Moosa's, the local grocer, stocked anything you wanted, as long as it was tinned beans, dried beans, bananas, apples, pears or curry powder. He also sold locally-produced raw milk and cheese, and some shockingly expensive free-range spatch-cocked and marinated chickens. Despite this apparent lack of choice, the shop was always full, and it was difficult to navigate around the three rows of shelving with a basket and a kicking, screaming child.
This is why Annalie, in her quest for a number of shelved items, put her child down to run around the shop while she raced down each aisle, grabbing what she needed and chucking it pell-mell into the basket at break-neck speed, all the while hoping that Rain, her enthusiastic and hyperactive two-year-old, didn't damage anything too expensive. It was at times such as these that Annalie felt she could cheerfully forsake her ability to buy her groceries in person for the relief of online shopping services, doorstep delivery, and maintenance of her sanity. Because the yoga certainly wasn't helping.
Rain swooped past his mother, wailing like an ambulance siren in full rescue mode, arms extended like wings, fingertips swiping a number of baked bean tins off the shelf on one side, and then he was round the aisle and there was a crash as the fruit stand at the end of the row toppled over. Annalie paused, bent at the hip with three tins in one hand and a fourth clutched to her chest, to see a number of apples and oranges (new) roll past the aisle and out of sight under the lowest shelf.
Suppressing an urge to drop the tins, basket, contents, wallet and keys, and go screaming down the road at full pace, Annalie doubled her speed, and reshelved the tins. A few seconds later, she had snagged the errant fruit and had righted the stand and replaced the fruit in it.
Moosa gave her a wry smile and Annalie returned it weakly.
"He's getting bigger!" Moosa remarked. "Soon he'll be able to reach into the fridges."
Annalie kept her head down and focused on her mental shopping list, refusing to be further distracted by this new and terrifying assessment. She fished a bunch of bananas out of the fruit stand and then turned to the counter. Her son was sitting with his back against the counter, diligently counting out the marshmallow fish as he sorted them into colours on the shop floor.
"Look Mom, fishies!" Rain said with a huge and satisfied smile. "One, two, four, five, six, two, four, five, three, nine, ten!"
Annalie took a deep breath and sublimated her immediate wish to kill the shop owner.
"How much for the fish?"
Moosa interrupted his smug smile to glance over the counter and look slightly surprised to see that the child had somehow taken an entire jar of sweets off the counter without him noticing.
"Fifty cents each, for you, Madam," he answered, smugness intact.
Annalie groaned inwardly and then wished she had taken her Espiride that morning. She wanted to cry. Again. They couldn't even eat the marshmallow fish because they contained gelatine, and she and her family were vegan.
"Okay. Add them to my bill, please Moosa, and give them out to the kids that hang around here."
Moosa had no intention of encouraging those little scavengers by handing out freebies, but he said nothing to offend the strange hippy woman's sensibilities. He smiled and said, "Of course."
Annalie had had a difficult day. Challenging, was the word she used to describe days like this, because she had read in one of her numerous parenting guides that words like difficult or bad conveyed a negativity that the child could pick up on. Rain was sleeping when she arrived home, and as she sat in the car, taking a moment to savour the silence, Annalie noticed a scrap of black plastic flapping gently on the edge of the slope that led to the back door. Annalie leaned forward a little and saw another scrap, elsewhere on the lawn. Then a wisp of cerise crepe paper caught her eye. With a sinking feeling, Annalie climbed out of her little Fiat and surveyed the full extent of the chaos that the dogs had created out of what had been the rubbish bags, while she was out. The one dog had a tendency to nip at the bags until they were merely tiny specks of plastic that covered the lawn like black snow. The other dog enjoyed trotting back and forth from the wreckage to various sites in the garden, transferring the contents of said bags to said sites, gnawing on them a little and then returning for more loot.
Annalie had been an animal rights activist at Varsity and during her short career as a research writer, before she had given it all up to move to the country and be a full time Mom and home maker. It was her access to the horrifying information about abattoirs and factory farms that had led her to become a vegan for moral reasons, and Annalie still tried to do what she could for the feral cat colonies in the Belland areas, although being a Mom took up a considerable portion of her waking hours, even those which should have been spent sleeping. Being an activist had taught Annalie that one can take action to defend the rights of those who could not speak for themselves, and she had always had an amazing feeling of accomplishment after every rally and meeting. She felt proud to be an animal lover and justified in her beliefs that animals had to be protected and treated as one would treat a helpless little baby.
It was for this reason that Annalie had recently discovered a conflict within herself that had never been there before. Annalie the Animal Rights Activist had met Annalie the Mom and Housewife, and they didn't like each other one bit. One felt that the dogs only did what they did because they were bored and needed affection from their mistress and pack leader, whilst the other was toyi-toying for immediate destruction of these badly-behaved, ungrateful, irreverent mutts that had invaded her life and peed on her favourite rug, tore up the couch through the window, left huge steaming turds right next to her driver's side door, and regularly scattered the rubbish across the lawn, but only on windy days, making all her efforts to keep her tiny house clean a joke.
Between the dogs, the cats, the bird and Rain, they managed to mess the place as fast as she tidied, which resulted in a constantly clothes-strewn house, whose counters were never free of used dishes (Rain would scream at the top of his lungs every second that Annalie stood at the sink to wash up, so Michael did what he could after he came home from work; not an ideal arrangement, but necessary nonetheless); where the hair and feathers shed by the animals and people collected in corners and under the chairs until they were eventually vacuumed at sporadic intervals; and the countless books that both Annalie and Michael collected compulsively ended up in piles around the place, after being taken out of one of the many bookshelves and "read" by their son then discarded and tripped up on or stood on. Annalie felt that having a maid to clean the house when she was not working was wasteful and lazy, so she had persuaded Michael that they could do without outside help, and that she could handle the task. Of course, these days, Michael's initial doubts were already proven accurate and discarded as moot, since they couldn't afford to hire anyone in any case.
As Annalie finished picking the bits of plastic and fragments of polystyrene off the grass, (which she had noted was already way too long), she heard a shriek from the car and realised she had left Rain buckled into his seat. The door was open, so he wasn't too hot, but Annalie felt guilt when she saw his frantic struggles to free himself of the harness, his small face covered in tears and almost purple with rage. Yes, she had given birth to a monster, but he was her monster, and Nature had made sure that she would love him, regardless.
She carried a still snivelling, wet-faced child through the door to cries of, "Whaddyawant? Whaddya want? Woman drivers, no sur-vivors! Shaddup, shaddup, bastard bird!"
Annalie had always felt it was unfair that the only time she ever swore, which was once in a blue moon, was the only time the damned bird would imitate her. The bird was Hendrix, an African Grey that Michael had presented to her for her birthday one year, in the days when she had still felt young and hopeful for the future. In the days when she still had time to spend on frivolities like training a bird to talk. Of course, this bird never took to training. He picked and chose which phrases he imitated, and Annalie always ended up being reflected as a bad-tempered, foul-mouthed fishwife, no matter how many sweet nothings she crooned at Hendrix in between her occasional bouts of bad language.
Hendrix had managed to escape his cage again. Somehow the bird had figured out how to lever the peg off the rung which held the latch of the door in place, and Hendrix had no compunctions about shitting in the house. The place was a mess. More so than usual because it was covered in more feathers, and the papers which had been carefully bound up in an old lever arch file - those papers which Michael kept promising to put away somewhere: old payslips, bank statements, letters and insurance notifications - had been liberally sprinkled all over the surfaces of the open plan lounge/ kitchen/ dining room area. The bird had probably been playing with the cat again.
Annalie took Rain inside and left him on the floor to shout at the bird, who was perched on the top of a high-backed chair. She took up a new black bin bag and began to filch the bits of plastic, polystyrene and other miscellaneous stuff out of the grass. She really didn't have time for this. Michael's younger brother, Tristan, was arriving this afternoon from boarding school, and she had to at least make an attempt to sweep and get some laundry and dishes done before he did. She also had to change the linen on the sleeper couch and air out some blankets for Tristan to use. Annalie was always terrified that one of these days, Tristan would arrive for the weekend and the place would be in a shocking mess, and the news of her incompetence would somehow make it back to his mother, Michael's mother, her mother-in-law, and although the woman had never meddled (they actually got on very well), it was a scenario that had played itself out in Annalie's head a million times, and she could already envision the disapproving look on her mother-in-law's face when she walked in unannounced, took in the sprawling untidiness and uttered the words, "And I always thought he was exaggerating."
If Annalie had known just how high Tristan was for most of the weekend when he came to stay with them, she probably wouldn't have panicked as much. Tristan, a private school brat, was in matric. He had a brilliant academic record, and casually attributed it to his "unwinding" on the weekend, on his brother's smallholding. Tristan was simply very clever, and could have done even better at school, if not for his tendencies towards laziness and lack of ambition. It was a failing common in many of the boys in his year: they knew they had it made, either financially or academically, and did not feel the need to strive towards anything more, having all the cockiness of youth, which lies and whispers that the pearl is theirs for the taking; the race is already won.
But however Tristan failed to achieve greatness at school, he was still the apple of his brother's eye, (after Rain, of course), and he was always a pleasant if immobile house guest. If Annalie and Michael were having a braai, he would always offer to start the fire or clean the grill, and more often than not, he washed the dishes after meals, and left the sleeper couch folded away each morning with the linen set neatly on the arm for the laundry, when he was leaving for school. Annalie held no animosity towards him, and even quite liked him, although she considered him rather odd, with his bloodshot eyes and his frequent walks down the road to do nothing in particular, after which he would sit motionless for hours at a time. When she asked him what he was doing, he would smile and say, "just thinking" and having no better response to that, Annalie would go on with whatever she was doing.
Michael knew about his brother's recreational activities, but he also knew that Annalie would view Tristan with a less kindly eye if he explained it to her. She was a strict vegan and also did not believe in taking recreational drugs or alcohol at all, and so despite her hippy-like trappings and off-the-wall approach to culinary events, she was, to all intents and purposes, as conformist as a six-sided die. Michael loved her because of this and had learned to see past the flaky waves of first impressions she gave off of New Agey crystal-worshipper.
She was nothing of the sort, whereas Michael, the unassuming, baggy-shorts and T-shirt-wearing programmer, had in his day actually broken into a couple of animal testing facilities and saved a fair number of rodents, cats, dogs, monkeys and other unfortunate mammals from a fate which would have been quite possibly much worse than death. He had never been arrested because he did not feel the need to proclaim his beliefs or advertise his achievements, and so while his fellow PETA members had mostly seen him last from the back of a van as they were carted away, he had flown unobserved under the radar, and still, in his mid-thirties, operated a separatist branch of the animal rights movement via internet, and from the shadows of the world wide web had organised not a few very successful marches, petitions and other protest activities, and was still regarded as a hero in those circles. Annalie just called him "kooky".