Justine Sachs is a Year 12 student at ACG Senior College. She recently participated in a memoir writing workshop with Dr Deborah Shepard, where she wrote this small anecdote from her early childhood in South Africa before she immigrated to New Zealand in 2005.
I’m in the back of a brilliant green Audi without my seatbelt on. My mother is driving, her mass of curled hair peaking above the car seat. My five year-old sister is asleep on the seat beside me. My mother and I are quiet, each of us immersed in our own thoughts. Today is the day. I’m excited, nervous and sad. The Johannesburg highway whirls by and I stare out the window, watching intently. Sometimes I would imagine it was the trees and plants that were moving on a conveyor belt, not the car.
Today is an important day. Our family is getting a dog from a Boerboel breeding house in Pretoria. It should be a joyous occasion but it is not. Our dogs, Beethoven and Blue, have been poisoned by our gardener. Perhaps I should be feeling happier because this means we are moving on but I’m not sure I am ready.
I’m having flashbacks of that dreadful day. Lifeless bodies lying strewn across the stairs, blood trickiling out their mouths, things no eight year old should have to see. I’ve been keeping the uneaten cans of food secreted away in a drawer in my room. I couldn’t bear to see them thrown out, discarded like nothing.
“Are we nearly there yet?” I ask.
“Five more minutes, to the turnoff.” My mother begins humming an Eric Clapton song. My sister’s eyes flutter open. There goes my peace. I plug in my brand new CD Walkman, as a pre-emptive strike.
We arrive at the dog breeder’s house. My sister is excitedly jumping up and down in her seat. An ancient woman, about forty years old answers the door. My sister and I hide behind my mother, clutching at her skirt suddenly overcome with shyness as they exchanges pleasantries. The woman’s name is Ilene. She motions us warmly inside.
Two hours later we’re back in the car. Sitting between us on the back seat is a mass of brown fur, with two dark eyes staring intently out the window as the Johannesburg highway swirls by. Her name is Amy.
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