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The Wall


A high white plastered wall protected our house from the service lane, where undesirable characters used to meet and plan diabolical schemes to steal, plunder and even murder, white people.


During those days of apartheid, whites had a dichotomous attitude to black people. Considered enemies, but treated like members of the family, caring for the kids, cleaning, cooking, serving meals to white people seated like lords and ladies, on high backed chairs, at tables, set with shining white plates, silver cutlery, each piece exactly, where it should be.


Requiring permits to live in white areas, these black servants lived in misery, being poor and worrying about the wives, husbands and children left behind in tribal lands, because they didn't have permits.


The small, windowless, dank, rooms in the backyards of their white employers, were uncomfortably hot in the Summer and cold in the Winter, being covered with cheap corrugated, iron roofs.


Our backyard had two such rooms, one for the black nanny, who helped my mother with the cooking and the other for a black man, who cleaned the house and tended the garden.


The black man, when I was a child of about 12 was John. Mostly he stayed in his room until my mother needed him for some chore. Then she would send me to call him.


Making a great show of rushing to carry out the task, when I knocked on the door, always kept shut, he shouted, "right away boss Leon".


Wrinkles, which may have been caused by many years of suffering made him look old, but he must have been about 50.


One day I did the forbidden thing, peering into the murky darkness, through the door, John had left open, I saw. huddled together, smoking some stinking thing, probably marijuana two or three black people. Scared to utter a sound I carried on walking, as John ran up in a hurry to shut the door.


I didn't think much about the incident and certainly wasn't about to discuss anything with John. The only time I had ever spoken to a black man was to tell him to do something. Conversing with the man was out of the question.


But John had a warning for me. Shaking from nervousness, his flat nose quivering, he whispered, fear in his eyes, " they have seen the tokoloshe".


"Break the spell of the tokoloshe", they begged John. That's how I learned that our man John was one of the most important witch doctors in the county and that he had the power to break evil spells.


Something terrible was going to happen to the wall. But that's where I had my vegetable garden. I said, "you can watch over it from the kitchen window, but don't go there".


My carrots were doing well and leaves were beginning to sprout from my radishes. I felt like a regular farmer.


One day, I went to check on my carrots, I heard shouting from the lane, a scuffle of feet, then, John's voice pleading: "don't do it". In a flash they were on top of the wall, two dark shadows with pangas (a vicious knife with a long, sharp curved blade) I ran for dear life, not being able to outrun those murderers, I was finished. All of a sudden, the wall came crashing down, exactly on the spot where only a moment ago I had been harvesting carrots.


The two hooligans came crashing down with the wall, both injured preventing them from carrying out their diabolical plan.


The warning of the tokoloshe had come true, but by some miracle, which I believed only John with his magic powers could have performed, I escaped being crushed to death by the falling wall or cut to shreds by the panga.


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