Down Second Avenue

Down Second Avenue

Down Second Avenue

Down Second Avenue

Excerpt

I have never known why we--my brother, sister and I--were taken to the country when I was five. We went to live with our grandmother--paternal grandmother. My father and mother remained in Pretoria where they both worked, my father a shop messenger in an outfitters' firm; Mother as a domestic servant. That was in the autumn of 1924.

I remember feeling quite lost during the first weeks in that little village of Maupaneng, seventy-five miles out of Pietersburg town; a village of about 5,000 people. My grandmother sat there under a small lemon tree next to the hut, as big as fate, as forbidding as a mountain, stern as a mimosa tree.

She was not the smiling type. When she tried, she succeeded in leering muddily. But then she was not the crying type either: she gave her orders sharp and clear. Like the sound she made when she pounded on the millstone with a lump of iron to make it rough enough for grinding on. I do not remember ever being called gently by her. One of her two daughters was the spit of her; the other anaemic and fawning. But they seldom came home. They worked in Pretoria. When they were not working they had children without being able to secure a man they could really call a husband. I haven't seen them or my grandmother now for the last twenty years, although I know they are still alive.

Things stand out clearly in my mind from those years: my granny, the mountain on the foot of which the village clung like a leech, and the mountain darkness, so solid and dense. And my granny seemed to conspire with the mountain and the dark to frighten us.

My parents bought two goats. I was happy because the animals . . .

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