Skhokho is not your typical gangster from eKasi, you know the type – dressed in a black leather jacket, a beanie sitting precariously atop his head while he eyes you menacingly; a frayed toothpick wiggling annoyingly from the corner of his mouth but you know better than to tell him to spit it out. Neh bra, Skhokho was up there with the elites, which suited his name just fine and by elites’s I’m talking Ocean’s Eleven, Italian Job kind of elites; high-end stuff mos. And so when I was invited to his house in Diepkloof, I expected a mansion of some sort or at least a relatively large estate to be rising among the humble dwellings of the Soweto residents. Instead I parked my City Golf on the pavement outside a small face-brick home with a high wall and a black sliding gate. The blue GTI parked haphazardly against the sliding gate made my gut clench in disgust – Parkes.
I slid open the gate and walked through the short cement pathway up to the front door, knocking on the wooden door and waiting. The door swung open and I was face to face with Parkes; he grinned a toothy grin, a piece of gold closing the gap between his two front teeth.
” ‘sbali you are on time for the first time today neh!” he cried jovially, placing his arm around my shoulder and leading me into the dim interior of the house. Alcohol and dagga encompassed him and I fought the urge to cough in disgust. He wheeled me into the living room where Skhokho sat in a large single-seater couch holding a tumbler glistening gold from the liquid within. Parkes nudged me towards the seats while he backtracked to the door to close it.
“The wheelman has arrived – welcome. Sit.” Skhokho swept his arm over the leather couches that formed a semi-circle around him though his eyes fell upon a chair beside him; I sat on the chair beside him.
“Sir” I said nodding. He nodded back. His dark eyes stared at me with amusement, a slight smile spreading on his thick lips as though he was filtering through my thoughts – and enjoying what was hidden within them. I was afraid of him, of course, why wouldn’t I be; everyone was afraid of Skhokho.
“Everything is set. You just need to be on Harrison street on the day, by the Rand Water building…you know where that is.” He said it as a statement. I nodded. He contiued
“There is a Capitec Bank there…that’s our hit. Its a quick job, in out and we are gone long before the bank clerks can even sniff the sink of fear oozing from their armpits ha ha. You know the drill.” I nodded again. I noticed that Parkes wasn’t coming back into the room…in fact I hadn’t heard the door close. Skhokho coughed to revert my attention back to him.
“I’ll find you on the day of the job – be ready. You waste my time, I waste you.” he smiled pleasantly as though he’d just offered to pay for my lunch; a shiver crawled up my spine.
I sat in the car watching various individuals walk past – each one different in how they animatedly spoke to one another. Two college students – girls – obnoxiously told a young man to go find someone who cares elsewhere before briskly walking past the car; I smiled at the one girl. She gave me a look of disgust and carried on with her friend. I laughed.
“Entertaining strangers in the hopes that you to meet an angel…’sbali?” a voice spoke from behind me. I jumped, my heart catching in my throat and galloping like a race horse. I looked at the rearview mirror and there sat Parkes grinning at me like a Cheshire cat.
“Don’t gape at me like an idiot, buddy! There’s a job that needs to be done and guess what? You have been promoted!” Parkes laughed. I saw no humour in his statement; my humour was still recovering from that shock he’d given me (how the heck did he get into the car!) and now I was being thrust into the robbery itself – could this day get any worse?
Of course it could.
I was dodging bullets like a mad-man, weaving through the filing cabinets like a mouse in a labyrinth. The air smelled of gun powder and burning paper. Screams filled the office area which made thinking difficult and that coupled with Parkes’ maniacal laughter drove an ice cold dagger through my head.
“Oh ‘sbali! Don’t you just love this!” Parkes laughed, turning to face me from behind the cover of a desk. I couldn’t laugh…I couldn’t even cry. This was a disaster. So much for an in-out job! The gun in my hand felt heavy and useless, the weight of it like lead in my chest – I’d never shot anyone before; I couldn’t claim that fact anymore after this. Parkes on the other hand crawled further ahead, his hand peering above the desks and letting off shots in the direction of the approaching cops.
Blam. Blam. Blam.
“You’ll never catch us you fat pigs!” He laughed. It was at that moment that I realized why Parkes was Skhokho’s right-hand man; only one who found joy in such chaos could stand on almost equal ground with a man like Skhokho who was just as crazy himself – reserved yes, but crazy nonetheless.
“Hey snap out of it! Let’s go! Car is ready yes!?” I froze. Car? Yes! I nodded. He grinned, motioning for me to go. Fear gripped my legs, froze them in mid rise. I couldn’t…they’d shoot me of course. What if I died right now…what was it all worth!? A bullet ricocheted off the wall beside me, past my face; I’d felt the wind of it graze my nose. Shocked I turned to see Parkes grinning madly at me. He mouthed an obscenity at me followed by the word “Go” as he lifted his gun towards me again. That did the trick. I took off. At the same time, Parkes rose from behind the desk, facing the cops – everything seemed to move slowly.
Parkes pulled a second gun from behind him seemingly from nowhere.
Bullets whizzed by me, clipping the tip of my ear as I ran.
Parkes was rattling bullets off still grinning like a mad man.
It was that same grin that was plastered to his face as he turned towards me, his eyelid dropping slowly in a wink.
A bullet tore through his chest…
I ran past him then, his body covering the door enough for me to get through but that wasn’t enough as hot-white pain burst through my side and I was falling.
On my knees I landed. My side was scorching, I thought I would pass out. Searing pain and heat tore through all reason and I knew I should just quit now, lay down and die. I tried to cry but no tears formed. I looked up and there he was. Skhokho.
I hobbled into the car grinning like a maniac. The blood flowing down my side was slowing down as Skhokho briskly approached the car, opening the back door for me before he entered the vehicle from the passenger side. I threw myself into the car, wincing in pain but managing to shut the door behind me. I lay my head down on the seat, wondering when Skhokho had acquired a new driver. My heart seized up when the driver spoke, the car rolling away from where it was parked.
“Oh ‘sbali! Are you still alive back there?!” I lifted my head, unable to accept the truth of it. Parkes turned his head and grinned at me, his gold filling gleaming. “Looks like you’ve passed the first test neh!” with his maniacal laughter filling the car, a second laughter joined his. It was mine.
A visit to Joburg – The Capitec Bank where the shoot-out occurred ( let it load to street view ) Harrison Street
Skhokho – An untouchable, streetwise guy.
‘sbali – friend
eKasi – A shortened version of the Afrikaans word ”lokasie”. The english word is location, an older word for townships. During the apartheid era, black people were relocated to these townships. The biggest township in South Africa is Soweto.