Sitting on a laptop (informal seat placed between seats in a taxi) in between Mike and another passenger, in the taxi, I felt myself restless in this hot weather. The window felt far away and the wind not so breezy. The pleather covering on the laptop made the skin on my thighs sweat where they made contact. The taxi driver had little consideration for his customers as he blasted his music loud across the highway with the speaker conveniently placed above my head. Even if I picked the phone call I got earlier there was no way I would hear the person on the other side. I wonder who it was? Perhaps it was a job, damn a missed opportunity. Maybe the church? I did leave my blazer there as I was in hurry. Maybe, they want to arrest me for using their facilities wrongfully. I was unsettled by the thought. Bothered, squashed and uncomfortable I began to wriggle myself loose elbowing Mike in the process.
“Sanele, take it easy.”
“Sorry, I’m just a little nervous.”
“Ses’yafika ngokhu.” (We’re almost there.)
I knew and that’s why I was anxious.
Looking out of the window, seeing unfamiliar places. The landscape changed from greenery, city buildings, skyscrapers, to industrial pipes, silver buildings with a haze of smoke, trucks, a mass of empty land, wire fencing, to congestion, disorder, corrugated metal rooftops, advertisement bits on metal sides of what looked like houses, different colours, blue and white plastic looking vertical structures now and then, probably a toilet, a random lost goat, a satellite dish on one of those structures and small informal roads. The buildings and people turned into a mash of forms and colours as the taxi sped on the highway, I ceased to concentrate, music became mute in my ears and I let my mind wander. I’m not sure where my head space was, but it was a good place. I forgot it all. I felt as if I was no longer present even though my eyes where open and receptive, my lungs breathing and my heart still beating. I was calm and perhaps more present then I thought because for the first time there weren’t a hundred thoughts on my mind competing to get addressed. I just let myself be. There is something about being in constant fast motion that soothes me.
As soon as the pace changed I came to. I felt the taxi slow down to make an off ramp. I looked around trying to locate myself. People walked languidly on the streets in different directions. The streets were surrounded by RDP Houses (Reconstruction and Development Programme) of which some were more developed than others. There were a few big circles on the street to probably slow down taxis.
Some people started to get off the taxi slowly as they reached their destination. I awaited when our stop would arrive. Now sitting freely on a regular seat as people had got off, I felt myself even more uncomfortable. I hung my head out of the window slightly. Mike checked to see if I was ok.
“Yes, I’m just a little nauseous.” I replied.
“Hang in, we’re almost there.”
Mike called out to the gaatjie (taxi operator) and the taxi swerved to make a stop. We got off. Feeling the pressure, Mike too became nervous as he realised what I had anticipated long before him. We are here, now what? Mike towered over me and I could feel him pluck his courage to make the next move. He held my hand and we started walking. I was scared for a number of reasons, we were going to a place we did not know, the man we would encounter could be dangerous, I had a rope, taser and other things Mike asked me to carry in my handbag. What would we do with these things?
A police van drove slowly passed us, while the police officers eyed us suspiciously. Attentive to detail and social languages of place, I then noticed that the side of the street we were walking on was empty compared to the other side. This could have made us stand out, showing the locals that we are not from here. The police must have thought we were selling drugs to their community or something else. With a heavy bag and looking quite suspicious, I told Mike that we should cross the road. He protested at first saying that there is enough walking room on this side compared to the congestion on the other side. I asked him to trust me, and he agreed.
The next lesson I learned was from him. He asked for directions specifically from an elderly lady. Curious about this, I bring it up.
“Mike, we passed so many people. If you weren’t sure where we were going why didn’t you ask sooner?”
“Yes I was unsure, but you don’t just ask anyone for directions. Especially guys.”
“Sanele, you have to be vigilant anywhere you go. When people know you are not from that area there could easily send you the wrong directions, to an alley perhaps where other fellas will be waiting to mug you. You see they would steal from you, an outsider, rather than their own people. An older woman is always a safer bet.”
Surely I had to know this, I’m from Jozi, but living in city in Cape Town for so long has made me drop my guard. We rerouted, walked for about 10mins before we reached our destination. In front of us stood a mustard faded building with a red roof and a sign that reads ‘Block B’. There was a dark narrow hallway that we proceeded to. Finally we arrived at the door in question.
Mike and I looked at each other and realized that we did not discuss any plans of what we would do at this point.
“I think when the door opens I should be hidden from sight because this man has my ID, and he will immediately recognise me.”, I say.
“Good thinking. I could claim that I’m here for the maintenance of the building, checking electric wires etc. I will then gage if you should come in by calling you to give me the rope if needed.”
Suddenly I had an overwhelming feeling, the kind you get as the roller coaster slowly ascends the peak of the track. Taunting you with the sound of the crack crack crack as you see more of the sky and then hover over the sight of the ground for more than a moment of sheer discomfort. I felt my stomach jump out of my body in the same way that it does when the roller coaster finally decides to toss your body all the way down, playing hide and seek with death. This was that moment and there was no turning back as Mike had already knocked on the door. I scurried away around the corner, peeping to see what would happen next.
There’s rustling and murmuring in the room. The door opens and there he stands.