So, today I felt a little rejected because I didn’t win the competition I entered. I had great plans for the prize money… and also just now that I’ve done therapy… I know I’m just seeking some approval from certain people. (Different topic). Anyway, here’s the story.
The Poor White by Yvette Hess
That thud of school shoes kicking a soccer ball was so familiar to her now. With her head resting on her elbow, she peered through the car window, watching the boys play soccer. Their shouting and laughter upset her father every morning. “There are so many of them here in this school. These blacks, they just ruin everything. As ek my net…” He used the k-word again. But she tried to block it out. Their family was forced to move down to the Western Cape a few years ago. The Free State and its culture was all she knew, and it was that culture that her father so badly longed for.
She shut her eyes, tight. In her mind, all she could see was him. She opened her eyes and she saw the very same boy staring at her through the wired fence close to the entrance of the school. He smiled one of those ‘I love you’ smiles. Her father had barely stopped the car when Delia jumped out of the bakkie. So typical was her life and her family; Afrikaans, barefoot and bitter.
She heard him blabber on about the new South Africa being a waste of time, but it didn’t matter. She was at school, away from home, she was free.
She walked through the school gate towards her class. Bradley waited for the boer to drive off to make his way towards Delia. He ran up against her; he held her tight, kissed her cheeks and whispered, “Happy Anniversary, my love.”
She felt butterflies everywhere and it felt as if all the little hairs on the back of her neck set alight. “Happy anniversary, my pumpkin!”
Their love was also typical but rather silly, real and innocent. Delia loved everything about him. Most of all she loved his cinnamon tan. It reminded her of the milk tart her mother used to bake on Sundays. She always put too much cinnamon on, but she figured it was to hide the burnt bits. Bradley was an 18 year old musician stuck in school. His voice melted even the coldest of hearts. He loved Delia’s long ash blond hair. He would sit for hours combing his fingers through it, mesmerised by the golden strands between the darker ones and those little curly ones that sat in her fringe. He thought them odd, but never questioned their roots. They would sit and stare at one another, admiring one another for hours after school. Often they would be quiet, just bewildered. They didn’t need words anyway.
The couple made their way to class. It was History for the first period with Mr Abrahams. They walked hand-in-hand until they reached the classroom entrance, where Bradley let go of her hand. They took their places at opposite ends of the class. It was in this class that Delia first noticed Bradley. He was always first to answer questions and enjoyed stirring up debates around the politics of the country. He was a free spirit with brains. Delia liked that too.
Kyle, the only other white person in class, had always thought it fitting that he should be with Delia. She wasn’t the prettiest in the class, but they were of the same kind, it just made sense. Kyle’s pimply pale skin made her nauseous. She hated that he was placed next to her. Being white made them easy targets: for torture and for praise. In South Africa and in this school in particular, everyone hated ‘the White Man’, but they were still better than everyone else. Blue eyes were always favoured over dark eyes. Dark was associated with dirty poverty. They were better than dirty poverty.
Since being beat up for two years in a row, Kyle decided that the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them,” would have to work for him. So he became coloured. To a foreigner, one would think he was just a light-skinned local coloured boy. He joined an amateur gang and was renowned for being one of the most ruthless boys in the school. His nickname “Witblits” did not only refer to his pale complexion, but warned against his punches and his charms. They were both fast as lightning. The girls did not just love him; they worshipped him. He felt he ought to give every admirer a chance and the girls didn’t seem to mind.
“Come now, sweet lips, I know you want a piece of dis.” Kyle rhymed in Delia’s ear. You would have thought he grew up in the Cape flats with his animated gestures and accent.
“I can also sing like that idiot you call lover.”
She slid her hand up his thigh. Kyle flashed red. She pinched him hard and whispered, “Call me that again and I’ll aim for your Little-blits!”
Bradley giggled at the far end of the class. She had spunk today, despite her soft eyes. She prised Noordhoek-blue eyes, exclusive like the beach and in the same breath, absolutely beautiful.
Mr Abrahams addressed the class, “Good morning class. Do you all know what today is?” He knew there wouldn’t be a response and so proceeded.
“Today we as South Africans celebrate 20 years of democracy.”
He often wondered why he even bothered trying to inspire the group of ‘born-frees’ with their own national history. They all looked uninterested, except for one person of course, Bradley. Mr Abrahams wasn’t fond of the boy, and he didn’t like being challenged; especially in front of a class which was already a problem.
“I want input from every single one of you today.” The class giggled.
“Sir, but it’s also Delia and Bradley’s anniversary today.” Kyle said out loud.
He was ready to challenge Bradley. With his actions, he tainted the sanctity of their special day in an instant. The class roared with laughter. Delia sank into her seat, she was embarrassed and shocked. Over and over again she wondered how Kyle could have known. Bradley growled at Kyle, he had gone too far this time. Delia fiddled with her faded blue skirt, a donation from the school. She wore her second-hand clothes with pride, often to the amusement of the other school children. This was her final year of school, so it didn’t bother her anyway. She had other worries.
“Alright, settle down people.” Mr Abrahams said sternly.
Although he was a renowned believer in democracy and equality, he did not approve of their so-called union. To him, Delia deserved better, not even his son would be at her level. How could a school boy from “Ruyterwacht” be her equal?
“I just hope Bradley isn’t only in love with the tone of your skin and the texture of your hair, Miss Cronje. If he was, he’d be chasing something he never, ever would attain.”
His words pierced the both their hearts. Delia felt so ashamed of her freckled skin. Bradley felt her shame. To the world, she realised, he would never be good enough for her. She sat there plagued but perplexed by his remark. She never considered herself unattainable.
“Let’s continue.” Mr Abrahams went on with his class.
The rest of the day dragged on; the magic had left the air and only gloomy sadness lingered. Delia was in no mood to celebrate.
“I’m going home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The sadness carried through in her soft voice. Bradley tried to take her hand but she brushed him off.
“I know you’re upset, but I’ll still love you tomorrow,” he said.
With that, she walked off, carrying his words in her heart. He wanted to fix things- she deserved to be in a relationship where she didn’t need to feel shame, nor be ridiculed. He watched her walk off. In her troubled mind she thought of the many times she’d stood in line with him at the SASSA offices to get his grandmother’s government grant. There was poverty all around her, queues of tired, broken people waiting for money. But she was never embarrassed to be with him. Even in those times, surrounded by poverty and desperation- she never thought herself better than them. She loved laughing with his grandmother, “You bring sunshine to our family,” his grandmother would muse. Bradley walked off in the opposite direction, she not knowing he was determined to fix this mess.
“Delia! Delia!” The shouting woke her suddenly. “Delia!”
She jumped out of bed, still in her school clothes. She was too depressed to change earlier that day. She scrambled for her slippers.
“Ja Pa, ek kom!”
She switched on her bedside light to have a look under the bed. She grabbed them and put them on mid-flight. She hopped as she struggled to get them on. They were 3 sizes too small already. She ran to see what the fuss was all about.
Delia stood rooted to the floor. There, before her, towered her father, furious as hell. He wore his blue work overall, dirty from the day’s work. She could see he was shaking. He had reached boiling point. Bradley dangled by the collar of his shirt from Delia’s father’s right fist. His school shirt stretched and scrunched in the vice grip of Mr Cronje’s hand. He was scared, but mostly embarrassed, “Hy se, hy het jou lief.” Mr Cronje managed to utter through his clenched teeth.
“English, Pa.” Delia said softly.
Mr Cronje threw Bradley to the floor. She ran to his aid and kissed his cheek.
“I asked for his blessing. I didn’t want you to feel shame. It would kill you.”
She looked up at her father, ready to conquer him and the world. “You!” she shouted at her father.
“I hate the blonde, straight hair. I hate this skin.” She pulled the skin from her arms. “I hate that I have to defend what I love because I hate who I am.” She paused.
She looked at him and sternly said, ”Ek haat my taal!”
Astounded he was. He never knew that she could be so fierce. His eyes grew wider.
“I hate you because you hate them!”
Bradley jumped in, “That’s enough Delia.”
Gently she lifted him up and they made their way to the front door. With her back towards him she said,
“Dad, look at your nails, they’re black. Your dirty overall, your job: Black. Dad we’re poor. Look at where we live.” She paused, “Our pride: we’re Black.”
She took Bradley’s hand and led him out, leaving her father frozen and broken. Pausing one last time, “Isn’t this why my mother left? You drink and you hate.”
They stepped into the night. Mr Cronje stood defeated, left to cry for his beloved daughter.
He sobbed on the couch until midnight. Suddenly, he felt the warmth of his daughter’s embrace. She tenderly brushed her fingers through his short, thinning hair. He was still sweating from his violent spell of crying. “I have to tell you the truth,” he uttered between sobs. She sang an Old Afrikaans lullaby sweetly to him. She could not deal with anymore hurtful truths. “Tomorrow is another day” she sang to him. She continued to hum one of her favourite tunes. She stroked his fine, thinning hair, staring blankly, not hearing him say, “Jy is nie myne nie.”
She devised a plan to find out more about her mother. She wanted to chase the scent of milk tarts and sweet floral scent of perfume. She needed her mother: a sober, sweet taste of home. It was a new day and as she said a silent prayer, she realised it was a new anniversary: one of new struggles, but one that harboured no shame.