The Arrows of Fate


Every Thursday for the past five weeks, I have travelled the M5 from Cape Town to Marina da Gama, near Muizenberg, to spend time with the author and artist, Emmaleen Kriel, whose home pulses with creative energy and inspiration.

Many magnificent old eucalypti grow along the M5. Like crows, these tall and imposing ‘water-towers’ are tough and wily survivors. They have not become hunched under the force of the southeaster, unlike many other trees here, whose postures are those of supplicants or penitents.

The M5 goes through Mannenberg and Lavender Hill. On my five trips, both there and back, the traffic lights at these suburbs caught me on red, forcing me to stop and be aware of life on this side of the track.

In each instance, I had Fine Music Radio playing, so Rachmaninov, Bizet, Mozart, Lizt and Chopin were among those providing orchestral backing to the iconic tenement blocks, with their lines of flapping washing and their lean-to ‘extensions’. The ubiquitous markers of urban poverty—litter, dumped building rubble, plastic bags caught on fencing, and thin dogs underscored the undeniable hardship of life in this quarter of the city.

I watched an old gangster, his face cut with the lines of life, smoking a cigarette pinched between thumb and finger, not begging, just standing there, his narrative quite clear: ‘I know violence. But am at the mercy of your charity.’

Mothers walking with a child, or with a single bag of groceries, or a loaf of bread; youths just ‘hanging’, doing nothing; children kicking a deflated football; a man pushing a supermarket trolley loaded with scrap metal; youngsters selling bananas to motorists; school children dragging their feet and not really heading to class; more than one girl pregnant and too young—all these lives I witnessed at the crossroad.

On each trip, I slowed down when passing the Klip Road cemetery, aware of the crowd of wooden crosses and few tombstones. I thought of those lying there, in their boxes. I thought of the roots of the eucalypti. I thought of the force of the wind, and about providence.

On my last visit to Emmaleen, going past an open field, I saw a number of men, dressed in white jelabas, having an archery lesson. They seemed incongruous, with their bows drawn and arrows poised, making me think of the arrows of Fate which strike us and pin us to our lot in life.

Photograph by Don Pinnock

One Comment on “The Arrows of Fate”

  1. I’ve not looked at my e-mails much which is a pity as I’ve missed out on this little gem penned by my friend Patricia: with the eye of a real writer she had created a little cameo of life along the M5.
    Paralelle lives which rarely meet or even cross.
    Paralelle lives which look at each other with sceptic eyes; not knowing, not wanting nor daring to look the other’s way, or look into those eyes.
    And the wind blows the chip packet, the dog scratches and the dripping tap drips on…

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