It was a Saturday afternoon, and my car was broken. I managed to drive slowly, in 1st gear, to the nearest petrol station in an unknown Karoo village, only to be told by the petrol attendant that the workshop was closed for the weekend, and that there was no mechanic to help me. The young man offered to examine my clutch, but he admitted that there was nothing that he could do for me, and suggested that I should get a room in the local hotel, and wait till Monday.
I drove slowly with my slipping clutch into the village and looked for a hotel. There was nothing of interest. The small houses along the dusty streets were all closed up against the wind and the sun and there were only a few shops in the market square, a church with its cock on top of the tall tower, and finally the Royal Hotel. The hotel looked like an old dilapidated barn, and I felt quite exasperated thinking that I would have to spend my weekend here, instead of in my comfortable bachelor pad in Cape Town. After being on the road for five days of every week, I needed time to unwind, and not be stuck in one of these God-forsaken places.
There was nobody at the reception, but after my urgent calling, an old waiter finally appeared to announce that they had a room for me. But that the owner of the hotel, Vic Russell, had gone fishing and would be back for dinner at seven. Only then would I be able to register.
Having nothing to do, I decided to go for a walk hoping that I would find somebody who would be willing to help me.
The shopping centre was deserted. I studied the shop windows but there was nothing that drew my interest. There were mostly household goods, farming implements, and some clothing (which consisted mostly of the old fashioned dresses and suits.) There was also a grocery shop, but it was closed as well. I was turning back to the hotel when suddenly I spotted a little figurine of a lamb made of sugar amongst bottles of fruit juice and confectionary. It was such a lovely, well proportioned figurine, that I couldn’t help admiring it. I also felt something more, like a sudden feeling of yearning for the days of my childhood. How I wished I could get hold of this little lamb, and learn where it came from. I looked around but there was nobody there. I headed back to the hotel and sat in the lounge waiting for Vic Russell, the proprietor. As I waited, I thought of the sugar lamb and felt very vulnerable remembering my childhood. We had a pastry shop in the centre of Warsaw. It was a magical shop, bright and beautifully decorated with glass cases of cakes and pastries that looked like jewels. I remembered the figurines of animals, flowers and little people made of sugar; I remembered big, iced wedding cakes, and my favourite cake with nuts, chocolate, whipped cream and glazed cherries. It was all made by my father (who was a confectioner), he loved to create magic concoctions to the delight of young and old. I was such a happy little girl, loved and spoilt by my parents and all in my large family of uncles and aunts. Then came the bad days… The days in the Warsaw ghetto, the hunger, the illness, the death of my mother, and finally my escape from the ghetto by the sewage canals, while losing my father somewhere in a stinking mass of running human excreta.
As I remembered the days gone by, I grew more and more agitated. It was not wise to think of the past. It all happened so many years ago. Now I could not even recall all the places I had lived in. After the war, they were mostly refugee camps in Germany. As I had no papers and my name was too difficult to pronounce, I was given a new name, “Zuckermann,” which was the equivalent of my Polish name, “Cukiernik.” From now on I was Wanda Zuckermann, a Polish Jewess, and an orphan girl from Warsaw. But I never returned to Warsaw. I met a man from South Africa and we got married. Unfortunately, soon after our arrival in Cape Town he passed away, and there I was again, alone in a strange land.
Finally there he was; an elderly jovial man who was full of apologies for coming late. He showed me my room, and escorted me to the dining room. After dinner I approached him again. I wanted to know who the owner of the grocery shop was, and how I could contact him. He was intrigued, and I explained my interest in a sugar lamb in the shop window to him.
Vic Russell was full of information. Apparently, the foreign man who created the sugar lamb arrived here some time after the war. He got a job in Seligman’s Grocer Shop. He worked there for many years and was well known for his confectionary, and especially for little animals made of sugar. The old Seligman befriended the stranger, and after he passed on, “Uncle Sam,” as he was known to the village people (because the rest of his name was unpronounceable) inherited the business. But Uncle Sam was not really interested in the grocery trade, and retired. But he still lived here, and sometimes made his sugar creations on demand.
“Do you think I could see him?” I asked breathlessly.
Vic Russell looked at me strangely, but did not ask any questions, later he said, “Maybe it is not accident after all that you’re here?”
The little house on the dusty road had a tiny garden full of marigolds, and one sad looking cypress tree. Vic Russell knocked at the door and we waited for a long time. Finally the door was opened, and an old man appeared looking at us with bewilderment. Russell (with his friendly way) introduced me as a, “Young lady,” from Cape Town who wished to meet him, and the man relaxed and exchanged some pleasantries with Vic. I kept watching the old man. He was very stooped and thin. His skin was very white, as if he had never been in the sun. His hair must have been red once, but now it was yellowish white. When he turned to me I saw his eyes, there was so much sadness in them that I felt like crying. I still had my doubts, though my heart was racing faster and faster, and I was afraid I would burst out crying at any moment now. The old man watched me attentively; surely he should have recognized me by now? But he just kept looking at me as if waiting for me to say something. I stretched out my hand and stammered, “My name is Wanda Zuckermann.”
The old man bowed politely and said very distinctly, “I’m Samuel Cukiernik, please to meet you, young lady.”
I gasped and shouted at him. “Didn’t you have a daughter by the name Wanda who you lost in a sewage canal?” I burst into tears, hiccupping and shouting at him, I accused him of not recognizing me. I had waited for this moment all my life.
My poor father, when he finally understood that he had acquired a fifty year old daughter, his happiness was beyond description. He refused to part with me for even one day. The result was that I sold my apartment in Cape Town, and moved in with him. I stayed with him for many happy years, never bored with each other, and always remembering the wonderful way we were brought together. How could I have possibly known that day, that seemingly insignificant event, the slipping of my clutch, was just waiting to change the course of my life? Was it a coincidence which brought on this sequence of events? Or was it Divine Power that guided my movements that day in a small Karoo town?