Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Value of Pie

For far too long has the South African Muslim community been caught in the crosshairs of a battle between the Halaal Authorising Ulama. 

For far too long, have we, the communities, used these bodies to perpetuate our bigotry and give reign to our arrogance and sense of supremacy. 

We have cast aspersions on the integrity of Ulama from the Western Cape, because “They’ll certify anything. Even alcohol.” And have used that other body’s ‘exercise caution’ statements to brand food certified by other Muslim scholars, HARAAM.

We have forwarded broadcasts declaring food haraam on one day then changing our minds, the next. 

We have allowed ourselves to be played by certain bodies who would like the world to believe that they are the only ones deserving of the revenue to be had from pronouncing a product Halaal, that their Halaal standard stands head and shoulders above any other.  Because they are more Muslim than most.

Those other scholars, their qualifications were found in a lucky packet. They have no consciences and they are not answerable to a Higher Being.  This is what we have said, over and over, when we have preferred one body over the other, when we have forced Muslim businesses into having themselves certified , sometimes, at exorbitant costs, so we could tuck into our Certified-By- The-Authority-Of-My-Choice meal with a smug self- satisfied smile.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to the halaal wars. Don’t receive or forward broadcasts. Don’t discuss it. This was a conscious decision I took after an incident involving pies at a Muslim owned Spar that resulted in my getting in touch with a certain Halaal Authorising Body whose behaviour shocked me. They were so blatantly manipulative that for a while I was not even sure the conversations had actually taken place.

And for this reason, when I opened Lazeeza’s in 2008, I decided that I wouldn’t apply to have my store certified by anyone. That if, for a fellow believer, my word wasn’t good enough, then I was better off having no dealings at all with said believer.

It was also, for this reason that when I sourced pies for my store, I was happy enough with the certificate from my Western Cape brothers because, I reasoned, I was accepting the word of a Body of Scholars. And if they erred, the sin would be on them.

But clearly, given recent run in’s with patrons at the store, not everyone shares my sentiments.
There has been more than one Kurta’ed uncle or Niqaab’ed aunty (more often, it’s the aunties, though) who has asked dear Sicelo whether the pies are Halaal.

There had also been a certain TJ brother who’s accosted Ahmed (he helps out at the store), at the Markaz, and stated unequivocally that Lazeeza’s sells Haraam pies.

So let me state this clearly: Lazeeza’s sells pies that have been certified by The Muslim Judicial Council. We sell these pies because we refuse to buy into the notion that some Muslims are more Muslim than others. And if you are of a very high level of Taqwa and this Allah consciousness of yours dictates that you not believe the words of scholars from the Western Cape because they don’t have full length Sunnah beards and their ancestors were either Malay or Coloured, then for you, these pies become DOUBTFUL. Not HARAAM. But DOUBTFUL.

For YOU. Not EVERYONE.

So YOU should NOT eat them.  But PLEASE, I implore you, don’t go around making them haram for everyone.
And for the rest of you, I‘d recommend the Mutton Curry Pie. It’s pretty good.


Bismillah.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My People


As a Muslim People, we’re proprietal of our heroes. Proud. Oftimes, justifiably. We will sit in 2015 and talk about the contribution the Muslim World made to Science, Medicine, Mathematics in the 8th century as though we were personally responsible for these advances.


We don’t take kindly to these heroes being mocked, as the Daily Vox learnt when they ran that parody at Hashim Amla’s expense. Or as Zapiro learnt when he drew a cartoon depicting The Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

So when a new writer with a Muslim name was set to launch a novel at the Time of the Writer, ‘our people’ sat up and paid attention. Would ZP Dala turn out to be another gem in our 1400 year old crown?

Not if she claims Rushdie as a writer she considers admirable, clearly. She was quickly ‘put in her place’ by a few thugs, who, for the purpose of my soapbox moment, I shall assume to have been Muslim.
  
The Muslim community’s reaction to this affront to humanity by a few misguided morons was telling.

“A publicity stunt.”
“Exaggerated account.”
“Picked up by the Western Media because they have an anti-Muslim agenda.”

Now, I ask my people this: Had Zainab Dala been a victim of a mugging, how would you, my Muslim brethren, have reacted?

Would you have decried this senseless act of violence against a defenceless Muslim woman? 
Would you have denounced the lawlessness in our country? 
Passed racist comments, because well, all thugs are black, right?

Yet, here was a Muslim woman subjected to violence because she had the temerity to express an unpopular view. And the perpetrators of this violence were Muslims, our own people. So instead of owning the grave injustice that was inflicted on a fellow Believer, we question her integrity as a human being?

I cannot imagine any writer fabricating an account of an attack, thereby missing out on the launch of her debut novel, in order to sell a few books!

At this point, I should clarify, my speaking out against what I see as a grave injustice, inflicted twice, is not because I am friends with Zainab Dala.

Or because I’ve read her book, and loved it. (See my comment in the previous post).

Or even because I too am a writer.  (Writer’s support one another – the ‘even when they’re wrong’  - was implied, not stated in this particular bit of commentary).

We live in a society where, when a woman is raped , she is asked whether, perhaps, she might have brought it on herself.

Maybe she dressed too provocatively.
Maybe she was easy.
Maybe she said No but meant Yes.
Maybe she said Yes.

How far from this is our response to the attack on ZP Dala?

So, how do we fix it?
  • ·         As a community, let’s own this injustice.  Let us not rationalise, justify or excuse actions that are completely unacceptable.
  • ·         Support the writer in this trying time. And no, buying her book just because we’re extending sympathy to her is not how we show our support. I’d hate to imagine someone supporting my work out of pity.
  
 Let us not be of those who fail to stand up when an injustice is committed just because the perpetrators of the injustice are those we count as our own.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

revolution with a small r




“I know I've been home too long when I stop noticing the beggars,” Jacob Dlamini during the Writing Without Permission session at Time of the Writer.

He continued…”You should never feel comfortable about being South African. There’s nothing comfortable about being South African.” 

This was just one comment of many from Mr Dlamini that almost prompted me to raise my hand during the Q & A sessions.  I resisted – who wants a roomful of strangers staring you down? - but here follow my thoughts during the exchange that took place on a wet Tuesday night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban.

This session promised fireworks from the minute Jackie Shandu asked his first question. Expressing surprise at how it was that Jacob found himself a visiting fellow at Harvard, with a PhD from Yale - Jacob, who’d grown up on the ‘mean streets’ of Katlehong and  being met with Jacob’s answer which fitted his own definition of ‘cantankerous bastard’. To paraphrase: South Africans sell themselves short. There’s nothing surprising about my being at Harvard, and having a PhD from Yale.
In short, Jacob was lucky enough to come from a home where education was a priority, since his other basic needs weren’t a struggle.

This response made me chuckle. It’s always fun to see myths debunked, innit?

And then Jackie Shandu, sounding like a literary Malema (right after sounding like an African Oprah), put the ‘lack of transformation in media’ question to Mzilikazi. Right about now, would be a good time to leave, I thought to myself.  

But Mzilikazi’s response kept me in my seat.  He clarified that while his view was founded on his own experience and things could well be different in other media houses, he works with many, many black journalists. And why, he asked, do black millionaires not start up media houses?

Maybe, like me, Mzilikazi has tired of the frayed narrative we see in the media about how South Africa remains largely untransformed, even when there are placard bearing white beggars alongside black cellphone accessory hawkers at intersections. Maybe, he too sees the many well-heeled black South Africans holding down decent jobs, on their way to even better. South Africans who would simply not have been in a position to achieve even a fraction of what they have, pre ’94.

By the time the session concluded, I decided I had a crush on Jacob. And had found respect for Mzilikazi. The man who speaks truth to power without feeling like he needs to impress with big words.

The Q & A session began. Their responses were erudite, also a lot of fun to listen to.

The last question that was fielded came from a young Africanist. “When are we going to stop writing without permission and start writing for Revolution?” he asked.

“Maybe, we need to write for revolution with a small r,” Jacob replied. And in that statement, I saw a summary of my own truth.

You see, Jacob is right in that we are a people of little faith in our own abilities (think Bafana Bafana). He is right about things being ‘fucked up’ in this country right now (think any number of news items). Mzilikazi is right about some of the people in power being idiots of the highest calibre (think some of the choice statements made by our President).

But in spite of the many things that are wrong with my country, there is also so much that is right.

That we could have the conversation we had last night in a public place speaks of a democracy that is vibrant.

That people like Mzilikazi who had been a gun running activist during the struggle can look to government and speak out about the wrongs committed by people he once looked up to, speaks of a maturing of this democracy. Sadly, that maturity hasn’t permeated some levels of government where criticism is seen as a personal attack that warrants name calling in response. But hey, not everyone wants to evolve, especially if it means growth will result in a smaller bank balance but a cleaner conscience.

When I look back on 2010 and the World Cup, at the way we truly were a nation, I think that maybe media blows the isolated incidents of crass racism out of proportion because in my daily interaction with fellow South Africans, I’ve found that most South Africans just want to get on with it. We’re happy to trade samoosas for samp and throw in the occasional boerewors roll for protein. We work hard and know that government won’t feed our kids if we don’t.

Looking in from the outside, one would be hard pressed to believe this statement, given the media’s penchant for overstatement when it comes to matters of racial tension.

Maybe, what’s really wrong with us as a nation is that we’re impatient. Ours is a fledgling democracy and we are still learning what it means to fly. And even when we do, we will still find, in our midst, the closet racists of every colour. Because that’s what democracy means, no?

My entitlement to a pseudo liberalism assures the racist entitlement to their racism even if it be directed at me. You cannot legislate a person’s mind.

Jacob- during his 'it’s all fucked up’ moment -  mentioned the obscene poverty in South Africa  as a cause of angst for him, given that he spends large chunks of his time in America, where,  incidentally, 1.5 million children become homeless each year – just thought I’d point that out.

 I concede, we have a problem. And this is one that is often hijacked by politicians seeking to further selfish agendas.  But a cursory visit to any informal settlement will reveal that many ‘squatters’ are in fact immigrants. And many of those who aren't, do in fact have proper homes in the rural areas. So how big is our problem really? Can we really expect government to provide two homes for every family?

 And even here, among the forgotten peoples, South African ingenuity flourishes.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be part of a Woman’s Day celebration in an informal settlement where I discovered that the settlement close to my home has its very own drama club. I was blown away by the performances of the children. Emandleni had its own soccer clubs and hosts tournaments on weekends.

In short, they’re living instead of whining about life.
Revolution, with a small r.
of the messianic variety.
Not The Messianic variety.


I can get behind that. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sunkissed

Rewriting has been a slow process. I started out with one novel and as I go along, I see a very different one emerging.

I've been a little sad that nothing of my previous version has actually managed to make it into the new one. And though I've been ruthless in that regard, deleting whole chunks as I rewrite a new (and hopefully better) version of the story, this particular scene, I was loathe to discard. 

Although I've reworked it to stand as a short story, the essence is unchanged. 



Sunkissed


The insistent scream of the telephone wrenches me back from the edge of deep sleep. I groan. I've only just managed to get Amal to settle down.  She’s been feverish and fretful all day. And now this. I reach over for the receiver,  knock her medication and a glass of water to the floor.

“Fuckit!” I hiss.

Hello?” Lord, I sound like a smoker.

I clear my throat. “Hello?”

I hear a sniff. A very definite sniff. And now I’m fully awake, swinging legs off the side of the bed, raking fingers through the stork’s nest that passes for my hair at night and sliding feet into my slippers. 

“Asma…is this you?”

“Yes, I’m Asma. Who is this?”

“Asma, kind, it’s your father…. He… he had a stroke.”

The bedside clock reads 12:33. I’m still looking at it, when one 3 becomes a 4. Why hasn't time stood still?

“Is…is he okay?”

Even as I ask the question, I picture him, frozen. Eyes moving, body remaining stubborn, inert.

“I…I don’t know. He’s with the doctors. Come. Just come home.” The line goes silent.

My pulse is frantic. I reach over to wake Yaseen.

“Yas! Yas! Wake up. We need to go to the airport. I’m going home. Papa had a stroke.”

“Huh?” And then he bolts out of the bed, nearly falls. Steadies himself against the pedestal. Misjudges and almost falls again. It’s all so comical that I want to laugh at his hair poking up at all angles. At the fly of his pj bottoms which is open.  So I do. And then I’m sobbing. And there isn't enough air in the room, in the world, to fill my lungs.


We call home. The phone just rings. Call Papa’s neighbours. They confirm that the ambulance was at the house at about midnight.  Aunty Maryam tells us that her husband, Uncle Hussein, went to the hospital, followed the ambulance.  


Yaseen and I sit at the kitchen table. He makes tea. It goes cold as his words fall into it. He tries again with a fresh volley of words, but I am too far to reach. In the end, he comes to stand behind me, massages my shoulders before turning me to face him. He reaches for my hand and helps me to my feet. We go to the lounge. I seep into the fabric of the couch. 


He goes to make wudhu. He prays. Two Rak’aah. When he is done, he raises his hands. A beggar at Allah’s door. All I can manage is whispered prayer. Washing up and bowing down feels like it would break me.


It’s  6:02 AM and I’m sitting on a chair at D. F. Malan Airport. Amal is still too warm where she sits, on the remnants of my lap, arranging herself around my bulging belly. I feel a stab of pain low down and suck in a huge breath.


“Round ligament pain. That’s all it is.” I mutter to myself as I exhale.


Yaseen stands at a counter trying to get us onto a flight.  His shoulders are squared.  The woman behind the counter wears a brittle smile. Her hair is an impossible perm.  Yaseen’s hands slice the air as he talks.

It is another ten minutes before he comes back to me, tickets in hand.

“Love, I couldn’t get three. Just one for you and one for Amal.” He sighs.  His obvious dejection moves something in me.

“You tried, It’s okay. The next flight, you’ll come down. I’ll be waiting for you.”  I reach for his hand, and give it a squeeze.

He takes Amal from my lap, drapes her over his shoulder. She hugs him tight.

“I don’t want to go, daddy,” she says to his shoulder.

“Papa needs you, sweetheart. Papa is sick. Will you go look after Papa?” he strokes her hair as he speaks.

She nods, squeezes him tight.  Then kisses his cheek. “I’m going to miss you.”

“And I’ll be lost without my baby. But you’ll phone me when you get to Jo’burg, right?”

Her head bobs again.

“I better give her meds again before I board. Look at the poor thing’s eyes.”  I stand on tiptoes to plant a kiss on her feverish brow. Her eyes are glassy.


Yaseen sits down with Amal while I rummage in my handbag for the medication and a syringe.  I grow anxious when instead of her usual fight, Amal swallows then takes a sip of water from a bottle.


“She’s okay, love. She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Now we better check in your bag and get you to the boarding gate.” Yaseen picks up my bag in one hand, Amal in the other.

When he can accompany us no further, I insist that he leave so I can watch him go. He hands Amal to me but I find her heavy, so I put her down. We hold hands and watch Yaseen walk. He turns back to look at us over and over until I force an image of my father, a stiff white sheet of a man, into my mind. This gets me onto the plane.

At a cruising altitude of 30 000 ft, so the pilot has told us, Amal starts to look more like herself. It is a new sun that’s just risen over a drowsy Cape Town that follows us.  Valleys cradle milky clouds. Amal is in awe.


“Mummy, the clouds look like milk shake. Can you drink them?” her cheeks look less flushed. I offer a prayer of thanks for this.
“No, sweetheart. You can’t even hold them. They’re just small drops of water stuck to bits of dust.”

“Hmph. Too bad. They look like they supposed to be trampolines in the sky.” Amal falls silent. Her face fills the little window. Now and then she presses her cheek to it.

“Mummy, why the is sun following us? It also wants to go to see Papa?”

“Why is the sun following us, sweety.  Not why the sun is following us.” 

“Okay, why is the sun following us? Mummy, you don’t know the answer, isn’t?”


I think for a bit.
“Hmmm…, maybe I do. Come, sit down and I’ll tell you a story about why the sun is following us.”

Amal’s eyes are round. She presses a finger to her lips.

“And now?”

“It’s what madam says we must do when she tells us a story.” Her chubby finger doesn’t budge.

“No, baby. You don’t need to.” I prise her finger away. She giggles.

“Now shshshhhh. I’m telling a story. Right. So the story goes like this. Long, long ago..”

“No, Mummy. A story starts with Once upon a time. You doing it wrong.”

“Oof! Miss Smarty Pants.” And I tweak her cheek. She laughs. “Okay, Once upon a time, when the world was still shiny and new, there were two suns. One for the day. And a smaller one for the night. The two suns followed one another’s paths exactly. Day and night. Every day. They followed each other around and around the world because they loved one another very much.”

“Like you and Daddy, mummy?”

“Yep, like me and Daddy. So anyways, our story now. One day a meteor came from outer space.”

“What’s a meteor, mummy?”

“It’s like a giant stone from space.”

Her little brows knit together. “Oh, no! Mummy’s story is going to be sad.”

“C’mon, sweety. Give me a chance to tell it. It is my story, right?” I pout.

“Okay mummy,” and her index finger is once again pressed to her little mouth.

“Okay. So this meteor came flying through space and smashed straight into the smaller sun. The one that shone at night.”

Hey eyes are perfect circles and her mouth curls into a little O.  “I knew it!” she blurts out. “And then what happened, Mummy?” She tugs at my sleeve.

“And then, the pieces of the smashed sun drifted down to earth. Tiny pin points of pure light. And every man, woman and child swallowed these pieces of light. Took it deep inside of them.” She clutches at her throat. I want to laugh but force a straight face.

“And then?”

“And the meteor took the place of the broken sun. It was a round rock, right?”

Amal nods.

“Locked in orbit just the way the little sun was. But the meteor couldn't shine. And that made the sun so sad. He missed his little sun that would smile at him so prettily and bring such a soft golden light to the world at night. So the Sun asked the meteor if it would reflect his light. At least that would be better than nothing for the people on earth. The sun knew that he had to look after the people on earth because each of them had a piece of his beloved inside of them.  And to the sun, they were all as beautiful as his beloved. His soul mate. So the meteor began to reflect the light from the sun. And the world was filled with magical silver light at night, in memory of the sun that the meteor smashed. To the sun, this wasn’t as beautiful as his golden beloved who was so much like him. Even with this silver light, the sun still missed her terribly. He was alone without her.

‘From this day, he said, I will follow every man on earth. Where they go, I will go. At least, like this I will be close to my love.’ He said.

And that’s why, my baby, the sun follows us.”

Amal claps.

“What a clever sun. But what a sad story, mummy.”

“I know, my baby. C’mere. I need a hug.”

“I love you, mummy,” Amal whispers  as she squeezes me, tight.

And the life in me stirs


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Grade Five






It’s registration period, and our form teacher is absent. The class is noisy. Everyone is walking around, discussing their weekend.


I catch the word ‘Soccer’ a few times. I’m reading (surprise!). The BFG is just so completely brilliant! I’m smiling at the pages.


I hear Khaled.


“Guys, you know why Rabia never gets invited to anyone’s parties? It’s because everyone is scared she’ll eat up all the food.”

Khaled is the grossest boy I've ever met and also the stupidest. The one time he was asking me for my homework and there was a big green booger in his left nostril. I wanted to vomit. He’s always picking on everyone. But if you know a few good insults, (preferably, ones that he won’t properly understand because you thought to throw a few big words in to confuse him) then you’re safe.

I’m always armed with big words. The bigger, the better. 


For my 10th birthday, I asked mummy for a thesaurus. Khaled is asinine. I found that word in the thesaurus. When I call him an asinine ass, he reports me to the teacher for swearing. They never believe him though, since I AM Mrs Patel’s daughter, and also the student who comes out first every year.

Khaled’s cronies (that’s a nice word for friends) cackle. They sound so ugly.

“So, Rabia, what you brought for lunch today? Half a cow?”  Muneer. He’s almost as bad as Khaled, except one day I saw him save a baby bird that fell out of a nest. 

Most of us look down. We try to pretend we’re not hearing Rabia being attacked. My book is suddenly riveting. (Thank you thesaurus).

The rest of the kids are still walking around, but instead of TALKING, they’re whispering.

“Hey Fatty, get up. You sitting in my place.” Khaled is grinning. I can hear this even though I don’t look up.


Rabia sniffs. The class goes completely quiet. I look up. Her chair scrapes against the floor. She gathers up her bag. Drops it. Picks it up again.

“Come on Fatty. You not only fat, you also so slow. And stupid.” Khaled is in full wickedness mode now.

She moves away from her seat, looks around the class. I catch her gaze. There’s so much helplessness in her eyes and she’s crying. I stop thinking. I’m just so angry.

I’m standing in front of Khaled. How the hell did I get here?!

He’s got his legs on her desk.

“What you want, nerd?” The word is a sharp arrow in his mouth.

“For an asinine ass, with a brain the size of pea and a face that strongly resembles a gorilla’s posterior, you have a lot to say.” I feel so strong standing there in from of him.

The class is graveyard quiet; I can actually hear Khaled breathe. He sounds like he’s snoring, he’s that loud.

“Ya, well you…you a…” He sputters. Then his Motor Mouth dies.

Everyone bursts out laughing.

Khaled’s face is maroon. I’m grinning as I go back to my seat. I sit down to find Rabia next to me.


Rabia’s not half bad once you actually get to know her. 



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Flash - but not in the pan

One of the exercises we did during the workshop (which you've heard of ad nauseam - so stop me if you think I'm overdoing it) was look at micro-fiction. Really short, short stories.

We wrote one during the workshops. I've since written two more. The workshop one is a little longer than the other two.

Bite-sized stories, all three though. Buon appetito.



Pencil Love

He writes all his letters to her in pencil; just in case, he says. He hopes she reads them, eraser and pen in hand, sculpting his thoughts until they look like him. The him she sees. The him she claims to love. In ink, to boot.

He reaches for that letter again. Right at the top of a fat pile of letters in his bedside drawer. There are the words.

 I Love You.

He runs a finger across them. They’re engraved into the paper. If he feels along the back, he can feel the words. The braille of the heart. He flips it over again then rubs a little. But the letters won’t budge. He reaches for his eraser, which he employs often during his letter writing sessions. He rubs. All that does is smudge the words, a little. Just a little. Like the first stroke of the bleeding process that characterises his paintings. Or so they say.

He rubs again, hoping, praying that this motion, in the opposite direction, will make the letters perfect again. It doesn’t work. He feels like he’s defiled something precious. How to fix it?

I love you, he writes.
 In pencil.


 He signs his name and slips the letter into the envelope, and seals it. Before his eraser gets to it.


 Word Count: 217 Words excluding title




Stop Wondering

You read to her your story about how she stayed with you because she believed she would change you. About how every time you broke her lip or closed her eye or found yourself with a handful of her hair in your hands, you said you were sorry and she forgave you. Because she loved you. She says it’s a cliché, this idea. It’s been done to death. You smile, say thank you. And wonder if she’d also beg you to stop when you do her to near-death like they all did. Whether she too, would be a cliché. 

Word Count: 99 words, excluding title


Connecting

If you can talk about the thing that broke you and be whole while doing so, you know, that even the scars, they’re fading. If you find that you no longer hate his lie. Hate her lie. Rather, you understand that you and he, you weren’t connecting. Not properly. And they, oh yeah, they connected all right. Right until that moment when she found him with her sister and she went for a kitchen knife and they found him naked, the knife between his ribs, in her sister’s bed. And no one was really sorry. Except her sister. 

Word Count: 98 words, excluding title


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meet The Patels - an exercise in editing

Today was the last day of The Writivism Creative Writing Three Day Workshop. I was thankful that I'd applied. It has been a rewarding three days. I've learnt so much.

 One of our exercises today dealt with dialogue.

When I got home, I dug out this story, downloaded from old emails since my son accidentally formatted his external hard drive and ended up deleting ten years worth of my writing. Yeah, I know.


The Patels are the first characters I'd ever written into being.

I played around with this piece, removed quotation marks, used italics for thoughts, just to see whether this would work. I also rewrote a lot of it.

At the end of it all, I decided, I still like these nosy folk. I hope you will too :)



Meet The Patels





Mrs Patel settled down on her wobbly three quarter bed with a huge sigh.

Soooo hot this summer. Bo garmi.

The springs groaned. It was a high bed, thanks to the two frequently-replaced bricks that supported each of its four legs.

Ey, this bricks of today. They don’t make nothing like they used to. Crumble like biscuits from Shalimar Bakery.

She hitched her ijaar up a little higher, exposing calves that had never known the glide of a razor blade - Wax? You’ve got to be dreaming! - undid the knot of her scarf from beneath her chin and dropped it on the bed.

She was just in from her afternoon stroll, a leisurely one which was defined more by the number of stops it included than by the mileage it covered. Santi Mahi, Chotu, Khayroon. Comrades in News all these years, they were. She’d sit at their kitchen tables while Santi Mahi fried samoosas or Khayroon made tea.

Tune khar…?
Hachoo waat?

This was how tea was  meant to be had. The News being the chutney for Santi Mahi’s samoosas. The News, the perfect masala to Khayroon’s watery chaai.

Ey, but this Khayroon. So kanjoos with milk. Won’t kill her to put little more in the chaai.

But Mrs Patel would smile her most winning paan stained smile for Khayroon. Because The News Khayroon shared would always leave her children gasping when she shared it during supper. 

What's a little watery tea between comrades, eh?

Haroon. Bhai, paan dabboo le awjo.

Haroon was ek nawaai nu poyro. Her Only Son. Entrusted the honour of being Man of the House after the premature demise (the doctor had warned him that chewing tobacco could cause cancer of the throat) of Mr Patel some twenty years ago, he was affectionately called Bhai.  Royal Keeper and Replenisher of The Betel Leaf Box. Also known by the locals as The Sentinel since he was rarely away from his post on the stoep.

Jee, Ma.

Haroon waddled into the trifling two rooms and a kitchen annexure that was their home, took the tin containing betel leaves and the various stuffings from the TV cabinet in his room, and handed it to his mother.

Ma just knows when to trouble me. I’ll miss something. So much happens after 4!

Haroon speed waddled back to his post. And he watched.

A confirmed bachelor at fifty, Haroon was a short man with a boep that would make any beer-drinking rugby fan proud. His eyes were small and round, hidden behind thick spectacles. He prided himself in having annual eye tests. In his game, poor eyesight could be an occupational handicap.

Hmph, there goes Farida. I see Anu was working out last night. Bet there’s a big shiner under her sunglasses.
Oooh, look, Yasmin’s daughter got a boyfriend. Astaghfirullah! I wonder if her father knows.

In some circles Haroon was also called ‘Internet’, not that he had ever used it, mind, and yet in others he was known as the ‘Dadaville Gazette’. In short, he was a legend.

‘Internet Saheb’ was punctual for Salaah. Five times a day.

If people knew just how much one could learn from being early for every Salaah, they’d try just a little harder. Sure you learn plenty by listening to Moulana Saheb. But the lessons you learn from chatting to fellow musallis after salaah…you can’t attach a value to that. Never. Sometimes my news is even more up to date than Ma’s. Bet Khayroon can never tell her what Muzammil Chacha’s last words were before the karia shot him? But I know. Wazeer told Basheer. Basheer told Sufyaan. And Sufyaan told me. All because Wazeer was standing outside the shop when it happened. If I was Wazeer I should have gone in and tried to save Muzammil Chacha. But these young people of today, they got no gumption. Scared to die. Don’t understand how lucky Muzammil Chacha was. Shaheed straight away. One way ticket to Jannat.

Haroon looked at his watch. Munira would be home soon.

Time to hustle.

He wrenched himself away from his post and went to the kitchen to set the table. Ma was stretched out on his bed, and was deeply absorbed in the intrigues of the Bold and not-so Beautiful.

Just as Haroon filled the water jug and set it on the table, he heard Munira.

Oh Ma, how many times I told you mustn’t throw your scarf on the bed?

She continued her march. Ever onwards towards the bathroom, the windows trembling, from the onslaught of the high pitched nasal whine that passed for her voice.

Lo! Aawi gyo, madam. Arre! Forgot to take off the washing. Dhamaal thawanu!

Haroon tried to get to the back door before Munira saw him but he was too slow. So instead he slipped into the bathroom and made a show of washing his hands. With any luck she wouldn’t notice the washing still on the washing line outside.  

And you Haroon, always wetting the floor. I tell you every day, make wuzu at the mosque for Namaaz. For what you give to the jamaat every month if you don’t want to use the wuzu khana, he?

Haroon mumbled a platitude and headed for the front door, which Munira had a habit of leaving unlocked.

What you cooked today, Ma? Munira’s mood lightened at the prospect of a hot, albeit garlicky, meal.

Daar chaawal. Mrs Patel gathered up her scarf and placed it on the stool in the corner of the bedroom.

No kachoombar? Munira, lifting the lids off the pots as she spoke.

Mrs Patel snorted. She whispered to Haroon, who was busy doing up the five locks on the front gate, If she wants kachoombar, she can make it herself, lazy!

Hurricane Munira would not be thwarted.

Haroon, how come you never take off the washing yet. Oo thakeli, and now you wait for me to take it off. You do it every day. How many times I must tell you? You don’t work and Ma makes tawaaf of Dadaville whole afternoon.

Bingo!

I’ll get it, I’ll get it!

He huffed into the kitchen, out the backdoor, and into the back yard while Munira put the pots onto the table.

 It’s summer. There’s still plenty of daylight left, but Munira must make a beeg show. I’m so lucky I didn’t get married. Imagine a wife like Munira.

Haroon shuddered as he folded one of Munira’s panties and placed it in the washing basket.

And for what she’s always carrying on these days. Jealous. That’s what. She’s still working and I don’t have to.

Haroon had taken an early retirement from his job at a clothing factory the year before. He had received a generous package from his boss Mr Varachia, whom he knew had been glad to be rid of him, though he’d rather give up his title of ‘Internet’ than admit to that. Mr Varachia, eternal diplomat that he was, had praised Haroon’s benevolence in taking up the offer.

Mashallah Haroon. You so thoughtful, ne. Like always. Thinking of what’s best for the company. We need new blood. These young people, they cleverer than us. Know how to use the internets and things. Advertising. And what’s that word? Ya, ‘Promoting’ the business. We need to keep up with the times. My papa always said like that.

The fact that he was now an unemployment statistic was just fine by Haroon. During his thirty years at the company he had saved up a substantial sum. He had few expenses and, thankfully, he had never married. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle another woman in his life; Munira was quite enough of a pain in the you-know-what. And marriage would have meant children, something he didn’t really have the stomach for – although his boep looked as though it could accommodate a baby or two.

Take the family who lived in the other half of the house, for instance. They had four! Now who in their right mind would be so irrational as to have four children?

He could actually feel his blood pressure go up when the children’s friends came to visit, which was far too often for his tastes, because then the normally rowdy bunch became positively savage.

 All that WWE they watch. Jumping on the couches. Banging. Screaming.

Haroon hoped that they would move at some point, because he wasn’t going anywhere. Mr Dadoo, the landlord, was over eighty and had never quite understood the concept of inflation (and Haroon wasn’t about to explain the mechanics to him either). As such, he was more than happy with the R200 rent the Patels paid every month for their half of the house.

Haroon carried the basket of washing into the house. Munira and Ma had just begin to dish out.

You heard what happened to Salloo? Ma was soaking her rice in thick garlicky dhaal.

What a thing! Garbar waat, hachoo. His son and daughter-in-law, they were happy together. But that sala Salloo couldn’t keep his hands off her, and now the son’s home is broken. Mohsin, his brother, says he’s very depressed. Haroon’s eyes were shiny.

Hachoo? I wonder what Salloo’s wife said. Munira now, between mouthfuls of kachoomber-less daar chaawal.

I hear she asked for a divorce. But he won’t give it to her, ne. Who will make sutherfeni for him then huh? Ey, and you heard, they held Kaloo up at his Fish and Chips yesterday. Lunch time. Six guys with guns, but they didn’t get no payha, because Kaloo gambles all his money away at Emperors. Haroon smirked. No doubt information that his mother hadn’t gleaned as yet.

Haai, Kaloo, gambling? I can’t believe it. And his father was a Molvi. What is this world coming to? Munira very nearly stood up.

It’s Akhar Jamano, I’m telling you. The Prophet of Doom voice was one that Mrs Patel had perfected after years of practice. Tane khar, I went to see Sadia’s baby today. That poor child, half a scalp on her head. But still that Sadia is so stuck up. Her mother didn’t even offer me nothing to drink.

Supper passed in this vein, until the Adaan of Maghrib brought an end to their conversation. Haroon set off for the mosque where, as he walked,  musallis were asking Allah save them from salaah next to Haroon. Mrs Patel’s overuse of garlic was the thing of legend.

Mrs Patel and Munira performed their salaah in their bedroom. The Patels were Hajjis. No self-respecting Hajji was ever lax with prayers. Everyone knew that punctuality in prayers was a sign of an accepted Hajj.

When Haroon returned, he found his mother and sister huddled around the TV, Munira on the shabby couch and Mrs Patel stretched out on his bed. The sound of Munira supplementing her garlic fuelled diet with Simba chippies punctuated, at intervals, by his mother letting lose a Wind of Wonder, courtesy of the dhaal. Haroon sank into the bum-moulded couch springs next to Munira.

The signature tune of the eight o’clock news started and Haroon sat up a little straighter, giving up the battle for the biggest Simba chippie as he did so. How could any self-respecting man of the world, who prided himself in informing others who didn’t really know too much (by this he meant most of the men at the mosque), be really good at what he did without assistance from the various News reports that peppered the programme line-up on all the television stations?

At ten o’ clock the family had their last cup of chaai, with a generous helping of Dadaville Gazette news (as had been gleaned by Haroon after the Isha prayer) for the day and retired to bed.

This was their routine every day, and would probably have remained that way until they all left the world had something very dramatic not occurred one Friday night. In retrospect, there should have been a warning. A feeling in Mrs Patel’s bones, a passing comet, a total solar eclipse.

How could something so huge happen on a starry summer evening?

Haroon came into the house on that Friday after the Maghrib prayer.

Munira was not home as yet. She had been invited to a friend for supper. Naeema, her old school buddy was finally getting married at  43.

Haroon’s face was flushed with excitement. He had news, but not just any news. It was the kind of news that would prove to be his coup d'état for the day. Surely it was more exciting than anything his mother could have gathered during her afternoon walk?

Ma! He spoke loudly. The neighbours needed to hear.  Kya khabr aaje! You won’t believe what happened. Farouk, next door, he ran away with a woman ten years older than him. Left his wife and four children. Em ach! Bo garbar. 

The look on his face showed though, that he thought the turn of events was anything but terrible. Maybe now the wretched woman and her four brats would move.

Hachoo? Tu hu kem? And he was such a quiet guy. Bo duryo. So respectful. Always so nice to me and Munira whenever we went to market. He used to give us lift. I said, ne, that cheeky wife of his was going to chase him away. She’s another one, she. Always walking with her nose in the air, thinking she’s better than everyone. Holy poly, with her big dupatta.
 The smile on Mrs Patel’s face extended to her molars, showing every paan stain in the fluorescent glare.

By eleven o’ clock that evening Munira still hadn't come home. Mrs Patel had been anxious enough all evening, hoping that she’d get to tell Munira the news before Haroon could. And now, this selfish Munira was prolonging her agony. When she felt ready to burst from suspense she called Haroon. 

Bhai, phone Naeema’s house. See where’s Munira.

Haroon stood up, went over to the telephone, checked in his ancient telephone book for Naeema’s number, and called her up. The telephone rang for ages before Naeema’s slightly deaf mother answered.

Hallo… Hallo…Kaun? she screamed into the receiver. Kaun che?

Haroon held the phone a few centimetres away from his ear.
Oo, Haroon. Munira nu bhai. I’m looking for Munira. She’s there?

Who? Oh, Munira. No. Naeema say she couldn’t come. We didn’t see her…

Haroon’s feet grew cold. He sank into the couch.

No.

No.