Feeling a little small

2009-11-13 13:34

THERE’S no doubt in my mind that my late grandmother lived to embarrass me. I was sitting on an engine of a taxi on our way home from town one day when she blurted out: “You smell very bad, did you forget to change your underwear?”

I looked out the window trying to ignore her, while hoping that ­nobody had heard her.

“I said did you change your underwear this morning?” she yelled, pulling my ear.

When I eventually answered her, she slapped me across the face and accused me of talking back to her. Later that day, I had to wash my underwear in a mixture of paraffin and bleach to get rid of the “bad smell”. As further punishment, my two pieces of KFC were given to my neighbour who licked his fingers right in front of me after eating them.

I could never win with my grandmother and constantly doubted her love for me.

But things changed after I ran down Jeppe Street and caught her wig, which was being blown away by the wind. With tears in her eyes, she told me how proud she was of my running abilities. Her wig was her life.

As a woman who had struggled with baldness all her life, my efforts to make sure that her dignity remained intact proved I was much more than just a clumsy kid.

I believed that the wig incident had saved me from further embarrassment, but that was wishful thinking.

That afternoon, she told passengers in a taxi that my breasts had grown too big for a 13-year-old. “What can I do to stop this?” she asked, pulling one of them.

Suddenly the situation turned into a circus as each passenger contributed their half-baked advice while I sat with my head buried in my hands on the burning engine. One of the wise recommendations resulted in my breasts being assaulted with a grass broom “to stop them from growing any further”.

I was reminded of my grandmother last week while I stood in a very long queue at a bank eKasi. Things can get really hectic at these banks at month-end.

Everyone seemed irritable and couldn’t risk losing their spot in the spiralling queue – even to pass wind. In a different environment, that would be the most decent thing to do, right? Well, at least I thought so.

So when the old woman behind me accidentally dropped a loud bomb (I say accidentally because I heard her say “oops” under her breath) she was not about to take the blame for the foul smell that followed.

“What the hell did you eat this morning? Rotten fish? Sies!,” screamed another old woman at me.

My mouth went dry and I felt like that little girl in the taxi as I tried to explain that it wasn’t me. It didn’t help that the smell kept getting worse, probably because the wind-breaker had dropped ­another silent one. All eyes were on me now. I could only shake my head as I ran out of words to defend myself.

“If it isn’t you, then who the hell is it? I heard it, it was you? Are you too beautiful and proud to apologise?” the old woman prodded me.

I know my grandmother would have turned in her grave if I had exposed the guilty party.

Besides, I had no proof that she did it.

But I was taught never to argue with old people, let alone accuse them of such a hideous crime, even if they were guilty.
The poor old woman was obviously embarrassed and as my contribution to community service, I took the blame while praying for the smell to go away.

It eventually did, but I could feel my dignity and self-respect flying out the window with it.

As we walked out the bank, the wind-breaker winked at me and said thank you with a warm grateful smile.

I couldn’t get mad at her. My grandmother had prepared me well for moments like these.

So I told her to thank the ­wonderful and beautiful woman who raised me, who probably was having a good laugh wherever she was.

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