I had always known there was a little town called Ladismith, which I had naturally assumed to be an incorrect spelling of Ladysmith.
The town with the proper spelling, of course, is in north-west KwaZulu-Natal.
The town with the slight mistake, I can now reveal, is in the Klein Karoo region of the Western Cape province, just off the R62 between Montagu and Calitzdorp. It is a long way, and at some point you have to stop to fill up and get something to eat. So we stopped in Ladismith.
There is a petrol station in the main street, which appears to be the main attraction in Ladismith, judging from the number of cars and bakkies that were there. A storm was about to break, the sun forcing its way through barrages of rolling cloud to paint the light in a silvery glow.
There were three flags flying on tall masts, their lanyards clinking in the gusts, a French and a British and a South African. The rainbow flag was threadbare and serrated at the edges, as if it had been rescued from a battle.
I strolled across the road, waiting for the schoolchildren on their bicycles to pass, and I walked into a shop called Karoo Vine, which had a giant green bottle of wine as its monument, and a chalkboard advertising Wyn Wine Port Olywe Olives Cheese Kaas Nuts Biltong. I wasn’t really looking to buy. I just wanted to stretch my legs a little.
The lady behind the counter looked up and greeted me with a tra-la-la of the purest Afrikaans I had heard in a long time. “Vriendelike welkom, Meneer,” she said, sticking prices on goods with slim, elegant fingers, “en hoe gaan dit met U vandag?”
I was taken aback for a moment, because the default in-store greeting in the city where I come from is an icy glare and a thin-lipped nod that lets you know you’ve just been profiled as a potential shoplifter. Then I regained my composure and answered the lady in the purest Afrikaans I could muster.
“Nee, dit gaan baie goed, dankie, Mevrou, en met U?”
We had a brief conversation about where I had travelled from and what I was doing in Ladismith, and then she gestured at the shelves and invited me to make myself at home. I felt like buying something after all.
I picked a packet of droë perskes and a dried peach roll and some Karoo biltong, and I took them to the counter and put them down.
The lady smiled her thanks and added up the tally, which was R54 exactly. I handed her my credit card. Her shoulders sank, and she sadly shook her head.
“O, ek is jammer, Meneer, maar ons neem nie kaartjies nie.” She pointed at a small sign saying Jammer Geen Kaarte No Cards Accepted on the side of the cash register.
I did not have any cash on me, so I smiled my apologies and turned around to put the goods back on the shelves. Then she quickly added: “Maar U is baie welkom om met ‘n EFT te betaal, Meneer.”
I suddenly forgot the Afrikaans for “really”, and I said, “really?” She laughed and said people who came to her shop from afar often paid her by Electronic Funds Transfer, and in all the time she had been running the shop, she had never once had someone not pay her after promising that they would. “Really?” I said.
And she wrote down her bank details on a small piece of paper, with R54 and her name, which was Elsa, and her cellphone number below.
She wrapped up the perskes and the peaches and the biltong and wished me ‘n wonderlike dag en ‘n veilige reis verder.
I walked out into the main street of Ladismith, in the Klein Karoo, between Montagu and Calitzdorp, and I saw the rainbow flag flying, and the clouds passing overhead. And I thought to myself, this is a good place, with good people. And I wasn’t just thinking about Ladismith.
*In case you’re wondering, yes, I did EFT Elsa the R54 when I got back to Johannesburg.