Chatsworth is a gentle and moving book of short stories by South African author, Pravasan Pillay. The book is about growing up, being different, but also about failing at adulthood in the sprawling township of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
An extract from the opening story “Mr Essop” in Pravasan Pillay’s book Chatsworth
Three years after we moved into our house in Chatsworth, my father built a granny cottage on the property. He said that once the cottage was rented out, it would bring in an additional R800 a month to our household.
The cottage was small – a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen – but clean and comfortable by the standards of township outbuildings, most of which were damp, poorly constructed hovels. The most unique part of the building was its veranda. It was a two-by-three-metre space, with a tiled floor, bordered by cement balustrades, and covered by a blue corrugated-plastic roof.
Despite the builder’s advice that such a small building didn’t warrant a veranda, my father insisted on adding it. His reasoning was that it would set the cottage apart from all the other outbuildings being let out across the neighbourhood.
When the cottage was ready for its first tenant, my father placed an ad in the classifieds of the Chatsworth Sun. It took him almost a week to compose it.
“We must be careful,” he cautioned my mother, the night before phoning it into the newspaper. “We don’t want to rent to katchara people. You meet anyone first time, they act nice in front of you, but, must see, two months later, they don’t want to pay their rent.”
In the end, he decided that the ad should ask for a young married couple without any children. He informed us that they would be the least amount of trouble.
The morning the ad come out, my father kept reading it over and over again, as if it was an article about him and not five telegraphic lines in the classifieds of the local knock-and-drop. Later, when I looked through the newspaper, trying to find it, I discovered that it had been neatly cut out.
Five days after the ad was placed, we still hadn’t received any responses. My father began to panic.
“We built this thing for nothing looks like,” he complained to my mother, while she sat on the couch, rubbing coconut oil into my hair – her way of treating my dandruff.
“Give it little more time,” she said, sweeping back my hair, and wiping the excess oil from my forehead with a tissue. She sounded much calmer than him.
My father didn’t seem to hear her.
“How much money, how much savings, I went and wasted, for what?” he asked.
“Right person will come,” she replied, before patting my head, which was my signal to go have a bath.
That night my mother made a few phone calls around to her sisters and relatives and two evenings later her network of cousins came through. A married couple – the husband was my mother’s cousin’s son – with a three-year-old boy were looking for a place in Durban.
My father, despite his earlier panic, turned them down. He didn’t think that they were up to scratch.
“I know that fellow, I meet him at Kubesh’s wedding,” he explained to my mother. “He was smoking zol in the parking lot, right by all the men. No respect for us he had, he was swearing and carrying on. The last thing we want is a fellow like that. And, anyways, I said I don’t want any children here …”
“Do what you like,” my mother replied.
The cottage remained empty for two months before Mr Essop moved in. Mr Essop was a friend of my father’s cousin Prega.
Uncle Prega, who was seventeen years older than my father, had known the seventy-two-year-old pensioner for all his life. Both were originally from Renishaw, a small town on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mr Essop had worked as a sugarcane-field labourer in Pongola for much of his early life before opening a fruit and vegetable store, which he ran with his wife. After his wife died of cancer in 1986, he sold his house and business and moved to Durban to live with his son.
Uncle Prega said Mr Essop had grown to hate living under the same roof as his son and daughter-in-law. He said that they treated the pensioner as if he were a child, forcing him to go to bed at eight each night and taking control of all his money. He wanted to get away from them and had asked Uncle Prega for help.
This was when Uncle Prega approached my father. He came on a Saturday afternoon.
“He got nowhere to go,” Uncle Prega said. He had brought a bottle of brandy along and my father and him had worked their way through two-thirds of it. “We can’t let a good man like him die in such a house. That’s not the kind of house you must go in.”
Chatsworth is available for R160, including postage, from the publisher. You can email them here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About: Pravasan Pillay is a South African writer. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi (2009) and 30 Poems (2015), as well as a collection of co-written comedic short stories, Shaggy (2013). He is also the editor of the micro-press Tearoom Books.
How to get your copy of the book:
- To order your copy of the book, please contact the publisher at email@example.com.
- Chatsworth residents can purchase copies of Pravasan’s “Chatsworth” at R160 from the Nelson Mandela Community Youth Centre in Chatsworth or contact Clive Pillay on 061 429 2574.