The JRB presents an excerpt from White Chalk, the new collection of short stories from Terry-Ann Adams.
Jacana Media, 2022
- ‘For me, the truth is important because we have been fed so many books with lies’—Read an interview with Terry-Ann Adams on their new collection of short stories, White Chalk, here
Read the excerpt:
Laurelle, the day before
Don’t jella, vang tips. That’s what these girls need to understand. They can’t be naar that I am the most beautiful girl in the school, and now it’s going to be worse because I will be the Beyoncé of the banquet. Jassis, what do they then think? Not even the first princess comes close. I will be the winner by far, and all the girlies are going to choke.
I am Laurelle, the belle, and I am not going to let anyone and their petty jealousy ruin the most important night of my life. Even my mother knows she must come right. I don’t want any snaakse gedagtes tomorrow when we go to Lulu for my hair. I have three options for Lulu, she won’t struggle. My hair is glad so the style will fall into place. She can choose the up style with the pearls or the loose curls like J-Lo or she can do the Kim Kardashian. I will look fantastic in any of those, and I have a face that goes with any hairstyle. My aunty always says, ‘Laurelle se gesig is gemaak vir enige hairstyle. Up-do, bob, hell even tong style, dit maak nie saak nie.’ And she is right. Lulu better not get drunk during the day and fuck up my hair. I will moer her; I don’t care how old she is. Those ones with their kroes koppe must be worried, and I told Shanice, if she comes wearing fake hair and weaves and kak, then she can’t pose in my photos. I don’t care what style she does with that korrels. She must just come looking reg. And she better not come with a wet look to our banquet. She knows her hair can’t curl.
I only want perfection in my photos. Shanice is only our friend because she has money and she knows that. She has a nice face and is lekke gebou, but everyone knows her hair is kroes no matter how many times she GHDs it. My girls mustn’t embarrass me tomorrow. We need to set an example. All these nat fadoeke are looking to us for inspiration since their lives and faces are so boring. That’s why I got us a limo. Who else in Bellavista is going to go to the banquet with a limo? See, we inspire and innovate. I told my mother the limo must park in the street so that everyone can come out of their flats to see us get in with our partners. Girl, we need to put on a show. Everyone must see me; I am going to walk out last so that all eyes are on me.
Aunty Moena is doing the final touches on the hem of my dress. It’s going to have a cape like Solange. I chose white and gold for my colours. My partner is going to wear a white suit with a hat and a kierie, a lekke old school style, and I am going to wear a white dress with a white cape with a gold flower detail around the edges. I got the idea on the internet. I am always looking for new ideas on the internet and sending the pictures to Aunty Moena. That’s why no one dresses like me here in the flats. My clothes look like they are from Milan and New York, not from Jet. My dress will be one of a kind. The banquet’s theme is royalty, and I am going to be the only one dressed like a queen. I even went and bought a crown at a costume shop in Booysens. Jassis, who else is going to wear a fucking crown? Now that I think of it, Junaid must leave the hat. I am going to ask my father to take me back there so that we can go buy him a crown and one of those sticks that the kings hold. Yes, darling, they will be so naar that they are somme going to vomit at the venue. Not even the white girls are going to look as fabulous as Laurelle, the belle. I am the coloured Princess Diana, and there is no competition. And to make things worse, Mrs Paulus said there was going to be a king and queen announced, and for the first time ever, they are going to give out prizes. This is why I had Aunty Moena make me a cape with flower detail. I will be winning that prize. No one can touch me.
I must make sure that everything is sorted for the After Party and the After the After Party. We are going to a club for the After Party, and I got Junaid to get his father to organise a kombi for only the best of the best, the others must make their own way there. The After the After party will be at Shanice’s house. That’s why she gets to sit at our table, ride in our limo, and blom with us at the After Party. Her house is nice and big, and her mother is so desperate for her kroes kop child to have friends that she said we can have the party there. Can you ever? She is going to sleep by her boyfriend’s house, which is perfect because we didn’t need her to come to play policeman over our nice time. The After the After Party is my party, and you can only come if you have an invitation. Yes, darling, I host exclusive events. You can’t just show up at a party thrown by the one and only Laurelle, the belle, and think that I am going to let you in. I told Junaid he must get the rough boys from our class that live by the high building to come and be bouncers. I got them black skippers and said they must wear black jeans so that they look like real bouncers—like the ones in the movies. My only problem now is the drinks. I need to get someone that has ’n ou gesig to go to the bottle store. I could have gone myself if it was just one or two six packs, but this is the drinks for an exclusive event. We need bottles and crates and trays of drinks. It’s going to take more than a smile plus; I don’t want people to see me going to a bottle store. I am an icon, a legend of our time; I can’t be seen at places like that. I am well known in this community. I will have to make a plan today because nothing will ruin my night.
Robyn, the day of the matric dance
‘Robyn, you better not start with me today. Did you take that suit back?’ Why must my mother be like this? She’s known since I was 13 that I won’t be wearing a dress to my banquet. Especially not that Cinderella dress that she has there in the living room, is she jags? She is concerned that the people of Bellavista will start a praaitjie if I go as myself, but that makes no sense because people here know me. Have they ever seen me in a dress or a skirt? I am not a girl, and I told my mother this when she took me to that stupid wedding dress shop in Rissik Street.
‘How do you mean you are not a girl, Robyn? I gave birth to a girl; I raised a girl. What are you then? Are you a boy?’ I don’t know why she had to make a scene in front of all the Ethiopian aunties and that bride who was fitting on the ugliest wedding dress I have ever seen. I am not a boy either. I don’t feel like I fit in any of the genders. It’s weird but not weird. I am neither, and sometimes I am either, and sometimes I am both. I don’t know how to explain it to my mother; hell, I can barely explain it to myself. Marcia calls it non-binary. My mother doesn’t have patience for me being non-binary, especially not right now—it’s the banquet, and I am the first and only of her children to make it to matric. She has been planning this day for years and, in her master plan, I was not wearing a suit.
Don’t get me wrong, just because I don’t want to wear a dress doesn’t mean that I am not excited about the banquet. Jassis, why do you think I have been holding on and swallowing shit from teachers that tell us our mouths are township taxis when we talk in class or the principal who asks first if you are from Bellavista so that he can class you cheap. I was even on the banquet planning committee with that windgat Laurelle and her follow-the-leader friends. Look, I didn’t just choose any old suit. The theme is royalty, and nothing says royal and rich more than a rajah in a Bollywood movie. My mother and I watched those movies on SABC 3 on Sundays before she became a weirdo. That’s where I got my inspiration from, so I went to the plaza with my life savings and had a bra named Anoop make me an outfit for a royal Indian wedding. He outdid himself. It’s red and gold, complete with a turban and everything. It doesn’t come with a turban, but I wanted to be extra afshowerrig, and I didn’t want to do my hair. Who is going to think of that, huh? Not even the Indian boys in our class will think of this harde suit. I don’t even want to go with a partner because I don’t want anyone or anything to take the attention away from me and my turban. My mother went and bought a dress that looks like a wedding dress, talking about ‘You are gonna look just like Lady Di on her wedding day.’ Jirre, that is so old fashioned and jags. Nobody is trying to look like Princess Diana in this day and age.
‘Robyn, you need to start getting ready. The people are going to be here in the next 30 minutes!’ Oh shit, ‘Ja ma!’ We live in a duplex, so my mother invited a bunch of our family members and her friends to our house so that I could have my movie moment where I come out and stand at the top of the stairs before coming down dramatically. She’s not happy that there’s no boy at the bottom that will take my hand, but when I told her that you have to pay for your partner, she decided that saving R700 was way more important than having a Prince Charming for a few photos. I brush my hair up. It’s short but long enough for a small bolla that you won’t see under the turban. I can hear Marcia’s voice downstairs. She’s the first one to arrive—no surprises there. Marcia is my mother’s youngest sister and my best friend. She’s three years older than me and in her last year at Wits. She’s doing Media Studies against my mother’s wishes, who wanted her to do law. Marcia is defending my choice to go alone to my uncle who just arrived. My mother laid out platters of boutjies, frikadelle and wings. She has JC Le Roux for the toast and Appletiser for the table that she decorated in the royal theme with pictures of Princess Diana everywhere. She even bought flowers and chair covers and hired a table from Uncle Basil. This is her night to shine, to show them that her child made it to matric. She bought samoosas and mini rotis by Aunty Moena, who she didn’t invite because Aunty Moena didn’t want to make my dress. Aunty Moena said no because ‘Deidre, jy weet Robyn gaan nie in ’n rok klim nie en ek gaan nie my tyd mors nie. Ek het baie orders.’ My mother took the refusal as an insult, but I like Aunty Moena even more now because she’s not a pretender, and she obviously has eyes.
The car is outside. Yho, time is moving so fast. My mother is knocking, but I don’t want any help. I just have my shoes and my turban left. Have I made a mistake? Jesus, I should just have worn the dress. There’s still time, neh? No man, if I am going to this thing, I am going as myself. This is my dream, too, not just my mother’s. Anoop already tied the turban like a hat so that I don’t sukkel tonight. I chose the Arbiters; they are the perfect shoe to go with my royal look. I can hear my mother calling me above the loud house music. She tells my cousin Roykie to change the song. I straighten my jacket and walk towards the stairs. I hear the song starting. My mother timed it just right, it seems. Just as I emerge in full view of the guests, Prince sings ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.’
Shanice, the day after
Ha, they thought they could use me for my house and my money, and I would just be happy to be their friend. Who even cares about Laurelle and her fake friends? I was the one who used her, and when she saw that I was not a needy bitch and my self-esteem was in check, she nearly got a hernia. Last night was magical. It felt like a dream. Laurelle came in her limo, but I told my father to tell them I would be coming by myself. She was furious, but she knew she couldn’t say anything or else the party was off. I wanted to show her. She mos thinks that everyone worships her, and everyone wants to be her friend. No, darling, the theme was royalty, and we were all kings and queens.
She thought that I didn’t hear her. We were in Mr Daniels’s class for English. I sit three rows in front of Laurelle next to Robyn. I don’t know how she thought she would not be heard; our class is small. She said to Junaid: ‘Oh no! I can’t be seen with children like Shanice. That is a downgrade. People like that rub off on you with their ugliness.’ Robyn heard it too. They wanted to go and moer Laurelle, but I stopped them. I told them ‘Ek bêre vir Laurelle ’n bumper.’ That’s when I came up with my plan. I would mention that our house is available for a party venue. I knew she wanted to host the After the After Party but she mos doesn’t have a nice house so she couldn’t do it there. I also just mentioned that our house has a bar. Jirre, it was so quick; she made me her friend somme that second break. She told me how to walk and what to wear and made me GHD my hair every day, and I took her kak and said nothing when she called me a kroes kop. I just thought about the end goal—to make Laurelle look like a gat on the biggest night of her life.
Laurelle likes to talk and brag, so I knew what her outfit was going to look like, what her nails were going to look like and even what her three options for hairstyles were. The theme was royalty, so I had to look like a queen. I wanted to have an African royal look with the spirit of Princess Diana. I knew that no one was going to go in the African direction. My father is Zulu, and Laurelle never lets me forget it. I decided that the first step of my plan was to embrace my roots. No one was going to make me feel ashamed of where I come from or who I am. I asked my father to take me to a dressmaker that can make an African-inspired traditional gown with a modern twist. He decided we should go to a designer. Jirre, that designer did exactly what I asked. Aunty Moena would have never been able to make something so kwaai. And plus, she’s Muslim. It was a mermaid dress that shaped my body with a boob choop top. It was black with beads, and the bottom had layers. I wore a red s’qolo—not the traditional one for married women, the designer made me a special one. It looked like something you would see in Black Panther. I looked like a queen, ready to take her throne. Dress and headgear: check.
I made everyone think that I was going alone, and they all showed me that they class me cheap because no one was surprised or asked why. Anyway, I have a boyfriend. Children at that school like to underestimate a person; just because they think I am ugly doesn’t mean the whole world thinks I’m ugly. I don’t live in Bellavista, and they don’t know my life. My boyfriend goes to a boys’ school. He plays rugby for the first team, so trust me, hy is gebou om te hou. He is also very respectful, so my parents like him. I asked him to be my partner. He wore a suit made by the designer. It was black with touches of leopard print, and he wore my father’s headgear. We looked like we were from Wakanda. No one could touch us. I didn’t want to go in that limo because I wanted to make a grand entrance. And I did. I made sure I came after Laurelle and them but not too late, so the people were still outside.
As Cardi B instructs, we pulled up in a drop-top Porsche that my father borrowed from a friend. They saw me as we arrived at the banquet; already it was a rara because we had a harde car. Then I got out in all my African royalness and toe raak die mense mal. Jassis, I didn’t even see my father driving away; I was too busy being adored and admired. The rest of the night was about me. Laurelle almost choked on her food because she couldn’t handle it. She still couldn’t say anything to me because I had the key to her perfect party in my hand. It made her naar to see everyone complimenting my guy and me and not her and Junaid. When the banquet ended, I went home. I couldn’t go to the after party when I had guests coming.
I was not careless like Laurelle. People came to the door, and drinks were already on a table outside to welcome them. I made sure we had a DJ spinning live outside by the pool. I owned my party. It was mos at my house, dammit. Laurelle came when most of our class was already there. She thought I made everything nice for her until she noticed that everyone was not even worried about whether she was there or not. She couldn’t stand it. I took her grand entrance, I took her shine, I took her crown, and now I took her place at the top. Robyn came to me laughing: ‘Ja, neh Shanice, I will never get on your bad side yoh. What are you going to say when she comes here to face you?’ I smiled at Robyn, ‘Don’t jella, vang tips.’
- Terry-Ann Adams hails from Eldorado Park. The twenty-something writer spent their childhood playing with imaginary friends and writing poems, and started their writer’s journey at the tender age of twelve when they wrote a mini memoir detailing their struggle to be accepted into mainstream schooling as a person with albinism. A cultural commentator, they haven’t stopped writing since then. Terry-Ann’s work, written in English and Afrikaans, is inspired by and predominantly features Coloured people of South Africa. Their debut novel, Those Who Live In Cages, was inspired by their grandmother Frances ‘Poppie’ Adams.
‘White Chalk will blow you away by its honesty, depth and insightfulness. Terry-Ann goes to places where others fear to tread. A memorable collection.’—Lorraine Sithole
Following on from the critical acclaim of Those Who Live in Cages, Terry-Ann Adams’s latest book, White Chalk, is a collection of short stories set in Eldorado Park, the site of Adams’s inspiration.
Their sentences positively glow as they document the wonders and sadnesses of everyday life. These rich and powerful stories confirm Adams’s place as one of the brightest stars of new South African writing.
Everyday life in these stories centres can be pregnancy, death, getting the fahfee numbers from gran, what to wear to a matric ball if you are from Eldos and you want to look like Princess Diana. These stories are nothing short of miraculous.