I wrote this story some years ago, and entered it in a competition. It was shortlisted but did not win – but I remain very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it too!!
The Church Raffle
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter has won a trip for two to Cape Town in the church raffle. Mr Nthombi is happy about this. He loves his daughter, and he approves of church raffles. In his 87 years he has never won anything in the church raffle. But he has bought lots of tickets. It is funny this. But he is happy that his daughter has won. He starts to tell her this.
“I have never won in the church raffle,” he says.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter looks at her father. It is true, she thinks. He has never won anything. Even when they were handing out lives, Mr Nthombi was given a hard one. He left school after the first three grades to help earn money for the family. He worked hard his whole life to give his children better than he had. First he worked on the mines, and then he worked in white people’s gardens. It was hard work, and Mr Nthombi did not make a lot of money. But everything he made, he used for his three daughters.
When Mr Nthombi’s wife died, he was left to look after those three daughters. Other men would have given the daughters to the women to care for, but not Mr Nthombi. Mr Nthombi devoted his life to caring and providing for his three daughters. Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter has a very good job, because of all Mr Nthombi’s sacrifices. Now she has enough money to buy many tickets in the church raffle. This helps, if you want to win.
“You have been a good father to me,” she tells Mr Nthombi.
Mr Nthombi is happy to hear his youngest daughter say these words. He is proud of how clever she is. Look! Clever enough to have chosen a winning ticket in the church raffle. This is something that he has never done himself. Yes, he is very proud of his youngest daughter. He hopes that this prize that God has sent her will make her happy. She will fly to Cape Town in an aeroplane. Mr Nthombi himself is frightened of aeroplanes. From where he sits, beneath the Mopani tree, they seem small as they fly through the pale African sky. But he has seen aeroplanes on his television and they are not so small. How does a big machine like that fly, he wonders. It cannot be safe at all. He is worried about his youngest daughter, although he knows she has been in an aeroplane before.
“I have never been in a aeroplane,” he says.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter looks at her father. It is true, she thinks, he has never been on an aeroplane. She knows that once, he went on the train all the way to Pretoria. He often talks about that trip. She thinks he enjoyed it, the way he always talks about it. It is not right that such a good man has only been that once to Pretoria. She sighs at the unfairness of life.
Mr Nthombi hears his youngest daughter sigh. Maybe she is scared, he thinks. Maybe she knows that aeroplanes defy God’s rules. It is not natural for people to be flying, thinks Mr Nthombi, because if God had wanted us to fly, well then we’d all be pigeons and he wouldn’t have bothered about people at all.
Mr Nthombi thinks that Cape Town is far away. He knows that some people have been to Cape Town on the train, and some even on the bus. And it took a long time. Old Mrs Ledebe took the bus and she said that it took four days to get to Cape Town because the bus had to go slowly, with everybody’s luggage balanced on the top. Everybody had to sleep on the bus, and to go to the toilet they had to ask the driver to stop at the side of the road. Mr Nthombi does not like to think about this too much. He worries about the people who were too modest to ask the driver to stop. It is not good to wait a long time to go to the toilet. Mr Nthombi remembers that from his days on the mines.
Four days! In a bus! That is a long distance. It would take weeks to walk to Cape Town. Maybe even a month. Even if I took my bicycle, I would be riding for a very long time – especially as I don’t know where Cape Town is, thinks Mr Nthombi. Would I turn left or right at the top of the street? He chuckles quietly, imagining himself wearing his best Sunday suit and his church hat and bicycling all that long way to Cape Town. Wouldn’t that be a thing to see!
To his daughter, he says, “I don’t know where Cape Town is. I have never been there.”
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter shakes her head at the injustice of it. Surely, it is not too much to ask of life that you go to Cape Town. But her father does not even know where it is.
She thinks of all the things she can tell him about Cape Town. About how it is near a big mountain that is shaped like a table. About how it is full of people from Europe who pay amounts of money that Mr Nthombi could not imagine, for the privilege of living there. About the wine farms, and the cable cars. But the thing that Mr Nthombi’s daughter knows he will like the most about Cape Town is the sea.
“It is at the sea,” she tells him.
Mr Nthombi is happy to hear that his daughter will be going to the sea. In the old days, many of his friends were afraid of the sea, and spoke about it in soft voices. But listen to Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter! Just like that she can tell him that Cape Town is near the sea. Without even once sounding worried about it. Mr Nthombi is happy that he has such an educated daughter that she is familiar with the sea. He nods. He has done well with his life that his youngest daughter and her two sisters are so clever.
Mr Nthombi tries to picture what it will be like for his brave daughter at Cape Town Near The Sea. But this is a difficult picture because he has never seen the sea except on television. Which is never the same, he knows. Pretoria is not at the sea, and that is the furthest that he has been from his home amongst the veld and trees. Haw! That was a long and frightening journey. He is glad that he will never have to go to Pretoria again. That business with his identity documents is sorted out now. And with the new government he is not sure that there is such a fuss about having the right papers anymore. It is a strange white thing, this obsession with papers. Then he chuckles again. He sounds like those friends who were scared of the sea, with his funny ideas about what is a white man’s thing.
“I have never seen the sea,” he tells his daughter.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter nods. Of course, she knows that her father has never seen the sea. Lots of people her father’s age have never seen the sea, although they always ask for a bottle of sea water when they know somebody who is going there. But Mr Nthombi’s daughter has never really thought carefully about this fact that her father has never seen the sea. She has seen the sea many, many times. It is like an old friend, and she is always happy to see it again. But her father has not seen it even once. In eighty-seven years. Despite how hard he worked and all the sacrifices that he made.
Mr Nthombi is still thinking about the sea too. He knows that many black men his age have seen the sea, and were not scared. He thinks about Mr Mandela, who was sent far away to prison for many years, and had to stay on an island surrounded by the white man’s sea. Mr Nthombi often thinks about Mr Mandela, who is exactly the same age as Mr Nthombi himself. Mr Nthombi often imagines telephoning Mr Mandela to tell him about this wonderful coincidence of their ages, and to talk about their children. But he knows that even though Mr Mandela is a kind man, he does not have a lot of time to be talking to Mr Nthombi about his children.
Mr Nthombi knows that Mr Mandela is a very brave man, and that he would not have been scared of the sea. But it is funny to think of him, surrounded by the sea that his daughter will soon visit.
“Did Mr Mandela go to Cape Town?” he asks his daughter.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter is happy to share some of her knowledge with her father. “Mr Mandela stayed at Robben Island,” she explains. “It is near Cape Town and you get there by boat. Nowadays, people can go there to see where Mr Mandela lived, and learn about his suffering. Maybe I will do that this time in Cape Town.”
Mr Nthombi is pleased to hear that his daughter knows all about Robben Island. It will be interesting for her to see where this great man was imprisoned, he thinks. Maybe, if Robben Island were in Pretoria, he would travel that way again to see it. But to go all the way to Cape Town to see Robben Island, that is something different. He hopes that his daughter will enjoy it. Yes, if it was closer he would certainly also want to learn more about this place.
“It would be good to see Robben Island,” he tells his daughter. He wants her to enjoy it; this is why he tells her these thoughts. “What else will you do, there in Cape Town?” he asks.
“I will eat prawns at a restaurant overlooking the waves,” answers Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter happily. This is something that she has been looking forward to since she heard that she won the raffle.
Mr Nthombi thinks about this. He has seen prawns once when Mrs Nhlapo bought home some left over from when her Madam had a party. All the people in the street went to look at Mrs Nhlapo’s prawns, which she said cost R10 each, at least. Mr Nthombi thought that R10 was a waste of money for something that smelt like a rotten thing, and looked like the large red king crickets that are sometimes called Parktown Prawns. He chuckles. Maybe he will become rich selling dead crickets to rich white people. If they will eat those prawns from the sea, maybe they will eat the land prawns too.
“I have never eaten prawns,” Mr Nthombi tells his daughter.
Mr Nthombi’s daughter feels sad. Here she is, looking forward to her prawns, and her father has never even tasted one.
Mr Nthombi sees his daughter looking sad. Now he has reminded her that she has to eat these prawns, and after a frightening trip in an aeroplane. Really, he tells himself, I am a thoughtless old man. He tells himself that it is not right to upset his daughter about the prize that she has won in the raffle.
“I am sure prawns are very tasty,” he reassures her. He tries to take her mind off the prawns. “Are there mountains in Cape Town?” he asks her. Mountains are something that Mr Nthombi knows and would like to talk about.
Mr Nthombi’s daughter nods excitedly. “There is a big mountain that is flat on top so they call it Table Mountain,” she says. “One can go up in a cable car.”
Now Mr Nthombi is sorry that he mentioned mountains, because this does not sound like something that he knows about.
“What is a cable car?” he asks his daughter.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter feels sad that her father, in all his eighty-seven years, has not seen a cable car. “It is a little room that is pulled up the mountain by an engine. Like the elevator at the shops in town,” she tries to explain.
Mr Nthombi is horrified. The elevator at the shops in town worries him. Once, Mr Skosana went in that elevator and the electricity went off for three hours. Mr Skosana was stuck in that elevator on his own for all that time, and nobody could tell him not to worry, it was only the electricity playing tricks. Mr Skosana’s hair went white those three hours in the elevator alone, and when he came out he made many sacrifices to his angry ancestors.
An elevator up a mountain! That sounds very frightening to Mr Nthombi, and he hopes that his daughter will not go to this mountain.
“Are you going to go in that elevator?” he asks his daughter.
Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter realises that she has never been up Table Mountain, although she has been to Cape Town many times. “Yes,” she tells her father. “This time I must go.”
Mr Nthombi feels heavy for his daughter. This prize in the church raffle, he thinks, is a difficult and frightening thing. It is lucky that his daughter is so brave. But he knows that he must reassure his daughter, who must be worried that she must go up Table Mountain in a small elevator.
“That sounds like a big adventure,” Mr Nthombi finally tells her, hoping that this will give her some comfort.
The idea that has been growing in her head is nurtured by these words of Mr Nthombi’s. It is so obvious that she cannot believe she didn’t think of this before. She will take Mr Nthombi with her to Cape Town and show him Robben Island and the sea and Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain and they will eat prawns in a smart restaurant like he has never seen before. She is so excited.
Mr Nthombi can tell that there is something on his youngest daughter’s mind. He tries to think what would be on his mind if he were going to Cape Town on a big aeroplane to see the place that Mr Mandela was kept a prisoner, and to eat strange food that smells bad, and to go up Table Mountain in nothing but an elevator. Well, he would be scared, he thinks. What a thing to do! No wonder his daughter is thinking so hard, with this prospect ahead of her. He wonders what more he can say to comfort her.
“Baba,” says Mr Nthombi’s youngest daughter. “I will take you with me to Cape Town. It will be my pleasure.” She smiles, knowing that right now she is a good daughter.
Mr Nthombi looks at his daughter. Inwardly, he sighs. She is still his baby girl, and so if she is scared and wants him to come too, he will have to do it. Because he is a good father. And a good father makes sacrifices and protects his daughters – this is something that Mr Nthombi knows a lot about.
“It will be my pleasure too,” he tells her.