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Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Chameleon – Installment Four

chameleon Barbara Erasmus’ new novel, Chameleon, is being serialised as a blook on Crime Beat. Catch the latest installments through the Chameleon Blook tag.


I can’t remember my parents ever being young. People often mistook them for my grandparents when they pitched up to clap at Speech Day.

My mother’s pregnancy was a miracle. They’d been told there was no chance of children – a low sperm count twinned with blocked fallopian tubes is not a winning combination. My mother was five months pregnant before her expanding waistline was medically diagnosed. She’d never been thin so a few more inches wasn’t an extraordinary occurrence. They were beside themselves with joy and disbelief when they heard. My father treated her like priceless china as she swelled with her precious cargo.

I was a holy icon from the day that I arrived. They re-arranged their lives to cater to my every whim. I grew up with the dangerous perception that I was the centre of the universe. I had time to do a lot of damage before I learned that I was wrong. I expected a miniature version of me when Lisa was born – as if being me was the finest prize a child could win. But Lisa isn’t at all like me; she’s cast in a different mould entirely. All mothers have dreams for their children but in my case, the dreams I wanted her to fulfill were mine rather than hers. I can understand why she’s so close to Eric. She didn’t have to do anything to fulfill his expectations. He was happy to accept whatever choices she made. It was a re-run of my own childhood scenario.

I was also closer to my father than to my mother. Perhaps the reason was that he was the one who stayed at home to look after me. In a way, my aged parents were more modern than Eric and I. Stay-at-home fathers are quite in vogue today but Eric’s career automatically took precedence over mine. There was no debate about who would give up work to care for Lisa.

My parents were trendsetters. Gender roles were cast in stone in their generation. They’d both been working before my unexpected arrival. They couldn’t bring themselves to put a holy icon in a daycare centre – she could be dropped or smacked or treated like an ordinary child. There are no pedestals in play school. I think they’d prayed they’d win the lotto so both of them could take up a full time position at the cot-side. But no-one ever really wins the lotto so they had to scratch that option out. They got out their pens and calculators and did their pension sums.

My father had been with the bank since leaving university. My mother earned a higher salary in her job but she hadn’t been there as long. It made more sense to take his pension and let her supplement it for as long as she could. She agreed to leave her precious charge with him and keep the coffers turning. They had to ensure my future – the best private education that Cape Town had to offer. They couldn’t risk the government school down the road. She made a sacrifice. Well, I suppose they both made a sacrifice. My father gave up his career and the chance of any morale-boosting promotions that might have been lurking off-stage in the wings. He was the only man in the lunch-time lift scheme when I was at school. My mother had to drag herself away from my protesting fingers. She felt like a traitor every time she left the house.

The only winner was me. I had my father’s full time focus every day. My mother lugged maternal guilt around all day and spent the evenings trying to make it up to me. I had someone’s full-time attention every single minute I was awake. My mother insisted on the night-time shift if I was restless. She needed to feel that she’d done her bit. She’d go to work exhausted on occasion. I didn’t follow her example. I’ve never experienced the difficulties of juggling the conflicting demands of home and office. I never worked again after Lisa was born. Not officially that is.

With my particular skills, you can function very effectively from a home computer.