The Stoep

It is the 22nd of December
And it’s my birthday.
My cousin throws the duvet off my sleeping body.
“Staan op!” she yells.
I groan and reach out to grab the duvet covers back, but she’s faster than I
am. She throws it completely off the bed before I can get to it. Next, she
opens the pink curtains revealing the Karoo’s bright, morning sun through the
bedroom window.
“Mama said ek kon nog le.” I plea.
“Mama is plaas toe, so get up”, my cousin responds gleefully.
With my final defence shattered, I roll around a little before moving to the
edge of the bed and sitting up. As my feet hit the pink, plastic tiling of the
bedroom floor, I hear the crow of Antie Emma’s rooster.
Antie Emma has had that damned rooster for years.
A cheeky bastard, it’s the same rooster that chased my cousins and me
around when we were children. We always managed to get away from it by
the skin of our teeth. A couple of years ago, one cousin was not as lucky and
faced its vicious claws as a consequence.
“Ek kom!”
I pull back the blue, silk curtains that separate the bedroom from the kitchen.
The coffee pot is brewing on the coal fire stove, and old skool tunes blare
from the rondavel. This only means one thing, the morning cleaning routine is
in full swing.
As I emerge through the front door, I am greeted by long straw broom, ready
for me to sweep the stoep.
Vol doorings en hoender kak.
My grandfather built the stoep the year I was born.
Held together by uneven slabs of grey stone and makeshift concrete, the
stoep is has been a mighty foe for my knees over the years. It’s uneven slabs
and sharp edges, coupled with the pitch black-sky that is typical of Karoo
nights, means any game of night-tag can end in blood and tears.
Vol doorings en hoender kak.
I start sweeping from the top, right-hand corner. I’ve never understood why
the stoep needs sweeping. The arid sand that surrounds it means that even

the slightest breeze will make it dusty all over again. But, my grandmother
insists it is swept and no one dares question her assertions. Plus, truth be
told, the stoep is more than just a slab of uneven grey stones made from
makeshift concrete. Once it is swept and as free of dust as it can be – it
transforms into the main attraction of Baakensrug Plaas.
Founded in 1840, Baakensrug Plaas is a hidden oasis in the heart of the arid
and vast Karoo desert. The land on which it lays is the burial ground for many
secrets, including who was responsible for stealing it from the hands of my
great, great grandfather.

This farm is the birthplace of my mother, my grandmother and my great-
grandmother and so despite it’s painful and trauma-fueled past, there is

something healing about it. I believe this has a lot to do with my grandmother.
Mama is the peacemaker of the plaas. She is loved for her kindness,
respected for her wisdom, feared for her sharp-tongue and admired for her
capacity to love. She also tells the best stories and it’s why people, from near
and far, gather at the stoep. They come to see my grandmother. They come
for advice, to ask for forgiveness, to hear the latest gossip, to face
consequences for their actions and to laugh.
Oh, how we laugh!
For everything my grandmother has endured in her life, she always finds a
way to laugh, and it is infectious.
“Michel’le, hurry up!” My cousin screams impatiently through the Rondavel
“Mama gaan nou terug kom en dan …”
But before she can finish her sentence, we both hear the bang of the front
gate as it shuts. I turn around to see my grandmother walking towards the
Mama is tall and thin.
Her light skin and blue eyes the only evidence of our unknown past.
She is wearing a long, yellow dress adorned with sunflowers. Her fully greyed
hair is tucked away under her white doek.
She is carrying two baskets.
I drop the broom and run over to help her.
“Hello my darling”, she says.
My grandmother never attended school and spent her entire life working and
living on this Afrikaans plaas. Yet, she always tries her best to speak
impeccable English to my sister and I, in an accent the Queen herself would
approve of. I appreciated this gesture when I was younger, but I’m older now
and am always trying to assure her that my Afrikaans is up to scratch.

“More, mama. Mama was darem vroeg wakker vandag.” I say as I take the
baskets from her.
“Ja, ek was gou plaas toe om n paar goedtjies tekry. Hoekom is jy so vroeg
wakker?” she asks.
I can feel my cousin’s eyes burning into the back of my neck.
“Kon ni meer slaap ni. Dis te warm.”
This isn’t a lie.
Karoo summers are brutal, with temperatures reaching up to 40C. Not to
mention the hot afternoon winds that make you feel as if you are being
engulfed by the flames of hell. The scorching sun, coupled with the tin-roof
covering the house means sleeping past 7 AM is self-torture.
We walk into the heated house and Mama starts unpacking the baskets.
One basket has two loaves of freshly baked bread and the other is filled with
the ingredients for her famous chocolate cake.
“Mama sal later jou koek bak, ne. Kom ons drink n koffie en eet n bietjie brood
As my cousin helps get the coffee and bread ready, I start setting up the stoep
for the mid-morning gathering. I place Antie Emma’s chair on the bottom,
right-hand corner of the stoep, as she likes being close to the gate. She is
always going on about how she can only “pop in for a quick visit”, but she’s
always the last one to leave.
Nana’s chair goes on the side of the stoep covered by the groot boom. This is
the same boom my grandfather naps under after a long day out working in the
veld, and half a papsak. My grandfather is a man of very few words but he’s
always vocal about his love for the boom. Next, I lean the long bench against
the front wall of the house, for us young ones to sit on. And finally, I place
Mama’s chair in her spot, right next to the front door. I finish setting up just in
time, as Antie Emma and Nana come walking through the front gate.
“Maar jou ma hulle is nog goed?”, asks Nana.
“Ja, almal is fine, dankie Nana”, I reply.
“Is lekker om by jou ouma te kuier ne?”
“Ja Nana, is baie nice.”
I take another bite of bread, smothered in apricot jam and butter. Is there
anything better than freshly baked bread, smothered in apricot jam and butter
and dipped in a cup of coffee?
Just then Frikkie, Pienkie, Boetie and Sana come running through the gate at
full speed. These are, of course, not their real names but their huis-names. I
always envied the plaas kids with their huis-names. I tried giving myself a
huis-name during holidays when I was younger, but it never stuck.

“Julle kinders gaan ni hier kom mors ni!” my grandmother warns my younger
cousins. Well, at least I think they’re my cousins.
You see, my grandmother and her fifteen brothers and sisters all lived and
worked on this farm their entire lives, so Baakensrug Plaas has become a
family farm of sorts. My family has taken care of this land for more than 60
years, despite it no longer being ours. Mama says we should be grateful to
the Ou Baas for allowing our family to still live here after all these years. She
sees his generosity as kindness; I see it as guilt and the least he could do for
knowing who ripped away my family’s land and not returning it.
Still, I never argue with Mama about it because it just makes her upset and I
don’t like seeing her upset. Besides, conflict is not in my grandmother’s
nature. She chooses to live in the present rather than the past. How can I
argue with that? I mean …
Wait, what is that?
I see a vengeful sandstorm brewing across the veld. It’s moving quickly and
fiercely, pushing aside anything and everything in its path.
Mama shouts for us to get inside. I watch as everyone around me starts to
run, everyone except my grandmother who is walking right towards the storm.
As my cousin pulls me by the arm and forces me inside, I call out for my
Mama. I’m screaming for her to come back but no sound leaves my mouth.
There is just the wind, howling with the cries of a family mourning their lost
I am frozen in place.
I watch as my grandmother – tall and thin, her light skin and blue eyes the only
evidence of our unknown past – walk towards the storm. Her yellow dress is
billowing in the wind and her white doek shines like a halo. I call out one more
time, begging her to come back, but she keeps on walking.
The front door slams shut!
It is the 22nd of December.
And it’s my birthday.
My cousin grabs my hand as the tears rush down my face.
We are on the stoep, sitting on the long bench that leans across the front wall
of the house. We are listening to the pastor speak about kindness, and
wisdom and love.
The stoep, vol doorings en hoender kak, never free of dust and a pain to
sweep. It is the place people from near and far, have come to say their final
goodbyes to my grandmother. A woman who was loved for her kindness,
respected for her wisdom, feared for her sharp-tongue and admired for her
capacity to love.

I look to her empty chair, right next to the front door.
A hot breeze passes and whispers in my ear:
“Hello, my darling.”