Leaving town, Country Life

By Thursday, Muffie was puffing in annoyance. Hendrik was perplexed. He couldn't help. Not today anyway. And probably not tomorrow either. He was carefully holding up the two pieces of glass, one with a crack that curled and meandered towards an explosion of shards. The other with a blunt straight edge.

Muffie was adamant: I need glass. Non-reflective glass. She's leaving on Sunday. This has to be framed before that. For weeks, I'd wondered about the mysteriousness of it all. A phone call to ask my favourite colour. Yellow.

A visit from the local carpenter who'd come to say he was sorry I was leaving town. Oh, and by the way, what kind of frame did I like? Broad or thin?

I was on my way to lunch at the coffee shop with a bottle of red wine and a present tucked under my arm, still marvelling that RM had chosen to have her birthday lunch with me. I felt disproportionately grateful for that. But then I suppose when you finally crack the nod, when you can boast new best friends in a town you've been living in for a year and a half, disprop-grat can be excused.

While we ate excellent chicken pie and gossiped under a spreading American ash, my phone rang. Three times. Each call informed me that L had given birth to a baby boy, that mother and son were fine. That they would be home by morning. Would I come and meet the new arrival?

Puffed up with a ridiculous sense of belonging, of being home, that afternoon I popped round to the wood and iron house set in a forest of trees under the mountain to drink tea, to check up on poor darling Ro who lay like a baby in a crib, complete with woollen hat and mittens. "Jut a code", he insisted as he hacked and spluttered, while I stood with my shawl round my face like an alien warding off germs.

On my way home, I stopped in at the supermarket for a progress report on the health of the manager, in intensive care in Bloemfontein with a suspected kidney problem.

E called to say come up to Brokskloof for a drink, just the girls, just the one. I agreed. Anything to avoid being too close to Master Math, in bed, wheezing his way through the flu he had ungenerously passed on to our new friend Ro. We'd all eaten dinner together two days before, a rather good oxtail lovingly cooked for us all by Gordy. We'd sat around the fire and laughed and drunk too much wine, and told small town tales.

And now I was listening to Miskiet behind the Brokskloof bar, and to the girls on either side of me.

It had taken 18 months to feel a part of this town, and now I was leaving. A white-haired man with skin like old leather boots stopped me in the street with a bit of wisdom on my last day: "You cry when you come to Zastron. You cry when you leave."

Escape to a small town. I suspect it's a secret wish of many. And yet, small towns are as hard to crack as bank vaults. Perhaps it's the pace of country living, slow, steady, measured. Never hurried. Relationships are gently brewed and then meted out in shot-sized glasses. Understandable. You can't give of yourself too quickly. Heaven forbid you should throw yourself into a relationship and then discover you didn't necessarily like the person. You'd still have to see them every day, at the counter in the Ko-operasie, in the doctor's waiting room, in the queue at the post office.

It's not a new concept: country folk sum you up and give you a lot of rope with which to hang yourself before they venture forth and invite you in.

And now, just as I'd paid my dues, just as I was beginning to feel like a true member of the community, it was time to leave.

I didn't want to leave. Well not at that precise minute anyway. But how to earn a living in a very small town?

A return to the city holds no allure for me. As I write this, I have been in Port Elizabeth for two weeks and (gasp) have not been to Woolworths once.

I miss walking into Mr Scorrano with my Jamie Oliver book and pointing out a cut of beef I want him to prepare for me. I miss the milk which is cheap, rich and thick with cream. I miss what I call the Zastron finger - where every car you pass on the town streets you greet with a waggle of a finger. I miss the fact that there are no queues. I miss the yellow veld, frosty mornings. I miss my stoep with its perfect view of the mountain and the church steeple.

Muffie came round on that last Friday with my present, a remarkable watercolour likeness of her children, set in a yellow mount and framed in an aged broad black frame.

There was no glass. Hendrik had cut through and destroyed four panes of non-reflective glass. He blamed it on the cold weather. Muffie blamed it on me.

Charmain Naidoo's country life is over. She has relocated to Port Elizabeth.

Article by: Charmain Naidoo - www.sundaytimes.co.za