Jacana Media has shared an excerpt from Terry-Ann Adams’s debut novel Those Who Live in Cages, a story about Coloured women, family, friendship, identity, and the many ways one can play the hand that life deals you.
‘I hear the sound of the dice as it hits the pavement.
I am the smell of Cobra polish and new paint after Christmas bonuses get paid in.
These are the things that make me, me.
So welcome and enjoy your time here as you walk down
my dusty streets, play drie blikkies with my children, have a
dagwood and listen to Blue Magic.
Welcome to Eldorado Park.’
The novel opens the door to the lives of five Coloured women facing life-changing challenges while trying to do the most important thing – survive another day in Eldorado Park in the south of Johannesburg. Kaylynn, Bertha, Janice, Laverne and Raquel try to navigate their way through domestic violence, migration, coming of age and the ever-cloying patriarchy that permeate every part of living in Eldorado Park, affectionately known as Eldos by its people.
These women are at different ages and stages of their lives yet connected by this one place and a community that has shaped their worldview. Through phone calls, diary entries, poems and other forms of reported speech, each woman’s struggles are told with honesty.
Written, in part, from the perspective of Eldos, this predominantly Coloured township comes alive as the reader gets a look into the heart of a community that has been branded with the image of addiction and violence.
The author’s hope is to take the reader on a sensory experience that lays bare the sights, smells and soul of Eldos through the eyes of its residents and specifically these women characters.
Read an excerpt:
There’s not much to do here so you get bored or into trouble very easily. As children, Janice and I used to run around here knocking on doors and then hiding in trees. Hobbies and past times are expensive and parents usually don’t have money for extramural activities. My mother sent me and Dean to karate in Extension Three and I got to go to ballet in Parkhurst. My body outgrew ballet really quickly so we stuck with karate and then my father paid a church aunty to teach me how to sew. That’s how my love for fashion started. I was really good at it and my mother was very proud. ‘You will make a good wife and mother,’ she said after I made my first dress. Dean got karate and soccer. My father bought him the latest shoes and kits and made sure he got the proper training and ate the right food. Dean is my younger brother. He blends well with any crowd he gets thrown in. The fancy boys’ school boys love him and the rough and tumble Coloured boys who smoke hookah and ask for two rands love him. He is a true athlete but he loves soccer the most. He is also very creative. He can draw and paint too. Dean and my father get along really well. My mother tolerates him, busting the myth about mothers and their sons.
Other people, who don’t have activities budgets, have found ways to occupy their time. There are soccer clubs at the grounds and the swimming pools are open during the summer. My father is very involved in the community. He is a coach at the grounds and he made Dean join a local club instead of one of the fancy legacy clubs that Kela’s husband coaches at. Dean has not forgiven him for that. That’s where most of the children spend their time. When they get too old for swimming or playing in the street, they sit in front of houses on bricks smoking hookah and laughing at people who are passing by.
There are many different houses around here. There are four rooms and two rooms and houses with bathrooms inside. There are trein huise and zozos, flats and back rooms. And of course, there are aangeboude huise. Janice and I used to like walking around the neighbourhood looking at the different colours and styles. She would always laugh at me when we got to the more dangerous looking parts of Eldos. ‘Don’t be scared, Kay-Kay, no one will tell your father that we are here. We are just walking.’ She knew how intense my parents were and she found it very funny. ‘You know Dean practically lives here.’ She was right. I may be the oldest but Dean was the one with the most freedom.
The houses built here are all built with a purpose. This is a township so houses were built to house the inferior races. It always pissed me off. Did they need bathrooms? Well, fuck, we don’t care. Do they need to pee inside at night? Not our fucking problem. That was mainly the four and two rooms, where Tyler and his family lived. The bigger houses were built to create tension. Everything was built with a purpose, every street, every extension all allocated and specifically built to keep the Coloured people locked in and occupied. But not united – because unity is dangerous.
The first thing you see when you come in from the Main Road is the fire station. Most people who live in Extension Two will shout ‘tennis court’ or ‘BP’ when they have to get off the taxi after work. Extension Three has the medical centre and the pool is in Extension Four. The four also has a place called Varke Jaard. Extension Five is special because there are no houses there. You go to the five to buy food and to go to Shoprite and get takeaways at Shaheed’s. There are churches there too. The SDA church with the ladies in high heels is in Extension Six, and Extension Seven has streets named after the states and cities of the United States (I have no idea why). People argue that Alabama Avenue in the seven is the longest street in Eldos but that is yet to be verified and proven.
Extension Seven has been divided by the classists into two parts: die veil seven and die skoon seven. I will let you guess where the big houses are. Extension Eight has the clinic and Cecil Daniels Street which gets an honourable mention because I want one of you to tell me who Cecil Daniels is. Extension Nine has a pool and a Spar. It also has Kersie Dorp but it will tell you that that belongs to the Ou Park. Speaking of the Ou Park, the Ou Park has streets named after precious jewels. It also has a pool that the eight thinks it can claim. Then there’s Extension Ten but that one is new and I’m still deciding if I want to claim it. Those are the extensions that make up Eldos, a place filled with character and love. I love walking these streets and seeing the people. I love the smells and sounds. I can bet you a thousand rand that the suburbs don’t smell like Pekko masala and koesisters. They don’t have The O’Jays blasting on every speaker available or street preachers shouting about the end of days.
The two-, three- and four-room houses usually have women-led households. They speak their mind and drink Gordon’s gin or box wine and they slap their thighs and fight loudly in the streets. Their children have dropped out of school and ask for two rands on the corners. They won’t really be much when the grow up; they may move into zozos and back rooms in the yards of their parents. But you can’t fault these women or their children, they are usually dark- skinned with kroes hair. They speak Afrikaans and aren’t from Cape Town.
The aangeboude huise are four- and two-roomed houses that got extended by the children of the inhabitants who got a Matric and a good job. They are sometimes the products of loans from banks or paid out pension funds and road accident funds. In these houses you find the churchgoing mothers and fathers who raised their children to speak English. They go on road trips to Durban and they pack boiled eggs as padkos. Their children work in the bank or at call centres. They have clothing accounts and furniture accounts.
The houses that were built with bathrooms in the nicer extensions are the homes of the elites around here. We live in one of those extensions. Everyone speaks broken English and they have children in university. The mothers have straight black hair and smoke Camels in secret. Everyone has a good job and everyone goes to church or is Muslim. The real snobby ones have a child overseas that they won’t shut up about. No one likes these people but we go to their events for the expensive biscuits and Twinings tea. They are the pastors and the business owners. They are the ward councillors and the principals. They are annoying and their children almost always leave for a life in the suburbs and everyone gets mad and calls them windgat but deep down they wish they were them.
Corner houses in fancy extensions always hold secrets. My father bought my mother a corner house to make her stay and not bother him about moving to the suburbs. All over Eldos there are corner houses painted in pink, yellow, and beige (Coloured people seem to love a beige house) and every corner house has the best skeletons. The yard space is always bigger for people who live on the corner so naturally they lift their noses in the air. There are also almost always light-skinned Coloureds who live in corner houses (another theory, don’t quote me on this one).
Then there are the flats. I am not allowed at the flats. It’s not even a negotiation. The flats were built as a means to an end. These are rows and rows of packed cubicles bursting at the seams. The flats are somewhere between the four rooms and the aangeboude huise. The people who live there have one child in the bank and one on drugs. Some have dads who go to church and some have seep koop. The flats are painted all sorts of colours to represent the deurmekaargeid that goes on there. A word to the wise: don’t scream ‘jou ma se’ when you’re at a flat. There is a true sense of community there. You will get a community beating from everyone including old people and babies. Trust me, I have seen this happen. Yes, I go there. One of Janice’s distant cousins lives there.
If you visit the Hillbrow flats on a Sunday morning, you will smell cooking that will change your life. This cooking is the handiwork of Auntie Gladys. (Not Janice’s relative; Auntie Gladys goes to church with Auntie Bertha). Auntie Gladys is a heavyset woman with a laugh that makes everyone jump up. She is generous and kind. She has two daughters: one is in heaven and the other one went to Middelburg and left her with three young children to raise. She raised those children the best she could. The eldest became a Majimbo, the second one is a church boy and the youngest is in the scholar patrol at school. The church boy’s name is Darryl, he is the pride of his grandmother.
Darryl is the type of man that every father wants for his daughter. He is decent. Every girl has heard, at least once, ‘marry a boy like Darryl. He will take good care of you.’ Fuck Darryl, he is boring and a raging misogynist. Anyway, Darryl doesn’t have big dreams, he just wants to get his family from the Hillbrow flats to an aangeboude huis on a corner. A house that looks like the house opposite ours. He doesn’t want to leave Eldos. He knows that that is insanity. All he wants is enough money to move from one part to the next. So he started saving a little money from each paycheck to buy a house. He worked extra jobs and never used the money, such a disciplined boy. He only had one goal: to take Gladys and his sister out of the flat. Until he met Laverne, who moved in late last year. And just like that, vagina changes everything. The house money now has a greater purpose.