Aboriginal Grocery March

My thighs had begun to burn and weaken when Marshall suggested I turn around.

“Why don’t you try it backwards!” he panted.

I rotated my rear and placed it in Marshall’s view. Our synchronized movements immediately felt more natural. I gasped my relief.

“Isn’t that better?”

“Much,” I breathed.

We’d been walking up the steep hill for 15 minutes or more. The incline was burning my thigh and calf muscles, but there was no way I could give up and go back home. The kids needed groceries and I was too cheap to pay for taxi fare – a whopping R12…or $1.85 – for BOTH of us.

Our house sits on the edge of Piesang in Plettenberg Bay, where the mountainous range would be a challenge for even the fittest outdoorsman. As I watched Plett’s numerous luxury cars struggle up the bend, their engines churning against gravity, I contemplated the impact that the very same ascent was having on my own body. It couldn’t have been good. I haven’t walked any further than the driver’s side of my car for years, and the very idea of a mile-long hike had terrified me to the core.

It’s only a mile, Malaka. You can do it!

Powered by self-affirmation, I felt a wave of confidence wash over me – that is until an elderly lady whizzed by me on foot, shaking her head in disbelief and disgust.

Get in shape or hire a taxi, you oily American swine, her weathered eyes said silently.

Leave me alone old lady! mine yelled back.

Finally, after trudging for 30 odd minutes, we reached the top of the mountain and began our food purchases. We selected our items with care, mindful that we’d have to lug each bag down the way we came.

“We need some milk,” Marshall said.

“Yeah…but keep in mind that we have to carry all this back,” I cautioned.

“We also need some onions.”

“Yeah…but don’t get a sack. We have to carry all this back! Only get 1 or 2.”

Onions an’ milk is mighty heavy.

Why have we been forced to walk about this small city ferrying our food around like a pair of homeless goats? Because we’ve had to return the car we were borrowing for the last month to its owner. I admit, there were days that I took the car for granted. You never really appreciate the value of a vehicle until you’ve had your thigh muscles raped by an unforgiving mountain.

During our descent, Marshall expressed his gratitude that we at least did not have to carry our items the other way round. I agreed; but a quarter way through, I stopped and fought back tears of anguish.

“What’s wrong?”

“The plastic bag is cutting into my hands!” I wailed. “We need a trolley!”

Sadly, none of the grocers in town would let us buy one of theirs. Why ever not, I’ll never know. After all, one of the quintessential images of American life is that of a homeless person loving pushing all their precious belongings around the streets of any given downtown metropolis in a Kroger cart. I was offering them culture for Heaven’s sake! American culture.

“Hire a taxi,” was the resounding reply to our plight.

But my miserly ways prevented me from doing just that. Sensing that I was about to give in Marshall stopped walking and looked around. He went into the bush and came back with a stick. Instantly I knew what he was thinking.

“That is brilliant!” I cried. “Like the Aborigines!”

He smiled and tested the strength of the stick with the weight of the heaviest bag. Then he added his last two. He confidently trudged on with his ancient hauling apparatus on his shoulder. He looked so much more comfortable than I felt. Further down the hill, I found a stick as well. So there we were, two Black Americans in Africa with sticks and plastic bags shamelessly walking half way around the city as if nothing was wrong with this picture.

By the time we got home, we were each a dusty sweaty mess. Our neighbor, an English granddame, was aghast when she realized what we’d done.

“You’ve got neighbors for goodness sake,” she scolded. “Next time you need a lift to town, just ask!”

She glowered at me, trying to convey the seriousness of the matter. I wanted to feel foolish, but I couldn’t. My husband and I had just conquered the elements using nothing more than our wits, brawn and a pair of sticks!

“Yes ma’am,” I said, feigning repentance. “I will.”

Which of course I won’t. I rather enjoy the feeling of being a modern day hunter-gatherer.