I miss 2016. It brought a lot into my life. I had a blast. I became a mother. And, after a very long time, my fiction appeared in print. Go out and get a copy of the ‘Rising Stars’ edition of New Contrast (see details on their website). Here’s a little teaser from my short story, ‘A Change of Name’:
I understand that it’s hard to appreciate downtown Pretoria. Hair salons, moneylenders and government offices are all that remain after the flight to suburbia. Officially, the city has been renamed Tshwane, but almost everyone still calls it by its old name. But for me, Sunnyside is a lot like my old haunts in Johannesburg in the late nineties when I was a student at Wits University. In those days, my hair got its loving from a famous salon in Yeoville. I also liked to visit a wicked locktician in Hillbrow. I would hop off a taxi at Noord; navigate through the overflowing streets, before turning into a long-forgotten building where the master of dreadlocks reigned. Esselen is practically suburban in comparison to my parts of Joburg. But not to Mama Jane, who spends her days in the Eastern suburbs of Pretoria.
Mama Jane. How I came to call her that is a long story. At first, she wanted me to call her Jane. But I wanted her to acknowledge me as a daughter-in-law. I wanted the world to know it too. And where I come from, you just don’t call your mother-in-law, Jane.
The drive downtown turns into a history lesson. Mama Jane becomes excited as we make our way past Fountains Valley.
“I have read the most awful stories about this place. This used to be an amazing resort. My late husband and I would come here on a Sunday afternoon…ah…we would have a walk to burn off lunch. Or just sit on a bench and admire the beautiful gardens.”
“What kind of stories have you read?” I ask the easier question. I want to ask her about parks and benches in those days, but I am not sure if I would be able to take her answer. These are things we do not talk about.
“Loud parties with booze and drugs. Girls getting raped after dark. The maintenance of the place has gone down. There was a time when Pretoria could boast about its gardens – Fountains, or the iconic, absolutely stunning Burgers’ Park, the zoo. I hear animals are dying at the zoo.
“Really? That would be tragic. I haven’t heard that story.”
“Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But there have been instances of animal neglect. Look at the primary school. I suppose it’s still a school of sorts.”
“Of course, it’s still a school.” I can feel the scowl on my face, which I try to disguise with a smile. As we drive past the ‘school of sorts’, we see what could easily be a hundred children playing in the schoolyard. Their dark orange shirts flatter their mostly brown faces.
“This used to be a fantastic school. Small, of course. But a working class child could get a decent start in life here. The Greeks and Italians and Portuguese…all those immigrants used to send their kids to this school.”
“I guess the immigrants come from places like Nigeria and Zimbabwe these days.”
“Yes, they do,” Mama Jane sighs. “And kids fleeing atrocious township schools.”
At a traffic light, I freeze for a second, no longer concerned with Mama Jane’s discontent with how this part of Pretoria has turned out. Without the burden of memory, coming from Soweto as I do, I have no problem in seeing the beauty of Sunnyside. I love walking down Esselen Street in the mix of tongues and hues and smells. It is a wide and graceful street, with eclectic storefronts at street level and art deco apartments at the top. I even like the Department of Trade and Industry’s campus, a recent appendage at the bottom of the street. But today the street outside the department is filled with protestors. Men and women in red t-shirts, waving placards and toyi-toying their hearts out.
“Jesus, shall we turn back?” Mama Jane breaks my moment of panic. But it’s just a moment. I won’t be overcome by middle-class fear.
The table of contents for this issue:
NEW CONTRAST 176 – RISING STARS!
In this issue: