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The Blue Dress
Izak de Vries
Translation: Maya Fowler
I couldn’t ask Ma for a new dress. It was hard, because my church dress was getting all worn and I’d long outgrown it.
Ma always told us to pray. She said it was fine to pray for material things too, because the Our Father talks about our daily bread. I prayed, but always quietly. I couldn’t say this thing during our evening prayers, because then Ma’d hear. And I couldn’t tell Magda or Ronnie anything, because what if they told on me? That’s why I’d pray quietly.
Some days I’d really wonder if Jesus ever heard me. I know it’s bad, but Ma was always praying for Dad. Often, at evening prayers, Magda and Ronnie and I also prayed that Jesus would put an end to the devil’s hold on Dad, the spell of drink. Ma taught us to pray like that. She’d always say you must respect your parents, even if they drink like Dad. Ma also said that one of the best ways you can show your respect for someone is by praying for them.
It’s easy to respect Ma. She’s kind and always talks nicely to us, and she buys food with her money. But it’s hard respecting Dad. Especially when the other kids started talking about confirmation dresses, which in our church happens around the last year of high school.
Liezl’s dad phoned Tant Bessie and told her to go ahead, charge it to the account. Liezl could ask for any kind of dress.
Annelise’s dad took her and her mom to Worcester to go choose the prettiest dress. Whatever she wanted, that’s what he said.
Marlene said her dad just gave her mom some money and told her to go buy. His little girl had to look good on her big day. When it came to dresses, he just didn’t know though, that was girls’ stuff.
Annelise let us know that her shoes alone cost over a hundred. She said we had to see the dress first, then we could guess how much it cost, but we should just know it was a lot. And it was lilac, she said.
Then one day Ma said: We need to get you a dress for two weeks’ time. You can’t go in that one.
My heart got going. When can we go buy, Ma? I asked.
No, Ma said, buying is too expensive. But Mr Bruyns had told her she could get some material at cost: less than half the price. And the cotton and buttons Ma could have for free, he said.
When can we go buy the material, Ma? I asked.
End of the week, when I get paid.
But then Ronnie fell and there was the doctor, and the medicine, and we’d already run up an account at the pharmacy, so Ma couldn’t buy on credit. So when the end of the week came, Ma had no money. So all weekend we had to eat potatoes, the ones Magda and Ronnie and I planted, because Ma didn’t buy any other food. She bought Sunlight soap, because, Ma says, a person can have it bad, but your body and your hair and your clothes must be clean.
The Monday morning Ma went to Mr Bruyns to ask him for a little advance on Dad’s pay. The rest he could pay out when Dad got back.
Mr Bruyns wasn’t there, but he phoned Ma at the co-op later to tell her she could come fetch it after work, but wasn’t she scared?
Ma said no, my girl needs this dress, Mr Bruyns, and then he said OK. This is what Ma told me.
Mr Bruyns is good to us. He’s the one that asked Ma to take the job at the co-op so she could earn a little something for us. Mr Bruyns is Dad’s boss, too. He’s the one that owns the big lorry. Mr Bruyns has told Dad before that he’ll fire him if he doesn’t stop his drinking, but he won’t, because when Dad sits at home, then he really gets drinking. And at least he and his friends don’t drink it all away: he always holds onto a bit. And when Dad isn’t at home, it’s actually quite nice, even though Ma says it’s not respectful to say so. And sometimes Dad tells us sorry. Then he’s really nice for a few days. Then we never know quite how to speak to him.
And Mr Bruyns has told Ma many times that Dad never drinks out on the road. He’s definitely the best driver he’s ever had. He’s tried to catch him out, even told his agents in Johannesburg to keep an eye on him, but no-one could ever, not once, catch a trace of liquor on his breath while he was working.
It’s the devil’s evil hold, Ma would always say. The man I married wasn’t like that. It’s the devil that does this thing to him.
Unfortunately Dad got home that same night, because the Laingsburg cargo was arriving later only. Which meant that he didn’t have to spend the night there. When he got home, he shouted at Ma: Where’s my money? When Ma didn’t answer, he gave her a smack and tore her dress apart completely. He yanked her bra off, because he knows that’s where she hides her money.