Down Townby Montle Moorosi / 20.10.2009
“Kuku ke kuku yona ke yona!” Came blasting out of the open windows through a set of 6×9 speakers as the maroon 1900’s model Opel Astra slid to a slow but screeching halt. The sound of an old pair of breaks pads which had never felt the soft hands of a service every 15000km’s. Next to me, in the cup holder of my testosterone deprived Chevrolet Spark is a bottle of mineral water full of what I am now starting to realise is urine. The music coming out of the windows was accompanied by a broken chorus and a series of adlibs from the five young black males whistling and singing, their arms hanging out the windows of the car, drinking Hunters Dry and throwing thumbs up signs at me as I sat in my car next to them. Wednesday morning, 10:10am.
The driver of their car was a skinny man with hollow cheek bones and a set of blood shot eyes visible even behind the shadow of his blue denim floppy Fishermans hat with a picture of a marlin fish and the words “Alaska” written below. The guy is trying to talk me but I cannot hear a word he’s saying above the loud music, which he doesn’t turn down. I then realised he was also just singing along again when he threw another thumbs up at me, and they screeched off. And I stalled. By then all the other cars behind me were hooting, and the occasional taxi driver leaning out his window and shouting, “Are you bloody shit?”
Traffic backed up all the way down Sauer street. Bamboozled by the rapid succession of things happening around me, I’m having an increasingly hard time finding Rissik Street. I see a liquor store called “Civil Service”, which is by far the best name ever for a liquor store ever. It sits alongside great names like “Satin Nights” and “Lets have six!”.
The side street are sprawling with people walking to and fro and stalls of all sorts selling anything from beige secret socks, Mopani worms, counterfeit DVDs, leather bandanas, leather socks, sunglasses, key chains, herbs and traditional roots, Flosheim shoes, women’s underwear, 75 cent cheese crisps and even insurance policies.
A large butchery has a throng of trucks outside with a work force of dark, curly haired men I immediately assumed were either Greek or Portuguese loading meat into the entrance of the butchery while the store front is bustling around with a congregation so big you’d think that the mayor was giving out free pre-cooked lamb shanks and mint sauce. One man is who isn’t with the butchery truck delivery men is pushing a shopping cart full of cow heads, and judging by the long trail of blood he makes as he ducks in between people and parked cars, they had just been freshly decapitated nearby.
When you’re a wicked, broken wretch who works for washed up bald hippy who happesn to an run online publication, and you have a penchant for over indulging on alcohol and cigarettes, I can certainly guarantee that you won’t be doing your shopping at Sandton City anytime soon. You won’t even cut it at Mr Price. Some stores in the CBD have names like “Obama Fashions” and “Top Kut” but I opt for the ones without names run by either Zimbabweans or Nigerians because they play either play reggae or highlife music.
They remember most of their customers and sometimes give you a R5 discount when you’re a big spender with a R50 budget. Inside the shop lie rows and rows, piles and piles, towers and pits of discarded fashions from days gone by. The clothes of dead people or worse, clothes in the style of men in the grip of mid-life crisis, with a penchant for faux, orange Ed Hardy leather pants. I then start to dream that one day I will find a Kruger Rand or a diamond ring inside the breast pocket of a jacket I buy from them. I wake up and the only thing that makes me happy is the free tube of waterless hand sanitizer in my pocket which I got from First National Bank for opening a 32 day interest account. Gotta watch out for that Swine Flu.
Navigating to Market Street is a bit easier because I just followed a Rea Vaya bus with Market Street written on it. At the traffic intersection I see an advert with a picture of a man sitting on a toilet pulling a really tight face, underneath the picture are the words “Pushing down on hard prices”. Scores of Muslim men and women from all over Africa and some from places like Pakistan and Indonesia are either selling something, buying something or trying to convince me to buy something. Like nail clippers, a crate of lip ice, leather jackets (at the end of spring), hair extensions and of course the usual fliers about doctors who can, “increase the length and girth of your penis” and even, “make your bosses and work mates like you”. I feel really insulted all of a sudden, although I do seriously consider buying a crate of nail clippers for reasons that I will never be able to explain.
The Mozambican selling DVDs sprawled out on a blanket in the middle of the sidewalk tried to sell me one called Big Black Bitches even though I keep insisting I’m more of a Finding Nemo kind of guy, he almost wins but I’m saved by a group of old ladies who give us a nasty stare. A sort of chase ensues while he still tries to sell me the DVD.
“My brother, give 20 Rand. 20 Rand, my friend!” He says to me, I try to cross the street to get to my car and escape.
Off Juta street in Braamfontein I stop at Kitcheners Carvery, an old English-styled pub with the musty odour of tobacco stuck on red velvet walls frequented by red, lumpy potato-faced divorced men with sacks of complaints and of course the hipsters. Skinny jean wearing men and women with fringe hair and Marlboro lights cigarettes, listening to electro and talking about things like Prog Rock and Photoshop. I fall into a void that induces memory loss but then I’m woken again and I’m in my car driving with the lights off on the M1 highway back to mom’s house in Sandton, driving at about 130km, Dunhill light cigarette hanging out the edge of my mouth and playing Niche, ‘You Got to Show Me Love’ at full volume with the windows open and singing out loud without a care in the world, either ready to die or ready to go to bed, if a difference between them even exists. This is Johannesburg.
Opening image © and courtesy Nick Aldridge
All other images © and courtesy Justin McGee