This story, by Morena Maoka, won one of FunDza’s competitions which asked entrants to write a story that illustrated the adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. Read it as a writer – that is, read it to appreciate how the writer used words to create responses on the reader.

So we just got home from church. I see my gran conversing with the lady from next door.

“Heeey, Nelly! Where’s your ma, Charmaine? She hasn’t been to church in a while hey! Greet her for me okay.”
My gran walks in and I know what’s going to happen next.

“Woooo that one! An atheist I tell you. I’m sure it’s that DSTV she had installed last month, she can’t get enough of it, hey! She even skips church now! (claps once)”

Yep, exactly that.

Here’s my story. I come from a small township called Katlehong. People in my community, they love church. I live with my gran and she raised me in such a way that I think of Sunday as ‘thee day’! So if ever I swore on a Sunday as a kid, I’d quickly go down on my knees and ask the Lord for forgiveness.

“Yohhhh, pleaase God, don’t punish me, don’t make me a mute, I will never swear again on a Sunday, I will stop on Saturday. Askies, Amen.”

During the week I’d wear nothing but my dirty shorts, I’d save my best clothes for church. From Monday to Saturday we ate pap, and Sundays, you know mos, ‘Sunday Kos’ – rice, chicken, and vegetables. So imagine how long 2kgs of rice would last us.

We go to church, nod our heads at whatever the pastor has to say and chant hallelujahs. We listen to everything but there’s that one phrase we implicitly seem not to agree with: ‘only God can judge me’.

I know for sure that we do a whole lot of judging in Katlehong. I think it’s just in our nature, you know, black communities. We really don’t care what your story is. We will judge you.

If you have a slight cough, you have TB. If you’re skinny, you have HIV, and if it’s cold and you’re shivering, you’re a junky. Yes, often the judgements we make are totally wrong. Hence they say, do not judge a book by its cover. You see, every procedure that Judge Masipa had to follow during the Oscar Pistorius trial is just irrelevant.

“Haa Guilty!!!” is what we would say.

“Hy het haar geskiet, voetsek!! Vat ook die bene!” we’d shout, no questions asked.

My gran reads a note from church saying that there will be a funeral next Saturday but it does not say whose funeral. She puts the note aside.

After we’ve digested our Sunday kos, we chill on the stoep and watch people walk by. We have one of those 900mm high gates. Let me tell you what happens in Katlehong when you walk past a house with a low gate and with people sitting on the stoep…

As soon as you walk past you become the subject matter. Either you or we will greet first – township procedure – whether or not you know the people, you just have to greet. You will get the most random compliment and as soon as you’re out of sight, we get down to it, until somebody else walks by, of course.

“Helllooo young man! Gosh you look so pretty! Your ma must be proud of you, keep up the good work with the veggies.”

Now that Sibu and his veggies are gone, my gran says it like it is: “Lincoln!!! I don’t want you to end up like that boy, on the streets, pushing trolleys, wearing torn jeans and probably smoking nyaope too! Luister jy?”
For argument’s sake I always have to respond, “ja gran.”

What my gran didn’t know was that I knew the guy, Sibu. He matriculated with five distinctions. He is very smart and business-minded. In fact selling veggies out of a trolley is one of his numerous business ventures for the holidays. No, he is not into nyaope and those torn jeans are probably kak expensive – today’s fashion. I didn’t even bother telling my gran that she was wrong about the guy.

***

It was the funeral today and Gog’ Charmaine made it to church… in a coffin that is. Turns out she has been sick, hence she hasn’t been attending.

Earlier on I heard my gran praying, I think she’s done with the assumptions and the judging, for now at least.
“God, I know you are a forgiving God. Forgive me for jumping to conclusions about my friend Charmaine. Forgive me for not checking up on her instead. I have called one of your angels an atheist and for that I apologise. May she rest in peace. Amen.”