Before I re-joined the workforce, I experienced two situations that threw me into a state of political confusion. The first occurred one morning while I was still wearing the tracksuit I jumped into first thing every day to see me through the morning chores. Children safely delivered to school, washing blowing on the line, I wandered into the kitchen to make another cup of coffee. Without thinking, I took out a butter biscuit and dunked it as I studied the gym timetable for a class that might help me to tone up a bit. Not that I could actually afford to join a gym, but thinking about it seemed like a step in the right direction.
As I looked up, I saw Nikki’s ice-cream money still on the table, where the other girls had viewed it contemptuously, saying, ‘We never had that much when we went on school outings.’ I felt a twinge of uneasiness at the thought of my baby at the zoo all day in the heat with no spending money. And to make matters worse, she was wearing the knickers with the unreliable elastic that had been put out for mending.
To dispel the feelings of guilt and anxiety, I decided to go for a little run, as a way of starting off my new exercise regime. When I walked the children across the park earlier that morning, I had noticed joggers coming out like spring leaves.
After fifty metres or less of severe discomfort, boobs bouncing, ankles cracking, shoes slopping, chest hurting and nose dripping, I resolved to stick to walking. I failed to understand how some ladies managed to retain their dignity whilst jogging. As I walked, I noticed signs of spring all around. The branches of the willows beside the stream were weeping delicate gauze tears. Leaves were unrolling from the clenched fists of winter on the banana palms. Weeds were already appearing between my freshly planted tomato seedlings.
They reminded me of the parable of the farmer who sowed his seed, and some fell on the footpath, where the birds ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. They sprouted quickly, but couldn’t get any nourishment through their roots, and soon died. Other seeds fell among thorns and weeds that choked the good seedlings before they reached maturity, and some, fortunately fell on good fertile soil and produced wonderful crops. I hoped I was preparing the right soil in the lives of my children, and also sowing good seeds.
I passed a little round man with shiny black cheeks.
‘ Good morning,’ I greeted him. ‘Beautiful day.’
‘I’m fine, thanks,’ the man replied.
As I reached our gate, a smartly-dressed African man appeared and asked for the Boss. Resisting the temptation to say ‘That’s me’, I asked what he wanted. My immediate assumption was that he was either looking for work or money, neither of which I could offer. I suggested he might like a sandwich, but he declined, and embarked on a heart-rending saga. Some thugs had come to his house and beat him up. He pulled up his shirt and showed me the stitches from the stab wounds. Then the four offenders raped his pregnant wife and took all their money. Now the landlord needed the rent and they had no money till Wednesday. If he couldn’t raise two hundred Rand they would be thrown out on to the streets, hungry. In those days two hundred Rand represented a lot of money. He couldn’t find anybody who would trust him enough to lend him the money. I sadly told him I didn’t even have twenty Rand to lend him. I so wanted to help, even if only by sharing our food, as that was really all I could offer. But he said again he wasn’t hungry.
As he walked away, I wondered guiltily whatever the poor man would do. Nobody trusted a stranger anymore, particularly one who had been in a fight. My mind was still attuned to the parables I had been thinking of earlier, and I recalled with shame the story of the Good Samaritan. I was as bad as the men who had passed by on the other side of the road. Once again, pity and sympathy without any practical action are pretty empty emotions. But what if I had access to that amount of money? What would Michael have said? I assumed he would have been furious. And what if the man had never come back with the money, which was what I suppose I believed at that stage?