Gone were the young, nervy-eyed white soldiers with their machine guns; instead the terminal seemed overrun with black taxi drivers asking her if she needed a ride. No, no thank you, she said, her eyes sweeping across their faces. In the past she'd have handled them with a certain confidence, an ongoing rapid discernment -- trust this one, have nothing to do with that character -- her white skin at least giving her the illusion of security. Now she felt uncertain of herself.
She stepped outside into the shock of the sunlight. Buses with spewing exhaust pipes and ads for Sun City painted on their sides trundling past, row upon row of cars in the vast parking lot -- it would have been so cosmopolitan if it hadn't been for that light, wild and fierce, as if gleaned from the eyes of animals that kill. She took a minibus shuttle to the Holiday Inn, listening to the earthy lilt of the driver's voice, the white family sitting opposite her with their flattened accents that turned each word into a roughly carved piece of wood.
After a plate of prawns peri-peri and a long shower, Eva made her way to the bar. Two large fiberglass tusks flanked the entrance; inside, a group of Indian businessmen crowded the red Naugahyde banquets. She perched on a stool at the bar and ordered a glass of pinotage. In the mirror opposite her, she studied the reflections of the two blond South African women seated to her right. Long manicured nails, chunky gold jewelry, and cell phones resting on the bar. She glanced at her own reflection. She'd worn lip gloss and it hadn't helped; her mouth appeared to be more down-turned than usual, her eyes vacant. She was twenty-eight years old, but with her short haircut -- it had been so chic in New York -- and the emotional tumult of returning etched across her face, she looked odd, like a middle-aged teenager. She reached quickly for her glass of wine.
The blondes departed, and Eva ordered another glass from the bartender, who wore a Nehru jacket cut from kente cloth.
"An American who knows that pinotage is South Africa's finest wine." He set the glass in front of her. "So, what part of the States are you from?"
"I live in New York."
"Ah, the Big Apple."
She laughed. He made it sound like a piece of fruit. The bartender wrinkled his brow as if he didn't understand her amusement, and emboldened by the velvety pinotage, she said, "Yup. Maar ek's gebore in Humansdorp en het op 'n plaas -- " The words tumbling out of her mouth like clods of earth flustered her; she hadn't spoken Afrikaans out loud in ten years, and she knocked her wineglass over.
"No problem." He wiped the bar clean. "Welcome home, Mrs....or could it be Miss?"
"Miss, Eva -- " Her eyes fluttered away from his in embarrassment. She must have sounded like a holdover from the old South Africa; Miss Eva was the way the Africans who worked on Skinner's Drift had addressed her. "I mean, it's just plain Eva."
"Welcome home, not so plain Eva."
Again she avoided his eyes. Surely he wasn't flirting with her. "Van Rensburg," she added.
"Oh, that's a nice boere surname." He refilled her glass and slid it toward her. "A few years ago I would have been scared of someone with a name like that."
"Cheers!" She raised the glass to her lips, unsure of how she should respond.
A smile curled ever so slowly across his face until his cheekbones jutted out like rock ledges.
"Eva, is everything okay?" He leaned toward her, close enough for her to read the name tag pinned to his jacket.
"No, no, you make it sound too American. Listen. Rah..." His mouth opened wide as a lion's. "Puu..." His lips pursed as if he were kissing her. "Lana!" He swallowed and sighed.
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fugard. reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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