I pick up Martin and Diana on Sunday morning. They are on their way to church in Concordia: “the black location next to the white location”. Martin has his ‘good’ suit on. His shoes are hand-shined. His tie and shirt are bright. Diana wears a traditional long skirt in blue shweshwe with a white starched shirt. Her hair is covered by a doek and she smiles shyly at me in the rear-view mirror. Martin and Diana look beautiful together. They both carry bibles.
They met in a home for abandoned children. Martin’s mother’s boyfriend (“Not, my real father”,) beat her up so bad one time, she had to run away and she left them behind. Martin and his sister and brother. Martin was six. He didn’t mind living in the home. They had food and friends. And they were together there. And he found his wife there.
Diana’s mother had disappeared one night and it wasn’t until a month later that someone thought to look for her. And found the children. Diana smiled– “but we had food enough from the neighbours”. The social workers came to fetch them on a Friday and they never went back.
Martin took up bad habits when he had to leave the home. Drinking and smoking. It was a lot. Then one morning he woke up and realised he wanted to change. Just like that. He could hear a voice in his heart that was telling him to walk together with Jesus – so he gave it a try. And, 7 years on – he felt things were finally falling into place.
Some things. Diana and him had no children. She had been pregnant four times – and four miscarriages. The first time was the worst because it was at five months and a friend had knocked her over and she had fallen on her belly and crushed the baby. “He was a boy”. But they were going to keep trying – because it was God’s will. And, yes, maybe, if it didn’t happen they would go back to the home where they met and make some of the children there, their own. It would be like a big circle.
Things are coming together now, Martin says. “But we have such debt.” Diana smiles again: “God will help us, but meantime we must work”, she says.
I wind back through the township. And I ponder faith and hope. And religion. And I remember Walt Whitman’s words: “Argue not concerning God”. And I resolve never to again.
Because – on this day of rest, in this place of thousands, where goats and shacks cling to rubbish dumps, where toddlers roam pantless and parentless, where taverns outnumber churches, in this place and for these people: Jesus does seem to be the only possible answer.
I pick up the women on a 10km stretch of road which heads towards nothing but a National Park. The older one is badly out of breath, two small children hug her skirts. The younger one has one baby swaddled tight, despite the heat. Another jogs along beside her. I practice my tiny bit of Xhosa on them and glean that they are on the way to the doctor. The baby is sick.
“Doctor – out here?” I ask. “Eweh”. “A clinic doctor?” “No, one of our doctors. The traditional one.” I nod – what is wrong with the baby? The younger woman looks straight at me and I realise she is about 15. “The baby is not crying”.
The three kids in the front are having a ball. Eyes and grins fixed on me. “Mamma – are these your children?” I ask the older. “No – they are the children of my brother and my sister. But they are late. They have been gone two years.” I look at her in the mirror – she drops her eyes. But the younger holds my gaze. “I will be happy to take you to town to the clinic for the baby”, I offer. The older woman says something in Xhosa that I don’t catch, but I understand.
I drop them at their destination and, as I drive on: I ask Jesus if he is planning to come around here anytime soon?