Slice of Life: The silence between spaces

(Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

(Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

The world is small from up here, this expanse of Jozi that falls and rises and rises beyond the ninth-floor window. The drapes and bedsheets from the surrounding flats say little, but the rows and rows and rows of washing on balconies say much. The cars below are like Hot Wheels, neatly parked next to the new five-a-side artificial football turf, beside the colourful new play area. Space.

Inside the broken window, nine-year-old Thierno’s school shoes are like sunglasses, his grey socks with the red stripe ready for the morrow. He’s doing well and his mother, Fikile, displays his achievements on the wall, including a certificate for Afrikaans. There he is, pudgy baby. There again, beaming for his preschool picture. Again, with the “Merry Christmas” sign flashing behind him. It’s beside an incomplete membership form to join the ANC. Fikile’s well-worn Bible rests atop another even more worn and yellowed copy.

The last rays of this late summer’s day have ebbed off the flat’s sills and Luyanda’s in the bath, readying for her shift. The two buttered brown bread rolls in a Sasko packet on the TV stand will carry her through. The bathroom window can’t close but its inevitable fall is staved off by a single bolt. The sound of the creaking black pipes that bring and take the effluent throughout the 12-storey building are amplified here, in this half of a flat at B901 Madison Square in Hillbrow.

Outside the door, between the wardrobe holding her floral dresses, among the two single-seaters and the solitary bed, her one-year-old, Ntethelelo, is likely playing with his two-year-old cousin. Nqobile will watch over them. It’s almost time.

Soon, Luyanda will emerge to don her perfectly pressed white uniform with the blue stripes at the seams and kiss Ntethelelo goodbye, until she returns in the morning.

Luyanda Malembe (21), her son Ntethelelo (1), Fikile Malembe (38), her son Thierno Ndiaye (9) and Fikile’s cousin, Nqobile Buthelezi, were brutally killed in their flat on February 20.

Beauregard Tromp

Beauregard Tromp

Beauregard Tromp is a multi-award winning journalist and Nieman Fellow at Harvard who has worked at major publications throughout South Africa. Beauregard spent six years as an Africa correspondent, narrating stories from nearly 40 countries. He is the author of Hani: A Life Too Short and most recently won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award and Sikuvile Award for his work on xenophobia. He is the news editor at the M&G. Read more from Beauregard Tromp

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