If you missed part one, read it here
Heartbreak, euphoria and resistance were in the air after Assad’s takeover at Oak View Mansions.
One late afternoon I was confronted by the improbable spectacle of Mr Ermann, who had recently celebrated his 86th birthday, accompanied by two women fully clad in the black ankle-length hijab worn by Muslim women. One of them, dressed in a burka, was pushing Mr Ermann’s wheelchair; the other, who had her face fully covered by a niqab, was carrying his oxygen machine.
“Mr Ermann!” I exclaimed
“Oh my dear,” he said with his usual warmth, “let me introduce you. These are my new wives… Fatima,” he held out his hand towards the woman in full niqab. “She’s 19”, he said… “And this is Zubeidah.” They’ve saved me a lot of money on a cook and cleaner and day and night nurses,” he winked. After a pause, responding to my stunned silence, he chuckled, “They said they can find me more wives if I need them.”
There was something about Fatima and Zubeidah that I recognised. I was almost certain I had given them an escape card when I met them in the passage on their way to the Diamond Polisher’s flat.
“Who, Mr Ermann?” I blurted out, anxious and profoundly disturbed. “Who found you wives…?”
Distracted for a moment, Mr Ermann waved at somebody behind me. I turned to see Assad and the Diamond Polisher talking animatedly on the Diamond Polisher’s balcony.
“They’re matchmaking,” Mr Ermann smiled. “Extraordinary, isn’t it?”
“How could you?” I demanded. “You’re an old man, a religious Jew, how could you? How could you…?”
“At my stage of life, human kindness and peaceful co-existence are what matters most, my dear,” he said with a look of almost tender concern at my distress., “It was much easier than I thought,” he continued.
Abdullah took us to the Turkish baths and it was all rather lovely really. We sat in the steam and then soaked in warm water for a very long time until we were purified.
Then the Trustees towelled us down and dressed us in white robes, and we repeated the words after Abdullah: Ašhadu an lã ilãha illã lahu, wa ashãdu anna muhammadan rasûluhu: I testify that there is no God but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God.
And then we were Muslims”. He looks upwards, as though communing with the heavenly realms.
“Then we came back in Abdullah’s combi. I have to say I felt euphoric and hopeful more than anything else. Everything has changed. I rather like it…I never thought I would get married again in my dotage. Of course I am not likely to get up to any tricks,” he chortled. “But so many woman to care for…what an honour…what an honour…” He shook his head in wonderment.
The sun was setting when I left Mr Ermann and his wives. As if divinely orchestrated, the Muslim call to prayer echoed through the leaves of the oak trees.
The next notice from the Muslim Brothers, as the Board of Trustees came to be known, announced a special general meeting (SGM) to be held in the foyer of the building.
Again I sat next to Vishanti Pillay. This time she was wearing hijab although I noticed a pendant with an image of Kali around her neck. Kali is the multi-limbed Hindu goddess of power, change and destruction. I presumed Vishanti still had a lot to learn about the ethics and protocol of being a Muslim woman.
“No use fighting fate, “she said. “The Creator has many forms. Everything flows to and from one source in the end. “
I noted the Body Cobra sitting in the back row. He appeared to have shed half his body weight since the AGM.
Assad announced that the Board of Trustees planned to uproot the garden to make space for communal prayer. “It will also save on the water bill,” he rationalised. “And we will be able to retrench Albie, who hasn’t been pulling his weight for a long time.” Albie Tshabalala had worked as the Oak View Mansions gardener for more than forty years.
Assad was about to call for a vote when Neo Makabung, the advocate from flat 204 interrupted him. A strikingly good looking, well-built man, reminiscent of Malcolm X, with astuteness in his demeanour that I found almost intimidating, Makabung spoke eloquently and forcefully on behalf of the Africanists, a new faction in the block. “Subordination to one or other imposed religion is not the outcome for Oak View Mansions that the Africanists want,” he said. A small group sitting on either side of him muttered their approval.
After a pervasive silence lasting several minutes, Assad again called for the vote. The Africanists abstained; I and four or five others voted against; the overwhelming majority voted in favour. It was blatantly clear to everyone present that Assad had promoted his position before the meeting.
“Done!” he shouted triumphantly. The word had barely left his lips when there was a loud thud from the back of the foyer. Everyone turned to see the Body Cobra lying flat out on the floor.
In the commotion of cell phones, pillows, wet cloths, brandy and blankets that followed, the Jewish ambulance service, Hatzolah, arrived. Two strapping young men pushed through the crowd bearing a stretcher and in a flash the Body Cobra was being transported to an ambulance with a drip attached to his arm and an oxygen mask on his face.
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