This morning I walked past the pavement library on 3rd Avenue in Melville. It’s a community project, a little box against a tree, one where passers-by can put books in, or take books out.
There is no obligation to return the books; just to enjoy them. Maybe pass them forward.
The library has been empty for a while. Neglected. Today, I thought, TODAY, I will come back and bring some books with me.
And so I came home, chose a few books, put them in my tote bag that says I FUCKING LOVE JOBURG, and walked back to the library.
On my way I saw two people who I have not seen for a while.
Thabile Gloria Mtshali and Innocent Mudau.
Gloria is the local Melville poet. Most people know her as Shorty. She’s extremely talented. She’s also struggled with addiction for a long time. When lockdown started, Gloria disappeared. A lot of people feared for her life. Where was Gloria, was she okay, did anyone know?
Well, she’s back. Looking a little worse for the wear but still amazing and incredible and feisty and writing poetry and reading it to anyone who’ll give her a few bucks.
Or not. She read a poem to me.
“Down in the darkness
Somewhere out there
Someone is hurt…”
It was one of those interactions that was awkward and moving and heartbreaking and emotional and extremely beautiful too.
We wished each other well, as we do, and went our own ways.
And then I bumped into Innocent. He’s a young man who makes a living selling second-hand books out of a trolley. His customers used to come from the street cafes and bars of Melville.
Right now, there are few customers.
Innocent always had a beautiful smile. He still has, although it’s hard to see under a mask. We had a short chat and he told me about The Snow Lion, a shop in Melville, helping him store and sell his books.
It’s bleak, but not as bleak as it could be.
I got to the library, placed a few of my old books on the shelf, slung the now-empty tote bag over my shoulder and walked home. This time I had it showing the other side, albeit unintentionally, the one that says I FUCKING HATE JOHANNESBURG.
But I don’t hate Johannesburg. Johannesburg is me, and it is Gloria and it is Innocent. It is tough and gritty and determined and harsh and soft and shiny and friendly and neglected and loved and poor and in trouble and kind and a complete contradiction in every single way.
One of the books that Innocent is selling is Gloria’s poetry book.
‘Shorty’s Poems from the Streets of Melville.’
I bought two.
One for me, at home.
And one for the pavement library.
No obligation to read.
No obligation to replace.
Only obligation to be kind. And try pass it forward.
You can find Innocent’s books, Gloria’s poems, and a whole lot of other beautiful artefacts, at the Snow Lion. Tel 078 046 7488. 7th Street, Melville. http://www.snowlion.co.za