“Cheer up, Mdu,” said Padlock, apologetically. “Remember that we are fetching over R500 000.”

Mdu’s face melted into a smile. “Yes! And I’m leaving Umlazi for good as soon as I get my share.”

“Where are you going?” said Padlock.

“I’m not sure yet. Somewhere peaceful, close to the beach,” said Mdu. Then he turned to me and asked, “What will you do with your share, Spha?”

“How much is my share?” I asked.

“If it is really 500 000 like the inside man said, then Padlock and I will get 200 000 each. You and the inside man will get 50 000 each.”

My heart jumpstarted when I heard that figure.

“I’ll go back to school and learn a trade, like carpentry or bricklaying,” I said.

Padlock burst out laughing. “You are stupid, Spha. Why do you want to go to school when you know that there are no good jobs for black men in South Africa?”

Mdu looked at me with admiration and said, “You are the one who is stupid, Padlock. Spha is thinking about his future. He is not like us, just living for the day.”

The Port Shepstone turnoff sign came up. I touched the indicator lever.

“No, carry on straight,” said Mdu. “We are getting another car first.”

Mdu directed me inland. The tarmac soon gave way to gravel roads. The land was green, the air so fresh it seemed to replenish my lungs with every breath. After a few kilometres we entered a large yard, with a small shack at the far end. The shack was a garage. A white double cab was inside the garage. Mdu and Padlock plastered ‘Ugu Municipality’ logos on the front doors and we all jumped in.

Mdu made me shove the white double cab on gravel at speeds that would have impressed a rally driver.

The cigarette wholesaler was in the industrial part of Port Shepstone. We parked down the road from the gate and put on blue hats with municipality logos.

Mdu said, “Okay guys, this is how we are going to do this. All the tools are at the back of the van. We will take out cones, set them out to cordon off the area where we will be working. There are three grass cutting machines so it is one for each of us. I bought extra petrol so that we don’t run out.”

We donned overalls and protective gear for grass cutting – goggles, dust masks, earplugs, gloves, safety shoes – and got to work. We cut the grass along the road opposite the cigarette wholesaler. We even took a break. We worked until afternoon. We collected the grass into black refuse bags.

“Okay, it’s time,” said Mdu. “Keep the car idling, Spha.”

They stashed their overalls and protective gear and changed their shoes. Then each picked up a gym bag with guns inside and slung it over their shoulders. They looked like ordinary people workers who were going in to buy cheap bulk cigarettes, as they crossed the road.

They disappeared inside for four minutes. Those were the longest four minutes of my life. My palms were sweaty; I kept my eyes on the rear-view mirror.

They eventually came out. They both walked leisurely and smiled as they got closer to the car. I put the car in first gear. Their smiles quickly disappeared because a siren rang out. Then I saw it.

At first I thought it was just the reflection of the sun on a window pane on the second floor of the building. But it was the window opening. The barrel of a rifle appeared through that open window. Yellow fire came out of the muzzle in quick succession as shots rang out.


Tell us: What do you think of the character Mdu? Is he an unusual gangster, or do all gangsters have a softer, thoughtful, human side?