I’ve never tried writing fiction. This is a first attempt. Written at midnight. Just a start. Just a beginning of a story that has been forming in my mind. But like I said, I am not a writer so see it as a first shot at something written very late at night. Let me know what you think.
A blink and he is awake. It’s always like this. Just a blink and his eyes open and he is awake. Nothing but a blink. No tiredness and no dreams to remember. Just a blink and he is awake.
The darkness is total. There is no window to let the light seep in, but he doesn’t need any light yet. He just lies staring at the darkness for awhile; staring at the tin roof hidden in the darkness. Letting his eyes find the first signs of light and life. Any second now the tin roof stars will show themselves. A little spot of dull early morning light that fades through a tiny little hole, first one then another one and another one, turning the holes into dancing stars on the tin roof. His tin roof stars.
The tin roof stars dance around and pop up everywhere. Every nail that was ever used on the tin sheets of the roof is shining and dancing. Every hole left by the nails is a memory of better days; the days before it was a tin roof in a shanty town.
But he isn’t thinking of the memories of the holes. Not this morning. He is looking at the dancing stars to see if a brighter light will shine through any of the holes, because that spells trouble. A brighter light means a hole in the thick black plastic sheets that are spread out and tied down on the roof. These plastic sheets are the defense against the rains. A bright light is a leaking roof. But this morning there is nothing but dancing stars. He smiles into the darkness at his tin roof stars. Today is going to be a good day.
Slowly the shanty town morning noises seep through the walls. The far-off hooting of the taxis at the taxi rank a mile away. Telling the squatters they have space for a few people more and ready to go. The voices of women talking amongst each other as they walk through the narrow passageways between the shacks making their way to the taxi ranks to catch the early trucks selling fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables they’ll need as they lay out their tables at the market before people come to buy their daily goods. Taxis and women are the shanty town voices of the morning.
He’ll be at the market a bit later this morning, buying an apple or banana on his way looking for work. And so will his wife. She’ll be there before she comes home from her day looking for work, buying a potato or two, maybe some carrots to put in the stew that goes with the pap. The market is the main artery of the shanty town. It feeds the people who feed the shanty town.
But right now he just lies in bed and stares at his tin roof stars. And listen to the shanty town morning voices. He lies there for another twenty minutes or so. Slowly the room starts showing itself. But he doesn’t need to look at it. He knows where everything is. He’ll rather just look at his morning beauty, his wife lying next to him.
His wife never wakes up like him. She always takes her time waking up. He watches her every morning as she wakes up. It’s the perfect start to his day. It is life waking up to a new day.
She’s lying on her side cuddled up with the teddy bear he got her from the charity down the road. She starts with little moaning noises like a puppy dreaming. Then the waves start. Her body making slow rhythmic moves as she moves her arms and legs like some underwater dancer seducing the gods. This is when he knows she will open her eyes or whisper to him. The bed is too small for the two of them. Just a single bed mattress made for two. She turns around to stretch out but there is not space. Her hand hits his chest as she tries to stretch. Some mornings she gets a fright as if she didn’t expect someone to be lying there. Not him or anyone. But not this morning, this morning she starts with a smile. His morning beauty.
“Morning baby”, she whispers. Her eyes are still closed but she is smiling. That’s all he wanted, just a smile and a whisper. He kisses her softly on her lips and whispers back, “Molo Beauty”. He pulls the blankets a bit higher to cover her shoulders and then slowly slips out of bed. “Lie down Beauty. I’ll boil some water and make us something to eat”, he says to his wife as he leans forward and gives her another kiss on her forehead.
Thank God it is summer, he thinks to himself. He hates winter. It’s always a rush to get his clothes on before the coldness takes over. But in summer it is easy. He slips on the pair of jeans that has seen better days. More patches of denim and off-cuts than the original jeans. A shirt over his t-shirt and then his boots and he is ready.
He slowly walks over to the little paraffin lamp. Taking special care not to bump against the bed where his wife is still lying with her eyes closed. He picks up the matches lying next to the lamp and takes out one match before turning the knob on the lamp. And in what seemed like it was part of the same movement, he strikes the match and light the lamp while shielding the bright light with is hand. He turns the light down to a shimmer so save on paraffin and to not let it shine too brightly before his wife gets up. He’s done this a thousand times. He doesn’t even think about it anymore. It’s like flipping a switch.
He leans down to pick up the water bucket. It’s empty. His wife forgot to fill it last night. He smiles to himself. He remembers why she forgot. He looks over at her to say something but sees that her eyes are still closed. He shakes his heads with a smile, picks up the bucket and heads for the door. No need to get her out of bed. The taps aren’t far. It’s a quick walk to the community centre and he’ll be back in thirty minutes at most. It’s one of the advantages of not having a steady job, you can take that extra thirty minutes to go and fill the water buckets. No boss to chase you around if you are late. Beauty will wait for him. It will be over before she knows he is gone. Well, almost. It will be quick. He’ll be back to make them some black coffee they can share in their little shack called home. A moment of peace before they take on their day.
(I am okay with it up to here. Still rough around the edges but it is more or less where I was hoping to go. The rest I am not sure about. Not sure I want to take it there, but thought I would leave it in for now.)
He just stepped outside the shack when he heard someone behind him. He knew who it was. It was Sipho, the boy next door. “Morning Sipho”, he whispered. Sipho was about to say something but he stopped him by waving his finger and whispering, “No Sipho. Beauty is still asleep. Do me a favor and keep an eye on her for me. I’ll buy you an apple today”. Sipho grinned and held up both his thumbs. That was a close one, he thought. Sipho is a great kid but is always making a noise to try and get his attention. He’ll make it up to him later and chase him around the shacks. That always gets Sipho going.
The walk to community centre was quick. He enjoys walking through the shacks this time of the morning when it’s not too busy. There are women walking to the taxi ranks to buy their goods but most people are just starting to wake up. You can still hear your footsteps on the hard ground this time of the morning. He was quickly lost in his own thoughts.
Thank God it’s too early for the queues, he thought to himself, just a few women filling up their containers. He goes to one of the taps and starts filling the bucket. He’s been away for about ten minutes now. Beauty will be up wondering where he is. She’ll see the bucket is gone though and know that he came to fetch water. She might even be getting some bread ready for them to eat together. He smiles thinking of how she always puts too much butter on his bread. She knows he loves butter and they can’t really afford it but she always somehow gets butter just for him.
The bucket is filled; time to go home and make some coffee. The walk back is more difficult because the bucket is heavy. He laughs to himself thinking about the women who carry the buckets on their heads. Men can’t do that. Their necks hurt and they can’t balance the buckets. Whoever thought that men are the tough ones should come to this shanty town and look at the weight that these women carry. He is always amazed at how Beauty carries such a heavy bucket as if it is nothing. His Beauty.
He was still deep in thought when he heard the shouting. It was coming closer to him. Louder and louder. Closer and closer. It was Sipho. He could make out that it was Sipho but he couldn’t make out what he was shouting. He dropped the bucket and started running towards the shouting; his heart pounding in his chest. Did she fall and hurt herself? Oh please let her be okay.
He could see Sipho dodging between the shacks as he was getting closer. Still shouting and calling for him. He didn’t even look where he was going. Sipho was just running like crazy. He kept on calling his name and shouting, “Jonas! Jonas! Quick!”. Sipho looked up while running and saw him coming towards him. He tried to shout for Sipho to calm down, “Sipho! Calm down! What is it?” Then he saw Sipho’s face. The face of fear.
And Sipho kept on shouting and shouting…
But all he could hear was, “It’s Beauty. They are taking her…”