Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Water and other things

This year has been an odd sort off year. Exhausting on several levels. Round about the time my mother got sick, I was meant to have travelled to Uganda. I'd been shortlisted for this year's Writivism award. I couldn't attend, but you can read my story here

I ended up doing an interview with Praxis magazine about the near-non-experience. You can read that here. Name's been misspelled, a few other choice typos and interesting (if you have a dirty mind) gaffes. But all, good fun. 

I think I overreached when I wrote a story and submitted it to Short Story Day Africa. This year's theme was Water. I didn't make the longlist. I'm disappointed, but c'est la vie. I'm rather amused that Short Story Day Africa tweeted a quote from the Praxis interview, the bit about just wanting someone to say "Yes " to my work, before saying No to it themselves. 

 Maybe I should stick with finishing the rewrite of my novel. Yes?

For now, the SSDA rejectamenta. 



Water


All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was ~ Toni Morrison

He
23 August 2014

I wonder what would happen? If I ran into you one day? There I’d be doing what it is I do. I’d look up. And there you’d be. Would I say anything? You think? I suspect I’d pretend not to know you. I suspect my heart would be racing and my throat would be dry. I suspect my legs would turn liquid; my insides would melt. But I’d walk by. I wouldn’t want you to look into my eyes. I could never control the stories they told. The You of childhood, always found that amusing.
When I’d passed you by and found a quiet corner where I could try to make myself whole again, I’d think about the zillion things I've wanted to tell you these last years.
Have you been following my life? Did you see that one of my paintings was sold to some famous tech millionaire? You know the type? Those who make millions off an idea that the world never thought it needed until these braggarts told them so? I didn’t ask Charl his name. It’s irrelevant.
It’s of you, that painting. Painted more with my fingers than brushes because of how I longed to hold you again. I rubbed my fingers together, felt the silken glide of paint between them. You. I then applied it, blending, mixing, bleeding line into line. And there you were. As I saw you. So much colour. Moody crags. A sun slipping behind mountains. And there I was. At your feet. A hut so small, I was a mere smudge. At your feet. Do you remember?
For the longest time all I ever painted was you. In seascapes. In people sitting in parks. In fields of flowers where children frolicked. Always you. And then I stopped. I’d filled that you-shaped hole in my soul with so many colours, so many paintings that were you that I couldn’t bear another. I then started painting abstracts. They all have mirrors. Always mirrors.
I live by the sea now. You’d like it, I imagine. You, my water sprite. At night the bay curves, a flaming scimitar, cleaving into the black ocean. In the daytime the view from my bedroom window is like a living painting. Magical. It turns transcendent when it rains. The windows weep. They blur the lines of the painting until it’s all a wet puddle at my feet.
One morning I sat down by the window wanting to write you a letter. Foolish me. Who writes letters these days? My redundance settled on me like all of Nothing. Asphyxiating. I went for a walk in the park. A man sits there each day sketching tourists. He’s young. Like I once was. Plump with the pretensions of youth. His smock looks like one of my artworks. I chuckled to myself, imagining the work he put into getting it to look like that. But he was friendly and I felt tempted to sit for him. Have him sketch me. But then I feared he’d see you in my eyes and that would ruin the drawing.
Sometimes I drive up the coast and seek out the estuary. There are sharks there, they say. So no one swims in the waters. Sharks wouldn't want me, I know. Inconsequence is never in demand.
I sit at the water’s edge, legs submerged, and regret spurning your offer to teach me how to swim.
I feel the current against my legs and imagine how many little streams gave themselves up to the seething grey-green river just so they could once more touch the sea.

                                      ***************************
She

24 August 2014

She said I’d never move forward unless I let you go. Unless I let go of everything that happened. There. In my room. In the dark.
But I proved her wrong. I proved everyone wrong. I’ve moved on. Moved far beyond you even though I haven’t really let go of you. Of us.
So here I am, writing to you. Again. You’ll never see these letters so I guess there’s no harm in confessing that for a time right through until I was 12, I loved you. You made me feel special. You were to me what she never wanted to be. You cared. After all, you stayed, right? Even after she pissed off. You were all I had.
And then you changed. It was as if my becoming a woman reminded you that you were actually a man? What the fuck was that about anyways? And that’s when I started hating you. What kind of a father fucks his daughter?
Because you were so epically screwed up, you passed that on to me. Like Ebola of the soul. Because of you, I couldn’t really allow myself to like boys. Never went on dates. You never allowed sleepovers. Everyone thought you were the ‘protective father’. If only they knew.
At least I had the water, though. The only mirror that I could bear. When I was younger, it was pretty funny, you not being able to follow me in. It shifted the power balance in our relationship. You should have seen the way your face would be all twisted up, how your eyes would pop when I went in too far. Seeing you all anxious was a little personal win.
As I grew older, swimming became my escape. The deeper I went, the less likely you were to try to follow; the more I could be alone, just me and my hatred.
I hope that wherever you are, you’re suffering. Paying every single day of your miserable life for what you took from me.
Did you know that my eyes are just like yours? That’s what you gave me. So now you know why I avoid mirrors. Seeing the bastard who ruined you every time you look into one isn’t my idea of fun.
Oh, I almost forgot, I bought a painting a few months ago. From some obscure artist. Well, I bought it from this gallery that sells his work. I think you’d like it. It’s an amazing landscape.
Not that I really care what you’d like. I hate you, remember?
Then I went back to the gallery to get more of this dude’s stuff. Whaddya you know? His newer works all have fucking mirrors in them.
I say ‘he’, though I’m not sure that he’s a he. Paintings are signed FF.
Given that the bastard has just disappointed me, I figure he can only be a he. Hes always disappoint.
Oh and by the way, I read Lolita, like you suggested way back when. It changes nothing. I still think you’re a monster.

                             ***********************************

Image credit: http://agechem.co.za/gallery/

He

16 March 2015

This morning I woke up at the estuary. I sat up, spitting sand out of my mouth, feeling the grains crusted into my beard. I looked around. Not a soul in sight. I stood up, wobbling on stiff legs. Old age is not for sissies.
How did I get there? Why did I go there? They said this would begin to happen.
          The sun was just beginning to wake. The entire eastern sky, aflame. Quite astonishing. For just a moment I wished I still painted landscapes. I dusted myself off and walked towards the beach. Surfers were already in the water, paddling out, in adulation of the Perfect Wave. Deep out, a head bobbed and I thought of you. Swimming, beckoning.
“Come. I’ll show you how. I won’t let you sink. Promise.”
I like to believe you really wanted to teach me how to swim back then. As you grew older, each invitation sounded like a ruse to lure me to my death. No, the water is definitely not for me.
But you, you were for me, querida. My beloved. Can’t you see? We were meant for each other. And however wrong the world led you to believe we were, however their notions of ‘what is done’ convinced you that our love was a sin, it wasn’t.
What is sin other than a foolish human construct to convince people of their imagined righteousness?
I don’t know where I’ll be a month from now so perhaps ‘tis best that I tell you that I was diagnosed with Cancer last year. A brain tumour. Remember those headaches I used to get?
When I told them I wouldn’t be going for Chemo, they were annoyed. They told me I’d start losing my memory. That I’d change as my body cannibalised more of itself. I shrugged.
That’s life, right? A bitch to the end.

With love
F
                                      ***************************
She

26 March 2015

So, you tracked me down and sent me this letter? What do you want me to do? Pity you? I smiled, okay. I smiled when I read about the Cancer.
Because you, of all the miserable fuckers I know, deserve to have your body feed on itself. Deserve a painful, twisted end. Maybe once you’re gone I’ll be free. Well and truly free. Maybe once you’re gone, I’ll install a huge mirror in my bedroom. So I can smile and gloat and see myself doing so. Because you died. Because you suffered while you did.

                             *******************************

08 June 2015

What. The. Fuck!
You listed ME as next of fucking KIN! ME?!
How could you?
I almost called the doctors and asked them to put you into a home so I would never have to lay eyes on you. But who wants to be tabloid fodder? And if the outraged anarchists on twitter got wind of this? Twitter would pseudo-break!
So I dressed (make me immaculate, I told my stylist) and came to see you.

I broke.
Something inside of me broke when I saw what you’ve become. Small. SO very small.
They’ve shaved your beard right off. There are deep grooves in your cheeks. I’ll pretend they came from tears you cried over what you did to me.
I’ll pretend the smile you gave me, the way your eyes lit up when you saw me, the way you whispered my name, while your eyes leaked, that was all because some part of you was capable of loving me the way a father ought to love his daughter.
You’ll live at my place, we decided, me and the team. I won’t have to look at you. We’ll hire a caregiver. You won’t matter.

                             ************************************



05 July 2015

I told them I’d be going to your apartment myself to pack your things. I was afraid they would find stuff at your place that would tell them what you did to me. I was a knotted mess as I boarded my early flight to the coast.
I like your little place by the sea. Like the coastline that’s like a smile.
Away from you, here among your things, I don’t feel so angry. I don’t resent the scratch that you’ve become, on the glossy veneer that is my life.
I walk up to a window with a writing desk pushed up against it. I can see the entire bay from here. For a moment, I imagine you sitting right here, writing me letters. Proper paternal letters. You, dressed in an old-father type cardigan. And then I feel like vomiting because I know you’re not that.
I look for your bathroom and retch into the mottled basin. I straighten and there they are. Your eyes staring back at me. I yank the cabinet open and all I see are painkillers. Bottles and bottles of the stuff.
I want to be glad that you’ve suffered. But somehow, I can’t find joy.
I go to a bedroom. I see this served as your studio. There’s an easel by the window, a painting on it. A table is an explosion of paints and brushes. There’s a pencil sketch on the desk. It’s of a girl playing in the waves. Her back is to you. She wears a bathing suit and a floppy sunhat. She looks to be about ten. Womanhood has not yet filled out her hips.
I remember that day too.
I walk up to the easel. An 18 x 24 canvas that has the outlines of the painting it is meant to be, pencilled in. I see mirrors.
And then my legs are weak. I look for a chair and pull it to me. It screams against the wooden floor. I sink into it. Drop my head between my knees. Stay like that until my breathing eases.
Then I look up, at the paintings you kept. The seascapes. The fields of flowers. The people on benches. The abstracts with the many mirrors.  And in the corner of each one, is signed, FF. Our names, combined?
I’m disgusted. How pathetic am I that I cannot even bring myself to hate you properly?
That of all the paintings I could ever love, it’s yours that called to me. Yours alone.
I wander around your place then. Touching things. Imagining you touching them. Wondering whether they too, these things, felt dirtied by your touch.
Then I’m in your bedroom. The bed is a hollow behind my ribcage. It punctures my lungs, stabs my heart. I weep. For that little girl and for all the love she gave. And for how you dirtied that love.
Above the bed is a seascape. A wave is just breaking on a bank of rocks, sending up a shower that glitters, reflecting the full range of the spectrum. Rainbow droplets. An ethereal nymph sits on a rock. Her head is bowed. Knees drawn to her chest. Everything about her screams sadness.
Back in your living room now, I sit down at your desk. Open the drawer. There’s a pile of letters there, neatly bound with an olive green ribbon. I wipe my face with the back of my sleeve. With shaky fingers, I loosen the pile. I want to read. But am afraid. So afraid of what I’ll find.
But I do so anyway.
Every letter, every single letter is written to me.
They are dated. I pick up the last one you wrote.
It is dated, the 10th May. That’s about a month before I was forced to bring you to my place.
I read.

10 May 2015

Today is a good day. My mind is clear. Well, almost. At this stage I don’t expect any miracles.
Given that I doubt I will be around much longer. I should make my final confessions. That’s what religious people do, right? Confess to God?
Well since you have featured as my personal Goddess for much of my life, it’s only fitting that my confession be to you.
I am not really your father. I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

Your mother decided, right after you were born, while she sat in that hospital bed, with you, a bloody squalling bundle in her arms, that we should never tell you. She wanted you to have a normal childhood, she said. At the time, I wanted to ask her what was normal about an alcoholic mother. But I allowed her this illusion. Maybe because I liked the idea of you as my daughter. Liked how even as a baby, your most ready smile was always for me. Liked how you looked at me with perfect adoration. How toddler-you would dabble with my paints and create ‘art’ for me. Just for me. How toddler-you cried for me each time I went out for a walk. Until eventually I began taking you along because hearing you cry ruptured my heart in places that I’d never imagined it could ever be touched.

Your mother and I met at a bar.  She was a busty boozy waitress. At the time, that was My Type. The day we met, she was pretty badly banged up.
“Possessive boyfriend?” I asked.
“I don’t do boyfriends.”
I liked her immediately.

She stayed at my place for a few days. You’re old enough to imagine what those days were all about. Describing them to you feels like a betrayal of what we shared, you and I, so I shan’t. And then she woke one morning and said it was time to leave.
“So, how many months gone are you?”
“It’s none of your business,” she snapped.
“I never said it was. I’m just curious.”
“Three months. I was stupid. I got caught.” She was shrugging on her clothes, packing her knapsack as she spoke.
“Stay here.” I know that was a precipitous thing to say. But at the time, I thought I needed a companion.
She stayed. Even now, I’m not sure why. Maybe she was tired of running from whatever demon it was that snapped at her heels. Maybe she just wanted a quiet place to have you. I don’t know.
It was strange sharing my life with someone.

I grew up alone. My father had walked out shortly after I was born. My mother died young and I was left to the Care System. Yes it’s a system. Totally bereft of Care.
So caring, sharing, these didn’t come easy.

And then you arrived. It was pouring that day. A distressed sky, thrashing, pouring out its agony on the world. I stayed with her through the labour. I don’t understand fully why. Fascination? Voyeur tendencies?
It was grotesque, that process of birthing life. All that pain. That torment. But also impossibly, achingly beautiful. And when you crowned, your dark head slick with the smut of birth, I fell in love for the first time ever.
So when she decided right there, high on endorphins, that you didn’t need to know that I wasn’t really your father, I agreed. I shouldn’t have.
Maybe if you didn’t think of me as your father, didn’t expect fathering from me, you’d have hated me less for what I grew to feel for you.
You must understand, querida, I resisted. In the beginning, I really did.
I told myself how wrong it was. How abnormal, abhorrent, despicable it was, that I should feel for you what I never once felt for your mother or any other woman. How maybe this was my own experience at the hands of my caregivers manifesting decades later. My own convoluted initiation into sexuality turning me into a freak. Abused become abusers and all of that.
But they hadn’t loved me.
When shaming myself failed, I began researching. Hours at the library.

I learnt that in ancient Rome, girls married from the age of 12.
That Juliet was a mere 13 when she fell in love with Romeo. Interestingly, Juliet’s mother had birthed her first child by age 13.
Marie Adelaide was 12 when she married Prince Louis of France. Even now in Mexico girls marry from the age of 14.
And I waited. Do you remember that? Until you bled.
Yes, this is me rationalising. Yes, this is me obfuscating. Yes, this is me.

I don’t know what this knowledge changes for you. If it changes anything at all.
What I want you to know though, is that it wasn’t your fault. Don’t hate yourself. And maybe someday, when you forgive yourself, you’ll find it in you to forgive me. Maybe?
I am sorry. Sorry that my selfishness hurt you. That my love was an acquisitive, tainted thing.
But it was…is, always will be, Love.
I love you, dear heart. Querida. Love you with all that is in me. With every atom in my being capable of loving. Loving you was for me, life itself. Loving you was hope.
I should have been stronger, I think. Should have thought of you more, of how my ways of expressing that love, my need for gratification, for physical expression eroded you. I wanted my love to elevate you. Instead it diminished you.

Much love
FF

                                      ****************************

She returns in the dark. The moon hangs low in the western sky. Fat, full and orange. A blood moon. Stars are smudged apparitions. The air smells of magnolia blooms.
She slips into his room. He sleeps. Deep breaths that stir the sick smelling air. She reaches for his hand. It feels cold. She squeezes it and he wakes. Blinking in the half-light.
“Hello.” He smiles. “I knew you’d come. Querida.” his voice is raspy.
“You were right.” Wet streaks on her cheeks.  “I want to set you free. Do you want to be free?”
He nods.
“Swim with me?”
He’s already struggling to sit up. She helps him. Helps him slip on his slippers. They’re old-father slippers. She smiles.
His hands rest on her shoulders.
“Hold me,” he says. “Dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale that is breathing us all into being… It’s not mine. It’s from The Dance. You should read it.”
She places both hands on his waist. She feels his hip bones jutting against her palm. He hums. Tchaikovsky. Serenade for Strings. She recognises it. He painted to it often. They sway. Slow circles, an almost-waltz.
He collapses against her. She holds him under his arms, pulls him to his feet. His breaths are shallow gasps.
“Time to swim?”
He nods and rests an arm on her shoulder. Together they hobble, a contorted creature of the night, to the pool in the centre of her house. Steam rises from its surface. Hundreds of little ghosts.
The moon is higher now. Presses against the glassed roof. It’s reflection on the water melts in the ripples caused by the pump. Is whole again.
She bends. Helps him out of his old-father slippers. Removes his pyjamas. He is naked before her now. He hangs, flaccid. The weapon of my annihilation, she thinks. It’s obsolete now.
She leads him to the edge of the pool, seats him there, legs dangling into the water. She then peels away her clothing until she’s left with just bra and panties. She dives into the water. A sylph. Swims to where he sits. Stretches out her hand. He takes it. Slips into the water with her.
“Walk with me?”
They walk. The water reaches their chests.
She begins to sing.
“Looking up from underneath
Fractured moonlight on the sea
Reflections still look the same to me
As before I went under

And it's peaceful in the deep
Cathedral where you cannot breathe
No need to pray, no need to speak
Now I am under…”
“Whose is that?” the water just reaches his chin now. She’s on tippy toes.
“Florence and the Machine.”
“I like it.”
“Really, after all this time you decide to like my music?”
“I always did. You didn’t need to know.”
 He keeps walking. She swims beside him now. The water reaches his mouth. Covers his nose. Head. She swims along, just holding. Not lifting. He stays there. Submerged. Minutes pass.
“But I'm not giving up
I'm just giving in,” she murmurs.

The moon stares.


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Marching Lights


I’ve thought long about writing this post. Long about whether, if I do, I should post it. I didn’t want to be the exhibitionist. Stepping out of my skin for voyeurs to see the layer of pain, pulsing, there, just below my ordinariness.   

But I wanted so much to capture that night. Wanted  so much to capture the aborted fullness of the moon in a black, black sky. So much to capture the stillness of the night. Such a stillness. Like death. Like her stillness as they wheeled her out of theatre, all tubes and wires, and into a unit where she would be attached to machines. A machine to breathe for her. Another to count her heartbeats.

I wanted to capture the crisp edge to the air that seeped inside of me. Through my skin. Through my pain. Through everything. How that cold went and curled up in my heart. How it went to sleep there, beneath my ribs, in my functioning heart, so different from hers, yet made, forged, from her blood. She gave me this.

I wanted to capture the jackal on the ridge outside of town. I didn’t see it, but my son did. My eighteen year old boy who wept in my arms when he realised there was nothing we, her family, could do to take away her pain.

I imagine it, the jackal, had glowing eyes. I didn’t want it to be an omen. I wanted to capture how, after that, I hoped we wouldn’t see an owl. And then I reminded myself how there are no ill omens in Islam.  

I wanted to capture the warehouse, cavernous, like the dried out inside of a fading flower, the way we passed it. The way, at near midnight, I saw the silhouette of a man in the doorway. A black scratch against the pale yellow light.

I  wanted to capture the marching lights. A straight line marching along beside us. Up hills and down them. Marching. Marching. To push away the dark. Yet the darkness, the cold, it was inside me. Where was the light marching against that?


And then there were prayers. So many, many prayers. From friends. From family. From strangers. There were hugs that smelled like life. Like human warmth. There. That was my line of lights, matching right inside of me. Through the darkness, through the cold. Marching. Marching. Into her room. Telling the doctors, today. Today you will take off that horrid tube down her throat. You will switch off that machine that breathes for her. Because she has us. All these lights. And we will help her breathe by herself. 

Thank you. You know who you are...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wear not your Writerliness as a Wound

                         
                                       



I’ve tried to stay out of the ‘Whiteness of SA Literary Festivals’ debate on social media because I’ve felt that the insufficient quantities of melanin in my skin have disqualified me on some level.

But the longer I think about it, the more I read, the more I begin to feel that I ought to add my voice to the melee, at the expense of being castigated for what I’m about to say.

I start with this thought:

Wear not your blackness as a wound.

I extend this principle further:

Wear not your womanness as a wound.

Wear not your gayness as a wound.

Wear not your Muslimness as a wound.

Now hang on. Before you decide to school me on the injustices inflicted on black people the world over, injustices that continue to be perpetrated against them even now to varying degrees, let me remind you that women too are marginalised. Gays continue to face bigotry. And as a Muslim I sometimes have to convince people that I don’t have a bomb under my hijab.

In short, the world has enough ugliness to go around. Several times over.

But the reason I start with this statement about wounds is because I’m tired of being confronted by victims. I’m tired of being told I’m a victim. I’m tired of having to pretend to think I’m one.

Rather I am a brown woman who refuses to fit into any box that society has decided I should inhabit. I am loud. Opinionated. Gentle. Angry. Shy. Calm.  In touch with my sexuality. Devout. Irreverent.

But never, am I ever a victim. This in spite of my being an Indian Muslim Woman, survivor of child abuse and writer of words that no one wants to publish.

And you, my black writer friend are no victim of a system that favours white people either.

If anything, you’re lucky. Luckier than I am at least, since your skin colour serves as a passport to getting published. Your stories are the ones publishers want to publish in order to prove they aren’t ‘Too white’.

And then when you do get published and the people for whom you’ve written don’t buy the books, you blame the industry for making the books too expensive for ‘your readers’ to afford them. And in the same breath you lament the fact that as a writer you cannot afford to live off your scribbles.

Now correct me if I’m wrong here:
  •      The publishing industry is a business.
  •    The purpose of every business is to generate a profit.
  •       If publishing houses stop generating profits, they stop publishing books.
  •       If they stop publishing books, you cannot get your story out there.
And why, I wonder are writers of colours still leaving the publishing to the whiteys? Where are the black publishing houses in South Africa when we have no shortage of black millionaires?

I’ll tell you an interesting little story.

Two years ago I was at The Time of the Writer Festival that is held at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban.  Every night that I attended sessions, I found a predominantly white audience. A rather poor representation of the SA demographic.

Then on the night Susan Abulhawa appeared, the  Muslim brown people suddenly filled up the theatre.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian author. She writes books about the injustices visited on the Palestinian people, her people, by the Israeli occupiers. This topic is dear to Muslim hearts everywhere. Palestine is after all home to Al Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam. In fact, given the outpouring of support for Palestine by SA Muslim people every time Israel goes on a rampage, one would be forgiven for thinking that SA Muslim blood is red, green and black.

I was quite pleased to see more brown faces that night though.  I felt like less of a playwhite.

BUT after the interval, during which all these brown people queued up to have Susan sign their copies of her book and pose for a selfie for social media posterity, the brown people vanished.  They didn’t stay to listen to the next author.

I shook my head in disgust.

Now let me clarify the following:

  •         Brown people aren’t that impoverished that they cannot afford books by other brown or black South African authors. In fact, judging by their predilection for designer labels, they can afford to support the works of many local authors if they so choose. So this gives lie to the argument the people don’t buy books because they cannot afford them.
  •             Ask other brown writers how well their novels sold and they’ll tell you, not well at all. This in spite of the brown community being very proprietal of their ‘heroes’. Interestingly, that of the writers that appeared after Abulhawa, one was South African Muslim.


Conclusion:

People don’t buy books because they don’t prioritise the buying of books. They don’t read them because they’d much rather be watching the latest Bollywood offering or episode of Soul City. Often, if they find that they’d like to read a book, they’re more likely to borrow from a friend than actually buy it. They have better things to spend their money on.

People don’t attend festivals because they find them boring. Or because they’d rather attend a John Legend concert, the more expensive of the two tickets, mind you. I must admit, this year’s Time of the Writer was so boring that I probably won’t fly down to Durban for it again. And I’m a writer, saying this.

So lowering the cost of SA fiction won’t result in more readers. But my non-existent bank balance will definitely appreciate it.

Making a festival more accessible (Time of the Writer, M & G Litfest, these are both plenty accessible, by the way) won’t see more brown and black people attending it either.

Solution:

Creating a culture of reading at primary school level. Maybe.

Hoping that parents who are readers succeed in passing on their love of books to their offspring. (Though, with five kids of my own, I see two readers emerging from the five, all of whom had stories read to them as children. Not everyone wants to be a reader.) So yeah, maybe again.

Lobbying this wastrel government of ours to direct more funds towards the arts so that our libraries are at least STOCKED. (A library cannot be better stocked unless it is stocked to begin with.) Definitely!

And then, keep writing. After all, it's a labour of love, no?


Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Value of Pie

For far too long has the South African Muslim community been caught in the crosshairs of a battle between the Halaal Authorising Ulama. 

For far too long, have we, the communities, used these bodies to perpetuate our bigotry and give reign to our arrogance and sense of supremacy. 

We have cast aspersions on the integrity of Ulama from the Western Cape, because “They’ll certify anything. Even alcohol.” And have used that other body’s ‘exercise caution’ statements to brand food certified by other Muslim scholars, HARAAM.

We have forwarded broadcasts declaring food haraam on one day then changing our minds, the next. 

We have allowed ourselves to be played by certain bodies who would like the world to believe that they are the only ones deserving of the revenue to be had from pronouncing a product Halaal, that their Halaal standard stands head and shoulders above any other.  Because they are more Muslim than most.

Those other scholars, their qualifications were found in a lucky packet. They have no consciences and they are not answerable to a Higher Being.  This is what we have said, over and over, when we have preferred one body over the other, when we have forced Muslim businesses into having themselves certified , sometimes, at exorbitant costs, so we could tuck into our Certified-By- The-Authority-Of-My-Choice meal with a smug self- satisfied smile.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to the halaal wars. Don’t receive or forward broadcasts. Don’t discuss it. This was a conscious decision I took after an incident involving pies at a Muslim owned Spar that resulted in my getting in touch with a certain Halaal Authorising Body whose behaviour shocked me. They were so blatantly manipulative that for a while I was not even sure the conversations had actually taken place.

And for this reason, when I opened Lazeeza’s in 2008, I decided that I wouldn’t apply to have my store certified by anyone. That if, for a fellow believer, my word wasn’t good enough, then I was better off having no dealings at all with said believer.

It was also, for this reason that when I sourced pies for my store, I was happy enough with the certificate from my Western Cape brothers because, I reasoned, I was accepting the word of a Body of Scholars. And if they erred, the sin would be on them.

But clearly, given recent run in’s with patrons at the store, not everyone shares my sentiments.
There has been more than one Kurta’ed uncle or Niqaab’ed aunty (more often, it’s the aunties, though) who has asked dear Sicelo whether the pies are Halaal.

There had also been a certain TJ brother who’s accosted Ahmed (he helps out at the store), at the Markaz, and stated unequivocally that Lazeeza’s sells Haraam pies.

So let me state this clearly: Lazeeza’s sells pies that have been certified by The Muslim Judicial Council. We sell these pies because we refuse to buy into the notion that some Muslims are more Muslim than others. And if you are of a very high level of Taqwa and this Allah consciousness of yours dictates that you not believe the words of scholars from the Western Cape because they don’t have full length Sunnah beards and their ancestors were either Malay or Coloured, then for you, these pies become DOUBTFUL. Not HARAAM. But DOUBTFUL.

For YOU. Not EVERYONE.

So YOU should NOT eat them.  But PLEASE, I implore you, don’t go around making them haram for everyone.
And for the rest of you, I‘d recommend the Mutton Curry Pie. It’s pretty good.


Bismillah.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My People


As a Muslim People, we’re proprietal of our heroes. Proud. Oftimes, justifiably. We will sit in 2015 and talk about the contribution the Muslim World made to Science, Medicine, Mathematics in the 8th century as though we were personally responsible for these advances.


We don’t take kindly to these heroes being mocked, as the Daily Vox learnt when they ran that parody at Hashim Amla’s expense. Or as Zapiro learnt when he drew a cartoon depicting The Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

So when a new writer with a Muslim name was set to launch a novel at the Time of the Writer, ‘our people’ sat up and paid attention. Would ZP Dala turn out to be another gem in our 1400 year old crown?

Not if she claims Rushdie as a writer she considers admirable, clearly. She was quickly ‘put in her place’ by a few thugs, who, for the purpose of my soapbox moment, I shall assume to have been Muslim.
  
The Muslim community’s reaction to this affront to humanity by a few misguided morons was telling.

“A publicity stunt.”
“Exaggerated account.”
“Picked up by the Western Media because they have an anti-Muslim agenda.”

Now, I ask my people this: Had Zainab Dala been a victim of a mugging, how would you, my Muslim brethren, have reacted?

Would you have decried this senseless act of violence against a defenceless Muslim woman? 
Would you have denounced the lawlessness in our country? 
Passed racist comments, because well, all thugs are black, right?

Yet, here was a Muslim woman subjected to violence because she had the temerity to express an unpopular view. And the perpetrators of this violence were Muslims, our own people. So instead of owning the grave injustice that was inflicted on a fellow Believer, we question her integrity as a human being?

I cannot imagine any writer fabricating an account of an attack, thereby missing out on the launch of her debut novel, in order to sell a few books!

At this point, I should clarify, my speaking out against what I see as a grave injustice, inflicted twice, is not because I am friends with Zainab Dala.

Or because I’ve read her book, and loved it. (See my comment in the previous post).

Or even because I too am a writer.  (Writer’s support one another – the ‘even when they’re wrong’  - was implied, not stated in this particular bit of commentary).

We live in a society where, when a woman is raped , she is asked whether, perhaps, she might have brought it on herself.

Maybe she dressed too provocatively.
Maybe she was easy.
Maybe she said No but meant Yes.
Maybe she said Yes.

How far from this is our response to the attack on ZP Dala?

So, how do we fix it?
  • ·         As a community, let’s own this injustice.  Let us not rationalise, justify or excuse actions that are completely unacceptable.
  • ·         Support the writer in this trying time. And no, buying her book just because we’re extending sympathy to her is not how we show our support. I’d hate to imagine someone supporting my work out of pity.
  
 Let us not be of those who fail to stand up when an injustice is committed just because the perpetrators of the injustice are those we count as our own.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

revolution with a small r




“I know I've been home too long when I stop noticing the beggars,” Jacob Dlamini during the Writing Without Permission session at Time of the Writer.

He continued…”You should never feel comfortable about being South African. There’s nothing comfortable about being South African.” 

This was just one comment of many from Mr Dlamini that almost prompted me to raise my hand during the Q & A sessions.  I resisted – who wants a roomful of strangers staring you down? - but here follow my thoughts during the exchange that took place on a wet Tuesday night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban.

This session promised fireworks from the minute Jackie Shandu asked his first question. Expressing surprise at how it was that Jacob found himself a visiting fellow at Harvard, with a PhD from Yale - Jacob, who’d grown up on the ‘mean streets’ of Katlehong and  being met with Jacob’s answer which fitted his own definition of ‘cantankerous bastard’. To paraphrase: South Africans sell themselves short. There’s nothing surprising about my being at Harvard, and having a PhD from Yale.
In short, Jacob was lucky enough to come from a home where education was a priority, since his other basic needs weren’t a struggle.

This response made me chuckle. It’s always fun to see myths debunked, innit?

And then Jackie Shandu, sounding like a literary Malema (right after sounding like an African Oprah), put the ‘lack of transformation in media’ question to Mzilikazi. Right about now, would be a good time to leave, I thought to myself.  

But Mzilikazi’s response kept me in my seat.  He clarified that while his view was founded on his own experience and things could well be different in other media houses, he works with many, many black journalists. And why, he asked, do black millionaires not start up media houses?

Maybe, like me, Mzilikazi has tired of the frayed narrative we see in the media about how South Africa remains largely untransformed, even when there are placard bearing white beggars alongside black cellphone accessory hawkers at intersections. Maybe, he too sees the many well-heeled black South Africans holding down decent jobs, on their way to even better. South Africans who would simply not have been in a position to achieve even a fraction of what they have, pre ’94.

By the time the session concluded, I decided I had a crush on Jacob. And had found respect for Mzilikazi. The man who speaks truth to power without feeling like he needs to impress with big words.

The Q & A session began. Their responses were erudite, also a lot of fun to listen to.

The last question that was fielded came from a young Africanist. “When are we going to stop writing without permission and start writing for Revolution?” he asked.

“Maybe, we need to write for revolution with a small r,” Jacob replied. And in that statement, I saw a summary of my own truth.

You see, Jacob is right in that we are a people of little faith in our own abilities (think Bafana Bafana). He is right about things being ‘fucked up’ in this country right now (think any number of news items). Mzilikazi is right about some of the people in power being idiots of the highest calibre (think some of the choice statements made by our President).

But in spite of the many things that are wrong with my country, there is also so much that is right.

That we could have the conversation we had last night in a public place speaks of a democracy that is vibrant.

That people like Mzilikazi who had been a gun running activist during the struggle can look to government and speak out about the wrongs committed by people he once looked up to, speaks of a maturing of this democracy. Sadly, that maturity hasn’t permeated some levels of government where criticism is seen as a personal attack that warrants name calling in response. But hey, not everyone wants to evolve, especially if it means growth will result in a smaller bank balance but a cleaner conscience.

When I look back on 2010 and the World Cup, at the way we truly were a nation, I think that maybe media blows the isolated incidents of crass racism out of proportion because in my daily interaction with fellow South Africans, I’ve found that most South Africans just want to get on with it. We’re happy to trade samoosas for samp and throw in the occasional boerewors roll for protein. We work hard and know that government won’t feed our kids if we don’t.

Looking in from the outside, one would be hard pressed to believe this statement, given the media’s penchant for overstatement when it comes to matters of racial tension.

Maybe, what’s really wrong with us as a nation is that we’re impatient. Ours is a fledgling democracy and we are still learning what it means to fly. And even when we do, we will still find, in our midst, the closet racists of every colour. Because that’s what democracy means, no?

My entitlement to a pseudo liberalism assures the racist entitlement to their racism even if it be directed at me. You cannot legislate a person’s mind.

Jacob- during his 'it’s all fucked up’ moment -  mentioned the obscene poverty in South Africa  as a cause of angst for him, given that he spends large chunks of his time in America, where,  incidentally, 1.5 million children become homeless each year – just thought I’d point that out.

 I concede, we have a problem. And this is one that is often hijacked by politicians seeking to further selfish agendas.  But a cursory visit to any informal settlement will reveal that many ‘squatters’ are in fact immigrants. And many of those who aren't, do in fact have proper homes in the rural areas. So how big is our problem really? Can we really expect government to provide two homes for every family?

 And even here, among the forgotten peoples, South African ingenuity flourishes.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be part of a Woman’s Day celebration in an informal settlement where I discovered that the settlement close to my home has its very own drama club. I was blown away by the performances of the children. Emandleni had its own soccer clubs and hosts tournaments on weekends.

In short, they’re living instead of whining about life.
Revolution, with a small r.
of the messianic variety.
Not The Messianic variety.


I can get behind that. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sunkissed

Rewriting has been a slow process. I started out with one novel and as I go along, I see a very different one emerging.

I've been a little sad that nothing of my previous version has actually managed to make it into the new one. And though I've been ruthless in that regard, deleting whole chunks as I rewrite a new (and hopefully better) version of the story, this particular scene, I was loathe to discard. 

Although I've reworked it to stand as a short story, the essence is unchanged. 



Sunkissed


The insistent scream of the telephone wrenches me back from the edge of deep sleep. I groan. I've only just managed to get Amal to settle down.  She’s been feverish and fretful all day. And now this. I reach over for the receiver,  knock her medication and a glass of water to the floor.

“Fuckit!” I hiss.

Hello?” Lord, I sound like a smoker.

I clear my throat. “Hello?”

I hear a sniff. A very definite sniff. And now I’m fully awake, swinging legs off the side of the bed, raking fingers through the stork’s nest that passes for my hair at night and sliding feet into my slippers. 

“Asma…is this you?”

“Yes, I’m Asma. Who is this?”

“Asma, kind, it’s your father…. He… he had a stroke.”

The bedside clock reads 12:33. I’m still looking at it, when one 3 becomes a 4. Why hasn't time stood still?

“Is…is he okay?”

Even as I ask the question, I picture him, frozen. Eyes moving, body remaining stubborn, inert.

“I…I don’t know. He’s with the doctors. Come. Just come home.” The line goes silent.

My pulse is frantic. I reach over to wake Yaseen.

“Yas! Yas! Wake up. We need to go to the airport. I’m going home. Papa had a stroke.”

“Huh?” And then he bolts out of the bed, nearly falls. Steadies himself against the pedestal. Misjudges and almost falls again. It’s all so comical that I want to laugh at his hair poking up at all angles. At the fly of his pj bottoms which is open.  So I do. And then I’m sobbing. And there isn't enough air in the room, in the world, to fill my lungs.


We call home. The phone just rings. Call Papa’s neighbours. They confirm that the ambulance was at the house at about midnight.  Aunty Maryam tells us that her husband, Uncle Hussein, went to the hospital, followed the ambulance.  


Yaseen and I sit at the kitchen table. He makes tea. It goes cold as his words fall into it. He tries again with a fresh volley of words, but I am too far to reach. In the end, he comes to stand behind me, massages my shoulders before turning me to face him. He reaches for my hand and helps me to my feet. We go to the lounge. I seep into the fabric of the couch. 


He goes to make wudhu. He prays. Two Rak’aah. When he is done, he raises his hands. A beggar at Allah’s door. All I can manage is whispered prayer. Washing up and bowing down feels like it would break me.


It’s  6:02 AM and I’m sitting on a chair at D. F. Malan Airport. Amal is still too warm where she sits, on the remnants of my lap, arranging herself around my bulging belly. I feel a stab of pain low down and suck in a huge breath.


“Round ligament pain. That’s all it is.” I mutter to myself as I exhale.


Yaseen stands at a counter trying to get us onto a flight.  His shoulders are squared.  The woman behind the counter wears a brittle smile. Her hair is an impossible perm.  Yaseen’s hands slice the air as he talks.

It is another ten minutes before he comes back to me, tickets in hand.

“Love, I couldn’t get three. Just one for you and one for Amal.” He sighs.  His obvious dejection moves something in me.

“You tried, It’s okay. The next flight, you’ll come down. I’ll be waiting for you.”  I reach for his hand, and give it a squeeze.

He takes Amal from my lap, drapes her over his shoulder. She hugs him tight.

“I don’t want to go, daddy,” she says to his shoulder.

“Papa needs you, sweetheart. Papa is sick. Will you go look after Papa?” he strokes her hair as he speaks.

She nods, squeezes him tight.  Then kisses his cheek. “I’m going to miss you.”

“And I’ll be lost without my baby. But you’ll phone me when you get to Jo’burg, right?”

Her head bobs again.

“I better give her meds again before I board. Look at the poor thing’s eyes.”  I stand on tiptoes to plant a kiss on her feverish brow. Her eyes are glassy.


Yaseen sits down with Amal while I rummage in my handbag for the medication and a syringe.  I grow anxious when instead of her usual fight, Amal swallows then takes a sip of water from a bottle.


“She’s okay, love. She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Now we better check in your bag and get you to the boarding gate.” Yaseen picks up my bag in one hand, Amal in the other.

When he can accompany us no further, I insist that he leave so I can watch him go. He hands Amal to me but I find her heavy, so I put her down. We hold hands and watch Yaseen walk. He turns back to look at us over and over until I force an image of my father, a stiff white sheet of a man, into my mind. This gets me onto the plane.

At a cruising altitude of 30 000 ft, so the pilot has told us, Amal starts to look more like herself. It is a new sun that’s just risen over a drowsy Cape Town that follows us.  Valleys cradle milky clouds. Amal is in awe.


“Mummy, the clouds look like milk shake. Can you drink them?” her cheeks look less flushed. I offer a prayer of thanks for this.
“No, sweetheart. You can’t even hold them. They’re just small drops of water stuck to bits of dust.”

“Hmph. Too bad. They look like they supposed to be trampolines in the sky.” Amal falls silent. Her face fills the little window. Now and then she presses her cheek to it.

“Mummy, why the is sun following us? It also wants to go to see Papa?”

“Why is the sun following us, sweety.  Not why the sun is following us.” 

“Okay, why is the sun following us? Mummy, you don’t know the answer, isn’t?”


I think for a bit.
“Hmmm…, maybe I do. Come, sit down and I’ll tell you a story about why the sun is following us.”

Amal’s eyes are round. She presses a finger to her lips.

“And now?”

“It’s what madam says we must do when she tells us a story.” Her chubby finger doesn’t budge.

“No, baby. You don’t need to.” I prise her finger away. She giggles.

“Now shshshhhh. I’m telling a story. Right. So the story goes like this. Long, long ago..”

“No, Mummy. A story starts with Once upon a time. You doing it wrong.”

“Oof! Miss Smarty Pants.” And I tweak her cheek. She laughs. “Okay, Once upon a time, when the world was still shiny and new, there were two suns. One for the day. And a smaller one for the night. The two suns followed one another’s paths exactly. Day and night. Every day. They followed each other around and around the world because they loved one another very much.”

“Like you and Daddy, mummy?”

“Yep, like me and Daddy. So anyways, our story now. One day a meteor came from outer space.”

“What’s a meteor, mummy?”

“It’s like a giant stone from space.”

Her little brows knit together. “Oh, no! Mummy’s story is going to be sad.”

“C’mon, sweety. Give me a chance to tell it. It is my story, right?” I pout.

“Okay mummy,” and her index finger is once again pressed to her little mouth.

“Okay. So this meteor came flying through space and smashed straight into the smaller sun. The one that shone at night.”

Hey eyes are perfect circles and her mouth curls into a little O.  “I knew it!” she blurts out. “And then what happened, Mummy?” She tugs at my sleeve.

“And then, the pieces of the smashed sun drifted down to earth. Tiny pin points of pure light. And every man, woman and child swallowed these pieces of light. Took it deep inside of them.” She clutches at her throat. I want to laugh but force a straight face.

“And then?”

“And the meteor took the place of the broken sun. It was a round rock, right?”

Amal nods.

“Locked in orbit just the way the little sun was. But the meteor couldn't shine. And that made the sun so sad. He missed his little sun that would smile at him so prettily and bring such a soft golden light to the world at night. So the Sun asked the meteor if it would reflect his light. At least that would be better than nothing for the people on earth. The sun knew that he had to look after the people on earth because each of them had a piece of his beloved inside of them.  And to the sun, they were all as beautiful as his beloved. His soul mate. So the meteor began to reflect the light from the sun. And the world was filled with magical silver light at night, in memory of the sun that the meteor smashed. To the sun, this wasn’t as beautiful as his golden beloved who was so much like him. Even with this silver light, the sun still missed her terribly. He was alone without her.

‘From this day, he said, I will follow every man on earth. Where they go, I will go. At least, like this I will be close to my love.’ He said.

And that’s why, my baby, the sun follows us.”

Amal claps.

“What a clever sun. But what a sad story, mummy.”

“I know, my baby. C’mere. I need a hug.”

“I love you, mummy,” Amal whispers  as she squeezes me, tight.

And the life in me stirs