We are delighted to bring you an extract from Saturdays Are Gold by Pierre van Rooyen, which was nominated for The Guardian’s “Not the Booker Prize” in 2011. In the following passage, van Rooyen introduces us to the innocent world of seven-year-old Maudie through the eyes of her nine-year-old brother, Tadpole.
* * * * * * * *
In 1946, my sister started going to school. She was speaking much better but still reticent and the august institution quickly became a problem for her. At the end of the first month, having been fetched by Sampson every day because she wasn’t allowed out of the front gate on her own, she came crying to me where I was digging a pretend mine shaft in the shade of the fig tree.
“I never going back,” she sobbed. “I finished with school.”
“Tis the law, Maudie. We hafta go.”
“Hmph, if you ask me, the law’s plain crazy and school’s miserable. I probably know
everything already. School makes me wish I never was born.”
“You dunno everything, Sis.”
“Abe taught me lotsa things.”
Only Maudie called our father Abe. She picked it up when Momma was alive. He was Abraham John. His friends called him AJ.
“The teacher thinks we still babies. Big A little a, bouncing b, cat’s in the cupboard and can’t see me. Have five apples then eat two, how many left? Does she think we stupid?”
“Can’t be helped, Sis. You hafta go to school to learn arithmetic and history and geography.”
“P’raps, Tadpole, but the week’s awful long, I probably gonna croak one day.”
“Why don’t you make signs you can stick up somewhere, just the names of the days so you can cross ’em off? On Wednesday, for instance, you can start looking forward to the weekend.
“Monday won’t be so bad then because on Monday afternoon you can cross it off and you’ll know the worst of the week’s over.”
She stared at me.
“I gotta think about that.”
She went off and came back an hour later with seven strips of paper neatly torn out of an exercise book. Each had been painstakingly lettered with the name of one of the days of the week, all beautifully crafted in wax crayon.
“What you think?” she quizzed.
“Say, those’re wonderful. I reckon you done a first class job.”
She eyed me.
“Sure you not messing me about?”
“P’raps we can pin today on the fig tree?”
She had lettered that day a Friday, in crimson. The following day Saturday, was a mixture of yellow and ochre.
“That’s s’posed to be gold,” she confided. To this day, I cannot visualize Saturday except in gold.
“This one’s act’lly silver,” she pointed out, showing me her Sunday sign. She had achieved the colour with a grey crayon over-lettered with a white one. My lifetime impression of Sunday is silver.
“And this one’s Monday,” she muttered, scowling. “The worsest day of my life.”
I stared at her Monday sign and felt a chill run through my body. It wasn’t blue. It was black. As the weekdays progressed, my sister’s colours became brighter. Tuesday, a day of relief, was pink, a great change from Monday. Wednesday was green, Thursday, orange and Friday, of course, red.
“Why the different colours, Sis? I thought you’d do ’em all the same.”
“Cos that’s the way I am,” she responded, hands on hips, gazing at me as if I was dumb.
“Monday I’m terrible black. I don’t mean like Amos. He’s not black he’s brown but act’lly he’s silver inside. Then on Tuesdays I’m pink. Don’t you see, silly? By Saturday I’m gold.”
I stared at her.
“Isn’t everybody the same? Isn’t Abe green on Wednesdays and orange on Thursdays?”
“Yah, Maudie, I think maybe you’re right. I always thought the days were different colours, but I didn’t know what ones.”
“I s’pect that’s cos you didn’t have my crayons. Otherwise you woulda known the colours easy.”
Every morning from that day on, my sister pinned the day of the week on the trunk of our fig tree and I think the rest of the household knew that Wednesdays were green and Saturdays, gold.
- Saturdays Are Gold by Pierre van Rooyen
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