Friday, 5 July 2013

Other people's houses

Although she knows nothing of Mythbusters, she has used duct tape in all four corners of her home. Inside and out, it binds one wall to another, holds it together. 

Her home is made of corrugated iron offcuts, but there’s the odd piece of cardboard. Big, strong, packing cartons are easier to anchor. You place the fold parallel to the dirt and you heap it with stones. Although the stones take up space and Elias complains of them digging into his shoulder at night. That boy will complain about anything. 

Four rocks are pushed up against the iron on the outside, one at each corner, but when the wind blows nothing can stop the shaking, and the jittering, the feeling that it might all take off.
Her home is colourful, which is more than can be said of her neighbours’. The corrugated iron is shades of rust and mustard, and Elias in one of his more useful moments found an old can of paint and painted the cardboard red. He also found three pottery pieces, chipped yes, but still usable, and nailed them to the iron. Number 864.

The front door, a sheet of smooth shiny iron, is attached to the door frame with bits of wire threaded through holes. She’s so accustomed to the scraping noise the wire makes that when the wind isn’t blowing it’s too quiet. She can’t sleep when it’s too quiet. It’s like waiting for something to happen, something bad.  

The floor – where you can find it – is hardened dirt. On the walls, against the corrugated iron, Elias has sticky-taped a poster of Madiba with his fist raised to the sky. Amandla! And his favourite basketballer, some American. There’s also a white boy on a skateboard.  Against another wall are two planks of wood on bricks and on these sit packets of mealie-meal and sugar, a tin of coffee. Two mugs and two plates. Alongside is a small gas stove and a pan and a pot. A plastic bucket. The smell of smoke is in everything. 

Some clothes hang from another wall. Her jacket and skirt for church. Elias’ school shirts, clean for tomorrow. One of her husband’s coats, frayed at the cuffs. She likes to see the coat hanging there, reminding her of him, telling her it’s possible he might come home any day.

In the winter her home is like the inside of Madam’s freezer. And in the summer, well, it is hard to find the breeze when there are no windows and you sleep on the floor. Boulders on the roof hold it down, but she worries that one day the wind will shove the roof hard and the boulders will fall through. Eish! Stones in Elias’ shoulder will be the least of his problems, then. 

This random piece of writing comes to you by virtue of the fact that I am currently in South Africa. 


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