These little fools are laughing at me. I’m telling the truth: I’m the daughter of the famous Diana K. This isn’t a comedy show but they’re laughing at me: falling on the floor, banging their desks, and running around.
“Okay, Mary?” says Taleni, still laughing, tears in his eyes.
“My name is Maria. not Mary!” I glare at him.
“Look, if you really are the daughter of Namibia’s sweetheart why aren’t you at an expensive school? Why aren’t you wearing brands? Why aren’t you dropped off in a Mercedes-Benz?” He laughs with all the other kids. His laugh is a pig-cry.
I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with this. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.
My mother left me at the age of four. She went in search of a better life for us. That is what Grandmother says.
My mother sends us money.
But she never answers my letters.
“I’m the daughter of a famous singer.” It is what I say when I am with my grandmother. She agrees. “And one day she will come for me.” My grandmother keeps quiet.
I can’t believe Mitoahe is also laughing. I thought he was my friend. He’s become a rotten apple like the others. I fold my arms and walk back to my desk, praying for this day to be over. Who cares if they don’t believe me?
“I have a plan.” Taleni gathers everyone around his desk. Reluctantly, I also stand up and walk to him. “Look, Maria. Why don’t you write a letter to your mother saying that we, her daughter’s classmates, would like to meet her?”
That pig-laughter again.
“I wonder if she even knows her famous mother’s postal address,” says Fatty the Fat, sandwich in hand, food in mouth.
Everyone laughs again. I once read that laughing too much is caused by loneliness. I can see what’s happening to my peasants.
“I know my mother’s postal address and I’ll write to her. You’ll see. I’ve written many letters to her before.”
“Have you gotten any replies from her before?” Emilia, our class flower, asks from the crowd.
If I were to write a letter now it would just go unanswered like the ones before. Still, I have no choice but to prove myself to these fools that I am the daughter of the famous Diana K.
“Of course, I’ve gotten replies. Give me a pen and paper.”
Taleni stands up, marches up to the teacher’s table, who is absent today, grabs a paper, and then a pen from his shirt pocket and hands them to me.
“Take,” he says. He points to his desk: “Sit down and write the letter that will never get a reply.”
He smiles and folds his arms.
I take the seat.
Inside, I pray that she reads this one at least.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Taleni asks.
“I am thinking of what to write about, Taleni!” Has someone ever told this boy he is just annoying?
“Maria, are you thinking about another lie?” Taleni, smiling, with his ugly crooked teeth.
How can I think when everyone is surrounding me like this?
“Can you guys help me with ideas?” I Look up, swirling the pen with my fingers.
“Well, we’re writing a friendly letter, right?” Everyone nods when Mitoahe says that. “So we have to write the postal address on the right side of the page”. Everyone agrees. I glare at Taleni. Now you talk? When it is time to talk about things that matter he is silent.
P.O. Box 900
11 June 1995
Good day. It is with great excitement that I write to you this letter. My fellow classmates and friends would like to meet you to prove that you are my mother.
Firstly, I tried to tell them many times that I am your daughter and that your mother is my grandmother who I grew up with. My friends and classmates are great fans of your music and performances. You are a role model to most of them and they would like to meet you.
Our school is hosting one of the town’s most anticipated disco parties next month. We are hoping that you can pop in and surprise everyone.
I hope to get a reply from you soon.
Your beloved daughter.
P.S. Me and Grandmother miss you.
Now that we’ve written the letter, what is next?
I’m praying with my whole heart that she at least replies to this one.
Everyone is staring at me now.
“Okay, fold it up nicely and put it in the envelope.” Taleni hands a white envelope to me.
I enclose the letter and lick it closed.
“Yuck!” Taleni pulls a disgusted face at me. But how else am I supposed to close the envelope?
“How do we get to a post office?” I ask.
Everyone is quiet. I am sure, letters are written to go through the post office. How will we get there?
“I can get my Dad’s truck so we can go to the post office,” Taleni offers.
When I tell them that only Taleni can drop the letter at the post office, no one agrees with me.
“We all want to deliver a letter that is going to a superstar.” Mitoahe is supposed to be supporting me. He knows about my mother. I’ve told him before. I guess we won’t be sharing my grandma’s vetkoeks with his juice today.
Everyone gets excited about all of us going to the post office. Taleni sneaks out of the schoolyard to go get his father’s truck. Everyone cannot wait for Taleni to come back.
Am I really dodging school for the first time in my life for this? I hope we don’t get in trouble.
While I wait in my seat, some pupils stand by the window to look out for Taleni and the truck.
“He’s here!” Efraim shouts.
I go to the window to watch Taleni park the red truck outside the schoolyard. He waves to us: the signal for us to come out.
One by one we sneak out of the class. When it’s my turn I run to the truck as if someone is after me. I climb in the passenger seat. Inside, it smells like tobacco. I roll the window down for air.
Taleni looks in from the driver’s window surprised: “Who told you to sit in front?”
I roll my eyes and open the door. I head to the back of the truck. Holding the letter in one hand, and my skirt in the other, I climb into the back and cram myself into a corner. Someone keeps asking everyone else to make space.
Taleni starts the truck. We drive off leaving dust clouds behind us. Taleni drives recklessly. We are falling over each other. Silently, I sit glaring at kids who are smiling back at me.
I was supposed to sit in front because I’m the one going to the post office.
Everyone is excited because we are in town now. We rarely see town so I get it.
Taleni stops in front of the post office and calls out for me. “It is time.” Whoever taught this boy how to drive made a mistake.
I climb off and confidently head towards the yard, but the security guard stops me at the gate: “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”
Taleni swoops in: “Hello, sir. Good afternoon. We were sent by our class teacher.”
“Yes, sir,” I quickly add, “we were sent by our class homeroom teacher.”
The guard lets us in and we head towards the front desk. As I start speaking, the lady behind the desk just points to the left, to a long line of elderly people.
Do I have to stand in line for this stupid letter?
Taleni and I stand behind a sleepy man.
We stand for a long time. My feet start to ache.
As we approach the counter, I feel my hands sweating, and my heart racing.
I have written letters before. But my grandmother brings them to the post office so I do not know what to say. I look at Taleni.
“Talk!” He hisses at me. “Why are you looking at me?”
“We would like to send this letter to this postal address,” I say and hand the letter to the lady. My hand shakes. She tells us that we have to buy the envelope and pay ten dollars. I look at Taleni. He looks back at me and rolls his eyes. He takes out fifty dollars from his trouser’s pockets and hands the money over.
The lady takes out the letter from the envelope we brought it in and puts it in another one. She puts on a stamp and tosses the letter on a pile of letters to her side. I don’t know how much the envelope costs because Taleni pockets the change without counting it.
“We are done, ” Taleni says. “Let’s go. ”
Outside, he says, “You pumpkin, I saved you twice today.”
I sigh and head to my uncomfortable spot in the back of the truck. I squeeze myself into my corner.
“How did it go?” asks Emilia across me.
I answer her, calmly: “It went well.” That is all I want to say. Taleni starts the truck and drives away from the post office. We start wobbling and falling on each other again.
We drive a long way back to school. Surely, we have been gone for too long.
We arrive at school and see that our return was expected. The principal and his deputy are standing at the gate.
We are in trouble.
Taleni parks near the school gate.
We climb off the truck, quietly. School got out a long time ago and the yard is empty. We sheepishly approach the principal. I can see he is holding a stick behind his back.
“Boys this side and girls this side.”
We part: girls go to the right and the boys go to the left. The deputy comes to the girls’ side and, one by one, she pinches our earlobes between her long nails. Mine grow hot and sting. The principal gives the boys two strikes of the cane. Some boys rub their bottoms afterward, but most act tough.
Of course, Taleni acts tough: he stands steadily with his arms folded across his chest even as the principal strikes him. He does not flinch. I feel bad for him. He looks at me. His lips moving. I squint my eyes, read his lips: It is all your fault.
I want to say it’s not my fault.
It’s my mother’s.
The famous Diana K.
Dalene Kooper is a Namibian writer and a media student at the University of Namibia.
Cover Image: The Letter, 2020. © Inger Junge.
Inger Ama Junge is a Berlin-based Namibian illustrator who studied visual art in both Germany and Malaysia. They draw comics and illustrations which explore identity and self-expression.