Like everyone would tell you, the service you get at a two-star hotel is not of the same calibre as that of a five-star. If you are provided with clean towels every morning in the latter, chances are you might be lucky to even get a towel in the former. Such contrasting standards can be said about various taxi rank cafés.
Well, to be perfectly honest, do not let the name fool you; these are not your typical corner cafés, which you would imagine to be cosily located within reach of the taxi ranks. In actual fact, taxi rank cafés are stalls that differ from one taxi rank to another. More so, they are run by women who diligently cook warm and hearty meals mainly for the taxi drivers and conductors of course.
Typically, at a classy five-star taxi rank café, the taxi drivers are not only served lunch, but if they get to the café early enough, they might score some breakfast as well. Unlike most workers, taxi drivers do not carry a lunchbox to work and they do not earn enough money to buy Schwarmas and chicken wings for lunch. The mama who runs the taxi rank café knows all of her customers by name and she even knows where they live.
No, it is not because she has a very close relationship with them, but she is usually the first to hear the latest gossip. She is comfortably seated, front row and centre when the drama unfolds at the taxi rank. Since she also has a pay-per-minute phone at her stall, she also gets to hear the conversations the taxi drivers have with their girlfriends and wives. From who is sleeping with whom, to how Zakhele who drives iSexy Eyes yakwa-AA got stabbed over the weekend; she is the lady to go to for such information. Her taxi rank café is her stage, the drivers and the passengers are her actors and she thrives at being the secret critic of it all.
The mama who runs a five-star taxi café has chairs for her clients, who patiently sit and wait for their meals, while they engage in deep conversations about soccer and even current affairs. Trust me the conversations at the taxi café are at times more interesting than those in the actual taxi. This café mama runs a very tight ship. She puts the finishing touches to her meal and wipes the edges of the plates as well as her hands thereafter. It may not look extraordinary like the dishes you see at the Food Network, but it beats eating ikota or amagwinya, which are usually devoured by school children and taxi conductors. Taxi drivers have a reputation to uphold too, you know.
Some taxi rank café mamas, like this one, have assistants. These are usually young girls who originally come from the country-side to the city in search for greener pastures. Once the meal has been prepared, the mama hands it to one of her assistants who then hands it to the drivers. Often the taxi drivers tease them and jokingly state how they would make good additions to their household. Such attention from the taxi drivers is highly accepted and welcomed by the assistants.
In this taxi rank café, the regulars are allowed to even have a tab, which they are obligated to pay at the end of the week. Should they fail to comply with these rules, then the taxi café mama has no choice but to seek assistance from the taxi rank manager. The taxi manager is always found in proximity of the taxi rank café. When he is not ordering the conductors and the drivers around or drafting the roster for the day, you can occasionally find him smoking and flirting with one of assistants of the taxi rank café.
This sometimes angers some of the drivers as they too would love to have the same privileges. Apart from the meals and pay-per-minute phone, one can also get cigarettes, soft drinks, airtime, coffee, sweets and several other things. The taxi rank café mama’s stall is not solely reserved for the taxi drivers. The public at large can also purchase but I highly doubt that you find the Taxi Queen being caught dead buying anything there.
On the other side of the pool lies the two-star taxi rank café. Alas, the clients there do not enjoy the same treatment. This taxi rank café does not even have chairs and the mama who works here is not even in good terms with the taxi drivers. They all know her name, but the taxi drivers have come up with their own secret name for her. She does not entertain chit-chatter among her clients, but believe you me she too is well clued up about what goes on around her.
Amongst the various Taxi Rank Café owners, no one stands out more than the lovely Bongiwe. She is indeed beloved by her customers at her stall. Her kindness and uncompromising customer care management are some of the attributes that have garnered her an impressive list of clients. She keeps her stall clean to perfection, not even one breadcrumb can be found floating about.
In her faded navy apron, she juggles taking down orders from the taxi drivers, as well as making sure that she attracts more clients even beyond the taxi community. In her apron she keeps a photo of her daughter in her school uniform. The photo does not only serve as motivation, but a reminder of how far she has come. She leads a simple life, merely consisting of providing for her daughter as well as expanding her business. Unfortunately a relationship does not feature in her life. She has made several attempts before to find a good man; alas she has never been really successful in that department.
When the pandemonium of the morning rush is over and the taxi drivers are out on the road she has a few seconds to breathe. She sits quietly by her stall, sipping on her tea and reflects on a life she once had. As she drifts even deeper, she remembers all of the men that have come and gone in her life. To her, a relationship never meant gaining support or companionship.
She enjoyed the diverse experiences that every relationship presented her. Her first boyfriend, also the father of her daughter, introduced her to the world of sports. She relished being amongst supporters in the fully packed soccer stadiums, chanting along in all her might. Then there was Muzi the charming, chirpy gentle giant. He wooed her with the soft beats of Jazz and always ended the dates with warm, minty, wet kisses in his car. However, with every relationship and experience she had to adapt to the life of her newly found partner. Fearing rejection, she moulded herself to fit in their lives. In her search for love, she changed herself to be the woman, she thought they wanted.
Yet on one particular evening while waiting to be picked up her then love interest, it all changed.
She remembers it very clearly. It was five minutes to midnight and she was excited by the prospect of seeing him again. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror, gently applying make-up on her face. As she walked back to the bedroom to put on her shoes, she noticed a message from him. He did not text her to say he was outside, waiting in his car. He had not written to say he is running late, but instead his message read as follow: Something has come up, rain check?
Crushed and upset she sat on her bed. It was at that point when she realised she could not carry on living in limbo. It was on that day that she made the decision it was enough. After reading his SMS, she simply deleted it and tossed her cell phone on the bed. She may not be getting ready for a night out anymore, but on this particular evening she finally realised her self-worth.
She sat there on her bed, with one shoe on and tears trickling down her face. It was then, when she reached the decision it was time for change. She chose to put her happiness first above others. In that evening, she became the woman that she had always been afraid of being.
As the morning slowly changes to day time, she swiftly finishes her tea and snaps back into reality. It is time to prepare for the lunch rush and the taxi drivers will be marching in all their glory and she does not disappoint. In her tiny, quiet stall you shall find Bongiwe doing her rounds and giving taxi drivers their meals, while she tucks the money in her navy apron. You will always be drawn to her warm and sweet demeanour, but the newly found Bongiwe does no longer have time to compromise herself for any man.
Tell us: What’s your favourite dish from a taxi rank café?