“Baby, I am telling you the truth. I was on my way to you and suddenly the East was in the West and the South was in the North…”
Sabata-mpho Mokae writes in English and SeTswana. He has published a biography The Story of Sol T Plaatje, a youth novella Dikeledi [Tears] and a poetry collection Escaping Trauma. His first novel, Ga Ke Modisa [I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper] won the M-Net Literary Award for Best Novel in Setswana as well as the M-Net Film Award in 2013. Kanakotame: In My Times is a collection of short stories (in English) published by the Kimberley-based publisher, The InkSword.
Kanakotsame: In my Times is available at R150.00 from African Flavour Books (Vanderbijl Park), Exclusive Books: Loch Logan (Bloemfomtein), The Red Cafe (Grahamstown) and BookWorld (Pietermaritzburg)
Mokae will be reading from this and his other books this Saturaday afternoon at African Flavour books – read more here.
Read below the excerpts from three stories in the collection.
Blame It On The Ghost
KANAKOTSAME was extremely embarrassed to hear, at a packed Parks’ Tavern on a Friday evening nogal, that his nephew faked getting lost and blamed the ghost, all because he had no money to buy a Valentine present for his girlfriend.
“Jy is rerig ’n moegoe met ’n ‘clever’ gesig, my laatie,” Kanakotsame said in utter disgust. Tema had never known that his uncle could be that irritated.
“I know that I am unemployed and might not have the money. But you could have told me that you had no money to buy prezzies for your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day,” Kanakotsame said, shaking his head.
He took something out of the wardrobe drawer and handed it to Tema.
“Take this. It is new. Some roll-on gave it to me for Valentine’s Day. Your girlfriend will never know you didn’t buy it.” (“Roll-on” is a colloquial term for an “informal” girlfriend)
His eyes suddenly beaming with joy, Tema took the package.
“Don’t tanki malome me. Go and get something to wrap it.”
Tema dashed out of the boys’ room and came back with wrapping paper – leftovers from Christmas presents two months earlier.
Once again, the poor and often drunk uncle, who lost his job because he had an uncontrollable libido, had come to the rescue.
Whistling as if he wanted the whole Hulana Street to hear, Tema was full of energy as he walked chest out with his head held high on the way to the Mogale household to give Mosidi a belated Valentine’s Day present.
“Baby, I told you that getting lost had nothing to do with the Valentine’s Day. My ma hoor my.”
Mosidi looked at him and said nothing. But the guy was in high spirits. Smiling, he handed over a wrapped gift.
“Here is your Valentine’s day present, baby. Belated Happy Valentine’s Day to you!” Mosidi unwrapped the present. It was a 1987 Judy Boucher hit album,
“Can’t be with you tonight”. She couldn’t contain her happiness. Mosidi loved Judy Boucher. The whole Galeshewe was crazy about the album. They played it at almost every beauty pageant as the girls strutted their stuff on stage, competing for the title of Miss Ellerines.
The poor outjie was forgiven. He almost lost the girl of his dreams, had it not been for his uncle. But despite the forgiveness, the whole episode kept on playing itself in Tema’s mind whenever he was alone.
“Baby, I am telling you the truth. I was on my way to you and suddenly the East was in the West and the South was in the North. I couldn’t figure it out until I saw a board saying “Barkly West 20”. Then I knew that that the bloody ghost had messed up my sense of direction.”
Mosidi didn’t buy his story. “O latlhilwe ke sepoko? Why does this happen only on Valentine’s Day, Tema? All these days you walk from Number 2 to Vergenoeg, but when I must get my Valentine’s Day presents, you suddenly claim to have been lost and you blame the ghost?”
He hoped to have the courage to tell her the embarrassing truth one day. He went back home only to be welcomed by his uncle.
“Tussen ek en jy, wie is die spook?”
Tema knew that from then on, he had a new nickname.
Should You Die
SOMETHING must have happened, and it looks good, Tema thought. It wasn’t every day that his uncle did his own laundry, especially out of his own will.
But that Thursday afternoon Kanakotsame had put the “waskom” on top of an old drum, whistling as he washed and rinsed one item after another. Tema also noticed that the white shirts that were on the line had not been worn in ages. The shoes, ranging from Floursheim to Crocket & Jones, were also lined-up on the stoep, ready to be polished.
“Malome. What is the occasion?”
Kanakotsame had not heard Tema coming because the Omega hi-fi was on at full blast pumping the sounds of Pat Shange and Brenda Fassie. He had been listening to the afternoon drive show on Radio Tswana, which was also fuelling him with energy.
“My laaitie, I have good news,” Kanakotsame replied enthusiastically.
“Tswa ka tsone, malome. I am all ears.”
“My laaitie, ek het ’n important call gekry. The insurance people in town have called. I am starting on Monday!”
“Wait. Malome, are you saying that you have a new job?”
“Jy het my gehoor, my laaitie. I have a job. The boss is back, my laaitie!
“Nou se my, waar is die moegoes van Galeshewe wat my ‘Kanakotsame’ genoem het?”
“But malome, you know that once you start going from house to house selling policies they are going to give that other name?” Kanakotsame’s face straightened up.
“What name? You mustn’t start!”
“Malome, you know that I respect you and I have never called you ‘Kanakotsame’,” Tema apologised.
“Yes, my laaitie. You have never called me Kanakotsame because my time is now! They had better give that name to some former township tycoon.”
“But malome they are going to start calling you ‘should you die’,” Tema said, with his hand on his mouth in case he laughed.
Kanakotsame could not say that he did not know that the name existed. Insurance salespeople, who were usually dressed in formal clothes walking with briefcases, often sold funeral and life policies to township residents.
Knowing that generally black people spent a lot of money on funerals and mostly had extended families that were often dependent on a single or very few breadwinners, they would usually say to them: “Should you die, this policy will ensure that you are buried with dignity and that your children don’t starve”.
Tema’s uncle hated these nicknames. He knew that people called him Kanakotsame behind his back and he despised them for that. Now the thought of people throwing another silly nickname on him, after he’d turned a new leaf with a new job, turned his stomach.
“Ek sweer, my ma hoor my … If any moegoe calls me ‘should you die’ I’ll kill him with my bare hands.”
TEMA could not figure out the purpose of the contents of a package in the drawer: a blank white page with the sign of a heart and the name “Salaminah” written next to it, and then some powdery stuff with a bad smell.
Kanakotsame walked in while his nephew was still inspecting the package.
“What are you doing?” the uncle screamed.
“Askies, malome. I was just wondering what this might be.”
“Wondering se voet, man! You mustn’t touch that. You were not even supposed to have seen it.”
“Sorry, malome. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Seeing that his nephew was really sorry, Kanakotsame quickly calmed down, moved closer to Tema and lowered his voice. “My laaitie, ek is nie kwaad nie. It is just that I thought that whatever is in there is my secret.”
Tema switched the radio off.
“Malome, I have never said a word to anybody about anything that you told me in confidence. Why hide anything from me?”
“Dis waar, maar jy moet verstaan that some things are too embarrassing to talk about.”
“Soos wat, malome? You have told me the scariest things and I have never fainted.”
“Jy word nou tjatjarag, sonny.”
“Askies, malome. Let’s pretend I haven’t seen anything that I was not supposed to see. I will also keep my suspicions to myself.”
Kanakotsame was beginning to feel guilty.
“Okay, sonny. But first you must promise not to tell anybody.”
“I won’t tell a soul. I swear,” Tema said, making the sign of a cross on his chest.
The uncle began pouring his heart out.
“You remember that Salaminah left me after that mistake at the school?” Sleeping with a learner at school did not only cost him the job he had given his life to, it was also embarrassing even in his own private thoughts. Kanakotsame could not even bring himself closer to mentioning it. He often referred to the incident as “that mistake”.
“Now that I have a job, it is time I get my life in order. Ek soek my Salaminah terug.”
“I understand that, malome. But where does that stuff come in?”
“My laaitie, I have seen a doctor in town. She promised to help me get Salaminah back. She gave me that stuff. I must follow all the instructions and consult again after a week. Salaminah sal terug kom.”
“Malome, I don’t think this is a good idea. Daai suster has moved on with her life. I hear that she is marrying Meneer Mpandlana next month.”
Snake Ramolehe was Kanakotsame’s former colleague. He was the only one who never frequented Parks’ Tavern. He was known as Mpandlana because of his bald head, sometimes referred to as “the moon at centre” by the learners. Those who knew him van toeka af said once in a very cold winter day, he stole a brazier and carried it on his head, unaware that it had hot coal inside.
By the time he felt the heat and threw it down, the damage on his scalp had already been done. His peers have since nicknamed him Mpandlana (bald head). He eventually accepted the mocking name.
Now Mpandlana had taken Kanakotsame’s beloved Salaminah.
“Malome, why don’t you just give up and look for somebody else?”
Kanakotsame could not believe that Mpandlana, of all the people, had taken Salaminah.
“Ek gaan daai moegoe trap. Not because I’ll get Salaminah back, but because of all the people, she chose him.”
KE JANUARY BOSS!
“JISLAAIK! January is a cruel month, my ma hoor my” said Kanakotsame in a high-pitched voice to Tema as he entered his room.
Sensing that something must have amused his uncle, Tema readied himself for the first news of Galeshewe in the New Year.
“Malome, o batla goreng?”
“My laaitie, you must thank our ancestors that you haven’t seen what I’ve just seen now.”
Tema was getting anxious.
“Malome, don’t take a long draai. Just tell me what it is that has made you so happy.”
“My laaitie, it’s not that I’m happy. I’m laughing but I feel for bra Tebza.”
“Oom Tebogo Vuilgoed?”
“Ja. He just told me he is a vegetarian.” Tema burst out laughing.
“Jy het my gehoor, my laaitie. Bra Tebza says that he is suddenly nice to animals and he’s no longer eating meat!”
“Well, did he tell you why he’s eating animals’ food if he is nice to them?”
“Jislaaik, sonny. You have a point. Jy’s net so slim soos jou oom!”
They both laughed. Tears of laughter started flowing without any care.
“Malome, I have heard people and the resolutions in the beginning of the year. But this one is drastic. I mean this is a complete U-turn,” he said.
His uncle tried to put on a serious face. But he failed. He laughed again, “My laaitie, I have known bra Tebza for donkey-years. He is not New Year resolution type. I can bet with all my ex-lovers. This one is not a resolution!”
Before Tema could say something, someone knocked at the door.
“Kom binne,” Kanakotsame called out.
“Boys, julle sit hierso; you don’t realise gore lehatshe le ya bokhutlong,” Jack Mogale said as he entered.
“Oom Jack, don’t scare us. Wat gaan aan?” Kanakotsame asked.
“Monna, I have just seen something that I was never prepared for. I found Tebogo Vuilgoed eating spinach and potatoes. He says he is a vegetarian. This is the end of the world, ek se vir jou!” Tema and his uncle laughed. Mogale looked at them bewildered.
“What are you laughing at?”
Kanakotsame took out a handkerchief and wiped tears off his face. “Oom Jack. I just came in now from bra Tebza’s house. I have seen exactly the same thing that you have seen. My nephew here can hardly believe it!”
“And what did he say to you,” Mogale asked.
“He said it’s New Year’s resolution,” Kanakotsame said.
“Daai man vat ons vir tjoepas, mos. He’s broke and now suddenly he becomes a vegetarian. He must just be honest and say that he blew his money in December and now cannot even afford bones at the butchery.”
The trio decided to go to Vuilgoed’s house.
“We must sort this out. The next thing the whole Galeshewe would know that he’s a vegetarian and come month-end there will be a braai at his house. What will he say then?” Mogale continued.
On the stoep of Vuilgoed’s house they found rows and rows of empty brown bottles.
“I’m going to sell them. I don’t want anything that has to do with alcohol or meat in this house. It’s a New Year. I must also start a new life,” Vuilgoed said to his guests.
Mogale was the first to speak.
“Vuilgoed, why don’t you just tell us that you’re broke? These stunts will only mess your reputation because when you get paid life will be back to normal.”
“OK. Let’s say it’s a stunt, as you say. Will you then borrow me three clipper to survive until month-end?”
Kanakotsame: In my Times by Sabata-Mpho Mokae is available at R150.00 from African Flavour Books (Vanderbijl Park), Exclusive Books: Loch Logan (Bloemfomtein), The Red Cafe (Grahamstown) and BookWorld (Pietermaritzburg)