Behind the Blurred Mountain

 

He has brought the bakkie to a halt out of the busy road. They were at a T junction that led southerly to Laudium and westerly to MotseMogolo. He had used the busy road from the easterly to this point. Behind them Iscor’s lights shimmered and about them a chorus of crickets wailed monotonously suspending the silence that embraced them.

All were silent now except for the wailing insects and the passing cars to Pretoria and back from Pretoria either to Motshemogolo or Laudium. Silent as if digesting what he had just said. The street lights illuminated their bleak faces, if you were fortunate enough to be part of this entourage you would have seen that none of the boys was beyond eighteen.

Ek sal jou dood maak jong you say the money is not enough. You do not have a right to tell me how much I should pay you. Zeke (he has come to call him that) you think you are a Mr. know it all heh, voetsek man!’ said the Indian man in the bakkie and all the boys sprang back in fear even though he was directing his swearing to Zakhele not to all of them. They knew he had a gun and this made them uneasy.

Dicks held Zakhele by the arm and restrained him. He knew that Zakhele was short tempered, but he even knew that the man in the bakkie Haronih could be ruthless if he wanted to. He was not going to let his disappointed friend play into the Indian’s hands. He probably wanted to beat Zakes so that the other boys could stop protesting about the little money he had paid them for a four day piece job.

That was always the trouble with boys from the township they knew too much for their own good thought Haronih. He fired the diesel engine and the old bakkie rocked. Zakhele angrily turned away from him as he fought back tears. The other boys’ eyes sparkled with tears of rage and disappointment. The bakkie rolled away towards Laudium and from the back some one called

‘Sharp sharp majita

‘Sure my bra’ hollowed back the five boys in chorus as they looked at the westerly horizon shimmering with lights here and there. The boys could see the looping fire works in the sky.

‘Gents it is late, there are no taxis going to the township’ said Leshoko. ‘We will have to walk now heh that man is sleg hey’ put in Todd as he pocketed his meagre pay and spat. He was the shortest of them all. When the boys were in a jovial mood they referred to him as ‘short Todd’.

‘You see Owens if you want to make that braai you better start walking, you see’ Bobby said and crossed the street. The boys joined the road known as Maunde Drive which led to MotseMogolo. When they passed a milling firm on their right Zakhele began to trod into a light jog, partly to subdue the anger and partly to cover time; the others seemed to realize that he was trying to save time and they followed suit.

These are boys of MotseMogolo who treaded the untarred dusty streets of

MotseMogolo: Mngadi street, Matshiga Srteet, Nduna Street and that all also

that Street that is called is called Seeme (meaning do not wait) in that sub-locality known as Ghost Town. Because the houses built there in the fifties just before everybody else arrived there ended at Maluka Street which is now Mngadi Street and the rest of the area was barren as if the majesty of the maker had just left it a moment ago.

*

Welcome to the township that sprang up from the removed people of Marabastad, Lady Selborne and Bantule and every one’ else who have come to love her. Welcome to the mother Phelindaba (where all arguments end) who exploded in ’76 and ’84 as her infants forged her country from within her. Welcome to she who has also rejoiced in the sublime Dawn of a new era like her maids. Welcome to Mngadi Street and Matshiga Street and the rest of the area that was untamed and dry hence when we first arrived here, us her first younglings, we named this locality Ghost Town.

*

‘Your sister tells me that they say that you, Leshoko and the others are crossing the mountain to Laudium every morning’ said Mmazakhele as she moved about in the kitchen preparing dinner. The smell of pap, fried onion and beans floods the kitchen from the stove. Zakhele, his sister and their two little brothers are seated on the table away from the stoves. The windows of the kitchen are opened so as to let the heat go out. The little ones are teasing each other while his sister is playing with his doll. He scowl at his sister.

‘Ma I can see that you and Nkoko (that is his grandmother) are having it tuff to bring us up. My friends and I we want to have a braai on New Years Eve. We do not want to bother any one with money. That is why we are working for the Indian gentleman.’ He answers, dreading that his mother will not approve.

‘You must be careful about that man. Do you boys trust him enough that he will give you your money at the end of this supposedly piece job?’ Mmazakhele asks with a hint of pessimism. Her hands on her thick waistline.

‘Yes ma, he is Dick’s friend.’ Said Zakhele confidently.

‘Dick’s friend you say. Is that boy planning to go to school next year.’ His mother always had reservations about his friend Dick.

E he is going back next year he is very determined this time.’ ‘Let us hope that he will, we live in a country where education is becoming a must in order to get a better life. Son? Please bring out the dishes so that we can serve dinner. Are your brothers bathed?’ his mother was now satisfied with the dinner she has been laboring about for the past two hours.

E ma, they are bathed, I poured water for them when I got back’ said Zakhele as he bent next to the old kitchen unit to take out the plates.

‘Phindile tell your grandmother that dinner is served!’ Mmazakhele said to his sister, startling her, she stopped playing with her doll and disappeared into the sitting room where the sound coming from the television poured out immediately as she opened the door. It was the evening news. Nkoko always listening to the seven o’clock news. Phindile peered through the door and said

NKoko says you can bring the food to her, she says she is watching the news. She will eat in the sitting room.’ Her mother shrugged her big shoulders. She then said to her elder son who was now paging through an old magazine. ‘Pray for us Zakhele.’ The boys snapped into attention as their big brother made a solemn prayer.

‘Our Father who are in heaven may you please bless the food before us and the hands that made them…and one more thing, God, help Ma get a job so that she can take care of us, please. Just once’

Mmazakhele smiled proudly at her son as she whisked the steaming plate and a wet towel going to the sitting room to give the old lady her food. She got back. The children had already started eating. Taking her place at the head of the table she dug into her share of onion beans and steaming pap. Then she thoughtfully looked at her children, her eyes settled at the elder one. Then as a reassurance to herself she said

‘Son you must be carefully while you are out there with the Indian man’

‘Uh-huh, I will be careful Ma’ answered Zakhele with food in his mouth.

The children of MotsheMogolo like any other children in the numerous Townships around Tshwane play in the dusty graveled streets. Bare footed, the boys play soccer from a bundle of plastic bags rolled together into a ball. The girls play legusha, this intricate game is composed of a number of pairs of stockings strung together to make a loop line which two girls have strung about their calves first and the remaining girls take turns to skip about the two lines jostling them in turn through a sequence of moves. When everybody has had their turn in jostling the loop, it is brought to the knees, when everybody has went through this level the loop is brought to the waist, then underneath the armpits, and lastly the neck. If one misses any one of the strung stockings as they skip and jostle the elastic socks they are out of the game.

When it is summer the boys and some of the daring girls climb trees of those who are absent from home to steal their peaches or apples or figs. The children sometimes, when they are in a merciful mood, help out the elderly with house chores and in return they get cool drinks or the very fruits they steal when the people are away. When the rains come in summer the boys play with twigs in the main tarred road by putting small twigs in the stream that goes downward with Matshiga through the drainage furrow, they enjoy

running alongside the twigs as the current of rain water run downward in the sewage furrow until the twigs disappeared into the drain. When this happens the boys roar in jubilation pretending that they had just finished a boat race. Matshiga Street ends at the local police station which is next to Super Stadium.

The Stadium is home to the soccer foot ball club MotsheMogolo Callies, besides having hosted big soccer matches of the likes of Moroka swallows and Mamelodi Stars, it used to hold huge musical concert of Paul Ndlovu, Brenda Fassie and the Big Dudes as well as Chicco and Harare – if you never knew, the O’ Jays made a turn there too when they were here in the early eighties.

However Super Stadium has been declared unfit to continue to host this cultural conexions, unfortunately by the arrival of the 90s, that is the time we shall tell this little tale, the stadium was declared hazardous to hold matches or musical festival. As we make these marks on paper the current municipality has been rebuilding the stadium for the past seven years. Back then it was warned the MotsheMogolo that the stadium was rickety after many years of people chanting on its stands during political rallies, or pounding on it when a striker scored a goal or just hopping on it while under a trance of a musical note. Some people theorized that the reason that stadium had become rickety was because the people, during matches were lazy to go to the toilets which were far away from the stands, so they pissed on the balancing steel beams of the stands in the process corroding them with their venomous excrements. Anyway when the account we will relay to you take place only small school matches and school athletics were held there otherwise the stadium is not used for important events any more.

Yet on the eastern side of the stadium’s yard at the stands almost facing the main stands where soccer stars emerged when they started out the game or after half time, or where the musicians came out to cajole the people of MotseMogolo. There at the back of the stands there was a well of clay. The boys of the nearby areas such as Ghost town, Mazakhele, Matebeleng and Deep Six came to know about this mud paradise and when the first rains came, pushing away spring, the boys jumped the walls of the stadium to exploit creation by fashioning figurines from the fresh clay. And there accompanied by their sling shorts shoot and kill wild pigeons who love the pine trees which dotted the back of the stands and roast them.

When the winter come the boys sneak out of their homes in the evening to join the older boys at the street refuse corners where old rubber tires would be burning. And There they will hear stories of what was taking place in the country as the bigger boys passed cigarettes and zolls around while talking about the detained heroes and those who have been taken to the island. If you would have grown up around these rascals and you were there on one of these evenings you will see Zakhele listening attentively at what was being said. Like the other boys, clad in a pair of shorts and sandals with a thick jersey for winter. His eyes shining as they caught light from the burning rubber. Not really was he looking at the fire but imagining what was being said. Spinning a film out of the narratives like the other listeners.

Sometimes the older boys spoke about girls. How this one fumble the other day when he wanted to court that fine one with a smile of Yvonne Chaka Chaka or how this mogoe was almost dumped by his cherrie who has a figure like a bottle of Coca Cola. And so the older boys will laugh loudly and harshly too around the fires, as they cracked jokes, nerves flouting from the evergreen effect or just dazed by the freedom that youth brought with itself. At the sign of a police van they hid the zoll, but they knew that the smog from the tire was strong enough to smother the smell of the herb.

This is MotseMogolo, that location west of the Capital City where as you come in, passing the Kalafong Hospital, you get into Motsemodala through  Seeiso Street, named after the Chief Seeiso, which becomes Mareka Street a little further by you are flanked by both Matebeleng and Ghost Town far to your south as you proceeded through Mareka Street and joining Komane Street lies Deep Six and as you take Maunde Drive which comes straight from  Iscor you are now in Mazakhele proceeding westward lies Blackrock, and Selbournside.

*

One day sometime towards the end of the year Zakhele and his friend were seated under one of the trees that run along Matshiga Street. Something had dawned on them concerning that time of the year. They wanted to have a good time when New Years Eve came, they wanted to have money in their pockets so that they could also organize a braai like the grown ups. Seated on bricks from a nearby house that was been renovated they meditated on what was to be done. They had thought about going from house to house with a donation letter but dismissed the idea as soon as they realized the letter will have to be authentic. One of them even rose the idea of mowing lawns for people however they will need a lawn mower. It was only at Leshoko’s where there was a lawnmower but even so his father will strangle him should he find out that he stole the machine. The neighbors will be quick to tell on him. Dicks arrived as they were brooding. With his farther a mechanic he had to do certain chores around the yard every day before he could join the other boys.

‘Gents you look very ill, what is going on?’ he asked his friend as he whisked a brick from the mount. He drew a cigarette from his front pocket. Checked if there were any grown ups in the vicinity then lit it.

‘We are thinking of how we can make money man. At least you work with your father, he can give you money if you ask for it’ said Remaketse.

My Bra you don’t know that old timer jong he is very stingy, he will never give you anything, even if he sends you to the shops and there is like five bob in change money, he will never give you fokol’ he said drawing on the cigarette.

He took quick glances up the street and down the street to check if there was someone coming. Then he looked at his worn out takkies.

‘I spoke to my cousin who lives in Jozi you see, you see he works at Hlicks you see.’ Said Bobby and just before the others can ask him what does that have to do with their problem he added

‘You see he might make a plan for me you see.’ Some sighed while one stood up to stretch a bit because it was tiring to sit on the bricks.

Majents, look I do not know if you would like this’ began Dicks stealing glances up and down the street because the cigarette was not finished yet. He spoke with the faint cloud of smoke enveloping his face. Everybody drew closer into the circle that was formed by their arrangement.

‘…anyway there is this Indian gentleman that I know in  Laudium me and some boys from Selbournside, remember it was that time when I use to go to Bathokgwa Primary School,..’

‘Yes we remember and then you just stopped, why did you do that man, school is good man. I am going to become a pilot one day’ said Leshoko. The others just looked at him and then at their friend who might bring a financial solution to them. He snarled at him and then continued.

‘…anyways me and these gents we worked for him some time ago. We sold kitchen sets as well as drinking glasses for that man. He took us around to other townships to sell the stuff, but most of the time we went to informal settlements. If you boys are interested we can go to him and ask for work, he is a good pal that friend of mine.’ He grounded his cigarette with the heal of his worn out takkie. The others never smoked when the gang was around their neighborhood. Todd has been ducking smoke all the time the Dicks was smoking. He asked

Ya mara do you think he will pay us well if we worked for him?’

‘Short Todd, Haronih is not a crook my bra!’ he snapped at the little boy as he always did. In fact everybody always picked up on Todd, he had gotten used to it. He knew they were just joking around with him. Everyone of them looked dreamily at the sky. Until Zakhele asked

‘When do we go there Dicks?’ ‘tomorrow morning if it is ok with everybody, I am going to dodge that stingy old timer.’ He cracked a mischievously smile.

‘I am in.’ said Leshoko.

‘Me too.’ Said Zakehele and Todd ‘I am in too, you see.’ Affirmed Bobby he had forgotten about his cousin’s promise, nothing was as exciting as hanging with these boys.

‘Good. Now boys bring that board of draf so we can play and stop being misers.’ said the older boy pleased that he had solved the problem.

When the day cracked the following day there was a grey blanket that hung over MotseMogolo extending over the mountain they had to climb to get to Laudium. A bit of light drizzle did not even improve the situation as the boys settled on a slow walk that will take them to the outskirts of MotseMogolo near the mountain in an area affectionately known as Ten Morgan. Silently the boys picked up a regular footpath and in a single file climbed the mountain. At the summit they only turned once to look back at their home township spreading itself further west coming from the east, there one could see the new developing houses near the ZCC church. Most houses on the left were an array of matchboxes with occasional big houses here and there. As they looked each of the boys silently wanted to locate where they lived. Dicks pushed on and the others followed. As the boys climbed down on the other side somewhere where a street started, the sky opened up and a stream of light and warmth touched their stalk forms as they footed the tarred road. When you arrived at this part of Laudium you were immediately struck by the expensively looking beautiful houses with their high walls as well as security gates. Dogs started to bark menacingly every where in the yards. Todd shivered at an imagination of the dogs being let out to attack them. To tear them to shreds. ‘How far is it?’ he breathed.

‘We will be there in a while, short gun. Are you afraid of the dogs?’ answered Dicks with a question and the others burst out laughing. This seems to accentuate the barking of the canines and Todd shrunk further with fear. The boys kept to the middle of the Street, what ever the name of the street was. No body was bothering to check the names of the Streets they twisted and turned with. However everybody was constructing their own mental map to make it easier to get back home later. As they turned into another street that  sort of curved as it went down they marveled at the scenery that was before them. One of them whistled, someone sore.

‘You see die plek is grand you see.’ Said Bobby the others were looking at a black BMW parked next to a double story house.

‘If I was given a permission to choose any of these possies my laitiie I will choose that one with that Jaguar parked inside my bra. You see it has even an alarm system with a TV inside. I have seen how it works in the movie I watched with my Pa the other day.’ Said Leshoko. The boys went like that picking houses and pretending that they were their owners. While once in a while Todd was complaining that they were not reaching the Indian gentleman’s house until finally Dicks said here we are. They came to another good looking big house. The gate was locked.

‘So what do we do now?’ asked Zakhele. ‘We wait until someone notices us’ and answered Dicks as he sat down. He lit a Cigarette and laid back on the cool manicured lawn. The others sat down and everybody waited.

Suddenly dogs began to bark excitedly. Everybody, surprised, stood up quickly because there were no signs of dogs earlier on. An Indian man came from the back between the house and the garage followed by an elderly Indian woman. She was speaking to him excitedly while the dogs were running about barking. He saw the boys and Dicks waved at him. At this distance Zakhele noticed the slight smile of the Indian gentleman. Dicks went to him and they begin to speak about ten meters away from where the boys were seated. From where the boys sat they could hear Dicks as he explained in his imperfect English mixed with Afrikaans the nature of their business.

‘How are you Dicks my friend, what brings you here and who are these boys?’ asked the Indian gentleman. He remembered his old worker so it seemed.

‘Ek is fine Haronih, and you?…Haronih me and my chomies ons soek work Haronih, please man make a plan.’ said Dicks. He pretended to sound desperate the others picked it up. Zakhele saw the Indian gentleman move away from Dicks. He just said

‘Wag.’

He went away with the dogs following him. Dicks leaned against the gate and gave his friends a proud look.

From somewhere in the house the old woman’s voice could be heard as she spoke, it could have been that she was speaking to someone in there. Coming back the Indian gentleman opened the garage, climbed into a white bakkie and reversed it. Dicks opened the gate for him. Zakhele and the others saw two boys who could have been about the same age as them emerging from the garage. Their clothes looked soiled from wear and their hair was uncombed. As the boys drew abreast of the gang who were now standing each looked away as a distinct smell of sweet mixed with a tinge of urine hit their noses. The boys looked exhausted and hungry.

‘De’se are the boys I have been working wid during the festive season, now Dicks my friend here…’ the Indian gentleman startled us because he spoke from behind. We turned to look at him, Dicks besides him looking pleased. With one of his big paws he grabbed Dicks by the shoulder and continued ‘…dells me that you boys are lookin’ for work. Well I doh not like lazy boys and you boys should’eh know that from scratch.’

‘Yes boys Haronih does not like lazy boys.’ said Dicks. He still wore that proud look on his face. Some woman opened the front door of the house and stood in the veranda in a dressing gown. She was holding a baby.

‘I shall leave you boys to get to know each other good gud for now, we are goin’eh at eight.’ He went to the verandah and together with the woman disappeared into the house.

‘He will now be having his breakfast.’ Said one of the two boys, it was the short one. His eyes were still puffy from sleep. Then without saying anything more to us he opened the back of the bakkie and climbed in.

‘Gentleman let me take this opportunity to introduce my self and my colleague’ said the taller boy. He was wearing a size too big blue checked shirt which was unbuttoned except for three buttons. His trousers were too big for him. He swiftly struck a deft hand out to the boys assembled before him – us.

‘My name is Anthony and my colleague’s name is Ngobese.’ He began, a trace

of northern accent in his voice. His voice was full of bravado that defied the

hunger and fatigued stricken features which were part of his face.

‘I am a northern, I am from Petersburg. Unfortunately I cannot tell you where my colleague is from. He has always kept it a secret, I have always thought of him as being from the Natal.’ He explained. He spoke with slowness that punctuated every word that came from his mouth.

We looked into the bakkie at the short boy expecting him to say anything. Ngobese just starred at the floor of the bakkie and did not say anything. We introduced our self starting with Dicks, Leshoko, My self, Bobby and Todd.

Todd who was always impatient if not nervous asked the dreaded question to the northern ‘So how much is that Indian gentleman paying you boys?’ he chucked his tiny thumb at the house. Everybody closed in on the northern so as not to loose any word he would say when he did answered.

‘Huh the Indian gentleman. Well it depends on how much you sell for him.’ He climbed into the bakkie then as the boys were buys trying to decide if they were making the right decision by accompanying the Indian gentleman on his selling expedition as the Asian emerged with the woman with child. She had changed into a long floral dress and was carrying a bag.

‘If you boys are cuhmin with us you must hop into deh bakkie haai.’ He said as he opened the door for the woman, I suspected that it was his wife. We hopped into the bakkie on an impulse. He fired the engine and the bakkie came to life. He drove with us to a shopping complex and dropped the woman there. Anthony confirmed to us that it was indeed his wife. Dicks was sizing Anthony up as we moved around in Laudium. I suspected that he was a bit jealous of the northern because the northern seem to know more than him as far as the Indian gentleman is concerned. After the Indian gentleman had dropped his wife he called Anthony to come sit with him in the front. Dicks insisted that he also sit there with them. The short boy kept quite, he spoke only when he produced a crumbled cigarette and requested a match.

That day we were to settle on a long journey away from home into areas unknown to us. If by some bad luck we were to be left behind it would have been difficult to make it back home. Yet the prospect of a long journey away from home, as it set in, excited us. The days of idling around in the Township between home and the big tree to brood were cupped away. We were now in a position to be occupied and ultimately make some money in the process.

That first day we arrived at an informal settlement south of Laudium, it could have been about forty minutes away. This settlement, which today I suspect to have been beginnings of Oliwenhoutbosch, was situated not far away from a particular main road. Between it and the main road lay a large expanse of undisturbed land. It was at the outskirts of this unfamiliar informal settlement that the Indian gentleman halted and called on us from the back of the bakkie. He opened the door and turned on the driver’s seat so that one foot was still in the car near the accelerators and the brake, while the other leg dangled out. He lit a cigarette and gave it to Anthony and lit one for himself.

‘Now listen boys.’ he began and everybody woke up out of the stupor that had settled in during the considerable drive.

‘Each of you is to take a box of two kitchen sets and two boxes of drinking glasses.’ Everybody nodded their heads, satisfied he added ‘you are to go into this place, houses to house, street by street, and sell those sets and the glasses to the people. You have only an hour and after that we must go to another place. The one who sells the most will get a better pay on Friday. Now Anthony will give out the boxes and…Dicks…’ ‘Yes my friend’ answered Dicks who had been eyeing Anthony with envy. The northern seemed not to notice him, if he did he was good at pretending that he was not aware of the other’s stare.

‘You must help Anthony with the boxes. Ngobese you can take turns with Anthony.’ The little boy nodded. Anthony went to the back of the bakkie and all followed. ‘Smoke?’ asked Dicks and Anthony took a long drag and handed the half cigarette to Dicks who gave him slight smile. At the back all were given the boxes as the Indian gentleman had instructed. With determination to out do each other we set out into the settlement.

We entered the beginnings or it could have even been the end of the unknown informal settlement. We were immediately awe stricken by the makeshift houses that these people had built for themselves. Shacks, hundreds of shacks spread beyond us and there in that microcosm of cardboards, corrugated iron, plastics and bricks here and there a people moved about minding their own business. There were tuck shops, this we could see, a hair salon here and another one over there the sign boards hailed.

‘Now gentleman’ began Anthony in an air we were becoming accustomed to. A light breeze fluttered the oversized checkered shirt about him.

‘…you are suppose to separate and each take a row of the houses’ ‘we know that already northern’ said Dicks ‘why don’t you go ahead and take the first row mogoe?’ the former looked at him with that far distance air of his that defied any supposition of what was on his mind. He went on ‘We shall assemble here after about thirty minutes. Latest forty five minutes suppose some of you are held up by sales’ he pointed to a tree that was on the other side of the street. The northern went down the first street.

‘Why do you pick on him Dicks? He is a nice outie you see, would you not agree gents’ said Bobby to Dicks who spat sideways in defiance then stab back with his eyes at him. Sensing a brawl I stepped between them.

‘Gents I do not think wrestling it out here would be a good idea, not as far as that Indian gentleman is concerned…’ I began however Dicks interrupted me ‘What do you know about wrestling you coward’ everybody laughed. His face cracked smile ‘Ok let us get back to work then. Sir!’ Said Dicks all the anger he exhibited a second ago gone. Everybody was used to this display of mood swings in Dicks. It is his father, I thought to my self, then turned my gaze at Todd. Todd was as nervous as usual. ‘Todd you can come with me, we can share a street between the two of us.’ I came to his rescue. We went to the next street while Leshoko followed us he took the following one. Dicks and Bobby went the opposite way to take on the other streets ‘I really mean it’ said Bobby to Dicks. I shook my head.

Upon reaching the next street Bobby passed on for the following one exclaiming ‘My stomach is on a protest, I am hungry man.’

‘Which line do you prefer’ I asked short Todd. He looked at the rows and I could see that he was realizing that the makeshift houses looked almost similar. ‘It does not matter which line I take as long as you are close by, my bra’ he breathed.

‘Ok then I meet you at the end of the street, do not waste any time you heard what was said.’ I reminded him and walked into the first yard. Upon entering the yard I saw an elderly woman seated on a reed mat with an old man by her side seated on a chair.

‘Dumelang’ I greeted them. ‘Greetings my son, what are you selling?’ ‘I am selling kitchen set Mma.’ I said and then showed them the boxes. They just looked at them with disinterest written across their face.

‘We do not have money my son, if my daughter Marta was here she would buy something for us.’ She said as grinded her toothless gums. I turned to leave and I was about to reach their rickety gate when she called on me. ‘Child of my child wait, how much is those glasses?’ she asked half standing up as if her back had just went stiff. ‘It is ten Rands’ I exclaimed. The old woman put her hand through the wide neck of her jersey and fondled around in her bosom. She produced a well used purse and drew two ten rand notes from it.  I went to her and we exchanged. ‘So where is home?’ her question took me by surprise. ‘MotseMogolo’ I answered. ‘Who came with you here and who are you selling these things for?’ ‘they belong to the Indian gentleman. We are selling them for him.’ I explained.

The old woman looked at me closely ‘I hope he pays you boys afterwards child of my child, here take this, keep the other ten rand, you must go back to school next year, you hear me!’ she snapped the last word as if her life depended on what she said I should do.

‘Yes I will do so, grandma I enjoy school.’ I said then left while she disappeared with the glasses indoors.

And so it was like this. One will enter the house indicate that they were selling, sometimes the people sat outside in the shade of the tree. Some times they sat inside the house. One would find others having their breakfast while others were watching videos, one would find some men having their bath outside next to the door. Struggling to see you through foam of sunlight bath soap, their torsos stripped bare. Or the women, wives, mothers, Aunts brooming the fallen leaves and litter with reeds brooms. One would buy, others will chase us away one particular man who had been quarreling with his wife spat ‘What do you think I am, buying cheap stuff, I am not a pauper my laitie, come on get out of my yard before I go mad.’ I scuttled away. The yards of this settlement were different from each other except the earth – the soil, it was reddish and dry. In another house I was greeted by a soothing kick of baking cookies smell as I walked through the tiny yard. Inside of the corrugated house a grin belonging to a middle aged woman who was sweating from baking cookies greeted me. I chanted the sales to her. ‘Oh my nephew you got me on a wrong day, I sell cakes and I have just used some of the money I made to buy some stock. Can you make it on Friday?’ she wrinkled her face and her rubbery mouth came to a halt and that grin spread itself. ‘I shall tell the Indian gentleman of you request, I cannot promise anything.’ I said to her. She just held her grin. ‘Thank you.’ I said and turned to leave. A little boy of bout six came running into the yard past me and into the house. I was walking down the street to meet with the others when the small boy clutched at my sweeter which I had strung about my waist because it has become warm as the sun made its way towards noon. He had a packet of cookies ‘My grandmother says you must have some cookies and that you must not forget to come back on Friday.’ His little face beamed ‘Tell grandmother I shall do my best to ask the Indian gentleman to bring us back here, small wonder.’ His little face screwed up as he tried to capture the message ‘I am not small wonder.’ he said, thrusting the cookies in my free hand, then he broke into a little run ‘I am Sipho’ he said behind his shoulders. By the time we rendezvoused under the cool shade of the big tree, some had made sales, while I on the other hand had not sold anything much except for the glasses. Even short Todd had made his sale. ‘Hey Zakes, did you sell anything?’ asked Dicks who had sold the all the glasses. ‘Yes only the box of glasses. No man I was not that lucky, some of the people say I should come back on Friday. One chased me away, some were just hush.’ I replied quietly. Anthony was listening with that far away continence of his ‘Everybody must see Haronih before jumping in the back.’ He said flatly. When we arrived there by the Indian gentleman he immediately gave the man the money he made, then turned and waited for us to do the same. The Indian gentleman was eyeing us with half closed concentrated eyes as if x – raying us. We queued up and one by one gave in money. Then the Indian gentleman called me.

‘And you?’ he asked. ‘I was not able to sell everything, the people…the people say they do not have money…’ ‘whad about the others heh, they were able to sell at least more than one box, I dell you, if you are lazy you are not going to make any money. Whad is you name.’ he asked ‘Zakhele…and some say that I should get back on Friday.’ I added. He gave me an empty stare.

‘Doh you have a car to com’ back here, huh Zeke?’ he asked. Then without saying anything further he fired the engine.

Back in the back of the bakkie the others tried to console me or each other for that matter that the day was not over yet and that I will stumble across my luck. We drove for a short while in that unknown area until we came to what everybody agreed was a farm. Once more the Indian gentleman stopped by the outskirts and Anthony gave us the same instruction except that this time around we had twenty minutes to visit the several houses we could see down the hill from where the bakkie was parked.

‘I am hungry.’ said short Todd when we were trotting down a regular path. ‘Why don’t you ask that Anthony mogoe to ask Haronih to organize food for us, I am also starved.’ exclaimed the Leshoko just behind me, followed by Bobby and that silent one, the boy who could have looked brighter if he took the bath, Ngobese, brought the rear while in the front Anthony led our procession followed by Dicks.

‘Hey, baas boy you must tell Haronih to organize food for us, we have left home without putting anything in our bellies.’ snapped Dicks at Anthony. The cakes that the baker woman had given me were ravaged immediately when they appeared from my pocket. And since there were only five those who rode in the front with Haronih, Dicks and Anthony, did not get a share. Those cookies stirred hunger out of its sleep. Far away we could see a big beautiful house, it was imposing even at that distance because its brilliant whiteness shone across the horizon from where it was built. And towards our left there were crops of millies and sugar canes. Fenced. When we reached an even ground almost closer to the first houses the single file was broken and Anthony said behind his shoulders. ‘We shall meet at this spot after twenty.’

Good day Ma, good day grand man, good day grand father, good day auntie, good day Oom, good day my sister, good day my brother, good day little one. Is there any body at home? Are the grown ups home? Are your elders home?

We are not interested in those things. We are poor and suffering my son. I already have a set son. Sorry. Oh they are so beautiful come back to morrow. Oh my son here, you have saved me I have been looking for these, I shall even take the glasses too. They look tough are they tough? Who are you selling these things for? Uhmm, my wife is not uhmm, my wife is not here she is the one who knows about these things. Uhmm I shall take them. Here is a fifty for you keep change. Uhmm.

Yes we are selling…we are selling glasses and kitchen sets…Very cheap, they are cheap….Only ten for each of the box…we do not know when will the Indian gentleman come back to this area…We can ask him…I am sorry baba it was not my intention to offend you…I was not being disrespectful ntate…. Thank you Mma for your support…

And so he ventured with us to unknown parts. And we sprawled through

them chanting a hym of his wares, to sell for him. At midday we stopped by a solitary café amidst a quiet neighborhood. He sent Anthony to buy food for us. What was food was a white loaf of bread, chips seasoned with vinegar, archer (mango salad) and tinned fish. While we ate by the shade of the bakkie on the paved parking lot the Indian gentleman had his sandwich. He peeled the plastic wrapper and chewed bits while he downed a Pepsi cola. Then off we went to whatever place that Indian gentleman saw it fit to take us to sell his wares.

And in the evenings the journey ended at the Indian’s gentleman’s house. See you tomorrow boys he would say as we left him while Ngobese and Anthony counted the remaining stock. We climbed off the mountain and were greeted by the evening smokes coming from chimneys and millions of eyes of the street lamps shimmering across the township landscape. Home. In the morning we climbed the unknown mountain and in the evening we climbed it off. During the day we chanted the sales of the Indian gentleman’s wares. At midday, seven pairs of hands shared a white loaf or two some times, a packet of ships sprinkled with vinegar, a portion of archer (a mango carried salad swimming in oil) and chased all this down with two litre bottles of cokes or sprites or one of coke and one of sprite. The cool drinks circulated around us, from mouth to mouth as we belched, joked and planned for the New Years Eve evening.

Pass me a smoke brother. Give a cigarette my chomie. I did not know you smoked. What do you take me for, heh? I am a township breed sonny.

I did not come here by train or bus. I am a clever of the dusty street sonny. Groomed by the top dogs of Deep Six and Matebeleng. Ek sal jou steek.

Remember this mogoe when we were in grade 5…

Remember Mothopi, eish he died young ne…there is this cherrie man…and so the talks went on between drives, during meals and between jokes as we were being touched by the lives of other people, how they lived. Some of the places did not have proper toilets. Some houses in the informal settlement looked as if they were clinging to the last grains of life that was pulsing within them. Some families seemed happy while others were a picture of misery. We observed, we listened. In the evenings when we went down the unknown mountain we came to appreciate the life our parents had manage to give us. The life we left behind everyday during those days and the very life came back to in the evenings.

They look tough, I like them give me two boxes of glasses. Oh give me two of the kitchen set..it is my son’s birthday tomorrow my laitie give me four boxes of the glasses, what, you only have two…ok you can run and get me the extra one…ok do so while I hold on to these once. Take a twenty I give you another twenty when you bring the other two. We are having a party tomorrow…

…the farther of the houses is unemployed. We do not have money. This is

not genuine I want quality man, do not bring this filth in my house… Oh father of Masenthando you cannot talk to the boy like that. He did not choose to sell what he sells, sies tog. A sympathetic smile. Thank you for coming back child of my child. She did come back. Here is the money, now where is my kitchen set? Would you like some tea child of my child? No, all right may the gods be with you. I knew you will come. Here is a cookie while I get the money for both the kitchen set and the glasses. A rubbery grin.

Behind a closed door, groping in their breast bra or jingling coins in their pockets or purses they bought the wares and we made profit for the Indian gentleman. And on the last day, the day that had started it all up, On New Year’s Eve we made it back to Laudium in the evening. Out through the canopy panes we could see dots here and there of fire works as the people anticipated the New Year.

‘Gentleman it was a pleasure to work with you.’ said Anthony his face struck with that faraway look of his that we were accustomed to. At the front rode Dicks and short Todd with the Indian gentleman. And flanking Anthony was the silent one, who should have looked better if he got a proper bath and Bobby. I shared the other side with Leshoko. ‘I am going back north. I am tired of working for this man. He does not pay us anything me and Ngobese.’ ‘You know he was stingy back then but I thought he would change.’ added Dicks our amazement.

‘I am drifting to Jozi. I know some boys there.’ Said Ngobese. We had passed through town by then, we were in Pretoria West and we were going through the industrial area of Iscor. ‘We thought we let you boys know, in case you do come back after the New Year. Dicks can be the baas boy.’ said Anthony with an air of resignation.

‘I do not thing Dicks will be available, he has been running away from his father’s workshop every morning to come to Laudium with us.’ ‘The old man could panel beat him up.’ I said and everybody laughed. ‘It has been good to get to know you northern, you see.’ Said short Todd half asleep from exhaustion. We were all tired from the trips. I now understood why the two boys looked the way they looked when we first met them.

‘We are planning to have a braai tonight.’ Said Leshoko ‘you see and that is why we came to work with you guys. In the first place, you see.’ put in Bobby.

‘Let us just hope that Haronih will give you your money. Did he discuss how it works. That is if you do not sell there is no pay, and that if you sell less you get little money?’ ‘yes he did. My bra’ we all replied. We were now in Iscor industrial site.  But Anthony watched them. He knew exactly what was to happen. Could he tell them? Why should he. It could be that by the time that Indian stop and pay them they could give him an indication that they knew that he was a cheat and a trickster. Let it be known that the silent one, the one who could have looked lighter and brighter if he washed himself was entertaining similar thoughts in his mind. For him midnight was his appointment. Dogs or no dogs, he was going to disappear in the night and point his direction south.

About Mmutle Arthur Kgokong/mmutleak

I am based in the City of Tshwane, South Africa. to a greater extent my writings cover the Visual Arts with a focus in documentation and archiving of artists' lives. To a lesser extent some of my writings cover television, movies and sometime Music that I find interesting. Occasionally, when I get the itch, I pen opinion pieces on matters of public and socio-political interest. Over the last few years my work has gravitated towards working with artists to build their biographical archives with an aim to preserve their contributions to South African art both in audio and transcripts under the Intraparadox series. View all posts by Mmutle Arthur Kgokong/mmutleak

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