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What happened when Joe Blue’s reggae playlist ticked over to “Not Until” as he drew Cape Town and Kitty’s eccentric friends Tallulah, Grace and Angel, who had received a very odd postcard which turned out to be a clue in the grand adventure
PSSSST! “Hey, Kitty . . .” On the way out of the oﬃce, Kitty, camcorder in hand as usual, was spotted by Citron van der Bijl. Kitty tried to pretend she hadn’t heard her. Three apartments were crammed into the upper ﬂoor of number sixty-four Church Street, a building in the old heart of Cape Town which Joe Blue always coloured in Sun No.5, Sun On Wheat. It stood between a Kurdish restaurant and an antique shop. On the ground ﬂoor, behind a metal gate and a cluster of forest ferns, delicious monsters and other leafy plants, was an entrance hall with a marble checkerboard-pattern ﬂoor which housed a hat shop, La Chapelline. The building and a few others in the street were still the property of the Central Methodist Church. The smallest apartment on the upper ﬂoor consisted of only one room and a shower cubicle and was occupied by the ofﬁce of Agency Blue. To the left, and accessible from the oﬃce through an interleading door, was the three-roomed apartment which was home to Felix, Elsa and Kitty. To the right of
Agency Blue lived Professor Loïc van der Bijl and his granddaughter, Citron. A life history for Loïc bubbled up in Joe Blue’s imagination, and though he thought it all, he didn’t draw it all into his comic. That was the diﬃcult part of being a comic artist and a writer – choosing what to put in and what to leave out. In the end, more got left out than put in, but Joe Blue relished imagining worlds and people, and making up back stories was part of the fun. Loïc, an Afrikaans geologist and physicist, had once worked for a mining corporation in the DRC. Now the old white man was master of a reggae universe called Child of a King. He dealt in reggae CDs and ran a small shop out of his apartment. He was the person who vouched for Kitty’s dad Felix when Felix was still an illegal immigrant and was trying to rent an apartment in Church Street. PSSSST! “Kitty, I’ve been wondering,” said the kid who sat perched on the balustrade outside her granddad’s apartment. “Was Felix’s body all blown up after he died? Was he blue?” Hidden beneath Citron’s quizzical expression was a smile that tweaked at the corners of her small lips stained Sky No.11, Blue Before Dark, by a berry-ﬂavoured lollipop. “Jeez, Citron, have you got zero EQ?” As far as Kitty knew, the kid was no more than ten, but whenever Kitty saw her, Citron was engrossed in books on advanced science or works of literary ﬁction that a person three times her age might struggle to comprehend. “You can’t ask—” CREEAK! The door to the van der Bijl’s apartment opened a sliver and Loïc peered out. He confronted the emptiness outside his door with a furtive grimace as if expecting hostile presences in that dim wooden passage. Kitty greeted him to dodge any further discussion of Citron’s insensitive question. Loïc cleared his throat and dabbed sweat from his cheeks with a hanky shaded Edible Green No.4, Green Pepper.
“Mad Professor. ‘Dub Me Crazy’,” he said of the track just started up inside his shop, which had been closed for the past few days. He laughed for a while, then stopped when his lungs seized. Breathing with asthmatic diﬃculty, he said, “Kitty, where’s Elsa? There is something I need to—” Knowing that van der Bijl was also one of Felix’s clients and dreading that she might hear another request for information, Kitty interrupted him. “I’m so sorry, Professor, I’m in a terrible hurry. I’ll be back very soon. I’ll speak to my mother, and we – I mean she – can schedule a meeting for tomorrow and in the meantime I’ll – I mean she’ll – go through your ﬁle.” The professor cocked his head and blinked, curious. Before he could say more, Kitty hastened down the stairs. She’d pressed the “on” button and ﬁlmed the moving tips of her cowboy boots ﬁlled in with Sky No.4, Violet Before Moonrise, as if they contained toes other than her own. Usually they did; they were her mother’s boots. Kitty liked wearing them, though. They made her feel older and more powerful. The stairs ended, the pointed shoes moved from wood to marbled ﬂoor. TIP-CLIP-TIP-CLIP-TIP-CLIP-PLASH THUD! “Oh, la la!” said a woman’s voice. In the entrance hall Kitty and her camera had collided with a bunch of moving ﬂowers. Behind the bunch was Mrs Gumede, once an opera singer and now the owner of the hat shop. Mrs Gumede was carrying a stone vase of white lilies. After skirting around Kitty, Mrs Gumede set the arrangement on a column at the entrance to her shop. Kitty had not seen her since Felix’s death. “Haven’t seen your mother all week,” Mrs Gumede said. She tried to dodge the relentless lens of Kitty’s camcorder as it zoomed in on her lips. It was true, Elsa had not left the upper ﬂoor of number sixty-four since Chief Detective Dupeer of the Caledon Square Police Station had delivered the grim news. She
had not even attended the service for Felix’s cremation. Kitty had to keep the urn with her dad’s ashes in her bedroom because when her mother ﬁrst saw it, she broke down in a ﬁt of screaming. After a doctor had come to tranquillise her, Elsa had
instructed Kitty: “Keep those ashes out of my sight. Ashes are of no use to me: I want my husband alive, not in a jar.” Mrs Gumede covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head. Her countenance contrived a death-mask horror. She must know, thought Kitty, wishing she hadn’t agreed to emerge from her safe haven. Kitty kept walking, hoping to glide by the inquisitive old harridan. HISS! “Sso.” Two Mrs Gumedes uttering a sibilant “s” clutched cruciﬁxes hanging from their necklaces, crossed themselves and shook their heads. “It is a terrible thing your father has done, Kitty. I am very sorry for you,” they said. One was ﬂesh and smelled of musty bdellium, the other was glass, a reﬂection of Mrs Gumedes in a gilded mirror that stood against a wall. “I want to know everything,” they said in a whisper, as if it was all too sinful to say out loud. “How did it happen? Tell me.” In the viewﬁnder, Kitty could see herself nodding in the mirror, and the self she saw was focusing on the self she saw to inﬁnity and all of those selves were certain that there must be a mistake. What happened couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t be real, it couldn’t be. No, it was impossible. Joe Blue knew how it felt to feel like Kitty felt, to wonder how on earth a thing that happened had happened and why. He knew how it felt to be confounded and perplexed by one of life’s bad turns, to think it must be impossible, surely. Surely? His mom and dad had been killed in a taxi accident. His mom had been pregnant at the time; it would have been another girl, some doctor had said, and if it had been just a few weeks later, maybe that girl would have survived. It all took place on just another rainy day along the N2 to Khayelitsha, and it was just another accident like the many in the news that most people say shame and how horrible about, but in truth can’t spare a care over because they’re maxed to the limit with their own worries.
But Joe Blue couldn’t believe it: one day his parents were there telling stories, giving hugs, eating dinner, smiling, there, there to speak to about things of consequence and things of no consequence, and in the tiniest instant, on account of the smallest of mistakes, a bad decision, carelessness, on account of a driver being too much in a hurry, the next day his parents and his unborn sister were forever gone. Joe Blue often thought of that kid, hurried from this life; his sister, the angel. Outside Kitty’s window, December was bereft of its summer. A few days before, the temperature had been close on forty degrees, and then the south-easter came up and after that winter seemed to have returned. Joe Blue drew a confused heaven in colours of Sky No.10, Summer Noon, and Sky No.12, Dirty Cumulonimbus. Earlier there had been rain. Chairs and paving glistened with water drops the size of tears. It was rush hour at the market. Stalls with tables of oddments and antiques bustled with shoppers. THWIPPP! A waiter from Café Mozart tossed starched gingham cloths over tables beneath umbrellas. Another put bunches of orange and pink silk tiger lilies into the rope fence that cordoned oﬀ the eatery from the street. Kitty shivered as she walked by a table piled with vintage summer dresses, shoes and clutch bags. The stall proprietor was busy with a customer and didn’t notice her, a relief; she had escaped another pair of sorrowful eyes telling her how awful the situation was. CLINK-SUCK-MMMM. “That’s so good.” It distressed Kitty to see a pair of lovers sharing a malva pudding with custard in the Africa Image café’s outside enclosure: her parents used to do that, and she realised they never would again. Umojah’s music ﬂoated from the café with striped walls (Sky No.5, Evening Pink; Edible Green No.6, Lime Skins; and Sun No.4, Sunset Orange), multi-printed Congolese table