Click to buy Print Edition Home Page African Writing Online Home Page  
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsMemoirsFictionPoetryTributesArtReviews

  Akin Adesokan
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Angela Nwosu
  A. Quarcoopome
  Aryan Kaganof
  Chi Onyemelukwe
  Chuma Nwokolo
  David Chislett
  Domi Chirongo
  Eyitemi Egwuenu
  Firoze Manji
  Gabriel Okara
  Grace Kim
  Isabella Morris
  JKS Makokha
  Kangsen Wakai
  Khumbu. Mpofu
  Khaled Khamissi
  Linda Saunders

  M. Mashigoane
  James Currey
  Noelle Bolou
  Nourdin Bejjit
  Okey Nwamadi
  Patricia J. Wesley
  Paula Akugizibwe
  Phephelaphi Dube
  Rassool Snyman
  Sonja Porle
  Sumaila Umaisha
  Uche Nduka
  Uduak Isong O.

   Ntone Edjabe
   Rudolf Okonkwo
   Tolu Ogunlesi
   Yomi Ola
   Molara Wood

African Writing Archives

Current A.W.



Linda Colleen Saunders

Linda Colleen Saunders

Saunders was born in Cape Town in 1960, and lives in Retreat, in the Western Cape. She has a BA degree in English, Psychology and Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town. Since 1995 she has been working in Cape Town. She has written several short stories, two of which were published in literary magazines in 1992 and 1998 and one of which was broadcast on the radio in 2008. She had also written a series of ABET (adult literacy) readers (1998), An Oral History Resource Guide for Teachers (2004), and training manuals for women.


 Angus of God

We had a funeral for Angus at the Priory – I couldn’t believe that so many people came. Moira, Kerrin and Danny, Chris, Shaun, Sue, Percival – even Jurgen. But he was there only by default. He hadn’t known Angus and had in fact come to say goodbye. But he attended the funeral. I read my poem and Percival gave the eulogy, in all his pompous bombast, chest out, cap in hand, carefully shaping and spacing his words so that each came out as a truly Percival word.

'Dearly beloved,' he said,
' We are gathered here today.
Not to mourn the death of,
But to celebrate the life of
Angus was
A Good

And so on. It was a good eulogy. A lovely funeral too. We even sang “All cats bright and beautiful” but that ended in a giggling session when somebody sang, “All cats wide and wonderful” and Chris proclaimed we were being disrespectful to the Mighty Fang.

In the home where I grew up a cat never had only one name. Well, they each had their one official name, but then they were called as many variations of that name as there are variations of how a cat can sit. Purdey, for example, a white cat with tortoise-shell ears and tail, was called Purdey, Prudence, Ferdy, Ferdinand, The Mother, Lord Snowdon, Needlewort, Mrs Murgatroid, Mrs Merckel and Norman Whitesides. It was the same with Angus. Angus was called Angus, Fangus, Fungus, The Fang, Fingus, Fingers MacNab, Fergal, Orange Bag, and of course in the beginning, Agnes.

I first encountered Angus at the home of my friend, Moira. At least in retrospect I assume that this was Angus, though of course none of us knew him then. We were sitting having tea in the lounge and their dog, Zogg, was out on the back veranda about to tuck into his dinner. Suddenly something small, furry and orange flew out from under a sisal bush outside their back fence and flashed between Zogg's dripping jaws right into his feeding bowl. There it neatly lifted a mouthful of Doggy Dins and was gone, with just a glimpse of a tail flag waving triumphantly as it disappeared into the sisal. It was a tiny ginger kitten, one of the many strays that lived in and around the mission hospital, the grounds of which adjoined the school compound. After marveling at this and sharing a few thoughts about the importance of stray cats in sisal bushes (snakes tend to hang out there), we continued our tea and soon forgot about it.

Life and work continued. Working in an environment plagued by poverty, oppression and drought caused much stress and often despair and depression. The summer of 1991 was particularly bad. There were times when the heat sat on one like a large living being, a beast breathing hot hairy breath down your back and all over your body. There were times when the dry dust rose and fell like the swell of endless waves, and huge whirlwinds twisted and blew. These whirlwinds would lift the sand and leaves and bits of dry grass high into the air only to later dump them, together with the ever-present bits of paper and plastic, over your head or your washing or your just-swept front yard. The wind also blew away the clouds, sending them back beyond the distant mountains, melting away their blue-grayness and making them red and dusty, like the sand and the air and the dry river beds. On those days even the glowing red sunsets held little beauty for me, for my eyes ached with the sand in them, and with having driven all day through sand-thick roads lined with weary women and children. All day the women and children trekked from one empty spring to the next, from broken pump to dry river bed, finding no water.

I had another reason to feel depressed that summer. My own dear friend and companion, exhausted by years of working out here, had left for a break and had not returned and would not return. Two months without him had been bad enough but these had been tempered by the knowledge that he would come back, bright, refreshed and energetic. Now that I knew I would remain here without him, the future to me looked like this drought itself, its dry roads littered with rocks and stones and rusty beer cans, with not a tree in sight, not a blade of grass, nor any hope of rain.

Until one day. It must have been about six o'clock that evening because Kerrin and Sue, my housemates, were in the kitchen making supper. It was tuna-mush, a house favourite. I was sitting in my room curled up on the armchair, contemplating my wretched state. Kerrin had Danny and Sue had Shaun, I was telling myself, foxes have wives and birds have mates, but I have nobody on whom to lay my head. Depression loves thoughts such as these and soon we were riding high, my thoughts and I. In no time at all I had reached the 'if only' stage. If only I had someone to share my thoughts with, if only I had a friend, a companion, anyone. If only I had someone to love, any living being, a dog or a cat. Lord, send me a cat, I prayed; a nice big one, not a tiny kitten but the heavy kind that's difficult to pick up; that you can feel in your arms. Like that one, Lord – as a large ginger cat walked past my open door – send me a cat just like –

I jumped from my chair and rushed to the door. I'd never realized that I was so bad as to be hallucinating. Naturally there was no cat, and I was now rather sobered by the realization of the state I had reached. I wandered into the kitchen deep in thought.

'Kerrin,' I said, 'Have you ever wanted something so badly that you start imagining you really see it?'

'Don't think so,' said Kerrin as she flicked a forkful of Tuna at the cat which circled her legs like a scarf round a harem-dancer.

'That cat!' I shrieked, pointing with shaking finger. 'That's it, that's the cat!'

'Mm, cute, isn't she,' said Kerrin, who had the ability to take anything in her stride and treat it as if it happened every day. 'She just walked in this minute and demanded food. You don't mind if I give her your tuna, do you?' as she placed another fork-full on the floor. The cat meowed in thanks, lapped it up, then hopped onto a chair and sat there, licking its lips with eyes half-closed in contentment.

Throughout supper I could not take my eyes off this cat. She was perfect - the exact size and shape and colour of all the cats I had not even dared imagine in my dreams. Surely this was a gift from God. 'I'll name her Agnes,' I said, 'Agnes of God' (The play happened to be running in Pietersburg ­ mere co-incidence).

And so Agnes moved in, and in no time at all was an essential part of our lives. When I got home in the evenings, Agnes would be waiting at my door, telling me all about how she'd had to starve all day. After I'd put down my bag and kicked off my shoes she would lead me to the kitchen, tail held high, going so fast that she always skidded at the turn to the kitchen door. And I would feed her. The cupboard, which had almost never been full before (evenings often saw me eating cornflakes for supper), was now stacked with tins of cat food as Kerrin, Danny, Sue, Shaun and I, and other people as well, made sure to buy a couple of tins whenever we went to town 'just in case we run out'. Friends from round about who never used to visit that often popped in more frequently now. Agnes would welcome them like long-lost lovers, climbing onto their laps and gazing up at their faces. I sometimes got quite jealous.

One evening I returned from work and Agnes was at her post at my bedroom door, waiting to assume the ritual. 'Hello, Aggie my pet,' I said, stroking her. Up went the tail, on went the motor, and left-right-left-right went the hind legs as she gathered momentum for the dash to the kitchen. 'That's strange,' I thought as I gazed lovingly at that familiar posterior heading off before me, 'her butt seems much wider.' Thoughtfully I followed her to the kitchen and gave her her food. She was washing up after her meal when Kerrin walked in.

'Kerrin,' I said, 'you used to go out with a doctor, didn't you? Take a look at Agnes. Is she getting fat? Do you think she might be pregnant?'

Kerrin lifted our fat cat who immediately sent out a purr to stir the ashes and held her aloft. 'Could be,' she said, and put Agnes down on her lap. I always admired Kerrin's way with words. But Sue, who had just arrived, expressed it somewhat differently:


If I were Agnes I would have left in disgust, or at least embarrassment. But no, our Agnes was in her prime, on the table, chest out, head back: Yes, I think we'll make your room the nursery. Yellow would be a good colour for the walls, don't you think? With Mickey Mouse motifs. And I'd like a lovely wooden crib, not these cheap plastic things you get these days. Of course I'll need to be fed more often, now that I'm eating for three, or four, or five. Yes, definitely five.

'Of course she'll need to eat more, now that she's eating for four or five,' said Sue, opening a can of Pampers (five, five, said Agnes), 'I only gave her half a tin just now'.

'You only gave her half a tin just now?' I asked. 'I've only just fed her now!'

'Have you?' asked Sue. 'But you know I always feed her in the evenings.'

'And me in the mornings,' said Kerrin.

I stared at them. I had no idea. I had been feeding her mornings and evenings. 'But she's always seemed so hungry.' we all said in unison. 'Agnes!' But Agnes had left the building. We decided then that even if she were pregnant we should still feed her only twice a day. We worked out a roster, making sure that we all had equal turns, and pasted it on the fridge. The next day we fitted Shaun and Chris in as well. After all, they had been coming in every afternoon at different times, especially to feed Agnes. 'She used to come all the way to my house to fetch me,' Shaun said, 'the way she meowed, I was sure she hadn't been fed since the previous afternoon'.

The succeeding weeks saw a definite drop, not a growth, in Agnes's girth. She was still growing, getting bigger and heavier by the day, but was definitely not pregnant. Chris held her up one evening, just to make sure, and let out a long whistle. 'Friends, Romans and countrymen,' he said. 'Agnes has balls.'

And so the pre-adolescent Agnes became the fully grown, male tom, Angus. And he did provide much comfort to me. He still met me at my door when I came home, sat on my shoulders while I typed or worked at my desk, and in the middle of the night would arrive with a loud bump on my bed as he jumped in through the window after an evening's hunting. There he would stay until morning, purring gracefully as he curled up against my back, or chest, or on my head.

Christmas and New Year came and went, and still it had not rained. Many households had planted the last of their seed in the hope that the rains would still come, but the tiny seedlings which came up soon shriveled and died. The worst was that this had been the second summer without rain and as the dry season approached, so did the fear of a major catastrophe. Even the larger rivers had begun to dry up, and the people were now entirely dependent on the few remaining boreholes which still held water. With no crops to harvest, many of these subsistence farmers were without any form of sustenance. Stories abounded of people slaughtering even their cats and dogs for food. Worse were the stories of what people were doing to each other. Those who had cars or trucks were driving to neighbouring villages where there was water and then coming back to sell it to people at exorbitant prices. One of the local shop owners whose borehole still drew water demanded payment of a different kind of the young girls sent to collect water. A similar price was paid by the many women who were being attacked and raped as they were forced to seek water further and further from home when it was still dark.

We who lived in the mission compound were largely spared the trauma which prevailed outside our boundaries. Thanks to the foresight and fortitude of the early missionaries, the grounds had been equipped with huge storage tanks from which water was tapped to all the school buildings and houses. Apart from this, the houses themselves had storage tanks in their ceilings or under the ground. The teachers, who lived on the premises and spent all day at the school, were somewhat closeted and hardly affected at all. I however traveled all over, running workshops and hearing and seeing what was happening. I was often depressed and anguished that there was so little I could do.

The road out of our village crossed a river. Formally this river was wide and flowed strongly. In the early morning people would come down to fill their buckets. Later the women would gather to wash their clothes, pounding them against the stones. This was always a time of great socialising and gossiping. By mid-morning the fence along the roadside would be decorated with garments hanging out to dry. But now the river was empty and silent. I returned home one evening, tired and depressed after hearing the stories of some of the women. But what hit me hardest as I crossed the river coming home was the sight of a small boy sitting on his haunches in the middle of the river, scooping up the last of the green sludge in a little plastic cup. And I, weary and dirty and covered with red dust had a bath before I went to bed. Just a small one, not much water, but a bath all the same.

My sleep was deep but filled with restless dreams so that when nature called in the middle of the night, I hardly knew where I was as I stumbled from my bed and down the passage. Still half asleep, I reached the bathroom and saw that someone had placed a bag of oranges in front of the door. 'Oranges! What's an orange bag doing here?' I exclaimed aloud, at which point the orange bag gave a loud 'Prrow!' It was Angus, sitting fatly folded in front of the bathroom door. He stood up, tail high, and accompanied me inside to my duty and then back to bed.

The drought was having an unusual effect on the animals as well. Lynx, leguaans and other wild creatures which generally kept themselves well hidden in the mountains were often to be seen out on the roads. This put them in danger not only from motorists, but from the starving villagers as well. Sheep, whose grazing land had become huge dust bowls without a blade of grass, took to catching grasshoppers and other insects, and I saw one leap at and catch a small field mouse.

Angus was in his prime. To him there was no drought. Even the word “catastrophe” begins with a cat, and this catastrophe brought a playground of willing contestants. Lizards, mice, rats and turtle doves were daily left on our doorsteps as love offerings. One morning I woke to hear a birdsong just outside my window. It was a call I had not heard before and I listened hard trying to identify it. It had a sweet, plaintive note, and for a while I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sound of it, picturing forests and green. Then I opened my eyes and noticed Angus on my bed. He too had heard the song. He was sitting bolt upright, every fibre of his being concentrated on the sound. At that moment I was hit with the realization of the essential difference between me and my cat. To me that sound represented nature, sweetness, freedom and life. To Angus it was bacon sizzling in the pan. I grabbed him before he could pounce. Soon birds, bats and lizards became too easy for Angus and he began to spend hours up high trees stalking the crows which had their nests there. Common garden lizards were replaced with huge scaly things which opened their mouths and spat and we dreaded the day that Angus would bring home a crocodile. As it turned out, it was worse than a crocodile.

I came home one lunchtime, let myself in at the back door and proceeded to make myself lunch. Angus was nowhere to be seen, but this was quite normal. I finished my lunch, made some tea, drank it, washed up, and then remembered something I had to fetch from my room before going back to work at the Lutheran Church. All this time I had not left the kitchen. Now I jumped up and headed for the door to the lounge and stopped dead in my tracks, as the saying goes. There right in front of me sat my fat orange bag Angus, face to face with a slender young cobra. The cobra was standing straight up, its head arched towards my cat. Each time Angus made to strike with his paw, the snake also feinted a strike. I watched, terrified and fascinated. Angus's demeanour was lazy, playful and half-hearted. The snake's was pure business. Its eyes were fixed on Angus, its body poised and tense. And it - the snake - was absolutely beautiful. D H Lawrence, I see what you mean. The snake was pure gold, pure power, but its eyes were pure innocence. I stared, then suddenly woke up as Angus and the cat each made another play at a strike. My heart now pounding, I carefully backstepped until I was out of sight of the pair, and went racing out the back door and down to the school. 'A snake!' I shouted to the first man I encountered. 'There's a snake in my house. Please come help get him out!' The man, a builder involved in extensions to the school, came running with me, spade in hand. Slowly and carefully we crept up the path towards the front door. On the front step sat Angus, looking fat, furry and feline, calmly licking his paws. He looked up as I approached, smiled a brief greeting, then continued his ablutions.

'Where's the snake, is it inside?' whispered the builder.

'Er...we-e-lll...' I responded. 'It was inside, but I think it might be inside the cat right now.' I replied.

Angus moved aside to let us in, and the man and I stepped into the house. There was no sign of the snake. We crept into the kitchen, then back into the lounge. With his spade held out in his extended hand, the man lifted the cushions on the couch, moved the couch forward, pushed aside the curtains on the kitchen cupboard, moved some boxes, beat at the daisy bush outside the door. There was no snake. The man looked at me and shook his head. 'Are you sure there was a snake?' he asked. He looked slightly peeved as if I had imagined the whole thing and this was just a ploy to get a man into my house. 'Of course I'm sure,' I answered crossly. What did he think? I hadn't asked him to come into my bedroom, had I. 'Snake?' said Angus as I turned accusingly to him. 'Would you excuse me please, you're disturbing my afternoon nap.' At which he curled up on the step and went to sleep. The man went back down the path towards the school, hitting at the odd Gazania with his spade as he walked. I gathered my things and went back to work. But I couldn't get the snake's eyes out of my mind. For a second ­ no, less than that, a split second the snake had turned its eyes off Angus and onto me. And it had captured me. That night in bed, as I once more pictured the scene in my mind ­ pictured the snake in my mind ­ its beauty and power and pure innocence totally overwhelmed me and I just cried and cried.

The Easter holidays came just in time, for the school water tanks were finally becoming worryingly low. The children being sent home caused a collective sigh of relief from the teachers. Many of them also left for the holidays, leaving me very much alone in our little island enclave situated in - but not quite part of - the Pedi village. And this was the worst time I could have been alone, for I was neither part of the island enclave, nor of the village where I worked but did not live, and as the drought deepened its destruction on the tired villagers, so did the South African Defense Force and the local police. Daily there were reports of houses being raided, meetings and study sessions violently interrupted, young people being dragged off to jail for piddling offences like jay-walking (on a dirt road with no road markings or traffic signs, let alone traffic) or disregarding the instructions of a police officer (“Kneel down and crawl to me in the sand like the dog that you are.”). Students who had just begun to soften after their experiences in detention became harder than ever, like the caked ground in the iron-hard river beds.

Eventually the tank at the Priory began to empty as well. I now had to lower a bucket tied with a rope down into the tank, feeling something like Jack and Jill. Although there were only two of us staying at the house then, the water was disappearing rapidly. We had no more baths, no more soups, just drank as little water as possible. One morning, with school due to reopen after the weekend, I dragged my last bucket of water from the tank, boiled it and put it into the fridge in two one-litre milk bottles. Later that day a little girl came to the door asking for water and I told her we had none.

That evening there was no sign of Angus. I sat alone on the stoep and watched the sunset. It was red like the blood of my guilty soul, like the blood on my hands of a little girl whom I had denied a drink of water. I sat as darkness fell and the stars came out one by one. I could hear the sound of singing from the village; a prayer meeting for rain. I sat as the night fell into stillness and the dust of the day settled on the sun-baked ground.

At about ten that night Angus returned. He was walking slowly, stiffly. His eyes were glazed, his pupils dilated. “Angus!” I cried as he limped past me into the kitchen, into his space under the coal stove. I could see no sign of injury but it was clear he was in great pain. He fell onto his side as he reached his mat and lay there, twitching and foaming at the mouth. “NO, Angus!” I didn’t know what to do, whether to touch him or not; I might hurt him. Angus! I lay down on the floor with my face next to his. His eyes were closed now and he was still. What could I do? There was no-one to call. “God, help him.” I tentatively laid my hand on his body and stroked his golden fur, my Angus, my orange bag. And a purr like a thousand snare drums broke the silence of the night, of Angus’s night. “Angus, how can you purr!” Then he arched his back as his body convulsed one last time and was still. I continued to lie on the floor for some time with my arms round him and my face in his fur. Eventually I covered him with my sweater and went to bed. Surely he was just sleeping. It would be all right in the morning.

I woke with a fright, realising I had slept very deeply, that I had over-slept, that it was very late, that I had been awakened by a sound so familiar that it had barely disturbed my sleep. “It’s raining!” I cried as I jumped out of bed and ran out into the yard, out into the muddy red and swirling eddies and singing trees and mud-earth smell. I dashed back inside to get buckets and tins and bottles and basins and all was apitter and rattling as the drops of water poured from the sky, and I slid and skidded and reddened my bare feet while Angus lay dead beneath the coal stove. Angus! I had almost forgotten.

I took his body out from under the stove and held him tight. Outside, the rain belted down and the world rejoiced. Inside, my broken heart poured out its pain and sorrow, and I wiped my tears on Angus’s fur. My darling Fangus.

The teachers returned that day, together with hope in the village. The school term need not be delayed after all. Already the tanks were filling. Already the rivers were running. We dug a hole beneath the Bauhenia tree, digging deep because of the rain, and laid the body of Angus down in the waterlogged earth. Our Angus. Our Fergal Fungus.

Copyright © African Writing Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to