When we moved from Yeoville to Bellevue in 1992, our next-door neighbours had one question: Was our Jack Russell terrier yappy? (“Yes,” I said. They were not impressed.)
Walking Megan on a Sunday afternoon was a joy: this was an Italian neighbourhood, and from the open windows of the houses we passed, we could hear opera. We could drop in for tea with friends down the road or wander over to the café for a newspaper. We would often stand in the street and chat with Anna as she checked that the plants in front of the maisonette she owned were properly pruned. An elderly Italian lady, she was the soul of the neighbourhood.
In time Anna died. Our friends emigrated to Sydney. We had our newspaper delivered and our garage door electrified. On Megan’s walks, her favourite stop was the fruit stall three houses down. The man from somewhere up north – Tanzania? Zimbabwe? – who operated the stand made a fuss over Megan, played with her and told me she was going deaf.
Nobody minds whether our current dog is yappy. Mickey was 10 when his owners emigrated to New York, and nobody but me wanted this short, gorgeous pavement special. I still walk him around the neighbourhood but the music wafting out of the windows of the houses we pass is no longer opera, and on Saturday afternoons one hears lots of shouting because the soccer is on.
If I walk Mickey at night, people tell me it’s not safe. “But you’re here,” I say. There are always people around – sitting on the steps, fixing cars, taking the air. Young families who have visited friends down the street for supper are walking home, babies asleep, children chatting away.
The street is filled with children. Community schools have sprung up, and there are crèches everywhere. These are children whose experience of pets has been confined to large dogs that bark at them through gates. But they all know Mickey. As we walk past apartment blocks they shout for him from their balconies. Little boys creep up and touch him, gingerly; little girls scratch his head.
The street is not ideal, despite the friendliest neighbours we have had anywhere. Rubbish sits in untidy piles under the jacaranda trees. You can learn a lot from rubbish – our neighbours eat too much fast food, drink too much Red Bull and Heineken, and shop at Edgars. Pikitup attempts to clean the streets almost daily. It is a valiant battle.
But the state of the street suits Mickey. His idea of a good meal is a chicken bone foraged from a pile of garbage, and there are plenty of those. His tail wags all the time.
Dispatches is a series that provides a glimpse into who we are and how we live in South Africa