Each weekday morning for the past 17, almost 18, years I have woken at 5:30, got ready for work, eaten my breakfast in the company of a changing cast (through the years) of cats and dogs, brushed my teeth while watching the kitchen clock’s second hand tick and then reversed out of my driveway. The fiddlewood tree next to the house has grown from tiny to big in those years, the ivy has covered the whole wall and garage.
Each day we’ve driven past the school on the corner, into Lansdowne Road with its crazy taxis and bumbling buses. Landsdowne Road has changed to Imam Haron. We turn left at the robot and hope to be on time to see the fabulous Gogo who likes to have a go on the roundabout in the Choo Choo Park, before she goes to work. Then left again through suburbia, with its high walls and gas-guzzling 4x4s, past the wealthy boys school fields where the ghosts of old boys play rugby on misty winter days.
If it’s a lucky day, I see the dog who likes to dress in a cow suit in the garden of the house opposite the fields. If I do see him, though, it generally means I’m late. The Cowdog is a late sleeper.
Watched by the squirrels in the park, we turn into the three-lane road, filled with traffic, and drive, at snail’s pace, passing under the old man wild fig tree, then past the big top tent and the hockey fields where hundreds of birds share a communal breakfast.
Each morning for the last 18 years I have looked at the Liesbeek River. Every day it is different – it’s burst its banks, hosted flamingos and pelicans, dropped its level to scary lows and got itself a smart new cycling path.
Into Obz we go, Station Road just waking, ruffle-haired students barefoot, buying milk – first at the cafe and now at the Spar that arrived a few years ago. My favourite graffiti mother cradles her child down Herschel Road. A few years’ back, she was new and shiny, now her paint is cracked and sun-bleached, giving her more character. Like me, she has aged.
Hippies have morphed into hipsters. Well, in Obz, they co-exist. An ironically-bearded man opened a cake shop where there was a juice shop, and before that, I can’t remember what. He’s planted pots of jasmine outside, to climb the old pillars – against which I’ve seen schoolgirls, drunk men, young lovers, amongst others – lean. When the jasmine flowers, it’s going to be a delight, mingling with the aromas of cake and artisinalorganicfairtradehipster coffee.
Up the one-way street we drive. I’ve watched almost every house in this section of Station Road change its face over the last 18 years. Dicky Davids sold his house, and the wall got painted over, the ‘House of Smokers’ cafe blinks blankly, the metamorphosing display in the window in the middle delights me, and Snoekies on the corner announces itself with its early morning fried fish smell.
The robot on Main Road is, without fail, red. I think in the 18 years of doing this trip each morning it’s been green four times, maybe five. I don’t mind, though, because each morning it presents me with a story, a heady mix of humanity. On this corner I’ve seen drug addicts slumped, little brothers taking their little sisters to school, heavily pregnant women making their way up to the hospital, rough looking men tenderly kissing their children goodbye and putting them into taxis to school.
And it’s from these robots that I have looked up each weekday morning for the last 17 years (18 on Friday) and seen the grand old lady at the top of the hill and her ugly offspring to the left. For 18 years I’ve sat in the turret – my Ivory Tower – of that gracious old building in which hearts were swapped for the first time. In winter, it’s dark when I arrive and I watch the sun rise over the Helderberg Mountains. In summer, the breeze sometimes floats up from the harbour, seaside delight.
My first day in the Ivory Tower was the first of October, 1998. On 30 September I would have done this trip every weekday for 18 years. And now I’m stopping. Tomorrow will be my last day. Possibly for ever, possibly just for six months.
I was off to breathe fresh air and look to the big blue skies of the Karoo, but my Mum’s sick, and I want to be nowhere but near her now. I have plans and schemes and writings and itchy feet to occupy me. I’m petrified and excited.
For now, thank you, Ivory Tower, for watching me grow up, for teaching me, for being filled with people I’ve come to love, for keeping me so busy after my work-best-friend died, that I remembered to keep on breathing, for reminding me over and over of how lucky I am, for allowing me the privilege of having a job that let me feel like I was making a tiny difference.
Thank you, The Ivory Tower, for having me,