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"Barbetje had helped me with the first two births - the unsuccessful births. Motherhood had never been my desire." Read an excerpt from Maxine Case's Barry Ronge Prize shortlisted novel, Softness of the Lime

Published in the Sunday Times

Barbetje cleared her throat again.

“Just say what you want to say,” I told her, addressing her in English this time. My English was better than hers by then.

Barbetje ignored me and instead bustled about the kitchen while I watched her with defiant expectation. She took out two cups and saucers: not the good stuff the family used, but not the worst. She placed the sugar and a jug of milk next to them and then poured the tea that had been warming on the stove all morning into the cups. She stirred them briskly, then passed me one.

“Hot, sweet tea always makes me feel better,” she explained. I could believe it; she drank several cups a day.

“Why don’t we sit?” she suggested, pulling out a chair at the table. We seldom sat there; the table had always been reserved for the family, even once the misses left. When we worked we stood, but Barbetje was having none of that.

“My legs are sore.”

I sat down, since I knew that no one would actually tell me that I could not. Anyway, it was usually Barbetje who watched me, to make sure that I didn’t overstep my bounds, and if she told me to sit then I would sit. We sipped our tea in silence. I decided that I would not goad her to talk. Maybe I was afraid of what she’d say.

“His father was exactly the same,” Barbetje said, once I had nearly finished my tea.

I stirred the bottom of my cup, thinking that the words alone must have tasted like sugar on her tongue, but she had surprised me with the tea. Such a sweet irony, I thought, that Barbetje should be to one to show me how I too had been deluded enough to believe that a man like that would keep his word: “I will marry you one day; I will give our children my name”. That’s what he used to say on the nights he wanted to talk.

I was glad that Barbetje hadn’t required me to confirm the news of his marriage; she probably already knew, perhaps she was privy to the details. I didn’t know and I didn’t ask. I let her speak.

“Always promising one thing but doing another,” Barbetje said.

I wanted to ask her about the children she’d borne; I wanted to know what had happened to them, whether she’d thought they’d make a difference. I wanted to ask whether the old man had been able to sell his own flesh and blood. If his son was exactly like his father, I needed to know that.

Barbetje had helped me with the first two births – the unsuccessful births. Motherhood had never been my desire. Not to be hurtful, but it had never been my plan. The hopeful among us saw children as negotiating instruments, a tool when we had so little with which to bargain. Others bore children to punish, a constant reminder of the sins of the fathers. All those fathers sinning so unconscionably, ardently, what was another child when compared to able hands, strong arms, feet? A baby for some was gold, and if not gold, then silver.

A baby is not a bird…

I remembered the words from Rakota’s tale; had always wondered what it meant. Those words were the first thing that came to mind when I saw the child, the first one, a girl. Birdlike bones and damp feathers of hair like a newly hatched chick.

A baby is not a bird…

Barbetje’s words disturbed my thoughts. “‘n Stywe lat het geen konsensie nie,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder.

It was true what she said. A stiff rod had no conscience.

Book details

"Etienne sees only one face in the twilight crowd: Axel's." Read an excerpt from SJ Naudé's Barry Ronge Prize shortlisted novel, The Third Reel

Published in the Sunday Times

The opening band is called Namenlos. They play their first song: Stunde Null is waiting behind the stage. Mindless copycats, Etienne thinks. Echolalic music.

There is a single prop in the middle of the stage: a huge grey-green sound recorder. A mute piece of equipment from some government office or other, built – so it seems – to withstand a nuclear war.

Christof – “our technical boffin”, as Frederick refers to him – tracked it down somewhere in Berlin and had it delivered.

They look at each other. Then the three gazes settle on Etienne. He isn’t sure what he should read into them. A plea? A threat? How does it happen that the three of them always simultaneously make the same demands? And that – this he is only realising now – a collective chill can emanate from them as suddenly as collective warmth?

Namenlos ends their session, leaves the stage.

Smoke is pumped out of the machines, enfolds the instruments. The four of them jump light-footedly onto the stage, one by one. Screams rise from the crowd. While they saunter to their positions, the huge sound recorder’s two reels start turning, magnetic tape tautened between them. Loud, declamatory male voices can be heard: speeches by the East and West German politicians interrupting each other, talking over each other until it becomes sheer cacophony. No single voice can any longer be distinguished from the others. Etienne enters with an extended drum roll, foot on the drum hammer’s pedal. Sparks fly when he rubs steel files over each other. Frederick emerges from the smoke behind the synthesiser: an ominous note is growing, a siren straight from hell.

They play. Play. As none of the echo-bands can.

They recycle noise from the void. It merges with the sounds of cars on highways, tractor engines and power plants’ furnaces. New noise ensues, killing old noise. And then it starts all over again. They have to let go of everything – extinguish everything – that preceded the noise. There is no longer any history, nor any future. No bodies and no consciousness. Everything is sound.

The surging crowd grinds the tomato field to a pulp. Stunde Null play ‘God’s Idiots’. They play ‘The Language of Men and Machines’. There is a moment of silence; the eclipse begins.

The four of them look at each other, then start playing ‘Sonnenfinsternis’. The moon punches a hole right through the sun. Below them everybody is going into a frenzy. A black cloud shifts over the whole of Germany, making everyone deaf.

The evening air lays a lulling hand on Etienne’s forehead. But it isn’t evening; it is afternoon. They are playing to drain the sun of its warmth. At the height of the solar eclipse they keep an impossibly long and cold note. Vibration from the blood. Then they let go. They chase the moon off, bring back the light.

Etienne sees only one face in the twilight crowd: Axel’s. Around him, people are rising and falling, as if under a vast sheet. Axel isn’t wearing any sunglasses, is looking at Etienne with naked eyes. Etienne plays his drums for the tree resin dripping from Axel’s back, for the childlike scribblings on his skin. For how small he looks underneath the German sky.

Around Axel, dozens of people have stripped their clothes off. Ready to follow the music’s commands, to march straight into the flames.

It takes a while before Etienne realises he is the only one still hitting the drums. The other three are watching him in silence. Somewhere they have lost each other. They know he is now playing for Axel only.

The crowd has been wounded, Etienne thinks as he touches his painful erection. They are covered in blood and slimy scraps of flesh. Like a scene of mass surgery – an open-air operation room, patients who start wandering when the anaesthetic fails. But what is actually clinging to them, is tomato pulp.

His three friends’ eyes have become cold. They no longer know him. Etienne looks out over the heads, finds Axel’s face.

The lyrics of the last two lines of ‘Sonnenfinsternis’ linger on “Everybody knows this is Nowhere/Follow the fire and it will guide you home.”

The Third Reel

Book details

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Kirsten Miller's The Hum of the Sun

On the side of the road, two boys are walking, holding hands. The smaller, barefoot one does not speak. The words are there in Zuko’s head but they are stuck somewhere between his thoughts and his mouth.

He sees patterns, though, all around him – in the clouds, the stones, the arch of the sun. He hums the sun’s sound, his fingers painting pathways in the air. Some say he is cursed, others believe he is magical.

To Ash, Zuko is his little brother, all he has left in the world. He has not heard of autism. The older boy is a teenager who has seen more than most his age. Ash stood beside their mother when she buried their sister. Then, when his mother also succumbed to illness, he dug her grave alone. Now he is leading his brother to the city to find their father.

As the two traverse the land, they are forced to eat what they find and sleep under the stars. And Ash keeps wondering: Will their father know them? Will he take them in?
 

Kirsten Miller is the author of All is Fish, shortlisted for the EU Literary Award, Sister Moon, and The Hum of the Sun, winner of the Wilbur and Nino Smith Foundation’s Prize for Best Unpublished Manuscript. Her non-fiction book, Children on the Bridge, on working in the field of autism was longlisted for the Alan Paton Award. She lives in Durban.

Read an excerpt from Kirsten’s exceptional novel here:

They followed the road that drew away from the town. Ash’s boots drummed a determined crunch on the gravel, repetitive, rhythmic steps that Zuko counted as he walked. The sound kept their pace, measuring the morning. Zuko focused on the footsteps. The distance between each step remained exact, emitting no sound as negative space, predictable and consistent. Footsteps, like stars and circles and a pattern of sticks and stones, had the potential to be infinite if something didn’t occur to stop them. There was the predictability of potential infinity. So reliable. Nothing other than what it was.

Ash carried the green bag on his back. The clouds in the sky held no such pattern nor predictability. Clouds tumbled like bedclothes with neither order nor purpose for themselves when the night was over. Ash’s free hand kept a firm grip on Zuko’s. Zuko understood it prevented his impulse to run back. It kept their motion forward, despite what his body might want. The craving was to watch the sharp pine needles fall from his hands for hours behind the house, or for some other activity that could satisfy his need for the whole space of potential infinity.

Zuko had no knowledge of what was in front of them. A pigeon chortled a hollow, hooting sound from deep within the base of its throat. Gravel crunched. Trees held the boys on a single track, guarding the road on either side. His bare feet were practised at navigating the endless small stones with ease. He counted them beneath his calloused soles. He matched his steps with Ash’s stride, but the rhythm fell out too soon because his legs were shorter, his feet more feeling, and he lost the balance between their movements. A quiet discomfort grew in his chest.

As the morning warmed, the sound of birds penetrated the air, stabbing-pitched tweets, unpredictable and random. He wrenched his hand from his brother’s and covered his ears to protect his brain. He heard Ash’s voice and his fast-talking, but the words were indecipherable. He had no idea what they meant.

A cold jab sliced through his foot. There was no pain. Instead a thick sensation of bile passed through his gut. He took his palms from his ears and shook his head. When it failed to work the first time, he kept up the motion that put the nausea in the background, and gave him something to focus on. Ash kept up the rhythmic crunch beside him, looking ahead. Where are we going? Zuko wanted to ask, but he had no words to say it with. Why have we left my mother in the ground? When will we go back?

Slowly the clouds melted from the sky, and left an endless hole of blue. The cold on the underside of his foot grew. He couldn’t look down. The sick feeling pulled him forward and he was afraid he would fall. Suddenly Ash grabbed hold of his hands.

“Zuko, your foot!” Ash yanked him onto the side of the road where soft tufts of grass grew together to create a resting place. He sat and took Zuko’s heel in his lap. The knapsack rustled. Ash extracted the water bottle from the bag and poured water over the wound to clean it. Then he put the bottle to his lips and drank in two guilty swallows. “Here,” he said, and handed the bottle over. “Have some. We’ll fill it up at the bend, before the road leaves the river.”

Zuko drank. The water seemed only to fuel the sick feeling inside him, to swell the sack of nausea that weighted his stomach and head. He stopped drinking. Ash took the bottle back and screwed on the lid. He leaned over Zuko’s foot. “There’s glass in here,” he said. “I’m going to pull it out with my nails. It’ll be sore. Hold on.”

Zuko’s brain isolated the word “sore”, and rolled it around in his mind. He tried to figure out what that was. He only knew his foot was cold and his head was thick and he couldn’t look at the cut or the blood that continued to seep from it, though Ash had tried to wash it away with the water. Something plucked his skin, like a string or a harp or a bow or a chicken’s feather. The cold intensified, and then faded. “We’ll find you a pair of boots,” Ash said. “You can’t go the whole way without proper shoes. And you’ll have to wear something on your feet when we get there.”

There remained a picture so clear it might have been a photograph in Zuko’s memory. It had been four years. Now he thought of the man smiling and the man not smiling. He thought of the man with his arm around his mother, and how the top of his head had looked when he’d held Zuko up high above him and bounced him in the air with giant hands. A searing ripped through Zuko as though it was sound. Ash’s elbow angled into him as he tore a shred of cloth from the bottom of his shirt, and bound Zuko’s foot with it. Zuko laughed into the air. If he squinted his eyes and held his head at a certain angle, his toes seemed to have separated from the rest of his body.

***

They reached the main road two hours later. On the way, a vehicle stopped. A man put his head out the window of the cab of a truck supporting a canopy filled with chickens. Ash recognised him as the owner of the makeshift spaza shop where his mother had bought their milk and washing powder and green hand-hardening soap. “You boys not at school?” the man asked. He wore a woollen knitted hat over the dome of his head.

“My mother died,” Ash replied.

“I heard from the priest,” the man said. “We’re expecting a funeral.”

“I heard,” Ash said. “We won’t be there.”

“You don’t go to school?”

Ash squinted at the road ahead. “Zuko doesn’t go to school. He won’t sit in a chair too long.”

“And you?”

Ash shifted on his feet. “I can’t go now. There’s things I have to do.”

“You should have shown your mother some respect and buried her properly.”

“There’s a lot of things we don’t do properly, my family.”

“I heard there was a rich guy who supports you. From the city.”

“I don’t know about that.”

The man pointed at Zuko. “Is he the one that won’t speak?”

“Can’t speak. He would if he could.”

“I heard about him. He okay in the head?”

“He’s standing right here. Don’t talk about him like that.”

“From what I’ve heard, he won’t understand me anyways.”

“That’s not true.”

The man put both his hands on the wheel, and looked bored.

“You going to the city?” Ash asked. He assessed the chickens in the back. They’d both fit in there, if they had to.

“Why? You want a ride?”

“Our father’s there.”

“You’ve got a father?”

“Everyone’s got a father.”

“Not everyone knows who that is.”

“I know. She told me. My mother told me.”

He raised an eyebrow. “From what I heard, your mother quite liked the men.”

“What are you saying?”

“Nothing. Get in the back with the chickens. I’ll give you a lift home.”

The sky rolled out to another place. The road would take them there. There was nothing to go back to. Ash shook his head. Zuko squinted into the sun and played with the light through his long eyelashes.

“No,” Ash said. “We’re on our way already.”

“Someone will report you, taking a kid like that on the road.” The man flicked his left indicator, already resigned that they had made their decision.

“You think he looks like he doesn’t want to be out here?”

The man shrugged, and pushed his beanie back from his dark forehead. “You got shoes for him?”

“In the bag,” Ash lied. “He doesn’t like wearing them.”

“If anyone asks me, I’ll deny I ever saw the two of you. I don’t want any trouble.”

Ash shrugged. “Whatever. It’s a free country.”

“Now it is.” The vehicle accelerated onto the tar and the wheels spun slightly, like the sound of a small animal.

Book details

"These riots, when it came down to it, were all about one thing. Land." Read an excerpt from Mphuthumi Ntabeni's debut novel, The Broken River Tent

The Broken River Tent is a novel that marries imagination with history.

It is about the life and times of Maqoma, the Xhosa chief who was at the forefront of fighting British colonialism in the Eastern Cape during the nineteenth century. The story is told through the eyes of a young South African, Phila, who suffers from what he calls triple ‘N’ condition – neurasthenia, narcolepsy and cultural ne plus ultra. T

his makes him feel far removed from events happening around him but gives him access to the analeptic memory of his people. After being under immense mental pressure, he crosses the mental divide between the living and the dead and is visited by Maqoma. They engage in different conversations about cultural history, literature, religion, the past and contemporary South African life.

Read an excerpt:

The Gravediggers

The entrance to the Hangberg Multipurpose Sport Centre was unusually busy for a non-social grant payment day. Media cameras were everywhere. Their little village town had caught the attention of the nation, Phila thought, if not exactly the world.

“Ngawethu!”

The main speaker for the evening had entered the hall. While other speakers assembled on the podium Phila took a seat near the back. Although he regarded himself as part of this community, he felt somewhat out of place, as if he was faking his solidarity to leech onto the people’s pain.

It was soon evident that the community meeting had been hijacked by politicians and Phila had difficulty holding his concentration. A guy from something to do with Social Justice was saying something about the government marginalising and criminalising the poor. “The lies of the city and provincial officials who call us drug lords when we demand our constitutional rights shall be exposed!” he cried, becoming very animated.

He spoke for quite a long time, mixing English in Afrikaans. People clapped violently. Next a Rastafarian took the microphone, first hailing Haile Selassie and Jah and then dissing the “Babylonian governments and their system of oppression. Dem tell us to reconcile, meantime dem serve us snake for fish, and rocks for bread. Mandela se kak!” The crowd went wild. “Ons KhoiKhoi mense! We demand our land back …” There was something impressively radically anarchist about the Rasta.

As the meeting finally looked as if it was drawing to an end, after almost two hours, and the cameramen were packing up their equipment, Phila went outside to get some air and have a cigarette. He found himself reflecting on the reason for this meeting, the events of the past week which had culminated in what the media, with their flair for dramatic nostalgia, had called Black Tuesday. The police had come, around 2am, in what one of the speakers had termed ‘apartheid style’, to evict people who had illegally invaded land on the slopes of Hangberg. Phila wasn’t totally clear about the details but the violence had started when residents resisted the police. On his walk back home earlier, after having fish and chips at Fish-On-The-Rocks as the sun went down, his route took him close to where the events of Black Tuesday had unfolded. The place had looked like an abandoned movie set for the apartheid era. On his way he had stooped to pick up a used teargas canister shell, obviously from a police shotgun, and he’d slipped it into his pocket without thinking.

That speaker was right. The events of the previous week had introduced a reminiscent order of apartheid days in the streets of their village town. Phila himself had been there, doing what he could to help. When a TV newsman at the riot scene had asked him to give his opinion, on camera, he had wanted to sound revolutionary, to send a clear message that the impoverished should not be pushed around and criminalised for being poor. Instead, dogged by his middle-class timidity, he’d come up with a cautious statement about “the irony of the fact that when developers for the rich want to push mountain firebreaks it is done at the stroke of a pen, but now that the poor have run out of living space they are treated like brigands who are illegally occupying land.”

It irritated him that he was always so cautious, reasonable and unspontaneous. His mind was neither quick nor nimble; he lacked the gift of spontaneity, which was why he found it hard to improvise on the spot. At best he had keen powers of observation and some originality when given a moment to apply his mind, but his kind always got swallowed by the revolution.

He thought about how, a decade and a half ago, during the so-called rainbow era of Mandela, the country was full of hope and assertive belief in the renewal of its humanity. Now he saw the return of cynicism, suspicion, despair, and police terror, the suppression of freedom, with all the accompanying horrors. Community meetings with fired-up rhetoric. Loud-hailers on the streets, calling citizens to action – like the one on the red bakkie that had gone past his window and alerted him to this meeting tonight, urging residents to “do a postmodern on the BRUTALITY of the police last Tuesday, when they invaded our community APARTHEID style. Injury one! Injury all! The BOEREBOND is on the rise again!”

Outside he was joined by a podgy fellow who had been at the podium table and whom Phila was sure he’d seen somewhere else. Initially he couldn’t place him but then he realised: he was the security guard at the local supermarket, who usually greeted him when he went there for supplies, who sometimes helped him with the groceries, very politely, to the car. Phila always made sure to tip.

“Nice of you to join us, sir,” the fellow said with his usual politeness. Phila was glad to recognise a face in that sea of strangers. The fellow swapped his cigarette to his left hand before extending his right, and they ended up shaking hands for a little too long and more vigorously than was necessary.

“I never figured you as the revolutionary type,” Phila said, regretting the statement the moment it went out of his mouth. It turned out the fellow was a community leader of some kind. Inside, when people had kept referring to community leaders and shouting socialist slogans, they had been referring to him. An ironic twist surely – socialists guarding the doors of capitalism? Talk about capitalism producing its own gravediggers, thought Phila.

He was still turning fiery phrases over in his mind, of the type he could have used in front of the TV camera when he’d had the chance. The government is wiping our turned-up noses with the sword; our liberators have turned into our oppressors. A luta continua! Deep down he knew there was no way he could have said all of that. Even in his head it all sounded fake. He was no revolutionary; neither did he want to be one. He believed more in the evolution of the mind, the gradual progress etcetera.

The usual crap of weak characters who never want to be involved in the real struggles under the guise of being civilised. The irony was that he spent almost all his life trying to civilise his mind; now he was doing everything possible to escape the fate of Prufrock, the ineffectual, wellbred man during times of rising tensions and turbulences.

Irony struck him again as he said goodnight to the community leader and set off home. These riots, when it came down to it, were all about one thing. Land. The irony, in the twenty-first century, was that the players were still the same as before. You had the KhoiKhoi people on the slopes of Hangberg, and the Xhosas – mostly from the Eastern Cape, where their forefathers had fought the British colonial powers – on the slopes of Karbonkelberg where Imizamo Yethu informal settlement was situated. And then in the affluent valley down below were mostly the white people, progeny of the settlers from the 1800s.

Phila walked home under a maturing sheet of darkness. Moonlight cracked the sky with pale fissures of light.

Book details

Fiksie Vrydag: lees ’n uittreksel van André P Brink se Die rooikop en die redakteur en ander stories

Dekades voor hy beroemdheid verwerf het as internasionaal bekroonde skrywer van meer as 25 romans, het André P Brink gedurende die vyftigerjare sy brood en botter verdien met die skryf van stories vir gesinstydskrifte. In dié bloemlesing verskyn daar vir die eerste keer ooit ’n keur van die liefdesverhale wat hy as student in die destydse Die Brandwag en ook Die Huisgenoot gepubliseer het.

In dié dosyn verhale oor eertydse jintelmans en koppige heldinne wat nie huiwer om hul sê te sê nie, word dit gou duidelik hoe die vroeë Brink sy skrywerstem geslyp het, en andersyds kan ’n mens onmiddellik ’n kern van sy latere, volwasse skrywerstem bespeur. Die landskap van Parys, ’n boekeredakteurskantoor, die onmoontlikheid om tussen twee liefdes te moet kies: Leitmotifs wat jare later, hoewel meer vervorm, steeds sou weerklank vind in Brink se werk.

Die rooikop en die redakteur en ander stories kombineer Brink se eiesoortige humor met ’n tikkie nostalgie – perfek vir ’n ouer én nuwe geslag lesers. Dit is saamgestel deur Cecilia van Zyl, voormalige verhaleredakteur van Huisgenoot.

Die rooikop en die redakteur

’n Kortverhaalredakteur is ook maar ’n mens, en toe Jan Wentzel die vyfde agtereenvolgende verhaal in die mandjie met ’n dik blou kruis op die titelblad moet merk, is sy geduld gedaan. Dit is tyd dat hulle uitvind dat Die Voorpunt nie met enige snert gediend is nie. Gedorie! ’n Mens het darem beter dinge om te doen as om sulke kinderagtige brousels te lees.

Hy trek sy tikmasjien nader en skuif sy bril reg. (Dis nie dat sy oë juis veel makeer nie, maar die bril is die enigste manier om sy agt-en-twintig jaar ouer en waardiger te maak.)

Die skrywer? Hy soek die naam en adres met sy potlood. O, dis ’n vrou. Kon dit ook verwag het. Klein . . . – hy soek ’n woord – klein ditsedat! Marié Hurter; mooi naam, maar daaraan kan hy hom nie nou steur nie. Tien teen een is dit ’n oujongnooi wat haar eie stokkerige frustrasies op hierdie manier in ’n suikermengsel op papier uitstort. Sy vingers kletter oor die toetse.

DIE VOORPUNT
die tydskrif aan die spits in Suid-Afrika
Tel. 31-4151 Posbus 351 Johannesburg

Mej. M. Hurter
Posbus 2345
Johannesburg
Geagte mej. Hurter
Ek stuur u verhaal, “Blou maanskyn”, hiermee terug. Dit spyt my om te sê dat dit my nie spyt om hom af te keur nie. U behoort uit ons gepubliseerde verhale af te lei dat ons tydskrif lankal sy adolessente jeans afgeskud het. Die redaksie het baie werk en kan nie bekostig om hul kosbare tyd te verkwis met die lees van minderwaardige verhale soos hierdie nie.
U het dit seker goed bedoel, maar u kan dit gerus oorweeg om u goeie bedoelings op ’n minder onskadelike manier te uit as om die skryfkuns daaronder te versmoor.
Agtend
Die uwe
Jan Wentzel
Kortverhaalredakteur

“Sóó!” Jan draai die vel uit die masjien en sit dit in ’n koevert. “Dit sal die ellendeling leer!”

Hy dink ’n bietjie skuldig aan die vorige redaksievergadering toe die hoofredakteur hulle dit so op die hart gedruk het: “Mense, kyk, Die Voorpunt staan op die voorpunt. Maar moet nooit ’n medewerker afskrik nie. Aanmoediging en aandag kan dalk talent aan die lig bring wat anders vir die mensdom verlore sou gewees het.”

Hy troos hom daaraan dat meneer Keyter al verby vyftig trek en nie meer weet wat dit is om elke dag stringe snertverhale te keur en die paar korreltjies van die kaf te skei nie. Buitendien, as hy dié juffrou Hurter nie nou skrikmaak nie, gaan sy vir hulle dalk nog wie weet hoeveel ellende met haar simpel stories veroorsaak. Voorkoming is beter as genesing.

“Meneer Wentzel,” kom die sekretaresse kort voor halfeen die volgende dag by Jan se kantoor in, “daar’s ’n dame wat u wil spreek.”

Hy loer na sy horlosie. “Ons loop oor ’n kwartier. Ek is in die middel van ’n verhaal. Kan sy nie vanmiddag kom nie?”

Die sekretaresse skud haar kop. “Sy’s haastig.” Sy aarsel. “En as ek u raad verskuldig is, laat haar maar kom, anders is sy kapabel en rand een van ons aan.”

Hy haal sy bril af en beskou haar. “Juffrou Neethling?”

“En sy’s haastig ook,” sê die sekretaresse. “Sy wil nog ’n draai hier onder by die vroueredaktrise maak en dan moet sy jaag vir ’n afspraak of iets.”

“Toe, toe!” keer hy. Juffrou Neethling, pligsgetroue mens, probeer alle besonderhede gewoonlik so volledig as moontlik en in so ’n kort tydjie as moontlik verskaf.

“En sy staan op ’n verbode parkeerplek ook. ’n Klein groen motortjie.”

“Mylafstand?” hou hy hom ernstig.

Juffrou Neethling glimlag verleë. “Nee, dis ernstig, meneer. Sy het rooi hare.”

Hy haal sy skouers op. “Nou goed.”

Maar voor juffrou Neethling na haar eie kantoor kan teruggaan, spring die deur oop en sý kom in: die pragtigste elfmensie wat jy jou kan voorstel.

“Is jy Jan Wentzel?” vra sy. En Jan besef sonder meer dat sy veel meer vonk het as wat dit op die oog af mag lyk.

Hy staan op en beduie die sekretaresse om te verdwyn. “Tot u diens, juffrou.”

“Tot u diens se voet!”

Sy kom met driftige treë nader en haar groen oë blits.

“Het jy dié ding geskryf?” Sy sjoerr ’n vel papier op sy lessenaar neer.

Hy vat-vat dit ’n slag mis en lees dit onderstebo: “Geagte mejuffrou Hurter. Ek stuur u verhaal . . .”

“Het jy dit geskryf?” vra sy.

“Juffrou?” Hy sit sy bril op. “Juffrou, ek . . .”

“Moenie staan en juffrou nie!” Sy vat die brief by hom. “Het jy of het jy nie?”

“Sit ’n oomblik, juffrou Hurter. Ek sal die saak mooi uiteensit.”

“Ek staan lekker, dankie.” Sy vroetel-vroetel in haar handsak en haal ’n manuskrip uit. “En hier’s my storie, ‘Blou maanskyn’. Sê my nou baie mooi hoekom jy hom teruggestuur het. En ek wag nie lank nie.”

Jan vee oor sy voorkop. “Moenie so kwaad wees nie, juffrou.”

Dit lyk of sy hom gaan spoeg en hy skuif sy stoel ’n entjie agteruit.

“Kyk, meneer Jan Wentzel,” sê sy stadig en baie nadruklik. “Verstaan jy Afrikaans? Jy het my storie teruggestuur en jy het vir my ’n baie onbeskofte brief geskryf. Hoekom? Ek gee jou vyf minute om te antwoord.”

Moord in die redaksiekantoor, dink hy. Maar hy is nog gans te verward om iets te sê. Al wat hy weet is dat hy die pragtigste meisie in jare der jare hier voor hom het en dat sy hom wil verniel as sy hom net kan bykom. Hoe maak mens nou as dit so gaan, h’m?

“Toe, ek wil hoor hoekom –”

Hy vervies hom skielik. “Jy het dit nou al ’n paar maal gesê, juffrou. Ek is nie doof nie.”

Sy knip haar oë en skrik ’n bietjie. “Maar . . .” sê sy. “Maar . . . Dit was ’n mooi storie, ek weet. Hennie het ook so gesê.”

Sy moed sak. Hennie. Mag ’n ongedierte die man vang!

“Juffrou,” sê hy sukkel-sukkel. “Kyk, ek was gister ’n siek man. Amper dood ook. Dis ’n genade dat jy my nog hier sien staan. En toe lees ek vyf simp- . . . vyf swak stories in ’n ry. Dis meer as wat vlees en bloed kan dra. Dis nie dat jou storie buite hoop is nie, sien. Ons is net bietjie vol op die oomblik . . .”

“Vol se dinges!” wip sy die brief onder sy neus in. “Is dit hoe mens skryf as jou tydskrif te vol is? ‘. . . u goeie bedoelings op ’n minder onskadelike manier te uit as om die skryfkuns daaronder te versmoor.’ Verbeel jou. Verbéél jou! Jou onbeskofte, ellendige mansmens!” Sy wip om en loop deur toe. “Dink julle kan enige ding aanvang net omdat julle met ’n onskadelike, weerlose ou meisietjie te doen het!” Die deur ghwarrr agter haar toe.

Onskadelike, weerlose ou meisietjie, dink hy. Maar die eintlike probleem wat hom beethet, is dit: hoe gaan hy ooit, ooit daarin slaag om haar in die hande te kry? Want dit, en niks minder as dit nie, is wat hy besluit het toe sy vaneffe hier ingeborrel het. Dis presies wat mens nodig het op ’n koue wintersaand: so ’n stukkie lewe in die huis. Maar filosofeer gaan nie help nie. Hoe gaan hy haar ná dese tot enigiets oorreed? ’n Meisie kry nie gou ’n sagte plekkie in die hart vir die man wat sy as ’n boef en onbeskofte vent uitgeskel het nie.

Maar Jan Wentzel is darem ook nie verniet kortverhaalredakteur nie. Hy kan ’n moeilike situasie hanteer as dit moet. En as dit nog nooit gemoet het nie, dan moet dit nou.

Hy skarrel rond tussen die goed wat juffrou Neethling vertel het: die meisie – Marié Hurter (mooi naam) – moet nog by die vroueredaktrise ’n draai maak, dan jaag vir ’n afspraak (Hennie Blikslaer!). En die motor staan onwettig geparkeer. Groen goggamobiel. Hy is nog besig om te dink toe die gehoorbuis al teen sy oor lê.

“Juffrou Neethling? Skakel my deur na Hendrik Buys heel onder. En opskud!”

Hy hoor die telefoon onder brr-brr en dan kliek.

“Hendrik?”

“H’m.”

“Broer, nael met daardie lang bene van jou uit in die straat. Daar staan ’n groen goggamobiel êrens waar hy nie moet staan nie. Stel hom buite aksie. Diskonnekteer hom, betjoins hom – moet net nie skade aanrig nie – blaas ’n wiel af, enigiets. En as jy ’n rooikopmeisie met ’n groen rok sien aankom, maak dat jy wegkom en koes vir die klippe.”

Boekbesonderhede

"One of my mother's biggest regrets was that she never got to see my father's body." Read an excerpt from Lukhanyo & Abigail Calata's My Father Died for This

When the Cradock Four’s Fort Calata was murdered by agents of the apartheid state in 1985, his son Lukhanyo was only three years old.

Thirty-one years later Lukhanyo, now a journalist, becomes one of the SABC Eight when he defies Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s reign of censorship at the public broadcaster by writing an open letter that declares: my father didn’t die for this.

Now, with his wife Abigail, Lukhanyo brings to life the father he never knew and investigates the mystery that surrounds his death despite two high-profile inquests.

Join them in a poignant and inspiring journey into the history of a remarkable family that traces the struggle against apartheid beginning with Fort’s grandfather, Rivonia trialist and ANC Secretary-General Rev James Calata.

Lukhanyo Calata is a television journalist, who worked for eNCA before joining the SABC’s parliamentary office. He lives in Cape Town.

Abigail Calata is a journalist who has worked for Beeld as a political reporter and parliamentary correspondent, Die Burger and the University of Cape Town’s Law Faculty. She lives in Cape Town.

Read an excerpt from the Calata’s powerful book, as published in the Daily Maverick:

My mother remembered a heavy fatigue descending on her as day broke on 20 July. “On the day of the funeral, I was tired,” she said. “I was so very tired. And I was not myself. I was just surrounded by darkness.”

That morning, she would defiantly wear a dress in the black, green, and gold colours of the ANC.

The remains arrived in Cradock quite early that Saturday morning. My father’s coffin was brought and placed on the stoep of Tatou’s home, almost on the exact spot where his grandfather’s coffin had stood just two years previously. The remains of the other three men were taken to their respective homes.

Paul Verryn would insist that the coffin with my father’s remains not be opened, in a bid to shield my mother from the trauma of seeing her husband’s badly mutilated body.

On my father’s death certificate, the cause of death is ascribed to “stab wounds to the heart and the consequences thereof”. What it neglects to mention is the number of times he was stabbed – at least 25 times. It also doesn’t mention that his tongue and several fingers on his left hand were cut off. His body, and in particular his face, was then doused with petrol and set alight – to make identification difficult.

Despite this, one of my mother’s biggest regrets was that she never got to see my father’s body.

Continue reading here.

Book details