My girlfriend is upper-working class. She lives in Blackheath, a suburb that by train – the cheapest form of travel in Cape Town – is two stops shy of Stellenbosch, a leafy, shady university town, where a sizable percentage of South Africa’s old white money resides.
I live in Bishop Lavis. I’ve been lower workless class my whole life, a slight step above the homeless who constantly beg for change on Cape Town’s streets.
Cape Town is a place for two lovers to meet each other halfway; a train ticket costs only 6.50 Rand. She pays for the meal, we get by on foot, have a great time at no great expense. I work full-time as a criminally underpaid cartoonist, she is a revered poet. I am forever paying in coins, loose change, because that’s how money comes to me, in bits and pieces, trickling in like a dripping tap. She always has one or two paper notes, which is a big step up from me, but at least it’s not plastic, I tell myself, she is still two stops away from paying with plastic. There is a gap between people who pay with money you never see and people whose cash rattles in their pockets, which I am never quite sure will ever be bridged. The one is too loud for the other and the other seems estranged from reality.
We sit outside on the open square next to the train station and eat fish and chips, and tell each other stories about the people walking by. I tell her, »In a country where meeting each other halfway has become the destination instead of the starting point, Cape Town is the middleman for people who don’t know how to face one another, much less talk to each other.«
I am not sure she understands what I mean, but she responds by saying that it’s strange how everyone on the square wears the expressions of people who really hate one another, and don’t seem to feel any inclination to hide it anymore, except when there are foreigners around. Like family who puts on a good show when they have visitors over. She trails off for a moment before adding, »We are really close to one another in that way,« meaning South Africans.
We sit on the square for a good hour more and try to talk Table Mountain into looking beautiful; into revealing itself to us for the first time, as if it isn’t a completely mundane piece of rock in the center of a small port town, but despite the fact that the mountain truly belongs to all of us, despite the fact that you can see it from virtually any directions and from every place in Cape Town, it feels too much like furniture that came with the house.
We fill the rest of the day with conversations that are only interesting to people in love and as the sun begins to set behind Table Mountain and before we have to take separate trains, I ask her if she wants to go sit in the Gardens for a while. This is usually the part of the day that moves like ocean waves: one moment melancholy, the next wild, then slow, then fast-from wave to wave it changes.
We sit together on a park bench in the Kompanje Gardens, trying to hold onto each other, trying to postpone the unavoidable long trip in diverging directions. The best part of our meetings is always the end, here in the garden of sin, where all of our troubles began.