Anthologies like African Delights remind us that the short story form is far from dead. Siphiwo Mahala, who says he’s been writing in this form since his two short stories were published in the Rhodes University journal Aerial in 2001, is no doubt an emerging master at this craft. Mahala has a knack for weaving an idea into a number of tributaries feeding from one another.
In this four part collection of stories, published in September 2011 by Jacana Media, Mahala takes us across time and space in modern day South Africa. Part 1, titled “The Suit Stories”, is a tribute to renowned South African author, Can Themba, who wrote The Suit, a short story about a man who after discovering his wife’s infidelity, makes her carry around her lover’s suit with her everywhere she goes. In Mahala’s version, we get the lover’s side of the story.
Part 2, titled, White Encounters, is an autobiographical account of growing up as a black kid in apartheid South Africa. The final story, Hunger, is, particularly, moving.
And part 3, The Truth, is a yarn about the different kinds of truth. It is also a reflection of the kind of writer Mahala is: one able to stretch one idea into tentacles of literary wonder.
The fourth and final part of the book, African Delights, is the all-too-familiar story of the girl from out of town who comes into the big city with equally big dreams to make something out of her life. A good education is the springboard to this blessed life envisaged.
Her beauty, which could have helped to make the dream more realizable, instead stands as an albatross across her neck. Powerful men who control the purse strings see a trophy wife in her. In time, the innocent girl drops out of university, her femme fatale looks only having succeeded at securing her an unsightly older man for a husband, who gradually fails to appreciate her worth. The ‘lucrative’ business the husband makes her a part of, is actually a brothel where one of the big customers, one day, asks for the ‘best of African Delights’ – she, Zodwa, the madam!
For a mere R100 000, she gives of herself in one night of miserable sex that leaves her feeling soiled.
The end – where she falls down 16 storeys to her death – is a deft twist in the tale by Mahala. The reader would have expected her to live happily ever after with her new man, the Zimbabwean IT guy she picked up from a posse of job-seeking hopefuls out in the streets. As fate would have it, Simba, develops other ideas once his ship comes in, and the man of the house, Mokoena, makes him the sole beneficiary of his estate in his last-minute will.
© makatilemedia 10/2011