I’m only a journalist because I’m always late. Arriving during assembly at school, once too often, and trying to sneak past the prefects I spotted a queue outside the deputy principal’s office. They were waiting to go for a medical check so that they could apply to become teachers. So, in the interests of not having to have The Conversation with Mr Hall, I joined the queue, feigning enthusiasm for teaching, and found myself on a bus to the Krugersdorp Health Department to have my ears and toes examined and, importantly, I had a very good reason for being late for school.
Sitting next to me on the bus was Jackie Wilson (her real name) who asked what I would do if I didn’t get into teaching and she said she would apply for journalism. It was a ping moment in which everything made sense. Journalism. Thank you Jackie Wilson wherever you are.
I got accepted for teaching, probably because I spoke vlot Afrikaans during the subsequent interview once my toe hygiene had passed the test. The Afrikaans was more a survival tool in an Afrikaans neighbourhood than a product of an apartheid education, but I got offered a bursary too. You study for four years, you work for us for four years, and then you are free to go and have babies or whatever. That was the deal then.
I turned down the bursary, got turned down when I applied to study law at Wits (thank God) and found myself on a train to Durban to study journalism.
It was the best gift that a perpetually late person could wish for.
Anyway, I am late in other aspects of my life. I am late in filing leave applications and stand doe eyed in front of the news editor, hoping to God that he will say yes. I do write things in my diary, but am usually too late in consulting the diary for it to have any benefit.
So, I rush. And because I am usually late and rushing, things that tend to creep up on one unexpectedly, things that require the time budgeted for the unexpected, the time that “real women” allow for, make my days very interesting.
Take today. I went to bed early last night, psyched for a day at the Constitutional Court which requires Concentration and Focus. But, Miss J, missing her daddy who is being a rock star at the moment (he complains that he does not have time to drink beer or take drugs), can’t sleep. So I watch Thumbelina and the twitterberries or whatever they are called, which send both of us off to a gentle sleep. For a few hours. She’s awake at 3am, upset etc and even Oreos and a cosy blanket don’t help.
I get her to sleep, now I’m wide awake. I fart around the kitchen for a bit, doing the stuff I should have done the night before instead of watching Thumbelina. Pack the dishwasher, that sort of thing. I read a bit (the third agreeement – be your best) and contemplate staying awake until dawn.
I have this fantasy that I will wake up at 5am, do some yoga, drink green tea, nip the flowers off the herbs, shower, do my hair, dress, and have breakfast in the warming oven when everyone wakes up. And one day I will do it. I swear.
Of course I fall asleep again and then I switch the alarm off because I’m tired. So, we rush.
To save time I don’t shower. Not only do I feel grimy, but I haven’t had my Shower Think. Which I need. I don’t even change shirts three times as usual and we’re in the bakkie, borrowed while my car is in the panel beaters, with a kitchen towel full of avocado pear on toast to eat on our laps in the car. There were complaints about the sparcity of salt and pepper. We played eye spy, the bakkie only stalled once, we got through the bottlenecks and the construction on the blind corner quite fine.
Miss J now insists on walking to class from the gate by herself. She goes up the disabled ramp and slips in her sparkly shoes. Sorries all round from the security guards, she resumes her trek. She’s at the big steps near her class, I might get to work on time. She takes one step at a time. On each step she turns around and waves and blows me a kiss. I dare not move. This is a precious time. In 10 years she will lock herself in her room and hate me and her hormones.
She’s halfway up the steps. I no longer stand a chance of being on time for work. I wave and shout go into the class. I turn around. The people at the old age home over the road hold their breakfast knives and forks in frozen fascination, like one of the scenes Hiro Nakamoto does in Heroes.
She gets to the top and disappears. I run to the bakkie. Nchee chee chee chee, the engine finally turns. I fly to work, pushing through traffic, trying to decide whether I’m having a panic attack or a heart attack.
Greet security guard at gate and at office door. Sliding into work not possible due to glass window next to news editor’s desk. She’s not as lighthearted about the tardiness as usual. Sit down to follow up story of ANC defectors to Cope defecting back to ANC. Will the spokeswoman be in good mood or bad when asked for comment that only one out of a promised 2000 re-defected. She pretends she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Been called all morning etc, and hasn’t seen story. Relay info that they sent it to us for our diary, plus an advisory to make sure we didn’t miss it. Oh. Will get back to you. Still hasn’t.
Off to Concourt. 10am start. Write nice meaty story on early argument: should the president be held responsible if a member of the cabinet doesn’t do his/her job? Revolves around South African farmer’s failed attempts at getting diplomatic protection when property he owned in Zimbabwe was siezed. Interesting case. Where does the buck stop? File story through Yahoo. Concourt’s usually crappy 3g reception working but office doesn’t have story, according to quick phone call check on way to car at court tea break. Run back to laptop in court, blagging way through security, and refile the story. Run back to car. Sneaking out to do this, office doesn’t know. Please God don’t let Thabo Mbeki arrive at court while I’m gone, thank you. Nchee chee chee, hurtle through outskirsts of Hillbrow, down Jan Smuts, to Miss J’s school to collect her at 11am because it’s mid term break. Late. Miss J is playing with friend Blessing. The only two kids who haven’t been picked up yet. K couldn’t do it as it’s a crucial practice day. Have quick conversation with sulky class helper who Miss J is having run ins with. Watch Miss J do three fabulous things on the jungle gym. Hurtle home to drop Miss J off with housekeeper.
Housekeeper nowhere to be seen. House keys on sink. Reach arm through burglar guards, get keys, open door expecting to find housekeeper collapsed or something. Housekeeper’s cottage wide open, no sign of her. Phone her. She’s in Randburg shopping. She decided to take early lunch and didn’t expect us home so soon. We’re both sneaking around behind the boss’s back but she got caught. Consider taking Miss J back to Concourt, but just know that she won’t be able to resist asking a hundred thousand questions sotto voce. We play ball in the garden instead and have more avocado pear sandwhiches. I pay Gift the whistling gardener and he offers to buy my radio in the garage and we agree on when he will take his annual leave.
Housekeeper arrives just before 1pm. Points out that the back door was pulled closed, so even though the keys were there, it’s actually ok. I rush back to Concourt. Give a robot beggar an apple. Run through security, just in time to hear them say judgment reserved. Oh Fuck. I missed the state’s argument. I am so fucked. But at least Thabo Mbeki didn’t come. Ask the other reporters what I missed. Nothing much they say, guardedly. Pack up laptop, run downstairs to catch lawyers before they leave.
Erm… in a nutshell, can you pls explain what your argument was? Sweet sweet Piet. Last time I saw him, he won a judgment on extradition and was all smiles outside, trying to juggle a cigarette and ligher with his big lawyer’s case and his lawyer’s robes while giving soundbites.
Here, have my notes. But please excuse the spelling, my secretary can’t spell, he says. Thank you thank you God. Was that instant karma for the apple? Sarel from SABC wants to know where I was, I say domestic drama, he shrugs his shoulders. Race back to the office. Read Piet’s notes, Google the sections of law he based his argument on, read his heads of argument on Concourt website. Look through my notes from morning session, write my wrap. Get a byline. Eish. Noboby will read it given advocate Barbie’s return to court. Re-read election insults feature issued while I was away to make sure I didn’t miss any mistakes.
Stick up poster for Jim Neversink concert on smokeroom window. Should have done it Wednesday. Phone Mom to ask if she will babysit Miss J on Friday night for JN concert. Confirm Friday off with boss as previous time owed so that I can fetch my car from the panel beaters.
Leave office. Pouring rain. No windscreen wipers. Stall at busy intersection. People hooting. No handbrake. Can’t see anything. Car rolling forward while I’m doing Nchee chee chee. Stop at shops for free range chicken which came in earlier so Miss J won’t have boobs at the age of eight. K on phone to say I must come for dinner with Richard Lloyd who has just arrived from New York to produce their album. Can’t do it. Got Onnie issues and don’t want to leave J since she’s feeling insecure. Drive home. Onnica chatting incessently to make sure I have no space to kak on her for the lunch time episode. I kak on her anyway. We all sneak off, but take the house keys with you next time I say.
She tells me there’s a dead rat in the house. She lifted the couch, but can’t seem to locate it. Kittens bring rats in when I only give then dry food for supper. Neighbour has an owl box and has requested that nobody in the area put rat poison down so owl and kittens having lots of fun. Rats and mice not. Poke around the lounge a bit and decide to deal with it tomorrow.
J and I have chops and vegetables for supper. I bath her. She tells me Gift bought her an icecream and Onnie let her cross the road by herself. She sings me a song about ants marching that Mrs Girly taught her. I read her TWO stories (considered a treat) and sing Three Little Birds until she sleeps.
I drink wine. It’s Lent and I was going to give up. Sorry God, but thank you. For giving me some ball playing playing time with Jasmine. For giving me Piet’s notes. For not getting me killed at the intersection. For keeping Thabo Mbeki away from the court. For not getting me fired.