MAC SUPPORT

Lelie-kind rubbed her eyes and sighed deeply. It’s no use sobbing, she thought, there’s no-one here to hear me. She stared at the stubbornly blank screen on her computer. What had she done wrong? Which key had she pressed last? She brewed another cup of green tea and pondered the problem of how she was to finish her opinion piece on the Zuma statue drama. It had been so exciting to be asked to write for the local Burger Nuus and now she wouldn’t even be able to submit it! Thank goodness Jacob Zuma had been removed from office and they would be spared that life-size monstrosity!

She needed help desperately. It was Tuesday and the Pensioner’s Tea Club hadn’t met on Monday because Tannie Bev had been driving back from Cape Town, Felsity still had her sister visiting her, and Tannie Anna had been kuiering in a game reserve. Lelie-kind shook her head sadly: not only were they growing old; were they now growing apart? Tannie Bev had missed three teas in a row already!

Lelie-kind picked up her new-fangled cell phone and scrolled to the Pensioner’s Tea Club Whats-app Group – thank goodness we are all up to date on that score she thought as she slowly typed her message:

Disaster has struck! Meet for tea at ten. I will book. Bring thinking caps.

Felsity responded first: Thinking cups? I don’t have one. Has Die Groot Koeksuster run out of cups? Will a mug do?

Then came Tannie Bev: Please order cheesecake. Sick of chocolate cake!

Wendolina: I have already used my pensioner’s discount on lettuce seedlings!

Liesbet: Pumpkins would be better for winter.

Wendolina: I live on salads. Will you bring those tomato seedlings you promised last week?

Liesbet: You didn’t collect them.

Karen: What disaster? I have potted mint!

Lelie-kind watched the messages come in. Each beep brought her hope, only to be dashed. What about her problem? She put it to them as soon as the members of the Pensioner’s Tea Club had assembled at Die Groot Koeksuster.

“I desperately need some Mac support. Do any of you know who could help me?”

Conversation halted as the ladies looked at each other mystified. Felsity pulled her mug from her capacious bag and held it up accusingly. “Lelie-kind, why did you tell me to bring my mug? There’s mos lots of cups here!”

Merilee dabbed her lips with the flimsy bit of paper that passed for a serviette and took another bite of cheesecake. “Is your mac torn?” she asked with concern. “I covered a tear in my mac with a strip of insulation tape. That will keep me dry.”

“As if we’ll have any rain!” Wendolina nearly choked on her tea. “You’ll have to wait for summer to come around again.”

“Always be prepared I say,” Merilee responded primly. “A stitch in time saves nine you know.”

“Insulation tape? I must remember that,” Tannie Anna wrote in her notebook. “I hate sewing!”

Liesbet turned to Lelie-kind. “Are you talking about a MacDonald burger? You know I had what they call a gourmet burger at Piet’s Place the other day.”

Piet’s Place! Since when have you been frequenting a pub and so-called restaurant?” Tannie Anna waved her pencil in the air. “Such places are for young people and the irresponsible segments of society.”

Segments!” Karen guffawed, her dangly earrings glinting in the morning sunlight. “Segments, really Tannie Anna, anyone would think we live in a caterpillar!”

“It’s very respectable if you go early,” Liesbet continued smoothly. “I even saw Dominee van Liebenberg there with his wife. She had a new hairdo.”

Lelie-kind put her hands over her ears. “I wish it was that simple! I have a problem with my Apple Mac!”

“Apples? There aren’t any apples here!” Tannie Bev waved her hand over the table, knocking over the sugar bowl. “Ag hene, what a mess!”

“Yes, I used to read those stories to my children when they were small,” Karen laughed. “They were so funny.”

“Did you leave an apple in your mac?” Merilee leaned forward to scrape the sugar into a heap with the remains of her serviette. “They shrivel long before they disintegrate you know. Has yours gone rotten? I don’t know if you can wash macs in the machine.”

“I tried washing my tackies with the sheets,” Felsity added. “They’ve never been the same. I think the cycle was too hot.”

“You cycle?” Wendolina sounded surprised. I thought you walked everywhere! Anyway, I only wash in cold water. Ag Lelie-kind, be a dear and ask for some extra hot water to top up the tea pot.”

Lelie-kind stood up. “It’s my Apple Mac that’s a problem.” She felt desperate.

“What’s that?” Felsity looked at her intently. “You know I would help if I understood what the problem is.”

“It’s my computer Felsity. My computer is called an Apple Mac.”

Felsity turned over her new cell phone. “You mean like this half eaten apple?” She shook her head and clucked knowingly. “No wonder you have a problem with it. I couldn’t hear my phone for a week until the young man at the cell phone place showed me I had activated the ‘do not disturb’ thingy. I didn’t even know the phone had such a thing! Are you sure you didn’t press the ‘do not disturb’ button?”

“Sorry I can’t help,” Liesbet poured more tea. “I saw fresh apples in the shop yesterday though.”

“Have you got a new apple pie recipe Liesbet? Yum! Bring it next time.” Tannie Bev pushed away her empty plate.

“You have to buy your cake here,” Karen reminded them.

“Perhaps we could meet for Scrabble and apple pie,” Tannie Anna suggested wistfully.

“Not Scrabble again,” Merilee complained. “I keep telling you we should play bridge.”

“I can’t play bridge,” Karen said crossly. She turned to Lelie-kind, “Sorry about your phone Lelie-kind. You’ll just have to cross that bridge when you come to it.”

“What bridge?” Wendolina squeezed the last drop of tea from the small metal tea pot. “You know they’ve fixed the potholes in Deurmekaar Street? Some of them were so deep they needed bridges to cross them!”

“It’s – not –  my  – phone. It is my computer that’s stopped working!” Lelie-kind was almost shouting in frustration.

“Your computer! Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Wendolina rummaged around in her bag, pulling out notebooks, cash slips, an old lipstick and a cracked mirror in the process. “It’s here somewhere, I know. Ah! Look here.” She smoothed out a crumpled sheet of paper. “My son once told me of this computer doctor in the next dorp. Here’s the phone number.” A triumphant smile wreathed her lined face.

“The next dorp!” Tannie Bev laughed. “How will you and your Apple Mac get there?”

“Easy, just ask Willem Pieterse to drive you in his bakkie. I’ll come with you if you like,” Liesbet offered brightly.

“Enough! Enough! All of you, please pray for me.” Lelie-kind could feel the tears of frustration prick behind her eyelids.

“Why must we pay for you Lelie-kind? I’ve already spent my pensioner’s discount on lettuce seedlings,” Wendolina reminded her.

I’ll pay for her.” Merilee opened her purse.

“Thank you Merilee. I asked you to pray not pay!” Lelie-kind handed over her share of the bill.

“I’ll bake an apple pie,” Liesbet offered as she gathered her things. “Perhaps that will help you sooner than waiting for prayers on Sunday.”

“Right now I’m too nauseous with worry to even contemplate apple pie!”

“Aw Lelie-kind. I’m sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better soon.” Tannie Bev stood up to hug her friend. “I must go now.”

Karen kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll pop in later to check on you.”

Tannie Anna hugged her too. “I’ll ask Jannie if he knows a suitable mechanic for you.”

Mr Leketi watched the group of elderly ladies disperse. As the one called Lelie-kind passed him on the way out, he said softly. “Greatest Solutions on Market Street is the place to go. They fixed my Mac in a jiffy.”

COLLEEN AND THE HEADMASTER

Colleen is the type of person who needs to be noticed. If she wasn’t greeted with a friendly smile she would think one thought ill of her, for she was easily offended. She yearned to be accepted into the bosom of whatever group she was in. Above all, Colleen needed to feel important.

You wouldn’t think so, for Colleen tended to be brusque; she voiced her opinions loudly and expected them to be accepted. At times she appeared to be unfeeling, such as the time she barked “Rules are there to be obeyed” at a colleague who dared to show an empathetic stance towards a girl who had pushed the envelope too far.

Colleen could be impatient too. There is no doubt that she was ambitious and lusted for power. Colleagues who worked closest with her knew that Colleen, who tended to present a tough exterior, often cried or sulked when things didn’t go her way.

She was an attractive young woman, who used this to her advantage in the company of men. Then she would flash a ready smile; shake her always slightly untidy blonde hair; or would reach out to touch a male arm or shoulder in conversation – just long enough to make eye contact, then she would look away and pretend nothing had happened.

Some of her male colleagues regarded her as a tease. Others spoke of her charming company. A couple of them thought she was intriguingly mysterious in that she gave little of herself in terms of where she had come from or why she sometimes wore a gold band on her left ring finger and yet mostly left it bare. Men tended to cluster around Colleen at staff functions. She liked it that way – who wouldn’t!

Colleen was not as successful with her female colleagues, who tended to be suspicious of her motives and were easily annoyed with what they interpreted as her attention-seeking tactics. Mostly though, they grew tired of her grumpiness and barbed remarks. Actually, the women turned from Colleen when it became clear that the aura of power had become her lodestone.

First, she did her best to make herself appear to be indispensable to the Deputy Principal in charge of Academic Matters. Colleen helped her collate the mark sheets, sided with her at meetings when anything contentious arose for discussion, and frequently stayed at work late to assist Olive with drawing up anything from examination time tables to duty rosters.

We were gobsmacked when it was announced that Colleen was to be the new Head of the Natural Science Department for we all knew that both Colin and Sarah had applied for the post. The Deputy Principal had invited Sarah out for coffee one afternoon and persuaded her to withdraw her application. “This really needs to be a one-horse race,” she had smiled sweetly, patting Sarah’s arm. She leaned towards her with a confident “You’re still young, Sarah, with plenty of opportunities ahead of you.” We had all then assumed Colin would get the post. He was ten years her senior and had been in charge of the boys’ boarding house for his full term of five years – it could only be him.

Well, it wasn’t. It did not go unnoticed that Colleen and the Deputy Principal were on particularly good terms. It soon became clear that the Natural Science Department floundered under Colleen’s hand, despite Sarah’s best efforts to help her stay on track. Colleen was easily angered and either set unrealistic deadlines for her staff or forgot all about them. She hated being criticised and cancelled any departmental meeting if she caught a whiff that it might become confrontational. Her colleagues loathed her curt e-mails. The men began ignoring her; the women simply stared at her in disbelief during the rare departmental meetings until the morning Isabel deliberately knocked over the school desk she was sitting at.

“I’ve had enough of this Colleen!” Isabel’s cheeks were suffused with red and her eyes glistened with anger. “You dither and complain. Nobody can do anything right in this department. You are selfish, ungrateful and know nothing about leadership!” With that, Isabel picked up her notebook and strode out of the classroom, not even stopping when Colleen’s large diary whizzed past her ear.

Six months later, Colin took over the reins of the department while Colleen spent a term enjoying her sabbatical leave two years earlier than anyone else has been able to secure theirs. “She has been overworked,” the Deputy Principal explained, “and really needs the rest.” Colleen returned to take charge of the girls’ boarding house and told everyone that it was such a full-time, hands-on job that she couldn’t possibly run the department too.

Steven became the Deputy Principal when Olive retired a year later. Colleen held no interest for him as he was devoted to his wife and two daughters. No more cosy dinners for our Colleen; she had become something of a pariah in the staffroom by then.

The parents of the boarders seemed to love her. Colleen fawned over them and revelled in the expensive gifts that came her way. She had all the outward signs of being loved, being valued, and of being held in high esteem. The cracks must have been there, but nobody cared to look. A few male colleagues still found her charming, but she no longer batted her eyelids at them. She had more interesting fish to fry: the fathers of the girls in boarding – and the Headmaster.

There is no need to jump to conclusions here. Colleen loved the heady feeling of the power of being attractive to older men with pretty wives and children in boarding school. There was no hanky-panky for Colleen, she wasn’t that type of person. What she thrived on for the most was to be in the centre of power. Her proximity to ‘important’ people in society made her practically drunk with pleasure.

Evan Butler, the Headmaster, openly empathised with this misunderstood, unappreciated, rather sad, single, still attractive woman in charge of the girls’ boarding house. He was relieved by her apparent success in the wake of Tilly, who had made a hash of things. He and his wife, Allison, occasionally invited her round for a drink, which often lead to an invitation to supper.

Colleen glowed with happiness. She sometimes teased Evan in the staffroom and often brought him tea at odd times during the day. She simpered at his over-used jokes. One day, Colleen let slip to someone in the bathroom that Evan Butler was secretly in love with her! We watched as she giggled in his presence; she would guess where he would sit during the staff tea break so that she could be near him. We noticed that she took greater care over her clothes and wore a lot of jewellery when Evan was present and slackened off during the times he was away from the school.

Her being so close to the ‘powerhouse’ of the school was akin to an aphrodisiac for Colleen. Everyone watched her like a hawk. She wore her lust for power like a shimmering mantle. Some of the weaker-willed colleagues were drawn to her, just as moths are attracted to light. She treated her current favourites with care by inviting them to her flat for wine; changing their campus duties at will; and granting them opportunities to enter what had become the ‘inner circle’ of power – albeit at the fringes only.

To his credit, Evan never encouraged her advances. He openly showed devotion to his wife of several decades and treated his colleagues with an even hand. He laughed with the few mothers who dared mention that “Miss Halford tried to get too close” to their husbands. “Colleen?” He would pour another glass of wine and compliment the woman on her earrings, her hairdo, or even her daughter. “Colleen is harmless,” he would smile. “A little lonely perhaps, but she is excellent with the girls.”

Was she? In time the girls began talking about how embarrassing it was that Miss Halford flirted with their fathers. In time word got out that Mr X or Mr Y had paid for Colleen’s holiday to the Kruger National Park or to Mauritius. In time girls began to complain that some of their peers received more privileges than others and that it was no coincidence that they were the daughters of the fathers so generous with their wallets. “It’s unfair!” The chorus of ‘unfair’ swelled with the passing of each term.

Colleen ignored it. She looked forward to the contents of creamy envelopes containing tickets accompanied by the well-meant “Enjoy yourself this holiday” or “You deserve to relax after such a hard term” notes. She reflected on her trips to Kenyan farms, to private game reserves, and wondered where her next destination would be.

To be fair, if nothing came her way, Colleen wouldn’t complain. Instead, the new term would bring a more thin-lipped Colleen to the fore. A Colleen with a desire to impose iron discipline on the girls. A Colleen who would show everyone who was boss. It became well-known that she seemed to have deliberately set about to unravel all the good Colin had done in the Natural Sciences Department.

Colin was made of sterner stuff than she could imagine. The men had become immune to her charming charades – they knew better. The women ignored her. All remembered the pot plant that had appeared on Isabel’s desk the day after Colleen’s diary had narrowly missed her ear. There had been no note. Everyone in the department knew that this was about as close to an apology that Colleen could muster. The members of the Natural Sciences Department simply side-lined Colleen and demonstrated their loyalty to Colin.

Steven spent three weeks in Australia. Officially, he was attending an international schools’ conference. Unofficially, he and his music teacher wife were planning to spy out the land for a possible transplant. Colleen saw the gap and moved in. She could smell the second tier of power and her nostrils flared at the possibility of usurping Steven’s post. She dreamt about it at night. During the day she would offer to take up the slack by doing this or that – whatever Steven would have done she was happy to ‘sacrifice’ her time to complete. Colleen would be better than Steven. She would be the best. She would have real status and power!

We began receiving e-mails sent at around midnight or beyond: reminders about the security of examination papers; reminders about deadlines for report comments; reminders about mark entry deadlines. So many unnecessary e-mails filled our inboxes that anything from her was ignored. We all had Steven’s end-of-term schedule to work from anyway.

Colleen couldn’t hide her obvious enjoyment at being seated next to the Headmaster at our final staff meeting of the term. In the absence of Steven, she had offered to take the minutes. We watched her beam. We watched her sparkling eyes. We watched the smile that couldn’t be suppressed. We watched as she drew attention to her position by shifting closer to the Headmaster, by whispering in his ear, by shuffling papers and by playing with her pen.

We watched and we waited. We knew something that Colleen didn’t. She didn’t know what we knew because every grapevine has its limit. She didn’t know what we knew because she had taken to having her tea in the boarding house office whenever Evan was away, which had been often of late. Of course we never spoke about what we knew when he was in the staffroom, where she continued to sit as close to him as she decently could – always ready to laugh at or agree with whatever he had to say.

We knew because real power comes from having knowledge. Real power doesn’t come from belittling some people while favouring others. Real power does not necessarily come from trying to be superior. It comes from chatting to people, from exchanging opinions, from providing a helping hand, and from being the best person you can be. Real power comes from considering the information you have and where it comes from. Real power considers the impact it has on real people. Real power includes degrees of empathy, sympathy and respect.

Evan embodied all of that – he was that kind of person. He didn’t openly share the details of his wife’s terminal cancer, and when he did so reluctantly he didn’t seek sympathy. He didn’t expect anyone to compromise on his behalf. He grieved in private.

We waited.

Once the last item on the agenda had been dealt with, Evan rose to face us all crowded into the staffroom. He paused as he surveyed the room, cleared his throat and announced softly, “Allison is not going to get any better. Her family and our children live in Johannesburg.” Heads nodded. Several pairs of eyes in the packed room had become misty. “It is with regret,” Evan continued, his voice cracking, “that I announce my resignation with immediate effect. Steven will step in as Acting Head on his return and Isabel has agreed to take over his job until she goes on maternity leave at the end of next term. Allison and I have been extraordinarily happy here.” He was struggling to maintain his composure in the face of the absolute silence. “No fuss. No fuss. We need no fuss. Goodbye to you all from both of us.”

Is there such a phrase as ‘shocked pandemonium’? There should be, for that second of shock ended in a rush of emotion as people crowded around Evan, shook his hand, hugged him, or simply sobbed.

And Colleen? Our triumphant wait was in vain. So focused had we all been on Evan that none of us had noticed her slip away. It was Pauline, Evan’s PA, who told us the following morning of Colleen’s letter of resignation slipped under her door. It too was with immediate effect. We never saw her again.

THE FINAL PARTING

She felt the familiar tightening of her chest as the car began to descend the winding mountain pass which would take them to the enormous valley that stretched out far below them. Even the excited chatter of the children couldn’t intrude upon the private pleasure she always felt when the familiar mountain range was glimpsed for the first time. The hazy smoke hid the familiar landmarks from view, yet she was still able to point out – even from so far away – the short strip of dusty road that led to the farm.

The mountain pass flattened and straightened out, entered the valley and at last they were achingly close to the world of which she had been a part forever. The car sped on under a canopy of acacia trees, crossed the bridge over a river long since hidden by a tangled mass of syringa trees, reeds and some bushes indigenous to the area. She wondered whatever had happened to the muddy river of her youth and to the floods that had drawn them to the river almost every summer to witness the turbulent waves and broken, tossing trees …

The children had been looking out for the dusty road. They chatted excitedly all the way, oblivious to their mother’s inner world where she remembered riding a bicycle that was much too large for her, recognised the place along the road where she had skidded and grazed her arms and legs in the fall: her mother had disliked the idea of her leaving the relative safety of the farm …

And there it was … the water tanks on their tall stand, bright splashes of deep purple and red bougainvillea, the jacaranda trees … one last turn in the driveway and the familiar farmhouse was there. This time there was no welcoming bark, for the dogs hadn’t been replaced as each had found their Elysium in turn. The clean-swept back yard, the bright flowers  nodding merrily around the stone rondavel – even the smoke rising from the chimney of the combustion stove were welcome enough until her mother emerged from the kitchen door, her face wreathed in smiles and her arms outstretched.

The welcome was too bright, their happiness too intense – even the children seemed determined to extract every bit of pleasure and happiness they could before the farm changed hands and was theirs no more. Her eyes darted around the farm house, which looked much the same even though a lot of packing had already been done. The sealed cardboard boxes that lined the wooden-floored passage and spilled into the bedrooms bore mute testimony to the end of more than thirty years of occupation. The family had only two days in which to bid farewell to another way of life.

Sitting on the high veranda, she noted that the view was as breathtakingly beautiful as always, stretching as it did across the whole valley to the small town nestling at the foot of the encircling mountain range. From there too, one was privy to the ceaseless coming and going of a great variety of birds as they bathed, preened, or drank from the stone bird bath half hidden by creepers. The water spraying on the lawn reminded her of the shortage of water that had always been drummed into them as children. Even the vegetable garden had had to be abandoned as one borehole after another had dried up. It was ironic that the lawn her mother had battled to save for so long was now lush – waiting expectantly for the new owners.

Beyond the thick, neatly trimmed hedge of spekboom (she recalled in a flash the short sticks with fleshy leaves that had been planted – when?) were the lands which had once produced a plentiful supply of dryland cotton, and later maize, before giving way to the natural grasses to provide grazing for the cattle. These had been sold a long time ago and so now the tall grass waved in the wind and hid the children from view as they walked around the farm for the last time. They picked up stray guineafowl feathers, interesting looking sticks, and skipped along the narrow road while their mother remembered doing the same in her own childhood and their father recorded their movements and laughter on film.

They measured themselves against familiar landmarks almost lost in the tall grass and picked lemons they didn’t really need. At the clump of bamboo, the children collected fans and old bird nests and sticks, while their mother recalled a time when this had been her only world … the children were getting tired and all were conscious of returning to the farmhouse in time for lunch.

She longed to break free and lose herself in the land stretching away from them and to follow the watercourse which occasionally oozed to the surface in spongy damp areas. She ached to smell again that strong odour of wet clay, to pick her way through the thorn scrub along half-forgotten footpaths. She needed to commune silently with her childhood. Instead, she hoisted her daughter to her shoulders and listened to her sons complain about the pepper ticks and the prickles caused by the fine hairs of the bamboo.

The early morning mist hid the valley and the mountains from view, revealing them only once the sun had warmed sufficiently to disperse it. In the front garden, the elm tree shed its delicate leaves in beautiful shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown; the sunbirds stood out clearly each afternoon as they fed on the nectar in the bright orange flowers of the spathodia tree or flitted in and out of the yellow tecomaria blooms. The rhythm of nature pulsed on, oblivious to the encroaching sorrow of the people who loved it so.

The day of the final parting was tinged with a sense of loss from the beginning, even though everyone made an effort to behave normally. It reminded her of the time her father had died – everyone being cheerful when together, but grieving quietly and alone, just as she wished to do then: quietly and alone. Her outward calm was dented further each time she passed her daughter on her way to and from packing the car. The little girl sat glumly on the step separating the lounge and dining room, her head held between her hands: the five years the farm had been part of her was a lifetime. Earlier, the boys had been determined to prove for the last time their ability to climb the swaying chain ladder leading the way to the wooden base of the tank stand so very high above the ground.

Her reserve finally broke when she set out to find her younger son, missing from the group gathered for the final farewell. He was sobbing with his face pressed against the rough stone of the rondavel wall. She pulled him away gently, not daring to speak as she guided him towards the tall syringa tree. Together they looked at the mango orchard and to the mountains beyond. He reached out to touch the rusty barbed wire fence. Memories crowded in while the tall Indian cane rustled its mournful farewells in the autumn breeze. It was time to leave.

As the car left the dusty road for the last time to join the tar, all eyes turned to the mountains. Those mountains which were always there, and yet were always changing. She saw them in her memory emerging from the early morning mist; slashed with ribbons of flame at night during the fire season; and once even mysteriously covered with snow.

Sorrow hung heavily about the family as they drove on in silence. All too soon it was time to turn away from those softly beckoning mountains and begin the long winding ascent out of the valley to the highveld beyond. Her husband looked at her tear-stained face, filled with grief at the final parting from her childhood. Acting from years of experience, he automatically slowed down at the last corner from which the receding valley could be seen below them.

She never looked back.

Note: It was in 1988 that I bid farewell to our family farm.

TALK OF THE TOWN

Background:

In 2017 the government of the North West Province proposed erecting a life-size bronze statue of the then President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, along the N4 in the Marico district. It was suggested at the time that the statue would cost in the region of R6 million. Happily, the idea never got off the ground. Nonetheless, for a while the proposal became the …

TALK OF THE TOWN

“What is the world coming to Lelie-kind? One sweet potato cost me R9 at the shop today!” Tannie Anna dropped her overlarge handbag onto the rough wooden table on the veranda of Die Groot Koeksuster. The shade of one of the few surviving withaak trees cast a welcome dark patch on the chair Tannie Anna sank into with an “Oh my legs! Lelie-kind have you ordered the tea?”

She leaned back to catch her breath and watched Felsity crossing the street. Tannie Anna smiled at the bulge in that familiar black bag Felsity had tucked securely under her arm – it was sad that one could no longer let people see the full beauty of one’s handbag anymore. Still, she thought, let no-one tell her that Felsity had been anywhere other than Okkers se Drankwinkel. She knew Felsity well. Why, they used to walk barefoot together to the primary school on the corner. You know, that building that now houses the Chinese shop and where the loan sharks hang out.

“Have you heard the terrible news Anna?” Tannie Bev wiggled her swollen feet out of her town shoes. She was too old to worry what the youngsters thought anymore. Tannie Anna watched her friend plant her shopping bag between her knees as she rummaged through her handbag for a Tums. Tannie Bev suffered from constant indigestion these days.

“Nothing could be worse than the price of vegetables,” she replied. “I paid R9 for a sweet potato this morning. R9 I tell you. There’s not even anyone you can complain to anymore. These fandangled supermarkets are so anonymous these days.”

“No Anna, this is much worse.” Tannie Bev leaned forward to whisper across the table. “There’s a sculpture going up near Groot Marico.”

“It’s about time we had something pretty to look at.” Lelie-kind set down the tea tray. “They’re very slow here today. Where’s Felsity? I thought I saw her outside just now?”

“Why would anyone want to make a statue of Willem Pieterse?” Liesbet pulled up a green plastic chair and immediately bent down to gather the collection of groceries that had fallen out of the plastic Pick ‘n Pay packet. She hoped no-one had seen the row of three Ferrero Rocher chocolates she’d bought. “Willem’s the biggest skelm from here to Bokkombaai. He’s broken every rule book that was ever created. Do you remember how he used to climb out of the window during our arithmetic classes in Standard Two, Lelie-kind?” She leaned across the table. “Willem has poached more animals than you could fit in a zoo. Only last week the police stopped him outside Zeerust. He told them his sheep had the ‘flu and that is why they were wearing jerseys and balaclavas and sitting inside the cab. They let him go.” Liesbet sat back looking dreamy. “Now Willem’s not the most handsome man, but in bronze he could look –“

“No Liesbet, you’re wrong. This statue is going to celebrate the legacy of Jacob Zuma!” Tannie Bev flushed with satisfaction at the impact of her news.

“Zuma!” Wendolina nearly missed her chair when she sat down. Two apples rolled across the cobbled floor of the veranda. Lelie-kind managed to halt their passage of doom before they fell into the gutter that ran into a clump of tattered cannas. It hadn’t rained for months, but one could never tell what lay within that tangle of rubbish caught between the leaves and she was sure it wasn’t only dogs that relieved themselves there.

“My husband says this is going to be a monument to corruption and unemployment!” Karen’s dangly earrings quivered with indignation as she placed the Komorant on the table. “Tender number CATA116/2016,” she read slowly and clearly. “No two ways about it Tannie Anna, the people in this region are going to suffer a disgraceful waste of public money!”

“Whose money?” Felsity limped towards them, her sunhat slightly askew. “Who’s got money to waste?”

“You’ve been buying olive oil again, Felsity.” Tannie Anna eyed the tell-tale bulge in Felsity’s bag.

“Ja, well one cannot be too careful these days.” Was that a blush on Felsity’s cheeks? “You know, Pick ‘n Pay had no basil this morning. I was fingering through all the green stuff saying ‘Basil, basil, where are you basil,’ when the young man unpacking the paw paws tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Basil only works here Tuesdays and Fridays marram’.”

The women laughed loudly. “Oh Felsity, that could only happen to you!” Tannie Bev shifted her chair to make room for Merilee.

“Hello everyone.” Merilee sank breathlessly into her chair. “Did you know we’re getting a statue of Zuma that will be six metres tall? I’m late because I was talking to Pieter Lombard at the ATM. He told me it is going to be quite life-like.”

The Pensioner’s Tea Club were all present and correct. Merilee had been looking forward to their weekly session of news and chocolate cake. They had all agreed it would be chocolate cake this week. Her eye fell on the Komorant on the table and her face dropped a little. So, they knew after all. Perhaps she shouldn’t have stopped to buy those two koeksusters after all. Her mouth watered at the thought of the sticky brown paper packet hidden in the bottom of her hand bag.

“They say it will be built in Gopane where he was arrested in 1963 by – you know – “Wendolina focused on the hole in the middle of the table from where an umbrella should have been shading them, “the apartheid government.” One couldn’t be too careful these days. She’d read about that Kokkewiet woman who’d been accused of hate speech after complaining about the crowds at Durban beach. Ag, it would be wonderful to see the sea one day. She wondered if the beach would be like those red dunes near Upington.

“Life-like!” Liesbet tucked into her cake, allowing the crumbs to fall as she talked. Felsity couldn’t take her eyes off the thick chocolate icing that clung to Liesbet’s upper lip. “I wonder if they will disguise the statue as a public shower.”

“That money should be spent on creating jobs and opportunities!” Tannie Bev slurped her tea, almost choking on her indignation.

“So typical,” Lelie-kind scraped the icing off her plate with a sound that reminded Tannie Bev rather painfully of those maths classes in Standard Six, when the chalk sound on the board gave her a headache. Hene, she still got a headache even thinking about all those numbers marching across the board with x and y letters tumbling between. “His government is putting the president and the party ahead of the people of the North West!”

“It is an unwarranted waste of public money,” Liesbet agreed, delicately dabbing at her mouth with the flimsy piece of toilet paper that passed for serviettes these days.

“Do you know we have the highest unemployment rate in the country?” Karen had been scanning the upside down newspaper as best she could without using her reading glasses. The figure appeared in bold in a ‘sub-heading’ she thought it was called. “46%” she said triumphantly. “That’s shocking.”

“Liefie, look at all of us.” Tannie Bev squeezed another drop of tea from the small metal tea pot. No cosies anymore and you had to ask for extra hot water. “When were we last employed? Eight old ducks who don’t even qualify for UIF anymore.”

“They must halt this carving.” Gwendolina leaned forward to cover the fact that she was secreting three sachets of sugar in the outside pocket of her handbag. “The money must go towards improving service delivery and the creation of jobs for young people.”

“I agree,” Lelie-kind pulled out her ostrich-skin purse worn smooth with age. “There’s nothing to celebrate about Zuma.” She turned towards Felsity. “Seeing that you can still afford to buy olive oil, Felsity, would you be as kind as to work out what we owe. Tannie Anna made us pay far too much in tips last week.”

“Use my new phone.” Liesbet put her smartphone on the table. “See, it’s got a calculator with big numbers on it.”

“How do you work out ten percent, Karen?” Felsity’s brow was furrowed with concentration.

Members of the Pensioner’s Tea Club pooled the discounts they had got from buying their meagre groceries on Monday mornings. They gathered their bags and packets and shuffled off towards their respective homes, blissfully unaware that the owner of Die Groot Koeksuster, Mr. Leketi, charged them only half price for their weekly splurge.

YOU KNOW WHAT?

“It’s only for a day, Andy.” Lucy smiled reassuringly over the rim of her coffee cup. “I’ll have written out the day’s plan for you and will get everything ready beforehand. You just need to follow the plan and go with the flow.”

“Lu, you know I have always acknowledged that teaching Grade 1 is such a specialised job that I would never presume – “

“Think of it as care-taking.” Lucy leaned forward. “I’ve already told my Head about you and he’s happy. You’re a teacher after all!”

Was a teacher and a senior school teacher at that!” Andrea recalled in a flash the cut and thrust of the senior school; the joy of arguing over poems with matrics; reading to the Grade 11s to encourage an interest in their prescribed literature; and the satisfaction of knowing that the Grade 8s finally understood how sentences were constructed to make a particular impact. All that had ended after Frank was born three years earlier. “I’m not sure I can deal with such young children, not even for a day.”

“Rubbish! You’ve done a marvellous job with Frankie and his friends. Besides,” Lucy reached to touch her friend’s hand across the wooden table, “the Grade 1s can walk, talk, draw, write and go to the toilet on their own!”

She made it sound so simple. Andrea spent half a morning watching her friend teach, met the headmaster, and returned home feeling the deed would be do-able. That had been a month ago.

Now Andrea sat on the floor encircled by what felt like a horde of children – only fifteen – eagerly watching silkworms spinning their golden threads. She observed their eager faces and felt her heart softening and swelling with a sense of love: they all wanted to share their experiences and have someone who would listen to them and regard what they said as being important.

“You should have seen how big the worms were in the cow dung in the cattle kraal! Donavon (“Mind how you spell his name,” Lucy had warned) gestured the thickness of sausages.

The Hadedas were pulling up worms as long as my arm the last time it rained,” Colleen chimed in.

“I like sticking worms on my hook when I go fishing with my Dad.” Tony had almost tucked his head under Andrea’s arm. “They go all squishy.”

“Yuck!” Jackie shook her brown curls. “That’s so cruel!”

It was time to move onto the next activity. The silkworms were carefully replaced on the shelf near the window and workbooks handed out. “Now that you have had another look at the silkworms, you can finish writing your stories about the life of a caterpillar.” Andrea knew she sounded more confident than she felt. She was actually exhausted and her heart quailed ahead of the music session looming shortly after break.

“When can we have our snack?” Helen looked up from her workbook. “I’m too hungry to write.” She had written only three words and was chewing the end of her pencil.

“My mother’s given me a sausage today,” Geoff volunteered. “Do you want to see it, Simon?” He bent down to scrabble around in his school bag lying at his feet.

Shucks, Andrea realised, she’d forgotten to remind them all to place their bags in the lockers under the window shelf. Alice was already unwrapping a cheese wedge! “Put your food away and if you will all be good little caterpillars for ten minutes you’ll be able to eat your snacks at break time.” She pointed to the wall clock. “When this hand reaches the number twelve here, you will be able to go outside and eat.”

“How are you managing?” Jenni, the Grade 2 teacher asked Andrea as they collected their tea in the staffroom. “Oh yummy! We’re getting toasted sandwiches today! Leslie, be a love and pass us each a sarmie.”

The two women sat on a comfortable couch with the sunlight streaming in behind them. “I’m managing. The music session ahead fills me with dread though.”

Jenni laughed heartily. “Not a problem. Lucy tells me you’re great at reading stories. Let’s swop: I’ll do your music and you read to my class. They could do with a change of voice.” Andrea almost cried with relief. “Have you heard from Lucy about her brother’s wedding?”

“Only that it was ‘awesome’ and that she’s on track to get home this evening.”

The hours seemed to fly by. Glancing at the wall clock, Andrea realised all would be over within half an hour. She would collect Frank from his playschool across town and they could catch up while she boiled the kettle and made a sandwich for her own lunch … mashed avocado would be good. Perhaps she should fry some bacon too. Frankie would like some …

“You know what?” Christina had moved so close to her that Andrea jumped. The children were finishing off the pictures they had started on Friday; some were working on the floor while others sat at their tables. She smiled at Christina.

“What’s the problem, Christina?” The little girl had already cupped her hand as she reached for Andrea’s ear. She bent down obligingly.

“I know something about Mommy and Daddy that you don’t know,” Christina whispered confidingly. Andrea moved away slightly, looking directly at the serious face in front of her.

“Perhaps,” she spoke carefully, “your Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t like me to know that something about them.” She eyed the clock. Ten minutes to go.

Undeterred, Christina sat on a low stool and placed a sticky hand on Andrea’s knee. “I know what my Mommy and Daddy do at night when they think my brother and I are sleeping!” Christina’s eyes were shining with delight. “They don’t do it nearly every night, but sometimes I can hear Mommy tiptoeing past our rooms when the lights are off. Sometimes she whispers to my Dad that we are sleeping and then they go –“

“Christina, it’s almost time for everyone to pack up. In fact, it is time. Children, it’s time to pack your crayons away and to put your pictures in a pile on the table at the back.” Christina didn’t move except to tug at the hem of Andrea’s blouse.

“When my Mommy and Daddy think we are asleep,” she persisted, no longer whispering, “they open the front door and go to play cards with our neighbours,” she finished triumphantly.