FORTY YEARS LATER – WHO KNEW?

It’s January 2016. I’m in Cape Town escaping the frigid Canadian winter. February is a big month for me – my sixtieth! But where to celebrate? I run it by my sister. (Oh, I should have told you I was born and raised in the Mother City.) We had a shortlist of venues to check out, the first address being 118 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock. Somehow that rang a vague bell in my mind.

As my husband, Michael and I, step out of the Uber cab, we are both gob-smacked. For here we are in front of what used to be Barclay’s Bank. This is where our history together began over forty years ago. The fact that the building looked just the same send memories rushing forward like a tidal wave. Although, then, I paid scant attention to its architecture, I do remember it having the aura of a financial temple in which everyone spoke in hushed tones. I never noticed the lovely exterior pillars, the decorative arches or the single porthole window above the main entrance keeping watch like a cyclops.

Our minds flash back to 1974. Across the road, at 29 Sir Lowry Road, was Highams (Pty) Ltd, the linen factory owned by Michael’s father, where we were both employed.

29 Sir Lowry Road that used to house Highams Pty. Ltd.

I can still see myself, a fresh-faced eighteen-year old debtor’s accounts clerk striding to Miss Moore’s office to remind her it was Wednesday – early closing for all banks back then. She of plaid skirt, taupe cashmere twin-set, adorned with a single strand of pearls, usually accompanied me to the bank. I handled deposits for Highams and Edith Moore, the subsidiary company’s banking.

But this particular Wednesday, my sixty-something-spinster, office supervisor footed in sensible shoes, barely glanced up from the documents on her desk, muttering that she was frightfully busy. Could Michael, seated at his father’s desk, escort me to the bank?

That was not the only time the boss’ twenty-seven-year old son stood in as my “body guard.” Through a series of surreal circumstances and against all odds, I, a girl of colour, and the boss’ white son fell in love. How I willed those days into being when Miss Moore would be too busy, and my “Kevin Costner” bodyguard aka Mr. Graham Jr. could stand in for her. The vivid image of a pretty, mini-skirted, teenager, stealing precious moments with her ‘secret’ sweetheart on the dual carriage median waiting for a lull in the traffic, still resonates strongly with me. O my wêreld, this was 1974, the height of apartheid, and we were in deep – how shall I put it – kak.

What used to be tellers’ counter is now the bar!

Fast forward to 6 February, 2016. We cross over a once familiar, almost forgotten threshold to be greeted by the applause from our table of twenty plus guests as we make a fashionably late entrance. I feel like a time traveler. Yesteryear’s wood-rich counters manned by austere tellers with their rubber stamps pounding the daylights out of documents, had morphed into an exciting vaudeville entertainment joint.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Star Dust – home of the singing waiter! Tonight, not only will you enjoy the wholesome, sumptuous taste of our designer tagine menu and the buzz of our wine bar’s best and brightest, but you’ll also be served and entertained by the shining stars of Cape Town’s immense pool of talented young performers. Make sure you get your waiter’s name – it’ll be written in lights one day!”

What separates the Star Dust from other eateries is that the waiters – excuse me – waitrons in modern parlance, are first and foremost performing arts students. After kicking us off with drinks and starters, they bounce onto the flood-lit stage setting the tone for an amazing theatrical dining experience.

Between serving us their mouth-watering signature dishes -Moroccan stews of aromatic lamb, chicken and seafood oven-baked to perfection in tagine earthen pots, one by one the entertainers strut their stuff on stage. They put on a rousing old-fashioned variety show giving us everything from swing and rock n roll, to opera. I have no doubt seeing these singers and actors’ names in bright lights in the future.

The energy and sizzle in the packed house is palpable. At one point the performing waiters invited a guest or two to dance on the tables. I, together with several other birthday gals and guys, was invited on stage to be serenaded. After a delectable dessert choice and liqueured coffees, the revelry continued well past midnight.

Dancing in the Bank

Forty two years ago, if someone had told the eighteen-year old, that in the distant future, the bank would be transformed into a song, dance and dinner joint, where she would be celebrating the best party of her life at age sixty dancing with her “Kevin Costner” bodyguard, she’d have thought “Don’t talk nonsense!”

Michael and I had to leave South Africa in 1975 to forge our married life together overseas. Thank goodness the nightmare of apartheid is behind us. As the famous bard said, “All’s well that ends well.” And our fantastic journey continues. Life is definitely stranger than fiction.