Bhekani feels the air rush out of his lungs when he sees ‘Mama’ flashing on his cellphone screen. He just knows that his mother is calling to ask for more money. His family is always asking for more, no matter how much money he sends.
“Hello, Ma,” says Bhekani in a low voice.
“How are you, my boy? Is it going well at work?”
“Yes, Mama, all is going well at work. Is everything well there at home?”
Bhekani rues asking this question as soon as the words escape from his mouth.
“I’m glad you asked. We have a major problem here, my boy. The water pipes at the back of the house have a leak. We haven’t had water since yesterday evening. We couldn’t even cook last night. The children went to school hungry because we couldn’t cook porridge.”
“Use a portion of the money I sent you yesterday, Ma. I’m sure it will be enough to fix the pipes,” says Bhekani.
“You make it sound so easy but I understand that you are a man so you don’t know how expensive food is these days. I bought groceries with the money you sent. R7 000 is nothing when buying food for a family as big as ours. I also bought electricity.”
Bhekani exhales. His voice almost breaks when he says, “I hear you, Ma. How much money do you need?”
“R3 000 will be enough, my boy.”
“Okay, Ma. I’ll work something out. I’ll send the money tomorrow,” says Bhekani.
“Thank you. Let me know when you have deposited.”
Bhekani’s eyes fill with tears after dropping the call. “God, what did I do wrong in this world to deserve such stress in my life? What did I do to have this heavy burden on my shoulders?”
He wipes away his tears and drives to the edge of the township. He parks his car in front of a house with a high brick wall. The infamous loan shark, Bra Shakes, lives in this house. There are rumours Bra Shakes has money to lend because he makes a killing selling drugs. The man is notorious because he gets his money back from lenders, one way or the other.
It is a cool morning but Bhekani sweats profusely while sitting in his parked car. He looks at his reflection in the rear view mirror. The disappointment in his eyes looks back at him.
“I work a good job, I get paid well, so I shouldn’t be in this position. I shouldn’t be outside a loan shark’s house about to borrow money,” he says to his reflection.
He is resentful of his family back home in Inanda because if it were not for them and their needs, he wouldn’t be in this situation. His hand is shaking as he knocks on the door of Bra Shakes’ house. A tall man with a mean face and muscular arms opens the door.
“Yes,” says the thuggish man.
“Hi,” says Bhekani nervously. “I’m looking for Bra Shakes. Is he in?”
The man looks at Bhekani up and down, then he looks beyond him to his car. “Get in,” he says.
There are four women sitting on a long couch in the lounge. They are in short skirts, puffing on cigarettes. Bra Shakes is sitting on a single lounge chair, and another girl puffing on a cigarette is sitting in his lap. Music is banging loud from a speaker in the corner.
Bra Shakes lowers the volume.
“Have a seat,” Bra Shakes points to another couch.
“Hi, my name is–”
“I know who you are, Bhekani,” says Bra Shakes.
“How do you know me?”
“I know everyone here in the township. So what brings you to the famous Bra Shakes?” Bra Shakes smiles, exposing rows of gold teeth.
“I need money. I will pay it back soon,” says Bhekani.
“Soon is how soon, Bhekani?”
“I’ll pay it back next week,” says Bhekani.
“On what day?”
“On Friday,” says Bhekani.
Bra Shakes smiles and nods. “How much money do you need?”
“R15 000, Bra Shakes.”
“So much money! You must be in real trouble,” Bra Shakes laughs.
“Will I be able to borrow the money?” Bhekani says curtly.
The smile is instantly wiped from Bra Shakes’ face. He suddenly turns serious and looks into Bhekani’s eyes. “You do know that my money must come back to me with 30% interest?”
“30%!?” Bhekani says loudly.
“That’s correct. And if you don’t pay back the money on the date you promised I will come to your house, take your furniture and appliances, and keep all of it until you pay me back in full,” says Bra Shakes.
“I understand,” says Bhekani.
“If you fail to pay me back after that I will be forced to hurt you … and maybe go further,” says Bra Shakes.
Bhekani nods. Bra Shakes takes out a wad of cash from a bankie. He counts the money and gives it to Bhekani.
“Thank you very much, Bra Shakes. I’ll pay you back on Friday,” says Bhekani.
Tell us: What do you think of this turn of events?