Moth

Just after midnight, the New Year fireworks already receding, Boeta Cassiem shuffles off to bed. Sounds of the revelry carry down the street, oozing out of the new bar in Rose Street.

With a sigh, Boeta Cassiem sits down on the edge of the bed. Ghaliema always gave him a hard time about that – ”moenie oppie kant vannie bed sittie”, why he never understood then. Now he understood – here, on his side of the bed, the mattress had sagged – 40 years of use, perhaps time to visit old Arrie the Jew and buy a new bed – this old thing was done, just like him.

A lone moth flys around the naked bulb in the room. Ghaliema hated moths. They terrified her like no other insect. She would scream like a teenager, shrill and high pitched, every time a moth got into the room. And he would come, gently catching the moth, the powdery residue of the insect staining his hands, then let the insect out, to fly off into the night.

He watched the moth settle, finally, after a futile third or fourth attempt to fly through the closed window. Choices – open the old window to let the thing out, and allow more of them to to enter, or leave the captured one to find his own way out. Life, encapsulated in that moment, made perfect sense.

The old man settles down, reaches for the insulin pump. Deftly, he tears off the green label, attaches the needle to the pen, dials in 14 units, plunges the new needle into a fresh spot on his right leg. He feels nothing, now quickly depressing the plunger, allowing the life saving insulin to flow into his aged body. He pulls out the tiny needle, removing it from the pen and drops it into an empty pill bottle holder. Ghaliema taught him that trick – 30 needles would fit into the old vitamin container perfectly, ready for incineration next time he dropped off the medical waste. She was clever like that, always practical, thinking of clever ways to re use things.

He switches off the light, the moth now settled down. His thoughts run wild, the year past, the year ahead, the little plans, the unfinished projects. The children. They don’t come around as often, too busy with their own lives. He sees the phone now, a flashing green light telling him to check messages – it can wait for tomorrow.

The party goers are walking to parked cars now. Loud, young, full of life. He saw them when they parked earlier, girls in little black dresses, boys in stovepipe tight jeans, sporting beards in the fashion of the day – Hipsters, someone had called them the other day. He hears the car start, the deep bass of the music can be felt through the rattle of the old window frames. All about the Bass, he chuckles to himself, turning around and settling down. He hears the sound receding, the feel of the bass now absent. He closes his eyes, allowing sleep to overcome him. A new year. What lies ahead? Not for now…

The little Golf speeds away, four young people with promise looking forward to the year ahead. The driver, an 18 year old boy, the ink barely dry on his licence, doesn’t see the black car skip the traffic light. The impact, the sound, the cries of his friends are the last thing he hears, before he too closes his eyes. For the last time…..

Taliep and Mina (Part 2)

The smell of bacon and eggs wafting through the house penetrated through her disturbed sleep.

Awake now, the aroma of fresh coffee made her sit up, pushing back her tousled hair.

She smiled. He always did this, when he knew that her sleep was troubled. He never asked her what it was, or what the dreams were, but always got up early and made an extra effort with breakfast.

She slipped into the soft slippers, her soles feeling the cool sticky patches. Already a  chill was approaching. She looked out and saw the trees shedding leaves in a hurry now, and wondered why trees always preferred to face the Winter naked? Another one of those unanswered questions. Another memory tickling something long forgotten. She tip toed to the kitchen, wanting to surprise him but found him waiting with a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee, a slice of toast smothered in maple syrup, topped with the crispiest bacon on earth. Just her most favorite breakfast ever!

Her smile faded as a memory of the past crossed her mind, like a cloud crossing the sun. A shadow fell over the kitchen, his stricken look bringing her back. Still, the memory was too evasive, too fleeting for her. What was it?

She sat down at the old wooden table, the meddlesome strand of hair hanging loose again, the toast now forgotten. The coffee now cold, her hand still clasping the handle tightly. She replayed what she could remember.

The airport. She, there, standing smiling, happy. A car, racing towards her. Slipping, sliding, flipping and flying. Then, the impact. Waking up in the hospital. Not able to talk, or remember. Anything. Sleeping. Lots of sleeping. Then learning to talk again, walk again. And then some memories, some snippet of the past. Another man. Another place. Somewhere else. But who was she? And what was her name. Now, they called her Jane E…..

Returning home…(Taliep and Mina) Part 1

For a long time now he had roamed around aimlessly, only to return home finally.

The money had dried up a long time ago. And for months now, he had been existing on the goodness of others. The odd job, here and there, but mostly, just moving. One day at a time.

The first few months on the road were good. The card worked everywhere he went. Swipe, enter pin and off you go. Until the cash ran out. It had been part of a plan, retire one day, then see the world. But after Mina left, nothing made sense anymore. They had planned to get old together. Sit on the stoep together, even bought the rocking chairs from old Sammie after his ma and pa passed away in 2007. Canada she said, to visit the children she said. He shrugged his shoulders in the worn cardigan again, thinking of that day again.

The drive to the airport with Gakkie in the taxi, still picking up passengers illegally, the back seat filled with the beaten up Samsonite suitcase. The scuff marks had long turned the blue suitcase into an ugly grey,  the knocks of many local trips ingrained into the hard plastic. Mina was wearing her best dress, the one with the flowers. Her hair was stiff with something, gel or spray or whatever; the wind could not even move it! Her thin lips had a smudge of pink lipstick on it, a dab here, a little there. She  wore a light perfume, something new he did not know. It lingered on his clothes for weeks after.

The taxi stopped at the drop off point and Gakkie jumped out to open the door to take out the luggage. The box of frozen snoek somehow stayed behind. He only remembered later, when he saw the crumpled slip in his pocket.

The airport bothered him. People everywhere, going and coming. And the noises. Announcements. Overwhelmed, he did not even remember saying goodbye properly, only that she kissed him on the cheek, lightly, then seeing her walk through the security gates without looking back even once.

Alone, for the first time ever, he looked around and felt lost. The sights and sounds scared him. Mina always knew what to do. She had traveled before, with her Pa and Ma, and she always seemed to know where to go. And he always just followed. Now, alone, he turned around and walked out of the airport building, looking for the Taxi.

Minah

She answers the phone. It is him. The time has come.

Doubt floods over her, like the first of the winter rain. Painfully. But her resolve softens, like the ground. She absorbs that doubt now, allowing her fears to subside.

She bathes carefully. New razor blades. Takes extra care with her grooming, shaving her legs slowly. She cuts, trims, pulls, plucks, eyebrows, unwanted bits of stray hair.

She sees herself in the mirror, feeling as obscure as her reflection. This feeling has no name, yet. She finishes now, spitting the last of the minty mouthwash into the porcelain basin.

She dresses carefully. She stands looking at her full length reflection in the mirror, her hair still wet and dishevelled. The body she sees is aging gracefully. The stretch marks remind her of the child, but that was so long ago. The all ladies Gym has toned her now, the little bulge of her tummy just enough to break the perfection. He liked that, told her that she still had the pot belly, always saying so, saying he thought it sexy, in his way.

She smiles. But through the smile she sees the pain. She looks away from the mirror now, and into the recess of the cupboard. Clothes. She needs to cover her nudity now. But carefully. She selects the dark grey wraparound dress, slips it one and relishes the feel of the soft Egyptian cotton on her bare skin. She slides open the drawer, and picks out the most delicate of delicate undies, the soft grey matching the dress, slips them on quickly. Lastly, the black abaya covers everything, the veil to hide her face from the world, the shapeless cloth covers her sensuality, her form now hidden.

Somehow everything feels more intense today. She tries to push the feeling away, focuses on getting dressed now.

She wonders why again? Why must it always be this way? Why not over the phone? There must be a reason? The nervousness, the butterflies again.

She leaves the house, walking through the narrow enclosed passageway, to the semi-attached garage. He had insisted that the house lead to the garage – for her safety, he had said. She grimaces again. She holds back the tears with some effort – the mascara will run if she cries now.

The car waits, the driver already in it. Abdul, old faithful, always on time. He smiles at her, his white teeth showing through the salt and pepper curly beard. She nods a greeting, slides into the back of the big somewhat ostentatious car. She had asked for a smaller one. He had refused. Her safety was paramount. So many reckless drivers all over the roads, people messaging on phones while driving. No! The big luxury SUV would do. At least he had agreed to buy the grey one, and not the black one which looked even bigger. She disliked the feel of the leather seats, and the coldness of it, pushing at the buttons to adjust the heat, the feeling of warmth creeping up making her feel a little more at ease now.

” To the Medi City Hospital, Abdul”, she whispered through the veil, so softly, he barely heard the instruction.

The short drive from Camps Bay to Town took even longer than usual today. She wondered what event was happening, perhaps a concert. She missed going to concerts. How absurd it would be to be dressed this way at the Grand West arena for a concert? She laughed out loud.

Abdul smiled to himself – the missus was happy and in a good mood today. He could smell the perfume, Channel No5, wafting from the back of the car. He liked that smell, it was the only perfume he knew. The traffic was extra heavy today. He glanced in the mirror and saw the backup vehicle just inside his blind spot. The boss always insisted that the second car follow. The missus did not even know about it, but Abdul enjoyed the safety. The cargo they carried was extra precious, even more so after what happened all those years ago. The child would have been 17 or 18 now? So sad.

The car turned into the underground parking of the City Park Hospital – the missus always mixed up the name of the hospital, but Abdul had been here so many times before. He opened the door for her, and walked with her to the lift, respectfully, just two steps behind. The boss insisted on it. They wait for the lift, the wait feeling longer than usual, Abdul sensing some of his wards tension. No idle chit chat today. Must be serious. He grimaces. He too, does not like hospitals. Especially this one.

The doctor’s rooms are on the 13th floor.

She sits and waits for the lady to cal her name. Even after all this time, she still feels uncomfortable coming to this doctor. A white man, from Scotland, or Ireland, British, with his pompous airs. But he was the best. Or so they were led to believe. He had been firm, insistent. This was the best doctor in Cape Town. She would have to see him.

Her heart races faster now. She practices slowing her breathing, but the tight knot in her stomach has loosened now. She feels like she needs the toilet, but cannot move. She hears her name, stands and walks slowly, confidently, almost regally, to the rooms, the door slightly ajar already.

She sees him now, sitting behind the imposing desk, the clean crisp white coat unbuttoned, the striped light blue and white shirt, the white collar starched, the tufts of grey chest hair peeking out at her. He is reading her file, his face impassive, a small frown crossing his face, making him look older than the 50 years she knew he was. He looks up at her now, the crisp blue of his eyes finding its way through her veil. She lifts it slowly, her dark eyes absorbing the look. She tries to read the look, but fails. He looks down again, ushers her to the seat before him with a cursory wave of his hand. She slips into the leather chair, too deep for her be comfortable. She pulls herself out from the depths of the chair, now balancing on the edge, her hands on her knees, gripping them tightly, the knuckles white, the large diamond glistening in the morning sunlight.

The clock behind him says 9.17. The time her life as she knew it came to an end. She glances at the open file. In bold black letters, unmistakable, even upside down, on the Pathology company letterhead…

HIV +

Moeneeb

The first cold snap of Winter in the Mother City hit him hard this year. He wrapped the threadbare coat tighter around his shoulders, his hands tucked deep into the too small pockets. The cold still managed to seep in around his wrists, forcing him to squeeze the bunched up R50 note even tighter. The Winter wind always whistled down Long Street in May, and he cursed himself for choosing this location. And for the myriad of other stupid decisions he had made recently…

How different things had been 5 months ago. He tried moving around to get some blood circulating in his feet again, the inner numbness now spreading to his legs, immobilizing him. He reflected on his situation now, a tight coil of fear tightening in his stomach, self doubt, and perhaps even self loathing growing in him. This was not part of the plan. Yet, strangely compelled, he stayed there where he stood, waiting. Not too long to go. These guys were usually on time.

The car was so unassuming when it arrived that Moeneeb almost laughed at it. An old  nondescript slightly beat up 10 year old Jetta, white, looking like someone from Parow’s daily commute. The driver of the car slowed to a stop now, having seen Moeneeb standing in front of Snoekies. He ignored the glare from the parking meter maid, stopped on the yellow line, then rolled down the passenger window. He called out now and Moeneeb moved to the car, quickly opening the door and slipping onto the faded cloth seats. He closed the door with a hard tug,  banging it hard, and earning another glare from the driver. The car moved off now, and merged easily with the Friday evening traffic, heading up Long street towards Kloof.

Moeneeb looked through the clean windscreen and saw the top of the mountain clearly. All his senses heightened now, he could feel his pulse throbbing in his neck, the cold sweat of a few minutes ago now warming  quickly in the heated car. The driver ignored him, and continued driving slowly, keeping to his lane and sticking to the almost crawling speed of 30km/hour. Moeneeb glanced at the man now and took in his appearance for the first time. He looked to be in his late fifties, wearing an old pair of faded jeans, checked shirt, and camel coloured coat. His long hair peeked  out from under an old cap, the kind favoured by racecourse punters down at Kenilworth. He looked, to Moeneeb, to all intents and purposes, like someone’s dad, or maybe even a granddad.

The car now approached the intersection of Long and Wale Street, and the man turned into the parking garage of the old Saambou Bank building. The heavy metal security gates were already coming down again, as the car came to a standstill in a corner of the empty garage.

The man turned to Moeneeb now, indicating they should leave the car, still silent, no words being spoken between them. Moeneeb knew what he needed to do, fear transforming itself into adrenalin, charging through his body. He slipped out of the car, and walked to the where the man stood at the open boot. He reached in and picked up the laptop bag, the new ultra book almost weightless in his hand. The man started walking to the small metal gate, waving a small grey tag in front of the scanner, the gate jumping open with a loud clang. Moeneeb followed him up the stairs slowly, watching the now dead CCTV cameras as he passed them, the silence of the building deafening. These old building were always noisy and alive with the hum of the large air-conditioning units, but this building was so quiet now that it had been turned off.

Focused now on the task at hand, Moeneeb followed the man to the small server room. The machines still hummed with life, the backup power still connected to the building next door. This had been part of the design when they had installed the system all those years ago, the power had to stay on, the computer servers were not allowed to be turned off, the flow of information had to stay on, always. Multiple backups and fail safe methods had been been discussed and implemented, and Moeneeb had made it happen.

Dropping the bag lightly on the small table, the coldness in the room creeped under his thin jacket again. He would use some of the money from this job to buy some new clothes. After this gig, he would be able to afford to buy something decent, maybe from Markhams. He smiled to himself now, thinking that this would be some easy money for a change. God knew, he needed it.

Powering up the compact machine, he took a minute to admire the sleek aluminium finish, and the smooth feel of the recessed keys on the keyboard. Top of the range, core i7, nice. He thought of keeping it after the job was done, then thought again, no, this machine would be trouble. He pushed the thought from his mind. The old man had returned now, the bunch of keys jingling noisily in his hand. His silence was now easy for Moeneeb to accept, so when he spoke loudly, Moeneeb jumped. The man’s voice sounded as if he had gargled with gravel, the small pieces of rough sand having destroyed his vocal chords a long time ago. Coupled with a lifetime of smoking Gunston plains, the man had a voice that would set off a car alarm. Deep and rough, it sounded like someone running a  brick through a blender at low speed.

”Your instructions are there. You have 1 hour. I will wait outside.”

Moeneeb sat down now, and pulled out the flash drive from his inside pocket, inserting it into the slot on the side of the laptop. The usb drive was shaped to look like a key, a gift from a friend who knew that he liked that sort of thing. The laptop booted up incredibly quickly, the log on screen requiring no password. Moeneeb went to work. He detected the wireless router, and logged on with the password he had setup all those months ago. Faanie had been very specific about this job. Copy everything, then delete all trace of the information, all of it. And make sure that it could never be recovered, ever, again.

The program ran quickly, the code optimised to copy, upload to the remote server at lightning speed. This was his thing. His skill. The time he had spent inside had been an education and having the right connections had helped. His natural ability to work with computers and his years working in the family electrical business had all helped. So when Moeneeb had made the mistake of wiring the money to his personal account that first time, and Faanie had picked it up, the alliance forged was to stay in place. For obvious reasons Moeneeb had to take the fall, the discreet arraignment taking place after hours, the sentence a light slap on the wrist, but the damage had been done. Two years in Correctional Services facilities with access to some of the best criminal minds in the world, and Moeneeb had flourished, quickly learning how to code on the easily smuggled in laptop, the 3G  modem allowing him access to the Internet. On the inside, he became the banker, moving funds from bank to bank on behalf of the bosses, all the time teaching himself new programming techniques. And when his stay came to an end, he found himself alone in the outside world, with all his former friends gone, ties broken, except the one with Faanie, the old white guy. And unable to find work because of his criminal record, an unholy alliance had now been forged.

So when Moeneeb got the call he was not entirely surprised. Last year it had been the mining thing in Joburg, and he had to go in to do the cleanup, now this. A nice little sideline job, cash money, and relatively low risk. He made another copy, this time to his private little server, then ran the kill program, the virus that would wipe the drives. He smiled to himself. This virus had potential, but could never be released onto the web, the destruction it could cause would be catastrophic. He allowed himself to envision a dystopian future where he could release the virus, but then realised it as pure fantasy, forcing himself back to the present.

He watched the screen now, as the accumulated years of data was wiped clean. When the auditors arrived on Monday, they would find nothing, not a trace of data. When they logged on the virus would transfer to their machines a small piece of code that would send him all the information on their machines, every time they logged onto the Internet. And silently, Moeneeb would gather the information, and store it, until Faanie called. Money would change hands.

Finishing up now, he checked his watch and saw that the entire job had taken just under an hour. He pulled the usb key out and slipped it into his wallet. Quickly now, he wiped down the machine, removing all trace of his DNA from the machine with the small pack of alcohol swabs. He closed the machine with a quiet click, and stood up, stretching his arms and clicking is neck and back.

The old guy was waiting outside, just sitting there. Moeneeb did not see the gun under the newspaper. The old man looked up, a tear running from his eye. This still upset him, even after all this time, this would be number 73. The silenced gun spat out one bullet. It hit Moeneeb between the eyes and he crumpled like a sack onto the floor. The old guy picked up the ultrabook from underneath the fallen body. Reaching down he took the boys wallet, removing the usb stick, then wiping the wallet down, pushed it back into the boys jean pocket. He stepped over the body, leaving the security tag on the floor next to the dead man, and walked to the small emergency exit. He pushed the bar, the silent alarm triggering at the ADT control center where a lone security guard would dispatch a car to come and check. The car would find nothing wrong. The door would be closed from the outside. On Monday, the security firm will find the body, cold, all leads dead.

He walked out into Wale Street, the city dark and foreboding. The long walk back to the Bo-Kaap was refreshing, turning into Rose Street now, he passed the Bistro on Rose and saw the new generation of Cape Town partying up a storm. He smiled. And life goes on, for some anyway….

Ismail

For Attention Ghaliema Cassiem, Chiappini Street 46, Bo Kaap:

Mothers Day Correspondence 2012

Inmate No: 786 123 28/28 – Ismail Cassiem

 

Salaam Mammie

ek is gese ek kan vir mammie ‘n briefie stuur vir Mothers Day, en toe vra ek vir Vingers hierso om vir my te tik oppie leptop – tamaaf mammie as mammie nie so lekker verstaan nie – Vingers het oekie skool geloepie so Our spelling issie so hottie, hy se mos hy het ‘n priveliege edukation gekry da wa hy by correctional services so baaie tyd gespend het innie Paarl.

I is struggling to find the words to say what I need to tell you mammie. This place, here in Pollsmoor, issie lekker nie, but it give a man a chance to think clearly, and after all the werk is kla gemaak, then I get a chance to think about my life, and you and Boeta and how I ended up here.

I know I make a lot of mistakes, but I never did learn to talk about stuff. In here, we have a Suster Human, a Afrikaans lady, she come every week, and she listen to us talk. In die begin wasit nogal nie easy nie, but I kept on trying. She did do a IQ test on me and said I had star potential – sort of like kinetic energy, but it never got used, and maybe if I had a different chance in the beginning, I may have ended up like Dorris or Jaleel, educated and not a common criminal here in the chookie.

Mammie, I wanted to tell you that I rememer the times you went without stuff so that I could get a shoe or a jersey. I rememer when we used to take the Tremway bus to Woodstock and go buy me clothes there by the old Jood se winkels. I can still rememer when I smell Vingers Nugget Shoe polish how you used to polish those Bata Toughees of mine.And now I am ashames when I rememer that I never used those shoes to go to skool like you thought I was going.

Mammie, those were the days when we were young and free and had no cares. I didn’t smaak going to Skool, cause there was always something beteer or nicer to do. And then when I met that Cheryl cherry, and her derre was mos the man that worked there by the Palace bioscope in Salt River, that was the end of my skool days mammie. And ja, Boeta did find out and I still rememer that i got a blerrie hiding of my life that day, but it was too late mammie. I saw the gep, and I took it – the films and big screen and the 70’s went together and I was hooked mammie. I used to go with Cheryl and we watched everything that came out – Jaws and the Rocky films, but the one movie that stand out for me, that really talk to me, was the Godfather.

Sorry Mammie, ek vra weer tamaaf vir mammie, ma Vingers is strugling with the Computer – hy het al so twee of drie lessons gevat, ma nou moet hy wee innie solitary gaan sit so I am tikking on the machine, and I am also not so lekker on the leptop here, but I got stuffs to say and it is easier to struggle than to talk to Vingers and he also struggle but anyway. We get so half and hour a day here in the bib to writing letters, but because I did only learn to read last year, I stuggling to spelling the woorde, but I am not struggling to think anymore, so tammaaf if the letter is a bietjie messed up deurmekaar.

Mammie, that time we all were just struggling to get by and Boeta went to work every day and I saw Mammie trying hard to help, but I couldnt go to skool anymore and then Cheryl opened the door to my pleasures and I cant close it, and I am seeing all these films at the bioscope every day and then I decided to become a real life gangster like in the godfather movies and I went to talk to Boeta Gakkie – he was mos konected then, and his partner Staggie, and they did show me the ropes mammie. The times you thought I was learning methemetics, I was running pille to the white mense in Mowbray and Observatory, cause nobody gave a snot gevreet laaitie like me a second look. And I was making already R500 a month which was a kak huis full of ching then mammie. I just wanted Mammie and Derre to be proud of me, but in a house of 8 chillen it was difficult and me the quiet one hettie my bek oep gemaakie, so I just carried on.

I dont know if Mammie can remember,but Cheryl was only 15 toe sy met die lyf gekom het. I wanted nothing to do with her, she said it was my laaitie she was carrying and that I must pay pap geld. I told her to fokkof, she had that thing with Whitey, and then my life changed again Mammie. When I did seen that baby, I was starting to believe it was mine. The brown eyes, the dark hair, the dark skin, she was an angel. But then Cheryl got all clever like, after talking to Sister Mildred at the clinic, and decided to give the baby up for adoption. Nay man mammie, onse mense hettie sukke goed gedoen nie. Ons was mos ‘n kommunity en ons het na mekaar se kinders gekyk as die een te besig was. Ek onthou Antie Gawa het soma a paar keer vir my ook ‘n klap gegee tien die kop as ek die P woord voor ha gese het. En dan het sy my bek soma uitgewas met die Sunlight Seep, saam met ha eie kinders. Good times and sad times mammie, ek sit hierso nou en huil and smile at the same time. And I remember Cheryl running away with that ou to Canada and getting all international and becoming a dancer and the baby was given away and I never even seen that child again mammie. She must be a woman now and wondering who is her daddy?

Mammie, die jaar wat nou kom is my 30 jaar hier binne. 30 years mammie en mamie dont come visit anymore. I understand. Ek verstaan, mammie se bene issie meer so lekker nie, ma ek kry die news hier binne, hulle se mammie and Boeta is awright da buite. Is old news, ma as ouens in kom vannie outside dan kom hulle eers hier na my toe. Ek is so bietjie bang om te dink ek kan miskien uit kom een van die dae. Die regter het gese na 30 years kry ek ‘n review, en maybe sal hulle my sentence verminder, so with added good behavious kan ek miskien nog vroeg uitkom, ma eke is sieker ek wil nie. Ons hoor ook hoe things changed da buite – almal het ‘n phone in hulle sak, en mixit en sms. Ons ou manne sien die nuwe goed happening, en ons hoor die stories, on kry elke nou en dan ‘n koerant, ma ek sukkel om te lees – my oe issie meer so lekker nie mammie.

Mammie, die mense se ek moer kla maak – my time is up! Ek wil net vir mammie een ding se, en weetie of die mense die briefie lees of nie, ma ek worry nie.

I love you mammie – i never ever said it. Ons was mos nie allowed om such things to say nie, ma Suster Human says it is OK to say these thing. She says it always about your mother, all your issues (ek het mos baie anger issues gehad dai tyd) come from your relationship with your mother. So ek het peace gemaak met my tyd hier binne. Ek is ‘n ou tronkvoel, and I cant change my old tricks. Hie binne kry ek alles wat ek wil he mammie en kyk elke dag tv, die kos is ok, en other needs are met as required from time to time, ma ek issie meer lus vir daai goed nie mammie.

I wish i could see you mammie, to tell you that I love you, and that I am sorry for the pain I caused to you. That thing that happened that put me here had to happen, it was my destiny. But to see you again, one more time, that is my dream. I heard no news about you, and no one is saying if you is ok, so i did asked Vingers and the warden to help me with this letter.

Kriesalaam vir Boeta and Dorris and Jaleel

Your loving son

Ismail.

AUTHORIZED FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION VIA SA POSTAL SERVICES BY THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES.

Mariete

The sound of the alarm was foreign to her, not that she needed it to wake her this morning. She had been lying awake for the last 2 hours or more, watching the digital numbers change, seeing the little red led’s blink, then steal another minute of her life. She recognised the call now, this sound, harsh and penetrating, telling her that the time had arrived. She sat on the edge of the bed now, the carefully laid out white slippers waiting for her small feet. With a great effort, she slipped her toes into them, feeling the instant warmth from the furry lining on the soles of her feet. Day 1. Best to get an early start.

Mariete took the stairs down from the penthouse suite, running her hand along the cold stainless steel rail. She had dressed carefully this morning, taking advice from Gladice, the last of the maids still in her employ. Black pants, sensible shoes (she had chosen a small heel, not willing to go all the way and wear flatties, a decision she would regret later that day), a black and white striped blouse, a simple string of hand made beads, a little makeup to soften the lines, and a touch of perfume. Her hair was always a problem, and today she decided to tie it up, the blonde strands resisting the simple black cotton elastic. A quick look in the mirror arrested her thinking. Who was this person getting dressed at this time of the morning? When last had she been up at this hour? The harsh light of the recessed lights gave off enough heat for her to feel it on the back of her neck. The sensation of the heat made her feel like crying again, but she knew that there simply was no more tears.

She shook her head, willing herself to continue down the stairs. She felt the need to walk faster now, to get things going, deciding to forego on breakfast. Perhaps she would catch something later? Gladice had set out the white porcelain bowl, the heavy 16/10 stainless steel spoon she liked using, the All Bran, all neatly laid out on the place mat. The red mat stood out starkly against the Zimbabwe black granite top, the one she had chosen personally in the quarry, all that time ago.

She passes the laid out setting, and picks up the worn black leather bag, the shiny G clasp clicking the side of the marble top as she slings the bag over her shoulder. She opens the bag, looks in and sees the leather wallet there, double checking again and seeing the edge of the lone blue note, the tip of the horn of the buffalo peeking out at her. R100! This is it, she thinks. The wallet is now much lighter, she had dropped the Amex Black, the Nedbank Gold, the FNB Platinum and the ABSA cards in the glass bowl on the table – they had the same value as the little blue stones already in the bowl. Her last remaining card that still worked, that had some credit on it was the Woolworths Black card, and this she needed to survive, to get through to the end of the month.

She opened the heavy wooden door, the creak of the hinges crying out for a drop of oil. Closing the door behind her, she heard the metal click as the door locked into place. She pushed the button on the little remote in her hand, then clicked it again quickly to stop the heavy security gate from opening all the way. She would not be need it to open fully again, not for a while. She slipped through the narrow opening now, and heard the gate close behind her.

The leafy suburb was still dark, the first rays of sunshine unable to penetrate the 100 year old trees. She looked at the time on her Gucci wristwatch, and realised that she needed to walk now. She had timed the trip, it would take her 17 minutes to get there. Walking down the hill, she saw one or two domestics struggling up the steep incline, puffing from the exertion, steam coming from their open mouths, too intent on getting up the hill to notice the thin white woman walking past them.

She had chosen to leave early to avoid any of the neigbours seeing her, not that it mattered any longer. They all knew anyway. And no one had asked. They were all simply to ”ordentelik” or decent to say anything. She heard the car coming from behind her, the sound of the V8 familiar to her ears. It was perhaps the only car sound she knew, something inherited from her mother who had grown up in the V8 age.

The queue at the ticket office was longer than she expected it to be, but seemed to be moving along quickly. When her turn arrived she asked for a weekly ticket, metro plus, as Gladice had told her, trying to keep her voice even, but failing as the pitch went a little too high. The tired girl issuing tickets yawned, punched in the numbers and said loudly – R72! Mariete passed the hundred rand note under the glass, retrieved the change and the ticket. She needed to hurry now, quickly crossing over the bridge to platform 9, the train to Cape Town approaching already. She saw the bunch of white people, the metro plus ticket holders congregate to one side, and headed off in that direction, simply following the crowd now.

The train eased into the station, on time, coming to a juddering halt. She saw the man in front of her start moving forward, followed his footsteps, into the yellow opening, and took a seat. Tired eyes made contact with other tired eyes, some regular passengers nodding to each other, but no one talking, everyone occupied with their own thoughts. She slid down in her seat, the plastic cold beneath the thin layer of her trousers. The woman next to her clutched  her handbag tightly, whatever little value left in it important enough for her to guard it carefully. Mariete followed her example, learning quickly now. The train moved off with a screech, the steel wheels grinding on the tracks.

She sighed now, letting out the pent up air in her lungs. She had made it this far, and she would make it to the next stage too. Just one step at a time. She was a survivor – her mother would have been proud to see her now. Or not. She had always warned her, saying that Faanie was no good, something about him, something she didn’t like. Mariete closed her eyes for a second, shutting out the sound of the train and the intruding voice of her late mother.

In her minds eye she saw the last few months of her life play out like a movie. The big house, now empty, the car standing, also empty, fuel too expensive, waiting for the repossession agents to come and collect, the constant phone calls, until the telephone line too was cut for non payment.

Faanie had promised her that everything would be fine. But the signs had been there, for a while, and she chose to ignore them. Then, the call had come, from the hospital. Faanie, the stroke, the heart attack. The transfer from City Park hospital after the medical aid payments had also bounced, now he lay in Groote Schuur Hospital. The interview, the greasy haired man of indistinguishable origin, the job, her first, ever, at the age of 39, the salary, paid weekly, and then today, the first day. She wondered if she would be able to do it. Then realised that she had no option. Then she knew she would do it. She knew she was not ready to lie down and die. Not yet. She was a fighter. Till the bitter end. Always….

Salmah

She sits and waits for the phone to beep. Just one beep. Sometimes, it’s on silent, and simply vibrates lightly. She waits. Checks the screen frequently. Nothing. No missed calls.No little envelope, no little green icon, no little speech bubble. Nothing…

They had met, early in January, at a work function. To kick things off, they were told. New Year, new beginnings. She saw him then, standing to one side of the hastily made up table, the few bits of finger foods staring accusingly at him, and him staring forlornly back at them. She watched him drop the oily spring rolls into the small bin, wipe his hands discreetly on the faded denims, then wipe his mouth on his sleeve. She noted his mint green jersey under the well worn corduroy jacket, frayed at the elbows, the light blue shirt sticking out and hanging over the faded jeans. She was immediately taken by the sight of him, the visitor, and attracted to his loneliness, the mother within reaching out.

The visitor had come to the firm to teach. Salmah remembered little of the time he imparted the training material. In any case, she knew the course material off by heart, having already digested it during the last year. But he was what drew her to the sessions. His floppy brown hair, always in his eyes, the dark black frames starkly standing out against the fair skin. Irish looks, he said to her once.

When the day ended, and Salmah returned home, she quickly caught up with her prayers. Working women had to catch up the midday prayers, and this before sunset. She enjoyed the ritual, the physical exertion similar to the Yoga class she once attended at the work gym. She faced Mecca now, covered in black, only her eyes visible between the slits of the veil. As was befitting of a good Muslim woman, she stood two steps behind her husband, and listened as the melodious Arabic was recited, rhythmically, her mind still thinking of the Irishman, her body responding to the thoughts of him. She felt her breathing quicken now, a slight pain in her groin making her moan out loud, the sound unheard over the prayers of her husband. Quickly, the ritual prayer comes to an end. She picks up the prayer mat, and rushes to the kitchen to prepare supper for him.

Still the phone lies silent. He has not sent her a text today. She looks at the time, quickly calculates the time difference. He is in New Zealand now, plus 8 hours, or is it 10? She checks on the fancy smartphone, the new one she bought on the recommendation of the smart salesman at the Vodashop. It must be the middle of the night there, or early morning. Why has he not called? Or sent a chat?

She serves up the food. Cold meat and warm rice, as he likes it, the aroma of the food making her slightly nauseous tonight. She picks at the food, glancing at the phone again. The black screen stares up at the harsh fluorescent light, dead to the world. She wonders if its on, pushing the button on the glass front of the phone. The phone pulses in her hand, the screen presenting her with a menu, only thing is there is no menu icon for happiness. She sighs, puts the phone down again, cleans up the dishes, drops them into the half full sink.

Haroon sits at the table and looks at Salmah. She has changed. Something is different about her. He looks at her tight bum in the Levi jeans and feels a fleeting moment of lust course through him. He considers taking her to the room, then remembers that he had already made plans to go out with the boys tonight. Big came, the UEFA Cup Final.  She would be there when he got back. He stands up and leaves the room, picking up the key to the bike, grabbing his helmet as he walks out the house.

Salmah hears the old bike struggle to start. She walks to the window and sees him sitting on the bike, the bike leaning over on its side. He drops the cigarette now, and pulls the helmet on. The bike starts with a loud bang, giving her a sudden fright. She turns around from the window and sits down at the kitchen table again. She glances up now, tears welling from her eyes, the fright of the loud noise having loosened the pent up tears, the fears rushing from here. She breathes again, deeply, for the first time in over 2 hours.

Alone again, the tears have subsided now. She feels for the phone again. A sudden panic overcomes her. Where is her phone? She jumps up and feels all her pockets. The tight jeans tell her that there is no phone hidden in the pockets. She starts now to frantically look all over the kitchen, but cannot see it. Where can it be? A cold sweat breaks out beneath the tight blouse. She feels the room spin round now, the light flickering. Again, she sits down, tries to calm her breathing. Think! Slow Down! Think! Slow Down!! Her heart is beating at over 200 beats per second, adrenaling flowing freely through her now. This is it, the end. Her life is over.

A sudden calmness takes over. She walks to the drawer where the sharp knives are kept, carefully selecting the sharpest one. Haroon has the phone. He will see the messages, the photos, the texts from the Irishman. He will know that she is having an affair with the visitor. He will assume the worst. She knows that he will not believe her, when she says that it was never physical, that it was all only virtual – a facebook and whattsapp relationship, an exchange of words. Words that she needed to hear. But by God she would never even have been alone with the man! She knows he will not believe her. So that is it. The end. The shame would be too much to bear. For him, and for her.

The first cut hurts the most, the salt of her tears mingling with the open wound. Her resolve weakens. Maybe, just maybe, he would understand. The fear engulfs her again. No! He would never. She makes the second cut, even deeper this time, the sting even worse. She sees the blood flowing now, rivulets running down her brown forearm. She steadies her right hand, the shaking getting worse by the second.

And then she hears the beep. From afar. She looks around, to try and place the sound. The bright screen glows beneath the veil, there where she dropped the uncomfortable covering after she had finished the prayers. She grabs a cloth now, trying to stem the flowing blood, her shaking hand reaching for the phone. A text! From him! She reads it quickly. He was out of range, out in the middle of nowhere, could not not call, was sorry, missed her, wanted to know if he could call.

She sniffs through the tears, a smile creeping over her face. She taps out the message. Please Call Me…love you.. Salmah..

Thembi

The first rains of Winter fell quietly during the night, leaving a thin slippery layer of damp on the roads. The accumulated heat of the Summer months had forced the roads to absorb thousands of kilometers of rubber from the tyres of cars, trucks and bikes, the greasy grime now rising to the surface with the first rain. Friday, the 4th of May…

Thembi rose earlier than usual this morning. Sleep had evaded her, and she had given up somewhere near 3a.m. She climbed out of the warm bed, pulled on her track pants and the well worn UWC alumni top, the fleece still comforting her even after all these years. She pulled out the shiny new iPad and reviewed the presentation she had prepared for her meeting with the new Assistant Vice President of Marketing and the board of directors for later that day. Auspicious sounding titles did not impress her, after all, she was a child of the revolution, and had earned her stripes. She flipped through the presentation slides, carefully checking each one  in minute detail. Thembi had a reputation for being a ‘details person’, something she treasured, a little bit of ego she allowed herself. Satisfied that she had not missed anything, she pushed the little center button on the iPad, putting the machine into sleep mode again. If only she had a similar button, one she could press to put herself to sleep so easily.

She sighed, slipping the thin tablet into her leather briefcase. She might as well get an early start to work today. She slipped out of the comfortable clothing and stepped into a hot shower, the water almost scalding hot. She enjoyed the feel of the high pressure water on her back, luxuriating in the shower for a few minuted longer. Friday was a casual dress day for most, but not for her. She opened the cupboard and took out her ‘presentation’outfit, carefully selected off the 36 Boutiques website earlier in the year. Preparation is key, she heard her 2nd year lecturer, Mr Donovan, say inside her head, his voice still clear even after all this time. She chose her accessories carefully, not too bling, just enough shine to take off the harsh edge she had been made aware about by the makeover consultant last year. She matched a nicely cut blouse with the tailored black pants, and her favourite other indulgence, the red shoes from Jimmy Choo.

No time left for breakfast, she made herself a protein shake quickly drinking the tasteless stuff down. The nervous twitch in her left shoulder was acting up again, and would need some treatment later on. She made a mental note to call Anne and make an appointment to see the Chiropractor  later that day. She picked up her leather handbag, double checking to see if her cell phone was in it, as well as the matching leather wallet. Satisfied that she had everything she walked towards the door with purpose.

She paused then, her hand on the doorknob, about to open the door leading out of the luxury apartment. She turned and took in the flat again, a brief shadow crossing her busy mind. She had been told to take things easy, to enjoy her success. Looking at the perfectly decorated apartment now, she allowed herself 30 seconds to simply take it all in, the fine furniture from Pierre Cronje, the expensive paintings, the velvet curtains. A far cry from the spartan student digs of a few years back, when all she could afford was the crumby flat in Bellville. Now, living here in Century City, she still sometimes yearned for the simplicity of her former life.  She smiled then. Tonight she would go to Gugulethu, and party with her old friends at Mzolis. She would drink the fermented beer they sold and eat the meat off the braai. Perhaps she would flirt with the boys who always hung around. Yes, tonight she would let the pressure off by just being herself, not the woman her job demanded her to be.

The red Mini Cooper S stood parked in her bay. She pushed a button on the key in her hand and unlocked the boot, carefully putting her bag into the confined space. She slipped into the black leather seat, removing her shoes with practiced ease. She put on the seat warmers, feeling the heat almost instantly. She started the car, and let it idle for a minute, remembering what the smooth young salesman had told her to do. She sat waiting patiently, hearing the sounds of the morning radio team chattering on K.FM, then turned off the radio, enjoying the soft purring sound of the little cars engine.

The car now warmed up, she drove out of the underground parking, the rain sensors picking up the fine drizzle and automatically starting the windshield wipers. Thembi smiles again. Another huge improvement on the old Mazda 323 she had been driving only a few years ago. She drove the little car with more ease now, enjoying the power. First gear, second, then slow for the roundabout, keep it in second, then gently apply the power again, feeling the car through the corner. She stops at the traffic light, fingers lightly tapping the steering wheel, waiting for the green light, her mind on the presentation again. And Gugs tonight…

Thembi does not see the truck coming from the right. The driver, still recovering from the long weekend, has only come back to work today. He sees the red Mini, the young black girl driving it, her white leather jacket in stark contract to the black leather seats, the curly black hair, the red paint. For a second he fixates on the girl, his mind allowing his testosterone some free reign. He does not see the red light, his eyes now widening as the stationery car starts to move. Too late now, he applies his right foot to the brake, hearing the tiny pieces of metal trying in vain to stop the 30 tons of metal now hurtling towards the little red car. He sees the terrified look on her face as she realises that the truck is not going to stop. Unable to do anything more, he lifts his hands to cover his face, then hears the screeching sound of metal colliding. The little red mini folds like a coke can. The driver of the truck holds on to the steering wheel now, gripping it tightly, seeing what is left of the car being pushed ahead of him. Still the two vehicles are entwined in a dance, neither one able to stop.

And then, suddenly, the air is filled with a deathly silence. The truck comes to a standstill. The driver jumps out of the cab and runs to what was once the red Mini. Smoke and steam and the strong smell of petrol is all he can take in. He cannot see the girl.

The sound of the ambulance is nearing. The driver says a prayer, knowing that it is too late for the girl in the car. He sinks down, sits on the ground. A paramedic rushes to him, puts a blanket over his shoulders. Starts to to clean the cut on his head. Asks about the accident. If there are more people involved. He shakes his head, unable to speak.

The meeting starts at 9a.m. Her seat is vacant. The men and women in the room are annoyed that Thembi is late. So inconsiderate. They sip on cappuccinos, tapping fingers impatiently on the glass table top. They start the meeting. Too much too soon they think. The pressure of presenting got to her, they think….

Shaheem – Long Long Weekend

He stood on the balcony of the apartment, leaning against the cold stainless steel railings and looked up at the majesty of Table Mountain. The powerful spotlights shone a bright white light onto selected areas of the mountain, enhancing the glory of the newest seventh wonder of the world.

Her perfume still lingered in the luxury apartment, a reminder of the fleeting encounter earlier that evening. He had stopped for his usual double latte at the convenient Woolies in Gardens. They had made eye contact as they both waited for Alfie to make thier orders. She smiled first. He returned the smile and made the decision to move in then. He read the cues perfectly. Single, lonely, looking for company. Professional, working, decent job (the shoes gave him that signal). Together, determined, ambitious, makeup perfectly applied. Expensive tastes. And he knew that he was exactly what she was looking for.

He moved in slowly. Too fast and she would bolt, too slow and she would think him weak. Timing was perfect. The two double lattes Alfie had made arrived at the same time. Their fingers brushed and touched each other lightly as they picked up the hot paper cups. Their eyes met again. She held his gaze for just that one second too long, and he knew then that he had her.

She had followed him in her own car, another sign of her singular independent status. A 2012 Mini Cooper in bright red, he smiled as they drove the short distance to his apartment building in Buitenkant Street. She drove the little car with a confidence he noticed, the car slipped in behind him into the underground parking, as the heavy steel gate started closing. She parked in the bay with the big painted V, next to the elevators. He watched as she opened the car door and put an expensive heel out, then sliding out of the bucket seats with even more confidence. He thought he could sense her heart racing, then realised it was his own pulse that had increased.

They took the elevator up to the 23rd floor, not speaking a word, afraid to break the moments silence with inane talk. She touched his hand lightly, a small electrical shock passing through them both. They smiled at each other again. He noted her perfect teeth, the lightly painted lips, the mascara and pencil applied precisely. He liked what he was looking at. She would do.

The sex was mechanical, hard and furious. They went at each other like hungry animals, satiating the built up lust of the past few minutes. They lay next to each other, spent, the forgotten lattes now nothing more than cold milk. She lay with her head on his chest, her hair tickling his nose ever so slighlty, the smell of the expensive shampoo mingling with the smell of their combined sex. He had smiled to himself then, assured that his performance was more than adequate.

They make love again. Slower, gentler this time. It is as if they both know that this sharing of their bodies will be for the last time. She fakes her orgasm, eager now to get it over with. The first one was the important one, and had served her needs. Now, she wanted to have a hot shower, wash his smell from her, get in her car and go home. She still had some work to finish. She slipped out of the Egyptian cotton sheets, and walked to the bathroom, fully aware of his eyes on her perfect behind. She looked over her shoulder and gave him a little grin, a wink of a green eye, then slipped into the bathroom.

She washes quickly, using the Dove liquid soap, noting the expensive shampoos on the glass shelf in the shower. A guy who takes care of himself. Pity, she kind of liked him. She steps out of the shower and sees her blurry reflection in the steamed up mirror. She dresses quickly, not bothering to apply the makeup again. Her mission for the long weekend complete, there was no need to be so attractive anymore. She slipped on her heels, and walked out the apartment, leaving only a whiff of her Eau des Jardins behind.

He walks back into the room and looks at the empty bed, the sheets still ruffled. Her smell still lingers. He lies down, an emptiness engulfing him. She was good. Almost too good. Athletic type, not his first choice. Again, the loneliness threatens to overcome him. He reaches into the side drawer, pops two of the small white tablets into his mouth and swallows them without any water. The pills scratch his throat as they slide down into his stomach, mingling with his gastric juices. Within 20 minutes they will start working and sending out the right amounts of chemicals to his brain. They will adjust the levels of dopamine and seratonin in his brain, calm him down, and make the loneliness go away.

Just two more days, he thinks to himself. Then he can go back to doing what he does best – making money. Work. He closes his eyes, waiting for the pills to kick in, feeling his brain starting to respond.

What was her name?

 

Dorris and Sofia – double shifts

She slips into the house quietly, taking care not to slam the door closed. The sound of the key scraping against the metal sounds louder as she pulls it out of the door lock, the echo of the empty passage amplifying things. The door creaks, as it always does when the season changes. It is as if the stored up heat of summer is leaving the very soul of the old house.

She shivers, the early morning air carrying a distinct edge now. She is tired. So tired. The end of another double shift. She places her handbag on the side table, hanging the bunch of keys on the little key ring holder next to the mirror. She remembers making it during her one class at school, the way the white sticky cold glue stuck to her fingers after, and how she enjoyed pulling them off in little strips, her thin fingers turning bright red.

She looks at those same hands now. Wrinkles starting to show. Short, effective clipped nails, no time for polish. A few frayed cuticles, a result of her nervous habit of biting them. She had tried the oils and creams, they didn’t help. She rubs the space where the ring used to be, the colour now returning to what it once was – bleak, like her future.

She sighs. She reaches for her cigarettes, slips one out of the pack and lights up. For an instant, the flame reflects off her tired face, a shadow forming in the slowly lightening room. She sinks into the old armchair, drawing deeply on the menthol cigarette, holding the acrid smoke in her lungs till they burn, looking for that old feeling. She exhales. Tries to remember the old head rush. She knows nothing will ever be the same.

She leans forward, a dog howling a few houses down unsettles her. The dog sets off others, and soon the street resonates with barking. She relaxes back into the chair. It’s Monday. The refuse collection day. She hears the truck turning, struggling up the steep street, the hydrolic hiss of the tipper, shhhhhttttt, sssssssssssss, shhhhhttttttt, ssssssssss, the sound of the dirt bins being dropped, a dull plastic thudd. The noise is again amplified, this time by the empty street.

Dawn, another day in the Mother City. She stubbs out the half smoked cigarette, burning her fingers in the process. She sucks on her thumb, the cool menthol taste soothing the small burn. Reaching out for the small tin beneath the arm chair, hidden within the folds of the old leather, she open the metal box and takes out the roll of bank notes. She reaches into her jean pants pocket, and pulls out the folded notes, peeling off the four fifty rand notes, adding three of them to roll, leaving one behind. Smokes money. Filthy habit. Costing more and more. Government laughing all the way to the nearest Mercedes Benz dealership. She couldn’t give a toss. The turns on the small lamp and starts counting the money, already knowing exactly how much there would be. Her nest egg. Growing. Slowly. Hence the double shifts. She puts the money away, stashes the tin back into the old chair, safe in the knowledge that no one would ever look for it there. Safer than in the bank her old Ma always said.

The text book lies on the floor, the spine spelling out in bold letter M A R K E T I N G. She looks at her wrist watch, and figures she has another hour before she needs to catch a shower. No sleep time, she turns the book around and starts reading, pulling a stubby pencil forward and underlining a word here and a paragraph there. The exams are around the corner. She reaches the third paragraph, now deeply engrossed in the dynamics of Product and Place, when the soft sound of little feet intrude on her reading. She stops, pushing her curly hair back out of her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose tightly. God! please, not yet, she asks softly.

”Mommy, Mommy, I had a bad dream”, Sofia says, clutching her blanket in one hand, her thumb in her mouth. Dorris looks at the little face, a mirror image of her own. The only difference she can see is the color of her hair, the same as her fathers, jet black but curly, like hers. ”Here Angel, come to Mommy”, she says quietly, opening her arms for Sofia to come to her.

The little girl child stands in the doorway and looks at her mother. She has not seen her for two days, but is too young to understand the passage of time. The mother stares at the child, trying to remember when she last saw her. Perhaps Thursday, or Friday. She reaches out, dropping the book on the floor, all thoughts of study now gone.

In 45 minutes she will be dressed, and sitting by a desk, at a school. She will look just like any other 18 year old. She will laugh with her friends, and sneak a stolen cigarette behind the school toilets. A child herself, the child at home a reminder of that one day she dropped her guard, fell for that smile.

Boeta Cassiem – Freedom Day 2012

There is a particular beauty to the setting sun at the end of April in Cape Town. In this southernmost part of the world Autumn is now shedding the last of her clothes and preparing to cover up warmly. The bright colours of Summer have been replaced with deeper hues, aptly reflected in the shorter days and the coming Winter.

Boeta Cassiem sits on the stoep and looks out over the city. He wears a simple Kurta top, the traditional dress of Arabs for centuries, imported to Cape Town all those years ago by the slaves that first wore them. Not sensible in the cold Winters, Boeta Cassiem has drawn his old cardigan closed over the white top, the fishermans ribbing frayed in so many places, the darning and mended places almost changing the complete character of what the jersey once was.

He smiles to himselft. Dorris has a fit every time he goes out with this ‘old thing’ so he tries to only wear it when he sits here. The old garment comforts him, and he is long past the stage where he cares what others think. His face clouds over, a frown now replacing the smile on the weathered brown face. Every year for the past 18 years, on this day,  he has stopped and reflected on things. After all, today is Freedom Day.

He sits and thinks of that day  in 1994, when the world heaved a collective sigh of relief at the successful birth of the new republic of South Africa. The earlier 4 years of gestation, the pregnancy of expectation of what was to come and eventually the tired old Republic giving birth to the New South Africa on the 27th of April 1994.

He ruminates now, on those early days, when he was actively involved in the community. When Ghaliema would set up the tables in the back of the school hall in Schotse Kloof, lay the wooden trestle table with her own hand made table cloth, the one with the frilly lace edges and pictures on it. She would always make something sweet earlier in the day, then pack in the Joko teabags and small packet of sugar. After the sunset prayers, the men and women would come from the mosque next door and they would gather as a community, and discuss whatever local issues needed discussing. Boeta Cassiem would defer the running of the meetings to Gamieldien, and sit and observe quietly.

Back then, the room was filled with hope and pain, tired faces, tired feet, tired hands. Many of the men worked in the Cape Town harbour, carrying on in the tradition of their fathers. Many were no longer employed, or employable. The few working women in the room worked in Salt River and Woodstock, at the new clothing factories Queenspark and Rex Trueform. The days were long, but they accepted it as there lot – after all, some of them were descendants of slaves, and at least they had a measure of freedom. The room would be filled with the smoke of cigarettes and loud voices discussing what needed to be done, who needed help and when the next bazaar would take place.

The sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer breaks through his reverie. The loud sound shouting out God is Great, God is Great! He stops thinking, the guttural sound intruding on his thoughts. He ignores the instruction to come to prayer, and continues sitting on the old riempie bench, pulling the old jersey tighter around his drooping shoulders.

The last of the dying sun is disappearing in the distance. The mountains are pink and purple, the colour reflected off table bay and the gathering clouds. It will rain soon. The wind has died down, but soon the rain will come. He smells the the air, and knows that change is imminent.

The call to prayer has stopped as suddenly as it has started. Around him, he sees young men and older ones walking to the mosque. Some of them wave at him. So few people heeding the call these days. The few that stayed behind. He looks at the houses around him, gentrification they call it these days, the last of the original people selling out to the wealthy europeans hungry to buy property here in the City. A people selling out its cultural history to go and buy houses on the West Cost.

He continues to sit there, his thoughts now struggling to take shape. The years gets mixed up, events defy categorization. He misses her now. Ghaliema. She would always help him find the thread of the story if he messed it up. A tear forces its way to his eye, through the swiftly forming cataracts. The large drop falls on the white top, leaving a wet mark the size of a R5 coin. He wipes at it absently. Where is Jaleel? Where is Dorris? Is this what will happen? A forgotten old man, unable to remember the past clearly, struggling to make sense of this new world? Just the other day he signed up for faces book or facebook as the young people call it. Before that he had to buy a cell phone, so the children could call him. Mostly, he forgets to turn the thing on, when he remembers to charge the battery. Now, he has a laptop, Internet, email. What is he supposed to do with all of this?

He sighs deeply. The streets are now filling up with new cars, young people flocking to the city. They will go and drink and party in the Cape Quarter, at one of the many restaurants there. One or two will return to a smashed window to find his car radio gone, others will search for cars that are no longer there. And in their drunkeness, they will forget what this day truly represents. But not Boeta. He will remember. He has seen this new South Africa grow up, the screaming toddler seeking attention under Mandela, the rebellious teenager under Mbeki, and now the headstrong adolescent under Zuma. Three presidents, three generations. And how much has really changed?

He stands up now, feeling for the packet of cigarettes in his top pocket, again finding the Clorets gum that now fits that space. He wonders why he stopped smoking, and misses the burn of the smoke in his lungs. For a second he is tempted to walk over the road to the corner cafe and buy a ten pack, then gives up on that. The doctors have warned him. He turns round to go back inside, the empty house dark and foreboding…

Amy and Ken

They sit alongside each other, holding hands. From far they look like any couple, but up close you can see how time and the elements have ravaged them. She was pretty, once, a long time ago. Seven years of Heroin will destroy your good looks. Beneath the hastily applied makeup on the puffy cheeks heavily rouged, desperation seeps out of her pores. The fake smile, plastered on with the makeup, threatens to fall off her tired face at any little provocation. Yet, she manages to keep it together, for just five more minutes. She is the strong one. She needs to maintain the facade. She knows that without her, he is lost.

He sits there, unable to keep his legs still. Unshaven and emaciated. The bones of his once fine looking handsome face now pointing at the world, accusatory. The eyes are still blue, but dull and constantly shifting, looking around furtively, as if expecting to see something anytime soon.

They are dressed in clean clothes. They have made some effort to display a version of themselves as close to normal as possible. Beneath the cheep cheap clothing stomachs rumble in unison, crying out for something to eat. On the table in front of them lie two entry level Nokia cell phones, the one clearly trying hard to recover from the time Ken lost it, and threw it against the wall. Amy fondles the phone, touching the broken glass lightly running her finger over the crack, perhaps identifying with the inanimate objects pain. The phones vibrate every few minutes, silently delivering a message from somewhere. But for the two of them, the life raft they are floating in is drifting further and further from land, solid ground a distant memory.

Amy hears the voice of the interviewer but cannot focus long enough to register the fact that she needs to be at the training session next week. Her mind has rushed ahead to the first day of pay, when she will be able to have a full meal again. Her teeth are loose in her gums, forcing her hold her hand in front of her mouth whenever she speaks. Already the gnawing has started, the Methadone wearing off to be replaced by the hunger for the real thing. Her hands start shaking with anticipation, already counting down the 23 days to her next hit. Now, all she needs to do is get this job, pretend to be like everyone else, wear a short skirt, high heels, more makeup.

Ken sits outside now, waiting for Amy. He knows that this is the way it will be, for a while yet. He rests his head against the wall, closing his tired eyes, wallowing in the darkness there. He needs to smoke, but they agreed to share the last cigarette. His pain forces open his eyes now, taking in the room full of other young hopefuls applying for the position they had seen advertised. Young girls, all once pretty, all looking used like yesterdays tissues. The pay for this job would be just under R3k, enough to pay something towards the rent and maybe buy some food. He looks down at what is left of his Converse sneakers. The shoes reflect his life back at him – worn, trodden, and coming apart at the seams, held together by the laces of a past life. His mind too is running ahead of him. After this meeting he intends to meet with Ed, his old school mate. Ed has been there, recovered, got it together, picked up the pieces and moved on. He needs Ed to just be there. He runs over the story in his mind again and again. Medical boarding, pension payout, R75k, 6 months since he was diagnosed, 2 months already, he just needs to get to month six.

Ed, the reason he came to Cape Town, is sitting in the food court at Tygervalley center. He looks around, then at his smartphone again. 12.32, and still no sign of Ken. He sighs, checks his email on  the device again. Three new messages. They can wait till later. He logs on to facebook, checks the news feeds of the close group of friends he now has. He catches a quick glimpse of each of their lives, a photo here and there, an examination result that was higher than expected. He clicks on the like button, quickly scrolling down. A quiet day in the virtual world of facebook. He smiles. Clicks on the status button, and updates his status – ”Virtual World Quiet Today”, clicks the post button, locks the phone and slides it into his shirt pocket. 12.37 and still no sign of Ken. He reaches for the phone and stops midway, as he sees the couple walk towards him. Shit! They look bad! He thinks of taking them to the Spur, then thinks again – they probably have a little  money, and probably wont be able to afford the meal. He decides quickly. Coffee, at the Wimpy. A quick one. Get it over with. Just say what he came here to say, and leave.

They sit down now, the three of them. An incongruous site once, but nothing out of the ordinary today. Ken and Amy, white South Africans still carrying the cross of Apartheid. Ed, former struggle revolutionary, recovering from a messy divorce, but putting it together again. Ken and Ed, once part of an elite team. The three of them sit, and chat. Ken spins the story looking for an angle. Eh has heard this angle before. They chat, politely, the girl throwing in her 2 cents worth when she thinks it will help. She fails to impress Ed. He tries hard to hide the disdain for her that he feels within him, then recognizes the true emotion within in himself. He feels ashamed of them. Alongside Pity.

Ken is angling for one last time, trying to convince Ed that the money is coming, the Ed is the one person who can help him out. Ed responds, quietly, even gently, that he cannot help, not again, not anymore. He looks at Ken, sees the shutters come down on the blue eyes, the vacant look in the eyes of a man who has surrendered. Ed knows. It’s a question of time before Ken throws in the towel. But he cannot be the lifeline any longer. He stands up now, picks up the bill and walks to the till point to pay. He glances back to the table and sees Amy resting her head on Ken’s shoulder. They may just make it. If the girl stays clean long enough. She has some mettle in her still. Ed tips the waitress generously. He always does. But today, he needs to be strong. He sees the fifty in his wallet. It would be so easy to give, but he knows it would be the wrong thing. He closes the wallet, slips it into his jean pocket and turns back to Ken and Amy. They are no longer there, three empty cups on a red table are all that remains…

Bongisizwe

The ward rounds are taking longer than usual tonight, because of the emergency in the trauma unit. Bongi looks at the time on her lapel watch, the gift from Tata, the one she received on her graduation last year. She smiles to herself, even this long day cannot steal her joy. It is one year today, one year since this new life started. But things were not always this way….

She snaps out of her reverie. Another call. Another emergency. City Park has been a baptism of fire for the young nurse, a far cry from the calm nursing clinic in Klipfontein road. She walks, no, semi runs briskly to the ICU now, her mind going over the procedures she so carefully studied. Stabilise the situation, call the doctor, administer CPR if required as a last resort.

The man is lying still on the bed, the monitor beeping shrilly now. The oxygen supply has ran out. She sees the mans face becoming blue now under the mask. She rips off the mask, and inserts the plastic mouth to mouth apparatus. She closes his nose, blows into his mouth, counts to three and repeats. An orderly joins her now, assisting and replacing the oxygen tank next to the bed. She remembers the rule – Don’t Panic! Calmly, she keeps on administering CPR, when suddenly the monitor beeps into life again. She can feel the shallow breathing beneath her sweaty palms. She applies the now functioning oxygen mask, turning up the flow, standing back as the machine starts to assist the patient with his breathing.

She turns from the bed, only now looking at the patient. A frown crosses her brow as she sees the man behind the mask clearly. With shock now, she lifts the mask again, to see if it really is him. With a gasp, she lets the elastic snap back. It is him. The man whose life she just saved, the man responsible for the death of her brother.

Bongi turns around. The ward is now back to normal. Around her, other patients lie silently. She looks at the sleeping man, hearing the machines straining to keep him alive. She can end it now. The pain. Simple pull the plug. But no. This one must live. This one must live to feel the maximum pain….

Faanie Part 2

So word ek wakker in die hospitaal. Hulle se vir my dis City Park, hier innie Stad.

Ek het seker al tevore hier verbygery, miskien oppad kantoor toe, seker nog een van die ou geboue hier in die middestad. En ja, nou le ek hier, been in die lug.

Ek haal diep asem. Die pyn skiet skielik weer deur my linker arm. Ek voel dit hier onder die dun kombersie, ek voel weer koud, en dan soma weer warm. Hoe het ek in hierdie gemors beland? O, ja, nou onthou ek. Die verdomde geld jaag, die gejaag na nog goed, en Dorothy se konstante gemoanery oor die volgende maand se skuld wat  betaal moetword. Waar is die heks nou, wonder ek.

Ek konsentreer hard om my asem so bietjie stiller te maak. Dis vrek moeilik! Ek soek vir my sigarette maar toe onthou ek skielik waar ek is, en hoe ek hier beland het! Die stres, veertig sigarette ‘n dag, die eks se konstante geneulery, die oproepe van die skuldeisers, ja…miskien is hierdie ”paid for by Discovery” vakansie net wat ek nodig het? Of miskien nie. Ek sukkel nou om te onthou of die aftrekorder hierdie maand deurgegaan het. Donderdag was mos die eerste ne? My geheue sukkel om by te kom. Hoekom sukkel ek so met als? O ja, die dokters se dis omdat ek vir veertig minute nie asemgehaal het nie. As dit nie vir die sekuritietswag by die kantoor was nie, was ek nou heeltemal gestrem. Ek sal moet onthou om die ou op te spoor wanneer ek hier uitkom, as ek dit uit maak.

Ek maak my oe toe. Ek hoor weer stemme, net buite die groot wit deur. Dit klink soos die dokter, ‘n bruin man met ‘n moslem naam. Slim ook. Hy praat met ‘n Engelse aksent. Die ander stem klink ook bekend. Wie is dit nou weer? Skielik kom dit terug na my toe! Dis hy! Hoe het hy my so vinnig opgespoor? Wat gaan ek se? Ek loer na die hartmonitor langs die bed, die geluid word harder. Is dit my hart wat weer ingee? Miskien is hierdie keer die laaste keer. Ek hoor die geluid van die wekker, die gilgeluid word nou harder. Mense om die bed, die dokter ook. Iemand trek die dun laken af. Ek sien die skokmasjientjie word nader getrek, aangeskakel, ek hoor hoe die dokter vir almal se om terug te staan, die twee silwer handvatsels teen mekaar vryf, en dan plaas hy dit op my oop bors.

Die skok trek deur my. Ek voel dit tot in my kleintoontjies, en dan kom dit weer, soos ‘n Tsunami, oor my, die nuwe pyn meer intens, meer suiwer as die vorige stywe pyn. Hierdie pyn maak iets oop, iets, seker my bloed, begin weer vloei. Ek voel my asem kom nou weer terug.En nou voel ek sielsmoeg. Ek wens die slaap wil my oorval, ek sak nou dieper, ek voel ek verdrink. Ek sien, uit nou oe, die verpleegster nader stap, die naald in die drip druk, die Pethadine werk amper onmiddellik. Ek gee maar in. Ek laat dit oor my vloei..Ek gee oor.

Faanie

The sound of the wheezing ventilator wakes him from a deep sleep. He opens his eyes slowly, and blinks, once, twice and a third time then closing his eyes tightly again when the bright glare of the hospital lights blind him. Again, he blinks his eyes now adjusting to the overhead light. He twitches his fingers on his left hand slowly, feeling a sharp pain where the needles of the drips have been inserted. He becomes aware of the oxygen mask on his face, the elastic holding down the cup irritating him. He tries to lift his right hand, but gives up when the effort makes him black out for a second. Quickly, he goes through six of the seven stages of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, hope), but hits a block at Hope. Hope? How did this happen? Where am I? Slowly, he slips back into a deep sleep, the sound of the monitors fading away again.

Johannes sits at the desk. Another long day ahead. The overweight white guy walks past, the frown on his face exaggerated this morning. It’s 9.34am and already he is having his fourth smoke of the day. The man is talking loudly into his cell phone, angrily, in Afrikaans. His face is red and puffy from his exertions, the tie around his neck making the veins stand out. He stops in front of the security desk, looks at Johannes, points to the pen and makes the motion of writing. Johannes passes him the pen and a slip of paper. The man writes down something, and throws the pen back, turns and continues talking on his phone. Johannes hears bit of the conversation – “…the transfer was supposed to go through already…”, ”…die groot baas is binekort trug…ons is nog nie gereed nie…die projek loop al drie maande laat…”.

Johannes buries his head in the Daily Sun. He has heard these conversations hundreds of times before. He focuses on the door now, looking at the people walking past, going on with their daily business. He thinks of Ammi and the kids at home for the school holidays. He wonders what they will be doing all day. And he prays that they stay young and innocent for at least another few days. The tik problem is bad on the flats now, much worse than ever before. And so cheap. He looks around for the man on the phone but cannot see him. The talking stopped so suddenly? Panic rising, he jumps up. He sees the phone first, the screen of the blackberry still glowing, the call still in progress. Then he sees the man lying face down, a pool of blood around his face. He is lying so still that Johannes thinks he must be dead. A surge of adrenalin courses through him, activating his numb mind. He grabs the phone on the desk and pushes 9 for the operator, shouting that he needs an ambulance, someone has had an accident, they must send help. He runs around the desk now, and feels the mans neck and detects a faint pulse. He does not know what to do. The he sees the phone again, and picks it up. He tell the voice on the other side what has happened. The voice asks where is Faanie? Faanie? That must be his name. Faanie. He tells the voice that Faanie is lying in a pool of blood, and barely breathing. He has called for the ambulance. He does not know what to do. He is just Johannes,the security. At 101 Adderly. The voice, now sounding panicked, shouts at Johannes to get help. He says the ambulance is coming.

From far away, Johannes hears the sound of sirens approaching. Time is standing still. How long has it been? The paramedics come running into the foyer now. Johannes stands back, the phone still in his hand. He stares at the scene in front of him. A crowd of onlookers have gathered round. The paramedics ask him to control the crowd. He moves slowly into action, still stunned by the events unfolding around him. More curious onlookers are standing and staring. The paramedics have moved the man, Faanie, onto a stretcher. They are taking him to the ambulance now. One of them asks him who the man is. He shrugs and says he works in the building somewhere, but he does not know where. The medic says they are taking him to City Park, the hospital in Loop Street. Johannes nods. He turns back to his desk, slipping the phone into his pocket without thinking. He calls for a cleaner – the floor needs to sorted out. Already normality has resumed, people coming in and going out. Johannes sits down. Who the hell is Faanie?

 

Johannes

Johannes stirs in the dark, his aching muscles pulsing. A full bladder has awakened him, on time, as it does, every morning. He does not need a watch to tell him that it is time to prepare himself for the day ahead. Quietly, and with practiced ease, he slips from underneath the single sheet that has covered him. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he is careful not to step on the sleeping child lying there, the still form a darker shadow in a curtainless room.

He steps over another sleeping form and makes his way to the bathroom. The smell of urine does not bother him as it once did, his nose and senses now numbed by the years of constant attack from his environment.

He closes the paper thin door of the bathroom, realising the futility of the effort, but needing the 3 minutes of privacy he will have. A small smile passes over his face. Today is Friday. And the weekend lies ahead. Some small respite from the constant pressure of survival for so many, all he is happy about is that it is weekend and even though he is working, he will get a chance to watch at least one game of soccer on the TV at work, maybe sneak in a beer and a packet of Dorito’s. Then he remembers that Ammi asked for money last night, again. He sighs, perhaps the guys will not finish off the snacks this afternoon, and he can scrounge around in the bins. He would see.

The single naked bulb in the bathroom flickers once, then it dies, leaving him in the dark again. Bloody load shedding! His unshaven face makes him look old, much older than his true age of 48.

He washes off the little bit of Sunlight soap from his face, sighing again. His supervisor will not be happy that he has not shaved, but rather face that displeasure than to go to work with cuts all over his face, like the last time.

Fumbling in the dark, he reaches for a toothbrush, and squeezes some Colgate onto the the end of the frizzled piece of plastic.  He brushes slowly and carefully, making sure he does not cut his already soft gums. Long forgotten lessons come to mind – brush in a rotational method, gently, but for at least 60 seconds. That was one lesson he remembers from school days when the local day hospital came and gave all the children bright red toothbrushes and toothpaste. Most of the children ate all the toothpaste at school that day, leaving the classroom with a fresh minty smell, but only for that day.

Finishing his brushing of his teeth, he dropped the used brush into the small cup on the other side of the toilet. Ammi had come up with this plan – yes, she was a clever one that Ammi. In the small room they called home, Ammi ran the show and made up simple things to keep them healthy. Later, when the last child had left for school, she would take the seven toothbrushes from the little plastic cup, then drop them into a bowl of boiling water. The water would receive a teaspoon of vinegar and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and the toothbrushes would lie in it for one hour. After this, she would let them air by the single window, then put them back in the little bathroom. To kill the germs she would always say.

Johannes was glad that Ammi took care of details like this. Just last year, the people from three doors down had lost a child who got sick suddenly. The rumors was that he got TB and that it killed him, but everyone knew it was the big disease with the little name that took him. Ammi said that Hygiene was important and insisted they spend the little money they had on basic toiletries. Also, the girls were getting big now, and needed ”girl” stuff he was told.

Johannes stepped over the other sleeping figures and made his way to the single chair where his uniform lay, pressed and neatly hanging. He dressed slowly, the rough cotton trousers scratching his legs. He slipped on the starched white shirt, noticing that Ammi had mended it again, right there where the top button closed. She was good at invisible mending, so good, that other people often brought things to her to be fixed.

He pulled the heavy jersey over his shirt, feeling the G4S embroidery over his heart. Sitting lightly on the edge of the chair, his stomach now rumbling, he fastened the laces on his boots. They were in need of replacement, but that would not be possible until he had paid off these ones, and that was another three weeks of work.

Standing up slowly, the early morning glow now casting more grey shadows in the room, Johannes looked out on his sleeping family. He smiled then, a sorrowful smile. The sounds of sleeping children washed over him, the little one with the cold breathing heavily. He made a note to get some medicine for her. Feeling in the dark for his Billabong wallet, a treasure he had picked up on shift a few weeks ago, he pulled on the velcro protecting the few contents within it. He slipped out the last twenty, folded the bill, and slipped it under Ammi’s pillow. Her needs were more important than his today, and after all, it was Friday and almost the weekend. He slipped the old Nokia cell phone into his pocket, then remembered to turn it on, giving up when he realised that the battery was flat again.

He took one last look around, then walked to the single door of the room, unlocking the cheap Yale lock he had fitted a few weeks ago. He pulled up the latch, opened the door and stepped into another world. He walked the short distance down the passage  to go and meet the world he worked in, the world that made this room possible. Just another day in Cape Town.

In one hour from now Johannes will be sitting at the main reception at 101 Adderly Street. You will walk past him and see a smiling man, slightly disheveled looking, unshaven, but with a smile on his face. His clothing is well pressed and he wears a clean uniform that will have a slight odour if you pass him too closely, but he has the safety of the large marble desk between you and him, so you wont really notice. Around him, people come to work every morning, sipping double latte’s and flat white cappuccinos, snacking on warm cinnamon buns. Some will extinguish a hasty last cigarette before making their way to a desk in the building Johannes works in. He will ask you to speak into the microphone, to state your name and your business. Then he will let you in. And you will forget him before you enter the lift.

And Johannes will smile. For he is glad for what he has. It took him five years to find the job that pays him R16.32 an hour. And this way, he gets to see her every morning too – Doris, the pretty girl who sometimes brings him a coffee and a bun. Dorris, the girl who Boeta Cassiem took in, the one they had thrown away all those years ago…

Ghabeer

A dirty brown smog lay over the city, like an unwashed blanket. The early morning sun peeped over the Drakenstein mountains, casting a soft glow over the waking city.

Ghabeer looked out of the window of seat 3A, business class, British Airways flight 248 from London. Seeing the familiar outline of Table Mountain always made him feel right back home. Even after all the years living in London, New York and Amsterdam, coming in on the early morning flight always put a smile on his face. The thick layer of pollution over the Mother City reminded him of the industrial area in Salt River that his mother worked in, at the old Brickfields road mill back in the 60’s. She had put away something of her tiny pay packet every week, to ensure that Ghabeer would one day get an education and she was determined that he would not fall into the same trap she had, already a pregnant teenager, a dead end job, and no other prospects. Working as a seamstress at the old clothing factory, she pursued every avenue she could, to make sure that the fatherless Ghabeer would one day make it. Thinking back to his mammie now, Ghabeer felt the prickle of a tear in his left eye, and absently wiped at it.

The Boeing 767 banked sharply, giving him a view of the False Bay coastline, as the huge airplane lined up for landing. Mentally pulling himself together, he braced himself for the welcome party that would be waiting for him at the International Arrivals hall at the newly revamped Cape Town International airport.  He allowed himself a small smile, which one of the young stewards misinterpreted completely, remembering how that first government tender had set the company up for the success that had followed after 1998.

The huge metal bird touched down without any effort, the sound of the Dunlop’s not even making a sound. Within a few minutes, the plane had taxied to its designated spot at the new arrivals terminal. Ghabeer stood up as the plane came to a deliberate stop, braced himself slightly, and reached up to open the overhead storage compartment. Grabbing the Louis Vuitton bag with his left hand, he pulled out his iPhone and turned it on with his right thumb, quickly scrolling through the messages. He never ceased to be amazed at how many emails he missed while on the London to Cape Town flight, secretly wishing the airlines would get with the program. Mentally, he made a note to raise the latest Wi Fi technology at the next board meeting, and assign some more funds to research and development. Placing the bag on the seat next to the aisle, he straightened his trousers, brushing off some invisible crumbs. An old habit ingrained over years of long distance travel, he quickly checked his pockets again, feeling the bill fold in his left pocket, and the much used leather bound passport in his inside jacket pocket. By now his growing impatience to escape the womb of the airplane had become slightly infectious, with other business class passengers also standing and expecting the doors to be opened quickly. One of the reasons he allowed himself the luxury of flying business class was the last minute boarding and quick exit that it allowed. For some reason, the smallest delays agitated him, as well as the knowledge that half of Salt River and Mitchells Plain would be waiting for him in the arrival hall. He sighed, absently looking at the Rolex on his right wrist, noticing the shining crown on the bezel, the slow sliding mechanism of the second hand, the minute hand pointing to the number 12 on the dial.

The cabin doors opened, letting in a gust of fresh air. He felt his ears pop and crackle loudly, the sudden loss of cabin pressure normalising his hearing again. Absently, he heard the air steward welcome them to Cape Town, proclaiming the outside temperature as a warm 18 degrees, and the forecast for the coming day as fine and mild, with a brisk south easterly. Typical October weather. He picked up his bag, and strode out of the 767 with a brisk stride, ready to take on the day, not noticing the man in the seat just behind business class staring at him intently. Fixing his tie with his free hand, he continued walking towards customs, eager to be done with the formalities…

Boeta Cassiem sat in the drivers seat of the opulent Jeep Grand Cherokee, Limited Edition. He fiddled with the window switch, trying to adjust the window to the right height, then gave up suddenly. Secretly, he yearned for the old days, when windows had manual winders, and he could get the opening just right. Out of years of habit, he felt for the pack of cigarettes in his top pocket, finding instead the pack of Clorets mint gum he had replaced the Peter Stuyvesant’s with a few weeks back. He tore at the little red line around the cellophane wrapping, frustrated now, desperately wanting to get to the little green minty gums inside the pack. The quick tear strip steadfastly refused to budge, forcing the old man to scratch at it with his thick weathered fingernails. With an abrupt gesture, he flung the unopened pack of gum through the window, and watched the green box sail elegantly through the air, hit the edge of the waste bin, and drop on the ground alongside it. With another deep sigh, he opened the door and climbed out of the SUV, seeing the approaching khaki clad traffic official out of the corner of his eye. Stooping down with some effort, he retrieved the errant pack of gum, putting it back in his top pocket, preparing to fight the packaging again a little later. He hurried back to the Jeep, sinking into the luxurious grey leather seat, just as the approaching traffic cop reached him. He started the car, revving the engine, smiling at the sound of the V8 resonating in the confined space of the pick up point in the parking garage. The sound had the desired effect, with the roving traffic official now moving on to another waiting victim, this time a young lady in small silver Toyota Yarris, just a few bays down the line. Boeta Cassiem shook his head, thinking again how the times had changed. He tapped his fingers on the leather bound steering wheel to the tune of a new song playing on the radio, humming the words quietly, the catchy chorus talking to him. Perhaps subconsciously, he put his right hand on his chest, feeling his irregular heartbeat, echoing the words of the song – Hand on My Heart, noting the artist, an up and coming youngster called Matt Roux. He looked at the exit ahead of him, waiting for his passenger to arrive, craving a smoke now more than ever. His old wheezy lungs reminded him again why he had kicked the 40 year long habit, the absence of the constant pressure on his temples another gentle reminder why the cigarettes were slowly killing him. His thoughts now more focused, he felt less agitated knowing that the new partnership was pushing ahead, the merger talks almost a done deal, and Mr Nkosi arriving this morning from London to sign the contracts. The road to the merger had been fraught with many difficulties, mostly due to the intensity of the due diligence requested by Nkosi. A lawyer by profession, Nkosi was buying into a new arm of the business, now moving into Venture Capital. With cash drying up faster than a puddle of water in the Kalahari, the Technology start ups in Cape Town were desperate for funding, and were often prepared to give away huge equity. Nkosi, and his unlimited funds from the Veterans fund and access to political cash was the perfect partner for Lipshitz and Liebenberg, two guys desperate to get in on the EE action. A lengthy courting period resulted in the two firms joining up on trial joint venture deal, with all the partners raking in millions, the course for the newly formed LNL Corporation agreed and plans in place for even bigger things to happen. Boeta Cassiem really couldn’t care – he was due for his retirement in less than 12 months, a solid pension plan he religiously contributed to quietly waiting. Then the money that still lay in his late wife’s bank account was also there, and some income from the flat they had bought in Claremont would also help him retire comfortably. But deep down, he was worried. He had been in this game for too long, and had already seen the signs. Sudden late night shifts by some of the junior clerks, and the usual water cooler ‘skinder’ kept him up to date with what was going on on the 3rd floor. Copies of documents were being scanned, then systematically destroyed, shredded, the paper being sent to the basement furnace. Someone was making sure that a paper trail was being eliminated, and that could only mean one thing – someone was up to no good. The old man had seen it all before, but this time something was different, something set off his gift of discernment, his innate ability to smell a rat.

Moena saw the old man sitting in the 4×4, and recognised him instantly. Over 40 years had passed since she had last seen him. Dressed in her all black Abaaya, her preference to wear the traditional Muslim garb based more on convenience than out of any religious necessity, Moena viewed the world safely from behind her veil. At first, a long time ago, the stares of passers by used to bother her. Now, the hot summer days were more of an inconvenience, and she relished the comfort of wearing the traditional outfit. Time had been cruel to her, ravaging her youthful good looks – first with an almost incurable eczema, and then later on a rare liver disorder caused white patches to breakout on her hands and face. Her eyes however, remained a startling grey, a reminder of the father she had never known and a too willing mother looking for fun out on the town. Seeing him after all this time, and here today of all days, came as a shock to her system. She sat down on the smokers bench next door to the entrance, safe in her veiled world, sure that no one would see her pale face, all blood drained from it. Cassiem! After all this time! and here at the airport of all places! Conflicting thoughts were running a marathon in her mind, 42 kilometers of disparate thoughts, tumbling into a rage of emotions. Unsure and uncertain of what to do, she steeled herself. Taking a deep breath, and practicing the technique she had seen on Oprah a few weeks earlier, she told herself to not panic. Breathing deeply still, she stood up, and walked calmly and slowly to the parked car. Just as she was about to call out to Cassiem, she saw the well dressed black man cross the pavement, and open the back door of the Jeep, casually throwing his bag in the back. He said something to Cassiem, who nodded earnestly, started the car and proceeded to reverse out of the parking area. She noted down the number plate – LL 6969 – WP,  just happy that it was an easy number to remember. Turning back to the entrance of the airport, her breathing finally normalised again, she hurried to the International arrivals, once again happy to be welcoming her son back home. Walking into the newly revamped waiting area, Moena looked at the arrivals notice board and saw that the British Airways flight from London had landed. She looked around and saw the growing group of people similarly dressed in black, some wearing veils, others wearing headscarves and one or two dressed in European clothing. Some of the younger girls stood round, playing with their Blackberry’s and texting God only knew who, while others stood in awe of the unfamiliar surroundings. A trip to the airport was a treat, and the younger children made the best of it, with regular trip to the overpriced sweet shop. A sound resembling the cackling of geese emanated from the group, lowering a mere fraction as Moena approached and dying to a slight whisper when she gave them The Look. Her troops now surrounding her, an army of black clad women, they attracted the usual scrutiny from passers by, most opting to walk the long way round to avoid the somberly covered group. A few men stood to one side, dressed in a mixture of Arab dress and western clothing, all wearing the traditional Muslim headgear. An air of pregnant expectation hovered over the crowd, the return of one of their own, back from his overseas success, a guiding light to the community, and beacon of hope, and hopefully a provider of some basic handouts to the closest family. None of this mattered to Moena – Ghabeer was her son, and that was all that mattered. Her one and only son, eight daughters, but only the one son, the only one who had the grey eyes, the fair skin, the straight hair. A mystery to the family, written off to luck and an old wives tale, Moena alone knew who the father of the boy was, and that the time had come to tell him the truth.

Ghabeer walked through the sliding doors to a heroes welcome. The crowd who had gathered to meet him on arrival broke out in song, chanting verses from the Quran, thanking God for the safe arrival of their brother, their uncle, their hope and savior. Ghabeer smiled at them, allowing the adoration to wash over him, while inwardly cringing at their touch. These people still clung to the old ways, and they felt they owned a piece of him. All he wanted was to get to his hotel and relax on the king size bed, order some room service and prepare for his meeting later that today. Sighing inwardly, his family duty taking precedence over his business ambitions,  he waded through the mass of people before him, to where Moena stood, an island of dignity among the chaos around her. Pushing gently through the crowd of family and friends, he reached his mother, tears now coursing down his face, he embraced her warmly, crushing her small body against his, enveloping her in his strong arms. She reached up with both hands to touch his face, letting her veil slip to reveal her tear stained face, kissing him on both cheeks in the traditional manner. ”My Son, My Son”, she chanted…

Lilly Part 2

The early morning flower sellers on Adderley street were already unpacking for the day when Dorris came running by. Her green eyes took in the multitude of colours and her sharp nose picked up the scent of the freshly cut flowers. Increasing her stride to cross the already busy intersection and heading up Strand Street, Nikes pounding the recently cleaned street, Dorris headed back home, thoughts rushing through her mind. Her iPod playing Dev’s latest song in her ears, she caught site of the taxi skipping the red light, skillfully jumping sideways to avoid him, and carrying on, pushing harder now to get the maximum out of her workout. The scene from the previous night still fresh in her mind, she arrived back at the old house, running up the stairs and straight into the bathroom. Stripping off her sweaty tights and top, Dorris stepped into a cold shower, enjoying the feeling as the water in the old geyser slowly responded, a warm dribble now coming through slowly. Relaxing now under the warming water, her thoughts went back to the girl, and her own past…

When Dorris first returned to the house, after the funeral service, Ghaliema was there to simply hold her. A thousand raw emotions coursed through her young mind and slowly the finality of accepting that her mother was gone got through to her. Barely 14 years of age, without a mother and father, the Cassiem family took her in as one of their children. A young white girl child living in the Bo-Kaap with Muslim people was a very rare thing at the time, and created a unique set of problems for the young lady, but it also helped to craft her character. Often called ugly by the children, her freckled face and curly red hair, Dorris learned to deal with adversity in her own special way. On many days, Ghaliema would find her lying under the louquat tree writing in her journal, or in her room, writing in her journal, or on the front stoep, writing in her journal. This was where Dorris wrote out her stories and profiled the people who perpetrated injustice on her. In minute detail, Dorris crafted each persons character, often spending hours on finding just the right word. Often her search for words would lead her down to the City Library, where she would spend hours away from the mean and teasing words of the children in her street. A love for reading and seeking answers to difficult questions was ignited in the young child, and a deeper understanding of the history of ‘her’ people led her to be more and more forgiving towards the Muslim children of the Bo-Kaap. Armed with knowledge and information, she would sit and have long conversations with Ghaliema and Boeta Cassiem, asking questions about where they came from and who motjie Boer was, the old white lady who she had heard stories of. When Boeta Cassiem talked of his Oemie, his Granny from Worcester, a faraway look came over his face, and he would smile to himself. Dorris learned of her connection with the De Wets from Ghaliema, and how another De Wet met and married her mother, and that was how she was conceived. After the De Wet family had buried their daughter, and the scandal had died down of her having left the Dutch Reformed Church, the young Dorris was left an orphan, with only the Cassiems willing to take her in. The scandal that caused in the local community was worsened by the fact that the Cassiems refused to have the young girl ”turned” moslem, and the Imam had some heavy words with Boeta Cassiem on this unholy thing. Dorris was fortunate that she got to see the best and the worst of the community she now belonged to. Ghaliema would still find time to send the young girl to the local church, where she was taught the basic foundations of her faith. Still an outcast from her mothers community, the young Dorris became more and more reclusive, preferring the company of her books to people.

When Lilly woke later that morning, her one good eye took in the room. The throbbing pain in her other closed and bruised eye made her lie down again, the past indeterminate hours blurring her memory again. Trying to find the sense of what had happened, she ran through the sequence of events again. Practice. Kevin. Nibbles. Two Men. A woman. This room. And lots of blanks. Pain quickly turned to worry. Where was she? Who were these people? Where was her phone? Sitting up slowly, she tested her legs gingerly. A pain in her chest made her wheeze, but she managed to stand up, turning towards the door. She reached out to turn the handle, and pulled the door towards her. With a loud creak, the door opened. Hobbling and bent over in pain, Lilly manged to peer around the corner. Her one good eye again took in another sparely furnished room. She looked down on the floor, and determined some idea of which direction she was facing by looking at the prayer mats facing Mecca. Looking around at the walls of the room, she saw one more framed piece, with Arabic writing on it, in an old faded faux gold frame. Taking care not to step on the prayer mat, she shuffled slowly to another leading door. She heard sounds coming from behind this door, a few people talking in the local dialect. With more than a little trepidation, she pushed through the door to find two men and a young woman sitting around an old yellow table.

Boeta Cassiem looked up from his cup of tea. He had heard the spare bedroom door open and was expecting the girl to come and find them in the kitchen. His hand shook slightly as he picked up the gold rimmed tea cup, and sipped the hot sweet beverage carefully. He blew on the steaming liquid, trying to cool it down, then giving up, he poured the tea into the saucer, and sipped the liquid from it. Ghaliema always gave him a look when he did this, but now that she was gone, there was no one to shout at him. He looked across the table at the large black man sipping his coffee from a mug, and at the beautiful young woman drinking her fancy smoothie out of a shake bottle. As the young girl from the street last night shuffled into the kitchen, Boeta Cassiem shushed the others to be quiet, and beckoned to the young girl to sit at the table. Out of courtesy and habit, he offered her some tea, taking in the ugly bruises on her face again. Dorris had done her best to clean the wound, wiping off the dried and crusted blood with Dettol while the girl was sleeping.

The girl sat on the edge of the chair, looking at them with darting eyes. Unable to form words through her battered lips, Boeta Cassiem proceeded to tell her what they had seen. Slowly, the girl relaxed slightly, leaning against the hard back of the chair, a weariness crossing her face again. Appearing to be asleep, her  chest heaving heavily, the girl listened to the story. When Boeta Cassiem finished, she looked up and straight at him. She whispered “Am I safe here”, in a husky voice. Boeta Cassiem looked at Abdul and Dorris, wanting some confirmation from them. Three nods of agreement followed. With a sigh, the girl stood, crossed the room and placed her broken lips on Boeta Cassiems forehead. He watched as she turned around, and walked slowly through the open doorway, across the prayer room, and into ‘her’ room. Looking at each other again, Boeta Cassiem, Abdul and Dorris, raised their drinks to their lips, each of them thinking of how exactly they were going to get out of this mess….

Dorris picked up her laptop bag, pushed the Vogue sunglasses up into her hair. Checking her reflection in the mirror, she kissed the old man on his cheek, leaving a red stain from the lipstick. Ducking down through the low doorway, she stepped over the discarded tri cycle and walked down the short path to the street. Already, the city was busy with the noise of over a million people, hooters honking and people rushing to and fro. Dorris headed down to Buitenkant street, choosing the same path down to the building where her offices were. She passed the newspaper sellers who always blew a kiss at her, vying for her attention among each other. Slipping the folded ten rand note into one of the men’s dirty hands, she grabbed the Cape Times, glancing at the headline quickly, before taking a few more long strides to reach Anthony’s coffee shop in Loop street. Sitting down at her regular spot, she checked the time on her dainty wrist watch, noting that she had another few minutes to get to the office. Anthony poured her coffee, black with two sugars, as she quickly read through the previous days news. Her mind though was on the girl in the spare room and what to do next. A busy day lay ahead, with lots of meetings. Monday’s were particularly bad, with deadlines rushing up for the coming week already. A surreptitious going over the girls pockets had revealed her identity, Lilly Williams, and a badly broken cellphone would reveal no more information. Her inner detective now fully alert, Lilly scanned the paper for any news of a missing person. A small article caught her eye, about an accident at the foot of Signal Hill, and another about a dead female vagrant who had been found in an unused doorway, but nothing about a missing girl. Dorris finished her coffee, paid for it and left the coffee shop, and walked quickly to her office in Shortmarket street. Taking the stairs in pairs, she sat down in front of her computer just as Kevin walked in. She quickly took in his tight fitting white signature T-shirt, abs clearly visible through the thin fabric. The designer jeans fitted him like a glove and he looked every inch the part of the online fashion editor he was. Dorris smiled at him, taking a deep breath. Even after all this time Kevin Malan still managed to take her breath away. With supreme effort, Dorris brought her thoughts to the present, as Kevin pulled up the ‘hot’ seat next to her. He dropped a manila folder on her desk, opening to the wireframe drawings he wanted her to put together for the website they needed, and quickly launched into the requirements. Her mind now fully on work, she took in the enormity of the task at hand, sighing deeply, and said out loud..”I guess the mystery of the missing girl will have to wait”.

Shaheem

The silver circular lock glinted dully, connecting two ends of the thick chunky steel chain wrapped around the custom made brass handles on the solid oak doors. Not quite registering the presence of the chain and lock on the office door, Shaheem swiped his access card on the card reader to the right of the door, fully expecting to hear the beep of the device, followed by the click of the door lock releasing and allowing him to enter. Nothing happened. The blinking red light refused steadfastly to turn green, stubbornly refusing Shaheem access to the building. With rising panic, he felt for the small key in his wallet, his mind telling him that everything would be OK. Finding the key in his wallet, he inserted it, turned it, and heard the lock give, only to be stopped by the presence of the huge lock and chain holding the handles steadfastly together. Frantic to gain entrance to the building now, he yanked on the chain, pulling the door handles, only rattling the chains. Sweat now coursing freely down the sides of his body, his white Polo shirt showing the wet stains, Shaheem allowed the reality of the situation to hit him. His initial panic subsided enough for him to think clearly for a minute. Sliding to the floor, his back against the wall, he loosened the red necktie with one hand, running his other hand through his carefully combed hair. He reached for his mobile phone, pressed the numbers ingrained in his mind, expecting Yusuf to answer. The voice mail message was short and to the point.

“You have reached Yusuf Gamieldien, I am not available at the moment, but please leave a short message, and I will return your call as soon as possible, thanks, Yusuf”.

The month had started like so many before in the last year. Shaheem and Yusuf had known each other from school days. Best mates, the two were inseparable from the first day at High School, a shared bond cementing their friendship. Both of them lived with single moms, and shared absent fathers. Fortune placed them in the same classroom, and some common interests in music and sport cast the two boys together in even more activities. Shaheem was the taller of the two, already close to 1.75 meters at the age of 14, growing physically bigger by the day, his role as protector of Yusuf was cemented and accepted from day 1 when a Grade 12 student tried picking on Yusuf. With his imposing physique, Shaheem stepped in to save Yusuf, laying a foundation for a friendship that would last through school and University, and pave the way to Smart-Tech Enterprises, a start up business idea the two men had while still at UCT. For their final year assignment, Yusuf had postulated on the possibility of writing some code that would change the way the security business worked. The group of four students were each assigned roles on the project, with Yusuf taking the technical lead, Shaheem running with the Business Analysis, and the other two team members playing the role of the Marketing and Sales resources on the project. By the end of the year, Shaheem and Yusuf had already sealed contracts from two major industry players interested in buying the technology, and with the ink not quite dry on the degrees, they moved into Shaheem flat to write the program. Years of friendship eased the pain of many late nights, sitting through slow software builds on antiquated machines. After writing some new code, Yusuf would have to wait for the old Mac to build the new version, while Shaheem waited expectantly to test it. A few months of late nights, fuelled on Red Bull and Debonairs Pizza, the team put together the first working version. Still in dirty pizza and tomato stained t-shirts, the two jumped in Yusuf’s old VW Chico, and drove off the Northern Suburbs meeting with DTA Security. The old Macbook stuttered to life in the boardroom, the glow of the screen reflecting off their eager faces. The product now done, the two young men felt like fathers seeing a new born baby for the first time. An apt analogy, the baby cried into life, telling the world that it had arrived, and had every intention of being noticed by as many people as possible. With DTA Security as a client, the Smart-Tech team grew into a small third floor office in Long Street, expanding to include a PA, two more developers and Busiswa, the best tea and coffee lady in Cape Town. Within 2 short years, Smart-Tech had expanded, and Yusuf had conceptualised newer and better versions of the first product. Days were now spent talking to potential investors, showing proof of concepts, doing 20 page PowerPoint presentations, drinking copious amounts of coffee, flying to Johannesburg frequently and working 18 hour days.

When Nkosi-Liebenberg came on board with the first round of funding, Shaheem and Yusuf celebrated by going out and getting drunk. An empty bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in the new corporate boardroom was to be a constant reminder of that night and signalled the start of the many more parties. The friends were now fast approaching their thirties, and Shaheem had always wanted to have a family. When Shaheem first met Lilly, he was immediately smitten by her impish good looks, and a somewhat tempestuous relationship ensued. Leaving more and more of the business dealings to Yusuf, Shaheem and Lilly spent more and more time together, with Lilly’s music career taking off. A messy break up every few weeks would find Shaheem cradling another bottle in Yusuf’s lofty office, complaining bitterly about his ‘unstable’ girlfriend, and the havoc she was causing in his life. A few days later Shaheem would be on top of the world again, all woes forgotten and all fights banished from immediate memory. Increasingly, Yusuf met with the VC partners on his own, a short and curt email after each meeting keeping Shaheem ‘in the loop’.

At least, until that bright September morning, when Shaheem walked in Yusuf’s office…

The office was on the 19th floor, with panoramic views from all sides, and allowed for a breathtaking view of the City, taking in the waterfront, the harbour and even a bit of Table Mountain. Surrounded on all sides by sliding doors, on good days Yusuf could open them and step out on the balcony. The top floor office had all the luxuries left over from the dot com days, with a Jacuzzi and an outside bar which the company used regularly for after works drinks on most days. But Shaheem sensed that something was out of place that day. Dwarfed by the huge mahogany desk, and engulfed by the tall leather high back chairs, Yusuf looked particularly small. A frown on his face, his thinning hair dishevelled and uncombed, wearing one of his designer t-shirts, Yusuf sat with his head between his hands. Taking all of this in, Shaheem glanced at the office. Papers were strewn everywhere. The white board was covered with pink and yellow sticky notes, connected black lines drawn between them, some spaces blank and ending with question marks. Unable to make any sense of the board, Shaheem turned to Yusuf and asked him what was going on.

Slowly, haltingly, pausing to take a sip of water from the plastic bottle by his side, Yusuf told Shaheem the story. NL VC had threatened to pull the plug. They were unhappy with the progress of development, and wanted Smart-Tech to push to get the product to market before December, an almost impossible ask. With the PC and Mac versions already in beta testing, the VC company were pushing for a pre Christmas release of the mobile phone applications, both iOS and Android, and both Apple and the Google consortium were waiting for this product expectantly. The problem was that he simply could not get the algorithm to work. Having tried everything he knew, he had called in the developers, and still no one could find a solution to this most vexing of problems. The previous day, while Shaheem was out dealing with one of his Lilly crises, Yusuf had met with Nkosi, who had no understanding of technology business at all. A lawyer by profession, Nkosi only relied on his past working experience to get him through meetings. With Jan Liebenberg unable to attend this meeting, Nkosi simply pulled out the contract Smart-Tech had signed, citing a long defunct project plan and insisted that the young start up company delivered on its promises. Yusuf, having been cursed with a short temper, totally lost his cool, leaving the excellent dinner he had ordered on the table at the Mount Nelson, grabbed his laptop bag and stormed out of the restaurant. A short call later from Liebenberg confirmed his worst fears – if Smart-Tech did not have a product by the end of September, NL VC would withdraw all future funding. Without more money, Smart-Tech would shrivel up and die like a picked flower lying in the sun. Without a product development team, Smart-Tech would be out on the street, up a creek without a paddle.

More meetings followed, with teams asked to work ridiculous hours. Shaheem, now fully focused on work again, jumped into the management of the teams, attempting to deploy new thinking into the tired developers. Within a few days, a small light appeared at the end of the long dark tunnel. One of the junior developers had written some code that looked like it could solve the problem. Running the application on his iPhone, Shaheem thought back to that first day when he and Yusuf had pitched the product to DTA and the feelings of satisfaction he had had that day. Noticing that the same feeling were now amiss, replaced by worry and concern for the future of the people around him, Shaheem felt the frown lines crease his forehead. Making a conscious effort, he wiped his furrowed brow, forcing a smile to his face, taking in the expectant look on the junior developers face. With a real smile now replacing the forced one, Shaheem realised that the application was working. They had done it! The company would be saved. And he would ask Lilly to marry him. Running to the stairs, he took them two and three at a time, bursting into Yusuf’s office. Finding the office empty, he glanced at his wristwatch, a shiny Breitling, and noticed the time – well after 6p.m. Yusuf was probably at the local Gym.

And now, sitting on the cold floor, staff members milling around him, the cold hard realising that the dream had turned into a nightmare, Shaheem felt the cold tendrils of fear gripping him. Forcing down his rising panic, his throat dry and constricted, he saw Busi looking at him. With tears in her eyes, she kept asking him if she still had a job, saying that she had 7 children to feed, telling him her husband was at home. Melinda, the leggy blonde PA stood looking down at him, a look of smug satisfaction on her face, implying that she expected things to get to this point. And the others’reactions – disbelief, discouraged and disappointed..how could this happen…