Sabotaged by a red robot.
Our favourite stretch of road is coming up and if only we made this robot we would’ve made it all the way over the long, gradual incline in front of us. You can’t really call it a hill. The incline goes from 0 to 30 degrees and is long, so you won’t really see it in a car but when you’re cycling, you feel it.
We quickly switch gears so we can get the most out of this ride. We’ll hit a slight dip and before the road bends; it’s hammer time.
The light turns green, we pedal our little asses off as our gears shift into place. Wesley always has a great take off. Which I don’t mind, I sit comfortably in his slipstream. The road levels out for a bit as we pedal on the hardest gear, need to build momentum.
Grassy fields flank either side of this long, winding road. There are always random animals roaming freely – cows, goats, chickens, donkeys, sheep and dogs.
The only buildings we see are in the far the distance. Wes is ahead, as he almost always is. I look up and he’s already running it off.
I assume the standing position and do the same.
It’s tough – I keep going. When I look up, he’s almost near the rock. The rock is where we sit to catch our breath as cycling up this non-hill is nothing to be sneezed at. Not with loaded school bags on our backs and gym bags strapped to our bikes. It’s also where we stop to wait for each other if one of us is struggling. We never ride alone. He turns to look at me, I shake my head.
He stops at the rock. I push hard.
“Change your gears!!” he shouts while parking his bike.
I won’t do granny gear. Gear shifts throw me off my momentum, sometimes the chain doesn’t shift properly and I need to stop to fix it anyway.
I’m dripping sweat.
I’m barely moving anymore.
I’m struggling to breathe.
Yup. Not today.
I lean left and dismount.
“Told you to change your gears!” he shouts before he takes a sip from the juice bottle he fished out of his bag. “I heard you…” I shout out of breath “That doesn’t… work… for me. ” I manage while pushing my heavy bike up Non-hill. “Save me a sip!!”
He’s cleaning his spectacles as I slog towards him. His face is red and glistening. I’m sure mine is too. I set my bike pedal against the pavement so it stands by itself. I grab his juice bottle and take a huge gulp. “Let me do it my way. It’s easier for me like this.”
“Changing gears is supposed to make it easier.” He laughs. I laugh too “I know it is. It doesn’t!”
The next stretch of road is the best part of this ride. After the last climb it’s a slight downward slope with easy bends and no stop signs or robots. We just freewheel into the cool breeze for a bit until we get to the suburbs.
Wes is ready on his bike, he’s looking back for cars to make sure the coast is clear. I put his juice bottle back in his bag and I ready myself on my bike right behind him. The only car coming up towards the rock, a white minibus taxi, it’s a few seconds away.
We’re both staring at it.
Our heads turn as it drives passed us and we push off. A few slight uphill meters and then a cool breeze whispers passed us. I laugh to myself “Show off” There he goes again, no hands. He makes it look so easy. I can’t not hold the handlebars, I’ve tried. I really have. It doesn’t work for me. We see the community centre to the left; to the right some houses up the hill just behind the Shell garage. In the distance we see 3 children about our age walking up on the opposite side of the road. One of them is using a thick wire to guide an old bicycle rim in front of him. One of the other kids has a wire too. No more freewheeling for us. We need to keep our eyes open for kids playing in the street, litter and random animals.
As we ride towards the suburb we see more kids playing in the street. A few girls playing hopscotch on the pavement; some boys playing soccer in the street using empty coffee cans and huge rocks as goal posts and some girls singing rhymes while playing jump rope.
Our school is in town, quite a distance from home. We usually get home much later than the other kids living in our neighbourhood, especially since we’ve been cycling to school and back.
One of the kids walking up yells “Hey!!”
We keep riding, facing forward.
“HEY!! JULLE BOERE!!” He shouts again.
“ONS IS’IE BOERE NIE” Wesley shouts back.
“Just ignore them” I say loud enough for him to hear me.
“Julle boere met julle gladde hare” another kid shouts.
I shake my head.
“JA…” she shouts “…GAAN BLY BY JULLE MENSE.”
“FOK JULLE BOERE” shouts the other kid.
We hammer hard passed them just before the road becomes flat and bends. I can still hear them shouting, the wind is in my face so can’t make out what they’re saying. I turn my head to hear them, I quickly face front and see more kids focused on us. “WESLEY!!!” I shriek to get his attention. He turns to look at me. “Look!” I gesture towards the kids right in front of us and all the kids playing on the entire stretch of road. He looks back and realises what’s happening too.
We face front.
We pedal hard.
We pedal fast.
“OU” A stone hits Wesley on the thigh.
I see another stone whizz passed him.
And passed me. “ONS DOEN NIKS AAN JULLE NIE!” I scream and I hear the metal ding from a stone hitting my frame.
There are so many stones and so many new voices screaming at us. Kids running towards us. Stones flying in our direction. I look up – clever boy – I immediately ready myself to take the corner as I follow Wesley off this main road.
This side-road is quite steep and thankfully it’s only one short block to freedom. We push while a few stones fly our way, only contact is on the bags on our backs. The kids chasing us are on foot. We just need to make this hill and we’ll lose them for sure.
I’m out of breath.
I keep pushing.
Can’t stop. Not here. Not now.
I’m near the top. I can almost see the flat road ahead of me. Wesley’s already riding circles on it waiting for me.
I push on.
I turn right onto the flat road and for a while I pedal as fast as my numb, jelly legs will allow me. We turn back to see how many, if any of the kids chasing us made it up the hill. I think I see 4 of them but they’re quite a few houses behind us, still running. They won’t catch us. These side roads are less populated with cars and people. We only see a handful of kids playing in the street way ahead of us. I pull up next to Wes, he looks exhausted, shaken. “Ma’s house?” He gestures to the left up ahead. I realise how close we are. “Ja!”
“It’s never been so many random kids all at the same time.”
“Did you see? The guys behind us were calling the ones in front to stop us.”
“Yes, I saw. Its nuts”
Normally it’s a lot of name calling. ‘Sticks and stones’ and all that. Sometimes when we’re on foot there’s hair pulling, finger-in-face poking, some pushing and shoving. Sometimes stone throwing. Sometimes we throw stones back. Whenever we think we’re being followed, we always take the longer, familiar detours home. Racial slurs don’t make any sense, we’re coloured too. Our fair hair and fair complexions betray us daily. Our only neighbourhood friends are other kids like us – the outcast. If your hair is straight or maybe it’s curly and light in colour – outcast. Maybe your eyes are blue, green or hazel – outcast. If your complexion is fair or if you have sharper facial features – outcast. Of course, if you’re the children of “daai Engels vrou” you’re not welcomed either – outcast. Worse so if you have a combination of all of these – cause then ‘real‘ coloured people think that you think that you’re white and that you think you’re better than them. Argh. It doesn’t help that we’re private school kids.
Wesley takes the next left – a block before we need to turn so we can lose the stragglers. It’s a slight uphill climb, then a long flattish road but nothing we can’t handle. We cycle all the way around the block and freewheel down to Ma’s house. Wes hops off his bike to open the gate. I ride in and hide my bike behind the tree in her front garden. There are dogs barking. I walk towards the gate and close it after Wesley rides in.
We knock on the front door together.
Her rats-for-dogs are scratching and yelping in the lounge behind the door. We soon see her Pomeranians to the right of us, bouncing up and down on their hind legs at the window leaving drool and paw prints behind. One of them is named Precious. There’s always one named Precious.
We also hear the barrelling roar of her Boerbull coming from inside the house. The roar of the only Boerbull she allows inside. She has another 2 of those big, slobbering puppies in the backyard.
We hear Pa coughing and yelling “Kit! Kit! Iemand by die deur!” His bedroom window was near the front door, to the left of us. We could hear alot of movement and loud whispers. “WIE’S DIT?” We hear Ma shout from inside Pa’s bedroom. “It’s us Ma” we say in unison and laugh.
“Dis die kinders Daddy” she says in a comforting, loud whisper.
He’s half deaf.
And half blind.
So you have to speak to him at certain volume for him to hear you.
She always scatters to make sure Pa is appropriately dressed for guests. She always tidies the house just enough before opening the front door too. We hear keys and the door between the lounge and Ma being unlocked and opened. We can now feel the vibration of her Boerbull’s bark from this side of the door.
The door opens and we see dogs and Ma wearing a nightgown and slippers. She’s a stout old lady with short, wavy reddish-grey hair – my dad can be described in the same way except as a man with dark brown hair. Her skin is a pale white, I don’t ever remember seeing her with a tan. Her father was a white Dutch man, her mother a hybrid mix of Chinese and coloured. Everyone says I look like her – I don’t see it – I’m not old and wrinkled. She stands in the doorway staring down at us through her bifocals while holding her nightgown closed.
“Helloo Ma!” We sing and we kiss her on the cheek as we pass her to walk into the lounge.
“What a surprise!” she says while staring at us looking quite surprised. Wesley dives right in. “Ma, you won’t believe what just happened…”
He has a way of telling stories that includes all the detail and drama – all the different voices, accents and even sound effects. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get a theme song too.
“Did you get hurt?” She asks while I zone out looking around the room. There’s dog hair and dust on everything. Paintings of relatives hung on the walls. Brass and porcelain ornaments on shelves, on side tables, on sideboards and in glass cupboards. All on doileys. She wasn’t expecting us. We normally see Ma around family holidays – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, maybe Father’s Day and birthdays. And sometimes on random Sunday afternoons.
“Did you get hurt Tani?” She asks again.
“Oh no Ma” I say as I catch up with the conversation. “We were too fast for them, Ma.” Wesley adds and she laughs “Ok, I’m glad you’re both ok. Come say hello to Pa.” She says as she turns to open the closed door behind her. “And let’s get you children something cold to drink too.” she says leading us through the cluttered dining room to Pa’s bedroom.
“Daddy” she yells.
“Wellie’s children are here to say hello” she pre-empts our entry.
“Helloo Pa!” We sing as we walk in.
He’s sitting upright in bed with the radio on, covered by a blanket to his waist. His hair is combed; he’s wearing his spectacles and an old man cotton vest with breathing holes in it. “Hello children” he says and chuckles as we take turns getting kisses from him. He likes to grab our faces in his hands and land a kiss right in the middle of our foreheads. He is husband number three, I think. I don’t know the others.
“Pa, you won’t believe what happened…” Wesley tells the story again, with as much vigour.
“Come help with the cold drinks” Ma says to me as she turns towards the kitchen. The smell of food being cooked fills the room. I walk straight to the cupboard where glasses are kept as Ma goes to check the food on the stove. “You and Pa want cold drink too Ma?” “We’ll have tea.” I take 2 long glasses and 2 teacups out the cupboard. I lift the kettle to feel if it has enough water in it and turn it on. “What you cooking Ma?”
“I’m making supper my child” “Why so early Ma?” I grab the cold drink concentrate out the cupboard and pour just enough into the glasses. “Pa and I are old now, we don’t have as much energy as you children and we need our rest. We have dinner at 5 and our bedtime is at 8 o’clock.” “I’m so glad I’m not old Ma, my bedtime is 9 o’clock. And when I’m bigger it will be 10.” She laughs “You’ll be old too someday.” “NEVER! I don’t want to be old Ma, 8 o’clock is too early!” we laugh so loud Wesley comes to check on us.
“Bring the water bottle” I say to him as he walks passed the fridge. “Pleeease” he spins around to get it.
“Everyone gets old my child. You know, I used to be a model and actress?” “No ways?!?” “I’ve been in 2 big screen movies but only 1 had a speaking role – they used to call me Wilky” she said with fierce pride and a cheeky smile “Really Ma?” “Wait” she says as she turns and disappears out the kitchen.
“Hey, you like acting too.” I whisper to Wes as I hand him Pa’s tea. He smiles and nods with excitement and takes the tea out the kitchen. Pa isn’t that mobile anymore, he’s completely deaf and blind on one side while his other eye isn’t much better, he has the shakes and needs a walking stick – and even then he needs assistance.
They both come back to the kitchen at almost the same time. I’m already sitting at the kitchen table gulping my drink. I’m so thirsty. “I used to be tall and slim and trim in those days” she sits down opposite me with a box in her hands, Wes sits down too. “I was cast as a facetious waitress in that movie” she laughs and then hands me a sepia toned photograph. She was pictured nonchalantly walking on the pavement with a parked vintage car behind her. She looked beautiful – so tall wearing heels with high waisted Capri pants and a sleeveless, collared, floral button up blouse. She had a cardigan draped over her shoulders with her right hand holding a huge pair of white framed sunglasses in place on her face. Her hair was up and wrapped in a headscarf. “And this was after I had your father and uncle.” she chuckles.
Ma had children quite young. She had a scandalous love affair with one of her school teachers and was pregnant at 16. They had another child together after that, my dad. Ma travelled alot when dad was a boy, he didn’t really know her that well either when he was growing up.
“Whoaaa Ma, that doesn’t even look like you.” I look at her and back at the photo. She hands me another photo from the box. And another. She was a stylish lady, very classy and looked so glamorous in hats. She reminds me of Audrey Hepburn.
We finish our drinks and finish our conversation. “We need to be off Ma, we still have to do homework for tomorrow.” I say as I take our empty glasses to the sink and rinse them.
“This was a lovely surprise visit.” She says as we go to Pa to get our farewell forehead kisses.
As Ma sees us off at the front door “Thank you for having us Ma” I say and Wesley echoes with “And thank you for the cold drinks.”
“It was a pleasure. You children can visit any time.” She pauses “Will we see you again tomorrow?”
Wes and I look at each other, shrug and nod “Ummm, yes, we don’t have extra murals so we’ll be here earlier than today? Just after lunch time, if that’s ok?”
“That works for me” she smiles “I’ll make us a nice lunch.”
We kiss her as we walk out the front door to take our bikes. “Careful out there you two and look after each other!” she yells as she walks out onto the stoep.
“Wee alwaaayss doooo Maaaaa.” We cycle down the street and turn left, back onto the flat road we were on earlier.
“That was fun hey? Spending time with Ma and going through her old photos.” “Ja and hearing her stories too.” Normally when we visit the ‘grown-ups are talking’ and we play outside. “We get to visit again tomorrow!” “Hey, maybe we should go back to find those kids and thank them for this little detour.” at the same time “Naaah” and we burst out laughing.