Fabulous Ordinary Things

Spring is a dramatic and lovely season in many places – I think about an April in Kingston when there were so many blossoms in the air that I had to keep shaking them out of my hair!

But Spring in Cape Town is a bit of a mood-swinging cabaret. It has resigned residents shedding or adding layers while the sun, wind and rain keep shouldering each other out of limelight.

Against this backdrop, three small, ordinary things happened today, but they felt extraordinary.

The first: I catch an early train to work and it’s lovely. There are free seats, no-one is crowding me, so I have space to write a little before it begins filling up. By the time we reach Heathfield there’s only one place left opposite me; a mom takes it, seating her 3-yr-old daughter on her lap.

It’s time to read, but I have a strong feeling that I’m being scrutinised. Looking over the book, I see the little one studying me; everything – from my walking shoes to my sunglasses – gets a long, grave inspection. I smile at her, but she’s not falling for overt attempts to buy her approval. I carry on reading with one eye, watching with the other as she studies my bracelet, my ring, even my bag.

We’re approaching Claremont where I’m going to get off, but it’s not to be. Metrorail (and whatever malevolent force get its fun out of punking commuters) has our train grinding to a stop between stations.

And so we wait. The little one isn’t concerned; she’s not on a schedule. While commuters start to mutter and buzz, she decides it’s time to show me that she’s a woman of substance.

Unzipping her pink, perfect backpack, she flourishes a selection of her worldly goods for me to see. Her greatest treasure is both pretty and practical: a lime-green travelling sippy-cup filled with cool milk. It’s important you know that this entire demonstration happens without a word. Silently, but with careful precision, she demonstrates the cunning lid to double-guard against spills, then the twist mechanism that allows for sipping. Two long and satisfying draughts of milk, then twist shut, recap and back into the bag; plus, a knowing look that says: “you have lip-gloss, but you are stuck on a train with no sustenance – hah.”

It took 40 minutes to move 20 metres to the station where I got off and took my humbled self to the office.

The next thing was a moment that’s hard to describe, you had to be there. We have a short working lunch at Josephine Mill and I wander down the stairs to a little platform beside the mill-stream. Under the trees, no wind, bubbling water, bunches of newly-opened red clivias at my feet and warm sun pouring through transparent new leaves.

The last thing happens at Newlands Station while I wait for a train home. Two middle-aged men in worn working clothes stand facing each other over the lines. They’re having a long and hilarious conversation; clearly good friends catching up. Usually this would drive commuters a bit crazy (you have to SHOUT to be heard on another platform) but this entire exchange happens in sign-language.

The only sounds are laughter.

mill wheel    Clivia miniata flowering in spring in the forest along the Bashee River on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Images from flckr and www.colinpatersonjones.co.za

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