Johannesburg - 19th September 2018 - Day 2
We’re awake at 3.30 am, and Gerald reads whilst I delight in being horizontal, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody to attend to. There’s a heat wave happening, although its early spring, and we’ve slept with our doors wide open; Cindy assures us we are absolutely safe in this secure compound.
Gerald has a headache and spends a relaxing day exploring the gardens and the house. Cindy and I, armed with duty free gin, tonic water, crystal glasses, sliced lemon, sprigs of mint, and a bag of ice, head out to see my Aunty Dot MacGillivray, who two years ago, moved into an Aged Care Residence in Veltevreden Park. Aunty Dot and her husband Len, were my parents closest friends when we went to live in Northern Rhodesia from Cape Town in 1957, so she is not my ‘real’ Aunty, but as my parents family all lived in England, she and Uncle Len became our adopted family. That relationship has spanned almost 65 years, across countries and continents, and survived dramas and deaths and countless shared celebrations and holidays.
I called earlier today to ask the staff to advise her of our visit, and she is waiting patiently. Her back is to me, so I call her name, but she is deafer than ever, and does not turn around, so I call again, with no response. I gently touch her shoulder and she turns, her blue eyes lighting up in joy and we wrap our arms around each other, and I cry silent tears into her neck; she pats my back as soundly as one pats a beloved dog, and she repeats my name “Oh jong, Sandra, oh my word, Sandra, oh Sandra. Jeepers!” Her familiar language, her favourite words, I recall the rhythm of her speech, and I wish my Mother was here. She says, as if she read my mind “I wish your Mom and Dad were here right now!” Cindy leaves to attend to business, and Aunty Dot proudly shows me her orchids she grows in her small garden. She moves with surprising dexterity for an almost 90 year old and although she has a cane, and uses a walker, I have to stop her lifting garden chair indoors for me to sit on. She talks non stop, and I listen, and when I brandish the gin bottle, she laughs out loud in delight. I ask is it contraband here in this place, are we doing something illegal, like two kids smoking behind the shed? She sits, hugging the large stuffed koala and wearing the blue pashmina (to match her eyes) I have brought her, I hand her a large - but weak - gin, and her eyes close in contentment, she parodies inhaling the gin, and lifts her glass heavenward and toasts “To Tom and Vera and Len!”
In this room, filled with her Mboya display cabinet, butler’s trolley, dressing table and bed, I sit and listen, for two hours. It is hard for me to speak, as she simply cannot hear, despite her hearing aids, and not unless I put my mouth right next to her ear. She pours out a narrative of grief and loss and sadness; her youngest son Allan died two years ago of a massive heart attack, leaving behind his grieving partner Glenn, whom she refused to recognise. From her point of view, the funeral was a disaster, the sympathy was all for Glenn, whom she ignored, and she felt ‘left out’. Her older son Richard has tried repeatedly to rectify this matter, which further embittered her and their relationship is now sadly estranged. She talked of her husband, her sister, who lives in this same complex - also estranged - and to my relief, finally of the many happy memories our families shared over the years. When I mention her 90th birthday next year, she says “I hope I am not here for that, Sandra.” My heart aches, this once vibrant, cricket mad, determined, life of the party Aunt of mine will probably die lonely and alone. It’s 5 pm and time for her to go to dinner, and I escort her to the dining room, where she farewells me and points me to the exit where she says Cindy will be waiting. I know it is not, I can see it is not, but she is insistent, and I turn left - she yells “Sandra, go left!” I obey knowing this is the wrong place, and once I am sure she has retreated, retrace my footsteps. But I am hopelessly lost, I am redirected by three different people in three different directions, then I meet a man with a big three legged dog - it gets curioser and curioser. He stops to talk, and I ask if dogs are allowed in this place? He nods, yes they are, you are allowed two small dogs. But - this is a big dog? He nods yes again, but it weighs the same as two small dogs. I burst out laughing and finally find my way out through the dining room, hoping Aunty Dot doesn’t see me and yell that I’m going the wrong way.
Cindy is waiting to drive us home, and the traffic is heavy. I notice the differences between this visit and our last visit: today the cars on the road are largely new, and there are lots of BMW’s and Mercedes Benz’s, driven by the new black middle class. The up market shopping centre we visited this morning to purchase a SIM card for our phone was populated with prosperous, looking well dressed black people shopping and eating in stylish restaurants. The houses we drive past all seem to have two or more people working or building in the gardens, the streets here are cleaner and whilst there are still beggars, there appear to be less. Ominously, at several traffic lights are large warning signs “BLACK SPOT FOR SMASH AND GRAB!”
Back at The Castle, we sit in one of the comfortable lounge areas overlooking the pool on huge comfortable sofas, eating sushi with Cindy, Paul and Ryan. I give Cindy the gifts we have brought; treasures I have loved for decades, silver napkin rings, a spoon and forks, a silver vase which was my mother’s and her white linen table napkins, a French linen table cloth. She receives them with tears in her eyes, and I know I have gifted them well. The conversation is animated with lots of laugher and lots of teasing; its a happy family night.