'The People of Colour'
by Ross Fleming
Umzi was maybe, just slightly, not all there. A wee bit fey. A little missing when it came to the important things. This was the initial assessment of Gat and Gam. Beauty had left the child in a stroller on the doorstep with a note ‘sorry cant do this’ two days after Umzi came into the world. Gat challenged the spelling error and said no true descendant of a du Pisani would spell can’t as cant and wanted a blood test but Gam gave him a flea in his ear and a thousand words, so he shut up for the time being.
As a toddler Umzi liked to run the zip up and down on Gam’s purse. She liked the way the window to the sky changed when you zipped it up and then how the light changed when you zipped it down. The repetitive up and down sound irritated Gat, and he complained to Gam. There’s something badly wrong there, he would confide to anyone who would listen. The kjind’s a blerry simpleton. Umzi liked the long drawn out simmmm pulll tin and tried out the feeling of the word, experimenting as she zipped and unzipped the sounds. The colours in the ceiling moved and rippled as she moved her hands, left, right, zip, unzip. It was beautiful. It was simmm pull tin.
There was no need for other words. There was no need for people. There was no need for food or drink apart from the pipe from the rainwater tank round the side of the house swallowed spilling down her front and the fragrance of the raw chicken necks that Wagter shared so freely. Wagter could also see the colours. Wagter barked happily at the shades, welcoming them in while Umzi zipped and unzipped her little red anorak.
Life was a wonderful texture of lights and zips buzzing as she barked back at him in her tiny feminine undertone, harmonious, wild, simmm pull tin.
Gat was publicly embarrassed daily. Enough that his wayward child had been impregnated by an unknown from up North. Enough that she didn’t have the education to spell the final goodbye note properly. Enough that she had left the aging pensioner with a responsibility to care for this thing. His resentment couldn’t grant it a human pronoun. He rejected it with an ache in his stomach. Gam’s 6 till 6 job in the Watkins shoe factory assembly line precluded her from the time and inclination to nurture die Kleinding. Gats unemployed status burned deep and acidic into his gamecock pride. Now I must take in this thing and feed and water it. Ag nee man.
The Three gazed at Umzi. The Kleinding was sommer asking for it. Showing herself like that was disrespecting to their manhood. It revealed that they were lesser men. It was a terrible thing to be less of a man with a child laughing openly at them. It needed to learn respect. It needed to be taught respect. It was unnatural this thing. A knife would fix it.
Wagter as with all Wagters before him was bred for loyalty. Sadly, this had gone to the Kleinding thing. When the Three started cutting the little red anorak into shreds and Umzi started screaming then Wagter attacked, blindly and, as it turned out, unwisely and fatally for him. A small black gun came into play. Wagter looked sad with a third eye in his speckled little head. Umzi overlooked her own pain as she licked Wagter to say sorry. Sorry for unzipping. Sorry for screaming. Sorry for simmm pull tin. Sorry sorry guilt collapse retreat invert revert convert normalize forget shades rainbow sky forget forget forget.
Time passed, as it does.
Umzi understood that she was ugly and strange. The grade three teacher had played the song of the ugly duckling to the whole class and the chorus ‘Oh to be an ugly duckling’ had stayed with her, had mingled into her blood and saliva and the tears that she blinked back. Yes, beauty was something that would always be denied her. There was no beauty to be had for love nor money. Beauty was the moving pot at the end of the rainbow, the shifting goalposts that shuffled away from her whenever she needed identity, uniqueness, self-worth. No no. The peremptory tone. We got no beauty here. Sorry moving on. But beauty was her mother. The long-lost beauty of the golden age. Ah beauty. Before silver, bronze, iron age, hell, diamonds. All gone.
More time passed.
Umzi was getting married today. Gat was glad to be getting the child off his hands. And to a member of the Witmens clan nogal. Witmens would find a job for Gat at the foundry. Gam now lived in the back room of the house. Shame was a terrible thing to live with. Another simpleton. Sad hey. Aneurysm.
Gam’s one eye looked up and the other looked down. When Umzi came to tell her the news, Gam spoke in a rising gabble that said she was deeply disturbed. Gam was off kilter. It was sore to listen to Gam. She felt like a lost soul. So as a result, nobody visited her in the back room. Somebody said to Gat that if he denied Jesus then Jesus would deny him, but Gat kept his own counsel. He was an obstinate soul. A deeply buried diamond in the rough. A diamond or a lump of coal. He kept Gam out of sight. He was a deeply ashamed man. All the neighbours said it was terrible. A terrible shame ag junne.
This too shall pass.
Some things must just be left to God.
Umzi learned deep reading. Umzi was taught the meaning of beauty. Umzi found more beauty. Umzi found her missing mother, or a later version. Umzi read about vaccines. Umzi explained to Witmens about the beauty of vaccines. Umzi got vaccinated. And again.
Umzi read about vitamins. It was her mission in life to tell Witmens about vitamins. But Witmens didn’t have any interest in vitamins or eating healthy. Witmens said listen here Wyfie one of my middle management men gave me shit. He was in a position of trust, and he gave me shit. So, you know what. I fired him. I haven’t got time to listen to shit. Shit is a no no for me. I am a busy man. Vitamins are shit. Healthy eating is more shit. Women’s Monthly Magazine is total shit. I don’t have space in my house for shit. If you want shit go elsewhere.
But vitamins protect you. Women’s Monthly Magazine is true, she cried. She loved Women’s Monthly Magazine. There were colours in Women’s Monthly Magazine. They shifted. They were alive. They were her mother visiting her. She barked at Wagter. Trying to get his attention. But Wagter couldn’t hear her.
It was darem tragic man.
You want to go back to Gat and Gam? Huh? I made you I can break you. Stop crying and be quiet. Umzi heard him and was quiet. Words have consequences. She made him a Klippies and coke, but he was too busy then. He was a very busy, important little man. Vitamins and healthy eating were forgotten until the next issue of Women’s Monthly Magazine.
Such is life.
She thought of ways to get through to Witmens. She had taught herself to write. She devised a fictional short story to subtly reveal to him the wisdom of vitamins, the insight of vaccines, the supremacy of the scientific method. If she could submit it to Women’s Monthly Magazine and they could accept it for publication, she could happily stumble upon it over supper. Look my name in lights. Umzi Wacha Kleinding Du Pisani Witmens. The wisdom of the Vitamins. Witmens couldn’t read so she could read it aloud for him and his business associates. They would surely see the light. They would break open a case of Klipdrift. Allegory was a universal language. She would give them all a brandy and coke and his business interests would never look back. It was her dream. To be a blessing unto three or four generators. She wasn’t stingy. What was hers was his. He just needed a little persuading. Don’t we all.
Don’t we all?
Having found God, Umzi is now a daughter of the most High. It’s a happy place. She tries again with the vaccines story. The submission didn’t work but she perseveres. Witmens says stop with the shit already. You and your conspiracy theories.
It’s not conspiracy. It’s beauty. It’s science. It’s truth.
Bring me a Klipdrift says Witmens.
She brings him the Klippies.
Witmens sadly contracts the virus and after some quick, quiet suffering, dies alone in a hospital ward. Umzi is a bit simple, not really all there. Simmm pulll tin. So, she buries him and applies for her dream job as a seamstress.
She spends the rest of her days designing, sewing, and testing zips. Up. Down. Left. Right. The colours are long gone, along with Wagter and Beauty, but the music lives forever. It is a comfortable music. The music remembers the colours. Brrr zip. Brrr zap. She writes a poem about the beauty of zips. Women’s Monthly Magazine publishes it.
But Witmens cannot see the poem. Witmens is six foot under. Witmens is pushing up daisies. She visits his graveside every weekend. She reads him the poem. A few times in case he didn’t hear it the first time. She knows that Witmens was a person of colour. She too is a person of colour. Pastor Jakes is a person of colour. She can see the colours coming down upon him like a stairway from heaven whenever he stands up front and shouts at everyone.
The people of colour sing sad beautiful songs so that the colours come inside her and mingle and vibrate and she can see the rainbow bridge where Wagter now lives. Beauty lives there too. It is highly nice to visit the people of colour every Sunday. Christmas and Easter she also makes sure to visit. The people of colour is a happy place.
Pastor Jakes is a beautiful man of colour. His voice is gentle rich and deep like a zip undoing and redoing. It is hard to describe. Like a dog purring when you stroke him. Like the cool liquid at the water tank next to her old house. Like the assorted fragrances of the meat of the chicken necks she once shared with Wagter all those long years ago. It is a beautiful sound.
She will go back one day. At that day, the day Pastor Jakes refers to. When the lion will lie down with the lamb and a new city will begin. She is quite looking forward to it. She knows and trusts that there will be zips for her to play with to her heart’s content. For the joy all started with Gam’s purse zip.
God seems to understand.
And a little child will lead them. She has never seen a Sarah Phim or even a Cheryl Bum but one day her eyes will be opened. Music and light. Son et Lumiere. There will be a great blender. There will be a mix. Someone will crack the pipe and God will make the mix. It is not long now. Just a little waiting. Gam will see clearly and talk nicely again. The Three will be reconciled to themselves. Pastor Jakes will get a working car. Gat will be proud of his granddaughter. He will see her as she is in sy glorie. Wagter will get a nice big juicy bone. The colours will spread everywhere. We must be patient. We will live happily ever after. It will be The End.
She is one of The People of Colour, and she is proud of it, proud of them, proud of who she has become. Wagter agrees. She can hear him barking for her. She barks back. Coming now, she barks in the language that they share. Coming just now.
Ross, an IT professional, juggles many, many balls to fit writing into his life. The grateful partner to a teacher-homemaker wife, a creative-childcarer daughter, and two enthusiastic-soccer-playing sons, he is often left speechless, wondering what happened there. Fortunately he has the internet as well as the ability to write, which have both saved his sanity. For the past 15 years he has journaled at least twice a week, thumbing his thoughts and feelings into his smartphone while waiting for his sons to fall asleep. Sometimes in tears, sometimes in laughter, occasionally brutally honest, he has drawn on the sorrows and rejoicings of his family, a happy childhood and a derailed adolescence. Two or three trusted friends have shaped his writing. He has self-published 5 poetry books on Kindle, and won the 2008 SA Writers College Short Story prize as well as the SA Writers September 2011 Writing Journey Competition.
He is accessible at http://lemmingpoetry.blogspot.com/