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Authors: Diane Awerbuck,Louis Greenberg

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BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
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‘And where were the owners of the house?' Mrs Ndlovu asked.

‘Sleeping, but Lumka cried so loud that they came out of the house. When I arrived, Mrs Lloyd was still in her nightie and gown and Mr Lloyd was in his jockeys, his chest bare.'

‘A woman in my stokvel said that Andiswa was dead before they could remove the gate from her body. Is that true?' asked Phaphamile.

‘Yes, that's true. When I arrived they had just, just managed to remove the gate. Mr Lloyd called the garden boy, Bhuti Menzi, who works for both families and lives in the cottage next door with his wife. He came quickly and the three of them lifted the gate while Lumka was kneeling, her head on top of her knees, crying. Bhuti Menzi is the one who went into the house to get a blanket for Andiswa.'

‘And the police? Did they call the police?'

‘What for, Mama Mfundisi?'

‘If there is a death, you call the police whatever the cause of the death is.'

‘No. As soon as I arrived, I took care of comforting Lumka and Mr Lloyd changed and got into his car with Lumka and me and Khwezi. We dropped off Khwezi at her school and went to Johannesburg hospital. It was so strange because we could all see that Andiswa was dead. There was blood flowing down her face but nobody uttered the word.'

‘Oh, you all must have been so shocked.'

‘Mama Mfundisi, even Mr Lloyd was crying as he drove his car to the hospital. I have never heard a white man cry but he just cried and kept saying words to himself that I didn't even understand.'

‘Jesus Christ have mercy!' Mrs Ndlovu interrupted.

‘I was sitting on the passenger seat next to him and Lumka was sitting at the back with Andiswa's head on her lap.'

‘Mr Lloyd drove like a mad taxi driver. When we got to the hospital, he jumped off leaving us in the car and came back with a doctor who told us what we already knew.'

‘And what did you all do then?'

‘I don't know, Mama.'

‘What do you mean you don't know, Sebenzile? Phaphamile, can you make us more tea please, my child.'

Sebenzile's tears started falling again but she continued. ‘Because I don't know what happened to me, I think I just died inside and lost consciousness from the confirmation of Andiswa's death. When I woke up, it was late in the afternoon. I was in my bed and Khwezi was sitting next to me in her school uniform, my Bible in her hands.'

‘Shwele Mkhululi, that must have been such a difficult time for you all. But the Lord has saved you; here you are telling the story.'

‘Mama Mfundisi, I am not sure I have been saved.'

‘What do you mean?'

‘Remember what I said on the phone? I think there is a bigger problem in my hands, so I came to you to ask for help.'

‘Continue, Sebenzile.'

Phaphamile walked back in with the same tray and a fresh pot of tea. ‘The rusks are finished. I brought the Romany Creams.'

‘Thanks, Phaphamile. Sit with us; the Lord wants you to be part of this conversation.'

Phaphamile pulled a chair and joined them.

‘Sebenzile, you said earlier that Lumka kept saying she had told them about the gate. What was that about?'

‘Oh, that. Lumka had told me about it too, that it used to disconnect from its electrical motor. Once it did that when Mr and Mrs Lloyd were travelling and Lumka had to call a handyman to fix it. She kept telling them that the handyman had told her that they needed to put in a new gate and they kept postponing.'

‘That's not a common problem, now is it? Our gate has never given us problems.'

‘Mama Mfundisi,' Phaphamile interrupted, ‘I know nothing about how gates work. All I know is that I have never seen gates so big ever in my life. In KZN, I worked in many people's homes in big, big, suburbs but not one had a gate so big and walls so high. It's a Johannesburg thing.'

‘I agree with that, you know. My friend from Pretoria says the same thing each time she visits me: “Your gates and your walls.”,' Sebenzile said.

‘That may just be true, although I have never thought about it that way,' said Mrs Ndlovu.

‘When I told my friend from Pretoria the story of the girl who was killed by a gate she said: “Next a wall will fall over and kill someone.”'

‘Your friend may be right, you know. Look at the rains we have had this time around; it's never rained so much for all the summers we have been in Johannesburg. Oh, Lord have mercy, just the thought of it makes me sick,' Mrs Ndlovu said.

‘Remember the funeral story. After the whole transport drama, Lumka had a good funeral for her only daughter. When she came back to Johannesburg, Mr and Mrs Lloyd were packed and ready to go on their travels again, much sooner than the planned February.'

‘Oh, white people …' Phaphamile interjected.

‘That's an ungodly thing to say, Phaphamile.'

‘Well, I'm sorry, MaMfundisi, but that's why I will never work for them. They have no hearts at all. None.'

‘Phaphamile, please!'

‘I'm sorry, MaMfundisi. What I have seen and heard about white people makes me believe that Satan lives on earth.'

‘Phaphamile, please! Honestly, I must pray for you. Continue, Sebenzile.'

‘Lumka returned from the funeral; a day later Mr and Mrs Llyod were gone. She has been alone ever since they left and she now she refuses to answer the phone. She won't even open the gate when I go there. Yesterday I went to ask Bhuti Menzi when last he saw Lumka and he said he was not even aware that she had come back from the funeral. That's when I panicked I decided to call you and come and see you today.'

‘So when last did
you
talk to her Sebenzile?' Mrs Ndlovu asked.

‘I think it was about ten days ago because I remember I spoke to her once or twice after she came back from Cofimvaba. In fact, she called me to tell me she was back. Then I went to visit her and during that visit all she did was cry. It was very difficult, so I just prayed for her.'

‘What are we waiting for?' Phaphamile said and stood up instantly. ‘We need to go and find her.' She started untying her apron. ‘Ma Mfundisi, this is an emergency!' her voice rose with each word.

Mrs Ndlovu looked at Sebenzile and then at Phaphamile, her eyes widening as if she had just seen Jesus fall from the sky.

‘Mama Mfundisi, I think Phaphamile is right. This is exactly why I came to ask for your help and advice. If Bhuti Menzi has not seen her for so long, I am afraid something may have happened to her.'

‘Or she may have done something to herself, Ma Mfundisi,' Phaphamile said.

‘Tell me again, when last did Menzi see her?' Mrs Ndlovu asked as if she had not believed Sebenzile.

‘Ma Mfundisi, I think we need to pray quickly now, then call the police, then go and find Lumka,' Phaphamile said as she reached out for the tray and disappeared into the pantry.

‘Where do you live, Sebenzile?'

‘We are in Observatory, Ma Mfundisi,' Sebenzile said as she slowly started to stand.

‘I will wait for you outside,' Phaphamile shouted as she shut the door.

‘Sebenzile, we need the good Lord to guide us in this. Let us go on our knees first.'

They both kneeled, placing their elbows on the chairs.

Before Mrs Ndlovu could finish praying, they both heard Phaphamile's voice shouting repeatedly, ‘Let's go!'

‘Nkulunkulu onamandla, stay with us as we take this journey with Sebenzile. Let your spirits shine on Lumka where ever she is. Guide us now to do your will. Amen.'

They rose slowly. Sebenzile adjusted her head wrap, knotting it tighter, wiped her tears, put her handbag over her shoulder and started following Mrs Ndlovu out of the house. When Mrs Ndlovu started the car engine in the garage, Rebecca Malope's voice filled the car. She pressed the remote control and the gate began opening, Sebenzile put both her hands on her face. Mrs Ndlovu took one quick look at her and whispered to herself, ‘Be with her, Lord.' Phaphamile was already pacing up and down the length of the gate on the street as the gate opened. Without a word, she joined the two women, made herself comfortable in the back seat and sang along with Rebecca.

‘Sebenzile, I know how to get to Observatory but you will have to direct me once we are there.'

‘Yes, Ma Mfundisi, it's on Eckstein Road, I'll direct you,' Sebenzile was now moving her head from side to side to the rhythm of Rebecca's voice. She let the tears stream down her face uninterrupted.

‘Eckstein. Which boer was that one now?' Phaphamile asked and then continued to sing along as if she had never said a word.

‘Lord of Lords, bless Phaphamile. Stay with her, now and forever,' Mrs Ndlovu spoke while looking straight ahead, her hands tightening on the steering wheel. In no time the white Mercedes-Benz emerged out of Houghton to join the numerous taxis on Louis Botha Avenue. Mrs Ndlovu adjusted the volume on the CD player to muffle the competing sound of hooting taxis.

Fraans
Jolyn Phillips

 

God became a ghost when I came to work on the boats in Gansbaai. Boet Haas got me a job as a cook on
Marlene
.
Marlene
was the most beautiful boat I had ever seen. She lay next to
Blougans
and
Kolgans
in the Ou Hawe.

The sea is a strange thing. If I wade in the water, she feels light, like nothing. When we were on sea it was a different thing. When we cast our nets she became rammetjie uitnek.
Marlene
had to bore through the sea like a drill machine.

She sank the other day and I knew
Marlene
was tired of her beatings. We were on standby a lot those days because of the strong wind. I think the sea sank us on purpose to show us wie's Baas en wie's Klaas. But I'm glad the sea took her. I would not have wanted to bury her anywhere else. I came walking down Gousblom Street, my heart just as heavy as my wet clothes. Sophia was leaning over the door; she looked at me as if I make her sick. I'd almost died and she only had bitter words to spare.

– Now can you see, Fraans, God is talking with you? It's because that skipper is Lucifer himself that the boat sink. You work, work, work but we are still poor and we are still hungry. You are drinking our lives away, gemors. Wapie can't eat bread and coffee, people will talk hy is kla so min en dun.

My thoughts quietened down her scowls. Why, God, are you punishing me like this? Every job I find I lose. Everything I touch dies. Once I tasted that bitter-sweet wine it controlled me, but my Sophia doesn't understand, my brother Japie doesn't understand and his children are too dead to understand. I killed them with Japie's car. It is my fault. How many times do I have to say I'm sorry? I am tired. Well, if you're not listening, then I am glad to die with the devil in my heart. It would not make a difference anyways.

– Dit help nie jy kyk in my bek nie, lafaard, Sophia said.

– Man fok jou en jou God, Sophia! Fo— I said.

She pushed me out and locked the door. I fell backwards, my head spinning for a while, a deep anger burning in my chest. Lying there, I felt like I could lift that house from its roots and kill her with my bare hands. But I was too tired so I got up silently and left her.

Just like the day Pêreberg turned its back on me and I walked that orange muddy road like a dog with its tail between its legs. Standing next to the road, hoping for a lift, the air was clean and potblou and not a single cloud in sight. It will be a cold night, I thought, holding on to my papsak. A bakkie stopped, klim op the driver said. I smelled the air again. It smelled of the fish maize Kallie them made at the factory. It was a familiar smell that clung to our lives. It was the smell they had to endure to put bread on the table.

The bakkie stopped at Stanford's Cross. I got off and the bakkie drove towards Hermanus. I turned right towards Pêreberg. My vroutjie Sophia is the moer in with me, I thought while I walked Paardenberg's road. How could I tell this hard-headed woman of mine that I loved her? She'd become so hard. The soft voice that I fell in love with in church choir had changed into a thunderstorm. I had never cheated on her. But then when she smiled it reminded me of our wedding. It had been a simple one. Auntie Loesie had lent her wedding dress and Ragel had made her a wyl of one of her finest curtains and had needled some pink sewejaartjies to it to make it nice. The Ingelse called the sewejaartjie flowers ‘everlastings'. She was still my everlasting. I remembered the church stoep. It had looked so beautiful that year, the grapevines wrapped around the afdakkie and the krismis flowers in full bloom. There were blue ones and pink ones. It was the one moment I kept at hand for that just in case out of the blue sadness.

 

My head beat from the pain. Sophia stabbed me with a butter knife in my head.

– This earth will cartwheel before you lift your hands for me, Janwap. Isn't it enough that you fok op our lives with your wine? I am tired, she says while she sobs. Her eyes are so empty that I can't recognise my wife.

I hit Klein Wapie so hard his little body is probably black and blue. I was so angry at the bogsnuiter calling me Oom. I grabbed him by the arm and showed him my veins. – You see this arm, this is Rooi blood running through these veins, running through your veins.

– My pa is by Jesus, the boy tells me.

I grab him by the neck. – You better call me pa now or you vrek today, boetaitjie!

The child was so scared he pissed in his pants. Toe moer ek hom sommer daaroor ook. If Sophia didn't come out of the house, he would've been dead. At least he would have died knowing Fraans Rooi was his dad.

 

I had walked this orange road so many times. I could smell the fynbos air and the little mud houses in the distance. The one facing the laslappie fields were ours once. I walked to Stêword and got a lift on a sheep's bakkie to Pêreberg. Here
,
Meteens didn't look after the house any more. There was not a single pumpkin on the roof and the great fig tree didn't carry fruit. I wouldn't blame her; she was black with burden and her earth rotten. As children, Japie and I always picked figs for Ketoet's church bazaar fig jam. The tree was like a mother; there was always milk coming out of her branches when we picked the figs. They were Adam's figs: big and purple and sweet. One day, I decided to take a stick and write my name on her trunk and when I was finished it looked like it was bleeding. I tried to heal her with her milk that came out of her branches when we picked the figs.

BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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