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Once Upon A Time In Africa

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-“ Every human being has a bit of gangster in him. ”-  

- Binyavanga Wainaina

 


 

 

 

 South-Eastern Suburbs Of Soweto, '88

 

 

 

 

Cobus Volker has died.
A supposed mining accident.
The news reporter blatantly lied.
Crack against the base of his skull.
Impact of his fall down a worker shaft.
No family to mourn for him - at the age 46.
Fairly young - at his prime - to be ending in disgrace.
Furniture, artwork and ornaments confiscated - out of debt.
His estate closed-off, his accounts frozen, his empire disappearing.
Only the briefest of mentions in the paper and a one minute article on the TV.
Diamond Tycoon and Entrepreneur Passed Away - and now on sports.
The Springbok’s have lost the state tournament-ship - again.
Actually, no overly grand surprise there, really.
They pretty much sucked bloody balls.

 

 

 

 

Hoyt found a wicked pleasure in staring at the flickering neon of the screen on the wall of the shadiest, shiftiest downtown motel bar he could possibly slither in on such a short notice, to avoid the eye of the authorities probably on his goddamn ass by now, seated at the very back of the smoky, grime-filled hall full of drunkards, lowlifes, imported construction assistants, truckers, whores, billiard connoisseurs and thieves all watching the article intently, whispering among themselves, displeased at the current foul rugby climate of the country and some of them noticeably grinning the moment his father and death were brought up in the same sentence. Cobus Volker wasn’t a popular man. Infamous, maybe. But, far from loved or even tolerated. He didn't like the Kaffirs and the Kaffirs didn't like him. Fitting enough. In fact, the cheap beer bottles clanked in something of a silent cheer among the Somalian manual-laborers when the report was finished, flashing pairs of brilliant white teeth among themselves, in some untold, mutual understanding when the pale, blonde, sweet-faced host set her papers down. They were happy, weren’t they? Not that Hoyt blamed them. He had to wonder - how would they all react if they knew he was his son, of all people? Would he be shunned? Despised? Ridiculed? Probably even killed? He made it a point not to ever use his surname in front of these people. Volker just reeked of colonialism-accumulated, old money, European upper-class dumpkoff’s to them. Or maybe - just maybe - he’d be regarded as something of a champion for finishing this piece of shit off the way he did? He’d rather not risk it. Nowadays he was smart and silent - like a mouse, clawing at the underbelly on the city. A sewer rodent. Never too long at one place. Never dwelling at a single address. Virtually homeless. Virtually perfectly fine with staying that way. There was a certain freedom to this. Living by one’s own rules. The master of one’s fate. And the streets were long. Very long. Long enough to serve as shelter.

 

 

 

 

There was certain people he was looking for.
A certain faction - piracy ran rampant down here - knew that.
Even his old man used to complain that they were messing with his shipments from abroad.
They were everywhere - supposedly - everywhere from here to Botswana and Madagascar.
And he couldn’t just approach them - they had to approach him - simple as.
They were secretive, lucrative, smart and pretty careful.
Hoyt Volker wanted to be noticed and approached.
He didn’t plan on working as a dock-boy.
Pack crates from nine to five.
Live off of scraps.
That kind of life was bull-crap.
He missed the pizzazz, the flash, the style.
Ironically, one of the few things he missed about papa.

 

 

 

 

The motherfucking luxury, the wealth, the opportunities, the bling.

 

 

 

 

They actually did find him, sooner then he anticipated, in fact. Then again, he did cockily and openly saunter down the streets in the middle of the night all by himself on their turf on purpose far too often not to become an eyesore for some petty-drug runner, corner-store prostitute or orphaned, nameless brat who might or might have not ratted out on him to his superiors in return of a dry bread-scrap. Oh, yes. It was an invitation to get caught. It was precisely want he wanted too. Hoyt was a striking site to any observer, he understood. He could have prided himself with the features of a certain Dutchman with high cheekbones, a gaunt, bony face and pale, green eyes if it wasn’t for the bronzed, deep overtones of his skin. He was dark - yet, not entirely. Not entirely white either - far from it. He was neither here - nor there. Not truly. He assumed people tended to notice that, especially down in this hellhole where everything revolved around shades and colors for a while now. From way before his poor mamma pushed him out into this flea-invested snake-den. His dark, olive complexion invited the scorn of the whites and the suspicion of everyone who wasn’t. He shouldn’t even exist, by all accounts. Racial mixing was something prohibited by the 55th act of 1949 and his papa, if he wasn’t who he was would by all accounts by ostracized, ridiculed and jailed, if only he didn’t half of South Africa’s police officers, judges and jury in his pockets, bought by his blood diamonds, opulent gifts and packets of imported cocaine. But, out here? Out here it was different. Hoyt would be like a walking, breathing neon light from an onlooker’s perspective - especially in this neighborhood. And someone would notice him. Sooner or later. Someone’s attention would be drawn to him and he would find himself exactly where he wanted to be. Step by step. In Joburg’s elusive underworld. The very bottom. Thick and pitch black. His type of place.

 

 

 

 

Cobus’ often recited, all too familiar speeches came to mind unbidden.
On this one occasion, when he was a boy - mingling with the servants of the manor.
The Nigerian children of Nigerian maids - chasing the ball in the serf’s separated backyard.
No less dark then his own mother - he felt at ease with them for a short while, perhaps.
Less out of place, less unwanted, less awkward, less unnecessary, far less mocked even.
At least - that’s what he wanted to feel - projecting safety and acceptance unto himself.
Playing and attempting to win a score isolated from the main courtyard of the villa.
Unseen and unheard by any would-be guests here to visit Mr. Volker’s office.
His shady clientele, his business partners, even his mistress and whores.
Papa wasn't very comfortable showing his son off to anyone.
Or the black woman nobody knew he actually wedded.
Never claiming them openly, without shame.
Never introducing them anyone.
Practically avoiding them.
In his own damn house.
Fuck knows why, eh?

 

 

 

 

-”In your mother’s Colombia, you’re far too European. In Africa, you’re just a white man with a tan. Water with a bit of color in it. In Europe you’re lower then a Gypsy. You shouldn’t even think about setting foot in Asia if you know what’s good for you. Eastern Europe is white-only communist ghetto, so that’s off your radar too. In Scandinavia, they only pretend to like coloreds to seem tolerant and progressive, but as soon as you turn your back, they’re out talking smack about you. In America, they’d make fun of your accent and in Cuba they’d put you away for not being Marxist enough and not licking Castro’s ass quite as ardently as the Party would like. What other options have you got? Unless you go and isolate yourself to some remote island and live like Robinson Crusoe. Which, really - is a stretch. And you certainly can’t afford that. Not without me. I pay all your bills. I feed you.”-

 

 

 

 

Now, there was a food for thought.
Living on some remote island.
Like Robinson Crusoe.
Hoyt, his Parrot and his friend Friday.
Deep down knowing his father wasn’t just taunting him.
Conditioning him to feel unwanted, unnecessary and like an anomaly.
He was correct, in a sense - travelling far and wide, seeing the world for what it was.
Unity and co-existence was the greatest con and scam of humanity, father told him.
People with differences didn’t like people with differences - not truly.
They only forced themselves to for the sake of the world.
And Hoyt relied on that in this very instance.
Hoping to attract negative attention.
Like a flame attracts a jackal.
And when he did.
He smiled.
Triumphantly.
Everything was going as planned.

 

 

 

 

-”What’chu doin’ here, Goffal-boy? This is our turf!”-

 

 

 

-”Same thing you are. Buy and selling. Got some? Want some? Which is it, booitjie?”-

 

 

 

Hoyt cockily retorted to the pair of angry-looking street watchmen armed with guns, matching white, worn wife-beaters, shaved heads and pierced nostrils,  purposefully using an Afrikaner word in front of them in hopes of angering them on sight, knowing exactly how they would react as he attempted to taunt them with a sarcastic label - down in the slums of Soweto, tomfoolery like that could easily carry a death sentence - casually reaching for the pocket of his jeans to reveal a little plastic, translucent bag of something he picked up along the way - some cheap shit - mainly for the easy dough and his own damn satisfaction. Wouldn’t be the first time he was detained for this. Wouldn’t the last time. Racial profiling was a bitch, wasn’t she? They would arrest him even if he wasn’t packing any heat to begin with just because of how he looked - but, he had quite the gall, walking in someone’s territory all by himself and attempting to deal to a pair of dealers. Suicidally stupid, in fact. Just as stupid as his father always claimed he was. But, if this was his only mean to catch the attention of the right people through sheer idiocy and basic-ass gooseshit, he might as well give it a desperate attempt. Hoyt Volker didn’t have much of a choice anymore. Another alternative. Back home he was unwelcome from the very beginning. His mother’s side of the family didn’t want to hear of him. He was tired of being without a roof over his head and living off of petty thefts, small-time jobs, gambling and winning in poker-games on some moldy corner store and street brawls. And he hardly had enough resources to move elsewhere. Above else - fuck cheap manual labor. Fuck it! He didn't want to turn into his own mother. A life dedicated to working the fields, working the kitchen, working the barns, working in his father's bed - and still - not a penny to her name, even after decades of suffering. Pain. Shame. Abuse. Mutual tears. Nothing she can show-off and call her own. Not even her own integrity and identity. Might as well toss himself off the first bridge available then be on the giving end of Capitalism. His favorite type of systematic rule - except - he wanted to be on the top of it’s food chain, much like his daddy-Boer. Not the bottom. The very same bottom he hit when one of men punched him straight across the face, sending him flat into the warm concrete beneath his feet, sending one kick, another and then another only to drag him away to some back-alley to deliver the finishing blow. Not like he was trying to defend himself. That wasn’t the point. The point was to play the role of a clueless idiot and infiltrate the lair of other clueless idiots in the process.

 

 

 

Hoyt knew he was risking.
Majorly, at that - his own life.
The very head on his shoulders.
Much like in a humble game of poker.
You need to bluff in order to put the player off guard.
Hit him with all you’ve got once they least except it - a trick thought by Cobus.
So, when he found himself falling unconscious from the blood loss and a slash to the head -
The two men he was just letting get the best of him easily much bigger and taller.
Not that that was all too strange, seeing his own scrawny slenderness.
Hoyt remembered to let the chips fall where they may.

 

 

 

 

After all, he never lost a round of cards to anyone.
Only to his own father, rest his soul.