The Man on the Escalator

Credit: gifbin.com

(follows on the two previous posts)

Gertruida says escalators are the great levellers of this world. They go up at one speed. Down the same way. And everybody is forced to travel at the same speed. Presidents don’t get to the next level any faster than the shack-dweller. Sinner or priest – we all progress at the same rate.

Occasionally you’ll find some dumbass somebody in a real hurry, trying to barge his way up or down an escalator. These people carry worried frowns and rarely smile as they do so. They also disregard the others on the electric stairway and never say sorry when they bump into your heavily-laden shopping bag, shattering the eggs. It is safe to assume such individuals are so desperate to hurry, they forget their manners.

One should always avoid them.

Diksarel doesn’t know much about escalators. They are rare in the Kalahari. But today, he finds out they are rather handy when you hurry.

You see, Diksarel isn’t stupid. As a bookkeeping clerk, he knows about balancing things. Column A must have the same number at the bottom as Column B – that sort of thing. He likes figures –  they don’t lie. Every inscription, every cent is important. The secret of a balance sheet lies in the accuracy of your reasoning: which figure belongs where? Logical thinking – that’s the bottom line of Diksarel’s line of work.

So, when he realises that Kneehigh might just not be around; that she of the beautiful body and heavenly eyes might have lied about meeting him here at the airport; he started thinking about what that might imply. Did she have an accident? Possible. But she would have phoned, wouldn’t she? Catching an international flight isn’t something you play around with.

Or…heaven forbid…did she lie on purpose? But then again…why would she give him a legitimate ticket on a real aeroplane to a fancy hotel on a tropical island? If something is too good to be true, it usually is, isn’t it? Life, Diksarel knows all too well, distributes lemons, not strawberries and cream.

He wonders about this. If she wanted him out of the way, why choose such an exotic destination? Surely the Maldives are a bit over the top, not so? Or did she want to implicate him as a corroborator in a tax scandal – something akin to what his father did so many years ago. Only, his father had an affair with a black lady, and now he’s involved in an even more sordid story with a white one. Colour, Diksarel decides, doesn’t determine the outcome…it’s the intention behind the action that counts.

So: Column A and Column B doesn’t match. Why…?

***

Not far away from him, the two men – Botha and Sithole – are watching faces, acting on a tip-off from their head office. They have a photo and a name. The man they’re looking for (so they were told) is involved in tax evasion and has brought the good name of RD+P into disrepute. Mister Radebe, himself, phoned the Revenue Service to lay a complaint against the unscrupulous clerk who wanted to defraud the law firm by stealing money – and now he wants to flee the country.

“Watch the passengers boarding the flight toe the Maldives. We have it on good grounds that he’ll be boarding that aeroplane. If you hang around there, you’ll get your man.”

Lawyers, like we all know, are good and solid, law-abiding citizens. They never lie. And no law firm like RD+P would try to pull a fast one: if they alleged that Diksarel was planning to skip the country after committing a felony, then the Revenue Service should surely act. And they did. That’s why they’re here…

Radebe’s reasoning is simple: Diksarel knows too much. If he started poking around and found out about the huge bribe the firm had taken to drop the case against the State, there’d be egg on many prominent faces. So…fabricate a bit of evidence! Film the man while he meets Kneehigh, document his willingness to tamper with legal documents and catch him as he leaves the country. Sure…afterwards Diksarel will tell his story, but how easy would that be for a clever lawyer to handle in court? To convince the judge that Diksarel is just trying to lie his way out of trouble, will be a piece of cake!

***

By now, Diksarel is convinced that something terrible is wrong. He’s on the airport. Kneehigh didn’t pitch. Is he to leave for the Maldives …alone? Of course not! The object of the trip was to get closer to the gorgeous curves of kneehigh, first and foremost. Had she suggested a remote cabin on the Skeleton Coast, he’d have agreed equally willingly.

No…he won’t go alone. As he gets up to see if, somehow, Kneehigh is around somewhere – a last chance gesture, despite the certainty in his mind that she isn’t – Botha and Sithole find their man at last. Shouting at Diksarel to remain where he is, they make their way towards him, fighting off the throng of tourists waiting to board.

Column A and Column B are now so utterly imbalanced, that Diksarel adds two and two together in a microsecond. Two men. Shouting at him. Kneehigh not there. Ticket in his pocket. That invoice…! Noooo!

The power of a guilty conscience! Knowing he had broken the basic rules of bookkeeping, Diksarel realises that those two men are here for no other reason than to question him about his actions.

Diksarel gathers his little suitcase (swimming trunks, spare shorts and shirt, toothbrush and the blue pills) and starts running. He doesn’t know where to go, but he doesn’t want to stay where he is and talk to the two strange men shouting his name. He might not be an expert on human relationships, but these men aren’t here to wish him a carefree trip, that’s for sure.  Their scowls and angry voices tell him as much.

Running blindly, he meets the first escalator he’s ever seen.

Ever tried running up an escalator coming down? It’s not fun. The people coming down don’t appreciate your athletic ability at all. In Diksarel’s case, one particularly large lady has ample reason to be upset.

Molly Malgas works at the Wimpy restaurant on the next level. She has five children to look after and struggles to make ends meet. She has a secret, too.

Every day, in the middle of her shift, she excuses herself to, er, powder her nose. What the obliging manager doesn’t know, is that Molly then takes a dozen eggs (stolen from the fridge), puts them in a shopping bag (with some stolen buns) and sneaks down to the lower level. Here she’ll meet Solly, her oldest son, who’ll take the food home to the hungry family.

Every day, without fail.

And it is here, on the escalator, while looking furtively over her shoulder to see if the manager paid any attention to her, that Diksarel barges into her. The shopping bag gets crushed. So do the eggs…

Now Diksarel has two sets of voices screaming at him. Molly – with the yolk dripping from the ripped bag – vents her anger with a huge backhand. Diksarel ducks. The man next to him gets the blow right between the eyes. It’s Botha, who staggers back on Sithole. They tumble back, allowing the escalator to carry them down at a faster rate than the rest of the people using the stairs.

Except Diksarel. Fright has given him more wings than any legal energising drink on the market. He’s squeezed past Molly and now runs up the down escalator in a record time. He doesn’t pause at the top. Still running in no particular direction, he ignores the hubbub behind him. Away. He must get away!

Perhaps Gertruida is right about escalators being the great equaliser. It has given the unfortunate bookkeeper a fighting chance against uneven odds. But now Diksarel needs to get away, fast, or face the wrath of the two bruised men making their way up the escalator. Not knowing where to go, he rushes down a set of ordinary stairs to find himself outside the building.

The howling hooter of the bus stops him in his tracks, He turns, just in time to see the double-decker bearing down on him.

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