The leaves are turning on the vines on the other side of the tunnel, just their edges starting to bleed red as Autumn throws her cloak over us. I don't like the tunnel. It makes me claustrophobic as I try not to breathe, every time reminded of the fact that it is impossible for a person not to breathe for that long, without dying. I endure it, however, in order to leave the heaving city behind us. We are in the country, separated from the bright lights by the towering mountains.
As I've said, possibly ad nauseum, I love small towns. I grew up in first one – a place where the land was flat, the soil red, mielie fields abounded and the sky stretched all the way to space – and then another – where the earth was unstable, a patchwork of holes beneath the surface threatening to swallow houses at any moment. Both were places where, if you went into ‘town’ on an afternoon, you would run into at least two people you knew well enough to stop and chat for ten minutes. We borrowed sugar from the neighbours, rode our bikes everywhere, people knew your name.
The small town we went to is one of those that claims to be a little shoowow, you know the type - they have a 'Retreat' which does yoga and runs 'Silent Retreats'. They claim to be on ley lines and talk of spiritual energies and such. I probably don't have to point it out that, while I love a good hippy, I do snigger a little at those that are a little overboard with the shoowow stuff.
Anyway, it's a lovely little peaceful town, surrounded by mountains. The air is clear, they have donkeys, and we needed a night of starshine and peaceful sleep, which we got. We arrived early, visited the donkeys and stroked their noses, scratched behind their ears and bequeathed them carrots. They seemed pleased by the whole thing.
After donkey-stroking we ambled into the village to eat some lunch, a very delicious meat and cheese platter accompanied by a crisp glass of white wine from the valley. We'd decided to braai in the evening, our house being blessed with a fabulous verandah on which to watch the sun set and braai some meat, as good South Africans should on a Saturday. Asking the deli lady about where to buy meat, she showed us her 'deli sausage' and pronounced that there was "nowhere else in town that sells meat. Other than the Chinese Supermarket." The last statement was accompanied by a disturbing sniff of contempt.
So off we traipsed, to investigate ourselves why this should be. It's a supermarket, in the first half of town which we discovered, on our journey, to be the 'coloured area', owned by a Chinese couple, with very little English, but smiley and welcoming. The shelves were filled with necessities and smelt like a proper, farm shop - furniture polish, maize meal - a comforting, childhood smell. Above the meat freezers hung a disturbing array of sexy lingerie. I guess maybe there's a market for it in Small Town South Africa.
Ahead of us in the queue were a patently poor family, buying milk, bread, some fruit, with a toddler who was wailing because he'd picked up a chocolate and his mother had whipped it away instantly and put it back. They paid, and as they were walking out, the shopkeeper reached beneath the till and pulled out a handful of sweets, handing them to the snivelling child, turning his tears into smiles.
I wished I had the gall to go back up the road to the sniffy deli lady and tell her this sweet story (ahem) and encourage the occasional amble over the invisible line dividing the town, but I didn't. Instead we marvelled at this country we live in, still so full of prejudices and segregation, but never stopping trying to make it better. I suppose it all takes time.
World Penguin Day
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