Gently Used

She and her sisters would lug out plastic tubs from the basement and fill them with soap and water and sponge bathe the poorer, dirtier kids in the neighbourhood. I picture them all out in the front yard with the green garden hose and the mutt, Scamp, looping between the kids and barking while several stations are set up. My aunts and mother stand in their swimsuits, eyes squinting beneath bowl-cut bangs while the others, dressed in grey undershirts and torn shorts, step into their Ivory baptisms and shed their grime like Pig Pen stepping out of his cloud of filth.

The Thug

I met the thug in 2009, through his cousin Khaya, a 28-year-old door-to-door salesman who peddled Chinese-made insoles and caller-ID machines. Like just about everyone else in Soweto, Khaya had to hustle for a living—the unemployment rate was around 40 percent. While South Africa has come a long way since the end of white rule in 1994, half the country still lives below the poverty line, and the shantytowns are growing with a biotic intensity.

Bedtime in Darfur

I’ve been told that if the kidnappers do show up, it will probably play out like this: they will come to the front gate, brandishing guns and shouting demands. Our elderly, unarmed guard will have no choice but to let them in. But the scenario I imagine is this: the kidnappers, AK-47s slung over their shoulders, stealthily scaling the cement wall, peering down at our sleeping bodies as they deftly cut the barbed wire with their machetes, landing with a thud on their feet, inches away from us.