Lord of the Piston Rings

Now that Christmas is behind us and we have had our fill of the body and blood of Christ and no longer feel beholden to preach peace and goodwill to all and sundry, we can return to being the people we really are. Tightfisted. Churlish. Full of rage. And this is the way it should be.
What kind of a world would it be if we all walked around with blissful smiles on our happy, shiny faces, openly tolerating other people’s children and randomly patting puppies? I’ll tell you. It would be a terrible world. We would love ourselves to death and smother one another with good manners.
“After you.”
“Thank you, but no. After you.”
“No, really, I insist, after you.”
“Absolutely not. After you.”
The Polite Police would have to monitor doorways to prevent the bodies from piling up.
Meanwhile, the orcs and Uruk-hais of the hinterland have managed to turn every coastal town into Mordor-by-the-sea. Locals, too sensitive to deal with anything less refined than money, have rented out their homes for R5 000 a day and fled to parts unknown.
Smart people don’t go on holiday at this time of year. They stay inside their homes, barricade the doors and keep well away from the windows. That was my plan. Make one trip to the shops to pick up nine cases of beer, five bottles of tequila, three chickens and a block of cheese. That’s all one needs to survive the ‘festive’ season.
However, the bad yellow-eyed woman insisted I take her somewhere. I suggested the train station.
Holidays are for the damned. And by the damned, I mean people with bestial bosses who begrinchingly allow them 15 days leave a year. A cruel and inhumane system designed to keep us in chains until we’re too old and afraid to fight back.
Still and all. The word ‘holiday’ does have a beguiling ring to it, especially when it comes from the mouth of a woman. Don’t get me wrong. Terrible words can come from the mouths of women, but ‘holiday’ is not one of them.
So I’m in a village midway between Durban and Cape Town. Looking at the potholes, it’s probably in the Eastern Cape. I don’t pay much attention to borders and boundaries.
Slaloming between the 4x4s and Venter trailers on the N2, I saw a turnoff to a place called Karatara. I liked the sound of it. Karatara. It evoked images of mist-shrouded waterfalls and unicorns rampant. A place of mystery and magic. The bad yellow-eyed woman scoffed at my fantasy. She said Karatara was known for nothing more mystical than being home to the country’s largest in-bred population. Fantastic. Mutants and unicorns. Even more reason to check it out.
We went from blazing sunshine to overcast and drizzling in the space of twenty minutes. The higher we climbed, the darker it got. We followed a rusted sign down a rutted track and there, looming out of the gloom, was Karatara. This didn’t feel at all like unicorn country. The houses, not so much pre-RDP as post-apocalypse, squatted sullenly on large, overgrown plots. Now and then a lace curtain twitched, suggesting sentient beings lurked within.
Up ahead we saw a man making his way down the road. He walked as if his legs were trying something new with every step. I slowed down and told the bad yellow-eyed woman to roll down her window and enquire as to the whereabouts of the town’s saloon. As I drew level, he turned and thrust his giant misshapen head towards us. His teeth, shards of tombstones, jutted from his oversized jaw. His bulging eyes stared in opposite directions as if they wanted nothing to do with one another and he babbled in a tongue known only to himself. Spittle flew from his smashed mouth. The bad yellow-eyed woman recoiled and tried to wind her window up with such violence that the handle broke.
“Drive! For God’s sake, drive!” I like to think that the moment we were out of sight, he turned into a handsome centaur and went off to make beautiful love to a girl unicorn beneath an arc of glittering rainbows.
When we reached the village which was to be home for as long as we could tolerate the sound of jetskis, screaming children and Neil Diamond, we deemed it prudent to repair to the local bar and assess the strength of the enemy. Near us was a table of what I took to be estate agents. They were drunk and loud and speaking English, a language I was to hear less and less as the village filled up with the heavyset servants of Sauron.
It wasn’t long before they insisted we join them. I don’t know why. Perhaps they sensed we were considering buying property in the area. Over millions of years, estate agents have developed receptors as sensitive as the great white shark’s ampullae of Lorenzini. Blood and money. We all need it to survive. Sharks, though, are more charitable than estate agents in that they only charge some of us an arm and a leg for the use of their home.
I must have been Mickey Finned because I woke up 24 hours later in a strange bed with my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth with what tasted like cannabis oil. Or what I imagine cannabis oil would taste like. The bad yellow-eyed woman had an even hazier recollection of events, although her tongue seemed to be in better shape than mine.
In our weakened state, we allowed ourselves to be bullied into looking at a few “choice properties”. They’re called that because given a choice between living in one of them or killing yourself, you’d reach for the razor blades without a second thought.
Burgundy carpets? Nice try. I know red wine stains when I see them. Cheap wine, too. I can see the green poking through in patches. Then there are the lavender and puce his-and-hers bathrooms and the gold chintz curtains and lime brocade pelmets blocking the sea views. And the signed Hansie Cronje cricket bats marking the entrance to Pa se Kroeg and its murderous collection of buck heads.
“Will you be buying before you leave?” one agent demanded to know. I laughed, thinking she was joking. “Sure,” I said. “I’ve got R3-million in a plastic bag in my boot. I’ll fetch it.” She stood there waiting for me to go to my car.
Another tracked us down and banged on our hotel room at the crack of dawn wanting to know if we’d found anything yet. I was half-naked, quarter-drunk and in no mood for conversation. She only left once it became clear that staying would have put her personal safety at risk.
The sensible thing to do would be to get into the car and point its snout in the direction of home. The bad yellow-eyed woman says we can’t go yet because she doesn’t want to miss something called Snotkop performing at the Dronk Dolfyn. She’s clearly taking the wrong medication.
Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

7 thoughts on “Lord of the Piston Rings

  1. amandzing says:

    I’m on holiday in Joburg. The town is empty, everyone’s down there…

  2. Almira says:

    Your writings are genius, Mark – thank you!

    1. Genius? That might be overstating it a bit. But I’ll take it. Thanks.

  3. John Crossley says:

    Sounds fabulous – see if Wendy Oldfield is playing anywhere near u – she & her usual coterie of friends are a pleasant bunch to be around perhaps new years eve, & she lives down that way – Wilderness area 🙂

    1. John, I’m more St Francis Bay side.

  4. Awesome, Ben. Great as usual…

    1. Thanks Mario! Hope you’re handling Joburg.

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