My current manuscript is still with my Editor. I’m choosing to interpret this as she’s lost herself in its sheer craftsmanship and the extra time she’s requested to review it is no indication of the chronic surgery it’s undergoing.
While she slogs away I thought I’d post my very first published story here: my matric essay; twenty three years ago! Not because the writing is spectacular. It isn’t. But more as proof to myself that I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! And also because it was my first (and only) publishing and deserves its place in the sun for that reason alone.
I was in the army when I got the news. I was technically AWOL as I recall, nursing a plastic two litre bottle of lukewarm Mitchell’s draught while sunning myself on a grassy bank a mere grenade’s throw from Oudtshoorn’s Infantry School army base and congratulating myself on my cunning disguise from military eyes. For surely that shirtless bloke with crew-cut hairdo and military tan lines, curled around a scud missile of beer at eleven in the morning, in full view of the town citizenry, surely he could not possibly be one of the SADF’s elite training unit’s Candidate Officers! No Sergeant Major. Impossible Sergeant Major! No CO of ours would be that dumb! Why, he would have failed our rigorous application process for starters!
I saw a payphone nearby. I sauntered across and dialed the number of a cute and curvy redhead I’d been thinking about. Her damn brother answered the phone. I hastily got the twat to phone me back and we chatted for a bit. In between dodging any references to the redhead, Jason told me my English essay from my final exam of the year before had been selected as one of the top ten or twenty of something somewhere. My memory clings to the belief it was in the top ten in Natal. Realistically it probably made the top twenty of the lesser Umhlatuzi district. There may, in fact, have been only one high-school in the catchment area.
No matter. It mattered even less that the publication took the form of twenty or so A4 pages bound together with a staple. I didn’t care. What mattered was that I’d made it from ball point pen to honest-to-God bold black print.
No doubt the Mitchell’s fizzing in my veins had something to do with it but I walked on air from that payphone all the way back to Riempie’s bottle store where I bought another, warmer two litre bottle.
I give it to you here in all its teenage glory, wart-like pimples and all:
The topic of question 1(d) was: ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ _____________
The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was an Aquanaut. It had climbed up the side of the pool and it was now sucking air near the rim. I let it drown. With a final sputter it dropped away from the side and sank to the bottom. The phone rang. I left my towel where I’d been tanning and answered the phone.
‘Wanna come to the beach this afternoon?’
‘Nah, I can’t. I got to do some chores. Mow the lawn and stuff, sorry.’
‘Ja, maybe tomorrow.’
I was in standard 8 then and I can still remember that first day of embarrassment with perfect clarity. There I stood, unable to go to the beach because I had to mow the lawn. Now, before one mows the lawn there is a really disgusting ritual one has to perform: ‘Super duper pooper-scooping.’
And we have two dogs.
My mom prefers the direct method: a plastic packet over one hand and an open packet in the other hand. Step one. Approach land-mine/booby trap/ doggie-doo. Step two. Remove unsightly object using hand wrapped in plastic packet and place object in open packet. Repeat procedure until garden looks green again.
Thumbs down for my mom’s method. No way, uh uh. When I do it, I do it in style. Take one bucket and line it with a black plastic bag. Take the longest spade in the garage and only now are you ready to scoop.
For all my efficiency there was one factor over which I had no control. Our house is situated next to one of the busiest roads in Empangeni and we have a very low garden wall with the road overlooking the majority of the garden. Now I loathe ‘Super duper pooper-scooping’ beyond belief, partly because it’s disgusting, but mostly because of the intense embarrassment one suffers. I believe I was the only one in my circle of friends that had this abhorrent task forced upon them by their mothers. Anyway, I used to keep pretty quiet about it until that day in Standard 8….
I was operating in the front of the garden now and every time a car drove past I would casually stop what I was about to do and lean thoughtfully on my spade. When the car passed I would scoop in earnest to get the job done as quickly as possible. I looked around me. Hell. These dogs were getting too much to eat. I walked towards a really fresh pile and hefted my spade. Got it. In mid-scoop I saw them. They saw me: three of my friends who were going to the beach and they had chicks with them as well. My face flamed red.
‘Hey, Ian. Are you still mowing the lawn?’
‘No, I haven’t started yet?’
‘So, what are you doing?’ They were all standing at the gate now.
‘Ag, I just cleaning up after the dogs.’ Trying to make it sound like an everyday experience that everyone took part in.
‘Crap?’ asked Edmund in total disbelief.
‘Ja, literally,’ I said.
And then they cracked. The whole bunch of them were nearly collapsing with laughter. I could still here them a kilometre away. I cursed my mother then and I couldn’t have cared less whether she head me or not.
That was Standard 8. I’m in Matric now and I have learnt a few things. Number one: ‘The only answer to total defeat is total defiance.’ And number two: ‘Where-ever you are and what-ever you’re doing, always keep your sense of humour.’
The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was a new improved Aquanaut, ‘capable of getting out of the tightest of corners.’ It was stuck. I let it drown. The phone rang.
‘Hey, Ian! Are you coming to the beach today?’
‘Can’t, it’s Saturday.’
I’m in Matric now and I’m still doing this. What a joke! I get my spade (I still haven’t sunk that low that I’m going to use a packet) and a bucket. I get some beers out the fridge and turn the music on loud. ‘Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ – whoa, what a party. All right! I’m ready. Let’s go scoop. I tramp around the garden, shoveling everything from last week’s carrots to today’s rice and gravy. In Biology we refer to these undesirables as faeces. What a crappo word. Cars drive past. Some hoot (friends). I wave my spade in the air triumphantly.
Edmund is at the gate.
‘Hey Ed! Come help me. I’ll even give you some beers.’
‘Nah, it’s okay.’
‘C’mon, Ed it’s a shit job but someone’s gotta do it.’
‘So, when are you going to stop?’
‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’
‘How many beers do I get?’
‘How many cruds are you going to shovel?’
‘Give me a spade.’
I hand him a beer.
Bit of a dodgy ending that! I suspect the exam clock was rapidly winding down and by that time I had skied so far off-piste I had no choice but to chuck the words of question 1 (d) into the fray somewhere. Anywhere!
Hold thumbs that when I get my manuscript back on Monday, it has fewer holes in it than my current crop of underwear. Have a good weekend everyone!