Excerpt from the book.
I often think about the then young lady who sent me home that day. I remember her sharp, sing-song voice clearly but somehow, not her face. I want to remember but nothing comes. Not even when I shake loose the cobwebs of the deepest reserves of my mind. I wonder about her life and if she returned with it intact. I wonder if she was one of the angry or bitter ones or whether she walked the streets in a permanent mumble saying incoherent things. I never did see her again. Perhaps I did but didn’t recognise her and she, unperturbed by the presence of a random boy, did not recognise me.
The decade that saw this march had also witnessed a tricameral parliament, one of apartheid’s neat little tricks to keep us from freedom and a violent state of emergency would follow. A government on its last legs wanted to beat us into submission like one would beat a slave. It occurred to me then, even at such a tender age that the Caucasian was a violent species.
I remember being in the Pretoria CBD with my mother. She had taken me into the ladies because I was much too little to go into the men’s alone. It was clear from viewing just the entrance of the white ladies’ facilities that they were clean and well looked after. Inside the black toilet however, my mother scolded me for putting my palms down on the sticky seat of the filthy toilet in the black facility. It seemed the black facility had been built to ensure there was both function and enough humiliation.
My arms were much too short to reach either of the walls for balance. So, my feet dangled, and my palms inevitably returned to the sticky seat for another scolding. It wasn’t because I was anything of a toddler. Only quite small for my age…something that persists to date.
I’m not sure if I experienced a pie and coke for the first time that day or not but I couldn’t help but experience the tension that lingered quietly behind every turn of the sideways and sidewalks of Pretoria. Ironically, I wouldn’t experience the same feeling in Sandton where my mother, qualified in her field, worked as a dental nurse and doubled up as a domestic to keep us clothed and fed. Perhaps the people here were just ignorant or didn’t care that one part of the population lived under the boot of another and that it was all about to end.
The air was different there. Trees lined the streets and the houses were larger than life. There were no tin houses here and the soil grew the most beautiful grass. I was introduced to the concept of a swimming pool then but dared not go near it. It sparkled blue and the light of the sun danced on the surface of the water like diamonds suspended by magic.
Inside, there was a parrot that sat in a cage next to the rotary dial telephone. If anyone used the phone, he would repeat part of what they said the entire day. He was a sophisticated telephone guard but unnecessary at the time. After all, we had no one to call. I want to think there was a dog but can’t remember that either. What I do vividly remember is the day my biological father came to see me.
He took me to the arcade in Sandton city to play some games. I suppose it was his way of saying goodbye because I would not see or hear from him again. Not until I would track him down at the age of 25. He had had a further four children whom he had raised with private schooling.
I’m still unsure how one deals with a rejection that is so absolute and four times reinforced but in his defence, I turned out to be a lousy father whereas he redeemed himself four times over.
I don’t recall seeing him in Alexandra or Ga Rankua or any other place except that one day he said goodbye with the utmost silence.