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Moments in Time

On lemons, Doc Martens and relationships

On lemons, Doc Martens and relationships

They have been next-door neighbours for a year, but never really took the time to talk. Now, she’s gone.

I have a tenant, Nthabiseng. She lives in the cottage in my Melville garden. She’s a little shy and I’m a little unsociable. We keep our distance although we do like one another. When we connect, we say things like:

“How was work. Nice hairstyle. Fred, stop barking. Hey, have you tried the new pizza place down the road? Oh, I love your Doc Martens.”

It’s always been a semi-distant relationship.

It was the 26th of March, a day before lockdown, and we had already started social distancing; I noticed her in the garden, picking a lemon off the tree.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Worried,” she replied.

For the first time in a year, we had a meaningful discussion. She sat at the top of the garden, I sat at the bottom. 

We spoke about the Covid-19 situation. Like “WTF” even is a Covid-19 situation. We knew things were bad.

Nthabiseng’s family live in Kokosi township, Fochville. It’s a semi-rural area, an hour west of Johannesburg. It’s one of hundreds of many neglected and impoverished townships in the country, the ones that lie just next door to the more privileged (white) areas.

The next morning, unable to do my usual funky neighbourhood stroll because… The pandemic… I picked a few more lemons and left them outside her cottage door.

A few hours later, she knocked on mine.

I thought she was coming to say thank you. She was. But she was also coming to say goodbye. 


Her grandmother had died. She had to go to the funeral.

“I am so sorry,” I told her. And then:

“Do you have to go?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Should you be going?” I asked, knowing it was not my position to ask.

And knowing as well that the answer was yes.

It was her grandmother.

She left immediately, wearing dark jeans and a hoodie. She had a backpack on her back and a bandana around her face. She was wearing the Doc Martens I love so much.

Dressed and ready for combat.

I said goodbye, wishing we could hug, even though we’d never hugged before.

“Call me when you get there?” I asked.

And off she went in search of a taxi.

Not something I would have wanted to do.

She messaged a few hours later to let me know she’d arrived. Told me how they’d spent time checking with the police, the morgue and the Covid-19 hotline on How to have a funeral”.

I cannot get my head around that sentence. How to Have a Funeral.

Get a permit; maximum 50 people; no night vigils; no food for the community; immediate family only. 

There’s more. It’s complicated.

“We still managed to bury my grandmother with dignity,” she told me. “We managed to say goodbye.”

Nthabiseng did not come back to Melville; lockdown had begun. And she was at her home, with her mother, exactly where she needed to be. She tells me that while Kokosi is overcrowded and poor, the streets are empty. People are respecting the lockdown, as best as they can. Some days there are police trucks around and some days a few soldiers.

Nothing they haven’t seen before, actually. Kokosi has had its fair share of service delivery issues. And, as she tells me, the town is in need of a little “maintenance”.

We’ve had a few more conversations since lockdown. I’m slowly learning about her family and life in the township.

It’s definitely not Melville, with our restaurants and bars, avocado toast and cappuccinos, tattoo parlours and vintage stores.

Mind you, Melville’s not like that anymore either.

It’s all closed.

I told her I am missing her presence here. She told me she is missing Fred. And me. We still talk about our hair because I desperately need a colour and she desperately needs a cut. We talk about how weird this all is and how we cannot wait for it to be over. And how when she is back, we will get to know each other better.

In a new and different time.

Because neither Melville, Fochville or the world we walk back into, will ever be the same again. DM/ ML

*Nthabiseng is not her real name.

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