Not the mynah

2010-09-25 00:00

OF course it’s a long time now since gold mining was South Africa’s number one industry. I’m told the taxi industry has overtaken all others except perhaps crime, but then again we can’t be sure of that because nobody actually knows how much crime there is out there, hey, how can you have statistics about an industry that sets out to be undetectable? So maybe crime’s the real number one. Ah well, whatever the case, they sure enough make a potent combination, they’ve sure as hell sent tottering our nice old Mynah bus service down here in Durbs-on-Sea. In the inner city routes until recently you could bank on a bus every twenty minutes, circle left and circle right, and okay, maybe that wasn’t the London Underground where there’s a train every ninety seconds in the rush hour, but it’s pretty good for a cockeyed third-world police-state dump trying to become a dinkum city.

No more no more! dear readers. Good morning, say I to a pallid old crone in Essenwood Road with an old-time handbag clutched to her dismal bosom in case of pickpockets, cutpurses and bagsnatchers. Does that rusty old sign tell me this is still a stop for the Mynah bus? Who knows, who cares? says she, drooping her lower lip. THEY neither know nor do THEY care, but something’s got to break, I tell you, all the best brains have been driven out of the country by Jacob Zuma and his machine-gun thugs. Well I’ve got a pretty good brain, say I, and I’m here, and I’m using this brain to find out where the Mynah bus stops now. She glares at me like she’s trying to catch a glimpse of this excellent organ through a hole in my forehead. She grinds her dentures something horrid. You might as well start walking, says she. She contorts her skinny lips, revealing grotesque old orange bakelite gums. I’m not fifteen any more, you know, says she, I just have to stand here on my aching legs until the bus comes, the benches there are full of Africans. Well this being Africa ’twould be passing strange if they were full of Eskimoes, wouldn’t it? say I. Well African or Eskimoes, they’re not going to drive me out of this country and that’s final, I tell you, you needn’t even bother trying to persuade me. Says she.

Saved! Rescued! By a stuffed-full 14-seat taxi with twenty souls aboard and that ghastly electronic 100-decibel ga-doomp! din called Rhythm and Blues going full blast fit to burst the eardrums of all. FOUR RAND! the conductor yells. The Mynah is R2,50 and you get a real seat, but these things come every five minutes, even less. WHERE TO? yells the conductor. Yacht mole, I reply, and bejasus that’s where he drops me. This is not Switzerland, nor even New Zealand.

My favourite concrete block is down at the yacht mole, top of the slipway, a good place for chomping sandwiches and watching the ships. You can watch the ships from the swanky restaurants, of course, and pay and extra R20 on your fish-and-chips bill for the privilege of doing it, but it’s nicer to have the wind blow your hair about too, which blowing also is for free down at the slipway. But I need a lavvy first. There’s a municipal one nearby; I enter. There at the wash-hand basin stands a lean young man, stark naked and singing a lusty tribal song, rubbing himself all over with pink liquid soap and an old kitchen sponge. Soapy water sloshes about the floor and out on to the grass. Security men sit outside, they don’t seem to mind. So this is one of your happy days? say I to Lean Young Man.

Not so far, says he, but it’s just started. I am making myself nice and clean so I can go to Pick n Pay and steal a steak and kidney pie, then I’ll be happy. What! say I, and if they catch you? No, he replies, I know where the cameras are and there’s a little place behind the Simba chips rack where I can eat a pie in fifteen seconds. But if I’m dirty they watch me, so I boil my clothes in sea water and let them dry flat so they look quite nice for stealing pies. And the soap, say I, do you steal that too? Ja, says he, from the Public Library toilet, but you can’t use it with sea water, it’s just for my body with fresh water.

And how do you get into town? I ask. No, says he, I live here. I look all about; plenty boats, two restaurants and a parking area, but nothing you could call a habitation. He takes me to his home, a couple of hundred paces from the City Hall: a small mangrove patch between the railway line and the harbour waters, half the size of a tennis court on a little spit of sand next to a stormwater outlet pipe. Small crabs have colonised a wee beach, and a tough beach-vine too, it is a mini-eco­system. Half a dozen people sit around, another is cooking something on a stick over a fire. We look after each other, says Young Man. I try to conceal my sandwiches; to give them to him would seem patronising.

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