My granddad called me yesterday. ‘You don’t call me anymore,’ he said. It wasn’t a rebuke, I sensed hurt. I was duly rebuked. I mumbled some feeble excuse, ridiculous even to my own ears, but he only laughed, his hearty laugh. It made me smile. ‘I love my granddad,’ I thought. ‘Have you heard of a poet called Mahmud Dharwish?’ he asked. I smiled again, ‘I love my granddad’. And we spoke of Dharwish, Rumi and Said, of poetry and prose and the Israeli school curriculum, of diasporas and modern nomads. I promised to send him my copy of The Essential Rumi and some of Dharwish’s work too.
When I was eight, my English teacher, Ms. White, insisted I either join a library or buy a book. Mum and Dad, unwitting of the obsession they were about to foster, took me to CNA and chose for me an anthology of Enid Blyton short stories, The Fairy Shoemaker (I shudder to think what I might have chosen had I been left to my own devices). As I bumbled my way through the book, so too, the book was hauled around with me. So when the weekly trip to Mama and Papa came about, so too, The Fairy Shoemaker was hauled to Laudium. After jostling for granddad’s attention with cousins and siblings, I proudly showed off my literary wares. He looked at it, nodding his approval and then said, ‘Read whatever you see.’ I was intrigued. Whatever I see? In hindsight, I think it was the thrill of seamlessness to a child so used to limits and restrictions. And so that afternoon, during the drive back to Johannesburg, I stayed awake, making a conscious effort to read whatever I saw. And so it began, billboards, traffic furniture, toothpaste boxes, and a book or two, I read. I’m still reading.
If yesterday I had claimed ignorance of Dharwish, I would have been reprimanded as so often in the past I have when granddad asked my opinion on something I had not theretofore heard of, ‘You don’t read!’ Indeed, I don’t read as much as granddad. He reads four newspapers a day, five on Sundays. When once I ventured to give him credit for my bookish ways, reminding him of his advice to me, he laughed and said, ‘I didn’t mean everything…’
I introduced friends from Jeddah to the delights of Rosebank yesterday and in my haste to get going before the venerable workforce hit the highway I forgot to send granddad the books.
“Where did she go, the little girl who was me? I became who I am, because she was here. But when did she go, that girl who was me and leave me in her place the Woman who is me?”