4.15 am. The middle of madrugada, the evocative Spanish description of the early morning hours. An awakening yet again after four hours of sleep. Four hours, so often the seeming extent of my first tranche of sleep. 

5:35 am. The second hand of the clock slow, loud, laborious. The stickiness under the ball of my hand causes it to stutter rather than glide across the top of the blank page. No matter how much or how often Mr Muscle froths and foams from the bright orange nozzle, and is wiped wide by the yellow and white checked cloth, the kitchen table stubbornly holds onto its tiny circular train-tracks of balsamic vinegar, and smooth rounds of olive oil. Proof of how much life is being lived at this kitchen table. Corona life. 

The kitchen. The engine room of the house. Not my study, where fees are generated, but the kitchen, where the more fundamental aspects of life are to be found. Food, family. Food, listed and bought, now on a smaller scale. A slower turnaround time for the 10 by 10-centimetre sharp-edged squares of white paper on which that which is needed or wanted is written. A list that now lingers longer on the mottled grey countertop next to the hardworking toaster, the list’s underside pimpled with breadcrumbs and random dustings of cocoa powder, blown out from the small green glass dessert bowl as dollops of double thick yoghurt plop down heavily from above. The list itself absent of some of its ‘regulars’. No Amasi or Iwisa, our housekeeper now distanced to a different kitchen. Her own Braamfischerville kitchen. 

The large laminated year-planner stretches far and wide across the side of the fridge. Hundreds of squares of varying shades of grey, 365 squares to be precise. Many squares previously populated by the black marker pen secured alongside June by a large blob of Prestik. A marker frequently given to taking-off and landing its soft black nib in one or a neighbourhood of blocks. A marker now grounded indefinitely. Not only inactive, and its future prospects dubious, but most of its inscriptions erased by a wet wiping, erased by a far-away but all too close, wet market. Late March, April, and May, now barren fallow fields. Seeds lie deep in July and August’s soil, but will they too be left to shrivel and die?

The calendar’s second quarter cleared, clean, left empty. The third quarter hanging hopefully by an uncertain thread. 

First world problems. 

How infinitely, incomparably more pressing, the millions of mouths to be left empty. The thousands of fridges and cupboards to be absent of Amasi and Iwisa, fermented milk and maize meal, the staples of so many South African stomachs. How many indeed? What clearing, erasing, gaping void is growing in the belly of this country? Growing with each advancing day of lockdown? A void always there, but now, in the time of Corona, coming more sharply, more painfully, into focus. The cleaning of my calendar, the idleness of the marker pen, the sticky rings on my kitchen table, by comparison nothing, nothing at all. 

6.27 am. The second-hand marches forward, oblivious to my questions and conundrums at the kitchen table. A hand seemingly oblivious, but a hand that knows the one thing that can be known, that it, time, will tell the stories that are to be told. And for me, a simple more immediate hope, of a second tranche of sleep and a brief respite from the stomach-churning discomfort of the certainty of the empty mouths and cupboards.