In the dying hours of that day, with the moon rising orange and heavy into the winter sky, I met a man from eMtshezi. I greeted him at the gate, and his face changed. He smiled. He asked me my name. I replied and said that I was the new utisha wesiZulu at the school. Then a car drove up blindingly behind us, and I had to find a parking space.

“Angibuzanga ngegama, mfowethu”

this collection of nasals and gutturals scatters into the air between us

“NginguSiyabonga”

“Wakwabani ngesibongo?”

I round the trees, walking so purposfully that I almost miss the small patch of pink in my peripheral vision – one of my students, off by the cars.

“NginguwakwaSithole, mfowethu”

“Jobe!”

“Oh, usukwazi ukungibiza kanje! Nangesithakazelo! Uyazi ukuthi lithini igama lami?”

“Yebo – lisho ukuthi ‘we are grateful’ ngesiNgisi”

“Yebo!”

I follow this with something I learnt from my father – the enquiry about origin.

“Uvelaphi nendawo, mfowethu?”

“Pietermaritzburg”

“Emgungundlovu – ngāzalelwa khona, kodwa umndeni wethu wākhela eDalton, ngaseMvoti”

“Uyazi indawo e…bizwa ngoEstcourt?”

“EMtshezi? Yebo ngiyazi”

He smiles more broadly, and it seems I’ve passed the test. We say goodbye and I move into the gathering dusk. I am glad to have met you, I say. He returns it to me.

Walking away, I find that we’ve had an eavesdropper.

“Have you been listening?”

“Yes”

“It’s one of the best things you can do in order to learn a language. I used to sidle up to adult conversations, listening and learning the tricks of isiZulu, English and other languages. It’s the best thing you can do.”