Clean sweep

2007-12-08 00:00

Nice to be back in Africa, says cousin Drusilla. So how’s Toronto, then? say I. Oh just great, says she, getting the Canadian accent a bit wrong, but then maybe that’s the way she talks these days. She reels off the present advantages of the place exactly as she reeled off the advantages of the place three decades ago before leaving.

Nice to meet new people, says she. Ja, say I, this is Don’t-delay Pillay, my neighbour and fishing comrade. DD smiles, ear to ear like a Dobermann; he looks like the caricature of a shad-sammy. He is one of the community of anglers who gave the caricature its meaning. Drusilla blinks. DD speaks; Drusilla doesn’t know whether to laugh or not, he sounds so like the Indians on the dreadful comic racist radio programmes of yesteryear. We stand at the front gate, sorting each other out.

One of those great big Zulu broom-sellers comes by, constructed of igneous rock like the top part of Isandlwana, looming like that too. He yodels the Zulu word for brooms and whistles in that earsplitting way that herdsmen do. He stops before us; I remember you from Overport six years ago, says he, you used to buy my brooms there before you disappeared and now I’ve got this one for you, selecting one with a straightish shaft. It is one of those witch-type brooms, made from the Ilala palm, coarse and brittle, okay for sweeping up old leaves and fag-packets, maybe, but not domestic dust from one’s flat.

Hey no thanks brother, I live in a flat now, say I, pointing heavenwards at our building, where would I use such a yard broom? He examines the ground around our feet; it is covered in fallen leaves and old fag packets. He lays a level gaze on me. No-o-o, says he reproachfully, Indians and women tell lies. We don’t lie to each other. We, of course, being Brit and Zulu men, we do each other to death with stabbing spears and Martini-Henrys, but we DON’T LIE. He clearly hasn’t heard of Sir Bartle Frere, but this is no time for history.

Look, say I, I live upstairs, I’m not responsible for the grounds here! He studies my face unblinking, and silently pushes the broom through the bars of the gate. I take it, and give him R30.

Why you gave that fellow R30? says DD. Very terrible rascal, that fellow. Pusillanimity, say I, I have no words against such circumstantial argument. I’m afraid to open the gate, says Drusilla, they told me the crime here is too bad for walking in the street. No-o-o, explains DD, we will go inside and get a couple of rods and take the bus to the Snake Park and walk along the beach a bit to a nice shad hole he knows about and have a nice time. With sandwiches.

So things get relaxed and happy and where we cross the road at the robot for the bus stop opposite I go to press the yellow button for the green man walking. There’s a shaven-headed black youth leaning against the pole; the button place is right at his hip pocket. As I go to click the thing I touch him and he leaps back hissing like a rinkals and reaches for a dreadful knife from his belt. Drusilla emits a piercing squeak, DD grabs her and I point to the hole where vandals have picked the yellow button out. The youth grins sheepishly and leans on the other side of the pole. It is all part of street life.

Drusilla digs her feet in the yellow sand. It’s a surfers’ surf today, all right. Thunderous. We don’t have breakers in Toronto, says Drusilla, just ripples. What kind fish you got that side, you? says DD. No fish, says she, the lake’s too polluted. After a bit she says They say Toronto is New York designed by the Swiss. But too dirty for fish? says DD. All this as he rigs up his tackle and buffs up with steel wool a neat white-metal spinner, one of a dozen we cast from a hand-made mould on an old Primus in the back yard, in preparation for the shad season. Catch you one large-size shad, says DD.

But soon enough he comes back from his shad-hole with a medium-size Simon, alias salmon, aka kabeljou. 3 kgs, toothsome. Come, says DD, and we follow him back to the bus and home again, where he curries his Simon mild for Drusilla and chops up sambals and hauls sweetmeats from a great big biscuit tin. She and I sit and contemplate his modest pop-up view of central Durbs and get progressively pissed on Dick King cane spirit.

I think I’m getting inebriated, says Drusilla. Never mind, says DD. Nobody driving. You at home now.

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