Checca Aird (She/her) grew up in Southern Africa before returning home to London. While most of her time is spent at her day job as an analyst, she makes time each morning, and most nights, for her first love – writing. Checca is also passionate about travel and researching houses she could never buy, blaming her nomadic upbringing for her insatiable wanderlust. @FrankieSRivers
I Am the Second Mrs Roberts
I am the second Mrs Roberts. A hand-me-down my bosses dress-up as a gift. My real name was so common at my secondary school in the Huhudi township, I was shocked when the white madams of Gauteng couldn’t pronounce it. But answering to a maid name instead of a maiden one is just part of our trade.
People come and go from this house like a crowded taxi rank. Bringing hope in their eyes and dog shit on their feet. Sweat greases my tired hinges then drops into the bucket of clear detergent I dilute for the boss’s tiled floors and barred windows. So many rooms to clean. So many families corralled.
The sky and my daughter’s lips split and bleed as she sleeps in our shared bed. Nothing can oppose the dry Johannesburg air. Our room is smaller than the family’s pantry, but we have our own door and key, which is more than most of them can boast.
They never ask the Mrs Roberts to convert. Although they made sure I believed when I interviewed for the job. Who doesn’t believe in God?
One of the daughters sneaks into my room. Her skin’s too pale for my country’s sun and patches of freckles crown her top lip. She and my daughter stand no taller than my gas stove. They build a maze for the ants out of old string as she hopes to share in our meal of slaap-chips. Later she’s punished for it. We believe in the same God, but they don’t break bread with the women that sweep under their children’s bare feet. Hang their torn clothes. Soak their bloodied sheets.
Mosquitos gumboot dance over the open borehole as I chop firewood for the family’s braai. They live on faith and discarded food, but I live on cash and coins. Polishing their temple so visitors burdened with heavy consciences and overstuffed wallets can more easily drag them onto their altar.
The daughter hides in my room to read her forbidden books. I hope they’re thick enough to protect her from the men her family beg to move into their home.
The property is vast, a stream runs across the bottom and ten ft walls with electric wires all around it. I don’t go out of my room after dark, the dogs are trained to attack black intruders, and the family’s evening prayers aren’t for me.
I send my daughter to live with her grandma. Once a month I take her the money I make dousing the field fires from when they burn their paper documents. Stuffing poison between thatch for the rats. Hammering nails into brick to hang pictures of the township children they pose with on Sundays.
One morning the daughter sneaks into my room to beg for a favour. I tell her to wait for the air to cool.
The family has so many wives but no husbands. All serve and obey but none love and protect.
Lighting strikes and my TV goes dark. I rest on the plastic chair next to my stove, watching bubbles burst as they suffocate in static air. The dogs bark at planes as they fly above the fortress all night. Near the metal gates the leopard-tree splits with electricity.
At last, it breaks. A wave that soaks the township, the airbase, across the valley and washes our moment up with it. The dogs run to their kennels and the family locks their door. The smell of warm rain against tin roofs and burnt wood fills the air.
In the morning the mockingbirds call but there’s no reply.
The electric wires near the felled tree are cut. The dogs are dead. The bars on the kitchen window twisted out of shape. The family searches for what is stolen. Only a little money is missing, and they praise God for their lucky escape.
I look at the daughter. Burns on her arms and legs, redness bloating her pale face, hair still damp with rain, and know there was no escape.
I am the second Mrs Roberts. And I won’t be the last.
There Is No Up
The speeding cloud bounced to a halt in front of the grandest gates Mcintosh had ever seen. Without hesitation, he searched his clothes for a suitable tip but found they’d been replaced by his most-loved flannel pyjamas. Irritated, he turned to make his excuses, but the cloud had already retreated beneath the shining entrance. Golden bars interlaced as elaborate as any royal crown and topped with giant shining pearls that radiated the warmth of the summer sun, stretched further than his eyes could see.
Did they have to take my glasses?
He frowned at his reflection in the opaque baubles, the sides of his mouth dipping all the way to the ground beneath his feet.
“But of course, it isn’t ground at all,” A smooth voice answered his thought.
They were, without a doubt, the most beautiful being he’d ever laid eyes on. With skin smooth as hard-chrome and pupilless eyes marbled with flecks of green and gold. Mcintosh risked another glance at the shimmering mist beneath his feet.
“Welcome,” they said. “I’m the Arch-angel Uriel.”
“Never heard of you.” Even with their colossal stature they only stood at a third of the gate’s size.
“You wound me. Perhaps if I appeared to you as a lion? No? Well, I’ll try not to hold that against you. Now then,” Uriel waved their arm and a small stone tablet appeared in their hand. “Marty Alexander Mcintosh?”
“That’s right. CEO and chair of Flutter.com,” He offered his hand as he checked his tartan breast-pocket for a business card.
“I see. Another tech mogul.”
“Guilty as charged. Actually, have you considered automating this whole check-in experience? I’d be happy to spear-head the project.”
“Oh, you’re lucky Peter has the day off. Let’s see where he’s got you staying.” They focused on the stone.
“You should get the new iPad.”
“It’s a digital tablet.”
“Oh, Steve’s old toy. Rest assured; this has everything I need.” Uriel’s eyes oscillated faster than a surgical-saw before settling on an inscription written in a language Mcintosh had never seen before. “Ah yes, this way please.” The lock turned with a great rumble of thunder that shook the sky. “Sorry about the noise, I’ve asked Gabriel to fix it but apparently it was designed that way.”
“Don’t you want to measure my worth or something? Check if I make the cut?”
“Oh no. We used to have a very strict vetting process, but these days we’ll pretty much take anyone who made the sign of the cross or bought a Christmas tree.”
Once through the gate, they floated along a wide, shimmering path. Unlike the static roads of earth, this path was alive: its alleyways and side-streets grew and shrank like the creeping stems of an ivy plant. Mcintosh stared with wide eyes as they passed all manner of abodes; a Grecian temple, a tree house, even a catamaran sailing in mid-air. The breeze smelt like a flower garden brought to life by the muddling of fresh rain and each inhale tasted like his favourite scotch.
“So, who’ve they got me next to? Is there like a section up here for the c-suite?”
“JJ Whitey, although he just goes by J now. And Tokyo Prince. Ah here we are, your new home.”
Mcintosh stared at the house they had stopped in front of. It was a three-story colonial style mansion with white pillars and a wooden porch. Everything he’d dreamed of but had been too scared of the potential public-backlash to buy. After-all, he’d had shareholders to consider.
“What do they do?” He asked.
“Do? Well J is a connoisseur of the windmill-bong and Tokyo mostly sits by the pool making her boyfriend take pictures of her.”
“A stoner and a millennial instagirl? Is she at least trending? What’s their net worth?”
Uriel smiled at the question. “I don’t think we have that information on file.” They said without checking the tablet. A steady trail of thick smoke drifted from the four-man tent to the right of his mansion while bursts of flash bounced off Tokyo’s pool.
Mcintosh balanced on his tiptoes “Where’s her boyfriend?”
“The camera is her boyfriend.”
Mcintosh shook his head. “This can’t be right. How do people move up around here?”
“There is no up.”
“Like a flat hierarchical structure? Come on, there’s always someone at the top.” Mcintosh’s neck burned red as he realised who he was referring to.
“I don’t think he’s moving on for a while, but I can find out?” Uriel didn’t try to hide their amusement.
“There must be other roles. And don’t be fooled by my soft hands and tech-neck, I’m not afraid of hard work. I started off working odd jobs in a lumber-mill.”
“I really should be getting back to the gates-”
“Just ask me some questions.”
“Are you asking me to interview you?”
“You bet your halo I am, actually where is your halo?”
Uriel tilted their head in disdain.
“Such a stereotype. Do all humans wear hats?”
“Look I get it. It’s probably very political up here, show me a company that isn’t. And don’t give me that shit about it being above your paygrade. Come on, just ask me about my first company, about my five-step program for success. You won’t find another employee like me. I get up at 5am every day to work out and read a new book before work even starts. In fact, I don’t even think of it as work. It’s my life. I dream beyond the job description, and you’d better believe no one can network like me. When I make a plan, I stick to it. How about part time? I can consult. Give me any underperforming department and I’ll turn it around before year end.”
Uriel folded their hands together. “We don’t really have any of that here. But you can do anything you want. What are your hobbies? Your passions?”
“My passion is problem solving.”
Uriel rolled their eyes and the resulting whirl of colours made Mcintosh feel like he’d tumbled headfirst into a pile of autumn-gold leaves.
“Surely someone told you, you can’t take your wealth with you when you die?”
“Honestly? I just thought that was something poor people said. But it doesn’t matter, don’t pay me! But I need something to do. Give me something, please. What’s your job?”
Uriel’s eyes narrowed. Then all at once their face changed, lips spreading into a smile so bright Mcintosh felt he’d go blind if he wasn’t already dead.
“I think I know the place you’re describing, there’ll be a queue at the gates by now but…what the heck. Let’s get you home!”
Suddenly the house and street disappeared and Mcintosh found himself at the top of an icy staircase looking down into another realm. It was an upside-down triangle carved into a thick block of ice split into so many levels that to Mcintosh they looked like pinstripes on a very distant suit.
“It’s, its, a pyramid scheme,” Mcintosh said through chattering teeth.
“Exactly. Nothing but back breaking drudgery and meaningless performance reviews as you work your way down promotion by promotion but with no reward. Long days and restless nights. Everyone has a value and the more you’re worth the lower you sink.”
Mouth agape, Mcintosh looked from the frozen dominion to Uriel and then back down again.