Mr. Potato Head grumbled along the route from Pringle Bay back home, taking the climbs and descents in stride, weaving his way around the beautiful coastal road. The mountains on the right stretch up toward the clouds…green slopes…rock…fynbos undulating in turn beyond the driver side window.
She was clearly someoneâ€™s maid, just hoping for a ride home from work and it made me smile when she said she was going to Gordonâ€™s Bay. We were too and I donâ€™t believe in coincidence. A friend of hers was also trying to catch a ride just ten feet up the road, a fragile looking man — a skeleton with skin and a baseball cap. I wondered if she often helped him get rides because people are more comfortable picking up women than men. Did they do this every day?
He didnâ€™t speak much English but he was grateful when I shared one of the cookies I was giving the Bear with him. He received it with both hands and ate it very slowly and it made me sad. I wanted him to have another but he didnâ€™t. Since I had trouble understanding him and wasnâ€™t certain he spoke much English my conversation turned towards her again. She was well-spoken.
The Bear chitter-chattered and grumbled about the heat and the wind coming through the windows, unsatisfied with the cookies and toys on offer and our conversation turned to children. She looked my age, maybe a little younger. From Zimbabwe, and she has a son. Four years old. She has twin sisters, too, younger. They are back in Zimbabwe and so is her son.
We usually take the route over the mountains instead of the coastal road when weâ€™re coming back in this direction, so we’ve never gone this way before. It is strange how the change in perspective, taking the same road but going the opposite way, makes things look totally different. I sat still for a moment and faced forward, watching slopes, rock, fynbos pass by on the right, and occasionally getting glimpses on my left down the cliffs to the ocean that was at some points a good 200 feet below. Too far to hear the waves crashing with the windows open. The road was remarkably different traveling this way.
Her sonâ€™s name is Shinto, I think. I canâ€™t remember for sure. He is still in Zimbabwe, and she hasnâ€™t seen him for a year. I try hard to picture him in my mind. Every month she sends some of the money she makes back to her family there. I think about how the decision for her to come here came about and the narrative plays over the screen of my imagination and it’s sad.
The gentleman beside her looks like he could tell a million stories. I wish I could understand him well enough to listen to them.
I face forward again and am plunged into deep, heart-sore thoughts. I turn to tell her my sister is in America, and thatâ€™s where I am from. In my thoughts I marvel at how different our experiences as foreigners in South Africa must be. My sister is having a baby soon and I donâ€™t know when I will get to meet him or her. We donâ€™t know yet whether it will be a boy or a girl, but I hope itâ€™s a girl. Back in my thoughts I feel certain I will at least meet the baby at Christmas, and see my family, and I remember how much I have to be thankful for, and what little reason for complaint.
Mr Potato Head finally arrives outside the gates of our complex. Mark announces that this is where we stop. Our passengers are grateful and quickly get out to head on their way. I stare at the skinny gentleman walking away. He is so thin and I want to do more for him than a ride and a cookie. I wonder if we might someday give away shoes in Zimbabwe. Perhaps this woman could come along and see her son.
We are driving in one direction but two strings in my heart are being pulled in another.