BBC National Short Story Award: Van Rensburg’s Card – Kiare Ladner

Day three, ‘Van Rensburg’s Card by Kiare Ladner.

Van Rensburg’s Card (extract)
Kiare Ladner

Greta drove fast along the rural road leading away from the small school where she taught maths. Fields of sugarcane mangy with drought gave way to mottled hills and grasslands. She sped past a scattered settlement of rondawels, some the colour of mud, others pale blue or green. Then a dry river bed, a couple of crudely penned kraals of nguni cattle and a rusted orange minivan in a ditch. She was bound to get another ticket to add to the mounting stack in the Ukhamba basket but she kept her foot on the pedal and turned the aircon up.

Eighteen months ago, she used to take pleasure in the drive between teaching and home. She would open the windows wide and blast out Miriam Makeba or Ella Fitzgerald or the Inuit throat-singing CD her daughter had sent from Canada. Tapping on the steering wheel, she’d sing and bop to the beat like an old fool imitation of her students, Fikile or Buhle. But these days music, any kind of music, was too much. The speedometer climbed from one twenty to one thirty. Children, perhaps those she taught, or their brothers or sisters, had been throwing stones at cars here recently. Going fast didn’t lessen the risk of being hit but it did help get the stretch over with.

What she dreaded wasn’t having the windscreen shattered, or even being a sitting duck for further violence, so much as the hassle of having to stop and talk to people. All morning she’d looked forward to being alone. Not in her home in Fairview Gardens complex with its quarry tiles and wildflower bedspreads and navy and cream batik curtains with ties – but out and about in the bustling distraction of the mall; out and about having a meal. She shifted her fleshy buttocks against the beaded seat cover picturing The Fayre and Square’s lunchtime buffet. A plate piled high with mealie bread, butternut and feta salad, chargrilled, smoky aubergine and cold, spicy frikkadels.

Until recently she’d never gone for a meal on her own anywhere; not a proper one, not a lunch or a dinner. Years back in Gauteng, she’d imagined herself doing it. Calling in sick to the boys‟ school where she taught and driving to a hotel in the centre of Jo’burg for a steak with monkeygland sauce. Or catching a minibus to Chinatown for sticky jasmine rice and sweet and sour prawns. But before Harold died, eating out was something they did only together.

She’d always told him exactly where she was and what she was doing as if he were her keeper.

Quite possibly, he’d thought it was the other way around.

Kiare Ladner’s debut novel, Nightshift, will be published by Picador in late 2019. She wrote it together with short stories as part of a funded Creative Writing PhD at Aberystwyth University. During the PhD, her short stories were shortlisted in competitions (including the Bridport Prize, the Short Fiction Competition, the Short Sharp Stories Award and South Million Writers Award). They were also published in journals and anthologies in the UK, where she lives now, and South Africa, where she grew up (these include Lightship Anthology 1, New ContrastandWasafiri). Before the PhD, she was given the David Higham Scholarship for her MA Prose Writing at the University of East Anglia. Before that, she worked in a range of jobs for academics, with prisoners and doing nightshifts. Kiare was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and is now based in London.

The winners of the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on 2ndOctober on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. The shortlisted stories are available in an anthology published by Comma Press, out now: https://commapress.co.uk/books/the-bbc-national-short-story-award-2018