Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (1946)

Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy.

He neared the heart of Johannesburg and the people grew fewer. There were more white people now and they were different. They did not walk or look like his people and it was as if they were not really there. He stepped aside for them to pass and he heard their voices, but they were strangers. He did not look at them or watch them carefully to see what they said and how their eyes looked and whether there was love in the eyes of the woman who hung on the arm of the man. They were not his people so he did not care.

He passed the window of a restaurant. Inside, white people sat eating and talking and smoking and laughing at each other. It looked warm and comfortable and inviting. He looked away quickly.

In another window there were cakes. He stopped and looked at them. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned. It was a policeman. Without a word he fished his pass from his pocket and gave it to the policeman. The policeman looked at it, looked him up and down and returned the pass to him. Xuma could see he was a kind one.

“Where are you going, Xuma?”
“I’m just walking.”
“Ah hah, why not go home and sit in front of the fire with your beer.”
Xuma smiled, “You want me to go to jail?”
The policeman laughed, “All right, but behave yourself.”
Xuma watched him go. Not a bad one that. Maybe he’s new.

He carried on up the street and turned down Eloff Street. This was the heart of the city and the crowd was thick. It was difficult to move among all these white people, one had to keep on stepping aside and to watch out for the motor cars that shot past.

Xuma smiled bitterly. The only place where he was completely free was underground in the mines. There he was a master and knew his way. There he did not even fear his white man, for his white man depended on him.

—Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy. (1946) Oxford: Heineman Educational Publishers, 1989, pp.62-3.

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