Photo credit © Fatima Fakier Deria
Dan rolled up his car windows and turned on the aircon. Usually he wouldn’t dare, it used up too much petrol. He was glad he was submitting a fuel claim for this particular trip. He turned it up a notch, cool air swooshed towards him.
They rolled in traffic past an ambulance stuck on the side of the road, steam hissed from under its bonnet. Capetonians were not used to the forty degree weather, and neither were their vehicles. The weather forecast predicted the heatwave would last till the end of the week. Dan hoped the evening would be cooler when his band held their practice session.
“Roll down your window.” Mike piped in the passenger seat. His name was Mikail, but everyone called him Mike. He leaned over and shouted at the ambulance driver above the hum of car engines. “Are you guys alright over there?”
The driver smiled and gave a thumbs up. “We’re fine. We were out on a response call, but broke down. The tow truck is on its way. Another ambulance has been sent out for the call. Thanks anyway.”
Mike returned the thumbs up and leaned back in his seat.
“Well it’s not like we had time anyway, to stop and help.” Dan reminded Mike of their schedule. They were out to pick up supplies and had to be back at head office for the next volunteer training session. He shook his head at the thought of the volunteers. Men and women eager to risk their lives. They must have no life, otherwise why enter a war zone?
“The turnout of volunteers is massive this year.” Mike whistled thoroughly impressed. “Best thing is, we have a lot of them with a medical background.”
“Ja, like you.”
Mike was a nurse by profession. He grinned and nodded.
Dan thought he’d just come out and say it. “I don’t get it. I mean I understand helping people… I don’t get the risking your own lives part.”
Mike looked out his window. “It is scary, you know. And the conflict is just getting worse.” He turned to look at Dan. “But that’s just why we need to go. There are kids who had their limbs blown off, without access to treatment. If not for anyone else, but the kids.”
His stomach lurched at the mention of limbs being blown off. There was also something else too, a peculiar sadness that washed over him.
“I couldn’t do it. That’s all.” he tapped the steering wheel with his thumb.
Mike punched him on his shoulder, “C’mon! Of course you can’t. We need you here at home base. Doing all this.” He spread his hands out as if all that Dan did was laid out in front of him.
Dan turned on the radio and they went over everything needed to be done to prepare for the relief mission. The aid organisation, Giving Hands, would be sending out the first group of volunteers and supplies in a few weeks. There was much to do.
Later, he met up with his bandmates in a borrowed studio. The new drummer Cyril turned out to be a killer lyricist. He wrote songs of heartache, mistakes and redemption that people loved. And he had a network that fed the fan base and gig bookings.
The setting of the sun made no difference to the temperature. The ground released the heat it absorbed during the day. We always played without our shirts, we could really let loose that way. Cyril never took his off.
Perhaps he succumbed to the thirty eight degree heat, but he took his shirt off too. For a few seconds no one said anything.
Circular welts peppered his torso, shiny and tight. Two were on his left shoulder, one on his lower abdomen. He saw us staring and he turned around to reveal the exit scars, only one on the shoulder and one on the back, a little higher than the front.
“Dude, what happened to you?” our lead guitarist broke the silence.
“Oh, this was years ago.” Cyril shrugged the seriousness away. We were not one to let go. We assaulted him with questions till he gave in.
“I used to be in a gang.”
Cyril told us he grew up in the Cape Flats, the part of Cape Town rife with gangsterism. Once the gang warfare got so bad, the army stepped in and locked down entire neighbourhoods.
They were out patrolling the streets for rival gangs trying to invade their territory. A thirteen year old boy walked out of a house, gun pointed towards them. He never spoke. He fired shot after shot, emptied his magazine, picked up another loaded gun and fired some more. Cyril’s entire posse fell to the tarmac. Some died on the scene, some on the way to hospital, only Cyril survived.
He quit after that. He still receives death threats from his old gang. “It was clearly an ambush. I’ll never go back, I have a son now and I don’t want that for him.”
It is said that we earn our scars. Dan never understood that. Those jagged, lumpy pieces of flesh appeared as a body’s poor attempt of joining muscle and skin, and more a sign of an ineptitude than of any ability. Sometimes they are tight, sleek and shiny attempting a badge of honour, yet still, never returning the skin to it’s smooth flawlessness.
He couldn’t help thinking that if Mike returned from the relief mission all scarred up, which was possible, that it would somehow be different than Cyril’s. The bullet scars marked a life of asserting power over others. Mike’s would mark a life the complete polar opposite: giving power and life back to those who lost everything.
Ja – (Yah) localised version of the word ‘yes’.
Cape Town gangsterism and drug rings are a huge social and criminal problem. At one point, the Premier pleaded with government to involve South African Defense Force. I don’t think the army lockdown happened, but included it in my story.