Gail Bohle

The Golden Key

The water rushed over the pebbles, carrying small  branches and bark with it, as it surged towards the sea. Little rapids created mini waves as they hit rocks in their path.  The sun began to move westwards and a chill crept into the air.  Soft white clouds drifted across the darkening sky and Em  pulled the shawl over her shoulders. A stray seagull shrieked at her, accusingly, as he flew past towards the sea. She slid her feet into the moss climbing up the bank. Funny how a river held such life around it. Creatures came to be near the water, build their homes there, find twigs and bits of grass for their nests.  The river itself had its own life.  Her eyes moved across the water and settled on the waterfall downstream.  The thunder hypnotized her and all the day’s worries and cares were caught up and tumbled in this roaring, powerful rush of water.

A misty curtain formed between her eyes and the waterfall.  As she focused, a form materialized slowly. Em gasped. She rubbed her eyes and checked again. Slowly the shape formed and a beautiful dark horse tossed his mane and flared his nostrils at her. She stepped back slightly, but met his gaze.  The horse reared and let out a powerful whinny.  A soft white hand smoothed his mane and golden locks brushed his mane as a woman leant forward to quiet him Em saw the fall of the shell-pink sleeve, the silky skirt, trimmed with tiny pearls.  Bare toes peeped out from under the garment and a tiny ankle tinkled as the bells around it moved.

Em moved towards the vision. She wanted to touch the horse, let her fingers slide across the silky skirt.  She hesitated and then smiled tentatively at the golden-haired woman.  As she took another step forward, the woman put up her hand and turned her face away.  The horse pawed at the mossy floor. Em stepped back.  She felt hurt and unworthy.  Her head bowed and her shoulders dropped. When she looked up again the woman spoke to her.  “You must prove that you have enough self- love to approach us.”

Em was dumb-founded.  “How do I do that?” she whispered.  The answer came.

“Go back home now and climb into bed.  Put a piece of lavender under your pillow and ask the gods to grant you vivid dreams tonight. Come back here tomorrow evening and you’ll see us again.”

Em did all this and in the morning she woke up startled.  Her dreams had been vivid and in them she had had to overcome many hurdles. She had stood up to her bullying sister and answered her scary ballet teacher even though her knees were wobbly. Her bossy classmate had not managed to take her favourite sandwiches and swop them for bread and butter.  She was  exhausted but  pleased with her night’s work. She dressed quickly and made her way down to the river. As she sat on her rock, she prayed that the vision would appear once more. Hours went by and no one appeared.  Em closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her knees.  “I do love myself.  I am good and kind and helpful to everyone I meet.  I try never to hurt anyone and I always take an interest in other peoples’ lives.  I am good at many things.  I can sing and dance. I play the piano. I try not to give up at school, when things get too hard …” A soft puff of air against her cheek made her look up – into the deep brown eyes of the stallion.  His gentle breath tickled her neck and she reached up to put her arms around him. His rider bent down and lifted Em onto the stallion’s  back.  Em squealed with delight as she felt soft arms encircle her.  Golden locks caressed her face.  She leant forward and put her cheek against the stallion’s soft mane.  Gentle words found their way to her ears.

“You are worthy now.  You have shown us that you can love yourself. That is the golden  key to all our joy.  As long as you keep that love in your heart, you are always welcome to visit us.”

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Gail Bohle

Acceptance

Eager, willing, being nice, trying, swallowing. I’m hoping thrice. This time arms will open wide. Eyes will smile and melt the ice.

Anticipation.

I’m pushing back, pain, hurt, helplessness. Trying hard to make it work. Attracting it, expecting it. Pain hurts. Hide, be wise – I paste a smile to hide dead eyes.

Acceptance creeps in easy, free and floating. Takes for granted, smug, unnoticed. I bask in glory, floating, flying. Accepting acceptance, I smile, I gloat.

But wait …

Appreciate!

Take for granted? My eyes are smiling? I stop and thank the starry shining.

Rejection pounces when I’m smug.

Gail Bohle

Truth must out!

Truth must out should out needs out,
my solar plexus moans.
It puffs and warns and tells and shows
unspoken truths must out!

My voice is gentle soft and true
but still it’s stuck and groans.
Truth must out should out needs out,
or it will turn to stone.

Words twist and twirl and stay unsaid.
The poison settles here.
It settles down and swirls and turns,
until truth’s barely there.

“Stuck! Stuck!” truth cries.
It can’t come out,
it hardly knows it’s there.
Uncertain truth now settles in,
it muddles, squirms and stares.

The truth must out should out needs out.
There is no other way!
Gentle, humble, firm and sure,
the truth must out.

Beware!

Gail Bohle

Through a child’s voice …  

I plié and stretch my legs and then bend them as far down as they’ll go.  My back is as straight as a ramrod.  My eyes follow my arm up and out, my arm is soft and my fingers follow.  Butterflies dance in my tummy and I feel excited. Dee’s scream takes me by surprise.  “That’s not good enough!  Don’t you listen to me, Gigi?”

Her scowl eats into my heart and I freeze in fear.  I cannot meet her eyes.  I look down and hope she’ll stop shouting soon.  I wish I had an invisible cloak.  She steps up right in front of me and glares at my forehead.  “Why don’t you ever listen to me?” she yells.  I do.  I’m trying.  No words leave my lips.  I don’t know where to look.  Dee puffs herself up and a new expression comes onto her face.  An even scarier one.  “Well!  Okay then.  If you choose to ignore me, I’ll ignore you!  You are not in my class. I can’t see you. You simply don’t exist!”  My heart breaks and I think I ‘m going to be sick. I don’t look up. The pianist begins to play again.  I listen to Dee’s commands.  I do try, as hard as I can.
I do my very best to perfect all my movements. She doesn’t see me.

… Week after week, she will not look at me.  I am dead to her.  I will her to notice me…but she doesn’t.  It’s no use.  Whether I dance perfectly or terribly, she will not look at me.  I fall into silence.  I am broken, destroyed.  Life seeps out of my spirit.  And yet, I dance, as it is the only thing I live for.

As the sun sets, I am enjoying my glass of red wine out on the rocks.  The warm feeling sends a tingle up my legs and bottom.  I sigh deeply and lift my face to enjoy the last rays of the sun.  As the chill sets in, I wrap my mohair jersey around my shoulders and wiggle my toes a little.  Dee’s faded voice enters my consciousness and my tummy still does a little somersault.  I take a sip of wine and wonder why she turned on me like that?  Did I remind her of someone?  Herself perhaps?

What would have made her turn on a timid, unconfident little girl who had just lost her Daddy and who lived for her ballet?

Would I have stopped dancing anyway?

The gentle waves lap against the rocks and I turn my attention to the sound.  My nostrils fill with the salty smell of the sea and I am comforted.  Colours melt into one another and I turn my thoughts to the beauty around me.

The sky darkens slowly and a chill descends.  One last sip of wine.  I’ll turn in as soon as I find Pumpkin.  He appears and rubs his soft fur against my leg.  As I pick him up, his purr vibrates against my tummy and I squeeze him gently to me.  He settles into my back when I snuggle under the blankets and wriggle into a comfy position. Life is good and I am content tonight. As I drift off, I feel my feet and legs stretch into position and I rub my fingers across the satin ribbons of my pointe shoes.  I run into a leap. My tummy muscles tighten to keep me up there for a second longer, before I land gently on the wooden floor of the city hall stage…

Gail Bohle

The Novices

Another windy, dusty evening in the Bergville fraternity.  My room mate Nomsa was sleeping peacefully.  I uncrumpled my rejected poem and looked at the dead words. Tears dropped onto my cheeks and I pushed my face into the pillow as misery engulfed me.  Nomsa’s poem was admired.  Mine was pushed aside.  She was poor, oppressed and black.  I was privileged, wealthy and white.  I was being cast aside. I crunched up the poem and threw it across the room.  My body felt hurt, sore, abandoned, shut down.   Blown apart. Only an empty shell remained.  I would never write poetry again. I would never dream, reach for, hope for anything again.  I was a failure as a novice and there was nothing to carry on for.  I had lost myself entirely …

… My driver pulls up outside the Bay Hotel and I reach across the seat to pick up my poetry collection.  A flutter of nerves unsettles my tummy. I go over the poems I have chosen to present and allow my fingers to wander over the glossy cover of my anthology.  As my door is opened for me, a shadow appears on the ground.  Before I turn to look at her, a prickle runs down my spine.  “Nomsa!”  She steps forward to embrace me.  “It’s been so long, Wendy.”  She walks with me and as we enter the dining room together, she rubs my arm gently.  “Break a leg,” rings in my ears as I step up onto the stage and begin reading my first poem. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Nomsa in the crowd. She is smiling at me and nodding as I read. As I reach the last line, I look into the audience.  Oh my goodness. Now she is standing up and clapping like a lunatic!

A smile creeps across my face and the crumpled poem vanishes into a cloud of new thoughts.

Gail Bohle

Sad heart breaks in two.
A walk with pain, sorrow, death,
unbearable pain.
Daddy snatched away from her.
Scared, defenceless, eleven.

Gail Bohle

The survivors

Agatha shrugged off a shiver. She dusted off her backpack, looked around at the other survivors and went into rescue mode.  She opened her backpack and rummaged in it for her tiny gas stove, her kettle and her tea-strainer.  Then she poured the last of her water into the kettle, found her matches in the pocket of her jacket and got the gas stove working.  The tea leaves, neatly tucked away in a sealed packet, were brought out of the depths and soon a nice pot of tea was ready for any needy survivors. But her hands were cold, and she fumbled, dropping her travelling mug.  

As the tin cup clanged against the side of the overturned bus, St John stepped forward. He picked it up and handed it to the stocky little woman.  He kept the smile off his face but the twinkle in his eye gave him away.  He tapped the tea maker on her shoulder and held out the cup.  She took it from him and frowned slightly, then turned her back on him and busied herself with the kettle.  St John looked around at the other survivors. Some of them were shivering in the last rays of the winter sun.  It would soon be dark and there was no sign of any rescue.  He turned back to the prickly woman and said, “Let me help you, at least.”

Agatha dug her hand into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a crumpled cigarette.  She allowed him to light it for her, but did not meet his gaze.  She hated these irritating macho males who always wanted women to flatter and pander to their masculinity.  He didn’t need to be in her space and she didn’t want to acknowledge him.  Why didn’t he do something useful, instead of hovering over her and getting in her way?  Why is it that men always want women to notice them?  Well, she certainly wasn’t going to!

St John picked up the kettle and poured the steaming tea into the tin cup.  Then he took it over to a shivering old woman a few steps away.  She looked up at him with gratitude and smiled.  He returned her smile and then turned back to the tea lady.  She’d sent him a firm message, but he decided to taunt her a little more.  Sooner or later, she’d drop the pose.  Why wouldn’t she?  Women like her – stubborn, aggressive – amused him immensely. They were always so arrogant, determined to be manly, efficient, more macho than the nearest macho male. 

He stifled a laugh, stepped towards her and touched her elbow. She drew back sharply and shot him a withering look.  He withdrew his hand slowly, but stood his ground.  She didn’t frighten him and he was damned if he was going to be intimidated by her.

  “I’m just trying to help,” he said politely.

 “Well I don’t need your help!” she retorted. 

They faced each other, neither one backing off nor stepping forward.  Agatha glared at St John, hoping to force him to turn away.  His eyes twinkled at her.  He looked relaxed, in control, waiting … She bristled, tense as a stalking cat, ready to attack, on guard. 

Sofia tiptoed across the stones and pushed her candle into the space between Agatha and St John.  She weazled her tiny body into the widening gap and asked Agatha to light her candle.  Sofia wanted to provide a little light for the cold, scared children, sitting in a huddle under the tree.  Agatha breathed out reluctantly and St John stepped forward to light it. The circle widened a little more Sofia’s gentle entrance dissipating the tension between the two of them. St John, warming to this little bird immediately, walked off with her. Agatha retreated into her angry world to lick her wounds.

Lightness crept into the circle, quietly but certainly….    

The survivors 

She shrugged off the icy cold shiver,
she dusted her backpack and jeans. 
She rummaged for light, stove and kettle
and cooked up some mielies and beans.

The cup clanged against the bus side
St John stooped to pick it up.
He handed it over firmly, politely.
She frowned and took the cup.

Agatha turned her back to him.
His smile went swiftly away,
but the twinkle remained, in his eyes like stars
and she wished that he wouldn’t stay!

The sun was descending, orange and red
“Let me help you,” he tried once again.
The darkness set in, a chill swept the air
but she shook her golden brown mane.

Agatha dug for a match, cig and fire. 
She allowed him to hold it for light. 
She hated his smile, his pose and his power
and puffed herself up for a fight!

John advanced and took her arm and hand.
She gave him a warning growl!
Eyes twinkled and danced and she stamped her foot.
He stifled a rising howl.  

Sofia tiptoed across the stones.
She weazled in small and fast.  
The strangers breathed out and the light came in
and the spell was broken at last!

Gail Bohle

Nick

Thick black curls and a button nose, that’s what I noticed as I scanned the hundreds of students in my HDE group.  Wow! My heart tumbled into my stomach as he turned to look back…(at me?) and I saw deep brown eyes, behind dark-rimmed glasses.  I was smitten! I slid into a seat and tried to focus on the lecturer.  My half-hearted note taking trickled to an end as the meridian break came. When the students stood en masse and made their way up the stairs to the two back doors, I tried to spot him in the crowd. 

I ambled along to the shuttle bus-stop hoping to bump into him somehow.  The Mowbray stop came up and I swung my rugsack onto my shoulder (and started the walk home to my digs).  I kicked some stones along the way, wondering who he was and what his name was. Just as I was about to turn up into my street I heard someone’s step quicken behind me. I knew before I turned that it was him.  As he caught up with me a shiver moved from the top of my spine down into my tummy. 

“Do you have a kettle?”

I nodded , then giggled. What an opening line! He fell into step beside me and we walked up the steep hill together.  Being so close to him unnerved and excited me and I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.  When we reached my flat, I fumbled with the key and eventually managed to turn it and push the door open with my knee.  He held it open and quietly, confidently, stepped over the threshold. 

While the tea brewed, he pulled himself up onto the kitchen counter and swung his legs. I was so aware of him that all I could do was busy myself with setting out cups and pouring tea. 

As I brushed past him to reach for the sugar, he grabbed the pocket of my jeans and tore off the BOSS logo.

“I’ve been dying to do that all day!” he said, as he placed his big hands on either side of my waist.  

Gail Bohle

A stranger passing would never notice
the colour of fynbos
and wild raw woundedness of grief
foaming in a back corner.
By Sandra Hill

Being called…

Curled up,
hugging my body,
huge well of grief.
The bubble protects me
with its golden light.
Swirling body of pain,
heart-wrenching wrongs
unspeakable accusations
from a feverish, jealous, godless mind.
A stranger passing would never notice

my escape. The shy deer treads softly.
Gentle eyes make careful contact
as I turn swiftly, follow him,
my gipsy skirt flimsy,
my body firm, intact.
In nature untamed,
colours glisten,
the colour of fynbos.

Words fly in the ether,
still find their way to my ears,
thrust the unspeakable upon me,
wielding evil power against me,
wounding fatally.
Every fibre rebels.
I reach up, snatch those words,
try to assuage
the wild raw woundedness of grief.

And even here,
where the shy deer treads
and  all is snow covered,
pristine, innocent-seeming,
tight with anticipation,
I wait. I know they will find me.
There is no escape when
a veneer of civilization covers
barbaric cruel hearts
foaming in a back corner.

Gail Bohle

Travel through 

Travel through your own mud.
Dig down –
don’t  be afraid.
Tramp through.
Layer of skin below,
scratched and wet.
No ego, no agenda.
Tap into the message of beauty.
Cleansing will reveal,
push out the truth.
True ring true.
Stop it chattering at you.
Push the mulling, brooding
thoughts aside…
through to inner core.

Through to inner core
thoughts aside…
Push the mulling, brooding,
stop it chattering at you.
True ring true, 
push out the truth.
Cleansing will reveal,
tap into the message of beauty.
No ego, no agenda.
Scratched and wet
layer of skin below.
Tramp through.
Don’t be afraid.
Dig down –
travel through your own mud.
  

Gail Bohle

“If you should meet a butterfly, upon a summer’s day…”
                                                                     . 
When I opened the door to Patricia’s classroom, she decided that I wasn’t to be included in her world.  Being deaf makes that decision an easy one.   I was not part of her reality. She blocked me out so that I simply didn’t exist.

My lesson went reasonably well and the other children responded enthusiastically.  They were aware that I was being shut out and so they tried their best to compensate. I wasn’t sure whether to be hurt or amused.  The next few lessons were much the same.  I was in awe of this little eight year old’s strength.  At almost fifty, I wasn’t nearly as sure of my own world.  I still needed others to approve of me.  She clearly didn’t.

A breakthrough came on the day I decided to talk about our mothers.  I knew Patricia’s mother was a pediatrician in Nigeria and so I opened my lesson with that piece of information.  A tiny slit in her armour appeared – and stayed for the duration of that discussion.  It closed again, but it was enough.  I left her classroom in a light-hearted mood. 

The lesson on angels left her cold…until we each made one for the board.  Hers was extraordinary and she was immensely proud of her. My heart skipped a beat when a warm smile lit her face.  But as I moved to hug her, she turned her back on me.  She wasn’t having any of that.  I stepped back and knew that once again I had been put in my place – on the edge of her world but not part of it.

The annual concert was looming and I needed to choreograph a dance for Patricia’s class. Patricia hated those lessons.  She wasn’t good at dancing; her fragile body wouldn’t cooperate.  She went through the motions but always looked relieved when they ended.  I allocated the roles in my head and considered the animals in the piece of music.  Elephant, crocodile, octopus…it came to me suddenly.  Patricia needed to be a butterfly!

When Adi, their class teacher, brought the class to the next dancing lesson, I explained to each child what animal they would be.  Patricia eyed me sceptically as I turned my attention to her.  Her face changed a little.  “A butterfly?” she asked.  “A beautiful pink butterfly,” I replied.  The smile lingered longer than usual. “Butterflies have antennae,” she informed me.

Costumes began to take shape and the day came when all the children needed to try them on.  I was in the middle of a lesson when a little pink butterfly flew into my classroom.  Patricia was beaming from ear to ear and she twirled on her toes for all of us to admire her.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and the children laughed with her.

 “You can go back to Adi now,” I said eventually.  She turned and ran and then two antennae appeared around my door.  I was about to frown at her when she said, ”Shall I fly back?” I nodded and stifled a giggle. 

The curtains went up and the first few notes of, ”If you should meet a butterfly, on a summer’s day…” filled the packed hall. I dimmed the lights and flicked the spotlight on to a beautiful pink butterfly flitting across the stage.  Radiant and sparkling in her sequined costume, she lit up the hall.
 
***

I arrived at school before Adi did that morning.  I knew something had happened before anyone said a word.  Patricia had died during the night. Our pink butterfly was an angel now, and her awesome spirit was soaring where we could no longer reach. 

The little pink bobbles of the antennae peeped out from the tiny coffin.  My tears came then, huge undignified sobs, which shook my body against Adi’s comforting embrace. I threw rose petals into the hole and watched as family and friends carefully passed the spade from one to the next, to sprinkle earth onto the little wooden coffin.

Every time I drive along the Hout Bay Main Road, past the cemetery, I see the small white angel who guards her tombstone. And could I swear I’ve seen a butterfly hovering there too.