Miriam Biderman

Oh wind

Oh wind, have you seen her?
No, not this one, but the other one

Are you the wind that blows no good?
Are you the wind that can soothe and caress
a burning body with distorted skin?

Are you the wind that comes from the East and destroys all it envelops?
Or are you the wind that comes from the West and brings the healing rain?

Oh wind, will you see them?

No, not only those who all perished together,
but this one too – she has suffered for such a long time.

She must learn to let go!
We must learn to let go!

Oh wind, will you help us in our struggle and pain?
Blow your hardest and take away our grief and strain.

Miriam Biderman

Luck  chance  accident

Walking through the streets of Prague in the evening – don’t run.  Everyone else is running!
Stop in your tracks; stop and listen to the music; listen to the mellow music meld into tangible
salve for the soul.  Coming across these refined musicians is all by chance; displaying their finely honed skill and art on a street corner.  It is painful one to see the cup with only a few coins in it. The joy of the art; the skill of the artist – what luck!

No accident finds the next street alive with pure strains of a well trained voice; the beauty of which is beyond description.
No! Don’t run because everyone else is running.

Miriam Biderman

Her voice smells like…

Her voice smells like roasting almonds.

As she cracks open their rough tough shells, small bits fall to the floor and bounce around her.

At first her voice is intoxicatingly exciting, but the little hoarse and harsh sounds she emits when she is angry roughen its silky quality.

The smell becomes bitter as the nuts begin to roast.

When she whispers, the perfume of oil oozes out of the nuts. It pervades the house as they rub shoulders with each other in the pan.

She watches the nuts jumping around in the pan and gives a little giggle of amusement.

The aroma of toasted nuts fills the air and the sheer joy of it tickles the nostrils.

She heaves a sigh of relief; and flops into her favourite armchair.

Content.

Her job is done.

She bursts into song, and as she sings the smell of roasting almonds returns.

Miriam Biderman

Giving Voice to My Truth

In order to find the truth, my own truth;
I have to dig deep – not skirt around
that small kernel of self that has

the ability to explode like a volcano,
spewing the words over the page; resembling
hot lava, each word becomes alive like fire.

Words run into each other and
into themselves and expand across
the page exposing me and my life.

To find the kernel; the voice of my soul I
have to relax and be unafraid.  I have to
express my thoughts and

reveal that which I have wanted and
needed to say. Many people, many voices,
many stories; through the darkest valleys

to the welcoming light;
all make up my solitary tale.
There have been learnings, and

there have been teachings but I only found them
after I was ready to leave the daylight
and dig deeply inside myself

in the stillness of the night.

Miriam Biderman

The dancing flame

Many candles – many memories – many souls – many joys – many sorrows.The silhouette of past sensations and thoughts and knowledge reflected in a flame; a way to recall lost love; no solid outline leaving the quintessence to the imagination.  

A slight breeze brushes my cheeks causing a flicker of the flame. Within the flicker forms follow each other and illuminate a scene best forgotten; a tableau of conflagration and destruction; calamity and devastation; a collision. A flattened wreck jammed under a truck. Lives wrecked, bodies jammed. A future reversed into history.  

Perhaps the leaping flames of the candle tell me of the freedom of their souls; of their happy release from earthly toil. Perhaps they are sending me a message of nothingness; only vapour.  

I gaze into the flame and try to discover my own destiny; I try to reach within my own soul to find meaning in the dancing flame of the candle. I try to uncover the pain that is hidden in the gut; perhaps full confrontation will lead to submission and peace.  

Just before midnight, a full moon is gazing from a cloudless sky. I have been lying awake for hours thinking of the gravestone. Are those who are buried also aware of the still calm that is audible all around us?  

I decide I have to go, one more time today. I have an urgency to be at the graveside.  

I walk on the sparsely lit path in the cemetery, through row upon row of carved stones. In the moonlight I read the names, and the dates of those buried there. Some recently, some have been there for many years. All are beloved of surviving relatives. Perhaps these relatives are also now no longer alive to grieve their loss. The wind through the trees is like the sound of the dead sighing.  

I falter in my tracks – a shiver runs down my spine; I hug myself closely. I am in doubt; I am afraid, but of what? There is no need for fear, not here, not now. There is only the need to be near them once again. We are a life-time distance apart – different worlds.  

Should I go on? – there is no road back – back to where? Back to my life a few months ago when we were whole together?  

I come upon their grave. The stone is cut into three arcs, symbolising lives that have been cut short. His name clearly displayed on the first stone, then her name on the stone next to him, and then the names of the two little boys who share one stone.    

The commemorative inscription on the gravestone reads: 

“PLEASANT WERE THEY IN LIFE

AND IN DEATH WERE NOT PARTED”  

Tears running down my cheeks I haltingly whisper the few words I remember: 

“The Song of the Bow” (Sam2:19-27).
“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen! O mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you…
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, and the sword of Saul did not return empty
Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions….
How the mighty have fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”

Miriam Biderman

Strydom

1982

I stood at the window of my 9th floor office, unaware of the hustle and bustle of the busy city centre. I was deep in thought about my last round of golf. I could almost feel the cool breeze on my suntanned arms; the smell of the freshly cut grass; and hear the birds in the trees. I loved playing golf; but that was a part of my life before I started working in the business. Now it is different.

In the office it was very quiet. All the staff had long gone …all but one.

I reflected on how one phone call 6 months ago from my husband Danny had impacted on my life: ‘Em, I’m afraid you’ll have to go to the office immediately. We’re in trouble. Hansie has done a bunk and taken a large chunk of our business with him. Come immediately please. I’ll fill you in when you get here.’

Now a year down the line, having overcome the anger and frustration of being forced into an intolerable situation I realised to what extent I had changed. Taking over the reins of a failing business that dealt mainly with electricity, water and gas metering, which, in those days was almost entirely a male dominated domain, was extremely arduous. But I knew I was a strong person and, comforted with the knowledge of my husband’s full support, I was determined to meet the challenge.

I smiled as I reflected on my good fortune when I had decided to employ Strydom …I always referred to him as ‘Strydom’. He was such a wonderful, caring and diligent employee. I recalled the day he walked into my office to apply for the job. In his carefree high-spirited manner he said, ’Mrs B, don’t think that because I have dreadlocks that I am a hippie or a druggie!’ We both laughed, I was attracted to his bright and cheerful personality.

1983

Strydom!

Initially he was an exemplary employee. He never left the office before I was ready to leave — he always walked me to the car park — some days it was well after dark. But Strydom was there with his words of warning ‘No! Mrs B, there are terrible people in this world. It is my choice and my duty to protect you!’ I felt safe. The business was gradually improving; I felt secure and confident; almost happy again.

One day Strydom presented a business proposal to me: He desperately needed a private car but didn’t have the means to buy one. His proposal sounded reasonable and I had gained such trust in his integrity that I, in consultation with my husband, had no reason to doubt him. I set about acquiring a small VW. The car would reflect in the company’s records as a’ loan account’. A monthly deduction was to be made from his salary till the full amount was repaid.

Life was running smoothly. I had made a concerted effort to manage my affairs in a professional and confident manner. Attending business meetings took up a large amount of my time, and there was very little time for golf, or any sort of social life for that matter. One particular Monday morning I had several appointments scheduled and was irritated when Strydom called in ill. He said he had a bout of flu and would be back in a day or two. It did cause a little hiccup in the management but nothing serious.
Another call came from Strydom three days later. He had moved in with relatives who were taking care of him, but was still not well enough to come to work. Uneasy about the whole situation, I had spoken to him and had elicited the new address.

I asked Johnny, one of the employees, to take a run out to this address and simply take a look around. If Strydom appeared simply tell him that it was a courtesy visit from the company.

Johnny returned to the office looking flushed. ‘Mrs B, there was no Strydom there. It’s the home of a family member of his, but they said he spent one night with them and then simply took off. They had no idea where he had gone. He left no messages.’

‘And the car?’

‘No! The car is gone too. I went to his old address; there was no sign of anyone living there. I managed to get the supervisor to open up and I’ve brought back all the records of meter readings that Strydom was supposed to have taken over the past week!’

‘Thank you Johnny. You have done well.’

The tedium of paper work required in such cases exacerbated the whole situation. Staff member had to be replaced, interview with the police; oversee the incomplete worksheets. My confidence in my decision making ability was completely shaken. I was constantly on the phone to Danny. He was the senior partner in another company. He consoled me; he stood by me. He was also disheartened, but being a hardened business man was more familiar with the thrust and parry of daily negotiations.

With the passage of time, the ‘Strydom issues’ were put in order; insurance for the car was settled; the office was back to the usual routines. Business was almost as good as it was originally; and a replacement for Strydom was found.

Strydom!

Whenever I thought of Strydom my mind churned the lines from Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion over and over: ‘O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!’

I was not surprised, some nine months later when I received a call from the Police, quoting the registration number of a car and asking if was the one that was stolen from us. They also asked if I knew ‘Strydom’. At the meeting with the two policemen I sat wide-eyed in wonderment as they related all the horrendous crimes of which Strydom was guilty.

They had picked him up in Durban after he had been in a shoot-out at a Fast-food outlet. The car was riddled with bullet holes; in the boot they found several stolen number plates and discs with licences. This man was a recidivist. He was wanted for crimes ranging from rape and attempted murder, to petty theft. He was unable to survive outside the prison walls. As soon as he was free he did his damnedest to get back inside again.

I shuddered when I thought about all those nights – the two of us high up on the 9th floor of a deserted office building, those long walks to the parking garage … Just the two of us … Oh my Lord …

At the court hearing I was asked to present my case for the prosecution. Strydom wanted to plead his own case. He was confident and smiled cheerfully at everybody in court. Before the magistrate appeared he greeted me very pleasantly, but I turned aside. My heart was beating too fast and I was flushed in the face. This was unfamiliar territory; I was very scared. The proceedings were an education – a devastating learning experience.

Strydom proceeded to prove that the car was actually in a ‘loan account’. He admitted to owing the money, but denied the theft. I was left with a mouth full of teeth, stuttering and stammering, incoherent. His shrewd and astute presentation of the facts as he saw them was overwhelming! The court requested that I bring the company’s books after the lunch break. I was relieved to get out of there and phoned Danny immediately. I insisted that he take my place in court and argue the case. I was a bundle of nerves, incapable of rational thought let alone of reasonable speech.

When Danny walked into the court Strydom was already there. His dreadlocks bobbing around his playful smiling blue eyes; was reminiscent of how his pleasant outward appearance had been deceiving; his means of entrapment. He greeted Danny with a cheerful: ‘How are you Mr. B? It’s so nice to see you again. You are looking very well!’

Danny was not thrown by his light-hearted attitude — I had already warned him. His response was curt: ‘You know Strydom, you are a clever man. What a pity you waste it on these criminal pursuits.’

‘You are so right sir! I have made a few mistakes in the past, but that is now over’.

‘I hope so!’ Danny didn’t sound convinced.

The case dragged on for two days but I wasn’t asked to return. Strydom was sentenced to serve further time in prison. The public prosecutor delivered the verdict to me and we could return to our normal routines. What a relief it was to know that it was last I would hear from Strydom.

Strydom!

‘O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!

About a month after the court case I received a phone call from the department of Labour. They had received a letter from a Mr. Strydom who claimed that our company owed him back pay. He stated that he had left work in the middle of the month and did not receive a salary for the days that he had worked. In addition he was asking for leave pay due to him and said that it should be calculated over the period that he had worked.

Once again he had rendered me speechless, dumbfounded and flabbergasted!

Miriam Biderman

My Grandfather

I am both excited and nervous as I ring the doorbell of the boarding house where my grandfather lives.  Excited because I want to introduce my fiancé to him, and nervous because I know how forthright he can be.

I clutch Ervin's hand tightly as the door is opened and we are shown to grandfather's living quarters; it is naturally grossly overcrowded with possessions too precious to discard, our nostrils are assailed by the smell of memories of yesteryear enveloped in mothballs, soap and disinfectant; held together with a fine covering of dust.

'Hello Grandpa,' I stammer.

'Vell! Vot brinks you here all of a sudden?' he booms out before I can give any reason or explanation.  I have an instant recall of how he used to bellow at me when I was a child. In his grocery store I would try to snatch a sweet or a biscuit but he would be on top of me in a flash 'You should esk; you can't just take vitout esking first. Now put it bek and esk first next time.'  His heavy Russian accent added to his formidable physique was enough to frighten the boots off anyone.

'Grandpa,' I stammer, almost apologetically, 'I want to introduce you to my fiancé, Ervin. We are engaged and intend getting married early next year' I wait for his response.

He puffs out his chest and peers over his glasses, taking a little while before he utters a word.  To me it seemed like an hour.  Then smacking his clean shaven cheeks with both hands his mouth curls down at the corners and he shakes his head.  In a parental, almost condescending manner he repeats my words, 'So you are engaged and you vont to marry this young boy?  Vot nonsense are you talking!  He should grow up a little first…get an education…earn a living…then you can come back and tell me your plans.'

I feel Ervin cringing beside me.  I squeeze his hand tightly to stop him from responding.

'But Grandpa, you don't understand…'

'Vot are you saying? You are pregnant perhaps and have to get married? It is important to be respectable!'

'But Grandpa you must listen. No, I am not pregnant. Let me tell you about him.  He is not such a young boy even though he looks much younger than his age.  He is actually 25 years old and he has completed his university studies.  He is an electrical engineer and working for a big company in town!'

'Pshah!' he splutters. 'I don't believe… hev you got proof…are you sure?'

Ervin can not contain himself any longer 'Sir,' he says'I can bring my degree to show you.  On the certificate it is clearly shown what my qualifications are!'

I hear the agitation in his voice.  We are all getting a bit edgy, so I end the conversation with a promise to return the next day with the necessary documents.

We did as had been promised.  Grandfather glanced at the official document; grunting something about it being written in Latin.  He told us to leave it with him and come back in a few days and we can then have a full discussion on the matter.

A week later we again stood on his doorstep.
 
'Come in and sit!' he commanded. 'I vont to vish you a heppy marriage.  Dis is all in order.'  Tapping the side of his nose with his finger, he winked at me and said 'You hev a very clever man, he should make a good husband for you.  I took the degree to the library and sat with the Latin dictionary and translated all the vords.  I am impressed; even Cum Laude – with distinction!'  He stood up, an indication to us that the interview was over.  He put his arms around our shoulders and ushered us out with 'and ven is dis heppy day? I vill sit at your table ven you get merried.'

Miriam Biderman

A Moratorium

I want to go to India,
the trying is important.
The earth smells so sweet,
but there’s a moratorium on my travelling.

I’m trying, that’s important,
when mother is open to receive me.
Blast that moratorium on my travelling!
I clutch on to the roots.

Mother is open to receive;
home to all creatures.
I clutch on to her roots,
feeding on her abundance.

The earth smells sweet,
home to all creatures.
I feed on her abundance
I want to go to India.