I went cold. Not because a Cape Cobra had tried to join us for brunch. The moment The Husband and I rose from the table – in unison – he literally turned tail and headed back whence he’d come.
That was yesterday.
This morning, going through the ritual Sunday chores, listening to the local radio station, I heard the question, “Do you remember where you were on this day, thirty years ago?”
Then it dawned on me that it is the 2nd of February. I did know that. Facebook had reminded me and I had wished three folk for their birthdays.
I do remember
Thirty years ago, February the 2nd was a Friday. It was the opening of parliament and it was to be F W de Klerk’s maiden address. It was the beginning of a new decade, and a new era. We had no idea what the future would hold. We had an inkling, and great deal of hope. At the time I was working In a job where I was seeing out my last month. The ninth month of hell. Not because the people were awful. Nor was the company. It was the mindlessly, endlessly boring job. Not that I had nothing to do. On the contrary, I was busy and even took work home. It just didn’t stimulate me. It didn’t rock my socks.
My office was like a cell. It was on the top level of a parking garage in the bowels of Johannesburg. The only natural light came from a long fanlight set so close to the ceiling that I’d have needed a ladder to look down at the street below.
My boss knew that in my spare time I volunteered with a street children organisation in Hillbrow. She was also a former police woman. Her husband was still in “the force” as it was known then. However, and ironically, he was not mainstream police. Nor was he part of that other, more secret branch of the force. He was a founding member of the child protection unit and they were all too familiar with, and sympathetic to, the street children “problem”. The irony continues because some years later when I worked for a national children’s charity, we collaborated with the police and that unit to start National Child Protection week which is still an annual event in South Africa.
Returning to that day: I had a good rapport with my boss and we had an unspoken understanding of each others’ politics. In those days, in
certain many contexts, with certain people, certain subjects were taboo. It was just before lunch and Bosslady, very unusually, burst into my office.
Have you heard the news?
Let’s remember that thirty years ago, there were no mobile phones, no social media, let alone email. The closest we got to instant communication was a telegram delivered to your door by a man on a bicycle, telex or fax. Our firsthand news came via telephone – landline. If one had an answering machine, a message might be waiting. For the rest, news came from the news media: newspaper, radio and television.
De Klerk has unbanned the ANC. Nelson Mandela’s being released.
How do you know?
I sat at my desk, aghast. Delighted. Gobsmacked. Thrilled.
There was no-one near and dear with whom to share the news. I did not have that kind of rapport with either my boss or my colleagues and subordinates. I didn’t know whom to phone. Anyway, it would have been a personal call on the company dime. I had no radio in the office, let alone in my car (the first – a very second hand Renault 5). I do remember wishing I’d started my new job – at an independent school – run and staffed by anti-apartheid activists.
I have no recollection of what I did after work that day, but I do remember what I did ten days later, on February 12th, the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison: a free man.
It was a Sunday and once a month we’d take “our children” from the halfway house in Hillbrow, into the country where our “other” children were more settled. Always a bunch of volunteers, the children and staff. The volunteers would make contributions by way of meat, salads and treats for the children. We’d play games in the sun, chat and just generally have a fun, lazy day in the sun over a lunch braai (barbecue).
That particular Sunday, I deposited my passengers and headed home. At the time, the Yellow Peril (aka aforementioned Renault 5) lived in a rented space that belonged to a friend’s apartment. She, until she became too ill to do so, was part of our Magaliesberg outings. She is on the extreme right, in pink, in the bottom photograph. It was not unusual for me to pop up and say hi, as I did that afternoon. Maxine had grown up in Johannesburg and especially in and around the cosmopolitan communities that were most devastated by apartheid. Her stories: how I wish I’d listened more carefully and written them down.
Maxine had the television on, her oxygen tank her only companion. We all knew that that was D-day.
It hasn’t happened yet. Let’s have a cup of tea.
So we did. As we sat discussing the significance and events of the previous ten days, we watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison. A free man. We graduated from tea to sherry and thence to wine. I have no idea what time I headed home down the block. I do remember our sitting waiting, and then in rapt attention as Nelson Mandela gave that first address to the people of South Africa.
Fast forward thirty years. I cannot believe that it is thirty years. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. I go cold. So much has changed and there is still so much to do. It also dawns on me how the world turns. For one of my birthday pals, that February 2nd thirty years ago, had so much more significance for her. Funny that we’ve known each other more than 30 years – we were at Rhodes together; neighbours in the same residence in our first years. Neither of us celebrated our birthdays at university – they fell outside term time. Of course I knew about her journey with V, and until today, didn’t think how special a gift she had received on her birthday in 1990.
That brings, me, in a roundabout way, back to the cobra: both she and I love our gardens and their life; we both have more than a passing interest in sustainable living. It’s what’s reconnected us so many years later. It’s not the first cobra we’ve had at The Sandbag House, and it certainly won’t be the last. This one, did give us cause for pause. Not for us, so much as for our Christmas guinea fowl family.
They are very difficult to count, let alone photograph. We try do do the former pretty regularly; I do the latter very badly. When I can. There is a reason for the expression bird brain: Mrs Guinea isn’t the best mum. Dad was, in the early days, superior. In the
baby album collage below – random photos of their progress – you’ll see one hunkered down near our little stone wall. That’s Mr Guinea. All twelve are nestled underneath him. Mum was most definitely taking a break.
In the last six weeks, they have diminished in number to less than half. When they were seven, The Husband and I spent an early windy evening in the dry leiwater sloot (irrigation channel) that runs past our house: the babies had fallen in and couldn’t get out. Talk about quick and little! Eventually we’d scooped all seven out to scamper through the fence. All this while Dad had a go at The Husband for messing with the kids. And Mum? Well she was chattering up and down the fence,
like a headless chicken not sure whether to thank us or not.
Then there were six and then, on Friday, there were five. That evening, The Husband said he wasn’t sure about Little Five. He’d been commenting on the little straggler for a while: a dreamer, lagging behind and then chivied up to catch up with the family. On Friday, The Husband thought Little Five was was poorly.
Sure enough, yesterday, there were only four when we did a head count. I snapped the bottom right pic when I got home yesterday afternoon. Sure enough: four. Perhaps the cobra did have brunch after all. Today, as it was 40°C, we hadn’t seen them, but a moment ago, we were still grandparents to four guinea fowl chicks. Ignored by Gandalf the Grey and Princess Pearli, The Husband’s wondering when they’ll move in.
A last word: something else had been on my Sunday agenda. Until I went cold.
Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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