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  • In the late spring, the jacarandas bloom along the city streets.
    Their wide spreading branches
    make purple hallways of every avenue.
    Their pale purple petals fall softly to the red and dusty ground
    and form a chain of pools linking tree to tree
    so the hot dry air is purple cool between.
    Students pause hoping for the mark of distinction to land on them.
    A purple blessing from above before sitting exams.

    Mr. Peter surely walked among them when he was young and dreamed.
    Back when he was a boy and walked barefoot to the bantu school
    Up in a township north of Pietersburg.
    He came to the city and worked security at the embassy
    Now he drove a bus for the school.
    Tall and straight, cheetah lithe, and hair
    cut military short, just like the Marines he admired so,
    so short you never guessed the gray.
    Every Friday morning he lead the morning stretch
    A circle of students and staff
    Starting the day together
    Jump, he called to us, jump.
    And his polished shoes shone as he leapt

    Mindy grew up on a Wisconsin family farm
    Volleyball tall and blonde
    Her first job and her first time overseas
    Teaching grade 6
    Loving the novelty and freedom
    In her American dream everything was possible

    That June when he drove me to the airport
    Sharing thoughts in the early winter dark
    He said his mother would never understand
    Him leaving his wife
    For a white woman,
    What can I do, he asked
    I imagined his mother in her Pedi village
    Far away in the dusty north
    From her shack door to his dreams
    Was a distance beyond miles,
    A gulf beyond language

    I thought of his wife and their kids back in their Mamelodi shack
    Thought of the time she called and threatened to come to the school
    Because of that woman
    As far as I could tell he and Mindy had hooked up
    When Mindy drove up north to celebrate the ‘big’ wedding
    I had bought the cow for that wedding
    Thought of him all moved in with Mindy
    and all the mod cons she took for granted
    My thoughts were mixed

    That October morning with the streets all purple in the spring
    He asked to leave, a sore throat he said.
    He’d be back at work tomorrow.

    I got the call two hours later
    And for the longest time the dots
    Just would not connect

    When I arrived on the scene and saw,
    yes, it was really him
    swinging so quietly
    from the tree outside her house
    his polished shoes just skimming the softly purple ground,
    it was too late for any words.
    I sat with his brother in the silent garden
    Waiting for the police procedures to run their course.

    The detectives shared their spare report.
    All their questions had been answered, though I saw,
    they failed to note the flower on his shoulder.
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