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Jo'Burg Days: A Trip To The Market

"She could feel his eyes on her. Hot, burning eyes...'' A trip to the market can be a dangerous journey for a young South African woman, as Barbara Durlacher's story reveals.

She could feel his eyes on her. Hot, burning eyes. She knew he had noticed her as she carried the basket back from the market. It was heavy, and she had gasped as she lifted it and tried to raise it to her head. Catching his glance, she had half-hoped that he would lift it for her, but no, he stood there with that insolent half-smile, looking her up and down, as if she was a prime piece of beef. She didn’t suppose that he would have viewed half a beast with the same appraising stare he was giving her; if he had, the butcher would probably have told him to take his custom elsewhere, rather than put up with his bad manners.

Walking slowly and heavily, she waited for a chance to cross. The traffic was thick and the stream of vehicles and pedestrians seemed unending. She needed to hurry, Mislau the overseer would be cross if she was too long at the market. He would think that she was talking to others, instead of understanding how difficult it was for a young girl on her own. But, as she stood there, she dropped into a reverie, and her imagination took wing.

“How wonderful if I could find a nice man to look after me. Someone to love and caress me. Who would introduce me to the wonders and secrets of sex, who would show me its excitements and wonders; but most important, how wonderful to feel that a man loved and cared for me!” she thought wistfully, knowing that the chances of this were so slight that dreaming of it was probably all she would ever achieve.

A break in the throng allowed her to cross at last, and carrying the basket in both hands, she scurried awkwardly across. Then, out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed him again, “Oh no! he’s following me,” she thought with a shiver of fear, quickening her steps. “Hope I can get to the gate and safety before he can accost me.” Slipping quickly through the thinning crowd, she reached the heavy carved gate in a few minutes.

Banging on the door, she shouted for the watchman. “Open up,” she bellowed, knowing that he was deaf and likely asleep. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the man lurking on the other side of the street, but slowly the heavy door creaked open and “Safe this time,” she breathed as she slipped inside. “Wonder how long this will last. I have to go to market every day, and I don’t know if that man will be waiting for me.”

For the next week she was not molested either by his stare, or by his presence. “Perhaps he was just a stranger passing through,” she hoped, but could never be certain. Then, just when she thought she was safe, there he was again, gazing at her in the same bold and frightening way, and this time he knew her route home.

Waylaying her on the only quiet stretch, where a dark passage led off from the main street, he pressed her up against the wall, pinioning her with an arm across her throat. “And where’d you think you’re going, my beauty?” he growled, breathing hotly into her face, his groping hand moving to her breasts. Twisting unexpectedly, he suddenly covered her mouth with his other hand, then raising her skirts and opening his trousers, he attempted to have his way with her.

Desperation giving her strength, and summoning every reserve she had, she lashed out with feet and hands, clawing his face, kicking him in the crutch and finally, moving with snake-like speed, grabbing him between the legs and twisting hard.

“You little bitch!” he gasped, before falling to the ground, doubled up, clutching and gagging with pain. Seizing her chance, she kicked him in the head, and taking her opportunity, ran as fast as her legs could carry her back to the heavy door, shouting loudly for the watchman, banging frantically with her fists and feet, begging … “Open, open.”

Safely back inside, when she had calmed down and given a brief account to Mislau, she realised that further trips to the market were fraught with danger. She needed to find some protection. “I wonder if they’ll allow old Prescias to come with me?” she thought. “Perhaps he’ll understand if I say how heavy the basket is getting and ask if Prescias can help me. If Prescias doesn’t come, I’ll have to try to get a kid from the huts, at least he’ll be able to throw stones at the man. Maybe that’ll give me a chance to run away.”

But that was the end of her problems, she never saw the man again, for soon she was given a more responsible job, bleaching the linen. “Now I don’t have to carry that heavy basket any more; I don’t have to haggle with the merchants trying to get the best prices, and Jupiter be praised, I don’t have to take my life in my hands every time I venture out.”

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