I swallowed carefully, thinking of how to reply to Mevrou Jacobs’ question. Ma has a thing about coloureds who speak English at home rather than Afrikaans: “Always trying to make out that they are better than us. They think it makes them sound more educated. Not like the Queen of England is going to thank them. Look how they treated Megan Markle’s mother at the wedding, hey? She sat alone.”
I’m not sure that was really the reason Megan Markle’s mother sat alone. Besides, British don’t even use the word ‘coloured’ and neither do the ‘Americans’ because they think it is rude. I learned this on Twitter.
But Twitter isn’t going to help me with Mevrou Jacobs’ question. There’s just something about the corners of her mouth, how they quiver, that makes me think this question is important.
“I get good grades in English, Tannie,” I say, carefully. “Usually sixes, but I’ve got a seven a few times.”
She smiles. “Those are good marks.”
I smile back, then remember she can’t see it. “Thank you, Tannie.”
“And do you enjoy reading?”
Now I really don’t know what to say. Is she asking me if I like doing my homework?
“Books,” she says. “Do you enjoy reading books, Melody?”
“Oh.” It just pops out. Because I hadn’t thought about it. Enjoying books, I mean. They’re just something I do when I have to, in order to get good grades. I want to study Financial Management, if I can find a way to afford it, so it isn’t like I need Shakespeare in my life. But I want a bursary, and to get one, I have to do well at school.
“You see,” Mevrou Jacobs says. “The woman who works for me reads beautifully in Afrikaans. Just beautifully. She reads an hour each time she comes, in between doing some cleaning and errands, you know. But there are books I’d dearly love to hear, but they are only in English. And you have a lovely voice.”
“Thank you …”
“What I am asking, dear, is if you would like to read to me as a job.”
“How much, Tannie?” Again, I’m slapping my hand over my mouth, feeling dof. What a thing to say!
Mevrou Jacobs, however, just lets out a soft chuckle. “Ah, I can see your passion for finance coming out. How about R30, for twice a week, an hour each, along with tea and biscuits, of course. Can’t read with a dry throat.”
And what else was there to say, other than, “Yes, I’ll do it.”
Tell us: If English is not your home language, how does your family feel about English spoken at home? Is it seen as ‘showing off’?