There's something about Small Town South Africa that is dusty. Even a little town in the greenest, lushest valley has a layer of dust over it, like a house that needs a featherduster. The shops in the main street (and I'm talking generically here) generally have sparsely stocked shelves where you can find handcreams still in the bottles they were made in in the 80's and sewing kits with those little silver threaders in them. All made slightly dull with the layer of dust.
It's not only the literal dust, though. The buildings and, often, the people have it too. They don't gleam and shimmer like city buildings and city people. They don't knock down the ugly 70's shop that houses the Pep store (another Small Town requirement) to replace it with a steel and glass architectural monstrosity where beautiful people can sip cocktails while pouting their collagen-filled lips and blow air kisses at each other, falsely. Pep stays, it keeps the same stock of cheap and cheerful clothes, homeware and TV bars at the counter, as it did in my Small Town when I grew up. It still smells exactly the same.
It's real. I think that's why there's the dust. People are just humans, there is no need to silicone, liposuck, extend one's eyelashes because people here know who you are, they've watched you grow up, they've seen you fall, pick yourself up again. Good grief, they've talked about it on a Friday night at the bar. You've talked about them. It works both ways.
Our little town we went to had that dust and the Pep store. We drove through it on the Monday evening when we arrived, the wide main road looked at us quizzically in the afternoon sun. It was quiet but we thought that was just Small Town. The vaguely sad, still feeling was there each time we went into town (from our cottage on a farm next to the river) during the week.
We decided to have our hair cut while we were there, entranced by the local hairdressing salon: Hair by Me, opposite the garage. Me seemed a good person to give one's hair a trim. Stopping outside the shop on the Thursday, we noticed a small bunch of flowers, and a poster with a girl's name on it saying "In loving memory. 2010/09/06". The Monday we'd arrived. Me, the hairdresser was not there. She'd be back next week, according to a sign on her door.
On the Friday we stopped in for a beer at the bar. And there we heard why the little town was so still. A little girl, she was to turn 11 that Thursday, had been knocked over by a bus that was coming out of the garage opposite Hair by Me on her way to school on Monday morning. She had looked the wrong way and stepped in front of it. The funeral had been that morning.
The stillness of the town was not just a Small Town thing, it was a palpable sadness, the heart-wrenching brokenness of a place that had lost one of its young, way before her time.