Exclusive to The JRB, an excerpt from Achmat Dangor’s newly released novel, Dikeledi. Dangor, a political activist and award-winning author, is a Patron of The JRB.
Picador Africa, 2017
Aunt still has a drip attached to her arm, and lies propped up against some pillows. She is obviously quite tired, though there is no hesitation in her voice when she starts speaking.
‘Ntate, Mama, dumelang. Hello, young ones.’
‘Dikeledi, my girl, are you all right?’ Grandad asks. She smiles for a moment, while Grandma shakes her head. This is the way her father used to address his daughter all those years ago in Newclare, when she had been naughty enough to go outside into the darkness by herself.
‘Dad, I’m fine. But I asked you to come over because there is something we need to talk about, and I thought it better not to wait any longer.’
‘Why is there a policeman outside? Are you being threatened?’
‘Dad, it’s just a precaution. I’ll explain everything. Please sit down; we don’t have much time.’
She waits until we are seated, then talks in earnest. ‘There a few things going on out there, and the police are being careful. Please, I don’t want to worry you, but we must all take a few precautions.’
‘Is this to do with Inspector Ramodibe’s death?’ Grandad persists.
‘Patrick, please can we wait until Dikeledi has finished?’ Grandma says.
He sighs, and sits back, and Aunty continues. ‘Commander Diakanyo came to see me earlier. Following what happened last week, there are a few developments. Yes, in the police, in government and elsewhere. There are some crazy people out there, as always, but they will be sorted out. Right now, my concern is for my family. I spoke to Martha, Commander Diakanyo, and she agrees that we must all be extra careful. Mum and Dad, we thought it would be better for the two of you to stay somewhere safer for a while. There have been no threats against you, but our house is remote, and yes, so large that guarding it is quite difficult. I know this must worry you, but as I said, it is just a precaution.’
‘Where will we go?’ Grandma asks.
‘It is being taken care of. Martha will be here to meet you soon. You can trust her. She is arranging a place near Pretoria. I know you will miss home, but please, it will be good for all of us. Not having to worry about you will help me get better.’ She breathes in deeply, closes her eyes for a moment, and Grandma gets up, looking concerned. ‘Mama, I’m all right, I just get short of breath. You know I don’t like talking so much.’
‘Will we at least be able to pack some things?’ Grandma asks.
Aunty nods. ‘The commander will see to it.’
‘Dikeledi, my dear, we want you to get better. We will do as you ask.’ Grandad intervenes again. ‘But what about the young ones? Dikeledi and er, whatshisname, here?’
‘Oh yes. I’d like to speak to them. Mum, Dad, Martha is outside now, please go and talk to her for a minute? Sorry, Amen, if you don’t mind, can you also wait out there with Grandad and Grandma? I need to speak to Dikeledi alone.’
Amin looks expectantly at me, hoping I will at least correct the way Aunt pronounced his name, but I don’t think it’s such a big deal. He gets up and leaves quietly. I go and lean up close to Aunt, so that she doesn’t have to strain her voice. She is breathing quite heavily.
‘So, young one, as Grandad calls you, or child of tears, as our name means, what are your plans?’
‘Well, like you, I have defied my own name; I am no longer a child of tears. As to my plans, I was thinking, even before we came back here to see you, that Amin and I should return to Johannesburg.’
‘And do what?’
‘I need to finish the story I’ve been working on for months. My editor is pushing me–he says it can make international headlines–but I don’t want to be pushed, especially now that I am part of the story. I’ve been talking to Amin too and I think I might go freelance. Maybe the story will make me famous once it is published. Pity I’d have to leave out some juicy bits, about someone called Palesa.’
‘Where did you hear that?’
‘That guy Mhlana, the hijacker, that’s what he called you when he saw you up close, and flung his gun aside. It was like something out of a movie. Oh, I’m sorry, Aunty.’
‘It’s okay. But journalists don’t have great incomes these days. What will you live on?’
‘I still have some of the money Mom and Dad left me. Should keep me going for a while. Amin will find something; he always does.’
‘Okay, now listen to me, please. Let the story wait, don’t be a hero. Go back to New York. Your young man, Amen, can join you there later, when he has sorted himself out.’
‘Aunty, his name is Amin!’
‘Yes, sorry, Amin. He’s a nice boy. Now listen, please, this is no place for you, not yet, too much history hanging over us. Come back one day when we’ve learned how to deal with it.’
‘I understand the need to be careful, Aunty, but—’
‘You need to do what I say, Dikeledi. You need to leave the country. Right away.’ Aunty was getting agitated.
‘Okay, so do I just go and book a flight to New York? Whoever is watching us will surely find out. That’s what I think you meant – that we’re being watched.’
‘Clever girl. No, you can’t just go to the airport and catch a flight. There is another way, and someone will help you.’
‘This is what you do. You and Ameen are not to go home with Mum and Dad. You will be taken to the Garden Hotel. A booking has been made in Ameen’s name. Two nights of accommodation paid for, but they may still ask for a credit card. You know how these places work. Does your man have one?’
‘Yes, but what about our stuff? Our clothes? Our laptops?’
‘Someone will pack your things and bring them to you. Mum will help them. Martha–the commander–will tell you more.’
‘Aunty, The Garden–that’s the fancy place where the gambling casino is, yes? Do we really have to go there?’
‘The strange thing is, you won’t stand out–so many visitors from out of town go there. And it will only be for a day or two at most.’
‘Aunty, who’ll be helping us with this? I am now so wary of strangers.’
‘There are some good people in the police who’ll help you on your journey. The commander will explain more.’
‘Aunty, please, tell me what’s going on?’
‘My girl, there’s a time to be brave and cheeky, and then there’s a time to run. Run, girl, young one, run …’
Aunty suddenly goes quiet and her eyes close. I start to panic. I’m about to call for help when I hear her whispering, though her eyes remain shut.
‘Go well, my girl. We’ll see you again one day.’
Thank God! For a horrible moment I thought that Aunt had passed out.