[Some deep thoughts about marriage]
It doesn’t happen when you’d expect it to. Not in the burst of celebration and the pomp of ceremony. Not in the perfectly planned I-dos, nor in the afterglow of two glorious honeymoons.
It doesn’t happen when you want it to, pretending not to wish it here. Calmly and then less calmly trying to summon that invisible cable to connect us, for all the world to see.
It doesn’t happen in the raw rub of disappointment or the itch of unmet expectations, even though that’s when I hope it would kick in the strongest.
[Chapter 1 of my memoir]
It is always brown somewhere in South Africa.
During the frostbitten winter, it’s the flat Highveld that cracks and curls up in chocolate squares of parched soil. These gold- and diamond- and crop-littered plains get their rain in the summer, sometimes in abundance, sometimes not. In the winter that wetness becomes a forgotten fantasy that is swept away in howling dust storms and hearsay. The June air fills with static, the tall grasses splinter, the sky becomes a lighter blue and sunlight is thinner. Dryness envelops the meadows and fields. The earth below loses all its moisture. The land above cracks and curls and parches. In the Highveld winters, the deepest hardness of Africa is seen and felt in its brittle brown ground.
In the searing summer months, it is the fringe of land along the coast—the southern curve of Africa—that tans a deep cocoa in its endless sunshine and on its blonde beaches. These provinces lie south of the Highveld and get fed on an opposite schedule to their upcountry neighbours, when winter fronts arc up from Antarctica with rain and melancholy. In summer, sunburn makes everything tawny, thirsty. Life, previously green, shrinks and shrivels in the hot, deep, dry days of December. The navy of the distant mountains turns deep purple in the bake and the rare flora, found on them and nowehere else in the world, becomes brittle and brown in this cycle of dryness that they know very well. In the Cape summers, a paradox of Africa is felt in the joy of the arid heat and the life it sucks out of the soil.
[I get my story-telling from my dad. These are his words, my interviewing]
I was sitting at home one night and a friend of ours—a Pom, working at Blue Circle cement factory—phoned me and said “Dorrian, I’m in big trouble. This dog arrived on our doorstep in town and we made the huge mistake of giving him some food. Now the dog refuses to leave. My wife’s gone to Johannesburg and she said that if the dog’s still here when she gets back, she’s moving into the hotel.” And he asked “Can’t you take the dog. He is a St Bernard, but he must be a brak because he has short hair.”
So I said “Ja, bring him. We need a big dog.” Continue reading
I am stuck in the birth canal, inside my mother. All that Doctor Kaizer can see is a tiny patch of my head; pink and blonde. Everything else is swollen folds of red skin stretched into circles and covered in blood, mucus, discharge, remnants of broken water.
My tiny eyes are still shut. Forced shut by being pressed up against the walls of the tunnel everyone is trying to get me out of. So I don’t see the “vanity screens” wheeled around my mother in the labor room, with faded lime cloth scrunched onto the upper and lower rods of a shiny silver frame. Or the hospital-issue, light blue sheet tented over her lower body, her legs stirruped in icy metal holds. Don’t see the white-uniformed nurse handing polished steel tools to the doctor. Or the steel kidney bowl that holds these scalpels, surgical scissors and the glossy new clamp that will grip my umbilical chord when I am finally born. Don’t see my dad holding my mom’s hand but unable to look anywhere near me, or where I’m coming from. Continue reading
Tina Turner blasts through speakers that aren’t supposed to be played at their maximum. The deejay sips a fresh, satisfying brandy and coke. He surveys the crowd, smiling, ignoring the cracks and tears pounding out of his tripodded black boxes.
You’re simply the best.
Better than a–ll the rest.
The song is rolling down from one of its crescendos. Many of the folks on the dance floor are howling along with the lyrics, some half a note behind but not caring to catch up. Mom and Dad are facing each other, slightly apart from the cacophony. Every now and again, though, they’ll look over at the mass of arms and legs and bobbing heads, and smile. She’s dancing the way she always dances: shoulders straight, body moving side-to-side, feet taking turns tapping neatly behind the heel of the other. Her arms swing gently to the beat, elbows stiff and wrists limp. The gold bangles from three special Christmases and two birthdays clink against each other and her auburn hair, blown dry in one slow inward curl, sways from shoulder to shoulder. Dad is pretending to be Bruce Springsteen: one leg in front of the other, body open, fingers snapping in a big half-circle, hips following the lead of his clicking fingers, back knee too. That’s exactly how the arm-jabbing rock star does it when he’s beamed onto our curved TV screen from concert stages far away from here. Continue reading
Once upon a time there was a farm in the southern round of Africa. This farm lay in a dusty stretch that became known as the Platteland because of its flat horizon. At first this region was overlooked by settlers and pioneers—Voortrekkers—because it didn’t have a bustling port or a roaring river or the promise of gold. It was inland, plain, boring. Eventually, though, government officials of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek drew lines across hand-sketched maps and sliced the land into sellable pieces. Then weary representatives reluctantly traveled from Pretoria and spiked a number of sharp metal stakes into the soil. It took them five days on horseback to get there. They carved out farms from the endless savannah and christened them with names like Graslaagte and Zoetmelkvallei and Rietfontein¹. During the frequent droughts that swept the region, these names became airless jokes. During wet years, however, the farms bloomed into their namesakes and were attractive alternatives to the fevered and overpopulated Witwatersrand, where Johannesburg was being built with bricks of newly-discovered gold and mortar made from the rot of chewing tobacco. Continue reading
But last week was so pretty, so warm, so sunny, I think to myself as I look around with despair at the tar-bottomed rivers that follow cars to intersections and flow over each other to swirl and twirl through the bars of the storm drains. My umbrella is shredded by the wind and my shoes are squeakingly acknowledging that they are waterlogged, as I miss busses and dodge cars to get to a certain room, in a specific hall, by a fixed time. Today is the first day of classes and, partly due to the relentless rainstorm, it feels like a world away from the sunny shining of campus during the post-Irene bliss of registration week. Continue reading