I live in Alex. We call it Gomorrah. It’s a place that never sleeps. Cops, nurses, and lovers live here, amakwerekwere, and the unemployed brothers of mothers. Me, I’m a bona fide resident, born and bred. The only other place I could live – is space.
Gomorrah used to be a dark city. No lights and no law. I was a kid then. Too young to remember the hostels burning and the men with pangas slashing cops. Now we’re fancy; with our RDP houses and the Gautrain. It’s gold and silver. Every twenty minutes it pulls into Marlboro Station, just across the highway from my house in Extension 8.
My mother, Mbali, wakes up every morning and waters her vegetable patch. It’s not so cool, your mother ploughing land right there in front of your house. Even worse, she sings while she’s doing it. I swear she makes me feel rural all over again (not that I ever was).
While I eat my Weetabix I hear Mrs Malinga shouting from inside her toilet while she looks at us through her window. “Mbali, you bring the rats man. That red lettuce thingy stuff is no good.”
My mother shouts back, “You have no respect, you old goat. I’m feeding the starving. Saving the dispossessed.”
S’bu pitches up. We walk to the taxi rank every morning to go to our school near Sandton. S’bu is skinny, so skinny that when he stands sideways in a crowd you could miss him. S’bu shows me his new telescope. He’s taking it to school today to show kids how to use it. It’s an Orion Space-Probe, electric blue.
“Dude, I saw Saturn’s rings last night.”
S’bu nudges me. “Anytime you want to come round. Any time, chommie,” he’s a real friend.
We get to school on time. Just.
S’bu’s packing his telescope away when Alison rocks up, her ponytail swings from side to side. “Look, the darkies didn’t ‘miss the bus’ today. Run out of relatives who’ve died?”
“At least we have relatives,” I snap.
Alison curls her lip. “Smart, cappuccino. Must be your white genes talking.”
Mrs. Liebenberg walks down the corridor before I can say another word. Alison smiles at me, and walks off. One day I’m going to rip that ponytail of her head, I warn S’bu. He laughs, uneasily.
We have science first period. S’bu talks about his telescope. Not everyone thinks it’s as cool as I do. They have no idea. After science, school moves from one thirty minute period of boredom to the next.
S’bu and I are walking home from the taxi rank, when it all starts going wrong. We’re walking past the Kings movies when suddenly Beno appears, big, mean and flashy.
“Eita, squeeza.” Beno sneers.
I’m scared, like deep down. S’bu is just scared up front.
“Please, Beno, man… We’re just walking home.”
Beno smiles, like a snake opening its mouth. It looks pink and pretty inside. But you can see the venom sacs are full. He puts a heavy arm on my shoulder. “Ebony and Ivory, you want to go out with me sumtime?”
Then he pulls me right up against him, I can smell his breath. It’s not pretty. S’bu panics.
Beno smiles right against my face. “Any donations welcome.”
S’bu begins to quiver. “But Beno, me an Dudu, we got no money.”
Why do you think Beno’s picking on people he knows won’t be able to give him money?