Excerpt from “Here I Am, Laughing with Boers” by Laurie Baker
One morning, I meet three Boers in the Pietersburg laundromat. It is a Saturday. I have half a load going—the full extent of my wardrobe—and I am reading a book called In the Heart of the Whore, a book about Boers, coincidentally.
There are three of them, two guys and a girl—big primordial-looking people, red and beefy, even the girl. She has the over-the-top styling of the eighties: feathered hair, blue eye shadow—not unlike other Boer women I’ve seen. The four of us sit awhile in a row of plastic chairs against the store’s front window while they pepper me with questions: genuine interest, it seems, in the school where I teach, the differences between my old life and my new, how it is to be among so many strangers. I am used to the extravagant curiosity of black Africans, but this attention is different. It seems as if we are to be instant friends while understanding we have plenty of reason to dislike each other.
I learn that they work in a bank in town. The guys are flatmates; the smaller one—I retain no memory of his looks other than a soft, blocky dullness—is dating the girl. The other is no more physically distinctive, but he has an irreverence I like. He has the most to say, and the other two, as if younger and in need of guidance, listen with a rapt satisfaction. His name is Jans, pronounced with the y sound, as in yawns.
During a lapse in the conversation, he picks up my book and reads the title aloud. In the Heart of the Whore: The Story of Apartheid’s Death Squads.
“Here, man!” he says. “Who’s the whore?” I flush and want to snatch the book back. But he has no other reaction, just flips through the pages pointlessly.
Thanks to Ploughshares for permission to publish this excerpt. Purchase a copy and read the rest of the story here: Ploughshares Winter 2015-16 Edition