A SHORT STORY
By Selabe Kute
‘Ke legoa!’ the scream sends a small ripple through the slits of his purple shirt. A few pigeons scurry to the heavens after the crescendo of his words. His wire-car suspends its travels through the gradations of his grandmother’s burgundy porch. Segments of sand rest on his crinkled hair like dusty granules of remembrance collected through his seven-year foray through life. ‘Mama, bona, bona! ke legoa’ his scathing voice travels through the small, linear passage of his home and finally reaches his mothers onion-laden palms. She rebuffs his robust requests for her to avail herself on the porch and continues to briskly sever onions with a sharp knife, guillotine-like. The broken edges of a copper fence separate him from the image of a legoa – a rare breed of human being, one as foreign to him as the cold abode of a luxury sedan, or the pixelated hieroglyph of a computer screen.
The legoa moves gingerly through the dunes and rocks that litter its journey to the bus stop. ‘Bonolo, tla kwano!’ his utterances permeate the length of the make-shift block he calls home, giving his friend an affirmative to join him as they unabashedly spectate the legoa’s movements. More children suspend the escapist pastimes of hopscotch and zwipi to congregate over the rusted-fenced, barbed-wire entrances to their homes to catch temporary sightings of the show. The legoa labours through the street as its lunch box sways from episodes of fear-induced hand trembles – it is almost at the corner in which visibility evaporates, respite is earned and objectification halts. The legoa valiantly closes its eyes to create a barrier between its tears and the spectacle of humiliation that his uncomfortable world affords. The bus has arrived, the legoa escapes to the finiteness of a nursery school that could well be called refuge.
Today’s sleep period was marred by the protruding dry edges of his stained yellow sleeping mat. The restlessness consigns him to the stupor of pseudo-slumber, caging himself into the silence of a pair of closed eyelids. He has grown accustomed to a state of perennial discomfort after his five trips around the sun – who wouldn’t?
His soft, endearing fingers are covered with the flaky residue of the porridge served today for lunch, he often finds difficulty in managing the politics of adolescent hygiene. Alas, the jungle gyms have been vacated and it is now time to venture to pastures anew for this year – drawing period. The half-torn colouring books scattered around his small, quint desk are masked by a dimness of hues. The HB pencils loom large in the metropolis of art supplies, the erasers scamper in their affluent novelty while the silver sharpeners lay at the base like a collection of silver squatter camps. The colouring pencils – ranging in size based on their regularity of usage, form the working class, some colours fatigued and sapped of life, some on the periphery of being disposed. The colouring pencils are his favourite, they’re fragile and unsharpened mostly. The apparent bluntness of this creed of stationary is almost as telling as his own position in this community. With an existing affinity for animals, he gases at the elephant imprinted on the sheet of paper – and begins to fill in the proverbial blankness. Purple scribbles are mixed with blue for the elephant’s torso, the sun aloft is rendered with an amalgamation of yellows and orange. The feet have a subtle yet grey composure, and finally he loosely scribbles amendments to the printed sheet of paper, delicately giving the elephant a pair of human eyes – green eyes.
‘Your elephant looks very funny, boy’ Miss van der Walt remarks while holding up his elephant colouring, ‘Elephants don’t have green eyes, boy – here’ she slowly slides a clunky black pencil to him ‘…use this one, rather’. He laments for a few fleeting flicks of the clock while his tongue wrestles silently with the bubbling allure of a cherry Fizpop, raising his brightly-shaded cheeks and expanding his full lips at a canter, he murmurs ‘but Teacher, my eyes are green? Why can’t elephants also have?
Dusk has fallen on the arid and sun-drenched ridges of town. The air is plagued with a thick musk of smoke and the intangibility of Black rurality. He sits on one of his grandfathers rigid living room chairs, built mostly for space consumption than comfort. Outata, as his grandfather is affectionately known in the family, is sat motionless on a recliner. The swallowing sound of Dolly Parton is radiating underneath the slow, destitute moments of the evening. Outata’s boisterous brown skin is patched with small colonies of grey hair, concentrated underneath his chin – the empire, with satellite settler colonies of grayness presiding indirect rule over his ears and dangling from his sharp and distilled nose. He is well respected in the predominately Tswana neighbourhood, often quietly masquerading with his brakeless bicycle to church two times in a week. His dark creased hands nestle a glass of cheap whiskey, as he glares at an oil painting of his late wife. ‘Outata’ he is quietly summoned by his grandson, ‘What is a legoa?’ the hegemony of silence collapses. Outata wipes his chin of all the excess whiskey that wasn’t fortunate enough to swallowed – ‘the white man’ he asserts, brazen in delivery as his chapped lips once more make contact with the glass. He leans slightly over and expands ‘You are a legoa because you don’t go out in the sun enough, go play with the rest of the kids before you look like Eugene Terreblanche’. Silence descends and once more takes a stranglehold of the seconds that pass by as more whisky is deployed to lubricate the aimlessness of old age. The brief and unsettling exchange with his grandfather prompts a startling realization – he is often synonymous with the cascading image of a Legoa than he is simply as himself, Selabe – they surely are one in the same, aren’t they?