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SOUTH AFRICA | Wednesday, 3 November 2004 | Views [1494]


Cruising the chilly streets of Crossroads Township, the bus winding its way to the tiny bar where they wanted us to spend money, we babbled on about the traditional music and food we’d just experienced on our tour of this township banished to the outskirts of Cape Town.  As we struggled to ignore the jumbled mess of gloomy tin-roofed shacks rolling by, children began to run along-side the bus.  They slid from the shadows, dark phantoms with ghostly white grins, their bare feet flying and arms waving at our immense red bus, so out of place towering over the poverty.  “Hello American! Hello American!”

“I’ll travel overseas someday,” she said in her proper British English.“Of course you will."“And I want to be a fashion designer someday.”

Instead of going into the bar, I stayed outside and talked with the children. 

“I always feel bad if I get new clothes and Natalie doesn’t, so whenever we get new clothes, I tell Mother to get Natalie new clothes too.”  “That’s so nice of you.” 

Natalie is Tavia’s cousin.  Her worn shoes with the big buckles and faded dress looked far from new and more appropriate for the summer sun than the southern hemisphere’s spring chill.   She hugged a blanket around her shoulders.  A layer of dust clung to both girls’ clothes, frosted their hair and eyelashes, and powdered their russet skin.  I looked at Tavia in her stained red and orange striped sweater, brown corduroys thinned in the knees and worn sandals.  Her carefree smile fought with the truth sitting heavy in her eyes.

I asked if her feet were cold.She said yes.

“Whenever I come home from school, I never had anyone to play with.  So my mother said Natalie could come live with us.”“Well that has to be fun for you two.”  They nodded slowly, gentle and grown-up from little Tavia, somber from Natalie as she looked away and squeezed her eyes hard for an instant, the kind of blink to rid your vision of that floating circle after looking at the sun.  Tavia hugged her tall cousin close, and the tiny girl’s protection eased the tension of my only partly wrong answer.  I didn’t ask about it, and it hurts to wonder.

Time to go, too soon.  When the rest of the group had drifted away toward the bus, I knelt down to Tavia’s level.

“Don’t ever forget those dreams, Tavia.”“I know.  I won’t,” and she put her arms around my neck.“I’ve got a project for you then.  When you get home tonight, I want you to get some paper and write down those dreams and draw lots of pictures that make you think of overseas.  I want you to hang it where you can see it all the time.  Do you think you can do that?”“I can do that,” her face solemn, nodding.“Good.  You’re very special, Tavia, and I want to see you in America someday!” and I wrapped my arms around that tiny girl’s waist and smelled the dust of South Africa imbedded in her braided hair.  I finally turned away, tears clouding my vision, and moved toward our red double-decker that would take us away from the tin-roofed neighborhoods of Crossroads, away from its beautiful children singing back to us…

ShosholozaShosholozaKulezontabaStimela siphume South Africa. 

They ran after us, waving and singing, all the way to the edge of town. 

I’ll never know if Tavia really did as I asked, but sometimes I’ll daydream of a little African girl all grown up, a fashion designer in New York gazing at a frayed and creased paper, a yellowing list of childish words and sprawling pictures… She smiles. 

© Wendy Allen 2003

Tags: south africa, Writings (true or otherwise, poetry or prose)



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