Can you remember the first time you realised the world was not safe and lovely? That grownups lied? That sickness came to good people? That some people were bad? That there were wrong things happening in your town about which grownups did nothing? That your body could be frightening? That violence was ugly and painful to behold?
Can you remember slowly losing your innocence?
I don’t know when in my childhood, the idea that this world was a nice place began to dissolve – it might have been when I was very small, after visiting an Aunt on the Esplanade in Durban, South Africa. I was sitting in the back seat of a car (I don’t think we had one, maybe it was someone else’s) and paused at a traffic light, I had the opportunity to watch policemen chasing someone down between the palm trees, tropical plants and gardens. The shock of the pursuit hit me as a physical blow in my chest – fear, horror, and pain.
The man was white, young, robust and agile on his feet. I watched him weave through the plants, until he came to an open space where there was one tall palm. Frustrated in his escape, I saw him run round and round the striated trunk with the closest policeman hot behind. When the chase changed into a dodging tactic of this way and then that, we pulled away from the traffic lights and I saw the trailing policemen catching up. I knew there was no escape. The scene has remained incomplete for half a century of my mind. Did he “go down” with a fight? Did he turn and run again? Who was he? What had he done? What was his punishment? A grownup being disciplined was a whole new concept and I thought for many nights on it.