Mother of Miss Teen Pantyhose was quite the conversationalist as we hit the road on the four hour journey to Francistown, sometimes called the Northern Capital of Botswana. She told my boyfriend to sit in the front, still considering herself to be young and extremely attractive, able to flirt and be flirted with. And while I considered the age of 36 to be young even then as a twenty-something, she looked ten years older, and was what my mother would have called a hard looking woman. For Mom, that generally meant she drank and smoked, had a good-for-nothing husband, her house was a mess, and she fed her kids tv dinners every night. So even though Mother Pantyhose was doing her version of flirting with my boyfriend, and finding opportunities to touch his arm or leg, I remained unjealous and actually pleased to be in the backseat where I didn’t have to engage in her questionable banter.
Despite being married to a man who was of mixed race, she was as racist as white South Africans come. Her conversation was more of a continuous, never-taking-a-breath tirade against “the Blacks” as she called every resident of Botswana and South Africa who weren’t white. It was not an uncommon rant of the whites in southern Africa, with the usual spewing of insults, including, “they’re lazy, they’re uneducated, they drink too much” and on and on. While she was actually describing herself, she had a blind transference to people who she wasn’t even good enough to tie their shoes. A bad headache began to blossom behind my eyes. I took a moment to feel sorry for my boyfriend, who Mother Pantyhose looked at far too often rather than the road. In a country where cattle roamed rather freely, as did a number of different wild animals, taking ones eyes off the narrow two-lane road was not the wisest thing to do. The most common cause of death in Botswana was road accidents, most often involving cattle and drunk drivers.
I wanted to smack the back of her head and call her out loud what was ricocheting in my head, but I was in a crisis of wanting to be home so bad that I buried my shame, asked God and all people of color for forgiveness, and kept my mouth shut. The shame did not override the need to be home. This was bad. The back seat of the car was my confessional. Mile after mile, the throbbing tan desert, with its scrubby thorn trees and ancient stones, flashed by the car window, today a welcome monotony. I pictured myself just walking away through the bush, a young herd boy finding me outside his family’s cattlepost, half dead. That seemed okay to me.
About half way to Francistown, Mother Pantyhose stopped in the small “town” of Mahalapye. The roadside portion of the town was little more than a small General Dealer with basics like mealie-meal, sugar and tea, all behind a counter, where the shopkeeper handed customers each item; a rough bar, once painted blue, with yellow-eyed drinkers and two kinds of barely cool beer, Castle and Lion; and a petrol station, which was rather modern looking next to the flat-roofed block and plaster store and bar on either side of it. Mother of Miss Pantyhose wanted a beer “for the road,” so she ordered it at the bar, her demeanor all-white colonialist, while boyfriend also ordered a beer and I got an orange Fanta. While they sat at a sticky-top table with mismatched, metal chairs, I crossed the dusty cement floor to the horrid bathroom. It was missing a doorknob and was filthy, the toilet seemingly not cleaned since JFK was president. I tried to pee extra fast, the outhouse-like smell making me lightheaded, and before one of the drunken stool warmers decided to see what I looked like with my pants down. My boyfriend decided to keep guard and stood outside the door, my personal Marine security. There was no toilet paper, so I dug into my bag and found some tissues. They may have been used. I didn’t care.
While generally someone who was considered well-regulated, in terms of never totally losing it, I felt the despondency of this never-ending journey transforming to a not-so-slow burn. My belly churned, like a mashup of car sickness and the stomach flu. It wasn’t the bar, as I’d been in this place before in my three years in Botswana, or the toilet, I’d seen worse. It was her. I felt sabotaged. Not in control. Kidnapped. The thought of throwing up in the back seat of her car began to form into a payback plan. But then I thought of my boyfriend having to suffer through it, the smell and mess, and determined it to be too rash of a plan.
Mother Pantyhose didn’t waste time on the beer. Her loud conversation, punctuated with slurs against Africans, became overwhelming. I said I needed something in the General Dealer. Boyfriend said, oh yeah, that’s right, I’ll go with you. When we came out of the shop with our purchase of canned milk she was smoking next to her car. I’d wished she had left us. Then she pulled into the petrol station next door, and soon we were back on the road. That was something, anyway, wheels turning, a mile closer, a mile closer. Although I couldn’t help thinking it was faux progress, a likely tease, sure to end badly. Again.
The boyfriend insisted I sit in the front since my stomach ache was revealing itself as a whitish-green face. Mother Pantyhose didn’t appreciate that. She became sullen and aggressive. Her flirting no longer a front-seat intimacy, in her mind, but now so far away in the back seat where the male sat, he finally relieved of duty. So her rants became about other women, nasty relatives and how horrid Francistown was.
“If I died in Francistown, I’d get up and walk my coffin out of town. I can’t stand that place.”
There was possibly a tall tale coming and it would help pass the time. “Did you used to live there?” I asked, under the pretense of actually caring.
“Oh, god, no. I got relatives there, cousins. The Hastings.”
“Oh, yeah, Hastings & Sons Hardware. I’ve met the daughter and son. And I’ve seen the father in the store. It’s quite a store.”
“Sure it is. The whole lot of them are bad news. Always thought so much of themselves, and why? That store was built on the back of my grandparents. Then there goes uncle Jay who steals everything from everybody else in the family, including my dad. He never got over it. It broke him. The drink. Fighting with my ma.” She paused while taking a cigarette from her blue box and lighting it. “I hate that place. You know. Yeah, I’d walk my coffin out of town. Full of whores and losers.”
Mother of Miss Pantyhose was getting louder as she remembered all of the slings and arrows she’d taken from her evil cousins. The cigarette seemed to embolden her even further. I’d met her cousins. They were not evil. Priviledged, bored white natives maybe, but not bad folk.
“And the hotels in that town. My god, they’re just for trash and me-nice girls. Shit food and dirty glasses. I had the very worst meal of my entire life at the Grand Hotel. Are you kidding me. Grand? Hah! The whole town is a dump. It’s a dump.” She paused again, like she was planning something. A chill ran through me.
“The bloody kaffirs. You hand a country to them and they trash it. I’m not going there. I’m not going to Francistown. I’m just going to Selibe Phikwe. Goddamn bloody kaffirs. I’m not going there” Her voice rose to a well-rehearsed scream. But when I looked over at her, rather than a red-faced scowl, her face looked rather calm. Eerily calm.
I was stunned. It was payback. I had dared sit in the front. I had dared to exist. I looked over my shoulder at my boyfriend. He saw my face and leaned forward.
“Hey, that’s great. Thanks. You can just drop us off at the intersection. It’ll be great. Thanks.” He leaned back again. I could feel him thinking, ‘Don’t say anything. Let’s just make a clean break.’ Like we were escaping a prison camp.
“They love me at the Club in Phikwe. I have so many friends there. That’s where I’m going. All the guys love me there.”
It was too dangerous to say anything. We both kept quiet. She continued to rant while my headache reached a crescendo. The scrubby veld flashed by the window. A lonesome looking farm with a few rondovels and a zinc-roofed water tank blinked through the roadside thorn trees. Finally, a half hour later we were at the intersection of the main road and the turnoff to Selibe Phikwe. She dropped us by the railroad track that headed into the town and was next to the main road and a lonesome petrol station that looked closed but wasn’t.
“Watch out for those bloody kaffirs. Can’t believe you can live in that godforsaken place. But they love me in Phikwe.” She waved a good-riddance to us as she drove off, her Mercedes sputtering, she spewing more vindictive out her open window about people in Botswana.
So there we were, hitchhiking again. By now it was late afternoon. We were both so bummed out, so tired, so done with the day. But then a vehicle was slowing down, pulling over. And we’d only been waiting for ten minutes!
It was another Mercedes. Also dusty but not quite so old. Just the sight of it gave me a foreboding sense of doom.
END OF PART II.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast.
Find more from Lady Proverbs and WTF: A Blog for Well-seasoned Women…and other fine folks, at PulayanaPress.com.