JOE

A short story by

Shameelah Khan

 


Enver

Weet julle.’ I told my friends, Faiz Junior, Milo, Harry and Ibi. They stared at me, anticipating the wise words from a snooker champion. ‘This game, is like making love to a woman.’

‘Ugh, we still laaities man,’ Milo shouted.

‘Gents. Please. A woman doesn’t want to be hit hard, no, no, no…’ I said as I pointed my index finger from side to side. ‘Ja, a woman wants to be touched and that’s how the ball gets into the hole gently.’ I winked and they laughed at me. I was serious though.

_ _ _ _ _

All my life I had only seen the way a man beat a woman. The way his fist pounded against her flesh. His hands, covered in blood, were not enough to make him stop. My father, Joe, had hit my mother and Frida, his second wife, that way. Beating women was something that Kajee men did, but I wasn’t like that. I had never hit my women.

I had two weaknesses in life, one was my love for the game of snooker and the other was obvious; it was the love for women. I was content with these because they separated me from the weakness of my father- his love for money. Women, on the other hand, were his strength.

_ _ _ _ _

I took the cue from Faiz Junior because he messed up the game. The kid was useless, couldn’t hit one straight shot. I told him to go and play marbles outside instead. This was a game for men. Milo handed me a scotch and said, ‘weet jy, Enver, you can play this game in the dark.’ I put my drink down and I lowered my knees. The cue was firm in my hand. My eye was leveled on the white ball and I scientifically positioned my stick. After one hit, my white ball kissed another and pushed it into a hole.

_ _ _ _ _

Milo didn’t know this, but there had been no electricity on the night I was born. Somehow the darkness had stayed with me and marked me as the child my father never got to see.

‘You black bastard,’ he called me.

One day, Frida had told me to unpack my mother’s clothes and put it into a bin bag. The first and only time I had ever smacked a woman was then, age ten. My hand hit against Frida’s cheek and I had threatened her, ‘don’t you dare touch my mother’s clothes.’

Bassie grabbed me and we hid in the veld opposite our house. We watched when Joe had arrived. Frida held her cheek and cried. We heard my father scream ‘where is that fucking black dog?’

However, over time, I had learnt to love Frida like I did my own mother. I was there when Joe had first hit her. It made Ma so angry because Frida was the same age as my oldest sister, Bibi. He went for her beautiful face first. Her milk white skin slowly stained in redness, like a guava cut open, ripe-flesh seeped through. He had kicked her so hard that night, her rib cracked. Even though Bibi cupped my ears, I heard the sound it made. Ma couldn’t take the screams so she stepped in front of Frida and took the beatings for her, every last one.

The next day, Frida made me fetch a bucket of water and a sponge. She washed my mother and wiped her naked body as though she was a baby, covered in blood, born for the first time.

_ _ _ _ _

‘Why don’t you take your time?’ I am angry because Milo missed his shot.

He looked at me and smiled, the yellow of his front two teeth had a dent of brown in them. ‘We can’t all be Enver.’ He said sarcastically with a raised eyebrow.

I sipped my drink. Fat Jimmy and Old Tops ran in and told us that some guys were arguing with Joe and Bassie outside of the Crescent. I grabbed my cue and left.

The Lulubelles, a notorious gang, was outside talking to my father, one guy had his finger in Joe’s face. Bassie saw me and the look in his eyes was hilarious. He knew that I had come for one reason, to fuck those guys up. Milo held my cue while I neatly rolled my shirtsleeves up.

I hit the one guy from behind and blood was already visible. It was a dog-eat-dog world. This upset Joe because he didn’t agree with my methods of how I handled conflict in the streets. Family was everything and we took care of each other. Someone had to be the man. I told Milo to finish the one guy off because he broke my cue in half. I was hit once or twice but it felt good.

I saw Joe turn around and head back into the café, but Bassie stayed behind. I kicked the guy in front of me and he fell to the ground. A ‘notorious’ gangster, like a white ball, the easiest target.

The police station was a street away from Uncle Joe’s and we heard the sirens. They scattered- we had won the game. I unrolled my shirtsleeves and stood with my chest out- a proud man. Before I lit my cigarette, I spat out some blood and it hit the ground with a splat. Bassie stared at my saliva and then gazed at me while I dragged on my cigarette. The look he gave me suggested that I should not sleep at home for a while.

I sat out one round of the game. I needed a drink. The bartender, Frankie, too old to be in this business, handed me my usual. Over the years, he had supplied my father with many drinks, but outside of the bar. Joe was too good for this place.

_ _ _ _ _

Once, when his club 300 still existed, he had hosted a meeting with some of the new ANC members. I remembered Uncle Nelson told Joe that Bassie was a good boy and will turn into a fine activist one day. The men drank and I was told to go to the back and fetch some more drinks. In front of his friends, I wasn’t the black one, but I was still a worker.

At the back, I had decided to taste some of the liquor; I wanted to know why men loved their alcohol so much. It is why I understood the need for a man to hold a drink in his hand in order to mark his manliness. I never told Bassie or anyone that I had loved the taste of it on my tongue and the burn down my throat. I had returned and handed the crate to the men. All of them took one, except for Mr. Kathrada, Joe’s good friend.

_ _ _ _ _

Frankie handed me another drink. ‘Ou Joe’s se seun.’ He said in a kassie Capetonian voice. I hated the way they spoke, always singing Afrikaans as though it was their mother tongue from the start.

Ek’s Enver.’ I told him politely as I took my drink and sipped it.

A young woman walked into the bar. I stared for a minute longer than I should have but her face looked pressingly familiar. I must have seen her at Joe’s café. She sat next to me and asked for a drink. Her dress was tight, the way my mother hated them to look. It was a plain black number, with a bit of her cleavage on show. Her kitten heels suggested that she was a receptionist or a waitress. She looked Indian, maybe from Lenasia or possibly Fordsburg. As long as she wasn’t family of that bitch Jany, I was fine.

‘So what’s your drink?’ I asked her.

She pushed her long goldish highlighted hair back behind her ear and folded her legs. ‘I’ll just have vodka for now, with some coke in it thanks,’ she spoke to Frankie, and then looked at me.

‘Are you Uncle Joe’s son?’

‘The handsome one I think.’

‘I thought you looked familiar; I’m uncle Sol’s daughter. I am not supposed to be here. God forbid a Muslim woman is seen in a bar by thee Uncle Joe’s son.’

I laughed at that. ‘Yeah, my father wouldn’t like me drinking with you, but out of jealousy maybe.’

She sipped on her drink.

‘You know the first time Joe ever caught me drinking I was twelve. He didn’t know that I was drinking before that though. I was in his bar doing my homework.’

I smiled at her because the word ‘bar’ in a Muslim home took her off-guard. I winked at her, ‘so my father left some whiskey in a glass and I decided to finish it. Just then, he walked in and ek raak bang.’

She giggled and it reminded me of my younger sister, Jubeida’s giggle.

‘So, he took the drink out of my hand and I was expecting him to swear at me or moer me you know. But, he took the glass and touched my shoulder and he said, “no Enver, no my son, drinking isn’t good for you.” and I just sat there-shocked.’

I laughed in a husky tone that was a bit too loud for her. “I lie, when he left, I finished the drink man.’

My boys called me over to play a game of snooker. I ignored them because for the first time, I chose to stay in the company of a woman instead.

Bassie

I woke to the sound of the athaan in a fright. The words ‘Allahu akbar, allahu akbar,” from the local mosque, filled the streets of Sophiatown. My room was impregnated with clouds of stale air and recycled heat. By morning, I was soaked in my sweat and my T-shirt stuck to me like cling wrap. The dogs in Toby Street were quiet, but the birds chirped on.

My father was asleep, while my mother prepared his breakfast. He will wake to find his scrambled eggs and fried onion on a plate with a side helping of roti. My father only ate homemade roti, so my mother made a new batch every night before she slept.

Allahu akbar, allahu akbar.

Like rain against corrugated iron, the sound of the words hit against our three-roomed house. I wished that I could say I knew how to pray like a Muslim. For a moment, before I got out of bed, I remembered my schoolteacher, Mr. Henson.

_ _ _ _ _

Mr. Henson reminded me of my father. He was a disciplined man who was well respected by his colleagues. My father had put my younger brother, Enver, and I into a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in Cape Town. We had arrived and the GOOD HOPE TRAINING SCHOOL sign welcomed us.

My father didn’t read the smaller, faded, sentence underneath the title, which read: ‘Compulsory Bible Classes’.

From 1951 to 1953, Mr. Henson made the boys and I go out every Friday to call the people of sin toward the light of God. I had the great idea of going into taverns in Athlone where I had addressed the drunkards directly.

I held the bible firmly in my right hand against my chest and the empty beer bottle in my free hand while I had addressed them.

Kom nou mense.’ I said in a deep voice, ‘Hierdie dop wat julle drink is die duiwel se pis.

Sometimes more than ten of them followed me back to the school where we had all observed Sabbath. Mr. Henson had called me aside and said, very politely, ‘Seuntjie, luister, die is God se huis, en nie die van al die dronk mense in Athlone nie.’

The first time I had ever prayed to Allah was on the day of baptism. I had asked Him to save us from the wrath of Mr. Henson for the rule I was about to break. We stood in line, Enver and I. What would Ma say to us if we had returned home as Seven Day Adventists? There would be many angry and loud words, but it was the thought of her disappointment that swayed my decision. I grabbed Enver’s hand and dragged him back to the dorms where Mr. Henson waited for us.

He had broad shoulders and wore shirts that were one size too small for him. It made his belly stick out and we often teased that he looked like Father Christmas. He pulled his pants up and held his belt buckle when he addressed me.

Praat nou Seuntjie,’ he said firmly, his Nazi-blue eyes fixed on me.

The sweat on Enver’s face moisturized his forehead and he looked at me to speak. My legs caved in and my pudgy body felt heavier.

‘Mr. Henson, with all due respect sir, my brother and I have appreciated our time here at Good Hope. But we cannot be Seven Day Adventists, because we have been born Muslim.’

Enver had stepped back and awaited his lashes. Instead of what we had expected, Mr. Henson grabbed my hand and shook it as though we had signed a successful business contract. ‘I can respect that seuntjie.’

_ _ _ _ _

My mother knocked on my door before she entered.

‘Bassie boy, time to get up for work.’

I smiled at the thought of Mr. Henson and the people of Athlone.

Jee ma, I’m coming.’

_ _ _ _ _

I sat on my father’s chair at the head of the kitchen table while I ate his leftover eggs that my mum dished out for me. Frida joined us in the kitchen. She took some plates from Ma, dried them off and packed them away. I watched in admiration as they stood side by side in our house. They whispered some story in Afrikaans that I barely understood. It sounded as though Frida told my mother that the aunty a few houses down had lost her baby. Ma suggested that they take flowers and biscuits to the house later on.

_ _ _ _ _

Ma was fifteen when she had married my father. According to her, they had a few good years. They had first lived in Springs after my father had settled in South Africa from India. Those were the years my parents had loved each other the most. ‘The years of wood and fire.’ Ma had called them.

My mother told us that when they had just married, they were so poor that every afternoon, after work at the factory, my father had collected wood for their evening heat. Joe grew restless about their living condition and between them, slept the idea of money. After he had collected a large enough sum, they relocated to Johannesburg and their lived had changed.

Towards the end of WW2, Joe had earned enough money and eventually greed divorced him from the man he once was. He earned himself the title of the very first Indian man in Johannesburg who acquired a liquor license, as well as a few nightclubs.

One evening, he had his new blue suit on. His oily, thinned-out hair was combed back and layered in gel. I breathed in the smell of his musk aftershave. This was a man with good news, a new shop perhaps or nightclub. We waited anxiously.

‘Julie.’ he said to my mother, ‘I am going to Cape Town tonight.’ He coughed up some phlegm and spat it into his light-green handkerchief. ‘When I return in a week, have a meal ready for Frida.’

We sat together at the dinner table and stared at Frida, the white woman Joe had married. Ma had lost her appetite that night and many nights thereafter. Frida was a ballroom-dancer, and that showed in her physique. She was dressed in a pinstriped knee-high white dress with black pantyhose that made her look like Suzy Parker.

After dinner, my father had escorted Frida to his room and my mother slept with us. I understood why my father needed a second wife. My mother couldn’t be the type of woman my father needed by his side in his nightclubs or business meetings. Frida knew how to walk in a way my mother couldn’t. But she would never know the way my father liked his eggs in the morning, so my mother stayed.

_ _ _ _ _

We drove through Toby Street. The morning fog hovered above the wet road. The steam that trailed along our journey, out of Sophiatown, looked like smoke flushing out of a factory chimney. I drove by Uncle Solomon’s fish shop and his son had already opened for business. I pulled up into Carr Street and our sign greeted me: The Crescent Restaurant. I preferred its original name, even though everyone called it ‘Uncle Joe’s Café’.

_ _ _ _ _

In a newspaper article in The Post, my father had spoken about The Crescent being the first halaal restaurant in Johannesburg. He had said, ‘I want all my friends to come and meet me here.’ There was a photograph taken inside the shop and everyone who had worked in it stood next to my father, proud to have their photo taken with him. After that, business had boomed. The end of 1956 had been a slow year for us and we thought that the business would not make it. But by 1958, Ma’s cooking was the talk of the town. When you entered Carr Street, you could smell the sweet ethnic aromas of mixed garum masala and Jeera spice pulsating from her lamb curry.

_ _ _ _ _

I opened the shop and started to unpack the chairs while Frida opened some windows. Ma went straight to the back and cooked. We each knew where we belonged. Frida ran the tills in the front and welcomed people, while I ran the milkshake and sandwich bar. Aside from me, my father forbade my siblings from any business rights, especially Enver, because he did not have the same work ethic as I did. I am also the only son my father entrusted with an extra set of keys to his Ford.

A group of black musicians walked in and greeted Frida. She showed them to a table and I grabbed a pad and pen for their orders.

Once seated, Bra Hugh stood at the head of the table with his hand out to me, ‘This is Joe’s right-hand man.’ He shifted his hand to them.

‘These are the members that will play tomorrow at the Jazz Sunday.’

He introduced me to a few. I tried to remember their names but I only managed to recall, ‘Lenny on the Trumpet, Harold Baxster on the piano and of course,’ he said, as he pointed his finger to another man, ‘Kippie Moeketsi, you know him, on the sax.’

I remembered Kippie. He played at the restaurant many times before with Bra Hugh.

Before I left, Bra Hugh smiled and tugged on my shirt, “Do you think after we eat, we could just check the stage and all that stuff so tomorrow goes well my boy?”

I nodded, ‘of course Sir, just call me when you’re ready.’ He cupped my shoulder before I left to give their orders to my mother. In the meantime, I made some sandwiches for people who wanted a light snack. Saturdays were always the busiest.

Ma made the evening curries and a few batches of roti and butter garlic naans. We were all set to leave. On the way home, Ma yawned. ‘Nou is ek baie moeg.’ She closed her eyes and placed her head on Frida’s shoulder. She was always so tired after work because she worked the most. But without each other, the restaurant would not function.

Even though I had never taken a liking to Frida as a child, now that I worked with her and lived under the same roof as her, I saw what my mother appreciated about her. She carried herself elegantly, as a woman should. But, it was how she carried my mother, as a sister would, that stood out for me.

My father impatiently waited for me outside the house. There was a lit cigar in his mouth and his foot remained tapping. He was a short Indian man, but stood tall in his stride. Frida and Ma got out of the backseat and he ignored their greeting.

He sat in the front with me and I drove us back to The Crescent restaurant in an aggravated silence. The sun was setting over Sophiatown and I welcomed the late afternoon athaan as I drove past the mosque. My father considered himself a man of God but not once have we prayed together. Unlike the silence of the morning, the dogs howled at the bidding of daylight.

‘I hate untamed dogs.’ He said, followed by a lengthy drag of his cigar. He blew the smoke into my face and I tasted its minty aftermath.

‘Their barking is like a curse. BOY. KAFFIR. PASSBOOK. Like a reminder of the police.’

‘Bra Hugh and some of his other friends came by the cafe to prepare for their show tomorrow.’

‘It’s better when they check. If it meets their standards, it’s good – we need that in the Jazz community.’

I parked and we headed inside for the second shift. With Ma and Frida gone, the night shift functioned more as a takeout. We had the curries ready-to-go and usually the customers popped in, collected their meals, and left.

I saw my father and Jany through the window. She was dressed like a whore. I saw an outline of her lips, a cheap red colour of lipstick, stained on my father’s cheek. She had dark markings under her eyes and her cheekbones looked skeletal. Her skinny dark legs were shaped by a high-waist black pants that my father’s hands traced over, up and down, as he caressed her arse. They got into the car and drove off. I looked over at the counter and realized my car key was gone.

By 2am, I knew that he was not going to return, so I trekked home. I thought about the three hours of sleep I would get before it was time for me to wake up again.

I finally reached our house, number 5 Toby Street. Everyone was asleep besides Ma. She was in the kitchen, where she rolled my father’s roti dough.

‘Bassie Boy.’ My mother said as she pressed her fist into the clump of dough.

Jee mummy?’

‘Without you, your father would not have that restaurant. Jy’s my slim kind. I hope he remembers that.’

I kissed her goodnight and headed to my room. I lied awake in bed and waited for my father to return.

PAGE_BREAK: PageBreak

Ibrahim

‘Ibrahim, Joe is sick.’ Jubeida sounded sad and I could hear in her tone of voice that he was really sick.

‘Do you think we will still have my 21st birthday if I come to Jo’burg?’

Agh Ja Ibrahim, I think so. Everyone is saying that daddy will die soon, so with your luck he will die before your birthday.’

‘Bassie told me you seeing a Chinaman, he better be ready for me when I get home.’

‘He isn’t Chinese, he’s a Muslim and apparently you know him. But then again, who don’t you know?’

She clicked her tongue. ‘Mummy wants to talk to you.’

‘Why must you always lie to me? I told you I didn’t want to speak to mummy yet until I sort my kak out.’ I thought about hanging up but Ma took the phone.

‘Ibrahim!’ It was my mother’s angry voice but I loved the sound of it.

‘You said you would call me when you got out of prison.’

Jee Mummy, I just wanted to get some money and come home for my 21st. It was going to be a surprise.’

‘Do you promise me Ibrahim?’ I missed my mother when she said my name like that, with its full Arabic pronunciation Ib-rah-eeem.

Jee, mummy. I promise to be home soon.’

‘Are you eating well my boy?’

Jee mummy.’

‘Okay, salaam. I love you my stout kind.’

She hung up and I cried. After all these years, it was only my mother who made me cry like a child. I laughed at the thought, a big gangster in Cape Town, in tears.

This house in district 6 was filthy. My mother would be angry that I lived with such gangsters. That is how it was you know. I got out of prison and needed some quick change. I ended up, with some bras of mine. Riz said that it would be easy, just a few robberies, nothing big. I liked these guys; their motto was ‘only kill if attacked.’ I wanted to be better for my mother. I promised her that I would not get myself in prison again.

I took a bin bag from the kitchen and decided to clean up a bietjie. Men lived like dogs in this house. They scavenged on whatever they could find.

There are some dirty plastic plates from the braai we had the other night so I threw them away, but saved the ones we could reuse. Under the table that we made from old beer crates and a wooden slab, I scooped up the used injections and burnt out pipes. I saved the spoons and the leftover rocks and weed. I don’t want the gents to think I stole their stuff. Even though, I wanted to. Someone’s socks got tossed into the bag along with the twenty-five beer bottles that I had counted. After the table was wiped and the carpet swept, I went for a walk.

I ended up at the beach where some coloured kids splashed around in the water. The view of Table Mountain was plastered as the backdrop and it reminded me of my family. Their mother, I assumed, called them to take a break for lunch. She had a beautiful body. Her husband helped her distribute the food equally.

_ _ _ _ _

I remembered when we were in Durban over New years. Joe had joined us. It was 1953, or so, Joe owned the first wholesalers in Hilbrow, called Superb Fashions. He went into partnership with a man by the name of Bobby Gold, a Jew.

It was the first time we had voyaged anywhere as a family with Joe, Ma and Frida. Durban was hot and the air was moist. It was difficult to breathe at times and my hair looked curlier. My father laughed and called us all, ‘Regte Bushmen.’

The section of the beach we had to swim in was full of people. We had been in luck when Joe spotted some of his friends and they welcomed us to join them. We spread out a few towels and Joe even had an umbrella pushed into the sand, which created some shade, for him mostly. The ocean water was warm and we were disappointed because we thought it would have cooled us down. Bassie said that Indians, like Joe, were so important in the world that God had named the ocean in Durban after them. The sea was too full of grownups so we played a game of stuck in the mud along the shore. Enver and I were bored of how slow the girls were so we blasted them with mud balls instead. Ma made us stop when Jubeida cried. We had spent hours there and Ma and Frida made us egg and mayo sandwiches and orange juice that didn’t taste like orange juice, after all the water Ma had added to it.

The next day, on New Years Eve, we turned on the radio and we heard a lady say, ‘THE BIGGEST EXPLOSION IN HILBROW.’ We didn’t get to enjoy the fireworks in Durban because we had to return home. We learnt that the store had been burnt to the ground. Soon after, my father and Bobby were arrested for blowing up their own store. Ma said that Joe wanted to get the insurance money. The bail was set at 50 000 pounds, a sum too large for Joe, so he stayed in jail. He didn’t want us to visit him. But Ma went every week with a plate of food.

When my father had returned, he was a different man. He often stayed out at night engaged in discussion with different political groups, mostly Azapo. Eventually, he had opened up a nightclub where he hosted activist meetings.

My father was not only a different man but also a broken one after prison. The more he experienced politics in the country, the more he loathed his skin colour. Those had been the years Joe drank more than usual.

_ _ _ _ _

My friend Shubba joined me on the beach. He gave me a cigarette, Camel, my favourite.

Ou, Couple Joe. Die dukkest gangster in die Kaap.’ He said.

I laughed. I hated that name, Couple Joe, but it was a nickname that made me a known gangster in the prisons. People I had never met knew who I was and they were afraid.

Weet Jy, my naam is Ibrahim maar, ek sal Couple Joe wees elke dag in die straat.

He laughed so loud I counted the teeth he no longer had. He smelled too, of brandy and damp laundry. His pants was ripped and stained with brown patches, and his old blue Fubu t-shirt was faded.

Kan ek ‘n klein skyf vang asseblief?’ he reached out and took the cigarette from me.

‘Shubba, weet jy, daar is net twee dinge met die naam Couple Joe. Die eerste is die vis, Kabeljou and dan is daar ek. As iemand wou Couple Joe, die man, steek, weet jy, ek is ‘n dood man.’ I say this with my index finger laced across my throat. Shubba laughed, a cloud of smoke covered my face. I took my cigarette and finished it. I dug the butt into the sand. ‘Maar, my naam is die naam van my pa. En weet jy, ek haat my pa.’

Shubba shook my hand, ‘Awe Couple Joe, bly sterk my bra.’ And he left.

Friends from District 6 came and went like cigarettes in my life, net so, they made me sick but I needed them to survive. A man who walked the streets without friends was a dead man.

As an early birthday present, I gave myself another tattoo. I told my friend Skimpy to make it in colour and far away from all my others. I told him to put it on my chest, ‘close to the heart.’

The needle felt soft against my skin. Some blood particles trickled out but it was nothing compared to the huge Donald duck on my left arm. I put the words C A M E L on my chest.

_ _ _ _ _

The very first time my father had suspected that I smoked; he called me aside and asked me if the rumours were true. I looked down at the floor. It was a habit I had picked up as a child when Joe spoke to me.

He hit my head, ‘Ibrahim, can you use your head and think boy?’ he shouted at me. I couldn’t speak that day. He dragged me outside and turned me around, held me firmly by my ankles and hit my head on the cement sidewalk outside our house. He stopped once he saw blood smeared on the pavement.

‘Maybe, now you will think when I speak to you.’

Ma wasn’t there, but when she found me, she was very angry with my father. The second time my father had suspected me smoking, he dished out a few punches, and then took me into the bathroom. He had filled the bathtub and shoved my head into the ice-cold water. In and out. In and out, like a boxing match, except I had no time to defend myself. He continued until I was semi–unconscious, when Rasool, my elder sister, took me to my bed. She kept me up all night so that I would not fall asleep until Ma had arrived.

_ _ _ _ _

The sound of the needle buzzed in my ear.

‘Couple Joe, this tattoo is mos kwaai. Different to the others my broer.’

Ja, my broer, this tattoo is about the first day my father saw me as a man. Weet jy, I was maybe 18 this time. I got myself a fancy shmancy new suit, those lekka numbers, with the cuffs and everything, even another colour shirt underneath.”

The needle poked me a bit harder and I winced in pain. He stopped and then touched my chest with a piece of cloth, ‘maaf my broer, that was my fault, continue there with the story.’

Ja, so I have this mooi cherry on my arm you see and I wanted to impress her, but I didn’t have any money. So I decided that we would go to my father’s café, Uncle Joe’s café. My mother said she’d fix us a nice meal there for free you know.’

I laughed and rubbed the tears from my eyes because Ma was always so good to me, even when I broke her heart and ended up in prison.

‘So, then, weet jy, here my vokken father walked in. Elke dag die man is nie daar nie, maar op die dag, vok, daar staan hy. His eyes was just on me like a lion waiting you know.’ I laughed; my breath had an apt aftertaste of camel on it.

‘Anyway, he called me aside, nou’s ek bang my chommie, yoh. Ek dink die man sal my dood skiet. But he called me, and he asked me if I smoked. So I looked him in the eyes, ‘jee daddy, now I do.’ And my father smiled at me and then looked at my date, ‘and is that your girl Ibrahim?’ and I said ‘jee, yes, daddy.’

He stopped the needle, ‘and then?’ curiosity puzzled in his eyes.

I smiled, ‘die beste part van die storie, and then he took out his box of cigarettes, CAMEL, and he handed it to me and then just like that, he walked away.’

My chest was sore when I got home. I looked in the mirror and the colour was rich in green and brown, the way I wanted it. I struggled to see it because I read it as LEMAC. I sat on the couch; there was no one home. I rolled myself a spliff with some of the Zol I had saved. It wasn’t the high that I enjoyed most, but also the process. I enjoyed how I touched the Zol and pressed it between my index and thumb to create a refined texture, free of seeds. Or the way the rizla enclosed it like a cocoon. The smell of the joint, once lit, was the real payoff. I think I stuck to Camel for this reason too, something about its intense smell reminded me of Jamaica. A place I always wanted to visit.

My friend, Boety, walked in and told me that while I was gone, someone had phoned for me, Jubeida.

‘What the hell did she want again?’

Boety sat down next to me, ‘Couple Joe,’ he breathed out heavily, ‘she wanted me to tell you that your father died.’

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