Dan Lefoka stood outside his house and looked. He looked up. The great blue sky with its giant cumulonimbus clouds—the same blue, the same greatness, the same clouds. He could’ve been standing anywhere in Johannesburg. But he wasn’t. Dan Lefoka drew a breath and pulled his head down, levelling his gaze. Houses. With walls—infant walls. Suggestions. A shadow settled on his mind—something about the walls. A shiver. He shrugged his shoulders, up and down, to shake the omen. He looked away, swivelling his neck to the left. Grassy verges intersected with the tar. Oil and water.
Dan Lefoka closed his eyes. Children playing, or fighting—the ambiguity of youth. A dog yapped…and then another and another; traffic, distant but not too distant. Footsteps. But where, who? He looked down, opening his eyes. Black shoes. His skin peeping out from the bottom of his trousers. Brown skin. Dark. Not black. The dust was gone; the dust on his shoes, his trousers, his skin—not eradicated, simply censored. Organised. Dan Lefoka stepped back. He bent down. Plunging his hand into the soil he pulled out a weed. He pulled out weed after weed, churning the earth with his fingers, humming as he worked. Pulling and churning, burrowing, seeking, imagining…his fingers stretched deeper and deeper. Her heart beat stronger and his song grew louder.
A woman. The colour of weak tea. She watched, then hesitantly, a noise—a voice, a question. Could he come by later in the week and help her with her garden? Dan Lefoka stood up, dusted his hands on his trousers, and agreed. He would help her.
Three days later Dan Lefoka sat in the woman’s garden. The sun beat down on his face like a hand on a tribal drum – thump-thump-thump – calling the dead from the earth; beads of sweat formed in the edge of his lip. He lifted the tin cup to his mouth. Sweet, strong. He sat some more. Sweated some more. Then, Dan Lefoka put down the tin cup and returned to his task. He pulled weeds, planted, churned and hummed—life’s pulse tickling the patterns on his fingers, digging into his skin and under his nails. She offered him bread cut into doorstops and cemented together with margarine and apricot jam, the white of which reverberated antagonistically against the brown dirt of his hand. Served on a tin plate. He accepted. Dan Lefoka ate, he worked and then he left.
A knock on the door.
Dan Lefoka looked down at the keys of the piano, his brown fingers browner against the white. He was more at home with the sharps but even they could be calamitous. It was only when his fingers traversed the extremes that the space was filled. He felt the notes before he released them.
A knock at the door.
She looked. Words. But they didn’t come out as they should. Her eyes closed, hoping that this was a dream out of which she would wake and South Africa would be a place she recognised. But the man stood there still. Dan Lefoka invited her inside and offered her some tea, which she drank from China as the pianist’s hands filled the space.
Storyteller: Noel Huntingford
Author: Andrea Zanin
Noel Huntingford (aka “the boy”) was born in London. From the age of 6 weeks, he lived in Zambia with his missionary parents and two older sisters. When he was 14, he moved with his family to South Africa. Noel has been living in the UK for the last couple of years (to spend time with his three children and ten grandchildren) but plans to return to Africa, where he left his heart.