‘Really, I knew, I had lost my way long before.’ – Read an excerpt from Jane van der Riet’s debut novel How to Hide Inside a Three
More about the book!
Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from How to Hide Inside a Three, the debut novel by Jane van der Riet.
Van der Riet grew up in Cape Town and joined the anti-apartheid struggle as a student. She has worked at the Social Change Assistance Trust, the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, and as a student counsellor at the University of Cape Town. She still lives in Cape Town, where she practises as a psychotherapist. Van der Riet has two children who teach her new things. How to Hide Inside a Three is her first novel.
About the book
It’s 2017 in Cape Town. The dams are empty. There’s a gangster in charge of the country. Leigh-Anne may look like she’s keeping it together in her Southern suburbs world, but really she’s unravelling.
How is a woman supposed to cope?
With chocolate and wine, of course, and by making plenty of lists (things feel much more manageable when you write them down in threes).
But all is not what it seems. Leigh-Anne has a secret of her own. In her quest for answers, she will have to betray everyone she loves; only then can she truly come out of hiding.
- Also read: At my desk – Jane van der Riet on whiteness, shame and her debut novel How to Hide Inside a Three
Read an excerpt:
The doorway of the Spar
I lost my way on Rondebosch Common. It was after midnight and the rain was lashing sideways like it was being yanked by the moon. I desperately needed to pee, but there was some slimy stuff on my jeans from where I’d fallen over. Shit, more than likely human shit, pungent in the rain. No way was I squatting half naked in the mud and pulling down those jeans.
I could never stand to be alone and yet there I was, alone at last, without the usual Candy Crush, Facebook or Criminal Minds to ward off the emptiness. It was very strange. Briefly and longingly, I thought of my bed, littered as it was with toast crumbs, yoghurt smears and lumps of Lego, but familiar, with sheets worn soft by years of washes at erratic temperatures and a secret stash of Jelly Tots inside the pillowcase.
‘You’re full of shit,’ I muttered and fell over again, inconsequentially remembering that Mncedisi hadn’t sent the final Why Our Grade Sevens Say No report. Not that it mattered.
What mattered was that I was forced to wander through the night, as befuddled, forsaken and alone as Mr Hoody, the guy who slept in the doorway of the Spar. I had betrayed just about everyone I loved, and if a tik-crazed teenager stabbed me or raped me, then maybe I deserved it. Mad thoughts were multiplying like the puddles on the ground.
Far above the clouds the stars were cutting holes in the night. Somewhere in the distance, Table Mountain was propped against the sky like an overgrown pop-up from Jamie’s Queen of the Castle book. The burnt-out trees that Fred and Jamie liked to balance on, the bushes like gnomes, the pine-needle paths that pricked the dogs’ paws – I knew them all from my daytime ambles but all were gone in a blur of rain and darkness. I was utterly lost.
Really, I knew, I had lost my way long before.
The gecko in the window frame
Things I used to wish were true:
On the morning of your twenty-first birthday you were handed a top-secret manual explaining how to be a grown-up.
Mr Hoody and the legions of others in the crevices of the city had homes.
There were still chocolate digestives in the cupboard after last night’s binge.
Alas, now I know that none of them are. True, I mean. The older I get, the less sure I am of anything. The daily minutiae accumulate to such an overwhelming crush of sounds and colours that I can hardly breathe.
I can’t exactly pinpoint when I started unravelling, but I know it was after Mandela died. The year that Jamie got mobile and Fred regressed, sucking his toys and wetting his bed and slopping food on the floor. It sounds crazy and it can’t be true, but without Mandela’s presence something went wrong in the world.
Gwendal, Molly and Gayle whipped themselves into paroxysms of sorrow. Gwendal sent me reams of WhatsApps:
He was like your favourite teacher, the one you really listened to, even though he was a bit of a prude.
No, he was more like a father. Symbolically, you know, not like an actual father you just want to piss off.
No, hang on. It’s pointless trying to pin it down. He was my security blanket and my guru and my muesli all rolled into one.
Muesli? I replied.
But I was distracted. I wasn’t really there. I couldn’t grieve for Mandela because I was in a daze.
Muesli is something you eat every day, and you never get sick of it. And it’s good for you. I can’t bear this. It’s like the end of childhood, the end of something precious that will never come again.
I’m not such a fan of muesli, I said, but she wasn’t paying attention either.
I had been vaguely aware of the rallies and the conversations. Gwendal and Molly and Gayle had caught Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Johnny Clegg at the Cape Town Stadium. They had tried to cajole me into going but I’d made an excuse. Now I wish I’d gone.
The death of Mandela was a boundary interrupting my steadily dissolving convictions: this is this and that is that; apartheid is bad, the ANC is good; it’s all going to come right. Eventually. A fairy tale, as enigmatic, seductive and full of deceit as Sam’s patient who sang to him.
‘Mandela was a kind grandfather, wise and strong,’ I tried to explain to Fred and Jamie.
Samuel just worked harder and played Jonas Gwangwa late at night.
If I think back, there were many reasons why I got lost. Some of them tangled together, some of them clear. Portents of doom.
My top three portents of doom:
That ominous letter from Grim.
Pod’s paternity test.
The night I decided to stop having sex (with Samuel). I still wanted sex, but not with him.
Surely there were more but those are the ones that stand out.
The night I decided to stop having sex with Samuel, he couldn’t have known it was the last time. It started off in the usual way with each of us lying on our halves of the bed like bags of sand. As if we had been fighting off gravity the whole day long and finally succumbed. No doubt my eyes were closed in order to escape to a gentler world without tyrannical bosses or tyrannical children. Or husbands with bony fingers.
Sam’s fingers were making circles on my thigh, the one closest to him. Our old, lazy signal of, Do you want to?
It occurred to me that I hadn’t changed my bra in days. I was as bloated as a tugboat squatting on the bay, tummy sailing ahead, watery thighs spreading over the sheet. I didn’t want to. But I did it anyway. Lay there planning lifts for the next day: fetch Jamie, drop her at ballet, then fetch Fred, go back for Jamie, don’t forget the photocopies for Fred’s bloody bird project.
Samuel didn’t notice. He was used to my lethargy. But that night was worse, as if I’d reached a point of no return, my body deciding for me: that’s enough. Sam didn’t know that in my head I was recoiling in horror and screaming, No, no, no! as I lay there while he pumped up and down.
It wasn’t his fault that I didn’t love him anymore. My husband the psychiatrist who always went the extra mile, the extra hundred miles. His work had sucked the life out of him and by the time the kids were out of nappies there was nothing left; just a desiccated bag of bones.
After that night I got inventive with the sex excuses:
There’s a cramp in my leg.
There’s a ringing in my ear.
There’s a twitch in my eye.
I have to pack Fred and Jamie’s school lunches.
I have to rescue the gecko in the window frame.
I have to iron Fred’s blazer (little did Sam know that you must never, ever, iron a school blazer – a fact I found out only recently, but due to my slovenly housekeeping an iron had fortunately never come anywhere near it).
I have to get up early to go to yoga.
Lies of course, blatant lies.
‘Maybe sex will take your mind off it,’ Sam would say, reasonably, but then start reading a journal article. You’d think he would have protested more but he didn’t. He obviously wasn’t keeping track. The sexual drought went on for ages, long before Grim’s letter arrived.