March 20, 2009

Life under Law

I usually have a short break when the clinic closes but before my after-school English class starts. I was hungry the other day and stopped in a fast-food place I almost never frequent.

I had been there once before to order all the meat pies for our Game Day last December and the owner/franchisee was sitting behind the counter and recognized me so we exchanged greetings, perfunctorily of course; it’s not like we’re best pals. He didn’t look very happy. He was just sitting behind the counter, watching his employees work. He’s white. They are all black.

As I was scarfing down my snack on the picnic table outside, he came to speak with me. Apparently our business dealings in December convinced him I was a worthy conversation partner. Or maybe it was my skin colour.

“Do you know any white girls?” he asked.

Where is this going? I thought.

“I need someone to help behind the counter. These ones I’ve got right now they rob me blind. I have to sit and watch them all day. I’ve been back there since December and haven’t had any break. I need someone to help when I want a vacation.”

I thought about it for a moment and realized I didn’t know a single young white woman and not that many older ones either. There are white people in Mthatha but they’re not part of my daily life. I do know plenty of educated, intuitive, stunning, vivacious, thoughtful, playful, hard-working, honest, caring young women but they’re all black.

He added: “It could be a man, I guess.” It was clear it had to be a white man.

I honestly told him I couldn’t think of anyone. He seemed disappointed and asked me to keep an eye out. I won’t.

Walking away, I wondered how I could have handled the interaction better and tried to broaden his horizons a bit.

Obviously, this has a lot to say about race relations in this country. What I found myself dwelling on the most, however, was how clearly and simply it demonstrates what a life completely devoid of Grace and completely dependent on Law looks like.