Brown Lagoon

2009-10-24 00:00

I DARE say, says Piet, you’re so old you can remember a song called The Danube isn’t Blue, it’s Brown. A bloke called Spike Jones used to sing it. I think. Deed I am, say I, and I do. We gaze across the murk of the Umgeni mouth, quaintly called the Blue Lagoon, disgusting stuff from every tributary along the river since its birth in the Berg. Never mind the effluvia of Edendale, legend had it that at the old Grey’s Hospital they used to chuck their used bandages and folks’ appendices and things in the Dusi, and all that ended up in this Blue Lagoon too. At the edge rainbow colours swirl in surface oil. Submerged substances bubble to the surface.

It’s at its best when it’s brown, say I. You should come and see it when it’s dark grey. Piet is back for a quick break after 30 years in the outers, you see; I mean Perth, the one in Oz. Furthermore, say I, if there was ever a lagoon here it was in 1993 when Cyclone Demoina built up such a depth of floodwater at the sandbagged railway cutting along Umgeni Road that if the bags had collapsed the seething river would have shot along its ancient original course straight through the city centre and into the harbour. Maybe that would really have been worth coming from Oz to see, hey?

A companionable silence follows. Do you remember also when extended Indian families used to come to the beach here on a Sunday with fishing rods and biryani pots and tantalising spices, Piet asks, plus 1 000 kids, because they weren’t allowed into parks with swings nor any such classfied place way back then? I do, I do, say I. Well there’s a million kids here today in 2009, says he, and how do you account for that? Sociologically, sort of? Hell, say I, I’ve never thought about it. Habit, I suppose, it’s a great beach if you don’t look at the river. But let’s find a nice quiet place for lunch.

Well, can you get a quieter place than Mitchell Park? Here we have a dinky wee table ’neath the trees, with a crisp clean tablecloth. Round about are beds of flowering annuals, sundry daisies and pansies and hollyhocks and English stuff I couldn’t name. Look, says Piet, they’ve even got daffodils, it reminds me of Wordsworth! Me too! say I. And everybody here speaks English, says he.

Indeed, say I, I hadn’t noticed. Ja, says Piet, no Afrikaans. And where do all the Zulus go for small cups of tea with their little fingers sticking out? Hell, why should I know, say I, people go where they’re comfortable; we could find a soccer stadium, maybe, if you want to meet them.

In Oz, says he, I read a thing by an important South African politician but I can’t remember his name (don’t bother, say I) and he said whites here are racist because they don’t ever go to Soweto and mix with blacks. Hell, say I, nobody invites me to kwaMashu and I refuse to buy my groceries in a spaza shop, thanks, and drink my booze in a shebeen to placate any bossy old fart, so there.

Another companionable silence. Do you remember when we used to take our scrubbed-white students to Pompey Naidoo’s Victory Lounge on Friday afternoon, says Piet, and their thrill at eating Indian food with their fingers? I do, I do, say I. I don’t know how Pompey got away with it, he was registered as Indian. But it played a small part, incidentally, I suppose; it was an innocent enough way for kids to have their first small experience of racelessness. Damn if I’m going to do it at 84 though, just to ingratiate myself with some poxy shlock in government, like it’s still a thrill for me after 44 years.

After a bit Piet says, you know, ruling Australians seem to be too scared to make a break from Pom. Insipid, boet, insipid. Everybody’s got to be stuck in the same culture, homogenised, pasteurised. Ja, say I, what I want is for KZN to become an Indian Ocean country, know what I mean? I resent American culture and I’m bored with the European. South-east Asians would liven us up, go well with Africa. I remember Arabs building dhows on a beach near Mombasa. How about that, eh? Imagine here a Thai community, there a Burmese, Malaysian cookery, Sumatran aromas. Indians we’ve got, let’s have the rest.

Also Australians you must get, of course, says Piet, from the Perth Indian Ocean side, to teach everybody how to make a barbie and not call it a bloody braaivleis and all those other cultural virtues.

I mean I’ll think of a few if you give me a minute or two. How about some Abo culture, says he, you know, chucking whole unskinned kangaroos on a fire and wearing rags because the climate is so nice. Going barefoot.

We yawn a bit. The brief fantasy is over.

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