It had been 18 years since I’d been back to Johannesburg. And honestly, I didn’t miss it. I left South Africa happily, eager to start again in a new country where I didn’t have a million bad memories and I wasn’t scared all the time.
But there were things I missed. Namely my father and stepmother and a particular fudge made by a tiny, local manufacturer that I last ate when I was about 15.
Before Covid my father and stepmother came to visit every year, so I got to see them. The fudge remained elusive.
Finally things started to get better Covid-wise but worse missing family wise and so I nervously booked a ticket to visit my father in South Africa. I say nervously because Johannesburg is not known as the relaxation capital of the world and I am how you would say, a nervous person — where nervous means petrified.
But my father needed me and I needed him. So I booked a ticket to Johannesburg and started the search for the fudge of my youth. Google was my guide, but I had to be very careful — the name of the company that makes the fudge is Dicks, an unfortunate name if you are not looking for porn on the internet.
I was ecstatic when I found evidence of a tiny store in a suburb not far from my father. I tried to order online. Not possible. I tried to find suppliers who could deliver, they didn’t exist.
I sat in my father’s house for days fantasising about a world before Covid, a world where my father and stepmother were healthier and happier. I didn’t get to drive around looking for fudge, I just got to see the hell Covid and age had inflicted on the people I love. We couldn’t go out. Sickness. Sadness. Stories that are not mine to tell. I still fantasised about the fudge. It was so close. But so far.
And then one day, a glimmer of hope. My father needed to take some garden refuse to the tip, but he can’t drive. I made a deal with him; I would take him and his bags of leaves to the tip if he would come with me to Dicks, a tricky place to tell your elderly father you want to visit.
He had no choice; he is a neat freak and would rather be out of the house for fifteen minutes than have bags of leaves piling up in his garage. Autumn is a tricky time for him.
Thankful for technology and GPS I put the address into Waze. It was only 6km away. I drove cautiously. The roads are bad, full of potholes and litter. Waze warned me of potential car jackings twice and we passed a sign warning of high crime in the area. There were beggars at every traffic light and when I wasn’t concentrating on not falling into a pothole I was simmering with the injustice of the world, distraught for the thousands of people who were suffering just because of the situation they were born into.
Minutes that felt like hours later we got there. It was tiny little shop brimming with the flavours and smells of my youth. I doubled their revenue for the month, grabbing huge bars of fudge from the shelves with the force of a hurricane. I momentarily forgot that I have diabetes, or that I would never shop like this at real home (Australia). But I was excited and I had been dreaming of this moment for months*.
I got back to my dad’s house trying not to think about the money I had spent on fudge and how it could have helped the countless people I saw on the sides of the road instead. I tore open the first bar. My stepsister tasted it — it tastes like icing she said. My heart beat faster, I fucking love icing.
I tasted it. It tasted like processed commercially prepared icing. Nothing like I remembered. I didn’t like it.
Could the taste buds of a 15-year-old be so different to the taste buds of a 54-year-old or does time distort our memories so much that nothing is really as we remember it? Could all the memories of my youth be distorted by time? Am I wasting my time in therapy or do I need even more sessions?
Unfortunately my trip was not nearly as sweet as the fudge and the memories it stirred in me were probably worse for me than the sugar was for my diabetes. But when I got home my husband prepared a huge salad for me, crunchy, fresh and delicious. It tasted like it was good for me.
Maybe I’m a salad person now, not a fudge person. All that remains is for me and my therapist to train my inner child to like vegetables and forget about the fudge years.