SAWC 2011 Second Place

Watching Sunsets We Never See by Shelley Blignaut

“Tell me again how it looks.”  He says.

I seldom get impatient with him, but today I am. Today I am tired, cold and miserable. Mr Z3 zapped me again and pretty Miss Toyota Tazz ignored me.

I sigh.

“I am blind not deaf, you know.” He says and guilt rises like bile in my throat. “It will make you feel better. It will take your mind off the cold.” I am reminded that he too can feel the cold. Sometimes I think that his lack of sight blinds him from the rest of the harsh realities of life. I lean on my hands and feel the icy bridge railing sting my elbows though my thin jersey. The tall buildings loom down at us like grey tombstones blotting out the sun. The grey clouds form a low ceiling and the air is rank with pollution.  The cars are not moving underneath the bridge and it makes me think that we should be down there.

It would be a good time to be down there. People are always tired on their way home, more likely to give you something to get you away. But utamkhula wants to be up here, watching the sunset that he cannot see.

The cars snake along the long length of the grey road and wind their way up the hill to their big garages by the sea.

I try to look for the people.

It is always easier when I see people. But all I can see is old Sara with her thick lip and arm tucked underneath her shirt, hoping that some stupid driver would feel pity for the one-armed lady. She gets it worse than we do, if the drivers don’t feel pity for the blind old man they are definitely not going to feel it for the tik addict weaving in and out of the traffic with a badly disguised fake deformity.

 

“It’s beautiful.” I start and I watch how his face relaxes. “The sun is low in the sky and it has streaked it so that it looks likes those jam cakes that mama makes, a layer of berry jam, a layer of strawberries and a layer of yellow sponge.” He laughs. “The buildings look like shards of glass, sticking out the ground. They shine silver-” His brow wrinkles.

“What does silver look like?” He asks. He knows the answer, he has asked me a hundred times and each time I have to think up a new way of explaining.

I think for a moment.

“Like when you are sucking condensed milk off a teaspoon and the spoon scrapes against your teeth.” I explain and he nods knowingly.

“Tell me about the people.” He asks.

I look down at toothless Sara. She has found someone’s cigarette butt and is sucking it with her big lips trying to keep it in her mouth without the grip of her teeth.

I close my eyes again.

“There is a white lady in a fancy red coat across the street.” I say.

He hits me on the arm.

“You shouldn’t be spying on young ladies.” He says but he is smiling. “What colour is her hair?”

“It is golden.” He begins to open his mouth. I know what he is going to ask. “Golden is like walking out from the shade into a patch of sunlight, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face and getting goose bumps on the top of your head.” He seems satisfied enough with that so I continue.  “She is laughing so that her skin, which is as smooth as umakulu’s special pearls, is all crinkled.”     

“Thank you” he says. And he feels his way to my shoulder before giving it a squeeze.

He was right I do feel better.

 

I wake up to mama standing over me holding some coffee and oily bread. I take it from her and dunk the bread into the warm milky coffee until it is soggy and I can slop it into my mouth. She looks at me and smiles, that same guilt-soaked smile as I sometimes give utamkulu, only difference is he can’t see mine.

“I learn enough from the city mama.”  I say in response to her thoughts.

“But you should be at school with your brothers and sisters.” She says and I can see that her eyes are welling up now.

“Yes and utamkhulu should never have been born blind.” I don’t look at her as I say it and I get up quickly and pick my way through mattresses and sleeping children.

He is waiting for me at the doorway, looking as smart as ever in his collared shirt and fedora.

“Is it dark out?” He asks.

“Yes ‘mkhulu, but the sun is coming.” I say.

 

I shoo some of the younger boys off the seats on the train and guide him to sit down. They mouth curse words at me.

“Lucky we found some seats.” he says.

“Some of the younger boys gave them up for us.” I say loud enough so that they can hear me. They raise their middle finger at me.

When the train starts moving he asks, “What does it look like outside.”

It is grey and overcast again.

“Like the smudge of wet paint on paper. All the colours are mixed together.”

“Colour.” He says. “What a wonder it would be to see!”

I nod. The train stops and the doors open, more people squeeze in. Brown faces. Grey sky.

 

Town is busy today. No sign of Miss Toyota Tazz, she must have gone to work early. A Merc flashes me. He thinks I am the paperboy again. No matter, I will play the stupid street-child. I lead utamkhulu to the window and hold out my hand.

“Where’s my paper, boy?”  He says.

I gesture to utamkhulu.

He opens his mouth but then his cell phone starts ringing. It is one of those fast whitie songs. He waves me away as he picks it up. I gently tug utamkhulu to the next car.

“Did we get anything?” He asks

“He had a look but he didn’t have any change.” I say and look behind to the Merc’s number plate. It reads MOVE OVER.

Behind Move-over-merc, an old woman in a dark blue Mazda 323 smiles at me.  One-armed Sara calls it the Ag siestog smile. I don’t know what it means but I like to get those Ag siestog smiles. I apply my winning “I’m poor and you’re not” face and move my hand a little higher on utamkhulu’s arm so that she is sure to see his helplessness.

She doesn’t even roll her window down. Instead she points to last month’s copy of the Big Issue on her dash board and gives a thumbs-up.

Damn Big Issue guys.

The traffic light turns green.

“Green” I say. Utamkhulu steps back toward the curb.

As the robot turns red a young guy pulls up with a large exhaust and tinted windows. He opens his window just a little as we approach.

“Don’t even try and spray my windscreen with crap.” He says to me.

“No I was just-“I start.

“I don’t want my freaking windscreen washed! What’s up with you guys and you bring this blind old man along to make me feel bad?”

I want to swear at him. I so want to say all those bad words that I have been storing up. The ones Sara uses when she is drunk and angry with her boyfriend. But utamkhulu squeezes my arm. I slump down on the curve and breathe in the petrol and burnt tyre smell. I put my head on my knees. I notice there is something moving on the ground, it takes me a moment to realize that it is the shadow of the car in front of me.

“Green ‘mkhulu- green!” I shout, jumping up from the curb. The hooters go off. And I stop breathing. He steps back unharmed save for his fedora which is blown off from the rush of the cars.

“I am so sorry ‘mkhulu.” I throw my arms around him and feel his body trembling.

“Were they angry? I didn’t mean to-“The words stumble out of him.

“They weren’t angry ‘mkhulu, no one was angry.” I can see he is still a little shaken.

“Let me get your hat.” I say.

The robot turns red. Sara waves at me from the other side of the road. She smiles her toothless grin. She has chosen to have an amputated left arm today I see.

It was black. Definitely black.

I looked up just in time before it hit. I am sure it saw me, it must have. I am sure they would have slammed on brakes; I think I even heard the skidding. But those fancy cars, they go fast to keep up with their drivers. It didn’t hurt, not like the time the mini cooper drove over my foot or the Hyundai’s side mirror wacked me on the arm. (It left a bruise for days.) But it felt like someone had hit me in the stomach, a good and proper one that takes all the air out of you. It went black then and I thought of utamkhulu lost on a page of darkness trying to feel the grooves that the words have made on it to find his way.

It is his face that I see when I open my eyes again, his tears dropping on my face, his hands rubbing red blood between his fingers.

“Is this blood?” He is shouting, holding up his red gloved hand. “Is this my son’s blood? Can someone tell me what is happening?”

“’mkhulu” I managed to get out. He drops his head to the sound of my voice. “I lied.” I whisper.

He can’t speak, the tears are coming fast now and his chest is heaving. “The world is not as I have described it. It is grey. It is…” pain, I can feel it now that must be a good sign. “…dreary and full of grumpy people, full of people who ignore us and swear at us. There are no sponge-cake sunsets or pretty ladies in fancy red coats with golden hair. But ‘mkhulu …” sirens, the ambulance is here, it needs to wait. I need to tell him this. “’mkhulu, I can see it now and you will see it too. Not with these eyes.” I lift my hand, it is littered with pieces of gravel and scraped skin, and I touch the space where his eyes should have been.

“Every colour imaginable ‘mkhulu! I wish I could show it to you, I wish we could see it together. It is like…”

“I know.” He says and he finds my lips with his fingers. “I have seen it.” Each of his words is labored and spurted out between sobs. “Every time you described something to me, umzukulwana I saw it. Your words painted the world better than I could have seen it.”

My eyelids are getting heavy now and I so want to see the lights again…maybe if I just close them for a little while….until the medicine men come…

“And now my sight is gone” Is the last thing I hear him say.

 



Shelley Blignaut Bio for Shelley Bignaut

Four years ago my husband enrolled me in the Short Story Writing Course" at SA Writers' College to reignite my passion for writing. Since I was little I have loved writing stories; my parents were always amazed by my overactive imagination. Although I would have loved to study literature, I chose the 'safe' route and went for a business degree, and have ended up working as a fashion buyer for one of the ladies fashion retailers.

Subsequent to completing the Short Story Course, I enrolled for the Novel Writing Course as well and have just completed my first fantasy novel which is in the editing stage at the moment. I plan to start working on the sequel as my next project.

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