The day I was born, it snowed in Johannesburg – a city better known for dust. The unusual weather marked the beginning of a decidedly unusual childhood. I grew up in a residential hotel, managed and run by my parents, located in the ‘poor white’ suburb of Langlaagte. In keeping with the laws of 1970s South Africa, the hotel had a space for every conceivable class and defined race. If you were white, could pay your way, and needed a place to rest, you could rent a room at The Fountains. If you were Indian or Coloured (and male), you could drink in the ‘Coloured Bar’, whose entrance was found on the side of the hotel, away from the white bars and lounges. Unfortunately, if you were black, you could only buy your liquor from the ‘non-white’ side of the bottle store. If you were then desperate to get drunk, you could hide behind the big fridge while furtively downing your drink. I think many people have forgotten (or don’t know) how crazy and cruel apartheid was.
As I describe in Lesson 16 (Be Kind), the hotel had a large backyard where the workers could relax, away from the pressures of their white taskmasters in the front. I loved the yard and would spend my afternoons doing my homework there. One afternoon, I noticed Moses staring at me. Moses was known as a ‘scullery boy’. This meant that he washed the endless glasses that came from the bar. Moses was a quiet man, one of the younger of the ‘boys’. I imagine that at the time, Moses must have been in his early 20s. I started to notice how he often watched me as I did my homework. That day, Moses sat closer to me and seemed to be more interested in my books than usual. I asked him if he wanted to see my reading book. He smiled at me.