“Ja, ek weet. I know. We grew up very different,” I said. “But South Africa has changed. The color of our skins shouldn’t matter anymore. What matters is that we have fun together. We share the same interests, have the same values. We’re good friends, and we could be more,” I said, trying to reason with Shakil.
“It won’t work,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Your parents will never accept me.”
“How do you know? My parents never really got the whole apartheid thing. It was different in Angola. That’s why they sent me to Catholic school, the only ones brave or stupid enough to defy the government and accept children of all races. They don’t believe in that crap and neither do I. I see people. I don’t see their skin. I don’t see your skin color. I see you,” I told him.
“That’s the problem,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I retorted.
“You don’t hang out with your own kind. All your friends are black or colored or Indian. Don’t you have any white friends?”
“My friends are like our rainbow nation,” I joked. And then retorted a little more defensively: “And I do have white friends!”
“How come I haven’t met any of them?” Shakil asked.
He had a point.
I’d never deliberately kept my white friends from Shakil. But when I got people together for a braai (barbeque), I invited people I knew would get on with him. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d never invited any white people. Now, I realized, he felt as if I was somehow ashamed of him and didn’t want my white friends to meet him. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real issue was that I never felt completely comfortable around my white friends. All of them were ninth or tenth generation South Africans, and with the exception of one friend whose parents had been anti-apartheid activists, most of them had struggled to adapt to the new, multicultural South Africa. They still saw black people with suspicion and felt that a black-run government would, sooner or later, turn South Africa into just another African disaster. As we neared the end of our studies, many were talking of emigrating.
I didn’t share their views or their politics. Even though I also held a Portuguese passport, I had no intention of leaving. I might only be a first-generation South African, but this was home. This was where I belonged.
As time went on, I began disassociating from my white friends. It was just easier than constantly arguing about politics or dealing with their disillusions. It was easier than feeling judged that I didn’t hold the “right” views, whatever those might be. I just didn’t belong in that world.
In contrast, my colored friends welcomed me into their homes and their lives with such love and warmth. I met their families, I stayed over in their homes and ate biryani – a popular hybrid Cape Malay and Indian rice and mutton stew – and koesusters, a spicy fried dough rolled in syrup and coconut. I loved their accent and their code switching from English to Afrikaans, their deep sense of humor, even in the face of adversity or disaster, and their pragmatic and jovial approach to life. These were all the things I loved about Shakil.
I realized that I’d lost myself in my thoughts and had stopped listening to what he was trying to say to me.
“Maybe you think you’re ready for this,” he was saying. “But South Africa isn’t and if we get married and have kids, they’ll have a tough time at school, being teased about their parents. And I want to marry a colored woman. I don’t want to waste your time,” he said with a tone of finality.
And that was it.
Shakil and I remained friends for several years, until he finally met the woman who would become his wife and the mother of his son. Yes, she was colored.
(to be continued…)
In the Middle – An International Transposition (Fiction)
Introduction to In the Middle – An International Transposition, edited by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey
January: Forgetting – Turkey, by Seyit Ali Dastan
February: The Unreal in Real – Armenia, by Armine Asryan
March: Catching Water – Argentina, by Javier Gómez
April: Unwanted – South Africa, by Sarah Leah Pimentel
May: House with a Stucco Ship – Ukraine, by Gennady Bondarenko
June: A Girl Pedaling up the Road of Life – Cuba, by Marilin Guerrero Casas
July: The Last Day – Poland, by Pawel Awdejuk
August: Through my Hands – Venezuela, by Veronica Cordido
September: Amelia’s Euphemism – Spain, by Jonay Quintero Hernández
October: Until Love Do Us Part – Uruguay, by Alejandra Baccino
November: A Journey to the Edge – Lebanon, by Rayan Harake
December: I Used to Smoke – Russia, by Kate Korneeva
Background – Context
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
More work by Toni Wallis
Living for Today – Toni Wallis (transposing emblem)
Walls and Resettlement – Toni Wallis (transposing emblem)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Hillcrest, South Africa – Illuminated – Mike Saunders (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed