ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

The Memory of Rocks

It was under a gentle rain that morning we arrived in Arniston, or Waenhuiskrans, a coastal town about two hours outside Cape Town. I was there accompanying a lawyer friend who was on his way to block an unauthorised extension of a hotel because it contravened heritage laws in this historic and quaint fishing village.

The wind blew as only the wind can blow there, fit from its northern migration. The old houses, I remember them from our family fishing trips during my childhood, They were so tall then. But now it seems they had only grow in modesty, if ever a fisherman’s home can do that.

And they were sinking into the rough-chopped sand, one row of naked rock at a time, as the sea shells were ground up by the winds of development into a powdery fairy dust that accelerated the coming of the future, and the sea-gulls of heritage had attached themselves with fishing lines, or gut as we called it, and were frantically holding on.

As we drove in, there were fingerprints of the living everywhere. Dogs who did not even bother to look up, and shutters that were desperately trying to stay shut.

Through the rusty mist we snuck between the cottages on paths still scarred by the cut of the ox-wagon, all those years ago when the settlers passed through. The village was a translucent jelly fish, with the skin of some of the cottages ripped off their rocky souls, but not a living being was to be seen that Saturday morning, as if only the restless dead lived there,  milling around in a crowded drama invisible to us. I put a sea-shell to my ear hoping to listen in on their  conversation, but only the sea spoke to me.

As we turned the corner a thud of colour smashed up against the windscreen, moving so fast we  have to duck.  In a moment the twenty two legs of the smudge of a blue team and a yellow team became clear, and the smells, and the laughter too, all at the soccer match. The fishermen-soccer players, the woman and the children all gathered like touaregs of the sea carrying the colour of the village with them, along with the pots and the pans, their fishing tackle, and their beer,as if, if they left it at home the wind would take it too.

In the corner, under a red canopy a rosary of young girls sat in wait,and in the center sat a lady, one hundred years old at least. .Her crackle-brown skin,  the patina of wise leather, smiled, and her shiny smooth gums smiled back. Women came to check on her, the young people fretted on her. Who was she, we wondered. As we approached the rosary grew spines, “What do you want?” it asked who is she, we wanted to know “she is Aunty Hetty, she is the oldest in the town, the dorp” She was the past, and the past, they seemed to say,  was all they had.

And the attempt to block the hotel development failed.

About Author

<p>Suren Pillay ( is a writer, photographer and academic, based at the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa.</p>
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