I was 12. We were still quite poor at that time. Shopping was a thing. We didn’t do it often or on a whim. My mom would scour the specials and prepare a game plan, we would then tackle the shops, buying only what’s on the list. We would meticulously tick the items off the receipt when we got home, to make sure we didn’t overpay. Partly this was probably my mom’s, I dunno, OCD or something, but we really needed to turn over every cent back then. I don’t know when my mom was starting to buy shares into the company she worked for, but she owns the company now, so our whole family was geared to help her build the ownership of her company (which I am 100% for, by the way. I just wish I understood it better when I was younger).
Anyway. I was 12. There was a little horse statuette at the Mona Lisa shop in Benoni. The Mona Lisa was like a Spar or similar, but it wasn’t a chain store. The store had a little section of statues and pots and garden gnomes and what not. The statue was made of gypsum or something, a creamy ivory colour, smooth to the touch. I imagine the type of thrill you’d get from touching the Venus de Milo perhaps, that was me with this little statue. I was in love with it, absolutely smitten. I would hold it and caress it every time we would go there. I was saving up to buy it. It was something over R100, maybe R112 or so, which was, to me at least, a lot of money. This was 1993. Every time we entered the store I would run to go see if it was still there, my perpetual nightmare that someone would have recognised its unparalleled beauty and buy it before I have saved up enough. After a few months it must have been quite grubby from my fondling which probably helped my cause.
Eventually I think my dad picked up on my anxiety, and must have asked what’s up. I spilled the beans. At that point I have saved up R92. I was almost there but around maybe R20 short. He must have agreed that he’ll front the rest of the money and I can pay him back. So at the next shopping trip (on the 9th of October 1993 to be exact), the usual anxiety running to meet it, and the grubby little thing is still there!
Because my mom is my mom and quite particular and peculiar, people knew of her, and as an optometrist a lot of people knew her anyway, so I think that may have played a role in what was about to happen.
Getting to the check out, however, by some means, possibly related to all my fondling, months of wear, the price sticker was half worn off. The lady at the till doesn’t know what to do, and calls the manager. This is not helping my anxiety at all.
The manager ambles over, looks at the sticker which is displaying half the price, let’s say it’s R11 … but the rest is worn off. And in a vloekskoot (lucky shot, literally translated as a swearing shot) he says, well, make it R11. As in, R11.00. Eleven rand and no cents. I was shocked to silence. I was picking up the fragments of my jaw from the floor! So not only did I a) have the priviledge of calling the little statuette my own, I also b) did not have a debt to my dad, and c) actually had R80 spare! Vast richness! I was so chuffed.
Once in my possession, the fondling of the horse did not stop. I would caringly dust it daily. It took showers with me to maintain it’s ivory colour. I loved it more than anything in the whole wide world and beyond. I loved it more than God. (To be fair, I love anything – ANYTHING – more than the Christian god.) I put it in a glasshouse terrarium I built, but that made it grow mould, possibly exacerbated by my having showered with it, and eventually I had to repaint it to hide that. I chose a golden colour which I quite like and is still its colour today. It also cracked and aged which I think just adds to its appeal, but of course, nothing that this little statue has happening to it will dim my affection.
My dad took major offence. MAJOR offence. He read me bible verses that we shall not worship idols etc etc. I think this may have hastened my move away from religion. Thanks, unholy horse. I think really it was part of the bigger issue that from around 12 onwards, as I grew up, I started having my own opinions, and God forbid, occasionally disagreeing with him. This created intense friction, domestic abuse and basically the end of a parental relationship. We’re sortof OK now but in the way of ‘be nice to your parents because they might die soon and you don’t want to regret stuff’.
I just unpacked the unholy horse in my move to Hopefield and it has taken up its rightful place on my desk. Alongside my nude prints which also offends the family. Fuck ’em.
P.S Great was my surprise when months, or even years, later, I saw these statuettes pop up everywhere, particularly in East Gate, the fancy mall on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg. My dad and I (for a short while my brother too but he didn’t really like it) used to go walk around in the mall as an outing, followed by a treat at Milky Lane. But the horses I think I spotted when I was in varsity, so early 2000’s. I was alone because ha! there’s no way he’d allow me to buy more golden calf idols or whatever they call the stuff. Mammons or whatever. I bought one, which has been a distant second to the unholy horse because it’s features are too sharp. The face and the belly’s rounded corners have a discernible edge to them. And it’s not the unholy horse so it can never be worthy. There was even glass versions, a sea-tumbled sort of turquoise as well as a blue version. I think they were in the region of R300 or R400. Not insanely expensive at that time but more than I was willing to spend on a whim, and I was already old enough to know they won’t have the magic that the original unholy horse had (ha, still has, tsk.) But I regret not buying them and when I realised my mistake the shop no longer had them. Now the shop isn’t even there anymore.