Five Lives at Noon

EXTRACT: Five Lives at Noon by Brent Meersman

A new novel from the author of Reports at Daybreak
Brent Meersman

Photo © Stefan Hurter

“All these children.” She sighed. “For the rest of their lives and ours, we will sit with this. So easy to burn down a house in ten minutes, kill a woman in ten seconds. And then, there are ten children left.” She heaved another sigh.

“How old would you say she is?” asked Frans.

“Already three, I think. Eish!

She never said she had come to take the child or that he must give her up. She made no ultimatums. She didn’t say it was no good, him trying to raise a kid on his own without any experience of children. Or, for that matter, love.

He watched the buxom social worker pick up the child so that Nobuntu sat in the crook of her arm. He watched her lolling backside as she carried the girl down the brick driveway. At the car, the social worker held Nobuntu’s limp hand up by the wrist and made it wave goodbye. Frans moved his fingers, as if tickling the air.

But she had not asked what the child’s favourite foods were or about any of the things Frans was so pleased with himself for having discovered. They didn’t know she liked salt together with sugar on her porridge; she liked pink liquorice not black; she liked green soap not white.

Frans watched, motionless, from the front door, the palm of his one hand resting flat against the inside of the doorframe. She strapped the little girl into a child-seat in the back. That will be the story of her life for the next few years, the girl sitting in the backseat of the car, transferred here, transferred there, waiting for foster-adults to approve her.

He wondered if he had ever seen a black woman driving herself before. The social worker waved; Nobuntu fiddled with her seatbelt. It was the white glare of the Ford Sierra that caused his eyes to smart. When Frans turned to go back inside, the dark passage danced with halos of yellow light.

Now he sits on the bed beside the empty cot. All she has left behind is the plastic shotgun cartridge.

He flops onto his back. He stares at the ugly yellow water stain splotched with dark green mould that has slowly been spreading across the rhinoboard ceiling. There is no shape in it. He can picture nothing in those blotches, not even sleep. When he was a boy he’d seen faces in the stippled plaster beside his bed where the wall was rubbed black by the bedspread.

No matter how he turns, he cannot find a comfortable position to rest. The keloid is itching. His muscles are in knots. The bed is wretched, lumpy, sagging in the middle. How has he never noticed this before? The stink of the yellowed pillows; the broken pane of glass; the thick coat of dust on the bed lamp light bulb. It recalls the squalor of his childhood flat. It disgusts him. This house is no home, just another temporary barracks.

From the day he was conscripted by the SADF, what say has he really had over his life? He had never considered what he wants to be or could be. Instead, he has let them decide. And now, nothing made sense anymore: Saaiman reprimanding him for carrying out his orders; Flip’s guffawing and making jokes about that bomb that missed the target – “but hell, it came in ‘handy'”; the rope of pantyhose suspended in the breeze; the corpses. Is Ketalar going to be the feeling of happiness in his life?

Extracted from Five Lives at Noon by Brent Meersman, distributed by Xavier Nagel Agencies and available from local bookshops.

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