by Candice Morrow
Often I wonder about what Umlungu is, it’s a small wonder to me and I learn everyday.
As I near the taxi, door wide open and everyone going about their business pretending not to notice me, I could feel their stares and see the knowing glances exchanged between the vendors by the way-side. I hadn’t been to this rank in a few years and it felt good to take the sights in, memories flooding my mind and a wry smile creeping into my heart. Nothing had changed, the stands where brimming with fruit and iced juice, everyone screaming at the top of their lungs in harmonious accord. I find myself wishing a Tsotsi would try his luck on an old lady’s purse, but duly reprimand myself.
Peering into the taxi I see there are only three vacant seats. I say, “Molweni” and the two ladies I would be sharing a seat with exchange glances, the cheekier of the two mumbles, “Morning.” Its afternoon but I wasn’t there to discuss time zones. I steal a glance at the two women, next to me is a robust lady who isn’t happy about me sitting there, arms crossed over her hefty chest, a frown living on her strong brow. I find myself thinking, “Do robust “Pondo” women have to be boisterous?” I dare not ask, she could snap me in equal halves with a only stare. The lady next to her is timid and tries to peak curiously at me in vain and whispers something inaudible to her friend, who is no Kate Moss.
In a loud voice, ” Robust” unashamedly belts out “Asibazi abelungu bafunani ezitaxini besosiqhibela indawo nje.” The taxi is in giggles and hushed tones in an instant. I suspect I’m the supposed mlungu in this taxi although I’m not taking up anyone’s space. Views are aired and stories of the state of umlungu in the new South Africa are exchanged with excitement. All agree that I have no business being in a taxi, my forefathers should’ve left a hefty inheritance from the land and livestock their ancestors were robbed of. I pray that my phone rings and it doesn’t, I’d never seen these faces before but they knew my story like I never would. I scratch my hair, and realise it is still the dense, coiled African hair that I had before boarding the taxi. In my little soliloquy I remind myself that these foolish women know no better.
I’m wrenched from my thoughts by a familiar voice saying, “Molweni bethunana, andisatshanga lilanga kulo Mthata.” I look up and she recognises my face and I smile at her. Excited she looks at me and asks, “Hayi bo Candy, nguwe lo mntan‘am? Oh akasakhule umntana ka Zoleka, yini yini.” She would’ve thrown her arms around me if it weren’t for the seats separating us. I laugh and answer, “Yintoni ude wothuke kangaka na mfazi?” We exchange pleasantries while the women next to me look far out the window, humiliation does have a face after all.
She turns to them, “Niyayazi intombi kaNomzoli yokuqala? Yiyo le uCandy.” (pronounced Khendi). I smile, look them in the eyes and say, “Hayi andiqondi ukuba siyazana.” They couldn’t have known me. The taxi is silent and the tension could be heard by the deaf and seen by the blind. All watching and waiting for their response, when it did come it was not what one would have expected. The lady in the far corner replied, “Lo esisebenza naye, unabantwana abangabelungu na?” I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard this, they were my mother’s colleuges then. The shame on their faces couldn’t be matched to anything I’d seen in my years of life. Victory!
I’m far from white, I’m just a good old Xhosa-speaking coloured young lady who just wanted a ride home. My distinctly African hair belies any white connotations associated with me.