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Juliet, die Vinnigste Slak

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5


Die park waar hulle die gedoente hou, is gelukkig 'n uur se ry van hulle huis af en daar is niemand wat Marli ken nie. Sy sug verlig en loop maar so effens agter haar ma. Ma Jana het belowe dat sy die volle verantwoordelikheid sal aanvaar vir die plan, sy is ook doodbekommerd dat die slak-ding haar enigste dogter se sosiale status sal vernietig. Hoërskole is wrede plekke vir tieners, veral die uit vreemde lande met ouers wat anders is, sy is mos gelukkig 'n juffrou wat weet tieners se lewe hang aan 'n dun draad op skool tussen hulle portuurgroep. Marli is daaroor sommer van voor af weer lief vir haar ma.

Alles is baie eksoties by die kompetisie. Daar is spierwit afdakke met sagte gordyne wat weggebind is met groot groen stikke. Van tafsy. Net deelnemers mag binne sit waar selfs die stoele wit oorgetrek is en die tafels kreun met die lekkerste kos, veral poedings. Beslis nie kos vir slakke nie, want slakke eet die dag van die wedstryd blykbaar glad nie. Hulle kan blykbaar nie op 'n volmaag vinnig roer nie.

Ma Jana skep 'n reuse bord poeding vir hulle elkeen in. Marli hou vir Juliet op haar skoot vas en loer na die ander deelnemers. Daar is twee ou tannies wat blykaar verlede jaar gewen het, met hulle slak in 'n klein geel groentemandjie. Hulle dra outydse hoede en lag te hard. Dan is daar 'n lang donker man wat sy slak in 'n swart skoenboks het. Hy dra 'n pak klere en lyk of hy 'n besigheidsvoorlegging kom doen, volgens haar ma se geskinder oor die ander deelnemers. In die hoek is drie universiteitsstudente met sportklere van hulle koshuis, Vanier. Wat vir almal vertel dat hulle hele koshuis en die Departement Dierkunde help plan maak het met hulle slak. Net buite onder 'n boom, sit twee jong seuns, in pikswart aangetrek met die Goth-kleredrag soos sommige tieners hier in Kanada: skedels, duiwels, oorringe deur hulle neuse, lippe en wie weet waar nog. (Weer haar ma se opinie.)

 
•5•
The park where the affair is being help is luckily an hour's drive from their house and there is no one who knows Marli. She sighs with relief but walks a little behind her mom. Ma Jana had promised that she would take full responsibility for the plan; she is also quite concerned that this slug-affair will destroy her daughter's social status. High schools are cruel places for teenagers, especially those from foreign countries with parents that are different. Fortunately she is a teacher and knows teenagers' lives are on thin ice at school amongst their peers. For this along Marli loves her mom all over again.

Everything is rather exotic at the competition. There are lily-white canopies with soft curtains that are bound up with big green bows; made of silk. Only participants may sit inside where even the chairs are covered in white, and the tables groan with the most delicious food, especially the desserts. Definitely not food for slugs, because slugs apparently do not eat at all the day of the competition. It appears that they do not move fast enough on a full belly.

Ma Jana dishes up a huge plate of dessert for both one of them. Marli keeps Juliet on her lap as she peeks at the other participants. There are two old ladies who apparently won last year, and their slug is in a small yellow vegetable basket. They are wearing old fashioned hats and laugh too loudly. Then there is a tall dark man with his slug in a black shoebox. He is wearing a suit as if he is coming to do a business presentation, according to her mom's gossip about the other participants. In the corner are three college students wearing the sports outfit of their dormitory, Vanier. They tell everybody that their whole dorm and the Department of Animal Science was in on the plan with their slug. Two young boys sit just outside, under a tree, dressed in pitch black with Goth-like clothing some teenagers here in Canada wear: skulls, devils, ear rings through their noses, lips and who knows where else. (Mom's opinion once again.)

6


Sagte klokke lui om aan te dui dat die toeskouers moet padgee. Alle deelnemers moet hulle slakke moet kom wys aan die paneel van beoordelaars, wat regsit by 'n lang tafel waarop vars kruie die versiering is. Dit lyk eerder na 'n plek waar alternatiewe medisyne bespreek sal word. Pa en Ruan gaan soek sitplek in die voorste ry.

Juliet word goedgekeur. Die mooi blonde vrou in die lang gekleurde romp se slak nie: die slak is blykbaar met steroide gevoer: Hy is heeltemal oor die normale grootte en dikte vir slakke. Sy wip haar, skreeu n paar vieslike vloekwoorde, smyt die reuse slak net daar neer en stap woedend weg.

Ma en Juliet hou 'n spanpraatjie. "Moenie oogkontak maak met die ander slakke nie, Juliet, ons is vandag hier om te wen, nie om vriende te maak nie," sê haar Ma met n juffrou-stem. "En, moenie bang wees nie, nie een van die ander slakke sal jou byt nie, ek en Mar-lieks pas jou op. Jy weet hoe jaloers ander deelnemers kan wees. Hou net jou ogies op die wenstreep. Jy sal jou litte moet roer, hoor? Ek kan sien die ander slakke is fiks."

Sagte klokke lui weer. Hierdie keer moet net die deelnemers nader staan. Ma gaan sit langs Ruan.

Marli maak ook nie oogkontak met die ander deelnemers nie. Sy dra vir Juliet in die huise tot by die wegspringstreep en is bly dat sy 'Juliet' daarop geskryf het. Ook, dat die stokkie waarmee sy vir Juliet moet aanhelp, helderpienk is.

"We are the Champions" van Queen speel nou oor die luidsprekers. Al die slakke word uitgepak in hulle eie bane. Juliet is in baan nr. 8. Juliet sit doodstil, selfs toe iemand in trane uitbars en ook weer baie lelike vloekwoorde sê. Een van verlede jaar se wenners, die ou tante met die geel hoed roep hard: "Julle lieg, ons stok stuur nie elektriese impulse nie, dis 'n gewone stuk hout . . ." Die ‘gewone stuk hout' word teen n kamera man se arm gedruk, om dit te toets. "Einaaaaa, Oooo!" skreeu die arme man toe sy lyf ruk na die elektriese skok. Hmmph! Die vorige jaar se kampioene moet die aftog blaas en word gediskwalifiseer.

Die swartklere-Goth-ouens praat in 'n vreemde taal met hulle slak: "Soe, Dou, Kie-kie, Foei, Deur-kleur . . ." dit klink vir Marli in elk geval na so iets. Hulle herhaal dit monotoon oor en oor.  Marli weet haar Ouma Joh sou hulle en die taal 'duiwels-goeters' genoem het. Hulle slak lyk nie soos 'n duiwel nie. Hy lyk dom en hy het nie 'n naam nie.

 
•6•
Soft bells ring to signal that the audience has to leave. All participants have to come display their slugs to the panel of judges, sitting upright at a long table where fresh herbs are the ornamentations. It looks more like a place where alternative medicine will be discussed. Dad and Ruan head off to look for seating in the front row.

Juliet is approved. The slug, of the beautiful blonde woman with the long colored skirt, fails. Apparently the snail was fed with steroids: He is far above the normal size and thickness for slugs. She throws a tantrum, shouts a few ugly and bad words, dumps the giant slug right there and walks away in anger.

Mom and Juliet are having a team talk. "Don't make eye contact with the other slugs, Juliet. We are here to win today, not to make friends with the other slugs," Mom says with a teachers' voice. "And don't be scared, not one of the other slugs will bite; Mar-licks and I will look after you. You know how jealous other participants can be. Keep your little eyes on the finishing line. You'll have to move it, okay? I can see the other snails are fit."

Soft bells are ringing again. This time only the participants are to stand closer. Mom goes to sit next to Ruan.

Marli does not may any eye contact with the other participants. She carries Juliet in her little house up to the starting line and she is happy that she wrote ‘Juliet' on it. Also, that the stick, with which she will be nudging Juliet, is a bright pink.

"We are the Champions" by Queen is playing over the loud speakers. All the slugs are being packed out onto their own tracks. Juliet is in lane nr. 8 and she sits quietly, even when someone burst out in tears and again said some very ugly cuss words. One of last year's participants, the old lady with the yellow hat, loudly yells out: "You liars, our stick does not emit electrical impulses, it's a plain piece of wood . . ." The 'normal piece of wood' is pressed against the arm of a camera to test it. "Aauch, Oooo!" shouts the poor man as his body recoils from the electric shock. Ahhh! Last year's champions have to leave and they are disqualified.

The black-dressed Goth guys talk in a foreign language with their slug: "So, Dou, Kie-kie, Foei, Deur-kleur . . ." To Marli it sounds something like that in any case. In a monotone they repeat it over and over.  Marli knows her grandma Joh would have called their language 'devil-stuff'. Their slug does not look like a devil. He looks dumb and he does not have a name.