Act of kindness leaves Karabo with a surprise
Karabo only took notice of the woman outside the Spar because she was wrestling with a heavily laden shopping trolley.
It was filled with potatoes, milk, rolls of toilet paper and a jar of coffee perched precariously on the top.
She wasn't doing very well and as no one seemed inclined to help her, [so] Karabo thought she should.
She knew who the woman was, of course, for everyone in Mthatha knew Mrs Harrison. But she'd never spoken to her before.
"May I help you?" Karabo asked in her most polite voice.
Mrs Harrison glanced at her, then surrendered the trolley with a grunt of exasperation. Karabo soon saw what the problem was. The front wheel kept rotating until it was at right angles to the basket, bringing the whole contraption to a stop.
"You'll have to carry your shopping to your car or bring your car here," Karabo said. "Or get another trolley."
She smiled at Mrs Harrison, pleased to think she'd given her an exhaustive set of options.
Mrs Harrison was still breathing heavily from her exertions. Strands of blonde hair lay plastered across her face and her skin was mottled pink and glistened with sweat. She was a large, frumpy woman with an atrocious dress sense even for Mthatha.
Her shorts stretched across her bottom like a tarpaulin and when she walked her flip-flops slapped noisily against the back of her heels.
"I'll bring the car," Mrs Harrison said. She gave Karabo a curious look, as if she were sizing her up.
"You don't have to worry," Karabo said. "I won't steal anything."
Mrs Harrison smiled at Karabo with more relief than embarrassment. "I'm glad to hear that. Otherwise I'd have to run after you and it's obvious I wouldn't get very far."
Karabo nodded gravely because Mrs Harrison was rather fat. Her breasts had lost their shape long ago, but were still of formidable proportions. They hung down from her chest like two continental pillows someone had just slept on.
She drove her Land Rover towards Karabo, who waited for her to open the back. It was dark inside and very untidy - much like Mrs Harrison herself. There was a bicycle pump in there and a half-empty packet of dog biscuits as well as an aluminium basin full of old shoes.
"I've not got round to taking these to the church," explained Mrs Harrison. "Bill was supposed to take them. He's such a lazy so-and-so, my husband is."
Bill Harrison wouldn't be as rich as he was if he were lazy, but Karabo didn't think it was her place to say this to his wife. She handed Mrs Harrison the groceries one by one and watched as she arranged them in the back. Then Mrs Harrison began muttering to herself and Karabo couldn't help overhearing what she said.
"I could have sworn I had more old shoes than this," said Mrs Harrison with a deep frown. "If Bill's been giving my stuff to his ... I swear I'll kill him."
Karabo had no idea what she was talking about. Perhaps Bill Harrison wore his wife's old shoes. She'd heard there were white men like that.
As Mrs Harrison stepped back from the Land Rover, Karabo could see how pinched her mouth was, with white lines radiating outwards from a hard, rose-tinted centre.
She seemed to have lost her earlier cheeriness among the vegetables and cleaning materials.
"What's your name?" There was a clumsy abruptness about Mrs Harrison that Karabo found strangely appealing.
"Karabo. Karabo Bentil."
"That's an odd surname." She didn't wait for Karabo to give her customary explanation. Instead she began rummaging in her handbag.
"You really don't have to give me anything, Mrs Harrison."
Mrs Harrison tapped the side of her large nose as if she'd just remembered something. She didn't seem surprised that Karabo knew her name.
"I know," she said. "I've just the thing for you."
She leaned into the Land Rover again and came out holding a small, oddly shaped box. With its metal clasps, it looked like a travel case but there were twin indentations on either side. She held it out to Karabo with both hands like it was a rare gift and Karabo was somebody very important.
"I can't take that," Karabo said instinctively.
"Of course you can!" Mrs Harrison replied, pushing the case towards Karabo.
"A violin," Mrs Harrison replied matter-of-factly.
"I really couldn't, Mrs Harrison," Karabo said again. Timidly, she ran her fingers over the scaled leather.
"Aren't violins very expensive?" She was warming to the idea and crinkled her nose in anticipation of her disappointment if Mrs Harrison were to take it back.
"Not really. I bought this on Alibaba. I was never going to spend a lot of money on it as I wasn't sure I'd enjoy playing it. My violin teacher said it was more like a violin-shaped object than a proper violin."
Suddenly Karabo wasn't so sure. A violin-shaped object sounded much less attractive than a proper violin.
"Is that why you're giving it away? Because it's not a proper violin?"
"Oh, it's a proper violin, all right. I've just lost interest in the damned thing since André did a runner."
Mrs Harrison splayed her fingers in the air like a magician does with a deck of disappearing cards. "He buggered off without even a goodbye."
"My violin teacher."
"But I don't play the violin, Mrs Harrison."
"That makes two of us. Look, just take it. Give it away if you like or use it as a flower pot, I won't mind. It's not half as bad as I've described and who knows? You might want to learn to play it one day."
- Published by Kwela
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