I saw her again today. It’s been awhile since her memory has come up and that is a good thing. At first I thought that even time itself would never be able to erase her image from my mind. I’m almost startled to realize that time has, in fact worked its magic and I’ve almost forgotten her. But today, I see her again.
I am heading to Atlanta driving north on interstate 85 and I pass a deer lying rigid and still in the grass on the side of the road. Its graceful and beautiful brown body is rigid, exposed and alone as hundreds of cars pass quickly by. Several passengers glance at the deer for a moment, vaguely recognizing some form of mild indignity.
I pass by and think, “what a tragic injustice,” because I remember something else, someone else. I see the deer and I think of her, the beautiful young South African girl. A girl with no name of whom I am forever linked. We share an eternal moment of unwanted intimacy. She, the totally exposed and vulnerable one and I, the shocked and sickened voyeur.
I saw her shortly after the traffic began to slow. My friend had planned a special day of lunch and shopping and we were moving along a busy highway. We had been in the car for about 30 minutes enjoying each other’s company and the exquisite beauty of South Africa. The last few miles gave me an opportunity to view the other South Africa and the inescapable evidence of extreme contrast. I found myself unashamedly gawking at the township on my right through the privacy of my car window. The township is a fantastic mosaic of cardboard, tin and wood strung together with a maze of electrical wire, littered with people and trash, and slung out as far as one can see. I remember wanting to take it all in, absorb a bit of understanding as to how life is possible for the faceless thousands who eke out their existence in a place like this. My friend suddenly applies the brakes and our car is forced into a slow-moving crawl.
We assume there must be a traffic accident up ahead which is quickly confirmed as we see a police vehicle. As we approach the site there is a black automobile pulled over along the right hand side of the road and a woman who is visibly shaken, talking to a policeman, her arms crossed. The windshield of her car is shattered into a million glass diamonds, some sparkling on the hood and some on the ground. I look around for the other car involved in the accident. There is no other car.
There is only a girl. She has lovely brown skin and is hauntingly beautiful. She is alone, uncovered and in repose. Her body is being silently viewed by passer-byes who are slowed but not deterred from getting to their pre-determined destinations. She landed at an odd angle against the concrete medium separating traffic going in opposite directions. “She must have tried to hop over the barrier to get to the other side,” my friend remarks. “It has happened before.”
We are briefly horrified. We pray for her soul. We too pass by, propelled like the others in the tide of moving traffic. We discuss possible ways to prevent another such tragedy. We can’t seem to come up with any workable solution. We continue on to Stellenbosch, mostly in silence, where we have a lovely lunch and do some shopping.