If what she said is true; then I am a liar. And I don’t like to think of myself as one. I said it quite unthinkingly. It was what I had been saying for so long that, if you will believe me, I had no intention of saying it, until, suddenly, it slipped out of my mouth and I found myself involuntarily surrounded by shaking heads and clucking palates.
I can’t understand how the others do it so quickly. But for myself, I was standing in the garden with the hosepipe, washing the beach sand off my legs. And as usual the small grains of shell were glued to my skin. Elise, my mother, hates sand in the house. Perhaps I hate having sand in the house too. We never have sand in the house, so it is difficult to tell what opinion I might have of its presence. My mother was somewhere inside with the others. They had already gone through this operation. Princess was in the kitchen making lunch. And after an age it seemed like I was getting closer to being allowed in the house.
From what I can tell, Princess might not be a princess. I have it on good authority, from my sister, that a pea would be the object that could put an end to this long standing inquiry. However, my access to peas is limited. The freezer is too high for me to reach and at dinner I am told to eat them all or I will end up like my uncle Ted, who, I’ve heard my father say, has a yellow belly. Although when I’ve seen it, it is normally very large and very white and looks like it might explode if you stuck a pin in it. My access to pins is somewhat easier than my access to peas, as my mother often leaves her sewing bag on the arm chair. However, the idea of exploding his stomach, although it would no doubt be a great relief to his belt and would allow him better access to certain parts of his body, might end up with him meeting out some violence upon my person that I might not wholly enjoy.
After lunch I will be allowed to watch my favourite film – The Gods Must Be Crazy. I don’t like the idea of being a liar, so let me just say, that, at the moment, it is my favourite film. And that perhaps my opinion of it may change in this viewing and it might turn out to be one of the films I like, but not be my favorite. Or it might be one that I never wish to see again because it is ‘fucking offensive’. ‘Favourite’ it seems is a concept fraught with difficulties.
My mother has been going to her favourite butcher, next to the Pick ‘n Pay, for as long as I can remember – which is five years. The butcher’s is a large room with no internal divisions, but it has two doors. My mother seems to have a favorite door. Princess seems to have a favourite door too. They are not the same. I have been told, by my mother, that I am not to use Princess’s favorite door. Perhaps it is because she is royalty. My father has stopped favouring my mother’s favourite door. In fact he doesn’t favour that butcher at all, but buys his meat, when he goes shopping, at the supermarket. He says that it is more convenient to buy it there and that he finds the butcher ‘fucking offensive’. He told my mother that his take on the whole affair is: “that hopefully when the blacks finally get their act together and take over this fucking country they will put that little fucking racist fuck through some of his own machinery.” To which my mother replied that my father shouldn’t be using blue language in front of Princess and my sister and me.
Again, not wanting to increase my growing reputation as a liar, I will admit to you that I have slim to no idea what that meant. Perhaps, and this is only a guess you understand, his use to the word ‘blacks’ was incorrect and should have been ‘blues’ and then the use of the word blue should not be allowed in front of us. Perhaps such words offend Princess, seeing that, my sister told me, she has blue blood.
Anyway, getting back to the question of the butcher’s doors; perhaps when this woman who my sister explained to me is the Princess of whales comes to see our whales I shall note which entrance she favours. I was told by my father that she would not come to South Africa seeing as we were no longer part of the Common Wealth, but that Britain really supported us through the back door. So, perhaps, there is a third unknown door to the butcher’s, a kind of secret door, that the people from Britain use. Although this theory is unsound because I saw my cousins, who are English, using my mother’s door.
Now, I seem to have digressed slightly from the original topic, which was the difficulty of favouritism. So, now that I finally have got the sand off my legs I will eat lunch with my cousins from England and my sister and then we will watch The Gods Must Be Crazy, and then I will have a little nap because it is my Aunt Sandra’s birthday and I will be up late for a night on the towels. Or at least that’s what Uncle Ted said I would be doing, and he seemed to think that was quite funny for some reason. When I asked my mother what was funny about that, she told me that it was only a joke. But it seemed to have none of the classic traits of a joke and perhaps it can be explained the way my father explains most things to do with Uncle Ted. “Elise! That fucking useless limey bother-in-law of yours has drunk the entire bottle of my KWV Port.” To which Uncle Ted, who was standing behind the door the other day when this was said, replied: ‘Go and fuck yourself you fucking racist South African cunt.’
To which my father replied: ‘you are the only one in this house who treats Princess like she is some kind of leper. So, you can take your comfortable English liberal rhetoric and shove it in your arse and find a hotel while you are doing it.’
Then a whole lot of shouting took place and there were words used that I don’t understand like ‘implicit’ ‘racist’ ‘cunt’ ‘fuck’ ‘advantage’ ‘limey’ ‘apart’ and ‘hate’. Anyway that is what happens in my family sometimes but it normally involves my oupa and this time it didn’t. Uncle Ted and dad normally laugh when they talk to each other. But my father always has a black cloud hanging over his head when my grandfather comes to stay with us, like he is doing now.
Talking of other things, a strange thing happened the other day, one that I think I should tell you about, now that I am in the mood for telling. My mother explained to me the other day the difference between ‘telling tales’ and ‘telling tales’ and about something called a ‘white lie’. I told her that I understood but to be honest I have no idea what she is talking about. I just said that I understood because I wanted to go out and play. On thinking about it now, perhaps I am a white liar.
Anyway I was in the garden playing with Dr. Spock – the man with the points to his ears and the author of a book my mother reads all the time when my sister and I have been bad – and Captain Kirk and He-Man and some kind of orangey figurine whose origin I am uncertain of, having received it as a Christmas present a few days ago, and whose like I have never seen before, when David came over the fence. David is one of the children from next door and is in some ways my best friend, although he says that I’m not his best friend and that somebody called Jesus is his. I have never met Jesus, and my father says that he is not the type of person that I would like, that he is a do gooder and that he has lost the ability to walk on water because he has holes in his feet. At this moment I must confess that my father is a difficult man and is prone to talking about subjects he knows I have little understanding of.
So, I was in the garden playing when David came and told me the police were ‘looking for work documents’. Our parents have some kind of secret code with each other. I went to Princess in the hope that she could decode it for me, because my mother was at the shop. Princess said that I was not to open the door to the police and that we must all be very quiet and that Rachel, me and her must go and hide in mom and dad’s very big cupboard in their bedroom. Or at least it is normally very big but it didn’t seem that big with Princess in there.
We heard the police ringing the door bell quite a lot and after a while Princess sent me out of the cupboard and said that I should look to see if the police had left. I saw one of the policemen in our garden looking in our garden shed and he had some of Philip’s things in his hand. Princess said that I was to say, if they saw me, that I was the only one at home and that my mother did not allow me to open the door to strangers, even if they said they were the police.
I must again confess something to you. I don’t really understand why some policemen are good and others are bad. My father said he will explain to me when I am older and that the issue with police in South Africa wasn’t one that was black and white. When I went back to the cupboard Rachel began to start to shout at Princess that she didn’t want to be in the cupboard any more and started crying. Princess asked Rachel to stop crying, and when she wouldn’t Princess started crying, and then Rachel stopped crying, and then they both started crying but very quietly. I think I might have cried too. Okay look, I did cry a little but not that much. I don’t know really why I was crying, there was nothing sad. I cry sometimes, I’m not really sure why.
When mom came home I told her about what had happened. She went to speak to Princess. My mother grew up on a farm in Natal and can speak Zulu. I can’t speak Zulu. Princess can speak Zulu, in fact she is even better at it than my mother is. I heard Princess crying. I heard my mother telling my father that Princess wants to go back to Natal that she is old and that she can’t take hiding away anymore, (perhaps she has become to big for the cupboard) that she wants to retire to the Drakensberg and take care of her grandchildren. My mother said to my father that we must give her more money to stay. My mother said that she can’t let her go. That there weren’t any other Zulu woman around here, that there were only Xhosas, and that she can’t have a Xhosa because they are lazy. When my father pointed out to her that Philip is a Xhosa my mother said that she likes Philip because he has green fingers.
My mother gets hysterical when you talk to her about these things, so I went to my father and asked him if my sister was a Xhosa, because I heard them speaking to her about her report from school and it said that she was lazy. My father said that that was it, and that my sister was indeed a Xhosa, and he has started calling her my little Xhosa Maiden. This makes my mother very angry; she says that it’s not funny to joke about these things. My father pats me on the head and laughs every time my mother gets angry about this. They often fight about it but they also go into the bedroom and close the door afterwards.
Now, I’m not going to embarrass you by suggesting that I don’t know what they are doing. My father has told me that it is perfectly natural and that my mother likes sleeping after this. When he said this to me it sparked off another argument which did not lead to them to going to bed together but led to my father taking my sister and me out for an ice-cream. He said that my mother sometimes sees red and that she needed time to cool off. I suggested that she we should buy her an ice-cream to help with this cooling off. My father said: ‘yip’. And then he said there were no flies on me. I checked and he was correct. In fact there were no flies on him or my sister.
So, after watching The Gods Must Be Crazy and having a little nap – although I’ll confess I couldn’t really sleep, I am too excited about what having a night on the towels will be like – I went into the kitchen to look at and hopefully eat some of the food that was being prepared. My mother said that I wasn’t to touch it but aunt Sandra caught me red handed the other day taking some fudge, and she said that she wouldn’t say anything, and that it was what little boys were meant to do. So, I thought that if she was in there she might let me take some. My Aunt Sandra has only girls and I think she likes me. I heard my mother saying to her the other day that she shouldn’t favour me so much because it makes my sister green with envy. Personally if she is green I think it might have more to do with her being Xhosa.
When I walked in, I only found Princess and my mother there. Princess was sitting at the table with all the food prepared and she had her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. She was crying and my mother had her arm around her. Princess would not stop crying and my mother was speaking to her softly in Zulu. But Princess kept shaking her head and saying “No madam no.” She calls my mother madam and my father baas. My father doesn’t like being called baas. He told me because it rhymes with arse.
Princess then got up and went back to work. My mother kept her hand on Princess’s shoulder. I slipped in between the two of them because they were making fudge on the stove. They picked me up like they always did, in the most undignified manner, and Princess held me while my mother tickled me. I kind of enjoy that kind of shit. It’s good fun for some reason. Another game Princess and my mother like is to chase me around the house with a broom, that is a game I like too. I giggle a lot when they do it. Princess was still crying.
My mother took me and went to speak to my father. She said that we had to let Princess go that her son had been killed in a faction fight two months ago and that the police coming around was the final straw, that she wanted to go back to the Drakensberg. My father went to speak to Princess, which he never normally does. He came back to my mother and said that they would have to arrange some kind of monthly support for her to keep her in the black.
When I asked my mother what was wrong with Princess she said that I shouldn’t worry, that it was just that Princess was feeling a bit blue and that she missed her home and wanted to go and see her grandchildren. When I asked her what a faction fight was she said that it was when the CNA fought against Inkatha. When I asked her why this happened she said that the CNA shouldn’t be there, that they should leave the Zulu’s alone. Princess agrees with my mother but apparently her children don’t and my father agrees with Princess’s children and says my mother is talking something called ‘bungkum’. I’m not sure how I feel about it, I mean I like the CNA. It sells all kinds of things to colour in and draw with. Perhaps the older Zulus don’t like colouring in and drawing. I’m not sure how the Xhosas feel about all of this, I will have to go and ask my sister.
When the party started everybody was there. They had all come down to our holiday home down in Hermanus for Aunt Sandra’s birthday. My father and Uncle Ted actually get on quite well sometimes and they had come back from Cape Town where they had been watching the cricket between Western Province and Transvaal. It had been a black day for Western Province according to my father who said that somebody called Sylvester Clark had bowled Province out and that Alvin Kalicheran had scored a century. My father and Uncle Ted were talking about whether Transvaal would be as good as they are without the West Indians in their team. My oupa told them to stop talking about those k*****. And both Uncle Ted and my father walked out of the room. And my grandfather was laughing.
My oupa annoys my father. My father says that you can talk to him till you are blue in the face but he’ll never change his attitudes. He says there is a difference between what my grandfather says and what he says. My grandfather says that even though my father is a member of parliament he should be arrested for his ‘pinko beliefs’.
We all had dinner and afterwards things, according to my father, got a bit out of hand. Everybody was smelling like Uncle Ted; even Jemma and Claire my cousins, who are the second youngest in the family behind me and my sister. My father was very funny and kept putting party hats on my grandfather and calling him a miserable old fucker. Uncle Ted who never speaks to my oupa was dancing with my cousins and me and at one point fell into the pool and sank to the bottom. My father and some other men jumped in and pulled him out. Uncle Ted said that he had done it on purpose and was testing my father’s reactions, which were, by all accounts, slightly slow. My grandmother kept on telling me that my father and Uncle Ted were bad people. My father got Princess out to come and dance with us and was forcing her to drink the stuff that Uncle Ted always drinks. My grandmother told me that what he was doing was undignified. My father then gave me some of the same stuff that Uncle Ted drinks and my grandmother went to bed.
Aunt Sandra was sitting at the big table laughing with all of her friends that were down here to see her. Her friends are very annoying they pinch my cheeks and one of them tried to put lipstick on me and she said that I had beautiful eyes and that I should always wear make up. She, above everybody else, smelled like Uncle Ted. I tried to explain to Aunt Sandra why I had lied to her on the beach. That when I said I was four I had forgotten that I had turned five three weeks ago, that I knew I was five but that I had said I was four for so long that when she asked me in front of her friends I had got confused. I got confused trying to tell her. She said that it was fine, that she didn’t understand what I was trying to say but that whatever it was it was fine. Then she and all of her friends started kissing me on the face and I had lipstick all over it. It was horrible but I kind of enjoyed it. They were all laughing at me. Princess was dancing, she is very funny when she dances and she was making funny noises. I went to sleep on the couch.
Apparently, according to my mother, the good police came to our house at two in the morning and told us to be quiet and my father gave them a drink and put a party hat on one of them and told them to arrest my grandfather for being ‘a miserable racist sod’. Apparently the police didn’t really seem to understand and left, but told us that the music had to be turned down.
My father the next morning said that other than feeling a little green about the gills he was ready to run a mile, at which point he ran to the toilet and was sick. My uncle was asleep on one of the sunbeds outside still in the same clothes that he had been wearing the night before and he was holding a can of Castle. Princess took us for a walk along the sea with oupa and we watched the whales. Oupa never speaks to Princess. When my father comes for walks with us and Princess, he speaks to her but she only answers with two words. Normally ‘yes baas’. My father asks her not to call him baas. To which Princess says, “yes baas.”
Four days later my oupa and ouma left. My mother said that Princess should go with them because she lived near their farm. So they all left together. Princess looked strange when she left, she didn’t have her usual kinds of clothes on. My mother seemed very sad when they left. In fact I think I saw some tears coming out of her eyes. She doesn’t normally get very sad when oupa and ouma leave she normally says that it is a ‘fucking relief’ when they go and that everything can go back to normal. My father spoke to Princess and then my mother spoke to Princess in Zulu. My mother hugged her but she didn’t hug my mother back because she was holding two very large bags which my mother had given her but she started crying. She did give my sister and me a hug I held onto her leg and she patted me on the head. My sister was crying a lot. Princess looked funny sitting in the back of the car when they drove off. Perhaps she is a princess. We now have a new woman who works for us, she doesn’t live with us like Princess did, she comes during the week, she is a Xhosa like my sister.