Bio: F.T. Kola was born in South Africa, grew up in Australia, and lived in London and New York City before pursuing an MFA at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin, where she is a fellow in fiction.
What it's about: A grandfather trying to blend into a world in which he would never belong is inadvertently exposed at a party by the young child of his activist son.
Read it for: Narrated through the eyes of the Colonel’s wife’s insecurities, an emotive look at the nuances and exploitative hierarchies of South Africa’s apartheid system from an Indian family’s perspective.
The more money the Colonel made, the more he was convinced that all along he had been right. But the Colonel’s wife, in private moments, thought differently. The Colonel’s money did not bring them favor, or let them into the forbidden places from which they would always be excluded: it merely let them pretend, sometimes, that Apartheid didn’t exist at all. Where the fact of inequality crept into their daily lives, the Colonel simply replaced the inevitable with the illusion of choice; going only to the Indian cinemas because there were no “for use by white persons” signs since no white people ever went there at all; sending Mohammed to a private school in Botswana; telling his wife to take a more scenic route from the market rather than the direct path through the cemetery where white children would hide behind the gravestones to throw rocks at her; never going to the annual Rand Easter show where a man of his color would be denied entry on certain days or to the nicest pavilions no matter how much he might pay for a ticket, but where the poorest white would be allowed to enter.
In the summer, the family went on trips to places where one could be treated as an equal: to Spain, to England, to Botswana, to Portugal. The Colonel managed eventually to buy the largest building in their area, one that took up the whole corner of the block, and had given himself a spacious set of offices downstairs and leased the rest out to a café. He had tasked his wife with transforming the upper floor (which the Colonel preferred to call the penthouse) into a charming warren of imported marble tiles, costly fabrics, and modern conveniences. They had hired Eunice, and the Colonel had built a sparse, four-by-four room on the roof for her to live, a room in which she would live for the next thirty years. For the Colonel’s wife, Eunice soon became like a friend and daughter, as well as an older sister to her son, so much so that she often forgot Eunice had a family of her own, in far off Transkei, a husband and child whom she saw just once a year.
It had stung the Colonel’s wife a little when Mohammed, at sixteen, had come home on school holidays to admonish his parents for hiring Eunice, claiming that they imprisoned her, and asking why she was not permitted to eat dinner with the family. He followed Eunice around while she made beds and chopped vegetables and washed the floors, lecturing her on Communism. The Colonel’s wife had to shoo her son away—Can’t you see she’s busy?—and the Colonel and Mohammed had fought in the evenings once Eunice was safely away in her own room. The Colonel claimed that hiring Eunice was practically charity, and besides, this life was something he had earned, while Mohammed accused him of trying to live like a white man, blind to the fact that he would never be one. Though she would never say it to her husband, the Colonel’s wife agreed. They did not live in Houghton, or Hillbrow. The view from their windows was bleak, and the stink of frying from the café below made its way into every gold-embroidered sofa cushion and filigree cedar wood shutter. They would never be able to go any further than they had come.
Read the full story A Party for the Colonel here.
Each shortlisted writer receives £500 and the winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced at an award ceremony and dinner at the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, on Monday 6 July. Each of these stories has been published in New Internationalist’s Caine Prize 2015 Anthology which is available here.