This afternoon, as is so often the case on Sundays, I had a load of garden waste to take to the dump. So I made my way through the dense coolth of Norwood and Orchards, crossed the main road and the highway that I usually take to school in the mornings, past the two pieces of stone on a hillside that slowly reveal a cross as I drive, and turned into the City Parks Dump.

There was a man I’d never seen before at the gate. He looked to be a little older than I, but with less grey in his hair than I, so I bingelela’d him on the we’re-part-of-the-same-peer-group level:

Sawubona Mfowethu!

His response, though following the usual rules of politeness, was a little stiff. I thought nothing of it, and went to drop off the single bag of lawntrimmings and uprooted chili bushes in the first skip.

On the way out, I valelisa’d too soon and was caught behind a large Audi struggling to remove itself from the perilous gate.

The man took the opportunity to ask me a question

Bangaki abantwana bakho?
how-many-are the-children of-yours?

To which I replied

Bathathu.
they-are-three

And on which, with some surprise, he commented that

Ukhulisile.
You-have-reared-children.

The Audi chose this moment to pull off, so I once again said the usual things and drove off after it.

And only as I was driving off did I wonder why he’d asked me that question. I couldn’t quite figure it out. It seemed like a fairly random followup to our initial punctiliousness.

Until I realised why he’d asked me about my children.

He was checking to see if the umbrage he felt at me not calling him Baba was justified or not. He was checking to see if I had a right to address him as Brother, if I was really a father of children as he was, if we really were on the same peer level.