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Authors: Shaida Kazie Ali

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Not a Fairytale

BOOK: Not a Fairytale
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Not a Fairytale
Not a Fairytale
SHAIDA KAZIE ALI

Published in 2010 by Umuzi
an imprint of Random House Struik (Pty) Ltd
Company Reg No 1966/003153/07
80 McKenzie Street, Cape Town 8001, South Africa
PO Box 1144, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
[email protected]
www.umuzi-randomhouse.co.za

© 2010 Shaida Kazie Ali
Shaida Kazie Ali has asserted her right to be identified
as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or be stored in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher

First edition, first printing 2010

ISBN 978-1-4152-0112-1 (Print)
ISBN 978-1-4152-0281-4 (
E
P
UB
)
ISBN 978-1-4152-0282-1 (P
DF
)

Cover design by Mallemeule
Text design by Chérie Collins

For Nuri, phoenix

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
G
LORIA
S
TEINEM

Contents

Zuhra’s Tale

Salena’s Tale

Once upon a time there were two sisters, Salena and Zuhra. If this were a fairytale, there’d have been three: the older two ugly and avaricious, the younger one beautiful and kind. (She’s the one who’d get the prince.) But this is no fairytale, so two is all you’re going to get.

When pale-skinned Salena was born, her father’s eye happened to fall on the new moon outside the bedroom window as he was trying to find a name for her. Older by ten years, Salena is shy and silent while Zuhra (the father again turned to the night sky for inspiration – Venus this time), when her nose is not stuffed in a book, wields her tongue like a cheese grater. Where her sister is fair and malleable, she is dark and wild haired and resolute.

But I’ll let Zuhra tell you her story – her words are better than mine, or so she thinks.

Zuhra’s Tale
Under the Counter

I’
M SITTING UNDER THE COUNTER IN
P
APA

S
SHOP
sniffing paraffin from a small drum and hoping a customer will come along soon. Even though I’m only five it’s my job to pump the paraffin into their bottles. I love the smell and I love filling the customers’ bottles. It makes me feel like I’m a big girl.

I don’t like the smell of the purple stuff the dronkies buy with half a loaf of white bread, though I’d like to taste that pretty colour. But Papa won’t even let me hold the bottle. He says it’s poisonous.

Sometimes when Papa’s busy counting money I’ll steal a sweet or bubblegum. I love Chappies and Wicks and the sticky red sweets without a name. But my favourite thing of all is Disprin. Papa says it’s medicine and I’m not allowed to eat it, but as soon as he and my sister Salena are busy serving customers, I take one out of its pretty silver and blue wrapping and pop it in my mouth. It melts on my tongue with small sparks like bright lights going on and off.

When I’m not pumping paraffin or helping myself to sweets I wait for the regular customers to play with me. There’s the tattoo man from next door who doesn’t have any skin that isn’t blue or green or red. Mrs Tattoo has long straight black hair and she’s always trying to comb mine with her hands so it will lie flat, but it never does. Across the road are the Levines, who have eleven children. Every day they buy bread and milk and tea on the book, although I’ve never seen them bring in a book. Papa says if they ever pay back all the money they owe him he’ll be very very rich. Mrs Levine chats to Ma a lot. She’s supposed to be coloured, but she’s trying to get a white card because of her children. Some of them are fair like Salena and have green eyes like hers, but the others are even darker than me.

A white card means you are white like Mrs Cloete, with her rain-grey bun and mouse-brown skin, who lives on top of the shop. If she sees me walking on the pavement outside our shop, she screams at me to get off it because pavements are for whites and not Indian Bushmen like me. Once she even threw her pee-pot down on Salena and me when we were walking home, screaming, “Af vannie pavement!” Luckily it missed us. Salena stood there and stared up at her till Mrs Cloete went inside and smashed her balcony door closed. I ran home to tell Ma and she got that scary look on her face. I was hoping she’d give Mrs Cloete a hiding but she did nothing.

I like the customers, but my best friends are my two cats. They’re supposed to catch rats in the shop and the house, but really they’re my walking dollies. Tommy-Tiger (named after a bubblegum we sell in the shop) is grey with black stripes. He’s the oldest, even older than me. He loves packets of salt ’n vinegar chips from the shop. And then there’s my favourite, Ginger. He is dark orange and has a pretty pink smile. He shares my blankie with me, and on the nights when he stays out late I can’t sleep.

Every day I go into the pet-food shop with a silver ten-cent piece Ma gives me and I ask for “tencentshorseminceplease”. The man in his white coat with red marks on it gives me the parcel in white paper and I take it home to the cats, and they eat it on the kitchen floor. I love them so much.

Sometimes I spend Saturday mornings at the Gem bioscope with Salena, and now and then our brother, Faruk-Paruk, comes with us, if he’s not helping Papa in the shop. I like the Tom and Jerry cartoons, but I wish Tom could beat that mouse. Tom gets hit over and over and those pink bumps grow and grow on his head. I know that doesn’t happen in real life because I’ve seen the marks on Salena’s body after Papa has beaten her and they’re usually purple and green like Chappies. The Gem is dark and smoky and smells of fish and chips. It makes me feel warm and cosy and I don’t even mind the cockroaches.

Moving

O
NE DAY
S
ALENA GOES TO
OK B
AZAARS
in town to buy Ma some material, but while she is gone the police phone Ma to come pick her up at Caledon Square. They took her there because she was holding hands with a dark-skinned boy in the Gardens. They want Ma to prove that she’s Indian, because they think she looks white.

Ma grabs me and we go off to the bus stop just outside the shop. First she tells Papa where she’s going. He looks so cross, I know Salena’s going to get another hiding. We have to wait a long time for our bus, and by the time it comes Ma is so angry she looks like Tommy-Tiger when he gets wet.

At the police station Ma first screams at the boy (I don’t know his name) and then she takes out her green
ID
card to show the police. Salena is crying quietly, the way she does everything. She doesn’t say a word. And when we get home, Ma locks her in our bedroom.

That night I lie on the floor in the front room and listen to Ma and Papa. They have decided it is time to find a husband for Salena, before she brings shame to the family.

On Monday the postman brings a fat letter in a brown envelope that says we must get out of Woodstock. The letter says we can keep the shop because a white lady owns it, but we can’t live in our house. They have got a house for us in an Indian area, and we have to move to a place called Cravenby.

We move very soon and I am sorry to go. Even the cats don’t like the new house. Tommy-Tiger goes missing and two weeks later he turns up at the shop in Woodstock. Ma rubs butter on his paws and says that will stop him from running away again.

Now there are new neighbours for me to get to know, and soon I have names for all of them. On our right is Motjie Curry – when you walk pass her house you can always smell chicken or fish curry cooking. She came straight from the village in India and she’s been in the area since before I was born. On the left is a dark-skinned man with a big red “L” on his car, because he is a learner driver, Faruk-Paruk tells me. So I call him Mr Learner and his wife Mrs Learner. Next to him is Mrs Koeksister, a Malay woman married to an Indian man. She looks like a big koeksister that’s been left in the syrup too long, dark and shiny with white hair like coconut sprinkles. Across the road are three houses filled with The Gossipers: three women (married to three brothers) who chat to each other over their fences.

The new house has wooden floors, and every morning I wake up to hear Ma’s shoes clickety-clacking on the floor and her telling Salena what to clean for the day. The house is too big for Salena to clean on her own, so Ma hires a servant, Gladys. Ma gets Gladys a special plate and cup and saves all the leftover food for her. But Gladys doesn’t stay long. When I ask Ma why Gladys left, she gets one of her looks and says nothing. I think Ma’s cross because she caught Faruk-Paruk kissing Gladys. Imagine having to kiss Faruk-Paruk, like that princess who had to kiss a frog. Yuck!

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

T
HERE ARE ALL KINDS OF ANIMALS
that live around the new house. It’s very different from Woodstock, where there were just mice and rats and cockroaches. Here there are lizards, frogs, locusts, chameleons, spiders and lots of birds. I’m scared of the lizards and the way they can spit off their tails, which carry on wriggling even when they’re not on their bodies anymore. Faruk-Paruk catches the lizards and tortures them. He stuffs them into empty milk bottles and throws petrol over them, then burns them with matches. He forces me to watch. He says it’s for research because he’s going to be a doctor one day. I think he just likes killing them. He’s horrible. He’s as fat as the ticks Salena takes off Tommy-Tiger, but Ma always dishes up more food for him.

Each night we sit at the kitchen table, Papa, Faruk-Paruk, Salena and me. Ma eats standing up at the kitchen sink so it’s easier for her to reach the pots on the stove and dish up second helpings for the men. Every night Papa tells me to stop wasting my food and to think of the children starving in India. I think of the children starving in India and wonder why they don’t move.

I make hills out of the mushy white rice and turn the runny dhal into small muddy rivers. The overcooked vegetables are my trees and the fatty meat my castle walls. Faruk-Paruk eats everything on his plate, chewing with his mouth open, the food covering the knuckles of his right hand as he puts all four fingers deep inside his mouth. He always asks for and gets seconds. Salena finishes her tiny portion neatly and silently, the same way my cat Ginger washes his paws. She’s so quiet, sometimes I forget she’s there.

I want to eat Rice Krispies and bananas, like the picture on the cereal box. I want to hear them go “snap, crackle, pop”. I’m hoping that one day when I open a new box those three little men on the front cover will climb out of the packet and I will train them to kill my brother, to slip inside his ear and smash his brain to bits with their snaps, crackles and pops!

Papa says we are not allowed to speak at the table during supper. But I can hear him breathing. I imagine the hairs in his nostrils (which he pulls out with the same tweezers Salena uses on the cats), blowing around as he breathes. Breathe out and they move forward towards the daylight. Breathe in and they are sucked back towards his brain.

Papa’s a big man. I’ve watched him at weddings, talking to other men. Next to them he looks like the giant from
Jack and the Bean-stalk
. Just yesterday he smacked Salena’s face, and his palm and the hairy red knuckles on his hand covered her whole head! Papa’s skin is usually very white, like a real white man’s, but when he’s angry he turns as red as Ma’s sister Polla-the-Prune’s lipstick, and greenish sweat drips from his black hair onto his skin. He uses green hair oil to make his hair flat. On the jar there’s the face of a smiling man, but I’ve never seen Papa look like that.

Salena had black hair too, Ma says, when she was a baby. But now it’s turned brown and shines red in the sunlight. Her hair’s very straight and it’s so long she can sit on it. My hair’s black like Papa’s and Ma’s, but it’s curly and always untidy. Ma calls it bushy hair. Ma’s hair’s invisible because it’s covered by a scarf all the time.

BOOK: Not a Fairytale
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