blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



The Tar Road

Boys stand with road-sore feet holding cardboard suitcases. They stand clustered, but not in a group. They’re not together. They don’t talk into the wind; they only wait on the brake lights that so rarely happen. Still, every new car or bakkie or combi or lorry is a new hope, rising and dying like a beating heart glowing and then spending itself on the pavement, only to live again when the next one comes. Out there in their best clothes, trying to get to the school deep in the veld. At certain moments in the early afternoon the tar road looks like it’s burning. A boy kneels and sniffs. There’s always one who thinks he can tell how much longer it will be by smelling the road.

“Stupid,” another says.

“Not stupid, science. It’s about air currents near the pavement’s surface. They change when—”

“Ai, go on.”

“Where? Go on where?”

They’re hungry, but you don’t want to pull out food, because no one would want to be caught chewing if the miracle of car does stop. Imagine a comfortable ride in a bucket seat with the radio playing. They keep their bread in their pockets. Boys have it worst. They are chosen last, after old mammies, mothers with babies, old men. Most of the time their only option is a lorry. Lorries don’t stop, they only slow down, just long enough for the boys to toss their bundles and leap, before the driver shifts gears and accelerates again. Klim op! Then they huddle against each other in the wind and wait for it to be over, as the lorry gains speed and begins to cross bridge after bridge over the dry rivers.

From The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown, 2006) previous  |  next

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