Blame It On Apartheid: The Middle Class, Relational Hunger And The Modern Family Dynamic

Lennox

Lennox is down on his luck. In his late thirties he sports a beard. He looks older than he really is, has dreadlocks and a shopping trolley he swiped from a grocery store. His clothes have seen better days. They are torn and tattered. His shoes have holes in and are second-hand. He smells. He hasn’t bathed in days. He has dirt under his fingernails. He is always ready with a smile, is eccentric, harmless and has accepted his lot in life. He does garden work when he can but mostly people chase him away from their homes. He has a heart of gold and helps others who finds themselves in the same situation as he is in when he has enough to spare. He is an alcoholic and sleeps next to a church with all the belongings that he owns in the world next to him and his trolley parked next to him. His life has been hard. His parents died when he was very young, a teenager, his older sisters left home before he did. They married, had children, got divorced, live for the church, and work as domestics in the homes of the middle class in the area he now frequents. He ended up on the streets, having to fend for himself. He had to grow up very quickly but did not turn to crime or drugs but finds solace in the bottle.

Jabez

He worked as principal in a primary school in a sub-economic area. He met his wife when they were both student teachers at a primary school. He taught Afrikaans and she taught Accountancy and Needlework. He started a feeding scheme at his school. Most of his learners came from single parent homes. He wanted to make the world a better place. He planned on having one child but his wife, Moenebah had other ideas. She wanted a son, so they tried again and had a daughter, Ilana and afterwards they tried again, and Holden was conceived. He has accepted the fact that his son is gay, is disappointed in his daughters who are both unmarried and childless. He wonders and often asks himself why they don’t settle down, why they don’t have steady boyfriends, steady jobs and why aren’t his children happy with their lives. He was happy when he was close to their age, he was already married and settled, expecting his first child. He and his wife are religious. They get up early on a Sunday morning and attend the Assembly of God. Anita has turned into an atheist but Ilana worships. Jabez is very thankful for that. He hides the fact from his church friends that his son is gay and has adopted two children with his life partner. He hates this deception. Sometimes he blames Moenebah for the fact that his children are so unhappy.

Moenebah

She relaxes her hair at her daughter Anita’s place. She and her husband bought their second daughter a house in a complex. They wanted to make Ilana happy. In high school Ilana tried to hurt herself, self-harm and after Moenebah discovered this they sent her to therapy. Moenebah was ashamed of this. Jabez thinks that that was going too far. To buy an expensive house for Ilana that was too big for one person and too cumbersome to look after. Ilana needed to grow up Jabez decided, but Moenebah argued that a young woman needed space and to be around people close to her age. She keeps her distance from her children. She doesn’t understand the choices they have made with their life. She doesn’t get along with them. Every conversation she has with them individually seems to end up in an argument. She is God-centred and believes that she is in the world to do service. She knows she has a purpose. Her purpose was to bring children into the world and raise them to be God-fearing. She worries about Holden and prays that he will find a release from the homosexual ‘sin’ that he is living in. She tolerates Jerome but she doesn’t like him. She loves the children and spoils them when her son brings them over to her house. She looks at her children’s unhappiness but as if it exists outside of herself. She thinks it is not a reflection of herself.

Anita

She cries herself to sleep at night. She thinks about the poor choices she has made in her life, all the mistakes. Sex is a release for her. She has a lot of psychological tension within her. She experiences a lot of stress. She feels the world does not understand her. She has given up on God. She thinks that He has given up on her. She has a degree in finance, but she runs a hairdresser from her flatlet not far from where her parents live. She feels like she has nothing in common anymore with her siblings. She is not close to them. She has a difficult and strained relationship with her mother. She thinks that Moenebah favours Ilana above her. She has been searching for approval from her mother her entire life. She just wants her mother to tell her that she is proud of her and that she loves her, but Moenebah is not that type of woman. Her upbringing was tough, but her children have no knowledge of this. They don’t know why she is so hard on them. Moenebah has never spoken about her family to her children. They have an aunt who lives in Cape Town and another in Port Alfred who passed away from cancer. Anita thinks she has not lived up to her mother’s expectations. She is closer to Jabez, her father. Anita feels her father has forgiven her for the choices she made with her life. She wants to make an improvement in her life but needs guidance. She wants to find joy in activities, but she feels she is too old, and set in her ways to change for the better. She regrets the mistakes that she has made. She torments herself for missed opportunities. She feels exploited.

Ilana

She wants to die but knows that this is against the nature of God. She lives a half-life, going through the motions, living from one day to the next not seeing who she is, not understanding why she was in the world. Therapy seemed to help in the beginning and going to church on a regular basis brings some meaning to her life. She thinks to herself that she has no purpose. She likes Neil, her clinical psychologist, but sometimes when she talks about her love affairs, she thinks to herself that he is judging her. He looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an upcoming car. Does he understand me, does he know where I am coming from, can he see the opportunity for romance and love from my perspective, she asks herself when she comes home from an appointment. She used to be close to Holden, her younger brother. They would stay up until the early hours of the morning when she was in high school, and he was in primary school, talking and having discussions until Holden felt sleepy. They ignored Anita. Anita was out of the house and otherworldly, but they could see chinks in her armour. That something about her outward personality needed to be fixed. Ilana has her choice of who to go home with when she goes out to a club. She is very beautiful, but she is lonely. She wants to live abroad and thinks maybe someone out there who is different from her will love her.

Holden

He is a very secretive person. He can’t cope with his family’s lies and the fact that they do not accept that Jerome is his choice. His life feels as if it is transparent to the people around him. The fact that he isn’t as close to his family as he would like worries him. He has nothing in common with them anymore, he thinks to himself. He is not in love with Jerome, and he doubts he ever was in the first place. He is a teacher. He teaches English and History, hides away in the staff room drinking his tea and having his sandwich with his best friend Ava. Ava is married. She is a newlywed. She makes him laugh about stories of her husband. She shows him a picture. They look happy, Holden thinks to himself wondering how he could not be happy with his life. She makes cute faces at the pictures he shows her of the children and Jerome, says things like, you must be so happy, I am so jealous of your big house, how can you afford that. He likes himself more when he hangs out with Ava, but Jerome complains that he comes home with an attitude these days and how it is affecting the children. Holden is starting to hate this perfect family he is just going through the motions of living with. He is starting to hate Jerome and he is starting to hate himself. He keeps the rosary his mother gave him when he left home to go to university next to his bed. He thinks to himself that she was the only other woman besides Ava to tell him that she loves him. He misses that about his mother. He cheats on Jerome. He thinks he has chosen his sacrifice.

Jerome

He is the life of the party when they have family gatherings. Their married heterosexual friends come over and they play happy families. The children are well-adjusted and there is a lot of love in the home. The children are sheltered from many things other children their age in the area are not sheltered from. Jerome is a newspaperman. He is a journalist. He feels he is compelled to write stories about people who are put upon. He interviews people who have found life difficult and are challenged somehow by it. This is how he feels he is doing good in the world. All his life he felt he was hiding in a hole because of his sexuality and when he came out and brought his first boyfriend home to meet his family, they disowned him. He was homeless and found himself on the streets. His boyfriend’s family felt sorry for him and took him in. They were happy for a while, but it was his first relationship. They fell out of love but remained friends. When Jerome was back on his feet, he moved out and found a place of his own and met the love of his life, Holden.

Gertrude

She is an artist. Her clothing has paint smears on it. Her hands and fingers are stained with paint. She loves dogs and her grandparents. She likes ice cream. She is confident, goal-orientated, highly intelligent, well-liked by her peers and her teachers. She is more popular at school than her younger brother. She bursts out laughing whenever anything amuses her. She does ballet and is in love with dancing and singing along to advertisements on television, making up the songs and pretending she has a microphone in her hand. She loves her hair and is always playing with it and getting Jerome to play hairdresser-hairdresser with her. She likes to play with her aunt Ilana’s makeup and loves putting lipstick on. She gets Holden or Anita to paint her nails for her. She slurps her milk and gets breadcrumbs all over herself. She likes cheese toast and hates peanut butter. She likes watching Disney animated films.

Wilfred

He is a seven-year-old gap-toothed little boy who is very energetic and boisterous amongst his family. He fights with his eleven-year-old sister, Gertrude but other than that they get along very well and are protective of each other. Gertrude looks after him, is protective of him as every big sister is who has a younger sibling. He likes biltong (it’s his favourite), finding Big Foot in the backyard and plays with his toy guns, playing in his pretend-fort, his pretend-dojo and doing science experiments in his lab and in his grandmother’s garden. He chases Gertrude with his Nerf gun while she squeals in delight. When he hits her with a stray plastic bullet, she becomes angry and goes and sits with the dog, pats it on the head and is somewhat comforted by that. Her brother yells out, my fault, my fault. He apologises profusely to her. The two siblings like to play games with each other. Snakes and Ladders, Scrabble, card games and Wilfred although he is young enjoys playing chess with Jabez when they go over to Holden’s parents on a Sunday afternoon after church.

Neil

He is a psychologist who is well-meaning, an introvert, he keeps to himself and is pretty much an innocent about the world and the kind of lifestyles his clients lead. What he knows he has learned parrot fashion at university. He wants to study further. He wants to write a manual on how to be the best version of yourself. He tries his level best in the world. His mother smothers him. He has not lived up to his father’s expectations. His father wanted him to become a medical doctor and go into private practice. His father gave him structure in his life. Neil is miserable with his life. It is difficult for him to meet women he can relate to. He lives on his own but telephones his mother daily. She still does his laundry, irons his shirts, and cooks a meal for him. He picks it up in the early evening on his way home. He is quiet but can be formidable. The other university students used to call him ‘Mouse’. He is a kind person. He is very caring about the people that come to him for help and direction in his life.

Michaelangelo

He is a cute, easy-going young man with his life in front of him. Fresh out of high school, he is 19 years old. He can become nasty when someone gets on the wrong side of him. He is street smart. What he doesn’t know from textbook knowledge, he gets from the environment that he finds himself in and the people he meets. He is an observer of the world around him, and he knows and understands women. He is a charmer when he wants to be and a ladies’ man. He is close to his mother. He does not get along so much with other young men his age. He likes to work out, has a gym membership and goes out with girls who have the same outlook on life as he has. Girls who work to look good. He rolls his own joints and smokes to get a high. He works as a security guard at a clothing store. He hates the job but what can he do? He has no other choice left open to him. He didn’t do well in school, didn’t go to university, and didn’t study further because his mother didn’t have the money. He is an only child. He has no close family and parties hard every weekend. He goes to church with his mother when he can get up on a Sunday morning.

Shakira

She is morbidly obese and a diabetic. She is married to a wealthy businessman and has a young child who is a spoilt brat. She is in her mid-forties and likes to gossip. She puts her nose into everyone’s business. She has an annoying personality. Anita is irritated by Shakira but is comforted by her insight into human nature and relationships. When Shakira is by herself, she takes laxatives and hates herself. She feels depressed and thinks to herself that her husband has fallen out of love with her. Her weight has fluctuated over the years. She wears a chain with a cross on it around her neck. When she feels anxious, she prays under her breath and fingers the chain. She considers herself to be a Christian, and she longs to be accepted by society. The voice inside her head tells her that she isn’t good enough and that she isn’t loved. It also tells her that people are laughing at her. She pretends that she is extroverted by nature.

Ray

He is a well-spoken, erudite, articulate, easy on the eye older male with an attractive personality. He is in his fifties, has salt and pepper hair and a beard he rubs thoughtfully when he makes a point, asks a question, or shares his perspective from time to time. He is cool, smokes cigarettes, was popular with ladies in another life. He exudes charisma. He had the kind of personality in his former life that you wouldn’t really expect of an angel. You expect a do-gooder, someone who doesn’t smoke, who has noble qualities, but Ray was not a humble man. He was very shallow and arrogant. Ray the angel looks out for the people in his charge that he must guide on the road to heaven. He likes his work. He cares about the people that he has been sent to counsel before they enter eternity.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Abigail George is an author, a screenwriter and an award winning poet. She is a Pushcart Prize, two-time Best of the Net nominated, Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Prize longlisted, Writing Ukraine Prize shortlisted, Identity Theory's Editor's Choice, Ink Sweat Tears Pick of the Month poet/writer, and 2023 Winner of the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award. She is a two-time recipient of grants from the National Arts Council, one from the Centre of the Book and another from ECPACC. She won a national high school writing competition in her teens. She was interviewed by BBC Radio 4, and for AOL.com, the USA Today Network and The Tennessean. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram @abigailgeorgepoet.