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People and Their Spaces

A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective - Bear Necessities

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [126] | Scholarship Entry

She disappeared in an instant – the pink sweater skilfully dodging the edge of a broken wall. I tried to listen; to catch the direction of her escape, but even the tiniest stir of sound echoed the lively chatter of invisible speakers, booming music and the rushing of water somewhere beneath the mass.
From the soft haven inside a car on the bridge it looked quite different than it did now – a glittering landscape of rooms built by its inhabitants from anything they could find, stretching amidst the smog to the neat edge of the suburbs. It did not resemble these pathways; in fact, they are invisible from anywhere else but their own intestines. Not twisting and boiling as the true organ would devour its inhabitants, but reaching calmly – dissolving into each other without confessing reason or destination.
They will come to look for me, I thought. They will blame the group of travellers for leaving a friend behind; they will rage at the disappearance of a girl in the informal settlement.
But I had to see where the pink sweater went.
My soles ignited the tiny rocks between cracks in the cement path. A few treads later, it diluted effortlessly into a muddy ditch, rendering my already dingy boots to trot the edges with careful speed. My fingers found the wall for support and a palette of textures – bricks, cement blocks, zinc plates and plants. I ducked between the icy drops from clothes on make-shift lines and tried to inhale around the sour smells from murky pools.
I halted at an opening between two buildings, too narrow for me but an adventure for a tiny child. My deliberation ended when the sweater flashed in the edge of my eye and my soles continued.
I caught my breath at the beginning of a neat brick ‘courtyard’ and rested my eyes on the sweater, squatting and scraping with the tip of a pen in the sand. She looked up at me, then quickly back to her pattern. Next to her was a stained teddy bear, neatly positioned to serve as audience.
I bent down next to her, the crack in my jeans reminiscent of our intimate meeting. In the soft baby murmurs was a story I so wished to understand; a story about this country within my own that I had been blind to before.
I took out my pen and began too – the simplest resemblance of two big eyes, a nose and a long smile. She looked at me once again, then at her friend, and beneath the moils of this extraordinary neighbourhood I could hear the acclimating ovation of two cotton paws.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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