There had to be a witness. That’s how the story goes I guess. We locked eyes for a nanosecond as the lightning struck and I stood frozen like an umlungu ghost in a foreign land. It was a dead-end road and I’d hoped like hell nobody would notice my terrible presence. My dastardly deed. But the loud cracking noise I’d made when I dragged IT out of my bakkie had alerted a local. Her silhouette appeared suddenly like a cat in a doorway. Our eyes connected and I was got. I saw myself from a distance as if watching a cheap television thriller. Standing shirtless in the rain in the middle of Cato Manor, in nothing but a stupid pair of floral surf shorts. I suddenly wished I’d had the presence of mind to put some clothes on. My long wet hair like a mane, setting me apart from the people of the township. An alien from outer space up to nothing but trouble.
I would never have come up with the idea on my own. But my neighbour had caught me with the THING hanging halfway out my baki. “Take it to the location,” said the heavy-set bulldog of a man in a thick Afrikaans accent. I was wrecked from the day of slave labour and the night had caught me off guard. It’d come too soon and I’d somehow got left with the dirty work. I had to get rid of IT tonight… there was no two ways about it.
The filthy old garden couch had to go.
It was Christmas Eve and we had to be out of our flat by the next day. The mouldy garden couch had been sodden by three months of rain and had started to grow and breathe and give off a warm steamy odour like a slow, organic, living thing.
My neighbour was still hovering like a rhino, cemented to the sidewalk beside me. He wasn’t gonna leave until I did something about the couch. “You can’t leave that thing out here on our street,” he growled.
A sense of fatigue and desperation overwhelms me. I nod and hear myself say: “Okay. Are you sure I can just take it to the township? Maybe I’ll take it to Cato Manor.”
He nods and grunts: “They can want it,” as he trudges off to his cave next door.
So without thinking where the closest municipal dump is, I adopt my ex-neighbour’s logic and reckon I’ll just do the poor a favour and give them a mouldy old couch. I heave the stinking beast into the back of the bakkie as a bouquet of lightning fills the sky. The thunder rumbles. If I don’t get rid of the couch I won’t fit my last load of belongings into the bakkie tomorrow. So I head into the night; a desperate unthinking man. I feel like a filthy criminal already. I am about to become an illegal dumper.
I drive to Cato Manor as the storm erupts. I’m delirious and I turn the music full blast to drown out the guilt. Led Zeppelin’s howling “I gotta whole lotta love,” as I enter the labyrinth of Cato Manor. A cop car cruises past and I try and sink behind the steering wheel to hide my white face. I drive til I find a dead-end. The cul de sac is strewn with all sorts of discarded belongings. A plastic bike snapped in two. A shoe. A cast iron bed base like a naked skeleton.
I skid to a stop, crank the handbreak and hop out the car in one motion. Drop the tailgate and drag the couch off with one yank. But to my surprise the coach makes a loud crack as it hits the ground, like a cowboy’s whip. A flash of blue lightning illuminates the scene.
And there I am, caught red handed as a bewildered middle-aged woman watches me from her kitchen door. What’s worse is that from where she stands she can’t see what I’ve left her until I hop in the car and speed off into the night.
*Opening illustration © Sasan.
*Couch image © Chris Mason.