There’s never quite a summer like a Durban summer.
Each November I anticipate the heat with growing dread. I begin preparations by checking that the air-conditioning units are working, that their remotes have batteries and that all stocks of insect repellent are replenished. Next everything gets moved to the fridge; flour, spices and even the bread. Anything that is not safely inside the fridge will sprout legs in the heat and run off.
The creepy crawlies arrive gradually beginning with the ants then a few mosquitos, then some lizards until eventually there’s a swarm of flies on everything. By mid-December the wood bores are flourishing and every surface inside is littered with tiny wings in the morning. But a Durban summer is not complete without the giant flying cockroach that leaves me, even to this day, running hysterically for cover. By mid-season the roads are as full as the beaches and you’re confronted with a GP number plate at every turn. Queues build up at the mall, at restaurants and even the bank. There’s chicken bones and broken glass on the road and in the sand. At this point the humidity is so high that strangers are drawn to one another without meaning to and they stand together in a sweaty unhappy mess. And by January the air conditioner has packed up and the repairman who promises to fix it never arrives.
It is about at this time that I seriously reconsider living in this city. In fact I seriously reconsider living at all, tearing my hair out whilst fanning myself and dodging flying cockroaches in the relentless afternoon heat. And it’s right about then when the heat has become unbearable and I’ve decided to buy a one-way ticket to some Northern country, I hear a rumble in the sky and a second later the pitter-patter of rain fills the air. And then just like that I am reminded about what I love about summer in Durban. Afternoon storms that send a hiss around the city as everything cools down, running out barefoot to the garden to get clothes off the line. Bunches of dusky pink litchis at street corners, golden mangoes sitting heavy in trees, giant watermelons rumbling on the back of fruit tucks and eating peaches with the juice running down our hands. Summer in Durban means secret swims in the neighbour’s pool while they’re off on holiday in India. It means wading into the warm Indian ocean smelling of sunblock as wave after wave hits you and scampering onto the hot burning sand searching for towels. It means sitting on crinkled newspapers in the car covered in sand eating melting vanilla ice cream cones from North beach. It means long days that never end and planting bright summer flowers for the new season with my parents in the garden. It means library books and cousins from Jo’burg and meat burnt black on the braai. It means nostalgia and promise all at once. I means this city with all its heat and humidity is truly my own.
And I realise then that summer in Durban might be unbearable but there’s nothing else like it.
Shubnum Khan is the author of Onion Tears (Penguin). The novel was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing and the University of Johannesburg Debut Fiction Prize.
(Originally published in the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, 09 January 2016)