Saaleha Bhamjee (South Africa), serial Writivist, is a mother, baker, chef and writer. Entirely unschooled in any of these, she has 5 children, owns a bakery, a little restaurant as well as the dubious honour of having completed the umpteenth rewrite of a novel and a collection of sometimes funny short stories. Her Writivism entry is a chapter from her novel.
When we get home, I’m surprised to find Daddy there. He’s not alone. There’s a man in a smart trouser and shirt, wearing dark sunglasses, with him. They’re walking around the house discussing the walls and the garden. I hear the word swimming pool a few times.
I’m itching to go and ask Daddy if this is true but he doesn’t like me to disturb him when he’s talking to big people.
Muisdrop uit die peper uit, he says.
I don’t know what that means, but he makes Big Eyes when he says it and that always makes me feel bad. So I sing Wegettingaswimmingpool while I play hopscotch. Just wait until the kids at school hear this! I’ll have so many friends. Because wegettingaswimmingpool.
I see this man at our house often in the next two weeks. He visits Daddy at night sometimes. He always brings big rolls of paper that have drawings on them. It must be fun having a job where you get to draw stuff all the time. I say this to Daddy when I come to greet him at bedtime one night while he and the uncle are looking at the drawings. (My bedtime is so early that I bet even the chickens are still up. Hmph!)
The uncle bursts out laughing. He laughs so hard that I wonder if he’s acting. He looks at me and winks. My face feels hot. I hug Daddy and run to bed.
Lying there, I think of the Uncle and his wink. I decide that I didn’t like it. I wish he gets a big karkatjie, I say to myself. Karkatjies hurt. I had one once and my eye was almost completely closed. And when it burst it was all pus-sy and disgusting. Yes, I wish he’d get a big fat ugly karkatjie!
When Mummy wakes me up for school, the next day, I find Daddy having breakfast already.
They’re starting work on the renovations today. Daddy is smiling like he just won a prize in a competition or something.
The house is going to get so dirty! Mummy doesn’t look as happy. I think the only thing she hates more than me hugging her, is dirt.
Every day, I can’t wait to get home from school. Our yard is like a very important place full of important, busy people. There’s a machine digging a giant hole in our back yard. The sand that they’re piling up is full of worms and creepy stuff. But it makes the best mud cakes.
When the machine came, they had to take out my swing to make space for it. Even though that makes me a little sad, I know they’re just making space for something even better. A swimmingpool!
I’ll invite friends over. And maybe I’ll show them the place in Mummy’s garden where I leave out my tea-sets for the fairies. Maybe when they come I’ll actually SEE a fairy, not just a broken wing from one. (When I showed it to Mummy she said it was from a butterfly. Pfftttt! For a clever person, she sure has a lot to learn!)
And maybe, just maybe we’ll get magical mermaids who need a place to stretch their swimming muscles and decide to use our pool for it.
The uncle is at the house often now, checking up on the builders. They’re digging a foundation for ‘The Extension.’
Obviously, it can’t be the same foundation like the one Mummy uses on her face. She doesn’t need a spade for hers, but sometimes when she’s not around, Daddy jokes and says she needs a shovel to take it off at night. Then he laughs at his own joke as if it was very funny, and I don’t like him very much because what he said was so mean.
Sometimes Mummy invites the uncle to stay for supper. His name is Uncle Fareed. He smiles a lot and laughs harder than anyone I’ve ever met about any jokes he hears. He brings for me sweets and chocolates when he comes. I feel bad now for wishing he’d get a karkatjie. He’s not a bad uncle.
And then one day he wanders into the house after Mummy leaves to go to Cafe for bread.
No, Asma. You can’t come with. Practice your writing. Being able to write neat is important in big school. She takes her handbag from the counter and then she’s gone.
Uncle Fareed comes to sit with me at the table.
So, what are you doing? He’s smiling.
Maybe he can’t see so good. I want to say this to him but Mummy would klap me. You’re not supposed to be rude to big people even when they’re asking stupid questions.
I’m practicing my writing. Mummy says my K is untidy. I carry on writing.
Uncle Fareed is watching me. I can feel his eyes on me and this makes my face feel hot. I think of that night when he winked at me. I want to get up and go look for Sara. I don’t think Sara is in the house because I heard Mummy tell her to finish the ironing before she left. Which means Sara must be in the ironing room outside. And if I get up now I won’t finish my writing before Mummy comes back. Then Mummy will get cross and she won’t talk to me.
So, what chocolate do you want me to bring for you tomorrow?
Mummy says I’m eating too many chocolates since you came here and that I’m going to get fat. I don’t want to get fat, Uncle Fareed. I feel shy saying this. As if I just told him a big secret.
Nonsense! You’re beautiful. That’s why I like you so much. Your Mummy and Daddy must be very proud of you. He smiles at me when he says this and again, I feel bad for not liking him in the beginning. He’s just a friendly uncle.
He takes out a packet of Jelly Tots from his pocket.
See what I brought for you… He holds it out to me.
My stomach growls and I think some Jelly Tots would be a lekker snack.
Jazakallah. I reach out to take it.
He pulls it away.
No Asma, you must come sit here, on my lap, if you want the Jelly Tots. I won’t hurt you.
Okay, but you mustn’t tell Mummy you gave me sweets. She’ll be cross with me.
I go to him and he picks me up, puts me on his lap.
That will be our secret, he winks. You know how to keep a secret, right, Asma?
Definitely, I say, already stuffing a Jelly Tot into my mouth.
Good girl, he says.
And for today, I feel like a good girl. I feel special.
Uncle Fareed stays for supper again.
Mummy made fish. I don’t like fish.
Excellent fish, Fatima, Uncle Fareed says.
Fatima’s granny was Kokani,Daddy says. They have a way with fish.
Daddy smiles at Mummy as if he wants to give her a present for making such good fish even though I can’t eat it because it’s so yucky.
Well, I love fish, but sometimes, I think I like Jelly Tots even more. Uncle Fareed laughs big.
Daddy and Mummy laugh along. He winks at me. I like this secret.
Uncle Fareed says he believes in fairies! I can’t believe it! Finally! A really clever grown-up!
So I take him to Mummy’s hidden corner in the garden and show him my tea sets under the rose bushes.
Wow! The fairies must really love you. What you need to do though, is leave out some cake for them.
I run to the kitchen and sneak out a cupcake while Mummy is busy washing chicken. When I grow up, I’m definitely not washing chicken. It looks disgusting.
Uncle Fareed is sitting on the grass waiting for me when I get back.
Give it here. He takes the cupcake from me, peels away the paper cup and puts in down on one of my plates.
This is perfect. It’s like a giant birthday cake for fairies, because they’re so small, he says.
I don’t think you’re right Uncle Fareed. This is a plain cupcake, the way Daddy likes. Mummy doesn’t put icing on it because she says that’s too sweet. But birthday cakes have to have icing to be called birthday cakes, I say to him.
You don’t believe me? Uncle Fareed looks sad. I don’t want him to be sad. He’s such a nice uncle.
I see what the problem is. He digs into his pocket and pulls out a box of Smarties. He pushes Smarties into the cupcake until he makes a flower.
Better? He smiles at me.
Yes, much better! And I give him a tight hug.
When I try to pull away, he holds on to me tight.
You know I love you, right, Asma? He whispers this into my ear and it tickles.
I laugh. Definitely, Uncle Fareed.
You can have the rest of the Smarties. Let’s lie down here and watch for the fairies. Maybe they’ll come now that we’ve put out a cake for them.
We lie down on our stomachs on the grass. Uncle Fareed is holding my hand. We wait. Nothing happens. He strokes my hair.
Such pretty curls, Asma, he whispers.
Shshhhhh, Uncle Fareed. You’ll scare away the fairies.
We wait, and after a while, I start watching the ants in the grass because no fairies want to come.
Uncle Fareed, the fairies don’t want to visit. Maybe they’ll come if we go away. I’ll come and find that they ate the pretty cake while I was gone.
I start to get up.
No, wait. He is sitting up now. He puts me on his lap. He strokes my hair.
Asma, did anyone ever tell you, you have the most beautiful curls in the whole world?
I smile. You know, Uncle Fareed, Mummy says it’s adman hair. I don’t know what adman is, but she doesn’t look like she likes it. She says I should have got her straight hair instead of kroes hair like my Daddy’s family. She says we’ll swirl it when I grow up.
Never! Don’t let anyone do that to you. You’re perfect just the way you are. Do you like it when I play with your hair?
I nod. It feels nice.
So now you need to do something for me that I like too. Is that a deal?
I nod. But a part of me wants to run away. A part of me is scared because Uncle Fareed isn’t looking at me the way he normally does. With soft eyes and a friendly smile. He looks hungry.
He kisses me. Not on my cheek but on my mouth. Now all of me is scared. Uncle Fareed isn’t supposed to kiss me. It’s rude. I’m sure it is.
Lie down, little one. He’s whispering.
I’m too scared to say no. He won’t hurt me. He loves me. I lie down on the grass. He lifts my dress, moves my panty aside and starts to feel my nunu. His eyes are closed and his other hand is on his thing. I can see it through his trousers. It looks so big.
This is our secret, okay cookie. Like the Jelly Tots but better. He smiles at me. His eyes are half closed. He plays with me, and plays with himself. And I feel something happening down there that makes me feel embarrassed and dirty. But I can’t stop it. When he stops, I notice that his pants are wet. I think he’s peed himself. When he pulls my panty back up, I feel a little wet too, and decide that maybe that patch on his pants isn’t pee after all.
I’m going home now, okay my baby? If your Mummy and them ask, tell them I had an emergency. And remember, this is our secret.
He puts his finger on his lips. Shshhhh…. He whispers. Then he sniffs at his hand.
Mmmmmm… he licks his finger. It was the hand that he used to play with me.
Yum! he winks at me. And then he’s gone.
Mummy comes home and finds me in the bathroom trying to fill the bathtub.
Asma! What did I tell you about trying to fill the bathtub on your own?
Sorry, Mummy. I just wanted to bath before Maghrib, the way you say I must and Sara wasn’t here to help me.
Mummy doesn’t say anything. She just fills my bathtub.
Now get done. I’m going to set the table for supper. Your Daddy will be home now now.
I take off my clothes and put them in the basket. If I leave them on the floor, Mummy will shout.
I get into the bath. The water burns my feet. But I like it. I sit down slowly. It burns some more and my skin looks pink like Sara’s gums. This burning feels nice. It’s only bad in the beginning. I start to wash. I make the waslap soapy soapy and wash myself over and over again. I wash really hard by my nunu because that feels the dirtiest of all. It hurts. And then I feel ashamed of touching my nunu so I wash my legs instead. I shampoo my hair and rinse the shampoo off by lying in the bath. The water covers my ears and I can hear myself breathing. I remember Uncle Fareed and the way he whispered by my ear, so I sit up. The shampoo runs into my eyes and I want to cry but I don’t. I get out of the bath and close the bathroom door so mummy won’t hear. Then I open the hand shower and stand up and rinse my body off. I imagine I am rinsing Uncle Fareed’s fingerprints off. I don’t finish until Mummy shouts from the kitchen.
Are you sleeping in there, Asma? Didn’t I tell you to hurry up? I hear your Daddy’s car already.
I look at the water that’s up past my knees. It looks so dirty. Grey-white like medicine. Like vomit.
I take out the prop. There’s a grey ring around the tub from all the times I put soap on the waslap. My hands look funny. Like squeezed out oranges.
That night I wake up screaming more than once. I feel mummy’s hand on my back. She makes me sleep every time. I wake up in the morning to find Mummy in my bed, her arms around me.
I squirm out of her reach. I realise that I don’t like being touched.