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Jo'Burg Days: The Lift - A Bedtime Story

The little girl dreams of riding in the lift in the tall skyscraper… Barbara Durlacher’s gets inside a child’s mind to write a story about a trip to town with mother.

Holding her mother’s hand, the child trotted along the pavement, matching her steps to the mother’s impatient, longer stride. She was sucking a bright orange lolly, careful not to let the drips go on her beautiful new, blue coat. She loved these days in town, it was always exciting, and Mommy usually gave her a sweetie or a lolly if she started to get tired and cross. It helped to cheer her up.

First they went to the butchers for the weekly joint.

“A nice leg ‘o lamb, please Mr Pincher,” her Mommy said when the queue reached the glass counter. The other ladies were helped by Mr Brownall, while Mrs Coetzee took the cash.

Hanging behind the counter were big curly silver hooks, horrible looking things. Sometimes they had whole sides of beef on them, half a sheep or a sad looking turkey, yellow feet helplessly dangling, feathers all faded and dull.

She did not like looking at them, it was more interesting drawing patterns in the clean sawdust on the floor with the toe of her shiny black patent-leather shoes, the ones with the lovely cut-out half-moons; they were her favourites and she always wore them when they came to town.

She smoothed her smart new summer coat, Mommy said she looked just like a little blue angel in it, and she loved the colour: there was only a tiny stub left of her blue crayon in her pencil box because she used it so much.

After the butchers, they went to the Municipal Rates Hall where Mommy had to ‘pay her rates and taxes,’ she said with irritation, anxiously counting the notes and coins in her purse. The Rates Hall was boring, long queues of people, it was hot and crowded and the tiled walls and floors echoed with the noise of feet shuffling forward, and subdued conversations. Sometimes she heard the clang of a tram coming down Market Street outside the City Hall, or the sound of the Indian flower sellers squabbling over the price of marigolds and roses.

At last they were finished, and after a quick stop at the French Hairdressers in the Market Arcade to get Daddy’s shaving cream, she knew that the next stop would be to ‘have a cuppa’ with Auntie Ida. She always looked forward to that. Auntie Ida worked in a big, tall, skyscraper with a really funny name, sometimes she remembered, but mostly she forgot. She thought it was something like ‘Agnes’… no, not that, it was ‘Aegis’ Building and she had a friend here. His name was Archie and he drove the lift.

The lift was her secret place and she often dreamed about it. Sometimes her dream took the form of a nightmare when Archie forgot to pull the lever back in time, when he was making it go fast, so fast, right up to Auntie’s floor without any stops and they burst right through the ceiling, rocketing straight into the sky. But usually Archie remembered, and managed to bring the lift to a smooth halt after that stomach-dropping first swoop, right at Auntie’s floor, without even a tiny step for her to fall over when the doors slid smoothly open.

The lift was bright and shiny inside too, and she loved looking at her distorted image, moving her features and bending her knees, so that she bulged at the waist or suddenly elongated in the most unexpected way, until Mommy said to her “Now that’s enough, nice little girls don’t make faces at other people in lifts,” [but she only said this if there were other people in the lift, never when it was just them and Archie] and she had to stop.

When they reached Auntie’s office, the two sisters settled down to drink their tea and eat a plate of biscuits, but Auntie always remembered to give her a handful of lovely coloured pencils and a big piece of paper. She was left to draw her pictures while their voices murmured quietly in the distance and she drew trees, and clouds, and houses with smoke coming out of a chimney, and a front door with windows for eyes and roses on either side of the path. She loved these quiet mornings in town and never wanted to go home.

Then, the time came for Mommy to put on her leather gloves, pick up her heavy parcels and take her hand once more. Down they went in the lift, they were going home. But this wasn’t so exciting and she just said “Bye!” to Archie: they had to hurry for the bus.

Rounding the last corner, Mommy cried out in disgust. “Oh no, we’ve just missed it, and there’s not another until half-past two!” sitting abruptly on the maroon seat in the sun to get her breath.

They waited and waited, and no more buses came, they were both hungry and thirsty and Mommy said they couldn’t get a cold-drink because all her money was finished; they would just have to wait until the bus came.

Then, suddenly a hooter was blaring and a big red car drew up in front of them. It was Mr Pincher from the Butcher with Mrs Coetzee in the front seat. “Can I give you a lift?” Could he give them a lift? What a silly question, here they’d been waiting for HOURS and at last they were rescued, they didn’t care where he was taking them, just as long as they got home sometime they were happy to accept.

“So, Daddy, Mr Pincher took Mrs Coetzee home first, an then, he ‘specially drove all the way to our house Daddy, so we wouldn’t be late … an, here we are, but gosh I’m tired!” she mumbled, as he quietly gathered her up in his arms, and carried her off to bed.

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