Catching a taxi to Soweto is much easier in the early morning. I ask to be dropped off at the Jabavu library. I hope it is still there.
When the taxi stops I sigh with relief. There it is looking like the head of a crocodile. The sloping roof above the red brick looks like the top of the open mouth and the extension towards the back makes the bottom jaw. The white painted plaster wall looks like the crocodile is wearing a scarf over his ears with the red brick continuing on the other side.
Tears come to my eyes and I don’t know why. The library is like an old friend I haven’t seen for many years. I get out of the taxi looking all around. The trees have grown big. They were just babies when I was little.
It is eight o’ clock in the morning and the library is not open yet. The hours are displayed outside. I can come back any day between 9am and 5pm.
I turn towards the direction of my old home. Things look different but the same. I pass the Methodist Church and the old age home. I take a short cut through the parking yard and then start looking for our old house.
I don’t recognise it. One house that seems to be in the right place looks like it might be my old home but a building has been added to the front where the door used to be and the entrance is now on the side. Instead of the sandy hard earth I remember, somebody has planted grass. A little girl of about four is sitting on the grass talking to a dirty stuffed zebra. Her mother calls from inside the house and she runs inside, dragging the zebra by its tail.
I feel empty. The garden seems desolate without the little girl. There is nothing here for me here. I don’t know what I expected. Some sign of Baba perhaps? Some sign that we ever lived here. I turn away in disappointment.
The next couple of days are equally disappointing. It is more difficult to find a job in Soweto than I thought. My skinny frame and small stature don’t inspire much confidence, I suppose.
I walked to the animal clinic on Tuesday. I was glad to see its blue roof and blue pillars. I was tired and thirsty. My water bottle was empty. I had my cat bag over my shoulder and at first the people in the queue thought it was a real cat. I looked around for a tap so I could fill my water bottle. I saw one against the side of the colourful building. I walked over and filled my bottle. I gulped down quite a lot of water so I refilled the bottle and put it in my bag. At least I’d wouldn’t get thirsty on the way back.
My eyes widened when I walked into the building. It was very crowded. Animal noises made it difficult for anybody to talk so the man at the front of the queue had to shout. He had a goat with him with a rope around its neck. It looked dirty. I wondered if that’s where the smell came from. Mostly there were dogs. I didn’t see any cats. A big brown dog with matted hair was barking at the goat and stretching his leash trying to bite him. I was glad I wasn’t the man in the torn jacket who was trying to hold him. He didn’t look like a friendly dog.
I recognised some of the posters that I had seen at the vet in Sandton on the walls. I wasn’t sure if I could just go up to the lady at the front and ask if there was a job for me or whether I should wait my turn in the queue. I waited.
By the time it was my turn, the goat and almost all the dogs had gone but the smell remained. Sweat ran down my back and I wished there was more air in the room.
I looked at the lady behind the desk who had been organising the people and writing down in a big book and taking money. She was a big mama in a crumpled brown skirt with a sweat stained white shirt. As I stepped forward, my mouth went dry and my “Sawubona” was very soft. “Is there perhaps a job for me here?” I asked politely. My stomach was all tied in a knot. “Maybe I can help with the animals, maybe hold them while the vet is busy with them?” My heart was beating fast.
“We can certainly use help,” she said, wiping her brow with the back of her hand, “but we are a charity organisation and there isn’t money to pay anybody extra. I’m sorry. I know you have been waiting a long time.” I turned away, dejected.
The journey back seemed longer and I was grateful for the water. I used some of my remaining money to buy bread.
On Wednesday it rained. It was too wet to stay where I had been near the river so I went to the Gold Reef shopping mall, both to stay out of the rain...