Black and white shoelaces

2009-02-27 00:00

“Black people can be so annoying at times,” my friend, TK, once said. I glanced at her, half in surprise and partly in amusement. No one would ever guess by her volatile tone that she, herself, is black.

Behind her neatly packaged nickname is the reason why she prefers to be called “TK” rather than Ntokozo. Try as they might, after numerous saliva-shooting, mouth-meandering attempts, most white people cannot grapple their tongues around such pronunciation. Her surname is a different story. I thought I was being rather witty when I called my friend, a future teacher, “Miss Mkheez”. Instead, she whipped around, hands on hips, an eyebrow raised and her mouth taut. “It’s Miss Mkhiz-e!” she spat. Naturally, I think she will make a marvellous teacher with her SPIA (Scare Pupils Into Accuracy) programme.

White people can also be irritating. TK couldn’t agree more.

“Have you ever noticed that when white people talk in Zulu, they say “lo” all the time?” she inquired one day. “It’s ‘lo’ this, ‘lo’ that, everywhere a ‘lo’, ‘lo’.” Needless to say, the rest of the day consisted of “lo’s” in every sentence.

All friendships have their quirks, but ours has more than its fair share. Spending one night at her house earlier this year, I offered to cook supper. TK had a lot to organise for the next day, so I contently made myself at home in her kitchen while she got her work prepared. Every now and then, I would call through to her.

“Where can I find a pot?”

“In the cupboard under the sink,” she replied.

Everything was going well until I asked where she kept her herbs.

“My what?”

“Your herbs!”

I heard a shriek of laughter, and a few seconds later, she staggered into the kitchen, weak with hilarity. There were tears gushing down her cheeks and a smile as big as Jupiter plastered on her face.

“Allow me to enlighten you, Danielle,” she said when she eventually caught her breath.

“Black people do not cook with herbs!”

She then proceeded to throw a pinch of salt and a stock cube into the simmering pot, jam the lid back on and march off to the opposite end of the kitchen. In an effort to further my African culinary skills, she snatched two shiny objects out of the kitchen drawer. I recognised one of them.

“This,” she declared, “is the white person’s tin opener.” She displayed the object high in the air, as if she had her pre-school class sitting before her. It was the familiar, twisting can-opener that I was used to, similar to the one I would find at home.

“This, however,” she stated, suspending her opposite arm heavenward, “is the black person’s tin opener.”

I stared at the foreign, metal object, astonished.

“How can that possibly open a can?” I asked her.

Her only answer was another giggle, and to this day, I’m still wondering.

A few weeks later, TK and I were hosting a golf day with a few of our mutual friends to fundraise for an upcoming youth event. Each of us warily took turns, plucking up the courage to approach golfers with the hopes of interesting them in the raffle tickets we were selling. My first attempt resulted in six tickets being sold. Another person took four. Everyone had been successful thus far. Enthusiastic TK’s chance arrived when a young, woman golfer approached the clubhouse.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, may I interest you …?”

“Not today.” The response was abrupt and TK peered at us from her location, crestfallen.

Our table erupted into uncontrollable giggles. My boyfriend subsequently advanced towards the woman’s friend, and within minutes, both women had purchased tickets.

“It’s just because I’m black,” TK said, now chuckling. “She thought that I was trying to rip her off.”

The afternoon consisted of more sniggering and playful teasing, but later that evening, I apologised to TK. I realised that her assumption was most likely correct.

It therefore comes as no shock to say that even though TK and I live 10 minutes away from each other in sunny KwaZulu-Natal, we’ve lived lives that are worlds apart. It’s more than just eccentric cooking utensils that have made us so different. It’s not simply the fact that her mother permanently calls her by her full name, whereas my parents summon me with a simple “Dan”. It’s more than her desire to slaughter a cow at her wedding and my lack thereof. It’s our upbringings, our cultures, our different views and the individual plans we have for our lives that make our diversity so vast. With all these differences, one might wonder why on Earth we’re friends?

Similar yet unlike circumstances brought us together in a way that is different from most of our other friendships. Months after losing my ex-boyfriend in a tragic motorbike accident, I was still falling through the cascading emotions and boundless questions. It was only when I confided in TK, that I learnt the depth of her despair following her father’s death and her cousin’s death a few months later. I have many beautiful, precious friendships that I treasure dearly, but there was no one who could truly understand my emotional pain during this time more than her. During my times of swirling sadness, she would encourage me and remind me that God had a better plan than I had for myself. Each question I had concerning my see-sawing sensations would be answered to the best of her ability, decorated with a touch of hope. During her times of vulnerability, I would try my best to do the same.

I believe that God, in His wisdom, placed two utterly dissimilar teenage girls next to each other to walk different but parallel, temporarily rocky roads. As one stumbles and scrapes her knee, the other, although still walking her own path, calls out to the injured, discovers her condition and offers advice on how to stand up again and continue her journey. As God moulds our individual characters into ones of strength and perseverance, TK and I continue along our journeys towards healing, separately but concurrently, and God stitches our friendship together as each step is taken, with the shoelaces of our hearts.

Even though her raucous behaviour will most likely deafen me by the tender age of 25, and my Zulu-speaking attempts will drive her to premature mental instability, I am truly blessed to have TK as one of my special friends. Not only does she come in handy when she brushes off black men who ask me to speak to them with her “haibo! Phuphela phambili*” attitude, but she’s an example with her bubbly, easy-going approach to life, despite her hidden heartache.

Mina ngithanda ‘lo’ uTK.**

* “Dream on!”

** I love you, TK.

Danielle de Bruyn

Danielle de Bruyn matriculated at Carter High School in 2007. She is currently studying first year at Vega in Westville and plans to specialise in copywriting. “During my spare time, you’ll find me playing piano, chilling with friends or having long, in-depth conversations with my African Grey parrot, Zacc.”

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