Taking A Number

2015-11-24 13:31

So this happened to me. I was due for a cell phone upgrade, but the guy behind the counter at the MTN store didn’t think I was. Which was annoying because I had taken a number and waited my turn and everything. I had even resolved the Samsung versus iPhone conundrum. So I left because I really needed a coffee and decided to fight the injustice another day.

And I did. Armed with the call centre confirmation on my phone, I went back the next day to prove to the befuddled bloke that indeed I was either Samsung or iPhone worthy. I took my number and waited my turn and offered the God of Cellphones the proof-offering that he seemed to require. He scratched his head, made very strange guttural noises and told me, in what was clearly an inspired move to get me out of his space, that he would “Escalate” the query. I left and expected to never hear from him again.

I was wrong. He called me the next morning with news that my wish had been granted and that all I had to do was come in to the store, take a number and wait my turn and then all would be resolved.

And that’s when the story became interesting.

There were a few souls in front of me when entered the shop for the third time. I took stock of the crowd in the shop. An old couple at the one counter (they were clearly going to be there for four to five days minimum), three men at another (I couldn’t gauge their time frame), and another man who I could see by his body language was pushing to get out of the store as quickly as he could. Either he was late for a meeting or he needed the bathroom very badly. I pinned my hopes on him and very shortly it became clear that I had backed the right horse. In minutes I was marching forward towards the attendant and flinging my green ID book across the table in triumph. I could almost hear Chariots of Fire in background as I did so. It was a truly magnificent moment.

We were about halfway through the 97 initials I had to initial (before photo copying) when a couple and their daughter of around 14 years walked into the store. They seemed to hesitate as they crossed the thresh-hold before dad nudged mom inside the shop, forced her to be seated and promptly left to make a phone call. Mom was edgy, as was the daughter who kept looking back at dad. He gestured repeatedly for them to sit down and face forward. He was agitated and stressed. It was more than just a man in a mall mode. It was decidedly odd.

At this point, the 3 men at the other counter looked up and walked out of the store much to the chagrin of the attendant who clearly was not done with his photocopying. But they didn’t go far and positioned themselves at point where they could keep an eye on the goings on. They kept looking back at where we were standing and I started to worry.

I could contain myself no more. Mom was getting more and more uncomfortable and dad (still outside) more animated. “Is everything ok?” I ventured (not moving too far from the table where my iPhone / Samsung would soon be birthed). “No!” she quivered. “We had an armed home invasion yesterday at our house yesterday” she explained, and amongst other thing had had their cellphones stolen. The guys in the store were the perpetrators and they had all recognised each other.

She was hoping that they wouldn’t see her but they had noted her immediately. The husband had gone to call for help and didn’t want anyone to react so that they could catch them, but it was clearly too late. A day after the robbery they had all met up at the cell phone store. It gave a whole new meaning to “After all this, let’s go and grab a beer!”

And now the danger was real. The guys, guilty of an armed robbery were clearly not afraid to use weapons, they had identified the family and were watching the store. I looked around to see if there was a place to take cover in the event of a shoot-out and quickly realized that the ply wood counter would not only offer me no protection and would probably give me splinters when any bullet sailed through it. To be shot and have to have splinters removed seemed excessive so I really hoped that wasn’t going to happen.

It was a very tense few minutes and no amount of urging that photo-copy machine and initialing of page after page after bloody page along could make the process go any faster. I was stuck in harms way but I was going to leave with my upgrade.

In the end pretty much nothing happened as the perpetrators seemed to decide that it was safer to leave than to accost their victims and any by standers. The good news is that I got my upgrade and that it’s a few years until I have to repeat the fiasco.

What did surprise me was that I only remembered to recount the story many hours later. It was like it was a pretty normal day in the life of a South African. And that in of itself was pretty frightening. That victims and aggressors can meet up a day after the event, that criminals don’t automatically run when identified and that one almost forgets to tell the story is not only worrying but is a shameful reflection of the state of our nation.

My wife would later ask me why I didn’t exit the shop immediately. She pointed out that I was a husband and father and that I should have done exactly that. And of course it perplexed me that she could even have asked the question. To me it was obvious that no reasonable man in my position would have given up his place in the line, lose the ground he had gained in the upgrade struggle in order to embarrassingly have to come back the next day. No, I was due for my upgrade, and this bloke was not going to take another number and wait his turn.

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