LAW FOR ALL's Top 10: "Green" by Naomi Meyer

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LAW FOR ALL recently hosted a writing competition called "Write the future, right the wrongs".

The competition details were:

Submit this future world of justice creative work in less than 1000 words. It can be a haiku, poem or piece of prose that reflects a future South Africa where the law belongs to all and where everyone has access to justice.

The three winning entries were published on LAW FOR ALL’s website. LAW FOR ALL granted LitNet permission to publish the seven other entries of the Top 10. Below is "Green" by Naomi Meyer.

Photo credit: Retha Ferguson

"Green" by Naomi Meyer

"Stop, says the red light. Go, says the green."

The nursery song is stuck in my head at the robot, and I stay where I am. In the rear-view mirror, I look as run-down as the buildings surrounding my car. To the left is the building where I used to work ("to let").

It’s been weeks since I last left home. Caring for her all the time. The closed garages, the dilapidated buildings with their broken windows. The wine bars and bistros which used to line Stellenbosch’s streets: all closed after the virus struck.

Knuckles on the window: "Help my, asseblief!"

A white guy, nogal.

Behind me, the honking starts. When I start driving again, I stop clutching at the nursery rhyme CD in my lap and throw it straight into the cubbyhole.

I miss. It’s difficult to aim and it’s hard to turn the corner into Idas Valley when my palms are sweating this much.

Pretty dismal over here, as well. I see young kids looking at me in this rickety old car with hungry eyes.

She was just as desperate as they are now, that day. To stay alive.

I focus my attention on the road. I turn where the bakery used to be.

The school’s roof seems freshly painted. The windows are shiny. The car’s wheels crunch over something in the parking lot and come to a standstill.

Knuckles on the window again. When I see the headmistress’s face, my heart falls into my shoes. I have to open the door.

I notice: my car’s wheels have dislodged new plants in the flower bed.

"Sorry."

She really buys my story of wanting to teach at the school. All the way to her office, she chats about the work the parents have been doing to the school grounds, the new classrooms, the repairs.

"After the second wave hit, people decided to create a future for themselves."

I don’t see a hopeful future. I see the back of my little girl’s head the last time I was here. The red rash on her neck.

Just before we reach her office, I see that classroom.

I mumble something, rush to the bathroom.

The last time I stood in this room, my daughter was still healthy.

In front of the mirror, I take it out. My hands are trembling, but I start spraying.

The white walls, newly painted, the mirrors, the floors. I spray and I spray.

When the door opens behind me, I notice that the sickly yellow-green colour has covered the whole bathroom. My hand goes to my pocket.

As I turn around, she speaks.

"Please do not take out the lighter."

The smell of the fumes in the air. I feel the small object in my pocket, and it weighs me down. I take it out and hand it to her.

"You’re not a teacher, are you?" she asks amid the green rain.

I look at the green blood on my hands.

Vandalism, intent to start a fire.

I’m no legal secretary anymore, but I know that for every action, there is a legal consequence. I look up into the headmistress’s eyes.

"Who can forget a child with multisystem inflammatory syndrome?" she says softly.

"You remember …"

"How is she?"

The green paint runs down my cheeks with my tears.

"There were complications – she may never fully recover – she started feeling unwell at the chess match at this very school."

When the words are out there, they do not make any sense.

"It was easier when it was just the grown-ups, wasn’t it?" she says. "If a child is affected, one loses hope."

I slowly nod my head.

"The law can change this," she says quietly.

I don’t understand. I lower my head. She opens the door for me. I follow her; I don’t know where we are going. We walk down the same passageway; I realise that we are walking back to where I came from.

It’s not just a nursery song stuck in my head. I myself am stuck in the past.

In the parking lot, I stop.

I say the words: "Help my, asseblief."

She turns around, shakes her head.

"No, it doesn’t start with you. Hope for a better future doesn’t start with getting even," she says. "Don’t you think that we here in Idas Valley know this already? Now that everyone in town is poor, is that equality?"

I listen to her speak.

"Let your child leave your house when she is better. Let us bring all the children together. Let all the children learn each other’s languages. Let them move to new spaces, outside of their familiar neighbourhoods. Fear is a virus, too."

She pauses.

"Hope for a better future starts with the children," she says. "Why not sit down with me and draw up a discussion document for a green paper to send to the minister?"

An alarm bell goes off in my head. This is about writing a new law; I didn’t work in the legal office all those years for nothing. Does she want to punish me for what I wanted to do?

She sees my panic and she smiles – a kind smile.

"To get even is not equality," she says. "No more revenge. Time to think of new courses of action."

Then I speak.

"I shouldn’t keep my child at home anymore, turn her into a zombie. Equality is to live. Free."

She starts writing it down: "Every child has the right to hope. There should be more money for education. More money for paediatric research –"

She looks up: "Is it too vague?"

"It’s how every law is born," I say. "As a discussion document. Write down: more money for the arts in schools."

"Money for children’s hospitals," she writes. "Let the children themselves advise the minister of their needs."

 "Yes," I say. "Let’s start with the children. Let’s write this paper of hope."

Go, says the green.


Afrikaans version of the same story: "Groen", Naomi Meyer

"Stop, says the red light. Go, says the green."

Die kleuterliedjie is in my kop by die robot, en ek staan stil. In die truspieëltjie lyk ek net so verwaarloos soos die geboue wat my omring. Aan my linkerkant is die gebou waar ek gewerk het ("te huur").

Ek was weke laas by die huis uit. Voel of ek haar dag en nag versorg. Die petrolstasies is toe, die geboue met hulle stukkende vensters is vervalle. Die studente se watergate en die bistros waarvoor Stelllenbosch bekend is, bestaan nie meer vandat die virus verwoesting gesaai het nie.

Kneukels teen die venster: "Help my, asseblief!"

’n Wit ou, nogal.

Agter my begin hulle toet. Toe ek weer begin bestuur, hou ek op om die CD-houertjie op my skoot vas te klou en ek gooi dit sommer reguit in die kajuitkassie in.

Mis. Dis moeilik om raak te gooi en moeilik om om die draai van Idasvallei te ry as my handpalms so baie sweet.

Hier’s dit ewe uitsigloos. Ek sien jong kinders met honger oë na my skedonk staar.

Sy was daardie dag net so desperaat soos wat hulle vandag is. Om te bly lewe.

Ek probeer op die pad fokus. Ek draai waar die bakkery altyd was.

Die skool se dak lyk onlangs geverf. Die vensters blink. Die motor se wiele knars oor iets in die parkeerterrein en ruk tot stilstand.

Weer kneukels teen die venster. Toe ek die skoolhoof se gesig sien, voel my hart in my skoene. Ek moet die deur oopmaak.

Ek sien my motorwiele het nuwe plantjies in ’n blombedding platgetrap.

"Skuus."

Sy’t my storie gekoop dat ek klas wil gee by die skool. Wat nogal? Al die pad na haar kantoor toe, praat sy met my oor ouers wat die skoolgronde bewerk het, die nuwe klaskamers, herstelwerk.

"Nadat die virus ’n tweede golf oor die land gestoot het, het mense besluit hulle gaan self ’n toekoms begin skep."

Ek sien nog geen hoopvolle toekoms nie. Ek sien die agterkant van my dogtertjie se kop, die vorige slag wat ek hier was. Die rooi uitslag in haar nek.

Net voordat ons kantoor bereik, sien ek daardie klaskamer.

Ek mompel iets en strompel by die badkamer in.

Die vorige slag wat ek in hierdie vertrek gestaan het, was my dogter nog gesond.

Voor die spieël, haal ek dit uit. My hande bewe, maar ek begin spuit.

Die wit mure, nuutgeverf, die spieëls, die vloere. Ek spuit en ek spuit.

Toe die deur agter my oopgaan, sien ek die sieklike geelgroen kleur wat die hele badkamer bedek. My hande beweeg na my sakke.

Terwyl ek omdraai, begin sy praat.

"Moet asseblief nie die aansteker uithaal nie."

Die reuk van die verf hang in die lug. Ek voel die geringe objek in my sak en die gewig daarvan trek my ondertoe. Ek haal dit uit, en gee dit vir haar.

"Jy’s nie ’n onderwyser nie, is jy?" vra sy in die groen reën.

Ek staar na die groen bloed op my hande.

Vandalisme, die bedoeling om ’n brand te stig.

Ek’s nie meer ’n regsekretaresse nie, maar ek weet vir elke aksie is daar ’n regsgevolg. Ek kyk in die oë van die skoolhoof.

"Wie kan ’n kind met meervuldige ontstekingsindroom vergeet?" vra sy sag.

"Jy onthou …"

"Hoe gaan dit met haar?"

Die groen verf traan by my wange af.

"Daar was komplikasies … dalk herstel sy nooit volledig nie … sy’t tydens die skaakwedstryd hier begin sleg voel …"

Toe die woorde uit my mond is, maak hulle geen sin meer nie.

"Dit was makliker toe dit net die volwassenes was, is dit nie?" vra sy. "As ’n kind geaffekteer word, verloor mens hoop."

Ek knik my kop.

"’n Wet kan dit verander," sê sy sag.

Ek laat sak my kop. Ek verstaan nie.

Sy maak die deur vir my oop.  Ek volg haar; ek weet nie waarheen ons gaan nie. Ons stap in die skoolgang af. Ek besef ons stap op ons eie voetspore terug.

Dis nie net ’n kinderliedjie wat in my kop vasgesteek het nie. Ek sit vas in die verlede.

Ek stop op die parkeerterrein.

Ek sê die woorde: "Help my, asseblief."

Sy draai om, skud haar kop.

"Nee," sê sy. "Dit begin nie by jou nie. Hoop op ’n nuwe toekoms begin nie daarmee om mekaar terug te kry nie. Dink jy nie ons hier in Idasvallei weet dit reeds nie? Dink jy noudat almal in die dorp arm is, beteken dit almal is gelyk?"

Ek luister hoe sy praat.

"Laat jou kind uit die huis uitkom, wanneer sy beter is. Laat ons al die kinders saambring. Laat hulle mekaar se tale leer praat. Laat ons na nuwe spaces beweeg, buite hulle bekende buurte. Vrees is ook ’n virus."

Sy talm.

"Hoop vir ’n beter toekoms begin by die kinders," sê sy. "Sal jy saam met my sit en dan skryf ons ’n besprekingsdokument as groenskrif om vir die Minister te stuur?"

’n Alarmklokkie lui in my kop. Hierdie handel oor die skryf van ’n nuwe wet. Ek het nie verniet jare lank in ’n regskantoor gewerk nie. Wil sy my straf vir wat ek wou doen?

Sy sien my paniek, en sy glimlag ’n vriendelike glimlag.

"Om iemand terug te kry, is nie gelykheid nie," sê sy. "Niks meer wraak nie. Tyd om aan nuwe aksies te dink."

Ek begin praat.

"Ek moenie my kind tuis hou en haar in ’n zombie verander nie. Gelykheid is om te lewe. Vry."

Sy begin neerskryf: "Elke kind het die reg tot hoop. Daar moet meer geld vir onderwys wees. Meer geld vir navorsing van kindersiektes …Te vaag?"

"Dis hoe ’n wet gebore word," sê ek. "As besprekingsdokument. Skryf neer: meer geld vir die kunste in skole."

"Geld vir kinderhospitale," skryf sy. "Laat die kinders self met die Minister praat oor hulle behoeftes."

"Ja," sê ek. "Kom ons begin by die kinders. Kom ons skryf ’n groenskrif van hoop."

Go, says the green.


Read an interview with Jackie Nagtegaal on the outcome of the competition.

The winning entry of the competition was: "When I dream of a future" by Belita Andre

The second prize went to "The image of justice: a double duplex", by Nomyezo Mqhele

Third prize went to "The commute", by Sesetu Holomisa

Herewith the names of the Top 10 entries:

  • "Exit" by Maretha Maartens
  • "Green" by Naomi Meyer
  • "Breath of law" by Inga Ntantala
  • "Say something" by Harry Owen
  • "Brave" by Monicca Rampine
  • "When justice meant the world had to stop, so Ayanda could dream" by Sumayya Mohamed
  • "Nqo" by Siyabulela Javu

LAW FOR ALL’s Top 10: "Breath of law" by Inga Ntantala

LAW FOR ALL’s Top 10: "Brave" by Monnica Rampine

LAW FOR ALL's Top 10: "Exit" by Maretha Maartens

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