Apartheid: noun, historical, a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.
Decades before Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, the country was rigorously governed by various pro-apartheid acts, including the Immorality Act, where sex between white and other ethnic groups was a criminal offence. Both parties contravening the Immorality Act would be imprisoned for up to ten years.
Under that law, Shabba and Sarie’s love was declared a crime and both of them were imprisoned. Now, one of them must risk all to save the other. A heartwarming tale of love, loss, redemption and … revenge!
If you haven’t read the first two excerpts in this series, please click on the link below:
(NB: This is a raw excerpt, not yet professionally edited, so please overlook any errors in this piece)
Most children get bored, restless and even fall asleep at church. Not me – Sunday was my day, the day I get to shine. The day when the reverential Pastor Schoeman Vorster would look at me and beam with pride. That moment was fleeting, but I lived for it. I would sit and listen intently for my name to be called, because it was the only time my father really looked at me. The only time my father would utter my name. Other than that, he would talk to me when necessary, but he seldom looked at me or used my name. I had no idea why he did that, but he just did.
People said that when my father shone those blue eyes their way, they felt as if they were levitating. I believed them, for my father had the gift of making you feel as if he was talking just to you when he delivered his sermons. Even though I was his daughter, I too was in awe of him, so I too waited for the crumbs of attention he dusted my way every Sunday, when I made him proud (and made him money).
I would have done anything to get my father’s attention and hold it. I wanted to be like him, talk like him, preach like him, rapture audiences like he did. I longed to have the rust-colored birthmark etched above his eyebrow, the one that resembled a map of South Africa. My father had always boasted that he had been blessed with his country’s stamp on his face, right above his eye. I longed for his stamp on me too, but God did not give it to me for some reason. When I expressed my disappointment at not having my father’s birthmark, my mother said, ‘What rubbish are you talking? Are you stupid? Beauty queens don’t win titles with marks on their faces, you silly girl!”
I did not care to be a beauty queen like my mother, I wanted to have the stamp of South Africa on my face too.
After the church service ended, the members of the congregation lingered and socialized over wine, beer, coffee and snacks, while my brothers went around collecting money from the donation buckets and contribution boxes.
Jacob, my eldest brother, half-brother, actually – my father had six children from a previous marriage, oversaw the collection of money. He was my father’s right-hand man and spent hours with my father on the road, recruiting white members for our church, and collecting donations for our Garden of Eden. Jacob was a replica of my father, down to the stamp of South Africa above his eye.
The money was then taken to my father’s office in the church. There, my father’s ex-wife Torti, and their six children would line up in front of my father’s desk. My father would then hand them cash from the monies collected from the contribution boxes. He must have been generous, for I remember their broad smiles as they filed out of his offices. Maybe that’s why they all never missed church.
The rest of the money was handed over to my mother. With the help of Boy, our driver, also called ‘Baba’ by the servants, my mother would load the money into the boot of our car and take it home.
After the service, I played a little with the other kids, accepted their praises as to how much they enjoyed my song, then looked around for my mother. She and my father were smiling and whispering in a corner of the church.
“Pa! Did you like my song?” I asked, skipping up to them and interrupting their conversation
“Schoeman, I’m sick of this foking kak!” my mother screeched.
“Shhh!” my father said moving his body to block out everyone else. “I got things to do, Magda. We are going on tour, remember? We have to talk about all of that. The details … It’s big money, Magda, so don’t nag now. And keep your voice down.”
I was a little confused – they appeared to be arguing, yet both were smiling at each other? Weird.
I ran circles around my father, “Pa! Pa! Pa! Tell me how much you liked my song.”
My father’s smile never dipped. “Take Sarie home, have a couple of drinks, take a nap and I will see you later.”
“Pa, did you –”
“Sarie!” my mother snapped. “Shut your mouth!”
I froze and looked at my father, who was now looking past my mother.
My mother and I both turned in the direction of his gaze and looked at Laurika Bezuidenhout, who was eating a popsicle. Laurika was different from the other women in church. Not because she had big hair and wore tops that showed off her big breasts, or because she wore red lipstick all the time, even in the morning, but because, while the other woman had cake and biscuits at church, Laurika ate popsicles in the churchyard. Judging by the expression on her face as she did, angling her head, closing her eyes, she enjoyed popsicles a lot more than ice cream. The funny thing was, whenever she ate the popsicle, the men in the congregation immediately flocked around to watch her eat it. However, I was always baffled when women in the church pulled their husbands and sons away from Laurika and stopped them from watching her. In fact, I don’t think the women cared for Laurika, because they seldom invited her to events outside the church.
I looked back at my father. The look he gave Laurika, it was the same look he gave me before I sang a song. A pang of jealousy shot through me. That was my look – how dare he share that my look with her? That was it – I too was not going to invite Laurika to any of my parties.
That was the thing that confused me about my father – he didn’t notice me unless I was on stage. Unless there was an audience around. Other than that, I was invisible to him. As young as I was, the realization hurt, and maybe that’s why it caused me to constantly seek his approval and attention.
Laurika waved a gloved hand at us. I raised my hand to wave back.
My mother slapped my arm down, stopping me from waving.
“Magda!” my father chided. “Not … here!”
With her nostrils flaring, and her eyes blazing, my mother whirled around to glare at my father.
“She’s helping me with my recruitment tour, okay?”
“So she’s going with you on tour? What about me, Schoeman?”
My father cocked his head at her, trying hard to keep his smile in place, his eyes turning to slits. “Magda, get out of here, before I get really mad!” he finally said through clenched teeth.
With her chest heaving and her eyes bright with anger, my mother grabbed my wrist and marched me out of the church.
“You’re hurting me, ma!”
“Shut up and walk!” she snapped, as she bundled me into our waiting Jaguar.
“Good afternoon, Sarie. Good afternoon, Mevrou,” Boy, our driver, said, before he shut the door of the Jaguar.
My mother sat with her arms folded tightly across her chest, her lips turned downwards, her chest rising and falling rapidly.
“Boy, did you hear my song?” I asked.
“Yes, Sarie. It was very nice. Good tune too. You were the star act in the church today, Sarie.”
A thrill snaked through me at his complimentary words, even though I didn’t know what ‘star act’ was. “Really, Boy?”
“Oh, for sure, Sarie. You were twinkling like the little star you are.”
My soul twinkled with joy at being called a star.
“I have a hundred more songs like that,” I lied.
“Really? I would like to hear them sometime, Sarie. When I am not working, of course.”
Encouraged by his words, my lies compounded. “My daddy said that I was the best singer there too.”
Boy smiled at me in the rear-view mirror. “He did? See what I mean? You were wonderful, Sarie.”
I nodded and sat back. I liked Boy. He knew exactly what to say to make me happy. He spoke well, he was respectful, and he dressed neatly all the time. Even when he was washing our cars, he wore a tie. Boy drove me around and kept me safe from all the black people who hated our church and shunned the Bible – all the savages who didn’t want to speak Afrikaans. So, in essence, Boy, who was black, kept me, a white girl, safe from other blacks. I didn’t question it because my father said so, and whatever my father said was … gospel.
Sunday afternoon after church was a pretty boring time for me. I had nothing to do, no siblings to play with, and I was bored of all my toys.
“Can you color in with me, ma?”
“No!” she said, walking toward our bar and bringing out a bottle of vodka.
“But I’m bored, Ma. Please!”
“Go play with Katrina, Sarie. Stop worrying me. I have a migraine.”
“What’s a migraine, ma?”
“You ask too many questions, Sarie. Go play with Katrina. Please!”
“Katrina doesn’t wanna play with me, ma. She said I am too little to play –”
“Sarie, stop telling lies, okay?”
“It’s the truth, I swear on God!”
My mother’s sapphire eyes narrowed at me.
Yes, I was a seasoned liar – an attention-seeking little girl who would make up stories in the hopes that they would paint me out to be more interesting than I was. A lonely, poor little rich girl, even though I had six half siblings.
Shaking her head, my mother picked out a crystal glass and walked away. That was her Sunday afternoon ritual.
Since we lived in a mansion – ten bedrooms and seven bathrooms, with rolling lawns, and horses, we needed a fair amount of domestic help. Hence, the fifteen servants living on our property.
After changing out of my church clothes, I went in search of Katrina, daughter of Agnes, a maid who worked inside our house. At eleven, Katrina was five years older than me. Her job was to be my constant companion and keep me entertained. Most of all, she had to keep me from bothering my mother. Sometimes she’d bath me, tuck me into bed, tell me a story, or even sing me a lullaby.
I cannot remember my mother ever doing anything for me. I cannot remember her bathing me, feeding me, reading me a bedtime story or even comforting me when I was ill. Between Agnes, Boy’s wife Mama Tsela, and Katrina, they took care of me.
I found Agnes hanging up washing at the maid’s quarters.
“Hai, Sarie, how was church?”
“Good. Pa said I was the star singer there.”
Agnes paused to stare at me, her eyebrows elevated.
“Ja. He said … he said … he that I was his twinkle, twinkle little star and that he would like to hear all my songs, when he wasn’t busy with work. He said … he said, that I was the apple of his eye and that he loved me the most in the whole wide world.”
With a condescending smile, Agnes ruffled my hair, before pointing at the back of the servant’s quarters.
I ran off in search of Katrina. “Katrina! Katrina! Katrina!”
I found her playing with someone’s baby. She was always playing with babies because she just loved babies.
“Inga binga banga boo
the elephant said to the kangaroo
I bet you boy I’m bigger than you
Inga binga bango boo!”
Katrina smiled at the baby. “You like that song? Ay? Ay?”
The baby gurgled at her. Katrina laughed and gave the baby a hug and a kiss. A pang of jealousy shot through me – Katrina was my maid; she should be giving me all her attention.
“Katrinaaaaa!” I yelled.
She looked at me, arms akimbo. “Hai, Sarie, what are you screaming like a siren, ay? I’m going to klup (smack) you if you shout me like that. Do you think I’m deaf? Huh? You scaring the blerry baby. Because why, her eardrums, it will bust like that!” She snapped her fingers for dramatic effect.
“Ma’s got a migraine,” I said, eyeing the baby’s eardrums and picturing it ‘busting’. “She told me to play with you.”
“Hai, another migraine?” She shook her head. “Let’s go to Mama Tsela, then,” she said, kissing the baby several times before she took my hand. “She is making cake.”
“Baking cake,” I corrected. I loved it when Mama Tsela baked cake in a pot over an open fire. The place smelled warm and pleasant whenever she did.
“Katrina, your scarf!” Agnes called.
With a labored sigh, Katrina wrapped her scarf around her head and pulled it low over her forehead.
“Why is Mama Tsela baking cake?” I asked, as I hopped around Katrina.
“Because why, her grandchildren come to stay, and she be happy.”
“Katrina, the clay!” Agnes shouted.
With another sigh, Katrina stopped to scoop up a little clay from the ground and painted her forehead with it, something she was forced to do before she ventured out of the servant’s domain for some reason. She hated doing that, but her mother insisted she do.
“Grandchildren? Why have they –?”
“Hai, Sarie, I dunno. You ask too many blerry questions, you know. I’m gonna klup you if you keep asking questions.”
That was Katrina – always wanting to klup me. She never carried out her empty threats, though, just sprinkled the word klup around like a coma.
I fell silent and tried to keep up with Katrina. The silence didn’t last.
“Katrina, what’s a migraine?”
Katrina scratched her head and looked at the ground. While she did, I studied her. Even though Agnes was a black, Xhosa woman with brown eyes, Katrina had the same color skin as me, and her eyes were as blue as mine. Her hair was different though – it was curly and brown, with copper flecks. She did not resemble her mother at all.
“A migraine, it is … it’s like a … a vision of God, Sarie.” She nodded. “A vision.”
I had great respect for Katrina, not because at eleven she knew a lot – knew it all, actually. Not because although she’d never been to school, she knew more than most of the kids around. It was because she took the time to explain things to me. When she wasn’t threatening to klup me, that is.
“Race you there,” I cried and bolted ahead.
“No, no, not fair!” she yelled holding onto her scarf and running after me. “Cheater! Cheater!”
I laughed and ran ahead of her.
“Stop, Sarie! I’m going to klup you when I catch you!”
Katrina could never catch me. I was too fast a runner.
To my surprise, Boy was seated at a wooden stump that served as a table, arm wrestling a little boy. The same boy I spotted upstairs in the church, making funny faces at me. Boy was big and strong and was always showing the other men around how to box, how to fight, how to use a vuvu, which was a big stick used in self-defense. He could easily win the arm-wrestling competition, yet he was contorting his face, making all sorts of noises, acting like he was struggling to keep his arm up.
Nearby, a young African girl around Katrina’s age, rolled her eyes. Katrina joined the girl, and the two of them moved away, whispering and giggling.
Finally, the little boy managed to bring down Boy’s arm. “I win! I win!” he sang, dancing around and showing off his little biceps that weren’t quite biceps. “I am the champ, Baba!”
I watched with envy as Boy laughed and pulled the showoff into a hug. “You are the champ, Shabba! One day, you are going to be a famous champ. The greatest. Like Mohamed Ali. You are going to dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee, Shabba!”
The little boy began to box the air, adding sound effects as he did. Then suddenly he dropped to the floor and lay flat on his back, facing the ceiling.
Baba laughed and left the room.
When the little boy didn’t move, I grew concerned – was he dead? I tiptoed over and peered down at him.
The boy’s eyes were closed, his arms limp.
I stared at him, unsure what to do.
The boy opened one eye and looked at me. I smiled.
“He let you win,” I said in a sneering voice to the little show off.
“No, he didn’t,” the little boy said, jumping to his feet. “I am really strong!” He flexed his muscles. “See?”
“Yes, he did!”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Yes, he did!”
We both looked toward the sound of the reproachful voice. The young African girl talking to Katrina gave Shabba a drop-it look.
Shabba stuck his tongue out at her.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Fendi. My sister. She’s a pain here.” He pointed at his neck. “And here.” He pated his butt.
I chuckled at his cheekiness. “What were you doing at our church today?”
“Church?” With an impish smile he said, “Wasn’t me.”
I had never met anyone as audacious like him before, and I was somewhat fascinated. “How old are you?” I demanded.
“Twenty-five,” he replied without hesitation. “And you?”
I was a little taken aback. Twenty-five? He was pretty short for a twenty-five-year-old … man? Boy?
“Shabba!” It was Fendi again.
“I’m nine,” he quickly said.
“What, Fendi? What?” Shabba snapped, clearly irritated at his sister for outing his lies. He looked at me. “Okay, fine, I’m seven,” he said in a defiant voice. “Seven and a bit. A lot of … bit.”
I was elated. I could handle seven and a bit. A lot of bit. Still, he was older than me and for some reason, I wanted to dominate with age.
“I’m eleven,” I lied in a smooth voice.
“Hai, Sarie!” That reproachful voice belonged to Katrina.
“I’m eight,” I quickly said with a shrug. “Still older than you.”
I looked Katrina, then at him. With a pouty voice, I said. “Okay, fine, I’m six.”
“Ha ha!” he said, whirling around, a look of triumph on his face. “I knew it! I knew it! I’m way older than you.”
“Not way older. You’re just a year older. When’s your birthday?”
“The first of September. I’m a spring baby.”
I jerked back. “Me too. First of September!”
We smiled at each other, and the bond that would prevail between us for years, was formed over a mutual birthday.
Fendi brought us cake, which was actually bread with sugar sprinkled on top. “Don’t mess!” she warned.
“So, where’s your ma and pa?” I asked as we tucked into Mama Tsela’s cake.
“My mom is in heaven, and my dad is in New –”
“Shabba!” Mama Tsela and Boy chorused, before they hurried over. Mama Tsela clamped her hand over her grandson’s mouth.
“So, Sarie my darling, you meet my grandchildren, then?” Mama Tsela asked, her voice bursting with pride. She hugged Shabba and smothered him with kisses. I’d never seen Mama Tsela this happy before. She was simply beaming. Mahogany-skinned Mama Tsela was the matriarch to all the servants on our property. She was plump and bosomy and gave hugs at the drop off a hat, but she was also respected and feared by the other women, so when Mama Tsela spoke, they listened, or she would think nothing of whacking them over the head. However, she was loved by all, because she had a soft centre and she cared about all the servants and their children.
Shabba tried to dodge his grandmother’s kisses so he could eat his cake, but she persisted. “I haven’t seen you in years, Shabba, so don’t stop me from kissing and hugging you,” she said with a laugh.
As I watched Mama Tsela show affection toward Shabba, a pang of envy shot through my six-year-old self. Both my grandmothers had never hugged and kissed me like that. My own mother had never hugged and kissed me like that.
“They will be living with us,” Mama Tsela announced.
“For a while,” Baba yelled from outside. “For a while!”
Mama Tsela gave a dismissive wave, rattling off something in Xhosa to Baba. She turned back to look at me. “This strong boy is Tshabalala, and that beautiful young lady there is Fendiwe. She looks just like her mother, God bless her soul.”
Fendiwe, or Fendi, blushed beautifully, then appeared to be trying to blend into the furniture to avoid being seen.
“They are very smart too,” Mama Tsela gushed. “So smart. They can read … they can write, they can speak very good English you know. But not too much Afrikaans.”
“How come?” I demanded.
Now Shabba, who did not try to blend into the furniture, answered in a cheeky voice. “’Cause Afrikaans is the white man’s language, so you shouldn’t speak it any –” Mama Tsela’s hand clamped her hand his mouth again.
With a nervous laugh, Mama Tsela said, “Say something smart in English, Shabba.”
“Something smart,” Shabba retorted.
“Say something really smart,” Mama Tsela coached.
Shabba scratched his cheek. “Something smart … “We are all born equal, and –” Mama Tsela’s hand clamped over his mouth once again. “Never mind,” she said with a nervous laugh.
Shabba turned around and tried to lift up his grandmother. “See how strong I am Mama Tsela?”
Mama Tsela laughed. “Ja, ja, ja! You are really strong, Shabba!”
Shabba ran over to Fendi and tried to pick her up.
“Shabba, stop!” Fendi cried.
“Shabba’s a skelm (rascal), ja?” Katrina said in an amused voice, when Shabba put Fendi down.
Shabba ran after his grandfather and tried to pick him up but failed. Yet, he said, “See, Baba? I’m strong! I can lift you up.”
Baba lifted one foot to humor Shabba and said, “Ja! You are the strongest boy in the world, Shabba!”
Fendi rolled her eyes. “Such a skelm.”
Shabba turned to me. “So … you live in the big house?”
“How many bedrooms you have?”
“Um … fifty?”
“Whoa! How many bathrooms do you have?”
My eyes shifted from left to right. “Forty. I think.”
“Wanna see it?”
We both turned to look at Baba.
He shook his finger at Shabba. “The inside of the big house is out of bounds to you, my boy. Never go inside, okay?”
“Okay, Baba,” Shabba said, and turned to me.
The moment Baba’s back was turned, Shabba grabbed my hand and together we sprinted toward my house.
A house? Sarie didn’t live in a house, she lived in a mansion! To a boy like me living in a stable, sleeping in a manger like Baby Jesus, her house was a palace. It was massive, modern, and furnished with huge crystal chandeliers, expensive furniture, plush carpets and six fireplaces. The place was so huge and so beautiful, I said, “Hey, why does your father want to build a Garden of Heaven, when all the people from the church can move into this? It’s big enough?”
Sarie looked around, a thoughtful look on her face. “Maybe they will,” she said.
I continued poking around. The place was big, spacious, opulent and … quiet. The place screamed money, yet, it was cold and lonely, reminding me of a museum, it was that quiet. I tiptoed around, somewhat intimidated by what I saw. Compared to the noise, laughter and cheerful chaos at the servant’s quarters, Sarie’s house was like a haunted house out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.
“Where is everyone?” I whispered, as we crept through the place.
“Ma is asleep, and Pa is doing God’s work. The servants …” she shrugged, “It’s Sunday.”
“Hey, you want some ice cream?” Sarie asked.
Ice cream, twice in one day? I could hardly believe my luck. “Ja, ja, ja!! What flavor you got?”
She shrugged. “Any flavor.”
Any flavor? Well, by then I had discovered Sarie’s tendency to exaggerate. The house did not have fifty bedrooms, it had ten. There were only seven bathrooms too. However, it did have three living rooms, two dining rooms, two kitchens, a pantry the size of a massive kitchen, an olympic size pool, as well as a kiddie pool, five garages, a tennis court, a row of stables and a playroom that looked like it had never been used.
“Chocolate? I like chocolate?” I said, getting back to important issues.
She nodded and gestured for me to follow her.
I smiled with delight as I hurried after her. “Mint chocolate?”
To my surprise she said, “Ja, okay.”
My eyes grew large. I ran faster behind her. “Strawberry? Do you have straw –”
She’s lying, I thought, slowing to a halt. She had to be. How could she possibly have chocolate, mint-chocolate and strawberry ice cream in one house?
She stopped walking and turned to look at me.
Despite being convinced that Sarie was lying, I decided to push my luck.
“Mango? You have mango?” I held my breath as I waited for her answer.
After a moment of deliberation, she nodded.
What a little liar she was, I thought. That was cruel to a seven-year-old kid who hadn’t eaten ice cream in … well, more than three hours. It was cruel to a seven-year-old boy living in the servant’s quarters.
However, we were talking ice cream, and I really wanted to give Sarie the benefit of the doubt. In fact, the thought of that many flavors of ice cream in one fridge made me dizzy with excitement.
The kitchen! Oh man, was I in for a surprise! There were three fridges in the kitchen, all industrial sizes. In one fridge were rows and rows of ice cream, and all kinds of desserts. It turned out that Sarie had not been exaggerating – there really was chocolate, strawberry, mint, mango and a number of other flavors, most of them unopened. Ice cream heaven – that’s where I was. I started having difficulty breathing. I must have died and gone to heaven, I thought. Either that, or this really was the Garden of Heaven.
In the second fridge were all kinds of drinks – wine, beer, fruit juices and soft drinks. Some in bottles, some in cans, some in jugs. In the third fridge, were meat, vegetables, butter and such kinds of food stuff.
“Take what you like,” Sarie said as I stood frozen in front of the ice cream. “Me, I’m having … this! It’s my favorite.” She took a stick of rum and raisin ice cream and sat on a chair.
Still in a daze and unable to believe my luck, I helped myself to a stick of chocolate ice cream, and sat on the floor. The chairs looked expensive and well, I wasn’t used to sitting on furniture like that. In fact, I wasn’t used to sitting on chairs, period!
Sarie stared at me for a moment, a confused look on her face. I patted the floor next to me. Reluctantly, she sat down next to me.
“It’s got real rum,” Sarie said as she ate her ice cream, so I’m going to be drunk after this. Have you ever been drunk?”
I shook my head.
“I get drunk on rum and raisin ice cream all the time,” she declared.
All the time? I have never been drunk in my entire life. I began to feel really underprivileged. When it was time to get another ice cream, I decided it was also time to get drunk.
“One day, when I grow up, I am going to make lots of money and buy a house like this,” I announced, as I helped myself to rum and raisin ice cream. “Bigger than this, and I am going to fill the fridges with every flavor of ice cream in the world.”
Sarie stared at me.
“Are you feeling drunk?” she asked, peering at me.
Turned out the rum did nothing for me. I didn’t feel really drunk. I wasn’t going to say that to her though. “Oh yes,” I lied. “Very.”
“I am going to make so much money, I will be able to buy six fridges,” I warned, helping myself to strawberry ice cream instead.
By the time I got to the mint chocolate chip, I was feeling drunk in my stomach. That did not stop me from finishing it.
“Maybe buy me an ice cream … shop,” I said helping myself to some honeycomb and caramel flavored ice cream. “A factory – a ice cream factory. A big one! Like huge!”
Shortly after my fifth ice cream, I began to turn the color of the mint ice cream and struggled not to throw up.
It was then that I began to rethink my ambition to buy me an ice cream factory. That’s how drunk I got. I ran outside, threw up, then returned inside the house, on my way back deciding that I was no longer going to invest my money in an ice-cream venture. In fact, I made a decision never to touch another ice cream, because being drunk was nothing like I imagined it would be.
“Wanna see something cool?” Sarie asked, oblivious to my queasiness or my changing ambition.
I nodded, eager to get away from all the ice cream.
I could no longer stand even looking at the ice cream. Yet, before I left, I turned and looked at the ice cream. Fendi …
Despite my new-found attitude toward it – I grabbed four sticks of ice cream. One for Fendi, one for Katrina even though she wanted to klup me all the time, one for Mama Tsela and one for Baba. It was hot, they would enjoy the ice cream, I reasoned.
With the ice cream firmly in my grasp, I followed Sarie upstairs. We stopped outside a bedroom door, where she put her finger on her lips. She slipped into the room and returned a few moments later with a key. Using the key, she opened another room door, and pulled me inside.
Hallelujah! A roomful of money, that’s what it was. How could my jaw not drop at the sight of it? Never had I seen that much money at one place! Never had I seen that much money. Never had I really seen money, period.
The room itself, which was as large as a bedroom, was lined with steel, so it was a vault masquerading as a room. I looked around in awe, took in the shelves from floor to ceiling, the fact that every shelf had wads of banknotes tied with rubber bands. I took in the jewellery – gold necklaces, watches, rings, earrings and bracelets, all laid out with price tags on them, and the boxes and boxes of coins on the floor of the vault. On the top shelves were about a dozen assorted firearms and boxes of ammunition. On another shelf were bunches of keys – house keys, car keys and all sorts of spare keys, I assumed.
“How much is in here?” I whispered, still a bit drunk.
Sarie shrugged. “Gazillions.”
“Whoa!” I began to move cautiously through the room, touching the money, then pulling back my hand. I had to be dreaming. This Garden of Heaven was filled with treasure. It actually reminded me of a Hansel and Gretel house, but made of banknotes, coins, jewellery, guns and spare car keys.
“This the church money for the Garden of Eden,” Sarie said, but you can take some if you like.”
I jerked back at her words. Then I looked at the money and licked my lips. Baba would kill me if I took the white man’s money. Fendi would twist my ears, and Mama Tsela would scold me rapidly in Xhosa – I knew how it would go down. Yet, I heard myself say, “Okay.”
“Just don’t take the jewellery because ma says pa needs it for bribes.”
After handing Sarie my four ice creams to hold, I helped myself to a bundle of banknotes. How much was in there, I had no idea at that time. Later on, I worked it out – there was at least three thousand rands in that batch. We’re talking 1968 – that was a lot of money to a seven-year-old kid then. To a black, seven-year-old who called a windowless stable in the back of someone’s property his home.
After stuffing the money into my pockets, I took back my ice creams from Sarie and we began to leave the room. When Sarie opened the door to the vault, we both collided with a ghost. I screamed and jumped back in fear.
The ghost had long blonde hair, sticking out in all directions, red lipstick smeared across her face and black rings around her eyes. Across the ghost’s body was a white sash that said, Miss Boxburg 1962. On the ghost’s head was a somewhat battered tiara.
“Sorry, ma,” Sarie said in a scared voice.
I peered at the ghost – could this be the same woman who the pastor said, “… as beautiful as the day I met her.”?
Well, it was Mazda Vorster, the pastor’s wife, who appeared to have trouble walking.
I froze as she looked at us. I was in deep, deep trouble. I was inside the house, a wad of stolen money in my pocket and the four ice creams in my hand. Baba had warned me that the big house was out of bounds, yet I had failed to listen. I was busted by Pastor Schoeman’s wife.
With her hand on her crown, the woman looked directly at me. This is it! I thought. I’m doomed. Baba will be so disappointed. And Mama Tsela … damn! And Fendi – oh shit!
She struggled to keep her head from wobbling. “Me! Not … Laur … ika. Me! I am the beauty queen, you hear?”
I nodded, my eyes shifting to Sarie’s, who stood frozen.
“Fif … fif … teen,” Magda said. “When I meet him. Best years of my light … life, g … gone!” She almost lost her balance trying to snap her fingers. “G … gone!” The hiccups didn’t help either.
I looked at Sarie. Her eyes urged me not to move.
I nodded and remained frozen as Magda rambled on. “He’s taking her on … tour? I will kiiiiiiill her! C… cut her tit … tit … throat!”
Again, I had no idea who she was talking about, but the cutting of the tit, or the throat, I wasn’t sure, made me sober again.
Then, a look of fear appeared in her eyes, as she looked at me. “My c … c … clown! My clown!”
“It’s there, Ma,” Sarie said, pointing at the plastic tiara on her mother’s head. “See?”
Magda felt for her ‘clown,’ nodded, then said, “Go get me my … med … i … cine.”
Sarie got up, Sarie ran downstairs to the bar, fetched a bottle of vodka and handed it to her mother.
Magda smiled lovingly at the bottle, opened it, took a giant swig, then thrust it at Sarie. “Have some. Have a driiiink with me.”
Sarie shook her head, moving her face away.
“C’mon! Have … a driiiink, Sarie!”
Magda lunged at Sarie, grabbed her by the hair and forced the bottle to her lips. Sarie pushed her mother away. Magda pushed harder, spilling vodka all over Sarie’s face and clothes.
“Stupid shit!” Magda muttered, eventually stumbling back. “Think you’re prettier than me, riiiiight? Wong! Wrong! Wrong!” As she spoke, she pointed her bottle at Sarie. “I am the beauty queen here, you hear? Not you! You … are … ugly! Ug … ly.” She took a giant sip of her vodka.
Sarie stood like a statute, her eyes brimming with tears, her bottom lip trembling. I felt so bad for her, I forget to act like a statue. I walked over to Sarie, put my arm around her shoulder and whispered, “You okay?”
Sarie nodded and put her finger to her lip.
Magda suddenly looked at me with surprise in her eyes, as if she was seeing me for the first time. “I’m Ma…zzzda,” she said in a coy voice. “What’s your name?”
“Me? Eh … Shabba?” I said. I thought her name was Magda, but I may have heard wrong – it was Mazda; she said so.
Mazda smiled at me, her glazed eyes almost closing as she did. Slowly, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and said, “Have a drink with … me, Chubba.”
“Okay!” I said without hesitation, taking the bottle from her.
“Don’t!” Sarie whispered.
Despite her calling me ‘Chubba,’ I thought Mazda was a nice car. I mean, nice person. So, I took the bottle from her and drank from it, ignoring Sarie’s disapproval. The vodka was so awful, I spat it back into the bottle. I did it without thinking, and immediately I regretted it. But I couldn’t undo what I did, and the bottle turned murky.
I looked at Sarie with eyes the size of the wall clock – How do I fix this?
Her eyes were equally large, so she was of no help to me.
Crap! Crap! Crap! I couldn’t help it – after the sweetness of the ice cream, the vodka tasted bitter and disgusting.
To my surprise, Mazda smiled, took the bottle from me and took a huge gulp of it.
I was stunned to see her do that.
“How old are you?” Mazda asked, wiping her mouth with a sleeve and smearing red lipstick all over the white fabric.
“Twenty-five!” I answered.
She smiled. “You are so much f … fun!”
I puffed my chest out and gave Sarie a did-you-hear-that? look.
“Miss Junior B … B … Boksburg …” Mazda said to me, pointing the vodka bottle at her sash. “I was the most beautiful gi … gi … gi … girl in the room!” The hiccups made it really hard for me to understand what she was rambling on about, but it didn’t matter – I intended to be a great listener, because despite the mess she was, she was still a good looking woman.
“Eh, ma, come,” Sarie said, “Come, I take you to your bed.”
Mazda Vorster shrugged off Sarie, and cradling the bottle of vodka, began to dance in the narrow passageway, humming a tune as she did. Well, it was more like swaying drunkenly around the passage, giggling as she did, pausing only to sip from the bottle of dirty vodka. Then, she looked at me and extended her bottle to me.
I shook my head. No way was I going to drink from that disgusting bottle.
She shrugged, then said, “Come dance with me.”
So, I did. I began to dance with Mazda Vorster. She smiled and tried to clap, so I rewarded her cheers by dancing harder, by dancing like a butterfly, even though Baba hadn’t as yet taught me how to dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I flapped my arms like a butterfly would and moved swiftly around the corridor. The more I danced, the harder Mazda cheered and clapped.
Sarie the spoilsport did not join us, she just stood around with her arms folded and watched us dance, her mouth turned downward.
I frowned at Sarie. What?
“Stop dancing!” she said through clenched teeth.
Although I didn’t understand why she was mad at me, I slowed down my dancing to just swaying, moving my butt from side to side, mainly because I didn’t want to stop dancing altogether and disappoint Mazda. She appeared to be having so much fun. Besides, the woman bought me my first drink, know what mean?
With bulging eyes and gnashing teeth, Sarie motioned for me to go back into the vault, which was unlocked. So, while Mazda danced with her bottle of vodka, bumping into the sides of the walls and almost falling as she did, Sarie and I backed into the vault and out of the Mazda’s sight.
I was confused – why was everyone making a big deal of me being inside the house, when Mazda was so happy to see me? I mean, she had seen me emerge from the vault, seemed to have no problem with it, told me her real name, told me about the best of years of her life that she had given to Him, whoever he was, offered me a drink, asked me to dance, and even declared that I was fun! People could really make a big deal about nothing, if you asked me.
Once inside the vault, I picked up a .38 Special and played with it for a while. “Is it loaded?”
“Ja, they have to be,” Sarie said. “In case the bad people come to take away our land.”
“Cool!” I said, putting it down and picking up a 9 millimetre.
“What is this for?”
“It’s the safety catch.”
“Oh, what happens if I do this?”
“No, no, no! You must not touch that.”
“Because it will go off.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll push it back then.”
After a while we got bored with the fire that we were playing with, and decided to go outdoors. We peeped out into the passage, and when we saw that it was empty, Sarie and I crept outside the house. Not before I helped myself to another two wads of cash from the vault.
“What do I do with all the money?” I asked, as I stuffed them inside my shirt. Taking it home was out of the question.
“Mm … hide it?”
We eventually put the money in a plastic bag, and using our hands, buried it in the garden. It wasn’t a very deep hole, as you can imagine. By the time I had finished with my burial, the ice cream was just a soggy mass inside its packaging. I stared at it in dismay.
“If you took it home, Boy would know that you were in the house,” Sarie pointed out, in a things-happen-for-a-reason voice.
She was right. I had never thought about that. I looked at the ice cream and nodded. Leaving the four ice cream packets near the money grave, Sarie and I skipped off in search of something else to entertain us.
End of Excerpt
More excerpts coming next week, so make sure you’re following this blog.
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I do believe that some of you couldn’t access this post, so if you haven’t been able to, here it is again!
An Excerpt from Ruins of Temptation
A shirtless Drover gets out of bed and stumbles downstairs, throws open the door and balks at
the sight of Colin on his doorstep, roses and teddy bears in hand.
At the sight of attorney Phillip Sterling, Colin’s smile dips. This is the man who pulled a dirty on
him. Not his favorite person.
“I think I have the wrong house,” Colin mumbles as he backs away. “Apologies.” He turns and walks down the footpath.
From the car, Milton sees the shirtless Phillip Sterling at the door. He knows Phillip – he’s the man who put his daughter away in prison. Not his favorite person either. What the hell? Maybe we have the wrong address.
“Wait!” Drover calls.
Colin stops and turns around.
“Why are you out of prison?”
“Look it up if you want to know,” Colin says in an abrupt voice, then turns to continue walking.
With a sigh, Colin stops and turns around. “What do you want, Sterling? I don’t have time.”
“Wait!” Drover says. “Just a moment. Are you looking for …?”
“I’m looking for my wife. Clover Callan, remember her? My daughters? My family? Clearly, I have the wrong house.” He turns around and walks again.
“Wait! She’s here!”
Colin whirls around.
“She … this is the house,” Drover says. “She’s here.”
Colin tilts his head at Drover. “My wife is here? In this house?”
After a slight hesitation, Drover nods.
Colin squints at him. “Where?”
Colin’s eyes sweep over Drover, taking in the fact that he is shirtless, wearing just a pair of short, looking like he’s just rolled out of bed. He turns to look at Milton, then back at Drover. “I don’t understand – is my wife living here with you?”
Drover doesn’t answer; he just stares at Colin with one hand on his head.
End of excerpt from Ruins of Temptation
The story continues in Ashes of Temptation
Excerpt from Ashes of Temptation
Colin’s eyes flicker with confusion – if Clover is living here, if she is upstairs, why is this attorney from the public prosecutor’s office, the one who reneged on their deal, who double-crossed him and put him behind bars for seven years, shirtless and bare feet in the very same home? Colin blinks hard – Am I dreaming?
Drover blinks equally hard – how is this possible? Callan should be in prison right now – am I dreaming?
The hostility in Callan’s eyes tell him he’s may not be trapped in a bad dream after all. Drover glances upstairs, debating with himself – should he shout and warn out to Love, or go to her, whisper in her ear and bring her downstairs? He is certain Love will be equally shocked to see Colin here. Finally, he says, “Okay, look, if you wait here, I wi –”
Still clutching the two teddy bears and the bunch of roses, Colin pushes past Drover and strides into the house.
“Hey, wait in a minute!” Drover says, running after Colin.
Ignoring Drover, Colin walks around the house, sighting things that only compound his confusion – Eden’s rocking horse, Angel’s favourite blanket, a portable baby cot, Clover’s discarded jacket …
He pauses to pick up Clover’s jacket and stares at it. He was with her when she bought it. She even wore it to prison when she visited him in it.
“Look, just wait here and I will call her,” Drover says, a thread of anxiousness in his voice.
After a cursory glance at Drover, Colin pauses at the foot of the stairs and look upstairs.
Drover steps in front of Colin, blocking his path. “Wait here, and –”
Ignoring Drover and adding Clover’s jacket to the roses and teddy bears in his arms, Colin side-steps Drover and takes the stairs two at a time.
“Hold on there!” Drover yells.
Colin pokes his head into the bedrooms, looking for Clover. Even though the first bedroom is empty, it is instantly recognizable as Angel’s because of the photos of him and Angel on the wall. I’m in the right house.
He walks fast into the second bedroom, where he finds Eden fast asleep. His frown softens as he stares at his daughter that he hasn’t seen in three years.
. Fighting the urge to hug his daughter, Colin turns and almost runs out of the room in search of his wife.
When he reaches the third room, the door is shut. He flings it open and looks into the face of the woman lying in bed.
“Colin!” Clover cries when she sees Colin in her bedroom, clutching the teddy bears, roses and her jacket. “Wha …” The words die on her lips as she looks at Drover at the doorway, his palms turned out.
“Clover?” Colin whispers.
“I … Colin … ohmygod!” is all Clover can say, before she clamps both hands across her mouth.
With a dazed expression on his face, Colin looks at Drover, at Clover, at Drover, then again at Clover. “Wha … wha … what … Clover …” He rubs his eyes with his knuckles, “Am I … dreaming?”
Clover is speechless.
Colin stands in the middle of the bedroom, Clover’s jacket still in his hand, his eyes squinting at the tell-tale signs of a couple sharing a room – Drover’s phone and wrist watch on the bedside table, along with a half-finished bottle of water and the TV remote, the rumpled bedlinen next to Clover, Drover’s t-shirt and shoes on the floor.
Colin stares at Clover and the flimsy nightdress that shows her nipples. “I must be dreaming,” he mutters, blinking hard.
“Colin, I can explain,” Clover says, as she pulls the bedcovers over her, a move that only serves to highlight her lack of modesty, her duplicity. She opens her mouth to explain, but shock and disbelief renders her mute. Under Colin’s piercing gaze, she hangs her head.
For a while no one speaks.
Drover breaks the silence. “Look, Callan –”
Colin swings around to look at Drover. “Can you do me a favour?”
After a slight hesitation, Drover shrugs.
“There’s someone at the door. Can you let him in, please?”
“Who is it?” Drover asks, reluctant to leave Clover right now.
“My parole officer. He needs to meet … my wife.”
Drover looks at Clover, glances behind him, then at Clover again.
Relieved that his parole officer is around to may serve as a buffer to the situation, Clover’s head bobs. “Go! Let him in. Please!”
Drover too is relieved. He’s seen the car parked in his driveway, so he steps out of the room, eager to bring in the parole officer.
The moment he leaves the room, Colin flings down the jacket, the roses and the teddy bears. He slams the bedroom door shut then locks it.
Clover is startled that he would lock the door. “Colin, shouldn’t we go downstairs to meet …”
The words die on her lips when she watches Colin drag a cupboard across the door. Fear bolts through when she realizes that she is now trapped in the room with Colin. With a Colin that lured Drover out of the room, then locked the door.
The moment the door locks, Drover realizes what just happened. He rushes to open the door, slams his shoulder into it, but it won’t budge. He runs to fetch a baseball bat and slams it against the door, hoping to create a hole in it. The bat breaks on the first hit.
Inside the bedroom, when he’s sure they no one can leave, and that no one can enter, Colin turns slowly to look at Clover. “Are you living with him? Are you sleeping with him?” Colin advances toward her as he speaks, his eyes hooded, his voice low and controlled. Too controlled for a man who just caught his wife in bed with another man.
The expression in his eyes is familiar – she’d seen it just before, when he tried to strangle her at the Church of Light. When he believed she was Scarlett trying to pass herself off as Love. For days after that, she slept in a locked office with a Taser at hand, for fear he would harm her.
Clover scrambles back in bed. “Colin …I can explain …”
Colin towers over her, burly and muscular, more muscular than she’s known him to be. The cords in his neck, the twitching of his jaw, the flaring of his nostrils, augments her fear.
“Hey, open this door!” Drover shouts from outside the room. “Callan!”
Ignoring the rattling of the doorknob and Drover’s banging on the door, Colin says, “Don’t explain, just answer my question – are you living … are you, my wife … are you living with Phillip Sterling?”
Clutching the bedcovers, Clover looks away. “I … I … Colin …”
“Are you sleeping with him, CLOVER? I need to hear it from you.”
Clover doesn’t answer. Instead, she looks at the door, gauging and calculating – should she make a dash for it? She is fast on her feet, sure, but what about the cupboard?
Colin suddenly lunges at her, grabs her by the hair and drags her out of bed.
Clover’s terrified scream can be heard outside the house in the still of the morning.
“I asked you a goddam question!” he says, planting her in front of him, his bulging eyes boring into hers, his breathing erratic.
When she doesn’t answer, he jerks her toward him, slamming her into his chest. “Tell me, Clover. Tell me.”
“I … Colin… you’re hurting me, Colin!” she cries, as he holds onto her hair.
Milton, who now stands outside his car, is startled by the sound of a woman’s scream.
Realizing something is wrong, he hurries into the house and toward the sound of the screams. “Oh, shit!” he says when he sees Drover slamming his shoulder against the bedroom door.
“Call the cops!” Drover says.
“Call the cops!” Drover repeats. My phone’s inside the room!”
“What?” Drover demands.
“He’ll go back to jail.”
“Call the FUCKING cops!” Drover shouts.
Just then Andrew and Daisy burst into the house.
“Dad!” Daisy cries. “What’s going on?”
“Andy, help me,” Drover says. “I broke the lock, but something’s against the door.”
Inside the room, a terrified Clover tries to stay calm, even though she looks into Colin’s face, puce with rage.
“When did you start this affair?”
As Clover tries to think of an answer, a whimper escapes her.
“Answer me, CLOVER!”
She doesn’t answer, because through her terror, she knows that whatever answer she gives will be unacceptable.
Colin suddenly slaps her across the face, splitting her lip. “I’m going to kill you, Clover!”
End of Excerpt for Ashes of Temptation
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