Today I reached the end of School Side Road and a madwoman was yelling at a figment hiding in a tree. I slowed to a walk and went right up to the tree and peered into the electric-green leafy boughs (given that we’re in the midst of a drought this seemed odd) and there was no one there, at least nobody that was present in the way she and I were. She eyed me suspiciously, her filthy headscarf pitched at a perilous angle, but then continued with her diatribe in street Afrikaans, haranguing an unseen partner, possibly dead, but perhaps passed out just around the corner in a shady spot. “Jy’t my gedonder … Jou bliksem… maar ek … roep vir security, en hulle kom onmiddelik … klap!… Jy gaan sien!” All the way back to busy Old Kendal Road her presence followed me, high as a kite, invoking the forces of law and order upon the unseen entity’s head as she careened around that tree.
It was the turnaround point for that day’s circular route so the small event had come just in time. Some club days when I’m out on the road, jogging the kilometres away in silence, nothing interesting happens but it’s rare. Usually something does.
To run is to leave the body and then return to it, a little surprised to find one’s physical body still stepping out to some ancient rhythm, still anchored by earth’s gravity. To walk is to pause and pay attention. To write is to imagine. The sighting of a homeless woman wailing fulminations up into a hapless tree makes me laugh and then it makes me serious. We live on the same planet and yet we dream in different galaxies. Who knows how she will re-appear on some distant day, which fictional character she will inhabit and inform, which new life she will live? I can present her with choices she never had. If I write her right upon the page she can wrench the same hearts that walk past her heartlessly every waking day.
I ask myself “What is the meaning of this post?” Eventually, beneath layers and layers, the snake of knowledge lies coiled and waiting for me; across the divide of class and culture the madwoman and I have things in common: born female in Africa, a dread of emptiness, an inexplicable urge to challenge deaf gods, a liking for eccentric headgear. Something subtle and paradoxical has drawn me into her scene as surely as if it were from a famous play with important themes, performed by a world-renowned actor.