Mdu pointed to a house at the end of a narrow road in Chesterville. An elderly lady in a church uniform stood at the gate.
“Park on the pavement,” he said.
The four-room house was well looked after: the paint fresh, the yard immaculately kept. I just couldn’t reconcile the image I had of Padlock with this tranquil setting and a mother going to church.
“Is this where Padlock lives?” I blurted out.
“Yes,” said Mdu. “That’s his mom.”
Padlock’s mom glared at us with an inquisitive stare.
“Ma, how are you?” said Mdu, his head bowed slightly. “Is Padlock around?”
“Hi, Mduduzi. How are you?” she said.
“I am well, Ma.”
“Yes, Siyabonga is inside.” She turned her gaze to me and said, “Who is this?”
“This is our friend, Sphamandla.”
“Is he also a troublemaker, like you and Siyabonga?”
“We don’t cause trouble anymore, Ma,” said Mdu.
“Wemame! I’ll believe that the day you and Siyabonga set foot in church.” Her stare seemed to pierce through us. She shook her head and said, “I’m too old to be running up and down to courts and jail cells. The money I’d saved all my life went down the drain because I paid bail for Siyabonga. He’ll be on his own if he goes back to a life of crime. I’ve had it with him!”
A taxi packed with women in church uniforms stopped at the gate. She got in.
There was a sense of urgency in Mdu’s steps as soon as the taxi left. Padlock led us to a grey, double cab bakkie in the garage. He unpacked new navy overalls branded ‘Ugu District Municipality’. We put the overalls on over our clothes.
I drove the double cab bakkie. Mdu was next to me, Padlock sat sprawled out in the backseat. We briskly ate up the kilometres.
“Step on it, wena!” Padlock suddenly shouted.
“No, don’t do that Spha,” said Mdu. “Keep it below the speed limit. We have guns and gloves in the car. We can’t afford to get stopped. A speeding ticket may result in a car search.”
“But the inside man has already sent a message asking where we are,” said Padlock.
“What did you say, Padlock?” Mdu’s voice vibrated with rage. “What did you say?”
“He is asking where we are,” said Padlock.
“What do you mean?” said Mdu, his voice an octave higher than before.
“He called me to–”
“Padlock, do you mean you have your phone here? That right now you are communicating with the inside man?”
“Stop the car, Spha!” said Mdu.
We were on the bridge over Umkomaas River. I hit the brakes and slid to the yellow lane. The Umkomaas roiled brown with silt after two days of heavy rains. The slap Mdu meted out to Padlock clapped above the howl of the river.
“What are you doing, Mdu? Why are you slapping me?” said Padlock, stunned.
“You amateur! You’ll get all of us burned!
Padlock was a notorious tough guy but right then, as I held Mdu back, I saw pure fear for Mdu in his eyes.
“How could you be so stupid, Padlock?” Mdu’s whole body shook. “Do you know that investigators will look at the cellphone records of all employees at the cigarette wholesaler after the robbery? How can you take that risk when I told you ‘no cellphones’?”
“I was going to switch it off before we reached Port Shepstone,” Padlock sniffled.
“Give me that phone!”
Padlock handed it to Mdu. Mdu rolled down the window and tossed the phone down into that roiling river.
Tell us: Do you find it surprising that a guy like Padlock could have a law abiding, church-going mother? If he gets caught again, should she cut him off?