When I got back home I went into the living room where my grandfather was sitting watching soccer, with the volume set to high (he’s a bit deaf).
I should have mentioned earlier that I live with my grandfather. His name is Sibusiso and he’s 71 years old. My mother is in Johannesburg working as a nurse so she can support us both.
“Grandfather,” I said.
He didn’t look towards me.
I picked up the remote and dialled the volume down. “Excuse me, grandfather.”
He turned to me. His eyes crinkled.
“Phelo, my little soldier. Hey, shouldn’t you be at school?”
I laughed. “It’s Saturday.”
He paused a second. “So it is! What’s for lunch?”
“I’m making us spaghetti. Listen … you know your shed?”
We have a shed joined to our property and it opens up onto the road.
In the 1990s and 2000s my grandfather had a car – a beaten up, bottle green Uno. It’s long gone; he’s not allowed to drive any more.
The shed remains standing. It’s about six metres wide and seven metres deep, with a roof of green corrugated zinc sheets.
I sometimes sit and read there but not during the day because of traffic noise.
“The shed? What’s happened to the shed?”
“Nothing, grandfather. I just want to know if I may use it.”
“It’s … for school. I want to set up a science experiment.”
“Science …” he said to himself. “Do you know what I heard from the TV? That the body is 70% water!”
I chuckled. “I know. So may I?”
He was still thinking about the 70 % water. “May you what?”
“Use the shed.”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Hau Songezo! What are you doing maaan!” he yelled at the TV, as his team’s goalie missed an easy goal.
Happily, I went to my room. I arranged the books on the desk. I’d cut out some rectangles of scrap paper at school the day before. Like I’d seen at the library, I made and glued little rectangle envelopes to the first, blank page, the one opposite the book’s front cover. I did this to each book.
Then, I visited the Pick n Pay at the shopping centre. I’ve sometimes seen at the back there that people get discarded boxes from the loading area, which faces the parking lot.
I approached, noting tall stacks of flattened cardboard boxes, multiple bins, and some workers on their tea break. It is here that trucks deposit the produce that Pick n Pay sells, which is then unpacked and moved into the storeroom. The boxes and recyclables they keep outside.
A man sat on a bench eating a salomi.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you using those boxes?”
“Heh?” he said, looking up.
“Those boxes,” I repeated, pointing. “Can I take some?”
He nodded, uninterested, before calling out, asking a friend for some of his Coca Cola.
I wrapped my arms around a stack of six boxes and carried them away.
* * * * *
On Monday, during first period as register was being taken, I received a hand-written note. It read:
Can I borrow the book the poet gave you?
PS I LOVE POETRY!
I know Siyamthanda. She’s in my class which means she’s also a Grade 9. She has braids that frame her face. She was also one of the 12 learners invited to the poetry reading. I don’t know her very well, except for that the English teacher often asks her to read out loud, and I like how she reads.
I turned in my seat to find her. She was three rows back, quietly talking to Lesedi about something.
I whispered a strong ‘psssst!’ across the room. Everyone makes a noise in first period after register has been taken, so my hiss wasn’t noticed by the teacher.
She looked up. I waved the note in the air to signify that I’d received it. She nodded emphatically. I waved my pen in the air and mimed writing, to signify that I would pen a response.
She grinned, and nodded again.
I wrote back, in blue as opposed to her black ballpoint:
Come to my house after school today.
I think you know where we live?
I sent my note back via the network of hands that got the note to me in the first place. I watched it travel until she got it, opened it, read it, and looked at me. She gave a thumbs up.
By the time Siyamthanda arrived at 3.30 I was ready. I had laid out the following:
- Five large boxes, overturned and arranged side by side to make a table.
- A dining chair, used as a table, with five glasses and a jug of water with a lemon sliced up and put inside (I saw this at the bookshop).
- Six books arranged neatly on the makeshift table.
- Two more chairs for sitting on.
Siyamthanda brought two friends, both from Grade 9, but not in my class. Joko – tall and smiley, but what our teachers refer to as ‘naughty’. And Lesedi, who is tall, with big eyes. She actually has a huge afro but for school she plaits it to make it small. It was out now though, and popped like a big black halo rising from her head.
“Do you know Joko and Lesedi?” asked Siyamthanda.
“Yeah,” I said. “Hi guys.”
“What is this?” asked Lesedi, looking at my arrangement.
“Can I have some water?” asked Joko.
To Lesedi I answered, “It’s my library,” and to Joko I said, “Help yourself.”
Lesedi gave one of those looks that says, ‘maybe this is pretty cool’. Joko poured himself a glass of water and sat on one of the chairs against the wall.
“Is this lemon in the water?”
“Yes,” I said.
He crinkled his nose. “Tastes nice.”
“What’s that one?” asked Siyamthanda, pointing to the first book on display.
“That one is called Cave Systems of the Western Cape,” I answered.
“I can see that. Have you read it though?”
“Oh. No,” I said bashfully.
She seemed to consider this, then pointed at the book of mythology.
“Look Joko,” she said, holding up the book and pointing at the cover, “Thor”.
“Yoh, that book has Thor? Lemme see.”
She handed him the book and he pored over the picture. “But Thor is blonde!” he exclaimed.
“I guess they didn’t specify hair colour in the ancient myths,” I replied.
“He means Thor doesn’t look any particular way, dummy,” said Lesedi. “Like hello? He’s a mythological figure.”
The three of them asked me about each book and I told them what I knew.
“Do you guys want to borrow any of them?” All three of them looked blank.
“What do you mean?” said Joko, as if it was some kind of trick.
“Borrow them. For two weeks. Then bring them back. I’ve prepared the inside with a slip that notes who took it out, and on what date.”
“Like a library?” asked Siyamthanda.
Siyamthanda paused as she thought. Lesedi looked unsure. Joko looked confused.
“Cool,” said Siyamthanda, paging through one of the titles. Then she saw the book she’d written me the note about.
The Ghosts of Cattle, by the great Luto Fela.
She took in a breath. “That’s the one I want to read!”
I hadn’t planned this part. The truth is, I treasured the book above all others, and was anxious about lending it out. The thought of it being lost made me feel ill.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I don’t know if I’m lending that one out.”
I braced for a negative response. After all, that was the reason she’d come. She didn’t seem too fazed.
“Why don’t you mark it as a reference book, and so then the person has to read it here?” she suggested.
I knew in that moment that not only was Siyamthanda sweet, she was smart.
A reference book is one which you are allowed to read as much as you’d like, but you can’t take it out of the library.
What Siyamthanda was suggesting is that she could read it here. Here! In my library.
“That’s an excellent idea,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Will you be reading it today?”
“Not now. I have to go do chores.”
“Okay, then. But Joko, you should borrow that book with Thor in.”
“For real?” he asked, suspicious.
“Yes, man. He said it’s a library mos,” said Lesedi.
“Okay,” he said, taking his place at my counter. “What do I have to do?”
I opened the book so that the inside cover showed. Inside my home-made envelope was a slip of paper, headed with the name of the book. I wrote his name and the date on the paper, and the date in two weeks. That was my librarian’s record. Then I wrote the date the book was to be returned neatly at the top of the envelope, for his information.
I gave him the book, pointing out the information. He looked at it.
“Awesome,” he said.
“Lucky for you it has pictures,” said Lesedi.
“I like your library, Phelo,” she said. “See you at school tomorrow.”
And just like that, they were gone.
Tell us: Do you enjoy reading poetry? Do you have a favourite poem to tell us about? We’d love to know!