Shortly after Botswana, I embarked on my second career. My brief spell of teaching had shown me that I had little talent in that direction. So I went into sales. For a while I tried real estate, looking round other people’s houses, formulating ideas for my own home, especially what not to do. But the hours were not good for a family girl, and the competition was cut-throat because such large amounts of money were involved. I discovered I was not the tough sales person I thought I might be.
After many nail-biting phone calls and unprofessionally compiled applications, I was offered a rep’s job with a small company selling a diverse assortment of equipment, from air-conditioning to power tools, industrial heaters to brass door-knockers. My role was to travel round all the hardware shops within a hundred-kilometre radius and sell brass and plastic numbers. I loved the smell of the hardware shops because it reminded me of my childhood, of the slightly metallic smell of my father when he came home from work.
Our offices and factory were situated close to a station in an industrial area of Johannesburg. The black people all came by train or taxi and the white people drove cars. The road ran next to some large hostels where black migrant workers stayed, and occasionally there were minor riots or protests.
I had a rude awakening about the huge gap in lifestyles one Monday morning when a five-year old black girl arrived at our office alone. She was the daughter of one of our factory employees who had not gone home all weekend, and was not at work that morning. The child’s mother had put her on a train in Soweto and sent her, all by herself, to her father’s office to collect his wages.
What absolute initiative and independence! I felt my children were still babies at five years old. I didn’t even let any of them go to the local corner shop on their own at that age. But this little soul had managed this big journey, presumably with assistance only from other passengers on the train.
She was given something to eat and some money for the family before being taken home. Her father eventually arrived for work, rather the worse from cheap beer, but I expect the hangover was mild compared to the tongue-lashing he received when he finally went home, penniless, to his anxious wife.