At the airport, I stand with a mother who is waving off her youngest son as he drifts towards England and on to King’s Lynn. The first time any of her four children have left South Africa. It is God’s wish, she tells me over and over. And it is God’s wish that we have met, she added. The usual guilt surfaced; the feelings of necessary confession that I don’t believe buzzed about my head. But I said nothing. Something in her strength that left me a little envious: The moment he is gone, I shall forget him. He is with God, and in God’s hands. I shall forget. We pushed our travelling and departing loves together, me insisting that the bald man with glasses and wide feet would ensure her young son, in white and red silky clothes and a cloth hat of many colours, makes it through the Doha stop over and out the other side at Gatwick, as far as the train to King’s Cross. From there, I said, already jealous of his freshness and inexperience, the deep blankness of expectancy in his eyes, he will be on his own. His adventure will have started! He will see our drunks asleep on the pavement of St Pancras and wonder if he’s really in that England. Her mouth opened to a deep dark hole and pale pink tongue: Drunks! In England? I nodded. Her son smiled nervously. Then we all spun apart to hug and whisper private wishes.
I hope I meet the young man in a year, to hear what he thinks of that small wet island full of self-delusion and so little knowledge of the rest of the world despite what it tells itself. Our greatest defect as a nation.
I cruised home with the Mother of a motor steadying on D-knob, down the R24, N12, N3, the N12, M2 and M1. Lanes merging and disappearing and reemerging. Ahead, Golfs and Porches, and vast white Jeeps wrapped with ribbon and bows of thick metal piping (suitable for a large bath for elderly and disabled giants), slalom across vanishing white lines. I felt like the lady in the magician’s coffin: cut in half night after night but miraculously surviving unharmed time and time again. How I later reached home I don’t know, for my attention was torn from the freeway early on.
From the centre of a vast poster rising up from the bottom of an old gold mine dump, a woman stood with her back to me, legs spread. She caught my eye as I passed for she was looking over her shoulder – blonde hair scraped up into a casually-messy-but-very-much-sculpted-tussle of a bun – in a cheaply kinky come on baby kinda way. Her back, bare, was remarkably pale. Her skin so white it might have been photographed with powder sprinkled over the shoulders down to her slim, trim, touchable waist. From there, a familiar pair of blue cotton trousers, ever so slightly baggy, split into a large A, with her feet, as I said, spread apart. WE WANT YOU TO WEAR US, read some words on the same poster. And the name of the company, which I now forget other than remembering some of the letters (I’m sure I saw a G, a V, an R and an O), was printed in large thick black font just above our pretty lady’s empty head. Other words on the poster explained briefly and cleverly that the company also sells all sorts of robust clothing and outdoor jobbing equipment necessary for the thousands of South Africans to whom the best-selling newspaper here, the tabloid Daily Sun, is dedicated. The men in blue overalls. The men you often see at the side of the road, wearing thick woolly hats, digging into ditches or driving short compact yellow vehicles that wave long metal arms at the passing traffic. The men who march down the centre of a shopping street, waving silvery cars with thick black velvety tyres in and out of small spaces, picking up bits of change from drivers who aren’t quite ready for eye contact. The men who lie on tidy grass verges at midday in winter, warming their bodies to the shine of the sun, legs crossed and crumpled and folded. Thick wool hats temporarily tossed off.
What of the lady’s arms? They were not visible in the poster. Crossed in front of her I imagine, covering her breasts I imagine. From who? From us? The camera crew? In her workmen’s trousers. In her blue workmen’s trousers. Our pale powdery girly…
[Later, escaping with: Abdullah Ibrahim, cherry/mannenberg… and reading: Heart of Darkness which I confess (why?) I have never read before, and now at page 80, am amazed that anyone could suggest it isn’t heaving with racism (see this piece for more); and Molotov, a South African magazine]