Saturday afternoon in Johannesburg

Claire Martens

Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

I went running in Melville last Saturday afternoon. Having just moved there, I decided on an easy route through the shopping centre. I passed a number of people on the road, of course, and with each I felt like something was being told to me.

I see an odd looking couple ahead of me. I take him to be foreign or a student and she is leaning into him, in a way that suggests familiarity. But as I get closer I realise that her hands are clasped together in a way that makes me feel that she is asking something of him. Her shoulders are hunched and her demeanour is shy. As I run past, I hear her say to him, “…but they still rape you…”, and then the distance drowns out the rest.

I passed a group of men begging at a street light. They see me running; my back is turned, and they start shouting something at me. I don’t know what they are saying, but I understand what they mean. They are jeering, they are implying things and what they implying angers me. I don’t even turn around. I continue running until I pass a restaurant. A well-dressed blonde man is standing outside and, as I pass, he won’t stop looking at me. I wish that he would stop.

As I round the corner I feel exhausted. I also think to myself how glad I am that I am not wearing revealing running shorts, even though the tights are…tight. And then I realise that it would not matter what I wear while I am running through these streets. What I wear will not determine that which I am made to understand and what I am made to feel.

I slow down to a stop and start walking. An older man is coming towards me and as he passes I hear him say “Ntombi”. At first I am confused and look around me to find the source of his greeting. There are no other women around and I realise that he is directing it at me. And I think that it’s not all bad, even though it is bad enough.

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