Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Life is a Series of Small Stories

Coffee Bay
Every Friday afternoon, after school, our family would pack up and go from Umtata to Coffee Bay for the weekend.  We had a rudimentary seaside cottage at Coffee Bay and it was our second home.  Many times, we would only get back to Umtata on the Monday morning in time for school.  All school holidays were spent at Coffee Bay so there are many memories attached to that seaside cottage; some wonderful memories and some not so good ones either.    It was at this idyllic seaside cottage that I experienced some bitter lessons that still affect me today.  If I do not have what I need, or the money to buy one, I will go without.
We were never allowed to borrow anything from anyone.  If we did not have something, then we had to do without.  All we needed was provided so therefore, any borrowing would have been for something we did not need.  “Never a lender nor a borrower be” was the rule that was drummed into us by our mother.
One hot summer day, my mom found a children’s encyclopedia that did not belong to us.  We were all asked in turn who had borrowed the book.  No one owned up to it and my father, upon hearing this exchange between mother and children, used it as one of his many sadistic ways of teaching us a lesson.  He made the four older children (the youngest was not in school yet) stand out in the sun until the one who had borrowed the book owned up to it.  It was a blistering hot day with not a breath of wind – a perfect day for swimming. 
I had already learned what I needed to do to protect my siblings and mother and this was just another one of those things that I did.  I had not borrowed the book and although I had my suspicions, I said nothing.  The four of us stood in our swimming costumes, without hats and without sunscreen.  We had to stand in a line and not move until the culprit owned up. We stood in that hot sun for what felt like aeons.  We were not allowed to speak or to ask for something to drink.  Our faces and shoulders were burning from the heat.  First to start falling was my sister, just younger than me.  I think I was around 13 years of age.  In fact, my memories from the age of 10 are fairly vivid with details that could not be remembered by someone who had not experienced it.  The sister who was born after me was allowed to leave the line and go into the shade of the verandah.  She was my father’s favourite child, and being the cleverest at school could not possibly (or so my father believed) be the culprit.  We continued to stand while my brother’s face became more and more red and burned.  The next youngest had a very olive skin, so she was just going darker, but perspiring that her hair was dripping wet.  My mind was racing – how could I get us out of this predicament.  My two younger siblings were suffering in the scorching sun, not even a breeze to cool the burning heat.
Without much thought, I stepped forward and said, “It was me.  I borrowed the book”.  I could not answer any of the questions about whom I had borrowed it from, nor when, so I made up nonsensical stuff along the way.  I had borrowed it from the girl that sat at the back of the class…I had not asked her…I just took it and would give it back to her on Monday.  I was making up a story as I was questioned.  By now the other two siblings were allowed back into the shade, sun cream was rubbed onto them and they were given cold drinks.  I was told to stay standing where I was.
“Not only did you borrow the book, you stole the book.  You did not even ask for it.  You are a thief as well and you have caused your brother and sisters to suffer for what you did wrong.  You are a selfish little bitch. You can stay where you are until the sun goes down and you will return that book on Monday and tell your friend that you are a thief”, ranted my father.
Why did I do that?  Why at such a young age did I step forward and own up to something I never did?  I had saved one of my siblings from a hiding, but I did not know which one it was.  I was just relieved that they no longer had to endure such drastic punishment.  I had third degree burns on my shoulders and had to go to the clinic for dressings every day for about a month.  On the Monday, my brother took the encyclopedia back to his friend Marnie Senekal, from whom he had borrowed the book.  I wonder if my brother even remembers that.   I just shake my head and shrug my shoulders. It was just one of those things.