WANNER: The lighter side of ageing according to Jo’burg taxi drivers
What you need to know:
- While in my hometown of Johannesburg, I flagged a taxi (matatu type, not cab type) from a friend’s place to the central business district with dude and the heir.
- We had agreed that the heir would alight slightly earlier as he was tired after a trip to Durban and he needed to rest.
- I spoke out to the driver, ‘after robots’ as one does. When he stopped he enquired, “where are you trying to get to mama?”
- Mama? No way was I old enough to make this man believe I was his mother. Or was I?
Some years ago while in London, my friend Daphne, who is my age mate, started a new job at the age of 27.
When she talked about her son and showed his photograph to her new colleagues, they all sounded surprised that she had a son who was six years old. If Daphne did not mind their curiosity, would she please inform them whether she was a teenage mom?
Daphne smiled and informed them that she was not, in fact, a teen mom and had had her son at the age of 21. “But you look so young,” one of the white Britons who was her colleagues stated. “How do you Africans manage to keep your skin looking so young?” another commented. Daphne then responded with a sweet smile and said that oft-quoted phrase of model Naomi Campbell of blacks not cracking.
Some months later, a new colleague joined Daphne. She was from Gambia. They soon bonded because they were the only sole Africans at the company.
During lunch break with the firm belief on Daphne’s side that they were now sisters, they went to lunch together and started asking each other personal questions.
“So Daphne, how old are you?” the Gambian girl enquired.
Daphne smiled her angelic Oscar smile and said, “many people say I am younger than I look, why don’t you guess?”
The Gambian did not want to guess but Daphne insisted. Eventually with a sigh the Gambian sister said, “I don’t know. Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three?”
Well Daphne told me she never did feel so sisterly towards her fellow African after that.
I have been thinking of this lately.
I recently turned the big four zero and celebrated like I was in my 20s. And I started feeling like that, too, when I got to the Beit Bridge border post and the Zimbabwean immigration official looked at my passport and said, “shuwa you are 40? No, this can’t be true. You look too young.”
At that moment, I felt like I may have been Daphne just after talking to her British colleagues. I walked out with a bounce only a 17 year-old can do.
And I have been feeling that way all along until I briefly doubted myself this last Wednesday.
While in my hometown of Johannesburg, I flagged a taxi (matatu type, not cab type) from a friend’s place to the central business district with dude and the heir. We had agreed that the heir would alight slightly earlier as he was tired after a trip to Durban and he needed to rest.
I spoke out to the driver, ‘after robots’ as one does. When he stopped he enquired, “where are you trying to get to mama?”
Mama? No way was I old enough to make this man believe I was his mother. Or was I?
After cringeing a little, I replied. “Oh no mama, sorry. You are still far away from there. I will remind you when we are closer.”
In a normal Jo’burg situation, the taxi driver would have thrown curses at me and I asked me whether I thought he was my driver making him stop like that.
He may even have insisted on my getting off as I had wasted his time, so this was all a surprise.
And when we got to where the heir was about to alight, he stopped and politely told him to go well.
Later on when we got to the end of his trip he said to the dude and I, “siyaphi bantu badala?” This man had just asked dude and I where “we old folk” were getting off.
“Bree,” I answered.
“Ha okay mama. Just get off here and jump on that one. I will stop it for you.” And he did.
But then I overheard him using sailor-like language to another passenger and I realised, the man was being polite to me because of my age. I had started commanding respect because of my age.
But as I was taking the next taxi, the taxi driver asked me, “so sisi, uyaphi?” and I answered him.
The last second driver, like the immigration officer in Zimbabwe, believed I qualified to be his sister rather than his mother.
I realised then that it was not me who was commanding respect. It was the bearded one next to me. He is the one who looked older.
And I, at 40, I still look like a youth.