by Doug Downie
“Are you ready? Let’s go.”
It was lunchtime and the cleaning staff were lounging or lying around on the benches under the plane tree that I’d watched transform all these years as the subtle seasons of the Eastern Cape passed by my office window.
It was a common pose when the weather was warm and they were loud and raucous and full of life. There seemed to be a megaphone pointed toward my office window and I continually wondered why they had to shout at each other when they were only fractions of meters apart but there was laughter, and lots of it.
They rose in near unison, clearly ready.
We piled into my little VW Polo, two up front and four in back. Xhosa words rattled around the headspace like ping pong balls as we darted across oncoming traffic and made it across campus on the shortcut to Beaufort St.
When we got to my place they all piled out and pushed in, with twelve eyes scoping out the place for loot or good deals. I lived in an old building that dated back to close to the 1820’s, and was never meant to be a house. A wall had been constructed and two rooms been installed downstairs and a loft upstairs but it was really an old church, all open space.
“How much for this?” said Herman, displaying a thermos he’d pulled from under the ‘kitchen’ counter.
“I think I’ll keep that.”
“What about this?” hoisting an electric kettle.
“You can have that. It doesn’t really work. Not for me anyway. You have to have the touch.”
Meanwhile, Nkosinathi was swinging my dumbbells around, feeling the strength of them at the end of his arms.
“I want these.”
“Oh, you do?”
“I want these.”
I thought about it. My shoulder was fucked from recent rotator cuff surgery. I used the damn things about every 19 months for about 20 minutes.
He gave me 20.
“I’ll give you the rest back in the department.”
“How much for the bike?” Ezekiel was pointing into my‘storage’ room.
“You don’t want that bike. It’s American. You can’t get tires for it.”
“How much? I’ll give you R200.”
“You’ll give me R200 for that bike?”
“R150.” I offered.
He grinned and grasped my hand in the shake that I could never quite remember; shake, flip, shake.
“You drive a hard bargain.” I said.
There was a shout outside and I went to take a look. It was another university employee with a blue coverall, pointing at my car.
He mused a bit and approached the car, eyeing it as if he could suss it out without the need to actually take it for a spin. He stared at the broken windshield. He hovered over the hood.
“You want to look at the engine?”
After a few minutes he noted that I had some kind of oil leak. It was news to me, but it was true.
“Well, ok.“ I said, “They told me over there at JX Auto that I should sell this car for R40000. So, I said, ok, R35000. Broken windscreen, R2000, that makes R33000. Oil leak, that makes R30000. I’ll take your offer. I need the car till Thursday.”
“No problem.” he said.
Inside, my cd’s were being pawed like medallions of sirloin.
“I want this one.” Nkosinathi said.
“You can’t have that! That’s my favourite cd right now.” It was Vusi Mahlasela’s new one.
“I need something to remember you by.”
In eight years I’d barely spoken to him, or he to me.
I picked out a collection of women jazz singers.
“You’ll like this.” I said.
And I knew he would.