In Makhosazana Xaba’s recently released short story collection, Running and Other Stories, she re-imagines Can Themba’s classic tale “The Suit” in two stories. In this way, she joins fellow writers Siphiwo Mahala and Zukiswa Wanner in engaging with Themba’s story, dating from the “Drum decade” of the 1950s.
Read an excerpt from the first story of Xaba Makhosazana’s collection, titled “Behind The Suit” in which a dying father writes three confessions to his daughter – the third being the confession of his involvement in the events related in Themba’s “The Suit”.
Read an extract from the story:
* * * * * * * *
You will not believe what just happened. The Sister-in-Charge decided to “report” me to the matron “for the sake of my health”. I am a journalist and I will write till I die, why they don’t get that, I don’t know. As I am not meant to stress myself and have refused to listen to their instructions (I wrote a lot yesterday as well), she thought it in my best interests to inform the matron on duty.
“Good evening, sir.” She greeted me with a soft voice and a wide smile. I looked up to see a woman who could not be younger than 60, definitely close to retirement. Her navy blue uniform hugged her uncomfortably around her waist and her bust. Two buttons around the bust displayed some strain.
“I thought I should inform you in person, sir; I have told the nurses, including Sister-in-Charge, that you have my permission to write as many letters as your heart desires.” I smiled and offered my hand. She smiled and gave me her back without another word. We needed none.
Bare bones number three: the truth I am not proud of. I have always been fascinated by how some events metamorphose as they take on a life of their own over time. This one in particular has never failed to astound me because of its origins – innocence, jest. A mere joke behind such a calamity!
To this day, in my mind I can see Philemon’s face when he came to tell me about catching Matilda in the act. My mother called my name from the stoep of her “therapy room”, a shack really, but that’s what we called it. She had built it when I was just eight years old, insisting that her clients needed privacy.
“Mondli! Umuntu wakho!” That’s how she always referred to Philemon – Mondli, your person – much to his chagrin. Philemon, what a complex human being! He hated that about my mother, who did not think there was anything to be concerned about. In her view, the ancestors were content with us as lovers. When Phil entered my bedroom, he was breathing heavily, carrying a parcel in old newspaper, folded as neatly as only Phil could fold. It was the suit. I was shocked he had even remembered to bring it with him. But that was Phil. He thrived on detail.
Luck was on his side because that was a Monday I was not working. It was payback time for one of my colleagues who had been ill for some time, and in whose place I had worked. It was a Monday that gave pens permission to dance into numerous tomorrows.
I could see Philemon was very angry. I thought his anger was inappropriate, an overreaction and hypocritical, so I challenged him, joking.
“Make her suffer, Phil, make her feed the suit.”
For the first time he looked right into my eyes. He stopped rolling his left hand around his right thumb. As usual when he did this I wondered about how hot his thumb must feel. But it was the wrong moment to tease him.
“I said, make her suffer.”
“But, what do you mean, ‘make her feed the suit’?”
He had that smooth quiver on both sides of his mouth. I had come to know this quiver denoted extreme anger. The faster and less smooth these movements, the closer he approached rage.
Problem was, I didn’t know what I was saying either. The words had simply tumbled out of my mouth without a second of pondering. A part of me wanted to say I was just joking, but another part of me I was surprised to find awake was busy cooking up a plan.
“Phil, you are angry, right?”
“You want to punish her, humiliate her…”
He nodded. His eyes fixed on mine. Had Phil been thinking straight at that moment, he would have seen what he had come to call “the giveaway expression” on my face. I wanted to laugh my lungs out, but Phil was embroiled in his anger. Then his shoulders dropped a whole inch. A faint smile replaced the quiver at the sides of his lips.
“I like that idea. Hmmm, I like it very much.”
He had a way of clapping his hands when he was excited about something, or when he had just had a bright spark cross his mind. It was a light clap, just one, often accompanied by one word “yes” or “awuzweke” or “ushwentshweni” or “okay”, depending on the context and his mood.
Imagine my shock when I heard that Phil had in fact followed through on my joke.
- Running and Other Stories is published by Modjaji Books
- Running by Makhosazana Xaba
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