The Visit by Nadine Gordimer

In 1966, the JC asked Nadine Gordimer for a short story. She responded with 'The Visit'

By Nadine Gordimer, November 15, 1991

When David Levy came home to his house in Johannesburg from the service that night, they stepped up, one on either side of him as he got out to open the garage doors. He yelled to the servant, Josias, "Hey, come and see what these boys want!"

And as the black man appeared at the kitchen door, added, “I’ve told you before I won't have a lot of skelms hanging about the yard."

Josias said, "I don't know these boys, baas —"

"Tell them to go, or I’ll call the police. I know these 'friends’. They come to look round nicely and then they rob the place. Four houses were broken into in this neighbourhood last month. I don't want the yard turned into a location for robbers and loafers. Tell them to hamba".

As he entered the dining-room his wife, Shirley, was lighting the candles, but he forgot to say "Good Shabbat."

"I just caught two of Josias's ‘friends’ slipping in. God knows how many loafers sleep in the yard at night. You ought to keep an eye on the servants' quarters. Do you ever think of looking down there?"

"You expect me to sit in the yard all day, watching the natives?"

So they quarrelled, and had no appetite for the chopped liver and roast chicken, and, out at the gate, the servant Josias was yelling, passing on the ire that had fallen on his head:"Funani? Eh? Funani?" But the two did not say what they wanted, and the street was empty.

The next day the quarrel was patched up by a unanimous decision to dismiss Josias. A new houseboy was found, and several weeks passed irr a calm round — Saturday night, the cinema, Sunday, the grandparents and young Leon's girlfriend for supper, Monday, early to bed, Tuesday, bridge evening, Wednesday, visiting friends, Thursday, a quiet evening, usually, with Leon studying in his room and then going out late at night the way these young students will, Friday, special dinner after the service.

Then one Friday evening they stepped up on either side of David Levy again as he came home from synagogue. He said, just as if they were customers entering his outfitter's shop, "Yes, gentlemen, what can I do for you" — this time they were white; they wore sports jackets, short in the sleeve, exposing large wrists, the one had fair hair in a crew cut shirring with pomade and bristle of fair moustache to match, the other had plastered-down hair parted off centre and a red neck that came down solid from the ears. They did not answer but walked him up the path to his own front door, and he burst out: "Where's your warrant?"

He was shaking all over. They ignored him and walked in, quite politely, because, of course everyone knows they don't need a warrant these days, they can just come in and search your house and take you away, if they want to. God knows what Leon had got himself mixed up in at the university; a mother and father are not told where they son is going when he leaves the house all hours of the night. A mother and father don't know, when a boy is sitting writing and poring over papers, whether he's studying his work.

The house might be full of papers and books that could get you put away, for all you knew. These students and their protests — had it so good they didn't know when they were well off — wanting to let the blacks live like white men.

Shirley was lighting the candles: her eyes opened wide when she looked up and the flames reflected in them grew big in the draught from the doorway, where her husband and his two companions stood.

"Where's Leon?"

"Not back from the university yet," she said, terrified. "Won't you sit down, gentlemen? Will you take a glass of wine, I make it myself, for Passover, there's a bottle left."

Her husband felt it was no use, he led them straight to his son's room and threw up his arms: "He's a youngster, a student, a student, that's all." They left soon and took not so much as a scrap of paper with them but David Levy no longer felt safe in his own home, and within a year he sold up his outfitting business and took his family to live in Israel. There he went to synagogue regularly but they never appeared again. He always came home alone on Friday evenings.

Last updated: 2:45pm, July 15 2014