Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Mrs Babu's shoe shop
Today, I went to seek out and find some school sandals for my children, prior to the big day of return (thank God and all that is Holy) tomorrow. The school, which runs a branded shop (alongside every other conceivable way of getting money out of my pocket) didn't have sandals. I was told that "they are not very popular". Well, maybe. But in a heatwave of 36 degrees Celsius, I really couldn't be bothered with popularity, and I would hope my children would feel similarly.
So, seeing the school didn't have the right sizes, we asked for the supplier - which led us to Mrs Babu's shop in Wynberg. When I called to ask for directions, I was given them - precisely and without hesitation. The shop was unassuming. As I stepped inside, it felt like I had taken a step into 1960. There were single shoes arranged in an old fashioned way, in the windows and around the walls. There were archaic adverts about which shoe might provide one with the best fit. There was one of those measuring things, to tell exactly what size your foot is.
Mrs Babu opened the security gate for me and beamed in an old fashioned, welcoming way. "May I help you?" she enquired. I told her my needs and she disappeared into the back of the shop for an extraordinarily long time. When she came back, she was full of conversation. How old were my children? Which school did they go to? How was I finding it?
Of course, I was the only customer. When I entered, I noted that another customer was just leaving. There was a place to sit to try on your prospective shoes. There were photographs in frames on the walls, of a husband, perhaps. And a son?
She told me that she had been running the shop for the past 40 years and that she originally came from Johannesburg and that the apartheid authorities had tried to get her removed because she was neither "Cape Coloured" not "Cape Malay" as the apartheid classifications required. She was classified "Asiatic", so they had a special place reserved for her and her family.
"To hell with them!" she told me. "I told them to get lost and to take their papers with them!" And so she stayed, behind the shop she ran. And they couldn't (or at least, they didn't) move her.
I allowed myself to get stung for polish and some sort of leather care follow-up cream, just for the sheer pleasure of her company. How different things are now.