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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

Bobby Brown - Part II

Tiah Marie Beautement - 2010-07-27

Click here to read Part I.

Raquel followed her. “He’s in the kitchen, finishing lunch,” Mama Brown jerked her head to the right and Raquel’s eyes followed and spotted Daniel sitting in and old metal chair, pulled up to a card table while eating a bowl of bunny chow.
He nodded at Raquel. Raquel nodded back.

“Go on,” Mama Brown said, with a gentle push on Raquel’s back. “Don’t need customers seeing you loiter, just go on.”

So Raquel did, not sure where to stand or sit, the area was so small.

“Hello, Raquel. You well?”

“Um, hello. Yes … and you? You well?”

“I’m doing fine. Just fine. Can’t complain.”

He wiped his mouth and pushed back the old metal chair.

“Oh please, don’t stop eating because of me.”

Daniel let his eyes meet Raquel’s before shuffling over to a small fridge. “I stopped eating because my niece gave me too much to eat. Always trying to fatten me up, you see.”

“You are too thin,” Mama Brown laughed from the counter.

Raquel’s head whipped around to stare through the doorway at Mama Brown before whipping back to Daniel.

“You see?” he said with a chuckle, while wagging his finger at Mama Brown.

“That’s what I said, always feeding me more, more, more. What’s a man to do? Only so much you can eat, you see. But the food keeps coming. Keeps, keeps, coming.”

Then he clapped his hands together and exhaled a breath full of contentment. “Now, shall we go? I think we should, no need to be late. Can’t be late. Not everybody runs on African time.”

Daniel led Raquel to a small white Tata which looked as if it had seen better days. The guitar, snug in its case, was buckled into the back seat before Daniel held open the door to the passenger’s side. “Please, have a seat.”

Her parents would have been so upset. The professor who organised the study
abroad program would have not approved. The rich kids in the digs would have told Raquel to wait, or at least gotten in alongside. But Raquel slid in alone and buckled up.

“We’re going to visit some of my little friends,” Daniel said, as he started the car.
“We have our own music session every Wednesday afternoon after my morning errands are done, you see?”

Raquel nodded, secretly hoping Daniel’s music group wouldn’t make her sing. She had a terrible voice. Her mother, her sisters, her brothers, her fathers, they could all sing. Raquel was quietly taught the piano. She had managed to become competent enough to accompany her uncle on the guitar, which seemed to make everyone happy enough.

This was the first time Raquel had ridden in anything but a kombi taxi in over a month. The street looked so different from the small car, and the taxis looked bigger and more ominous. The car stopped at a traffic light and a taxi dived between them and the pavement, hooting the horn at the potential passengers. The driver locked eyes with Raquel; she’d ridden with him a few times. “Hey, hey lady!” he said, “Whatcha doing with Bobby, eh? You like ‘em older, eh?”
The light went green and the taxi cut in front of them, speeding off.

“You know him?”

Raquel shook her head. “We often ride the taxis. Don’t always catch the Jammie Shuttle, you know. Everyone said they’re okay if you’re in a group.”

“Don’t ride in one alone. Always ride with friends, you see?”

Raquel nodded, lips pursed; she’d been hearing that same advice since the plane touched down at Cape Town International. An uncomfortable awareness crept in, nagging her to notice that she was alone. She banished the thoughts.

The Tata went down a few side roads, full of homes that were still homes, not digs. But the grass was a bit longer, paint a bit rougher, and some of the curtains were clearly from the brand of “making do”. Raquel knew all about the brand of “making do”.

Daniel negotiated the car into the driveway of one that was a bit bigger, the paint a bit better, and the security much tighter. Between the bars was a massive jungle gym, and more than a few kids were hanging off it.

“Oom Daniel!” small voices cried.

Daniel put his hand to open the door, but paused. “Just so you know, some of them have the virus. But you can’t get it, you see?”

Raquel looked out the windscreen. “You play here, with these children?”

Daniel took his hands from the door. “Yes, my little friends. Too sick, too hurt and nobody to love them, so they come here. They love the music. Come, you will like them.”

AIDS. She’d never met anybody with AIDS. At least didn’t know anybody admitting to having it. Little faces were now pressed up to the bars, staring at her and Daniel. Did some of these kids really have it?

“You can’t get it, you see? It’s fine.”

“I know.”

The instant the gate slid back, a little hand latched on to Raquel. She looked down into dark, solemn eyes. She smiled and felt another one; this time the face was grinning. “Tannie, what’s your name?”

“Raquel,” she said. “I’m from America, but I was born in Mexico.”

“I’m going to live in America someday.”

“Me too!”


Raquel swallowed a lump in her throat. Mr and Mrs Schmidt introduced themselves. Children gathered together as the guitar came out. Little bums found their way on to her lap, little hands found their way to her hair and she could feel the plaits being woven in.

“Give Tannie some space.”

They giggled. But others stared, faces masked in seriousness, and they stayed away.

A little girl sporting a brush-cut with a pink bow was welcomed to Daniel’s side. Carefully he placed her hands just so at the side of the guitar.

“She can’t hear,” Janna Schmidt whispered in Raquel’s ear. “So Daniel has her feel the music.”

Raquel nodded as the sound from the strings began to fill the room.

“Hey, be still. I’m trying to make your hair pretty.”

“Shhhhh, man. Of course her hair’s pretty.”

“I’m gonna have hair like that, too, when I’m big,” said a child whose woolly locks were caught in bunches.

Raquel found herself smiling at the children’s joy despite the bile-filled gloom that continuously attempted to rise from her gut. She still went to Mexico. The children were there, too. Maybe they didn’t have the virus, but neglect was neglect, malnutrition was malnutrition, and for far too many, dead was still dead no matter what you died from. But somehow, it wasn’t the same. These shining little faces … The bile rose once again and she could hardly see as she stuffed her tears back behind her eyeballs.

And Daniel played on.

“Oom Daniel is so good to us,” Janna said. “Every week he comes with his guitar and a donation. We do love our Oom Daniel, don’t we children – hey?”

“Now you know none of that money is mine,” Daniel said. “It just falls into my guitar case from time to time.”

Raquel breathed.

“Come back whenever you can. Daniel has our number,” Janna said, as they made their goodbyes.

Raquel nodded. She didn’t know. The exchange student programme already had her working at a primary school in Langa one afternoon a week and, while not easy, it was easier than this.

“Busy being a student, I know. No worries, we’re just so happy you came. Maybe you can tell your friends back in America about us. How about that – hey? Every little bit helps.”

Not much was said between Daniel and Raquel on the way home. But before the Tata parked outside Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow Daniel broke the silence.

“You need more for your interview? I’ve never been much of a talker, you see? But you need more, you only got to ask. Know where to find me.”

Raquel nodded, but she wasn’t ready to know more about those children. All those children with dreams, believing they’d see America one day.

The car stopped at the kerb, the engine switched off. Raquel unbuckled and reached for the door, but stopped. “What’s the deal with the dictionary? I mean, how do you know all those words?”

A smile sat behind Daniel’s eyes. “Somebody told my mama to make sure I read every day. Only two books we owned, you see, The Bible and an Oxford Dictionary. Given to her by some English missionaries way back.”

Raquel considered this for a moment. “Matthew seven, verse one.”

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

“So you can quote the Bible, too.”

“I can quote the Bible, too.”

“But why the dictionary, then? You could have everybody buying Bibles.”  

“Raquel, you see, my mother believed that before somebody could be allowed to read the Bible, they needed to understand the words written in it.”

Raquel paused, considering his words, then she smiled and bid Daniel goodbye. As she walked away she heard a voice call out, “Howzit, Bobby – stertorous.”

A deep laugh erupted, following Raquel as she continued on her way. “Noisy and laboured. Like when somebody snores, you see?”

Raquel didn’t look back.

Two weeks passed and Raquel stayed away from Bobby Brown’s. Deep down she was pretty sure Daniel wouldn’t ask if she wanted to go back and visit his little friends, but even so, there he would be, and he would know she wasn’t brave enough. She turned in her assignment, with a note attached explaining that Bobby preferred to remain known as Bobby and his business remain his business. Her professor acknowledged the request and kept Raquel’s project separate from the rest.

A month later a group went out for bunny chow and came back without their bread bowls.

“Old man Bobby’s dead,” they said. “Didn’t even know Mama Brown knew him. Sign says they’ll be open tomorrow.” 

Raquel didn’t sleep that night.

The next day she forced her feet down to Lower Main, and there it was, Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow. The stump remained, with a small sign now attached. But there was no guitar. There was no man wearing a white fedora, a blazer and shiny tan shoes. There was no music drifting its way across the road or shouts from passers-by as they thumbed a dictionary.

Mama Brown gave her a hug and then, after time passed in her kitchen, a phone number. This time Raquel did not wait for the bile in her gut to recede, but made the call. She would take a taxi, making sure it was never empty.

But before all that, she went home, sat herself down at her computer and composed an e-mail to all her friends, family and people she just knew:

There was a man people called Bobby Brown, and rain or shine, he could be found playing his guitar under the sign Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow. Except Wednesdays. Because Wednesdays were the days he played for his little friends …


Story inspired by: Untitled: a portrait of a man and his guitar, painted by Mthetheleli Malambile.

All definitions are from: Soans, Catherine (ed). The Oxford Paperback Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Wordpower Guide, Oxford University Press, 2001