I’m on the train and an elderly woman with no front teeth starts talking to me. Noticing my guitar and thinking it may be a tennis or squash racket, a lengthy conversation ensues. First she tells me about how she comes from a musical family and how in her young day she wanted to be a singer and go overseas (and how she was discouraged from doing so by her parents). “I could’ve been famous today.” she says. She tells me she’s curious to see if her grand-kids will turn out to be singers, musicians or dancers like her. Then she tells me about how rough it was being in a “mixed-race” relationship under apartheid and how she went to jail for it. “Love knows no colour!” she tells me.
Her husband, a white man – passed away 8 months ago and she’s considering whether to scatter his ashes in Gordon’s Bay or at the cemetery where his parents are buried. Once a month, she takes the train to Maitland and from there, a taxi to Milnerton to visit her late husband’s sister who is too old to drive to Sir Lowry’s Pass. In the morning, she ventures the near 3 hour journey just to say hi and then in the afternoon before peak hour, makes the trip back home again.
At length she tells me about her family – how her father was German and how her mother was from St. Helena. She tells me about her German oupa who owned lots of land in Elsiesriver, a “kwaai” man who was much like her.
She offers me a mango flavoured “Smoothies Supa” and announces, “Boetie, I’m on a diet but I eat my sweets!” I ask her what diet it is and she replies, “A buchu diet!” she exclaims, “I buy my herbs and garlic from the Rastas. I boil it in the morning and drink it twice a day. I don’t get sick. But sometimes I’m a bit naughty and eat salty food, I’m not supposed to have salt ’cause it gives me a headache and ’cause of my heart, you see? But I have a cat, this big – so I bought him fish on Saturday and on Sunday I could feel something wasn’t right.”
Just as the train pulls in at Maitland, she buys me a “bompie” from the juice seller and says, “Here Kleintjie, cool yourself off…Fruit Vendor you said it was? I’ll look out for your CD and keep up the good work!”
She gets off and in that moment I wonder if there’s a song somewhere in this.