A short look into the life aspirations of a young Zulu girl.
| “Don’t touch Gugu.”
Gugu frowned at her father as he diverted her ever inquisitive fingers away from the collection of carved animals, burying her hand in the immensity of his and sweeping it aside. Only just able to see over the edge of the stall, the carvings fascinated her. In her eyes each was perfect and oddly precious, standing in huddled groups on a multi coloured plain in the shadow of snow covered Dragons’ mountain under a flawless African sky.
Sulking Gugu crammed her hands into the pockets of her shorts. “I’m thirsty. Can I have some juice?” She raised her line of vision to meet her fathers, spreading the note of petulance in her voice across the smooth contours of her face, sure he would relent. She wasn’t named ‘precious’ for no reason. Back home in their little house on the edge of the village were four brawling boys and the newest addition had proved to be yet another to add to the ranks. They had named him Kwanele, Zulu for ‘it is enough’.
This time her ploy didn’t work.
“Look Nathi,” her father’s features broke into a broad grin, glancing round to where her uncle was leaning against a wooden upright supporting the stalls flimsy roof. “That man has hair like Donald Trump.”
Nathi nodded his head carelessly, only briefly glancing in the direction of the approaching group of tourists his brother was waving a long arm at. “Yeah sure Lwazi,” he turned his attention back to the pretty girl selling fruit on the other side of the dusty track winding its way round Bulwer market.
Her father’s obsession with all things American was legendary and even Gugu was aware that no one listened when he launched himself into random facts drawn from the well thumbed pages of a glossy magazine he kept back at home. “I’m thirsty,” she repeated, dragging on her father’s shirt.
“OK, OK.” He finally relented and Gugu allowed herself a small self indulgent smile as she was directed to a stool and told to sit.
Spreading her palms across her knees she watched as the flow of tourists moved by kicking up dust, a man with strange hair pausing to flash her a smile as he hesitated in front of the stall.
“Nathi watch the stall?” her father addressed his brother still leaning against the upright gazing in the direction of the fruit stall. “And give the women a rest will you,” he added irritably, knocking him off balance as he passed on his way to the other end of the market where the juice from sugar cane was extracted in a fearsome looking device and sold by the bottle.
Nathi veered sideways, catching himself before losing balance completely, then brushing himself down as if he had.
Temporarily drawn from the tourists, Gugu giggled as her uncle muttered under his breathe and resumed his position against the upright. When she looked back the man with the strange hair had gone.
She sighed, already feeling a swirl of impatience rising though she had been sitting for only a short while. Ahead of her the stall was laid out, the carved animals marching across their multi coloured plain and brightly coloured vuvuzela’s hanging above form the flimsy stall roof. When he was in the right mood her father would take one down and blow into it to attract trade, the steady b flat tone calling out to the distant hang gliders floating on a still breeze down the face of the mud coloured mountain and across the clear blue skies like unfamiliar birds.
Sure that watching was all she could do and that nothing would quell the swirl of impatience, Gugu sat as the world passed by. The tourists moving endlessly like wilderbeest commenting in a low indecipherable language on matters she had no knowledge of. Occasionally they would stop, moving pale fingers admiringly over the huddled carved animals. Every now and then one being stolen away for a few rand to travel to places she would never see, her heart sinking at their loss.
Still the tourists fascinated her; so many different faces and different voices. She watched with endless curiosity. Without realising she found herself staring at a man in striped pants carrying a rucksack, his sandy hair sticking out from under a khaki hat. He paused to smile at her, turning just enough to reveal a ship traversing a wild sea across his chest. Her father had spoken of the sea once after a trip to Pennigton to visit a relative and it had become another source of impatience, another something she was not destined to know.
Too preoccupied to notice her fathers return, she shivered in a sudden chill, the vuvuzela’s clattering together in an unexpected breeze that had paled the sky and peppered it with blooming clouds.
“We had better pack up,” he said handing Gugu a bottle of sugar juice and staring up at the sky. “If I knew the weather was going to turn I wouldn’t have bought you this,“ he added producing a colouring book and crayons.
That evening the thunderstorm bellowed and pounded the parched earth with sheet rain. Through a gap in the shutters covering the little window of her home Gugu saw the lightning create bright rips in the velvet sky and listened to the rolling thunder high overhead. Driven by a swell of impatience she knew would never leave her, she carefully coloured in the outline of a pirate ship with a mustard brown crayon and imagined far away lands.
When at last sleep dragged on her eyelids she carefully closed the colouring book and pushed it under her mattress for safe keeping. As she did her fingers passed over the smooth carved shape of a hippo. While helping to pack up the stall, in an unguarded moment when her father was reprimanding Nathi for not pulling his weight, it had somehow slipped into her shorts pocket.