#12 – Charge for breathin

He went to see the landlady. “Mrs. Venster, isn’t there anything you can do about the flies in my room?
They’re—”She gave a fat, jiggling laugh and pinched Jamie’s cheek. “Myn magtig. You’ll get used to them. You’ll see.”
The sanitary arrangements in Cape Town were both primitive and inadequate, and when the sun set, an odoriferous vapor covered the city like a noxious blanket. It was unbearable. But Jamie knew that he would bear it. He needed more money before he could leave. “You can’t survive in the diamond fields without money,” he had been warned. “They’ll charge you just for breathin’.”
On his second day in Cape Town, Jamie found a job driving a team of horses for a delivery firm. On the third day he started working in a restaurant after dinner, washing dishes. He lived on the leftover food that he squirreled away and took back to the boardinghouse, but it tasted strange to him and he longed for his mother’s cock-a-leekie and oatcakes and hot, fresh-made baps. He did not complain, even to himself, as he sacrificed both food and comfort to increase his grubstake. He had made his choice and nothing was going to stop him, not the exhausting labor, or the foul air he breathed or the flies that kept him awake most of the night. He felt desperately lonely. He knew no one in this strange place, and he missed his friends and family. Jamie enjoyed solitude, but loneliness was a constant ache.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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