It must’ve been 1987, because I think I was six years old.
I remember the atmosphere like it was yesterday, although I’m foggy on the details — I was so young.
The essence of that atmosphere was the scent and feel of recent, heavy rain.
I honestly can’t tell you whose house we were in, but I do know we weren’t in Natal (now called KwaZulu-Natal, and where one of my aunts lived). We were somewhere in Johannesburg where the rest of my family hailed from. The Natal clan wasn’t there, which meant it was neither Christmas nor Easter vacation — just a weekend get-together for food and a good time, because that’s what Portuguese people do.
We were like brothers, my cousins and I.
The other element I remember clearly was the sheer, raw excitement — not from us, the kids, but from the adults.
Someone — it might’ve been my father, although it could’ve also been my mother or one of my uncles — said, “Look at all that rain. Let’s make snails! Kids, you need to collect the snails!”
Hell, I had never eaten snails but I and my two cousins were all for rushing out into the drizzle and collecting whatever snails we could find. Any excuse to run around and get wet.
We were like brothers, my cousins and I. We grew up in the same building together, did karate together, flirted with girls together, went to school together, shot the breeze for years down in the outdoor eating area of our apartment block together, underneath the thatched roofs of the permanent “tiki umbrellas.” (We didn’t call them tiki umbrellas where we lived.)
That stretch of road is known for its fatalities, but rarely for single car crashes. I remember losing all strength in my legs and weeping when my mother told me the news when I was twenty-one.
One of those cousins — he was eleven months younger than I; but for twenty days of every year, between his birthday on Dec. 24 and my birthday on Jan. 15, we would be the same age —…