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August Debut

Issue 2; October/November


Alex Smith

Alex Smith

Alex Smith's debut novel Algeria's Way was published in August 2007 by Random House/Umuzi. Earlier in 2007, her short story Buffalo Panting at the Moon was shortlisted for the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award and was selected by JM Coetzee as a story that 'would merit inclusion in any anthology'. Growing out of that story is Drinking from the Dragon's Well, a memoir-novel set in central China, which is planned for publication by Random House/Umuzi in 2008.


 Sugar for the Pudding (a fairytale of sorts)

Some facts about my homeland, which have influenced this tale:

First, a concern dear to my heart -- my country is ranked no.1 in the world for rape. Only a small percentage of rapes are reported, but the 2005 SAPS statistics showed 55114 cases of rape, that is 150 rapes per day. It happens everywhere, even on our World Heritage Site, the pristine and magnificent Table Mountain.

Second, a concern dear to the hearts of all addressing the crime challenge: 38% of economically active South Africans are unemployed and wanting work. On the matter of employment, something close to home – of the women who are employed, 18.6% are employed as domestic workers.

Third, a concern of the wallet – we are a nation in debt. South African households owe the banks more than R680 billion Rand. This year, the debt to income ratio reached a record high of 76%. Citizens are tempted into debt traps; debt is a threat to liberty.

Finally, concerning our mother tongues and our history – during Apartheid all education was given in English or Afrikaans, even though these languages were the home languages of only 20% of the population. As third and forth languages, schools offered the languages of Europe: French, German, Dutch, and Italian. A couple of generations of South Africans have grown up alienated from our own languages.


Teacher: Amanz’eedonga.
Student: It means ‘beautiful brown like the water near a river bank’.

Naked. Zukisa Radebe was stripped of all clothes and streaked with river mud, moss and tears when she came running down the log stairs from the Contour Path and into the arms of Darryl van Deventer who was inspecting a fine specimen of Disa ferruginea at the time.

“Qa! Help me, please!” she cried, clinging to Darryl. “There is a man after me, he tried to rape me ... Ndincedeni! Help me!”

Darryl was more scientist than poet and so in that most traumatic of moments he could find no grandiose manner in which to describe the naked beauty shivering in his arms. Even so and even though her cheek was cut, bleeding, and her right eye was beginning to swell, there was no doubt in his mind that she was the most perfect woman who had ever embraced him. With her long black hair flapping in the berg wind and her big eyes flashing and feet, bare, toenails painted pink like the petals of wild cineraria, stamping, eager to run further, she reminded him of an ostrich in a rage. No, she was more elegant than an ostrich, he decided, she was, Gladiolus hyalinus, the brown iris found buffeted by wind and rain on the slopes of Devil’s Peak during the winter months––the surviving beauty.

Beyond them, the path was bursting with yellow shrublets. Darryl looked but could see no man. Between sobs Zukisa spoke in another language, explaining her story.

“He’s gone, that man, you don’t have to worry anymore. He’s gone. I am here, my name is Darryl and I will help you.” Darryl took a shirt and a kikoy out of his backpack and had to help Zukisa put them on because she was still in shock and trembling. “You need to eat something sweet; it will help with the shock.” He unwrapped a bar of chocolate.

She took it and ate the chocolate.

“You’re safe now. You’re going to be fine. Everything is going to be okay.”

When she was calm, he said, “We need to go to the Kirstenbosch security office and report this man and make a statement to the police…”

“No! No, I can’t.” She started crying. “I don’t want anyone to know what happened to me. Please.”

Darryl agreed, but managed to coax Zukisa down from the log stairs and into the gardens. “We’ll sit here for a while, so you can recover. I have a flask of coffee. That might help too.”

They sat on a bench­— one of many in the garden donated in memory of lovers of the garden and those loved by lovers of the garden. This was a bench donated in memory of Violet May Meintjies Prinsloo. Over Darryl and Zukisa, the leaves of a Wild Olive tree swished. In front of them startling green grass curved between patches of restios, proteas and grand trees down towards a suburb hidden by forest and then out towards city with buildings, dark, light, beige, pink, white, heaped close like washed-up shells all the way to the Strand and out to the sea that flowed over the earth’s curve to the South Pole. A pair of Egyptian Geese waddled past, one quacking, adding to the general chatter of birds in the thousands of branches of that most sublime of places.

“It’s soothing, this view,” she said. “All the trouble in the world cannot taint it.”

“That cut hasn’t stopped bleeding, you should see a doctor. I can organize with Garden security to…”

“No!” Then she spoke in that language Darryl did not understand but wished he could. He regretted that in all his years of studying at university, he had not found the time to learn Xhosa beyond the few words he learned at the knee of his mother’s domestic worker when he was a child. Not being able to speak Xhosa was one of his many regrets.

“You do not understand,” she said, irritated. “I’m not speaking to anybody about this and you mustn’t either. That man has shamed me, violated me, and if I have to repeat it, it will be like living it all over again. I will not. If you want to help me, take me home.”

So they left the garden.

Darryl apologised for his car, a yellow Mazda that had survived the eighties, the nineties and was still choking along in the new millennium. “Excuse the smell in here. There’s a leak and it’s been there for decade––I’m sure the inside of the back seat must be rotten. It’s not old socks, I promise.”

Zukisa said in Xhosa, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Then in English. “At least it is a car Darryl and you can drive and soon I will be home. Thank you.”

“I think you should see a doctor. Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to a doctor?”

“No. In any case, as you can clearly see I have no money and I hate going to the doctor at the best of times.”

Darryl felt foolish and insensitive. Although he didn’t earn much, he took private medical treatment for granted, but now he was reminded that most of the people in the country had to rely on government facilities notorious for long queues and slow waits. Of course, a woman who had been through what Zukisa had been through would not want to wait for hours to see a doctor who’d be in a hurry, perhaps overworked, underpaid and too exhausted to be interested. “I will pay the doctor’s bill. We can go to the Tokai Medicross. There won’t be a queue or anything.”

She looked at him for a long time as if considering the matter but when she finally spoke she said, “You’re a kind man Darryl, but you do not understand me. Thank you for the offer but please take me home.” She saw the time on the Mazda’s dashboard clock. “Shit. Look at the time. I need to get home quickly, my boss is expecting me. Shit!”

“Surely your boss will understand … under the circumstances, after what happened…”

“Thula! Quiet, please. Don’t talk about that, ever, to anyone. It is all erased, it cannot have happened to me.”

Home, where the boss was waiting, turned out to be a mansion called Platinum House just off Southern Cross Drive. As Darryl pulled up at the front door, he made an assumption about Zukisa. “The people you work for must be very rich. Please tell you boss what happened to you. I’m sure…”
Zukisa gave him that look again. He felt her eyes studying his face, feature by feature: fair hair, fair skin lightly tanned from daily hikes through the fynbos, fine lips, and eyes the gentle blue of the flowers of Bloublomsalie, the African Salvia.

“You’re right, I don’t understand,” he said, again feeling that pang of his own ignorance. “I don’t know how it feels to experience what you have experienced. Look, I know you don’t want to, but you need to go to the doctor. There are diseases…”

“Ndicela uthule! Nothing happened, do you hear?” She covered her mouth with her hand and couldn’t keep back tears. “This has been the worst morning of my life … thank you so much Darryl. If not for you, I don’t know what I would have done. I will repay your kindness.”

“Anyone would have done the same.”

“No. I’m not sure how, but I will find a way to repay you.”

“Please…” Darryl wrote his telephone number on a piece of paper. “I really don’t want any kind of repayment, but if you need to talk to somebody or if you change your mind about going to see a doctor, just phone me and I’ll take you. I’ll pay. You don’t have to worry about going to the government hospitals; I’ll take you to the Tokai Medicross.”

She covered her mouth again and shook her head, but couldn’t find the words to say all she was thinking.

Darryl put the paper with the number in her hand. “Phone me anyway to let me know that you’re okay.”

Teacher: Ndingumpha.
Student: It means ‘I am a shelled cob, robbed of everything’.

Darryl lived with a sand-coloured cat, one he’d found starving between the dunes on the beach near the Koeberg nuclear power station. He’d brought the cat back to his one-roomed apartment in Plumstead and christened the creature Grielum Grandiflorum, after the straggly, yellow-flowered Duikerwortels that live on the beach and survive against the odds.

Although he had no intention of submitting it for peer review at any scientific publication, Darryl was working on a paper relating to the architecture and allometry of flowering trees. Greilum, the sandy cat, was sitting on Darryl’s lap purring like a lawnmower. Lunch was toast and a tin of tuna, and soon Darryl would go to work at the call center, a place so depressing, the thought of it gave him a sharp pain in middle of his body, in his belly. He tried not to remember any aspect of it over lunch; he tried to think of the faces of the two thousand six hundred species of flowering plants he had long-ago committed to memory. He was a walking encyclopedia to the Cape Floral Kingdom, but worked as a debt-collector. It was an afternoon-to-night shift, which meant in the mornings he was free to hike and to do research.

Life had not turned out the way Darryl had expected. As a preternaturally gifted post-doctoral student at the University of Cape Town he’d been full of promise, won several awards, was lecturing, published and his professors were confident he would go on to become a credit to their institution, but the pressure had been too much. On a certain date in his life the world stopped, a shadow came over his brain, his body froze, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t even remember the two-thousand six hundred species of flowering plants he so admired. So ended a career that had barely begun. His family in Pretoria was in no financial position to pay the slew of medical bills that followed. Fortunately, Darryl was still a student. With a letter of support from the head of the Botany Department, he took out a student loan to pay his debts.

When he was walking again and talking and thinking, he tried going back to lecturing but his body refused––at even the slightest hint of stress he fell apart, he became overwhelmed with exhaustion or suffocating anxiety that scattered his thoughts and left him stammering and confused. The same happened with research papers and as a result it was impossible for him to function as an academic. After several attempts at working in the private sector, he discovered he could only handle jobs he was indifferent to, so there was no pressure or even desire to perform, to excel.

He had been working at the call centre for five years. Every morning he hiked from six to ten, making notes of the changing flowers and trees. Once home he worked on his papers. Over the years he had written dozens of potentially significant papers, but the only reason he could keep writing was the silent agreement he had with himself that none of them would ever be published. The scientific community would be forever oblivious of this stash of insights wasting under a bed in Gabriel Road, Plumstead.

Grielum was purring, Darryl was typing. Occasionally he paused to bite into a piece of toast spread with anchovy paste and tuna mostly licked off by the cat. Darryl didn’t notice the lack of flavour –– he was thoroughly absorbed with an aspect of the differential growth rates of the indigenous forest trees Yellowwood, Stinkwood, Assegai and Ironwood.

When the phone rang, out of habit, he was anxious––nobody ever phoned him, he was a social outcast. In the recent past it was only debt-collectors who did. Your monthly instalment has not been received Mr van Deventer. Your account is in arrears. When will you be making that payment?… You did not make the payment … Immediate payment is required to prevent legal action. This will affect your credit rating. This is the final notice. You will be blacklisted. Your reference number is…

Debt-collectors, he’d hated those people. They always phoned at the most inconvenient time and they were dogged, abrupt, often rude, treating him like a disobedient child.

Ironically, it was the job of debt-collecting that got him out of debt. It also gave him an insight into the lives of those wretched souls who end up working at call-centres. Most do not want to be there, harvesting interest from people broken by debt–– it is not a happy job, nobody is ever pleased to hear the voice of a debt-collector. Some debtors cry openly, some choke down tears, others swear, are haughty or are never available, but eventually all, or nearly all, are worn down by the relentless telephoning of the call-centre agents, who themselves, are often people in debt.

The telephone was still ringing. Darryl hesitated but when he answered, he was thrilled to hear the voice of Zukisa on the other end.

“I’m much better, enkosi kakhulu,” she said. “And I really do want to repay your kindness … tell me, what do you need most?”

Although his apartment was small and his car was crock and most of his sweaters had holes from fishmoths, Darryl wasn’t bothered with these things. He didn’t want things; he wanted the freedom to study, to write his papers and enough money to buy food. He had all that.

“Nothing, I have everything I need.”

“Please, think of something.”

He would never ask this woman to buy anything for him, having judged that as a domestic worker she probably had less money than he did.

“Well … if you have time, I’d like to learn to speak Xhosa. Can you teach me?”

Teacher: Translate: The bull frog is fighting over a meal of pig melon and mealie-meal.
Student: Lixaben’ixoxo ngomxhaxha womxoxozi.

The first lesson, Introductions, was held at nine-thirty under a Transvaal Beech tree on a bench in Kirstenbosch garden donated in memory of Donald and Peggy Ratcliff.

Darryl had collected Zukisa from Platinum House. She’d been waiting in the road outside, dressed in a pink tracksuit.

“Won’t your boss miss you at this hour?”

“There’s no-one at home.”

“That’s lucky. Well, we best keep the lesson to forty minutes.”

“As you like.” Zukisa smiled and winced because her cheek was still badly bruised.

On that ideal day in the garden, Zukisa taught Darryl to say hello, goodbye, good morning, good evening, what’s your name, nice to meet you, see you soon and thank you. She taught him the three clicks: ‘x’ the snapping click, ‘c’ the sucking click and ‘q’ the hard click. By way of practice he had to sing lines from Miriam Makeba’s ‘Click Song’. He couldn’t quite get the snapping click and so Zukisa made him repeat lixaben’ixoxo ngomxhaxha womxoxozi over and over until he was laughing and she was satisfied with his progress.

“I’m glad you convinced me to come back here.” Zukisa watched a sugar bird hovering between orange flowers. “It would have been a shame to spend my life avoiding this place because of that man.”

“He should be caught and punished. You should tell…”

Zukisa gave Darryl a look of warning and then went on to teach him to count from one to twenty and to name the various members of a family. He remembered all the words easily because his memory was close to photographic.

“That’s all for this morning. Tomorrow I will test you.”

“You should take up teaching full-time.” Darryl frowned. “Why do you work as maid … you’re so intelligent, you could be anything…”

Stop being stupid, you will ruin the day.”

She seemed irritated, so, hoping to restore her good humour, Darryl took the opportunity to give her a short lesson on the flowers and trees in the immediate area around them.

Cyclopia galioides,” she said, repeating after him. “Of the Fabaceae family.”

“Yes, you see, you really could do anything. You’re beautiful and intelligent. I just don’t understand why you do what you do…”

Do you think I understand you and your car that smells of socks? You’ve remembered all the Xhosa words easily, you can even click well now and you know about all the plants. Even though you’re stupid, clearly you are very intelligent too. I don’t understand why you do what you do, but I am not so rude to ask you to explain yourself.”

“Sorry, Teacher,” he said.

They met at the same time the following day and Zukisa chose the bench in memory of Charles and Anni Fincham under a Silky Bark tree as her classroom. She taught basic verbs, days, months, time and more numbers.

Darryl remembered the words perfectly.

“You are a good student Mr van Deventer.”

“Thank you Inkosikasi Radebe. You are a good teacher.”

“Tomorrow, bring a picnic,” she instructed. “We are going to learn about food.”

On the way back to the butterscotch Mazda, Darryl told Zukisa all about the plant family Ericaceae.

“I have always loved gardens,” she said. She was a true naturalist at heart and in Darryl had found a soul mate. “Gardens and plants. The garden at Platinum House is magnificent.”

“One day you could have your own garden.”

“A famous man said, to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.” She smiled. “Besides, who could want more than this?” She gestured to the garden beyond a bronze Dylan Lewis sculpture of a leopard frozen against a world of leaves in many shades of emerald, silver, yellow and cinnabar. “For two-hundred Rand a year, I have free entry to Paradise with Silky Bark trees. What a bargain. Yes?”

“Yes! That’s exactly how I feel!” Darryl was impressed to learn Zukisa was a member of the South African Botanical Society. In fact he was impressed with everything about her.

Weeks passed, pink March Lily’s blossomed and died back, Mountain Dhalia’s nodded their orange heads and shed flame-petals all over the earth, at the end of April flowers sprouted between the prickles of the sweet-smelling Katbos and that was when Darryl realised he’d fallen in love with his Xhosa teacher. They were ‘at the supermarket’ in Zukisa’s lesson plan learning how to say ‘Excuse me, where is the dairy products aisle?’ When she ran through the words for milk, butter, yoghurt, cottage cheese, cream, cream-cheese, buttermilk, low fat, full cream, unsweetened and no-salt, he had not been paying attention. For the first time he failed when she tested him.

“If you are too bored of Xhosa lessons to listen Mr van Deventer, we can stop.”

“No, I’m...” He wanted to invite her for dinner but he was concerned she’d take offence and he was shy. In the lessons, she never gave any information about her life, all examples were from his life, but he longed to know more. “Where is your favourite place to eat?” he asked in Xhosa.

“At home.”

“Me too.”

“Well said.”

“What is your favourite food?”


Nervous excitement caused him to chuckled, because fish was also his favourite food.

“That’s funny? I like fish and that’s funny?”

Although he wanted to invite her for dinner, all Darryl managed was: “You should meet my cat one day. He’s a great fan of fish too.”

“We are not doing pets yet,” she said, firmly. “That will only be four weeks time when we do the home.”

It was not until the Suikerbossies were filled with gold and copper flower clusters, and the rivers were rushing and full that Darryl finally found his courage. They were both wrapped in anoraks and walking with umbrellas through the garden in the rain. The lesson was on Police and Crime.

“So,” said Zukisa, “how do you say, ‘I’ve been robbed’?”

Darryl stopped walking and to stave off anxiety he pointed out a Protea lepidocarpdendron with pink base and furry black tips. When he could stand it no longer he said in Xhosa, “Zukisa, I’m not a good stove but please have dinner with me at my home. I’ll stove fish.”

She laughed.

He realised his mistake. “Cook! I mean cook.”

Teacher: Akamhle, lilanga liphuma.
Student: It means ‘she can’t be so beautiful, it must be the sun rising’.

Grielum was waiting at the door when Darryl brought Zukisa along the open-air corridor to his apartment.

Darryl had been feeling stressed about the date with his impressive teacher. He’d baked four tuna pies and burned them all. To cover the smell of charred pastry he’d sprayed the place with a heavy dose of Spring air freshener. Zukisa started coughing as soon as she walked in. Darryl, having been out for a while, away from the pungent smells of smoke and chemical blossoms, noted as he entered just how ghastly the combination was. Quickly, he opened all the windows.

“It doesn’t normally stink like this. I was baking and it didn’t work. Sit. Please. There.” He frowned and pointed to a couch he’d spent a long time vacuuming in order to rid it of sandy-coloured cat hairs.

The wind swirled in through the open windows. Zukisa kept on her anorak and sat on the edge of the couch. Darryl pulled a heater with two glowing elements closer to her feet –– as close as the limited electric cord would allow. He tried lighting some candles but the wind sweeping away the stench that clung to fibres of the curtains and the couch, also swept the flames from the newly lit candles. Zukisa watched as Darryl struggled to make his tiny living space romantic.

Earlier that day, on his fifth trip to buy the ingredients for the tuna pie, he’d seen piles of fleecy blankets in fashionable colours rolled up artfully in the window of Woolworths. They were R99 each. He did not need a blanket, he had one, and had never had any issue with its scruffiness, but when he saw those new blankets he realised that his blanket would not be good enough for Zukisa. He went into the expensive grocery store and purchased a blanket the colour of the leaves on an Apelliefie plant, Physalis peruviana –– Cape Goosebury green.

In the icy room, Zukisa couldn’t resist the blanket. She kicked off her shoes, curled her legs under her and draped the warm blanket over her knees.

“I think we should have hot chocolate,” she said.

“Oh?” Darryl was disappointed; he’d spent a long time choosing a suitable wine––Three Cape Beauties, was the one he selected. It had been expensive, and he was looking forward to it. He couldn’t get through this without alcohol. An idea came to him––years ago he’d flown to Joburg to a conference for botanists. On the flight he’d collected a dozen or more small bottles of liqueur. Since then they’d come to form an integral part of his ‘décor’, they were treasured items, covered in dust but still a wealth, and one he’d never before considered plundering. “Yes! I have some delicious French orange liqueur and fresh cream, and I’ll grate chocolate on the top.”

All the candles were blown out, but Zukisa, with her hands tucked under the gooseberry green blanket, was gazing through one of the windows at a large moon, a wisp away from full. “Magnificent,” she said. Then in Xhosa she said: “Make the hot chocolate quickly Darryl and come and sit with me under this nice blanket, so we can watch the stars following the moon.”

In the end, they finished off Darryl’s entire collection of dinky bottles of liqueur, two slabs of chocolate, many cups of hot chocolate and the tuna pie burned for the fifth time because they fell asleep, head to head, and warm despite the wind blustering around them.

It was Grielum’s loud mewing that woke them. The cat clawed his way up onto Darryl’s shoulder.

“Ouch! Go away,” Darryl began, but then he saw smoke. “Zukisa! Wake up!”

The kitchen counter was ablaze with blue-hearted flames. Darryl grabbed the green blanket and beat the flames down. Zukisa found the electrical box and turned off the power to the stove, then went to help Darryl in the fight against the flames. In fact, it wasn’t as bad as it had first appeared and soon the fire was conquered.

“Next time, I’ll do the cooking,” Zukisa laughed and she kissed Darryl on the cheek.

It was an insignificant kiss but unforgettable, it lingered in his memory and although it had only been a few seconds in length, it seemed to him all the world had paused and she was there, close, for a length of time beyond time.

When she was no longer there, and he was alone again, he closed his eyes and could feel her cheek against his. In reality and even in his dreams, being near her and with her was so comfortable, so easy, he could imagine years with her, he could picture himself with her hiking through fynbos, talking over dinner, reading in bed, buying groceries, laughing, holding hands. He wished he had more to offer her than a bed-sit with a burned-out stove.

Teacher: Yajal’ipudini.
Student: It means ‘the pudding has turned sour; life is no longer sweet’.

Summer came suddenly, before the end spring even, in the form of a tremendous heat-wave and people blamed global warming.

Zukisa and Darryl were in Kirstenbosch walking up an avenue of Camphor trees when he turned to her. “Zuki, would you ever consider marrying me?” He was so shy he could barely look her in the eyes. He tugged on the straps of his backpack containing a flask of coffee and everything required for a post-lesson picnic.

She took his hands in her hands. “I would consider it, if you asked me.”

. Will you marry me?”

“I love you?
I didn’t teach you that. Have you been seeing another Xhosa teacher?”

“I found it on the internet … So, will you?”

“First, I must tell you something.”

“You’re married already?”

“No. Nothing like that.” She paused for too long; it was an awkward matter.

“Yes, come on … I’m getting nervous now, what is it?”

“What do you think I am?”

Having to pluck up the nerve to ask her the question in the first place, was bad enough. Darryl was anxious, he laughed, then frowned, looked at their hands, then at his feet and then at her eyes and said in Xhosa: “You are loved.”

“My Sweet.” She squeezed his hands. “That is a good answer, but tell me again, in the real world, outside of this garden, what am I? … Not that same answer, really what am I?”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

“How much do you know about me? That’s what I’m asking.”

“If you don’t want to marry me, just say ‘no’. I know I don’t have much.”

“Don’t be stupid … It’s my fault, I should have told you this before, but all my life people have judged me, one, because I’m a woman, two, because of my colour and three, because of my bank balance. They say they aren’t, they know it’s politically incorrect, but in truth I’m in a category ‘black diamond’! I hate that. I’m not a category; a new market segment for luxury goods, I’m a person. With you, I can just be myself. It’s like you’re from another planet, and I don’t have to worry about appearances or pre-judgements. You’re in a social circle all of your own. You don’t even read the newspaper do you?”

“It’s true; I’m more interested in plants than people. That sounds terrible….”

“No. It’s what makes you, and it’s the reason I love you because you have no pretensions at all, and so much talent. You’re beautiful Darryl and I will marry you, but…”

“You will?” He embraced her with great delight. “You will!”

“Wait.” She pushed him back. “I’m not finished. Darryl, you think I’m a domestic worker.”

“So what, there’s nothing wrong with that…”

“You’re not listening. For an intelligent man, you are remarkably stupid sometimes. I’ve mislead you. I’m not a maid.”

“Okay. So, you’re a black diamond? What is that anyway?”

“I have a degree in Politics and Economics. I don’t work at Platinum House; I own it. My boss, an Italian property developer, comes for meetings there periodically. The house was a gift from my father who used to be the Chairman of a large mining empowerment company and is now the deputy minister of finance. That’s why I didn’t want to report what happened to me on the mountain, because the media would have had a field day. Crime is so bad, they love it when something happens to someone in government (or their relations); it’s like being in a schoolyard surrounded by children shouting ‘I told you so’. Being attacked and violated was bad enough; I couldn’t have lived through a media frenzy.”

Darryl was stunned into a long silence.

“I’ve never felt happy, Darryl. I can buy anything, go anywhere but wherever I look the world is false, full of madams and black diamonds and people trying sell things to madams and black diamonds. Except here in this garden and in your apartment, where everything is real. When I’m with you, I’m happy, and life is simple.”

“But at night you go home and sleep in a palace.”

“What does it matter where I sleep? I’m the same person, regardless.”

“Can you honestly tell me that you behave the same, dress the same, and eat the same when you’re with your rich friends? Do you think they’d like me, and my cat and my sweaters eaten through by fish moths? Do you think your father would be happy to know you’ve been dating a call-centre debt-collector who earns fifteen Rand an hour?”

“When we’re married, you can resign from that job … I’ll buy you new sweaters.”

“I hate the job, you know it, but I can’t live off you, no matter how much I love you …”

If the tables were turned, you’d expect me to be overjoyed to have discovered that my true love disguised as a shabby debt-collector turns out to be a prince––it’s the stuff of fairytales, Darryl. But because I’m a woman, a Black woman…”

“Don’t bring that into it…”


“Zuki, in fairytales the woman who is overjoyed is overjoyed because she’s always dreamed of living in a castle, but I haven’t. I don’t want to live in a ten-bedroomed house, I’d be ashamed, embarrassed, to show my face in the street, knowing how much other people in the country are suffering while I rattle around in my mansion. Those places are a disgrace.”

So I’m a disgrace?”

“No. Sorry, oh god, that came out wrong … I’m not judging you … I just don’t want any possessions –– and you’re used to them, it’ll never work. I aspire to have nothing.”

“Then nothing’s what you’ll have. Yajal’ipudini!”

Stripped. Zukisa Radebe was robbed of all joy and trembling with sorrow, anger and disillusion as she strode along the bricked lane under the Camphor Trees away from the arms of Darryl van Deventer who was little cheered to spot a rare orchid just opening its petals to the Kirstenbosch sun.

When it occurred to Darryl, how good it would feel not to have to be a debt-collector and how lost he would be without his teacher, he understood he had been deceiving himself, that he did aspire to something and so he ran after Zukisa.

“People will say I’m interested only in your money.” He caught up with her. He swung his backpack to his front and rummaged in it as he spoke. “But the truth is I just want a lifetime of free Xhosa lessons.” He found what he had been looking for – a small pack of sugar he’d taken from the Kirstenbosch tea room the last time he’d been there. He held it out to her. “For the pudding.” He stifled a smile, looked at his feet, and then he was brave. “Sugar for the pudding so it’s not sour anymore … Zuki, I’m certain I’ll never find a better teacher than you. Please, will you marry me?”

“You have a lot to learn, My Sweet,” Zukisa said.



Schonstein Pinnock, P. 1994 Xhosa: A cultural grammar for beginners. African Sun Press.
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