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 the murder of white people.
During those days of apartheid, whites had a dichotomous attitude toward black people. Considered enemies, on the one hand, and on the other, caring for the children, cleaning, cooking, and serving our meals, as we sat like lords and ladies at our elegant tables, in richly furnished dining rooms.
These black people had special permits to live in white areas. Black people without permits lived in black areas, considered to be their tribal lands. A black person, wanting to work in a white area had to leave his or her family. These black workers were forever in a state of misery, worrying about the wives, husbands, and children they had left behind. They lived in small, dark, and dank, backyard rooms, covered with cheap corrugated, iron roofs, hot in the Summer and cold in the Winter..
We had two such rooms in our backyard, one for the black nanny, who also 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.
I would go to his room and knock on the door, which he always kept closed. He would answer, "right away master Leon", making a great show of rushing to carry out the task.
John must have been about 50 years old but it was difficult to tell his age. His face was full of wrinkles, which may have been caused by many years of suffering and not by age. He would carefully lock his room and run to my mother, rubbing his hands together in a show of humility and obedience.
One day I did the forbidden thing. I peered into the murky darkness, through the door John had left open. Two or three black people, huddled together, smoking some stinking thing, probably marijuana. I was too scared to utter a sound and carried on walking. John ran up in a hurry and shut the door.
I didn't think much about the incident and I certainly wasn't going to discuss anything with John, because the only time I had ever spoken to a black man was to tell him to do something. It never entered my mind to converse with the man.
But John felt a need to tell me, out of concern for my well-being, as I learned later. Shaking from nervousness, his flat nose quivering, he whispered, with fear in his eyes, " they have seen the tokoloshe".
They had come to him to break the spell of the tokoloshe. That's how I learned that our man, John was one of the most important witch doctors in the country and that he had the power to break evil spells.
He had come to warn me that something terrible was going to happen to the wall where I liked to play. Actually, I had my vegetable garden there. I could easily watch over it from one of the kitchen windows, which looked out on the garden and the wall.
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. I couldn't outrun those murderers. I'm finished, I thought. 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 sufficiently to prevent them from carrying out their diabolical plan.
The warning of the tokoloshe had come true, but by some miracle, which I believe was performed by John, I escaped both possible ways of dying, the panga and the falling wall..