New original fiction in The JRB.
By Duane Jethro
‘His poes also,’ was the first thought that crossed Gary’s mind. He stuffed the block of cash into his Karrimor, slammed the passenger door of the old man’s Mercedes and left, feinting to make his way home after work. Wynberg was a mess at peak hour. Cutting into an alleyway he pushed through the frenetic pedestrian traffic. Beat-up taxis bearing slogans like Penetration, Spiritual and Work It muscled over each other noisily, blaring hooters and revving engines to squeeze centimetres ahead. It was humid and smelled of piss, cheap cigarettes and exhaust fumes. Gaartjie calls of Mowbray-Kaap clamoured between the filthy buildings as he hustled down to the taxi rank. The wheels of a Metrorail train wailed and screeched. Passengers thronged from the entrance, rushing to board the taxis and buses waiting to send them to far-flung places across the Cape Flats.
Gary hopped over the road to overtake the crowd. A taxi came hurtling up from the shadows, and he leapt out of the way just in time, landing on the kerbside, avoiding an embarrassing public fall.
‘Are you fokken stupid!’ he shouted as the vehicle sped off. A gleeful Edward Kieswetter grinned like a happy uncle from its rear.
Catching his footing, he fired off two text messages. Marvin: ‘lets koppel’. Isaac: ‘two please. Rosmead?’ It was Thursday. He was flush. There was still time for a quick beer before the long bus drive home.
Always a vraat, always on a mission, rolling in his battered Honda VTEC with its perpetually empty petrol tank, Marvin didn’t need much prompting. Within half an hour they were parked up in a side road in Kenilworth watching the traffic, waiting for the drop.
‘No bra. I’m done with this kak. This is just for now and then,’ Gary said, flicking through a wad of purple notes for the two grams of coke. The tired faces of middle-class coloureds crept by. Their shiny new cars glinted in the dappled afternoon light of Rosmead Avenue. Gary imagined them on their way to making a Woolies dinner, and then hushing their laaities with names like Cloe and Cole to sleep with Peppa Pig videos. He fucked these people over every day, selling them overpriced insurance that his company never paid out on. Koeksister coloureds, too posh, too cool and always buying on credit.
Gary passed the wad of cash to Marvin. The extra two hundred didn’t pass him by.
‘I wysed you I would make it right, bra,’ Gary chided at Marvin’s surprise. In truth, he’d never really planned on paying Marvin back. But he needed to show that if and when he wanted to he could.
‘I got a bonus. The boss was kak happy with my team’s performance this month. We’re selling this new insurance scheme and I’m pushing my call centre guys kak hard. The naaiers are selling. If I hit target for two more months I’m up for promotion.’
It was easy to put a kop an Marvin, with this blatant falsehood about success that deep down Gary himself had to believe was true.
‘Nice bra!’ came the compliment he’d fished for.
In the rearview mirror, Gary spied vehicles pulling up behind them for the drop. A black BMW 3 Series. A metallic blue Renault Cleo. An avocado green Suzuki Jimny. The cars lined up on either side of the narrow street. ‘Bra, there’s that goose with the Jimny we got here last week,’ he said. The woman’s curly hair tumbled out from under her straw sunhat, her face further obscured by Ray Ban sunglasses. She always looked like she was on her way to a festival. But then it seemed to him she was a party in herself.
‘I will dala her and her car bra,’ Gary said, catching himself daydreaming for a moment. They burst out laughing.
‘Plus, I’ve been checking out flats and kak on Property24. I am going to get Faith and the laaities out of Mitchell’s Plain. Mind you, you can get lekker places here in Kenilworth.’
‘Kenilworth,’ Marvin scoffed. ‘Bra, you might as well move in with Isaac. That dealer is going to be at your place 24/7.’
‘Your poes also,’ Gary clapped back, brushing cigarette ash from his black work pants as if to ward off the nipping insinuation about his coke habit. ‘What are you doing with your life? Fucken drawing poppentjies and studying graphic design with your mommy’s money.
‘I got it all worked out, I made an application with the estate agent. She’s sorting it out for me. Once I qualify, I’m vas for a bond.’
‘Watch out for that bra,’ Marvin said. ‘My sister just bought her a place in Wynberg. But then SARS got hold of her. She had to pawn her engagement Kruger rands to settle. Once they have you on the system, it’s overs.’
Always skint, Marvin suddenly wanted to sound like the voice of financial reason. What a poes, Gary thought.
Even so, there was no potjie of gold coins for Gary to fall back on. He had obscure debts that he’d never fully made sense of and had still failed to settle. An inaccurate tax return from years ago had recently come back to haunt him, now, when things were finally starting to look up again. His best efforts to negotiate over the phone and email had all come to nothing. Those incompetent officials never listened. Penalties, supporting documents, benefits and returns: the mash of bureaucratic speak had made his head hurt. The efiling system was confusing and he was convinced it was designed like that on purpose to fuck you over. All he knew was that he was non-compliant and they were vrieting his salary with ever more painful deductions. It was ‘an obstacle to unlocking his family’s domestic dreams’, as the estate agent lady from Claremont had put it. He would get it sorted out. Just one windfall and he’d settle and it would be straight.
A white Hyundai peeled into view. It cruised slowly down the road and the dealer deftly swapped white plastic-wrapped balls for wads of cash, hand to hand, without ever stopping, servicing his clientele as the sounds of Lucky Dube thumped steadily from his car. Time to head on.
5.30 p.m. was a strange time to be at a bar. Banana Jam looked weathered and lifeless. Daylight poured down onto the dirt and grime you missed at night after a few drinks, and nineties hits cried out from a broken speaker system. Patrons in Uber Eats and Mr Delivery bibs crowded around a pool table, lazily smashing balls before the evening’s work. The barman passed Gary two tall Castle drafts. He waved back the R20 change and took the beers over to their table in the corner. Premier League highlights flashed from a TV screen mounted on the wall. They cheers’d and Gary took a big slug. The bitter, cold bite of hops cooled the nervous tension of a week’s stress and strife.
‘Damn. Lekker.’ Marvin sighed. ‘But no Grand West this time, bra. Your Mommy was on my case the last time we went out.’
‘Ja, but she never told you about how I took them all to Spur with the three grand I won, did she?’
Gary couldn’t wait until halfway through the beer. ‘I’ll go first,’ he said, picking up his wallet and angling for the toilets.
The dirty stall was showered in a golden, late-afternoon light. He placed his phone on the windowsill, split open the plastic ball and poured out a heap of clotted powder. Pressing his driver’s licence to it, he crushed it and shaped two lines that ran the length of the phone. They looked jagged, like mountain ranges. He had a flashback of a Sunday school hike through the Drakensberg, and a memory of a whiff of incense in St Augustine’s Anglican church. He snorted the first line hard. The cocaine sizzled in his nose and frothed in the back of his throat. He stepped back, rubbed his face and caught his breath. Leaning in for the second pull, he saw his reflection, shiny and eager. Just then the phone vibrated: an incoming text message scattered the gear, the words peeking through the powdery haze on the screen. ‘Dear Taxpayer, please note SARS has deemed you Non Compliant …’
- Duane Jethro is a scholar and writer who lives and works between Cape Town and Berlin.