I’d like this place better if it wasn’t so cold, if it wasn’t so overcrowded and if taxi drivers weren’t so rude.
They say every young professional should work in Joburg, atleast at the start of their career, I never asked why but for me, this is not how I imagined my first year as a qualified Journalist.
I’m not complaining much though because I consider myself lucky. I work for one of the biggest daily newspapers in the country and I can confidently say that I’m doing pretty well.
It’s the early morning trips from Berea to Auckland Park and the hectic trips back that I’m not sure about. Two taxi rides in the morning to Bree Taxi Rank where I have to endure long queues and deafening car hooters. Infact, you aren’t a real taxi commuter if you’ve never witnessed a ‘taxi fight’ between a driver and a passenger, while inside the taxi.
I’ve witnessed many of those and they always start with the smallest things, like money that is short or someone banging the door and sometimes one taking too long to get off the taxi. Forget that they’d be jumping off in a dangerous spot anyway.
But this is Joburg, and everyone came here looking for something, some will find it, others will lose themselves trying to find it.
Me, today, all I’m looking forward to is a warm shower and my bed. I’ve had one heck of a day.
But first I have to take that dreadful daily trip back to my flat.
I could jump off ‘after robot’ and try to scout a taxi that will take me to Berea without having to go inside the rank, but I have no energy to wait so I jump off with all the others inside Bree.
The queue to Hillbrow is not that bad, just about 20 people. Whew! I’ll get on the next one.
So I’m a journalist, and my six months on the job have taught me to always be interested in my surroundings. Sometimes I find myself staring at people or eavesdropping on conversations of strangers. I’ve been thinking that I should do a story on taxi queue marshals and their ability to intimidate anyone without speaking.
It would make a good read and maybe shed some light into why there is a need to be militant and arrogant for them to be successful in what they do.
“You can move now sisi”
Oh wow, the queue is moving, there’s a huge space in front of me. But why didn’t I see this very tall big-eyed man standing in front of me. He is probably a queue marshal or a driver. I’ve never seen him before.
I quickly move forward, partly embarrassed because, you know, you don’t wanna be the psycho caught staring into space at a taxi rank like you’re planning a mass murder or something.
He moves with me. Okay.
“You’re late today, tell your boss I’ll deal with him if he makes you work too hard,” he says.
I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, why is he talking to me? I don’t have time for small talk. I blatantly ignore him.
i jump in the taxi that’s now in front of me. He’s the driver.
It’s a 20 minute trip and I notice he keeps glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. It makes me uncomfortable.
“Short-right” I shout. I’m glad it’s almost over.
He doesn’t stop, instead drives in onto Buzeidenhout Street and parks right at my building gate, much to the irritation of six other passengers still left.
On a normal day I’d be annoyed, but today, urgh, he saved me about 100 meters of walking. I jump off. He looks at me and smiles. I don’t smile back. He keeps smiling.
My flat, is cold as usual. It’s pretty much one very big room divided into a kitchen on one corner, a lounge that can fit only one couch, a bedroom and en-suite bathroom with only a shower. It’s small, but it’s my space, mine alone, and it’s my sanctuary, my messy sanctuary.
The fridge doesn’t look appealing, so does the food I’d cooked yesterday so I settle for a bread roll and grated cheese and lettuce downed with green tea and head straight to bed hoping tomorrow will be less straining.
Oh yah, before I sleep I have to call Sandile, my boyfriend, that’s if I can call him that. Our phone conversations have decreased to about two a day in the past two months. I knew things would change when I left him behind in Durban but when I look at it now, we never really had much of a relationship. I think he found me dull and different but held on to me because he hoped one day I’d let him in between my thighs.
That call was not worth even a minute of my time.
I’m surprised I was able to wake up before 7am. I’m the type that can sleep at 6pm and wake up at 6am the next morning. I’m such a deep sleeper that I’d never wake up even if I dreamt I was being chased by lions. I have to be at work by 8.30am but earlier would be great because well, I don’t even have a story for today.
Bab’Gumbi, as always is already sitting on his chair outside the tiny security guard house at the gate. I don’t know how he does it but he is always in high spirits. He once told me that he was from uMsinga and that if he had a son, he’d make sure I marry him, only he has four daughters.
I greet him and walk past as fast as I can. I like him, but his long ancient stories not much.
The taxi stop is a few meters from the building gate but I get there just as one is driving off. There’s a car parked, a Corolla Sprinter with tinted windows. Creepy.
As I stand anxiously hoping another taxi will come soon, the car’s window rolls down and I hear someone say “I’m waiting to take you to work”.
Oh hell, it’s the bug-eyed dude again.
I look behind me to check if Bab’Gumbi is still at the gate. Good, he’s still there but his face is buried in the newspaper. Atleast if I run back screaming he will hear me.
“No thanks,” I say, avoiding eye contact and hoping that a taxi will appear.
“I’m not a serial killer , I promise I’ll be nice,” he says.
I look behind me again. This can’t be happening to me. I’ve written many stories about women who get into cars and are later found dead in open velds.
I didn’t come to Joburg for this.
Whew! a taxi in front of me, I jump in.
The driver seems to be waving at bug-eye but I don’t have time to pay attention to that. Atleast now I know I’m safe. I don’t know where the car disappears to. I don’t care.
I make it to work 15 minutes before the diary meeting and luckily I get a call about some married musician killing another man over another woman. The things Joburg people do sometimes!
I’m set for the day and by midday I’m in Zola, Soweto, shooting questions to a weeping mother on how she feels about her son being killed over someone’s mistress. My mother would freak out if she understood the lack of conscience and morals my job comes with.
It turns out to be a good story, the singer has been arrested, the wife has disappeared and the neighbors are generous with information, although some of the things they say don’t add up.
Word is the woman at the center of this was using the musician for money which she spent with the now dead boyfriend. Not that anybody needs to go to school to know the basics of economics. Harvard for what?
I’m back at the office by noon and by 5pm I’m packed and ready to go. I walk out with a bunch of colleagues and we are chatting away when I notice the same car from the morning parked outside the gate. Now I’m not scared, I’m angry.
I furiously walk to the car before he opens the window.
“What do you want?”
“I want to take you home”
“Please,” he says with that annoying smile on his face.
“No,” I say, looking him straight in the eye, too long for my comfort so eventually I give in and look away.
“Why?” he asks, still smiling.
I’m done talking.
I walk away, fuming.
I get to Bree when the queues are already long. Oh and yah, there he is chatting to other taxi drivers. He probably got here before me. I try by all means not to look his direction, 20 minutes later I get in a taxi.
Yes, he gets on the driver’s seat, and I’m sitting on the front seat, next to him. He looks at me and smiles before starting the car. I look away, I won’t even be collecting money. Seriously I didn’t come all the way from KwaMashu to entertain taxi drivers, let alone date one, that’s way below my level.
He puts on a CD and skips on to some maskandi song that goes like “noma ungangichizela ntombi kodwa uyoze ungiqome” (You can snub me now but you’ll love me eventually).
He can’t seriously be directing this song to me. WTF?
He drops me off at my gate again. I don’t turn to look at him but I can feel his eyes on me, and I’m sure he is smiling. He waits until I’m inside the gate.
It’s after 6pm and Bab’Gumbi is gone already. I don’t know this night security guard but he sounds like he is from Malawi or that side of the world.
I’ve had a good day, except for bug-eye stalking me, so I’m in the mood to cook and watch some TV. I’m even in the mood for a long chat with Langa, not that I can go a day without talking to him but any interaction with him requires excessive energy to laugh, be shocked and just appreciate that he is who he is.
“I almost sent Khumbulekhaya to find you,” his first words when he answers the phone. No hello.
“Because I didn’t speak to you yesterday? Sorry I was busy having sex”
He doesn’t believe me but he is grossed out anyway. He talks and I listen, laugh and love him even more than I did before I phoned him.
I forgot to tell him about the bug-eye stalker, which reminds me, I must call the boyfriend and have the usual brief meaningless conversation with him.
I hope bug-eye won’t be waiting for me in the morning but by now I already know he doesn’t give up that easily. I don’t even know his name but he’s managed to be the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. He succeeded to change my reaction from being scared to being angry with him to being offended by that sleazy maskandi song on one day.
Oh and he completely defeated me in a staring contest. His eyes are deep I noticed, even under that cap he is always wearing, they are big and deep and piercing.
Wait! Why am I thinking about a taxi driver’s eyes? Nx!
I see the car as I open my bathroom window, parked at the taxi stop.
I know I’ve been to church only twice since I came to Joburg but this? This? What about all the Sundays I went and actually paid attention to the priest? Oh and that time I paid R100 tithe, what about that one?
This morning I decide to stop and have a little chat with Bab’Gumbi, just so this pest sees that I have protection incase he wants to try and kidnap me. I walk past his car to stand very close to the road.
This time he gets out of the car and walks straight to me. I didn’t realize he was this tall the first time I saw him. I look at him as he approaches, Nike track pants, Nike jacket, sneakers and that usual cap. It’s taxi-rank couture.
“So you’re going stomp on my ego again?” he says. The idiot doesn’t even greet.
“No, I’m going to get in the taxi and go to work and leave you here because I don’t know you and you are getting on my nerves,” I say as I flag down the oncoming taxi.
It stops. The driver peeps over as I open the door.
“Mageba,” he says. He is speaking to this idiot still standing at the taxi door.
The taxi drives off. I get to Bree and somehow something seems different. All of a sudden these taxi drivers are looking at me like they know me, random smiles and shit like that.
Luckily there’s no queue to Auckland Park so I’m gone before things get even more weird. I’m dropped off at the gate of my office building instead of the road behind. I won’t even ask.
First thing I do at work is call my mom. She’s at work already, long enough to complain about patients who come to the clinic for useless things like, like tummy aches. Okay.
The day in the newsroom is as usual, insane. One colleague notices that I’m a bit distracted today but I’d rather not say much, I don’t want them going full force journalism FBI on the annoying bug-eye.
Strange though, he keeps crossing my mind. I start wondering about who he is and why he is so persistent. And then I remember, he is a Nike tracksuit wearing, Sprinter driving, maskandi playing taxi driver. That’s enough to get me back to concentrating on my work.
I leave at about 6pm today. It’s already dark but luckily a colleague has offered to drop four of us off in town. Without realizing it, I peep through the car window as we drive out of the office gate, no Sprinter. He’s given up, good.
At the rank I get the same feeling I got in the morning. Infact this time one of the queue marshals picks me from the crowd and leads me to the front. I am, amid begrudging looks from fellow commuters, placed on the front seat. Congratulate me, I’m officially a taxi queen. And yes, the bug is driving.
He puts on that stupid song again, really? A smile reaches my lips before I can stop it. I look away immediately. He saw it, he smiles and looks away too, says nothing.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” he says as he stops at my gate. I say nothing, but I can feel his stare as I walk away, he waits until I’m inside, and drives off.
My grandmother warned me about Joburg, she said it’s not a place for an innocent girl like me. Look now, off all the men, and there are many very worthy men in this town, I am defeated and dis-empowered by a taxi driver. Oh I never!
Langa puts me on high spirits as usual. I know he senses that something is going on with me but he’s probably waiting for the right moment to pounce.
“I can see through you, don’t ever forget that. I got the penis, you got the vagina, but you are me and I am you,” he always says.
It’s funny how different we are.
I have to call the boyfriend. Come to think of it, he never calls me, I’m always the one calling him.
I make it to the morning alive, that’s something to be taken seriously if you live in Berea.
The Sprinter, yes it is back. I walk out the gate with my feisty girl attitude. This guy doesn’t know me, I’m not getting in that car, who does he think he is?
He comes out and walks around to the passenger door as I approach. Reebok this time. He leans on the car door, ankles crossed, hands folded across his chest. He looks at me, like I’m the only living thing in the world, like he has waited for this moment all his life. I am supposed to feel uncomfortable round about now. I’m not.
I walk straight to him and shoot: “How long are you going to follow me around?”.
He smiles right after an expression that says “I’m rolling my eyes” without actually rolling the eyes.
“Until your surname is Zulu,” he says.
The smile, again, runs to my lips without warning me.
He opens the car door. I want to protest, but he is looking at me, I’m defeated, I get in. The bloody bug!!!
The plan is to look out the window throughout the trip, no talking and no agreeing to anything. I’m not sure when I decided on this plan because when I left my flat five minutes ago I wasn’t going to get in this car.
“So, Mahlomu, how long are you going to be mean to me?”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know your surname too…and a lot more,” he says with a smirk or a smile or a……I don’t know anymore with this guy.
“My name is Mqhele by the way,” he says.
Whatever, bug-eyes, I think to myself.
The trip to work seems shorter today, could be because I didn’t have to take two taxis or most probably the fact that I’m having a flowing conversation with a man I thought wanted to kidnap and kill me just three days ago.
His car is cleaner than I thought, not that cleanliness is an issue with me but I mean, it’s a Sprinter, my uncle had it in the early 90s. I notice an empty cup of McDonalds McFlurry, really? Ice cream? It’s 7.30 in the morning.
We didn’t really get into deeper details about ourselves but we were talking, and we were laughing and we had eye-lock moments and we connected, really really connected.
I realize after he leaves that he didn’t ask for my phone number. Oh good, now I want him to call me? What’s next Hlomu? Hand him your vagina on a dessert bowl?
My office desk phone rings just as I sit, must be someone giving me a story.
“You looked beautiful this morning, as always. You’ll look even more beautiful in isidwaba,” he says.
“You have my office number too?”
“Yes and your cell number”
Why am I impressed by all this?
“Should I bring you lunch?” he asks
“I don’t think you’re the type that asks for permission to do anything, but no, I’ll probably be out of the office the whole day. And by the way, I ’ll never wear isidwaba,” I say before a non-negotiable goodbye.
Three phone calls later it’s time to knock off and yes the Sprinter is parked outside.
I need to start asking this guy some questions.
“So, while you chase me all over Johannesburg, who is driving for you?”
For a moment he looks at me like he doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, and then, immediately says: “Nqoba is there”.
“Who is Nqoba?”
“Okay,” I say and move on to scanning my surroundings. This time there’s an empty KFC ice cream cup. Alrighty then, atleast it’s not cones.
There’s also a box of cigarettes, he smokes, I’ve never seen him smoke but I can tell he is deep in it.
“Can you drive?” he asks. Randomly.
“You must learn. It’s important that you do,” he says.
Who is this now? My father?
The trip home is even better than the morning one. By the time he parks at my gate I know I will miss him the moment I step out of the car. But I can’t show him that. I’m from KwaZulu-Natal, KwaMashu, that makes me a cross-breed between a hard-head and a manipulator.
With a simple ‘thanks’ I get out of the car, close the door and start walking away. To my surprise he sits still, watches me walk and only drives off after I switch on the light in the kitchen.
Good for him.
I have to catch up on some reading so no TV for tonight. “Five Quarters of An Orange” that’s the book I’ve been trying to maneuver for the past three weeks. If only I could figure out what this woman is on about because I can’t figure out if this is a cookbook or a horror tale about her creepy mother. Anyway, I have to write a review, so I have to finish it.
He calls me two times before I have to go to sleep at 10pm. And as I switch off the side-lamp, I realize I forgot to call the boyfriend. He’ll be strong.
I didn’t ask Mqhele if he’ll pick me up in the morning, but I know he’ll be there.
Yes, he isn’t bug-eye, or idiot or stalker or taxi driver anymore, his name is Mqhele Zulu.
He is here. As I approach the gate I notice he isn’t in the car, but inside the gate talking to Bab’Gumbi. He is not wearing his cap, wow! this is the first time I’ll see him without it. Okay, I’ve known him for about four days.
He has the cap in his hands and seems to be squashing it. He stands with his head bowed and his shoulder bent a bit. Bab’Gumbi seems to be doing all the talking, it doesn’t look like a friendly chat, more like someone threatening the other judging by the way the old man keeps pointing a finger at him. They stop talking when I reach them. Bab’Gumbi smiles at me, but his smile fades, turns into what looks like a ‘warning’ face when he looks at him.
He opens the gate and leads me to the car, his hand on my back. This is the first time he’s touched me. I get butterflies in my stomach.
“And then? Bab’Gumbi?” I ask.
“Looks like he is not just the building security guard, he’s the women security guard too,”
I can’t help laughing.
“What did he say?”
“He said he’ll find me and shoot me if I do anything bad to you,”
“Are you going to do anything bad to me?” I ask, I need to test waters here.
“Depends on what you see as bad,”he says.
The problem right now is that I don’t know if he’s serious or joking.
Not the answer I wanted, not an answer I’m comfortable with, not an answer I will forget about in future.
But I let it pass and move on to telling him about that musician who shot a man over a girl story. He finds it funny. He laughs, a lot, but I can’t help worrying that I don’t know anything about him, although I now own the front seat of the Sprinter these days.
My cellphone rings, it’s Langa.
“You’ve found a man, I can feel it” he says. What is it with these people who don’t greet, including this one next to me.
“Take your Ritalin and calm down please, it’s too early in the morning,” I say.
“Yeah right, call me when you get to the office, I miss you,”
“Will do, there’s something I need to tell you anyway,” I say before hanging up.
Mqhele is looking at me with a curious face. He wants to know who I was talking to, but he doesn’t ask.
“Oh, that was Langa, he drives me crazy,” I put him out of his misery.
“Langa? Friend or……” he asks.
“You are a twin?” he asks like it’s some form of disability.
“Yes, I have a twin, a boy twin, we are almost identical,”
I’m not sure what this look on his face says.
“Yeah I know a lot about being identical, especially me and Qhawe, we’re almost the same age” he says.
“My brother,” he says.
Oh. Okay. Two brothers so far.
During the day he brings me lunch at work. Nandos. Well atleast it’s not Streetwise Two or pap and liver from the taxi rank. I’m happy about the lunch but I’m more happy about seeing him, I’ve missed him and his tracksuits. I’m gonna have to ask him at some point about his love for them.
Again, he just parks at my building gate and waits for me to get off the car, no attempt to kiss me at all.
Yah no, it’s up to me now. I can’t have another Sandile on my stoep. Speaking of that one, I’ll dump him via sms, tonight.
“Do you love coffee?” I ask.
“No, I love you” he says.
The shock on my face!
He is looking at me, like he is piercing through my soul, that look….
But I’m a fighter….I get back up.
“Tea?” I ask.
He laughs and starts the car. I signal to the security guard to open the gate and we drive in. I’ve never had a man in my flat before, well, I’ve never had a man in my life except this deuchebag I’m yet to dump.
He walks behind me rather slowly, I assume he wants to finish his cigarette before we reach the door.
As we walk, I ask myself a few times if I am doing the right thing. Who is this man by the way?
He stands at the door and looks around the flat. I realize how small my place is by the time it takes him to look around the whole place, but then, he has gigantic bug-eyes, maybe they move faster.
I direct him to the only couch to sit. It’s just before 6pm, still early enough for me to cook.
“You can sit I’ll make you tea,” I say as I leave the living room for the kitchen.
“And dinner,” I say, peeping through from the kitchen. He says nothing but I sense some approval when he leans back on the couch.
I had left a tray of chicken thighs to defrost in the sink when I left for work in the morning. The plan was to boil just two and have them with green salad for dinner.
This one doesn’t seem like the boiled chicken and salad type so crap, it’s chopping and spicing time.
I found muffins I had forgotten about in the fridge. I warm two and serve him with tea. I wasn’t wrong about him being comfortable, he’s even holding the remote now and on some sports channel I didn’t know existed. The audacity!
Chicken is marinated and goes to the oven. A packet of mixed vegetables from in the microwave grill as I make savory rice on the stove and some gravy on the side. I’ll still make that green salad when I’m done cooking.
I decide I’m going to stay in the kitchen until I’m done cooking, not sure why. I move around frantically trying to cook four things at once but within an hour I’m done.
I pour warm water in one of the bigger bowls, get a dishcloth and head for the lounge. He’s still watching sports. I bend next to him, put the basin in front of him, he reaches and washes his hands, takes the table cloth and wipes them dry. A part of me feels that he is shocked by all this but his face and body language doesn’t show. I leave for the kitchen. He is a tad quiet than usual.
I come back carrying a tray with a plate of all the food I’ve cooked, a glass of juice and some chillies, I don’t even know if he eats them, or any of the things I cooked.
I’m not sure whether I should join him or let him eat alone and have my dinner when he’s gone. But then again, this is my house, I’m gonna go sit next to him with my plate. He’s already eating when I settle next to him.
“So where do you live?” I ask.
Oh good, I thought he was going to say Denver Hostel or something.
“By myself,” he says.
“I’m not married if that’s what you’re asking,” he says.
“Okay, that’s better,”
He laughs out loud.
“I hope you’ll be cooking for me every day, I’ve never had food this good,” he says.
I blush, and immediately remember that this guy is still trying to get me to be his girlfriend, he’ll say anything to make me happy.
“I mean it,” he says, as if he read my mind and discovered my doubts.
I want to know more about him.
“So when you’re not at the rank your brother drives the taxi for you?”
“Sort of, but Sambulo is there most of the time as well,”
“Yep, my brother,” he says.
“Any sisters?” I ask.
“There hasn’t been a female born in my family in over 100 years,” he says.
That’s three brothers now.
“Well, I only have one brother, and a 14-year-old sister,” I say.
“Where does your twin stay?” he asks.
“Cape Town, he’s still at University,”
“How old are you?” he asks.
“22, good to know there’s something you don’t know about me for a change. And you?”
“27. You’re beautiful,” he says.
He is so random.
The next thing we know it’s 10pm, he has to go and I have to clean up before I go to sleep. I walk him to the door. He walks out but turns and stands at the doorstep, me inside and him outside. He looks at me, his hands in his pockets and says “I’ll see you in the morning,” before turning and walking away.
Let me conclude that he is shy, let me just do that.
I hear him driving out the gate and an sms coming in. Where is my phone anyway? I still have to dump someone before I sleep.
“I miss you already,” the sms reads.
I wish he’d come back, but I won’t say it.
“I hope you enjoyed the food and yes, I can cook for you every day if you want,” I respond.
“Goodnight. I don’t love coffee, I love you”.
I’m not responding to this one.
Now for that other sms I need to send, yeah, “it’s over”.
I put my phone on silent and go to sleep.
I’m woken by a knock on the door.
What? 5am? How did this person get through gate security?
I put on my robe and walk to the door but first I peep through the window, the Sprinter is outside.
“Hlomu it’s me’” says a voice from outside.
Now I’m creeped out.
I open the door, then the burglar guard. He steps in and grabs me by the waist, pulls me towards him, and kisses me…..