Business as Usualby Rob Cockcroft / 24.01.2011
A while back I worked at a Vodacom store in Greenpoint. Basically all I did was book in peoples’ phones for repairs and eat shit from customers who were either going to sue Vodacom or cancel their contracts. But I didn’t care. The job was kak and paid very little. (I earned R2300 a month).
I made two friends there. Roy, a mildly entertaining dude who would rap Biggie’s songs in my ear all day and talk incessantly about Manchester United in a British commentator’s voice. And Ayanda, she had a sweet nature and owing to her soft spot for blueberry muffins and pepper steak pies from the BP garage, she had the thick round curves of a mams, even though she was 23-years-old.
No one expected it. It started out as a case of different day same shit for me. Up at 6:30, pulled on the Dickies cordurouys, the smart black golfer and the square-toes I received as a hand-me-down from my step-brother. Then I missioned to Rosebank Station, caught the 7:00 train into Cape Town and trekked up Strand into Somerset Road to take my shit-shoveling seat behind the customer service counter.
Around 11:00 the shop started to get busy, so I would go to the back office, where the cellphone technicians sat, and pretend there was a case that needed special attention or I would try humour them with impersonations of the boss or tell tales of freaks I had encountered in one of the student drinking dens in Rondebosch. If I was entertaining enough I would get out of at least half an hour’s work and a large chunk of the lunchtime-rush queue.
That day, as I stepped into the back office I brushed past Ayanda. She told me she wished “this guy would just leave”. I thought nothing of it and dismissed it with a listless laugh. This was the most common phrase I’d heard in customer service, retail, waitering and all the other shitty jobs I’ve ever worked.
Within a few seconds I heard screams. By the time I turned to look, Ayanda was sprawled on the carpet, pushing herself up onto her feet. Behind her was a man in a Golden Arrow uniform. He had a pistol aimed in our direction.
Fortunately I never froze. I doubled back around the corner and dove under a table. The first shot went off. That’s the one which the papers said got her in the leg. She lay on her stomach screaming for help, but I couldn’t look. I stared deeply into the thickness of the white wall in front of me. Afterwards I realised, from the pain in my hands, that I had had a bout of delirium and had been knocking and pushing against the wall, hoping to escape to the other side. Another shot fired, to me it sounded like the twelfth. The papers didn’t have to tell me this one got her in the head. I was still looking away, thinking we would all be massacred. The wall now became a canvas as I kept staring into it. Flashes of all the million reasons I wanted to stay alive flickered through my mind like a slideshow on ecstasy as I waited to take a bullet. Then the final shot blasted and I heard nothing but the white noise ringing in my ears from the loud bangs.
People started moving in the office. Esmé was screaming. I turned to see Ayanda’s lazy gaze as she was slipping into an eternal sleep. Blood started to form a pool around her body, which flowed over the tiles and formed canals in between the grouting. Spurts rose and fell to the beat of her pulse onto the left side of her face. The attacker was ass down with the gun neatly placed to his right. He had a hole in his head and was taking his last breaths. He had shot himself too.
I wanted to get out through the back door, but there was no key in it. The rest of the people searched frantically for it, but it was nowhere. The only way out was to step over the bodies. I covered my face from Ayanda. I couldn’t look. I watched the gunman heaving in air, covered in blood. I remember the bitterness and disgust that I felt towards him and how I had restrain myself from kicking him in the face.
Outside there were onlookers and a journalist from Heart 104.9 fm asking questions. I was speechless, still stunned trying to process the gruesome images that were seared into my brain. Why would the attacker shoot Ayanda, then himself? We were guided to a hotel a few doors down where we all sat, confused. I was surprised by my dad who shot through when he heard what happened on the news. When he found me, he began to cry. “Come with me, I know how to deal with this.” Roy came as well. We drove to a dive bar with tinted windows in Edgemead, where we must have drank at least fifteen quarts together in about three hours. After that I wanted to go back home where friends were waiting with more cold brew. We drank them up and all went out. In the car I couldn’t stop crying, feeling blessed that I still had the opportunity to do this with my friends. It would happen frequently over the next few months.
The next day I went into work. A group counseling session was held in one of the rooms in the hotel. There we learnt that the murderer was an abusive boyfriend that Ayanda had been trying to get rid of for years. He apparently stalked her and tried to scare her with that gun on numerous occasions, shooting on either side of her saying that if she left him he would really put a bullet in her. The day before the murder occurred Ayanda laid a restraining order against the man.
Feeling a little less confused but damaged nevertheless, we went downstairs to call the next group to go for therapy. The shop was open but obviously not functioning properly. Some customers came in to collect their phones and one old lady was shouting at the manager, “ I’m going to sue Vodacom. The service here is terrible. I know what happened here but then you’ve got to get them some bladdy counseling man!” It was business as usual.