That Saturday, I knock on the door of Lisa’s house. A middle-aged woman, with dyed red hair, opens it.
“Sorry,” she says. “I’ve got nothing for you.”
Inside I cringe with embarrassment. She thinks I am a beggar.
“Mom!” Lisa squeals behind her. “It’s for me!”
Her mother watches us suspiciously. A tall, unwashed-looking boy with a fashionable wise man’s beard shuffles in to take a look at me, as Lisa virtually drags me through the kitchen. Out of a door on the other side is a little music room that she seems to share with the clean washing. Four rows of washing hang above a drum kit, a microphone on a stand and a child’s violin.
“The sound’s not great in here,” Lisa says. “The washing sucks it up.”
I wave at the washing. “At least we have an audience.”
We both laugh at the empty sleeves and hanging pants waiting to hear us play. As we start to tune our guitars the dishevelled boy sidles in and joins the crowd of clean washing.
“David,” Lisa says. “What the hell?”
“Mom sent me.”
Her mouth goes white with anger, just as when she was in agony with her hip.
“Get out,” she orders him. But the boy lays his head against the wall and seems to drift into a haze.
“Stoned,” she says to me. “As usual.” She pleads with me, “Play something, Langa. I’ll try and follow.”
And this is what we do. We don’t bother to plug into the amp at the washing machine, as I launch into a defiant, rocking Marabi piece. Lisa watches carefully, tries her best to mimic me.
She plays in a way that is completely opposite to her soccer. Her chord changes are precise, her passes too perfect. Her fingers are sticky on the guitar frets, slow to veer into a different melody.
I stop for a second, tell her gently, “You need to miss. Go too short or too long. There’s no right or wrong. Just feel it and … I don’t know … swing.”
She loosens her sticky fingers and lets her notes run. She catches it from me, the feeling.
I find myself trying some of her stuttering. Sometimes I halt and play unusual, picky riffs that tell a tighter tale.
Together we create a fusion of daring, of worry, of deep, excited peace. We play short and long, fast and slow, wrong and right – all in the middle of a stiff, white suburb that is frightened of my dark skin.
A sleek, brown dog with white snow spots trots in and drops a pebble on my toe. I flick it away. The dog darts to fetch it and tips it daintily back onto my shoe. Now and then it runs outside to collect another pebble as a gift.
Our music seems to spiral into the limp boy in the corner. He unravels slowly and starts to jive. Without even trying I seem to have won over the suburban dog and the stoner brother. I think I catch a glimpse of Lisa’s mother hovering uncertainly outside the door for a moment. I think I hear her sigh a helpless sigh.
I smile, play even more indigenous, get Lisa’s fingers tucking jauntily into her strings, get her druggie brother jiving with real rhythm.
After the last, long piece the three of us laugh as if we have all been smoking her brother’s weed. The spotty dog is dripping spit on my foot. There are little pebbles everywhere.
I pick them up one by one and give them to Lisa. Some kind of current shoots through my fingertips into her palm as I touch her. It’s crazy. Even the dog jerks still for a second.
Her brother says, “You guys should start a band. You could call it …” He gazes at the roof, thinking. “Black Mozart.” He slopes out, tactful for a stoner.
“Not a bad idea,” Lisa says softly.
I face the tentative hope in her eyes. Something cruel slashes through me. This is not the way my life was meant to go, never mind my music.
I was raised by a mother whose own mother worked herself to death in a big white house. I shake my head, laugh contemptuously.
“That’s like ebony and ivory. I hate that black-and-white-uniting stuff. A bit convenient.”
My sarcasm makes her step back and gasp for breath. She is not sure how to read me, despite years and years of recognising musical notes and playing them perfectly.
I’m not sure how to read me either. I pack my guitar into its case, hit the clips.
“Thanks for the jam.” I am careful not to pass too close and risk triggering the raw charge between us. I stride out, followed by the eager brown dog I seem to have impressed more than her mother.
Lisa presses the buzzer to let me out. I feel her waiting for me to turn and meet her eyes, but I sweep out, punishing the both of us.
Tell us: Do you think that many young people today – like Lisa – have to fight against racism in older generations of their own families? What problems could arise?