Can We Be Normal?

For A Day?

17-Jan-2016

Sunday morning dawned blue and hot. The sky, slowly turning from dark black to a light, azure blue, stretched unbroken from horizon to horizon. It was going to be another hot day in Cape Town. The temperate had been reaching the mid-to-upper 30’s Centigrade for the whole week and that Sunday looked no exception.

I wanted to take the kids to the Green Point Park. They hadn’t been there for a while, and I had a car for the day. I figured if it was going to get hot again, we’d better get there early.

“Ryder, shoes, socks, pants and a top,” I instructed him.

“Zee, will you help get Kai ready, please? I put his shoes in the rack, they’ll be easy to find.”

Ryder dragged himself around the house for at least ten minutes. He’s six years old, he can ferret food and drink out of the fridge during the middle of the night on his own, but ask him to get dressed and suddenly he doesn’t know where anything is, or even how to get his pants on anymore. After Zee had seen to Kai, we took over and dressed Ryder in a matter of minutes. We were ready by 07:15AM.

Kiska was still sprawled on the bed, a Mickey Mouse blanket intertwined around her legs and long, black hair splayed across her face.

“Kiska,” I gently tried to rouse her. No response. “Kiska,” I tried again.

“What, what do you want,” she pouted, eyes drifting around the room.

“Do you want to come to the park with us. We’re all ready to go. You know you love the park. It’s still quite early so there’s time for you to get ready.”

She sat up, looking around blearily. “You know I hate it when you wake me up.” She said crossly. “There’s no time for me to get dressed. You’re rushing me.” She was starting to whine.

I wondered how she knew how much time she either did or didn’t have, but instead of provoking her, I gently asked again, “Are you going to come with us? We have a few minutes to wait while you get ready.”

While she was deciding I went through to the kitchen and prepared a breakfast picnic for the park: some rolls, some cold meat slices, and some sugar-free cold drink. When I came out of the kitchen with the picnic bag packed, Kiska was still seated on the edge of the bed, muttering about time, and waking up, and not being able to get ready soon enough. I decided to leave her to herself and just take the kids. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t coming with: a beautiful, clear, warm Sunday morning at the park would’ve been great for all of us.

We arrived at the park well before 08:00AM, and we weren’t alone. I had to park some distance from the entrance as all the closer parking spots were already taken. A lot of people had obviously had the same idea as me. Zee put his rollerblades on, Ryder clambered onto his push scooter, and I settled Kai into the pram.

It’s been a dry summer – not even the usual rain on Christmas day – but the park, more of a botanical gardens really, has been immaculately maintained. Deep, rich green grass bordered the paved walkways. Zee and Ryder bolted straight off, over the stepping stone bridge and down towards the large circular, central lawn, laying lushly green in the early morning sunlight.

Two separate groups of people were exercising in the park; one informally, just a handful of friends working out before it got too hot; and another group surrounded by flyers, banners and pennants. Either they were promoting their gym, or a product.

Kai and I made our way slowly after Zee and Ryder. We caught up with them as they were staring into the small man-made dam at the juncture of two small, pebbled rivers.

“Daddy, look, I can see fish in the water.” Ryder pointed excitedly out into the dam. “And ducks too. Daddy, why are the ducks black? Shouldn’t they be white?”

“Ducks come in all different colors, sweetie,” I replied, unsure of exactly what variant the black bird in front of us was.

“Look at it its weird feet.” Ryder screamed. “They’re yellow, and so big. Why are they so big?”

“Look at how he swims, Ryder,” I answered, “every time he pushes back with his webbed feet, he moves forward. His feet are so big so that he can swim quickly. He has to be quick if he wants to catch any fish.”

Just then, two large fish rolled by, just under the surface of the water. They were easily both a meter long and thicker than my thigh. I was impressed – the conservatory had done a great job creating a habitat for such large fish.

“Fishees, Fishees…!” Kai started screaming from his pram as he caught sight of their silver bodies glinting through the water.

Once they’d slid out of sight, we turned out attention to the park toys. When I was a kid, you got a jungle gym, a roundabout, a seesaw, and a swing, if you were lucky. There were two play areas in the park: one was fenced off and reserved for children under the age of two; and the other was a free-flowing mix of climbing, crawling, bouncing, sliding, swinging toys, all meandering inside a 500m2 area. An entire fortress had been erected from solid, treated wooden beams, accessed via steps, climbing nets, climbing walls, and brightly painted slides. Slightly further up the hill, stood a smaller fort, also wooden, shorter, but on a hill with a long, orange slide to disgorge those who climbed aboard.

Zee and Ryder knew their way around this part of the park like the back of their hands and they were soon hanging, jumping of off of something. Kai on the other hand had never been out of his pram in the big park before, but as soon as his feet hit the ground he was running after Zee and Ryder. He was unstoppable, well; at least that’s what he thought. Every time he fell over trying to climb up something, he just stood up and tried again. With my help, we got him up into the fortress and he went over to the slides. For his first ride down, Zee sat behind him and held him carefully as they both slid to the ground. Next time around though, he didn’t want to go with Zee: he wanted to go by himself.

Zee looked at me enquiringly. “Should I let him?”

“Just show him how to sit properly first,” I replied. “Then let’s see what he does.”

Zee showed Kai how to climb onto the slide, and put his feet out in front of him. Then Zee wriggled forward and slid down. Kai’s eyes lit up watching Zee slide away from him. He wriggled himself forward and started to slide down. Wide-eyed, hands slowing himself down, he gently slid to the ground. He was hooked: as soon as he was up on his feet he was back around for another go. His technique was a bit unorthodox: he insisted on sliding down lying on his back, but he was delighted by the whole experience.

Ryder was soon making noises about his tummy. If there’s one thing I can rely on, it’s that Ryder will always want something to eat. It’s like there’s a hole in him that he constantly needs to fill up with food. That constant need does worry me sometimes; I’m worried that the situation at home is causing it. He’s not at all overweight, quite slim and muscular so I’m just going to keep my eye on it, and find some way to spend more quality time with him.

I pulled out the picnic bag and we all sat down under the trees in the warm, sun-dappled shade, slightly up the hill on the edge of the park. It really was beautiful, and I felt a slight pang of regret that Miki, or Kiska, or Mikhaila wasn’t there with us. Mikhaila loves to present in the park – she’s so much fun with the kids.

We ate and drank and then the kids went off to play some more.

“Not too roughly, guys, you’ve just eaten,” I cautioned them. Damn, I’m such a father I thought to myself.

Then it was time to leave. Kai was quite adamant that he didn’t want to go back into his pram, and it took a lot of squirming and wriggling before I managed to get his legs in and his harness buckled in place. I promised him we’d go back and look at the fishes. We took the long way out of the park, walking the large circular path clock-wise out away from the entrance and then back in towards it from the other side. Ryder wanted to stop in at the Bushmen exhibit and scrabble around in the shells and bones that they’ve set up. I explained to him how they used to make, live and carry their tented camps with them around in the bush.

“But what about all the wild animals,” Ryder asked quite astutely.

“Well, wild animals were definitely a problem for the Bushmen, especially the bigger carnivores, like the lions. Even the elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalo and hippos could have been a problem, but the Bushmen were careful and they knew how to survive in the wild. It would have been a tough life though.”

Over the stepping stone bridge we waited for the two large fish to show themselves again, but they only slipped by as murky shadows, meters off from where we stood.

Miss Dragon was present when we arrived back at the apartment. She was doing her hair. I grumbled at her and let her carry on with it. Then I took Kai through to the room for his midday nap.

Kai woke up at about 13:00PM. Miss Dragon was still prowling around the apartment.

“I’m going to take the kids up to Bree Street for a walk. They’ve closed off the whole road. No vehicles allowed, pedestrian access only, they’re having what they call an Open Street Party. I think the kids will enjoy the walk. Do you want to come with us?” I really hoped she’d say yes, it would be fun.

“Are you mad? All those white, artsy people, it will be terrible,” she replied scornfully.

I wondered how she knew who was going to be there, and how she could stereotype something she’d never been to before. I also wondered just exactly what her definition of fun was if she was so scornful of the whole notion of a free, open, street party.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us? It will be a nice walk at the very least; time out of the apartment, in the sun. It will be great.”

She just shook her head. I was disappointed, and briefly considered not going at all, instead retreating back into the room with my laptop to write. I forced aside the urge to wallow in depression and organized the kids for the walk. Once they were ready, we headed out into the hot, Sunday afternoon.

It was boiling outside, directly overhead the sun blazed white-hot in a clear, bleached sky. Heading westwards we walked up to Adderly Street, and then up Wale Street towards Bree Street, stopping at a corner café along the way for cold drinks; we were sweating already.

At the intersection of Wale and Bree streets, I maneuvered Kai’s pram through the temporarily erected barrier and onto the pedestrian thronged street. The street was crowded, an eclectic mix of people just wandering around and having fun. We pushed past a giant game of scrabble being played in the middle of the road, each letter 30cm by 30cm. Mime artists and statue artists were strung out along the length of the road, either moving, or not, hoping for a little donation, entertaining nonetheless.

Food vendors lined the side of the road: rich-blended coffees – in that heat – or more appropriately, Slush Puppies and frozen yoghurts all doing a good, if not very brisk trade.

The restaurants, coffee shops, sidewalk cafes and bars were all usually closed on a Sunday, their clientele being the city businesses surrounding them. Today they were all open, and probably doing more business in a single day than they did in an entire workweek. The bars were all packed.

I let the kids walk down the middle of the road. It was a pleasure not having to constantly remind them to watch out for cars. Zee was fascinated by all the different people; his eyes scanning through the crowds, soaking up their diversity and vitality. A middle-aged couple walked past with their young daughter floating next to them on a hoverboard. Just a small board with rubber wheels on either side; lean forward and it moves forward, lean back and it moves backwards. A small electric motor can push it up to about 16kph for approximately an hour on a charge. A neon paint job, and flashing blue LED lights gave it some seriously cool street cred. Zee’s eyes grew round as saucers as he watched the girl glide gracefully past him.

“Go on,” I nudged him, “go say Hi to her.”

His mouth twisted into an embarrassed grin and he shook his head vigorously. “No, no way.”

“But she’s cool, her hoverboard is cool, you’re cool. Say Hi.” I could tell he was intrigued, and given enough time he would’ve, but he was too shy to just approach her in the road.

We walked south on Bree Street, a gradual incline in the road as it made it’s way towards Table Mountain. At the end of the road, we turned around and walked downhill, past our entry point and down towards the harbor side of the city.

On one side of the street, a musician-artist-DJ performed, his voice rapping loudly and confidently over an electronic drumbeat. A small crowd gathered around him, entertained by the loud music.

Further down the street a large, white bearded man in a saffron robe and turban was entertaining a small crowd by appearing to float in mid-air. Sitting cross-legged, one hand lightly resting on a thin cane in front of him, he appeared to be floating four feet in the air. A teenaged girl was so intrigued by the sight, she was walking around him, running her hands below and above him to see if he was supported or suspended anyhow. She was completely mesmerized by his act.

I looked at Zee. “Do you know how he’s doing that,” I asked him?

Zee shook his head, and looked at me, smiling questioningly.

“I know exactly how he’s doing it… but it’s a secret.” I smiled back at him.

We were enjoying ourselves, surrounded by the oddity and craziness of a Sunday afternoon street party. But I was frustrated with Miki: I really wanted her to be here with us as a family. I took some photos of the street scenes with my phone and texted them to her. My frustration grew into resentment. Every happy, relaxed couple meandering down the road, hand-in-hand reminded me of what I used to have, but didn’t have now. Every family group that wandered past reminded me that I was alone with the kids, just a single dad, out alone in the world. Surrounded by a calm, happy sea of humanity, I was reminded of exactly how far out of that spectrum of normalcy I’d ventured. Our family had become dysfunctional. I seethed inwardly at Miki for doing this to us.

After we’d walked around for an hour and a half, Ryder started getting tired and hungry. I steered our little group out of Bree Street, and down Shortmarket Street to Greenmarket Square where we stopped in at Burger King to pickup Whoppers for dinner; a weekly treat for the kids.

We arrived home as the hot sun was slanting behind the tall buildings of the city center. It was still hot in the apartment when we exited the elevator into the living area. Miki was present and she was doing her hair, again.

“That was great fun,” I grumbled at Miki, sourly.

With a bit of prompting from me, Zee and Ryder told Miki about all the weird and fascinating things they’d seen. I set the Whoppers out on the table for dinner and added cold drink for everyone’s parched throats.

Miki picked up on my hostility over dinner. “What’s wrong with you? I thought you had a great time today?”

“I did,” I replied angrily. “That’s just the problem: we had to go out by ourselves and have a good time. You, or one of the girls go out every evening with your friends. Hell, you won’t even tell me where you go. But you can’t be bothered to spend one afternoon with us, your family. I am angry with you.”

Miki looked distraught. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Yeah, so am I,” I replied.

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Can We Be Normal?