The Stain

The deep violet of the Morning Glory flowers pierced my vision as I wandered casually down Somerset Road toward the Jeppe swimming pool—barefoot, loose clothing, towel over shoulder, the straps of my costume digging ever so slightly into my growing body. Imagining the cool splash of the water that was only minutes away. I stopped—flecks of violet catching my eye. Did you know that if you place a Morning Glory flower face down on the back of your hand and smash your free palm down on top of it, it will leave a mark—the force of the slap forces the colour out of the flower onto your skin. Staining it with a streak of midnight.  

I heard the slow rumble of the truck creep up behind me and almost stutter as it slowed down as the driver, white, asked me to get in. The purple stain from seconds ago, fresh on my skin, seemed to grow brighter as my pace quickened.  I said no. He rolled his truck on next to me, matching the pace of my small legs, and asked again. I ignored him, feigning nonchalance. He went away. I went swimming.

There was a fluidity to our roaming back then. In and out of each other’s houses and around the neighbourhood—proprietor of secret places and favourite games. And it’s not that life wasn’t dangerous and it’s not like we didn’t know it. We saw my dad chase an intruder he’d spotted trying to break into our neighbour Patty’s house in broad daylight; vaulting the wall like a parkour champion he launched himself down the street in full sprint after the guy. He didn’t catch him.  

Most burglars waited until night time or when families were out or on holiday to do their stealing. This evolved to more of a murder, rape, steal and pillage whenever/wherever kind of vibe by the time I was in high school but for now, robbers were cautious, sort of. And not all that keen on number 18, apparently. Every house around us was robbed and usually trashed (to make a point, I guess), except ours; the one with the least protection—no alarm, no burglar bars, no Trellidor; an easy target.  

Our car was stolen though—pretty much everyone’s was at one time or another. Police found it in Alexandra Township and it was returned to us, mostly intact. It was weird to think of some randos driving around Joburg in our car as if it was their own but, strangely, having our property violated didn’t make me feel unsafe. Property violation had been a thing since the Dutch landed on our shores and the English stole our sovereignty. It’s what we know in Africa. So, inconvenient—yes. Unsafe—not yet. I understood stranger danger but wasn’t living in fear as I was when I was twenty-three and took a stick with me to fend off any potential rapists that might come my way the five minutes it took me to walk from my house to the Edenvale library. As I write this now, it makes me laugh but also disturbs me to the core—because I thought nothing of it at the time; this was the way it was. Just life in South Africa. 

I wonder how I did manage to feel free even when there was stuff going down on my doorstep. Is this the gift of childhood?—Not knowing. Or is it knowing (because we did!) but not knowing—understanding, fully. Which is, indeed, a gift. Fragile and fleeting, and in desperate need of protection—until the time is right, because knowing is important, too. 


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

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