The (White) Man in a (Black) Taxi

 

Credit: satransport.com

Credit: satransport.com

(Following on the three previous posts)

According to Gertruida, affordable travel always involves compromises. Forget about reclining seats and scrumptious snacks if you are on a budget tour. And you won’t find shapely stewardesses offering you drinks when your fare barely pays the petrol.

A case in point, she always says, is the South African taxi industry. Sure, you can order a stretch limo and pay for it with a wad of bills – but that’s not how it works over here. If you stand next to the road with a hand pointing upwards, you’ll hear the screeching of worn brake pads and the rattle of an ancient (if overloaded) minibus.

And then, my friend, you’re in for the ride of your life. Cheap (at a few Rands or so), that taxi will ignore red traffic lights, speed over railway crossings and ignore other vehicles until you are dropped, breathless, at your destination.

One day the F1 fraternity will stop looking at Germany or England for their next champion. We have thousands of taxi operators who are willing to push vehicles way beyond their abilities for a fraction of what they’re paying Lewis Hamilton. And believe me, our drivers will leave the so-called professionals gasping for breath. 

To get back to Diksarel…

With the bus tearing down on him, he froze for a second. Only a second. Then he jumped back to the safety of the sidewalk. The bus driver shouted something nasty. Diksarel did the same, raising his fingers in a rude gesture,

And a taxi stopped right next to him.

“Get in,” the man behind the wheel shouted, obviously in a hurry. Of all things you’d find in the New South Africa, only the taxi industry gets things done in a rush. They put the rest of the country to shame with their efficiency. So, mistaking Diksarel’s raised fist as an indication of his desire to be transported – correctly as it turned out – the driver didn’t want to waste time doing nothing. Time is money…

By this time, Diksarels mind was in overdrive. His guilty conscience, the disappointment of Kneehigh not showing up (or worse: possibly betraying him), and the ominous two men chasing him through the airport – these things scrambled his ability of logical thought. That’s why he didn’t hesitate – he got into that taxi.

‘Getting in’ – in this instance – involves squeezing his bulky frame into a vehicle carrying twenty people. Under usual circumstances, it shouldn’t carry more than eight. Maybe ten. At a stretch, twelve. But Diksarel, in whose head figures and numbers are so prominent – works out that he is the twenty-first person on board. 

This doesn’t seem to worry the other passengers at all. The driver’s helper – the one with the money bag – quickly relieved Diksarel of fifteen Rand, and directed him to the back seat (‘The best seat in the house, my Lanie’), where two well-endowed ladies shifted their ample bottoms a fraction to provide a little space for him. What follows will be the source of many a nightmare for the rest of Diksarel’s life.

He had an opportunity to glance backwards as the taxi roared off (no exhaust), to see Botha and Sithole stumble from the building to look around in confusion. They didn’t see him. That was, arguably, the only really great thing about his taxi-experience. 

The driver is something else. He is speaking on a cellphone all the time, whispering sweet nothings to some far-off mistress. At the same time he’s adjusting the volume on the CD-player and waving at other taxi drivers in the opposite lane. Changing gears required a deft of hand seldom seen outside Las Vegas, while he counted the money his helper handed over.

That’s when Diksarel closes his eyes. Does the man – at any time – touch the steering wheel? He doesn’t want to know.

“Where to?” The helper is shouting at him, and he has to open his eyes. Trying not to notice the crazy way the driver is weaving through the traffic, Diksarel shakes his head.

“Where are you going?” He asks timidly.

The helper finds this very funny. “Abie, here” he points at a white-painted face in front, “is going to do his mime-thing at the Waterfront. Suzie,” a thin, good-looking girl, “wants to be dropped at the Mount Nelson. She’s meeting a German client. And over there is Fingers, our pickpocket. He works in Green Market Square. We, my Lanie, go everywhere. What about you?”

Twenty faces turn to him, including the driver’s. He’ll have to answer fast to avoid a massive pile-up. Honesty, he thinks, is maybe the best policy. No time to think up some plausible lie…

“I’m not sure. Er… I’m running away from some men.” Heightened interest in the faces staring at him. “Um…you see…they think I’ve done something wrong.”

Suddenly he’s surrounded by nodding heads. Yes, they know what it’s like.

“A lot of money involved?” The helper seems genuinely interested.

“Um…yes. But not mine, you see? It’s all a mistake.”

“It always is,” the driver remarks sympathetically. “And you need a place to hide, so those men can’t find you?”

“Er…I really don’t know. Maybe I must go to the police…?”

This statement is met by a loud chorus of “No’ in various languages. 

“Eish, my Lanie, if you want trouble, that’s the route to take. The police will lock you up. Or…,” for a moment there is uncertainty in the helper’s eyes, “are you a member of the Numbers?

“What?”

“A gangmember. A 28 or a 27? You have tattoos?”

Diksarel has absolutely no idea of what the man is asking. He shakes his head.

“Then no police for you, my friend. I’ll take you to Mama Sarah’s. She’ll know what to do.”

Most road-users in South Africa take a dim view of the driving habits of our taxi drivers. They are mostly seen as unskilled, reckless and are often described as incompetent. That isn’t quite true. These men drive their vehicles day in and day out, ferrying thousands of passengers to all kinds of destinations. With so much exposure to men and women of all walks of life – and in all forms of the human condition – they become extremely knowledgeable about the mindset of their passengers. They’ll encourage the woman about to give birth on her way to the hospital. They’ll console the bereaved en route to the funeral. And they’ll laugh with the kids when they drop them off at the circus. In their own way, they understand psychology much better than many post-graduate students.

That’s why the nameless driver summed Diksarel’s situation up in a flash. A white man, rushing from the airport, pursued by others, because of money…. Yes, he thinks, here are possibilities that need to be explored…

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