Mimosa Avenue

2010-11-18 00:00

I’VE stayed up past my bedtime tonight and I even watched Dallas. But Mum and Dad don’t know because Daddy has fallen asleep in front of the TV and Mum has gone to bed, or maybe she’s still in the bathroom. Because it’s Friday and we don’t have to go to school tomorrow, Daniel — that’s my brother — has gone off with some of his friends to the drive-in. His friends come from up our street. One is James, my friend Janet’s brother, and the other one is called Alan. He’s spotty and I don’t like him so much. The drive-in is across the road from the back of our house and I can see the big screen flicker from the lounge window. I wish I could hear what the people in the movies say but you can only hear if they hook the speakers on your car window.

Daniel and them don’t pay to go in. They crawl under the fence and then they sit near a speaker close to the hedge, where no one can see them. Daniel says the movies tonight are pretty crap but he’s gone anyway. He went over our back fence, which is only wire because there’s no house built on the back property yet. That’s nice because we can get right over to the street without having to go round the block.

I decide to wander out the front door into the garden. I’ve tried running away from home sometimes but Mum and Dad don’t notice I’ve gone when I come back. I don’t stay away too long because I get scared. The moon makes it really bright and I go sit behind my dad’s pick-up van. We call it a bakkie. If I lie flat, I can see under it down to the street. It’s quiet, I can’t see any people or anything. It’s probably more fun looking out the back garden. But then this one car comes and drives past really slowly. It’s got no lights on and it turns round and drives past me again. I think it might be a police car. It’s got one of those back doors that open where the windows are covered with chicken wire.

The car drives round again, this time heading down the dip towards the river. It comes back. Now it stops. Someone — I think it’s a policeman, he’s very big — jumps out and he grabs a man who is climbing over the wall at Janet’s house. The headlights go on. I hear yelling. They are using a torch and from where I’m lying I can see it’s a black man. I think it’s Petrus, he’s our gardener sometimes. I can hear the first policeman screaming at him and then the other one, who’s not as big as the first one, gets out of the car and goes towards them. Petrus is fighting them. That’s naughty because you shouldn’t fight the police. I can hear the policeman call him a “bleddy thief” and he’s asking him where the other guys are. Petrus is saying that he doesn’t know. They want to put him in the back of the van now so he must be going to jail. I wonder what Janet’s oussie, Lettie, will say when she hears Petrus is in jail. Petrus is her boyfriend. Lettie lives in the khaya at the back of Janet’s house. Petrus is still fighting and the policeman puts him on the ground. Janet says that’s what her daddy does to her mummy when she won’t listen to him. But now the policemen are kicking Petrus very hard when he’s on the ground and I don’t think that’s nice at all. They kick him and he yells, and so they kick him again until he stops yelling. They lift him into the back of the car and close the door, and he still doesn’t make any noise. He must be very heavy because it’s hard for them to pick him up. I move around the side of the bakkie so I can get a better look at them as they put him in. One policeman says that the only good kaffir is a dead kaffir. I wonder how Petrus will do our garden if he’s dead and how that can be a good thing. They’re getting back in the car now, but then the big one shines his torch across the road and I think maybe he sees me. I’m feeling scared because maybe I’ll go to jail to and I crawl back around the back of the bakkie. He walks up our grass, bends down and shines the light on me. He has a khaki shirt on with a blue badge and a hat. His voice is very deep. “Wat doen jy?” I know some Afrikaans because I have to learn it at school, even though I hate it. “I’m hiding outside,” I say. He turns back to his partner across the road and shouts: “Dis net ’n kind!” Just a child. Then he turns back to me. “You must go back inside, little girl.” He says: “We caught a black oke with a big knife who broke into someone’s property down the road and stole some bicycles. He’s still got friends out here. Go back.” He orders me and watches to make sure I go back in the house. Dad is still asleep in the chair, so I can’t tell him that I met a policeman in the yard and they took Petrus. I’m glad no one will know that I didn’t bath tonight. I’ll bath tomorrow.

It’s not easy to fall asleep because I’m thinking about Petrus and whether he will get breakfast in jail and if Lettie will be sad. I’m awake for a while and I hear Daniel and his friends coming back. Through my closed curtains, I can see them climbing over the back fence but they can’t see me. They are making a lot of noise and laughing, and I hear Daniel say it was “really cool”, so I think that the movies must have been good after all. Alan calls for help and they are lifting heavy stuff over the fence into our garden. They leave it against the side of the shed and go inside, and I think it’s strange to see the bicycles out there because I thought that they went to the drive-in on foot.

About the writer

 

KELLIE Steinke lives in Howick with her husband and three energetic children, and lectures English at UKZN. Her story deals with the memories and images of a child growing up on the ‘white-washed’ side of the fence during the apartheid years, as well as the detachment and strangeness of being an immigrant in the South Africa of the seventies.

Then this one car comes and drives past really slowly. It’s got no lights on and it turns round and drives past me again. I think it might be a police car. It’s got one of those back doors that open where the windows are covered with chicken wire.

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