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U3A Writing: What Language You Want?

There are things you need to know when you go to buy a computer, as E M MacPhail’s story reveals.

The houses in Lower Houghton – it’s still one of the best suburbs in Johannesburg – are not so far back from the road that one can’t catch sight of a Gone With The Wind front with two-storey columns, or high on a wall, a little Juliet balcony on which one could imagine – was it Norma Shearer? – calling “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore…”

I leave the car on the road and hurry up the drive to the house which reminds me – what a coincidence – of the one at Southfork. While I wait for the door to be opened I can see, through the uncurtained windows, cardboard boxes stacked on the floor and machines arranged on long tables in a brightly lit room.

When I read the ad in the SMALLS which said ‘Computer R800’ followed by a telephone number I made up my mind. The recorded voice with a foreign accent gave the address at which ‘the latest in the state of the art at the most competitive prices in town’ could be found. I didn’t remember having read in the newspaper article anything about computers being in a state of art but I decided it didn’t matter. What I did remember was that the computer would bring a whole new dimension to one’s life. That was what was important. Three years ago when my husband said that I would have to get used to living on my own, the children had still been in this country, but no long afterwards they went overseas and I haven’t got used to it yet.

The door opens and a little man with a pale face says ‘Yes’ in a worried voice.

‘I read your ad in…’

‘Yes,’ he says again.

He leads the way into the room where the machines and boxes are. A chandelier hangs from the middle of the ceiling and the klompie brick fireplace has an anthracite stove it. [I tell him that I want to buy a computer because it will add a whole new dimension to my life].

‘What do you want to use it for lady?’ he asks.

‘For television. For writing a play like Dallas and there would be lots of wild animals and something really dramatic would happen to JR. Perhaps a lion might… or an elephant trample…’

‘No.1 priority. Software.’

He slaps a book down on the table in front of me. I see car lights coming up the driveway. He tells me that these are important customers from out of town and that I should read this book called Wordstar while he attends to them.

The younger of the two Indian gentlemen says: ‘This one is Mr Y K Mamjee. Uncle from Rustenburg.’

‘Very one horse town,’ the uncle, Mr Mamjee, adds.

It used not to be. The brilliant bougainvillea, the flaming pointsettias and the golden… golden shower creepers reminded one of those lovely travel films which always ended with a man’s deep voices saying “… and as the sun sets slowly in the west we return once more to…” Those were the days when an evening at the cinema was so enjoyable. There was the ARS GRATIA ARTIS lion with the news then Popeye or Mickey Mouse – so ridiculous – and the travel film, all before the interval. I remember hoping not to pick a Strawberry Cup or Orange Cream, in the dark, from the box of Black Magic.

‘We must be updating. Every one firm nowadays up-dating. From Rustenburg we come to hear advices. My cousin Rashid telling here is latest for everything. And good price,’ Mr Mamjee’s nephew says.

I am here for the same reason.

The little man with the pale face says, ‘Sirs be seated. For you Mr Mamjee here is OK? And sir you name is Mr Docrat. OK?’

‘And Rashid is telling he is looking here before. Everything very latest.’ Says Mr Docrat.

‘Mr Rashid. Sure. Sure,, I remember him. A great guy. And how is he keeping?’

His accent is not altogether American.

‘Oh yes very fine. Still pushing the daisies up.’

‘Now Mr Docrat will I get for Mr Mamjee something? Coffee? Tea? Whisky yes? Appletiser? OK?’

Two waters thanking you,’ Mr Docrat says.

It must be the little man’s wife who comes in carrying a tray with two glasses on an embroidered cloth. The one on a saucer she puts in front of Mr Mamjee. She walks around the table to place the other beside Mr Docrat. Her husband waves her away.

‘Now sirs your basic requirements, OK?’

The American accent is definitely mixed with something else.

‘Updating with computer,’ Mr Docrat answers.

‘Sure. Sure. No1 priority. Software…’

‘And hardware,’ Mr Mamjee interrupts.

‘Sure. Sure, OK. No problem.’

‘Ladies Garments. Top and inside,’ Mr Mamjee continues.

I remember the shops at the far end which were almost out of the town. When we went down at the weekends…

‘So now the basic priority. You give credit? You have accounts? OK?

‘Twenty already pouring in,’ Mr Docrat says.

‘OK so Visicalc is No1 priority. You understand sir? Mr Docrat, sir, Visicalc? OK?’

‘Rashid will spread it on me,’ Mr Docrat answers.

At the same time as he gave me the book he handed me his card. I read P full stop Lvov – I can’t think how to pronounce it – Managing Director. Meanwhile I wish I knew how to turn on the little television set – only the picture – not the sound of course. I page through the book, read words like diskette – something to do with places where young people go to dance? Or packets of them for making a braaivleis fire? – Format Commands. Validating and Hardware. Hardware I know about of course and so does Mr Mamjee.

‘second priority. CPU. Here we have the super de luxe for expanding business, staff projection and cash flow. OK?

‘How much for cash Mister… Mister?’

‘Mr Woolf. Mr P Woolf,’ the little man answers Mr Mamjee.

Well it seems there may be quite a number of things to learn before it brings a whole new dimension to my life.

Mr Docrat is certain sure that Rashid will be able to help him because he is studying at University of Wits to be a doctor.

‘For booming business 16 bit 286 with 1MB RAM and then…’

‘Ramadan last month before,’ Mr Mamjee interrupts.

I didn’t know Ramadan was the same time as Easter.

Mr Woolf pauses, ‘…and then business booms OK?’ He goes on: ‘You can interface your PC to main frame.’ He runs a hand over an oblong case about the size of those big boxes of chocolates one used to have at the theatre – not the cinema – long ago. It has typewriter keys.

‘MS/DOS. Now what language you want? Basic, Pascal, Fortran?’

‘Basic better for Indian peoples,’ says Mr Docrat.

‘And display? No problem. Eighty by twenty five. OK?’

Mr Woolf points to the little television set in front of me. Mr Docrat repeats after him, ‘OK.’

‘OK five and a half inch floppy dual?’ asks Mr Woolf.

‘Sometimes only,’ says Mr Docrat.

Mr Mamjee closes his eyes. It’s a long drive from Rustenburg for such an old gentleman.

And floppy back-up. Software unlimited. No problem. Visicalc I have given already. Data base, Condor, Management, Wordstar.’

Why that’s the name of the book he gave me to read while waiting. I wonder whqt it means]. Before Mr Woolf starts to add up the column of figures he asks, ‘Will I get for Mr Mamjee something? Tea? Coffee? Whisky? Appletiser OK?’

‘Two waters thanking you,’ Mr Docrat says.

Mrs Woolf appears, again without being called. She places the glasses carefully before Mr Mamee and Mr Docrat and, in front of Mr Woolf, a tiny cup of black coffee which he throws into the back of his throat. She collects the first glasses. He hands her his cup and waves her away.

‘Last but not less. The printer. No problem. You name it we’ve got it. Graphic, thermal, dot-matrix, laser. But first Mr Mamjee sir let me show you this beauty. OK?’

He points to one of the larger machines and says,’Daisy wheel.’

When we were children we used to make daisy chains but never wheels.

Only when he takes off the front part does it look like a typewriter. ‘No1 it will print super de luxe, not ps’s and g’s you can’t tell which one is. Super de luxe.’ Mr Woolf holds up his hand forming a circle with his forefinger and thumb. ‘And then…’ He lifts off the front of the machine in a way that reminds me of the conjurer at the children’s Christmas party at The Club years ago. ‘Behold No2 Top Quality Typewriter. Special price for you OK?’

‘Bibi can learn,’ Mr Docrat tells his uncle.

‘Bibi? Bibi stays with mommy,’ Mr Mamjee answers.

Now Mr Woolf is using the calculator which is part of his wristwatch. ‘10% for cash. No problem.’ His index finger taps and pauses. ‘Gentlemen R11 832.65. This is the best deal from anywhere. OK?’

The bare windows reflect the room with the boxes stacked on the floor, the back of Mr Woolf’s head, the little bare patch will soon join up with the gap in front, and the long tables on which are the machines. We look as though we are having our photograph taken. Mrs Woolf brings in another small cup of black coffee for her husband.

‘When we are bringing some other one customers from Rustenburg how much commission?’ asks Mr Docrat.

‘For free I give you the games. OK?’ answers Mr Woolf.

‘Games,? Games?’ asks Mr Mamjee. ‘I have too many years.’

‘For the kiddies. Worth R500.’

‘Kiddies must learn not playing the fool all the time.’

They argue. Backwards and forwards they go. How much for thrity-one days, terms, postdated cheques, another and cheaper printer. Mr Docrat says his uncle, Mr Y K Mamjee, saying not good for Bibi to learn the typewriter. But at last they begin to agree. The first invoice is torn up. Mr Woolf starts on a new one. He offers to throw in the software for nothing. He takes Wordstar from me. Now that I know what software means I wonder if Mr Woolf will tell me about DOS. He promises Mr Docrat R200s worth of free lessons even though Rashid knows everything. When Mr Woolf has written two pages he asks whose name must be put on the invoice.

‘Y K Mamjee Business Associates,’ says Mr Docrat.

Mr Woolf hands the invoice book to Mr Mamjee.

‘Just sign Mr Mamjee sir at the bottom if you please. OK?’

Soon it will be my turn to talk to Mr Woolf. I have been waiting for more than an hour and I hope my little dog has not started to howl as she does when she is left out too long and in the dark: the way dogs do in films after their owners die.

Mr Docrat helps Mr Mamjee to his feet. Mr Woolf asks, ‘Tea? Coffee? Whisky? Appletiser OK?’ His hair looks damp.

‘Now everything straight. First talking to Rashid. Telling everything. Daisy wheels, floppies, faces, everything. Then I am bringing him. When he is saying everything OK I am bringing Mr Y K Mamjee from Rustenburg and he is signing.’

‘But you can take the hardware, everything with you now. I will load it for you. All you do is sign invoice, give me cheque - your personal cheque OK – 10% deposit OK and tomorrow Y K Mamjee associates are computerised. No problem.’

The colour of Mr Woolf’s face and the old acne scars remind me of oatmeal porridge. The perspiration is leaking out from under his hair which stops just short of his ears.

‘Y K Mamjee Business Associates phoning confirmation before end of next week,’ Mr Docrat says. He and Mr Mamjee move towards the door.

‘Sirs, Mr Mamjee, Mr Docrat gentlemen you will not find better deals at other places. They have more overheads for rent and etcetera. For this bundle you will R3000 more.’

As Mr Docrat opens the door for Mr Mamjee he turns and says, ‘Phoning before weekend next week for sure OK?’

Mr Woolf stands beside me. ‘How much money have you got?’ he asks.

‘Well, the ad says…’ I search for the purse that is never where I expect it to be in my handbag.

‘No problem. I know how much it says. No2 priority. Do you want colour display or normal?’

He switches on the television set. Blue, green, yellow and mauve patterns take shape.

‘It’s very pretty,’ I say.

Now Mr Woolf is on his hands and knees under the table where there is a jumble of electric cords. He pulls out plugs which he moves, still on all fours, to other outlets. He is breathing heavily when he stands up. He can’t be so old. His wife doesn’t look more than thirty-five.

‘OK you want monitor with colour on this CPU as advertised.’

He lifts the television set and pushes it in behind the oblong box with typewriter keys which he has unpacked from one of the cardboard cartons on the floor.

‘See twin disk drives built in.’

I can’t see what he is pointing at.

‘Now which printer?’

Daisy wheel sounds rather…’

‘Very good typeface for outstanding presentation.’

I decide that if his wife brings him a little cup of coffee I’ll ask if I may have a cup of tea. Just a teabag will do.

‘How will you pay?’ he asks.

‘By cheque. I have made arrangements with the building society.’

No problem. First I will show you edit mode.’

His fingers hurry over the keyboard.

‘Watch the display,’ he says.

On the pale blue screen with a green margin yellow letters seem to twinkle. I read ‘Document File 1. Mr Prxyslaw Lvov, Managing Director, demmonstrating state of the art.’

‘But there should be only one m in demonstrating,’ I say.

No problem OK now watch.’

He presses two keys and the little flashing square covers the one M. I can’t see what he does but the word seems to tremble and move and then ‘demonstrating’ looks just the way it should.

‘How marvellous,’ I say. ‘So it doesn’t matter if one makes mistakes.’

I don’t think anyone could say that R800 is an extravagance. I’ve already decided to give up the idea of a holiday at the coast this year. I search for my cheque book which isn’t where I thought it would be. Mr Woolf is writing the ivoice. He tears out the page and gives it to me.

R3300? But the ad said everything for r800.’

I find the piece of newspaper I have cut out of the CLASSIFIED advertisements. ‘Look here it is.’

Mr Woolf’s face has more colour to it now and his eyes are very bright. He shouts. ‘Computer R800. Hard Drive R800. Monitor R800. Printer R800. Software R800. Everything R800 plus GST.’

‘But I thought it meant everything,’ I say.

‘Sure. Sure. Everything, And what else do you want for R800 lady. My shirt OK?’

He plucks the damp cloth away from his chest.

‘Do you know what you must do?’ he asks.

‘No,’ I say. ‘What must I do?’

‘You must bloody learn to read before you bloody write,’ he yells.

I hurry down the steps in the dark and as the door bangs I hear him shout, ‘And have a good night.’

The driveway seems so much longer than when I came and I can’t allow myself to look over my shoulder. Was it Boris Karloff who used to slip from the shadow of one tree to the next? And the film. Wasn’t it Frankenstein?

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