by Liesl Jobson



Last month, when I went in for the surgery on my left bunion, the woman in the next bed removed her hospital gown, revealing breasts as long and listless as her ratty grey plait. She was scheduled for shock treatment. "I'm a boa constrictor," she stage whispered through dodgy dentures.

Her daughter tottered on kitten heels, high enough to make my remaining bunion throb. Purple satin poodles promenaded along the hemline of her full-circle skirt. Her hair was the same shade under a jaunty newsboy cap. She told me in the same stage whisper that her mother's real name was Margaretha Magdalena Katarina Koos. "But call her Lola, like the showgirl."

"She wants yellow feathers," I said with a sniff that came out as a snort.

"Humour her, why don't you?" said the daughter.

They sucked on their false teeth in unison, hissing an off-kilter Duet. Later the snake slithered over to my bed holding up her bosom and swaying her hips as she recited lines from Oklahoma, South Pacific and Guys and Dolls.

"Don't you love the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd?"

"Sure do, Dolly Dog," I said, forgetting her name, remembering the poodles I'd clipped and groomed in my time.

"Vicious snark," she said, slapping me. I wiped flecks of spittle from my face. Her breath smelled like the sulphurous bog downtown, where the will o' the wisp leads travellers to their end.

"Didn't mean anything by it," I said, pressing the button for the nurse, who arrived panting. I told her Lola should put her clothes back on. On her way out, she bumped into my grandson and wiggled her bum at him, saying, "Your mother wears army boots."

Today the doctor is fixing up my right bunion and removing my ingrown toenails, so my grandson has bought me an ipod. He's downloaded podcasts from the BBC for me to listen to.

"Plug into the fun stuff, Grandma," he says, fixing the earphones in place. "Ignore the tit-naked crazies." He switches on a Chopin waltz that starts out evenly, but soon crumples my sheets into lumpy chords.

"Nurse," I say, "the rhythm's not right." She plumps the pillows and pats me on the head before slipping a pink half moon under my tongue. The clouds shimmer; Chopin shapes up.

Poodle girl asks the boa constrictor, "If you were a fish, what type of fish would you be?"

I'd be any type of fish that doesn't suffer from bunions, but really I want to be a terrapin on terra firma. Aquatic excess makes me woozy. My head swims. My ears float out along the corridor, where my grandson speaks to his boyfriend.

"Tomorrow, Babe… I promise." He catches me staring at him and winks. "Old girl's doing well." He blows me a kiss and says, "The nurse says Grandma is keeping her clothes on."

(First appeared in 100 Papers published by Botsotso, 2008)

Return to South African Writing
Introduction and Contents Page