The trip was going to be on Friday. On Thursday night I opened my money jar. Every time I have spare change (which is not often, and I’ve been building this jar for three years), I put it in. I counted the contents of the jar, and then I counted again. R64.50.
I tipped it into an envelope, folded it, stapled it, then attached it to the inside of my blazer with a safety pin so I didn’t lose it. You have to be careful with your savings.
Friday came. The whole morning I felt like pins and needles were under my legs, I was so itching to go to the reading.
I’ve never been to a bookshop. What’s more, this was in the city. The last time I was in the city was two years ago, when we went to the train station to fetch my other aunt who was travelling in from Limpopo.
We travelled there by combi, which Tankiso drove. Rosaria and Kyle came too, but in their own cars.
The bookshop was like something out of a book. Shelves and shelves, just lined with books. It was in a road called Roeland Street, which is close to the parliament.
The bookshop was crowded because the poet was going to read. There were 12 of us learners. The top students in our year for English were chosen. I’m number two. Number one is Evangeline Plaatjies. She is a swot and studies non-stop. She’s got As in every subject.
Can I tell you something about Evangeline though? She doesn’t love reading like I do. Sure, she reads everything she’s supposed to for school, but she does it so she can get good marks.
Anyway, back to the reading. The owner of the bookshop led us downstairs. About 60 or so seats were arranged in a rainbow shape around a small raised platform, with a chair and a microphone stand. We were seated at the front on cushions, to make space for the adults.
Eventually the poet walked onto stage. I was surprised by how young he was. He couldn’t have been older than 30. He had short dreads, and very colourful socks.
He recited a poem. It’s called What Do You See In The Moon Tonight?
I’ve asked if I could use it in this story and he said yes, if I credited him at the end, in the bibliography. A bibliography is the bit at the end of the essay where you have to note all the external books you have quoted. I know how to do this, so I’m allowed to use his poem, but I had to write to him first, which I did. So that is why I’m allowed to print it below.
He cleared his throat and began:
What Do You See In The Moon Tonight?
I walk alone in the dark.
Only my breath as company.
I look up to the heavens.
The moon is shining bright.
I see a mother.
Queen of all that is heaven.
I see a cheetah chasing a hare,
The hare cannot be caught.
I see mountains of hope.
And seas of gold and white.
I see rows and rows of ancestors,
Standing with crowns of cloud
Wishing us well.
I see a face.
I wonder if it is mine, or yours
Let us look up to the sky
Up to all that splendour.
And tell me, what do you see?
I loved the poem.
I can’t describe exactly what it made me feel. It almost felt like what he said was holy in some way, even though that sounds funny to say.
I saw through his eyes. I saw what he saw. And it was like we were watching the moon together, and a chill of pleasure went up my spine and ended at my ears.
I was startled and impressed and in awe the whole way through his reading.
After the reading people were milling about eating snacks and talking. We were under strict instruction by our school trip supervisor not to eat any of the snacks, but Tankiso stole us some and gave them to us on a paper plate.
“You can have mine. Usually I’d have eaten about six of these anyway.”
I didn’t eat anything. I don’t like to have grease on my hands near books. It leaves those little marks and I like the pages to look clean and new.
There was a pile of his books on the table, stacked like a pyramid. The rest of the class were browsing elsewhere.
I looked at his book of poems and traced the title with my index finger.
“Did you enjoy the poems?”
I turned round.
The poet was talking to me! Just me. No teacher.
“Very much sir.”
He laughed. His voice was warm and low.
“You don’t have to call me sir. My name’s Luto.”
“Hi Luto,” I said, trying to sound grown-up and relaxed. “My name’s Phelo.”
“Nice to meet you Phelo.”
He sat at the table and pulled out a ballpoint pen.
“I’d better sign these while I have a moment free,” he said.
He opened one of them to the front cover and signed it.
“How much are they?” I asked, thinking of the money in my paper envelope. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough.
I pulled the envelope from my blazer, carefully unpinning it.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he said, waving his hand at my offering. “Put that away! Save it for something special.”
“But this is special,” I said.
“Thanks. But I’m going to give this one to you.”
“Why not? All these copies are to give away to the reviewers and agents anyway. The bookstore bought them off me, and there’s some left over. I’m free to give them away and I’d love you to have one.”
I just stared.
“Thank you,” I said after a stunned pause. “Thank you very much.”
He pulled the top off his pen again.
He wrote something, then turned it to me so I could read it. It said:
Keep the story alive.
It was the most special thing anyone has ever written, and it was written to me. I glowed.
“Thank you so much, sir.”
“My pleasure. Anyone interested in poetry is my friend. I think they’re waiting for you.”
I looked up. By the door, my Grade 9s had congregated.
“Thank you again,” I said earnestly. “Thank you very much.” I clutched the book of poems to my chest and backed away. I slipped it into my backpack before I met the others.
“Hob-nobbing with the author, are you?” asked Kyle, smiling.
“No,” I said, blushing. “Just talking.”
“I liked his poems,” he said. “I might buy his book at some stage.”
I thought with glee about the precious object in my backpack.
Tell us: What did you think of Luto Fela’s poem? Have you ever experienced what happened to Phelo: you read about something new and unusual, and then have a thrill of recognition when it comes up in your life soon after?