When the woman walked into the cafe, she seemed to bring with her an Autumn calm, a burgundy-coloured cosiness that made me almost look behind her to see if a trail of petals & leaves followed as she sat down at my table.
We were there to talk business. She wore a flowing skirt, a Fairtrade paper necklace, and make-up that made her face look pink and fresh.
She brought my documentation – important documentation! It was for my very first home. My excitement might not have been that noticeable tucked away behind my nervousness, but I’m sure my smile gave her a hint. She nodded at me knowingly. First-time buyers were no novelty to her.
She talked about her children, and I relaxed. About how she fits her work life around her children’s schedules and how few clients she takes on so that she can balance both work and family. She was a picture of calm, happiness, health.
I was a little transfixed by her – lawyers don’t usually look like elementary school music teachers in my imagination. But she did. The nice sort of music teacher who sits cross-legged on the carpet with her guitar, or let’s you squish next to her on the seat at the piano. Missing was the hard expression, the hurry, the legal jargon I anticipated. She virtually held my hand as we talked about such unfamiliar things as investment accounts and transfer duties.
I talked a little bit about myself. She sipped her tea and revealed a little more, toying lightly with the paper beads. I thought: if, in another life, I could be another woman, perhaps this is the sort of person I would want to be. She knows exactly where she is, what she’s doing, what she wants. She exuded the kind of good-natured warmth that can only come with contentment, and being loved.
She lives on a beautiful estate, she said, as I signed and signed and signed.
“You should visit there. The main town is a dump, but the nature is beautiful.”
“Yes, the squatter camp is just getting out of control, so I wouldn’t visit the town. Just drive through it.”
“I mean, there’s a lot being done. In the town. You know, a home for HIV, some charity projects, that sort of thing. So that’s good. But these people come in from the Eastern Cape and they just stay. Ja, so you have to get through the yuck that before you come to our side, and then it’s so lovely, you know. You can take your bicycle out, and just cycle as far as you want.”
“When I bought my first house, years ago, I hated the suburban life. Then we came here and it is just the lifestyle I dreamed of. Best of both worlds. I have my country life, but I get to work in a big town. But I do worry about the problems that are coming up. Those people living so close to our area.”
I had started to hurry, tried not to talk anymore. I felt a coward, but I was exhausted and a little scared. I had just signed all my money away. I noticed, with alarm, just how pale her hand was, as she reached over and took the pen from mine. My dark hand, my brown hand, my black hand. Our hands touched.
“You’re lucky to be buying in this complex,” she added as she made to leave. “The owners are like Jews. You know what I mean. They hold on tight to their things. So this one coming up for sale is such a stroke of luck.”
As she leaves, the fresh, autumn smell has disappeared. A strange sense of rot seems to have replaced it. An earthy and ancient rot that I’ll never be able to properly wash from the hand she touched. The cafe, with its distressed white walls and the distressed white patrons, has shrunk since I first sat down. I notice, for the first time, peeling paint and the specks in the mirror on the wall, the chip in my coffee cup.
Why hadn’t I noticed it when I came in?