- Essential olive-infused CBD fruit oil from the community gardens of La Marou
- Found art earrings by Fontanella Parchesa
- Twice-spun silk gilet from Plok+Raya’s pre-2021 androgynous range
- Marshall Tupping’s fair-trade rayon face masks with bouclé ear ties
- Ready-to-bake vegan banana bread panettone, packed in a copper hat box, from Rosamund’s on Seventh
- Jemima Inigo’s disinfectant spray gifting box, Artesian Safari edition.
- Limited release Purdy von Xanthe refillable Le Chiquito-sized hand sanitiser carafe
- Mink-lined Zoom slippers from Octavia Company
- Inside-Outside summer pyjama set from Dagny Morgan (order ten weeks in advance for personalised pocket embroidery)
- ZenSourcePlus wireless dalgona maker with premium app and 12 months support
- Triple-stranded mood-enhancement wrist band with interchangeable Emotion Inserts TM from Montgomery Works
- $500 digital voucher entitling the bearer to ten custom video-conferencing backgrounds
Here’s an odd little story I submitted to a local literary magazine for their ‘Siblings’ issue.
It didn’t make it through to selection, and so I share this tale of strangeness with you here.
I Feel You
At 3pm, in the express queue at Checkers, an orgasm begins to jelly Minnie. She pretend-sneezes and squeezes inward to keep her bits together. It passes just as the cashier asks, “Would you like a packet Ma’am?” Minnie shakes her head, hands the cashier a folded plastic samoosa to unravel and fill with four tins of baked beans.
Minnie walks towards her car, plumbing the depths of her handbag for keys when the contractions ripple through her again, this time the feeling is like washing gloves drubbing against a draining board. Minnie is 35 and a generous portion of her life has been complicated by a series of phantom sensations visiting upon her at random intervals.
When she was 15, her left collarbone throbbed for three weeks while her arms felt like fleshy tubes encasing splinters of bone. The x-rays showed nothing unusual. There was also that winter where she walked around barefoot, in shorts and t-shirts, as if the ghost of a holiday sun burned just under her skin. Minnie’s foster mother took her to spiritual healers, convinced of some dark force at play. Minnie was prayed and pissed upon, given distilled water and aloe juice enemas. There was even a doll made in her likeness, soaked in holy oil, and placed in a box with a Bible, to be kept in a cupboard where no ill could reach. That didn’t stop Minnie’s lungs thickening during her Matric Biology exam. She was about to answer Question Five on the Krebs Cycle, when fingers of chlorine pushed into her nose and she fell to the floor in a fit. Minnie remembers her tongue lolling against the coolness of the brown scuffed lino and that Petrus Meyer wasn’t wearing socks. The entire class had to retake the test. No one asked her to the Matric dance.
The orgasms were the most terrifying until she learnt to control her physical responses to them. They rarely came during the day, but when they did, she was able to suppress them, like an urge to scratch her bum in public.
It took some time before she was able to accurately discern between real sensation and what she calls, Spooky Feels. They are almost always preceded by a slight tingling in her stomach or heat radiating from the back of her head. When doctors ask her to describe the experience, she says it is like someone calling her from across a ravine, that the pain, or the elation, is diluted, strained even, as if it has already passed through something.
When Minnie found a job with a good medical aid benefit, she went for a CAT scan. Like the x-rays from years before, the doctors found nothing. She started seeing a psychologist who suggested her episodes were a result of an unresolved childhood trauma. Minnie, who’d never known her real parents, was happy to accept his theory. It made more sense than her foster mother insisting that Mad Aunt Clara was pushing pins into her ragged effigy every night.
As Minnie drives home, a ball of fire rips through her belly. She swerves and misses a telephone pole by centimetres. The pain persists, and though she can tell it’s another Spooky Feel, there’s something different about this one. It burns as it contracts, and with each ebb, it grows distant, fading, and then it’s gone. Minnie is bereft and she doesn’t know why. Other motorists have stopped their cars, they knock at her windows, “Are you okay?” She nods, her eyes just streaming, blind to everything.
She can’t remember how she gets home. She thinks someone may have followed her to make sure she was safe. Strangers are the kindest.
Minnie is in her kitchen looking for her sharpest knife. She knicks it across her thumb. The blood lines the cracks in her palms and it stings. It is real.
Days later, Minnie is back at Checkers to buy baked beans and candles. It is pay-day weekend and the long queues are perdition. Minnie picks up a newspaper, skimming over tired headlines; crime, corruption, loadshedding. She flips through to the entertainment section but is startled by her face on page five. “Woman and Lover Dead. Boyfriend Arrested.” Minnie reads that a woman and a man were found dead by neighbours last weekend. The man had been shot in the head and the woman in her stomach. The boyfriend turned himself over to the police. The article identifies the woman as Diane Ronalds, 35, estate agent. There is no other information. The picture in the newspaper is taken from one of Diane’s real estate ads.
Minnie taps the shoulder of the man standing in front of her. “Do you see this woman?” she says, tapping at the picture. “Does she look like me?” The man, who has just lost on level 75 of Candy Crush, is ready to dismiss Minnie but he looks at the newspaper anyway. “Yah, you do look the same. Identical, check, even your eyes. She could be your twin.” He’s suddenly interested, and wants to ask Minnie what happened, but she’s blanked out, and he thinks maybe it’s just as well, this is chick-drama he can do without.
While editing older writings, I came across this narrative exercise from my MA coursework. For this assignment we had to take a scenario/vignette and write it in three ways, altering tense and POV in each.
I found that changing focalisations significantly altered the narrative for me, in an invigorating way. The next time you’ve stubbed your head against a writing block, consider switching your POV to one you wouldn’t ordinarily use.
Aunty Usha tells my granny she has seen Parvez kiss Marufah over the fence.
“Ja Haunty, you know, I see them. I see Marufah and that boy. I see her go upstairs to the flat too. It is not good Haunty, it is not good.”
Aunty Usha lives in the garden cottage in the house behind us. She speaks fluent Tamil, wears her false teeth only when eating and swaps most of her A’s for H’s.
Each of her visits to my grandmother is a showcase of arthritis, blood pressure and sugar; they put on their best aches while they swap hospital records and recipes for eucalyptus balms. Until this revelation, with flames licking at its seams, that our 15-year-old-next-door neighbour Marufah, and our twenty-something Pakistani tenant Parvez, are scandalising, by way of Parvez kissing Marufah’s hand, after she’s given him some sort of parcel over the pre-cast fence separating our properties.
And there is also the matter of Marufah gaining entrance to our backyard and going upstairs to the flat Parvez rents from my uncle.
My granny nods, shakes her head, and says, “You know young blood, Aunty, they can do anything.” It is shameful, they all agree, but who will tell Apa Fatima, Marufah’s mother; that formidable force, all hard voice and iron hand? Apa Fatima, who wears her practice of Islam like armour against all that is Western to her mind, whose family eats all their meals seated on the floor, who hosts weekly religious gatherings at her home and who commands the reverence of our community.
For a holy-moly like Marufah, the weight of black-cloaked modesty laid upon her well before she hit puberty, to be getting more action than I could ever write about in my diary, is incredible. And it is unimaginable that she would risk her mother’s wrath by carrying on with a Pakistani man.
But Aunty Usha has seen it, and she has no reason to lie.
After the visit, my granny tells my uncle to have a word with Parvez. No one sees Marufah in our backyard or close to our fence again.
Parvez moves out of the flat a few months after. He tells my uncle he needs a bigger place for when his wife and children arrive from Pakistan.
The man next door
Your mother gives you a Tupperware filled with some of the curry she cooked for supper.
She’s dressed to go out; a long black cloak obliterating her silhouette, her veil perched just above her forehead, ready to drop over her eyes as soon as she’s out the door. She clutches her car keys in one black-gloved hand and holds a thick file in the other. Every Thursday afternoon, she teaches ladies how to wash and prepare bodies for Muslim burial. Your mother tells you to give the curry to Aunty Mabel and to tell her that it is for that Pakistani man next door.
It’s not unusual for your mother to prepare extra meals for others. Beggars who come to your door leave with more than just bread and butter. Your heart is full of love for her and you feel guilty about the the anger you hold just below it. Your mother lives for Allah, and you are still finding your way to Him. You have questions for her but you can’t ask them.
You go out to find Aunty Mabel. She’s worked for your family since before you were born, and is more mother than your own sometimes. You can’t find her and you decide you will give the food to the Pakistani man yourself. You know your mother will be upset if she finds out. She doesn’t approve of you speaking to strange men, even when you are wearing your veil.
You wait just outside your kitchen door. It’s the closest to the gate he uses as an entrance. The wait is not long, you hear his keys. Your veil is in your room and if you go and fetch it, you will miss him. You stand on the flower pot and call out to him with your face exposed. He smiles up at you, a smile that stays in his green eyes. You are suddenly shuffling for words and you tell him that your mother cooked a little extra for him.
His English is just ever so slightly broken. It’s utterly charming. You are charmed. He asks you what your name is. His name is Parvez.
As you pass him the plastic container, your hands brush for a second. The contact is so minimal and yet you flush red. He is still smiling as he walks away.
You hear Aunty Mabel in the kitchen. You rush to tell her that you’ve given the food to Parvez and that she mustn’t tell your mother. Aunty Mabel is so used to indulging you and your siblings, she will lie for you again.
Usha’s sunflowers grew taller than the fence; their faces drooping slightly forward, full and magnificent. She liked to look at them. They reminded her of a time when she and her husband were tall, when they too were something to behold, long before osteoarthritis shrunk her and diabetes claimed his foot. It was during this meditation that she noticed Aunty Hawa’s tenant and the other neighbour’s daughter, Marufah , speaking over the fence.
She knew that those neighbours were very, very strict Muslims. The ones where the women only left their houses covered in those long black dresses and face veils. Not like Aunty Hawa, who was also Muslim but dressed in different colours. Usha knew that Marufah’s mother would not want her speaking to a man she wasn’t related to, especially Aunty Hawa’s handsome young Pakistani tenant. Marufah was laughing and Usha recognised the light in her eyes. The Pakistani had bewitched her.
She saw Marufah extend her hand to the man, who brought it up to his lips. “This is not good,” Usha thought. “Not good at all.” She picked up a broom and knocked it against the fence. She hoped the noise would be loud enough to alert the couple of her presence. It worked. They parted quickly and Usha went back to tending her sunflowers.
It was the next Thursday afternoon and Usha took her crocheting out into the garden. Their cottage didn’t get much natural light and she didn’t want to disturb her napping husband with the fluorescent casting over his bed and her busy needle. Her concentration was broken by the sound of someone climbing the stairs to Aunty Hawa’s tenant’s flat. She looked up, expecting to wave at the Pakistani who always greeted back. She saw Marufah instead, looking like she was concentrating on being invisible.
Usha’s gaze followed Marufah into the flat. “This is bad,” Usha thought. “I must tell Aunty Hawa about this, she won’t want this kind of thing to be carrying on right under her roof.” While the Pakistani was always kind and polite to Usha, she knew they had something of a bad reputation when it came to women. Her own grand-daughter got involved with a foreigner and was now expecting a child. They’d married but Usha was not happy with the union.
With her mind unsettled, Usha looked to her sunflowers.