Playing Marbles on the Wild Coast

We played marbles, my daughter, a young African boy, and I, one sunny morning on the Wild Coast of South Africa.

I meandered along the fine sandy beach, the morning sun’s warmth increasing, the wind less than the day before. My daughter walked near me, searching for shells or some creatures of the sea.

Around the curve of the coast, a little boy appeared near us, his black eyes big and friendly. Picking up a round seed, the size of a marble, he flicked the seed with his thumb, shooting it far along the wet sand. My daughter followed, taking her turn and learning quickly. He saw me watching and gave me a seed and motioned for me to play, too. Using a stick to create a line in the sand or his hands to dig a shallow hole, he showed us what to do, flicking the seed as if it were a marble. Shooting and flicking and sometimes tossing the marble, we followed his lead, doing what he showed us with no words.

He told us his name was Paul and that he was 6 years old. He counted to 100 in English and drew the alphabet in the sand, reciting each letter as he wrote with a stick for a pencil. He wore a torn Michigan sweatshirt and sweatpants and bare feet and when he tried on my daughter’s sunglasses, he posed in a typical “cool” manner, leaning back, his arms crossed until we laughed.

Around the corner from where we played, several women appeared, with tall buckets on their heads. Wearing long skirts and shirts, their heads covered in fabric, they walked with their hands free, nodding as they passed, continuing on beyond the river mouth to the colorful thatched roof huts on the hills.

When it was time for us to go, we said good bye to Paul and left him playing on the beach, marble in hand.

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