An autobiographical story about stiletto shoes, some chickens, a hole and an illiterate storytelling grandfather's dreams for his granddaughter.
Published in Tincture 17 (2017) and edited by the very dedicated and thoughtful Daniel Young.
In his broken-down gumboots and with his pants rolled up to his knees, my grandfather, Dedo Trajan, is sitting in the chicken coop again.
With my two eyes, I can see him from the kitchen window. With my two hands I’m twirling my two silky ponytails while, behind me, my mum is chopping the celery for the celery soup. She’s making it from the Margaret Fulton cookbook. Even though my Baba came past before and rolled her eyes and said, 'What? Soup from a celery? I’ve never heard of it before. Is this the kind of food the Australians eat? Are they rabbits? Are we?'
But I don’t care. I’m proud of my mum for trying new things, for trying new recipes. And everyone will have to eat it, too—my Dedo, Baba, Uncle Johnny, his new, fancy wife, Auntie Sveta, the baby growing in her belly, and me. But not my dad. Last year, we had to run away from him after he went to work one morning. So he eats his dinner somewhere else.
'But, Mum. Why does Dedo sit in the chicken coop with the chickens?'
I really want to know. It’s all he ever does since he got us the new, big house so we could all live together, one family.
'One family!' he said. But now he doesn’t want to even come in. At night, my grandmother has to shout at him from the back door and tell him he can’t sleep out there.
'Why, Mum? Why does he do it?'
'Well, darling, I don’t know,” my mum says—in English—busy with her measuring cups and spoons. 'But I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you go and ask him yourself? Go on. Go.'
So I do.
I go out the back door.
I go past the Hills Hoist.
I pass the little sticks-and-old-bedsheet screen that hides the hole that my Dedo and my Uncle Johnny had to dig yesterday afternoon. That’s where we have to pull down our pants and go to the toilet and then cover whatever we do with a shovelful of dirt. But only until Monday morning when the man comes to fix the blocked-up pipe.
And then I’m outside the chicken coop.
At the gate, I stand frozen. It feels like a magic line, a force field that I can’t cross without my Dedo giving permission first.
So I ask, 'Dedo, is it okay? Can I come in?'
And Dedo nods his head without looking at me. But I can’t take my eyes off him as he lets the smoke from his cigarette come out slowly from his lower lip. It’s a sheet of mist that moves up over his face like it’s an old, craggy mountain in some far away, mysterious place. In the end, there’s one last wisp. I gasp as I watch it disappear and then, like magic, I’m free. I can move again.
I lift the latch.
I go inside and shut the gate behind me.
I make my way to where my grandfather sits, by the fence, on an upside down, empty feta bucket. Conveniently, beside him, there’s a second vacant, upside down, empty feta bucket. On it, I take my place. I take my seat. And then we’re both sitting on upside down, empty feta buckets—inside the chicken coop. We don’t say anything for a bit.
Meanwhile, the chickens do their thing.
They don’t bug us and we don’t bug them.
They scratch, they cluck, they peck.
And Dedo keeps smoking and nodding his head over and over again, like he’s coming to an understanding of a problem that he’s been wrestling with for too many years. That, or he’s judging, weighing and reckoning the possible reasons I might be visiting. I never have before.
Finally, he speaks.
In a proud voice, he asks, 'So. What is it that you want? What did you come for?'
He lifts his chin.
'Nothing,' I gulp, I lie.
I try to shrug my shoulders, casual-like.
But he doesn’t believe me. His eyes narrow to slits.
'Ha!' he says. 'Everyone wants something. Tell me. Do you want a cigarette? Is that it?'
If you would like to read on, you can purchase a copy of Tincture 17 here.