A crescent moon hangs over the steel airplane wing. Three stars are visible in the morning sky. A smear of red runs under the ailerons, and the clouds below look cauliflower heads in cream sauce. We dip below the cover and I can see my first glimpse of the African continent. It is red. Red earth, red roofs, red rivers. As we begin to circle Johannesburg I imagine that from 15,000 feet it looks like a rusty circuit board.
We land. I disembark, collect my luggage, and head out to the passenger pick-up area. Francis’ friend Karin is there to meet me, which is a relief. After some false starts (improper change for the parking machine, apparent disappearance of area 2J of the garage), we drive into Johannesburg.
I would like to report that I spent the drive marvelling at the flock of happy giraffe that loped alongside our vehicle waving their hooves in welcome, or the sound of exuberant song rising out of every home, or the playful baby elephant spraying water on its dusty brother while a Masai warrior stood to the side under a heavy African sun. These things may have been there for me to observe and cherish, but I was consumed with terror at every turn we took through traffic. Did you know that in Johannesburg they drive on the left side of the street? Do you know how alarming it is to be the passenger in a car driving in said manner?
Karin takes me to her friend’s house – a fellow teacher who has graciously offered to let me shower and nap there while Karin finishes her work day. We arrive, Karin introduces me to the maid, and she goes back to work for the day. I have the most satisfying shower of my life, heightened by a sense of comeuppance (this shower, at least, is for ‘people like us’). I fall into a deep slumber that is interrupted many hours later by the voice of Cameron, the five year old girl whose mother’s bed I am asleep in.
I dress quickly, feeling utterly disoriented and go out into the main room. I down three glasses of water. Next, I settle in for the kind of interrogation only a five year old can conceive of. “Do you like to swim? When was the last time you played soccer? Where do you love?” This last one stumps me. “I’m sorry – what are you asking?” Cameron is impatient: “Love! Where do you love?” It crosses my mind that this kid is ridiculously deep for one so young and then it hits me. “I live in an apartment in Toronto.”