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