Book Extract: In the Shadow of the Springs I Saw, Or Directions To Dennis

February 7, 2023



In the Shadow of the Springs I Saw by Barbara Adair, published by Modjaji Books, is available now. The book tells the stories of people who live in the Art Deco buildings of Springs, near Johannesburg. It is the imagined lives of those who live in a space that is not theirs historically, but one that they have reclaimed. This work, in times of doom and complaint, creates a new narrative: one of revival, vigour and celebration. It includes stories, letters, conversations and pictures.

This extract is published by permission.


The young man wears a light green T-shirt on which is a picture of Bob Marley; the words underneath this Reggae star are ‘No Woman No Cry.’ The T-shirt was once a dark olive green, now it is faded to light. Bob Marley is a light brown; his Jamaican darkness is washed out. The young man has a gold tooth, the front right tooth, and dreadlocks that hang onto his shoulders; they are cleanly soiled, he has spent time creating this look. He does not smile, he may not have a woman, no wife or mother, no girlfriend or sister, but just once he did smile, when he heard the red winged starling that sat on the light pole that is on the
pavement corner and that had no bulb in it, sing; it whistled, the sound is long and drawn out, spreeeooo, and his tooth flashed for he stands in the sunlight. He points towards the street. He says ‘Wait here I will telephone Dennis for you.’

Three men stand at the entrance of a general store, two of them chew, four jaws move up and then they move down, and
the third man has a round wad, a ball of something, that seems to be caught in the side of his mouth, he might have tooth ache, or he is eating something that he has not swallowed. In the store on the shelves are chocolates and biscuits and a few potatoes.

They all are covered lightly with dust. At the back of the shop four yellow plastic chairs are set around a low metal table, and on the table is a pair of dice, several packets of small green leaves and an empty espresso coffee cup. Above the table a flag hangs from a wooden beam that has been hammered into the dry walled ceiling, it is light blue, the blue of the Indian Ocean and in the centre is a single five point white star, the star of unity, this is the Somali flag. All the men are young; they have light brown skin, dark eyes with small pin prick black pupils, their noses are curved. One of the men, the one who is not chewing, says ‘stand at the corner, there, that corner, I will phone Dennis and he will meet you here.’

The inside of the room is cool; there are two fans in it, air blows softly from the left and from the right; the breeze makes the sign of a cross. At the back of the room a cross hangs on the wall, Jesus stares down from it as if at an intruder, his wounds bleed and gasp. On the left an older man in a black suit stands in front of a picture, it is a picture of him, he has greying hair and a small greying beard, in this picture the young man wears a light green T-shirt, he looks majestic, god like, better than
he does as he stands in this cool room for now he has the smell of old brandy mixed with sheep fat and his eyes are rimmed in red. On the picture are letters, red letters, red capital letters, TCI MINISTRIES, underneath this are words in black, Take Courage Ministries, and below this it says ‘Welcome to the House of your Father’. A red winged starling flies across the room, the pink red under its wings flash, and then it flies out again, bird sounds come from a hole in the top right hand wall.

The man says ‘Welcome, come inside, this is a Christian place, welcome to the house of our Father, it is not safe outside, you can stand here, I will phone Dennis and he will come. He is the only one who can say whether you can go inside the building or not.’

A man walks out of the general dealer shop where the three men who look as if they are Somali are, he walks across the street. He wears a red T-shirt and blue jeans, his Nike boots are scratched and dusty. In an accent that seems French he says ‘Follow me, those guys over there they will phone Dennis, I have lost my phone and so I don’t have his number. But I know those guys, they will phone him.’

Outside the bar, on the wall, is a painted picture of a green and white beer bottle, the words on it are Castle Lite, and above the bottle on a red background in blue capital letters are the words TOP CLUB. Inside the bar there is a snooker table, the green baize is worn in one of the corners, the wood of the table is brown and stained, on the corners many glasses of red wine have been spilled and the netting of two of the pockets is faded and enflamed, crimson and bloodshot. Two balls, a red ball and a blue ball, lie on a nearby table; they have fallen from the broken pocket and been placed there so that they will not get damaged. A black and white dog of no particular breed runs beneath the table, as it does so it kicks at an empty green beer tin which slowly rolls towards the outside door and on towards the pavement, then it rolls into the open drain and disappears. The dog lies down close to the feet of a man; it picks up in its mouth what is left of a chicken bone, then it snaps the bone in two and swallows it, it is gone, it then licks the remains of the gravy and peas that are left in a Styrofoam container. Four men stand around the snooker table, three of them hold snooker cues, one leans down over the table and holds the blue white tip of the cue to a white ball, another holds a cigarette to his mouth and then, slowly, laconically, blows four smoke rings into the air, the third drinks from a beer bottle, seven gulps, and the fourth speaks into a mobile phone. The man with the phone stops speaking into it; he turns around and says ‘Dennis, he will meet you there, down there at the corner.’