An Excerpt from "Hlomu The Wife" by Dudu Busani-Dube Part 1 | KAYA FM



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An Excerpt from “Hlomu The Wife” by Dudu Busani-Dube Part 1

3 Apr 2018 ARTS & CULTURE


Dudu Busani-Dube will join the Kaya Book Club, as hosted by Bridget Masinga for The B-Side this Saturday. Read part one of a two-part excerpt from Busani-Dube’s seminal book series “Hlomu The Wife” below.

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I’d like this place better if it wasn’t so cold, if it wasn’t so overcrowded and if taxi drivers weren’t so rude.

They say every young professional should work in Joburg at least at the start of their career, I never asked why but for me, this is not how I imagined my first year as a qualified Journalist.

I’m not complaining much, though, because I consider myself lucky. I work for one of the biggest daily newspapers in the country, and I can confidently say I’m doing pretty well.
They say every young professional should work in Joburg at least at the start of their career, I never asked why but for me, this is not how I imagined my first year as a qualified Journalist.

It’s the early morning trips from Berea to Auckland Park, and the hectic trips back that I’m not sure about. Two taxi rides in the morning to Bree Taxi Rank, where I have to endure long queues and deafening car hooters. In fact, you aren’t a real taxi commuter if you’ve never witnessed a “taxi fight” between a driver and a passenger, inside the taxi.

I’ve witnessed many of those and they always start with the smallest things, like money that is short or someone banging the door, and sometimes one taking too long to get out of the taxi. Forget that they’d be jumping off at a dangerous spot anyway.

But this is Joburg, everyone came here looking for something, some will find it, others will lose themselves trying to find it.

Me, today, all I’m looking forward to is a warm shower and my bed. I’ve had one heck of a day.

But first, I have to take that dreadful daily trip back to my flat.

I could jump off “after robot” and try to scout a taxi that will take me to Berea without having to go inside the rank, but I have no energy to wait so I jump off with all the others inside Bree.

The queue to Hillbrow is not that bad, just about 20 people. Whew! I’ll get in on the next one.

So I’m a Journalist, and my six months on the job have taught me to always be interested in my surroundings. Sometimes I find myself staring at people or eavesdropping on conversations by strangers. I’ve been thinking that I should do a story about taxi queue marshals and their ability to intimidate anyone without speaking.

It would make a good read, and maybe shed some light on why there is a need to be militant and arrogant for them to be successful in what they do.

“You can move now sisi.”

Oh wow, the queue is moving, there’s a huge space in front of me. But why didn’t I see this very tall big-eyed dark man standing in front of me? He is probably a queue marshal or a driver. I’ve never seen him before.

I quickly move forward, partly embarrassed because, you know, you don’t want to be the psycho caught staring into space at a taxi rank like you’re planning a mass murder or something.

He moves with me. Okay.

“You’re late today, tell your boss I’ll deal with him if he makes you work too hard,” he says.

I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, why is he talking to me? I don’t have time for small talk. I blatantly ignore him.

I get into the taxi that’s now in front of me. He’s the driver.

It’s a 20 minute trip and I notice he keeps glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. It makes me uncomfortable.

“Short-right,” I shout. I’m glad it’s almost over.

He doesn’t stop, but instead drives into Buzeidenhout Street and parks right at my building gate, much to the irritation of the six other passengers still left.

On a normal day I’d be annoyed, but today, urgh, he saved me about 100 metres of walking. I jump off. He looks at me and smiles. I don’t smile back. He keeps smiling.

My flat is cold as usual. It’s pretty much one very big room divided into a kitchen in one corner, a lounge that can fit only one couch, a bedroom and en-suite bathroom with only a shower. It’s small, but it’s my space, mine alone, and it’s my sanctuary, my messy sanctuary.

The fridge doesn’t look appealing, neither does the food I cooked yesterday, so I settle for a bread roll with grated cheese and lettuce, downed with green tea and head straight to bed, hoping tomorrow will be less stressful.

Oh yah, before I sleep I have to call Sandile, my boyfriend, that’s if I can call him that. Our phone conversations have decreased to about two a day in the past two months. I knew things would change when I left him behind in Durban but when I look at it now; we never really had much of a relationship. I think he found me dull and different but held on to me because he hoped that one day I’d let him in between my thighs.

That call was not worth even a minute of my time.

————-

I’m surprised I was able to wake up before 7am. I’m the type that can sleep at 6pm and wake up at 6am the next morning. I’m such a deep sleeper; I’d never wake up even if I dreamt I was being chased by lions. I have to be at work by 8.30am but earlier would be great because, well, I don’t even have a story for today.

Bab’Gumbi, as always, is already sitting on his chair outside the tiny security guard house at the gate. I don’t know how he does it, but he is always in high spirits. He once told me that he was from uMsinga and that if he had a son, he’d make sure I married him, only, he has four daughters.

I greet him and walk past as fast as I can. I like him, but his long ancient stories, not so much.

The taxi stop is a few metres away from the building gate but I get there just as one is driving off. There’s a car parked, a green Corolla Sprinter with tinted windows. Creepy.

As I stand anxiously hoping another taxi will come soon, the car’s window rolls down and I hear someone say: “I’m waiting to take you to work.”

Oh hell, it’s the bug-eyed dude again.

I look behind me to check if Bab’Gumbi is still at the gate. Good, he’s still there, but his face is buried in the newspaper. At least if I run back screaming he will hear me.

“No thanks,” I say, avoiding eye contact and hoping a taxi will appear.

“I’m not a serial killer, I promise I’ll be nice,” he says.

I look behind me again. This can’t be happening to me. I’ve written many stories about women who get into cars, and are later found dead in open velds.

I didn’t come to Joburg for this.

Whew! A taxi in front of me, I jump in.

The driver seems to be waving at bug-eye but I don’t have time to pay attention to that. At least now I know I’m safe. I don’t know where the car disappears to. I don’t care.

I make it to work 15 minutes before the diary meeting, and luckily I get a call about some married musician killing a man over another woman. The things Joburg people do sometimes!

I’m set for the day and by midday I’m in Zola, Soweto, shooting questions at a weeping mother on how she feels about her son being killed over someone’s mistress. My mother would freak out if she understood the lack of conscience and morals my job comes with.

It turns out to be a good story, the singer has been arrested, the wife has disappeared and the neighbours are generous with information, although some of the things they say don’t add up.

Word is; the woman at the centre of this was using the musician for money, which she spent with the now dead boyfriend. Not that anybody needs to go to school to know the basics of economics – Harvard for what?

I’m back at the office by noon, and by 5pm, I’m packed and ready to go. I walk out with a bunch of colleagues, and we are chatting away when I notice the same car from the morning, parked outside the gate. Now I’m not scared, I’m angry.

I furiously walk to the car before he opens the window.

“What do you want?”

“I want to take you home.”

“No!”

“Please,” he says, with an annoying smile on his face.

“No,” I say, looking him straight in the eye, too long for comfort so eventually I give in and look away.

“Why?” he asks, still smiling.

I’m done talking.

I walk away, fuming.

I get to Bree when the queues are already long. Oh and yah, there he is chatting to other taxi drivers. He probably got here before me. I try by all means not to look his way and 20 minutes later, I’m in a taxi.

Yes, he gets on the driver’s seat, and I’m sitting on the front seat, next to him. He looks at me and smiles before starting the car. I look away. I won’t even be collecting money. Seriously, I didn’t come all the way from KwaMashu to entertain taxi drivers, let alone date one. That’s way below my level.

He puts on a CD and skips to some maskandi song that goes like: “noma ungangichizela ntombi kodwa uyoze ungiqome” (You can snub me now but you’ll love me eventually).

He can’t seriously be directing this song to me. What the hell?

He drops me off at my gate, again. I don’t turn to look at him but I can feel his eyes on me, and I’m sure he is smiling. He waits until I’m inside the gate.

It’s after 6pm and Bab’Gumbi is gone already. I don’t know this night security guard but he sounds like he is from Malawi, or that part of the world.

I’ve had a good day, except for bug-eye stalking me, so I’m in the mood to cook and watch some TV. I’m even in the mood for a long chat with Langa, not that I can go a day without talking to him but any interaction with him requires excessive energy to laugh, be shocked and just appreciate that he is who he is.

“I almost sent Khumbulekhaya to find you.”

Those are his first words when he answers the phone. No hello.

“Because I didn’t speak to you yesterday? Sorry I was busy having sex.”

He doesn’t believe me but is grossed out anyway. He talks and I listen, laugh and love him even more than I did before I phoned him.

I forgot to tell him about the bug-eye stalker, which reminds me; I must call the boyfriend and have the usual brief meaningless conversation with him.

I hope bug-eye won’t be waiting for me in the morning, but by now, I already know he doesn’t give up that easily. I don’t even know his name but he’s managed to be the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. He succeeded in changing my reaction from being scared to being angry with him, to being offended by that sleazy maskandi song, all in one day.

Oh, and he completely defeated me in a staring contest. His eyes are deep, I noticed, even under that cap he is always wearing, they are big and deep and piercing.

Wait! Why am I thinking about a taxi driver’s eyes? Nx!

——-

I see the car as I open my bathroom window, parked at the taxi stop.

I know I’ve been to church only twice since I came to Joburg but this? This? What about all the Sundays I went and actually paid attention to the priest? Oh and that time I paid R100 tithe, what about that time?

This morning I decide to stop and have a little chat with Bab’Gumbi, just so this pest sees that I have protection in case he wants to try and kidnap me. I walk past his car to stand very close to the road.

This time he gets out of the car and walks straight to me. I didn’t realise he was this tall the first time I saw him. I look at him as he approaches: Nike track pants, Nike jacket, sneakers and that usual cap. It’s taxi-rank couture.

“So you’re going stomp on my ego again?” he asks. The idiot doesn’t even greet.

“No, I’m going to get in the taxi, go to work and leave you here because I don’t know you and you are getting on my nerves,” I say, as I flag down a coming taxi.

It stops. The driver peeps over as I open the door.

“Mageba,” he says. He is speaking to this idiot still standing at the taxi door.

The taxi drives off. I get to Bree and somehow something seems different. All of a sudden these taxi drivers are looking at me like they know me, random smiles and shit like that.

Luckily, there’s no queue to Auckland Park, so I’m gone before things get even weirder. I’m dropped off at the gate of my office building instead of the road behind. I won’t even ask.

First thing I do at work is call my mom. She’s at work already, long enough to complain about patients who come to the clinic for useless things like, like tummy aches. Okay.

The day in the newsroom is as usual, insane. One colleague notices that I’m a bit distracted today but I’d rather not say much, I don’t want them going full force journalism FBI on the annoying bug-eye.

Strange, though, he keeps crossing my mind. I start wondering about who he is and why he is so persistent. And then I remember, he is a Nike tracksuit-wearing, Sprinter-driving, maskandi-playing taxi driver. That’s enough to get me back to concentrating on my work.

I leave at about 6pm today. It’s already dark but luckily a colleague has offered to drop four of us off in town. Without realising it, I peep through the car window as we drive out of the office gate, no Sprinter. He’s given up. Good.

At the rank I get the same feeling I got in the morning. In fact this time one of the queue marshals picks me from the crowd and leads me to the front. I am, amid begrudging looks from fellow commuters, placed on the front seat. Congratulate me; I’m officially a taxi queen. And yes, the bug is driving.

He puts on that stupid song again. Really? A smile reaches my lips before I can stop it. I look away immediately. He sees it, he smiles and looks away too, says nothing.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” he says as he stops at my gate. I say nothing, but I can feel his stare as I walk away. He waits until I’m inside, and drives off.

My grandmother warned me about Joburg. She said it’s not a place for an innocent girl like me. Look now, of all the men, and there are many very worthy men in this town, I am defeated and dis-empowered by a taxi driver. Oh I never!

Langa puts me in high spirits as usual. I know he senses that something is going on with me but he’s probably waiting for the right moment to pounce.

“I can see through you, don’t ever forget that. I got the penis, you got the vagina, but you are me and I am you,” he always says.

It’s funny how different we are.

I have to call the boyfriend. Come to think of it, he never calls me; I’m always the one calling him.

——

I make it to the morning alive, that’s something to be taken seriously if you live in Berea.

The Sprinter, yes it’s back. I walk out the gate with my feisty girl attitude. This guy doesn’t know me, I’m not getting in that car, who does he think he is?

He comes out and walks around to the passenger door as I approach. Reebok this time. He leans on the car door, ankles crossed, hands folded across his chest. He looks at me, like I’m the only living thing in the world, like he has waited for this moment all his life. I am supposed to feel uncomfortable right now. I’m not.

I walk straight to him and shoot: “How long are you going to follow me around?”

He smiles right after a face that says “I’m rolling my eyes” without actually rolling the eyes.

“Until your surname is Zulu,” he says.

The smile, again, runs to my lips without warning me.

He opens the car door. I want to protest, but he is looking at me. I’m defeated. I get in. The bloody bug!

The plan is to look out the window throughout this trip. No talking and no agreeing to anything. I’m not sure when I decided on this plan because when I left my flat five minutes ago, I wasn’t going to get inside this car.

“So, Mahlomu, how long are you going to be mean to me?”

Huh?

“How do you know my name?”

“I know your surname too…and a lot more,” he says with a smirk or a smile or a…I don’t know any more with this guy.

“My name is Mqhele by the way,” he says.

Whatever, bug-eyes, I think to myself.

The trip to work seems shorter today, it could be because I didn’t have to take two taxis or most probably the fact that I’m having a flowing conversation with a man I thought wanted to kidnap and murder me just three days ago.

His car is cleaner than I thought, not that cleanliness is an issue with me but I mean, it’s a Sprinter, my uncle had it in the early 90s. I notice an empty cup of McDonalds McFlurry. Okay. Ice cream? It’s 7.30 in the morning.

We didn’t really get into deep detail about ourselves but we were talking, and we were laughing and we had eye-lock moments and we connected; really, really connected.

I realise after he leaves that he didn’t ask for my phone number. Oh good, now I want him to call me? What’s next Hlomu? Hand him your vagina in a dessert bowl?

My office desk phone rings just as I sit, it must be someone giving me a story.

“You looked beautiful this morning, as always. You’ll look even more beautiful in isidwaba,” he says.

“You have my office number too?”

“Yes, and your cell number.”

Why am I impressed by all this?

“Should I bring you lunch?” he asks

“I don’t think you’re the type that asks for permission to do anything, but no. I’ll probably be out of the office all day. And by the way, I’ll never wear isidwaba,” I say before a non-negotiable goodbye.

Three phone calls later it’s time to knock off, and yes, the Sprinter is parked outside.

I have to start asking this guy some questions.

“So, while you chase me all over Johannesburg, who is driving for you?”

For a moment he looks at me like he doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, and then, he immediately says: “Nqoba is there”.

“Who is Nqoba?”

“My brother.”

“Okay,” I say and move on to scanning my surroundings. This time there’s an empty KFC ice cream cup. Alrighty then, at least it’s not cones.

There’s also a box of cigarettes, he smokes. I’ve never seen him smoke but I can tell he is deep in it.

“Can you drive?” he asks randomly.

“No.”

“You must learn. It’s important that you do,” he says.

Who is this now? My father?

The trip home is even better than the morning one. By the time he parks at my gate I know I will miss him the moment I step out of the car. But I can’t show him that. I’m from KwaZulu-Natal, KwaMashu, which makes me a cross-breed between a hard-head and a manipulator.

With a simple: “thanks”, I get out of the car, close the door and start walking away. To my surprise he sits still, watches me walk and only drives off after I switch on the light in the kitchen. Good for him.

Featured imaged by Bridget Masinga

 


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