Auntie Jenni had asked me to take an inventory of the store (pantry). I had spent my morning in the Kritch with Kim and Auntie Veronica. By this point I have become a familiar face at Place of Hope, and many of my mornings are spent in the Kritch with the babas of the women that live there. Ranging in age from 11 months to 5, the Kritch acts mostly as a preschool and day care center.
When I walk into the building on Wednesday and Thursday mornings their laughter is the first thing I hear. It’s hard not to smile when you are surrounded by small children calling out to you, “Auntie Auntie Auntie!” or “Auntie Cate!” I get hugs and kisses and some not so gentle tugging on my hair. Some days we play with blocks, or color, or tell stories. There are always diapers to be changed, potty breaks, toys to be picked up, someone to ask why they’re crying, and lots of smiles. Their rush to the door when I come in the morning (each determined to be the first to wrap their small arms around my leg) has become an endearing, albeit bad habit.
But today, I was glad for the change. Thankful for the solace. “If you could just go through and mark here what we have, and make a list. Then, maybe we can make a spread sheet and put it on the door, so we always know what’s in stock.” She wrote: “product name” and “quantity” out on a sheet of computer paper, and then looked up at me.
“No problem” I responded. ”This shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“Is it?” She smiled. This seems to be the general response to anything when talking to an Afrikaans speaker. So I smile back, knowing the question doesn’t require a response. She hands me the key, and runs off to deal with something else.
“Ok.” I looked around the small store closet. Twelve meters deep, and about seven meters across, the room was lined with makeshift wooden shelving. There were boxes on the floor, cans tucked here and there, and a robust spider population. I began systematically, starting at the bottom and working my way up. I soon realized that there was peanut butter in 4 different locations, some of the cans expired up to 5 years ago, and I had no idea yet what was stashed in the stacks of crates or boxes under the shelves. …New plan: First organize then inventory.
Three hours, much humming to myself, shifting of boxes and squishing of arachnids later, I was left with a pile of expired goods, and full shelves.
“Wat doen jy?” I turn around to see Gabby standing in the doorway.
“Reorganizing the store. How was school today?”
“Well. What’s this?” She points to the pile of cans and assorted items at the door.
“Expired stuff.” Then noting her confused look, “It’s old.”
“How do you know?” She said, picking up a can, and turning it around in her small hands. I bent down, and pointed to the faded numbers on the bottom of the halved peaches. “Wat doen hulle sê?”
“Well, it says June 2007. See?” She looks up at me.”Well you’re seven and a half now, right Gabriella?” She nods. “Well you were 5 and a half when this went old.”
“Oh. And this?” She picks up another can. And after that one, another. Moving into the store she picks up another can. “And this is good? What is this?”
“Lentils” I smile down at her.
“Well what do you think it says?” I ask. Turning it into a small reading lesson. Running my finger along the underside of the word. “What letter is this?”
“B”…”be”…”bea”…”beans!” She looks up anxiously. “And these are good?!”
“Yes, those are good.”
“Do you want to hear a storie?” She asked, deserting the creamed corn in her hand.
“That would be nice.” I said, the way you do when you are indulging.
“I use to have a brother.” She began. “He was just a baby, a baba” she uses her hands to demonstrate his small size. ”Then I was playing outside, and doing my maths, and Mamma was cleaning. ‘N mi baby brother got za knife off the table. And he cut himself. Like this.” Her index finger traces across her cheek and over her neck, stopping just short of the opposite shoulder. “And we came back in and my brother was dead. So we had to go to sleeps, and then the coroner came, and when I woke up my brother was gone. I was six when I went to the funeral.” She pauses, then: “Is that my sjokolade?”
Looking around, “No, those aren’t your chocolates.”