Memories of a past life

Old Durban cable car

Old Durban cable car

Warm days, spent playing in the garden.
Oblivious to time,
Free of all responsibilities.

in it’s purest form.

It felt like every day was sunny – no matter the season.
The weather always good…
No differentiation
between Summer and Winter,
and everything in between.

It took a song to teach me
the order of the seasons,
because to me,
those names didn’t matter.

What was important was when school holidays were coming,
especially December holidays –
which marked the longest annual escape
from the prison called school.

My very first home:
a small and humble one bedroom flat,
nestled in the rolling hills
that would be the backdrop to my formative years.

Mangos and litchis
(neither of which I ate),
jungle-like back yards,
troublesome monkeys,
not to mention the famous Indian Mynah.

1987 brought huge floods;
the Umgeni River bursting its banks,
many unable to travel due to the chaos.

My second home:
a fortress of sorts,
Massive to me,
Multiple levels which held both adventure and terror:
the prospect of nights alone,
and the creatures (and imaginary robbers) that may invade my space.

My refuge under the dining room table;
A spot where I’d hide when upset,
Feeling injustice at how I’d been treated,
And running away from everyone,
To wallow in my pain and soak in my sorrow.

Walking with my aunty and cousin to nursery school,
Where the leftovers of a clothing factory
Would make up swords and other creative toys.
Little minds
on their way to big futures.

One term at an Indian junior school,
Where I quickly made friends,
Who tied my shoelace when I could not,
And who accompanied me in the schoolyard,
Outsmarting the prefects
who didn’t take kindly to our ingenuity
and unjustly banned our attempted rebellion.

Moving to another junior school:
A place of privilege,
Where I felt out of place
both in colour and personality.
embarrassed that I’d be dropped off in a delivery van
while others came in a Ferrari.

It’s not that they were better off than I (though they were),
But more the feeling of being out of place.
Barely another of the same pigmentation,
In a time when Apartheid was on its way out.

One friend in seven years.
Being deeply embedded in an alien environment
Which I so wish to avoid for my own kids.

Happier times, though,
When surrounded by my own people.
Family and what few friends I had.

Saturday night movies at The Wheel;
Occasional adventures at The Workshop;
Shopping expeditions to The Pavilion;
Delicious chocolate cakes in Overport City;
and the ever-present
Musgrave Centre,
which was core to my existence in later years.

Its library was my first port of call for school projects:
research via catalogue cards and actual books,
photocopying endless pages of relevance.
A far cry from the instant access
available to today’s kids with the tap of a screen.

One day internationals and test matches at Kingsmead,
The excitement of foreign teams returning to our shores
after years of isolation.

Sun, surf, and the big sea;
Capital Radio,
a constant soundtrack to my early years.

The Blue Lagoon,
The city centre,
Wimpy, Jolly Grubber, Talk of the Town,
and other takeaways
that would be our culinary highlight of the week.

Karate on Saturday mornings,
Hard work
which was made bearable
by handball or rounders afterwards.

Terrifying gradings,
Gashkus in the presence of Lao Tze Bob,
who was the biggest monster to us all at the time –
though his harsh discipline was not without wisdom.

Sunday morning runs at Greyville Racecourse,
Followed by a trip to Game City for 80 cent cooldrinks…
how drastically the price has changed.

Also on Sundays,
Squash at the top of the Royal Hotel;
Endless hours of tennis at Berea Park;
Informal cricket matches there too,
With all the seriousness of an international fixture.

Backyard soccer and tennis;
Sweet treats after hours of exertion.

The beachfront,
with its bumper cars and pools,
rickshaws and rides,
including those red cable cars,
suspended high above the earth,
a feeder of my fear of heights.

The pier,
Stretching out far into the water:
The feeling of standing over the Indian Ocean,
Saved only by the concrete blocks under your feet,
Holding firm for decades,
Yet vulnerable to collapse
In an instant.

My third home:
The place where I still live
when my dream life takes me back to Durban.

Century-old foundations,
Sturdy wooden floors,
Light fittings that rattled
every time a car outside drove past
bumping its tunes loud enough to be a public broadcaster.

(Occasionally) taking out the garbage
on Sunday nights,
Scared of the maggots that had gathered
in those dreadful black bags
which also held the prospect
of other unpleasant creatures that may have settled inside.

My first colour computer,
Hours and hours spent
playing Jonty Rhodes Cricket,
Championship Manager,
and all the other games that so occupied me back then.

The wonders of Internet access at home,
A lengthy extension chord
plugged into a dial-up modem,
That familiar sound every time I attempted to connect,
Hoping there would be an available slot on the exchange,
Then experiencing a world of possibilities online –
Some of which were far from appropriate
(though perfectly normal for a teenage boy).

My awesome Lego collection,
A cricket stadium being the crowning achievement.
Walls plastered with posters of sports stars.
A CD drawer that filled up quickly,
As my addiction to music flourished
in that very room of mine.

Dedicated Gameboy sessions.
Piles and piles
of soccer, cricket, and tennis magazines,
Not to mention Disney Adventures,
M-Net movies,
Snippets of KTV,
And the endless sitcoms
which were the highlight of a regulated TV schedule.

The first day of High School,
Intense social anxiety,
Not fitting in at first,
But eventually
falling in with a group where I was comfortable.

Classroom cricket in the Riccitelli Oval,
A highlight of our mornings.
Along with “checking” my friend’s homework
When I hadn’t done my own.

The enduring terrors of PE –
With swimming remaining my nemesis.

Sports days at the university fields,
Sarcastic replies
to spirited chants of support for the athletes.

The horrors
Of high school maths and science,
Balanced with the comfort
Of History
In a small class –
The special ones,
Who saw value in the subject,
And gained so much more
Than simply learning facts and figures.

1994 elections:
A week off school,
Stoked by fears of violence,
In the days where the masses came out to vote
for the very first time.

Doc Martens as a must-have;
Lollipops in the back of class;
Drinking fizzy drinks through poked holes in the can;
A tuckshop I never quite made use of;
The vending machine that stared at me daily,
As I waited to be fetched after school.

Crocodile clips and hydrochloric acid,
The wonders of phosphorus out of a jar;
Circuit boards and Bunsen Burners –
The fun side of Science.

Drama lessons
At the neighbouring convent school
Up the hill.

Berg winds and scorching Durban heat.
A peaceful view of the ocean,
From my Standard 6 classroom window,
Especially serene on a Friday afternoon,
When we would be released
after a week of confinement.

Tennis after school,
Along with cricket practice,
And the occasional match –
Though I was never considered good enough
for the more important teams.

Putting my hand through an old window,
Being calmed with sugar water (though I didn’t need it).
The headmaster rushing me off to hospital.
The most painful medical experience ever:
Injections and stitches
In the very centre of a fresh wound.

The attempted hijacking after school one day:
A near death experience
which transformed my father’s life,
yet had little effect on mine.
Trauma counselling held no value to me,
For it was only the first night, and first few days
that fear lingered over me.

The court appearance later that year,
Having to face the suspect in person,
Unable to testify in camera
as the facilities were not available.

Our Matric jerseys,
Together with the traditional war cry,
In the middle of the Quad,
Reminding the school who we were.
Though I never participated much,
For I didn’t feel inclined to such public displays of status.

Free periods in the library,
Spent reading nonsense on the Internet.

Studying for,
Then writing,
Matric finals,
At a nearby hall.
My wobbly desk secured by folded paper under one of the legs.

My final exam,
Coming the day before my 18th birthday.
But a death in the family that very same day,
The demise of my school career,
Coinciding with the earthly demise
of an uncle who had taught me much,
Though I never really valued him while he was with us.

Ramadaan through that Summer,
Anxiety about exam results,
Then finally getting them that January morning:
Doing better than I’d expected,
And choosing to leave the comforts of home,
And make the move to Cape Town.

Learning to cook over those last few weeks,
Before embarking on what would effectively become a one-way journey:
For I never returned to my home city as a resident,
But always as a visitor.

And though those visits are now few and far between,
My memories and sentimental love
have not faded,
For in this heart and mind of mine,
Durban will always remain

Image source: Durban cable cars

2 thoughts on “Memories of a past life

  1. Just to give some context: I was born and raised in Durban (South Africa), but moved to Cape Town after completing school. I was 18 at the time, and at the end of this year, it’ll be 18 years since I moved…hence it’s a kind of halfway marker in my life. This piece was inspired by nostalgic reflections on my life as it was in Durban – which felt like a different lifetime altogether as it’s so far away from me now, both in time and place.

    It’s an intensely personal piece and so a lot of you won’t get some of the references (unless you’re familiar with Durban).

    But nevertheless, I found it important to share here in the hope that there would still be *some* kind of benefit for the reader…even if it’s just a catalyst for you to reflect on your *own* life’s journey and past.

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