Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saturday in Soweto

The city pulsed into the hospital on a nightly basis, a collection of fresh scars, scabs, and throbbing masses that would bounce moans of pain off the sweat-covered walls from which the paint bubbled and chipped. A hell of humidity turned the air into a near-clotting fluid one had to wade through.
Anticipation was almost enough to supplant the need for coffee- almost- as if adrenaline from the probable flood to come kept everyone breathing. But it was early yet, and so Roos Hoek filled her senses with the least offensive blend of Java available. Just one cup of it, no more or else caffeinated alacrity will turn to a set of nerves that won’t stop humming with activity, overcharged and out of control.Unsurprisingly decaf can’t be found fresh in the break room. The last jar is a cake of powder that has fused into a sweaty solid, bleeding oil and essence.
“How’s it?”
Pieterzoon, already out of his scrubs and disquietingly clean. Blonde sweatless brows seemed entirely alien given the morning perspiration that clung to every other surface. “It’s them blerry payday weekends, eh? Ag man, I don’t envy you tonight, not at all.” He’d speak in English to be understood, heavily accented in English-Dutch inflection. Roos was, after all, only Dutch in name, and still blanked
whenever peppered with Afrikaans by conclusion-jumpers who saw just another Afrikaaner who spoke the language. Hell, she spoke more French than anything else, having only elected to take English to escape the bored townships of Provence. With that, she found herself in Johannesburg. Peachy. Be careful what you wish for.
She tilted her head, shrugging. “It doesn’t help that Thabola and Mbosi are still out on holiday for another few days.”
“Fok aye. You know those tits try to put themselves out of harm’s way on these nights by penciling in vacation time years in advance.”
“Don’t be so cynical, man. They’re at the top for a reason. --And before you say it, that reason isn’t Mandela.”
Pieterzoon dropped his eyes. “Whatever, girl, whatever.” A sigh. “I’m out for the shut-eye and peaceful recuperation. Say high to the dronkies for me, eh?”
He brushed past her without another word, almost brusquely. Maybe he was right, maybe he wasn’t, she couldn’t say, but dammit, why did everyone have to be so goddamned touchy about it.
Well, it’s not like they didn’t have a history of it, mmm, muttered her inner voice, now they’re just grumpy that the shoe is on the other foot. But nothing was that simple. Apartheid had switched to reverse racism, and the iron-clad oppression of bigotry had for a brief while been swept away, only to fall into a disjointed attempt to control a population discovering freedom without the gradual acknowledgment of its excesses.
Hell of a way to start the day. Hell of a reminder.
“Et merde,” she muttered to herself.

Saturday afternoon, and already temperatures were running high, a fever of cheers from everyone who'd slaved through the week with the expectation that they could now reap the rewards. Money, freshly minted, flowing opposite the stream of cans and bottles into plastic bags. The sun still breathing down peeling necks, thirsts were still being created rather than quenched. What better cure to the burden of thirst than with newfound libation? It was an answer that trickled into minds as the hours wore on and the boots came off, and by the time the horizon had pinched off the heat of day, liquid relaxation flowed freely.

Already Roos was blinking hard in the haze of stale beer and belched curry as the starting wave came slopping in, dragged by fortunately sober friends who passed the time by blending in with the crowd, passing between themselves drinks with feigned covertness. But few took heed of the drunk and orderly when there were their counterparts to mind. The sound of a pleading spew of vomit from a teenager was as much a starter's pistol as she was going to get.
Good evening, Soweto...

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