15 February 2012

Valentine's day

I kissed a sleepy Rosie and left at sunrise.

My morning was mountain silhouettes, endless sun shafts through broken cloud lighting dried out wheat fields and grazing sheep. Then quantity surveyor, architects next to blue, blue water. I discovered that the stainless steel thermos flask from my mother who passed away three years ago does not keep coffee hot.

Later, at the N2 highway turnoff to Suurbraak, a man was hitching. He had faded blue workpants and kind eyes. He looked about 50, with high khoikhoi cheekbones. He told me he was going home to Barrydale, coming from visiting his wife in hospital at Swellendam. He said he worked for a man named Michael, looking after his second holiday house, that he thought would probably be sold soon because the family only stayed there a night or two a year, passing through. I asked if he came from Barrydale. He said no, he used to be a farmworker, but there was no more work so he left his birthplace. We drove through sleepy Suurbraak, and he mentioned how much safer it was now than it used to be, how joblessness and lack of any opportunity was a problem for the young. He told of a son in the police, another studying by correspondence, his relief at his neighbour being able to look after his four year old at home.

I remembered to ask about his wife. She needs more blood he said: "sy het meer bloed noodig, hulle moet meer bloed insit", they have to transfer her to hospital in Wellington. I asked why, was she injured? No he said, she wasn't bleeding, he didn't know why. I dropped him a couple of kilometres down the road at the Barrydale turnoff, trying to carry on the small talk and not let him see me tear up. I hope there's another reason an uninjured person would need a transfusion. Some reason other than leukaemia or lymphoma.

Later when I left Grootvadersbosch, I glimpsed a girl of about eight standing barefoot under a dusty wattle tree, late afternoon light catching a gingham dress from another era, just watching our cars go past.

In Swellendam I picked up a Somali holding out a R20 note, going in to Cape Town to renew his permits at Home Affairs. I waved aside his money. He told me he misses his parents but can't afford the airfare home. Every few minutes he barked a tumble of what sounded suspiciously like Klingon into an old cracked Nokia, starting and ending the call without any pleasantries as far as I could tell. I realised I had never heard Somali spoken before, surprised at how Arabic it sounded. His English wasn't good, but there was no mistaking the look of longing when he told me how good the Toyota bakkie (pickup) we passed was. Soon his head started nodding, and I had to show him how to put the seat back down to sleep. There was a carefully darned hole in his slacks. He got out when I turned off the N2 and moistly shook my hand. Driving onto Baden Powell I saw that he'd tucked the R20 into the car ashtray.

Passing Mandela Park, strapping, athletic young men were framed by the sea and low sun as they ran effortlessly back to the endless shacks stretching into the summer evening haze. I realised my phone was ringing and got a frantic Rosie who had been trying to get hold of me for 10 minutes, convinced I'd been hijacked.

The first hitch hiker had said just after he got in that no-one gives lifts any more because of all the crime.

This fucking country. Sometimes it just tears me apart.


  1. Oh, Donovan...

    And next time, call Rosie.


    1. I discovered my phone was ringing when I reached for it to call her...

    2. Good :-)

      I'm a worrier. So I was empathizing with her.

  2. Thank you, Marie. I love him dearly for his kind heart, but I do not stay calm when he picks up people on the side of the road. Conflicted.

  3. Envious, I could never get as thought-provoking a post out of my day convincing a Sandveld farmer that CBA's are necessary and not a thing sent by the Devil to seriously downsize expansion plans on his new farm.

  4. Ahh, so touching, leaving you the money in the ashtray.

    That's quite a special R20 note.

  5. Beautiful post. Excellent reading material when you feel the need to zone out at work...