Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The queue with the women and the book

The queue is moving slow and the Shakespeare book comes in handy. Henry the Fourth part one. Published 1926, it’s a family heirloom. The price is still inside the title page in pencil: 4/6. The Works Of Shakespeare. Behind me in the queue is a polite blonde women who resembles my standard four teacher, and wears her same nylon, green floral dress.
Another woman joins the line, behind the blonde, floral lady. She’s a pushy German woman and asks where the numbers are. Apparently where she’s from you need to queue with numbers. I tell here no, there are no numbers, around these parts we just wait.
She realises I speak German and attaches herself to me, cutting in front of the lady in the dress. I get back into my Shakespeare, hoping that’ll throw her off.
It’s the one with the poncey Sir John Falstaff and there on page 478 I find an ancient bookmark that must have belonged to my grandmother. It’s an A6 sheet of artist’s sketch paper. On the one side is a black ink sketch of the roof of a cathedral and lots of huts. Dozens of huts. Maybe Grahamstown? She lived in the Transkei.
“What’s wrong with the woman’s foot,” the pushy German lady wants to know. I look, and she has a club foot. It resembles the foot of an elephant, or a hippo, but pink, with an angry septic cast to her ankle.
“She says the foot,” I tell my old teacher. Mrs Rider. “She wants to know what happened to your foot.”
Of course she’s not my teacher. Now I look closer, I see she’s more like the woman from the SPCA that slept with JM Coetzee in Disgrace.
“It was a stomach leech,” the SPCA woman tells me. “It went from my stomach down to my foot and ate it away.”
Who knows the German for stomach leech? Not me. “It came from her stomach,” I tell the pushy German woman and get back to the Shakespeare.
The queue moves up one. They’re looking for models. The woman I’m with is a lithe Zimbabwean girl that I cast yesterday afternoon, with mysterious bruises on her arms and an oriental look to her.
“Where are your models,” I ask the ladies. “We are the models,” they tell me, and move up one.
Inside Henry the Fourth, I turn the bookmark over. Written in blue pen are the names of three of my aunts and uncles. “Rick R25, Margie R12, Johnny R13” It looks like a sum about pocket money from 1961. Scattered about are more numbers, 6, 4, 12=4, 4, 18, 95, 5, 5.
The page is torn and folded, brown and beige with age, and you can see blots of ink coming through, from the art on the other side.
The maths on the one side, the art on the other, the German, the queue, the models, it’s almost like a dream. The kind of thing I would dream.

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