A shining star

Julie Barker

I live in Alex. It’s a place that never sleeps. Cops, nurses and lovers live here, foreigners from war-torn countries, and the unemployed brothers of mothers. It’s everything to me, my mother and father, my auntie and my uncle. The only other place I could live – is space.

Dudu, a lively 15-year-old, lives with her mom in Alexandra township. “I’m not pale enough to be white, and not brown enough to be black. Call me difficult, everyone else does,” says Dudu. She and her best friend S’bu share an interest in astronomy, standing together against the teasing of their classmates. She persuades S’bu to help her search for her father, who disappeared back to Europe before she was born. Meanwhile, tensions are mounting in Alex. Foreignersare being targeted, and Dudu’s heritage makes her one of the scapegoats. Violence erupts. As Dudu, her mother and S’bu are forced to stand up for their beliefs, they realise the importance of the ties that bind them all.

Julie Barker lives in Jo’burg and has written for television series such as Tsha Tsha, Isidingo and The Wild. She was head writer for Izozo Connexion and Scandal. Julie has an MA in Creative Writing from Wits University.

Title: A shining star
Author: Julie Barker
Grade 8 FAL English Novel
ISBN: 978-0-9870150-6-8
Release date: September 2013
Retail price: R62.10

 

Chapter 1

I live in Alex. It’s a place that never sleeps. Cops, nurses, and lovers live here, foreigners from war-torn countries, and the unemployed brothers of mothers. It’s everything to me, my mother and father, my auntie and my uncle. The only other place I could live – is space.
We call Alex Gomorroh, because it used to be a dark city. No lights and no law. I was a kid then. Too young to remember the hostels burning and battles with police. Now we’re fancy; with our RDP houses and the gold and silver Gautrain. Every twenty minutes it pulls into Marlboro Station, just across the highway from my house in Extension 8.
My mother, Mbali wakes up every morning and waters her vegetable patch. It’s not so cool. Your mother ploughing land right there in front of your house. Even worse, she sings while she’s doing it.
While I eat my cereal I hear Mrs. Malinga shouting from inside her toilet while she looks at us through her window. ‘Mbali, you bring the rats, man. That red lettuce thingy stuff you are planting is no good.’
My mother shouts back, “you have no respect, you old goat. I’m feeding the starving.”
I try and ignore all the shouting and pack my schoolbag. My mother comes in with a plastic bucket full of vegetables, looking very pleased with herself. “A nice soup for supper. When Mrs. Malinga is eighty she’ll be on her deathbed and I’ll still be walking to work, with all this goodness I grow!”
I sling my schoolbag over my back, and say goodbye.
‘Go straight to the taxi rank; don’t go past S’bu’s house. It always makes you late,’ my mother instructs me.
‘No, Ma.’
I close the front door, and head straight off to S’bu’s house. He lives at the end of the road, just before you turn to cross the Jukskei and head into the old part of Alex. So my mother won’t know if I’ve walked past or stopped to go inside. I bang on his front door and his brother, Lucky opens it too quickly, like he’s expecting someone else.
‘Heita! Come in, S’bu’s brushing his teeth.’
I sit on a tomato box in the small living room while we stare at one another with nothing to say. Lucky’s handsome as a movie star, muscular with a deep voice. His mother also thinks so, because there are a lot of photographs of him and only two of S’bu. Lucky picks up his guitar and strums a tune. Tjo! S’bu is my best friend, but when it came to cool, he really missed out.
Eventually S’bu comes through, he’s tall and very skinny, and in the process of growing an afro. It sometimes makes his mother weep, and she very often follows him with a huge plate of pap begging him to eat. He bends down to tie up his schoolbag, but obviously forgets and begins to scrabble in it, as if he’s looking for something. As he mumbles to himself, Lucky looks at me and begins to laugh.
‘Dude, we going to be late,’ I say.
‘Hey Lucky, you seen my pencil case?’
It’s hanging out of the side pocket of his schoolbag, unzipped. I point this out to him. He looks at me like I’ve helped him to cross the Jukskei in full flood. Lucky just shakes his head. We leave and walk across the Jukskei bridge, past the Kings Cinema and up towards the taxi rank.
‘What did you do over the week-end, I hardly saw you?’
S’bu shrugs, ‘this and that.’
Something’s worrying S’bu I can tell. He sits silent and still in the taxi. I ignore him; plan my day and how little homework I need to do to pass my maths test on Friday. As we finally pull out from the taxi rank and head towards Sandton, I hear what’s going down.
‘I heard my mother shouting at Lucky, last night. Something about hanging with Beno.’
‘Seriously?’
S’bu nods.
‘Beno’s the worst tsotsi under thirty, man. What’s Lucky doing hanging with him?’
S’bu shrugs.
I try to cheer up my friend; ‘Lucky’s so good looking and hot. And the way he plays guitar…..’
S’bu is staring at me with a weird expression on his face.
‘What?’
‘Nothing.’
He takes out his Stars of the Southern Hemisphere book and begins to read. Our ambition is to become astronomers. Some people have hip hop stars on their walls. S’bu has a picture of Thebe Medupe, South Africa’s first black astronomer. They call him the Shooting Star. S’bu reckons if Thebe can grow up in Mafikeng with no running water, then we in Alex have a good chance of getting in to study astronomy. Personally, I want to get my degree and buy a one way ticket to NASA. We start talking again. By the time we work out how long it will take us to save up enough money for the ticket, and what jobs we can get to earn that money, the taxi has already stopped outside our school.
Sandton Highveld High is an okay school, as schools go. It’s one of those former Model C schools and there are mainly black kids here now. There are still a few white kids left, whose parents live in the area and who don’t have enough money to send them to private schools. Alison Baynes is one of them. She’d be pretty if her mouth wasn’t screwed up all the time. For some unknown reason she has every single guy in Grade 9 and upwards hot for her. She can be friendly sometimes, but there’s something about her that’s too sharp, some of the things she says, I’m never sure if they’re an insult or just very smart humour.
‘Morning slum dogs,’ she greets us cheerfully.
‘Morning, Miss rich wannabe.’ I toss back.
Alison smiles at me. ‘What rocked your world, Cappuccino?’
‘I thought we were all cappuccinos in South Africa?’
She raises an eyebrow; seriously no one can be born with eyebrows that perfect, ‘I don’t think so, Cappuccino, both sets of my grandparents come from England.’
Julia, who has short spikey blonde hair, and who hates Alison almost as much as me, overhears as she’s passing. “Ignore her, Dudu, she’s just sour milk – and I for one prefer cappucino. Besides, she’s jealous because she’s not proudly South African.”
“Oh go away, white trash,” Alison says to Julia, and tosses her ponytail as she walks away.
Julia and I laugh and give each other high fives, and then she walks to her class as S’bu and I rush to Maths.

I’m half Zulu, half German. You don’t see me insulting people of other races. But hey, maybe that’s because I have blue eyes and brown skin and short dreads. I’m not pale enough to be white, and not brown enough to be black. Call me difficult, everyone else does.
After school we always hang out at S’bu’s house. Mainly because my mother only gets home after five and S’bu’s mother is meant to look after us and make sure we do our homework.
When we get to S’bu’s house, Lucky storms past me, almost knocking me over, which is not exactly the way I imagined him sweeping me off my feet. No fantasy happens the way you want it to in reality. I’ll settle for the hard bump and the muffled sorry, after all, some body contact is better than none. When we get inside, we see S’bu’s mother is on her knees, sobbing loudly. S’bu pats his mother awkwardly on her back.
‘What’s going on, Ma?’
She shakes her head, wailing.
‘Lucky is too much trouble. Too much. Because he didn’t finish school. He’s not smart like you, S’bu.’
‘Is this about Beno?’
S’bu’s mother wails even harder. ‘But why? Why did your father leave me with all this?’
S’bu pats her back some more and rolls his eyes at me. His father died when he was five, and he’s always telling me his mother has never got over it. S’bu remembers riding on his father’s shoulders, getting suckers from him and driving on the front of his bike. I have never seen my father. I don’t even know what his name is, my mother refuses to speak about him, so it’s like I’ve never had a father at all.
S’bu’s mother stops crying, and I make her some tea. She pats my hand sorrowfully. ‘Eish! these kids with no father. What will become of you all?’
Suddenly my okay day’s turned bad, and I feel empty and useless.

***

Examples of activities

Themes

Prejudice
a) Why are some people prejudiced against Dudu?
b) Name two of these people.
c) Who else is treated badly by the community, and why?
d) Imagine that people asked Dudu to speak at another community meeting about her experiences, and what she feels about how people should treat each other. What would she say? Start with: “Recently my mother was attacked during a demonstration about houses. I would like to say…”

Identity
Dudu struggles with her identity: that is, how she understands who she is when she is different from everyone else. At the end her mother says to her: ‘All this talk of stars and space, it’s not only because you’ve got a white father and a Zulu mother. You’re different in here.’ She puts her hand across my heart. ‘Being different when you’re young is hard, I know. But being different when you’re an adult is going to make you succeed in life. Because there are not as many of you as there are of others. I know that too.’

1.a) How is Dudu different from others?
1.b) Do you agree with her mother, that she will become successful? Give a reason for your answer.
2. Although Dudu is unusual, we all have our own identities, and no one is exactly like anyone else. What are some things in you that make you who you are? Describe your interests and your dreams to a partner. These are an important part of your identity.

Stars
1. Both Dudu and S’bu share an interest in astronomy, and stars and planets are mentioned often.
Look at the glossary on page xx for the astronomical definitions. Use your memory and scanning skills to find one of the references listed in the novel itself.

2. Read this simile:
I feel like a dying star. The flames on the surface of my sun burn softer and softer until all the light goes out. A dead star collapses from inside, sometimes I stir the soup for my mother and I feel like I’ve collapsed inside.
a) What fact do you learn about a dying star here?
b) Why does Dudu compare herself to a dying star here – what is she saying about her feelings?

3. Do you think the astronomical information and the comparisons to stars (as above) enrich the novel and make it more interesting? Why/why not? (You are allowed to answer ‘no’ as long as you give a carefully thought out reason!

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