’s tongue had stuck to the bottom of his mouth. Her skin was dark. freaking amateur.

raising his eyebrows as though checking that Leke understood the unspoken significance of this. He’d been unable to do any work since returning from the clinic. From the day Gene arrived Leke had been taken aback by his friendliness. leaving a chilling sensation along Leke’s jaw line and the side of his neck. ‘Psst.’ Gene said. ‘My girlfriend’s at home today. he’d spent several afternoons dreaming of ways to leave the office so 120 Bom Boy . Leke thought for a few seconds then nodded. Leke got up. The idea was not without faults. It was the kind of plan that would work once. overwhelmed at times. It came out hot. He winked then waited a few seconds before continuing. but cooled quickly.’ Leke turned around to look at Gene. ‘Come here. The woman working in the adjoining cubicle turned too. Leke listened as Gene spoke. signalling for Leke to bend down so Gene could whisper. A part of him wanted Gene to leave him alone but another part. indicating with a crooked finger for Leke to come closer. enjoyed the contact and the attention.’ he waved his hand. but never more than that. more unfamiliar.Leke didn’t reply. distracted by the memory of Tsotso’s face staring at him. His breath was damp. After another few minutes. Gene grabbed Leke’s inner-arm where the gauze protected the puncture. ‘What do you think?’ Gene asked. grinning into Leke’s face.

had the gift of deception.’ Leke watched Gene’s wiry frame settle in front of the steering wheel of his car and whiz away.that he could disappear into the hustle of the Plaza Mall. Leke gathered their belongings and they were both out the door. ‘Look. Gene feigned collapse at the water dispenser. Regardless. The fumes from the old Ford made him cough. you can be on your way. despite his apparent delicate state.’ Gene said as they neared his car. while not a great performer. In the moment. here goes.’ Gene shouted out before anyone else could volunteer. and how he needed to leave work immediately and rest at home. ‘We did it. His license had expired but he thought it best not to mention that. ‘Is that a yes? You in? Okay. Bom Boy 121 .’ Leke discovered that Gene. Later on he complained to Leke that he had banged his head for real and was going to sue the company for damages. Gene maintained a veneer of hysteria but Leke doubted it was sufficient enough to stop people from wondering whether the thing was a hoax. I can’t drive my car like this. Leke stepped forward from the crowd. hungry for whatever the mall would offer. Over half way through the year and he’d already used up all his sick leave. Gene managed to explain to his colleagues how he shouldn’t have given blood. ‘Leke can take me. his act succeeded in fending off anyone from actually saying anything. His feet knew where to carry him. under the suspicious glare of Lewis. I’ve got business to attend to. He started walking.

I was the one getting things off the top shelf. ‘Thanks again. Leke followed her into the chemist. She waited for a few minutes and then suddenly became frantic. Seeing Leke she said. ‘Young man.’ Leke nodded as if he understood and moved away. a short woman walking with a black sack slung round her shoulder. ‘Thank you. He reached it easily and handed her the bottle. When she exited through the back of the mall Leke kept up behind her all the way to the bus stop. She’s taller than me and the shelves are so high. She bent over and started swearing to herself. Her hair was a bush of grey locks. Along the aisle she looked up to the high shelf then looked around.’ she giggled. She barked requests at the shop attendants when she couldn’t find what she wanted. These days I need to go shopping with my granddaughter. Back when she was little.’ Leke walked towards her unsure whether to smile or look serious. She was elderly but walked in firm confident strides. you’re nice and tall. looking for something. She took the bag off her shoulder and placed it on the ground. Could you help me get that blue bottle there? With the white cap. He stood outside the chemist some distance from the entrance and when she came out he followed her.Within minutes of arriving he spotted. ‘Times change on you.’ the woman called after him. He watched as she searched her 122 Bom Boy . something important. from the throng of old people and housewives. She’d lost something. She searched through her bag.

hassled. he squeezed each piece of jewellery between his thumb and index finger. And then she looked in all the places she’d already looked. Here you go. Leke. She checked if it wasn’t underneath her bra strap. watched as.body. Leke watched the bus go. Bom Boy 123 . Despite being frenzied. Nothing. Nothing. She took out the smallest purse Leke had ever seen. He’d seen her buy them after she’d been to the chemist and then watched them drop out her bag when she’d passed clothes over the counter at the dry cleaners. He knew what she was looking for. Sparkling diamante studs that twinkled in the weak winter sunlight. her face crumpled revealing years of wear. you seem to have dropped these.’ The Golden Arrow bus pulled off Main Road and the old woman got on. ‘Ma’am. She held up the dainty covers and dangled the pages. the gold stem left a small indentation. Imagining the earrings on Tsotso. Maybe they were for her granddaughter. Back again at the busstop she started to cry. following. she turned back to the mall and reported her loss to the security guard who nodded but couldn’t help her. It was something small enough to fit between the pages of a book. At home he put the earrings under his pillow. Leke thought he would tap her on her shoulder and say. still crying. she managed to be delicate with the front and back of a deep blue leather-covered Gideon Bible.

Would you like to fill out this form. it was an ugly building. I’m sorry sir but you can only give blood every fifty-six days.’ he said. walking in and addressing the man sitting at the desk. sir. you’d need to go to the City Hospital for that.’ The City Hospital sat. Here’s a card with the address. Leke noticed posters in a shop window encouraging blood donors.’ ‘Oh.’ he bobbed his head in apology.’ ‘When was the last time you gave blood sir?’ ‘Three days ago. The man looked up from his work. ‘Can I have my blood pressure measured?’ Leke asked. yes. then when you come back we’ll already have you on our records?’ Crest-fallen. Leke walked past the boom and. ‘And the annual check-up?’ ‘Sir. The nurse comes in on Mondays and Wednesdays for all those tests. entered through a small door. ‘I’d like to donate. ‘Yes. a massive obtrusion. I’m just assisting with admin. hoping to 124 Bom Boy . bright pink with over-sized mouldings. Have you given blood before?’ ‘Uh. He had walked out to lunch.Some days after his first experience of giving blood. while on his way to work. following the gate attendant’s directions. At the top of the form was a list of tests that were available. amongst the intricate network of streets in the city centre – a knot in a delicate lace shawl. Leke sat down to fill in the form. ‘Good day.

directing to offices and rooms that had died a decade ago.’ ‘Thanks. padlocked rooms. The guard checked Leke. I’m in a rush. ‘Where’s the reception please?’ ‘Go left here and follow on till after the brown floor. Satisfied. a tapestry of corridors that led nowhere. faded a dull orange. Along one of the walls there were small square paintings of strange surreal landscapes and austere portraits with names that meant nothing to Leke etched in brass along the bottoms of the frames. Then turn left again and go straight down. ‘I need an appointment with the doctor please. and walked to the main desk. You’ll see a sign saying “Trauma Unit”. A baby cried out somewhere.’ Inside the hospital the passageways were miniature versions of the streets outside. patting him down along his arms his torso and in between his legs. opposite the Trauma Unit. The ground was wide grey vinyl flooring with flecks of white. He spent fifteen minutes wandering through the innards of the hospital. He walked through the metal detector which protested with a strident ring. Leke walked past elevators with heavy doors that vibrated when they opened and closed. Leke got lost. Peeling signs.’ Bom Boy 125 .be done fast enough to claim some minor excuse. appeared along the corridors. the guard let him through. A bulge of coins jingled in Leke’s pocket. Leke eventually arrived at the reception.

‘Fill in. He sat behind a desk in a wooden chair and removed his glasses to wipe his eyes as Leke entered. coughing into the already cloistered air of the small room. He was irritated but he found a chair to sit in.’ he said still not looking up. as he spoke he kept looking around for a window. Again. he beckoned for Leke to take a seat. What can I do for you?’ The walls of the room gave Leke a feeling of being closed in. Dr Tembu moved around the desk to begin a physical examination. ‘And out.’ Leke inhaled.’ 126 Bom Boy . His hands were large.’ Dr Tembu was small and dark with a greying moustache. ‘You need to join the queue. Leke noticed a father with a little girl asleep in his lap and an old man with a cane.’ the receptionist said to Leke when he handed back the form. ‘Again. Hours passed before the receptionist addressed him. There were ten other people waiting. the air was stale and the walls were bare.The receptionist didn’t look up but pushed forward a clipboard. ‘Afternoon.’ Leke inhaled. ‘Breathe in. ‘Mr Denton? This way please. Leke filled in the form at the desk. His touch was startling.

Just to be safe. ‘Again. With the light and a low-power magnifying glass I can detect any irregularity. kindly. ‘Have a look. Do you have a very stressful job?’ Dr Tembu asked as he walked back to his seat and Leke buttoned his shirt. Dr Tembu’s forearm brushed over Leke’s chest as he moved the stethoscope from point to point. His collar was unbuttoned.’ The instrument was heavier than Leke imagined. ‘What’s that?’ Leke asked. ‘Not really. ‘Everything’s fine.’ ‘Well. ‘Can I get a flu jab though?’ Gene had mentioned this to him when he was plotting another scam to leave work early.’ the doctor smiled. ‘Temperature’s normal. Using an instrument that looked like a metal hammer. ‘Okay. ‘Oh?’ ‘Yes. You’re a healthy man.’ Bom Boy 127 . Perhaps some rest.’ Leke inhaled.Leke inhaled. ‘I suggest a basic multivitamin.’ Leke cleared his throat. Leke’s skin tingled.’ The doctor hung the stethoscope back around his neck and pulled the thermometer from Leke’s mouth. ‘It’s an otoscope.’ Dr Tembu held Leke’s face and he allowed his head to drop under the gentle pressure of the doctor’s fingers. the doctor studied first one ear and then the other. he looked it over and handed it back.’ a raised eyebrow suggested amusement. Just want to check your ears.

‘What you buying today? More Four O’Clocks?’ 128 Bom Boy . He’d thought he would be able to go back to work but it was already half past four. Let’s do that. solemn and deliberate. A boy. turned around to look. the intense euphoria. ‘Hey. except this time he was awake. through the streets. and subdued. He put his hand to his throat but it was only in his imagination that there was an irritation. His footsteps were so leaden he appeared to be performing a march.‘Alright. Whitie was on a chain. he tried to think of an excuse that would satisfy his manager but nothing came to mind. Clunk. Clunk. The swirling sensation reduced and Leke found he could stand proud of the wall without falling. Clunk. He let the building wall carry him as he tried to untangle his confusion. Leke!’ Elias shouted from across the road. stunned. his experience of being in one of his childhood dreams. He passed Elias’s shop and stood for a while staring. She licked Elias’s ear and he moaned in response.’ Leke moved. ‘You okay?’ someone asked but he waved him off. out of sight. Come with me. and a beggar with a baby on her back. About his absence. Leke’s head started spinning and he leaned against the wall of a nearby building. He walked towards home too dazed to register the old man pissing onto a wall. at him and his dog sitting outside on the grubby sidewalk. walking past with his mother.

Leke never forgot the squirm of the rabbit’s paws in his groin as Marcus had laid the creature in his lap. By the time he entered through his gate. Marcus gave up. He’d never liked animals. checking to see if his breath could warm his skin enough so that the bumps disappeared – an old game from childhood. In the dim light from the street lamp.Leke shook his head and carried on walking. Tsotso’s eyes sizing him up. Dr Tembu and his sandpaper hands. when Leke was twelve. Two years after Jane died. he watched the goosepimples appear along his arm and blew. Marcus had bought him a rabbit but he wouldn’t touch it. Just before he knew he would need to bathe and dress for work Leke got out of bed and lay in the back seat of his car. it swelled into the small space of the studio. inside his studio Leke tried to sleep but could only manage short bouts. It was cold but he didn’t bring his blanket. Whitie licking Elias’s ear – all of this kept him awake. a polite and silent guest. After several attempts to place the bunny in Leke’s arms and Leke refusing. His hands shook as he made himself a cup of tea and for the first time Leke noticed loneliness. the feel of the muscles moving underneath the thick white fur. the hex from his appointment had worn off. the soft hair. Bom Boy 129 . Darkness came.

Your great grandmother. That was their first son. When you get born into a family curse nothing is frightening. After a year of marriage to my grandfather – they called him Oga – her stomach expanded and her dark brown skin gleamed as if she’d rubbed cocoa butter on it. He was cause for joy of course. Wole. Fish head pepper soup. Leke.Thursday 17th September 1992 For Leke: I have to start with my grandmother. I could go further back but if I’m telling you about the curse I must at least start with her. Nothing scares me. Iyan. Palm-wine. Mama Wole. 130 Bom Boy . I suppose it’s like being the child of an undertaker – dead bodies are commonplace. My father was the same. what did they know about the things that lay ahead? They celebrated. It must be true – the darkness – because nothing scares me.

It would be late afternoon and if I pricked my ears I could hear cars driving past from town towards the campus we lived on. Kuro n be. jo! Haba!’ Despite my mother’s warnings my father would tell me things. my father being the seventh child. caught in the crook of his arm. me with an agbalumo fruit or a packet of Orkin biscuits if I was lucky. a girl. Move. I would sit beside him on the ground. There were six of them. I thought because they still wriggled after I split them that it wasn’t a bad thing. The same arm held a beer bottle. ‘You’re killing my farm.I never met Uncle Wole or any of my father’s brothers. I reasoned that its content was the cause of our swerved and jerky journey back home. ‘Have I told you yet. Bom Boy 131 . on his motorbike. That was the beginning of the darkness. I liked to sit on my haunches and inspect the ground for earthworms.’ he’d begin. ‘Kai!’ my father would shout. I would split the worms in two with my hoe. my back pressed against his chest. And then there was an eighth. ‘that nothing good will come of us?’ We would settle down.

The notes from the string instrument-making course she’d taken last year helped too. As far as Tsotso was concerned musical instruments had always breathed and lived and spoken. Madame Desmarais had always counted out loud. tapping a ruler on her lap and counting to keep the 3:6 time.Wednesday 29th August 2012 For Tsotso. cherry-wood body. On the way to work every morning she stopped in front of Frankie’s and stared at the upright piano – a simple “Squire” make. especially the stool placed in front of it. Something she could do before opening her workshop and really taking off. with the help of a book she’d downloaded off the internet and a Chinaman she’d met in a chat room. ever since she was five and her uncle had handed her a rusty mbira. she liked to think she had a special love affair with them. She’d priced it a few months back and had been salivating ever since. also imagining that the piano counted with them. Tsotso had counted in her mind. straightbacked. She’d 132 Bom Boy . Watching the piano. reminded Tsotso of her piano lessons in primary school. She’d taught herself to make violins. Madame Desmarais sitting next to her. Western Medical Fund was a stop-gap.

Glorious. Instead it was an innocent experiment – she’d wanted to know what it would feel like to have her naked skin pressed up against the skin of the piano. Her academic scholarship at the prestigious school hung in the balance for a few days. to being misunderstood. years later. accustomed. Bom Boy 133 . in the Cecil Skotnes assembly hall. atop the baby grand. She hadn’t been trying to defile school property. the principal. by then.held the rough wooden body of the Zimbabwean musical instrument in her small hands and plucked at the row of long slender metal teeth. Finally. Vuyisiwe. An affair that had crescendoed. That was the beginning of the love affair. on her return. Tsotso had borne her punishment. in a boarding school scandal – Tsotso was found lying naked. as the teachers had insisted. the disciplinary committee had suspended her for a week and requested. she make an apology to Mrs. convinced it was part of a Grade 11 prank.

the scent an intense invasion of his body. Overpowered. 134 Bom Boy . It was almost edible. Did she know he was behind her? He quickened his pace. from here he watched her stare into three more stores and when she turned the corner and took the escalators towards the exit. Despite the fumes from buses and the smell of damp tar her scent still caressed the insides of his nostrils. watching as she moved along the short mall from one shop window to another. she walked fast. he followed. She turned down a road and he followed. Outside it was getting dark. He couldn’t see her face. What would he do when he caught up with her? He was still wondering when she surprised him by turning around. She moved on to the next window and Leke rose and moved to the next bench along the mall. he sat motionless.Thursday 30th August 2012 He could smell her. ‘What do you want?’ Leke didn’t wait to study her face but turned on his heels. She was skinny from behind and her leather handbag hit against her thighs as she walked. he didn’t stop running until he was behind the grey walls of his compound.

High above fitted glass panels let the moonlight in but it was no competition for the glare of Diamond Walk. he let his feet carry him along. The stores along Diamond Walk were rented to the most glamorous designers. “Diamond Walk” the sign boards had announced. apologising for construction and promising luxury in return for patience. it was a parking lot meant to service the mall and the nearby highrise residential blocks. he noticed that. Leke took in the new addition to the suite of buildings. They hung outside the McDonalds outlet.The next day Leke left work early. All the surfaces reflected Leke back to himself. from the excitement on people’s faces and the awe with which they moved from store to store. Bright clothing hung off the marble-like bodies of the mannequins in the shop-fronts. A pile of rubble was being loaded into a large truck. Plaza Mall had also opened its final wing. occasionally joining the unending queue to buy a meal. the mall was full of teenagers lurking in the passageways leading to the toilets or kissing on couches meant for customers. silver sequins spelling out the name. sometimes clearly sometimes distorted. Approaching the mall. their shop windows boarded up with posters. another building had been completed seemingly overnight. they smoked cigarettes Bom Boy 135 . As was usual for a Friday night. across the road. Ignoring the taunts of his colleagues. he gathered they were famous. Leke didn’t recognize any of the names but. A few of the stores were still vacant.

He couldn’t sleep. Leke started walking. She sat down on a bench and he was just about to join her when he felt someone grab his arm. Leke spotted a young girl walking alone. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘No loitering in the mall. At the exit he let go of Leke’s arm and left him outside the glass door. diplomatic. not always succeeding in looking as mature as they would like. the guard. ‘We’ve spotted you a couple of times and received complaints. dressed in a black long-sleeve shirt with a name tag and black trousers. Was it a smirk? 136 Bom Boy . her face was streaked with mascara. Before turning he pointed to the cameras at the entrance.’ ‘I don’t understand. ‘You may not loiter in the mall.in the entrance-way. it’s a disturbance to our customers. his head ached and he couldn’t get the look of the security guard’s face out of his mind.’ The guard still held Leke’s arm and was leading him towards the back exit. a silent gesture to say “we’re watching”. spoke in a low steady tone. ‘Hey you!’ it was a security guard. Yesterday a woman reported you chased her.’ The guard signalled to a camera hanging from the ceiling.’ Apart from the firm grip there was nothing violent about the encounter.

There was still some rubble along the back and bundles of what looked like homeless people sleeping beneath blankets. he’d never seen it like that before. He looked for the girl. Bom Boy 137 . studying its entrances and noting the empty security check at the front and the unguarded vehicular access where the garbage skips were kept. looked in his studio for traces of another living thing but there was none. He walked around the new parking block. holding his cheeks in her hands and kissing his face. in between the rafters. Her breath on the tip of his nose. Back home the studio looked empty. At 4am he drifted into a shallow sleep.At 2am Leke left the studio. he cried in his dream and when he woke up his face was wet. she came down to visit. he dreamt that he found a little girl living in his roof. perhaps a walk would tire him out. He avoided the mall area although the crowds would have left by now.

Leke is growing fast and I whisper your name in his ear every night so he’ll know who you are when he meets you. Now. I don’t have any photographs of you or I would put them up above his crib. Bashir would have to cope. She’d call Ursula and told her she was ill and not coming in. She lifted him from the crib and held him to her cheek. She hadn’t slept all night. I… Elaine let the pen fall. she’d started the letter several times but had not been able to complete it. When he was fist born. into 138 Bom Boy . I’m fine. She picked up the pen again. Some mornings she didn’t recognise herself in the mirror. The baby made a noise and she left the desk to check on him. She was sad. What could she tell him? She was tired. each time she looked at him she saw her face and Oscar’s eyes. almost two months on he’d grown into himself. her entire body ached and her eyelids stung.Saturday 19th September 1992 Dear Oscar I’m sorry. I know it’s been over a month since I wrote to you. She studied his face.

He slept. She cradled him in her arms. He kind of moans. He’ll break hearts this one.’ They’d stayed long and Elaine had felt uncomfortable not offering them anything other than black tea. ‘You like company. Bom Boy 139 . But you know. Elaine was used to not fussing over him. ‘Actually he sleeps. his body squirming.’ All the gossip forgotten. he was content.’ ‘Calls to you? What are you talking about?’ ‘It’s not crying. or clay. and his own expression. After the first one and half months of doing poorly his cheeks had filled out. When they’d finally left she’d been relieved to be alone again.his own eyes. Elaine kissed him and put him back in the crib. she felt bad but often left him in his crib for long periods. A tuft of dark brown curls sprouted at the top of his head while the rest of his head remained bald. hey?’ Elaine said looking down at Leke. they had clucked over him. his complexion reminded her of wet beach sand. even when he’s awake he waits. tickling his tummy. If he’s hungry he calls to me. He was so easy to leave alone. He looked up. ‘He’s a looker.’ Ursula had said sounding concerned. A week ago some of the ladies from the Superette had come by. Elaine. ‘You up all night with this guy? You certainly look it. but had felt bad for Leke. which had surprised Elaine.

she picked up the pen.Back at the desk Elaine stared at the unfinished letter. you are disappearing from my life. I don’t want to frighten you. I think to myself. tucking it into the pillow stuffing. wouldn’t you? Something has happened to me. Are you okay? You would tell me if there was something wrong. It’s only that…I feel different. We miss you. Dear Elaine I miss you too and I can’t help but notice that your letters have gotten shorter. He pulled out a stash of A4 paper. some pages crumpled and curling. He’d unplucked the seams at the corner and kept all things precious in this hiding place. Oscar. 140 Bom Boy . It is a strange thing – I don’t know if I can explain it to you. After half an hour she could hear the soft snores of Leke. And then each time I receive a shorter and shorter letter from you. Over the past few days a sense of foreboding had crept along his skin. Love Elaine Oscar finished reading the letter then put it away. It seemed like a familiar feeling – was it the curse making its presence known? Or just prisonlife? Oscar sighed.

The letters to Leke suddenly seemed urgent. after all. ‘they had been to the babalawo before. and guard them. She wept as she held Uncle Tuesday in her arms. Bom Boy 141 . ‘No. like soliciting the services of a health practitioner. I will not.’ he said. her hair. was the texture of straw and it was falling out.Sorry my love. that is a heavy thing to say. When it left there it came to the palms of her hands and soles of her feet. It’s just that maybe my father was right – there is no cheating a babalawo. turned a dull grey. For Leke: By the time my grandmother gave birth to her fourth son. have sustained love in my life – nothing good will come of me. He had to write them. ‘Was that the beginning of the curse?’ I asked my father.’ It was a normal everyday act. If it left her forehead it appeared on her breasts and chest. and begged my grandfather to go with her to the babalawo. as if their continued existence was threatened. Her skin was caked with a strange rash that disappeared and returned intermittently. chasing itself over different parts of her body.

He shifted his gaze from the multi-coloured flowers to his watch and then back to the soil. ‘Where does it hurt?’ He was a tall man. he felt the familiar pull to be in the space. maybe the mall would have thinned out. He leaned over them. the Four O’Clocks remained closed. Capable looking. he was used to people doing as he asked. with long fingers and dusty-coloured hair. A tightness. When Leke had made the appointment he hadn’t known what to expect. Since he’d been evicted from the mall he’d felt flat and listless. in answer to the physio’s question Leke pointed to just 142 Bom Boy . attempting to nudge them awake. Straining his neck.Saturday 22nd September 2012 At 5pm Leke stood in his garden. blaming the grey clouds for the blossoms remaining closed. For relief he’d gone to see one doctor and then another and before he’d realised it he was spending most of his lunches sitting across from one practitioner or another. He went back into his studio and lay on his bed. he’d never been to a physiotherapist. That feeling had been with him over the last few weeks. Now. Leke got the feeling no one ever said no to this man. he looked up at the sky.

’ They sat almost folded into one another. The physio worked on his neck and back. Leke looked straight ahead.below his hairline at the back of his head. it seemed to Leke that no time had passed at all.’ He emerged from the cupboard with a little box in his hand. See how you feel. ‘Don’t use it right away. under your side. only once darting his eyes sideways to catch a glimpse of a beard revealing shoots of brown hair. Even to your back. turning it left and then right. okay?’ Bom Boy 143 . looking for an ointment and talking to Leke over his shoulder. At one point he held Leke’s head. The physio stood up and started scratching in his cupboard. his fingers along Leke’s cheeks and his thumbs just beneath his jaw. ‘What side do you sleep on?’ ‘I… I…’ Was that really half an hour? ‘I’d suggest switching for a while. the imposing build of the therapist covering most of his patient’s body as he worked the knots out of Leke’s neck and shoulders. Give it some time first. The physiotherapist pressed down at the base of his neck. and flapped his hands to indicate “everywhere”. After a couple of days use the pillow like I said. ‘Pain?’ ‘It’s okay. When the physiotherapist patted him on the shoulder and said ‘All done’.

Leke stayed sitting and nodded. In the awkward silence the physiotherapist shuffled his large feet and cleared his throat. Leke stood up and picked up his backpack. ‘I… I have a sore tooth.’ The man frowned. Leke continued, ‘I wonder if you know a good dentist,’ he smiled and looked to the ground, bashful, as if he’d just asked him out to dinner. The man frowned. ‘Okay. Sure. Let me… let’s see here.’ He walked round his desk and handed Leke a blue card from the drawer. ‘Yes,’ Leke said, answering a question that hadn’t been asked. He took the card with an eagerness that made their fingers crash into one another. Amidst his own chorus of apologies, Leke left the room. ‘Mister O… Og…’ the dentist stared at the folder in his hand as if it was its fault that he could not pronounce the name. ‘Jack is fine,’ Leke said and the dentist sighed. ‘Hi, Jack. Thank you, I hope you don’t take offence, I’m not very good with the African names,’ his smile seemed fake but his eyes sparkled with warmth. Leke shrugged. ‘Take the backpack off and sit please. I’ll adjust the chair a little.’

144 Bom Boy

Leke sat in the dental chair and leaned back. ‘Backpack off please. Unless you’re the one who won the lotto last night eh? In which case you can hand it to me,’ he was chatty, a high-pitched squeak of a voice and a distinct Afrikaans drawl to his words. Leke removed his backpack. The dentist tied on his face mask and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. ‘Okay, Meneer Jack,’ he said leaning over Leke. ‘What’s the problem?’ ‘Somewhere in the back.’ ‘Okay. Say ahhh!’ ‘Ah!’ ‘Wider please. Is that eina?’ Leke shook his head. ‘Wider. Where do you work?’ ‘Ah! Oi shee.’ ‘Pardon? Wider.’ ‘Ahh!’ ‘Perfect. Hold that.’ The powdery smell of latex filled Leke’s nose. He linked it with the smooth bitter taste of the fingers in his mouth. ‘I don’t see anything.’ Leke wondered about the gloves. Why did they need gloves? How could they feel anything with the gloves on? ‘Does that hurt?’ He shook his head again. A line of spit seeped out the side of his mouth. The dentist removed his hands and asked Leke to rinse. He spat.

Bom Boy 145

‘What are those for?’ ‘The gloves? Ag, just to protect us.’ ‘From what?’ ‘Each other I guess,’ he laughed. ‘Open wide, please.’ He used a spiked implement and scraped along the sides of Leke’s teeth. Occasionally he used the suction to remove the excess saliva. ‘What do you do?’ the dentist asked. ‘Un-ge-a.’ ‘Pardon?’ the dentist said, resting his hands on his knees. Leke spat. ‘I’m an engineer. I work for an oil shipping company.’ ‘Ahh! Interesting, eh? Fun job?’ ‘Aww.’ The dentist put his hands down. Leke spat. ‘No.’ ‘Ag, shame man! Ah well – it buys the milk, nê?’ Leke nodded. ‘Open wide again for me please. Ja, I don’t see anything here. Some plaque but that shouldn’t cause any pain. You know, sometimes if we miss a floss then bits of food gather and can cause a slight infection. I’ll do a basic clean now, okay? And then put the fluoride on.’ The dentist first scraped then polished. It felt strange to have someone touch his teeth this way, part his lips and suck his spit through a pipe. Leke realised he was bleeding when the dentist asked him to rinse and he spat into the white sink.

146 Bom Boy

‘Perfectly normal,’ the dentist said as he completed flossing in between Leke’s teeth and applied the fluoride paste. ‘Don’t eat for at least half an hour. And I suggest you also make an appointment with our hygienist for about six months’ time.’ Outside Leke didn’t make a booking with the receptionist. ‘Thank you,’ he said as he left the front room. The receptionist looked up, pressed the buzzer that opened the security door and went back to sorting papers on his desk. Instead of easing away his tension each appointment had produced a temporary calm followed by a louder headache. Leke rose off the mattress and walked back out to the garden to check on the flowers. Still nothing. Waiting for them to unravel reminded him of the time Jane had explained that these flowers only came out at four in the afternoon; he’d thought she was lying. He fell asleep and dreamt of Tsotso staring at him from across a room full of people. When he woke up it was dark, the flowers had already opened and closed again. The series of appointments took its toll on Leke’s work. Colleagues began making snide remarks when they saw him in the corridors, asking him what company he worked for. Whenever he was leaving the office, no matter what day of the week it was, they would wave goodbye and

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wish him a great long weekend. Lewis, the security guard, took another complaint to HR and Leke was called into a meeting with the HR assistant and his manager. After the meeting he held off on any more appointments. His head ached all the time. He struggled to concentrate. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing,’ Leke said clicking and changing the window on his computer screen. He hadn’t heard Gene walking towards their cubicle. Leke’s routine was to get to work early and make whatever adjustments to conceal his appointments. It was not really stealing. ‘Did you hear?’ Gene asked as he placed his briefcase against the leg of his desk. ‘They might be changing the interface.’ It was the third time Gene was late for work that week. No one ever called him into a meeting about his lateness. ‘No, I hadn’t heard about that.’ There were always rumours of the management changing the operating systems. It was both a security measure and an attempt to keep the company at the cutting edge of the industry. If it were true it would pose a challenge for Leke’s plans. ‘Well they are. I’m so pissed off. I just got here, you know? I just learnt this freaking system, now I need to learn something else brand new.’ Gene swivelled in his chair to face Leke who nodded, with his back to him. He’d been interrupted. He only had

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still sulking. then? Oh I see. He picked up the phone and dialled. As Leke finished the last transaction a young girl temping for the week came round placing pamphlets on desks. ‘The next day. His neighbour was not at her desk and everyone else seemed preoccupied. Despite the rain picking at the window his upper lip began to perspire. but she ignored him. He knew the clients well. highly sought after with a three-week waiting list. Depressed. ‘Hello. ‘What the fuck is that?’ Leke scanned the sparse writing. ‘What’s this shit?’ Gene asked. the ones that would not notice an extra eight hundred rands being deducted from their schemes. ‘Hellerwork?’ he heard Gene say behind him. It was a promotional for a new form of massage therapy. When the receptionist answered he dropped his voice. Leke looked around the office. Leke listened to the receptionist give the far-off date of his appointment.’ He rattled off his cell number and waited while the receptionist retrieved the diary. I’d like to make an appointment… Mags. close to a whisper. Bom Boy 149 .a small window of time to process his appointments on the system. Leke picked up the one that landed on his desk. Mags Peachey. ‘How about tomorrow?’ he asked when she got back on the line. After a few minutes Gene rose to go to the bathroom.’ The hellerworker was a renowned practitioner. the ones that wouldn’t check. Gene swivelled back and Leke completed the transactions.

‘Nice legs on her. ‘No I just–’ ‘You’re sweating and it’s freezing outside. either but something about her face – it wasn’t just that she never smiled it was as if she couldn’t. always going on about women’s breasts. Don’t get sick on me man.’ Gene tossed a packet of tissues and Leke wiped his forehead. She looked up from her photocopying and Leke held his breath as her eyes passed over them. She’s hot!’ She was tall but the addition of high-heels gave her a height that couldn’t be ignored or forgotten. She seemed oblivious to Leke and Gene.’ Gene offered. 150 Bom Boy . chain-smoking. eh?’ Studying her profile Leke guessed that she never smiled. ‘Hey!’ Gene shouted across at her. She jerked her head up in acknowledgment. at one point he felt as though his whole body was on fire. ‘I know she hangs out the back during lunch. soaking in all her movements a few metres away with Gene’s running commentary for accompaniment. here. He was about to try and explain to Gene that maybe he was sick but the moment passed. It was a strange thing to notice. Leke looked to the copy hub. ‘You sick or something?’ Gene asked.He waited out the rest of the working day. Tsotso with the tits is back!’ Gene. ‘Check it out. where Gene was pointing. he figured he never smiled. ‘She was in my orientation session.

She kept the phone between her ear and shoulder. I’d keep it busy too.’ Gene’s leering felt obscene.’ Gene answered and smiled like Leke had never seen him do. I had that. ‘No problem. Leke wanted to punch him. Bom Boy 151 . running the backs of his fingers against his manicured stubble. ‘Haven’t seen her since the clinic. ‘When’s the next blood thing?’ he asked as her cellphone rang. do you know where that is?’ Leke pointed down towards the other side of the office. ‘Know where she sits?’ he persisted.’ she said as if they had challenged her presence in their workspace. talking and copying at the same time. ‘Very very nice. sweetheart. ‘I know she’s in the legal department.‘My copier’s broken. Heck. ‘You think she has a boyfriend?’ Leke shrugged. After she’d left Gene wheeled his chair closer to Leke’s. Nice.’ Gene murmured. clearly she’s been busy. a few steps took you through a passageway and into a separate wing of the building.

’ she whined. ‘I don’t like this. ‘Leave it. who sat strapped under the seat belt. But I guess the voice is an instrument too. Makhulu. smiling but not talking.Wednesday 26th September 2012 ‘What did you think?’ Tsotso asked her grandmother. ‘I know Naledi had a voice. Please. I don’t know how I know but I just remember red stilettos and Busi Mhlongo on 152 Bom Boy . but the doctor had warned her about that. hey? Give me string and wind instruments any day. Just before they turned off the main drag. you listening?’ Her grandmother was fiddling with the seat belt. Could you hear okay? I was worried about you and your hearing aid. doesn’t matter what instrument you’re using. Just the voice on its own – that’s never really excited me. hey? Wind. I liked it!’ Tsotso answered her own question. ‘I understood something today – good music is good music. Tsotso broke the silence. ‘And I don’t normally love acapella. ‘Well. nearing home. Tsotso had noticed that her grandmother said less and less these days.’ Umakhulu settled down again and Tsotso continued. would you say? Makhulu.’ Her grandmother giggled. Tsotso touched Umakhulu’s shoulder then focused back on the road.

They stood outside the door to the flat as Tsotso searched for the keys. The words. ‘My child.’ she said.’ she kept searching. One less drink at the bar would have been thoughtful. ‘Naledi. Tsotso watched her then looked back to the road when the light changed. Like no one goes into bookstores and asks about the music they’re playing. Bom Boy 153 . I asked the guy at the desk and he looked at me like I was crazy. Tsotso bent to hug her. She was humming to herself.’ Umakhulu said confusing Tsotso. made her face gentle again. her granddaughter. Makhulu. ‘Naledi. I didn’t know it was Busi Mhlongo until many years later in a book store.the CD player. ‘I don’t mind really. This was a good day. too much crap in the bag. I don’t hate her.’ her grandmother repeated and Tsotso looked down at her. She parked the car and was thankful that Umakhulu posed no difficulty and let herself be guided through the parking lot. the telltale sign of a tumbling down mind. It’s not so bad to love music more than anything. perhaps the memory of her favourite child. ‘Yes.’ Umakhulu bent down to tie and untie her shoelaces. But my mother’s voice singing louder than Mhlongo’s. The old woman reached up and cupped Tsotso’s cheek. with her daughter. It was something she’d never done before. I’m probably the same.’ she hiccupped. Not the harassed look.

nursing hangovers. He walked up and down. occasionally moving to the side for a scooter to pass. They ignored the beggars and the skollies stretched out on the narrow pavement.Saturday 29th September 2012 The headaches persisted. 154 Bom Boy . His work kept Leke distracted but during weekends. with no Plaza Mall. walking and stopping to drink coffee. and sad. Still people visited it. It seemed more suited to the trendy surrounding suburbs that had been redeveloped but somehow it landed up amidst the old and creaking neighbourhood that was excluded from the gentrification project. or an ambitious loading truck. He decided to take a walk in the streets of his neighbourhood. The street seemed confused to Leke. careful to side step mysterious puddles and avoid eye-contact with girls too young to be mothers proffering their crying babies as evidence of their desperation. counting the cobbles. His favourite street was where Elias’s corner shop stood. keeping busy was difficult. a narrow road still cobbled. making it unpopular for speeding cars. browsing the quaint second-hand bookstore or letting their tongues water over dainty cakes arranged in shop windows.

’ Leke retreated but he heard Elias protest and promise to hold Whitie down. He stood aside as the customer walked out through the shop entrance. Bom Boy 155 . Leke could not stop watching them. ‘Doesn’t that feel like quality to you?’ Leke smiled. she continued on her way. Leke watched him come round from the counter and approach the customer. complaining that his eyes were weak and harsh light could blind him.’ ‘Been busy. Standing. the Great Dane matched his height. China. satisfied.He stopped at Elias and peeped in. people put way too much significance on how things look.’ ‘How’s that old crow? She dead yet?’ He was talking about the Rhododendron. they couldn’t see the wares. trying to see and avoid being seen. They were trying to do the waltz. Whitie barked and Elias cackled – he attempted to hum the tune from Swan Lake but ended up coughing instead. ‘Hey girlie!’ Elias had Whitie on her hind legs. ‘How you? Haven’t seen you in a while. You better come in. Elias waved them off unbothered. ‘I can see you. Customers complained of the lack of light in his store. pleased that somehow people continued to come and his shop stayed open. ‘Feel it man!’ Leke heard Elias say. He walked into the shop. The old man hardly came out in the sun. she studied what she’d bought and. When he did come out he wore cracked sunglasses with masking tape holding the frame together.

Closer man! Pet her. ‘See?’ 156 Bom Boy . Now. fully into his own tale. surprised Leke. I was almost a vet you know? You think all I do is sell seed? And I got money stashed away too – I’m not the poor bastard you think I am. Anyway. Check here. I was there. Didn’t you see that documentary? Ag. Man. ‘Watching it happen is like doing it yourself man. the warmth coming off her body.’ he took Leke’s hand and ran it along the dog’s coat. I’ve always had an interest. The sleek black hair and twitching muscles. ‘A friend of mine. ‘that was funny to me ‘cause I got spots too. Leke?’ Elias showed Leke the marks. Almost exactly five years ago to the day. Show dogs. ‘I was there the day she was born. not many. see her spots. Elias was taken aback but responded. I’d been bugging Marta for months to help with the births.’ ‘You love her. when the bitch gives birth. breeds up in Malmesbury. pride in his voice. the scientists proved that Leke. Leke. They call it whelping.’ he whistled and Whitie barked. this nonsense between you and Whitie must stop! Come. look at this. so Marta finally called up and invited me. Leke!’ he whistled again and Whitie barked. ‘That’s a girl. Just a few litters a year.Leke smiled.’ he turned his back to Leke and lifted the bottom of his jersey. doesn’t matter man. Marta. ‘Come. ‘Aha!’ Elias continued.’ he didn’t know where the words came from. She’s a beauty this one.

we the same race man. the Whites. You get the Blacks. ‘See my China?’ Elias said covering up again and turning back to face Leke.’ Leke could still hear Elias’s hacking laughter as he walked up the bridge. the Coloureds and then there’s the Spotted. just above his glutes five splodges of taupe coloured flesh.Along the left side of his back. the rest of Elias’s skin was a raw pink. Bom Boy 157 . ‘Whitie and me.

The engine protested under the weight of his foot on the accelerator. the ground rose up towards the top parking level. only an occasional twitching in his face showed the sign of his 158 Bom Boy . to stop on the sparsely lit third parking level. in the short time he’d been coming he was yet to see a security guard manning the boom or patrolling the grounds. Red’s engine sputtered. He seldom worried about being seen. It was four storeys and from the top floor he could see the Plaza Mall atrium. the best he would do was to lean closer to his front windscreen. before obeying the turn of the key and cutting off. For over an hour there were no people about and Leke relished the silence and the darkness. 9pm passed. The thought of getting out never crossed his mind. beyond the line of structural columns.Friday 5th October 2012 Leke picked the parking tower opposite the Plaza Mall as his new stomping ground. Even those people that fascinated him the most. He drove up the sharp ramp deciding. Looking to the far right corner. To the left of the parking space. for a change. He reverse-parked. a final lament. turning his head and taking in the view of the twinkling Cape Town harbour where a large ship docked. were double doors leading to what Leke guessed was a stairwell. He’d never left his car to check.

the car doors slammed and there was continued laughter. ‘…there you go. cringing as the machinery squeaked. He sat frozen. He rubbed his eyes. The parking lot was silent again. from the knees down. He wound down the window. Leke looked at his watch. He waited. The click clack of high heels and a shuffle. She drove past. sequinned dress that shimmered.’ Bom Boy 159 . down the ramp to the unattended boom and was gone. He noted a large man in the driver’s seat and a woman sitting beside him. She was dressed for a party in a short. the sound was swallowed. as the doors closed. he could hear mumbling. They parked on the level above. Almost 10pm. buoyant and insignificant. were clad in tight leather boots. fading. He drifted off and woke with a start when he heard the bang of a car door. a weightlessness that moved into his limbs till he felt he might be somewhere in outer space. Leke heard the sound of her car alarm deactivate. Half an hour later a woman came from the stairwell and walked towards her car. Her thighs were exposed and the rest of her legs. It wasn’t Plaza Mall but it eased his headaches and that was something. as they walked towards the stairwell and then. Leke leaned forward at the sound of a car revving up the ramp followed by beams of light as it came round the corner. his mind light.eager anticipation. They were laughing. waiting for something to happen.

Warm bath. Naked. I’ll blow it.’ Their voices carried. But not too hot. His body tingled. from where the voices came.’ ‘Hot tea you say? I like hot tea. Let’s get inside. Makhulu. bouncing off the concrete surfaces of the dim car park. She had to bend to support the older woman. One leaned on the other. He felt as if he’d discovered treasure or some delicious secret. Makhulu. eventually they turned the corner and he saw two figures in silhouette. They walked beneath one of the few functional light fittings and Leke drew in his breath. urging her on. Hot tea. It was the same tingle he’d got when his adoptive mom slipped him a sweet before dinner and winked.‘But what about the rabbits? Shouldn’t we wait for them?’ ‘Don’t worry about them. Watch your step. Your bed’s made up. walking down the ramp headed for the double doors. For a long while after the doors closed behind them Leke felt he could still hear the uneven tapping of her heels on the ground. ‘Don’t tell Daddy!’ 160 Bom Boy . It’s cold out here. He looked to the left. Will you blow it for me?’ ‘Yes. without a bunch of files in the crook of her arm or a laptop dangling from her shoulder. Tsotso looked different. her arm around her upper back. What do you say? That’s it. still not smiling but softer somehow.

and a sense of embarrassment came over him. It was so quiet he imagined he could hear the houses take a breath between dreams. Bom Boy 161 . Leke had ignored him. when he smiled the whiteness of his teeth surprised him. wafted away. the glee. Back in Woodstock the roads were bare. The stink of his unwashed floors and sticky walls pervaded. Leke’s senses were scrambling – hastily trying to sustain the clean scent of happiness. imagined her walking around inspecting the dark corners. he came home from school to find Marcus and a half-empty bottle of whisky at the kitchen table. He’d left a message wanting to know if Leke was coming on Sunday. Leke clicked open the garage door and drove Red into the studio. He saw it through her eyes. Leke must have been sixteen or so.He looked at himself in the rear-view mirror as he drove down the ramp. Many years after Jane’s death. The easy joy of a few minutes ago. he’d left the car window down and an icy wind blew in. Stepping into his studio a harsh odour entered his nostrils and Leke realised his home was filthy. Driving home the streets of Salt River looked different. Red’s rumble cut through the icy cold. It was the only time he ever saw him drunk. He hadn’t noticed earlier but there was a missed call from Marcus. Although he sat motionless on his mattress.

‘What do you mean?’ ‘After she died. It had worked. He slept.’ Everything had happened so quickly..’ ‘Don’t you remember? Think back. The two worlds.warming his dinner in the microwave and heading for the TV room. Maybe he’d used silence as a balm to the uncertainties of life. crowded with unfamiliar shapes. How come you did that thing? Not talking. fell into a charcoal black hole and 162 Bom Boy . if he barely even breathed the world would shrink to a size he could fit into.’ ‘I don’t know. Leke?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe words and conversations speed up time. ‘Scared of what. I think I was scared.’ Sitting in his studio. ‘I don’t know. I asked you a question. that it had been his duty to navigate as a boy had shrunk to the space of a smudge. ‘Leke. waking and sleeping. ushering it into always a darker future.’ ‘Scared? Scared of what?’ He was young. on the edge of his bed Leke wiped away a hot tear. His headache returned. Marcus.’ both hands wrapped around the short glass and Marcus stared into the liquid. perhaps he’d thought that if he said nothing. ‘How come you didn’t speak?’ Marcus’s voice was hoarse and the usual clip in his words wasn’t there.

his muscles aching from a fight he couldn’t remember. Bom Boy 163 .emerged exhausted.

Everything happens as if I’m actually there. I see everything through his eyes: ‘What brings you here?’ I say.’ she wails. ‘Seven boys. ‘E jo ko. the red cap is loose and the cloudy liquid seeps out. It is not her rash she seeks to be cured. She tells me her troubles. The handle is sticky.’ I say. My grandmother places the keg of palm-wine by my feet. I can’t speak Yoruba so the babalawo in my dream can’t either. The little Yoruba I do know is plastered all over my dream – I always have something to prove to my father. In another dream I’m my grandmother. 164 Bom Boy . In one dream I’m my grandfather and I can feel my wife’s clammy palm in mine. He is yellow like me – omo pupa – with curly hair that springs up after I push it down. There are even times when I’m the babalawo. or the loss of her hair and her beauty.Sunday 11th October 1992 For Leke: I have nightmares about my grandparents’ visits to the babalawo.

You will bear only boys. I throw and I start to see the complication in this special case. For some people they would have let this slide. I throw again. My grandparents crowd me. ‘An old curse. their sweat drips off their skin and interfere with the Odu. seeping into the cursed family – becoming part of their DNA.’ They shudder because they know forgotten curses are harder to remove than remembered ones. She wanted to bear a girl before she died. ‘Forgotten. They want a boy or they want twins or they want a girl after twin boys. Not my grandparents – At any cost. gone home and lived their lives. the medicine is left to marinade. Mama Wole begged.This is simple I think to myself. ‘At any cost?’ I ask them and human beings are so hungry for whatever it is they are hungry for – both grandparents – Mama Wole and Oga – nodded without a second thought. ‘What is it?’ They want an explanation for the frown on my face. People have come to me before with such requests. Bom Boy 165 . When people curse and then forget they cursed.’ I say.

’ He pretended not to hear.’ Leke turned his head and then turned back to his computer. ‘The chick. grinning. The wind jumbled his thoughts. ‘Don’t you want to know if I called her?’ He was trying to keep his breathing steady. ‘Tsotso. he liked the feeling. I got the digits. He knew when he returned to his desk the sense of longing 166 Bom Boy . ‘You listening?’ ‘How?’ ‘I have my ways. During his lunch hour he walked to the back of the Western Medical Fund building.’ Leke could feel his muscles tightening and he wanted to smack the look of mirth off Gene’s face. watch me. I’ll get her though. It has to be just right. Leke continued with his work.’ Gene continued. ‘Did you?’ ‘Not yet.’ Gene laced his fingers and stretched his arms out in front of him.Thursday 11th October 2012 ‘I got her number. there was a small open car park bordered by grass and some poplar trees bent into submission by the southeaster.

In heels she was taller than him. He signalled no. The smell of smoke alerted him and he opened his eyes. She was looking straight at him.30pm but on a Wednesday and Friday it was later. plump but straight lips. she took a deep pull and stubbed out the remaining cigarette with her shoe. Leke sat down and closed his eyes. ‘I saw you last night and a few other times. I wasn’t sure it was you till yesterday. Even though the wind was cold. ‘You drive a red Volvo right?’ Her voice was husky. ‘Do you mind?’ He wasn’t sure if she meant did he mind her sitting with him or did he mind the smoke.would come back but then it would soon be 5pm and he could go pick up Red and drive to the parking tower. Her hair pulled back off her face in thick corn rows. his eyes looking straight ahead Bom Boy 167 .’ He’d returned repeatedly since that first night he’d watched Tsotso guide the old woman along. it made Leke think of something that was seldom used. He’d wondered where they were coming from so late. Her skin let off a warm glow. A single concrete bench had been constructed on the grass. misplaced with her stern looks. flat eyes. ‘Are you stalking me or something? Are you some kind of weirdo?’ Leke could tell no one ever messed with her. a high sun warmed his cheeks and forehead. Normally they got in around 5. Not seeming to regard his response.

‘I…I’m sorry. She slackened her glare and leaned against the wall. ‘Why do you go there?’ He’d almost convinced himself she’d left. 168 Bom Boy . It was closed off by a wire mesh fence.found a spot on her nose. It crowded his studio.’ he walked off and avoided her for the rest of the day. ‘You deaf ?’ ‘No. Leke looked straight ahead. beyond the fence there was some kind of laboratory and men and women in white coats were constantly crossing the street to buy cigarettes and coffee.’ he flinched thinking she was going to hit him but she pulled another cigarette from the pack in her shiny leather handbag slung off her shoulder. She wore brown patterned tights and a skirt that reached to just above her knees. her yellow coat was almost the length of the skirt. Talk of expanding the office – building another wing – and doubling the workforce echoed through the tea pause area but nothing ever materialised. Sometimes Lewis could be seen patrolling this border but often the field remained abandoned. The garden area marked the end of the office property. I didn’t mean to frighten you. He had to glance upwards to meet her gaze. Tsotso’s voice followed Leke home.

It suddenly seemed small with two people inside. The envelope. Can I come in?’ Marcus asked and followed Leke into the studio. I ran a bit late. A peace offering? An apology? ‘Why do I need it?’ ‘It… when we got you.’ Marcus held out the brown A4 envelope. but instead of reading it they’d kept it for him to read. It was torn in the corners exposing its contents. and then she’d stood just outside the entrance. Esmeralda.Friday 12th October 2012 ‘What are you doing here?’ Seeing Marcus standing outside his studio Leke felt descended upon.’ An instruction manual for his adoptive parents. He’d been working up the strength to call and ask for the brown envelope but this was different. it came along. I thought maybe I’d missed you or something. He didn’t enjoy seeing Marcus on his home turf. Marcus had said that Jane wanted him to have them. He decided to leave the garage door up. It was less offensive than the first time Leke had seen it. when she showed him the place. Bom Boy 169 . ‘I brought this for you. ‘Didn’t see you at the grave on Sunday. crinkled white papers. Leke had never been in the space with anyone else except Rhododendron’s niece.

’ Curious. That’s how we knew what to call you. Come on! When was the last time we drove out together?’ 170 Bom Boy . A Google search brought up a motley selection of answers: Leke was a fashionable clothing brand in Antwerp. Leke stepped forward to study the face of the envelope. Marcus angled it. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Let’s go for a drive. It was an instruction manual. Then underneath it said “Lay-kay”. He’d asked it in earnest when he was younger but nothing Marcus said was useful in fending off school bullies. Leke. ‘What do you say?’ He hadn’t been listening even though he’d watched as Marcus made a short tour of the studio and stopped by Red with his hand on the roof. soft – the dry softness of an old woman’s wrinkled cheek.’ The envelope was heavier than he’d imagined and the texture of the brown surface. It had become a rhetorical question over time. It was a town in Diksmuide – a part of Belgium.‘What if it was meant for you?’ ‘The envelope has your name on it. It was the name of a restaurant in a Balinese resort. “For Leke” it said. ‘What kind of name is that anyway?’ Leke mumbled. ‘Take it. There was Albanian Leke and 1000ALL converted into about 7EUR.

sat on his mattress and stared at the envelope. Marcus walked back towards the door. thinking he was crying but nothing came. He pulled out the papers inside and reached for the hanging light switch. Bom Boy 171 . it felt strange holding it.’ Leke pulled down the garage door. Like a naughty child who would get up to mischief once left alone. He stuffed the pages back into the envelope and got his car keys. he could see the grit on the floor. the scribbled words from either side of the sheets bleeding into each other. stopping by Leke and hugging him. Marcus. the screw on the handle of the fridge door.’ he wanted him to leave so he could put the envelope down. He blinked. He shuffled through the pages. He put the pages down on the bed but as he studied the words his eyes clouded. the zip on his backpack. the new wipers. ‘See you. He looked around the room. thin in parts so the ink seeped through. looking for the beginning. son. Two more hours passed before he tore the flap. he could see Red in sharp focus. He wanted to hide it somewhere but was also afraid to have it out of his sight. but looking back down at the pages the words blurred. dust came off where the glue had caked like the whisper of a jinni. and tried to start reading but his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. They had an uneven texture. He wanted to put it down.‘Maybe another time.

172 Bom Boy .His mouth watered in anticipation as he drove to the car park. every few minutes he glanced at the seat beside him where the envelope rode like a dangerous passenger.

claiming ownership. How I found it was: after pressing purple and red flowers between the pages of heavy books I would put them on the shelf and forget about them. I made my mother read what it said on the back. I made up that it was the last picture my parents had taken of themselves in South Africa. I kept the picture. When the photo fell out instead it was as if the book had chewed up my flowers and spat out the picture in their place. And then many weeks later raid my parent’s library. holding them at their spines and shaking them out. I was certain I had planted a string of daisies in between the pages. It was magic for me.Wednesday 14th October 1992 For Leke: When I was six I found a photograph of my parents – black and white which I thought was funny because that is what they were. When I grew older I decided that it had been taken in South Africa. They were about to flee and then they Bom Boy 173 . It was like harvesting crops. opening all the books. And one day the photograph fell out. The delicate dried flowers would fall to the floor. I loved that picture. wildly in love and illegal.

They were both smiling. Perhaps they pressed too hard against each other. They’d interlaced their fingers and squeezed their joined hands between their cheeks. in the dark with strange shadows in the corners. You know. They pressed into each other and my mother’s face would have been flushed pink and my father’s smile was beautiful.asked someone to take a picture of them. And you squeeze the blankets extra tight. They did seem happy but there was also something else. like maybe when you’re in bed at night. Perhaps they thought they would never come back again. 174 Bom Boy . They were squeezing each other like that so perhaps that’s what it was.

tired and dead inside. she tucked her head down and pulled in the smell of the sleeping baby. Elaine never forgot that face. Bom Boy 175 . There were cartoon figures and little children. That night the old woman’s worn face floated into her dreams. She’d seen it somewhere before. Above the steel gates hung a wide multi-coloured signboard that several summers and repeated rains had bleached. after forty more years of living. In the centre of the sign was written “The Black River Parkway Boys’ Orphanage – Sponsored by Coca-Cola”. the skin gnarled by time making her look pointy and crooked. A rusting coke can rolled along with a forgotten plastic bag.Sunday October 25th 1992 Elaine hesitated at the gate. Occasionally the wind would catch and throw something into the air. At the entrance to the building a rubbish skip overflowed. The southeaster turned tight corners in the neighbourhood of Salt River and rustled the rubbish along the road. ‘Soek jy iets?’ There was an elderly woman standing on the other side of the gate. The realisation woke her up – it was her own face. Every few seconds the crash and shuffle of old cartons and bottles on the ground filled the space. Elaine shook her head and turned around.

176 Bom Boy .She recalled the lines along the cheeks and the wasted bulges beneath the eyes. When she looked in the mirror she saw this face instead of her own.

So there was nothing wrong with his eyes.Saturday 27th October 2012 ‘E’ ‘The next. Click. ‘Perfect. enjoying the sound of the sharp clicks as another lens was moved into place. then. peeled off the walls of the small room. In between instructions he forgot it was his eyes he was testing. Each time he said ‘next’ the word slid off the skin of the room and teased from Leke another slew of letters from the jumbled alphabet. Bom Boy 177 . he tried changing positions but felt locked in by the unwieldy machine. The hard plastic pushed against Leke’s chin.’ the doctor said with a note of admiration that irritated Leke. in the dark. Click.’ ‘L_ P…’ The voice. It sounded clean and made him think of Red’s windscreen wipers.’ ‘F_ P’ ‘Next.’ ‘T_ O_ Z’ ‘Next.

a would-be quad. Cover the body in lime and salt. It was a patch of dirt. between the various prison blocks in his wing. that musty smell reminding me of visits to the tailor and agbadas that never fit.’ he indicated strips of dark blue adire. It gets in my eyes and the other prisoners think I’m crying. For Leke: The exercise yard is brown and the wind sweeps up the dirt. It was not a field. ‘Take a snail of this size. wrap it in these cloths. apart from mealtimes it was when they got an opportunity to discuss matters and mete out punishment.Friday 16th October 1992 Although Oscar knew his own safety was assured he dreaded the hour of activity during the day when the prisoners were allowed to roam what was referred to as “the field”. ‘Stand under a low shade and pluck it out of its shell.’ the Ifa priest cupped his hands so his fingertips touched. That hour was important for the gangs. 178 Bom Boy .

mesmerised. here. Bom Boy 179 .‘Place the igbin on a shelf in your store room and don’t bother it for seven days. After seven days have passed. the faint smell of the adire still in my nose. squeeze the rag over her tongue. I always wake up sweating. My grandparents watch.’ he touches the centre of his tongue. every seven hours. ‘Seven drops in the middle.’ he points at Mama Wole but is looking right into Oga’s eyes.

fitting the bottom into the band of his trousers so it was held in place. Checking his backpack for the envelope. using the street lights to find the right buttons.” 180 Bom Boy .20 pm Leke checked his phone as he drove. frowned.Monday 29th October 2012 3 pm ‘Oi! Wake up dude. 5. do something!’ Leke shook off his fatigue. ‘What. did you go clubbing last night or something? You’ve been snoring.’ Gene snapped his fingers in Leke’s face startling him into wakefulness. he felt the familiar softened edges and relaxed. ‘What’s up with you and that freaking bag of yours? You’re constantly feeling it up. What you got in there? Kryptonite?’ In the bathroom he put the envelope to rest against his chest. “How are you? I just wanted to check on you and say hello. Marcus had called earlier and he’d let it go to voicemail. straining a little. Gene. Drink some coffee have a smoke. See you this Sunday? Bye. watching.

He pulled up the ramp and found his new hiding spot where he hoped Tsotso wouldn’t see. Bom Boy 181 . he’d managed to stay hidden.Leke pressed seven and put his phone back into the cubby-hole. crouching behind the large bony steering wheel. The few times he’d returned since she’d confronted him.

Umakhulu screamed. two step. ‘Makhulu!’ Tsotso jumped up and started trying to lift her. She was worried a car would come and run them over but the old woman refused to budge. The numbers seemed to enthral her.’ Tsotso found that if she counted aloud it entertained her grandmother. One step. ‘That’s it. distracted her enough to make her compliant as they walked through the car park. two. two. The old woman’s legs crumbled underneath her and Tsotso was pulled down with her onto the hard concrete floor. Tsotso hadn’t realised. ‘One. ‘There you go. she’d undone in the car. three.’ ‘One. three.’ Tsotso encouraged.’ her grandmother giggled exposing dark gums and a slack tongue.’ ‘Yes. They were moving along when Umakhulu tripped on her shoelace which. 182 Bom Boy .Monday 29th October 2012 6 pm Walking her grandmother from the car into the flat was always the most challenging part of the day.

‘You heavy.’ She appraised him. Her screams were more calls for attention than indications of pain.’ she grunted and her grandmother twittered like a bird. Tsotso offered him some water and he followed her into a kitchen that reminded him of Jane’s walk-in clothes cupboard. By the time they’d put her to bed Leke was sweating. ‘Can I help?’ She hadn’t heard him approaching and her heart jerked. there was none. ‘You frightened me. A scratch on the old woman’s elbow.’ They heaved the old woman through the parking lot and up the steps into the apartment block. Don’t do that!’ ‘Sorry. It was a small one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of the block. moved to one side of her grandmother and said.’ she said walking back out to the living room which also served as a dining room. we’re getting up now. I thought you might need some help.She checked for bleeding. Makhulu. ‘Take that hand. indicating with her head that he take a glass from the dish tray. ‘Okay. a slice of light from a neon sign came through the window but most of the space was drenched Bom Boy 183 .’ Leke followed her instructions. We’re going to feed the rabbits. She opened the fridge door and retrieved a white plastic bottle. I’m beat. dammit. ‘One for me too please. Tsotso grabbed her underneath her arms and tried to hoist her up. Makhulu.

’ In the corner of the room there were two strange wooden carcasses surrounded by random off-cuts and wood filings.in the shadow of the surrounding blocks. what was he doing there? He couldn’t believe she had invited him into her house. Tsotso switched on the television and put the sound on silent. ‘I’m moving my workshop down the road. Something about the mechanical way she picked up and dropped the remote control made Leke think she did it all the time. Leke pulled out what looked like a mini screwdriver. like a ritual. Something was digging into his bum and when he reached into the cushions. A stack of books was piled next to the legs of the couch. he stretched to see the top title. anyway.’ 184 Bom Boy . I’ve been looking for that one. ‘I like to have something with me in the room sometimes. This is a compromise.’ Tsotso answered to a question Leke hadn’t asked. you know? TV usually works but often I can’t stand what it actually has to say. Pushing aside a scattering of sheet music. He shifted his weight on the thin cushion and the armature dug into his sitting bones. Leke sat down on the couch and drew his legs up. The Magic of Air: The Principles of Plosive Aerophone Design. ‘Give that to me. ‘Scuse the mess. he felt a soft bundle of blankets by his ankles and realised he was sitting on Tsotso’s bed.

Losing her mind day by day. ‘She raised me. Leke realised he’d never actually said those words to anyone. an embarrassing disfigurement.She was soft here.’ she swung the glass in her hand towards the bedroom door as further explanation. What kind of name is that?’ ‘It’s Lay-kay. the next day she thinks I’m her daughter and she’s scolding me for something. she was beautiful. And yes.’ She said it so simply and her tone remained even. Sounds like lekker!’ she snorted and Leke smiled. I never knew my parents.’ ‘Lay-kay. Mostly she’s with the rabbits though. in the house. Leke asked. She’d want to know how he knew and it would be downhill from there. ‘So. He wanted to ask her where they went on Wednesdays and Fridays but that would be admitting his guilt. You’ll have to excuse me I don’t ever have visitors. It had always been a detail that felt like a blight on his life. ‘What’s your story? Let’s start with your name. Leke. ‘Is that your grandmother?’ She nodded. They each studied the contents of their glasses. It’s strange. One day she wants to play with the rabbits. ‘Is she sick? Your grandmother?’ ‘Dementia. ‘And you?’ she raised her left eyebrow as she scanned him.’ Leke frowned. Bom Boy 185 .

’ Tsotso continued. So. No concert today.’ ‘You go to concerts?’ Is that what they were doing? ‘Sure. ‘I take her with me to the concerts. Cousin of mine works the box office.’ ‘For what? Don’t be stupid. 186 Bom Boy . It calms her. you know?’ she winked. this one. I stopped over all the same.’ she put the empty glass down on the coffee table to emphasise the end of one conversation and the start of another. Milk for her – I know the barman – and a tot for me. ‘Anyway.’ Leke thought she was ignoring his question. ‘Are you drunk?’ ‘We go to the concerts.’ Something triggered in Leke’s head and he suddenly realised what the strange smell was. Don’t you?’ Leke shook his head. She shrugged. She has moments of lucidity when she talks to me about the five rabbits her father bought her on her fifth birthday. I think she misses them. As many as I can. Fluffy black things.’ Someone in a neighbouring flat slammed a door. ‘I get a special deal with the tickets. There’s nothing to apologise for.’ ‘I’m sorry. ‘sometimes on the way out we stop at the theatre pub. ‘Anyway. Her mother left home and never came back. She grew up with her father on a farm in Paarl. I hate to leave her overnight in Frail Care. I think she likes the music.‘She had a hard life. ‘You know everything about me now and all I know is your name sounds like lekker.

Just a tot. Or two. They also let me play the piano since I don’t have my own…yet.’ Leke sunk deeper into the couch, ‘Sorry.’ ‘Stop saying that. Look, I think the visit’s over. Thanks for your help. Stop following me around or I’ll call the police okay?’ They rose from their seats together, Tsotso wavered and Leke held his hand out to steady her. ‘Thanks thanks. I’m fine. See you at work. Don’t fucking tell anybody anything. Bunch of gossips that place. Horny bastards!’

Bom Boy 187

Saturday 17th October 1992
For Leke: I loved the thunderstorms that flashed through the campus. Sitting in the house it felt like we were in a capsule. My father explained to me that the thunder is just the sound of stone hitting the ground. Sango the God of the sky had thrown it down to earth. Had I done anything to anger Sango? my dad would ask and I would shake my head in earnest. My favourite story was about Esu who went to two friends who had just sworn they would never fight or disagree. Esu made a man walk in between the friends. The man wore an outfit where half was red and half was white. One of the friends said, ‘Did you see that man who just walked past?’ The other friend asked, ‘The one wearing the red outfit?’ ‘No it was white.’ And so the friends fought, they disagreed, each disgusted that the other could lie so. They parted ways. ‘Dotun, stop it! You’ll give him nightmares,’ my mother would complain but in too-soft a voice to mean business.

188 Bom Boy

My father would wave her off, winking at me. I did have nightmares. Sango and Obatala would fight. Oduduwa would eat lunch then vomit and out would pour three new Orishas. My dreams mixed up the stories. Oya would cut off my ear and try and feed it to my mother. Moremi, bitter from losing a son for the prosperity of Ife, would steal me from my mother’s arms and take me away to the forest, she wouldn’t speak, she’d just hiss and then right before I opened my eyes she’d say: you’re mine. I know that when my father died – his okada hit by a truck – I was nine. I was catapulted into a life that had been waiting for me just beyond the bushes. It grabbed me from the life I loved and thrust on me a new kind of existence. The curse had eaten up my cousins, aunts and uncles and now it was making a feast of my father. My mother and I returned to Cape Town. When she fell ill I wasn’t surprised – the darkness was closing in. She was tough, though, and she fought off the disease for a decade before finally surrendering, the sleep of death a relief after the hassle of living. I was a young man by then, intelligent with a future but life felt hollow. Only the stories my father had woven around me as a boy coloured my dreams. My father and mother became characters in this sleeping world. We played and swam and laughed.

Bom Boy 189

It wasn’t comfort because I’d always wake up but it was sweet distraction. Like a soft kiss to assuage the pain of parting.

190 Bom Boy

Tuesday 30th October 2012
‘So, how can I help you, Austin?’ her words formed around the pen she held in the corner of her mouth. He kept his gaze in front of the homeopath’s hands that rested on the desk. He shrugged. When Leke spoke, she took the pen out of her mouth and scribbled in her notebook. ‘I have an eye problem. A reading issue. Sometimes I get a headache from trying to focus. I thought… maybe it’s a temperature?’ Jane used to check his temperature. Not with a thermometer but with the backs of her hands. Leke watched Dr Meyers write down a few words. He could smell her perfume, rose, her cheeks were pink and she had on green eye-shadow. Jane would have been about this age had she lived. When the doctor crossed her legs something jingled – maybe she had bells on her skirt. There was a stack of large grey hardback books to one side of her desk and a terracotta mug filled with unsharpened pencils. ‘So you get this headache from reading? Do you read a lot, Austin?’ ‘No no, it’s not from reading anything. It’s reading something specific.’

Bom Boy 191

it’s not the desktop. But I’ll treat the whole of you – not just your headache. but I want to know about you. how long have you had this headache?’ ‘I’ve always had it but it’s suddenly gotten worse. your headache.’ ‘Okay. When I’m reading I said.‘Ah! On your desktop? Have you adjusted it appropriately? Most people use it incorrectly?’ she raised her grey bushy eyebrows. Leke thought guessing her age. strands of grey kept falling out and she tucked them back in. I want to ask you a few questions.’ ‘Ah! Alright.’ ‘What kind of questions?’ ‘Questions about you and your history. crooked to the side of her head. After each question she put her palms together and rested her cheek against her hands. cocking her head sideways as she listened to his responses. ‘At the end of our consultation I’ll prepare a remedy for you. She then wrote 192 Bom Boy . how you live. Well. ‘No. She wore a blue beret. Are you familiar with homoeopathy?’ Leke shook his head. I’m not only going to treat the symptom. Sixty. Make sense?’ she peered at him with dark eyes.’ ‘Is it continuous?’ ‘Comes and goes. All of those factors could influence what kind of treatment would make a difference. How you think. Oftentimes conventional medicine treats the symptoms but doesn’t consider the cause.

instinctively. Your body’s primordial reaction to a perceived threat.’ Dr Meyers didn’t check his temperature or measure his pulse. Austin? In life?’ Leke shrugged. At the end of the appointment she gave Leke a bottle of white pills and Bom Boy 193 . ‘I don’t know.’ This was going nowhere. or of what the people could do?’ Leke shrugged. ‘What are you most afraid of ?’ ‘Like how?’ ‘Another way of looking at that is what do you avoid?’ ‘People. Dr Meyers cleared her throat and changed to a different line of questioning.’ ‘What do you mean? All people? Just some people?’ Tsotso’s face sparked in his mind. you don’t want to. She scribbled on her pink notepad and consulted a black volume on the shelf behind her desk. Some kind of self-defence mechanism. ‘It’s possible the reason you can’t read is that. what’s the nature of the material you’re struggling with?’ ‘Nothing significant.’ ‘Are you scared of people. ‘What I mean is what are you always working towards? What do you struggle with?’ ‘I… I don’t know.in her book in some kind of shorthand and asked the next question. ‘What do you strive for.

the old woman’s niece. continuously revived by mechanics and technology. bound together with a rubber band. but so what? It did not love back. folded into twenty pieces of paper. loving Jane.a stack of powders. ‘Useless. ‘Love is shit!’ he looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror and spoke to an absent Dr Meyers. A familiar car pulled up in front of the Rhododendron’s gate and Esmeralda. Leke felt that the appointment had been a waste of time. ‘Love is useless. Leke stayed sitting in Red outside the garage door. went up the walk. It has no real power.’ he repeated. Loving a car instead had not worked either. the much celebrated and denigrated concept was a disappointment. pulled up on the pavement. but unable to will her to live. What business was it really of hers? He was scared of people. 194 Bom Boy . He was scared of what happened between people. Yes it lived on. The door opened and she entered into darkness. The questions had irritated – he’d lied in answering most of them. Not in the usual way. Better not to get involved. leaving Red outside.’ At ten years old.

but somehow Leke knew he should. Leke sat next to her on the bed. ‘Mommy?’ ‘Help me. for the first time that Jane was dying. Marcus had taken Leke aside and explained to him. darling. He’d shown him where he kept the number of the oncologist and said to call if ever anything happened while he was away. Leke laid his hand on her cheek and her eye twitched and startled him. unmoving. He stayed sitting. He put his ear to her mouth and a hush came out. He returned with the glass.’ she raised herself in the bed and Leke tilted the glass to her lifeless lips. Jane was staring. Bom Boy 195 . ‘No. at the ceiling. ‘Should I call Dr Mdu?’ Several months before.Saturday 6th October 2002 ‘Get me some water please. Strained. Most of the liquid poured down her neck. small breaths.’ Jane said pushing Leke out of the bed. ‘Should I call the doctor?’ he asked after several moments passed.’ Jane said.

He was not needed. Come. Leke could tell she was collecting her strength for something. Marcus had headed home from George the second he received the call from Lightness who had discovered Leke coiled around the stiff body. After the funeral Marcus had left to go off to another conference. He was flying at a great speed and enjoying the wind as it 196 Bom Boy . ‘Dear God.‘It’s okay. he resolved to retreat into his own world.’ she said in a voice Leke had never heard before. I need to sleep. “He needs you. that seemed untrue. In fact. ‘Marcus loves you.’ they lay down together. He knew he couldn’t stay there forever but he’d stay for as long as possible and return as often as he could. to Leke. Leke. Leaving the screen on he laid the phone down beside his bed and went to sleep. okay? He needs you. He hadn’t said goodbye. I’m just tired. He moved his ear closer to her mouth so she wouldn’t have to strain her voice. pushed the button for phonebook and scrolled down to “Marcus”. Take care of him. Ten-year-old Leke had grown up overnight. They stayed silent for what felt like hours. Leke making sure he lay on the wet part of the bed. But. He dreamt that he was a bird flying through a forest. Jane was wrong.’ she was still for a while.” Jane had said of Marcus. Arrangements were made and not many words passed between father and son. Leke picked up his phone.

so I came back. ‘Answer me!’ she screeched. what do you mean “had to”?’ ‘You see.’ ‘Had to? Stupid feathered creature. when you banished me I too gave my word never to come back. Suddenly a voice sounded out. I love the forest. I love the speed I can achieve here with the wind and I love the laughter I feel when the trees tickle my belly.’ It was a high-pitched voice and Leke immediately knew he was being addressed by an evil witch. ‘Why have you come here? The last time you came I asked you never to return. I had to come back.smoothed down his feathers and the tips of the leaves as they brushed his breast.’ ‘Do what you must my Queen. He slowed his flight but stayed buoyant. I am happy only here.’ Bom Boy 197 . But. ‘I promised you death on your return and I will not go against my word.

He even bought a belt drawing the line at the pink-speckled tie the salesman dangled in front of him. ‘Hello?’ ‘Is this Mr. Peachey?’ ‘Pardon?’ 198 Bom Boy . Now at the supermarket. He’d enjoyed squeezing into the small change rooms and studying himself. he thought. twitching at the unfamiliar feel of the fabrics on his body. there seemed an endless series of options for cleaning dirt.Saturday 3rd November 2012 Leke retrieved the broom from beside the fridge and started sweeping. He needed to go shopping. Leke found himself at the end of the aisle with his basket still empty. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He needed something heavy duty. He’d already visited the Woolworths store and doubled his wardrobe by buying four items of clothing. leaning in to study the fine writing on the multi-coloured labels. the dust puffed up angrily at the disturbance. he merely succeeded in spreading the greasy dirt along the pane. but the water he’d dipped it in was insufficient. After cleaning the floor he used an old rag to wipe the windows.

’ He picked a pink tub with capital red letters along its side – CHEMCLEAN – and two scrubbing brushes with steel bristles. something’s come up. others wide enough to lose a twenty cent coin in. It was an unusual feeling but he longed for the warmth of summer. some wispy spider webs. ‘Hello?’ ‘Yes. Over time this had cracked in places leaving lines scarring the surface.’ He’d forgotten. Kleinsmith’s rooms.’ ‘We will need to invoice you. spring had been slow in baring herself. I’m sorry. When Leke rented the studio the Rhododendron had explained that she’d covered the garage asphalt in a fashionable screed. a sluggard sun making grey mornings and faded out colours on petal flowers. On the way towards the check-out he wandered through the toiletries aisle. Peachey.’ ‘Do you want to re-schedule now?’ ‘No. I apologise. Bom Boy 199 . He enjoyed the rare. a warm breeze accompanied Leke on his walk home. Thanks. the hellerworker. Mr. Okay. I have to cancel. Although night approached. Ammonia. Yes. pleasant weather. sir? We were expecting you fifteen minutes ago. picked up a lace bag of potpourri.‘I’m calling from Dr.’ her voice tightened. lavender and sage. Most of the days came chilled. ‘Yes. I’ll call again. are you on your way.

At 1am Leke dropped onto the mattress. He turned the mattress on its side and dragged it to the garden. he fell into a dream where it was very quiet and everything was misty – he couldn’t see his hands in front of him. that the clean glass sparkled from the shine of the street lights outside. heavy and so booming it frightened him.Wondering how to fix the cracks. studying the wet dirt that had gathered under his nails. Every few minutes he went to stand by the back door which he’d left open for fresh air. A dank smell filled the room. He used a stick to beat the mattress and began coughing as the dust rose off the worn fabric. with a sense of accomplishment. Amidst the quiet his footsteps sounded out like thunder. He scrubbed the window pane noticing. The underside of the mattress had been chewed away by moths and he made a mental note to save money for a new bed. and walked in a stilted march. Should have bought yellow gloves. Leke went onto his knees and started scrubbing the floor. He prepared himself to come upon it in his cleaning. rotting flesh – something had died. 200 Bom Boy . he cursed. continually hitting it until less and less dust came off.

‘What did you do?’ One of the clients had picked up an irregularity in their medical statement.Monday 5th November 2012 ‘So I hear you got pulled in.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘Shhh!’ someone in a nearby cubicle leaned over the partition. Bom Boy 201 . Gene returned to his desk. still sitting on his chair. Leke shrugged. Gene stared. nothing was certain. ‘Standard procedure. Gene. If he were found guilty would they arrest him? ‘Oi! Cut it out.’ Gene said pointing to Leke’s foot tapping the carpet. waiting for a response. In a sense it was routine to inspect the claims assessors regularly. He dropped his voice to a whisper. Leke had paid most of the money back already but Management was investigating the query. Leke burrowed into his work.’ Unsatisfied. used his legs to slide himself closer to Leke. What did Robocop have to say? Hellooo! You there?’ ‘Questioning. since he’d been told about the investigation a sense of panic had come over him. I guess.

Tsotso was with him. the ridges of the braids like Braille. the way she always was. There were urinals and sinks lining the walls. He could smell her. Leke closed and latched the door behind him. with a sink of its own and handle bars along its sides. you in there?’ What did Gene want? ‘Leke? I’m popping out for lunch. He dug his elbow behind him to keep it upright. Towards the back there was one basic cubicle. With his free hand Leke stroked her head. you want something? I’m going to the Indian place. At the end of the day his manager called him in – nothing had been found to corroborate the client’s suspicions. and the acerbic smell of mothballs returned. The seat was poorly fitted and the cover fell onto his back when he sat down.At midday Leke went to the bathroom. 202 Bom Boy . her neck bent backwards. his trouser zip. He could feel the weight of her on his lap.’ Tsotso dissolved. He could– ‘Leke. careful to avoid a splash of something on the sticky tiles. the investigation was being closed. he took the envelope out and put it down. her backside pressing against his thighs. and one for the disabled.

that’s an interesting name.’ ‘Thank you. From the post office. She thought of it fondly. Only sometimes late in the night she wished it were her on the delivery bed. in those moments she suffered the memory. Remember?’ ‘Oh Elaine! Gosh! How are you? Goodness your boy must be big now? Five months?’ ‘Almost three months. really growing.’ Bom Boy 203 . who’s that? How did you get my number?’ ‘It’s Elaine. What a surprise!’ The events of that day – sitting with the woman through birth – had stayed with Jane. So good to hear you. ‘Hello. From the hospital. I thought of you. He’s big.’ ‘Oh. ‘Yes. Jane. ‘Hello?’ she said again and heard someone clear their throat. How is the baby?’ ‘He’s good. crying into the pillow so as not to wake Marcus.Tuesday 3rd November 1992 ‘Hello? Hello?’ Jane checked to see if the line had been dropped.’ ‘Who? Elaine who?’ ‘Elaine.’ ‘What’s his name?’ ‘Leke.’ ‘Lovely.

’ ‘How is your husband?’ After a few seconds Jane heard crying and remembered that the baby’s father was in prison.’ ‘Yes. I hope that’s not too early. where’s that?’ ‘There’s a Stodels on the corner and a park opposite. 7 am? I need to see you before work. Her nipples grew tender. ‘Please? Let’s meet. and noticed a slight swelling in her belly. I can sit and wait for the Stodels to open. Let’s do that.’ ‘Oh boy! Let’s make it 7. For several days afterwards she’d woken up with nausea. I need some soil anyway. I’m sorry.’ ‘Thank you. When she’d elected to drive Elaine to the hospital she’d been a bit worried but her emotions had remained steady. Sorry Elaine. Driving past a crèche she had burst into tears.’ ‘Hendelsen. ‘Oh. It’s a quiet road.30am. We can meet at the coffee shop next to the park. confusing Marcus. cradled the emptiness in her arms. In the morning after Marcus had risen for the shower she held herself. I’m stupid.’ ‘Can I come to see you? Can I meet you somewhere?’ Would she bring the baby? Since her last miscarriage six months before Jane had experienced the need to both be around babies and avoid them.‘From his father. off Viljoen Street in Goodwood?’ ‘Oh goodness. Hendelsen Road? Let me write that down. When and where?’ ‘Tomorrow? Can I meet you at Hendelsen.’ 204 Bom Boy .

Need to run some errands. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘I’m going into town early today. Go back to bed. I’ll give you a call later.30am Marcus complained. Jane felt relieved that the appointment was early and a tension released somewhere in her body.‘Thanks.’ A sense of unease followed Jane after she put the phone down but she couldn’t decipher it. Marcus. She drove past the Stodels at the corner. A grey haze hung low over the narrow street.’ ‘Okay. Bom Boy 205 .’ ‘At half past five in the morning. Take care till then. Jane? What’s going on with you. you’ve been shuffling in bed all night?’ ‘Sorry. Jane noticed a figure sitting on a bench in the park. misplaced as though the quaint baskets of bright plastic flowers drooping from the balconies above the strip of shops belonged somewhere in Newlands and not in Goodwood. a woman straining her neck. watching the road and when Jane stuck her head out of the car window Elaine recognised her and waved. A woman in a white bonnet was sweeping the pavement in front of a café. she turned on the radio switching from the news to a music channel.’ The N1 traffic slid along with an ease that would slow to a crawl in another hour. Hendelsen Road looked frozen in time. Her sleep was shallow and when her alarm went off at 5. It’s nothing.

She collected the now crying bundle and held it to her chest. The baby moved and the cloth bundle came awake with gurgling sounds. And she hoped something she knew she would never admit to anyone. I’ll join you. She hoped Elaine was gone and was never coming back.’ Jane said smiling and crying. ‘Leke. a bite still heralded the mornings in despite summer around the corner. not even Marcus. Someone with a generous heart to make up for her own greedy longing. 206 Bom Boy . that if it were final. she would bring up a kind and good person. and if this day could go unnoticed.’ Jane shouted as she pulled off the road. As she walked towards the park she dug her hands in her pockets. She stepped over the low bar cordoning off the park area. Jane opened a small gap in the blankets and saw that Elaine had been right – he had grown. She grabbed her bag and turned her car alarm on. she immediately knew what it was.‘Let me park. She looked around still expecting Elaine to come running with some excuse about having to dash to the bathroom. Even if it meant she were dead. She hoped this was final and she made a small pact with a God she seldom spoke to. ‘Elaine?’ she said again and gave a quick look around the small park but it was empty. ‘Elaine?’ The bench was suddenly empty. Back at the bench she noticed a large bundle. Jane walked towards the bench she’d just seen Elaine wave from.

Gene’s coffee mug was empty.’ he said. confused. I’ll get over it. ‘Ag! It doesn’t matter. leaving Leke standing with the biscuit. Leke.15 pm Leke offered Gene the regular rusk at lunchtime.’ Gene said. Since his visit to her apartment she’d approached him a few times during lunch but he’d failed to carry through a conversation with her. I wouldn’t have pegged you.’ Gene was wrong. turning back to his work. I swear. ‘You know I like her. ‘No. He made his tea and left it standing while he went to the Bom Boy 207 .’ Gene snapped when Leke picked up the mug. ‘Do what you want.’ Leke shook his head and wandered off to the kitchen.Friday 16th November 2012 1. for the kind to go behind a person’s back –’ ‘Hey! There’s nothing going on. ‘Leave it. A few minutes later Leke got up to make himself some tea. Tsotso mostly ignored him. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Someone said they saw you chatting to your new friend.’ Leke stared at Gene. In the past few days she appeared to have stopped noticing him altogether.

The receptionist was on the phone. Denton? Leke Denton? She’s running a little late. tugging at the scarf on her head. ‘Mr. When he’d pushed the door open she’d signalled for him to sit down. Leke sat waiting on the couch.30 pm The directions to the hellerwork practitioner had been easy. he still wanted the writing intact. The envelope chaffed his skin when he walked. Despite his earnest protestations Gene spoke little to him for the remainder of the day. The receptionist put her hand over the receiver and said. but the reality of his lack of relations with Tsotso pressed heavily on him. Sorry.’ He nodded and she returned to her conversation.bathroom. He looked down a short corridor which ended in a glass door with a fan light. So what if he couldn’t see the words. sir. he let it go to voicemail.’ On the line where they asked how he would be paying he ticked “cash”. 5. outside was a garden and Leke could make out the sunflowers in the fading light. When she put the phone down she apologised again. His cellphone vibrated – it was Marcus. he worried that his sweat would ruin the paper. 208 Bom Boy . ‘Would you fill this out please. Leke wished Gene’s jealousy was called for.

’ Bom Boy 209 . Although. ‘Okay. ‘I’m Ruth Kleinsmith. He didn’t care about hellerwork. Whatever he’d read on the flyer must have sounded like it would bring some form of relief. He hadn’t slept through the night since Marcus had delivered the envelope. Come with me. He couldn’t remember the blurb on the flyer.’ the taller woman said as she approached Leke. ‘Would you come with me please?’ The small room had a door to one side and in the middle was a low bed with a white towel spread over it. A shorter woman came out with her and went to settle her account. ‘Just put your backpack down there.’ Leke stared at her. Let’s see how you walk. Leke. What had attracted him to this place had been their willingness to do consultations after working hours. confused. “Do you know what hellerwork is?” she wanted to know. ‘Is that clearer now?’ Leke heard her ask. the writing scrawled on the thin paper remained undecipherable – fuzzy – his body ached and he longed for the touch of Tsotso’s skin on his.A few minutes later a tall woman with orange-brown dreadlocks came out of the back room. ‘Do you know what hellerwork is?’ He shook his head. Then follow me. He’d missed her explanation but he feigned a smile and Ruth smiled back. and they shook hands. now he wasn’t sure anymore. something about posture. Before we start I want to see you walk.

He obeyed. On her way out she said.” 210 Bom Boy . ‘How does that feel?’ she asked. the last person who had seen him naked was Jane and that was fifteen years ago. Eventually they returned to the small room. ‘Here’s a gown you can wrap yourself in. ‘Where’s your weight now? Where do you feel it?’ she asked.Leke followed her through the door. ‘How do your arms feel? And your waist? Try swinging your hips like this. She instructed him to take his shoes off and asked him to walk along the narrow passageway towards a mirror at the end of it. I’ll only expose the part of the body I’m working on at any particular time. The Desiderata printed in cursive computer lettering. He looked around. ‘I’ll leave the room for a short while. take off your shirt and trousers. bleeding. ‘Please. Leave on your underwear. A picture of infected gums.’ The door snapped shut behind her and Leke stood alone in the room. Leke answered as best he could.’ Leke hesitated. already upset that the appointment would be a waste. “Go placidly…” Leke remembered and “Strive to be happy.’ her tone a combination of professionalism and gentle compassion. In all the doctors’ rooms he’d been to he’d noticed the posters they taped onto their walls. struggling to concentrate.’ she demonstrated for a few seconds and then let Leke try again.

snatches of her explanation coming back to him. there was a proverb printed in big capital letters stuck on the wall: THERE IS NO CURE THAT DOES NOT COST (Kenya) Ruth knocked on the door and Leke jerked in fright.’ Leke said. She wrapped towels around his body. She continued to work in this way.On the walls of the hellerworker’s room was a picture of the skeletal system and another of all the muscles in the body – a woman with no skin. He unzipped his grey trousers and unbuttoned his long-sleeve shirt. She stopped only in moments to rub more arnica oil on her hands. She massaged the palms of his hands and his shoulders. and arrows and lettering. She worked with the sides of her hands and the base of her thumbs and her fingertips. leaving his left arm exposed. Leke studied it. A sweet smell filled the room. releasing “history” she called it. When Ruth entered the room she asked him to lie on the bed on his stomach. He leaned forward.’ she said. Leke? Can I come in?’ ‘No. revealing different parts of his upper body and kneading his flesh. ‘You done. She worked with the deep connective tissue of the body. She began to work her hands along his exposed arm. She took a small transparent bottle and deposited two drops into the palm of her hand and then rubbed her hands together. ‘It’s arnica. Bom Boy 211 .

floating. Once. something solid would be there. a large wave had come. unexpected. Marcus had retrieved the dazed boy from the water and laid him on the beach. Thankful that they’d chosen to stay near the shore. 212 Bom Boy . Marcus always close by. and lie on their backs. Leke loved the contrast between the sun on his face and the ice-cold water swallowing the rest of his body. Only the occasional brush of grit and stone as he spun in the cycle of the sudden wave had alerted Leke to the fact that somewhere there was something solid he could rest upon. They would swim out far. When Leke was four Marcus had decided to teach him how to swim. the chaos – and when it did. Lying beneath the hellerworker’s busy hands. Over a year and a half Leke became really good and for a short period he and Marcus nurtured a ritual of going out to Camps Bay beach and cavorting in the waves. and grabbed and spun Leke so that he couldn’t tell which direction the sky was in. Leke remembered that feeling of being nowhere.‘How’s that? How does that feel?’ Leke didn’t respond. of hanging in water. A sense of calm took hold of him as he felt certain that the tumbling would end – the sting of salt in his eyes.

” Leke had spent much of his life ignoring those words after failing to reconcile them with the Marcus he knew. is that painful? Would you like me to work softer?’ He rose from the bed. “Marcus loves you.” Jane had said. Marcus did love him. Leke?’ He swung his legs onto the ground and put on his clothes. But Marcus had not been rejecting Leke’s offerings of friendship. ‘You okay? Can you describe it.It was a memory that Leke had forgotten. All this time and it had been something much simpler. There was a hard bump she kept on going back to. ‘Sorry.’ Leke said. much more common. ‘Stop. Leke grunted. Bom Boy 213 . The hellerworker pressed into his shoulder. The realisation was surprising – Marcus was scared of him. what you’re feeling. “He needs you. Maybe it’s working. Leke had always dismissed that as Marcus being unfair and not really liking him but he’d been wrong. It had only lasted a few seconds and he’d escaped the incident unhurt – just a couple of bruises where he’d scraped his knee against a rock but apart from that he was fine. Afterwards Marcus declined Leke’s requests to take him to the beach.

’ ‘I cannot wait. 214 Bom Boy .’ Leke looked at her and left the room.’ ‘But… wait let’s finish the treatment. Ruth stayed standing for a while in disbelief. Are you–?’ She put a hand on his shoulder and he recoiled with a sharp jerk that startled her.‘I don’t understand. When she went into the reception room to try and stop him he had already left. ‘Are you alright? Sometimes the first se–’ ‘I need to go.

30 pm Leke stood waiting outside the apartment door.Friday 16th November 2012 11. ‘What the hell do you want? It’s after 11pm. Leke?’ ‘I need your help. ‘Well. left him. rubbing and squeezing her shoulders. for God’s sake. He’d rung the bell twice already.’ The apartment was as clean as before but Leke felt less embarrassed thinking of the bag of potpourri resting on his window ledge at home. He pressed again on the black button and was stepping back when the door opened. The floor must have been cold. She rolled her eyes and opened the door. she curled her toes up and clasped her arms over her chest.’ Bom Boy 215 . what do you want. come in while you’re thinking of an answer. standing in front of her words. ‘So. Leke. it’s cold out there.’ It had seemed so sensible when he’d thought of it but now. She wore a pink robe over a chocolate brown slip that had a sheen to it and she was barefoot. Was it the correct number? He hadn’t thought to memorise it the first time.

Just tonight. you say?’ ‘Please. ‘What’s in here? Letters?’ Leke nodded. they didn’t scream “lunatic”. Tomorrow’s Saturday. If I leave them here I’ll sleep better.’ ‘At this time of night? This couldn’t wait till working hours? What’s that?’ Leke brought out the envelope. Dirt under his fingernails though. ‘Haunts.’ For the first time since she’d met him Tsotso studied Leke’s face. no. I…they haunt me. and when I sleep I have nightmares.’ he held it out to her. 216 Bom Boy .’ ‘You’re crazy. I need one night’s rest. I’ll come back and get them in the morning. She checked for any signs of neglect in his bushy afro.’ ‘I don’t understand you. I’m sorry to come like this. But I can’t throw them away. She examined the contents of the envelope. ‘I know this is strange.’ ‘No.’ ‘What are you talking about? What is it?’ ‘Letters. Tsotso stood still for a few seconds then moved forward to accept the offering. It’s not that. I need your help with something. His eyes were light brown and soft. ‘Can I leave this here?’ ‘What?’ ‘Can I…I’ll put this down here. nothing. I’ll come by first thing.Humour drained from her face and for a second Leke realised how she saw him. I can’t sleep.’ ‘I can’t sleep.

‘You ever met them?’ ‘No.‘Letters from whom?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘And now they’ve sent you this?’ ‘Something like that. My first parents. I can’t do crazy this morning. She wore dark-blue skinny jeans and knee-high boots. Leke opened it and pulled out the stash of papers.’ she opened the back seat of her car and placed her bag on the floor. ‘Just tonight then?’ ‘Thank you. as they’d agreed. He remembered studying the shape of the fridge in the dim light from the street lamp and then it was 11am. ‘Everything okay? Listen I got to collect my grandma from the clinic.’ she handed him the envelope. ‘Morning.’ Tsotso gave a loud sigh. coming behind her as she prepared to get into the driver’s seat. ‘You’re adopted?’ Leke nodded. Bom Boy 217 . Leke waited for Tsotso in the parking lot. He glared at the pages. disappointed to find that the letters were still blurry.’ he thought of himself as a second-hand car. ‘Will you read them to me?’ Leke asked.’ He didn’t dream.

on the day. I greet him.’ he reminded me. ‘Obinrin’. when the doctor said to her.Saturday 17th November 2012 Wednesday 22nd October 1992 For Leke: Where did I leave off ? Soon after my grandmother visited the babalawo and followed his instructions her belly grew and. the babalawo came to Mama Wole and Oga’s house. There is nothing to be afraid of until he explains his visit and then there is much. I could have her for three years and he would have her for the rest. When she was three. she wept and wept for days. 218 Bom Boy . He wanted Ayo – that was the cost. In this dream I am my grandmother. Ayo was her name but the joy did not last. ‘You said at any cost. rear her as his own child with dignity and train her in his medicinal ways. My father joked that his sister was fed milk and tears for the first week of her life.

This one I wake up panting as if I have been running. I took my own life and my husband followed me. One by one my sons died. One quiet day. When you break a deal. A few years would pass between each death but it never abated. instead he bowed and walked away. after burying four children. This is it here. especially with a babalawo. now. That was the beginning of the darkness. That was the darkness. Bom Boy 219 . you pay.I refused. My grandparents made a deal with the babalawo (at any cost) and then they broke it. Three days later Ayo died in my arms. the sons their wives had borne and their wives too. I ran to the babalawo’s compound but he was gone. And wherever you are Leke when you read this – that’s it there too. The babalawo did not insist and he did not force me to give up the baby. I hate this nightmare. My feet ache. Thursday 23rd October So that was the darkness. No more girls were born into the family and I knew that no more will ever be born.

I ignored the babalawo’s instructions for how to reverse the curse and returned to Cape Town to teach. masters and PhD. It was a lonely place. after all. ‘Find an evil man and kill him. Leke. What could I do? I had fallen in love and become greedy for life. Why not? I thought. after drinking too much. I went home and stayed. Why couldn’t I reverse it and really live? I did not take her seriously at first. I completed my university degree. I was a Nigerian. Leke. I was following my father’s instructions – the only way he could think of to keep me alive – which was to live alone and starve the curse of the lives it needed to feed on in order to thrive. One day. a well-learned man. am. My father was very clear. I only remembered the instructions when Elaine told me about Malcolm Feathers. 220 Bom Boy . I stumbled into a babalawo’s parlour. I was not to invite love because even the smallest spark would incite the curse into another spate of deaths. I was.After my mother died I saved enough money and returned to Nigeria.’ the babalawo had chanted.

Bom Boy 221 . Another life to suffer. I was bringing a child – I knew you would be a boy – into the world.My lawyer says the courts will struggle to prove that it was premeditated. gone against my father’s warnings. I had fallen in love with her. I was prepared to do anything so that we could be a normal family. I started planning the day Elaine told me you were coming. But I did plan it. No darkness.

Observation. ‘She raised me.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ Tsotso nodded. Tsotso. crossing his legs at the knees and uncrossing them. I couldn’t get her to eat. doesn’t matter.’ ‘Where’s your grandmother?’ ‘She wasn’t eating. noticing her tears and shifting his weight on the seat. I had nothing to do anyway. but she was athletic. wiping her eyes.’ Leke continued shifting in the seat. hey.’ ‘Thank you for this.’ Tsotso cackled and slapped the side of her thigh pulled up to her chest. 222 Bom Boy . She looks small now. ‘I miss her. put her head back against the couch behind her.Saturday 17th November 2012 ‘Sjoe!’ Tsotso covered her yawn with her forearm. She used to play table tennis my grandmother. It got worse so they suggested I leave her in Frail Care for a few days.’ he repeated. ‘I’m tired. sitting opposite on the carpeted floor. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Ag. I’ve always been able to get her to eat.

She released her gaze. “I’m sorry I’m sorry”. It was fun.Leke thought not to make a sound. ‘I hate that. She moved back to the couch and sat down in the same position.’ ‘I’m –’ She took a step closer and Leke’s words tapered. Maybe she’d overreacted. Take your stinking pity and suck on it. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you say anything else?’ Pinned to his seat by her angry glare. You’re sorry?’ A new wave of anger propelled her to her feet.’ she shook her head slowly.’ ‘Stop saying that. ‘You’re a fucking stuck record.’ Tsotso turned to face Leke. ‘Fuck. I was just talking. Leke felt that his skin might start to fry. I don’t need your sorry. The silence was the discomfort of having Bom Boy 223 . alerting Leke to the fact that she wasn’t done yet. ‘What? What is it? What’s wrong with you that makes you so sorry? You’re sorry. not looking at Leke.’ ‘I’m sorry. turning back to face the silent TV and the window behind it with Cape Town spread below in a spray of lights. We’d play on the kitchen table after dinner with pieces of wood cut from chairs and things. she walked to the window then turned again to look at Leke. I thought I could just talk to you. She felt the cool from an open window blow on her neck and her heart settle. She sucked her teeth. He was afraid that if he did Tsotso would remember he was there and stop talking. ‘Her father had taught her to play and she taught me.

and another blue light from a nearby nightclub poured. I’m in the bed. Are you going home?’ ‘No. through the window. He wondered whether she felt the cold. exposed from under the duvet. There’s a duvet over there for you on the couch. He watched her chest as it rose and fell. along with the repetitive thud of house music. He kept on telling 224 Bom Boy . The first time he’d ever taken something came back to him. Her feet stuck over the end of the bed. his breathing resumed. an occasional bubble formed and popped. he could see the soft pulse at her throat. Leke moved closer.’ ‘Well. a light came under the door from the public passageway. he pushed it open. When he bent down to put the fabric over her feet he noticed on her middle toe she wore a ring the colour of copper. His eyes moved from her legs to her arms. The one he’d found in Jane’s cupboard.’ Leke stood in the darkness of Tsotso’s living-room. Her snoring resumed.expressed the intimacy of anger too soon. her left hand hanging off the side. She lay face up. The door to Tsotso’s room was ajar. limp. He’d hidden the photograph of the strange woman. After more minutes passed Tsotso gave up wondering what to say. ‘I’m tired. her plump lips parting with the emission of each snore. hoping the ring would be easy to work off without waking her. She moved and he stopped breathing for the time it took her to turn her head and resettle her body.

I swear!’ Leke studied the toe ring for a few more seconds then tucked Tsotso’s feet under the blanket and snuck in beside her. After Jane died he decided to never give it back. ‘Did you spend the night here?’ Bom Boy 225 . Taking things. ‘Am I Babo?’ Leke would ask the next morning at breakfast but Jane would laugh. This last bit she would say in almost a whisper. Like a gift Jane intended to give him but forgot to. but nothing they said could prevent him from eating the twigs. Then kiss his cheek and turn off the lights. the more impossible it was to give back. Jane had told him a story. mom! I would’ve stopped. he shrunk in size. Until Babo completely disappeared. that the photograph belonged to him. It was like that when he took things – that’s how he thought of it. One day Babo went against his parents’ wishes and ate of the blue root. His parents worried. Smaller and smaller and smaller he grew. Babo was shrinking before their eyes. loved by all the land. in a way he couldn’t explain. reasoning. With each slimy twig he swallowed. There was once a giant creature called Babo.himself he’d find the right time to ask about it and then he realised that the longer he held on to it. ‘I wouldn’t have kept on.

small specks of muck in the corners of her eyes from the night’s sleep.’ ‘What?’ ‘I can’t have a good life. as if assessing what they had already read through and checking to see what still lay ahead. Their faces were inches apart and he could feel her breath on his face.’ ‘Don’t you think that’s just life. miserable. you think any of it is true?’ Leke shrugged. Warm and pungent. He was still deciding which hand to use when she sighed. He wanted to reach and touch her.’ She flipped through the remaining pages. they die too. ‘you can tell the people at work whatever you want. You can tell them that we’re friends. 226 Bom Boy . ‘This curse stuff.Leke wanted to look away but her eyes had the power to keep him pierced in place. ‘By the way. though? Isn’t that just how things are?’ Leke didn’t know. But all the people around me. I die. ‘And what exactly is the curse? What happens to you?’ ‘Not just to me. turned and reached for the stack of letters on the floor by the bed. And everybody else close to me.’ she started looking at the pages in front of her.

Evenings were still. Elaine knocked on his office door. Oscar nodded a response and Elaine shut the door behind her. uncertain he would be in but hopeful. She put down the Shoprite bag which held a container of food for her supper. A flash of unexpected rain had caught her and she was dripping water onto the carpet. She seemed shy although they’d spent many nights in his office. unwilling to go home to his empty house. still standing at the door. Summer was fully formed and the sunshine set upon the campus.’ Oscar said.’ She opened the door and stuck her head through. It was getting dark outside and the building was empty. ‘You’re all wet. Bom Boy 227 . unrelenting and fierce.Friday 29th November 1991 Elaine ignored Oscar for four weeks after the first time he tried to kiss her. ‘Yes. chatting until late. She leaned one hand on a bookshelf while with the other she bent down and removed her shoes. ‘Can I come in?’ she asked. and the ground radiated the warmth collected through the day. 8pm on Friday Oscar was still marking scripts at his desk. back into the atmosphere. noticing the tremble in his own voice.

Oscar watched. She removed her vest and stood up so that she could step out of her corduroy trousers. ‘Look at me. He stood up and sat down again. His tongue in his mouth felt like the trunk of the tree outside his office and his limbs were like its roots trapped under volumes of soil. The light in the room flickered.’ She guided his hand along her body. intrigued. I wasn’t trying to…I was just…’ ‘I didn’t mean…’ Oscar began.’ Elaine said as she removed her cardigan. The burnt skin was calloused and glistened. Half of Elaine was beautiful. ‘This is all. He swivelled it out from his desk so that they were facing each other with nothing in between them. Half that was not. as though it had once bubbled and then frozen in place. one layer after the other. Elaine continued removing her clothes. uneven in parts. After she removed her shoes she sat on the floor. facing Oscar who was still sitting on his chair. unsure where to look.’ she said. wondering what she was doing. When she was almost naked. ‘You said you wanted to kiss me. ‘I’m sorry about the other day. 228 Bom Boy .’ There were two halves of her. ‘I just wanted you to see me. All of me.Elaine shrugged. she walked towards him and took his hand. in her bra and underwear. Half that was burnt. She brought her knees up and removed her socks. ‘What happened?’ Oscar asked.

moving from one side to the other.Elaine shook her head.’ Oscar relinquished his right hand which she guided along her body. hard thickened burnt flesh to smooth pale freckled skin. She sat astride him and they made love.’ They lay down on the long couch in the corner of Oscar’s office and fell asleep. Give me your hand. A few hours later when they woke up the sky was purple. ‘You’re beautiful.’ ‘Does it hurt?’ ‘Not anymore. ‘Doesn’t matter. Elaine locked the office door. Oscar pulled Elaine towards him. covering their bodies with the couch throw. into the chair. Bom Boy 229 . He whispered into her ear. All of you. Oscar kissed her neck and her breasts.

2 buzz cut.Wednesday 19th February 1992 Oscar switched off his engine. For a few seconds he enjoyed the spongy sensation of his scalp. Oscar pushed it open and walked into the compound. There was no one in the streets and cricket noises chirped from the brush as Oscar shut his door and walked towards the house. Number thirty-nine sat far back from a medium-high brick wall. that he was cold and not scared. grassy verges hissing and ticking with timed sprinklers. Oscar wondered whether the growing crime rate since Elaine had run away from here would have changed his philosophy. the moon was slow in rising and the lights in Norwood suburb were sparse. 230 Bom Boy . despite the still evening. Feathers didn’t believe in barricading himself. he had no dogs or guards Elaine had said. He brought both hands to his head and rubbed his palms back and forth over his no. The houses in the neighbourhood either shouted luxury or whispered wealth in hushed tones behind velvety walls. The varnished wooden gate was left ajar. his hands shook and he rubbed them together pretending to himself. He rolled up the windows.

He’d wondered whether it would actually be there. None of what she’d told him about her life in this house seemed real or believable. exactly as Elaine had described. Oscar sifted through his mind as he crossed the threshold. Oscar imagined a sticky deposit on whatever Feathers touched.The entrance door was the width of two normalsized doors with an elaborate brass hinge. just when you thought you’d put your hand as far in as it could go you felt the cool touch of the key. no squeak of rusty hinges. Oscar calculated that Feathers would be in his mid-eighties by now. it boasted an opulence that was a beacon for petty crime. the paranoid way she covered herself. something oozed out of his pores. He’d never met Malcolm Feathers. too late to rethink his plan. He turned the door handle and it opened. Bom Boy 231 . no longer a threat surely? He’d created his own image of him – a monster from Fagunwa’s Forest of a Thousand Demons. He thought of the burns Feathers had inflicted on Elaine and the less visible scars her time with him had left on her – her panic if Oscar looked too long at her. If you weren’t looking you wouldn’t notice. their mouths ajar. the same vapour that wafted off his tongue when he spoke and trailed behind him as he walked. Oscar thought of all the things that had happened in this house. Two soapstone hippos sat on either side of the door. but Elaine spoke about him in a cold voice and she wouldn’t look into his eyes as she spoke. Oscar stood in the doorway for a few seconds.

leading further down a passageway into the rest of the house. frozen. 232 Bom Boy . The man’s face was not yet drained of all colour but his lips were blue. ‘Help. his joints were swollen. Oscar heard something from the floor above and started climbing. The parquet flooring gleamed. the sound of his legs sliding and a heavy thud as his skull glanced off the edge of the basin and hit the floor. A shiny pool of blood spread onto the yellow floor mat and the wriggling slowed until it felt as though the only sound in the house was a clock ticking. It was clear to Oscar that the man standing in front of him was Malcolm Feathers – an overweight slow being. This was the monster. short. Oscar went onto his knees and put his ear to Feather’s mouth. What was he doing? His mind was talking but his feet did what they wanted. On the landing he turned right and stood.’ he whispered. just coming out of the shower. Feathers moved with a haste his body was unprepared for. He was naked. dripping water from his shaggy head of grey hair and a towel loose around his flabby waist. There were steps to the side of the passageway going into the basement and a staircase leading upwards. Propelled by fright. he slipped on the expensive smooth porcelain tiles. His body was shaking as Oscar walked into the bathroom. exposing part of his thigh and a shrivelled penis. ravaged by arthritis. they sparkled but gave off little light.In the entrance hallway a chandelier with bulbous crystals hung low. averting his eyes from the grey saucers wide open and staring. A warm breath.

motionless. he realised that nothing had gone according to plan. although she did not look as old as Feathers. he could push past her. She was small. a shower shouldn’t take that long. we started without you. Come on.As Oscar waited for the breath to grow faint and disappear. he doubted she’d be able to point him out. Bom Boy 233 . Should he run? ‘Malcolm. The boys said you can join the next round. She wore red lipstick that was like an x-mark amidst the slack lines of her wrinkled face. Oscar’s thoughts of running were mired by her screams and the sound of approaching feet. Her nails were painted and milky pearls jangled down her front. ‘Malcolm?’ Oscar’s head jerked as he heard an old voice downstairs call up towards the landing. What are you–’ She was elderly. ‘Who are you? What have you–’ her face contorted as she saw the blood and her friend on the floor.

whenever the waves come onto the banks and lick the sand. They feasted on the bountiful love she had for her son.Sunday 18th November 2012 Saturday 24th October 1992 For Leke: Did it work though? I mean. There is another version of Moremi’s story. And. The Gods were appeased. even today. In my version the Gods longed for love not grief. It is not in the history books – I made it up myself. As if something is coming. I can feel it the way I think my father could feel it. Leke – my bom boy! 234 Bom Boy . I feel strange. while you and your mother are out there somewhere. that’s the Gods still feasting. Moremi went to the river and cradled her baby one last time before setting him down on the dry banks and jumping into the flowing water. here I am. I’ve had that feeling for a while now. away from me.

Oscar realised it hadn’t worked. was an arduous task that almost ensured families slipped away and prisoners were left to cleave to one another. but which Oscar would she come to visit? Which Oscar would this place serve up for her? He got up off the bed. The gangs and the violence connected them. as though for the first time seeing his circumstances. As he put the envelope away he noticed a commotion at the back of the cell. yes. Some strange luck had won him immunity but he was doomed to live out his sentence watching others who were less fortunate being beaten and raped. He’d do what was necessary to become human again. Some of the older gang members had been in prison their whole lives.Oscar put the pen down and folded the letter twice. no warmth. when Oscar enquired. their families forgotten. The curse killed off families. Here he was in prison. but there was no heartbeat to the life he’d been left with. The process of visiting. He placed it in the large brown envelope where he’d kept his other letters to Leke. connections and intimacy. Bom Boy 235 . He’d defend the young boy being raped behind the curtain. Each day less of him remained for the people he loved. he was still alive. there was nothing left to do. His nerves were fraying and he clasped his hands together to stop them from shaking. He would finally see Elaine in eight months time. Oscar winced at the sound of a fist hitting flesh. Looking around him.

Who is this?’ ‘Hello. I’m sorry to call at this hour. I’ve been calling since 9pm. To have known something and not known it at the same time. I have some bad news. It was almost 10pm when Elaine opened up the door to her house and the telephone rang. To have been waiting for something and to have forgotten one was waiting. Elaine decided to keep the news of the visit from Oscar and surprise him. I’m a warden at the Joubert Prison. The warden handed it to Elaine with a practiced heaviness. Can I speak to Elaine Marriot?’ the man’s voice on the other end was tinny. ‘I’m Elaine. The year had stormed through like one long winter. Mustafah Jacobs said many things to console her that night.Elaine waited out the last day. ‘I’m sorry Ma’am. She cleaned a house in one of the rich neighbourhoods for the transport money. Everything Oscar owned was put into a box. When he saw Leke he would regret insisting she keep him at home.’ ‘What is it?’ Elaine asked. Oscar was dead. Throughout the battles that had been happening in the prison he was 236 Bom Boy . ‘Hello. she’d received a call from the lawyer saying an early visit had been negotiated due to Oscar’s good behaviour. Who’s this?’ ‘Mustafah Jacobs.’ It was a strange feeling Elaine had. He was talking in a large space and his voice echoed against the walls. But Elaine didn’t hear most of it.

but her tears continued. A wrist watch and pieces of paper would not fill the gap of a father. Bom Boy 237 .’ he said. Inside the box were some of Oscar’s clothes and a wad of lined paper with his handwriting – the letters. She started to cry and the warden shifted his feet on the cold cement floor.the one to deliver the news to the grieving widows. ‘I’m sorry. looking down. Elaine shivered as she thought of her son.

Initially. When he turned around she was sitting on the edge of the bed.’ ‘No no. ‘Who’s there?’ he called out and she emerged from the softness.’ he stepped aside to let her pass. 238 Bom Boy .Saturday 24th November 2012 Leke opened his eyes and closed them again. he could not see anything but the fluffy fog-filled day. looking around. it was a bad idea anyway. ‘This is different. A soft rapping got him to his feet. Everything was white as though the atmosphere had transformed to moistened particles of chalk dust. ‘I better go. He did this repeatedly until he struggled to discern on which side was the dream and which side reality.’ she sounded disappointed. come in. when he opened the garage door. bunking down with a car for a roommate. ‘I woke you up. bending to close the door. ‘I wasn’t expecting visitors.’ She shrugged. noting that he was in his studio but couldn’t remember how he’d got back there. He looked around. Leke tried to hide his happiness to see her.’ she said and Leke smiled relieved by her honesty.

they don’t know all the little things. he knew with a forceful certainty that with his next step he would turn to wind and fly. Leke felt in a dream. For one minute she remembered my name. They’re good people but they don’t understand her like I do. She knew who I was. Leke. ‘I’ve had to use the permanent Frail Care.’ Later they went for a walk outside in the fog.‘How are you? How’s your grandmother?’ he was sorry he’d asked. and held hands. he sat down waiting for her to lift her head from her hands and her shoulders to stop shaking. I can’t take care of her anymore. They rang in the middle of the night because she was upset and demanding to speak to me – disrupting the whole place. Bom Boy 239 .

your daily schedule. If doctors had ever experienced someone close to them dying they would know that with that kind of situation comes a strange condition of denial. Doctors lied. He hated doctors. They’d confirmed his most recent fear. Like Plasticine. He shouldn’t have had the third glass of whisky but since he did he may as well proceed to the fourth. He opened the drinks cupboard. love this person because they won’t be here for much longer” they say “you may want to rearrange things.Wednesday 28th November 2012 Marcus placed the phone down on the receiver. to accommodate taking care of her.” ‘Balony!’ Marcus said out loud and snorted at his mental ranting. Surely. to speak loud and 240 Bom Boy . if doctors understood about this condition of deafness they would know to shout. a certain “deafness”.” Instead of taking you by the collar and screaming. Instead of saying “you’re dying” they say “what’s important going forward is quality of life. “live each fucking day. Marcus took a swig from his glass enjoying how plastic his thoughts became. ever since they had diagnosed Jane’s sickness he’d felt that way.

His cellphone rang so infrequently it took him a few seconds to realise what the noise was.’ Bom Boy 241 .’ it took all his might to fight the drawl in his words. a bit bored really. After graduation.’ ‘Leke! How’re you? You there?’ ‘I wanted to just…’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh!’ Marcus sat down at the kitchen table.’ ‘Good good. I think I’ll just retire next year. love this person because they won’t be here for much longer.direct into the ear of the person you needed to get the message across to: live each fucking day. I was checking in. I’m okay. I was at the…I’m alright. ‘How are you?’ Leke asked. The university is about to close.’ ‘You already are. fixing his mind on bed. How’s Red? Everything okay?’ ‘It’s fine Marcus. The doctor had wanted to know if he had anyone that would care for him as his condition worsened. ‘Marcus. ‘I’m alright. Should he call Leke? Marcus toyed with the idea but watched it recede into the background. ‘Hello. He went to place the empty glass in the kitchen sink. how are you doing?’ ‘I’m fine.

‘Leke?’ ‘See you on Sunday.’ Leke didn’t know what to say. Did you read the things I gave to you?’ ‘Yes.‘But I mean just leave properly. Marcus. son. ‘Well. see you Sunday.’ ‘Great.’ 242 Bom Boy . So thanks for the call. Yes. They let me stay on all these years but…I think I’ll leave properly now.’ ‘Yes? You there.’ ‘I also wanted to tell you something.’ ‘Ah. son. Leke?’ A silence peaked.

They were sitting at a table. Bom Boy 243 . Things seen that aren’t there. ‘People don’t understand like us babalawos do. but when Leke looked down he realised they were floating. looking across at the babalawo. ‘Same way you need adult teeth as you grow into the world. you need a new pair of eyes to really be able to focus. The ground was somewhere far below and this fact did not bother him.Saturday 1st December 2012 ‘Can you help me?’ Leke asked.’ he said. they lose their baby eyes too. when the child keeps her baby eyes. The skin on the man’s face reminded Leke of his leather brogues. things that are there remaining unseen. That makes for an unsettled life.’ ‘So you can’t help me then?’ ‘Your life is full of illusions. just as babies lose their milk teeth. The babalawo leaned forward and studied Leke.’ As the babalawo spoke Leke kept looking down.’ The babalawo shook his head. Followers cannot tell the difference but we can. the ground was getting closer. The baby is from the spirit world with spirit eyes. ‘You still have your baby eyes. The eyes were bloodshot.’ ‘But what about the curse though? That’s why I’m here.

’ 244 Bom Boy .’ ‘So. you see?’ ‘Okay. ‘I love her. Two left. On one condition. Take.‘What? Can’t you remove it?’ ‘It’s impossible.’ The cowry shell. you can reverse it?’ ‘There is one possibility.’ the table was rising again and the ground moved further away.’ he spread the cowhide on the table and sprinkled some sand on it for notation.’ the babalawo placed two tokens. give me a piece of your heart. ‘Well?’ Leke asked. please.’ ‘But you’re him right? It was your curse. a cowry shell and a piece of bone into Leke’s cupped hands. ‘So then? Do something. He made a mark in the sand. He now knew what “E” stood for – Elaine. A token. ‘as an offering up of yourself. ‘I’ll take this. Leke reached into his pocket and pulled out his photograph. He gathered the sixteen palm-nuts into his left hand and then exchanged. By any means. The babalawo continued throwing until he had a full reading. you were the one my great-grandparents came to?’ He nodded. ‘What does that mean? Can you remove the curse?’ ‘Yes. don’t let me see which. ‘Place one in each hand.’ the babalawo pointed at Leke’s breast pocket.’ the babalawo said. ‘Show me what’s in your left hand.

There is a condition though and it will come and when it comes. his feet tapping the ground. That’s the condition. as I said there is a condition. The babalawo dissolved. consulting Ifa. ‘Just a life.‘What’s that? The babalawo gathered up the cowries and repeated the ritual.’ ‘A life of dread?’ Leke asked. ‘Ifa will undo the curse. There is no sacrifice required except to propitiate Esu with the entrails of a guinea fowl and its breast feathers intact. Bom Boy 245 . finally. Leke stood from the table and walked away. he could feel the warm earth beneath his bare feet. When he’d finished he shook his head. And the condition is there is a condition but you’ll never know what it is. ‘No. you’ll know this is it but you don’t know what you’re waiting for and you don’t know when it’s coming. Tap.’ The bone. ‘There will be difficulty. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Show me your left hand.’ the babalawo shook his head.’ The young man looked confused. in the dream.’ ‘Is that all?’ ‘Well.’ ‘What do you mean? What’s the condition?’ ‘That’s the condition. Tap.’ Leke looked down as the ground drew closer and closer until.

Nothing. he wondered when summer would settle in properly.’ her flat tone. Tap. ‘I’m hungry. ‘And your cupboards are bare.’ 246 Bom Boy .Leke woke to the rain tapping his tin roof. Tap. He lay still remembering his dream and wondering whether to get up and check if the photograph of Elaine was still in its place. He worried water would come in through the open window. He was almost certain he was alone. when he heard the click of his fridge door opening and the refrigerator light showing Tsotso in white flannel pyjamas. He banged his hand onto the space beside him on the mattress hoping to collide with a soft body. The sting of ammonia was still in the air from his last cleaning session despite the window he’d left open for ventilation.

’ ‘I thought you said he doesn’t believe in such things?’ ‘He changed his mind. It was near the Frail Care and it was on the ground floor – Bom Boy 247 .’ ‘You know I’ll come so don’t be like that.Wednesday 19th February 2013 ‘How much will it cost?’ Tsotso asked. They drove on in silence. so you’re freaking me out. ‘Rands?’ He shot her a look. ‘That’s a chunk of cash. ‘You don’t have to come with me but I’m asking you to. I mean. pulling up at the last flat they’d circled in the “Cape Ads”. I’ll do it either way. The woman who used to care for me gave the recommendation. Leke.’ Leke replied.’ ‘Your nanny’s sangoma?’ Leke kept his eyes on the road.’ she sucked her teeth and Leke tried to hide his smile. ‘Marcus has given me the money. Marcus tracked down one he trusts. ‘Four hundred. are you serious? A sangoma?’ ‘Not just anyone. The rent was good.’ ‘Okay. He said I should do whatever I need to.’ The robot turned green and Leke pulled off.

‘Lightness would never recognise you now.Tsotso didn’t want the trauma of moving the piano up flights of stairs. was an herbalist as well as a part-time Xhosa teacher.’ Leke said when she opened the door. The sangoma. ‘Go straight through.’ ‘I promise. a 248 Bom Boy . Leke moved to open his car door and Tsotso touched his back. Sis’ Lerato. heavy-set. Large banners waved in the breeze and the stamp of toi-toing struck a beat through the air. Tsotso standing behind him.’ Sis’ Lerato said. “Yellow Door Nightclub”. I’ll be with you in a bit. crosslegged on one end of a long mat and she now joined them. and entered into the compound next door. something was happening at the civic hall. Different sized jars. to the back. ‘Good morning. a gathering of some sort. opening the door wide so they walked past her into a large living area. I’ll go with you but promise me that will be it. ‘I don’t want this hanging over our heads. a dog trailed them as they walked past a large sign. sitting on the opposite end. Sis’ Lerato.’ The Saturday morning traffic into Gugulethu had been heavy.’ When she returned she was wearing a string of beads that covered her face. Leke and Tsotso had sat. They parked Red alongside a spaza shop. looked ordinary. her feet in plastic slippers.

‘One of our children wants to make herbs and heal. speaking for the first time since the consultation started. ‘Your ancestors are speaking. Yes. Welcome Leke. Leke listened. he wasn’t sure what he was listening for but he listened. It is a truce with the sangoma-curse that hovers over your life. Sis’ Lerato lit the candle. and small grease-proof paper wrapped parcels.’ Bom Boy 249 . her voice hushed. I don’t have any children. The child devotes its life to the practice of divination and the curse will cease. One of them will return to practice my work – healing. ‘Yes. a child.’ Sis’ Lerato settled herself. Welcome. Welcome to our daughter.’ ‘I don’t understand though. They say they want a life. Tsotso. the size of a banana. The curtains were drawn but the bright day’s light filtered through the thin red fabric. lined one of the walls of the room.’ ‘What does that mean?’ Leke asked.’ She pointed to the white candlestick they’d been asked to bring.few empty. a twittering kind of rain. ‘Welcome. arranged on top of a sturdy wooden shelf. A stash of old newspapers in a corner. ‘Welcome. She was rattling off a series of names that he didn’t recognise. giving everything a faintly red tinge. Marcus had wasted his money.’ As she spoke the beads clicked against each other. others too dark to tell the contents and still others with some animal offal floating in transparent liquid. and a box of matches.

deep. Then. moving over the surface of his body like a bee swarm. ‘You will understand soon. Leke and Tsotso were merely there to watch. in the high-pitched voice again. the pungent smell would stay with Leke for several weeks afterwards. land that had to be reclaimed. noticing Leke had started fidgeting. Sis’ Lerato turned her head like an aerial picking signal. 250 Bom Boy . Soon a heavy smoke filled the small room. Each time a different ancestor spoke Sis’ Lerato would wriggle in her body and seemed to take on the persona of whoever was speaking. to Tsotso who met her eyes and then averted her gaze. It felt as though the conversation was really between her and the ancestors. loud guffaws. wanted Leke to buy a motorbike but also warned against drinking and driving.Sis’ Lerato looked beyond Leke. for six months. ‘You need to give back. ‘You okay?’ Tsotso asked. crops that weren’t rotated when they should have been. to the closest shelter.’ a steady fire grew along his skin. Leke didn’t understand much of what the ancestors said. Through Sis’ Lerato they spoke of farms. it seemed a joke and Sis’ Lerato laughed. Sometimes she lapsed into a language that neither Tsotso nor Leke recognised. ‘My skin’s itching.’ Sis’ Lerato collected a stash of dried wild sage and lit it. A high-pitched voice demanded Leke make weekly donations. ‘What?’ Leke was confused. Leke. Give back what was taken.’ A different voice.

He was shaken. Yes. ‘Your mother.’ Leke looked at her. You are back now. scratching his body as the bee swarm moved from his shoulder to his back to underneath his bare feet. ‘Your mother was not there. She had called him Bom Boy. ‘Yes. Despite this Leke stayed sitting. A lot of your people are on the other side. ‘You have a lot of ancestors. Uncomfortable. She wasn’t there. ‘I should have told you before. the bee swarm flew away. He balanced the wheel with one hand. I’m not going to justify it. held Tsotso’s hand with the other. You are finally here. Leke.’ Sis’ Lerato kept on saying. I’m a thief. he was sure of that. After they paid her and were already standing at the threshold she took Leke’s hand. distinctly summer. ‘Yes. pulling to the left of the road as cars overtook him.’ she said as they reached the door. The car windows were down and a warm wind. unsure of what had just taken place. Bom Boy. Leke used both hands to manoeuvre. relieved but exhausted. Leke relaxed his body.’ Tsotso was silent for a while. ‘What did she mean “give back”?’ Tsotso asked as they joined the N2. brushed his face. ‘Are you going to do it?’ Bom Boy 251 . yes.’ After twenty minutes the itching abated.’ Leke drove out of Gugulethu. In the past I’ve taken things that didn’t belong to me.It wasn’t painful. I was wrong.’ she let go of his hand. ‘I mean your birth mother.

he enjoyed the feel of the sun on his face. After the previous year’s prolonged cold and wet.‘Do what?’ ‘Give back?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And your mother? You’ll try and find her.’ Tsotso said. not talking. changed gear. picking up speed. Leke. 252 Bom Boy .

Alugbinrin. I look at my stomach and it’s expanded Alugbinrin Babalawo. then touched my mouth Alugbinrin Next thing. Bom Boy 255 . I have come to beseech you.EPILOGUE Babalawo I have come to beseech you Alugbinrin The potion that you gave to me the other day Alugbinrin The one you said my hand mustn’t feed my face with Alugbinrin The one you said my legs mustn’t feed my face with Alugbinrin A root tripped me and I fell Alugbinrin My hand touched the potion.

Over the course of writing this story I spoke to and sourced information from a wide group of people: doctors. compassion and straightedged feedback and I appreciate all that I have learnt through your guidance. support and friendship. Thamba. . Thanks to Heather Parker Lewis for the information you supplied me with on prisons and prison-life.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Daddy. sangomas. ex-prisoners. Rebecca and Hayley for reading and commenting. the inspiring women in your lives – thanks for all your love. Thanks for your immense commitment to what matters to me. To my wonderful motley crew of friends: thanks for not disowning me because instead of coming out with you I went home to write. lawyers (it’s a very long list) – thank you all for generously explaining everything I asked you to and doing it with grace. Mandy and James Campbell-Miller and Tony Dallas. Thank you to Joanne Hichens. the reading over and over and the camaraderie. thank you for your ongoing partnership and steady unconditional love. thanks for saying “yes” and Karen Jennings thanks for all the work. thanks for letting me write in your homes. To my family at Landmark Education Cape Town – there are too many names to name. Akin and Pelayo. dog-breeders. You managed to bring a combination of commitment. nurses. Thanks Kira. Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books. friends. prison workers.

modjajibooks.Other fiction titles by Modjaji Books This Place I Call Home by Meg Vandermerwe The Thin Line by Arja Salafranca The Bed Book of Short Stories edited by Joanne Hichens Go Tell the Sun by Wame Molefhe Whiplash by Tracey Farren Snake by Tracey Farren www.co.za .

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