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African Writing Archives


Cynthia Price



Cynthia Price

Price been writing for almost 20 years and her stories have been published by Queer View Mirror, Arsenal Pulp Press, Johnstone & Tulchinsky, All in the Seasoning, Bywater Books, Katherine V Forrest, The Vintage Book of International Lesbian Fiction, Vintage Books, and Holoch & Nestle.


 My Brother's Eyes

I awoke again this morning with that familiar tight lump of lead in my chest and burning eyes, swollen from the reservoir of tears just waiting to burst. But, I went into town as usual at 7.30am to open the shop. Even though the season was over, business must be seen to continue and I prepared for another day of sitting on my high chair to watch the empty pavement go by, the view framed by the matching towers of postcards on either side of the counter- little squares of beaches and sea and sky catching the edges of my vision as I watch with empty eyes.

Anyone who owns a business in this holiday resort by the sea knows how it goes! Six weeks of madness over Christmas and New Year followed by months of waiting for the tourists to come back for the next rush of holidays. The only way to break the monotony of pavement-watching is to clean every item in the shop.


As I unpacked the shelves of emblem-topped teaspoons and letter-openers, I thought about my visit to Dries on the weekend. I know that my desperate feelings of emptiness are not just the anticlimax of season’s ending. Visiting my younger brother at the Home in Pietermaritzburg always leaves me feeling this way. Drained and forever about to cry. It’s almost as though I have taken his empty eyes back home with me.

Dries sits all day in the straight back chair next to his bed, just staring out of the window at the sky. His toothbrush and full tube of toothpaste lie precisely in the centre of the neatly folded towel at the bottom of his bed. The edges of the blankets are sharp and exact, always prepared for inspection, and I wonder whether he ever sleeps under that squared-off bedding.

Every visit is exactly the same. I pull up the second chair in the white-walled room and sit next to Dries and we watch the sky together. I have long since learned that it is useless trying to talk to him. He no longer has anything to say. At lunchtime, the nurse brings in two trays of food and we eat in silence. After lunch we go back to our duty of sky-watching until it is time for me to drive back to Uvongo.



As I was packing the souvenirs back on the shelf in neat rows, the electric eye at the door ding-donged to tell me that a customer had arrived. I walked over to the counter and greeted the woman as she stood in the doorway.

“Just looking!” she said in a distinctly foreign accent, and with a wave of her hand she wandered off into the back of the shop to peer at the displays.

I did not want to disrupt the customer’s attention while she was shopping for holiday memories, so I resumed my post at the counter to survey the pavement. Our local oddity was prancing around backwards in the car park, a cast-off camera in his hands, and he was taking imaginary photographs of the few people who were walking past. I do not know his name, but he is a familiar sight along this stretch of the main road, a black man in ragged clothes who grins happily as he goes about his daily work of “taking” photographs of trees and passing cars and holiday makers. But, this particular morning he had irritated a burly sunburnt holiday maker with his antics, and shouting and foul language suddenly disrupted the tranquillity of the parking lot.


My customer came over to the doorway to inspect the commotion and started to shake her head with irritation.

“Really!” she exclaimed, “When are they going to do something with that madman? Should be in a home, you know! Not wandering around in the streets making a nuisance of himself like this. He would be much happier in a sanitorium!”

I looked at her tightly drawn mouth and her cold rational eyes as she spoke. The swelling in my chest grew larger and I wanted to scream. Instead, I calmly stood up, shook my shoes from my feet and walked out onto the hot tarmac to where the red holiday maker was still berating the brown photographer for daring to take snapshots of his blonde wife.

I started to pose like a model and soon we were prancing around the car park, the famous international model, dancing and posturing, while the equally famous photographer took shots for a well-known fashion magazine. His eyes danced with joy and fulfilment and my chest filled with lightness. The dam of tears behind my eyes disappeared as I looked out at the growing crowd of bewildered onlookers, and was happy in my brief moment of madness.

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