I saw a quote the other day: ‘Some people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.’ The writer was Oscar Wilde, some Irish guy from long ago. But he was describing my sister, Claudette, perfectly.

Claudette can tell you the price of everything: the cost of the Gucci handbag she desperately wants; the price of a weekend at Sun City that she would just love; exactly how many bucks her husband spent on his sound system and wheel rims – instead of on her Gucci bag and Sun City!

But when it comes to things that have true value, like family and human kindness, my sister is clueless. She always has been.

My adoptive sister, actually. Claudette’s parents took me into their home, back when I was a frightened, lost orphan of seven.

I’d spent most of my young life in the Children’s Home. The carers at the Home did their best, keeping us clean and fed and ready for school each day. But there were far too many children and far too few carers. They had no spare time to give out extra hugs or cuddles to an abandoned and confused little girl.

And then, one beautiful August morning, Mr and Mrs July arrived at the Home. And they pointed at me! Straight at me.

“You belong to us now, Faheema,” said Mr and Mrs July. The carers meanwhile were packing my case. “You can call us Mommy and Daddy. We will love you and look after you always. And see, you have a ready-made big sister.”

I looked up at nine-year-old Claudette, standing beside her parents. She glared back at me.

While Mr and Mrs July signed some papers, she hissed, “Ma says you must sleep in my room. But don’t you touch my stuff, you hear me?”

Still, the Julys’ home became a haven, a warm, loving place where I got plenty of hugs and cuddles. Where at last I stopped feeling lost and confused. It was a tiny house with a tiny backyard, mostly filled by a shed. But who needs space? Space makes for loneliness.

Best of all, I acquired an Ouma! I’d never had an Ouma before.

Ouma Plaatjies was Mrs July’s mother. She slept in the small back bedroom. She was a gentle old lady with amazing stories from long ago: stories about growing up on a wine farm; stories about running wild in the bush. I sat on her bed for hours listening.

Claudette didn’t join us. She said the stories were boring and she’d heard them all before.

Best of all, Ouma could play the piano! It was an old, dark-wood piano, squeezed between the table and the wall. I watched in fascination as her fingers, bent and deformed from arthritis, tinkled across the black and white keys.

“Do you want to play, Faheema?” asked Ouma. “I can teach you. Claudette doesn’t want to learn.”

I nodded wildly, enthusiastically. And whenever Ouma wasn’t too tired or too sick, we sat at the piano together. Slowly I learned how to read music.

“See that round, fat note, Faheema? That is called a semibreve. You have to hold that for four counts, my engel.”

As for my sister, Claudette, I learned how to get along with her: mostly by letting her have her own way. And by doing whatever she told me to do. And by never, never touching her stuff.


Tell us: What do you think about Claudette’s behaviour?