Who is that at my door? Of course, it’s the security guard coming to ask for food. I fell asleep on the couch again. I’ve been having long days at work. I’m just so tired.
“Sawubona,” says the guard. “I just came to ask for a teabag and sugar. My little room is cold out there.”
Obviously, it must be, with the rain pouring as hard as it is, I think to myself.
This man has to stop, I say to myself. He always comes here every day asking for something. “There you go, Alfred,” I say as I hand him the teabag and sugar.
“Thanks a lot, ma’am, have a good night and may God continue to bless you.”
As I close the door, I think to myself: yes, God has blessed me, but it was after hard work. That’s the problem with black people. They are lazy – so lazy that they don’t want to work for anything!
I made it out of the township. Why can’t they do it? I mean, there’s nothing different about me. I’m as black as they are, and my family was poor. I worked hard, something black people have forgotten how to do. They just want handouts and more handouts. Mmmm, I need to sleep. I have work in the morning, so I can make sure I have enough sugar for the security guard and me. I must tell Alfred to stop, really now. I have no child. I can’t be raising other people’s children, mos.
At night, I dream. My dreams are unclear. I’m not sure whether it’s a good or a bad dream. I wake up sweating, and then I go grab a glass of water. As I stand at the window, I can see the gate and the little security room made of wood.
Just as I’m about to go to bed, a car parks outside the gate. I see a man come out of it. His face is not clear. He’s big, dressed in black, with gloves and a long coat. It’s a cold night, after all. I see Alfred walking towards the gate. He moves closer to the gate, so that he can hear what the man is trying to say to him.
It happens so fast, in a split second. The man pulls out a gun and asks Alfred to open the gate. Panic! I don’t know what to do, how to respond, how to help. Should I call the police? What if he sees me? The gun goes off. Alfred has been shot through the bars of the gate. The screeching of the car as it drives away pierces my ears as if to wake me up. Oh my gosh! I’m awake, right? I’m sure I’m awake. I take my robe and my cellphone and run to his side. I call the police, but it takes them so long to answer that I give up and call an ambulance.
They ask me: “Does he have medical aid? What’s his surname?”
I’m lost. Medical aid? The man is dying! What does it matter if he has money or not?
“Sorry ma’am,” the lady at the other end of the line tells me. “You can’t call this number for him, you must call the public number.”
“Do you mind giving it…?” I start to ask, but she hangs up. The nearest public hospital is far from the suburbs. I face the same problem trying to call the public ambulance as I did when trying to contact the police. The rain is pouring, I’m freezing cold and there is a man lying on the floor right next to me bleeding to death. And all people are worried about is medical aid.
Eventually, the police and the ambulance come and he is taken away. I go back into my house and take a hot shower, make coffee and try to fall asleep. I sleep, then I dream. The longest dream I’ve had in my life. It’s so realistic, it’s as if I’m living it. A woman comes to me and sits next to me. She says: “I see you, I see your thoughts. You judge my son every day for asking you for sugar, milk and tea and you say he’s lazy. My child, let me explain to you. Only a few are meant to make it, so we can never blame anyone. My son had to leave school, to go to work at a young age. His father left to go work in the mines in Johannesburg.”
As I listen, she continues to speak: “He hardly came home, and when he did, he had the virus. I got it too. There were four kids to take care of, he had to leave to find work so he could feed us. He never got the chance to get papers so he could earn money like you. He had no childhood to speak of. That is why he’s bound by the shackles of the shack.”
I wake up. Oh my, I’m late for work! I quickly shower, get dressed and race to my car. There’s another security person at the gate. Well, our lives have to continue. After all, we work hard for this life. I turn on the radio. The song blasts: “Get the shackles off my feet so I can dance.” I turn it off and remember the dream I had last night.
Work is work, and today I’m feeling depressed by the happenings of last night. I just want to go back to the comfort of my house and sleep. The day ends, I pass by a pharmacy to get sleeping pills. I cannot face those dreams tonight. I need to sleep. When I get home, I take the pills and sit on the couch, with the TV on. All of a sudden, there is a man in my living room. I freak out and scream: “Ufunani lana? What are you doing here?”
The man says: “I see you, I see your thoughts. You think our sons are lazy. Let me tell you, my daughter worked hard, she went through school. She got very good marks. She was in the news for getting straight A’s, while studying in a shack by candlelight. They told her that she was going to a place called university, where all her dreams would come true. Nobody told her that you do not use a pen there but a computer, which costs a lot of money. Nobody told her that the books of that place cost even more than what the family uses in a month to buy food. Nobody told her that she has to have money so she can give her teacher her work: they say it’s called printing. She needed all these things even though the school fees of that place were high, very high. She had a bursary when she started. Yes, she was an intelligent and hard worker.”
The man continues to speak: “She was still from a shack. She could not adapt fast enough to the pressures of that university. Those are the shackles of the shack.”
Suddenly, I wake up to the TV blasting an advert: “Tired of crummy, overcrowded spaces? Try our new apartments….”
I wake up and drag myself to bed. The night is peaceful from then on. I sleep with no interruptions. In the morning, something holds me back. I simply cannot bring myself to go to work. So I stay in. During the day, I walk to the gate, to the scene of the accident.
The new security guard comes up to me and says: “It’s sad, very sad what happened to Alfred.”
I snap and say: “Why do you people choose this life?”
He looks at me, his face filled with astonishment, and then he says: “You so-called rich black folks amaze me, you really do amaze me. How did I pick this life?”
“Well, you didn’t work hard enough,” I say.
“Lady, I work six to six every day, protecting your lovely property, getting paid one thousand five hundred a month to do that,” says the guard angrily. “I get no benefits and when I’m hurt, I do not even get proper compensation. If I dare complain, I will be replaced in a heartbeat, because there are many people waiting for a job. I can’t afford a fancy piece of paper like you.”
“At home, they rely on me to bring home money for food. My mother and father were not educated and were mere manual laborers for the white man. Yes, you lived in a township. However, our struggle was not the same. Maybe you saw a computer now and again.”
“You might have had relatives who showed you how to adapt to this white world. However, I grew up in a shack. I was and still am treated as the scum of society. People think that because I have no money, I’m not worthy of respect. They turn their noses up at me, as if I’m subhuman. Opportunity? The environment shapes a man. The shackles of the shack have shaped me. I’m unable to prepare myself for the opportunities of the white world.”
“I see you, I see your thoughts. You say our sons are lazy. You forget that they keep your lovely suburbs clean, while they live in filth. I see you, I see your thoughts. Your road was hard, but never forget that theirs was hard too.”
“Not everyone can break the shackles of the shack, just a few. So they can say: there is nothing wrong with the world. You see, he made it. But a thousand more are left sinking.”