A Pass for Johannes

The wind from the mine dumps
blew down Commissioner street
whirling yellow-brown eddies into the
cracks of the closed doors of OK Bazaars
on days like this the shopping district
was almost deserted, its streets laid out
emptily like the grid of a crossword puzzle,
waiting for the white squares to fill up
between the few wandering blacks

 

Our smiling black servant was on his day off
visiting his girlfriend in the township
I, fifteen years old, had written his pass
on a squared page torn from my arithmetic book
it said ‘please pass native Johannes Laka to Sophiatown
to return to Greenside by Wednesday morning 8 am’,
if the police picked him up without a pass he would
spend a month in the tronk

 

It was the Queen’s coronation day and I
was walking home ten miles to prove to myself
and to my friend Hilton Olowitz I could do it and
listening to snatches of pomp drifting from
open windows. Hilton said that if I kicked a
cool drink can all the way from Hillbrow to
Greenside, I might get into the Guinness
Book of Records. I didn’t believe him but
I’d do it anyway just for kicks

 

It was the summer of nineteen fifty three
the gap in the ozone layer had not yet been discovered
and Nelson Mandela was not yet on Robben Island
eating his mealie pap and writing his memoirs.
The winds of change had still to begin to blow,
life was good, it never occurred to me to question
why I didn’t need a pass

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© Johnmichael Simon

2005

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