A never ending sun; early mornings, late nights, the sun a liquid line always on the horizon. Great bunches of rose-tinged litchis at every intersection, hunks of watermelon in hands and meat burnt black on the braai.
Cape Salmon: 79.99
The hottest Christmas day we’d ever known. 40 degrees some said. Felt closer to 45.
Sagar’s dad from down the road, and his wife (she sells Herbal life now, she told me when I met her at the entrance to the gym – I hate meeting people at the gym, especially when I’m leaving. I also hate meeting people at the grocery store after gym, except that one time I met Him and he had a baby and it was so good to see how happy he was). Saanthie. Yes, that’s her name Saanthi. She and Saagar’s dad were sitting on fold-up plastic chairs in the garden, him in his vest and her in her slip, eating watermelon and they waved at us as we went by and I thought, it doesn’t get better than that.
It’s all going downhill from Christmas – the whole town knows it. Hier kom ‘n ding. But we don’t say things like that here, in fact we never say things like that. We say something in Zulu or in our own slang. So hot. So hot and all. How like this? Too hot. Wring the hands a little. Wipe the brow. Fond of our little dramatics. We know it’s just the beginning. The heat has a hold and it’s not going to let go. We’ve been here before.
The Ola ice cream van blaring his loudspeaker through the streets but they say the man pees in the bush on the side of the road, behind the grounds and who wants a man who pees on the side of the road to serve them ice cream? But that’s an old story and not everyone knows it and still some kids run out with R5 in their hand.
Remember those summers when the neighbours went to India (they were still married then; before he changed and she didn’t) we used to climb over their gate and sneak into their pool and break the best ripe yellow mangos from the tree and swim underwater like fish (bruised the knuckle on the left hand from the concrete floor – always get a shell; more expensive but kinder to the body) and come up to eat more mangos, the yellow sticky sweetness between our hands. We used to lie on the hot bricks and cook like crabs with no worries in the world except which book to start reading first from the library.
Those were our best summers.
Everyone is sticky as we pack into the car. There’s something wrong with the air conditioner. I roll down the windows. Too hot. Too many bloody queues. The sunblock is making everyone sticky and unhappy but at least we smell nice. We smell like childhood. This coconut fresh smell. S has sweat dripping down her face. What if she has a fever? Oh god, she always has fevers and in this heat I wont be able to tell and then she’ll roll back and froth at the mouth and she will have brain damage and… I wipe her down with a wet wipe. I give her lots of water. I’m a good pretend mother.
Although I did close her fingers in the window once.
We sit in shorts and bikinis and rash vests and smile and clap for the dolphins. Heat-stroke. We’re going to get heat stroke.
Ice creams. Orange paddle pops. Soft serves. Anything is better than water – the water’s always too warm. Dipped cones. Always the flake first. Remember those summers when the cousins came from Johannesburg and we swam in the ocean in yellow swimming costumes and there was sand in our costumes and sand in our hair and sand in our mouths and we were digging and digging like our lives depended on it and there were toffee apples and candy corn and giant sugar dummies that always ended up melting in the fridge. And the nights at the movies – do you remember? Old Mutual Centre I think. Maybe Shiraz? We saw the Terminator and I left my black bomber jacket on the seat and we never found it no matter how we searched and then there were the lights of the funfair and the dodgem cars and more ice cream and the city sliding past in a blur of lights and buildings.
Back on the beach and there’s abba, and he’s holding my hand and I’m holding on for dear life because there’s a wave coming but he’s stronger than anything in the world and nothing can move him. Nothing. Water in my eyes and my nose and I’m gasping but still we’re standing. The world is wet and spiky.
‘Hold on, hold on, here comes another one!’
He never lets me down.
The beach is a long line of burning sand. The smell of salt. Braais on the grass. On the sand. Lukewarm coke. Biryanis on paper plates. Sun-hats. The grime of sand and sweat and humidity. There’s a chicken buried in the beach sand. Flies. The tinkle of the ice cream bell. Can’t see much in this heat, everything is a blur. Too exhausting to move. Still, one must. North beach is run down. I hate the stupid ice cream parlour. GP number plates in every parking spot. Hotels are full. The windows light up the sky at night. Why do you have jeans on in this heat? Pineapples with chilli powder. Too hot for bunny chows but that sleep after a jumah lunch though.
I want to wear shorts.
Caminettos is too busy. Still. We’re there. Sunkist has good food but you remember she got sick there once? ‘Don’t buy take out in this heat.’ We should wash the floors today. We need to empty the dishwasher. Why are the floors always dirty? Randerees is so full. But their meat portions are getting smaller, did you notice? We should complain. Look, all I want to do is wear pyjamas all day. Or shorts. I just want to wear shorts. When will the air conditioner be fixed? We need to take the visitors out. You need to bake biscuits. It’s so hot to drive. We need to wash the floors again.
Cockroaches at blue lagoon. Scuttling flying. The fear of them crawling in your room at 2am adds to the relentless humidity. Every year: I will face this fear. The faint scent of the dump up over the hill. Crickets begging for rain. Sudden soft late afternoon showers. We run barefoot in the grass to gather the clothes off the line. The smell of earth rising.
Petrichor, its called.
There’s too many mosquitos at night. The worst ones; tiny and lethal, they make your arms swell in patchy white blotches that burn. I can never see them. It’s exhausting. When will they come to fix the air conditioner?
Early mornings in the pool – today the flowers from the palm trees like a blessing on the surface of the water. When my body breaks the water I tell myself it is a prayer. That everything passes and the future is waiting for me to finally grasp it. Wet swimming costumes dripping on the line. Burnt backs and arms. A child’s arm floater in the water. The scramble for the shower. No one to pick me up anymore, now I pick out the kids, wipe their small bodies as they shiver and shudder, their lips turning blue.
Long nights with open windows. Bloody mosquitos everywhere. Bloody cockroaches. Bloody heat. Prayers for cooler nights. For repairmen to arrive. Prayers for rain.
The neighbour’s in their underclothes eating watermelon in the garden waving as you pass by.
Sweat. The smell of salt. An endless ocean with burning sand. A liquid sun always lining the horizon.
This is summer in Durban.