Excerpt from The Children’s Day by Michiel Heyns
Michiel Heyns’s highly acclaimed first novel, The Children’s Day, published in 2002 by Jonathan Ball, was republished in the USA by Tin House in 2009. You can read an excerpt from this coming-of-age story, set in the apartheid years, below:
Children naturally take an interest in any newcomer, whether as object of their charity or as victim of their persecution. Thus even Fanie van den Bergh created a little hush of attention when he was brought into the classroom by the principal, Mr. Viljoen, and assigned a desk by Miss Jordaan in the front of the class, across the aisle from mine. On a first frankly exploratory stare, he seemed candidate for neither charity nor persecution — that is, he seemed just ordinary. He was very thin, but then so were many of the children in the class; he was poorly dressed in slightly grubby clothes, but again that was hardly noteworthy in Verkeerdespruit. He was wearing a pair of scuffed shoes, which did set him apart from the predominantly barefooted class, but that was understood as a concession to his first day at school. Verkeerdespruit people, my mother used to say, had to prove that they possessed shoes. I never wore shoes, not even on the last day of term when everybody else did.
In the course of the morning Miss Jordaan asked her new pupil a few questions, partly to make him feel at home and partly, I suppose, because she also felt a certain curiosity: she hadn’t been in Verkeerdespruit long enough to have ceased hoping for an exception. Fanie certainly was not it: her questions elicited only the usual dour silence of ignorance or shyness or both. She and the twenty-five members of the Standards One and Two class settled down again to their routine, and Fanie van den Bergh took his unremarkable place in the unexacting primary educational system of the Orange Free State.