“Sudgint Skosaan!” And he feels himself violently pummelled. He buries his head in the pillows. This woman has a voice worse than a blerry hadeda. And why is his wife addressing him as “Sergeant”?
Because the station is calling, there’s some woman her husband has been slag’d, he has to go down there.
“Jussis, it’s still early, I just had a fourteen-hour day, fufuksake.”
“There’s no one else. Only my man, he’s the heee-ro.” But she is mocking him, and not for the first time he regrets knocking her up at eighteen and doing the honourable thing. And getting twins for his pains. Girl twins, nog al. He kicks himself into his uniform, straps on his weapon. Thirsty.
In the dusky yellow kitchen Shereen is standing dangling an empty plastic water bottle from her little finger. The twins are at her knees, squalling.
“So go and get some from Suleiman. If he has any left. It hasn’t rained for four days, he might have run out.”
“And who never got us rainwater tanks, huh?”
“How was I supposed to know Melville Dam would kiss out? Bacon and eggs for brekkers?”
“You wish. There was no meat this whole week, now you want? Where’s all your famous con-tacts, ay? You the po-lice, you should be able to get us some. And you going to get water, or what?”
“Move your own lazy pins,” he snaps. “Or send the twins. You just told me I gotta get to the station.”
“They’re only two, you bozo.”
“Twins are always two, you moron. I gotta go, as they say in the movies.”
All this is not without affection, but Cornal Skosaan is grateful that, almost alone amongst townspeople, his police vehicle has some petrol, and he can drive away. The streets are mos’ empty, but at the Beaufort Street police station, despite the early hour, there is a queue of clamouring complainants. Like a blerry herd of hadedas. There’s an hour to go before the captain gives his morning briefing; they’d got slack about this, but since the storms they’ve all had to be more on their toes, so much shit going down. He gets the daily sitrep from Xoliswa the desk corporal, reading over the grumble of the back-up generators – no Eskom for, what, three weeks now.
Skosaan, still feeling gummy, tries to fix the cases in his head.
1. The Traffics are mostly out on the King highway pile-up, two big trucks and a tanker spill, causing a blockage for three days now, mudslides meant recovery vehicles couldn’t access.
2. Someone complained about assault in the queue out to the water-spring on the Port Alfred road; that queue stretched two kays all the way back into town; some were lining up dozens of barrels and selling water for profit and citizens getting antsy about that.
3. Spikes in house break-ins and domestic violence cases; those that had left – about two-thirds of the population, estimated – were having their houses raided for food or whatever, or squatted in; those that were left, were getting more stressed and taking it out on their nearest and dearest. Tell me about it, Skosaan thought ruefully. Situation normal, only more so.
4. Complaint about taxi drivers shooting at each other, competing to get people out, or at least to the nearest flooded river, where people then swam or waded across to taxis on the other side. Two hundred bucks a pop. Latest shooting at De Wet Steyn bridge, no bridge there now; no casualties, fortunately, but two kids swept away and presumed dead.
5. Report of two gang attacks on trucks headed for the supermarkets, out on the Bedford road; so several police vehicles and an Army escort had gone to see what was cutting; not clear yet if they could get across the Fish River at Carlyle Bridge, though waters were just beginning to recede now.
6. Report that vandals had stripped away several kilometres of electricity cable along the PE road. That’ll make life easier for everyone, Skosaan reflected bitterly – except for one or three skellums working the black market. Situation normal, only more so.
And there was more; his mind went numb. His stomach growled.
“We’re all spinning like tops,” said Xoliswa.
“When are the East Lunnun cops getting here to help out?”
“Who knows? Stuck the other side of the Fish, probably.”
“And all these people outside?”
She shrugged, again. “Who knows? I’ll get to them. This guy” – she points with her pen at a young man standing at the desk – “can you believe it, he wants his birth certificate notarised. In the middle of all this kak.”
“I need it to leave town,” the man responds testily in isiXhosa.
“You’re leaving? How?”
“I don’t care how, I am going. First my shack is full of sand from the dust storm; then the cyclone came and washed it away, whum! Just like that. I lose half my documents, my clothes, everything. Now I can’t find even any food. You want me to pay twenty rand for just one potato? No way! For one week everybody helped everybody, it was hard times but someone would help you: some water here, some pineapples there. But now, just two more weeks and everybody is like hyenas, they just want to eat you, eat your money.”
Not everyone, Skosaan hoped, or knew; but he nodded; it was getting much harder, as the town had basically shut down, food and fuel supplies down to the tiniest trickle. At least, after the months of drought, the rain had brought water. Just not through the taps.
He asked Xoliswa, “So where’s this murder case I’m supposed to see about?”
“She’s back here in your office. I can’t make sense of her, she is from Senegal or Pakistan or somewhere. Shouting and crying.”
Skosaan sighed and walked through to his office. If violence was going to erupt, surely it would klap the foreigners first. Repeat of the 2015 xenophobic outbreaks, blerry terrifying.
The woman was nearly catatonic with grief, choking, sobbing in broken English, with some of what sounded to him like French maybe. She ripped her doek from her head and thrashed it against the desk; she had fashioned her hair into corn-rows, just as Shereen had done; in fact, the two women looked rather similar, except this one was a lot darker. He wondered briefly how Shereen would behave if he was bumped off. Or, alternatively, the other way round. And felt a heart-spasm of panic.
Jissus, he wasn’t trained to manage this stuff. He yelled through to Xoliswa, “Where’s D.I. Nyezwa, she should be handling this.”
“Down at Bathurst with the taxi thing,” she yelled back.
Shit. Skosaan turned back to the woman. He got her a bottle of water, and one for himself, from their admin stock; at least they had that still. After a while he calmed her down enough to ascertain that she was indeed from Senegal; her husband was Zimbabwean, running a little spaza up in Extension 6. What with all the tall security lights out since the cyclone and the blackout, the usual criminal activity up there had just intensified. The Zim oke, though there must have been precious little left to guard, was sleeping in the spaza overnight; a bunch of men – it must have been a bunch – smashed in and cut him to pieces.
“He just lying dere,” the woman screams. “No police, no ambulance, no nothing!” And she collapsed sobbing on the floor. Skosaan sighed again: no surprise there was no ambulance, there was probably only one left operating for the whole town. And where would they take the body? The private morgues had no power to freeze the bodies, only the hospital itself did, and that was overfull – the old and the newborns dying off more quickly, what with lack of shelter and food and clean water, sewage rising out the clogged storm drains. Burials happening daily, with little ceremony, as bad as during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Situation normal, only more so.
He called out to Xoliswa, “Who’ve we got who can go up and verify this deceased?”
“You,” she shouted back. She sounded like she thought it was funny.
“I must just get some forms, then we go up there,” he told the woman. He would get her name and stuff properly later. He couldn’t understand why no one was with her, a friend at least. The captain had arrived at his office across the gloomy corridor. “Sir. You wanna help me with a” – he almost said stiff – “murder victim?” The captain gave him a bleak, exhausted stare and closed his door.
The drive up to Extension 6 had become weird, like something out of a ‘pocalypse movie; you expected, Skosaan amused himself, zombies to come lurching out from between shattered buildings, blea-aa-arghhh! The few people visible in fact moved around like zombies, as if these three weeks had sucked all the stuffing and meaning out of their lives. Except the criminals, of course – they always seemed to have the most energy.
They had to drive slowly through the muddy flow of water still filling the dip in Raglan Road; and the upper end, curving up towards the flats, was still awash with mud and rocks, all but flooded away in parts; the woman let out a sob every time the police Hilux lurched over a carved-out channel or pothole. The shacklands that had once clung to the slopes on both sides of the road had gone, wiped away by dust, then the gale-force winds of the cyclone, then the flooding rain. Some remnants, buckled corrugate and wire, still lay on the road itself, to be manoeuvred round. Garbage heaped up in giant piles. Only the trees clustered atop Makana’s Kop seemed immoveable.
As they finally drove onto the flat lands alongside the township, where only the stumps of the roadside gum trees remained, all cut down for firewood, Skosaan spotted a lanky white man in a heavy green jacket, a rifle slung across his back, striding along the roadside. He slowed down beside him.
“Where to, sir, with that gun?”
The man gave half a grin, a shrug. “Thought I’d go out to the bush, see if I could hunt anything.”
“Jesse van der Vleis.”
“Don’t shoot anyone, Mr van der Vlies, I would have to arrest you!”
“Vleis, not Vlies,” the man called after him as Skosaan accelerated again.
They turned left towards Extension 6, past the abandoned schools, the locked library, the loiterers with their closed suspicious faces. Eerily, not a single animal: not a cow, not a donkey, not even a dog. All chowed, or starved to death, Skosaan guessed. A cluster of people at one corner where some women had set up a soup kitchen; there were always those who would muck in like that, make a plan, do unexpected acts of kindness. The community would adjust, and survive. In some form. But meanwhile...
“Where exactly?” The woman wordlessly pointed out the directions with her water-bottle, until they came to the pokey spaza, or what was left of it: the door torn from its hinges, the security screens, such as they were, ripped aside. Its empty black interior. Two young men in attendance, who waved glumly at the woman.
Sergeant Cornal Skosaan could almost already smell the stench of death. He leaned his forehead briefly on the steering-wheel.
“Okay,” he muttered. “Let’s do this.”
As they said in the movies.
(Again, this is fiction: no actual person is intentionally represented here.)