The Mau Mau Bejeebiesby Brandon Edmonds / 27.08.2010
You know those strip malls that began appearing when we swan dived back into the ‘international community’ around the mid-90’s: chain outlets, nail places, shoes paralleling bigger (more branded) brands, bulk buys, generic hardware and software vendors, and a lone coffee spot nursing dreams of morphing into global ubiquity? You do.
What’s missing is the promotional overlay, the glossy sheen of a ‘real mall’ – sky lights and marble, buffed surfaces and scale. The telling absence of marketed labels. It can make you antsy. Where are the recognizable labels? The go-to standards? The big players? Strip malls make you feel poor. They lack buzz. They turn shopping into getting stuff you need.
Well, Mango airlines is a strip mall experience – in the sky! All the humanizing touches traditionally softening the blunt fact of mass transport are absent. The faux politesse, the pillow talk, the face cloth warmed in the microwave and handed over with tongs. You have to buy your own booze. Buying your own booze on a plane is like slow dancing with your niece (in the shower). It’s not right! We didn’t even get a mobile stairway on my flight. We had to walk across the loading bay like survivors at Entebbe. Only to be met by a security guard in a florescent smock. A ticket glance then head cock meant move to the ass of the bird or keep going to the front. About as special a welcome as a toothbrush kept in someone else’s sock.
The plane itself is a lurid orange soda can. You wouldn’t even smile at it at a party let alone risk annihilation in its care. This was a cry as far from the heady days of post-war air travel (drunken sprees, hostesses fresh from European finishing schools, and a debonair sense of free-floating bon viveurs enjoying life: see the show ‘Mad Men’) as Bethlehem is to Dallas. It was cheap and it was horrible. And it made me realize how badly I need to be more successful.
Anyway, touch down, back home. And I’m offered a taxi. R180 to Woodstock. I don’t think so. A few steps on and a new guy says how much can you pay? Firstly, wow airports are like rich cities in the future. Hyper-controlling , suspiciously clean, weirdly anxious and an obvious honey pot to ‘street entrepreneurs’ – low level operators hoping to service the mobile and sheltered bourgeoisie. Secondly, I can pay you R120. The guy’s into it.
We walk together to his car. He’s young and black. Dressed in a zippered wind-breaker and golf slacks. (What is he, Mister Furley?). Not exactly talky. We’re out in the spring Cape sun when the mau mau bejeebies hit.
They’re basically a capitulation to tabloid thinking. To the worst of our national discourse. Crime gothic. A capitulation to race-based conclusion jumping. To the facile linking of variables (and happenstance) into a bona fide threat.
Convinced of a mugging, I shot this embodiment of civil breakdown, this tsotsi, this taxi driver a series of assessing glances – they amounted to good shoes, clean collar, wait, hold the freaking phone, was that a play of anticipated aggression on his lips, was he mentally preparing himself for the slaughter to come? Who would miss me? What is death like? Will it hurt when the knife goes in?
The mau mau bejeebies!
You can secret away weapons in wind-breakers. A hunting knife. Right? A snub-nose, a semi-automatic, a sawed-off? I’m criminalizing the guy as we walk. It’s meta-criminalizing, granted. I’m too reasonably educated and painfully progressive to flat out criminalize (especially via as obvious, fraught and reductive a marker as race). I’m aware I’m criminalizing him. I’m doing it in quotations in my mind. But there’s no way round it: I’m criminalizing the guy.
Young, black, a zippy wind-breaker, a poker face and an Eastwood-like terseness (in place no doubt to ensure I have nothing to report post-crime: provided I live). It’s Elmore Leonard. It’s Tarantino. I’m an easy mark. I drew money at the ATM. I have a laptop bag. I’m in Country Road slacks and my fingers are clean. I’m begging for an incident.
“Front or back?”
Oh right. Um. Let’s see. What would make it less easy for him to kill me? But the agreeable post-race doofus in me is already responding.
“Either way. I’m easy.”
He has my bags in the boot, and left me to decide. I get in next to him. He drives with a languid ease that has a New Orleans thing – like it’s the slump after Mardis Gras. Bumping 80 all the way. I see my reflection in the rear-view mirror and that’s alarming enough to still the bejeebies. (When did I get a double chin? Fuck the march of time). And I notice a kind of dribble of mottled flesh along his jaw line. A scar. The man has a scar. Prison scar? Was he a lynchpin in the intricate gang interior of Pollsmoor? Had he supervised ritual decapitations? Supped on the arterial blood of a Worcester twink? (Beat that Johnny Steinberg).
That scar turned up the mau mau. I expected him to turn off the highway and speed me to the Flats where anything goes. The familiar geography of the city became a CSI crime-scape to me. I talked about the towers coming down. He said he hadn’t seen it happen. I talked about his day. He said it was long. I told him air travel had devolved into scream-worthy drudgery. He said he wouldn’t know. And basically drove me home.
It wasn’t my finest half hour.