It seemed as if we had been packing for weeks. With every move we have made there has been more to gather, sort, discard and pack. Discarding is the worst for everything seems to be precious to someone; sorting is time-consuming; and packing requires containers – lots of them!
Having sourced what we could from the boxes kept from our previous move and exhausting the supply from the local supermarket, the only boxes left that no-one else seemed to want were banana boxes: flat, full of holes and with cut-out handles on the side. I was feeling so desperate that I took them. We had reached a stage of wondering if we would ever fit everything into containers before it was time to leave. To my surprise, the banana boxes proved to be ideal containers for books: they cannot be over-filled, thus they cannot become impossibly heavy, and they are easy to carry and to stack.
Experience has taught me to be methodical. I numbered every box and listed their contents alongside – duplicated on a list. We had no idea what our accommodation in the Eastern Cape would be like, knowing only that our stay would be a temporary one until we purchased a home of our own.
The numbered boxes piled up. My list grew longer. Our bodies ached with the weariness of sorting and packing. The house in which we had all been so happy was gradually losing its soul. The packing process was happily interrupted by invitations to meals or by friends dropping by for drinks or to hand over small gifts that would keep them in our hearts for a little longer.
People cry twice, we had been told eight years earlier: once when they arrive in Mafikeng and again when they leave.
I pooh-poohed that maxim. True, it had been a shock to arrive in that dry part of the world – and especially to be among the first to inhabit one of the houses plonked on the open veld in what was to develop into the sprawling city of Mmabatho.
During those early years when there were no roads; when our water supply would be cut for up to ten days at a time; when there was little rain and the strong winds would billow up clouds of dust so thick that we could no longer see our neighbours; I would flippantly say “Tell me we are moving back to Pietermaritzburg and I will pack in a flash.”
Little had I realized how the barren landscape, the heat, the dust, the endless blue sky, the stones, and the people – especially the people – were working their way under my skin to lodge there in a complete feeling of freedom and happiness.
I packed with reluctance. Each closed box, sealed, numbered and listed, was a step closer to the end of such happiness and the experience of an array of friendships that would forever be difficult to emulate.
The pantechnicon arrived in the driveway, pushing aside the karee trees. Boxes were loaded from the kitchen end of the house. Far from being ready for them, I was still stuffing things into boxes at the other end of the house, barely being able to see the list before me through my tears.
That was 28 years ago. The Eastern Cape is now my home – it too has got under my skin.