Mar 12, 2012

I count the bullets sometimes

I reckon before I tell you about Jeremy Vosloo, I should start with two years ago, the year the blacks started protesting the use of Afrikaans in their schools in Soweto and the protests grew into riots, setting off a wave of demonstrations spreading throughout the country until it arrived ugly and angry in Cape Town and my father had this bright idea to send me to private school. He always had these bright ideas, my father, from the brooders and turkey-cocks he brought home one Saturday afternoon in a cage in the back of the bakkie declaring that we no longer had to buy eggs from Mr Doep, the chicken pen eventually growing into a cacophony of red-combed birds snapping at your heels, no one collecting the eggs or raking up, to the sheep and goats, and a stubborn ewe charging all the visitors.

My father, you see, had grown up one of nine sons in a box in District Six, and had dreamed of a backyard where he could swing his arms without knocking into his neighbour's lavatory. When his clothing factory landed this big account, taking fashion stores from Cape Town to Mafeking, we moved from a comfortable house on the slopes of Walmer Estate, where there was life and civilisation, to this remote place in Philippi he likes to call the farm. Now, despite all the sudden complaints after the lorry pulled away with our things -- the place had been too cramped, too high on the hill, the hot-water cylinder didn't hold enough -- there was something about that Ravenscraig Road beauty, all highly polished oak smelling of lavendar wax and my grandmother's crunchy pine nuts tamaletjies, that was hard to resist. The kind of house you could run through from front door to kitchen and out the back in four seconds flat and travel years with all the history and life steeped in those high beams and plastered walls.

And that's another thing. Even my illiterate grandmother sitting with her huge bum on our folded pyjamas, pressing them on the stoep, eating raspberry ice blocks with condensed milk with sies Galima from across the street, needed some kind of excitement to survive, and refused to come with us, moving in with my uncle down the street. In any event, my father bought this plot, called in contractors and landscape artists and, with the blessings of Barclays Bank, produced for his family a Cape Dutch-style home, with oak doors and curved fanlights and brass knobs, velvet lawns, stables, servants' quarters, a kidney-shaped pool, and a pack of trained Dobermans. The fantasy was started and all sorts of animals started to arrive. The problem was, the more animals that came, the more people were hired, my father worked harder, not getting to enjoy the smell of all this warm chicken shit. So when he pushed his Argus aside one night, looking at my mother who was the real boss of the house, and broke the news that I was starting at a boys' high school in Bishopscourt, I wondered if he'd gone mad. My cousin Rudwan already said we lived like we thought we'd been born in the saddle when not one of us had raised a leg over a filly, and here he was setting me farther apart. Private school, I argued, was for those coloreds salivating through plate glass windows at the world of the whites. Didn't I already read the news in the Argus every night? Wasn't my English better than my sisters’s?

But I really should start with that first day, my mother driving me in the silver Benz, depositing me new satchel and all in front of this school with hundreds of green-blazered boys on the grounds, the only snoekie in a sea of yellowtail. I knew I was in the right class when I saw my name on the board, and in the wrong school when I stood by myself during break. I cursed my parents. How could they do this to me when I could've been with Rudwan at Sinton High?

I noticed this boy with platinum hair and a cowlick, a garden snake in his hand, chasing after a fat student called Albert Mostert, who was clearly horrified. Albert's short legs carried him chop chop to the principal's office where Jeremy got a warning, and was quickly relieved of his pet. Sitting three seats behind them in Biology class, I watched Jeremy look furtively behind him, take a chameleon out of his pocket, and put it down Albert's neck. Albert jumped up with a scream. Mr Greaves dropped the chalk he was busy writing with at the blackboard, demanding the name of the culprit. Jeremy looked about as curious as the rest of the class to see who could’ve done such a thing. It looked like I'd found a friend.

That weekend Rudwan visited, and watched from the safe side of the henhouse while I waded through a gang of angry birds collecting eggs for a neighbour, my takkies crunching in the grey and white shit. I mean, were we an eggerama or something that we had to supply the neighborhood? We ate so many things made with eggs -- puddings, omelettes, souffles -- you could pull fat worms from our veins. The pittance charged didn't even cover the chicken feed.

``I'm on the swimming team,'' I said to him.
``There's a pool?''
``And a tennis court and pingpong room.''
He hung his head, and the zing went out of the brag. ``But they're too strict, you can't even chew gum on the school grounds.''
``You’re joking.''
``And don't let them catch you wearing your uniform after school on the street. They also have this stupid rule that if a teacher comes down the stairs, you have to stop and let him pass, and say, good morning, sir, or afternoon, sir, and not move until he does.''
``That's stupid. Sinton hasn't got sturvy rules like that, and you can eat and chew what you want. Did you make any friends?''
``Jeremy Vosloo.''
``A boer?''
``Dunno. You want to go catch tadpoles after I take in the eggs?''
We went out with our jars, but it wasn't the same as before. At supper my sisters, taking advantage of Rudwan's presence and my father's good mood, made their own charges.
``I don't see why he gets to go to private school when we have to go around here,'' Layla, my second youngest sister complained. ``He gets everything.''
``Shut up, Layla. You're only in Standard Two.''
``I won't shut up. You get so much things just 'cause you're a boy.''
``So many things.''
``Stop correcting everyone. And keep quiet both of you,'' my mother warned.
``Layla's right. I'm going to high school next year. Will it be private school, too?'' Soraya asked.
``We'll see your marks in June.''
My father waited for his youngest child, but Ruby was too busy sucking on the bone of her chop. Ruby didn't care if she ever saw a classroom. All the notes and phone calls that came from the teachers were about Ruby. Ruby didn't do her homework, Ruby came to school with one shoe, Ruby came without a consent form for the outing to the museum, Ruby's failed math for the fourth time, Ruby's drawings won first prize.
``And you, Ruby? Do you want to go to private school too?''
Ruby licked her fingers. ``I told you, Daddy, I'm going to be an artist.''
``And what kind of money do you think you'll earn?''
``I don't know. But you said we could choose what we want to be when we grow up.''
``Do you want to sell paintings in Greenmarket Square and starve?''
``I'll be married, Daddy. My husband will take care of the money part.''
My father put his fork down, and laughed. When Ruby was three and refused to wear anything but purple underwear, he sent his typist to Woolworths for two dozen in that shade. I had to wait six weeks for Pacman, and Ruby had only to pout and flash those almond eyes and my father would give his okay.
After I'd been at my new school three months, I asked if I could have Jeremy over for the weekend. My mother said yes, but my father couldn't quite wrap himself around the idea of an Afrikaner boy in his home. Family visited on weekends, he said, he didn't want trouble and envy surrounding his son. But he agreed, with conditions and warnings.
The factory closed at four on Fridays, the one day we could count on him to sit down to supper with us, and a favorite time because he would listen to grievances, hand out pocket money, toffee rolls, comic books, putting Milano's troubles behind him for a few hours. I must say I was anxious to see what he thought of my blue-eyed friend – and also a bit nervous about my sisters putting me in the eyes. In between helpings of mash and peas, I found him glancing occasionally at Jeremy; how he held the fork, cut his meat, the way he put the food in his mouth -- not too different from us except he ate a little slower, giving the food a few more chews. But then Jeremy didn't have three siblings rushing to prong their forks into the last chop. Jeremy had a good way of speaking to his elders, sort of well-behaved without being overly reserved, and my father was impressed by things like that. Of course he had no idea that Jeremy was the school prankster and Mr Greaves' worst nightmare.
``What're your plans for the future, Jeremy, do you know what you want to be?'' I suddenly heard him ask.
``Yes, sir, I want to be a pilot.''
My father’s brows raised in surprise. ``That's nice. You like planes then, do you?''
``My father was a fighter pilot.''
``He was killed in an air raid five years ago.''
Something went the wrong way down my father's throat, and he coughed. ``I'm sorry to hear that.''
``That's all right, Mr. Levy. You didn't know.''
``My mom's a designer,'' Layla said. ``She makes all the patterns for my father's factory. And yours?''
``She’s a police sergeant.''
``A woman police sergeant? Does she come home with a gun?'' Ruby asked.
``Don't be silly, Ruby,” Somaya said. “Sergeants don't carry guns.''
``She does have one,” Jeremy responded. “I count the bullets sometimes.''
I sat there listening to my sisters ask the questions I hadn’t asked, and Jeremy answering all of them. But what a combo for parents; a police sergeant and a fighter pilot, protecting South Africa's inhabitants. Who couldn't be proud of that?
The next morning my father was ready to drive off in his bakkie when Ruby ran out to tell me that Rudwan had just called to say that he would get a lift with his father and would be there soon. I was busy wiping the windscreen, and my father leaned his head out the window. ``He's your cousin, you be nice.'' He had this stupid fear that because I was friends with Jeremy, I was going to think I was white. Parents, I tell you. They put you out in this dinghy without a life jacket, then blame you if you drown.
Rudwan arrived in the middle of our gluing together a complicated windmill made out of sucker sticks, and I knew the minute he pretended Jeremy wasn't in the room that inviting him had been a mistake.
``Let's play kennetjie,'' he suggested. He was a whiz at hitting the stubby stick over the roof.
``It's getting dark, and we have to glue everything together tonight. We can't play right now.''
``You can help us,'' Jeremy offered.
Rudwan didn't turn his head to acknowledge his presence.
``You forgot how to play kennetjie, now?'' he persisted.
``Did I say that? I said it was getting dark. How can we see how to play? And we have to finish this project.''
``Let's do it later,'' Jeremy suggested.
``No. Tomorrow it has to be dry.''
Rudwan left mumbling, and moments later my father summoned me into the living room.
``What's going on?''
``He's being stupid.''
``Now he's calling me stupid,'' Rudwan whined, ``He's oorgetrek with his friend.''
``I'm not oorgetrek, you idiot. We have to finish gluing this thing tonight so we can paint it in the morning, and he doesn't understand. He wants to go play kennetjie in the dark.''
``You two always get along, why are you acting this way?''
``He's forgetting who he is.''
It was just the sort of thing to set my father off. I wanted to punch the sneer off Rudwan's face.
``Then why did I ask you to come? And what's the big deal, anyway? We can play tomorrow, and then you can show off!''
``That's it,'' Rudwan snorted. ``I'm calling my father to pick me up.''
``Stop this nonsense now,'' my father raised his voice. ``You're not calling anyone and, you, mister, I told you beforehand what's what.''
``Are you satisfied now, you snot? We asked if you wanted to help, but you didn't want to. What's your problem, man?''
``Who cares about your stupid project anyway.''
``That's enough!'' my father roared. ``Go sort your selves out, or I'm driving everyone home!''
We slunk back into my room, and I cursed myself for inviting him. Jeremy pretended nothing was wrong, and I felt shitty having him there. We were showing a very bad side. Worse, when I'd told Rudwan he could come, I'd not thought of the sleeping arrangements. To prevent war, I threw three cushions between the twin beds and tossed restlessly all night on the floor listening to their machine-gun farts.
The next morning, on my way to the bathroom, I overheard my parents in the kitchen, who were up early for koeksisters and coffee.
``... on his best behaviour.''
``So are we.''
``Do you think he's sincere?''
``What do you mean?''
``You can't change what's in their hearts – what they believe.''
``He's just a child.''
``But conditioned from the time he saw his black nanny staring down at him.''
``It's not his fault. And he has no problem having a Muslim boy for a friend. It's today's children who're going to change things, not us.''
``Today's black children, and coloured children. Not them. Do you think that after three centuries, they can flush it out with epsom salts?''
``You must stop all this politics in front of the kids.''
``They should be aware.''
``What, every kid in South Africa isn't aware?''
There was silence for a moment, then I heard my mother’s voice change. “I still like him, though.”
“Me too.”
“When he said that his father had died in an air raid it kind of did something to me. There is glory in protecting your country.''

1977 had started with black schools reopening amid continued student boycotts, ending with Rhodesia announcing its acceptance of one man, one vote, and Black-majority rule -- a dream held by most but not all of us. Somaya came third in class with eighty percent, Layla passed with above average marks, Ruby played the lead in The Frog Prince, I finished a good first year, and my mother stunned us with the announcement that the Philippi air had thrown her cycle out, and a baby was on the way.
The factory closed for the Christmas holidays, and my father made plans for a trip to the Wilderness. A few days into the arrangements I asked if I could bring Jeremy with.
``You know, Nazeem,'' he started, with that resigned thing in his voice, ``I like Jeremy, but he's come here all year now, and he's never asked you to his house.''
``Maybe he has a reason.''
My father looked at me in that strange way. “Of course he has.''
``He's not like that, Daddy, you don't know him. And we can't blame him for the government.''
``Who said anything about the government? It’s you I’m thinking about. Doesn't it bother you that he hasn't asked you once to come and meet his family?''
``It does, when I think about it. I don't know where he lives, and he knows where we keep the cheese in the fridge. I think about it, but I put it out of my mind. We're friends, that hasn’t changed, and he's going nowhere for the holidays.''
``His family's never tried to find out about us. I find that very strange also. You don't think we'd let you spend weekends at someone's house without knowing where it is or who those people are? This is two weeks in the Wilderness.''
``His mother's a sergeant, maybe she checked us out.''
My father said no more. That night at supper he brought it up with my mother.
``Bring him with,'' she said.
``I don't know why I bother to ask you. You'll bring the whole soccer team if you can. You have four children, you know, not yet five. Don't you find it strange that his mother's never called us, or tried to find out who we are?''
``I do, but if that's how they do things and Jeremy wants to come, why not?''
The day before the trip my mother and I went to pick Jeremy up. He had given me the address, and I was looking forward to see where he lived. I don't know what I expected at 63 Crosby Street, but my spirits sank when we stopped in front of a crumbly-walled cottage with an overgrown path, a rusted bicycle leaning against a wheelbarrow growing weeds under a mulberry tree with trampled berries on the hard ground. I wanted to believe that we were at the wrong house, when the front door opened and Jeremy, who must've been watching from the window, came out with his rucksack and fishing rod. He didn’t close the door behind him, and no one came out to see him off.
Jeremy got into the car, and we all sat heavy with our thoughts. When we arrived at the wrought-iron gates to Faan and the gardeners, the Dobermans jumping the car, our spirits lifted, and I was even glad to see my sisters, anxious to show off the trailer my father had rented.
Later that evening Jeremy and I packed the coolers with frozen chops and boerewors, afterwards stealing smokes from the head gardener in the backyard. One of our favourite things was sitting with Faan and Piet outside their quarters dragging on their hand-rolled cigarettes, but that night Jeremy was strangely reserved. I don't know if it was the tobacco, the upcoming trip, or picking him up at his house, but several times while chewing the fat with the boys, I caught him staring off in the dark.
At eleven my mother turned off the TV, and we went to bed. Shortly after midnight, somewhere in the dimness of sleep, I heard the gates roll open, the car drive into the garage, and heard voices. I perked my ears, and turned to Jeremy in the next bed. He wasn't there. Through the window I saw his white hair reflected in the moonlight, standing on the verandah in the dark.
``... I was waiting to talk to you, Mr Levy.''
``Is something wrong, Jeremy?''
``I just wanted to say that I appreciate it, sir, that you said I could come along with you and your family. And that I … lied to you that first night.''
``The first night?''
``When I first had supper at your house ten months ago. My father was a fighter pilot, and he did die in an air raid – that was the truth. But my mother's not who I said she was.''
``What do you mean?''
``She's a Carnegie from Simonstown. That’s what I’ve been told. She gave me up when I was born.''
``I see.''
``Elspeth is the woman who looks after me. She and my father never married, but I look at her as my mother. Elspeth's a cashier at OK Bazaars.''
``Jeremy, I -- ''
``When my father died, Elspeth moved to Woodstock, and took me with her. Her boyfriend lives with us.''
There was a long silence. ``Do you have any other relatives?''
``An auntie in Jo'burg. She sends me a card at Christmastime. I haven’t seen her since I was eight.''
I sank back into my pillow, with the same hollow feeling as the time Miss Thebus in Standard Three had told us Merle, the girl who sat next to me in class, had died of TB.
I watched them there in the moonlight, my oppositionist father and my silver-haired friend.
``Do you think, Jeremy, that these figs will be ripe by the time we get back from the trip? My wife planted this tree five years ago, and every year these small little things come out and drop rock hard to the ground.''
Of course, we never spoke about it, Jeremy and me. On the trip my heart swelled when I saw my mother drape his socks over a branch to dry, and my father include him in everything. I turned the chops on the braai, noticing my parents for the first time. Maybe one day one of them or Jeremy will tell me about it and I won't have to wade through the Carnegies in the phone book.

Billie can't poo

In a small town like Peterborough in the early seventies, you didn't meet many South Africans. But suddenly there she was at the desk Mr Chapman's secretary used to occupy, plugged into the dictaphone, looking over a file. ``Bitchy,'' some of the girls said, avoiding her in the lunch room. ``Judgemental and uptight.''
They were right. Everything that came out of her mouth was a biting remark. Canadians were insipid, ungrateful, unappreciative. They had to live in a country where you stood in the rain for a bus while an empty one for whites went by to understand the freedom they had.
The office played in a bowling league, and Sabah and her husband, Miles, were on our team. There wasn't much chatter those first months -- Sabah throwing mostly gutter balls, not good at any sports, she claimed. Still, we did somehow become friends, hard and fast by the end of the season when she threw a bad ball, costing us the game, and Miles had shown his true colors. She spoke of her marriage. The problem wasn't infidelity, cheating, or physical abuse, but a lie six years ago when he'd promised her that they would move to South Africa if she married him. In the end, after two children, he just laughed and said Canada was where his mother was.
I didn't know Ella from Lena before meeting Sabah, but took to going to her house on the weekends to listen to her great collection of jazz and stories of home. She'd grown up with the sounds of Satchmo, Gillespie and the Monk, she said -- both her brothers were sax players. One Saturday I arrived to a van outside the house, and Miles packing all his belongings into it. When the van had disappeared down the road, she turned to me. ``I'm going home to catch my breath for a few weeks, Billie. Wanna come?''

When the plane descended over DF Malan Airport in Cape Town, she burst out crying.
``Sabah, what's the matter?''
She pointed to the mountains below. I had seen these mountains in postcards, and heard much about them from her, but nothing prepared me for its size and dominance over the city.
``I don't cry when I leave, Billie. I cry when I come.''
It was a first for me, seeing her vulnerable like this.
At least people were at the airport to meet us, with bags and parcels and flowers and a guava juice someone had popped into my hand, everyone talking at once.
The first problem, scarcely ten minutes on South African soil, was who had first rights to us. Mrs Dollie -- she'd gone back to her maiden name -- claimed that as she was the mother she deserved the honour of Sabah coming home to her house, so the destination was Athlone, and ``Please, everybody, we'll see you there.'' Mr Solomon, Sabah's father, said that he had specially prepared a room with two single beds for Sabah and her friend, that his ex-wife didn't have first rights and that Sabah was going with him to Walmer Estate. Sabah's eldest brother, Riaz, then chimed in, saying he was married now, had a big house, and wanted his sister with him. All this in the parking lot while cousins and uncles and aunts waited to hear in which direction they should point their cars. In the end, Sabah refused to go anywhere and they finally agreed to one day with her mother, one day with her father, weekends left open for brothers, cousins and friends.
I stood with my bags at my feet listening. This wasn’t the city I’d imagined and heard so much about. I’d expected unrest, a darkness of spirit. Cape Town was nothing like that. The day was hot, sunny, and bright – a far cry from the grey skies of Peterborough - Table Mountain beckoning. And all around me were the sounds of the family, all speaking as fast as Sabah. I knew I was in for a heck of a holiday.
Mrs Dollie's house was a lovely, whitewashed, Spanish-style bungalow, chockful of antiques, African rugs and artifacts, with a pool surrounded by some unusual thorn and red-leaved trees in the yard. Mrs Dollie couldn't swim, and had once fallen into the pool trying to manouver an avocado from a branch overhead. Two people had to get her out, even though the water was only six feet deep.
``Don't stand near the edge, Billie,'' she warned. ``They wait for you to stand there in your nice clothes, then chuck you in. Riaz is just a terrible boy. When this house was first built and the Imam came to bless it, he knocked the Imam into the pool, clothes and all.''
Riaz laughed.
``Don't laugh,'' Mrs Dollie said. ``The poor man's fez was floating in the deep end, he almost drowned.''
``Serves him right for telling us Muslims shouldn't have pools.''
Mrs Dollie lived alone with her youngest son, Fa’iq, and there was ample room, she said, so she didn't know why Sabah still had to go and sleep at her father's as if he deserved equal time. The kitchen was noisy with aunts and neighbors pouring tea, all waiting to hear about Canada. Mrs Dollie clucked like an excited hen over the proceedings.
That first night, watching Sabah with her family, the bossa nova rhythms of Stan Getz swelling and dipping over the laughter and noise, and tea and coffee coming non-stop from the kitchen with plates of jam tarts, custard rolls and chocolate eclairs, I felt swept up by the wave of events. No one was concerned about how much they ate, or the order in which food was served, and I watched enviously as brothers and cousins and friends just dug into dessert, later rounding it all off with chicken breyani and mango juice. Where I came from, you had to be invited to a meal. You said grace, you started with salad or soup, and everyone sat down, all at the same time. If there was music, it was usually some classical piece my father put on to aid digestion. The meal was understated, and you ate just enough. There was dessert only on weekends, and would be nothing more than custard with canned fruit, or a slice of fruit cake.
``You know, I've never heard a girl swear like that,'' a striking man in a cream suit who had sat quietly all evening, suddenly said.
``Really?'' Sabah responded. ``And who're you?''
``Your future brother-in-law, Suleiman Adams. My sister, Toeghfa over there, is engaged to your brother, Fa’iq.''
``She’s a doctor,'' Mrs Dollie said proudly. “From the BoKaap. Fa’iq, didn’t you introduce Toeghfa to Sabah?”
“Have I had a chance to say anything with you talking, Ma?” Fa’iq laughed. “Yes, I did introduce Toeghfa.”
Suleiman continued with Sabah, obviously fascinated by her. ``I've never heard the eff word used with so many variations,'' he said. He turned to Sabah’s mother in wonderment. ``I didn’t know, Mrs Dollie, that you have a daughter like this.''
Mrs Dollie laughed as if someone had praised her. “She’s like that. She’s very naughty.” She made no move to say anything to Sabah. Sabah could’ve done a somersault on the oak table, she would’ve loved it. She was just too glad for her daughter to be there. I became aware of myself as I sat there grinning, the onlooker, the friend. I was in an environment entirely different from my own in Canada. My home was a quiet one, with my mother playing bridge with friends on Tuesday nights, and my father building model airplanes in the basement in his spare time. A party would consist of no more than six or eight people in the backyard having a barbecue and one or two beers. It was in Cape Town I really came to see who Sabah was.
Suleiman came to the Dollie house several times, taking us out for scenic drives and dinners, trying to gain Sabah's interest. But Sabah was only at the beginning of her grief over her broken marriage, and wasn’t interested in anyone. That didn't mean, though, that she didn't have a darn good time teasing the heck out of Suleiman.
When the last guests finally left at around two in the morning, and I was starting to feel dizzy from the long flight and all the excitement, Sabah said she was taking a quick drive in her mother's car to Sea Point. She always went to this one particular place on her first night home. So off we went, in the middle of the night, up the mountainous De Waal Drive, overlooking the city and harbour lights, comforted by the smoothness of the Citroën on the winding road. Fifteen minutes later we arrived on Beach Road to the crashing sea and the rich salt air filling the car.
Driving past apartment blocks and restaurants, we came to a lonely spot along the boardwalk with a bench. She stopped. The bench was wet, and in front of it was a railing. Below the railing the waves rolled thunderously over the rocks, and splashed with great force over our heads, hitting the pavement. I saw a huge spray of foam rise up and quickly ran back to the car.
``This is it, Billie! This is it!'' she thrilled, holding on to the railing, turning her nose to the sky as the sea smacked into her. The girl was mad, I thought, as I watched through the car window. She was revelling in it. Finally, she got back into the car with sopping jeans. We drove back without a word. That was Sabah; high, with long moments of silence. I had seen this, even in Canada. She would invite me over for supper after work. We would have a great grand time playing Scrabble with her children – both her children were already avid players at the age of eight and ten - she would talk about her life back home, and then for no reason, she would fall silent. I never asked what she was thinking about. I knew. Her longing to return to South Africa for good was far more sorrowful than her disintegrating marriage. “A man I can get anywhere, Billie. I’m not saying he can replace the father. But a man I can find anywhere. I can’t find me a new family.”
Hardly six hours later the telephone rang. It was Sabah’s father asking what time we were coming. He was planning a barbecue for his side of the family, and expected us no later than two. Fa’iq drove us to Walmer Estate, where the house and yard were crowded with people excited to see Sabah, Riaz standing in shorts in front of a smoking brick barbecue turning sausages and chops. The noise was deafening. Mr Solomon had four Dobermans – “his built-in alarm system, he said” -- and the Solomon men were such a loud bunch you could hear them all the way down at the store. Once, the story went, while listening to a boxing match on the kitchen radio in the sixties, the dogs panting at their feet, they were making such a racket cheering on the great Cassius Clay, that burglars had come in through the bedroom window and stolen all the blankets from the beds.
Bright and early the morning following the barbecue, Mrs Dollie telephoned Sabah’s father’s house, saying she missed us and that Sabah had been at her father's long enough. And so it went, with phone calls back and forth every morning from one house to the other.
When we'd been in Cape Town three days and I still hadn't gone to the bathroom, I felt a little less strange and asked Mrs Dollie if she had a laxative. She gave me a dose of castor oil, squeezing the juice of an orange onto my tongue afterwards. ``Best thing, Billie,'' she said. ``I always gave Sabah and her brothers this when they were small. It’ll work. Probably you’re a little constipated because this is all so strange to you. It can upset your routine.''
Riaz and his wife, Saliyah, came over for breakfast that morning.
``And how're the Canadians?'' Riaz asked.
``Billie can't poo,'' Mrs Dollie said.
``Billie can't poo? What do you mean, Billie can't poo? Billie, can't you poo?''
I didn't know where to put my face.
``Did you go since you came?'' he asked, forking a grilled kidney into his mouth.
``Billie’s sitting vas,'' Mrs. Dollie said.
``What's that?'' I asked.
``My mother said you sat it into a cement block on the plane.''
Everyone laughed.
``What's the matter with you guys,'' Sabah said. ``Leave Billie alone.''
``What did you give her, Mom?'' Riaz asked.
``Castor oil.''
``Castor oil? Billie needs a bomb, not castor oil. I'll go to the chemist and get her something.''
``Wait till tomorrow,'' Mrs Dollie said. ``I gave her two teaspoons. We don't want Billie having accidents in her pants. Aren't you going to Caledon with Toyer tomorrow?''
``The day after. We're going to daddy's this afternoon.''
``I don't see why your father should get so many turns.''
``We'll give you a lift,'' Riaz said.
``Listen, don't you be in a hurry to take them away. I gave them the other car. Your father can wait his turn.''
``You gave them the Volksie, Ma? That car's dangerous.''
``They're not getting the Citroën again. You should see what they did to the seats, it was soaking wet. If they don't like the Volksie, Fa’iq can take them when he gets up. And he's another one. He came in at four this morning.''
``My mother's nagging, Billie, because Fa’iq's getting married in June. She misses him already.''
``He can be gone now, Billie, for all I care. Leaving his clothes on the bathroom floor and never making up his bed. And I have to beg him to put the chemicals in the pool or to vacuum it. I won't take his side one bit if Toeghfa complains. Fa’iq!'' she shouted towards the back of the house, ``Breakfast!''
``She's a pretender,'' Riaz said. ``Fa’iq's her favourite. Tell her, Ma, how you always brag that he's the only one who remembers Mother's Day. My mother's such a patsy for a phone call and chocolates, even if he takes the twenty right out of her purse to buy it.''
We arrived at the house on the hill late in the afternoon. Mr Solomon was drinking tea with two men on the stoep, playing dominoes.
``Billie! Where were you yesterday? Did you go out? We were waiting for you to play cards.'' I'd become a favorite, and taught them how to play scat.
``We went to town with Fa’iq.''
``And Friday we're going with Toyer to Caledon,'' Sabah added. ``Billie wants to go to a spa. Toyer also needs a woman to help in the house. He wants to get one from the farm.''
``What're you going with Toyer for? He's no relative of yours. Now everyone wants a piece of your time. You're only here for a month.''
``Don't be selfish, Daddy. We're all going. Fa’iq, Toeghfa, maybe even Suleiman.''
``That drip?''
``You're just jealous because none of your children are doctors.''
``Billie, have you seen that boy? He sits so upright, you can boil an egg in his bum.''
``Mr Solomon!'' I have to say that I liked him. I liked the whole family, but he and his ex-wife were at the top of my list.
``That's right, Billie. All that studying's turned him into a prune. Even I have a better sense of humor than that does. So, what do you think of our beautiful country, Billie? Tell Mr Lawrence and Mr Fish what you think.''
``Well, Mr Solomon, I didn't see anyone with beads and feathers running around in the streets. Where’re the Zulus?”
He had an infectious laugh. ``So that's what the Canadians think of us?''
``Billie has a problem,'' Riaz said.
``What’s the problem?''
``Billie can't poo.''
``Billie can't poo? My goodness, nasty. Why can't you poo, Billie?''
``I don't know,'' I said, hoping for cramps.
``When was the last time you went to the toilet?''
``In Canada,'' Riaz laughed.
``Canada! Billie, you have a nerve to come and contaminate our land.''
I tell you my face was red most days in his company. He was the most outspoken man I’d ever met. I could see where Sabah got her attitude from. Her tenacity she got from her mother, but the spirit was all Solomon.
``Don't make fun of my friend,'' Sabah said, ``She already had castor oil.''
``My wife has some brown pills,'' Mr Fish said. ``I can pop over to the house later on and get some. Mr Solomon knows she always had that problem with open bowels.''
Mr Lawrence chimed in. ``Eat lots of pineapple, that's the best thing. All that acid will bring anything down. Don't they have pineapples in Canada?''
``Of course they have pineapples in Canada. How can Mr Lawrence then ask such a stupid question?'' Mr Solomon asked.
``Aagh, their pineapples are not like ours. Listen to me -- what's your name? Billie? Listen to me, Billie. Forget all these remedies. Just eat pineapple tonight. No meat and rice. And pineapple again in the morning. I guarantee you'll go.''
``Does Mr Lawrence then want her to turn into a pineapple? Look at her, she already looks a little yellow around the gills.''
They burst out laughing, Mr Solomon leading the pack.
``Don't worry, Billie, I have a good remedy for open bowels. I've got something in the kitchen that's bound to work. I made it four days ago.''
``And if Mr Solomon's ginger beer doesn't move you,'' Mr Lawrence said, ``nothing will.''
``That's right, Billie. Then we might as well take you in the van to Groote Schuur.''
And they burst out laughing all over again.
``I told you,'' Sabah said to me. ``My family's not well. My father can go on like this forever. He loves it.''
``Come, Billie, let's go inside. What kind of a name is Billie, anyway? The name Billie in this country always comes with a pair of horns.''
``You're too much, Mr Solomon.'' I felt a genuine affection for him.
I noted the difference in the two households. At the Dollie house, everything was spotless and in its place, with fresh flowers and lovely aromas. The radio was on low, the music switched off at sunset for half an hour to respect the maghrib prayers. You ate on time and you prayed on time. The Solomon place, on the other hand, was like a beach house for teenagers. There were sand prints from Dobermans, dirty ashtrays, dog bowls, piles of old newspapers and packs of cards right next to the condensed milk and sugar on the kitchen counter. The music was never switched off, and the fridge, when I opened it to get a can of condensed milk for Mr Solomon’s tea, made me take a step back. Nothing was sealed, and a big pot was jammed in on the same shelf with an opened can of peas, an overripe tomato, four biscuits on a saucer, and a half-eaten egg sandwich on a plate.
When we had been in Cape Town just a week, a relative died. After the funeral, ten of us were back around the huge table in the Solomon kitchen feeling depressed, and someone suggested gin rummy to cheer us up.
``No,'' Sabah said. ``We have to have respect. How can we play cards when someone just died? The man's hardly cold.''
``Aagh, what,'' Mr Solomon said, ``Boeta Braim would want us to enjoy ourselves. Riaz, get the cards. Toeghfa, put on the kettle for tea, my girl. Let's have a few hands for Boeta Braim.''
That’s how it was. I liked being in his house. There were no rules, no formal times for eating, and until you got hungry, no one knew whether someone was going to throw a few onions and potatoes and meat in a pot, or whether you were going to get a steak salad sandwich from Wembley. The spontaneity was in complete keeping with his character – which was also the same for Sabah.
Mr Solomon and I went into the oak trim kitchen. Everything in there he'd built with his own hands, he said, and showed me the missing thumb to prove it. He led me to two huge paraffin tins on the floor. He lifted the lid and the pungent ginger aroma hit my nose.
Riaz put out eight glasses. Mr Solomon took a mug, dipped it into the fizzing brew, and poured the potent brown liquid into a glass, giving Sabah a first taste.
``Whoofff!'' she said, blinking her eyes. ``This kicks!''
I took a sip and felt the fire rip down my throat.
``What did I tell you, hey?'' he smiled proudly. ``No later than tomorrow, Billie, you'll sing the national anthem.''
I couldn’t wait. Anyone’s national anthem. Even God Save the Queen. But nothing happened, and we spent the next morning playing cards in our pyjamas and gowns with friends who had come to find out which horses Mr Solomons was favoring for the jackpot, Mr Solomon all the while continuing to pour ginger beer into my glass. At lunch time there was the horn of a car hooting impatiently outside - Mrs Dollie in her polished Citroën, waiting to take us to Wynberg.
Mr Solomon raised his right brow in that way he had when he was about to get cocky. ``Your mother's getting mighty bold driving that car up my street every day,'' he said to no one in particular. ``I wouldn't be surprised if that woman still has a thing for me. Ever since I saw her in Salt River a few weeks ago, she's getting brave. I tell you, Billie, she couldn't get out of that car fast enough, preening like a peacock, almost falling over her feet.''
``Oh, stop it, Daddy,'' Sabah said. ``You think everyone's in love with you.''
We said goodbye to everyone and jumped into the car, pyjamas and all, and then had to listen to Mrs Dollie's version of how she had bumped into the old goat in Salt River, and him purposely parking his van behind her to have a better look. The man had to get over his ridiculousness. He was almost sixty.

It was a scorching day. We decided to spend the afternoon playing Scrabble by the pool.
``It's a heat wave out there,'' Mrs Dollie shouted from the kitchen window. ``I'm not coming out. You girls can come in if you want something to drink.''
``I'm taking off my bather, Billie,'' Sabah said, pulling the straps off her shoulder, stepping out of it, jumping into the pool. I sat for a few minutes watching her head break the surface, then her bum as she dove down again.
Her mother, despite what she'd said, came out with tall glasses of chilled guava juice on a tray.
``Mom, you have to keep watch,'' Sabah said from the pool. ``I'm skinny dipping.''
``Skinny dipping? What nonsense is this? Is that what you learned in Canada? To swim without clothes on? If my mother was alive now, she'd die all over again.''
``Don't be such a prude, Mom, it's just us. Who’s here to see?''
``God sees.'' She pretended to be cross, and went back inside, nodding her head.
Sabah got out of the pool. ``Ever pee standing up, Billie?''
She walked around the pool to the grass on the other side. ``You stand like this, and you lean your leg slightly inwards, then you let the pee run down your thigh.'' She closed her eyes to the sun, smiling like the devil as the pee trailed down her leg into the grass.
``God, this feels good! It's such a nice warm feeling against your leg, and straight into the ground. Don't you have to pee?''
Swimming without bathing suits, peeing on your own foot? Was this the frigid bitch everyone at the office had said had a peg up her arse?
Then we saw Suleiman Adams come through the garage. Mrs Dollie must've been performing her prayers and not heard him knock. I looked at Sabah. She had also just registered his presence and become aware of her nakedness. But she didn’t jump back into the pool. She looked at him, smiling innocently.
``You're naked,'' he said.
``Well, yeah. Wait till my mother sees you.''
I rolled up her towel and tossed it over. It was a foot or so short of landing on the other side and she could've caught it, but she let it fall in the pool.
``Maybe I should go back out again,'' he said.
``Throw my bather, Billie.''
This she caught, and stepped into, wriggling into the wet suit as Suleiman tried hard to keep his eyes on the trees.
“That’s a nice bather,” he smiled when she walked past him.
“Not nice buns?”
“That too. Are you married?”
“Almost not.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I am, and that soon I won’t be.”

We left early the next morning for Caledon, six of us jammed into Toyer's hump-backed Volvo. My stomach had rumbled a few times, giving me hope, and I was a little uncomfortable sitting between Sabah and Toeghfa in the back.
We stopped along the side of the road just before going on to Sir Lowry’s Pass. Toeghfa took out a hamper from the trunk.
``Salmon sandwiches, anyone? Mince pies?''
``Toeghfa makes good sandwiches,'' Fa’iq said.
``I'm having some really bad cramps,'' I told Sabah.
``Do you have to go?''
``I don't know. It's all in my stomach still.''
``You can't pick a worse place than this, Billie. We’re right in the open. We’ll have to drive quite a distance when we cross the pass before we find any trees.''
The cramps subsided a bit, and I had coffee and sandwiches with them.
Riaz took out a joint. ``Skuif, Billie?''
``Wait till your wife hears about this,'' Sabah said, taking a few heavy drags. She exhaled, giving a naughty smile. “We don't have this quality in Canada.''
We all stood around trekking skuif -- I was picking up the lingo -- and I almost forgot about the cramps.
We got back in the car and headed up the pass.
Two minutes later the cramps were back, and moved with knife-like force into my bowels.
``Can you stop the car?''
``What is it, Billie?'' Sabah asked.
``It's an emergency. Please!''
``Oh, my word,'' Toyer said. ``We can't stop here, we’re climbing. Can you hold it in?''
``No.'' I was close to panic.
We were in a line of cars high up on the mountain. When I looked down at the steep fall, I got dizzy. We moved higher, around a dangerous curve.
``Please, stop, I have to get out!''
Toyer put on the indicator and came to an abrupt halt. I climbed hastily over Toeghfa who was taking too long to get out. Out on the narrow gravel shoulder, I ripped at my jeans. I didn't dare look over the cliff and didn't care about the cars coming up the hill or the wind blowing up my arse. I hit everything, including the tire of the car.
``Holy, fuck!'' Sabah exclaimed, ``she's right next to the car. Give me something to cover her up.''
“There’s a blanket in the back.”
Sabah got out and opened the trunk, and took out an old picnic blanket. She held the blanket in front of me as a shield while I squatted and did my business - on and on, three minutes, six minutes, ignoring the by-passers or those in the car politely busying themselves.
``Look at these fuckers staring. What're you looking at?” she snarled at an old couple in a white Toyota Cressida.
``I'm sorry, Sabah. I'm so ashamed. Do you have any tissues?''
``Toeghfa,'' she thumped on the window. ``Some napkins, please.''
``We used them when we had the sandwiches.''
I was in a strange country with my arse over a cliff, shitting all over my jeans. Who would believe such a story? And who would’ve just packed up and crossed continents anyway with a co-worker they hardly knew?
``Isn't there any paper in the car?'' she asked again.
``Only Riaz's Times. Do you want that?''
``I haven’t looked at it yet,'' Riaz said.
``Don't get kak now, Riaz,'' Sabah snarled. ``Hand it over.''
``I'll give you the property guide. I don't read that. Or do you want the sports section?''
``Just any flippin’ section! You want Billie to die out here?''
She handed me some of the paper.
``What about my jeans? I can't keep them on. Oh my God, this is so embarrassing.''
She tore off more paper and handed it to me. ``Billie, it's just us here. Take off your jeans. You'll have to sit in this blanket.''
I stepped out of my pants, and with my foot scraped both my jeans and my mess over the cliff. Then kicked over my shoes. My bum burned. I felt crampy and soiled.
“Is there any water?” I asked.
“Some water here, please,” Sabah said.
Toeghfa handed her a bottle, which she gave to me. I washed my hands and my feet. Wrapped like a mummy from the waist down, I got back into the car.
``My father and his bladdy ginger beer,'' Riaz said. ``You okay, Billie?''
“I’m fine, thanks.”
``Wat nou, mense?'' Toyer asked. “What now, people?”
``Draai om,” Riaz said.” Turn around. We can't go with Billie in a blanket to a spa.''
When Mr Solomon heard what had happened, he gloated all over again about the potency of his home brew. For days there were enquiries about my bowels, and advice on follow-up maintenance. Mr Lawrence brought a box of pineapples and a few packets of dried fruit, just in case, and even Suleiman brought prunes.

There was only one incident during my visit to Cape Town to really remind me where I was. Sabah and I had to go to pick up something for her mother at a shop in Athlone and returned to find the car standing on four bricks. We couldn’t believe it. The tires had been stolen in broad daylight right in front of the Athlone Police Station.
The constable on duty had a friendly smile, and pointed us to the other side of the wooden partition.
``I want to report a theft,'' Sabah said.
``Over there, miss,'' he said again. ``You're standing in the section for non-whites.''
``I'm not white.''
``Please,'' he smiled patiently, ``if you go over there, someone can take your complaint.''
``I don't want to go over there.''
``Where do you live?'' he asked.
“I don’t live in this country. My mother lives in Athlone. Now, can I tell you what I’m here for? Our car was parked outside, and -''
``Miss, look, I'm sorry. If you and your friend -- and don't tell me she's from Athlone too -- if the two of you want to go over there, Constable Van Rijn can look after you.”
``Can you believe this, Billie? They can't make up their minds what the fuck I am. First I’m not white enough, and now I’m not black enough!''
I didn't know what she was talking about. She refused to do what the cop asked, and we went back outside. In the end we went looking for a public telephone to call Fa’iq to come and sort it all out.
A few days before our departure I noticed that Mrs Dollie was no longer clamoring for Sabah’s attention. In fact, she seemed to be attempting to create some distance. Coming into the kitchen early one morning, I caught her deep in thought at the sink, looking through the window at the trees in the yard. Sabah had warned me. Her mother went into mourning while she was still there.
``And what are your plans for today, Mrs Dollie?''
``Oh, nothing,'' she said, not her usual perky self. ``I think I'll stay home and make some pastries for next week. Are you missing Canada?''
``I miss my mother, yes.''
``What's a mother, hey? All children are the same. My own mother died six months after Sabah left in 1968. I still miss her today. Can you believe that? A grown woman like me? Sometimes, when I think of Sabah so far away, I cry for my mother, and I cry for Sabah. My mother always used to say that you can have ten sons, it doesn't equal one girl. My sons are good sons, Billie, don't get me wrong. But sons are not like daughters. They take wives and move on with their lives. A daughter is yours, no matter who she’s with. Do you have any brothers?''
``I'm an only child.''
``Shame. That must be lonely for you.''
``I'm used to it, Mrs Dollie. My mother and I are friends. We play bridge together in a club.”
“That’s nice. Me and Sabah are close too. We did a lot of things together before she left for Canada. Did she tell you why she went?”
She was silent for a while, and looked up at me. “Maybe one day she will.”

In Walmer Estate Mr Solomon also was saying his own goodbyes.
``I'm not coming to the airport on Friday,'' he mumbled one night when we came to see him. There were no cards, no visitors. The evening paper lay folded on the chair in the front room.
``It's all right,'' Sabah said.
``And don't still come out of your way to drive here when you leave. I'll say goodbye to you on the phone.''
``Okay, Daddy.''
Then his expression changed, and he seemed almost cross. ``I don't know when you're coming home, Sabah. You've been there eight years now.''
Sabah came to sit next to him. ``We've been through this before, Daddy. I have children there.''
``We all have children.''
``I know. But my children’s father lives in Canada. He won’t come here, and I can’t take them away from him.''
Nothing more was said.
On the day of our departure, Sabah asked Riaz to take her first to her father’s house before heading for the airport. She’d tried all day to get him on the telephone. When we got to the Solomon house, there was no one there – which in itself was very unusual as Mr Solomon never liked to leave the house, even to go shopping. Mr Lawrence, or one of his sons had to pick up things for him.
Our bags were checked in, and we started to edge towards the metal gate. All around us, sad faces looked on, people pushing chocolates and gifts into our hands. I noticed a hardness in Sabah. There was no emotion. Her mother was crying into a wad of tissues, supported by Toeghfa and Saliya on the bench.
``All right, Mom,'' she said, getting ready to go through the security gate. “Till next time, hey?''
Mrs Dollie blew harder into her tissues.
``Don't let me leave like this, Mom.''
``Go, Sabah,'' Fa’iq pushed her off. ``Leave Mummy with us.''
``Look after her, Saliya. You too, Toeghfa.”
We stepped through the metal gate. On the plane we said a few words to each other, and she went to sleep. She was that other Sabah again. Somewhere over Africa, I started to feel weepy.
“What’s wrong, Billie? Why are you crying?” She had woken up.
“I don’t know. I just feel strange.”
She summoned the stewardess who took me to the crew's quarters, where I was given a tranquilliser.
When I look back on that trip, I can’t say what happened. If it was the sea air, the magic of Africa, or the level of intimacy I experienced with Sabah’s family. I just know that I sat on that plane, and felt very exhausted and alone.
``They robbed me, Billie,'' was all she said when we touched down on the icy runway at Toronto. ``They robbed me, those fucking bastards.''

Understanding polygamy in Islam

Understanding polygamy in Islam

It is unfortunate that when people refer to polygamy the common reaction is that Muslim men can have many wives. It is untrue on many levels. Yes, a Muslim man can have more than one wife but under very specific conditions. First, however, understand that Muslims did not invent polygamy. Polygamy existed long before the advent of Islam among several civilizations; all Islam did was bring more order to the system and make it more organized and palatable to women. God does not like the idea of divorce. When the women lost their husbands during the Battle of Uhud, women were desperate. Who would feed them? How would they survive? God said that if a woman with children had lost her husband during a war, she could be married too to another man whose wife agreed to the arrangement. Polygamy was allowed mainly to protect women.

Proof of polygamy practiced long before Islam

Let’s take a look at some verses in the Bible where it states clearly in 2 Samuel 5:13 that after David left Hebron, that he ‘took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem and more sons and daughters were born to him’ – and in 1 Kings 11.3 that ‘Solomon had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines.’ These are just two references; the Bible and the Qur’an have many such references. This is just to establish that by the time of Jesus and Mohamed that polygamy was already well established. Muslims did not invent polygamy; they brought order to the system and in the process also made it more palatable for women. Women were afforded rights. They could keep their own name after marriage. They did not have to share their property or give their property to their husbands. They were assured a portion of the inheritance of the estate when the husband died. These changes gave dignity to women in Islam.

Instances where polygamy can work in present society

• Where a young woman with children loses her husband and a man of means who can provide for this woman as well as his own wife, agrees to the arrangement. Not all people abide by this, but it can work for many women today.

• Where a couple has tried for years to conceive, without success, and the wife allows him to have another wife so they can have children. The second wife in most cases will have her own flat or apartment and the husband will spend his time equally between them.

• Where a wife is ill and bedridden and the husband needs a wife to care for him; this would of course be with his first wife’s consent. Note, these can be sticky situations, but everything works with the other partner’s consent.

• Practicing polygamy by adhering to the above is far better than having a situation where a woman is standing with a crowbar at another woman’s marriage – with the end result being that the other woman might get the man, and the first wife would be stranded with no husband and no money to sustain her. Polygamy reduces cheating in a marriage and is a much more equitable solution for a woman with children who has lost her mate.

We gotta number there

Richard Cook eased his silver Mercedes into the driveway, the wrought iron gates closing silently behind him. Seeing a tall African man pacing on the stoep balling and unballing his fists gave him a start. His wife, Jennifer, directed his attention to the woman and child sitting under the jacarandah tree eating sandwiches out of a brown paper bag.
"What a nerve. How did they get in?" he asked.
"Don't lose it, Rick. Just hear what they want."
Richard switched off the car and got out. The man came down from the stoep, the woman gathering up her things on the lawn, coming towards them holding the hand of the little girl.
"Good afternoon, boss," the man started. "I am Jonas Mbulu and this is - come here, Lucky - my wife, Lucky, and my daughter, Shona."
"You're trespassing on my property," Richard Cook said. "How did you get in?"
Jonas had his cap in his hand, crunching it in a knot. "We climbed over the gate. I know it's wrong, but we couldn't take the chance that someone else would come to you first."
"First? First for what?"
"You sacked your gardener, boss. I wanted to apply for the job. I'm good with my hands. I've looked after gardens and horses and can fix many things."
Richard looked at his wife. "How do you know I sacked my gardener?"
"Everyone knows everyone else in Imizamo Yethu, boss. We are five doors from Cyril."
"Did Cyril tell you why I fired him?"
Jonas hesitated. "He said he cut your roses without asking, boss, and gave them away. It was for his cousin's funeral."
"Every single one of them. My whole rose garden. And my dahlias."
Jonas nodded his head that he understood. "He did wrong, boss. His cousin did die, but he did wrong. He could've asked."
"That's not all. He let one of his friends stay in the house while he went out. The friend took off with the VCR. We need a gardener, but this time we want references."
Jonas reached into his pocket. It was the moment he'd been waiting for, to be asked for references. "I have a paper that says where I worked, boss. The telephone number's on it. Lucky has a reference, also. She worked for a madam in Sea Point, but the madam has gone to live in another country. We can both work for you if you'll give us a job. We're honest people, we've been looking for work for a long time. We waited three hours in your garden, boss, give us a chance."
Richard studied the man with the cap in his hand. Jonas had on clean clothes. He was fit, in his thirties, his wife a slim, young woman standing neatly at his side. It was the little girl, in a hand-me-down navy pleated skirt and white blouse several sizes too big for her, and shoes with laces made out of string that decided him.
"Let's see the letter."
Jonas handed it over. Richard read it. He didn't show his surprise. Jonas had worked as a chauffeur and gardener for an American businessman when the company, succumbing to political pressure in l993, closed its doors in South Africa and Jonas was let go.
"I would never have left Mr. Gordon, boss, but the sanctions cost us all. I haven't been able to find steady work since."
The Mbulus started work on a trial basis the following day, and soon a routine was established. Jennifer worked as a broker in a real estate office in the mornings, and arrived home in the afternoons to find Jonas busy in the garden or in the garage fixing things, Lucky bustling about a spotless house, preparing the meat and vegetables for that night's supper, or pressing Richard's shirts with a preciseness that greatly pleased him.
One afternoon, Richard came home from work and found Jonas uprooting an old tree. “I want to talk to you for a minute, Jonas. Can you come inside?”
Jonas washed his face and hands at the tap, and went into the kitchen.
"I've been thinking, Jonas, my stripper’s gone back to the Transkei. I can use someone like you at the shop, stripping and refinishing antiques. What do you say? Are you interested?"
Jonas' eyes opened slightly at the offer. His face was still wet, and drops of water sat in sparkling crystals in his wiry hair above his forehead and ears. "A job at the shop, boss?"
"Yes. I can get someone else to do the gardening here, unless you want to do that too. The job at the shop is hard work, but pays double what you get now."
Jonas glanced at his wife setting down a tea tray in front of Jennifer who was seated across from her husband at the kitchen table. Lucky’s brows rose slightly, but she kept her eyes on the tray.
"Double what I get now, boss?"
“Yes. You would leave with me in the mornings. That means you'd have to be here by seven every day."
"That's not a problem, boss. I’ll be here by six. I would very much like that job. Oh yes, very much."
"And the gardening? You have kept it in good shape, Jonas; once a week should be enough."
"I'll do that too, boss. We need the money. I could work in the garden a little every night after work and whole day Sunday if I have to."
"Sunday's your day off," Jennifer chimed in.
"That's all right, madam. Lucky and me, we are saving for something. What do I do anyway on a Sunday except sit with my neighbor, Bantu, and his wife and watch television until the battery runs out?"
"Tell them the other thing, Rick," Jennifer said.
Jonas waited to hear what it was.
Richard took out a cigarette and lit it. “We've decided to give you the room in the yard. There's a toilet and shower, and I’ll build on a small kitchen. It's not big, but you wouldn't have to go back to the squatter camp. You can live here as long as you want."
"Here, sir?" Lucky asked incredulously. She turned to Jennifer. "On madam's premises?"
"Yes,” Jennifer confirmed. “We don't want anything for it."
Lucky looked from Jennifer to her husband. "No one has been this good to us. And the room's not small, madam, it's big. For us it's more than we have. And water right in the kitchen. It's too much."
"Lucky's right, boss," Jonas said. "This is too much good news. A job at the shop, and now you are offering us a place to stay. We don't know how to say thank you. We don’t know how, boss, but we can't take it."
The Cooks looked at each other. "You can't? Why not?" Richard asked.
Jonas stood upright. "We've always lived in the Imizamo Yethu village, boss. We don't know any other place. We gotta number there. We feel strong about that number, it’s the only thing we have. And the government's offering 80 square meter sites with a toilet, water, and electricity. We're saving for one of those. We want to own our own home. We've never owned a home, boss."
"That's wonderful, Jonas," Jennifer said. "We didn't know you had these plans. How much will a house like that cost?"
"Five thousand rand, madam. That's why we are happy for this job. We'll be able to put our names down and have a house by next year. A lot of people are waiting for the free houses the ANC promised. Lucky and me, we don't want anything for free. We want to build our first home in the new South Africa. We want to say Jonas and Lucky did it, and pay for it with our own money."
Richard inhaled slowly on his cigarette. Jennifer sipped on her tea.
That evening after supper when the Mbulus had gone home, Jennifer returned to the subject. "We should help them, Rick. We could help them with the down payment. You can deduct it from Jonas' pay."
"Let's not jump ahead of ourselves, Jen. Jonas still has to prove himself at the shop."
"You know he will. Everything he does, he does neatly and with care. Admit it, you couldn't get the rust off that old Mazda. He sanded it down, sealed it, and touched it up. You can get it roadworthied now if you want. We couldn't ask for more honest people. I still can’t believe they turned down a room with toilet facilities."
"How much of a down payment?"
"One or two thousand rand. We can stand surety for the balance. It’ll make it easier for them to get a loan. We can also give them Sandra’s old bed, it’s just taking up space. And the sofa, and some of the chairs."
Richard waited a month before he spoke to the Mbulus again. He sat them down, and outlined the plan. “I’ve already inquired from the RSC the figures involved. I’ll take you and Lucky with me to the bank. I’ll guarantee the loan. If it’s all right with you, I’ll deduct two hundred rand a month until you’ve paid me back. If you’re going to borrow three thousand from the bank, I suggest you pay them the same. More, if you can afford it. That way you won’t be on their books for too long.”
The Mbulus were stunned by the offer of assistance. Jonas vowed to repay every cent borrowed. Lucky said the Cooks could take half her salary towards the loan.
Richard made an appointment with the manager at his branch, and it was agreed that Jonas would pay four hundred rand a month to the bank. For this they would receive a small house with a verandah, a front door, and two windows. There was no insulation or separate rooms, but the Mbulus could add to it over time.
The months passed. The Mbulus worked hard, and saved. Finally, the big day arrived, and Jennifer drove them in the company van to their new home the second week in May. It was the first of the government homes. Every neighbur turned out to see the neat little wooden structure with its verandah and potted plant.
Muriel, the lady who sold sheep heads near the bus stop on Fridays, stood with her three sons, watching Lucky and the white madam and Jonas drag the Cooks' old couch off the truck.
"You are lucky, Lucky," Muriel called to her friend who was trying not to show how proud she was of her new house.
"I’m not lucky, Muriel," Lucky said, aware of the people standing around. "You can also have one." Muriel lived with her sons in a shack that threatened to lift off over their heads every time the wind blew, and was the most disgruntled person in the neighborhood.
"We are not so rich," another neighbor chimed in, "that we have five thousand rand. Five thousand rand, isn't it, for one of these? We didn't know you had so much money. Does the madam have a job for us, too?"
"You can go to the bank," Lucky said. "And make payments."
"Who will let us make payments with no jobs?"
"What about your old couch, Lucky? The one with the three plastic legs?" Bertie "haircut" called somewhere from the back of the crowd. "Will you have use for it now that you have such a grand one?"
"You can have it if you want, Bertie," Jonas said from the top of the truck. "The house is too small for two couches."
Muriel wasn't pleased to hear this. "Lucky, you are letting Jonas give that couch to someone else? I asked you long ago for it. Now you are just giving it to Bertie who already has that fake velvet sofa that scratches your legs. Has she even given your Shona one free haircut? Look how many times I looked after Shona for you when you went to work."
Lucky didn’t know what to do. "You never asked for the couch, Muriel. This is the first time I am hearing you want that old thing."
"Now it's an old thing? Before, you entertained your best friends on it. Perhaps we were not your best friends. Or perhaps you have better things now. Do you have anything else you want to throw out?"
"I have two kitchen chairs," Lucky said.
"You have new chairs, then?"
"They're not new. I got them from Mrs Cook. This is Mrs Cook. I work for Mrs Cook."
Muriel turned to Jennifer. "She is lucky, this Lucky. And she's not called Lucky for nothing. She's lucky to get a man like Jonas. Before, Jonas had a job with a foreigner, and Lucky worked for a good madam in Sea Point. Me and Bertie and some of the others, we're not so lucky. Our husbands left us with children and went off after other women. We have to find things to do where we can look after our children and work."
Jennifer listened to her complaint, and said she was sorry to hear it. "You mustn't feel guilty, Lucky," she said when the three-legged couch and chairs had been given away and the neighbors had moved off. "You and Jonas have worked hard. You’ve made your own luck. You deserve this."
"Yes, madam," Lucky said uncertainly, a lot of her earlier enthusiasm gone. "But if we didn't come to work for madam, we wouldn't have this house. Perhaps we were lucky."
"You would've done it, anyway. I know you would."
"Does madam think so?"
"Of course."

On a wet afternoon in July eight weeks later, Richard and Jennifer pulled into the driveway and saw the Mbulus waiting for them on the stoep. It was much like that first day when the Mbulus had come looking for work. Only now there was a heavy curtain of rain sweeping across the lawn, drenching them where they huddled close to the door.
"What are they doing here on a Sunday?" Jennifer asked. "Something's wrong, I can tell. They’re wearing blankets."
They got out and walked up to the Mbulus. "What's wrong, Jonas? You look in a state, man," Richard said. He noticed the blankets, black with soot marks, and smelling strongly of smoke.
Lucky started to sob. Jonas put his arm around her.
Richard turned to the little girl, dressed in a nightie with no shoes on her feet, and a thin blanket over her shoulders. She wasn’t a talker on the best of days, but looked up at him with big eyes, and said, “They burn our house … the other people …”

Signs that you are neglecting your man

Have you become so comfortable in your marriage that you do not take the same care now with your appearance that you did when you first met? Is your husband still careful with his grooming and diet and exercise regime and always looking good? This is telling evidence that you are falling off the scoreboard and allowing the marriage to go stale. A marriage that is dull and without luster will not last long if the couple puts no work into it. Here are some telling signs that you are taking your man and your marriage for granted.

Taking stock of the situation

• You do not take the same care with your appearance and go to bed wearing socks.
• You do not shower every day before coming to bed.
• There are no longer any roses or chocolates or little surprise gifts.
• You don’t brush your teeth in the mornings and don’t have the same regime with hygiene you first had.
• You are becoming Ma and Pa Kettle and slowly sinking into a boring lifestyle.
• You pass gas in bed and let out machine gun farts, laughing.
• You don’t surprise him at the front door with those little outfits you first wore and play doctor and nurse.

Bad breath a deal breaker

Surprisingly, these are the small things which eventually build up which you cannot pinpoint when someone asks you what went wrong. There are insidious and nagging thoughts in your head that you are not doing enough, but still you do nothing about it. Did you think when you got married that you could just lie back and not develop marital friendship and intimacy? Or that you would find a woman or a man and fall instantly IN love and live on a high forever? The bottom line with every kind of relationship is that partners grow bored with one another just like you cannot eat the same food every day. Well, you cannot change partners, but you can spice things up.

A big sign that you are neglecting your man is that you no longer do the small things which you enjoyed when you first started dating. Are you still playing Scrabble at the club where you played once a week, got the opportunity to play with your partner in a competition, or got involved in things which used to interest both of you? Are you still meeting your friends for scones and tea on Saturday afternoons? Are you still seeing your friends? Are things still hot in the bedroom? Think of the best kind of relationship you would want; a companion that cares for you, and is there for you, one you can tell anything to and never betrays you, one who has your best interest at heart. And happily, very happily, one you still want to be close to and intimate with.

Choosing the best wedding photographer

Planning a wedding is a huge undertaking as there are many people filling different roles, looking for different things and ideas, the least of which is a great photographer who can capture the event so that years later you can still recall the best day of your life. For a first class event, perhaps even a destination wedding, there are certain things you must look for in a wedding photographer and certain ideas you must forget.

A destination wedding

The first thing to forget is having a friend who knows a bit about snapping pictures shooting the event. You have spent months planning the bridal finery, the catering, the kind of wedding – a Zulu wedding if it is a destination wedding where the couple is dressed in leather strips and feathers, or perhaps a Bedouin’s nuptials in a tent – and you cannot afford to make a mistake with the kind of photographer you need. A wedding such as the one you have in mind may need a year’s planning and an expert wedding photographer. The quality of the photographer’s work will be what lends beauty and quality to the shots.

What you need to do

• Hook up with a photographer with experience; one who knows what you want and can get it done. Check references and call the parties to make sure they have had a good experience and that the quality of the photographs were good.

• Ask to see photographs and videos of other weddings he has photographed. Check for framing and composition and whether shots have been properly lit. You don’t want to end up suing him for poor quality photographs.

• If the wedding is a destination wedding where travel is involved, this adds a whole new dimension and make sure these details are finalized well in advance.

• Another thing with destination weddings is to ensure that the wedding props arrive well ahead of time and that everyone knows the location of the wedding.

• Set aside enough money for unexpected expenses and rearranging itineraries if there are families involved.

• Make sure that he has the expertise to understand the theme of the wedding and able execute it to your satisfaction. Research should be done and things should be planned and settled well before the wedding day.

• Make sure that he photographs all members of the family and not leave anyone out.

• Visit his studio and check through samples of his work. Your wedding day is special and you don’t want to forget things or make mistakes.

• Ask him for ideas. If he has filmed or photographed a lot of weddings he will be well experienced and may come up with some classic shots.