Johanna 14 – Lotanang Makoti

Spring blossoms and dark-city Gomorra offers her usual; the stumble of drunk old man, Tshabalala, the desperation of a Fahfee addicted grandmother who has now gambled away her social grant, the church-goers who are neatly dressed in beautiful colours of green, blue, red ,white and black, each returning from a day well spent at God’s service and yes, a humming from the ladies doing their Sunday morning washing on the roadside.

The creaking corrugated iron, of which the shacks are composed, and sizzling soil, sing praise to the day’s merciless heat, as the heat’s inspired mirage waves goodbye to the cooler morning temperatures. In all this heat dark-city Gomorra offers no refuge for in her world, it seems, no tree goes unpunished.

Dark-city then flaunts her dose of innocent beauty to strangers, strangers who have only come to pass to and from the neighbouring Sandton who from the cool air-conditioned interiors of their flashy cars witness it all but remain hidden from it, behind tinted windows which serves to feed its curiosity. Several of these beauties are seen crossing the street arguing about last night’s fight between John Cena and The Undertaker.

The last is seen a few minutes thereafter, his dusty feet seemingly immune to the effects of the sizzling tar road .Under his arm, a ball composed of plastic bags from a rubbish heap on the Dark-city outskirts, a rubbish heap infested with Dark-city’s beastly rodents and their annoying fleas. He had invested his time and energy into making a perfectly round ball.

Thick mucus streams down from his nose to his tiny mouth and with his tiny hand he tries wiping it off, only to spread it over his cheek, but he could not care less about how it would dry up and irritate him later today. He was more eager to see everyone’s reaction when he shows off his new tricks to the older boys who have, on several occasions outplayed him on the field, forcing him to join the girls in their games of hop-scotch, diketo, skipping rope and aggie and then mocking him about it when they were done playing with his ball and no longer needed it. Today however was the day.

He had eaten his soft porridge in preparation and wore a broad smile on his face, mostly because of the excitement for today’s soccer game but partially because today in his porridge he threw in some extra sugar and butter but his grandmother ‘Koko’ would not find out – something else was eating her up, it seemed something far greater than an extra spoon of sugar in porridge.

A loud hooter stops his day dreaming, as he now realises how he had just crossed one half of the road without going through the routine he was taught in his pre-school. He recites it to himself just as a reminder, ‘look right then left then right again,’ ignoring a car in the on-coming direction. Another loud hooter and a sudden scream of his name from a familiar voice on the other side of the road causes him to panic, a feeling he cannot and never could handle well, ‘Oupa! Watch out!’ It was Mmathabo, an older friend who was coming back from church. He tries to calm himself down and runs towards her, but another loud hooter sounds.

Oupa, out of fear and panic, squats on the white stripe in the middle of the road. His ball rolls away, his hands cover his ears and his eyes are shut. He then screams, ‘Mama! Mama!’ but his scream is suddenly ceased by the memory of his mother’s tragic death on this very road a year ago after a collision between a drunken driver and the taxi they had been aboard, a week after their arrival in Dark-City from Lekurung Village in Limpopo. They had come to find Oupa’s father whom they soon discovered had been shot after breaking into a certain man’s house in neighbouring Sandton.

To justify his crimes Oupa’s grandmother ‘Koko’ kept reminding people about how good her son was and how he was being influenced by the bad company he was keeping, and motivated by a greater cause being to ensure that his son back in the villages does not starve and then having a sip of her bottle of Thothotho. Seeing her drink was no surprise to Oupa, his stereotypical grandmother back in Lekurung had warned him about the Bakgatla women in Gauteng and their drinking, she told him not to be influenced by the township and its unruly culture, this after she herself having a sip from her box of Tshibuku and sniffing her tobacco. Oupa, young as he was, understood very well that it may have been the alcohol talking.

When Oupa finally opens his eyes, he still trembling with shock but Mmathabo is there to help him cross the road safely, she was coming back from church and had sweet treats in her pocket which she offered to him to help relieve the shock and asked again if he was okay.

Within a few minutes Oupa had amazingly forgotten all about his incident, daydreaming again about his soccer game and enjoying every bit of the heaven that was contained in the sweet wrappers and in no time he had located his friends who were soon on the ground laughing after one shouted “Madimetja,” a nickname he had been given as a mockery for his perfect Sepedi accent. What was bizarre to him though was that a greater majority of those who mocked him were Bapedi people themselves but denied it in public, although their Setswana and isiZulu accent gave it away.

Oupa, very anxious to show off his new skills, made sure that he chose a team of his own today, making him captain and ensuring that he does not get excluded from the game but this was all in vain as nobody passed the ball to him. An opponent mistakenly kicked the ball in his direction and it hit his leg in such a way that even he himself could be easily fooled into thinking that he kicked it intentionally – it was a goal! The ball had gone through the two bricks which made perfect goal posts.

Oupa had earned his respect and was now seen as a team member. One boy passed the ball to him and he unfortunately kicked it out. Very excited, Oupa offers to go get the ball, “luckily” he thinks to himself “this road is not so busy”. He runs across the street, again without going through his routine but his luck has worn out and he passes out after being hit by a car.

At regaining his conscious Oupa sees how his concerned friends had surrounded him like ants to a piece of meat and so did the panic driven driver who was ready to call the ambulance. She asks him whether he is okay and Oupa recognises her- she is a volunteer at the orphanage where some of his friends live.

The lady asks again weather oupa is going to be fine and offers him a twenty rand note after he confirms it. Twenty rand! Oupa has never had so much money for himself. His friends make all sorts of suggestions after the woman’s departure. To their astonishment Oupa runs off in the direction of the Pan- African Plaza. He had his mind made up and he was going to buy Johanna 14. That ball he was thinking about would have certainly been better, but he imagines how, although it was unnecessary considering that she had just earned her social grant, Koko would be proud. It would also leave him enough change for him to spoil himself. In fact he could buy two instead and still have enough money for school in the coming week.

He was racing against the setting sun when he saw the first street vendor but ignored him as he knew that the best cabbages were in Pan. Careful this time not to cross the road without checking for cars, he finally arrived in Pan. A perfectly packaged Johanna 14 stood before him. Layer upon layer like the doeks on Koko’s head.

He then rushed home with one under each arm. Realising from the shape that his arm was familiar with that he had forgotten his ball, in his mouth a cool time ice-lolly and change in the pocket. Past aunty Selina’s house where the elderly assemble outside, and for people who had just earned their grant they looked very unhappy. ‘Thobela‘ Oupa greeted before he turns the corner and Oupa finally made it home where he noticed something odd, his grandmother had only cooked pap. Koko seemed more relieved than surprised when she saw the two cabbages Oupa was holding.

Oupa then heard a knock on the door, it was old man Tshabalala. He explained how he had drank all his money and how he saw the young man carrying two Johanna 14’s. Koko went on to explain how she and several other ladies gambled away their money in a game of Fahfee.

‘That explains it ‘ Oupa thinks to himself before hearing another knock on the door.

This was going to be a long night…

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

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