Gated Reflections #3:

I was brought up with the idea that it is customary when you visit not go empty handed. So, one Sunday afternoon on receiving an sms invitation for tea, I stop at the supermarket to fill my hands. (It being Sunday, my begging mama is not sitting in her usual spot- the section of cracked pavement between the estate agent and the mini-mall.)

I begin in front of the supermarket cakes: sweet-pink iced cupcakes, wilted tarts and air cakes filled with fake cream. I do not feel inspired, so I move to the biscuit aisle. Shelves of glossy boxes, many with photographs of biscuits laid out on white plates, all try to entice me. I start reading the list of ingredients for gingersnaps and recall that the week before I had bought boudoirs. Then I think deeply and decide, yes I feel like Jaffa cakes or fig rolls. Sadly, neither is set on the imaginary plates of the boxes before me. Well trained consumer that I am, I pick a brand name that appeals to me: Da Vinci’s. Of all the Da Vinci biscuit products before me I settle on chocolate digestives, about R10 [$1, 50] a box. I reason that as a Sunday afternoon biscuit, a digestive satisfies Sabbath puritanism, while the chocolate coating measures well with the indulgence of Earl Grey tea.

My hostess and I carry our mugs of Earl Grey and the newly bought box of Da Vinci’s chocolate digestives to our spot in the garden. Before we sit down, my hostess remembers, “Oh, I just want to ask Siyabulela if he wants some tea.” Siyabulela is washing down the house’s windows.

“Siyabulela, some tea?”

“Of course, Madam.”

“Of course, Madam.”

“How many sugars?”

“Of course, Madam.”

“Two or three?” fingers are held up to indicate two sugars, then three.

“Of course, Madam.”

We return to the kitchen to make a mug of ordinary tea with three sugars, then take it out to Siyabulela.

Finally we sit down to our Earl Grey. The box of chocolate digestives is opened, we each take one. “How did you find Siyabulela?” I ask.

“Oh he came to the door looking for work and I said to him, I didn’t have any work for him then. But if he came back when the Master was in, perhaps he could do some work around the house. He came on and off for a couple of weeks, and eventually there was some gardening for him to do. Now he comes every Sunday and does some work for R30 [$2, 50].”

“Well,” I take another biscuit, “I suppose R30 [$2, 50] goes further in the township than at Pick ‘n Pay. And having a guaranteed income of R30 a week is probably better than hoping to get R5 or R5 [$0,75] there for cleaning car windows on the Main Road.”

The cat stretches in the shade of the lemon tree. The cerise bougainvillea rustles in the breeze. Our mugs are empty. The box of biscuits is still three quarters full. (Siyabulela means we are thankful.)

“Some more tea,” offers my hostess.

“Yes, please.” We get up and take our mugs and the box of biscuits inside to the kitchen.