“What’s the big deal?” said K8. “Song might be getting a new job. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

They were waiting in the reception of a backpackers’ in Woodstock. It was a cheap but trendy place. The paint on the outside wall was peeling off and the management wanted to get a cool mural done. A friend at Michaelis art school had recommended K8 and the rest of the Kontax crew. They were waiting for the manager, who was booking in a couple of tourists from New Zealand.

Airtime fidgeted with a spray can, testing how hard he could tap the nozzle before it started spraying. K8 took it out of his hands and put it back into her bag before he could do any serious damage to his own clothing.

“Ja, but I want to buy her a new video camera, don’t I?” said Airtime. “If she gets enough money to buy one first, then I won’t get a chance. I’ll always be the guy who got her camera stolen and didn’t replace it… I wonder how much a new camera costs.”

Airtime took out his phone and started tapping on it. After a few minutes he found the information he needed, and his eyes opened wide.

“That’s… that’s a lot more than I expected.” he said in a squeaky voice.

“So, Sbu had to take Song to see his uncle? That’s why he’s not here?” K8 asked.

“Yes,” said Airtime. “Why are you guys so keen to see each other?”

“No reason.”

The New Zealanders finished signing in and the manager pointed them towards their room. They bustled away down the corridor carrying their backpacks, and the manager came around the desk to them. He was a skinny guy in his 30s, with a goatee and a lip ring.

“Hi, sorry that took so long,” he said in a slightly American accent. “You’re the graffiti artists, yeah?”

K8 introduced herself and Airtime. She showed the manager some photos of the Kontax crew’s work, and a sketchbook with the designs they were planning for the front of the backpackers’ lodge.

“Great, great, nice stuff,” said the manager. He went back to the reception desk and picked up a stack of photocopied forms. “We just have to get these filled in.”

He gave half the stack to Airtime, and half to K8.

Airtime looked at the forms in confusion. “What’s this? Scrap paper? I thought we were going to paint on the wall.”

“You are,” said the manager. “But we’ve got to get a permit from the City of Cape Town if we want to paint anything on our wall. And that means getting permission from the neighbours and the nearby businesses. I’ve printed out these forms to make it easier for them. Could you show them the design, and get them to sign? They just have to write their name, address, date and signature.”

“This is a lot of hard work for graffiti!” said Airtime.

“Tell me about it,” said the manager. “I have to hand in a whole motivation and written permission from the property owner and everything, and then I’m probably going to have to wait for approval from the City, and who knows if they’re going to give it.”

“Wait, so we’re not going to be painting today?” said K8.

“Sorry,” said the manager, shrugging. “It could take months. Still, it’ll be worth it. This will be one of the only buildings in Cape Town with a new mural.”

When K8 and Airtime walked back onto the street, Airtime was despondent.

“Months!” he said. “I’m never going to make enough money to buy Song a camera if I have to wait months every time we paint a wall!”

“Just do your best,” said K8. “You don’t have to buy her a whole new camera right away. Just show her you care enough to try. Right?”

“I suppose so. Eish! This is going to be a long, hard business. Why do we do it?”

“Because it’s worth it,” said K8.

They split up to get signatures.

Image: Dutchy Doo, CC-NC-SA

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you think it’s right to have such strict controls on graffiti? Or should you be allowed to paint the outside of your property the way you want?