LitNet Short Story: The lost diaries of Tiyo Soga by Mphuthumi Ntabeni

Gravesend — April 15th, 1857

Almost everyone we meet has an edgy lean look. We struggle against the English air, nippy and thin as a memory of the departed.

For a week London has been hit by a freakish snowstorm, blanketing  most of the northwest side. Today the pale sun shines, urine yellowish, on a worthy cause fight against the obdurate ashy skies. Though still crisp, the weather is starting to show signs of tempering, a good nine or ten degrees Fahrenheit, my guess would be.

As the morning ignites Mrs S is eager to get on with things, cold sore reddened arms and all. She rubs my hair as she goes out, complaining and shaking her head in mock disbelief.

“Is fair mochie ootside. No longer jeelit.’ She shouts. Before I can answer she adds; ‘Can’t forever have your nose in a book.”

I like to jot down the impressions the day makes before they fade from my mind. Things are more real to me when committed to pen and paper.

I close my notebook and follow her post-haste to meet the day.

We get off The Lady of the Lake, the ship we’ll soon be sailing home on. We mean to purchase supplies that, Deo volente, will carry us for the three or so months—depending on the weather—at sea. We’ve not yet found favourable winds to begin our voyage. We need some kind of medicinal remedies for the seasickness we anticipate.

Outside, a persistent soft rain—a fly-saliva drizzle according to the Xhosa proverb—drives us under the awnings as we walk to the shops. The weak sun, yellow as ale, peeps between the grey clouds. Our gad takes us towards the stained harbour strobe lights. We pass a gaggle of migrating geese mining the marshes for food. Mrs S thought it a sure sign of returning summer. One swallow does not a summer make, my thoughts go. But, indeed, the streets are starting to ooze with sludge, which I particularly dislike.

The floodgates of Mrs S’s whimsy open wide as the morning wears off. She keeps taunting me about exaggerating my cold shivers.

“Afraid of a little smirr are yea?” She asks with a smile. “Not enough even to make a stamp stick. Aye, is just a wee dreich business.”

We laugh it off, hold hands to the suppressed-shock faces of the white folks around who figured us a madam and servant. You’ll be a liar to call Mrs S pernickety.

In Glasgow, my home in the past few years, when it rains it feels as if the rain is raining on top of the rain and you’ll never see the end to it. Indeed this one is just an haar by Scottish standards. Still, I prefer not to get the wet over my new suit. It’s better when the snow is dry, more pristine, not this plowetery, showery dirty wet, creating the gurgling brown slush.

Read the story here:

+ posts

Mphuthumi Ntabeni is a South African author living in Cape Town. His debut novel The Broken River Tent won the University of Johannesburg Debut Novel Prize in 2019. He worked with the drama department of Rhodes University on two plays he wrote for the South African National Arts Festival about Maqoma and his half-brother Sandile, both of whom had been Xhosa chiefs. He has a passionate interest in South Africa’s frontier history and the wars of land dispossession. His most recent novel The Wanderers was published in 2021.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *