The neighbours were brutes. And I was a dirty, potty mouthed scoundrel with long tangled hair and red cheeks that got even redder when I let them have an earful. Then they threw away a box of books that they got I don’t know where and I went rummaging through their rubbish heap and took ’em all home to my parents’ dismay. I packed ’em all in the big blue shelves that just before that were used for displaying miscellaneous crap for the benefit of guests. Amongst the pile of discarded books was Dogtertjie van Jefta by Antjie Krog. Eleven-year-old me didn’t know who she was (but would go on loving her stuff and meeting her twice during the course of her adolescence), but I was in awe, and I read every poem out loud for the whole town to hear even if I didn’t understand most of it.
Then my father threw away all the books I acquired. He found one with nudie pics in it and decided books were bad for me. But I saved Antjie Krog, and we started a love affair that only got deeper the older and less volatile I became. I’ve lost that particular copy between boarding school and university and countless packings up of my life, but my love bought me a collection of her greatest work, which came with me to South Korea, and I still read her for inspiration, or just when I want to hear someone else say the p-word that I can no longer utter in polite conversation (oh how we become socialised, to be wild and free among the guava trees again!).
I met her, but I couldn’t tell her how she inspires me. If I were her and I came up to me gushing like a schoolgirl, I’d be very annoyed. But it doesn’t even matter. Writers like Antjie Krog and Sylvia Plath and Lauren Beukes aren’t there to mother the world. Their words have power, and in that power is the source, the magic, the thing that makes the world go round.
My mother thinks I’m living large in luxury in Joburg with my quality boyfriend and my socialiteness. Shows how well she knows me. I don’t care about material things. All I want is a house with books from floor to ceiling. And I’m well on my way there.