An Average Life


August 25, 2017 by petrujviljoen

The extended family gathers in the sitting room.The place where all formal activity takes place. A place of deep shadows even in daytime. The stoep’s roof blocks out most of the sun. Beyond the heavy curtains the veld gleams yellow and silver. It’s deep summer, the room is stuffy with camphor and furniture polish. Oupa has the family Bible open at the text he wants to read. It is called ‘Boekevat’ – directly translates to ‘taking the Book’. It refers to the nightly ritual of the family spending time in God’s company, reading from the Bible, expounding on the text, kneeling in prayer. Oupa doesn’t have to ask for silence. Ouma sits with her hands folded in her lap, in tremulous rest. She looks regal without her apron, her face half in shadow, having turned in her chair, favouring her right shoulder. She has spent the day churning cream into butter.

The text is about Abraham and Isaac. The child is about to be murdered. We’re relieved when God intervenes at the last moment. God is good, we are told. See His mercy. We believe it. It’s 1963.


the paraffin lamp

illuminates the Bible

prayer gnaws at the mind


The years roll by. We grow up in a coal-mining town, filled with contract workers from near and far, building power stations, working at the coal-face, labour at the metal factories. The houses are all similar, the same colour roofs, the same gardens, the same, the same.  We’re an average, lower-income, God-fearing Afrikaans family, shunning anyone and anything foreign. Even those frequenting the Reformed Church, having split from the Dutch Reformed. Of course the English, Scots, not to mention black people.

One day I’m bored, idly open a family magazine. The article about reincarnation holds my attention, a frown and wonder on my face. Something stirs deep inside. My parents gape at my holding forth about one life not being enough to learn what there is to learn about life. I don’t realise I’m strange. They don’t tell me nor reprimand me. Covering the incident with the normal deadening silence, hoping it will pass. It did, for many years.

Deep in the night my

ten year-old self sits upright

breathing in, awakes

35 thoughts on “An Average Life

  1. julespaige says:

    So often the rituals bring comfort. But they must also be questioned in order to grow.
    Some may remain in the comfortable shadows. May they also be blessed.

  2. The prose is so well crafted. It draws us in. I think sometime reincarnation can apply to one life, ie: we can live many within that one.

  3. Frank Hubeny says:

    Nice description of entertaining an idea that was not conventional in your family.

  4. Just Barry says:

    An awakening within an average life is hardly average. Magnificent work here.

  5. A powerful haibun, Petru — an awakening to the new. So frightening in the midst of family where it isn’t understood.

  6. Grace says:

    I was drawn into the family life…reading and reflecting on biblical themes ~ I am glad to read that they didn’t reprimand for reading something more than what is intended ~ Appreciate the haibun ~

  7. A strong piece of the past written so well. These moments make the best memoir, Petru. Impressive.

  8. A fascinating read. I identify with part of your journey!

  9. memadtwo says:

    Wonderful tale of awakening (K)

  10. Nan Mykel says:

    Is this part of a work in progress? I liked the end but disappointed there wasn’t more. You’re quite a qoman, Petru! (make that “woman!”

  11. This is so incredibly powerful!

  12. I could see the scene as clearly as if I were there, especially the mother’s sore shoulder from a day of churning. I love the ten year old’s awakening.

  13. Your Haiku writing and everything else in this story is so inspiring. Great write and imagery my friend. 🙂

  14. I so much love the scenery you have painted from your childhood.. I think there is a rebel seed in every child, but too many wither and dies. The world needs a dandelion rebellion.

  15. vandana says:

    A simple life

  16. barleybooks says:

    Strong and economical writing.

  17. Suzanne says:

    Wow. I love the quality of your writing. Your insight into your life and the way you distill it into haiku is very powerful. Suzanne from

  18. Charley says:

    Ah, well… raise a child in the way she should go… and she strays. Such is parenthood. Such is childhood. Nicely written!

  19. This is fantastic.

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