‘He murdered all his brain cells with the papsak’ – Read a story from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips
This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Jolyn Phillips’s new collection of short stories Tjieng Tjang Tjerries.
Phillips hails from Blompark, Gansbaai on the Western Cape coast, and is currently working on a PhD in Language Education at the University of the Western Cape. She was a 2014 Mandela Rhodes Scholar and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UWC in 2013. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries is her first book.
Modjaji Books founder and publisher Colleen Higgs says of the book: “As you will see by the things that the writers who have read and love her work have said, I’m not the only one who feels thrilled by the voice of this young woman.”
And Higgs is right. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries has collected high praise from literary luminaries such as Antjie Krog, Meg Vandermerwe and Shaun Johnson.
The book is being launched next week Tuesday, 19 April, at The Book Lounge in Cape Town – an event not to be missed!
Meanwhile, read a story from the collection to whet your appetite:
The dog just came here one day. No one knew where he came from and I don’t think anyone was looking for him. The dog looked brandsiek like a pavement special, a mix between a poodle and a husky. Shame, the poor thing was ugly and that was the end of it. I felt so sorry for him, so I let him sleep in my yard. I gave bones and leftovers for the dog to eat, but he stayed thin. Later on, we got used to each other. He never listened to my commands, but he would walk all the way to the stop sign at the end of our street and wait there for me until I returned from the Andries Café in Skool Street. One day I thought, Ag, give the poor thing a name. I started calling him Snuffles then Fluffy, then Ore, but he never responded when I called him those names. Until old Hennie came over one day, for coffee and a few ginger cookies. He actually lived here, in my house, but sometimes he forgot. He didn’t remember who he was or where he came from – it’s the wine that made him like that, so I treated him like he was a long-lost cousin, or someone visiting from a faraway country. Hennie liked that. He changed his role every day.
That day the dog comes up to Hennie and starts sniffing his ankles. Hennie says, ‘Shu, but that is a bloody ugly dog!’
Suddenly the dog sits up, waving his tail excitedly.
‘That’s it!’ I cried, ‘The blerrie dog’s name is Lelik! You know, Hennie, I have been looking for a name for the thing for quite some time now. I think he likes the name Lelik.’
But enough about the dog. Let me tell you more about Old Hennie. He is maar a strange oomie, a wanderer. He has nine fingers and he has an Afrikaans accent that sounds like the skop, skiet and donner American movies we watch every Friday on Etv. Heaven knows where he got it, and I never cared to ask, now that I think about it. Years ago Hennie worked in a butchery, next to Susan’s in town. One evening he had to close the shop and he wanted to steal some meat before he went home, but he was too drunk and ended up cutting off his index finger, shame. I am not even his child, but I look after him because he murdered all his brain cells with the papsak. It was very bad. One evening he came home, I was hanging over the gate watching him come down the road, just like an ouroeke. He stood there with a businessman smile and asked me very politely, ‘Do you know where Josephine Fielies lives?’
I burst out laughing. You see, of course, I am Josephine Fielies and he didn’t even remember it, so soft has his brain got from all the drinking. I laughed until it felt like my stomach muscles were pulling apart. Until I found myself crying. I couldn’t believe that Hennie had just asked me where I, Josephine Fielies, lived. I took him by the arm and invited him in for a cup of coffee, still hot. He drank it like it was cool drink, in one go. It’s as if his body forgot to react to the pain. He had forgotten how to be human. That is what I told myself. Afterwards, he went into the bedroom to rest after his third cup of ‘boeretroos’, as he calls it when he is the rich boer from Baardskeerdersbos. He seemed a bit weak. I knew that soon it would be my responsibility to change his nappies also. His body was getting weaker by the day. That is what I told myself. Sometimes he just sat there like he was dead, his entire body unable to move. He mumbled nonsense things like, ‘Spider webs, spider webs, spider webs’ and went back to looking like a statue.
Once, it was a Monday morning and I was busy making cabbage stew, I didn’t hear him come to the kitchen and he screamed, ‘Spinnerakke!’ The Lord must forgive me for my French, maar ek het my binne in my moer geskrik. All you saw was a wooden spoon and cabbage flying in the air. ‘Hygend! The focking jong.’
Old Hennie and Lelik became best friends. Wherever Hennie was, so was Lelik. Old Hennie couldn’t walk so fast anymore, that is why Lelik walked behind him, and if you dared to touch Hennie, Lelik would vreet your ankles. It was like the dog was protecting the old man. So at least I didn’t worry too much, Lelik was there to look after Hennie if he got himself into any trouble. So it was strange when one day Lelik came home by himself without Hennie. But I just thought to myself, maybe it is because old Hennie is walking slower, or visiting a neighbour. After a few hours and still no Hennie, I went to check whether Hennie was sitting at the edge of the street sign, the one made from concrete. It was his usual spot to smoke his pipe. But Hennie was nowhere to be seen. I became worried when the street lights began to lighten up the street. Darkness was coming and still no Hennie. I then walked over to his son’s house, and we drove to the police because that son of Hennie’s has a car now. That house used to be Hennie’s. But the son had made it his and didn’t worry about his father who was too sick to know home from the street. The police officer stood behind the counter and told us to come back in 72 hours, only then can they declare him as missing. I swear it was the longest 72 hours of my life. After 72 hours we went back. Still no Hennie. The policeman made us fill in a form. He asked if we had any photos. I only had one, of when we were younger, before Hennie’s brain went deurmekaar. When he still worked at the factory. It doesn’t look much like him now, but I still gave it to the policeman.
People started looking, the dogs and the inspectors were looking, and the local newspaper asked the community to be on the lookout. Months later his face was even on the TV. Everyone searched, except for Lelik.
Meanwhile, Hennie’s eldest son took over the house and shamelessly put his two brothers out. Maybe it served them right for not taking care of their father properly. The eldest couldn’t wait to turn the house into a hotel, for him and his family. Ticket, his younger brother, lives with me in the old caravan in the back yard. Skerul, the second eldest, sleeps with his meide; he has one in almost every part of Gansbaai. How the eldest got the house is a mystery. When I asked the brothers how they got put out, they just say, ‘We don’t want to talk about it now.’ I didn’t ask further because I take pride in keeping my nose out of other people’s business. To think the eldest brother didn’t give me a blue cent, not a blooming tiekie for looking after his father. But the Lord will provide, it is no use complaining, He will provide. And Lelik, he is still living here with me, barely leaving the yard.
I cannot believe it has been eight years since Hennie went missing. I for one still believe to this day that Hennie is alive. One of these good days he will return from his long trip and visit. I wonder what he will be this time. Probably a Frenchman or an Ingels Jintelmin. I will invite him in for coffee like before and we will eat lamingtons and oliebolle – those are his favourite. At the moment, Lelik is my only hope. I know Lelik knows where his friend is. The only problem is I talk and Lelik barks.