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2024
Love and Madness
Part 1 – Countdown.
10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0
My passion for travel is greater than my fear of dying. Travel is my first love. I have
long ago reconciled myself with the fact that my lifestyle will more than likely
result in my death in some remote part of the planet, far from my family and
friends. Alone.
As Saint Augustine supposedly once said: “The world is a book and if you have
never travelled – you have only read one page.” The thing about modern day
travel though was that it generally meant having to get on an airplane. I love
flying. It’s great. Not a fan of crashing though.
“Ladies and gentleman – your attention please. We are about to begin our
descent to O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Please ensure that
your seatbelt remains fastened, your tray is stowed away and your seat is in the
upright position. Those passengers seated at a window must ensure that the
window blinds remain open. If you need any assistance, our cabin crew will be
glad to help. Estimated arrival time is 25 minutes. Temperature in Johannesburg
is 22 degrees Celsius. Thank you.”
It had been a long two days – Nong Pai – Bangkok – Dubai – Johannesburg. The
cheap flights were challenging. I was still stiff from my 10-hour layover sleeping
on the floor of Dubai airport and doubted my knees would still function after a 9-
hour flight in cattle class. One of the disadvantages of being tall. However, on
the flip side, tall men got laid more often. It seemed a fair trade-off.
The huge 767 shuddered as if the clouds through which it now thrust were erotic
fingers of mist. The FASTEN SEATBELT sign flashed above my head as a knot of
tension spread through my gut. Like a duck gliding on a pond, on the surface I
appeared to be calm and collected – fully in control. Only I knew that my
emotions were frantically kicking beneath the façade of serenity.
Finally emerging from the dark clouds that hung above Kempton Park on that
gloomy winter morning, I pointed my bloodshot eyes out the window and saw a
huge eye staring back at me. A dozen or so gated communities were neatly
arranged around a huge cement water reservoir that was situated near the R21
motorway. Shadows of windswept clouds anthropomorphized the reservoir into
a dark grey cyclops – all seeing. The eye was watching.
Tearing my stare from the giant cyclops, I forced myself to look elsewhere.
Halfway to the murky horizon, huge white plumes of mist rose from colossal
concrete cooling towers. Kelvin power station. A relic from more than 60 years
ago. A coal-guzzling dinosaur from South Africa’s original coal fleet of power
stations. Nothing much had changed. Except delivery. In the 60s, no one knew or
cared about climate change. Environmentalists were few and far between.
These dinosaurs had been devouring coal for decades, consistently pooping out
enough electricity to more than cater for every citizen’s and industrialist’s
needs. No longer. Kelvin was now privately owned; yet more privatization was
needed to fix ESKOM’s death spiral.
Snapping out of nostalgic reverie as the airport control tower came into view, I
decided to begin my countdown. For some reason, counting had always had a
calming effect on me. Not just for flying anxiety, but for any type of stress in my
life. And reading. It depended on the type of stress. In a car accident for example
– you couldn’t just switch off and open a book. You had to act. Silently counting
was a useful tool I used to keep calm in such a situation. It worked. Panic was
not in my vocabulary.
Ten, nine…
Our trajectory seemed to be on a collision course with a mall located across the
motorway from the airport perimeter fence. ‘They must have got that land
cheap,’ I surmised.
Eight, seven…
Skimming over the silver roof of the cheap mall, we scraped over the perimeter
fence which was now hurtling past the tail. Quickly double-checking that my
seatbelt was properly fastened, I concentrated my eyes on a pretty air
stewardess with almond-shaped eyes firmly strapped in a rear-facing seat
reserved for crew, a few rows ahead of me. There was a kindness in her face. Her
long eyelashes were dripping with mascara, contrasting elegantly with her pastel
blue eyeliner, indicating that she might be of Arabic descent. It was Emirates
Airlines after all. Our eyes met. She smiled knowingly at me and gave me an
“Everything will be OK,” smile.
I surely hoped so.
Six, five…
Shifting my gaze to the porthole once again, I noticed a man in blue work overalls
riding a lawn tractor through an island of grass forming a rectangular oasis
between two stark cement runways leaving a snail trail in his wake. I felt the
nose of the plane rise slightly as the pilot got his angles aligned as we hovered a
few meters above the hard runway.
Four, three…
Almost judgement time. I took a deep breath, faced forward and closed my eyes,
all my focus on relaxing my tense body as I slowly exhaled. Raised on British
humor, I smiled to myself as I remembered the advice often given to Victorian-
era brides: “Close your eyes and think of England.”
Two, one…
I braced for impact. Well, not impact exactly – maybe just a rough landing. I ran
out of numbers. Counting down a landing was not an exact science. Eyes still
closed, I continued…minus one, minus two… My mind was screaming, “Land
already!”
In my youth, I was encouraged to become a blood donor by my father, himself a
lifelong donor. When I told him that I had a fear of injections, he told me that,
“The only way to conquer fear was to confront it.” And he was right. Mostly. The
nurses at my local blood bank were brilliant. Not once did I have a bad injection
experience. In fact, after a few years, I started looking forward to my next
donation. The free chocolate chip cookies and pure fruit juice had nothing to do
with it, I swear. My fear of injections dissipated with time. But that microcosm of
professional nurses gave me a false sense of courage. Finding myself at a flea
market one fine Sunday, I came across a stall doing a blood drive. Being single at
the time, I was easily convinced by a pretty young nurse in her 20s to “Give a pint
for the needy.”
It was the last time I ever gave blood. She may have been sexy, but she was
obviously still a rookie when it came to needles. After sticking me numerous
times in both arms, she remained unsuccessful at drawing blood. And that is
just a taste of what sexy women will make you do.
It had been a valuable lesson though. It’s not about looks – it’s about experience
and skill. Which is why I was always glad when I discovered that the chief pilot
was over 50. I remember those days. Training to be a pilot was more difficult
than becoming a doctor. Only the best of the best, like a scene out of Top Gun.
Knowing that my pilot was old school filled me with joy and confidence.
Technology was useful, yes, but it made people soft, lazy and stupid. My life was
perhaps insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it was my life. I preferred
a pilot who could do a 3-point instrument landing at night without the aid of a
computer. In fact, it was computer software that had caused the two Boeing 737
MAX crashes just 6 months apart in 2018 and 2019. They were not to be trusted.
Old school ruled.
But there was one issue that could not be cured. Vertigo. Nobody knew I had
vertigo until a family trip to Rhodesia in the summer of “73. One of the highlights
of the trip was our stay at Victoria Falls. My school teacher in South Africa was
originally from Mutare and she was always talking about how much she had
enjoyed her first visit to Victoria Falls. “So much water! It should be one of the 7
Wonders of The World.”
My father had taken my brother and myself to witness the might of the great
Zambezi River while my mother read peacefully in bed back at the hotel. It had
certainly been impressive. After parking his Ford Zephyr in the Victoria Falls
National Park parking lot, the three of us had explored the many pathways near
the edge of the Zambezi Gorge. It was easy to see why it is often called ‘The
Smoke That Thunders’ by locals.
One can imagine how mystified the original discoverers had been, trekking
through the dense jungle and hearing the sound of a thousand drums beating,
not knowing that it was the roar of millions of cubic meters of water plummeting
108m into the narrow gorge below, acting as an amplifier that broadcast a
thunderous sound for miles around. It must have been a frightening experience,
probably resulting in a scouting party being sent off to investigate, only to bring
back more bad news – a village so big that they could see huge clouds of smoke
swirling in the distance.
Even knowing the source of the ‘smoke and thunder’ did not lessen our awe at
this magnificent sight. For a 10-year-old like me, it was the most magical
experience of my short life, making me oblivious to the constant rain of spray
that drenched me to the skin. I remember staring at the endless curtain of water
and wondering if Moses could part it. From the pathway, it was impossible to see
the river far below. Curious, I ventured a little closer to the edge, straining my
neck to try and see it.
An invisible force paralyzed me. Like a zap from an alien stun gun just before
being beamed up into the spaceship. My body was tilting, and I was helpless to
prevent it. It seemed strangely benign and non-threatening, as if they were just
bored and needed someone to have tea and a chat with. There was no panic. No
screaming. Nothing at all from me. Just silence. I felt safe and reassured, as if a
friendly ghost was guiding me through a doorway – one hand lightly on my
shoulder. I knew I was falling – and I didn’t care. My mind had been hacked. I
calmly accepted my fate. Instinctively, my brother grabbed the back of my
soaked t-shirt as I started to topple into the beautiful abyss. An array of tiny
rainbows was hopping through the shrouds of spray as the mighty Zambezi
spilled its guts from heaven to hell. No words were spoken.
Vertigo was a mental hurdle that had taken years of safe flying to get over. Being
logical also helped ease my fears.
“You are strapped into a specially-designed aircraft seat. It is impossible to faint
and fall out of the porthole.”
It eventually dawned on me that the reason airplane portholes were so small
was because vertigo needs a wide-angle lens to kick in. This discovery
contributed greatly to my change in flying habits. Instead of nervously drinking
my way through a long-haul flight, my brain became relaxed enough to allow me
to sleep during a flight. So much better than arriving at your destination
exhausted and hungover. I even started requesting a window seat. Not because I
wanted to count clouds, but because I was tired of having to get up every time
one of the inner two passengers wanted to pee. I finally felt enough at ease to sit
next to a porthole and just relax. At least on a conscious level. The tiniest of
voices still echoed deep inside,
“Crashing and burning is a horrible way to die.”
That voice would lay dormant for long periods, but once the pilot announced that
there was turbulence ahead and the seatbelt sign started flashing, the little man
inside would start pounding on my heart.
Teachers are a strange breed. Well, depending on where you are standing, I
guess all professions seem strange to another profession. As a teacher of many
years, I had worked with many interestingly ‘different’ colleagues.
Female teachers appeared less diverse, with many of them hardworking
empathetic individuals who kept themselves busy to avoid thinking of their
childhood trauma, and then went home to their cats and continued to do
schoolwork until their energy levels were depleted.
Male teachers, by comparison, were a more varied bunch. Paradoxically, the so-
called ‘perpetual students’ who started their teaching careers later in life, armed
with 3 or 4 degrees, were usually the worst teachers. All theory and no practice. I
had always thought that the reason they stayed at uni was because they were
afraid to go out into the big, bad world. Social skills were often lacking in this
group. I had once worked with a teacher who had a PhD in Education. He lasted
two weeks. No clue whatsoever.
Then you had the jocks, who wanted an easy life as a Phys Ed teacher, the
altruistic minority who actually wanted to make a difference and make the world
a better place, and the misfits who just didn’t slot in anywhere else. That was
me. A misfit. A non-conformist. But I had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to
share that knowledge. A bit of a show-off perhaps. “Look at me – I’m so clever.”
In an attempt to allay my fears of crashing, I had made a point of reading up on
the different types of passenger aircraft and their safety records. The Boeing 767
that I was on was still doing 300kmh. If it was a car, I would have been screaming
my lungs out. If you thought about it, the numbers were impressive: a fully
loaded 767 weighed roughly 200 metric tons, roughly equivalent to 160 family
cars. This heavy metal tube hurtled through the air at a cruising speed of
870kmh, 30 000ft above the ground.
The tricky, and most dangerous part was to get this huge piece of metal
stationary on a strip of concrete averaging 150ft by 3km – without damaging the
aircraft or killing anyone inside. A neat trick – if you can pull it off. Landing a
modern-day passenger airliner smoothly and safely was a skill I greatly admired
and appreciated. I was extremely grateful to every pilot that had ever delivered
me to my destination safely. Yet, even with the knowledge that flying was the
safest form of transport, my visceral fear of plunging to my death trapped in
metal cage that would undoubtedly explode on impact, resulting in my hellish
death, ensured that my landing countdown habit survived. If that ‘one day’ ever
came, giving up flying would not be voluntary. This pilot was good. There was an
almost imperceptible bump as the back wheels touched down, swiftly followed
by the nose wheel. “He must be old school,” I surmised. The deafening roar of
reverse thrust jet engines filled the cabin as the pilot simultaneously braked,
rapidly slowing down the aircraft to a speed that allayed my fear of dying in a
fiery ball. Four kilometers may be a long walk but is not an exceptionally long
distance to bring a 200-ton object traveling at 300kmh to a safe stop.
The tense silence was broken by the PA: “Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to
Johannesburg where the local time is 8.45am. Please remain seated with your
seatbelt fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete stop. On behalf of
Emirates Airways, I would like to thank you for choosing us as your preferred
carrier. We fly to over 120 destinations, so we hope you choose Emirates
Airways for your next affordable vacation. We wish you all a pleasant stay in
South Africa and hope to see you soon. Have a wonderful day.”
I opened my eyes and peered out of the porthole. Johannesburg. What a dump. I
was a beach bum. I grew up in South Beach, Durban, home to some of the best
surf in the country. The beach had been our playground. It was free. And only 375
small steps from door to ocean. How did I know this? It was a little-known fact
that Dunlop - yes, the same Dunlop that makes the tyres – dabbled in expanding
into water sports back in the early 70s. Durban was a Dunlop stronghold in those
days, with a tyre factory, a gold ball factory and a sports division called
Dunlop/Slazenger. I was too young to know the details, but some big knob at
Dunlop decided to get a prototype surfboard made.
Somehow, at the tender age of 10, I ended up learning how to surf on this 10ft
monstrosity. Being four foot something at the time, my daily after school
workout was to get this monster to the beach and back. I was too small to put
the board under my arm, so I balanced it on my head and took very small steps
until I reached the beach. This might have been where my counting habit started.
One, two, three…three hundred and seventy-four, three hundred and seventy-
five.
It was exhausting, but between carrying the board to the beach and surfing all
afternoon, I was the strongest and fittest guy in my school. I miss that surfboard.
My father loves to drive. Road trips excite him. I feel the same way. As one of the
management team at Slazenger, he was obligated to attend the Dunlop Masters
golf tournament in Johannesburg every year, and, as it took place during the
school holidays, we would all go along in the car. My brother and I got up to a lot
of mischief at the golf course and we generally ended up playing with the other
‘abandoned’ kids whose parents didn’t have babysitters. But that was it. The golf
course was the only part of Johannesburg I liked. I vowed at an early age that I
would never work in Johannesburg. And I never have, despite once being offered
a well-compensated computer programming job by a national bank.
Technically, it was still autumn, but it definitely felt like winter as I exited the
climate-controlled aircraft and shivered my way up the passenger boarding
bridge into the warmer terminal building. A morning arrival at OR Tambo airport
was always a schlep. All the overnight flights arrived within a couple of hours of
each other, resulting in bottlenecks at passport control. Slinging my backpack
over my shoulder, I hurried to overtake the slower passengers, striding as fast as
my creaky knees would allow. Reaching the escalator that descended down to
the arrival's hall, I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath as I saw the
already long queues snaking between the maze of retractable-belted
stanchions, “Shit! This isn’t good.”
It has always amazed me how restrained most passengers were when it came to
queuing in airports, especially after a long-haul flight. Flying made me tired and
irritable. I was generally a patient person – when I wasn’t tired. Or driving. Road
rage was a concept I was very familiar with.
Resigned to my fate, I joined the SOUTH AFRICAN PASSPORTS ONLY line and let
my mind wander as I shuffled forward on autopilot, shifting my heavy backpack
from shoulder to shoulder whenever my muscles stiffened up.
Well, I’m alive. When I eventually clear immigration, I can chill out.
My usual routine was to go straight from the baggage carousel to the Spur
restaurant at the food court on level 2, where I enjoyed a few cold Black Labels
and accompanying cigarettes.
The breakfast of champions!
The arrivals hall was quite cavernous, with high concrete ceilings supported by
numerous massive pillars arranged in a rectangular grid. A huge digital screen
dominated the nearest wall.
Nicole Kidman, of milky skin fame, filled the screen like some BIG SISTER
admonishing her minions for flying Emirates, when, anybody who was intelligent
enough would know that Etihad was the only airline to fly with. I must admit, she
had aged gracefully. I doubted that she would have agreed to be the face of the
‘Flying Reimagined’ campaign for anything less than 7 figures. The Emiratis could
afford it.
It reminded me of a joke: “Do you know that the people in Dubai don’t like the
Flintstones? But the people in Abu Dhabi do!”
Abu Dhabi had never been on my bucket list, but life is unpredictable, and I had
eventually ended up going there six years ago. I had been working as an English
lecturer in Saudi Arabia at the time, or, as I liked to call it – The Land That Fun
Forgot.
Teaching in the Kingdom was not a physically demanding job. Lectures were
allocated evenly throughout the working week, allowing enough free time to do
all the boring admin that comes with the job. Usually, the commute to work and
back was more demanding than the work itself.
Living (I prefer the term ‘existing’) in the desert was a mental challenge –
especially for westerners. Not only was the climate dry – but it was also dry in
the sense that there was no alcohol. At first, this had been a problem for me, as I
was known to be a heavy drinker, and I had to resort to making homemade wine
in my apartment. Red grape juice was not always readily available since almost
every teacher was making home brew, so I became something of a pioneer,
experimenting with many combinations of fruit juice. My conclusion: peach juice
makes the strongest ‘wine’. Eventually, my enthusiasm for home brew waned,
and, without realizing it, I became a teetotaler. I mean, not totally teetotal, but
totally able to live without craving it. Which was a good thing. My liver has done
some serious mileage in my lifetime. Saudi Arabia gave it a chance to recover. A
blessing in disguise.
The upside of working in Saudi was that we got a 6 week break during Ramadan.
Normally, I would go travel for a week or two and then fly back to South Africa to
see family and friends. During my time in Saudi, I had compiled a bucket list of
all the countries I wanted to visit in my lifetime, but I also included some
countries that I didn’t particularly want to visit – but had to.
India, for example. The thought of going to a hot, smelly, overcrowded third-
world country did not fill me with joy. But – that is where the Taj Mahal is. Egypt is
another. I had already visited the pyramids of Giza the previous year. It had been
a horrible experience. It seemed that every Egyptian I met was trying to scam me
out of money. The important thing was that I had ticked that box off and had the
photos to prove it. Never again.
So, a few weeks before Ramadan, I found myself going through my bucket list
trying to decide which destination to visit. The New seven Wonders of the World
are as follows: The Great Wall of China; Chichen Itza in Mexico; Machu Picchu in
Peru; Christ the Redeemer in Brazil; The Taj Mahal in India; The Pyramids of Giza
in Egypt and Petra in Jordan. Petra was closest – just a skip and a hop across the
border with Jordan. Famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit
system, it is also sometimes called the Rose City due to pinkish hue of the
sandstone cliffs the city is carved into.
I remember feeling a bit conflicted at the time. Yes, Petra was high on my list, but
what I really craved was somewhere far away from the Middle East where I could
swim in the sea and sip sundowners on the beach before a night on the town.
Someplace where I could switch off and relax. But that little logical voice in my
head kept nagging me: ‘It is literally next door. Don’t lose this opportunity to tick
the Petra box!’
The universe knows. It had listened to me. It provided me with what I needed –
not what I wanted.
That same night, I received a text on Messenger.
“Hello stranger. How are you doing? I believe you are working in Saudi Arabia
now?”
It was from Carol. That was a shock. A genuine blast from the past. Carol had
been a good friend at college, more than 30 years ago. I had always wondered if
the two of us would have ended up dating if it wasn’t for the fact that we both
had partners at the time. I had always fancied her. She was different from the
other girls. More shy and reserved. The opposite of a social butterfly.
“Hello Carol. I hope you are well. You are the last person I expected to hear from.
Yes, I am now teaching in Saudi. I've been here 6 years now. What are you up to
these days? Still teaching?”
“Hi again. I wasn’t sure you were going to reply. It’s been over 30 years since we
last saw each other. I separated from my husband earlier this year and decided
to travel the world at last. Well…teach and travel. I’m currently teaching in Abu
Dhabi.”
“Oh, good for you. I believe the teachers are well paid in Abu Dhabi. I don’t mean
to be rude, but did you end up marrying your boyfriend from college? Tony, I think
his name was.”
“Yes. We have been married 25 years. Two kids – one girl and one boy. One at
college and one still in high school. But he strayed. So, we are busy with divorce
proceedings. And you?”
“I also ended up marrying my girlfriend from college. But I also strayed. What
can I say – all men are bastards. We did have 10 good years together. I think we
got serious too young. I never had the chance to roam the world and sow my
seed. No biological kids.”
“What do you mean – no biological kids?”
“Long story. I tell you what. If you invite me to visit you in Abu Dhabi, I’ll tell you
all about it over a glass of wine.”
“Really? You want to visit? OK. It will be good to catch up. BTW, I stopped
drinking when I got married. Never touched a drop until I discovered that my
husband was cheating on me. The good news is that I now have a fully stocked
bar in my apartment. Divorce is more stressful than I imagined. I finally
understand why so many people love to drink. But I’m still an apprentice
compared to you. You’ll find that I am a cheap date.”
Petra was soon forgotten. After six years of being single and stuck in a rut, I now
had something to look forward to. Carol. Or was I reading the signals wrong?
Exiled alone in the desert, my relationship skills were a bit rusty. But as they say
in Russia: “Hope is the last thing to die.”
If I was right, my drought would soon end and the seeds long dormant in my
barren heart would be nourished allowing romance to blossom once again. I
booked a flight to Abu Dhabi for the following weekend.
“It’s the real deal. A hundred percent electric.”
Images of Carol receded into the mists of my mind as I realized that I was still
staring at the big digital billboard. Christopher Walken was getting into the new
BMW EV, the Chinese looking valet mimicking him as he did, “It’s the real deal.”
I had read somewhere that he never agreed to do a movie unless he was allowed
to do a dance sequence. Good for him. Personally, I loved to shake it up on the
dance floor despite once being told that I look like two rhinos mating when I
dance. I could never dance sober though. It took Dutch courage – aka alcohol.
During World War Two, one could not go anywhere in the UK without seeing a
war poster with the idiom: “Loose lips sink ships.” Alcohol was a great loosener
of lips – but in my case, a loosener of the hips. What I lacked in grace I made up
for in energy. Give me 6 beers and I can stay on the dance floor all night. The
same applies to karaoke. I was an even worse singer than I was a dancer, but I
really enjoyed singing and I was used to getting strange looks from people when I
stopped at a red light while singing along to an oldies tune. The people who say
to you: “Stop that – you are embarrassing yourself,” are actually saying: “Stop
that – you are embarrassing me.”
Christopher Walken was a hero of mine. He never got embarrassed. One of my
favorite scenes from his movies is that scene from “The Deer Hunter,” - a movie
he won Best Supporting Actor for – when Walken, De Niro and the boys are in the
bar playing pool and singing along to ‘I Love You Bay-Beeee.’ A confident Walken
oozes coolness as he grooves and sings along – all the while getting thrashed at
pool by De Niro. For a shy child like myself, his confidence was inspiring. I had
always been concerned about what other people thought of me, but Walken was
silently telling me to just be myself and not worry about what others thought.
The slowly snaking queue seemed to be moving slower than usual. Most
international flights to South Africa connected in Johannesburg, and, being a
frequent flyer, I had a good idea of the average time spent at Arrivals. My eyes
were bleeding, my head throbbed and my patience was wearing thin. A Black
Label would taste sooo good right now.
My best friend, Mack, had agreed to meet up with me at the Spur. I was going to
be spending a couple of nights at his house before flying to Durban. He was a
true friend who always went the extra mile to help friends and family. Owning his
own company allowed him some flexibility, so he always fetched me from the
airport whenever needed. I glanced at my cheap watch.
9.30am. Shit! Already! Better message Mack. I sent him a WhatsApp message.
Hi. Immigration queue is very slow. Are you here yet?
There was no immediate reply, but that was normal. Mack spent a lot of time
driving around Johannesburg for work. He seldom texted while driving. Two
minutes went by until a beep alerted me of a message notification.
Ok. No worries. I’m stuck in traffic. There was another car jacking up ahead.
Cops all over the place. Once I get through the bottleneck it should take me
about ten minutes. I’ll wait for you at the Spur.
Cool. See you there.
I knew that once I left the airport an insidious cloud of darkness would creep into
my mind as I ventured once more into the reality of South Africa in 2024.
Carjackings didn’t even make the top ten on the list of problems the country
faced on a daily basis. If there were an Olympics of Crime, South Africa would
have the most gold medals. Highest murder rate in the world; highest number of
rapes in the world; highest number of carjackings in the world, and a litany of
lesser crimes that would easily be worthy of silver or bronze.
But even more frustrating than the moral and physical decay of the country over
the last 30 years was the fact that, as a white South African, I was not allowed to
comment.
“White privilege.”
“You’re a racist boer.”
“Apartheid was your fault.”
Unlike a lot of other violence-ridden countries, South Africa had negligible
religious violence. It was all based on the color of your skin. Black is beautiful.
And untouchable.
I could feel the weight of hopelessness pressing down on my shoulders once
again, as it always did whenever I returned to South Africa – a place I now
hesitated to call ‘home.’ As part of the white minority, I could remember how
scared we were in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held in South
Africa.
“Are they going to drive us into the sea?”
“Will there be genocide?”
“Should I buy a gun?”
Somehow, a bloodbath was averted, thanks, in no small part, to Madiba Magic.
But Madiba was gone, and 30 years of a corrupt and inefficient ANC had
destroyed the country at all levels, resulting in millions of poor, desperate
citizens relying on pitiful handouts in the form of social grants. It was a cANCer.
The prognosis was death.
Death to all the dreams the youth once dared to dream.
Death to economic stability.
Death to service delivery.
Death to healthcare for all.
Death to equality.
Death to an honest police force.
In every aspect of society, the prognosis was the same: DEATH.
“Do you have a pen, sir?”
Startled, I looked up from my phone. An immigration officer clutching a pile of
official-looking forms was standing in front of me.
“Sorry. What did you say?”
“Our computers are offline at the moment. You need to fill out this arrival form
please sir. Do you have a pen?”
Taking the offered form, I replied, “Yes, I have a pen.” Teachers always had pens.
I looked around at the others in the queue. Nobody was willing to give up their
place in the line to go fill out the forms at the counters situated at the entrance
to the arrivals hall, preferring to struggle along clutching bags and desperately
trying to complete the form before they reached the front of the queue. It was no
easy task. I had long ago realized the importance of choosing the correct pen.
One that would write easily without having to press down hard. Using the back of
my rucksack to press on, I managed to complete the form just as I reached the
front of the line. It was probably not legible, but I figured that the immigration
officials were under a bit of pressure and did not have the time to read the forms.
Stamp and stack.
Upon reaching the front of the line, the ‘queue usher’ indicated, teacher style –
open hand with thumb tucked in – that I should go to the furthest counter on the
left. I complied.
“Good morning, sir. Welcome back to South Africa. Can I have your passport and
form please?”
“Sure,” as I slipped them both under the thick pane of glass. I was curious to see
how they were recording passenger information. It appeared they weren’t. South
Africans were used to offline computers in government departments, with Home
Affairs and Motor Licensing being notorious for frequent downtime, but this was
a first.
A sign of the times.
Hurriedly placing my form on an unsteady pile, he quickly stamped me into the
country.
“Thank you, sir. Enjoy your day,” as he handed me my passport with a Colgate
smile.
“You too.”
I strode purposefully towards the restrooms. The ridiculously early breakfast had
been delicious, but a tad too spicy. It was going to be a close call. Unfortunately,
the human body had not evolved sufficiently to allow one to rush whilst
clenching butt cheeks.
Why don’t they serve cereal for breakfast? I wondered as I waddled into the only
empty stall.
Phew! What a relief!
Now that I was able to relax for a bit, my thoughts went back to the omelet I had
eaten for breakfast. Durbanites were famous for their cast iron stomachs.
Durban had the biggest Indian population of any city outside of India and was
famous for its spicy food – curries; breyanis; vindaloo; rotis and bunny chows.
And so much more. I was feeling a bit embarrassed with myself for capitulating
to a spicy omelet, until I realized that it wasn’t the spice that got me – it was the
oil. My metabolism was very sensitive to oil. On the rare occasions when I
cooked with oil, I used coconut oil.
Having solved the metabolic mystery and ticked that box off in my head, I
finished my business and exited the stall and stood astride my backpack as I
washed my hands. Looking in the mirror, I noticed beads of sweat on my
forehead. Funny how an upset stomach can do that to a person. Such a fragile
ecosystem the human body was. There was a small toiletries compartment in
my backpack. Unzipping it halfway, I grabbed a new bar of DOVE soap and gave
my face a good scrub.
Ahhh! So much better!
Slinging my backpack over one shoulder, I went in search of a trolley and had to
walk to the far side of the huge hall to find one.
Damn! I must have spent more time in the bathroom than I realized.
Eventually finding one abandoned in a far corner, I scrunched up the paper
towel I had used to wipe my face into the trolley and headed off to carousel
number 5, which, according to the luggage information board, was where I would
be reunited with my bags. But, like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard - the
carousel was bare. No luggage to be seen. I realized that it wasn’t even moving.
Strange. They probably got the numbers mixed up.
Airport employees are used to seeing a lot of confused people. It was to be
expected. Thousands of passengers from a multitude of different countries,
many of them experiencing a new country with new rules and systems for the
first time. Anyone who has travelled will know that ‘fish out of water’ feeling. A
kind-looking, well-fed lady in a drabby brown uniform approached me. If she had
been wearing a badge, it might have said: ‘chief baggage attendant.’
Her training was kicking in - ‘Look for the early signs of panic and then swoop in
and save the day.’
“Hi sir, Were you on the Emirates flight from Dubai?”
“Yes. I thought the board said to come to this carousel.”
“Yes, it is the correct carousel sir. We had to take all the remaining bags off as
we need to use the carousel for the flight which has just arrived. Please follow
me.”
Confused, I glanced at my watch: 10.15am.
Wow! I must have really zoned out in the bathroom.
Following her to the LUGGAGE INFORMATION office on the other side of the
carousel, I spotted my big blue duffel bag immediately. My neck muscles
relaxed. Traveling was great, but losing your luggage was always bad. Incredibly,
this had only happened to me once, despite having flown hundreds of times. But
once was enough. The thought of having to go through the schlep again made me
tense.
I definitely need a beer.
Thanking the bag lady, I hoisted my heavy bag onto the trolley and headed for the
exit, stopping briefly to take a photo of an impressive life-size elephant skillfully
crafted from wire. It was the centerpiece of an Amarula marketing campaign,
strategically placed just before customs, ensuring all passengers had to walk
past it. Amarula was South Africa’s equivalent of Baileys Irish Cream – a creamy
liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree – or ‘elephant tree.’ There was a
wildlife movie called ‘Beautiful People’, which I had seen as a kid, with a famous
scene involving very intoxicated elephants and baboons that had feasted on the
ripe marulas. I could just imagine the disclaimer in the credits:
‘No baboons were squashed to death by elephants during the making of this
film.’
Having successfully navigated passport control and the baggage office, there
was just one more thing to do before enjoying an ice-cold beer – customs. As in
most countries, there were two lanes for exiting – one green and one red. In all
my years of traveling, the only items I ever had to declare were cigarettes and
alcohol that I had bought at the duty free, so I had never had to worry about
customs. Alcohol and cigarettes were more expensive in Thailand than South
Africa, so I didn’t even have that to worry about this time. Still, police made me
nervous – especially South African police. They were not to be trusted.
Striding confidently through the green NOTHING TO DECLARE lane, I casually
glanced across at 6 policemen tasked with policing the red SOMETHING TO
DECLARE lane. They were so engrossed in whatever they were discussing that I
imagined some animal smuggler confidently leading a tiger on a leash past the
jabbering cops.
In other countries, I would never glance at the customs officials as they might
interpret it as a sign of guilt. Not that I had anything to hide. But I was ‘blessed’
with a rugged face which made me a constant target for immigration profilers.
Heathrow was the worst. I had once spent 9 hours being interrogated at
Heathrow Airport. Only 4 people were ‘randomly’ chosen from the queue that
day – myself and 3 men who could all have been related to me. My own brother
had less similarities than those 3. London, New York, China, Puerto Rico,
Thailand, Cambodia. I had been questioned in all those countries. Traveling on a
South African passport was bad enough. But when you looked like a cross
between Conan the Barbarian and Lurch, cross border travel became
interesting.
I continued to look at the loose circle of cops jabbering away in the red lane as I
pushed my trolley towards the exit. Nobody made eye contact. Many years of
proctoring exams had taught me a thing or two about reading body language. The
moment a student looked up from his test to check where I was, I knew they
were either cheating or about to cheat. And here I was tempting fate. There was
no legitimate reason to stop and search me. I had nothing to declare. But one
could never tell in South Africa. There was still so much racism and hate in the
country. One wrong word or movement and things could escalate quickly. The
cautious part of my brain was telling me to look away, but the larger, more
curious part was unable to obey. That same curious part of the brain was ‘taking
stock.’
It had been a year since my last visit to SA. I made a point of reading about South
African news and keeping up to date with the major developments. But like with
so many things in life, firsthand experience was more valuable than words. The
past 30 years had seen a gradual decline in the standard of living of most South
Africans, especially the majority black population. The African National
Congress (ANC), once a famous liberation movement led by an even more
famous Nelson Mandela, had encountered what so many other African states
had – an inability to transform from a kaleidoscope of colorful individuals, held
together by a common goal, to an honest, efficient, selfless government that put
the needs of the ‘liberated’ before personal gain.
Being a teacher of history, it was sometimes painfully obvious how weak and
predictable human nature was. I didn’t believe that history repeated itself, but I
did belief that when it came to human nature, the eventual outcome would
always be the same. Greed trumped ‘the greater good’ every time.
Hitler, undoubtedly the most infamous person in modern history, was just
another man with issues. When he was appointed Chancellor in 1933, he might
have just been another angry man determined to escape the yoke of the Treaty of
Versailles. Power is a drug. It is debatable whether he had it all planned out well
in advance or not, but his intermittent passing of new laws enabled him to
achieve his ultimate goal – becoming The Fuhrer – THE LEADER. The trick was to
notch it up slowly, so that people had time to adapt to the new reality, just like
the ‘boiling a frog’ metaphor.
Dropping a frog into boiling water results in the frog jumping straight out of the
pot, but, if you put the frog into a pot of warm water, it will stay put. When you
gradually increase the temperature, the frog doesn’t realize it is being boiled
alive. The same applies to politics. South Africa was not Germany, and Cyril
Ramaphosa was not Adolf Hitler, but the principle was the same. The ANC,
especially under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, had gradually passed a series of
laws which were sometimes collectively referred to a ‘reverse apartheid’ laws.
BBBEE was one example. It was supposedly an effective way to promote black
empowerment, but, in reality, it was nothing more than a mechanism for
corruption which resulted in an increase in incompetent companies, a skewed
economy and tender fraud. The rich got richer while unemployment numbers
increased. Every 5 years, during an election year, the ANC would make the usual
promises, form the usual committees and task forces and tell the same lies. It
amazed me that after two decades of complete mismanagement and theft, the
ANC was still in power.
How could that possibly be?
There was only one other thing that was as puzzling as the mystery of the ANC
still being in power, and that was the concept of infinity. I could never wrap my
brain around the idea of an infinite universe. The ANC still being in power after
screwing the pooch was same-level shit.
How could the citizens not see the futility of repetition? How could they not see
that the cause of their hardship was NOT the apartheid government of 30 years
ago, but the corrupt ANC government. Was it possible that people could be so
gullible as to believe all the lies and promises?
Their inability or unwillingness to react to the sinister threats posed by the ANC
was frustrating. It amounted to a suspension of disbelief – like watching the
same Roadrunner cartoon every day and still believing that Wile E Coyote was
going to catch the roadrunner.
Was it because they were just too busy trying to survive the bleak circumstances
that now prevailed in South Africa? For millions of poor black unemployed
citizens, the daily grind to survive left no time for thinking and analysis. Food was
expensive, water was scarce, and jobs were non-existent. Maybe they were in
denial? Maybe they could not allow themselves to believe that their beloved
liberators would ever deceive them? Almost like a child believing that his mother
is a good woman despite evidence to the contrary. It reminded me of a
conversation I had had back in 2007, the year that Jacob Zuma rigged the 52nd
National Conference in Polokwane to resurrect himself from political hell and
become the next president of South Africa, resulting in what is usually referred to
as ‘the nine wasted years.’
I had been sitting in a bar in Durban watching the news on TV when they
announced the results. “Jacob Zuma has been elected as the new leader of the
ANC.” Being an inner-city bar, many of the patrons were black – mostly Zulus. As
a regular, I knew most of them by name. Prince, a Zulu in his 40s, was cheering
loudly as he heard the announcement.
“Prince,” I said, “why are you so happy? Zuma was fired as Deputy President
because of corruption. He’s a skebenga.”
“Yes, we know, but he’s our skebenga!”
Tribalism was not an easily understood concept amongst modern Europeans. If
your tribe had the most power and influence, then life was good, irrespective of
how that power was acquired. Since 2007, there had been 16 years of
systematic plundering of the state coffers. None of the money went to the poor
and needy. It was a tribal mindset.
Our leader (chief) is a Zulu. If he has a big kraal, many cattle, a firepool and a
concubine, then he is a great chief, and the Zulu nation is the strongest.
It didn’t matter that the chief kept all wealth and power for himself. This had
always been the way. It was all about prestige. The Zulus were in charge – that's
all that matters.
Every time I returned to South Africa, it became more apparent that the country
was accelerating towards ‘failed state’ status. I could see it clearly. The writing
was on the wall. I was not a frog. It had been many years since I had lived in
South Africa permanently, but I had been stuck in the country during the COVID
lockdown and had had a glimpse of how precarious and volatile the country was
during the riots of July 2021, widely thought to be instigated by Zuma loyalists.
My annual trip to South Africa was like being allowed to look into a mirror only
once a year. When you look in the mirror every day, you do not notice the small
changes, but taking a snapshot once a year and placing them in sequence, gave
me a clearer picture of reality in South Africa than the frogs that lived there. This
frog was still free and hopping around the world and not confined to the cauldron
of South African politics.
And as for cops. They were not to be trusted. Anywhere. Inevitably, their
intelligence was out of proportion to the amount of power they wielded. Every
year, I asked my students what they wanted to be when they left school. Every
year, almost every one of my lazy troublesome students would reply,
“Policeman, teacher.”
For a schoolkid, it was a no brainer. After just a few short months of training, any
insecure and troublesome youngster could get a nice government salary, a great
pension plan, a smart-looking uniform, a company car and a GUN! Who needs a
university education?
Oh, and don’t forget about the infinite money-making possibilities available to
corrupt cops. Ironically, the profession largely attracted candidates with the
opposite traits required for law enforcement. Or maybe I was looking at it the
wrong way. Maybe it was a case of fighting fire with fire. If the cops always played
by the rules, then the baddies would always win. All I knew right now was that
the merry band of red lane guardians were too engrossed in their conversation to
notice me staring at them.
The knot in my neck that had appeared at the baggage carousel was coming
back. I was still at the airport and I could already feel the helplessness I always
felt when returning ‘home.’
OK then. Take a deep breath and fok maar voort.
With some effort, I managed to bring my train of thought to a halt and focus on
beer.
Let’s get the flock outta here and go chill.
I deftly maneuvered my trolley around an elderly couple that were having
difficulty with their trolley - it was like a woman; it had a mind of its own. The two
huge, automated glass doors at the end of the lane opened and spilled a few
trolleys into the waiting area, where hundreds of people waited for loved ones. A
cute little girl wearing a pastel pink dress with matching ribbons in her hair, was
holding up a sign that read: I MISSED YOU DADDY. LOVE, CLARA.
You see some of the happiest people at the arrivals section of airports. I smiled
as I slowly pushed my way through the throng. Children were shrieking with glee
as they were reunited with family and there was plenty of hugging and kissing
going on. I knew the world was a messed-up place, but the infectious laughter of
the happy kids and the genuine loving smiles of family and friends restored my
faith in humanity once more.
A long row of meet and greeters stood patiently around the exit to the pickup
point, each holding a placard with some passenger’s name on it. It was a job I
had done before, and I recognized the desperation on their faces. It was a shit
job, sometimes requiring you to wait a few hours due to flight delays. They were
all looking at me, hoping that I was the ONE who could end their wait and they
could finally leave the airport.
Catching the lift up to the second floor, I parked my trolley in front of the Spur
restaurant entrance and headed straight for my usual booth in the smoking
section. I needed to switch my brain off. My mind was like the sword of
Damocles – full of knowledge, which gave me power – but too sharp to ignore the
dangers that lay ahead - which led to fear.
It was like a gyroscope, constantly in motion and going in many different
directions at once. I absorbed everything. My brain was continuously analyzing
every scenario, assessing risks, and formulating plans of action. It needed to
rest. I thought too much. It was the cause of my insomnia. It could be slowed
down with enough alcohol, but nothing could shut it down completely.
That’s probably why I am an argumentative drunk, I mused.
Arriving back in South Africa after a long absence always took some adjusting to.
For those armchair travelers who didn’t own a passport, Thailand was some
third world country in Asia full of rice farmers and prostitutes, but, in reality, the
standard of living was higher than in the land of my birth. But that wasn’t the
reason why I loved Thailand so much. Living in South Africa was stressful. Crime
was rampant, electricity scarce, jobs non-existent and the political landscape
was a minefield. As a member of the white minority, it had become abundantly
clear to me that the ‘equality’ guaranteed to all citizens in the Constitution did
not apply.
Some pigs are more equal than others.
“Good morning, sir. Here is a menu. Anything to drink?”
“Morning Joseph,” I said, reading the plastic name badge of the young black
waiter assigned to me.
“I’m not eating. I’ll start off with two cold Black Labels please. Oh, and bring me
an ashtray.”
“Certainly sir. Two Black Labels coming up.” Seeing me light up, he quickly
fetched an ashtray from an empty table and placed it in front of me.
“Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, sir. I’ll be back with your beers shortly.”
“Great stuff.”
No sooner had Joseph exited the smoking section in pursuit of cold beer than
Mack’s bulky frame filled the doorway.
“The prodigal son returns!” he bellowed.
I stood smiling as he strode briskly through the deserted room towards me. We
shook hands and clapped each other on the back in the typical macho way of
men.
“So, you finally made it. Not that I am in a hurry,” I remarked as he sat down on
the opposite bench.
“Ja. Flippin carjackers. Caused a real traffic jam they did. At least I know they will
never target me.”
Toyotas were by far the most desired brand of car in southern Africa. VWs were
second. Mack’s beat-up Ford Fiesta was not on any carjacker’s wish list.
“Here you go, sir,” said Joseph as he placed the beers on the table. “Will you be
eating, sir,” he asked Mack.
“Nah! I’ll just have a coffee, thanks.”
“Which kind of coffee would you like, sir?”
“I miss the old days,” I interjected. “You could just order a coffee and it would
come. These days, I don’t even know what language they are speaking.
Americano, cappuccino, latte, flat white, espresso shot and who knows what
else? Can you even order just a normal coffee nowadays? Would they even
understand you if you ordered a coffee without the bells and whistles?”
“Whoa! China. Before you start ranting and raving, let me order my coffee.”
Turning back to Joseph, he said, “I’ll have a latte please. The biggest cup you
have. Thanks.”
“And bring me two more beers please Joseph,” I requested before he had time to
disappear.
“Certainly, sir. Two Zamaleks and an extra-large latte coming up.”
“Shit, are you thirsty? You look like you are settling in for the long haul,” joked
Mack as he surveyed the beers.
“No, Mack, I am not settling in for the long haul. It is wrong to think of it as having
4 beers. Compared to our youth, modern day beers are now smaller. This would
only be 3 small beers back in 1976. If they sold litre bottles of beer at Spur, then
it would only be one and a quarter beers.”
“And that’s why we are friends,” Mack laughed, “you always have had a different
perspective on things.”
“Exactly. You and I against the world, Mack. Ever since basic training. But, on a
more serious note, do you must rush off anywhere? If so, I’m sure I could down
these beers before you finish your big cup of coffee.”
“You know how it goes. Always on standby. Winter is our crazy time. Still a few
weeks to go. But I might get a call at any time. Relax. Enjoy your beer. No sweat.”
“OK. Great. Good to see you again.”
“My goodness. Are you getting soft in your old age? You have never been one for
pleasantries and small talk. Should I be concerned?”
“Perhaps,” I laughed. “I’m still a bit shell-shocked from my last relationship. You
know, the Japanese woman.”
“Ahhh! Yes! That might explain it.”
“It could also be because I am once again experiencing a mid-life crisis. The two
are more than likely connected.”
“Yes. The ego is fragile. So, old boy – what number are you in now? Is this your
third mid-life crisis? I lose track.”
“To be honest, I don’t recall. But, seeing that what I call ‘my life’ feels more like
multiple lives, maybe we are allowed one crisis per life. You know, looking back
at my time on earth, it becomes noticeably clear that since I left school, every
decade has represented a new life. Like being reborn, but with just a little bit
more knowledge each time.”
“I know what you mean.” Mack is 6 days older than me. We have known each
other for over 40 years.
“We have got to that stage where we can no longer use ‘mid-life’ as an adjective.
Those day are gone.”
“Unless we live to be 120,” I chirped, trying to lighten the mood.
“Ja, that’s not gonna happen.”
“But women aside, my real battle is against ageing. Since I was a small boy, my
goal in life was to reach 60. Well, I also wanted to be Arnold Scwarzenegger, but
getting to 60 seemed more achievable. Here’s the thing though- now that I have
achieved my goal, I need a new goal. I didn’t expect to be so fit and healthy at 60.
I need to find a goal Mack.”
“Yes, you do. Otherwise, you are just a ship without a rudder.”
“An old ship, you mean,” I joked.
“OK, so let’s look at this logically...”
One of the main reasons we got on so well was because we were both logical
and analytical, which was also the reason why we seldom disagreed on anything
because we always reached the same conclusion.
“You need a goal. Your previous goal was a long-term goal. Your next one will be
a short-term goal, assuming you live another 20 years. Do you agree so far?”
“Yes.”
“Do you want to live another 20 years?”
“That’s a tricky question. One that I have thought about a lot recently. If money
and health were not factors, maybe. Right now, I am healthier than I have been in
30 years, but financially, the opposite. I spent my pension during COVID.”
“Ja, saving money is like trying to grab a fistful of sand. COVID pretty much wiped
me out as well. I exist at the mercy of the banks. On credit.”
“You know me, Mack. I have never chased money. But, of course, even if it
cannot buy happiness, it is still a very useful commodity to have. It makes life
easier, and, in my case, enables me to travel the world. Don’t laugh - but do you
know what I would buy if I had the money and if it was scientifically possible?”
“What?”
“A head transplant. One with a smaller nose and American teeth. But first and
foremost – no wrinkles!”
“Hah-ha! You’re so vain. Mmmm, that would be a good name for a song?”
“Not vain, really. It’s just that after 6 months of regular gym, my body is looking
too good for my face. So, I would like a new face. Or – I could just smash all the
mirrors in the house. Looking in the mirror depresses me more each month.
Imagine how suicidal I will be in another 20 years’ time!”
“Yup. I know that feeling. Every morning that I look in the mirror is like shock
therapy. There’s always this old man staring at me and silently mouthing WTF!!”
I finished my third beer and sighed, “Mirrors are depressing.”
Just then, Mack’s phone started vibrating violently and appeared to be saddened
by our conversation and making its way to the edge of the red and white-
checkered tablecloth, intent on ending it all by leaping to the ground and
smashing into smithereens.
“I guess it’s time,” he said as he answered the call.
*
There was a reason they used to call Johannesburg eGoli. Without the discovery
of gold in 1886, it would have never grown to be the economic heart of Africa. It
had no redeeming factors. I hated the place.
“Mack, have I ever told you before that I hate Johannesburg?”
“Yes, all the time,” Mack replied as he exited the M1 motorway and shot through
a lightless 4-way intersection and turned sharply right, throwing my body forcibly
against the flimsy passenger door of his Fiesta.
I trusted Mack with my life. It had always been that way. A friendship forged in
the army was built on trust and reliability. What I didn’t trust though, was that
someone else might also decide that treating a four-way intersection as a four-
way stop street was a waste of time in lawless Johannesburg. I thought of frogs
again.
This is what happens when you start getting used to dystopia. You change. You
take risks. I preferred Thailand – where everything worked, and people all got
along. The people of Thailand had respect and trust – two attributes that were in
short supply in my home country.
“I’ll drop you at the house and then I must go to the office. You know the drill. I
see you when I see you.”
“Yup, I know the drill. I won’t cook supper, but I’ll go get some snacky things in
case you are hungry when you get back. If you get home at a reasonable hour, we
can have a cheese and wine party.”
“A party, hey? Ha-ha! Two sad old men getting drunk is now called a party.”
“Yes. How far is it to home? In minutes?”
“About 10. Why?”
“Ok. I have time for a joke.”
“Have I ever told you that you are a terrible joke teller?”
“Yes, many times. And has that ever stopped me? No. Anyway, just drive nicely
and listen.”
“Yes, boss.”
“So, this Aussie gets divorced and decides to move far away from his ex. He buys
a smallholding on the fringes of the outback, with a few cattle and some
chickens. He’s sitting on his porch one Sunday afternoon and notices a cloud of
dust on the horizon. Intrigued and with nothing else to do, he continues to watch
the dust cloud as it slowly moves towards him, and he eventually realizes that it
is a ute driving along the dirt road.”
“What’s a ute?”
“A utility vehicle. A bakkie.”
“Oh, OK. Continue.”
“The bakkie stops in his yard and out springs a crocodile Dundee type guy
dressed in khaki shorts and matching shirt.
“Hello mate! I’m your nearest neighbor. I heard this place had been sold and I
wanted to come and invite you to a welcome to the neighborhood party.”
“Good day mate! You’re the first person I have seen since I moved here. Fancy a
beer?”
“Sure.” The guy gets a beer, and they sit on the porch enjoying the cold beer.
“So, when is this party?”
“Friday night. There will be booze, there will be dancing, there will be great music
and a BBQ. There might even be sex.”
“Sounds great! Thanks for the invite. Should I bring something?”
“No need mate – it's just the two of us.”
I started laughing at my own joke, “Ha-ha-ha!”
“Oh my God! You really suck at jokes.”
“You didn’t think it was funny?”
“It had potential. Remember, I’m sober. You’re the one that’s been drinking.
Maybe wait until I’ve had half a bottle of wine before you tell me another one.”
“I’m hurt,” I said in a mock sulky voice.
“No, you’re not,” said Mack smiling.
*
My phone rang. I looked at my watch. 7.35pm. “Are you at the gate?”
“Yup.”
“OK. Coming.”
Mack always left the remote with me because the only way out of the property
was via the driveway and he had never bothered to get a spare. Refreshed from
an afternoon nap, I hurried to the garage and pressed the red button which
opened the car port roller door then quickly pressed the blue button which
opened the huge metal sliding gate which allowed access to the road. Timing
was everything. Mack had already reversed up to the sliding gate allowing him to
drive into the car port before the automatic switch closed the roller door. Once
both gates were safely closed, we used the connecting door to get back into the
house.
“Busy day?”
“Every day is a busy day, but I’m not complaining. The busier we are the more
money we make.”
Like most South Africans of a certain age group, Mack was a hard worker. The
younger generation were mostly lazy and entitled, but the oldies were still known
for their good work ethic. In the earlier days of the ‘brain drain’, South Africans
emigrating to places like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK were highly
prized. To a lesser extent, this was still true, but the explosion of global refugee
and illegal immigrant number in the last decade had made emigrating much
tougher for Saffers.
“Ready for that wine?”
“I certainly am. What else did you get?”
“To drink – only wine- however, I did get some biltong, some cheddar cheese,
some crackers and some chocolate as well.”
“You are a mamba.”
“I know.”
Mack walked into the dining room with a towel wrapped around his waist. “Don’t
worry, I’m going to get dressed. Have you seen my phone anywhere?”
“No.”
“Do me a favor. Go look in the car please. It’s probably on the passenger seat.”
Returning with phone in hand, I found Mack fully dressed in jeans and a T-shirt,
sitting at the dining room table sipping on a glass of dry red – a torn brown paper
bag of beef biltong, already half empty, in one hand.
“La dolce vita, my friend. Cheers!” I toasted as I sat down and drained the rest of
my glass.
“Cheers! Welcome back to paradise,” he smiled sarcastically.
Mack was a muso at heart, but, as he had never learned to play a musical
instrument, his first real job was as a sound engineer. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was
playing on the stereo. But this was no ordinary stereo. Like a musical version of
Dr. Frankenstein, Mack had cannibalized parts from a number of stereos to build
himself the ‘Big Daddy’ of stereos, unlike anything ever seen before. It certainly
looked like a monstrosity, but the musical notes were as pure as if from Cupid’s
harp on Valentine’s Day.
Personally, I had stopped listening to music twenty years ago. Literally. I didn’t
own a stereo. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t have a single song on my phone, and I
never watched YOUTUBE music videos. Weird, I know. But the reason was even
weirder. I didn’t want my memories to be diluted by crap. Hip hop, rap and
synthetic music was oil, and my favorite music from the 70s to the 90s was
water. The two did not mix.
It was like stalking an ex-girlfriend from 30 years ago on Facebook. Those
beautiful images in your head were suddenly replaced by the reality of ageing.
The smooth skin and toned muscles became wrinkles and flab, and, once those
images entered your head, they could never be erased. The only oldies I liked
were musical. Women, I preferred younger.
Singing along to Queen, I prepared a plate of crackers and cheese, opened
another bottle of wine, and joined Mack at the table.
“Anything exciting happen at work today?” I felt like a wife asking her husband
about his day.
“One of my technicians on our biggest project was killed recently. I’m sort of
doing his job while we look for a replacement.”
“Sorry to hear that. How was he killed?”
“They broke into his house in Alexandria. It seems he heard them and confronted
them. He had a licensed gun. A lot of shots were fired. The cops found three
bodies. Him and two of the robbers.”
“Shit!”
“Ja. Hectic. His girlfriend just had a kid. Fortunately, they don’t live together.”
“You know, sad as it is, I blame the friggin politicians. Ever since Zuma, the
country has become the Wild West.”
“Ja. It starts at the top. Zuma has a lot to answer for.”
“I mean, it’s desperation that leads people to steal.”
“Not always.”
“No, not always. But you look at the correlation between the socio-economic
decline of South Africa and the increase in the crime rate. There’s a definite
link.”
“Ja. This country is fucked on so many levels.”
“I was watching BBC news on the plane. What’s the story with the IEC and the
Electoral Court? The one says Zuma can stand for election and the other one
says no. Do you know the details?”
“Well, sort of. Basically, the IEC ruled that Zuma cannot stand for election
because he has a criminal record. But Zuma appealed.”
“Of course. He always does. The infamous Stalingrad defense.”
“Exactly. Then, without clarifying its reasons, the Electoral Court overruled the
IEC decision to bar Zuma from standing.”
“Really? Interesting. Do you think they fear a repeat of July 2021?”
“Possibly. We might find out before the elections. Or not.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the IEC has now approached the Constitutional Court to sort it out. Let’s
see what happens.”
“As Trevor Noah once said, you can’t make this shit up. South African politics is
more complex and intriguing than even the best Hollywood movie.”
“A very tragic movie though.”
“Indeed.”
My Girl by the Temptations was now blasting out of the impressive array of
speakers.
“Don’t your neighbors ever complain about the noise?”
“Hey! It’s not noise – it's Motown baby! But, yes, they do,” he laughed.
“It’s quite late. I’m just going to turn the volume down a bit, OK? I don’t want any
drama.”
“No problem. I see that you still have an interest in politics even though you live
in paradise now.”
“Ergo sum animal politicum. I am a political animal.”
“Hey? Since when did you study Latin?”
“I didn’t. It was something I picked up from my English teacher at high school.
He was always translating Latin poetry for us.”
“The only line of Latin I remember is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
“Yes, I know that one as well. It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.
Sounds like horseshit to me.”
“Are you forgetting that we fought for our country?”
“No, of course I haven’t forgotten. But, if I’m not mistaken, that line was used in
a poem about World War One, when soldiers volunteered for service. It was an
honorable thing to do back then. We had no choice. Go fight or go to jail.”
“True.”
“I don’t think we even understood what we were fighting for. At least when
SWAPO finally liberated South-West Africa and renamed it Namibia, they didn’t
then decide to ransack their country. Not like the ANC did.”
“You should have been a politician. Actually, if I recall, you did try your hand at
politics. When was that again?”
“Yes, I did. Let’s see...that would be eighteen years ago now.”
“Do you still remember why you entered politics?”
“It was quite simple really. I wanted a community center built in my area and I
figured the only way it was going to happen was if I became a city councillor. But,
running against the ANC in Durban in those days was futile. If I was running this
time, things might be different.”
“So, the community center never happened?”
“Nope.”
“Ever thought of running again?”
“Actually, I almost ran again.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“My confidence and my ego were bruised. I couldn’t face the idea of two defeats
in a row. I will not allow myself to be beaten twice by the ANC. I’d rather eat
cockroaches.”
“That can be arranged,” laughed Mack.
“You know, whenever I used to complain to my parents that life was unfair, they
would tell me to get used to it. But I can’t. I can’t accept that people like Jacob
Zuma can do whatever they want without consequences. Mr. Untouchable.”
“Ja. It appears that there is no justice in this world. Didn’t you mention that you
were in Cambodia recently?”
“Yes, I was there 2 months ago.”
“You look at someone like Pol Pot. He would make Zuma look like an angel. You
would expect him to be hanged like Saddam Hussein was or to be taken out by
one of his many enemies. He ended up dying of old age while under house
arrest.”
“Hang on, let me GOOGLE that,” I said. Picking up my phone, I found the
Wikipedia page on Pol Pot. “It says here that he was only 72 when he died. Zuma
is already over 80 and looking very energetic as he campaigns for his new MK
party.”
“Ja. Despite being medically excused from serving jail time. Another Schabir
Shaik.”
“I don’t think Zuma plays golf though,” I smiled. “Any biltong left?”
Mack looked tired. The day had caught up with him, but he was too polite to
leave me to drink alone. There was still half a bottle of Nederburg left. As whiskey
was his drink of choice, I was confident that he was content to just finish what
was in his glass and leave the rest for me. Pouring myself a full glass of wine, I
said, “You look tired. You should go to bed. I’ll be fine.”
“Ja, I’ll think I’ll do that,” as he drained his glass and stood up. “I’ll see you in the
morning. Will you be up by 8?”
“Yes.”
“OK, good. You can let me out and keep the remote.”
“OK. Goodnight. See you in the morning.”
“Cheers.”
As I had grown older, my predisposition for beer had matured into a proclivity for
wine, especially dry, red wine. Thailand imposed heavy taxes on alcohol, which
made drinking wine there prohibitive. I was enjoying my wine buzz and listening
to the now muted sounds of Alphaville proclaiming how big they were in Japan.
Japan. A place I had never had any interest in. Until recently.
Almost a year has gone by since my world was turned upside down.
Part 2 – Seeing God
Her luscious rust red lips were equally plump on top and bottom. With closed
eyes she pressed her hips upwards to meet mine – little anime squeaks escaping
from her tortured face, like a beautiful hentai character. I knew it was not torture
that contorted her face. Agony and ecstasy had similar effects.
Our hips pushed urgently together in sync as we transcended to a higher plane. I
knew she was getting close. She always started kissing me when the end was
near, her lips now searching for mine, sensually brushing across my mouth
before I felt a little dart of her tongue probing for an opening. Obligingly, I parted
my lips, allowing her access, and our tongues coiled together like two pythons
wrestling.
She tried to grip my well-toned upper arms as I planked over her perfect petite
pale body, but her tiny hands kept losing their sweaty grip as we grinded together
as one. It had taken a few weeks to fall into sync, but now we were harmonious.
A cohesive orchestra of passion and pleasure. I had learned to slow it down.
No more ‘Slam-bam-thank you-ma’am’.
I was evolving. Sayuri had silently shown me the pleasures of tantric sex. She
was an experienced lover. She knew exactly how to read a man and how to mold
him to suit her needs. All without saying a word. I was now tuned into her body
signals. She never spoke in bed. Only anime. She was like a conductor, guiding a
symphonic orchestra to achieve perfection using only her hands. Our erotic
encounters had become increasingly longer and infinitely more pleasurable. I
doubted there was much room for improvement. I was in heaven.
We were like two teenagers at an amusement park, determined to go on all the
rides repeatedly, until we were exhausted. I leaned forward and nibbled on her
earlobe, her cervix nibbling my tip in response. I smiled to myself. Each time I
had discovered a new erogenous zone the intensity of our performance
increased, but I was hesitant to push the boundaries for fear of overreaching.
There were a few women in my life that I had been able to experiment sexually
with, but I sensed that Sayuri had a lot more limitations, due to her Japanese
culture. Grabbing her swiftly by her shapely buttocks, I turned turtle, holding her
tightly so as not to lose traction. I knew that she liked to finish on top. She was a
skilled rider. She placed her little hands on my hard pecs, as she adjusted her
hips to find the sweet spot of my rigid member. This was no amusement park – it
was a pleasure park. Endorphins flooded my brain as the intensity of the climatic
crescendo increased. I was sure I could see God – and I wasn’t even religious. It
reminded me of the traveler's mantra:
“It’s not the destination – it’s the journey.”
The journey was indeed a joyous experience - a time for exploration and
discovery, yet all good things must come to an end. And what an ending!
The anime squeaks were louder now as she focused laser-like on her pleasure
center, expertly massaging my member as the tension built up. I knew what to
do. Quickly wetting my forefingers and thumbs in my mouth, I grabbed her
nipples forcefully and squeezed tightly. Instantly, her slippery sheath contracted
around my magma-filled member. It was ready to erupt.
A torrent of anime poured out of her magnificent mouth as she climaxed
uncontrollably sparking an eruption deep inside her chamber, as she hinged
forward onto my chest and sucked on my top lip desperately, her thirsty thighs
pumping me dry as I spoke to God in tongues.
She waited until my convulsions had eventually stopped before gently
disengaging and gave me a knowing smile. Quickly grabbing her towel off the
bed, she stuck it between her legs and scuttled off to the nearby bathroom. After
almost two months of living together, I knew the procedure – wait two minutes
and then join her. I lay there grinning like a Cape Town cat feeling pleased with
himself.
How fortunate was I that the universe would align so that a shining star would
come into my orbit? I was eternally grateful that she had appeared in my life
when I was at my lowest point and had given me the will to live. No, she was
more than a shining star – she was an angel. A cliché maybe – but true,
nonetheless.
Snapping out of my reverie, I cupped myself with one hand and walked swiftly to
the bathroom and knocked softly on the bathroom door. I had quickly learned
that she liked to shower alone, and I respected her wishes. Sometimes I got my
timing wrong and had to wait outside until she was ready for me, but now it
opened immediately, and she took my hand and led me into the Thai-style
bathroom.
It was not a huge space, but big enough. In one corner was a porcelain toilet
bowl which had to be hand flushed with a bucket of water. Thai houses rarely
had cisterns. Mounted on the wall, level with my head, was an electric shower
heater with a shower head attached. We had never used it. The water pressure
was too low. In the corner nearest the door, was an old top loading washing
machine. It had recently died and now served as a counter for a bright pink
plastic tub. The washing machine tap, previously used to fill the top loader, was
positioned above the tub. I preferred these all-in-one ‘wet’ bathrooms. You
could make as big of a mess as you wished and then wash everything down the
drain hole.
Her shoulder length hair was tangled around her face. She had been rinsing it
when I knocked. Her hair was usually tied up in a bun. It was hot in Thailand. But
now, she looked better than any Playboy cover girl I had ever seen. She smiled
glowingly at me as she scooped water out of the bright pink plastic tub with a
pale pink plastic scoop and continued rinsing her hair, revealing two small scars
– one under each armpit.
One of our favorite past times was to lie in each other’s arms – stroking,
caressing, and exploring bodies. Not very talkative by nature, she surprised me
at times by suddenly talking about her past in an open and honest way. It made
me feel more connected to her. As we lay together in silence one night, I had
been tracing a line from her hip bone upwards, gently gliding over her ribs with
my long fingers, with no destination in mind. She had been lying on her side, with
one hand under her head, exposing her cleanly shaved armpits. I had felt a small
ridge of tissue as he explored her armpit, and she had shivered involuntarily as I
unintentionally tickled her. Curious, I had raised my head to see what the ridge
was and saw that it was a neat straight pinkish scar about 2 cm long.
“That seems odd,” I thought, as I lifted her other arm to look for a matching scar.
There was one.
My mother had once been a medical receptionist for a famous plastic surgeon
whose bread and butter had been boob jobs. She often brought work home with
her. This consisted of folders. One folder for each woman. Personal details,
medical records, and the thing that I loved the most – before and after photos of
the breast implant operations. I had a good idea of what the scars were, but
didn’t want to be impolite, so I had merely asked her what had caused the scars,
confident that she would confirm my suspicions.
“When I was a teenager, I had not real breasts.”
I had smiled at her slightly imperfect English. She was so adorably cute - a
learned practitioner of the art of kawaii.
“What happened to them? You don’t have them anymore.”
I was glad she didn’t. Her tiny, perfectly rounded titties could have been
sculpted by Da Vinci.
“I do not know. I did not need them anymore.”
I had left it at that. She was incredibly cute and sexy, and I could only imagine
that she had been somehow even sexier as a teenager. Since meeting her, I had
been reading up on Japanese culture which I found very different from what I was
used to and most interesting. There seemed to be paradoxical cultural beliefs in
Japan. From what I could gather, they worked extremely hard yet tended to binge
drink afterwards. It was an acceptable part of their culture. No judgement – but
only if you work hard. The teenagers loved anime, yet they also loved sex.
Human pornography was censored in Japan, but cartoon porn, or hentai, was
legal. I wondered if every Japanese woman moaned in anime noises, seeing that
hentai was the most common form of sex education.
Sayuri had told me once before that she had had a boyfriend of 45 when she was
just 16. I had not asked any questions, but my brain had run riot - exploring all
possibilities.
“Was he her pimp? Is it her way of saying that she was a prostitute?” I had
wondered.
It could well be true. There were certain hints of it in bed. No doubt, she was
experienced. But I had not dwelled upon it. I did not feel the need to press the
subject but felt glad that she felt comfortable enough with me to share personal
details of her life. Being naturally curious, and with a strong desire to understand
her better, I had decided to read up on the subject and discovered the JK culture,
popular in places like Tokyo and Osaka. JK – or joshi kōsei, which translates to
‘high school girls.’
Through my research, I discovered that Japan had a long history of being a
patriarchal society and the man was traditionally the breadwinner. A woman’s
role was to keep the man happy. Even as Japan’s economy had boomed in the
80s and 90s, women had still found it difficult to compete with men and had
found themselves economically marginalized. Gender inequality was almost
higher in Japan than anywhere else.
The JK culture was part of the broader enjo kōsai – or enko for short. Loosely
translated as ‘compensated dating’, but not necessarily prostitution. It was like
the western concept of ‘sugar daddy’. An attractive option for girls in
unsupportive relationships with their parents, or those experiencing low self-
esteem, trauma and possibly mental health issues, such as depression. The so-
called ‘shame culture’ which still exists in Japan, often acted as a barrier for
runaways to be reunited with their families, and the well-paying JK businesses
were seen by many girls as an easy path to economic survival.
I had read a study that estimated that less than 10% of the girls in the JK
business went as far as having sex with their clients. Some girls went on ‘walking
dates’ – getting paid just to walk and talk with a client – also known as ‘fortune
telling’. For a more hands-on experience, some businesses offered JK rifure,
which was basically a reflexology session. One of the more enterprising
business models I had read about involved young girls in short school dresses
folding paper cranes with their legs open, with customers paying a pretty penny
to sit opposite them and fantasize.
I had subsequently concluded that Sayuri was NOT an ex- prostitute, but rather a
willing participant in enko, noting that she would have been a teenager in the
early nineties, a time when the Japanese economy was booming and there were
a lot of hardworking, rich businessmen who never had any time for a proper
relationship.
Sayuri was a paradox to me. She had a strong feminist streak yet was still a very
skilled practitioner of kawaii – or cuteness. This particular Japanese sub-culture
was effective in pleasing older Japanese men, who preferred younger girls tend
to act feminine and submissive. Their strategies of being “cute” involved hiding
their intelligence and strength, appearing dependent on the man – fueling his
ego.
Yet I knew that she was very independent. This was not an unpleasant
contradiction for me as I did not want a woman who was dependent on me. I was
enjoying the best of both worlds. She refused to let me pay for anything. She
insisted on paying her half and we never went shopping together, with her
preferring to do what I called pre-emptive shopping – buying groceries in bulk so
that I hardly ever needed to shop. It was like we were in a competition. She was
determined to show how independent she was, and I was determined to show
her that I was happy to spoil her. She was having none of that.
But I tried. Whenever I went on a trip alone – which was always – I had made a
point of buying her something. Usually, some clothing or a cheap souvenir.
Nothing expensive. Not once had she seemed pleased with my gifts. Not that
she was rude. She always thanked me, albeit with a pained expression.
I had sensed that there was some deep-seated trauma and that her probable
enko experience had made her determined never to rely on a man for anything
ever again. Her relationship with the older man had lasted three years - a long
time in a teenager’s life. Sayuri never talked about her youth - all I could do was
make an educated guess as to what the dynamics of the relationship had been. I
was in no position to judge anyone. My adventure-filled life and love for alcohol
had resulted in me doing things I shuddered to think of – and those were just the
ones I could remember. How could I pass judgement?
Japanese culture was a subject I knew very little about, and, I had been born a
man, so the survival needs of the Japanese female was not a subject I was au fait
with. Enko was a way for troubled Japanese girls to have control over their bodies
and a means to support themselves. In the 90’s, it had probably been a way for
females to experience a new kind of independence. Their survival needs that
were manifested because of gender inequality were challenging. Some of them,
unfortunately, were left with few choices.
Sayuri scooped some water out of the tub and poured it slowly over my head. I
shivered. It was cool, not cold – and refreshing. There was no A/C in the house,
and I was hot and sweaty. The water was just the correct temperature. Luckily it
was October, which was a lot cooler than April, when the tap water was too hot
to shower during the day, what with the merciless sun shining directly on the
exposed water pipes for most of the afternoon.
Grabbing her bar of organic soap, she proceeded to clean my genitals with
skilled practice. She had tiny hands. My manhood looked impressive by
comparison. Carefully, she rinsed my pelvic region and then gently pulled me
around 180 degrees so that she could wash my back. That was my favorite part.
I was no stranger to being alone. Most people, in fact, would call me a loner. But
as John Donne famously wrote: “No man is an island…”
Even loners got lonely. I loved being in a tactile relationship – always touching,
cuddling, kissing or holding hands. Things I had missed very much. But nothing
compared to having my back washed. I swore she could have made a career
from specializing in back washes. Come to think of it – she had been a massage
therapist for most of her life. Until COVID-19 had changed the world.
Her small yet strong fingers knew every pressure point and pleasure point in
human anatomy. She wet my back and gave it a good lathering. Using two hands,
she slowly and methodically started at my waist and worked her way up to my
neck. Orgasmic. Or it would have been if it had happened ten minutes earlier. I
knew that she enjoyed it as much as I did.
She loved giving massages. At times, I wondered just what sort of massages she
had offered her clients, but I didn’t dare go down that rabbit hole. I was a
mesomorph, with impressively wide shoulders which tapered down to my ripped
lats. Sayuri was half-massaging, half-feeling my back, working the soap deep
into my skin. Bliss.
At the time, my abdomen was rounder than she liked. She had not beaten
around the bush.
“You must give up eating sugar. You are too fat.”
Ouch. She believed in speaking her mind. It was more of a purrrr though. She
was never mean or nasty – no matter how upset or stressed she was. She was
genuinely concerned about my health. Her caring smile and kitten-like voice
made it impossible to be offended by anything that she said.
I had agreed with her. Beer, sugar and age had conspired to give me a ‘spare tire’
around my waist.
It’s not fair, I had thought. She eats as much food as I do but never gains weight.
Genetics?
“Arms up,” she commanded softly.
I placed my palms flat on the wall before me as she soaped each armpit in
succession. She found it difficult to rinse under my armpits, so I knew that my
shower time was over. Our relationship was still in the ‘sweet spot’ then – not
too new as to be awkward and unsure, but not long enough for it to become stale
and boring.
I was Fred Astaire, and she was Ginger Rogers – wonderfully synchronized and
having a blast. In all my nearly 60 years, I had never had such an attentive
partner.
“Oh-kayy,” she declared.
That was my cue to finish up. I filled the scoop with water and quickly rinsed my
armpits and under my testicles, where the soap tended to accumulate. I
stooped to kiss my ‘geisha girl’ full on her burnt red lips. A little shiver of
excitement ran down my spine. She had total power over me. I knew it. She knew
it. The key to a man’s heart is not his stomach – it is his desire to be touched.
I stepped outside the shower, towel in hand and began to dry myself as she shut
the bathroom door so that she could complete her shower routine.
I had never met a Japanese woman before Sayuri had come along. In my twenty
years of traveling the globe, I had never had the inclination to visit Japan. My best
friend, Paul, who had tragically died in the first wave of COVID that hit the United
Kingdom, had once been there on a business trip.
“Dick, you gotta go to Japan. It’s awesome. The food is excellent, the women are
beautiful, and they are well-mannered.”
Strangely, I had not followed up on Paul’s recommendation. Normally, a good
review like that would find me spending hours on GOOGLE, trying to determine
whether it was a genuine appraisal of the country or not. These days, I find
myself obsessed with its culture.
Sayuri was the perfect woman for me. Her petite body was perfectly sculpted,
with dainty chocolate drop nipples positioned precisely on her small beef bun
shaped breasts. Her tummy was flat, despite her amazing capacity for drinking
beer, and her pert little ass split into two well-toned legs, a result of endless
hours of stretching every day.
Like most women, she was a great multi-tasker. Whenever she took a break from
coding, she would sit on her yoga mat and stretch while doom-scrolling through
her phone. Her deep dark eyes shone with a joy for life and an intelligence she
tried to hide. It was not the Japanese way. She had grown up in an era where
kawaii was king. Being cute and submissive was the key to survival.
----------------------------------------
Like this story so far? – Go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0D4KKXVHM

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2024 - Love and Madness - a book about love, madness, heartbreak and politics

  • 1.
  • 2. 2024 Love and Madness Part 1 – Countdown. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 My passion for travel is greater than my fear of dying. Travel is my first love. I have long ago reconciled myself with the fact that my lifestyle will more than likely result in my death in some remote part of the planet, far from my family and friends. Alone. As Saint Augustine supposedly once said: “The world is a book and if you have never travelled – you have only read one page.” The thing about modern day travel though was that it generally meant having to get on an airplane. I love flying. It’s great. Not a fan of crashing though. “Ladies and gentleman – your attention please. We are about to begin our descent to O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Please ensure that your seatbelt remains fastened, your tray is stowed away and your seat is in the upright position. Those passengers seated at a window must ensure that the window blinds remain open. If you need any assistance, our cabin crew will be glad to help. Estimated arrival time is 25 minutes. Temperature in Johannesburg is 22 degrees Celsius. Thank you.” It had been a long two days – Nong Pai – Bangkok – Dubai – Johannesburg. The cheap flights were challenging. I was still stiff from my 10-hour layover sleeping on the floor of Dubai airport and doubted my knees would still function after a 9- hour flight in cattle class. One of the disadvantages of being tall. However, on the flip side, tall men got laid more often. It seemed a fair trade-off. The huge 767 shuddered as if the clouds through which it now thrust were erotic fingers of mist. The FASTEN SEATBELT sign flashed above my head as a knot of tension spread through my gut. Like a duck gliding on a pond, on the surface I appeared to be calm and collected – fully in control. Only I knew that my emotions were frantically kicking beneath the façade of serenity. Finally emerging from the dark clouds that hung above Kempton Park on that gloomy winter morning, I pointed my bloodshot eyes out the window and saw a huge eye staring back at me. A dozen or so gated communities were neatly arranged around a huge cement water reservoir that was situated near the R21
  • 3. motorway. Shadows of windswept clouds anthropomorphized the reservoir into a dark grey cyclops – all seeing. The eye was watching. Tearing my stare from the giant cyclops, I forced myself to look elsewhere. Halfway to the murky horizon, huge white plumes of mist rose from colossal concrete cooling towers. Kelvin power station. A relic from more than 60 years ago. A coal-guzzling dinosaur from South Africa’s original coal fleet of power stations. Nothing much had changed. Except delivery. In the 60s, no one knew or cared about climate change. Environmentalists were few and far between. These dinosaurs had been devouring coal for decades, consistently pooping out enough electricity to more than cater for every citizen’s and industrialist’s needs. No longer. Kelvin was now privately owned; yet more privatization was needed to fix ESKOM’s death spiral. Snapping out of nostalgic reverie as the airport control tower came into view, I decided to begin my countdown. For some reason, counting had always had a calming effect on me. Not just for flying anxiety, but for any type of stress in my life. And reading. It depended on the type of stress. In a car accident for example – you couldn’t just switch off and open a book. You had to act. Silently counting was a useful tool I used to keep calm in such a situation. It worked. Panic was not in my vocabulary. Ten, nine… Our trajectory seemed to be on a collision course with a mall located across the motorway from the airport perimeter fence. ‘They must have got that land cheap,’ I surmised. Eight, seven… Skimming over the silver roof of the cheap mall, we scraped over the perimeter fence which was now hurtling past the tail. Quickly double-checking that my seatbelt was properly fastened, I concentrated my eyes on a pretty air stewardess with almond-shaped eyes firmly strapped in a rear-facing seat reserved for crew, a few rows ahead of me. There was a kindness in her face. Her long eyelashes were dripping with mascara, contrasting elegantly with her pastel blue eyeliner, indicating that she might be of Arabic descent. It was Emirates Airlines after all. Our eyes met. She smiled knowingly at me and gave me an “Everything will be OK,” smile. I surely hoped so. Six, five…
  • 4. Shifting my gaze to the porthole once again, I noticed a man in blue work overalls riding a lawn tractor through an island of grass forming a rectangular oasis between two stark cement runways leaving a snail trail in his wake. I felt the nose of the plane rise slightly as the pilot got his angles aligned as we hovered a few meters above the hard runway. Four, three… Almost judgement time. I took a deep breath, faced forward and closed my eyes, all my focus on relaxing my tense body as I slowly exhaled. Raised on British humor, I smiled to myself as I remembered the advice often given to Victorian- era brides: “Close your eyes and think of England.” Two, one… I braced for impact. Well, not impact exactly – maybe just a rough landing. I ran out of numbers. Counting down a landing was not an exact science. Eyes still closed, I continued…minus one, minus two… My mind was screaming, “Land already!” In my youth, I was encouraged to become a blood donor by my father, himself a lifelong donor. When I told him that I had a fear of injections, he told me that, “The only way to conquer fear was to confront it.” And he was right. Mostly. The nurses at my local blood bank were brilliant. Not once did I have a bad injection experience. In fact, after a few years, I started looking forward to my next donation. The free chocolate chip cookies and pure fruit juice had nothing to do with it, I swear. My fear of injections dissipated with time. But that microcosm of professional nurses gave me a false sense of courage. Finding myself at a flea market one fine Sunday, I came across a stall doing a blood drive. Being single at the time, I was easily convinced by a pretty young nurse in her 20s to “Give a pint for the needy.” It was the last time I ever gave blood. She may have been sexy, but she was obviously still a rookie when it came to needles. After sticking me numerous times in both arms, she remained unsuccessful at drawing blood. And that is just a taste of what sexy women will make you do. It had been a valuable lesson though. It’s not about looks – it’s about experience and skill. Which is why I was always glad when I discovered that the chief pilot was over 50. I remember those days. Training to be a pilot was more difficult
  • 5. than becoming a doctor. Only the best of the best, like a scene out of Top Gun. Knowing that my pilot was old school filled me with joy and confidence. Technology was useful, yes, but it made people soft, lazy and stupid. My life was perhaps insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it was my life. I preferred a pilot who could do a 3-point instrument landing at night without the aid of a computer. In fact, it was computer software that had caused the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes just 6 months apart in 2018 and 2019. They were not to be trusted. Old school ruled. But there was one issue that could not be cured. Vertigo. Nobody knew I had vertigo until a family trip to Rhodesia in the summer of “73. One of the highlights of the trip was our stay at Victoria Falls. My school teacher in South Africa was originally from Mutare and she was always talking about how much she had enjoyed her first visit to Victoria Falls. “So much water! It should be one of the 7 Wonders of The World.” My father had taken my brother and myself to witness the might of the great Zambezi River while my mother read peacefully in bed back at the hotel. It had certainly been impressive. After parking his Ford Zephyr in the Victoria Falls National Park parking lot, the three of us had explored the many pathways near the edge of the Zambezi Gorge. It was easy to see why it is often called ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ by locals. One can imagine how mystified the original discoverers had been, trekking through the dense jungle and hearing the sound of a thousand drums beating, not knowing that it was the roar of millions of cubic meters of water plummeting 108m into the narrow gorge below, acting as an amplifier that broadcast a thunderous sound for miles around. It must have been a frightening experience, probably resulting in a scouting party being sent off to investigate, only to bring back more bad news – a village so big that they could see huge clouds of smoke swirling in the distance. Even knowing the source of the ‘smoke and thunder’ did not lessen our awe at this magnificent sight. For a 10-year-old like me, it was the most magical experience of my short life, making me oblivious to the constant rain of spray that drenched me to the skin. I remember staring at the endless curtain of water and wondering if Moses could part it. From the pathway, it was impossible to see the river far below. Curious, I ventured a little closer to the edge, straining my neck to try and see it.
  • 6. An invisible force paralyzed me. Like a zap from an alien stun gun just before being beamed up into the spaceship. My body was tilting, and I was helpless to prevent it. It seemed strangely benign and non-threatening, as if they were just bored and needed someone to have tea and a chat with. There was no panic. No screaming. Nothing at all from me. Just silence. I felt safe and reassured, as if a friendly ghost was guiding me through a doorway – one hand lightly on my shoulder. I knew I was falling – and I didn’t care. My mind had been hacked. I calmly accepted my fate. Instinctively, my brother grabbed the back of my soaked t-shirt as I started to topple into the beautiful abyss. An array of tiny rainbows was hopping through the shrouds of spray as the mighty Zambezi spilled its guts from heaven to hell. No words were spoken. Vertigo was a mental hurdle that had taken years of safe flying to get over. Being logical also helped ease my fears. “You are strapped into a specially-designed aircraft seat. It is impossible to faint and fall out of the porthole.” It eventually dawned on me that the reason airplane portholes were so small was because vertigo needs a wide-angle lens to kick in. This discovery contributed greatly to my change in flying habits. Instead of nervously drinking my way through a long-haul flight, my brain became relaxed enough to allow me to sleep during a flight. So much better than arriving at your destination exhausted and hungover. I even started requesting a window seat. Not because I wanted to count clouds, but because I was tired of having to get up every time one of the inner two passengers wanted to pee. I finally felt enough at ease to sit next to a porthole and just relax. At least on a conscious level. The tiniest of voices still echoed deep inside, “Crashing and burning is a horrible way to die.” That voice would lay dormant for long periods, but once the pilot announced that there was turbulence ahead and the seatbelt sign started flashing, the little man inside would start pounding on my heart. Teachers are a strange breed. Well, depending on where you are standing, I guess all professions seem strange to another profession. As a teacher of many years, I had worked with many interestingly ‘different’ colleagues. Female teachers appeared less diverse, with many of them hardworking empathetic individuals who kept themselves busy to avoid thinking of their
  • 7. childhood trauma, and then went home to their cats and continued to do schoolwork until their energy levels were depleted. Male teachers, by comparison, were a more varied bunch. Paradoxically, the so- called ‘perpetual students’ who started their teaching careers later in life, armed with 3 or 4 degrees, were usually the worst teachers. All theory and no practice. I had always thought that the reason they stayed at uni was because they were afraid to go out into the big, bad world. Social skills were often lacking in this group. I had once worked with a teacher who had a PhD in Education. He lasted two weeks. No clue whatsoever. Then you had the jocks, who wanted an easy life as a Phys Ed teacher, the altruistic minority who actually wanted to make a difference and make the world a better place, and the misfits who just didn’t slot in anywhere else. That was me. A misfit. A non-conformist. But I had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to share that knowledge. A bit of a show-off perhaps. “Look at me – I’m so clever.” In an attempt to allay my fears of crashing, I had made a point of reading up on the different types of passenger aircraft and their safety records. The Boeing 767 that I was on was still doing 300kmh. If it was a car, I would have been screaming my lungs out. If you thought about it, the numbers were impressive: a fully loaded 767 weighed roughly 200 metric tons, roughly equivalent to 160 family cars. This heavy metal tube hurtled through the air at a cruising speed of 870kmh, 30 000ft above the ground. The tricky, and most dangerous part was to get this huge piece of metal stationary on a strip of concrete averaging 150ft by 3km – without damaging the aircraft or killing anyone inside. A neat trick – if you can pull it off. Landing a modern-day passenger airliner smoothly and safely was a skill I greatly admired and appreciated. I was extremely grateful to every pilot that had ever delivered me to my destination safely. Yet, even with the knowledge that flying was the safest form of transport, my visceral fear of plunging to my death trapped in metal cage that would undoubtedly explode on impact, resulting in my hellish death, ensured that my landing countdown habit survived. If that ‘one day’ ever came, giving up flying would not be voluntary. This pilot was good. There was an almost imperceptible bump as the back wheels touched down, swiftly followed by the nose wheel. “He must be old school,” I surmised. The deafening roar of reverse thrust jet engines filled the cabin as the pilot simultaneously braked, rapidly slowing down the aircraft to a speed that allayed my fear of dying in a fiery ball. Four kilometers may be a long walk but is not an exceptionally long distance to bring a 200-ton object traveling at 300kmh to a safe stop.
  • 8. The tense silence was broken by the PA: “Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Johannesburg where the local time is 8.45am. Please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete stop. On behalf of Emirates Airways, I would like to thank you for choosing us as your preferred carrier. We fly to over 120 destinations, so we hope you choose Emirates Airways for your next affordable vacation. We wish you all a pleasant stay in South Africa and hope to see you soon. Have a wonderful day.” I opened my eyes and peered out of the porthole. Johannesburg. What a dump. I was a beach bum. I grew up in South Beach, Durban, home to some of the best surf in the country. The beach had been our playground. It was free. And only 375 small steps from door to ocean. How did I know this? It was a little-known fact that Dunlop - yes, the same Dunlop that makes the tyres – dabbled in expanding into water sports back in the early 70s. Durban was a Dunlop stronghold in those days, with a tyre factory, a gold ball factory and a sports division called Dunlop/Slazenger. I was too young to know the details, but some big knob at Dunlop decided to get a prototype surfboard made. Somehow, at the tender age of 10, I ended up learning how to surf on this 10ft monstrosity. Being four foot something at the time, my daily after school workout was to get this monster to the beach and back. I was too small to put the board under my arm, so I balanced it on my head and took very small steps until I reached the beach. This might have been where my counting habit started. One, two, three…three hundred and seventy-four, three hundred and seventy- five. It was exhausting, but between carrying the board to the beach and surfing all afternoon, I was the strongest and fittest guy in my school. I miss that surfboard. My father loves to drive. Road trips excite him. I feel the same way. As one of the management team at Slazenger, he was obligated to attend the Dunlop Masters golf tournament in Johannesburg every year, and, as it took place during the school holidays, we would all go along in the car. My brother and I got up to a lot of mischief at the golf course and we generally ended up playing with the other ‘abandoned’ kids whose parents didn’t have babysitters. But that was it. The golf course was the only part of Johannesburg I liked. I vowed at an early age that I would never work in Johannesburg. And I never have, despite once being offered a well-compensated computer programming job by a national bank. Technically, it was still autumn, but it definitely felt like winter as I exited the climate-controlled aircraft and shivered my way up the passenger boarding
  • 9. bridge into the warmer terminal building. A morning arrival at OR Tambo airport was always a schlep. All the overnight flights arrived within a couple of hours of each other, resulting in bottlenecks at passport control. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I hurried to overtake the slower passengers, striding as fast as my creaky knees would allow. Reaching the escalator that descended down to the arrival's hall, I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath as I saw the already long queues snaking between the maze of retractable-belted stanchions, “Shit! This isn’t good.” It has always amazed me how restrained most passengers were when it came to queuing in airports, especially after a long-haul flight. Flying made me tired and irritable. I was generally a patient person – when I wasn’t tired. Or driving. Road rage was a concept I was very familiar with. Resigned to my fate, I joined the SOUTH AFRICAN PASSPORTS ONLY line and let my mind wander as I shuffled forward on autopilot, shifting my heavy backpack from shoulder to shoulder whenever my muscles stiffened up. Well, I’m alive. When I eventually clear immigration, I can chill out. My usual routine was to go straight from the baggage carousel to the Spur restaurant at the food court on level 2, where I enjoyed a few cold Black Labels and accompanying cigarettes. The breakfast of champions! The arrivals hall was quite cavernous, with high concrete ceilings supported by numerous massive pillars arranged in a rectangular grid. A huge digital screen dominated the nearest wall. Nicole Kidman, of milky skin fame, filled the screen like some BIG SISTER admonishing her minions for flying Emirates, when, anybody who was intelligent enough would know that Etihad was the only airline to fly with. I must admit, she had aged gracefully. I doubted that she would have agreed to be the face of the ‘Flying Reimagined’ campaign for anything less than 7 figures. The Emiratis could afford it. It reminded me of a joke: “Do you know that the people in Dubai don’t like the Flintstones? But the people in Abu Dhabi do!” Abu Dhabi had never been on my bucket list, but life is unpredictable, and I had eventually ended up going there six years ago. I had been working as an English
  • 10. lecturer in Saudi Arabia at the time, or, as I liked to call it – The Land That Fun Forgot. Teaching in the Kingdom was not a physically demanding job. Lectures were allocated evenly throughout the working week, allowing enough free time to do all the boring admin that comes with the job. Usually, the commute to work and back was more demanding than the work itself. Living (I prefer the term ‘existing’) in the desert was a mental challenge – especially for westerners. Not only was the climate dry – but it was also dry in the sense that there was no alcohol. At first, this had been a problem for me, as I was known to be a heavy drinker, and I had to resort to making homemade wine in my apartment. Red grape juice was not always readily available since almost every teacher was making home brew, so I became something of a pioneer, experimenting with many combinations of fruit juice. My conclusion: peach juice makes the strongest ‘wine’. Eventually, my enthusiasm for home brew waned, and, without realizing it, I became a teetotaler. I mean, not totally teetotal, but totally able to live without craving it. Which was a good thing. My liver has done some serious mileage in my lifetime. Saudi Arabia gave it a chance to recover. A blessing in disguise. The upside of working in Saudi was that we got a 6 week break during Ramadan. Normally, I would go travel for a week or two and then fly back to South Africa to see family and friends. During my time in Saudi, I had compiled a bucket list of all the countries I wanted to visit in my lifetime, but I also included some countries that I didn’t particularly want to visit – but had to. India, for example. The thought of going to a hot, smelly, overcrowded third- world country did not fill me with joy. But – that is where the Taj Mahal is. Egypt is another. I had already visited the pyramids of Giza the previous year. It had been a horrible experience. It seemed that every Egyptian I met was trying to scam me out of money. The important thing was that I had ticked that box off and had the photos to prove it. Never again. So, a few weeks before Ramadan, I found myself going through my bucket list trying to decide which destination to visit. The New seven Wonders of the World are as follows: The Great Wall of China; Chichen Itza in Mexico; Machu Picchu in Peru; Christ the Redeemer in Brazil; The Taj Mahal in India; The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and Petra in Jordan. Petra was closest – just a skip and a hop across the border with Jordan. Famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system, it is also sometimes called the Rose City due to pinkish hue of the sandstone cliffs the city is carved into.
  • 11. I remember feeling a bit conflicted at the time. Yes, Petra was high on my list, but what I really craved was somewhere far away from the Middle East where I could swim in the sea and sip sundowners on the beach before a night on the town. Someplace where I could switch off and relax. But that little logical voice in my head kept nagging me: ‘It is literally next door. Don’t lose this opportunity to tick the Petra box!’ The universe knows. It had listened to me. It provided me with what I needed – not what I wanted. That same night, I received a text on Messenger. “Hello stranger. How are you doing? I believe you are working in Saudi Arabia now?” It was from Carol. That was a shock. A genuine blast from the past. Carol had been a good friend at college, more than 30 years ago. I had always wondered if the two of us would have ended up dating if it wasn’t for the fact that we both had partners at the time. I had always fancied her. She was different from the other girls. More shy and reserved. The opposite of a social butterfly. “Hello Carol. I hope you are well. You are the last person I expected to hear from. Yes, I am now teaching in Saudi. I've been here 6 years now. What are you up to these days? Still teaching?” “Hi again. I wasn’t sure you were going to reply. It’s been over 30 years since we last saw each other. I separated from my husband earlier this year and decided to travel the world at last. Well…teach and travel. I’m currently teaching in Abu Dhabi.” “Oh, good for you. I believe the teachers are well paid in Abu Dhabi. I don’t mean to be rude, but did you end up marrying your boyfriend from college? Tony, I think his name was.” “Yes. We have been married 25 years. Two kids – one girl and one boy. One at college and one still in high school. But he strayed. So, we are busy with divorce proceedings. And you?” “I also ended up marrying my girlfriend from college. But I also strayed. What can I say – all men are bastards. We did have 10 good years together. I think we got serious too young. I never had the chance to roam the world and sow my seed. No biological kids.” “What do you mean – no biological kids?”
  • 12. “Long story. I tell you what. If you invite me to visit you in Abu Dhabi, I’ll tell you all about it over a glass of wine.” “Really? You want to visit? OK. It will be good to catch up. BTW, I stopped drinking when I got married. Never touched a drop until I discovered that my husband was cheating on me. The good news is that I now have a fully stocked bar in my apartment. Divorce is more stressful than I imagined. I finally understand why so many people love to drink. But I’m still an apprentice compared to you. You’ll find that I am a cheap date.” Petra was soon forgotten. After six years of being single and stuck in a rut, I now had something to look forward to. Carol. Or was I reading the signals wrong? Exiled alone in the desert, my relationship skills were a bit rusty. But as they say in Russia: “Hope is the last thing to die.” If I was right, my drought would soon end and the seeds long dormant in my barren heart would be nourished allowing romance to blossom once again. I booked a flight to Abu Dhabi for the following weekend. “It’s the real deal. A hundred percent electric.” Images of Carol receded into the mists of my mind as I realized that I was still staring at the big digital billboard. Christopher Walken was getting into the new BMW EV, the Chinese looking valet mimicking him as he did, “It’s the real deal.” I had read somewhere that he never agreed to do a movie unless he was allowed to do a dance sequence. Good for him. Personally, I loved to shake it up on the dance floor despite once being told that I look like two rhinos mating when I dance. I could never dance sober though. It took Dutch courage – aka alcohol. During World War Two, one could not go anywhere in the UK without seeing a war poster with the idiom: “Loose lips sink ships.” Alcohol was a great loosener of lips – but in my case, a loosener of the hips. What I lacked in grace I made up for in energy. Give me 6 beers and I can stay on the dance floor all night. The same applies to karaoke. I was an even worse singer than I was a dancer, but I really enjoyed singing and I was used to getting strange looks from people when I stopped at a red light while singing along to an oldies tune. The people who say to you: “Stop that – you are embarrassing yourself,” are actually saying: “Stop that – you are embarrassing me.” Christopher Walken was a hero of mine. He never got embarrassed. One of my favorite scenes from his movies is that scene from “The Deer Hunter,” - a movie he won Best Supporting Actor for – when Walken, De Niro and the boys are in the
  • 13. bar playing pool and singing along to ‘I Love You Bay-Beeee.’ A confident Walken oozes coolness as he grooves and sings along – all the while getting thrashed at pool by De Niro. For a shy child like myself, his confidence was inspiring. I had always been concerned about what other people thought of me, but Walken was silently telling me to just be myself and not worry about what others thought. The slowly snaking queue seemed to be moving slower than usual. Most international flights to South Africa connected in Johannesburg, and, being a frequent flyer, I had a good idea of the average time spent at Arrivals. My eyes were bleeding, my head throbbed and my patience was wearing thin. A Black Label would taste sooo good right now. My best friend, Mack, had agreed to meet up with me at the Spur. I was going to be spending a couple of nights at his house before flying to Durban. He was a true friend who always went the extra mile to help friends and family. Owning his own company allowed him some flexibility, so he always fetched me from the airport whenever needed. I glanced at my cheap watch. 9.30am. Shit! Already! Better message Mack. I sent him a WhatsApp message. Hi. Immigration queue is very slow. Are you here yet? There was no immediate reply, but that was normal. Mack spent a lot of time driving around Johannesburg for work. He seldom texted while driving. Two minutes went by until a beep alerted me of a message notification. Ok. No worries. I’m stuck in traffic. There was another car jacking up ahead. Cops all over the place. Once I get through the bottleneck it should take me about ten minutes. I’ll wait for you at the Spur. Cool. See you there. I knew that once I left the airport an insidious cloud of darkness would creep into my mind as I ventured once more into the reality of South Africa in 2024. Carjackings didn’t even make the top ten on the list of problems the country faced on a daily basis. If there were an Olympics of Crime, South Africa would have the most gold medals. Highest murder rate in the world; highest number of rapes in the world; highest number of carjackings in the world, and a litany of lesser crimes that would easily be worthy of silver or bronze. But even more frustrating than the moral and physical decay of the country over the last 30 years was the fact that, as a white South African, I was not allowed to comment.
  • 14. “White privilege.” “You’re a racist boer.” “Apartheid was your fault.” Unlike a lot of other violence-ridden countries, South Africa had negligible religious violence. It was all based on the color of your skin. Black is beautiful. And untouchable. I could feel the weight of hopelessness pressing down on my shoulders once again, as it always did whenever I returned to South Africa – a place I now hesitated to call ‘home.’ As part of the white minority, I could remember how scared we were in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. “Are they going to drive us into the sea?” “Will there be genocide?” “Should I buy a gun?” Somehow, a bloodbath was averted, thanks, in no small part, to Madiba Magic. But Madiba was gone, and 30 years of a corrupt and inefficient ANC had destroyed the country at all levels, resulting in millions of poor, desperate citizens relying on pitiful handouts in the form of social grants. It was a cANCer. The prognosis was death. Death to all the dreams the youth once dared to dream. Death to economic stability. Death to service delivery. Death to healthcare for all. Death to equality. Death to an honest police force. In every aspect of society, the prognosis was the same: DEATH. “Do you have a pen, sir?”
  • 15. Startled, I looked up from my phone. An immigration officer clutching a pile of official-looking forms was standing in front of me. “Sorry. What did you say?” “Our computers are offline at the moment. You need to fill out this arrival form please sir. Do you have a pen?” Taking the offered form, I replied, “Yes, I have a pen.” Teachers always had pens. I looked around at the others in the queue. Nobody was willing to give up their place in the line to go fill out the forms at the counters situated at the entrance to the arrivals hall, preferring to struggle along clutching bags and desperately trying to complete the form before they reached the front of the queue. It was no easy task. I had long ago realized the importance of choosing the correct pen. One that would write easily without having to press down hard. Using the back of my rucksack to press on, I managed to complete the form just as I reached the front of the line. It was probably not legible, but I figured that the immigration officials were under a bit of pressure and did not have the time to read the forms. Stamp and stack. Upon reaching the front of the line, the ‘queue usher’ indicated, teacher style – open hand with thumb tucked in – that I should go to the furthest counter on the left. I complied. “Good morning, sir. Welcome back to South Africa. Can I have your passport and form please?” “Sure,” as I slipped them both under the thick pane of glass. I was curious to see how they were recording passenger information. It appeared they weren’t. South Africans were used to offline computers in government departments, with Home Affairs and Motor Licensing being notorious for frequent downtime, but this was a first. A sign of the times. Hurriedly placing my form on an unsteady pile, he quickly stamped me into the country. “Thank you, sir. Enjoy your day,” as he handed me my passport with a Colgate smile.
  • 16. “You too.” I strode purposefully towards the restrooms. The ridiculously early breakfast had been delicious, but a tad too spicy. It was going to be a close call. Unfortunately, the human body had not evolved sufficiently to allow one to rush whilst clenching butt cheeks. Why don’t they serve cereal for breakfast? I wondered as I waddled into the only empty stall. Phew! What a relief! Now that I was able to relax for a bit, my thoughts went back to the omelet I had eaten for breakfast. Durbanites were famous for their cast iron stomachs. Durban had the biggest Indian population of any city outside of India and was famous for its spicy food – curries; breyanis; vindaloo; rotis and bunny chows. And so much more. I was feeling a bit embarrassed with myself for capitulating to a spicy omelet, until I realized that it wasn’t the spice that got me – it was the oil. My metabolism was very sensitive to oil. On the rare occasions when I cooked with oil, I used coconut oil. Having solved the metabolic mystery and ticked that box off in my head, I finished my business and exited the stall and stood astride my backpack as I washed my hands. Looking in the mirror, I noticed beads of sweat on my forehead. Funny how an upset stomach can do that to a person. Such a fragile ecosystem the human body was. There was a small toiletries compartment in my backpack. Unzipping it halfway, I grabbed a new bar of DOVE soap and gave my face a good scrub. Ahhh! So much better! Slinging my backpack over one shoulder, I went in search of a trolley and had to walk to the far side of the huge hall to find one. Damn! I must have spent more time in the bathroom than I realized. Eventually finding one abandoned in a far corner, I scrunched up the paper towel I had used to wipe my face into the trolley and headed off to carousel number 5, which, according to the luggage information board, was where I would be reunited with my bags. But, like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard - the carousel was bare. No luggage to be seen. I realized that it wasn’t even moving.
  • 17. Strange. They probably got the numbers mixed up. Airport employees are used to seeing a lot of confused people. It was to be expected. Thousands of passengers from a multitude of different countries, many of them experiencing a new country with new rules and systems for the first time. Anyone who has travelled will know that ‘fish out of water’ feeling. A kind-looking, well-fed lady in a drabby brown uniform approached me. If she had been wearing a badge, it might have said: ‘chief baggage attendant.’ Her training was kicking in - ‘Look for the early signs of panic and then swoop in and save the day.’ “Hi sir, Were you on the Emirates flight from Dubai?” “Yes. I thought the board said to come to this carousel.” “Yes, it is the correct carousel sir. We had to take all the remaining bags off as we need to use the carousel for the flight which has just arrived. Please follow me.” Confused, I glanced at my watch: 10.15am. Wow! I must have really zoned out in the bathroom. Following her to the LUGGAGE INFORMATION office on the other side of the carousel, I spotted my big blue duffel bag immediately. My neck muscles relaxed. Traveling was great, but losing your luggage was always bad. Incredibly, this had only happened to me once, despite having flown hundreds of times. But once was enough. The thought of having to go through the schlep again made me tense. I definitely need a beer. Thanking the bag lady, I hoisted my heavy bag onto the trolley and headed for the exit, stopping briefly to take a photo of an impressive life-size elephant skillfully crafted from wire. It was the centerpiece of an Amarula marketing campaign, strategically placed just before customs, ensuring all passengers had to walk past it. Amarula was South Africa’s equivalent of Baileys Irish Cream – a creamy liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree – or ‘elephant tree.’ There was a wildlife movie called ‘Beautiful People’, which I had seen as a kid, with a famous scene involving very intoxicated elephants and baboons that had feasted on the ripe marulas. I could just imagine the disclaimer in the credits:
  • 18. ‘No baboons were squashed to death by elephants during the making of this film.’ Having successfully navigated passport control and the baggage office, there was just one more thing to do before enjoying an ice-cold beer – customs. As in most countries, there were two lanes for exiting – one green and one red. In all my years of traveling, the only items I ever had to declare were cigarettes and alcohol that I had bought at the duty free, so I had never had to worry about customs. Alcohol and cigarettes were more expensive in Thailand than South Africa, so I didn’t even have that to worry about this time. Still, police made me nervous – especially South African police. They were not to be trusted. Striding confidently through the green NOTHING TO DECLARE lane, I casually glanced across at 6 policemen tasked with policing the red SOMETHING TO DECLARE lane. They were so engrossed in whatever they were discussing that I imagined some animal smuggler confidently leading a tiger on a leash past the jabbering cops. In other countries, I would never glance at the customs officials as they might interpret it as a sign of guilt. Not that I had anything to hide. But I was ‘blessed’ with a rugged face which made me a constant target for immigration profilers. Heathrow was the worst. I had once spent 9 hours being interrogated at Heathrow Airport. Only 4 people were ‘randomly’ chosen from the queue that day – myself and 3 men who could all have been related to me. My own brother had less similarities than those 3. London, New York, China, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Cambodia. I had been questioned in all those countries. Traveling on a South African passport was bad enough. But when you looked like a cross between Conan the Barbarian and Lurch, cross border travel became interesting. I continued to look at the loose circle of cops jabbering away in the red lane as I pushed my trolley towards the exit. Nobody made eye contact. Many years of proctoring exams had taught me a thing or two about reading body language. The moment a student looked up from his test to check where I was, I knew they were either cheating or about to cheat. And here I was tempting fate. There was no legitimate reason to stop and search me. I had nothing to declare. But one could never tell in South Africa. There was still so much racism and hate in the country. One wrong word or movement and things could escalate quickly. The cautious part of my brain was telling me to look away, but the larger, more curious part was unable to obey. That same curious part of the brain was ‘taking stock.’
  • 19. It had been a year since my last visit to SA. I made a point of reading about South African news and keeping up to date with the major developments. But like with so many things in life, firsthand experience was more valuable than words. The past 30 years had seen a gradual decline in the standard of living of most South Africans, especially the majority black population. The African National Congress (ANC), once a famous liberation movement led by an even more famous Nelson Mandela, had encountered what so many other African states had – an inability to transform from a kaleidoscope of colorful individuals, held together by a common goal, to an honest, efficient, selfless government that put the needs of the ‘liberated’ before personal gain. Being a teacher of history, it was sometimes painfully obvious how weak and predictable human nature was. I didn’t believe that history repeated itself, but I did belief that when it came to human nature, the eventual outcome would always be the same. Greed trumped ‘the greater good’ every time. Hitler, undoubtedly the most infamous person in modern history, was just another man with issues. When he was appointed Chancellor in 1933, he might have just been another angry man determined to escape the yoke of the Treaty of Versailles. Power is a drug. It is debatable whether he had it all planned out well in advance or not, but his intermittent passing of new laws enabled him to achieve his ultimate goal – becoming The Fuhrer – THE LEADER. The trick was to notch it up slowly, so that people had time to adapt to the new reality, just like the ‘boiling a frog’ metaphor. Dropping a frog into boiling water results in the frog jumping straight out of the pot, but, if you put the frog into a pot of warm water, it will stay put. When you gradually increase the temperature, the frog doesn’t realize it is being boiled alive. The same applies to politics. South Africa was not Germany, and Cyril Ramaphosa was not Adolf Hitler, but the principle was the same. The ANC, especially under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, had gradually passed a series of laws which were sometimes collectively referred to a ‘reverse apartheid’ laws. BBBEE was one example. It was supposedly an effective way to promote black empowerment, but, in reality, it was nothing more than a mechanism for corruption which resulted in an increase in incompetent companies, a skewed economy and tender fraud. The rich got richer while unemployment numbers increased. Every 5 years, during an election year, the ANC would make the usual promises, form the usual committees and task forces and tell the same lies. It amazed me that after two decades of complete mismanagement and theft, the ANC was still in power.
  • 20. How could that possibly be? There was only one other thing that was as puzzling as the mystery of the ANC still being in power, and that was the concept of infinity. I could never wrap my brain around the idea of an infinite universe. The ANC still being in power after screwing the pooch was same-level shit. How could the citizens not see the futility of repetition? How could they not see that the cause of their hardship was NOT the apartheid government of 30 years ago, but the corrupt ANC government. Was it possible that people could be so gullible as to believe all the lies and promises? Their inability or unwillingness to react to the sinister threats posed by the ANC was frustrating. It amounted to a suspension of disbelief – like watching the same Roadrunner cartoon every day and still believing that Wile E Coyote was going to catch the roadrunner. Was it because they were just too busy trying to survive the bleak circumstances that now prevailed in South Africa? For millions of poor black unemployed citizens, the daily grind to survive left no time for thinking and analysis. Food was expensive, water was scarce, and jobs were non-existent. Maybe they were in denial? Maybe they could not allow themselves to believe that their beloved liberators would ever deceive them? Almost like a child believing that his mother is a good woman despite evidence to the contrary. It reminded me of a conversation I had had back in 2007, the year that Jacob Zuma rigged the 52nd National Conference in Polokwane to resurrect himself from political hell and become the next president of South Africa, resulting in what is usually referred to as ‘the nine wasted years.’ I had been sitting in a bar in Durban watching the news on TV when they announced the results. “Jacob Zuma has been elected as the new leader of the ANC.” Being an inner-city bar, many of the patrons were black – mostly Zulus. As a regular, I knew most of them by name. Prince, a Zulu in his 40s, was cheering loudly as he heard the announcement. “Prince,” I said, “why are you so happy? Zuma was fired as Deputy President because of corruption. He’s a skebenga.” “Yes, we know, but he’s our skebenga!” Tribalism was not an easily understood concept amongst modern Europeans. If your tribe had the most power and influence, then life was good, irrespective of how that power was acquired. Since 2007, there had been 16 years of
  • 21. systematic plundering of the state coffers. None of the money went to the poor and needy. It was a tribal mindset. Our leader (chief) is a Zulu. If he has a big kraal, many cattle, a firepool and a concubine, then he is a great chief, and the Zulu nation is the strongest. It didn’t matter that the chief kept all wealth and power for himself. This had always been the way. It was all about prestige. The Zulus were in charge – that's all that matters. Every time I returned to South Africa, it became more apparent that the country was accelerating towards ‘failed state’ status. I could see it clearly. The writing was on the wall. I was not a frog. It had been many years since I had lived in South Africa permanently, but I had been stuck in the country during the COVID lockdown and had had a glimpse of how precarious and volatile the country was during the riots of July 2021, widely thought to be instigated by Zuma loyalists. My annual trip to South Africa was like being allowed to look into a mirror only once a year. When you look in the mirror every day, you do not notice the small changes, but taking a snapshot once a year and placing them in sequence, gave me a clearer picture of reality in South Africa than the frogs that lived there. This frog was still free and hopping around the world and not confined to the cauldron of South African politics. And as for cops. They were not to be trusted. Anywhere. Inevitably, their intelligence was out of proportion to the amount of power they wielded. Every year, I asked my students what they wanted to be when they left school. Every year, almost every one of my lazy troublesome students would reply, “Policeman, teacher.” For a schoolkid, it was a no brainer. After just a few short months of training, any insecure and troublesome youngster could get a nice government salary, a great pension plan, a smart-looking uniform, a company car and a GUN! Who needs a university education? Oh, and don’t forget about the infinite money-making possibilities available to corrupt cops. Ironically, the profession largely attracted candidates with the opposite traits required for law enforcement. Or maybe I was looking at it the wrong way. Maybe it was a case of fighting fire with fire. If the cops always played by the rules, then the baddies would always win. All I knew right now was that the merry band of red lane guardians were too engrossed in their conversation to notice me staring at them.
  • 22. The knot in my neck that had appeared at the baggage carousel was coming back. I was still at the airport and I could already feel the helplessness I always felt when returning ‘home.’ OK then. Take a deep breath and fok maar voort. With some effort, I managed to bring my train of thought to a halt and focus on beer. Let’s get the flock outta here and go chill. I deftly maneuvered my trolley around an elderly couple that were having difficulty with their trolley - it was like a woman; it had a mind of its own. The two huge, automated glass doors at the end of the lane opened and spilled a few trolleys into the waiting area, where hundreds of people waited for loved ones. A cute little girl wearing a pastel pink dress with matching ribbons in her hair, was holding up a sign that read: I MISSED YOU DADDY. LOVE, CLARA. You see some of the happiest people at the arrivals section of airports. I smiled as I slowly pushed my way through the throng. Children were shrieking with glee as they were reunited with family and there was plenty of hugging and kissing going on. I knew the world was a messed-up place, but the infectious laughter of the happy kids and the genuine loving smiles of family and friends restored my faith in humanity once more. A long row of meet and greeters stood patiently around the exit to the pickup point, each holding a placard with some passenger’s name on it. It was a job I had done before, and I recognized the desperation on their faces. It was a shit job, sometimes requiring you to wait a few hours due to flight delays. They were all looking at me, hoping that I was the ONE who could end their wait and they could finally leave the airport. Catching the lift up to the second floor, I parked my trolley in front of the Spur restaurant entrance and headed straight for my usual booth in the smoking section. I needed to switch my brain off. My mind was like the sword of Damocles – full of knowledge, which gave me power – but too sharp to ignore the dangers that lay ahead - which led to fear. It was like a gyroscope, constantly in motion and going in many different directions at once. I absorbed everything. My brain was continuously analyzing every scenario, assessing risks, and formulating plans of action. It needed to rest. I thought too much. It was the cause of my insomnia. It could be slowed down with enough alcohol, but nothing could shut it down completely.
  • 23. That’s probably why I am an argumentative drunk, I mused. Arriving back in South Africa after a long absence always took some adjusting to. For those armchair travelers who didn’t own a passport, Thailand was some third world country in Asia full of rice farmers and prostitutes, but, in reality, the standard of living was higher than in the land of my birth. But that wasn’t the reason why I loved Thailand so much. Living in South Africa was stressful. Crime was rampant, electricity scarce, jobs non-existent and the political landscape was a minefield. As a member of the white minority, it had become abundantly clear to me that the ‘equality’ guaranteed to all citizens in the Constitution did not apply. Some pigs are more equal than others. “Good morning, sir. Here is a menu. Anything to drink?” “Morning Joseph,” I said, reading the plastic name badge of the young black waiter assigned to me. “I’m not eating. I’ll start off with two cold Black Labels please. Oh, and bring me an ashtray.” “Certainly sir. Two Black Labels coming up.” Seeing me light up, he quickly fetched an ashtray from an empty table and placed it in front of me. “Thanks.” “You’re welcome, sir. I’ll be back with your beers shortly.” “Great stuff.” No sooner had Joseph exited the smoking section in pursuit of cold beer than Mack’s bulky frame filled the doorway. “The prodigal son returns!” he bellowed. I stood smiling as he strode briskly through the deserted room towards me. We shook hands and clapped each other on the back in the typical macho way of men. “So, you finally made it. Not that I am in a hurry,” I remarked as he sat down on the opposite bench. “Ja. Flippin carjackers. Caused a real traffic jam they did. At least I know they will never target me.”
  • 24. Toyotas were by far the most desired brand of car in southern Africa. VWs were second. Mack’s beat-up Ford Fiesta was not on any carjacker’s wish list. “Here you go, sir,” said Joseph as he placed the beers on the table. “Will you be eating, sir,” he asked Mack. “Nah! I’ll just have a coffee, thanks.” “Which kind of coffee would you like, sir?” “I miss the old days,” I interjected. “You could just order a coffee and it would come. These days, I don’t even know what language they are speaking. Americano, cappuccino, latte, flat white, espresso shot and who knows what else? Can you even order just a normal coffee nowadays? Would they even understand you if you ordered a coffee without the bells and whistles?” “Whoa! China. Before you start ranting and raving, let me order my coffee.” Turning back to Joseph, he said, “I’ll have a latte please. The biggest cup you have. Thanks.” “And bring me two more beers please Joseph,” I requested before he had time to disappear. “Certainly, sir. Two Zamaleks and an extra-large latte coming up.” “Shit, are you thirsty? You look like you are settling in for the long haul,” joked Mack as he surveyed the beers. “No, Mack, I am not settling in for the long haul. It is wrong to think of it as having 4 beers. Compared to our youth, modern day beers are now smaller. This would only be 3 small beers back in 1976. If they sold litre bottles of beer at Spur, then it would only be one and a quarter beers.” “And that’s why we are friends,” Mack laughed, “you always have had a different perspective on things.” “Exactly. You and I against the world, Mack. Ever since basic training. But, on a more serious note, do you must rush off anywhere? If so, I’m sure I could down these beers before you finish your big cup of coffee.” “You know how it goes. Always on standby. Winter is our crazy time. Still a few weeks to go. But I might get a call at any time. Relax. Enjoy your beer. No sweat.” “OK. Great. Good to see you again.”
  • 25. “My goodness. Are you getting soft in your old age? You have never been one for pleasantries and small talk. Should I be concerned?” “Perhaps,” I laughed. “I’m still a bit shell-shocked from my last relationship. You know, the Japanese woman.” “Ahhh! Yes! That might explain it.” “It could also be because I am once again experiencing a mid-life crisis. The two are more than likely connected.” “Yes. The ego is fragile. So, old boy – what number are you in now? Is this your third mid-life crisis? I lose track.” “To be honest, I don’t recall. But, seeing that what I call ‘my life’ feels more like multiple lives, maybe we are allowed one crisis per life. You know, looking back at my time on earth, it becomes noticeably clear that since I left school, every decade has represented a new life. Like being reborn, but with just a little bit more knowledge each time.” “I know what you mean.” Mack is 6 days older than me. We have known each other for over 40 years. “We have got to that stage where we can no longer use ‘mid-life’ as an adjective. Those day are gone.” “Unless we live to be 120,” I chirped, trying to lighten the mood. “Ja, that’s not gonna happen.” “But women aside, my real battle is against ageing. Since I was a small boy, my goal in life was to reach 60. Well, I also wanted to be Arnold Scwarzenegger, but getting to 60 seemed more achievable. Here’s the thing though- now that I have achieved my goal, I need a new goal. I didn’t expect to be so fit and healthy at 60. I need to find a goal Mack.” “Yes, you do. Otherwise, you are just a ship without a rudder.” “An old ship, you mean,” I joked. “OK, so let’s look at this logically...” One of the main reasons we got on so well was because we were both logical and analytical, which was also the reason why we seldom disagreed on anything because we always reached the same conclusion.
  • 26. “You need a goal. Your previous goal was a long-term goal. Your next one will be a short-term goal, assuming you live another 20 years. Do you agree so far?” “Yes.” “Do you want to live another 20 years?” “That’s a tricky question. One that I have thought about a lot recently. If money and health were not factors, maybe. Right now, I am healthier than I have been in 30 years, but financially, the opposite. I spent my pension during COVID.” “Ja, saving money is like trying to grab a fistful of sand. COVID pretty much wiped me out as well. I exist at the mercy of the banks. On credit.” “You know me, Mack. I have never chased money. But, of course, even if it cannot buy happiness, it is still a very useful commodity to have. It makes life easier, and, in my case, enables me to travel the world. Don’t laugh - but do you know what I would buy if I had the money and if it was scientifically possible?” “What?” “A head transplant. One with a smaller nose and American teeth. But first and foremost – no wrinkles!” “Hah-ha! You’re so vain. Mmmm, that would be a good name for a song?” “Not vain, really. It’s just that after 6 months of regular gym, my body is looking too good for my face. So, I would like a new face. Or – I could just smash all the mirrors in the house. Looking in the mirror depresses me more each month. Imagine how suicidal I will be in another 20 years’ time!” “Yup. I know that feeling. Every morning that I look in the mirror is like shock therapy. There’s always this old man staring at me and silently mouthing WTF!!” I finished my third beer and sighed, “Mirrors are depressing.” Just then, Mack’s phone started vibrating violently and appeared to be saddened by our conversation and making its way to the edge of the red and white- checkered tablecloth, intent on ending it all by leaping to the ground and smashing into smithereens. “I guess it’s time,” he said as he answered the call. *
  • 27. There was a reason they used to call Johannesburg eGoli. Without the discovery of gold in 1886, it would have never grown to be the economic heart of Africa. It had no redeeming factors. I hated the place. “Mack, have I ever told you before that I hate Johannesburg?” “Yes, all the time,” Mack replied as he exited the M1 motorway and shot through a lightless 4-way intersection and turned sharply right, throwing my body forcibly against the flimsy passenger door of his Fiesta. I trusted Mack with my life. It had always been that way. A friendship forged in the army was built on trust and reliability. What I didn’t trust though, was that someone else might also decide that treating a four-way intersection as a four- way stop street was a waste of time in lawless Johannesburg. I thought of frogs again. This is what happens when you start getting used to dystopia. You change. You take risks. I preferred Thailand – where everything worked, and people all got along. The people of Thailand had respect and trust – two attributes that were in short supply in my home country. “I’ll drop you at the house and then I must go to the office. You know the drill. I see you when I see you.” “Yup, I know the drill. I won’t cook supper, but I’ll go get some snacky things in case you are hungry when you get back. If you get home at a reasonable hour, we can have a cheese and wine party.” “A party, hey? Ha-ha! Two sad old men getting drunk is now called a party.” “Yes. How far is it to home? In minutes?” “About 10. Why?” “Ok. I have time for a joke.” “Have I ever told you that you are a terrible joke teller?” “Yes, many times. And has that ever stopped me? No. Anyway, just drive nicely and listen.” “Yes, boss.” “So, this Aussie gets divorced and decides to move far away from his ex. He buys a smallholding on the fringes of the outback, with a few cattle and some
  • 28. chickens. He’s sitting on his porch one Sunday afternoon and notices a cloud of dust on the horizon. Intrigued and with nothing else to do, he continues to watch the dust cloud as it slowly moves towards him, and he eventually realizes that it is a ute driving along the dirt road.” “What’s a ute?” “A utility vehicle. A bakkie.” “Oh, OK. Continue.” “The bakkie stops in his yard and out springs a crocodile Dundee type guy dressed in khaki shorts and matching shirt. “Hello mate! I’m your nearest neighbor. I heard this place had been sold and I wanted to come and invite you to a welcome to the neighborhood party.” “Good day mate! You’re the first person I have seen since I moved here. Fancy a beer?” “Sure.” The guy gets a beer, and they sit on the porch enjoying the cold beer. “So, when is this party?” “Friday night. There will be booze, there will be dancing, there will be great music and a BBQ. There might even be sex.” “Sounds great! Thanks for the invite. Should I bring something?” “No need mate – it's just the two of us.” I started laughing at my own joke, “Ha-ha-ha!” “Oh my God! You really suck at jokes.” “You didn’t think it was funny?” “It had potential. Remember, I’m sober. You’re the one that’s been drinking. Maybe wait until I’ve had half a bottle of wine before you tell me another one.” “I’m hurt,” I said in a mock sulky voice. “No, you’re not,” said Mack smiling.
  • 29. * My phone rang. I looked at my watch. 7.35pm. “Are you at the gate?” “Yup.” “OK. Coming.” Mack always left the remote with me because the only way out of the property was via the driveway and he had never bothered to get a spare. Refreshed from an afternoon nap, I hurried to the garage and pressed the red button which opened the car port roller door then quickly pressed the blue button which opened the huge metal sliding gate which allowed access to the road. Timing was everything. Mack had already reversed up to the sliding gate allowing him to drive into the car port before the automatic switch closed the roller door. Once both gates were safely closed, we used the connecting door to get back into the house. “Busy day?” “Every day is a busy day, but I’m not complaining. The busier we are the more money we make.” Like most South Africans of a certain age group, Mack was a hard worker. The younger generation were mostly lazy and entitled, but the oldies were still known for their good work ethic. In the earlier days of the ‘brain drain’, South Africans emigrating to places like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK were highly prized. To a lesser extent, this was still true, but the explosion of global refugee and illegal immigrant number in the last decade had made emigrating much tougher for Saffers. “Ready for that wine?” “I certainly am. What else did you get?” “To drink – only wine- however, I did get some biltong, some cheddar cheese, some crackers and some chocolate as well.” “You are a mamba.” “I know.”
  • 30. Mack walked into the dining room with a towel wrapped around his waist. “Don’t worry, I’m going to get dressed. Have you seen my phone anywhere?” “No.” “Do me a favor. Go look in the car please. It’s probably on the passenger seat.” Returning with phone in hand, I found Mack fully dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, sitting at the dining room table sipping on a glass of dry red – a torn brown paper bag of beef biltong, already half empty, in one hand. “La dolce vita, my friend. Cheers!” I toasted as I sat down and drained the rest of my glass. “Cheers! Welcome back to paradise,” he smiled sarcastically. Mack was a muso at heart, but, as he had never learned to play a musical instrument, his first real job was as a sound engineer. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was playing on the stereo. But this was no ordinary stereo. Like a musical version of Dr. Frankenstein, Mack had cannibalized parts from a number of stereos to build himself the ‘Big Daddy’ of stereos, unlike anything ever seen before. It certainly looked like a monstrosity, but the musical notes were as pure as if from Cupid’s harp on Valentine’s Day. Personally, I had stopped listening to music twenty years ago. Literally. I didn’t own a stereo. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t have a single song on my phone, and I never watched YOUTUBE music videos. Weird, I know. But the reason was even weirder. I didn’t want my memories to be diluted by crap. Hip hop, rap and synthetic music was oil, and my favorite music from the 70s to the 90s was water. The two did not mix. It was like stalking an ex-girlfriend from 30 years ago on Facebook. Those beautiful images in your head were suddenly replaced by the reality of ageing. The smooth skin and toned muscles became wrinkles and flab, and, once those images entered your head, they could never be erased. The only oldies I liked were musical. Women, I preferred younger. Singing along to Queen, I prepared a plate of crackers and cheese, opened another bottle of wine, and joined Mack at the table. “Anything exciting happen at work today?” I felt like a wife asking her husband about his day.
  • 31. “One of my technicians on our biggest project was killed recently. I’m sort of doing his job while we look for a replacement.” “Sorry to hear that. How was he killed?” “They broke into his house in Alexandria. It seems he heard them and confronted them. He had a licensed gun. A lot of shots were fired. The cops found three bodies. Him and two of the robbers.” “Shit!” “Ja. Hectic. His girlfriend just had a kid. Fortunately, they don’t live together.” “You know, sad as it is, I blame the friggin politicians. Ever since Zuma, the country has become the Wild West.” “Ja. It starts at the top. Zuma has a lot to answer for.” “I mean, it’s desperation that leads people to steal.” “Not always.” “No, not always. But you look at the correlation between the socio-economic decline of South Africa and the increase in the crime rate. There’s a definite link.” “Ja. This country is fucked on so many levels.” “I was watching BBC news on the plane. What’s the story with the IEC and the Electoral Court? The one says Zuma can stand for election and the other one says no. Do you know the details?” “Well, sort of. Basically, the IEC ruled that Zuma cannot stand for election because he has a criminal record. But Zuma appealed.” “Of course. He always does. The infamous Stalingrad defense.” “Exactly. Then, without clarifying its reasons, the Electoral Court overruled the IEC decision to bar Zuma from standing.” “Really? Interesting. Do you think they fear a repeat of July 2021?” “Possibly. We might find out before the elections. Or not.” “What do you mean?”
  • 32. “Well, the IEC has now approached the Constitutional Court to sort it out. Let’s see what happens.” “As Trevor Noah once said, you can’t make this shit up. South African politics is more complex and intriguing than even the best Hollywood movie.” “A very tragic movie though.” “Indeed.” My Girl by the Temptations was now blasting out of the impressive array of speakers. “Don’t your neighbors ever complain about the noise?” “Hey! It’s not noise – it's Motown baby! But, yes, they do,” he laughed. “It’s quite late. I’m just going to turn the volume down a bit, OK? I don’t want any drama.” “No problem. I see that you still have an interest in politics even though you live in paradise now.” “Ergo sum animal politicum. I am a political animal.” “Hey? Since when did you study Latin?” “I didn’t. It was something I picked up from my English teacher at high school. He was always translating Latin poetry for us.” “The only line of Latin I remember is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” “Yes, I know that one as well. It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country. Sounds like horseshit to me.” “Are you forgetting that we fought for our country?” “No, of course I haven’t forgotten. But, if I’m not mistaken, that line was used in a poem about World War One, when soldiers volunteered for service. It was an honorable thing to do back then. We had no choice. Go fight or go to jail.” “True.” “I don’t think we even understood what we were fighting for. At least when SWAPO finally liberated South-West Africa and renamed it Namibia, they didn’t then decide to ransack their country. Not like the ANC did.”
  • 33. “You should have been a politician. Actually, if I recall, you did try your hand at politics. When was that again?” “Yes, I did. Let’s see...that would be eighteen years ago now.” “Do you still remember why you entered politics?” “It was quite simple really. I wanted a community center built in my area and I figured the only way it was going to happen was if I became a city councillor. But, running against the ANC in Durban in those days was futile. If I was running this time, things might be different.” “So, the community center never happened?” “Nope.” “Ever thought of running again?” “Actually, I almost ran again.” “Why didn’t you?” “My confidence and my ego were bruised. I couldn’t face the idea of two defeats in a row. I will not allow myself to be beaten twice by the ANC. I’d rather eat cockroaches.” “That can be arranged,” laughed Mack. “You know, whenever I used to complain to my parents that life was unfair, they would tell me to get used to it. But I can’t. I can’t accept that people like Jacob Zuma can do whatever they want without consequences. Mr. Untouchable.” “Ja. It appears that there is no justice in this world. Didn’t you mention that you were in Cambodia recently?” “Yes, I was there 2 months ago.” “You look at someone like Pol Pot. He would make Zuma look like an angel. You would expect him to be hanged like Saddam Hussein was or to be taken out by one of his many enemies. He ended up dying of old age while under house arrest.” “Hang on, let me GOOGLE that,” I said. Picking up my phone, I found the Wikipedia page on Pol Pot. “It says here that he was only 72 when he died. Zuma
  • 34. is already over 80 and looking very energetic as he campaigns for his new MK party.” “Ja. Despite being medically excused from serving jail time. Another Schabir Shaik.” “I don’t think Zuma plays golf though,” I smiled. “Any biltong left?” Mack looked tired. The day had caught up with him, but he was too polite to leave me to drink alone. There was still half a bottle of Nederburg left. As whiskey was his drink of choice, I was confident that he was content to just finish what was in his glass and leave the rest for me. Pouring myself a full glass of wine, I said, “You look tired. You should go to bed. I’ll be fine.” “Ja, I’ll think I’ll do that,” as he drained his glass and stood up. “I’ll see you in the morning. Will you be up by 8?” “Yes.” “OK, good. You can let me out and keep the remote.” “OK. Goodnight. See you in the morning.” “Cheers.” As I had grown older, my predisposition for beer had matured into a proclivity for wine, especially dry, red wine. Thailand imposed heavy taxes on alcohol, which made drinking wine there prohibitive. I was enjoying my wine buzz and listening to the now muted sounds of Alphaville proclaiming how big they were in Japan. Japan. A place I had never had any interest in. Until recently. Almost a year has gone by since my world was turned upside down.
  • 35. Part 2 – Seeing God Her luscious rust red lips were equally plump on top and bottom. With closed eyes she pressed her hips upwards to meet mine – little anime squeaks escaping from her tortured face, like a beautiful hentai character. I knew it was not torture that contorted her face. Agony and ecstasy had similar effects. Our hips pushed urgently together in sync as we transcended to a higher plane. I knew she was getting close. She always started kissing me when the end was near, her lips now searching for mine, sensually brushing across my mouth before I felt a little dart of her tongue probing for an opening. Obligingly, I parted my lips, allowing her access, and our tongues coiled together like two pythons wrestling. She tried to grip my well-toned upper arms as I planked over her perfect petite pale body, but her tiny hands kept losing their sweaty grip as we grinded together as one. It had taken a few weeks to fall into sync, but now we were harmonious. A cohesive orchestra of passion and pleasure. I had learned to slow it down. No more ‘Slam-bam-thank you-ma’am’. I was evolving. Sayuri had silently shown me the pleasures of tantric sex. She was an experienced lover. She knew exactly how to read a man and how to mold him to suit her needs. All without saying a word. I was now tuned into her body signals. She never spoke in bed. Only anime. She was like a conductor, guiding a symphonic orchestra to achieve perfection using only her hands. Our erotic encounters had become increasingly longer and infinitely more pleasurable. I doubted there was much room for improvement. I was in heaven. We were like two teenagers at an amusement park, determined to go on all the rides repeatedly, until we were exhausted. I leaned forward and nibbled on her earlobe, her cervix nibbling my tip in response. I smiled to myself. Each time I had discovered a new erogenous zone the intensity of our performance increased, but I was hesitant to push the boundaries for fear of overreaching. There were a few women in my life that I had been able to experiment sexually with, but I sensed that Sayuri had a lot more limitations, due to her Japanese
  • 36. culture. Grabbing her swiftly by her shapely buttocks, I turned turtle, holding her tightly so as not to lose traction. I knew that she liked to finish on top. She was a skilled rider. She placed her little hands on my hard pecs, as she adjusted her hips to find the sweet spot of my rigid member. This was no amusement park – it was a pleasure park. Endorphins flooded my brain as the intensity of the climatic crescendo increased. I was sure I could see God – and I wasn’t even religious. It reminded me of the traveler's mantra: “It’s not the destination – it’s the journey.” The journey was indeed a joyous experience - a time for exploration and discovery, yet all good things must come to an end. And what an ending! The anime squeaks were louder now as she focused laser-like on her pleasure center, expertly massaging my member as the tension built up. I knew what to do. Quickly wetting my forefingers and thumbs in my mouth, I grabbed her nipples forcefully and squeezed tightly. Instantly, her slippery sheath contracted around my magma-filled member. It was ready to erupt. A torrent of anime poured out of her magnificent mouth as she climaxed uncontrollably sparking an eruption deep inside her chamber, as she hinged forward onto my chest and sucked on my top lip desperately, her thirsty thighs pumping me dry as I spoke to God in tongues. She waited until my convulsions had eventually stopped before gently disengaging and gave me a knowing smile. Quickly grabbing her towel off the bed, she stuck it between her legs and scuttled off to the nearby bathroom. After almost two months of living together, I knew the procedure – wait two minutes and then join her. I lay there grinning like a Cape Town cat feeling pleased with himself. How fortunate was I that the universe would align so that a shining star would come into my orbit? I was eternally grateful that she had appeared in my life when I was at my lowest point and had given me the will to live. No, she was more than a shining star – she was an angel. A cliché maybe – but true, nonetheless. Snapping out of my reverie, I cupped myself with one hand and walked swiftly to the bathroom and knocked softly on the bathroom door. I had quickly learned that she liked to shower alone, and I respected her wishes. Sometimes I got my timing wrong and had to wait outside until she was ready for me, but now it opened immediately, and she took my hand and led me into the Thai-style bathroom.
  • 37. It was not a huge space, but big enough. In one corner was a porcelain toilet bowl which had to be hand flushed with a bucket of water. Thai houses rarely had cisterns. Mounted on the wall, level with my head, was an electric shower heater with a shower head attached. We had never used it. The water pressure was too low. In the corner nearest the door, was an old top loading washing machine. It had recently died and now served as a counter for a bright pink plastic tub. The washing machine tap, previously used to fill the top loader, was positioned above the tub. I preferred these all-in-one ‘wet’ bathrooms. You could make as big of a mess as you wished and then wash everything down the drain hole. Her shoulder length hair was tangled around her face. She had been rinsing it when I knocked. Her hair was usually tied up in a bun. It was hot in Thailand. But now, she looked better than any Playboy cover girl I had ever seen. She smiled glowingly at me as she scooped water out of the bright pink plastic tub with a pale pink plastic scoop and continued rinsing her hair, revealing two small scars – one under each armpit. One of our favorite past times was to lie in each other’s arms – stroking, caressing, and exploring bodies. Not very talkative by nature, she surprised me at times by suddenly talking about her past in an open and honest way. It made me feel more connected to her. As we lay together in silence one night, I had been tracing a line from her hip bone upwards, gently gliding over her ribs with my long fingers, with no destination in mind. She had been lying on her side, with one hand under her head, exposing her cleanly shaved armpits. I had felt a small ridge of tissue as he explored her armpit, and she had shivered involuntarily as I unintentionally tickled her. Curious, I had raised my head to see what the ridge was and saw that it was a neat straight pinkish scar about 2 cm long. “That seems odd,” I thought, as I lifted her other arm to look for a matching scar. There was one. My mother had once been a medical receptionist for a famous plastic surgeon whose bread and butter had been boob jobs. She often brought work home with her. This consisted of folders. One folder for each woman. Personal details, medical records, and the thing that I loved the most – before and after photos of the breast implant operations. I had a good idea of what the scars were, but didn’t want to be impolite, so I had merely asked her what had caused the scars, confident that she would confirm my suspicions. “When I was a teenager, I had not real breasts.”
  • 38. I had smiled at her slightly imperfect English. She was so adorably cute - a learned practitioner of the art of kawaii. “What happened to them? You don’t have them anymore.” I was glad she didn’t. Her tiny, perfectly rounded titties could have been sculpted by Da Vinci. “I do not know. I did not need them anymore.” I had left it at that. She was incredibly cute and sexy, and I could only imagine that she had been somehow even sexier as a teenager. Since meeting her, I had been reading up on Japanese culture which I found very different from what I was used to and most interesting. There seemed to be paradoxical cultural beliefs in Japan. From what I could gather, they worked extremely hard yet tended to binge drink afterwards. It was an acceptable part of their culture. No judgement – but only if you work hard. The teenagers loved anime, yet they also loved sex. Human pornography was censored in Japan, but cartoon porn, or hentai, was legal. I wondered if every Japanese woman moaned in anime noises, seeing that hentai was the most common form of sex education. Sayuri had told me once before that she had had a boyfriend of 45 when she was just 16. I had not asked any questions, but my brain had run riot - exploring all possibilities. “Was he her pimp? Is it her way of saying that she was a prostitute?” I had wondered. It could well be true. There were certain hints of it in bed. No doubt, she was experienced. But I had not dwelled upon it. I did not feel the need to press the subject but felt glad that she felt comfortable enough with me to share personal details of her life. Being naturally curious, and with a strong desire to understand her better, I had decided to read up on the subject and discovered the JK culture, popular in places like Tokyo and Osaka. JK – or joshi kōsei, which translates to ‘high school girls.’ Through my research, I discovered that Japan had a long history of being a patriarchal society and the man was traditionally the breadwinner. A woman’s role was to keep the man happy. Even as Japan’s economy had boomed in the 80s and 90s, women had still found it difficult to compete with men and had found themselves economically marginalized. Gender inequality was almost higher in Japan than anywhere else.
  • 39. The JK culture was part of the broader enjo kōsai – or enko for short. Loosely translated as ‘compensated dating’, but not necessarily prostitution. It was like the western concept of ‘sugar daddy’. An attractive option for girls in unsupportive relationships with their parents, or those experiencing low self- esteem, trauma and possibly mental health issues, such as depression. The so- called ‘shame culture’ which still exists in Japan, often acted as a barrier for runaways to be reunited with their families, and the well-paying JK businesses were seen by many girls as an easy path to economic survival. I had read a study that estimated that less than 10% of the girls in the JK business went as far as having sex with their clients. Some girls went on ‘walking dates’ – getting paid just to walk and talk with a client – also known as ‘fortune telling’. For a more hands-on experience, some businesses offered JK rifure, which was basically a reflexology session. One of the more enterprising business models I had read about involved young girls in short school dresses folding paper cranes with their legs open, with customers paying a pretty penny to sit opposite them and fantasize. I had subsequently concluded that Sayuri was NOT an ex- prostitute, but rather a willing participant in enko, noting that she would have been a teenager in the early nineties, a time when the Japanese economy was booming and there were a lot of hardworking, rich businessmen who never had any time for a proper relationship. Sayuri was a paradox to me. She had a strong feminist streak yet was still a very skilled practitioner of kawaii – or cuteness. This particular Japanese sub-culture was effective in pleasing older Japanese men, who preferred younger girls tend to act feminine and submissive. Their strategies of being “cute” involved hiding their intelligence and strength, appearing dependent on the man – fueling his ego. Yet I knew that she was very independent. This was not an unpleasant contradiction for me as I did not want a woman who was dependent on me. I was enjoying the best of both worlds. She refused to let me pay for anything. She insisted on paying her half and we never went shopping together, with her preferring to do what I called pre-emptive shopping – buying groceries in bulk so that I hardly ever needed to shop. It was like we were in a competition. She was determined to show how independent she was, and I was determined to show her that I was happy to spoil her. She was having none of that. But I tried. Whenever I went on a trip alone – which was always – I had made a point of buying her something. Usually, some clothing or a cheap souvenir.
  • 40. Nothing expensive. Not once had she seemed pleased with my gifts. Not that she was rude. She always thanked me, albeit with a pained expression. I had sensed that there was some deep-seated trauma and that her probable enko experience had made her determined never to rely on a man for anything ever again. Her relationship with the older man had lasted three years - a long time in a teenager’s life. Sayuri never talked about her youth - all I could do was make an educated guess as to what the dynamics of the relationship had been. I was in no position to judge anyone. My adventure-filled life and love for alcohol had resulted in me doing things I shuddered to think of – and those were just the ones I could remember. How could I pass judgement? Japanese culture was a subject I knew very little about, and, I had been born a man, so the survival needs of the Japanese female was not a subject I was au fait with. Enko was a way for troubled Japanese girls to have control over their bodies and a means to support themselves. In the 90’s, it had probably been a way for females to experience a new kind of independence. Their survival needs that were manifested because of gender inequality were challenging. Some of them, unfortunately, were left with few choices. Sayuri scooped some water out of the tub and poured it slowly over my head. I shivered. It was cool, not cold – and refreshing. There was no A/C in the house, and I was hot and sweaty. The water was just the correct temperature. Luckily it was October, which was a lot cooler than April, when the tap water was too hot to shower during the day, what with the merciless sun shining directly on the exposed water pipes for most of the afternoon. Grabbing her bar of organic soap, she proceeded to clean my genitals with skilled practice. She had tiny hands. My manhood looked impressive by comparison. Carefully, she rinsed my pelvic region and then gently pulled me around 180 degrees so that she could wash my back. That was my favorite part. I was no stranger to being alone. Most people, in fact, would call me a loner. But as John Donne famously wrote: “No man is an island…” Even loners got lonely. I loved being in a tactile relationship – always touching, cuddling, kissing or holding hands. Things I had missed very much. But nothing compared to having my back washed. I swore she could have made a career from specializing in back washes. Come to think of it – she had been a massage therapist for most of her life. Until COVID-19 had changed the world. Her small yet strong fingers knew every pressure point and pleasure point in human anatomy. She wet my back and gave it a good lathering. Using two hands,
  • 41. she slowly and methodically started at my waist and worked her way up to my neck. Orgasmic. Or it would have been if it had happened ten minutes earlier. I knew that she enjoyed it as much as I did. She loved giving massages. At times, I wondered just what sort of massages she had offered her clients, but I didn’t dare go down that rabbit hole. I was a mesomorph, with impressively wide shoulders which tapered down to my ripped lats. Sayuri was half-massaging, half-feeling my back, working the soap deep into my skin. Bliss. At the time, my abdomen was rounder than she liked. She had not beaten around the bush. “You must give up eating sugar. You are too fat.” Ouch. She believed in speaking her mind. It was more of a purrrr though. She was never mean or nasty – no matter how upset or stressed she was. She was genuinely concerned about my health. Her caring smile and kitten-like voice made it impossible to be offended by anything that she said. I had agreed with her. Beer, sugar and age had conspired to give me a ‘spare tire’ around my waist. It’s not fair, I had thought. She eats as much food as I do but never gains weight. Genetics? “Arms up,” she commanded softly. I placed my palms flat on the wall before me as she soaped each armpit in succession. She found it difficult to rinse under my armpits, so I knew that my shower time was over. Our relationship was still in the ‘sweet spot’ then – not too new as to be awkward and unsure, but not long enough for it to become stale and boring. I was Fred Astaire, and she was Ginger Rogers – wonderfully synchronized and having a blast. In all my nearly 60 years, I had never had such an attentive partner. “Oh-kayy,” she declared. That was my cue to finish up. I filled the scoop with water and quickly rinsed my armpits and under my testicles, where the soap tended to accumulate. I stooped to kiss my ‘geisha girl’ full on her burnt red lips. A little shiver of
  • 42. excitement ran down my spine. She had total power over me. I knew it. She knew it. The key to a man’s heart is not his stomach – it is his desire to be touched. I stepped outside the shower, towel in hand and began to dry myself as she shut the bathroom door so that she could complete her shower routine. I had never met a Japanese woman before Sayuri had come along. In my twenty years of traveling the globe, I had never had the inclination to visit Japan. My best friend, Paul, who had tragically died in the first wave of COVID that hit the United Kingdom, had once been there on a business trip. “Dick, you gotta go to Japan. It’s awesome. The food is excellent, the women are beautiful, and they are well-mannered.” Strangely, I had not followed up on Paul’s recommendation. Normally, a good review like that would find me spending hours on GOOGLE, trying to determine whether it was a genuine appraisal of the country or not. These days, I find myself obsessed with its culture. Sayuri was the perfect woman for me. Her petite body was perfectly sculpted, with dainty chocolate drop nipples positioned precisely on her small beef bun shaped breasts. Her tummy was flat, despite her amazing capacity for drinking beer, and her pert little ass split into two well-toned legs, a result of endless hours of stretching every day. Like most women, she was a great multi-tasker. Whenever she took a break from coding, she would sit on her yoga mat and stretch while doom-scrolling through her phone. Her deep dark eyes shone with a joy for life and an intelligence she tried to hide. It was not the Japanese way. She had grown up in an era where kawaii was king. Being cute and submissive was the key to survival. ---------------------------------------- Like this story so far? – Go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0D4KKXVHM