pages Buttons

by Rahiem Whisgary

Published in Issue No. 193 ~ June, 2013

Photo by Rachel Pasch Grossman. (Illinois, USA)

The boy stood barely a head taller than the wooden desk; the wood, yellowed with age and ruptured by hairline cracks, seeped wisdom.

The boy distractedly rummaged through the contents of the top drawer of the desk, savouring the feel of old plastic buttons between his fingers; he was deep in thought but was unsure of how to broach the subject.

The woman sat with her back to him, at another desk which was in far better condition. Her right foot was pressed down on a pedal as she fed fabric through a sewing machine. Her back was relaxed in an arch and her hair fell loosely to her shoulders. She was at peace.

‘Ma,’ the boy started. ‘Ma, does everyone have to die?’

The woman sighed – a heavy contented sigh but a sigh also weighed with patience.

‘Yes,’ she responded without turning around. ‘Yes, we’ll all die. Eventually.’

The boy immersed his hands into the sea of buttons, enjoying the feel of them crawling up between his fingers. The buttons ebbed with life as they fought to displace one another. Like a breaching shark, a steely grey one burst forth and was angled majestically above the rest. Plucking it from the sea, the boy lifted it to his right eye and looked through one of the pin-sized holes, to admire the world rimmed in steel.

‘Will…’ he started as if to give the woman an opportunity to retract her statement. ‘Will I have to die?’

The woman, without missing a beat, responded; ‘Yes, everyone will have to die. Even you.’

The boy dropped the grey button back into the sea. ‘But,’ he said as way of complaint, ‘but I don’t want to die.’

‘Well,’ the woman wheezed, ‘you don’t have a choice.’

‘Then why did you have me?’

As he realised the selfishness of it all, his head dropped slightly, almost imperceptibly; his eyes searching for answers in the sea of buttons.

‘Why,’ he continued in the vain clarity of youth, ‘why did you have me if I’m just going to die?’

The woman lifted her foot from the pedal, her hands from the fabric, and sat back into her chair. She thought for a moment. And that moment passed. And she put her foot back on the pedal and straightened the fabric to be fed into the machine. And with the gentleness of a slumbered exhale, she continued her work.

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Born and raised in Johannesburg, Rahiem Whisgary is a dramatic arts graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand. As well as creative writing, he has a strong interest in physical theatre and performance art. Whisgary’s stories have been featured in the anthologies Queer Africa (2013) and Yes, I Am! (2009). In 2010, he performed in Bailey Snyman’s Outside at the Barney Simon Theatre as part of the FNB Dance Umbrella and in Kabi Thulo’s Tsela as part of the WALE Festival.