Bittersweet memories

A Father's Day essay for VISI

When I was small, my father would throw coins into the pool.

He would toss them in the deep end, my eyes squeezed shut, facing the washing line, twisted eucalyptus. The pavement hot with Australian sun, cement darkening with impatient drips.

“Okay, Princess. Now!”

Sometimes, there would be a thwoop and I would turn to find a cold can resting on the cement bottom, lopsidedly lolling amid my bounty: black grass jelly in sugary water, bought as a treat from the Asian supermarket near the university.

The jelly always stuck in the can. The aluminium edge scratched my tongue.

There was sunshine and laughter and salt drying on my skin, happy itches.

Dad lost his right arm in his teens, and hated swimming in public. This was our time; a private memory.

He wasn’t often there - there was a legal practice to run in Malaysia - but when he was, there was muffled cigarette smoke in the little wood-panelled granny flat he built in the backyard, rules to follow.

Adolescence, as it does, grew tortured, his absences into elongated shadows, half-noticed.

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US Election 2012: The World is Watching

This dispatch from Johannesburg appeared as part of Roads & Kingdoms' election night special.

Location: Aguil & Byron’s house, Westdene, Johannesburg

In the air: Crush of damp grass, spring chill, waft of wood smoke, Marlboro Light ash, sparks.
– “Wow, that’s a spangly election night shirt.” “No, it’s my Kinshasa popper shirt.”
– “Personally, I’m excited and apprehensive.” Snorts to my left.
– “The last time we saw each other in Gaza, I ran the other way. And ducked.”
On the breeze: Rodriguez’s Sugarman on iPod
Ongoing topics of conversation: President Zuma’s failed diplomacy, Bruce Springsteen, teleprompters.

On the deck:
Spotted: A 2010 Team USA jacket, paired with Malawian fabric coloured earring hoops.
Amidst the crowd: CCTV (Chinese television)’s posh British Southern Africa correspondent, plus a jazz drummer and a Swedish anthropologist, drinking sparkling wine from the bottle.
Discussion by the basil herb garden: Genocide and Rwandan local transitional justice (in Swedish).
On the table: Johnny Walker Double Black, bottles of Stella Artois, tealights, plastic plates with babaganoush overflow, half-filled glasses of Stellenbosch red.
In the air: Deep voice with an American accent (east coast), smell of match sulfur, clink of glass on tabletop.
- “So, is Obama winning?”
- “What, you want Romney?”
- “Everyone wants Obama, except… Pakistan.”
- “He’d better win, otherwise lots of people will be moving to Canada.”

In the living room
Soft furnishings:
Masai blankets, burnt orange floor cushions, South African and USA flags leaning on the grate.
On the wall: Laminated electoral college map, USA electoral vote calendar, Mandela portrait clock, half-blank A4 pages with red and blue scrawl “[?]/538”, acrylic sunflowers on
On the television: CNN election coverage live, Volume: 39 [out of 100]
On the couch: 4 people, all clutching drinks, none looking at the television.
Spotted: 1 x I [heart] NY t-shirt on Variety’s Africa correspondent, 1 x newly-shaved ex-boyfriend, 1 x Obama ’08 baseball cap.
– “Wait. Did I miss the Johnny Walker?”
– “Oh, are those exit poll results? Did you know this pizza is gluten-free?”
– “No, she’s not coming. She says this isn’t a babysitter kind of election.”
- “I had to wear gumboots in Kugelo last year. They were all sitting there in the rain, keeping tally. It was a kind of, victory of humanity.”

In the front garden
On the walls:
South Sudanese flag, South African flag, summer rain stains, American flag
At the table:
A dreadlocked South African social entrepreneur, a freelance French journalist, Business Day, South Africa’s financial broadsheet, pondering.
– “I asked my colleagues what they thought, and they said they were jealous. Jealous that we don’t have the same excitement around elections here. Unless you’re the ANC.”
– “He sounds tired. And Romney doesn’t. That might matter, last minute.”
- “I think in some ways, it’s good there isn’t the same hype this year. He’s becoming normalised, just another American President, not the first black American President. But it’s no less important.”