Even though it’s generally accepted that GP stands for ‘gangster’s paradise’ and that Johannesburg is at the precipice of that paradise, it is still a horrendous and sickening blow when one hears of anyone who has been burgled, attacked or hijacked.
The horror compounds as the degrees of separation between crime and victim diminish in distance from oneself. First it’s strangers one is reading about in the papers. Then a friend tells you about the friend of a friend. It’s a neighbour whose home is broken into. A friend’s of mine’s car window is smashed and her handbag stolen. Why she had not heard about putting everything in the boot is beyond me; but then, even though we accept that it can happen to ‘anyone’, somehow we take the word ‘anyone’ to mean ‘anyone else’.
So we do put our handbags on the passenger seat and leave the gate and door open while we run into the house quickly to fetch some forgotten item. We go to Hillbrow to buy the hair for weaving and braiding, and the essential body care bargains. We carry on as though this was crime free Switzerland because our spirit, that beautiful free thing, despite all evidence cannot fully admit to the necessity of imprisoning itself behind high walls and barred windows. It hasn’t quite given access to the reality that there are places to which one really shouldn’t go and times at which it is wiser not to be beyond the bars and walls.
I’ve been pondering this because of two things that didn’t happen. Why they didn’t happen I can only attribute to the effective vigilant collaboration of God and my Ancestors. I am very grateful to both.
I drove to Hillbrow, to get my favourite skincare secret which is imported from West Africa. As far as I know this is the only shop in South Africa that sells it. I had to park a couple of blocks from my destination, but didn’t mind. There’s a bustle and vibrancy to Hillbrow which I find fascinating. I always enjoy the drama of being in the midst of it. Nothing negative has ever happened.
As I stopped at the end of the block and waited for a space in the traffic, a man nudged me. “I like your ring”, he told me. It’s a gold pinkie ring with a tension set diamond. It lives on my finger to the extent that I hardly observe I have it on. “I’ll buy it from you”, he said. Well, by now my heart was racing. He was an unsavoury looking character. He smiled and reached into his pocket, probably to pay for the ring. Who knows? I didn’t wait to find out. I turned and fled into the traffic. I don’t think he followed me. I didn’t look back. “Nothing happened,” I kept repeating to myself as I engaged the lady in the shop in unnecessarily long conversation, afraid to go into the street.
This episode had already faded from my mind by the time I drove to Bedfordview to have dinner with a friend. It was my favourite kind of evening. A lovely restaurant, an excellent meal, treasured company and stimulating conversation.
As I drove home I thought nothing of the car that took the same off ramp. I only vaguely registered the fact that the left headlight was brighter than the right. I was wrapped up in my lovely evening. I don’t think I even noticed that this car followed me onto the second highway. I was contemplating the conversation and Lobster Thermador and listening to Simphiwe Dana and feeling at one with all the earth’s good.
Suddenly the car came up close behind me. I recognised the uneven lights. Assuming that anyone coming that close in the fast lane wanted to pass, I moved into the middle lane. They stayed behind me. My internal alert was activated. I was already at my off ramp so I moved to the outer lane. The car did the same. Alarms were going off in my brain. I thought of the environment beyond this off ramp. Too many dark spots flashed through my mind, so I swerved back onto the highway. The car did the same.
It was after midnight on a Monday. Few people were about. I sped up. The car kept pace. I thought “Oh hell no, I’m not getting highjacked”. I put my foot full down and took full advantage of the power of German engineering. I lost them.
By the time I got home I was repeating a steady mantra of, “Nothing happened. I’m fine nothing happened”. My heart was racing. My hands unsteady. But the truth was, nothing had happened. I know many will say, in all wisdom ‘Stay away from Hillbrow’ and ‘Don’t go out late’. People get hijacked and robbed in Sandhurst too and sometimes in the middle of the day.
There are now no degrees of separation, and still nothing has happened. I am unscathed. I’m alive thanks to God and my Ancestors. So doesn’t it make sense to celebrate the gift of life by living it? Does it make sense not to touch different aspects of this wonderful Jozi? Should fear keep one from friends who live on the other side of other highways?
I’m reminded of a poem by Phillip Larkin which says; “Nothing, like something, happens anywhere”!