A Short Story
By Marguerite Ward
The Confessions of St Anger
Of drugs, prostitutes and steamers
“And that scar?” His body is covered with marks, like a retired fighting dog. I heard a cat referred to as having a face like a fist with fur on, he comes close. Only on him, it makes him roguish, I tease him and tell him he’s thuggishly handsome.
The puckered little scar on the back of his thigh stands out from the rest, it’s the only scar on the back of his body, the front, however, is a network of silvery lines and raised ridges.
“Oh, that” he twists around to try and see. His body is lobster red from the hot shower, scars visible as white lines, all across his arms and chest, striking against the overlay of hand-poked tattoos. “That was a gunshot, a fucking point 22 pistol” His Afrikaans accent is endearing, the smirk of derision betrays his embarrassment of being shot by such a small gun.
“Ja, I was climbing over a wall, and guy shot me just as I was going over” He slips on a pair of fluffy pyjama bottoms.
I know enough from watching TV that you can’t go to the hospital with a gunshot wound, calling the police is standard procedure.
“Ag it wasn’t deep, I could feel it just under the skin. So I smoked some weed and got a mirror and took the bullet out with a pair of long-nose pliers”
“Ja, I got fucking sick sweetie!” his eyes crease with humour. Flashing that half-smile he wears just for me. He has the face of an angel. Sometimes it’s Michael, sometimes it’s Lucifer.
“You didn’t sterilise the pliers hey?”
He’s sitting on the bed with his back against the wall, a piece of newspaper in his lap while he sifts through his weed, his hands on autopilot, doing what they’ve done since he was eleven years old.
“Nope. I used Detol to clean the wound and I wrapped my leg with clean bandages, but I didn’t think to clean the fucking pliers”
“It got infected?”
“ Yup, I got a fever and I think tetanus”
“ Tetanus? That can kill you.”
“Ja, but its ok, the prozzies took care of me”
Rolling himself a joint, the most perfect joints I’ve ever seen, I know I’m watching an artist at work. Lighter flares and fragrant smoke billows up around him. Curling up around his heavy brow, lingering in sinister eyebrows.
“I don’t remember all of it, I know at one point I was in a bath with ice and I know I had an IV bag with something in it”
He crosses the room to light an incense stick, star anise, my favourite.
“But where would they have gotten an IV from?”
“I don’t know, maybe one of the girls had a Steamer who hooked her up?”
Steamers. Always cracks me up. He used to look after the prostitutes at night, he insists that he wasn’t a pimp. He would move his booming mandrax business to the street corner at night and keep an eye on the girls, taking down license plate numbers and showing some muscle to the men who would come pick them up. “Soos jy haar kry, so bring jy haar terug” The girls gave him a cut of their takings, R50 a run, he’d take R3000.00 on a good night, not counting the drug sales. Not bad for the late 90’s in Krugersdorp. I’m reminded of that song by The Offspring “…the truth of the world is that crime does pay…” Any Steamer that brings a girl back ‘damaged’ can expect a visit at their home. License plate numbers are given to a mandrax customer, who worked at the license department, addresses are exchanged for merchandise. The house would be burgled and goods sold, to recoup the lost income of the working girl while recovering. With a take for himself of course. It was an arrangement that benefited everyone.
The girls all shared a house and he had the garden flat in the back, the house was situated on route to the abattoir, perfectly placed for workers to come to buy their drug of choice in the early morning hours coming off night shift.
I asked him once what it was like living with a group of prostitutes. He likened it to working at a chocolate factory, you eventually don’t want chocolate any more. Coming off the streets the girls would spend half of their nights takings with him, buying rocks, mandrax and weed. Everyone needing to decompress after a long night. He shakes his head at the stories he’s had to endure, listening to the girls share their day at work with each other, him, the honorary big brother of the group, would just have to suffer through the embarrassingly frank banter that went with being part of this rabble. Nudity was always in excess, a group of women obviously comfortable with their bodies and each other, absorbed him into the fold. He says at first, for a young man barely over 21, he thought his dreams had come true. Being an unashamed ‘boob guy’ it had seemed like a utopia of the barely clad. But eventually, even he found this tiresome and missed the days of a little modesty. I often tease him about how prudish he is and how ironic this is. I think these were the days that formed that strange quirk in his personality.
On nights when he had other business, the girls wouldn’t work, they were safest with him watching over them, using those nights to go out on the town or spend a quiet night in. He would do runs into the seedier areas, stocking up on drugs. Or to do a robbery.
He tells me he got greedy, or maybe just bored. A petrol station robbery went wrong and they had his face on camera. A group of 12 policemen armed with R-5s and shotguns busted into his bathroom and dragged him off to a line-up. The witness didn’t recognize him, but the policemen assure him that this man over here is the one that did it. They weren’t wrong. Sentenced to fifteen years. The criminals on the stand right before him had received ten years each for murder, his armed robbery with no violence or injury receives a harsher sentence. He knows his prior record counted against him, having been in the system since the age of fifteen, they were keen to throw the book at him. Something which he has only shown gratitude for, admitting that prison saved his life.
“What happened to the prozzies when you went away?”
“They were the only ones to come visit me. I had a load of cash kept with a lawyer, another customer, the girls would smuggle it in for me, they had an impressive ability to store things discreetly.”
That half smile again, but this one’s not for me. His arms and chest carry a host of small tattoos, denoting rank, numbers and symbols which to me carry no significance, are the equivalent of pins and stripes on a military officer. In a language, I cannot fathom.
“They were mad at me.” Looking down and starting on a new joint. “I let them down, I didn’t need to do that robbery. I fucked up. And they were angry that I ruined what we had, but they came every week. Until I got transferred to a maximum prison, too far for them to travel to. But they were the only ones who came to see me.”