The daily order of events took an ominously different turn after I began walking, my knapsack on my back, I’d left out my task of watering the plants. “I’ll water them later, '' thrummed the soft small voice in my head. As a child I was told that I would hear God speaking to me in the form of a soft small voice, so I was sure not to forget.
After the cool shower, splashed on my sweaty body, I turned on the hot water, and was invigorated. I pointed the green hose pipe at my thirsty plants. The Bluetooth speaker blasted the book, Cathedral into my ear. I’d been listening to the antics of Retich and the Bishop’s secretary for a week and had to know what was going to happen next.
I’d finished watering, when Etti appeared, laughing to see me struggling to roll up the long green hose pipe as if it was a dangerous snake.
I laughed also, but to her it looked like I was suffering and she uttered a word I really didn’t want to hear, it carried me back 70 years to my mother’s garden, where she would get me to water her plants. Then considering me she said. “Shame, you’re suffering, poor boy”.
That word “shame” drove me crazy; I had decided, already when I was a little boy, that I would not tolerate being pitied. Everyone pitied me, from the day I was born. I wasn’t the only one, others were pitied. Some people love using that word, even though there’s never a good reason. I was happy watering my mother’s garden just as I was happy to be watering our plants here in Jerusalem. I didn’t even mind sacrificing other activities I enjoyed, like going to the swimming pool, or going to the movies, or reading my superman comics.
I certainly didn’t feel that I was “a pitiful creature” for doing the task. It was true in those days in South Africa that manual labour, cleaning the house, watering the garden etc was done by black servants. They weren’t pitied, because they were considered born to do those jobs. But a white person doing them was pitied because he wasn’t born to carry out such menial tasks.
Pitying someone is a way of putting him down, a way of discouraging a person from doing a thing. The task at hand might well be difficult, but being pitied for doing it places a psychological burden that makes carrying it out ten times more difficult. It’s tantamount to saying that the person isn’t capable of doing the job. A child faced with this attitude might well give up the job.
But I had reached a decent age and wasn’t put off by Etti’s expression of pity for me.I did feel somewhat inferior to her however; she was off to the office, the kind of thing important people do and I, being out of work, because of the coronavirus, was staying at home, the kind of thing unimportant people do. I forgave myself, but the sting was there.
This day, however, wasn’t going to pass before more darts punctured my ego. Not only was I out of work but I was also without a driver’s license. I won’t go into the story of how I lost it, I’ll keep that story for another day. Because of her concern for me about contracting corona, she doesn’t agree to me traveling by public transport. The result is that wherever I want to go she drives me, which is okay, but when my ego is a little deflated this deflates it still more.
Now it so happens that I had a dentist’s appointment on this same day, which had started badly from the beginning. She said that she would return at lunch time to take me to my appointment with Dr ben Joseph.
Again, I suppose, I should feel “pitiful” being dependent on the old girl, but, as I said, I refuse to be pitied.
On our way to Ben Joseph we stopped at the cleaners to pick up shirts and trousers I’d left there to be ironed. Etti forgot to shout her usual warning “put on your mask” I stepped out of the car without a mask. I forgot, but the last straw was poised to break the camel’s back.
When I returned to the car with the two parcels of ironing Etti indicated to me to sit in the rear seat. I don’t argue and obey. Peace and quiet is all I’m looking for.
To my amazement, as we pulled off to continue our journey to the dentist she opened her mouth and chastised me for not wearing a mask.
My punishment was to sit in the rear and not next to her. “Big deal”, I thought and stifled a laugh, but she had already understood that I treated her order and her punishment as a joke.
Her anger was like the wrath of the Lord that burnt, a fire, hissing with steam that encompassed everything round about. At moments like this, experience has taught me to quietly suffer the vapor of the cloud of anger.
An agonizing day passed without speaking to each other. Two deflated egos had been pumped up to bursting with hot air.Peace and quiet