I made the mistake of flying to Durban, unaware that schools, which mostly shield us from the awfulness of children, are closed. Every mall, beach and restaurant is infested with the feral savages. Mothers have given up trying to control them and are drinking heavily. Fathers have the thousand-yard stare typical of those who have seen too much horror. It’s anarchy out there.
Why are people still going to Durban on holiday? Are they unaware that the city is perpetually embroiled in one or other natural or unnatural crisis? Perhaps they simply don’t care. Which would, admittedly, make them truly South African.
Having said that, sitting here beneath gently swaying palm trees at the wonderfully timeless Salt Rock Hotel, with another cold beer and a prawn curry on the way, life feels like it could be a whole lot worse. Which I suppose it is, for many who live around here. Now that I have given a passing thought to the less privileged, I can enjoy my lunch with an easy conscience. The ANC has taught me well.
One of the reasons for my trip was to renew my car licence. I rely heavily on the traffic police to stick a fine on my window as a reminder that matters need attending to. This year they failed to do their job and, consequently, I was driving around for months blissfully unaware that my disc had expired. Blissfully might be the wrong word. Bliss is absent when driving in Cape Town. It is only because I spent my formative years in Durban that I manage to avoid accidents, pedestrians and so on by driving at top speed at all times.
At some point, once I have accumulated sufficient fines, I will switch my registration to Cape Town. For now, it counts in my favour. Other motorists are respectful when they see me coming. “Quick,” the passengers shout, “he’s from Durban… get out of the way!”
The other reason for my trip is to visit my 84-year-old misanthrope of a father. He’s been living with stage 4 cancer for ages and simply refuses to shuffle off this mortal coil. “I’ll decide when it’s time,” he says. Every time I see him, I think it will be the last and take a photo. A few months later, he’s asking why I never visit. And then, when I do, I take another final picture when I leave. This has been going on for years.
I came in through the back door, startling half a dozen monkeys who were having some kind of riotous banana party in the kitchen. They panicked at seeing an unfamiliar face and headed for the window, using the drying rack for traction. A big boy with blue balls launched a mock charge at me. I stood my ground. Having been married twice, I am familiar with mock charges. He backed off and I crunched my way over the broken crockery to find the reclusive patriarch. He was on the veranda feeding the front monkeys, two of whom were openly shagging on the breakfast table. One urinated on my head within seconds of me sitting down.
The third reason I’m here is to do maintenance on the modest simplex I own up the North Coast. I usually have it on Airbnb but none of the guests ever think to fix things or even paint over the toxic black mould that’s formed on the bathroom ceiling. Selfish bastards.
I’m not much of a DIY person, but I do sometimes try to repair stuff. Generally, though, I have to walk away after the first attempt because the second attempt would involve smashing everything, setting fire to the premises and emigrating.
I was going to get someone in to do the bathroom ceiling, but it’s really not a very big job and I knew three Zulu men wearing overalls and tribal scars would arrive and look at me as if to say, “Hayibo, what’s wrong with this mlungu?” I would then have to feign some sort of disability, physical or mental, and it just didn’t seem worth the effort.
I bought a four-rung stepladder that came with a red sticker on the third step: “Warning: Do not stand on or above this step.” That’s insane. Why not just make a ladder with two steps instead of one with four steps, two of which are out of bounds? No wonder I drink.
Crippled with vertigo, eyeballs flecked with anti-bacterial paint, I lurched blindly around the house until I found my car keys and drove to the pub. At least, I think it’s the pub. Everything’s very blurry but I can hear the rugby is on. I might be in someone’s house.