Agnes, the Van Wyks’ Zulu domestic worker, had a special friendship with young Chris in the late sixties to early seventies. He would defend her whenever she came to work with a babalaas on a Monday morning and made a mess of the cleaning. In turn, Agnes never told on Chris when he played truant from school.
As the years passed, the two grew closer, swopping stories about coloureds and Zulus, life in Riverlea and Soweto, pass laws, politics and falling in love. She taught him to count in Zulu and he promised to teach her to read in English.
Whenever the clock ran against her, Agnes would stop almost in mid-sentence, grab a broom or cloth, and declare: ‘I have to rush. I have eggs to lay, chickens to hatch.’
What an odd, ungrammatical thing to say, Chris often mused. But many years later, he played a CD by Louis Jordan, a 1940s American jazz singer, and it all became clear.