Township people have an appointment with death every day, sometimes they don’t make it to the appointment because they’ve no money.
I’m standing next to the Zion Christian Church between Glassnose Street and Angelfish Drive at a ‘stop sign’ in Kaalfontein. The Angelfish Drive stretches itself towards the shopping mall of Kaalfontein (popular for its Shoprite) and into Republic Road, the way towards Mall of Thembisa.
Mall of Thembisa is the furthest thing from Thembisa, perhaps after fresh air. On the left side of Republic Road is a plethora of shacks. At night, because the Republic Road is inclined, you can see the light of burning of coal in-between the shacks. You can also hear the laughter of children who play hide and seek. The laughter is soaked with hunger.
Whenever it rains, that’s one of the places I think about, specifically the shacks that are just below the Republic Road.
But today I’m not going in that direction. With a shoulder bag dangling, the ‘peace sign’ is erected on my fingers. That’s how you halt a taxi to Ivory Park. From my right, two cars are approaching – a Tazz and a Toyota Condor. I lift my fingers higher in order for the Condor to stop. But before it does, the Tazz passes the stop sign without stopping, and it is speeding. In its speed it splashes the dirty water that rest in a small puddle on road all over my skinny jean, and a little bit on the white t-shirt I’m wearing. I’m mystified. Thanks to everyone moving along like nothing happened.
‘Fold your forefinger and point the middle finger at him,’ my mind suggests. That’s what the characters in books and movies do. But I don’t have the courage to perform the sin. What if he steps out of the car with a gun and shoots? That’s plausible in the township, it happens every day. As I brush the dirt off my jeans, words begin to reverberate in the mind, ‘when all else fails, don’t take it in silence: scream like hell, scream like Jericho was tumbling down, serenaded by a brace of trombones, scream.’
The Condor hoots for me to get in. I briskly brush the jean and jump inside. Instead of taking Glassnose Street, he takes Angelfish Drive. That’s a long dry. I don’t have anywhere important to be, I reason with myself. Four passengers: a mother and her daughter; a fellow about my age; and one man sitting in the front seat. The daughter and I are the only people wearing our masks properly. Other masks are not on or they are below the mouth. On a regular Thursday afternoon, Mafikizolo’s Munt’om Nyama was on the weak speakers.
We pass Winnie Mandela Community Library. After that, I am clueless; I don’t know this side of Kaalfontein. I do know, however, that we’re going towards Ebony Park. By the time we pass Ebony Park Primary School, everyone was out. Except the man in the front seat. He knows the driver and I think they’ve been on it since the early hours of the morning.
I sigh when we appear at the Ebony Park spar, stepping into Acacia Street.
‘Imali yami mfowethu, yini ngakhi ufuna ukuhlika ungakhokhanga.’
I search my bag and hand him the money with a smile.
The two guys have been murmuring things for some time now. I don’t care enough to listen in. I’m sitting in the middle behind the two guys in the front. I’m leaning forward, because I wire from a seat I saw might do the worst harm to my t-shirt. (I think one of the Black Diamond guys was delivering his verse in that Umlilo record.)
Before we slow down at a red robot next to Busy Corner, the guy in the front seat mimics a person slapping another person. That catches my attention. These words follow, ‘Ngim’shaye ngempama enkulu waphuma igazi!’
‘Why, bafo?’ the driver asks.
In his tone, you can sense there’s an intolerance towards what the man in the front seat has declared. But in general, the question isn’t fierce enough, it doesn’t come off as condemning the acts of a man who has said he clobbered a woman. The man in the front seat explains that the woman came back home at dawn in the new year, rancid of alcohol. Before she could explain her whereabouts, that’s when he thumped her out of rage.
The driver reluctantly says, ‘you can’t just beat women like that, bafo.’
‘She’s disrespectful, she deserved it. Even you know, a disrespectful woman must be beaten.’
‘She wasn’t that disrespectful.’
I look outside the window. I have so much to say in this exchange. Though I think it’s best I keep quiet. My eyes search through the unopenable window, searching for that one person who I wish could board the taxi. Maybe they’ll reduce the tension. No one avails themselves.
The Condor drags towards Ivory Park Taxi Rank. The driver takes a glance at me and says, ‘You don’t just beat a woman, angithi mfowethu?’ I nod. He doesn’t see the nod. ‘Khuluma ndoda, khuluma.’
‘Yebo.’ I say.
As we join Dr. September Street, I take a quick glance at my Secondary School. Though I don’t see much of it, memories flood me.
As we had started to forget the topic of abuse, the man in the front seat resurrects it, ‘ngingenza noma yini engiyithandayo ngomfazi wami.’
The driver nods without taking off his eyes on the road.
‘And wena, you’re the last one to talk. You once punched a girl and she ended up at the hospital,’ the man in the front seat says again.
‘Hawu madoda, I thought we left the topic behind.’ There’s no trace of the usual smirk on the driver.’
I’m not far from getting off. We are next to this church called Tebarnacle Church of God in Christ. It also serves as a private primary school.
‘Yeah, you think you’re better, msunu wakho,’ the man in the front seat says playfully.
The driver doesn’t take it as playful. The words are much deeper to him. He stops the Condor in the middle of the road and swings a punch with his right-hand to the man in the front seat. The punch lands utterly. Before the man in the front seat can take what is happening, another punch with the left-hand lands. He lifts his arms in surrender. The driver doesn’t buy it. He opens his door and walks to the other side. At this point I have placed my phone inside my shoulder bag and zipped it. I step outside. A crowd has gathered.
‘Kwenzakalani lapho?’ the people outside pester me with this question.
I don’t answer. I hate fights. I hate insults. My stomach turns when I try to watch those videos of people fighting on social media.
I push my way through, tightly holding onto my bag. The resistance of these people makes it hard; they’re still asking me all sorts of questions, which are bouncing off my head because it is droning. As I look back after roving through the crowd, I see the man in the front seat punching the driver. The driver slips and falls with blood from his nose scattering the road. I can’t watch anymore. People are attempting to break the fight. Others are cheering them on.
I walk swiftly. With each step taken, my legs spontaneously get fast. I start running. After jumping the small Matabane bridge, I meander through the pots and their delightful smell of chicken, beef stew, and the smoky smell of almost-burnt pap. I brush my stomach, and seize a wide-open passage, it is always safe during the day. You don’t walk there during the night.
I appear at Endayeni Clinic, adjacent to it is the library. Grass and dirt have multiplied since the initial lockdown called for libraries to close. Left to the Clinic and the library are a block of different supermarkets, and at the far end, is the famous The Hang Awt. I enter a bakery. The aromatic smell of scones is liberating. I buy for ten rand, step out walking towards Endayeni Taxi Rank. From there, it’s a five minutes’ walk to home.
I excitedly enter the gate, with an easy heart. I survived yet another day. But I am not happy. I can’t be happy. The township is not a happy place. Had I boarded a different taxi, it would’ve been a different story, but I can’t say whether it would’ve been a better or worser story.