Tip of the Tongue

Written by Amy-Leigh Braaf
Photographed by Omer553

Kitchen knives, and stomach hives.

Doctor Sericola had just left. He had claimed that the rashes were most likely a result of Noah’s unbalanced diet. Noah was convinced otherwise. He truly believed his grandmother, Daphne, was giving him hives. He wondered if moving to Cape Town would benefit his aspirations to study linguistics and etymology, or if it was just contributing to his early death, much like it had to his grandfather Oupa’s. It was just Noah and Daphne now in a house with flower-print tiles and a leaking geyser heater; two traits his grandfather had adored about his home and refused to replace.

Noah’s grandmother claimed that before she had married Oupa, she had been a former ballerina and had met Noah’s grandfather after one of her performances. After having watched several performances, Oupa had eventually congratulated Daphne and had given her a bouquet of flowers. Noah would nod, knowing full well (as the entire family knew) that when Daphne said “ballerina” it actually meant “exotic dancer for underground jazz clubs in the 60s,” and when she said a “bouquet of flowers,” it meant a shot of tequila. Daphne was not embarrassed by her profession as a young woman. In fact, she was incredibly proud of her achievements among the well-renowned jazz cats of Cape Town. She had been one of the most desirable women at the time. The truth is that Daphne’s memory was deteriorating as fast as the sales were rising for the koeksisters she sold after Sunday mass. Her short-term memory loss had become worse over the years, and Noah had decided to move in to give a helping hand. Cleaning out the fridge had become a weekly ritual. Daphne would go to the local market every day and purchase the same product, put it at the back of the fridge and forget about it. Last week, he had found three whole chickens that were approaching fossilization. Noah was irritated by Daphne’s inconsideration, as, clearly, she was unaware of the detrimental effects of salmonella.

As they sat in the kitchen together, Noah watched his grandmother knead the roti dough with a content expression of familiarity. When she wasn’t contorting her face in a face of distaste for something, she could look quite ethereal. She had the type of face that you couldn’t stop looking at. The type of face that still held a resemblance to her younger self, yet had a refined and distinguishable attractiveness in its own right.

Noah was aware that, due to his hyperactive imagination, self-diagnosing himself according to online resources had never benefited him. In the previous year, he had been convinced that he was in the process of having an aortic aneurysm because he had sneakily taken a puff of a cigarette behind the chapel with the priest’s son, Archie. This was, of course, something that he had spent months repenting for, not even ten “Hail Marys” and four “Our Fathers” could absolve him of that guilt. It was a phase of rebellion in his life that had lasted for about three days, and now, the LORD was punishing him. Noah slumped against the kitchen cupboard, lifted up his shirt to look at the damage, and sighed.

The bumps on his stomach weren’t red or orange; they were vermillion, which was the one color that he distinctly remembered not using out of his acrylic art set. The teachers had called in his mother one day to discuss their concern for his lack of enthusiasm in any extracurricular activities, so he had been forced to choose between trying out for the rugby team or art class. If he weren’t allergic to grass, his life may have taken a whole other path. He wondered if the hives would last for the period of time that he lived with his grandmother, or at least until the cortisone that the doctor prescribed to him began to work into his system.
His grandmother Daphne, on the other hand, was a firm believer that anything could be cured with vinegar: even a broken heart. Daphne stood directly behind the kitchen counter. She had set aside the roti and, with a steel brush in hand, began to vivaciously brush on the cow’s tongue. A few days before, Noah had spotted her behind the local spaza shop talking to Fatima Essa, the neighborhood’s infamous meat importer. Nobody knew how she was doing it, but for some reason she knew the ins and outs of the black market of meat consumption. Noah watched in distaste as a strand of her silver hair fell onto the piece of meat. She was preparing a meal for a blind date with a man called Benjie that she had met on an online dating site for the elderly. Noah was disgusted, it had taken two years for Daphne to get over her husband’s death, and now she was back on the market? Late at night, when Noah’s insomnia began acting up again, he could hear her little delicate fingers slowly typing on the keyboard of the PC that his parents had gotten Daphne after her husband’s death. They should’ve expected this. However, Noah had to admit that his grandmother had changed for the better in a short period of time. Her paranoia was driving him insane.

A few nights after Oupa’s death, Noah had heard strange sounds coming from Daphne’s bedroom. He peeked through the keyhole and saw that she was fully dressed in black, and was sitting facing South, on a purple yoga mat that Lyla, Noah’s older sister, had left the previous year around Christmas time. Daphne was convinced that Oupa’s spirit hadn’t been collected yet and that she had to take matters into her own hands and contact what she called “the beyond.” She had removed all of the mirrors from the house, because she read that spirits bounce off from their reflections and therefore cannot ascend. She also banned all of Oupa’s favorite foods from the house because she believed that not even his ghost could resist her biryani.

Daphne clapped her hands together and filled the kitchen’s air with a glorious explosion of flour. At that moment, the doorbell rang; it was clear that their guest had arrived.


The Author
Amy-Leigh Braaf is 22 years old and has a BA in film production and English literature from the University of Cape Town. She is currently living in Ilsan, Gyeonggi-do, and working as an English teacher. She has worked for The Varsity Newspaper in Cape Town, freelanced as an illustrator and filmmaker, had her own radio show, and even started her own baking business. However, she feels the happiest when she writes about the stories she experiences along with the photographs she takes. Her passion for photography and art has grown upon her arrival here, and it has become a driving force in the way she lives my life and how she intends on capturing it.

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