Extract from ‘Rejoice’ (Jungfrau and Other Short Stories)
The gardener claims he’s been cursed. And he has; but the curse, full-blown AIDS, is treatable – if his family will only let the couple he works for help. Two worlds collide over a terrible decision.
They’d waited for so long, what else could they call her, except Rejoice?
Gabriel walked around like he’d been crowned king of the world. After eight years of marriage in which there was no child, not even a miscarriage, after eight years of watching siblings and in-laws surrounded by ever more laughing children, after consulting sangomas and so much praying, at last, there was Rejoice. It was simple. Lindi, his wife, came down from Hwange to stay with him – only a month or so, and then she had to go back, he needed her to care for his aged mother. And nine months later – Rejoice. He told me then: “I am a lucky man.”
But Rejoice was only six months old and he was telling me, “Marina, I am going to die.” His work had gone to hell. There were always weeds he didn’t see, seeds he forgot to plant, leaves he just didn’t sweep. He complained constantly of being tired.
“What’s going on Gabriel?”
“Someone is jealous of me. Someone has put a very strong curse.”
Gabriel had been working for Mark and myself for twelve years, all the years really, since he was an open-faced young kid, coming to Johannesburg to be with his other brothers and sisters. After about the fourth sad tale of being cleaned out, in his curtained-off segment of room in Alex township, I’d relented. There was a whole wing of rooms in the back of our rambling property, slowly filling with junk. He’d scrubbed them and painted them out and put flowers into the vases I’d chucked and made it his house. He was fastidious, fussy actually, and close to his family and terribly earnest.
I knew him well enough not to doubt him.
Still, standing next to me, six foot and built like a boxer – he did, in fact, work out daily using two enormous weights which he kept outside his door – it was hard not to sound incredulous. “Oh for God’s sake Gab, you’re as strong as six oxen, what do you mean you’re going to die?”
He didn’t drop his eye, and I stood staring back at him, hand on hip. But he knew I would not laugh like the other woman he works for. I don’t laugh at sangomas and I don’t mock the psychics or raki healers or exorcists either. He told me again, “Someone has cursed me.”
I stared until my eyes lost focus, switched focus as you must if it is the other worlds you want to see: a sludgy grey mist clung to him, thickening slowly. But then I shook my head, my focus, back to the mundane world. I felt dizzy, so I sat down on the little stone wall near the avocado tree. “Why, Gab?”
He shrugged. Again: “Someone is jealous of me. It is my house. It’s too big.”
I’ve seen the photographs: everything we pulled out in the renovation he put back into a new house – all the old steel windows and french doors, my old kitchen units along with the sink and the stove and the carpets and the solid steel bath I didn’t want to give away, even the basins. Both the toilets broke when we tried to chop them out. Mark said “Bad luck.” But I went and got him a new one. Everything went onto the truck.
Even his bricks. Mark’s great mate Malcolm, runs a demolition company. Mark drives me mad with all the ‘treasures’ Malcolm brings and dumps here. “So can Malcolm bring us something useful for once?” I’d asked, “Gab’s going to need bricks.” Mark remained impassive. “Well?”
Mark shook his head. “You know Marina – you spoil Gabriel. Rotten.” Mark bent down to kiss me. “I’ll see what he can do,” he said over the jangle of car and house keys.
And so, just before last Christmas when he was nearly ready to go, Mark called Gabriel. “Gab, have you got enough bricks?”
“No,” he said, “I’ve got no bricks.”
Mark was standing at the kitchen door, running his hand through his thick blond hair, screwing his eyes up against the sun. “So can you get a truck to come on Saturday?” He nodded his head for Gabriel to follow him and they went round to the front garden, to the gate we don’t use. There, Mark had one of Malcolm’s tipper trucks, way too big to get in the gate, idling, spewing fumes into the early morning air. They’d dropped the back and side panels down, and I could see a mountain of cleaned, used bricks. “Hey Gab,” said Mark as I came up behind them, “You can unpack them here until Saturday, but no longer. You know what Marina will say if they stay any longer.” What would Marina will say? Same thing I always say when Mark unloads the ‘finds’ that Malcolm brings, when Gabriel’s stuff piled up behind the workshop: Keep the scrapyard at Malcolm’s, my house is not a goddam public dump. I glared up at Mark. He grinned and squeezed my shoulders. “Happy now, Marina?” He loped past me back to the house.
Gabriel unpacked every single brick himself, even though the four guys sitting on top of the truck were supposed to help him. Instead, they folded their arms and watched him, stony-faced. Malcolm’s driver is a Zulu man. He doesn’t like Gabriel. David took me on once, we were chatting as his team off-loaded. I said I was sorry Gabriel wasn’t there to help them. David scowled and said “You should give his job to one of us.”
“Isn’t he almost one of you?” I meant to jest. “You have a common ancestor, Zulu, Matabele?”
He sneered and said there was a good reason Mzilikazi ran away to Zimbabwe, and they should have stayed there. “That one,” he stood, his big chest too close to me, “Uh uh, that one is a Lindela boy.”
It was only last Christmas, that Gabriel could unload 8000 bricks without stopping, that Gabriel was still strong.