September 10, 2017 Comments Off on The hawker
Sunday afternoon. A blanket on the lawn, a cup of tea and the blue, blue sky above me.
And then, a low voice at the gate – a motherly, head-wrapped woman is summoning me to buy her wares, but aware that I have only a miniscule sum of cash, I politely explain that I have no money and ask her to come back at the end of the month when, perhaps, I might have some money to spend.
She asks if I want to see what she’s selling. No need to buy anything. Just have a look. Her honeyed tones are hard to resist, and I don’t want to appear rude, so I go to the gate and she produces three beautiful wooden bowls, smooth and symmetrical. They are her husband’s handiwork. She tramps from house to house selling them.
She begins to tell me her story. She’s from Zimbabwe and she has run out of days on her visa. She needs to sell the bowls to help fund their trip back home, so they can return to South Africa. They are living in one massive room in the city centre; one massive room crammed with people just like her. No electricity. We just sit in the dark, with some candles. This is the room she will return to when her papers are sorted, because it’s preferable to her life back home.
She asks me to keep her wares till she can get back to retrieve them. Tsotsis stole my friend’s phone yesterday. I must get back before dark, before six o’clock. It’s dangerous in town.
I decline to keep the bowls. It feels too weighty a request to hold a family’s livelihood in my hands. Besides, the next door she knocks on could mean a sale. I tell her it’s four thirty. There’s time to get back before darkness falls. But I cannot keep her bowl.
I can see she understands, but her eyes are defeated. She shuffles off, her shoulders a little more stooped, her bowls tucked into a cloth bag. I pick up my blanket, my mug, and walk into my comfortable home, equally grateful and guilty, and sobered by the encounter, because I know she is but one story in a sea of others.