The Knifeby Lwandile Fikeni / Illustration by Sasan / 03.07.2013
Are you listening? Good. Now put yourself in my shoes…
You are hot shit from Joburg. You’ve just graduated from varsity with sterling marks, a certificate of excellence and a student award to boot. You can’t wait to start your promising career in the most beautiful city in South Africa: Cape Town. Even the name sounds like a cool breeze fanning your face. You’re excited. The world is one big plate of possibilities. So you collect your bookcase, your suitcase and put them on a train; you get on the last flight to the Mother City with uncontrollable glee. You’re like child going to the shops to buy Cadbury Eclairs with stolen coins from your mom’s handbag. You’re a pimpled 16-year-old about to get his first shag. Finally, after ten years of insufferable egoism, the fucking Highveld, Blou Bulle fans, Benoni boets and Sandton bling, the Melville coke heads and Newtown brethrens, sistrens, and queens and all the myriad other things about Gauteng that you couldn’t stand; you’re on your way to the Promised Land. You arrive in Cape Town and then get stabbed a stone’s throw from Parliament, off Plein Street – in Gardens – one of the safest neighbourhoods in the city.
Was I too hasty for you? Did I get to the end too quickly? Let’s try this…
You’re in Cape Town, in the City Bowl, among innumerable security guards with their dizzying luminous lime vests; countless police patrol vans that constantly harass prostitutes and black men with dreadlocks; German tourists with tall dark men and French women with cute arses wearing denim short shorts. You are walking home from work after midnight. You’re tipsy. You’re tired. And you know your bed is waiting.
Your bed is waiting. You hear footsteps behind you as you walk through the Company Gardens. Your bed is waiting. The footsteps, first as light as ash, now begin to pick up pace and grind the tar with more purpose as you walk on Gallery Street. Your bed is waiting. The footsteps gather speed and come at you full throttle.
Your bed is waiting, you keep thinking until you turn back, startled to find the man who’s going to put 12 stitches in your left hand in mid air with something you vaguely make out as a blade, maybe a bottle kop, as it flashes like a slit of silver against the moonless night. It doesn’t matter ‘cos the deed is done and you’re on the ground. His two friends, mere shadows fidgeting in the dark a few paces. They don’t speak. They’re just restless. Your eyes try frisk for a face from the evil silhouette standing over your injured body. Maybe you’ll be able to identify him to the police if you’re lucky enough to live. A baseball cap conceals his face. You can only make out beads of silver where the eyes ought to be. He’s too fit to be a bergie, you say to yourself, while bleeding mercilessly on Gallery Street. His arms are strong and his chest is carved, and he breathes heavily over your dwindling consciousness, holding the blade in his right hand. Now you can confirm that it’s a knife. You’re losing blood and the hefty heaving tatooed ghost who’s just stabbed you walks away, coolly, as if tonight was the first day of spring.
“I do not have money. I don’t have anything.” You remember lying while the blood from your mangled hand drew a halo around your arm. You don’t know why you said this because the shadow never asked. It just stood over you, panting. It is not your life that flashes right before your eyes when the three men leave you in cold blood. It’s a question.
Had it been a mugging and you had refused to part with your money or a cellphone you would have been able to explain the situation to yourself, even to your friends, your family. There would have been sufficient reason, which one needs when such things happen. Not to condone the act but to understand what had happened and why and how one might avoid such an outcome if it were to occur again.
You can take off the shoes now, while I tell you the rest of this story…
Had we had an altercation earlier at some pub or tavern and these strong abled men had followed me home, I would have understood this bloody outcome. But none of the above had occurred. They didn’t ask for money or a cellphone or anything else for that matter. Nothing. They were just mad and angry and had followed me through the inner city park hidden behind the rustling leaves of trees and under the blanket of night.
I have lived in Joburg for over a decade. When I was at WITS we bought weed and alcohol in Hillbrow. We used to brainstorm at the Summit – the infamous strip club in that area. And we came up with some pretty good ideas I might add. My friends were from all over the place: the outskirts, the ‘burbs, the township and the inner city. So we partied in all these spaces. But not once had I felt threatened. I’m not saying Joburg isn’t a dangerous city; I was one in millions of people, who each had their own experiences. I mention this because I felt safe living in Cape Town between Kloof Street and Buitenkant. And I know what happened but I still don’t know why. It is still peculiar to me. This city and what happened, that is.
I got up and dragged myself home. Faintly, at a distance, I could hear sirens but I knew they were not for me. I managed to walk up to the entrance of my building, banged on the glass door, and then collapsed.
To be continued…
*Illustration © Sasan