Glengrove Place. It isn't a glen and there isn't a grove. It must have been named by a Scot or Englishman for features of a home left behind, when he made money in this city at more than five thousand feet and entered the property market enterprise.
But it has been a place. It was somewhere they could live — together, when there wasn't anywhere to do so lawfully. The rent for the apartment was high, for them then, but it included a certain complicity on the part of the owner of the building and the caretaker, nothing comes for nothing when law-abiding people are taking some risk of breaking the law. As a tenant, he had the kind of English- or European-sounding name no different from others usual on the tenants' mailboxes beside the elevator in the entrance; a potted cactus decorative there, if there was no grove. She was simply the added appendage 'Mrs'. They actually were married, although that was unlawful, too. In the neighbouring country where she had gone into exile just over the border to study, and he, a young white man whose political affiliations made it necessary for him to disappear from the university in the city for a time, they, imprudently ignoring the consequence inevitable back home, had fallen in love and got themselves married.
Back home in South Africa, she became a teacher at a private school run by the Fathers of a Catholic order tolerated outside state-segregated education, able there to use her natal surname on non-racial principles. She was black, he was white. That was all that mattered. All that was identity then. Simple as the black letters on this white page. It was in those two identities that they transgressed. And got away with it, more rather than less. They were not visible enough, politically well known enough to be worth prosecution under the Immorality Act, better to be watched, followed if they might, on the one hand, make footprints which could lead to more important activists, or on the chance they might be candidates for recruitment to report back from whatever level, dissident to revolutionary, they were privy to. In fact, he was one of those who, while a student, had been sidled up to with finely judged suggestions either of the cause of patriotic loyalty or, maybe, youth's equally assumed natural lack of funds, and had it made clear to him not to worry, he'd be ensured of his own safety and no longer be so hard up if he would remember what was said in the huddles where it was known he was present and had his part. Swallowing a gob of disgust and mimicking the tone of the approach, he refused — not that the man recognised rejection not only of the offer but also of the man who had agreed to be a political police pimp.
She was black, but there's a great deal more to that now than what was the beginning and end of existence as recorded in an outdated file of an outdated country, even though the name hasn't changed. She was born back in that time; her name is a signature to the past from which she comes, christened in the Methodist church where one of her grandfathers had been a pastor and her father, headmaster at a local school for black boys, was an Elder, her mother chairlady of the church ladies' society. The Bible was the source of baptismal first names along with the second, African ones, with which white people, whom the child would grow up to have to please, deal with in this world, had no association of identity. Rebecca Jabulile.
He was white. But that's also not as definitive as coded in old files. Born in the same past era, a few years before her, he's a white mix — that was of no significance so long as the elements were white. Actually, his mix is quite complicated in certain terms of identity not determined by colour. His father was a gentile, secular, nominally observant Christian, his mother Jewish. It is the mother's identity which is decisive in the identity of a Jew, the mother whom one can be sure of when it comes to parental conception. If the mother is Jewish that is the claim for her son within the faith, and of course this implies ritual circumcision. His father evidently raised no objection, perhaps like many agnostics even atheists he secretly envied those practising the illusion of a religious faith — or was it indulgence for the wife he loved. If that's what she wanted, important to her in a way he didn't understand. Let the foreskin be cut.
From No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer. Copyright 2012 by Nadine Gordimer. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.