Thursday afternoon, South Africa
I arrive at school and go to my wife’s office. Deb comes in to tell her that a student at the school just had her house robbed. Men had held her father up at gunpoint at the petrol station, made him drive the back to his house, where they loaded up his valuables in his car and left with it. You hear stories like this everyday lately, she says.
I go to play rehearsal where middle schoolers are learning to waltz. When asked if they want to move on and learn the dance to their chosen song, “Uptown Funk,” they say they’d rather keep on and perfect the waltz.
I drive home, on my guard. I move into the other lane gently to give pedestrians space. I notice the black woman driving behind me gives them a wider berth and I wonder if people will think I’m disrespectful or racist based on how much I move over for walkers. There are hundreds of people walking between Fourways and Diepsloot. Buses honk at them, but no one is willing to fork over money for a ride. It is a long walk. I see a man begging on the road, which is not unusual. They are at most intersections. One of them is wearing a shirt and tie and his sign says, “I need money for college.” My heart goes out to him, and I feel manipulated, all in the same breath.
I stop to get pizza. Most patrons in the restaurant are white. A white woman takes my takeout order, asking a black man named Simba to help her with the computer on multiple occasions. Even though he clearly knows more than she does, she proceeds to boss him around, asking him to get her things, criticizing the way he cuts a cake. While I wait, two white men come in from the Montecasino Tactile Response Team. I see it written on their truck. They each have a machine gun, a hand gun, and a knife.
Tomorrow I will have lunch with a black friend, Joseph. I try to think of an appropriate restaurant I could take him to, that wouldn’t feel pretentious or offensive somehow. I can’t think of any.
I leave and see people pulling out of the busy parking lots, directed by black men wearing vests. I see no one tip them, though tips are their entire livelihood.
I drive home into an African sunset. The sun sets on this continent in its own glorious way. There is a fire burning in the distance, as there always is. There is always a fire burning somewhere.