I walked into Rika's apartment a little after 3pm yesterday. The appointment was set for 2:45pm, but a young driver wandering around unknown parts of the city can be easily forgiven, or so she said.
I'm always thirsty for easy forgiveness, so I didn't argue much on that. Besides, I know at least enough not to argue with someone whose three times my age, and very astute for the average 91year old. I whisper a silent prayer in awe: God, let me be that way at 91, or not at all! This is Rika Hodgson. Veteran ANC stalwart.
And so she launches into her animated chat about the days of old; you know, when you could hide a bottle of whiskey in an old typewriter, and share it with a friend of another race, even if there was the scare of the Immorality Act hanging over their heads. But not before she has made absolutely sure of the fact that I am comfortably seated with the sun from the large bay windows swathing me in a welcome embrace, and a steaming cup of tea settled withing close reach from my notebook and pen.
I scribble and try to repaint in few words the enigmatic imagery that she spurts forth in words and facial expressions, almost as if I am being let in on secrets never told before; sometimes she takes for granted that I may not have lived a time as that. She clucks incessantly at the realisation. I release a sigh of apology.
I am quickly forgiven, and the stories unfold once again. Mr & Mrs Jack Hodgson. Their journeys into Botswana, Tanzania, India and beyond. The Pahads, the Cachalias, the Sisulus and the rest of the lineage of the anti-apartheid struggle reveals itself in yet another thread of narrative. I make fervent notes. My voice recorder laps up the milk and cream of the voice and word content of this dialogue. It retells the story to me hours later, when I have returned to my desk in a less quieter part of Jozi.
Another dotted line is drawn, making for a tangible thread between her apartment in the North and my room in the centre of Johannesburg. Voices echo around me, bouncing off the walls, tempting me to make something of them. I am impatient, but its still not the time to write. Patience.
I relive the last few moments of my visit. The endless books. The endless rays of afternoon sunlight. I got invited to stay for her six o'clock gin and tonic; said with a rather mischievous grin to highlight her ample wit, as I was leaving. Ah, I know that you don't drink, she said in reply to my laughter. Everything works around traffic, here in Jozi. I had to leave, anyway... But in many ways, I stayed.
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