The day drags in, the sun unseen, clouds gathering like heavy dark curtains and lonely dog pants in an empty dump field. The earth shrunken by the global pandemic, was the sky still blue? Sizwe stomped through the dry grass, he walked lopsidedly, his right arm tucked under his left armpit, he bit his bottom lip in pain and paused his walking in anguish. He felt like screaming, the dog skipped towards him, through his pain he crouched and patted it on the head. The dog looked out of place in the heap of garbage in the field, it looked like a suburban dog; it was a long haired Daschund. He stood up and carried on walking, the dog whined behind him, begging him to stay but he was late for work. The garage had a long line of people standing outside, each a metre apart, the lockdown caused people to overlook the overpriced groceries sold; in desperate times, capitalism always won.
He coughed violently into his hand, his throat burnt and his ribs felt like they had been broken one by one. He walked over to his manager, Gabede, who was spraying customers’ hands with sanitizer and asked for some. Gabede and Sizwe had a strained work relationship, he fussed and angrily explained that the sanitizer was for customers but Sizwe told him to stop being difficult. Gabede noticed that Sizwe was not looking well, his eyes were puffy and red, but he did not want to show that he cared about him. He reluctantly sprayed the man’s shivering hands and told him that only three cars had filled up since the morning insinuating that Sizwe could relax inside the garage shop.
Sizwe sat inside the garage and fixed his gaze on the petrol pumps. He blew warm air into his cupped hands and rubbed them together. The pain on his left side returned, he ripped a strip of painkillers from above the cash register and swallowed them whole. He tapped open the cash register, took out a small notebook and wrote down his debt of two rand fifty; Gabede would transact it from his meagre pay. The pain shook him again, his chest tightened and he concentrated on breathing. The mobile testing stations were yet to come to his side of the township, by the time they tested him he would have recovered, he thought to himself. He thought about his life, twenty-nine and not a dog to show for it, no girlfriend, no child, no family just him and this job which only paid enough for his rent; food and clothes had to scramble for the cents left. A wave of satisfaction washed over him; he had tried his best even if his best was the worst. The best a boy in the hood could do was to hustle with every drop of blood in their veins, house robberies and hijackings were his speciality before he got caught. He was eighteen when was sent to jail for ten years but his sneaky lawyer managed to cut it to six years. He had never killed, he prided himself in this because it was the one advice his grandmother gave him which he adhered to, there was no blood on his hands and his victims were white so he was justified in his actions.
Clive, like every boy, liked cars and his knowledge about the machines exceeded his friends’. Daniel taught him about cars from the age of two, at the time he was a taxi driver with two of his own cars, he playfully taught Clive about the engine, oil filter, fan belt, water tank, and everything there was to know about fixing cars. Clive caught on quickly because he wanted to please his father; by age twelve he could name cars and explain in detail how they functioned; it was around this age that his father stopped visiting and light from his eyes disappeared like a shooting star crossing the night sky. Sizwe was his best friend, not as clever as Clive, but loyal, always light and ready to jostle Clive into laughter, he was the one who placed Clive on a pedestal like a favourite doll. His friends looked up to him and followed Clive because he was the only one with a somewhat present and rich father, also Clive was a born leader, they needed him more than he did. They looked up to the gangsters who drove different expensive cars daily and were friends with the police officers; no one was friends with the police, only police befriended each other. Sizwe’s plan was to form a gang that took over their district with Clive and the boys, they would never know poverty again.
“Master Clive and the Boys! MCB!” Sizwe shouted every morning when the gang walked together to school. Sizwe jumped on Clive’s back occasionally on the walks and Clivedindulged him gladly, he delighted in Sizwe, he thought of him as the brother that he never had. Master Clive stopped obsessing with cars and transferred the obsession to accounting, and he slowly stopped hanging out with boys. They barely spoke from there on until Sizwe’s arrest then Clive decided write to him and sent him money until he was out but still, they had not spoken.
“My friend I am very disappointed but I understand. Please don’t call me again, I’ll keep sending the money and car magazines” those were the last words he heard from his best friend when he called from jail craving to hear the voice of the man he loved the most, the only man he had loved.
The hood had not changed, young boys still looked up to gangsters and gangsters were better than government, at least they helped with funerals and orphans unlike the local government officials who hounded communities to vote for them with annual grocery packs. Young boys became men prematurely through coercion, through smoking with the older ones, through grooming, sexual initiations and deathly ones too. The hood was dark even when it was sunny, it was a ball of tangled wool that could not be untangled, the only way out was to cut yourself out but only a few had the luxury of that thought; entanglement was predestined for those unfortunate to be born unfortunate and resistance was futile.
The ripping pain shook him out of his dark reverie. He snatched another strip of painkillers, swallowed them whole and wrote his debt in the black notebook. He looked out the window and surveyed the garage, there were no cars parked by the petrol pumps, the queue was still snaking itself outside, Gabede caught Sizwe’s gaze and he gestured for him to come outside. Sizwe jumped off his seat and the pain jabbed him again, he winced. Gabede shouted from outside so Sizwe fixed his face so that it would not betray him. He fought to breathe with every step he took towards Gabede. He haggled him to hurry because he needed a toilet break but Sizwe could only maintain the pace and so Gabede threw the hand sanitizer bottle at him. He caught it and motioned to the people in the queue to wait. Sizwe staggered to the queue exhausted, small dainty hands cupped themselves in front of him anticipating to be sanitised, he looked at the person shyly hiding inside their oversized hoodie and noticed that their smile looked familiar.
“I think I know you” he said withholding the spray from them. He examined their face.
“You’re Clive’s little sister!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, and my name is Kay” they mumbled; men still made them nervous.
“Khetiwe! Why are you hiding your face? Are those Clive’s clothes?” he joked. He knew that Kay was different, Clive often spoke about how different they were from other girls and so nobody teased her.
“Can I go in?” they asked with irritation.
“No someone has to come out first. Where have you been? he tried to sound casual.
“I just came from seeing a friend in town and I forgot to buy bread there” they explained missing the inflection of small talk and interpreting the question literally.
“Is Clive still in Cape Town?” he coughed. Kay removed their hoodie and looked at him carefully for the first time. They saw that he was really sick. They recalled that Sizwe was Clive’s only best friend not the loud hoard that used to sheepishly follow him around.
“Yes Sizwe” she answered earnestly.
“Please tell him to call me” he pleaded.
“He used to call you the Shakespeare of rap” Kay blurted out.
“Yes, he did” he almost whispered and his chest seared with pain.
“I’ll tell him to call you, he’s always busy though so you’ll have to be patient” Kay warmly warned.
“I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting” he carelessly confessed.
Image source: https://bethmwangi.github.io/watotokumi
Lockdown Story is the original creative work written by Nobantu Shabangu