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13 Jan 2017 00:00
Audacious debut: Phumlani Pikoli’s collection of short stories (above, left) also contains illustrations from young South African illustrators, such as the one above by Nas Hoosen
“The fish is definitely not for you.”
The waitress told him flatly and with no trace of humour. Her eyes stared coldly at him as he tried to gather himself.
His mouth was agape, in awe of her brazen declaration.
“Okay … but …”
“Listen, new money,” she interrupted. “Don’t try the fish! It’s not for you. I work here. I should know.”
Thrown into another fog, he began to worry that his constant gape might be assumed an invitation by some.
“WOW! You fucking suck at your job!” he yelled at her. Every head in the restaurant turned in their direction.
“Sir, please calm down. I’m merely trying to help.”
She pleaded to her audience.
“What the fuck kind of bullshit are you pulling? I’ve barely sat down and instead of asking me if I’d like something to drink, you walk up to me in all the might of glory that comes with being a waiter and instruct me what not to order!”
“Sir, I was merely …”
“Telling me what I do and don’t like! You’re telling me that you can read my taste buds! Okay, go ahead and read my taste buds then, you neckless rolling head of space!”
The manager walked over to their table as she began to cry and ran to the kitchen.
“Sir,” he began. “Before I ask you to leave, I must ask that you please clarify the meaning of a ‘neckless …rolling … head of space’?”
Two weeks later, an online fundraising campaign raised two million kwenja as compensation for the trauma suffered by the man in the restaurant.
He used the money to buy a small car, which he drove into the establishment and died on the scene.
“Today we’re going to sit in silence and just sit in the car. We’re not driving anywhere. We’re not going to play any music. We’re just going to sit here, the two of us in this car.”
I wasn’t bothered by the idea and just sat there with him.
The sun was ablaze and it felt as if it was searing my skin.
If this was the plan, then the very least I could ask for was to crack open the window. I was making my mind up whether to ask permission or rather gently wind down the window in the hope he wouldn’t hear or notice anything.
He had his hand down the front of his pants and seemed to reaching down one of his legs. It was taking up a lot of his time, energy and concentration. It was best not to disturb whatever it was that he was busy with.
So I slowly lifted my hand toward the hot window handle. As I made contact, I spared a surreptitious glance in his direction. He was still reaching deep down one of his trouser legs. My mind began to wonder what it could be that had him in such a strenuous pose in the unforgiving heat.
His red shirt had dark patches and his forehead dripped. The grunting affirmed that he was well preoccupied. I snapped back to the task at hand. I barely nudged the handle and felt it give very little way without a murmur. I shot another look in his direction, barely daring to breathe. I listened to his continued grunting. It seemed like I was in the clear and I continued my gentle nudging of the window handle.
I finally felt a slight draught enter through the sliver I had created. The relief was pure and I inhaled as the suggestion of a breeze wiped my wet forehead. In my relief, I closed and opened my eyes to find that he had stopped whatever he had been doing. An enraged stare burning me, I knew I had fucked up and there was no getting out of it. I accepted my fate and braced myself.
I got out the car and, with the rope tied around my waist, ran behind the car from Johannesburg to Pretoria as he drove at 40 kilometres an hour.
“That was the longest acceptance speech we’ve ever had at a sports award, Ezekiel. Thank you for that,” the MC said to a relieved crowd. “I’m sure that most of us here agree that your father probably belongs in jail for torturing you from the age of four,” he quipped to the crowd, which erupted in roars of laughter.
Ezekiel turned on his heel, award in hand, and grabbed the mic out of the MC’s hands.
“But then you white people would have nothing to watch or laugh about.”
He dropped the microphone. It broke and made a horrendous noise and ruined the rest of the evening.
She fell down a flight of stairs and snapped her forearm and lost teeth in the process. Her landing echoed through the corridors with a resounding THWACK!
Uniformed little bodies walking through the corridors and playing in the school block immediately froze.
Unable to register the moment, she lay motionless, her arm jutting out at a 90° angle. Her teeth lay out around her head. As she lay face down, one child ran up to her and knelt over. Others ran to the school office in a panic, seeking the aid of an adult. By the time the teacher arrived, the first child had disappeared and no one saw where she went.
Months after recuperation, the teacher’s body was once again fully operational and her dentures appeared as real as her initial teeth.
Walking down that same flight of stairs, her eye caught sight of a strangely familiar object that a little girl donned as a necklace.
She looked into the child’s eyes and flickered recognition.
She missed a step and her last memory was the realisation that one of her teeth rested around the neck of the little girl. She landed in the exact same position she had been in months before. The same THWACK! resounded through the school blocks. The children found themselves in the same frozen state. The same child was the first on the scene, there to collect the misplaced teeth that formed a halo surrounding her head.
“Get better,” the child whispered. “We’ll have this date again soon. I love the feeling of your teeth on my neck.”
Duduzile woke up with a start, shaken by the dream, which she washed off in the shower. She mindlessly found herself miss a step as she descended the school staircase.
A pupil immediately tried to help her and she placed her fist through the child’s face. She drew back in horror and the same eerie silence as in her dream descended once again on the school block. She suddenly noticed the tooth necklace make its way up the staircase. She saw the child’s eyes malign, her evil grin attacking her. She tried to step back but instead found herself falling forward. She lost blood and teeth, broke a limb and woke up to the laughter of the child wearing the necklace of her teeth.
“Fuck, you suck at being dead! I’m sending you back to life. I can’t deal with you here.”
“Try look at your hands.” She realised she didn’t have a body. That the only thing she could do was be present. She couldn’t even see or hear. She felt nothing, as if she were just a floating memory without course.
“Don’t die again. Fuck off back to Earth and don’t come back. You deserve to live for eternity.”
“Wait.” “Fuck off!” Duduzile was born that day.
Anyone who wishes to obtain a copy of the book may email email@example.com The writer is raising funds for a second reprint after the first edition published in 2016 sold out.
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