Cape Town.Cape Town has a unique ability to wake the sleeping paranoia, the foe which a conscious-of-it black person always has to to actively conciliate when said conscious-of-it black person comes to Cape Town from a city such as Johannesburg, where it is usually resting or unbothered if not sleeping. (Except that one time at Spetada in Rosebank when the owner told my friends that ”All you black girls just need a fuck” after they complained about a roach in their food. Retribution is now the type of food that is being served at Spetada. Since the story came out a few weeks ago, that restaurant has been visibly empty. I’ve been to The Firs 5 times in the last 2 weeks and every time I walk past, there are 2 or 3 tables at most. Today at about 5pm when I walked past, nobody was there. Joburg if this is your doing, thank you)
Back to Cape Town. Before a visit to Cape Town, you actively try to train your mind to feel safe, that nobody is trying to render it inferior or disabled in its perception of things as soon as you advance on the streets adjacent to Strand Street in the City Bowl. You sit down at a restaurant full of laughing white faces and your mind actively pinches itself to remember that they are not laughing at you. You try to hide the shock or fear or protean weirdness of being the only black in the room. You are served by a too-familiar-too soon black barrista whose demeanor is so exblockquoted, it does not know what to do with itself. You speak Xhosa to said black barrista but the Xhosa does not exist behind his thick Shona lips. You enjoy four hours of wifi, good coffee and delicious but underserved salad.
Bill time. The white owner with a cute face prints your bill and you take out your wallet and go to the till. It’s R85 and you give him your card and say ”make it R100”. His face frowns and you wonder if he has heard you under the loud Kendrick Lamar. He gives the card machine back to you with your card in it and you notice the amount is still R85. You look back at him and repeat, ”make it R100”. His eyebrows return to their place on his cute face. He smiles and says thank you. You punch your pin in and you wonder if he thought you were not going to tip him because you are black. You tell yourself to relax and stop trying to fulfill a notorious prophecy.
You leave and walk the streets, passing many a tattooed, bearded and juice worthy white man and young women with the sweet scent of youth, tanned legs and stylish insular looking sunglasses. Some of them are walking with cute dreadlocked black guys with iPhones in their hands. You walk until you get tired because you are not used to walking. Your body is shocked and tired but relieved to be using its legs at a leisurely pace, on tarmac and not on mall floor. You walk into another restaurant to rest and have a drink. It is full of more white faces. This time they are not drinking coffee. The sun is setting and the wine and spirits are flowing to accelerate the laughter. You feel reassured by the number of black waitresses holding notepads inside the restaurant. They look at you but nothing registers. You look back trying to lull the sleeping foe inside of you. You remember its insecurity. Their eyes talk to each other about you, but not to you. The foe rises but doesn’t end up in your facial expression. One of them tells another to seat you and she seats you and leaves you. She leaves you to go and stand at the entrance of the restaurant to go and assume her position as host, where she watches you watch her. You caress the foe inside while you pretend to play with your phone. Some time passes and you look back at the black waitress and she looks back at you or what feels like past you. Your fingers shake as the foe aims for the surface of your lips. You look back at her again and she instructs a white male waiter to attend to you with her eyes. He comes to you, eventually. The foe is settled by the m’am at the end of his sentence and his reassuring arm on the back of your chair. He takes your drink order and you calm down, putting the foe to the bed it is used to. Nobody brings your drink. You search the room for the nice waiter and he is busy with other people. The foe groans. You don’t acknowledge it. 10 minutes pass and still you don’t have your drink in front of you. A beautiful white waitress, as beautiful as Cape Town likes them, hovers around your table. She touches your shoulder while talking to the people next to you. The foe puckers up and wonders why your shoulder felt the touch of a stranger. She walks away and, as if she remembered something, turns around, takes a deep breath and places her face uncomfortably close to yours and her hand resumes its position on your shoulder. ‘’Can I help you?’’ she asks. You respond with an unprepared smile that you have already been helped.
She takes another deep breath and walks away then she changes the route to where she was going and comes back to crouch next to you. ”No, I’m going to help you now. What did you order?”, she says. ”Oh, I already ordered from that guy”, says your mouth while you point to the waiter who took your order. ”Everybody is confused about you”, she says. ”But it’s okay, I’ve taken over and I’m going to be your waitress. What would you like?” The foe stands up but becomes dizzy from confusion. She touches your shoulder again. ”What would you like? Don’t worry about it.”, she says noticing the confusion on your face. You give her the order again and she leaves. A heat hotter than the 33 degrees in Cape Town roasts the foe inside of you. You look around and everyone is having a great time. If feels like someone has just turned the TV on after you’ve heard bad news. You forget you were hungry.
She returns and you ask, ”but what were they confused about? Why were they confused? What was confusing about my order”. She sighs and again tells you not to worry. You close the menu that you don’t intend to order from and call your friend to come and fetch you. You look at the menu for the name of the restaurant and you start to accept what is happening. The Gin and Tonic won’t go down. Everything is just too hot. The black waitresses leer at you from their posts. TV land continues. The white male waiter’s arms are full of plates. The waitress comes back and you ask for the bill. She returns with it and while you are paying, you ask her what just happened again. She sighs again and says ”believe me, it’s got nothing to do with you. It’s all internal. Nobody knew whose table this was and nobody wanted to take it so I volunteered”. ”That doesn’t make me feel better”, you say. You say some other things that I don’t remember. She apologizes in a sincere way while holding the card machine with your card in it. You have cash in your bag and wonder who to protect in this crucial moment – the foe inside of you, the loyalty in this girl’s eyes or the reputation of the next black person that comes to that restaurant and doesn’t tip for the same reason. You accept that this has just happened because you never, for one second, forgot who you are and where you are.
It’s hard to write these types of posts. I don’t wanna be that guy that’s saying what has been said before but I also believe that an idea is normalized through repetition, by many accounts of the same thing happening. This was a strange situation that while not overt, still had an insidious air about it.