Friday, 28 November 2014


They met Mr. Ratsike in his dressing room. It was crowded with well-wishers and friends, and Mr. Ratsike moved from hand-clasp to hand-clasp with a dazed smile, until he came to Pearl. The man lit up. “Miss Pearl! Did you like it? The Serenade?”

“Oh Mr. Ratsike, I loved it! You were wonderful, wonderful.”

Simon harrumphed and grudgingly offered his hand in congratulations “Very pleasant, yes, Mr. Ratsike. Very.”

Pearl glowed back at Ratsike “It was beautiful. You are a talented composer.”

“Indeed! The Lady is correct, Charles...” The voice was deep and smooth with the faintest hint of a German accent.

It was the famous violinist Karl whatshisname, standing beside them and looking at Pearl with greedy, acquisitive eyes...

“Aren't you going to introduce us?”

Mr. Ratsike nodded proudly: “Mr von Dursten, allow me to present to you my Muse: Miss Pearl Chabalala.”

The man was slim, elegant, with a thick shock of shoulder-length silvery hair and disturbing electric-blue eyes. “Pearl...Ah...Now I understand...Your name, my dearest lady suits you perfectly... “Oh, she doth hang upon the cheek of night like some rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear”. You are indeed the richest of jewels, not carved violently, raw from the earth's womb; but offered up in smooth perfection from the liquid heaving heart of the World's ocean.” 

And the debonair, world-famous, handsome, dashing Karl von Dursten bowed over Pearl's gloved hand, all the while staring at her succulent mouth.

Simon saw red. From the corner of his eye he observed Mr. Ratsike's expression turn from ecstasy to horror.

TWO! Two of them had Pearl (HIS PEARL) in their sights!

Pearl was laughing up at the bloody German as if she were used to such flattery, with the graceful ease of a sophisticated beautiful woman; not a clumsy country girl traded for a handful of Rand at a Pawn Shop in sleazy Hillbrow.

“Mr von Dursten, Sir, you could talk the little birds down from the trees! How can a simple girl resist?”

“Do not resist, I beg you! Say you will dine at my table tonight,” he turned to include Simon and Ratsik, “The three of you are my very special guests!”

“Mr von Dursten...”

“Karl, please, my Pearl, call me Karl...”

“Karl,” Pearl smiled at him, and a dimple flashed in her cheek.


Why had he never noticed before?

“Karl allow me to introduce you to Mr. Simon Thambisa...”

“My patron, Sir!” Interrupted Mr. Ratsike, “and a very great man.”

“Mr. Thambisa, I salute you for your vision. Mr. Ratsike is an extraordinary talent. Africa must invest in its human resources as much as in its minerals. That is a richer mother-load than any other, and one which will never run out. Mr. Ratsike's Serenade is an astonishing blend of classical instrumentation with the purely African sense of tempo, the nuances, the musical phrasing...Intoxicating, innovative. You can be proud of your protegĂ©.”

“I am. Very proud.” Simon smiled tightly.

It was going to be a long, long night.


Later, much, much later, after hours spent staring at Pearl's bare shoulder while she talked animatedly to Karl von Dursten about all sorts of things Simon knew absolutely nothing about. After hours and hours of this torture, made bearable only by the mirrored agony in Mr. Ratsike's face, the dinner was finally over.

“Well then, it is time to go Pearl.” he smiled his anticipated relief.

“Oh no! Surely not so soon.” exclaimed the Nazi, with a sickening smile, “I am having a few friends over for drinks at my Hotel suit, and I would love to have you join me.”

“I am afraid that is not possible.” said Simon firmly, “We have two children waiting for us.”

A pall of disappointment fell over von Dursten face. “Oh! You two have children? I thought...”

“Mr. Thambisa has adopted two abandoned children, Thalie and Isaiah. He is a wonderful man.”

“So...You and Mr. Thambisa...” Karl von Dursten paused delicately.

“No, not at all. Mr. Thambisa is my employer and a most precious friend.”

Sour rage rang through Simon's ears. How could fury make a sound inside one's mind? He wanted to scream, punch, kick, he wanted to shout: “Mine! She's mine!”

Von Dursten was smiling hopefully at Pearl: “Can I call you? I have been invited to a Vernissage, and don't really feel like going alone,” he shrugged charmingly, “I am a stranger here, I know no one, and I am hoping you will be kind and keep me company.”

“That would be lovely. Please, do call.” Pearl was making a date right in front of him. She was going out with this sly and obvious lady-killer. He would seduce her, use her, abandon her, break her heart...

“Goodnight, Mr. Thambisa,” the Nazi smiled, “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

“Likewise, Sir.” Simon snarled.

He stomped off to the car, stretching his long legs into a gallop, forcing Pearl to run after him on her high heels. He opened the Merc's door on the driver's side, forcing her to juggle her little purse and her wrap while she struggled to open the passenger door. Pearl slid in, pulled on her safety belt, turned to him, and smiled.

“Thank you, Simon, for a wonderful night.”

“You thank ME? You should thank Mr. Ratsike or the Nazi. I just drove you here.”

“But...” Pearl folded her hands onto her wrap and fell silent. 

Simon pulled into the garage, brought the car to a screeching, protesting halt, opened the door, and got out. “Are you staying there, Pearl? Staying the night?”

Pearl got out with quiet dignity and replied: “No Sir, Mr. Thambisa. I will go upstairs and get the children. You needn't stay up, Sir. Goodnight.”



Thursday, 27 November 2014


Pretty much,
As we agreed:
I love you,
You love me.

Pretty much
As life decrees,
One walks away,
The other kneels.

Pretty much.
I suppose we
Can't complain
Or explain.

Pretty for a day
Not expected
To be much
Of anything

Pretty it dawned
More than expected
For that time
Of life or year

Only thing is,
It didn't feel
Like much
Of a muchness.

You have to
Pretty much agree
It didnt feel
Like I had
Nearly enough
Of you, or you
Had enough of me.


Sunday, 23 November 2014


I seem to lack
some basic skill
For either
Love or life

It's no damn good
I seem do it
All wrong
Every time

I try (too hard)
I love (too much)
I live (too fast, or just
Not fast enough)

My fingers fumble
My timing sucks
My plans all fall

And yet I seem to be
Too stubborn
Or too stupid
To desist

So I go from beat
To beat on this
Dumb and deaf

And I ask
How long
Can it resist?

I listen for
A hesitation
On the thump-
A hint of failure
In the rhythm
Of the pump;

That tells me
I am getting
To the part
Where any heart
Will stutter-stop
Any faith wear out.



An hour later a spiffy Simon - liberally splashed with his favorite aftershave - waited impatiently in the lounge, flipping channels, waiting for his Pearl to arrive.

He heard the door open and leaped to his feet. A click-click of high heels preceded the vision of Pearl wrapped from head to feet in a cloak of shimmering ostrich feathers. Her smoky eyes were bigger than ever, her mouth lush and gleaming bronze. She looked beautiful. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

"Pear-Pearl..." he gasped, "You look...Very nice."

"Thank you, Simon," a secretive knowing smile folded up the corners of her mouth.

Simon found he was gaping foolishly, and closed his mouth. "Shall we go?"

"Yes, do lets." and Pearl stepped forward and placed an ivory-sheathed hand on his arm. "May I say, Simon-Sir, you look very fine."

Simon was sure he was blushing wildly, and thanked God that his dark complexion saved him from the visible embarrassment of his confusion. "Than-thank you Pearl..."

Her secretive smile deepened somehow. "You smell lovely too. I love that scent. Old Spice, isn't it?"

"Ye- yes..."

"My Grandfather always used it, and it brings back wonderful memories."

Her Grandfather. He smelled like Pearl's Grandfather.

Strike 3.


A somewhat deflated Simon drove them to the Opera House, and - miracle of miracles!- found a parking spot conveniently close to the main entrance.

He jumped out of the car and ran around to gallantly open the door for Pearl. She stepped out onto the curb in a wave of soft feathers and some delicious scent that set his head spinning.
Pearl didn't smell anything like his grandmother. No, not at all!

He offered her his arm, and the two walked up the broad marble steps into a gilded wonderland. The wide lobby was filled with beautifully dressed people, chatting and laughing and sipping at gilded glasses filled with sparkling wine being distributed by elegant men in black.

One such gentleman approached them bearing a silver a tray with two champagne flutes.
"Welcome, Madam, Sir. Would you like some Champagne? If Madam would like to leave her wrap, there is a cloak-room..."

Pearl smiled at the man. "Yes, that would be lovely." and taking her glass in her gloved hand, led Simon through the crowd in the direction the man had indicated.

At the cloak-room counter, a girl (also in black) was taking overcoats and jackets. Pearl handed him her glass, stepped up to the counter, and gracefully shrugged the feather cloak off her shoulders, handing it to the girl in one smooth movement.

Simon Thambisa's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Pearl was a show stopper.

She was wearing a fifties-style strapless gown, the bodice in pleated ivory studded with pearls, The dress itself was black velvet, tight around the waist with a wide skirt that flirted with Pearl's knees at the front, and draped itself into a sultry train sweeping to the ground at the back. Long ivory gloves slithered up Pearl's arms, nearly all the way to her shapely bare shoulders.

Bare shoulders.
Luscious, polished chocolate shoulders, sweeping into a long elegant neck.
Elegantly molded delicious shoulders, shoulders that begged to be kissed and nibbled and...

Simon couldn't take his eyes off her.
"Pearl..." Before he could speak, he heard a voice behind him echo: "PEARL!"

He turned.
Dratted Ratsike.
Ratsike looking elegant and refined in his musician's coat and tails.
Ratsike looking as poleaxed as Simon felt.

"My dear Miss Pearl!"

"Good evening Mr. Ratsike. You look very handsome!"

"Thank you, Miss Pearl, you are...You look..."
Ratsike looked like an idiot.
"Mr. Thambisa! Welcome, Sir!" Ratsike was feverishly pumping his hand, a huge grin on his stupid face. "Come with me,. both of you..."

He was leading them along the lobby. From the corner of his eye, Simon could see men staring at Pearl, and women glaring at her dress. He drew himself to his full, impressive height. Without a doubt, Pearl was the most arresting women in sight, and she was with him.


Simon rather enjoyed the concert. He had to admit Ratsike was good. The German man too.

But the best part was sitting in the dark next to Pearl, having her lean close to whisper in his ear, having her gloved fingers touching his arm, and the scent of her filling his head.

Then it ended. The lights were coming up, and Pearl was rising from her seat with her glowing dreaming smile. "Oh Simon-Sir, it was so beautiful! Did you like it?"

"I love it Pearl. I love it, and you."

She tilted her head at him in confusion.

Simon found he was shuffling his feet.
"I loved it too. What I meant to say was, I loved the music too."



Saturday, 22 November 2014


The next afternoon Simon came home early carrying a silvery suit bag, and whistling cheerfully. He was feeling confident; confident and bold. The shop in Rosebank had been everything he'd hoped for. His suit was sharp and -according to the salesman, a very friendly but somewhat twitchy young man called Al- sexy.

Al had exclaimed in horror over Simon's serviceable cotton boxers - “Darling! I wouldn't be caught undressed in THOSE!”- and firmly demanded he buy some silky things in a dark plum colour.

He had bought not only the suit, but a shirt, a thin tie (“NO BOW-TIES! Did you see Javier Bordum at the Oscars in a bow-tie? And that there is a hunk with style!”) sharp narrow shoes and silky cobweb-light socks. And of course, the silk boxers...

He'd made a stop at his barber for a quick clip, and had, besides, a slim volume tucked into the back hip pocket of his jeans. The first salvo in his counterstrike. He was going to be “To die for, darling!” as Al had exclaimed.

He arrived home just as Pearl was preparing to usher the children out of the house and upstairs to Mrs Marcovich.

“Pearl! Children! Hello!”

“Good afternoon, Sir. You are very cheerful today!”

“Indeed, Pearl, indeed! I had a very good day!”

“We did too, Papa Simon,” said Thalie smiling. “Is that your clothes for the ball?”

Simon smiled “Yes indeed, Miss Thalie. A man must look sharp when he is going to be escorting a lovely lady, don't you agree, Isaiah?”

Isaiah winked at him in approval and smiled. “100%, Papa Simon. Sharp, mean, and lean!”

“I don't know about the lean, the way Mama Pearl's been feeding me up these last months, but I will do my best!”

Simon cleared his throat, “I have something for you, my family, so gather around.” 

He reached into his coat pocket and drew out a tiny box he handed to Thalie. “For my Princess!” Thalie opened the box and exclaimed over a pink Swarovski crystal heart on a silver chain. From his other pocket, Simon took a Swiss Army knife that had Isaiah shouting in delight; and then with his best suave smile he added “And I wouldn't want you to feel left out Pearl...” He handed her the slim case that had been burning a hole in the back pocket of his jeans.

"Just a little something to add some sparkle to your outfit for tonight."

Pearl held the case in her hands for one long moment, then turned up her limpid gaze to his face. Her tone was perfectly polite. "Thank you, Sir. As always, you are very thoughtful and very kind."

"Well? Aren't you going to open it?" Asked Simon, surprised.

"Yes, oh, of course..." And Pearl opened the case to reveal a pretty red-gold and garnet antique Victorian choker. 

Thalie, jumping up and down with excitement peered into the case and exclaimed in disappointment.
"Oh no! It won't go! It's the wrong color!"

Simon stared at her "Wrong color?"

"Don't you know ANYTHING about accessorizing Papa Simon? It doesn't go with what Mama Pearl is wearing tonight." and then she added kindly, "But it's very pretty."

Strike two.

"Come along children. Let's leave Papa Simon to get dressed up! Let's go to Mrs. Marcovich's."
Pearl turned at the door with that terrible polite smile.
"I will see you in an hour, Sir."

"Pearl!" Simon cried out, "Wait!"

She paused, hand on the doorknob. "Yes Sir?"

"I don't know why, but I keep doing and saying the wrong things. I wanted to give you that gift. From the heart. And the flowers, Pearl. To thank you..."

"What do you thank me for, Sir?"

"For being in my life." 

There was absolutely no politeness in Pearl's dazzling smile. "It is I who must thank you, Simon. I will see you in an hour."



Friday, 21 November 2014


That evening Simon Thambisa walked into a scene of perfect domestic bliss. In the lounge sat Thalie and Pearl cuddled on the couch doing each other's nails - Pearl's a dark bronze, Thalie's a vivid pink (of course) – while Isaiah lay on the rug in front of the TV reading a book. Delicious scents of something bubbling on the stove mingled with the perfume of the flowers clutched diffidently in his hands.

“Good evening, Pearl, my children.”

“Papa Simon!” Thalie beamed and waved her pink-tipped hands at him. “I can't hug you now, but I will hug you extra, later!”

Simon smiled back “I cannot wait, my Thalie. What are you reading, Isaiah?”

Isaiah looked up at him with a faraway look in his eyes. “Hello! I am well, Papa Simon, how are you?”

Simon grinned “I asked where you were...In book-land?”

Isaiah's eyes lit up. “The doctor said I must read – vitamins for the mind – and Mama Pearl got me some new books. This one is about a doctor who gets kidnapped by pirates, then they sell him, then he escapes, then he starts his own pirate band...”

“Can I read it when you are finished?”

“Yes! And there are more books. You must see!”

“I will, we will look after dinner.” Simon turned to Pearl, sitting silently on the couch with her hands on her knees, fingers spread wide. “How are you today, Pearl? How did the doctor's appointment go?”

“Very well, Sir. The doctor is doing tests, he said Isaiah is very well, but we need to feed up Thalie-”


“And fruit and vegetables!” Pearl added, “He suggests we hold off putting them in school until we get the tests back, see what vaccines they haven't had.”

“Good, good...” Simon smiled at her with a plea in his eyes, “I saw these...” he waved the bouquet of vivid joyful daisies, “And I thought they would brighten the house.”

“They are very pretty, Sir, I am sure the house will like them very much.”

Just then the doorbell rang. Simon cursed under his breath “Ratsike!” and stomped off to answer.
He flung open the door with a brusque “Yes? What is it?” There was a short man at the door carrying a long, narrow box tied with a red ribbon. A short man in a green uniform of some kind. He stared up at Simon with an alarmed look on his triangular foxy face.

“Delivery for Miss Pearl Chabalala.”

“What is it?”

“Flowers, Sir. For Miss Pearl Chabalala.”

“You can give them to me.”

“Are you Miss Chabalala?”

“Do I LOOK like Miss Chabalala?”

“Well, Sir, in my line of work I have seen odder things...”

Pearl stood behind Simon and gently tapped him aside.
“I am Pearl Chabalala.”

The delivery man sighed with relief. “Miss, if you would sign here?”Pearl picked up the pen, careful not to smudge her nails, and signed the delivery slip.

She took the box from him with her luminous smile (and such a smile!) “Thank you very much. Have a good evening.”

“Good evening to you too, Miss, and to you...Sir.”

Simon snapped the door shut behind him without replying.

Pearl carried the box into the kitchen and carefully untied the extravagant ribbon. Nestled inside on a bed of lacy fern was a bouquet of delicate velvet-black orchids and a card. Pearl picked it up.
“Oh! How kind! Mr. Ratsike says he will meet us at the lobby at half-past seven tomorrow night, to show us where we will be sitting.”

Simon ground his teeth together. “Mr. Ratsike is very kind.”

Isaiah and Thalie came into the kitchen. “More flowers!” cried Thalie.

Simon looked at his bright, brave daisies and winced. He HATED Ratsik.
“Where did they come from?” asked Isaiah.

Pearl literally glowed “Mr. Ratsike sent them...Aren't they lovely?”

“Lovely...” Sighed Thalie, “I like Mr. Ratsike.”

“Those are the ugliest flowers I have ever seen,” said Isaiah, “They look like alien monster mouths.”

“Do not!” cried Thalie.

“Children!” Pearl exclaimed, 2Enough! Go wash your hands. It is time for dinner. You too, Mr. Thambisa.”

Simon followed the children to the bathroom. Isaiah drew him aside into the lounge.

“Well? What is the plan, Papa Simon?”

“Plan? What plan, Isaiah?”

“You see it, don't you? It's a plot?”

“A plot?”

“The violin man.”

“Mr. Ratsike?”

“Yes! Let me talk to you man to man, Papa Simon. Rat's Dick is cutting in on your action, he's making a move on your woman, and you have to do something about it.”


Simon tossed and turned all night. Pearl and Rat's Dick.
NO! It could not, MUST not be.
Isaiah was right, he needed a plan.
He needed to romance Pearl, make her see him as a man, an attractive man.

He got out of bed, turned on the light, and opened his cupboard. There was a suit at the back he'd brought six years ago for Gideon's wedding. He'd gotten it at retail, an excellent price...
Suddenly it looked shabby and unfashionable.

He imagined himself in a tuxedo, like Denzel Washington. He looked into the mirror hanging on the inside of his cupboard door, sucked in his gut, and raised an eyebrow. “Simon...Simon Templar...”

And yet...
Simon did a quick internet search and found a man's shop in Rosebank specializing in bespoke suits.
There was a plan...

He was going in guns blazing. He was a personable, attractive man. He would make Pearl see that. He, Simon Thambisa, was a catch. And the love of her life besides. He hoped.

He lifted his chin and smiled at the mirror “Pearl,” he husked, “I have been waiting for you all my life...” 
Too romantic, too lovey-dovey, too dangerous. What if she laughed?

Better be cool, calm and collected. Let Ratsike make a fool of himself.

What if she LIKED that? What if she liked the idea that she reduced a man to a puddle of idiotic shuffling jelly? Mr. Ratsike had always seemed eminently sensible to Simon before. Being cool might be a huge mistake.

Simon threw himself onto his bed and covered his head. Isaiah was right. You had to fight fire with fire...

The thought that taking romantic advice from a 10-year-old might not be a good idea didn't even cross Simon Thambisa's mind.



Thursday, 20 November 2014


The next morning bright and early Pearl, Thalie and Isaiah were at the doctor's office for their appointment.

Doctor de Bruin was a small, kindly looking man with pale grey eyes and three tufts of reddish hair adorning his pink scalp: one above each ear, and one right on top of his head. Thalie stared at it, fascinated. It wafted and waved enticingly every time the doctor nodded his head, which he did often.

He examined both children, starting with Isaiah, whom he declared “in the pink!” which startled and alarmed the boy no end. “PINK? Like a girl?”

The doctor laughed and called Thalie over. He listened to her lungs, her heart, took her temperature and blood pressure, looked at her throat and her eyes. He weighed her, and frowned. “Miss Thalie, you are too thin, Princess. We must feed you up.”

“Ice-cream!” cried Thalie.

“Ice-cream, too. But more vitamins, and proteins and vegetables and fruit. Lots of fruit.”

“Ok...But ice-cream goes with fruit, right?”

The doctor laughed “You a good negotiator, Miss Thalie! I am going to draw some blood, have some tests done, for you and Isaiah!” Dr. de Bruin gently drew blood from Isaiah's stringy but strong arm, then from Thalie's frailer one.

“Miss Chabalala, Isaiah is surprisingly well, considering they have been living on the streets with insufficient care and nutrition, Thalie is underweight. It is unfortunate that the Children's home lost their medical records, but I will order tests, see what antibodies are present, so we can get their vaccination records straight.”

“Thank you, Doctor, and please, call me Pearl.”

Dr. de Bruin smiled, “Pearl, lovely name! Now, I will advise you to wait a week or two for the test results before we pop them into the school. Make sure we send them in protected. Many childhood diseases that we thought eradicated are making a come-back; and having been undernourished, the children - specially Thalie - will be most vulnerable.”

“YAY!” Shouted Isaiah. “No school!”

“No school yet!” cried Dr. De Bruin,” BUT I am recommending reading, every day. One hour in the morning one in the afternoon. Vitamins for the brain!” He sent them off with a grin and a lollypop each, and a list of vitamins and food supplements to get the children back into “tip-top condition”.

Pearl and the children exited the doctor's office and headed for a pharmacy for the supplements, then to a bookstore where Pearl plain refused to consider comics “reading”.

“Books Isaiah! With more words than pictures. Understood?”

Groaning and moaning Isaiah headed for the books, and was soon piling up adventure stories about pirates, and spacemen, and zombies. There after, Pearl took them for the promised hamburger and watched as both children put away a double cheeseburger and a double order of chips drowned in tomato sauce each. 

Pearl shuddered and sighed. It was only once in a long while, and both were reed slim, and Thalie was indeed over-thin...After a hot-chocolate-fudge-ice-cream-banana-split, the children declared themselves well-satisfied, and Pearl called a taxi to take them back home.

“Can we stop by the Polite Prawn Shop and say hello to Papa Simon?” asked Thalie.

“Polite PRAWN?” Isaiah screamed with laughter. “Is that a prawn you beg pardon before eating?”

Thalie frowned “Why are you laughing at me, Isaiah?”

“Polite PRAWN!” Isaiah howled again, dashing tears from his eyes. “POLITE prawn...”

“Stop!” cried Thalie, “Stop right now!”

“Oh? Really? Or what? What will you do?”

With a screech, Thalie threw herself at Isaiah, and Pearl was hard put to separate them. Thalie's small frame shook with rage, Isaiah's with laughter.

“ENOUGH!” Pearl cried, “Or no dessert, no TV, no stories! Just dinner, and straight to bed. Thalie, in this family, we don't hit each other. Ever.”

Subdued, Thalie sniveled: “I am sorry Mama Pearl...Isaiah made me so angry!”

“Isaiah, we must respect each other. We all make mistakes. Do you like being mocked when you make a mistake?”

“No, Mama Pearl.”

“So maybe when we make mistakes we must be more tolerant. Forgive each other, and help each other do better.” Pearl paused, thinking back to Simon's penitent downcast face. “We must forgive...Yes. Now then...Let us go home, talk to Mrs. Markovich, see if she will be willing to put up with two wild children for tomorrow night!”


Thalie trooped into 5 D shouting: “Mrs. Markovich! Pearl is going to a ball, and she needs a princess dress like the ones you’ve got!”

“Goodness,” cried Mrs. Markovich smiling, “A ball!”

Pearl sighed, “It’s a concert, at the Opera House. Mr. Ratsik’s debut. There is a Gala Dinner afterward, but I don’t think I will go, I have only street clothes, and even those are not the fanciest.”

“You must go. You WILL go! And you will be the belle of the ball.”

“Yes!” cried Thalie.

“You are pretty nice looking, Mama Pearl,” noted Isaiah, running a connoisseur’s eye over Pearl’s figure.

“Isaiah, it is not how a woman looks that matters.”


“Come, Pearl, I have just the thing…Bring a chair from the lounge, Isaiah,” ordered Mrs. Markovitch, “the box is on top of the cupboard.”

In the corner of Mrs. Markovitch’s room stood a gigantic armoire stuffed with dresses and skating costumes.

“Not one of these?” asked Thalie with a disappointed look in her eyes, “The pink one with the sequins?”

“No,” said Mrs. Markovich firmly, “None of that will do. Now, Pearl, climb up onto that chair and get me that big box!”

Pearl did and handed down a huge ivory box. It was made of some kind of faux snakeskin and had a name embossed on the lid in plain black letters: CHRISTIAN DIOR and underneath it said PARIS.

Mrs. Markovich set the box on the bed and opened it. Inside it was full of paper, or so it looked to Thalie. Silky paper, it was true; but paper, none the less. Mrs. Markovich folded back the paper and pulled out a dress. Black. Not pink and no sequins at all. This did not look promising…

And then she lifted it and it unfolded a wide skirt fit for a princess, and the bodice was all little ivory pleats and pearls. Under the wide skirt peered layers and layers of softest black tulle. From the box came high pointy shoes in black satin, and best of all, long ivory satin gloves that would reach all the way up Pearl’s arms.

Thalie sighed. If it couldn’t be pink and sequinny, she supposed this would be alright.

Pearl stared at the dress in Mrs. Markovich's hands. “I cannot wear that.”

“Why ever not?”

“It is not suitable.”

Mrs. Markovich's eyes narrowed, the delicate jaw tightened and Pearl suddenly glimpsed the ferocious will that had taken a dirt-poor small-town girl to the top of the skating world and beyond. Mrs.Markovich simply did not accept a “no” for an answer.

“Try it on. Now.”

“Mrs. Markovich...”

“Isaiah, if you will be so kind as to take your books to the lounge and entertain yourself? Pearl needs some privacy here.”

“Why? Sexy Sally dressed in front of me. I have seen boobs before.”

“Isaiah! OUT!” cried, Pearl.

“Now Pearl, let's take a look at the figure you keep hiding under those shapeless dresses...”

Ten minutes later, Pearl stood open-mouthed in front of Mrs. Markovich's full-length mirror. Mrs. Markovich nudged Thalie with her elbow. “What did I tell you? Perfect.”

“It is pretty, but I still like the pink.”

“Thalie, let me tell you a rule of fashion every chic woman knows before she is eight years old: never wear anything pink after five in the afternoon unless it is for the sole purpose of having it removed by a dashing man -with his teeth.”

“Mrs. Markovitch!” Pearl nearly screamed, “Madam!”

Mrs. Markovich sighed. “Yes, yes...Alright...By the way? You better let the children sleepover tomorrow night...”



Tuesday, 18 November 2014


there are days
every belief
turns to dust
each blind hope
is bitterly healed
every eye
opens wide

there are days
like days
and days
like darkest night
no faith
in kindest fate
can survive

there are days
and days
more days
lived and breathed
in this dark

there are days
even fools
such as I
must see
fatuous light
dawn into
truthful night
no self deceit
can deny

I say:
away with you
vile messiah
save me not
from this mire

no miracles,
i beg you
it is not
to revelation
I aspire

there are days
and days
yet to bear
so let me be
as I am fool
and dancing blind
blindly closer
and closer to
the consuming fire

Manuela Cardiga

Wednesday, 12 November 2014



As are all words
Is History Vain;
Fluttering Fortune's
Weather Vane,
Drawing heart's blood
From a pierced Vein.

A Vein of pain,
Quarried by the quill
Of greedy gossips,
Eager to tell

But at some point
All History fails
And here it where it falls:
Between the place
The World ends
And the human heart

In that space
History falters,
History fails.

Great or small
Right or wrong
The end of it
Is that we all long
For that small hour
One hand to hold
One, just one,
So we do not die


Stupid cheap whore
And so easily bought
All it takes to
Unlock the store
All that is needed
Are a few deceiving
Pleasing words

But like all whores
I know the score:
Every face hides a lie
So even as I smile
I bite the bent coin

I bite the coin and think
Every face hides a lie
So even as you smile
I am wondering:
What is yours?

Manuela Cardiga

Saturday, 8 November 2014

From this day forth I ask for no more, but offer only thanks for all my life is worth.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


Breathe deep.
Of wind.

Breathe deep.
While you living,


Saturday, 1 November 2014

PAWNING PEARL - A Serial Novel - Chapter 16

Pearl walked into The Polite Pawn Shop trembling with rage.

“'morning Pearl!” Gideon cried, and Simon looked up from where he was sorting through a pile of comic books from the '60s an old gentleman had sold him, looking for the possible treasure, that one rarity that would make it worthwhile buying a stack sight unseen. His heart jumped at the sound of her name, he noted and jumped again when, looking up, he saw her face.

“Pearl!” He got to his feet, brushed off his knees. “How did it go?”

“Here Sir...” In her hand was a big fat brown envelope with the logo of the Children's home.

“Here, the papers for the children...” Simon saw that her hand was shaking.

“Pearl? Are you well?”

She shook her head dumbly, lips pressed together, eyes very wide.

“Come with me.” Simon placed a hand on her elbow, lead her to the back office, closed the door, and suddenly she was in his arms. Pearl was in his arms. She was trembling, pressing her face against his shoulder, her arms wrapped around his waist. A child's embrace.

“Pearl!” Simon hesitantly placed his arms around her. How do you comfort someone? Then he knew. He rocked her gently as she sobbed. “Pearl, don't be sad, please...”

“SAD!” Pearl pulled back, stared up at him. Simon saw her eyes were red with tears. “I am so angry, so angry!”

“Why Pearl- what happened?”

“They knew – they knew they were out there, lost, abandoned! They did nothing so they wouldn't get bad publicity. They left my babies out on the streets!”

Simon was outraged “THEY KNEW?”

“I want to hit her, I want to tear off her face! She with her fancy rings and my babies were eating garbage on the streets.” Pearl was gasping for breath. Her rage overwhelmed her. “I can't, can't feel like that. I can't live with feeling this hate.”

Simon held her tight, and suddenly against his lips he felt the gentle slope of her forehead. She smelled sweet and clean, like Thali after her bath, but under that was a warm mouth-watering spicy scent, like cinnamon, and dark chocolate; and her skin was satiny smooth, soft. She was soft and so warm. Holding Pearl was nothing like holding a child. Not at all...

Simon decided to end the embrace before he embarrassed himself or Pearl.

He cleared his throat and stepped back.“We have the children safe, Pearl, that is what matters now. The rest I will think about, how we bring this into the open without harming the children. Ours, and the other poor things still in this place.”

Pearl nodded, took a deep breath and attempted a smile. “Yes, Sir. You are right.” She hesitated, “I am sorry, Sir, for making a fuss.”

“Its quite alright Pearl.” Simon remembered the sweet feel of her in his arms.“You can make a fuss anytime.”


That night after dinner the four of them lingered over a lovely chunky chocolate ice cream Simon had brought home as a treat.

Simon hit his spoon on the table: "Silence in this house!"
Thalie and Isaiah, who had been squabbling over who had the right to first seconds, stopped and stared at him mouths wide open, pink chocolate speckled tongues practically hanging out in astonishment at the severity of his tone, and his mock thunderous frown.

"I have something to announce!" He lowered his brows and looked at the children.
"There are going to be some rules in this house. From today on, we are a family,, is that understood? That means I am the boss, and what I say is the law."

Thalie giggled, and Isaiah snorted back his laughter. "I am very serious. I am the big boss here. My first orders are that you call me Papa Simon from now on, and we have this chocolate ice cream every night."

A discreet cough and Pearl's flinty stare caused him to amend "We have chocolate ice cream every other night!" Another cough, and Pearl raised her eyebrows. Simon sighed. "Once a week?" Pearl smiled and nodded.

"YAY!" Cried Thalie, and Isaiah grinned even wider.

"So we are a real family now? A forever family?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Simon quietly. "We are a forever family. No one goes away or leaves. Ever." Simon kept his eyes on the children, longing to look at Pearl, ask her the questions troubling his heart. In an impulse he stretched out his hand to took Thalie's, and she reaching out gripped Isaiah's chocolaty paw, he in turn take Pearl's hand; and Simon turned to her. He reached for her, felt her slim fingers in his. A huge grin dented his cheeks. "A forever family! Thalie, Isaiah, Pearl and Simon!"

She was smiling! Pearl was smiling at him and warmth, tender affection brimmed in her eyes. And she was looking at him, Simon, not at the children. Pearl was looking at him with something that might be love in her eyes.

The doorbell rang. Silently cursing, Simon jumped up to answer the door.
It was Mr. Ratsike. Simon frowned. "Good evening Mr. Ratsik. How can I help you?"

"Mr. Thambisa...Good evening Sir."

 "Is there a problem with the flat, Mr. Ratsik?"

 Mr Ratsik shuffled from foot to foot. "No Sir, not at all."

 "And so?"

"Ahm, Mr. Thambisa, I wanted to thank you for the violin Sir. Thank you."

"You are welcome, Mr Ratsik."

Mr. Ratsike did more shuffling from foot to foot. In fact he was almost dancing... "Sir? Is Miss Chabalala home?"

Simon stared at him in astonishment. "Pearl?" He could swear Mr Ratsik's caramel complexion darkened in a blush.

 "Yes Sir, Pearl..."

Frowning, Simon called "Pearl? Could you come here please?"

Pearl peeked into the hall, Thalie at her side. saw the visitor, and immediately she smiled. "Mr Ratsike! How nice to see you!"

Simon noticed for the first time that Mr Ratsike was quite good looking. Tall, and slim, with large soulful eyes. Cow-eyes, really! And he was making cow-eyes at Pearl!

 Mr. Ratsike - handsome, artistic Mr. Ratsike was making eyes at Pearl.

It could NOT be borne...
Simon was determined not to allow this one moment longer!

There they stood in the hall-way for a long moment, Mr. Ratsike staring at Pearl with open-mouthed adoration, Simon Thambisa stiff-faced and enraged, and a perplexed Thalie watching the little tableau.

“Oh, Mr. Ratsike!” Cried Pearl, “Do come in, sit down!”

“Pearl, I am sure Mr. Ratsike is a busy man. Are you not, Mr. Ratsike?” asked Simon.

Mr. Ratsik did his peculiar little shuffle and twisted his hands together. “Well, yes Miss Pearl. I wanted to speak with you...” he glanced at the glowering Simon, “To you both.”

At a warning glare from Pearl, Simon led the way to the lounge and with a curt gesture, invited Mr. Ratsike to sit down. Mr. Ratsik did so, removing a long slim envelope from his coat pocket and carefully placing it on his knees. Pearl sat next to him on the couch and smiled.

“So! How are you Mr. Ratsike?”

“I am very well, Miss Pearl, very well indeed. Mostly thanks to you.”

“To me?”

Mr Ratsike, leaned forward, cow-eyes shinning worshipfully. “The violin, Miss Pearl, I not only got the job, but have now been named First Violin!”

“That was Mr. Thambisa, Mr. Ratsike. It is his violin.”

Mr Ratsike turned to Simon. “And to you too Mr. Thambisa, I must give thanks, Sir. Your kindness changed my life. But Miss Pearl, I know it was you brought my misfortune to Mr. Thambisa's attention. I know it.”

“Mr. Thambisa is a most generous man, most kind. All I did was mention your need, Mr. Ratsike,” said Pearl.

“This is all very pleasant Mr. Ratsike,” said Simon sharply, “But it is getting late. What was it you wanted to speak to us about?”

Mr Ratsike spoke to Simon but gazed at Pearl. “Last week something wonderful happened, Mr. Thambisa. A great violinist, a German gentleman, is here to play with the Orchestra, and in the interval between rehearsals I was playing a composition - my own - and he heard it. He has asked that I play it at the Opening Gala for the season, the day after tomorrow. As a soloist, Sir, playing my own composition.” 

Tears stood out in Mr. Ratsike’s eyes. “Me, Sir, a boy from the Cape Flats…Playing with the greatest violinist in the world, as a Soloist, Sir.”

Pearl reached out and grasped Mr. Ratsike’s hand. “My dear Mr.Ratsike, it is no more than you deserve! Congratulations! I am proud to know you, and that you call me friend.”

Mr. Ratsike held Pearl’s hand as if it was the most precious treasure and brought it tenderly to his lips. “The honour and the pride is mine, Miss Pearl.”

Simon felt hot rage and jealousy rise up in his manly breast. This little wimp was touching his Pearl! “Congratulations Mr. Ratsik,” said Simon, with a narrow smile, and just then reinforcements arrived. Isaiah wandered into the lounge and stood flabbergasted by the sight of a strange man kissing Mama Pearl’s hand. He immediately sat close to Simon and fixed on Mr. Ratsike his unblinking and unnerving owl-like glare.

“Mr. Thambisa, Miss Pearl, I came to extend to you an invitation to the Concert, and to the Gala Dinner afterwards. As my guests.”

“A party!” Cried Thalie excited, “Mama Pearl, you going to a party! And what will you wear?”

“Yes Pearl,” said Simon, “What will you wear? It is most probably Black Tie for gentlemen, long dresses for Ladies…”

“Miss Pearl will be beautiful, whatever she wears, Mr. Thambisa,” said Mr. Ratsike.

“What about the children? They can´t stay home alone!” Simon turned to Mr. Ratsike with a triumphant smile. “I am afraid we must decline.”

Thalie was jumping up and down with excitement: “No! No! No! Mama Pearl must go! Like Cinderella to meet a Prince! We will stay with Mrs. Markovich!”

A Prince! Thalie was looking at Mr. Ratsik with blatant admiration.
“That is perfect!” Cried Mr. Ratsike with a huge smile, and handed the narrow envelope to Simon.

He opened it and extracted the creamy invitation. He scanned it quickly, noting date and time; black tie…And then his attention was caught by the phrase:

“…proud to present the debut of Mr. Charles Ratsike as Violin Soloist playing his own composition “Serenade for Pearl””

“I don’t want to stay with Mrs. Markovich, I don’t!” said Isaiah with a ferocious frown. Simon’s heart soared. He was proud of his boy. Proud! He winked at Isaiah encouragingly.

“Why Pearl, you don’t want to traumatize the boy further…And it’s not like you know anything about classical music!”

“But Miss Pearl is a most talented soprano! Did you not know?” cried Mr Ratsike, “Why, that is how we struck up conversation. She was singing Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” in the lobby. The acoustics are incredible there.”

Pearl looked embarrassed “I thought I was alone…I had no idea anyone was listening.”

“You have a wonderful voice, Miss Pearl. Wonderful…” And Mr. Ratsike smiled that stupid cow-eyed smile.

“Then Miss Pearl goes, and if Isaiah does not want to go to Mrs. Markovich, Papa Simon stays home with us!” cried Thalie.

NO! Pearl at a Gala all alone with cow-eyes? After he had played a Serenade to her on that dratted violin in front of the whole world? NEVER!

“Well, that is settled,” cried Simon, “Pearl and I will come, Mr Ratsik, and you Isaiah, will stay at Mrs. Markovich with your sister.” And he stared down Isaiah’s outraged squawk with his own flinty-eyed stare.

Simon had a fight on his hands, it was now clear. A fight for his life, for the hand of the woman he suddenly realised he wanted as his wife.

The family accompanied Mr. Ratsike to the door, and saw him off. Pearl closed the door on one last ecstatic smile from Mr Ratsike and turned around to face Simon with an overbright smile: "Well then! Lets go finish our dessert, then off to bed!"

Thalie and Isaiah raced to the kitchen, elbowing each other at the doorway, clambering up onto their chairs and fighting to see who got seconds first.

Pearl sat and stirred silently at the melted mushy ice-cream on her plate. Simon felt very uncomfortable. He had a vague notion he had done or said something profoundly wrong but he just couldn't for the life of him figure out WHAT.

The tender light that had been in Pearl's eyes moments before that dratted Ratsike had knocked on the door had quite gone out.

Pearl addressed the children with that bright, brittle smile. "All right my children here is the plan. We go to bed early and get a good rest because we have a busy day tomorrow. Thalie and Isaiah, we have a doctor's appointment to see that all is well and you have all your shots; then we go to the school to hand in your forms, then we go talk to Mrs. Markovich and ask if she can stay with you for the Concert night."

"I don't want any shots!" cried Isaiah.

"Me neither!" said Thalie, pouting, "We not sick Mama Pearl, why must we go to the doctor?"

"Well, we must be sure you have all your vaccines, so you don't GET sick. It will be alright. It is a very nice doctor, and I will be there with you, and after we will go for a hamburger, is it a deal? Now! Off to bed."

"Yes, Mama Pearl,"sighed Isaiah.

"I want my bed-time story!" said Thalie.

"Not tonight, Thalie," said Pearl, "It is late. Brush your teeth, and go and sleep. I must do the kitchen, then I will also come to bed."

The children trooped out grumbling, and Simon hesitated, then decided to stay behind. Pearl gathered the dishes and carried them to the sink.

Simon cleared his throat "Ahm...Well, Pearl, looks like you have a full day tomorrow."

"Yes, Sir."

"Yes...Very full. And then we have the concert day after tomorrow..."


"Very exciting...Isn't it? I am looking forward to it."

"Very good, Sir."

"Pearl? Is something wrong?"

Pearl had her back to him and was busy washing and rinsing, her movements brisk, her shoulders stiff.

"No, Sir."

"Pearl...I think I said or did something wrong. Help me."

She stopped moving, back very straight. After a long moment she turned around to face him. Her hands were soapy, her eyes very wide. "No Sir,. You didn't. You said what was in your heart. The mistake was mine."

"I don't understand..."

"We were sitting and having ice-cream like a family, and for a moment I saw us like that. Two people standing equal, with two children to love. Then when Mr. Ratsike came, I saw I was wrong. That is not how you see me at all."

"Oh but...I do, Pearl, I have great respect for you. I am very...fond of you."

"No, Sir. Mr. Ratsik came, and he invited us to a wonderful event. And the first thing you said was what I would wear, and I knew you were afraid I would shame you. You put me in a box." Tears stood out in Pearl's eyes. "You are the kindest man I know, I admire you so, I so wanted you to admire me back."

"But Pearl..."

Pearl lifted a soapy palm to hush him. "Please let me finish. You have put me in a box, Sir. Like everyone, I have ever known. I am in a box. It says: Pearl Chabalala, Black, woman, ignorant. Useful, but limited. Plain but serviceable."


"Yes, Sir. We live in a world and in a country that likes labels on things. It makes it easier, you see. Easier than taking the trouble to get to know people, judge them for what they are. Not how they look, or where they come from. You don't see me, Sir. You see my box, you see the labels. Pearl. Black. Woman. Useful. That is fair enough, Sir. You are my employer, I should not have expected more; except that you told me we would be friends."

"And we are!"

"It was hurtful. You assumed I would embarrass you, that I would not like the music; that all of it would be above me. It hurt."

"Pearl...I am so sorry..."

"No, Sir, you were frank. It is how you felt, what you thought. You were honest, and I was foolish. So don't be sorry."

Simon swallowed horror. In his jealousy and insecurity, in his rush to squeeze out a rival, he had wounded Pearl. He had doomed the delicate and promising beginning they had made. He would have to find a way to make amends, and quickly, or all hopes of his future happiness would be at an end.