(One more love note during this honeymoon phase. AB)
Central heating is extremely rare in apartments in Cape Town, despite the fact that winters here are cold. Thus it happened that on my trip here in 2014, when my heated church/office building was closed, I often rode the bus to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, to the V&A mall. The mall provided an escape from my frigid apartment.
I became a semi-regular at a little coffee place there. I would order coffee, sometimes chat with the server if it wasn’t busy, and then sit and write for a while.
Naturally I was anxious to revisit this place of refuge when I arrived back in Cape Town. When I managed to get there, I saw that a few stores that I planned to one day enter were gone. And there is an H&M that I don’t remember from before. But overall, the mall is just the same. The post office, the movie theater, the drug store, the good supermarket were all where I had left them.
And my little coffee shop was still there, too.
As I wandered into the coffee place and drank in the memories, the server on duty looked intently in my direction, smiled and said, “You’re back!” My server was still there. And I was so happy to be remembered.
The last time I was here, part of my internship involved attending sessions of Parliament. On one visit towards the end of my stay, I was having a time getting through security. A Cape Townian who worked in Parliament intervened and volunteered to escort me. Because, he told me, “You are at the church on Greenmarket. I heard you preach at the lunchtime service yesterday.” I struggled to pronounce his name, Mbulelo, even after he repeated it more than once. I jokingly asked what people called him for short. He replied, “People call me Mbulelo.” In that instant I comprehended it all–centuries and continents of information. With great mental exertion, my American tongue pronounced that African name. Em-boo-LAY-lo.
Mbulelo adopted me, briefed me on the political currents, introduced me to his progressive friends, and encouraged me that, of course, if I wanted to come back, then I would.
Well I lost touch with my friend, and this trip I have no plans to visit Parliament. I was excited, though, to have arrived in time for the President’s much-anticipated State of the Nation Address (the “SONA”). The morning after the address there was a public gathering of journalists and public intellectuals to analyze the SONA event.
What a stimulating assembly of thinkers! What a delicious free buffet!
Afterwards, as I was walking down the street away from the event, I heard a voice saying, “Alease, is it you?” I looked, and there was Mbulelo! He said, “I saw you inside and thought, ‘No, it can’t be her.’” But there we both were. What a marvelous happenstance, to run into my old friend! I’m so glad to know that he is still here, still politically engaged, and that he remembers me!
Most stores close around 3 or 4 p.m. on Saturday here, and are not open at all on Sundays. During my last trip to Cape Town, I went out one Saturday exploring and hoping to buy a novel for pre-sleep reading. Before I knew it, hours of exploring had gone by, shops were closing all around me, and I had not found a bookstore or a book to read. I despondently wondered why I had to be the kind of person who always gets distracted from the main thing she’s meant to be doing.
As I tried to navigate my way back towards the direction of my apartment downtown, I remembered that I needed to turn down a street where there were old records on the sidewalk outside of a shop. I found the street, and the shop, and saw that the shop was still open. I felt the kiss of the Lord’s delight in me when a peek inside that old shop revealed that they had used books for sale and novels galore!
That shop turned out to be the super-cheap, used book/music/dvd store that I would return to repeatedly while I was there. The proprietor was a Rastafarian, partly from Jamaica, with long black dreadlocks.
This time around, my student status gives me reciprocity with the University of Cape Town. I have begun using their library and taking their free bus to get from campus to near downtown. I got my bearings after a couple of rides on the bus, and realized that if, instead of turning right towards downtown, I proceeded straight ahead from the bus stop, I would walk right past the spot where my super-cheap, used bookshop used to be. So the other day I walked straight ahead. As I approached the place where the bookshop should be, out onto the sidewalk came a man with dreadlocks tucked into a cap. He smiled as I approached and said, “You’re back!” Holding out his hand to shake mine, he asked, “How is the church?”
Downtown, at the mall, even in the next neighborhood over, my return has been welcomed. How can this be? In all of the United States, I cannot think of a city or town or neighborhood that I might return to and find this kind of warm embrace–especially after only 9 or 10 weeks of acquaintance, with an almost 2 year absence, and a reappearance with a very different look.
(Then, I had long extensions, and was always wrapped up from head to toe for warmth. Now, I have short hair, loose clothes, and eyes shaded from the sun.)
Some people fall in love quickly. It happens so fast that the watching world can hardly believe that the love is legit. How, reasonable people wonder, can you really love someone whom you barely know?
I don’t know. But I know that you can.
Some people can look at you once, twice maybe, and see all the beauty inside of you, and you them; beauty that might be concealed from the myopic gaze of the world; beauty that you yourself barely knew was there. Other people might spend half a lifetime looking, and never see the beautiful you, the wonder of you.
Yes, to know takes a lifetime–and then some, but love happens fast all the time. Like the first time a baby girl is placed in her father’s arms.
In 2014 I came to Cape Town. I saw this place, who it is and how it is, and, miraculously, this place saw me. Love happened. Love is still happening. I marvel at the mystery of it all.