Yesterday Mila and I went to Vereeniging to get supplies and draw money for the staff.
Every time I cross the border from the Free State into Gauteng on the Vaal River bridge I wonder whether I’m breaking the law. Cyril says we’re not allowed to visit other provinces but there are so many vehicles going to and fro across the river that I figure that I can’t be the only criminal on the bridge. Also, I can’t help it, but my Inner Anarchist exults in breaking such laws. Especially ones that are proclaimed by the Command Council.
These days I rather like being driven around by my daughter. Not so long ago I was teaching her to drive but now she insists on driving because she maintains that I’m a menace to the public when behind a steering wheel. I don’t mind because I sit and watch her as she zips along, mouthing obscenities and occasionally cursing out loud at passing traffic. I still marvel at the wonder of passed-down genetics because she’s so like her mother, who’s probably the most impatient person I know and invariably works up a quite a head of blue-tinged steam in even the lightest of traffic conditions.
We’d taken a handful of dogs with us. Usually one or two of the small ones hop into the car whenever it leaves the farm but yesterday Siggi the GSD along with three of the little ones were in the back. I was quite happy with this arrangement because Siggi and Lakshmi, our black Vredenburg mongrel, have taken to running off on to Oom Flip’s farm to chase his blesbokke. This all started when the blesbokke sought refuge on our farm because they were being hunted down on Oom Flip’s farm. After our dogs got their first whiff of blesbok scent they started gallivanting off over the fences at a moment’s notice. I don’t think that they intend injuring the antelope because they haven’t yet done so. But Oom Flip wouldn’t see it that way and I’m almost certain that he’d take enormous satisfaction in shooting the pair of them. You see Oom Flip is sort of like the local meneer around here and most everyone skriks when he barks – except for Heidi who skriks for no man.
But Siggi was safely in the back of the small car on his way to Bedworth Park shopping centre with us, observing with great interest oncoming heavies as they whizzed past. Lakshmi, his partner-in-crime, was back on the farm alongside Heidi who was busy ploughing through a formidable German-to-English medical report translation.
When we drew into the car park I handed the shopping list over to Mila. I’m so slow around a supermarket these days that she gets impatient. There was also the matter of four dogs being shut up unattended if I’d accompanied her. I must also confess that I rather like sitting in a Vereeniging shopping centre car park to observe the passing parade.
The area was bustling with car guards. Mila parked in a section attended to by a fellow who looked a bit like Julius Malema – but with none of the Commander-in Chief’s fullness of face. Maybe he was not-so-sleek Julius after a long weekend of dissipation and now in need of a change of clothes. Or possibly just a Julius who’d fallen on hard times.
The guard wore a mask that loosely covered his mouth but certainly not his nose. He was quite active; shouting and gesticulating to colleagues while at the same time whistling and snorting at cars moving in and out of parking places.
Armed with the shopping list and a bank card, Mila moved off in the direction of Pick n Pay while I settled in my passenger’s seat to observe a tiny slice of South Africa on a typically pandemic day. Siggi deserted his mates in the back to join me up front. He took position behind the steering wheel to peer intently through the windscreen, panting at different rates – depending on what was crossing his line of vision at the time. I remarked to him what a handsome bugger he was and he made that whine-whistle so characteristic of GSDs to indicate that he’d heard but didn’t care to be distracted.
Bedworth Park’s clientele is a curious mix of upwardly aspirant Black Diamonds and mostly embittered whities struggling to hold on to a long-held but rapidly diminishing upper lower class status.
A glossy Chevrolet Cruze driven by a young Sotho lady with two young children in the back parked alongside. The lady had a pleasant chubby face that creased with concentration as she began her anti-Covid preparations before engaging with the hostile exterior world. I watched as she sprayed her mask with an aerosol of some sort; applied some type of liquid to her face before hauling out a large squeegee bottle of sanitiser to apply to her hands. The little masked moon faces of the children bobbed around erratically in the back until a sharp retort from the front stilled them; the whites of their eyes unnaturally wide as they concentrated on being good and sitting quiet.
The Malema-like car guard had been approaching me, but when he saw the Cruze pull in he changed direction to move closer to my neighbour’s side window as she busied herself with anti-Covid ablutions. He managed to get very near to her open window before she became aware of his presence. As he was about to begin his car guard schpiel she yelled in a surprisingly penetrating and deep voice: ‘Ntlohele!’ (Leave me alone!).
He jumped backwards as if struck on the chest by a heavy calibre bullet. ‘Ma,’ he pleaded, wringing his hands. But the young matron was having none of it. She’d wound up her window, ensured that her mask was secure and was out of her car with the children standing obediently alongside before he could say anything further or make another move. Seemingly, through sheer will power and personality, she forced him to distance himself from them by at least five metres, and instructed him to pull up his mask. Sulkily he did so, only to pull it down again when she turned her back to march her children off smartly towards the centre.
He slipped off my radar as I started noticing other activities taking place elsewhere the car park. There was a man pushing a shopping trolley, arguing with what appeared to be his wife about a disputed purchase that had just taken place. I heard the wife tell him that if he thought that she was going to wash her hair with that cheap shampoo then she would move in with her mother and he could cook his own supper.
I surveyed this surrealistic scene that a year ago would have been unimaginable: masked shoppers scurrying around, glancing furtively left and right as if expecting to be struck down by some extra-terrestrial force; people doing mundane things like buying groceries in these extraordinary circumstances while all the time trying to come to grips with them, so pretending that they were in fact, ordinary. I looked at the chained-closed bottlestore and decided irrationally that I wanted to buy a bottle of wine to have with my dinner. The feeling was so strong that I wondered whether over the years I hadn’t become an alkie, but then decided that I hadn’t because we hadn’t drunk any wine for quite a while and I’d felt neither better nor worse for it.
I thought of people getting infected and not even knowing – maybe even some in the car park, scurrying around right before my eyes; I thought of public figures like Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and Angus Buchan who’d all been sick then recovered and wondered rather callously if those outcomes had really been such a good thing; Heidi’s dear friend, actor Zamile Gantana who died only last week crossed my mind; I thought of my 89-year-old mother who slipped away last month after contracting the malady in almost hermetic circumstances and asked myself whether we humans were not rather naïve and pathetic to expect the world to return to what it had been this time last year? It was really just a matter of time before everything went back to normal, wasn’t it? Things are going to be the same again aren’t they? Or is this actually the insidiously thin edge of dystopia, slyly shape-shifting our precious realities until cross-eyed with confusion we no longer recognise them?
As these thoughts drifted around and through the outer regions of consciousness I felt a familiar loathing surface. It was that contemptuous feeling that pushes to the fore when I’m not careful of Cyril, NDZ, Zweli and Bheki with his silly gangster hats, of their absurdly named Command Council; of their feeble logic, their bizarre decisions and most of all, their hypocritical, corrupt ANC.
During this time the car guard had been closing in. I heard a voice coming from somewhere just behind my peripheral vision asking: ‘Dat dog. He drive de car?’
It was Siggi that he was referring to. I looked at Siggi. He was staring straight ahead over the wheel with his tongue hanging loosely over large white canine teeth. His bright brown eyes looked remarkably alert and intelligent. For a moment I could understand why he’d asked.
As the car guard sidled into sight, I replied that the dog could not drive. Nevertheless he moved closer and said: ‘Give me dat dog.’
Siggi turned his head sideways to glance over my lap just long enough to whistle-whine that he knew that he was the current topic of conversation but had more important things to concentrate on.
‘I want dat dog,’ said the car guard.
‘Well you can’t have him,’ I told him firmly. ‘Why haven’t you got your mask on properly? Move further back.’
‘Iss ‘cos I c’unt breathe nice,’ he replied somewhat aggrieved, standing his ground.
‘If you want to stand there talking to me you must put your mask on properly. Or go away,’ I said. ‘What do you want to do with my dog?’
‘Him police dog,’ he said. ‘Help me with my wuk.’
‘But you’re a car guard,’ I countered. ‘Not a policeman.’
‘Yes,’ he agreed, but with little conviction. He’d pulled his mask down to below his chin and I noticed that he had a badly fitting front gold tooth.
At this moment a statuesque woman with mean slitty eyes glinting above her mask and a wig that at first glance made her look as if she had ochre-coloured braids, was climbing into the large car parked directly opposite me. The car guard scuttled off to direct her out of her parking place because she was clearly in a hurry. He was just in time to position himself behind her car and start his whistling and waving routine before she engaged reverse gear and stepped on the gas. The car shot backwards at speed and the car guard had to leap sideways for his life. I saw her glaring at him malevolently as she selected forward gear to wheelspin off in the direction of the exit.
He returned forlornly to stand near my side window once more. ‘She nearly ran you over,’ I remarked.
‘Yes,’ he replied somewhat subdued. ‘But she very bootiful.’
I didn’t know how to respond so I kept quiet. He stood silent while I sat. It seemed like our conversation had run its course. But after a minute or two he said: ‘I take da big one. You keep da small ones.’
The little dogs were all fast asleep. Siggi was still in high attention mode behind the steering wheel. He made an impatient noise which probably meant that he wanted to know where Mila was.
‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s out of the question. Now you’d better go away because if you say anything like that to my daughter when she comes back, she’ll probably give you a klap.’
But he wasn’t really listening to me. He was distracted, looking in the direction of the shopping centre: people were walking away from it while nobody was moving towards it.
‘Sheet,’ he said, more to himself than to me. ‘Pick n Pay shut again. Time for da deep cleaning.
‘Fokkal tips for me.’ He stared at me dejectedly before slouching off, all interest in Siggi or anything else had evaporated.
Mila arrived several minutes later to tell me casually that the supermarket had just closed ‘probably because someone inside had tested positive.’
I thought to myself then that it’s hard being a human in these Covid times. But it’s even harder being a car guard in a Vereeniging shopping centre car park.