The Myth of Aging

“People usually assume that being the youngest amongst my siblings I revelled in the indulgence normally afforded children in such positions. Truth is I often felt compromised by my position in the pecking order.

My brothers were, for most of my childhood, taller and stronger than I was. With five and three years respectively on me, they could usually be relied upon to be more intelligent and sharp-witted. I remember devising a logic, as a five or six year old perhaps, that no known world would ever corroborate. I must have had a moment of being overwhelmed by the sheer bad luck of it all. The thought that I was doomed to forever be the youngest, too heavy to bear. So I reasoned that surely everyone gets a chance to be the oldest and I vowed to have a field day when my turn came.

Needless to say this never came to pass. I’m thirty-five years old and my two brothers have remained, respectively, five and three years older than me. But maybe it’s this experience of age, as something to be coveted, this relationship to getting older as something to be cherished, that explains my current disappointment.”

(Read full post here)

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What They Don’t Explain

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

I remember my first friend. She had clay-brown skin and straw-coloured hair coaxed into chunky plaits. Shalewa wore ribbons and her hands were clammy when we touched. Her eyes swimmy. I’m convinced she liked a white dress with grey horizontal stripes (or maybe they were vertical) and a thin red sash and, for whatever reason, many of my memories have her with her hands on her hips and her face in a smile. Playgroup but I don’t remember the group, I remember Shalewa. And the name remains one of my favourite. If I ever see fit to bear a child I’d be prepared to arm-wrestle whoever on the merits of this name.

I haven’t lost many friends. And none of those losses were to death. I admit this is a strange and moribund thing to notice (that none of your friends are dead yet) but, yes, I notice it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about what I notice but I know I can’t quite shake the weirdness of noticing such things; it’s normal to be thankful that the people you care about are still alive but it’s a bit freaky to be checking in the first place. Friends of friends have died. And once or twice removed friends (a kind of hey-hey friendship but nothing more) have died. A friend’s cousin died in a car accident on De Waal Drive. Resisting the appeal of the Grand-Prix like curves, Table Mountain egging me on and the smooth stretches, when I drive De Waal I slow down: may his death not be a waste to those of us he left living. A young boy in school took his own life, a little bird of a boy, I noticed when I saw his photograph in the school magazine commemorating him, publishing his short and cryptic (could it have been anything else?) poem.

               Of course people I’ve loved very dearly, people in my family, have passed on but that’s a different kind of loss. None of my friends have died, and I’m not dead either. Not yet anyway.

It’s a whole other scenario, though, when you lose a friend who remains living. I don’t mean that you’ve lost touch or you live far apart and so struggle to maintain the friendship and that sort of thing. I mean it really is as if you’re dead to one another (even if you live on the same street) except you are both still breathing.   There are certain things you get taught. Depending on where you live and perhaps on your various abilities, you get taught some way of communicating, maybe even several. This is important in life, that you be able to interact with others, express yourself, listen. You get numbers and letters. Things are more complex the older you become. There’s a whole world out there, stuff people did (mostly shitty stuff) and there’s apparently Geography. At some point the school takes pity on you and you’re shown a diagram of the female and male human body, with labels and scientific words you worry you might misspell if quizzed. It’s your own body with words which, if asked, you’d never have assigned to it. Things continue to get more complicated. You’re taught about the pursuit of beauty, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of spiritual wealth.

Somewhere the world cracks open. After my first kiss I walked the streets rubbing my eyes. Everyone looked different.

Somewhere the world turns in on itself. The person (the one to whom all your love was determined to flow till death bade otherwise) is gone. Alive somewhere, just not with you.   Of all the things the most intelligent of intelligent people took the trouble to think it was important we learn, no one considered explaining about love. Sure we grazed against it in English Setwork but that is like relying on a pornographic magazine to teach you about making the beast with two backs. It is like watching a baker and thinking that sufficient to becoming one. Why would someone planning my education omit a lesson on what to do with heartache; how to know, before it’s too late, whether you’re compatible with another; how to tell the difference between love and abuse because as certain as you think you might be about it, those two masquerade each other in a turbulent and tragic dance. Maybe the makers of education rely on the guardians of the child, the parents, except they were taught the same things, they too entered adulthood unprepared and there was no global memorandum that went out saying: Okay people, we didn’t teach this in school but now going forward as you start having babies make sure you cover this stuff, here’s a working syllabus, edition 2 out soon.   None of that happened. I simply grew up and bumbled along like everyone else, like all of you, and now I’m 34. My mother was 33 when she gave birth to me, her third child. I figure I have a loving heart, I have good intentions, I am suitably kind and self-aware; my brothers as well and many many people I know. But so what? When it comes to interacting as hearts so much else seems required. So much more self-awareness, so much maturity. Opt for sex buddies, simpler than navigating intimacy. Except, my parents made it seem easy, were they just lucky? The right pattern in the sky, the right temperaments colliding. And there are countless stories of those that don’t get it right, are they just the unlucky? I don’t know. Some rely on their religion but whose version of which faith? It’s “life lessons” others say, you just have to sweat it out on the arena, no amount of preparation could make a real dent with stuff like this. It’s not, after all, like swatting for an Algebra test, it’s life, it’s the big stuff: love, compassion, generosity. And yet, a quick glance at statistics tells that the cost of learning on the job is high. I live in the world and violence is dripping from our fingertips, sweating the pavements, steaming the skies. And then tomorrow we go to school and learn the names of all the seas, the directions of the winds, the names of the planets. But no one has been charged to sit down for a double period and wonder about how to really love.

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Calling Rapists Men

“I was listening to the radio and a man called in. He was commenting on the horrific (I don’t have words anymore to describe these things) incidence of a young woman gang-raped by 38 men. He was objecting to calling these rapists ‘men’. He said it made him, as a man, embarrassed and we should find another word for them.

Embarrassed is a start, I suppose. A kind of ‘Dudes you’re bringing the side down’. But actually his suggestion is problematic. His attention is on his own credibility as a man versus on the loud rampant prevalence of sexual violence and misogyny the world over, and how to eradicate it. He calls in to a radio show to charge the station with a different way of referring to men who rape versus charging himself with the task of hunting down these men (he might be surprised he doesn’t have to go very far to find them) and dealing with his “side”. Underneath his comment, he seemed to be saying ‘As long as I’m not associated with this we can proceed’.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, I was driving and had not the time, in that moment, to call in and begin the debate. I didn’t have the chance to engage with him and completely understand where he was coming from. And the nature of radio is that he spoke for a few short minutes and then was gone. But he raised something that I found hard to ignore.”

(Read the full post here)

Formative Reading Experiences

ShortStoryDayAfrica is inviting us to think back on what were the key moments that turned you/me/us into readers and writers. Alex Smith is curating this year’s blog roll, and has compiled four questions to uncover the literary gems that sparked us all those years ago.

1 – WCatshat is your earliest memory of books and reading?
Lying in bed – I must have been seven or eight – with my mother reading to my brothers and I. She was great. She made accents and read lines like: “Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat – And there isn’t any call for me to shout it: For he will do. As he do do. And there’s no doing anything about it!” (T.S. Eliot)

2 – As a small child, what book/s were your favourite?
There were many – too many to really name. ‘Old Possum’s…’ was special because my mother loved it so much and did such a brilliant job of making the poems come alive for us. I also remember ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ by Salman Rushdie and and and…

3 – Where did you grow up? Do you have a particular memory of a library, bookshop or other place of books in your hometown?
I grew up in Ile-Ife on the residential campus of the Obafemi Awolowo University where my parents worked. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that was a place of books. Books seemed as necessary to home as walls were.

4 – As an adult, in the role of parent or caregiver, what has been your experience of reading with children?
I love getting a chance to read to my nephews. I enjoy the way no matter how many times you’ve read the story they still want you to read it again, do the voices; it’s all the same old jokes but it’s still funny. Because being read to was such a big part of my own childhood reading to young children always feels special, sacred even.

Dance To That

I could dance. I just couldn’t do it with anyone else. My grandparents visited us in Cape Town, they flew many hours from Barbados. One evening slow music was on the record player and my Grandfather was listening. Something gripped him, not the gout, but some urge to move. And Granddaddy could move. He was a small man, soft grey hair, parted handsomely down the middle. Black-rimmed glasses, a sharp nose and a naughty-boy smile. He liked to giggle. Even then (I was eighteen, maybe nineteen) I was a head taller than my grandfather. He took a hold of me and tried to get me to glide along with him, on the patterned carpet in our living room. I have rhythm it’s just… maybe the proximity to another body, or my mind gets muddled, my concern for not being too manly, for relaxing, for letting him lead. I was always taller than all the girls and most of the boys. Heck I was the substitute boy in PT when someone was required to simulate the masculine. I went to my matric dance with my two best friends. A week before the dance a guy did in fact ask me out. I told him no. I was seventeen, happily subsisting on a diet of silent crushes. Like I said I went to my matric dance with my two best friends.

Then my Aunt got married. And I was a bridesmaid. I was required to dance with my partner. A sweet enough Guyanese boy, but I also saw him cackling, with an onlooker during the dress-rehearsal, about how soft my hands were. Liar. Anyway. Wedding over and party on he approached me to dance with him. He wasn’t much shorter than me but the heels didn’t help. He looked genuinely enchanted which was encouraging for a shy gal like me. He asked that I try not to step on his toes. At one point I think he even counted out the beat for me. It must be a huge credit to my beguiling nature (or his masochistic one) that several songs later he came back for more. By nightfall he declared love, within a week my mother and I flew from Guyana back to Barbados, my love affair unconsummated and all but forgotten.

Perhaps, if my Grandfather could have stuck around longer, I would be a better dance partner. He did stress one thing that solved a decent amount of my troubles. See I love music and I have an ear for it. My piano playing is laughable but still when I really listen I hear all the layers and sometimes they feel palpable enough that if I raised my arms high up and wide apart I believe I could just drift along on a wave of sound. This is why I love to dance. Alone. Well Granddaddy said “listen to the base, the beat. Dance to that.” This was an immense help. But clearly not enough.

Now when I say I love to dance I mean I’m that person who, if the music is right, enters the dance floor and never leaves. Many an office party found my colleagues and bemused bosses walking past me on the dance floor and saying, “You’re still here, aren’t you tired?”. The next day I’m tired, my legs ache, but while the music is playing fatigue is held at bay. The problem is people watching confuse me for being a great dancer. Women and men sidle up and attempt to join me, they come in close proximity, they reach for my hand and all too late realise that we are now in trouble. I get instantly nervous, I’m trying to remember what Granddaddy told me plus I’m looking down at this poor person’s shoes, worried about them on their behalf. I smile apologetically which is confusing only for a few seconds then the person sighs and spends the rest of the song dodging my feet, they are polite when they take their leave and I am embarrassed and relieved. I should wear a t-shirt when I dance, forget skinny jeans and tank tops. The shirt would read: “Don’t do it. Just don’t.”

And yet in my head it’s perfect. Crazy Love is playing, Aaron Neville’s voice straining with all the emotion in the world. The dance floor, wooden, crowded but not uncomfortably so. The man I’m with is tall or short. He has a naughty glimmer and he is somehow arrested by me, he’s stuck; him and his shoes, happily my prisoner. We’re dancing. Wound about each other, parting to do something fanciful and expert, then coming back together. My fantasy even allows for the odd moments when he counts for me, counts out the beat.

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What’s it Like

December 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Sometimes, trying to write a novel is like interviewing a bunch of suspected criminals. You, the writer, are conducting the interview. The suspects are your characters and they are seldom co-operative. So you sit them down, together and separately, and you ask them questions about what really happened. And you go: was it like this? They scrunch their noses, contradict themselves and each other and leave you confused. But that’s the first draft. Then you take your case to your boss, an editor. Either the editor that lives in your head or some other editor that lives somewhere else. You say to the editor: it went like this. And the editor says are you sure, how about that, how about that? You go back to your suspects, disheartened and disappointed. They giggle at how gullible you were the first time. You sit them down again, separately and together, and you say: was it like this? So you do this a couple of times, each time, hopefully, you feel you’re getting closer and closer to what actually happened. One day several years down the line you storm into the investigating room. This is how it happened, you shout, momentarily certain and triumphant. The suspects have nothing more to say to you, your editor seems, at least for now, satisfied. The birth of a story with none of its parts missing. For now.

2) What I didn’t want to say was…

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment

We’d been practicing for the end of year school concert. Uncle Fred was the piano, violin and singing teacher of Ile-Ife campus as I remember it. A man with a gentle face, moustache, great hands. He had that secret ingredient all piano teachers need to have which was a combination of saccharine niceness but also the eyes that said “This can go at any time and the monster can come, do you want the monster to come? Well then practice your scales.”

I practiced my scales along with the piece I would be playing at Oduduwa Hall. Which was it, was it the Habanera or maybe it was a more jolly piece – can’t remember now. Lots of excitement and the day finally arrived. We, us performers, were all seated in the front rows of the big hall. Everyone had a slot but no one seemed to know when their slot was. A slot, a time to saunter onto the stage, sit at the piano and wow the crowd, or sit by the microphone and pull tunes out of the fiddle, whatever your thing was, that would be your slot. Except I didn’t seem to have any comprehension of when my slot was. Others may have been better off but it seemed to me like Uncle Fred was the only one who knew the secret order of slots. Basically every few minutes Uncle Fred would turn and stare at someone and then they’d know – this is my slot. A fairly decent system except – as most things – it didn’t take into account bowel movements. You see you didn’t know when you were going to be up you only knew when you were up.

So what if you realised you needed to pee and now you couldn’t ascertain whether you had sufficient time to pee and come back and not have missed the stare from Uncle Fred? I think I debated in my head, Uncle Fred too far away to ask, too busy giving people, whose slots were up, the necessary stare. I must have thought, in my eight-year-old pea brain, that I’d be fine. That I’d manage to give a brilliant (the best actually) rendition of Habanera ever known and then go pee – seemed sensible enough. Except, after dutifully receiving my stare from Uncle Fred, I didn’t saunter onto the stage, I shuffled. After all how do you “hold it in” and saunter at the same time – no one’s figured this out and I certainly wasn’t breaking any new ground on the matter that night at Oduduwa Hall. I sat on the seat and began to play. By the time I’d replayed the first bar three times over my socks were soaked in the distinct-smelling yellow liquid us animals are all familiar with. Breaking all protocol, Uncle Fred, climbed onto the well-lit stage and rescued me. He folded away my piano book, helped me off the seat, took my hand and walked me off the set. The audience went “awwwwww” which is just as well ‘cause without that sound to distract, what they would have heard as I walked was squelch squelch squelch. Needless to say, I’m not very good at playing piano.

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BEAUTY, FEMINISM AND ALL THERE IS TO FIGHT FOR

November 17, 2013 2 comments

I’m a feminist. For some people that could mean I hate men, I can’t cook (or worse I won’t), I’ll be upset if a man opens the door for me, pays for dinner or offers his jacket while out on a cold evening stroll. Not the case. I’ve been a feminist for a long time and for most of that time I didn’t know that I was one. As a girl I just knew to balk if I was asked to spend time in the kitchen without my brothers joining me or taking turns. Luckily my parents were feminists too. But I knew, without having to ask anyone, that the security guard at my mother’s office – telling me I couldn’t whistle because I was a girl – was foolish. And then later I knew to wonder about the Barbie doll, with impossible (but apparently desirable) dimensions. I had dolls as a girl (along with the hardback omnibus of ‘The Hulk’ my dad thought I might enjoy) and my favourite I called Yinka with black shiny cheeks and hair as kinky as mine. I learnt to make cornrows on Yinka’s head. For many years my mother made it clear to me that she would not permit any chemicals in my hair. But despite her good intentions I think my nagging eventually worked. I recall the hot comb, taken off the stove and pulled through my hair, smoke, and then the limp effect that I wanted and had begged for. And then much later as a teenager more begging until my mother again relented and a hairdresser pasted lye (or no-lye as some of the products are called) on my hair. A lot of women with tight curly hair ‘straighten’ it to make it ‘more manageable’ is one of the arguments. But where did I get the idea from, how did I know that my own natural hair was not good enough, needed to be fixed, made better? How did I know to act ashamed when, at twelve, I swam in the school pool and my hair did what it was clearly designed to – shrink?

Somehow, perhaps because of the books I read, the people I spoke to, politics, I worked out that I actually didn’t want to do anything to what my hair already was, that it didn’t need straightening, and that being able to ‘manage’ something was a lie. If management was the argument (the most sought after factor) then surely the option of no hair at all would be the most manageable. Since this trend of bald women was not really taking the world by storm the excuse of manageability was only that – an excuse. For several years (late teens, early twenties) I grew back my kinky hair and plaited it as Yinka had taught me to. And then one day in April, 2002, I made little sections on my head and twisted and twisted and twisted. They call these dreadlocks and they come with the added bonus of being very manageable.

But every day there are new things, insidious prescriptions for beauty and being a woman. There’s make-up (innocuous I guess) and the hairs one must have off if you’d rather people didn’t stare or smirk. If your physique is hour-glass like then, at least the cultures with the most media-clout say that is preferable and if you don’t have that physique then you could pay someone, qualified hopefully, to cut you up to look as close to that as possible. You could add bits and take bits away. And somewhere along the way, a bunch of society got beauty mixed up with the lighter complexioned so to help there are skin lightening creams at the ready. I’ve seen six year old black girls with weaves add to this the nightmare of the child beauty pageants of America and Australia and I think we have a monster that only keeps growing. The practices of adornment and grooming are wonderful rituals. I’d rather go around with earrings in my ears than not, I’d die happy getting a manicure and I usually have appropriate and enthusiastic concern for looking my best version of great. But I think we have taken preening to the extreme. You can now pay someone to take some of your lower ribs out and some abdominal fat resulting in a thinner waist; you can engage in something called vajazzling, simply remove all your pubic hair and then glue on shiny studs. Why not do some anal and vaginal bleaching while you’re at it. Interestingly all the advert selling the bleach had to do was suggest that a failing marriage (measured by the bored and sexually unsatisfied husband) could be rescued by a bleached vagina. You can even do design-a-vagina aka labiaplasty. There are two indications that call for this 1) medical reasons that require surgery in this region of the body; 2) “cosmetic refinement of the vulva”. It’s the second indication that fascinates, who has the time to wonder as to whether her vulva, her labia majora and labia minora, are aesthetically pleasing? Could she not have missed the point?

Each time we cut and add, preen extreme, it’s like another dose of some narcotic, the craving abates but soon returns even more ravenous. Is there stuff about myself I would change, like in some imaginary world? Sure. I could do with one or two cup sizes bigger and longer eyelashes. And isn’t that in itself fascinating, it’s so programmed in me that these enhanced attributes would make me more of a woman. Why for heaven’s sake would I want larger breasts? So I could be more attractive to the opposite sex and thus feel better about myself? Is that train of thought frightening to only me? The only thing that saves me is some reserves of common sense and, while not unimpeachable, a strong enough sense of myself as a whole and complete human being exactly the way I am. One or two cup sizes bigger and longer eyelashes aren’t really going to make life sweeter for me or even have me feel more complete, they don’t really solve the problem; they answer a question that’s not really the question. Well what is the question? We live in a world with increasingly fragile egos, a young girl’s sense of herself hangs in the balance based on whether she’s skinny or not. I want to scream that we’ve got it all wrong, we’ve put certain things up on a pedestal and we’ve buried others, while we ourselves are mired in wars and inequality and guileless leaders. Where do we ingest our aesthetic values from? Who’s pulling the strings? Being a feminist doesn’t mean being a no-fun having hairy hag although every moment cannot be for fun and what’s wrong with a bit of hair. For me, though, being a feminist does mean I ask questions. And for the last while it means I get sad and angry and busy and active and protective all at once. I get mad at myself, how co-opted I am into a patriarchal world, how demure I can be, how bought. I get mad at men who think being a feminist requires ovaries, I get mad at women who say ‘she deserved it’ because mini-skirt + drunk = rape me. I get mad at the people who want to use culture as an excuse for stupidity and gluttony. I get mad at our leaders. I get angry with the way women’s bodies are consumed, how easy that is, how normal. There are many organisations, individuals and groups doing great work. Marching. Writing. Changing. Arguing. Self-examining. Studying. Litigating. Raising strong girls and boys for a better future. Praying. Painting. Acting. Mobilising. The list continues as does the mission. We must not get weary.

This article has also been published on the African Womens’ Development Fund blog. View it here 

In English

October 18, 2013 Leave a comment

I was such an idiot at the time. I was twenty-one. Wait let me go back (unnecessarily) as to why I’m even remembering this. It starts with language. The fact that I speak very bad Italian which is the same as I don’t speak the language I butcher it. And my butchering of Italian is a more recent story than my slaughter of French. Now French has a long history. My father was a student of French and my mother spoke some too and so, when I was about nine and my brother eleven they bought us (all this on the Ile-Ife university campus mind you) a series of French lessons. Very generous people my parents. The woman would come to our home on Road 20c, House 11 and we’d sit at the dining room table, my brother and I. It was in the 80s, she had a cassette player which she would play intermittently, and in between these spells of French voices purring out from the speakers of this cassette player she would say stuff and flip through a book and (I distinctly remember) work her index finger along the peak of the cover of her blue biro. This was the thing that struck me the most. So while no conjugations managed to stick I remain imprinted (the way only 9 year olds can be) with the sense that to be sophisticated and French you also have to have a way with the biro cover. In fact I think I adopted not her perfect accent but this twitch of hers, copied not her grammar but her affectation of rubbing, back and forth, with her index finger, the tip of the blue cover of the bic pen. Years passed. Now in South Africa for some reason again my parents kindly shell out money and once more my brother and I are sitting in Alliance Francaise classes. I recall there was a woman there with short hair and glasses who was about to go to La Reunion and that was why she was in the classes. As to why my brother and I were there…we wasted time, we faffed around and made faces at each other in class, laughing at jokes only we could understand. We occasionally humoured our homework but mostly not and often begged off going in on those way too early Saturday mornings. Many many years on, and now we’re back to the beginning. I’m twenty-one and I am in Monte Carasso. A small village of about eight people none of whom are black. For this reason I am many things. An anomaly, a thing of wonder, a shock. I’m there as an architectural student with several other architects and we’re attending a workshop being led by Luigi Snozzi. Snozzi speaks no English, some French and his Italian. The workshop is about a month long. We sleep at the convent school (empty on account of it being Europe’s summer), bunking in classrooms with our sleeping bags, bathing in the gym (palestra in Italian) and wondering whether the place has a crypt. Over the month my best friend is Giselle. Giselle from Paris. Giselle speaks no English and I have managed to survive hours of lessons and still speak no coherent French. Giselle’s Italian is laughable, mine non-existent. We have an assortment of dictionaries and manage to find enough ingredients to make a friendship. With the little we have of each other’s mother tongues Giselle succeeds in explaining, and I manage to grasp, that she is heart-broken. Although whether she ended it or he (I assume she was straight although…hey), this is still not clear to me so many years later. But that she is sad is evident. In fact now I remember we relied very heavily on play-acting. Yes, the word triste was unknown to me at the time and she had to take her fist and twist just underneath her right eye (on the apple of her cheek) and this I immediately understood to be the universal sign of shedding tears. We hit it off. Dear Giselle, fine-featured, short brown hair. She seemed not to take to the four Germans whom I appreciated because they all spoke English. She didn’t get on too well with the Korean who lived in Como and was married to an Italian. She steered clear of the two from South Italy, a rambunctious pair that would soon suggest a never-to-be-forgotten class trip. There was also a couple from  the nearby canton of Mendrisio, although the girl-part of that couple said she was originally from Transylvania (the guy-part of the couple, insignificantly and incidentally, had a nervous twitch, his right eyebrow raising many times in a minute, a look of surprise). We shared a kitchen, pots, pans and groceries. Giselle made onion soup. The Germans put ketchup on their rice and so on. Oh and there were two dudes from Prague. I think one had a crush on me, I have to think this in order to keep afloat my ego.

 

The class trip was a kind of Babel on wheels. With the Napoli guys up front in the van they’d hired and the rest of us spread out. Being architects the purpose of the trip was uncontested – we wanted to see buildings. We saw Zumthor, we went to his Therme in Vals and the rich Germans went in for a sauna while I walked around the cold town being stared at and feeling hungry. Languages were bandied about the whole day, somehow I became regarded as someone who spoke both French and Italian. Giselle vouched for my excellent French and the two Italian guys from Napoli used me as a translator. Many times throughout the day Giselle would say something and the Italians would lean towards me and say: Che cosa? To which I would (as far as I can remember) have a ready and surely not inaccurate answer.

 

Other random details include the time we went for a tour of Monte Carasso and I had the runs, I’ll spare you any further detail except to say try and avoid this. Then one of the Germans got a reputation for being a bit of a perve. We were all using the same showers but had an agreement that the women used it at a certain time and guys at another…I think. And who started the rumour? Can’t recall. Or did I make the whole thing up. He was a perve and was caught watching someone. This struck some fear in me. On an appointed day I, the only bearer of kinky hair amidst the whole lot, decided it was time to wash mine. I had a lot of hair, “natural” as they call it and no small feat to clean I’ll tell you. So a Sunday morning I take my implements. I go to the palestra and do the deed. When I’m done and coming out with a towel, who’s standing there but the German dude just kind of looking at me. I avoid his gaze and walk on. He wasn’t jerking off or anything, small mercy. Did that happen? Then, fully clothed, found an opportunity to tell him off, he pleaded innocence.

 

But the real question is how did I manage to become known as the go-to person for translations? Yes, I had dictionaries with me and I was spending a lot of time reading them; I had phrase books and I was reading those incessantly too but that hardly makes me fluent. Here’s what I think, that I had magically (how else?), for just that month, been granted some ability to really really hear people, so long as they could mime fairly well, speak slowly and repeat themselves as many times as I required them to…and so long as there were other people around who actually spoke the languages in question and so long as we didn’t have to do anything in a hurry so Yewande could play her I’m-going-to-guess-what-you’re-saying game. I no longer have this ability. Pity. Such a handy thing it was.

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Someone’s Dad

October 4, 2013 2 comments

I walk out of the mall, it’s been some hours and my head is swishing. The parking attendant spots me and starts tailing me in that way they do. I keep walking the way I usually do. Although sometimes I nod in their direction to say I’ve seen you. Or, when I’m really feeling magnanimous, I indicate with my hand how far away my car is parked or I dig into my bag so they know I’ll definitely be giving them something…although sometimes when I dig in its just to find my car keys. It’s warm outside, not dark yet, the car park is half empty. My head is swishing so I don’t really do anything with the attendant trailing me, I let him trail me. I don’t warn him how far down my car is or that I’m in a bad mood and he might get nothing. There’s a massive boat of a car blocking my view of my car but nonetheless I stretch out my arm and push that button we all have these days.  I see a flash although I can’t actually see my headlights. Parking guy and I manoeuvre around the boat and then we both notice, at pretty much the same time, that there is a man sitting in the passenger side of my car. The attendant probably thinks that’s fine except he looks at my reaction and realises that the fact of this man sitting in my passenger seat is an absolute and unwanted surprise. The attendant, one of those good-looking men from Senegal, dark with the right kinds of muscles – my girlfriends won’t look at him twice but I’m liberal enough to be into it. Anyway Mr. Senegal goes round to the passenger door and opens it. I’m standing there struck mute on account of having a stranger in my car. My jaw is hanging, I look an idiot. The man gets out and comes around oh I forgot to mention the guy is talking on his cell phone for Christ’s sake. He pauses for my benefit. I’m thinking he sees the attendant and he sees me standing there like that (mouth open) and he figures I might want to address him. His mouth away from the receiver he says, in a hushed tone like he doesn’t want to wake the baby, this yours? I nod, having not quite found words yet. Now he lowers the phone to his chest. He’s wearing a suit, this guy, black man, and he’s tall with glasses. He looks pretty distinguished. He talks so too. I’m sorry he starts. I needed a safe and quiet place to have this private conversation. He’s maybe in his early to late fifties. Someone’s father I suppose. He’s got hairs on his head and some of them, not many, are grey. And a moustache he has with more grey and very gentle sideburns. Dark lips like all he does is smoke all day. Was my car open? I ask which seems a reasonable question. I’m thankful I have words again. All the while, mind you, the attendant (one fucking sexy Senegalese man if you ask for my opinion) is hovering, probably working out his tip, wondering what the hell is going on and what’s going to happen. Apparently so, says someone’s Dad. He says sorry again. I nod. I turn to settle Senegal thinking if he wanted me I’d have him except so little in life works out that way. I give him R5 and his eyes spend an extra second with Mandela on the head of the coin. Senegal is not happy or sad. Ah well. I get into my car and only then do I realise that that weirdo (someone’s father who talks like he doesn’t want to get blamed for having woken up the damned baby, with the grey hairs and the smoker’s lips) he’s gotten back into the car with me. Believe it! So he’s sitting in the passenger seat and get this part he’s fastening his fucking seat belt. I still act natural though. I start to pull out my parking space, like I’m hypnotised or something. Maybe it’s the effect he has on me. It’s that father business. The way good fathers make you feel happy and safe and like everything is okay. He had that effect on me, which is why although I had a stranger in my passenger seat I wasn’t yet screaming or anything. Anyway his phone goes (I’m still pulling out my parking space) and he takes it and starts talking something about ordering a Ferrari and what colour he wants it in. Can you believe? At this point I realise he’s an asshole. I turn to him and say you’re going to need to get out Sir. He lowers the phone to his chest (by now I am familiar with this motion of his, like we’re old friends) and he looks at me as if he’s a puppy and I’m his owner. This, of course, finally scares the shit out of me. I mean the guy’s a con artist surely. A fatherly apologetic con artist. So I start reversing as fast as I fucking can, hey I don’t give a shit who or what I bump into. I mean I’m thinking the guy is a serial killer, he might have a weapon apart from just his penis which, if you read the papers these days, is weapon enough, right? I also have the presence of mind to press that button, the one that makes the windows go down. Press the button so his window goes down and I can shout for help. Maybe, for instance, Mr. Senegal is still close by, you know, maybe he’s been checking me out and checking how I pull out of parking spaces and wondering a bit about me the way I’d wondered a little bit about him, maybe he understands that R5 was all I could afford and he’s stopped sulking about it. Help I shout and Daddy over there presses the button so the windows start going back up. And now for a few seconds we have window war where I’m pressing and he’s pressing. Of course the car doesn’t know who the rightful winner should be so it just buzzes up and down as if no big deal is taking place. Eventually though someone must have realised bullshit was happening (that I was in real trouble I mean) cause people come running. I’m not reversing that fast now because, despite being a woman, I don’t seem able to engage in window war and reverse like a pro at the same time…not to mention I’m spending a lot of that energy being worried that I’m now kidnapped. I mean there’s no gun or anything but, you know, there could be. So, anyhow, I’m moving slow enough that some guy, some other parking attendant but not my man, comes and yanks open Daddy’s door and drags him out. At which point I lean over, close the door. Then I press down on the accelerator and get the hell out of there. In my rear view mirror I can see that if the parking attendants keep it up for much longer, someone’s Dad might soon need stitches. Ah well.

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