Almost a year ago, I hired a bicycle and rode from Blue Lagoon to uShaka Marine World to investigate the state of the beachfront. I wrote a column about it. My body must have sensed that it was time for its annual work-out and insisted that I take it to the bike hire place next to Circus Circus.
“Don’t be silly,” I said to my body. “You’ve got a hangover. Why not do it another time?”
My body crossed its arms and stamped its foot. “Because when another time comes around, you’ll have an excuse then, too. I’m atrophying, here. Take me for some exercise.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else I’ll stop your heart. Or tell your legs to run in front of a bus.”
My body has always had a bad attitude. Still, it’s not going to change now and I’d be an idiot to risk offending it.
“How long will you need it for?” asked the comrade behind the counter.
“Just a minute or two,” I said. My heart skipped a couple of beats.
“Just relax,” I muttered. “I’ll take it for six hours.” My heart began racing. “Ha ha,” I laughed. “That had you worried, didn’t it”?
The comrade looked at me as if I were mentally disturbed. Come to think of it, he was wearing a pair of wraparound reflecting sunglasses. What I saw was a reflection of me looking at myself as if I were mentally disturbed. I handed him my expired driving licence as security and the comrade’s sidekick showed me to the bicycles. Which one did I want? They all looked identical.
Something called a Cruiser was extracted and wheeled over to me. The handlebars looked like as if they were designed by someone on acid. “Does it have gears?” The sidekick searched my face for signs that I was joking. All he could find were signs that I was from an era when bicycles were still made with only one gear.
With a gentle breeze at my back, I set off in first gear for Blue Lagoon. It wasn’t long before I was going too fast for first, so I clicked down to sixth. I detected a subtle change in pressure or drag or whatever the hell it’s called. But there was no sound of cogs meshing, as one might expect. Either this was the latest in gear design or the bloody thing was broken.
With my legs windmilling wildly, the kilometres flew by at a brisk walking pace. I was surprised to see that the Laguna Beach pools had been tarted up. A year earlier, they looked like the kind of recreational facility you might expect to find at Auschwitz. A bit of grass might have been nice, though. And a few more benches. I saw a family sitting on the brick paving. You may think nothing of this, but I should point out that this was a white family. I haven’t seen white people sitting on the ground since the AWB tried to invade Bophuthatswana. Well, they weren’t so much sitting on the ground as they were slumped next to their bakkies getting shot by a member of the local constabulary. Okay, bad example.
Reaching the mouth of the Umgeni, it was hard not to notice that the area was as desolate as it had been a year earlier. Is it a Hollywood set for Mad Max Beyond Blue Lagoon? Is it meant to be art? Is the council making some kind of anti-aesthetic statement by turning a once-bustling fishing, dopping and skyfing spot into a barren wasteland? I pedalled through a gate marked Do Not Enter. They needn’t bother with the sign. Sylvia Plath would have found it too depressing. Another sign said, “Vumani Civils”. Vumani is presumably Zulu for “We have given up and gone home.”
As I turned to make the long trek south, the buster came through. I thought that was a bit unnecessary. Riding into the teeth of a vicious headwind, first gear never felt so good. I had to keep my head down, which meant hitting a few things along the way. Some screamed, some didn’t.
I was grateful to come across Bike & Bean, a new addition since my last journey into these parts. I collapsed onto a stool. Here was clearly a man in urgent need of some kind of attention. Quite possibly medical. The two dudes behind the bar made a point of not looking at me. The white one, Bike, juggled a soccer ball while Bean, the black one, stared at his phone. I was the only customer. I staggered over to a fridge and helped myself to a Coke.
A sign said it was 5kms to Ushaka. A sob escaped my cracked lips.
Back in the saddle, I wobbled past Anant Singh’s magnificent new film studio where Natal Command once stood. Of course I couldn’t actually see the R40-million rand complex. It’s amazing what they can do with special effects these days.
The building next to the Rachel Finlayson pool still doesn’t have a restaurant in it, although I did see some kind of activity on the top floor. It’s probably a bunch of enterprising surfers setting up a grow house ahead of parliament’s adoption of the Ambrosini Bill, which will make it mandatory for people over the age of 18 to smoke marijuana at least once a month.
Several kilometres on, I spotted a yellow shipping container on the promenade not far from Addington Hospital. It seemed the perfect location to sell expired medication to the poor and I was looking forward to negotiating a good deal on a batch of hallucinogenics. I couldn’t see how I was going to finish this expedition without drugs.
But it was Afro’s Chicken. I couldn’t even sit down because the only three tables were taken by people stuffing birds into their faces. I had a look at a menu stuck on the window. If you’re going to sell “tjips”, then why not also sell “shikkin”, “koalslor” and “hambergiz”? There’s a fortune to be made from the semi-literate market.
The Children’s Hospital, I was delighted to see, no longer looks like a crack house bombed by Somali rebels and Addington Hospital has a shiny new entrance that will go a long way towards reassuring people that they might not necessarily die if they had to be treated there.
With my last ounce of strength, I rode up to Wazoos, dropped my bike and slumped at a table. Now and again, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a waitress. She seemed to be stalking me, then, just before I could make eye contact, she’d disappear. This went on for a while. My hangover now relentless in its demand for sustenance, I returned to the bicycle and pointed its snout northwards. I only had a couple of hundred metres to go before Piatti appeared like some kind of divine oasis. I crawled onto the veranda and dragged myself onto a chair. The only other couple there pretended not to notice me. As did the waiters. Eventually the other couple called for their bill and a waiter was forced to walk past my chair. I grabbed his shirt before he could escape.
“A Windhoek lager and a menu. Please. Sorry. If it’s not too much trouble. Thank you.”
The wind changed. Then the seasons changed. It was the winter of 2016 when I went inside to look for my waiter. He had gone. It was as if he had never existed. Perhaps Anant Singh hired him.
The two greatest mysteries of this century – the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and my waiter.