I hope there is some kind of predetermined plan here, and that it isn’t all just loosely held together by a series of random events, because I cannot figure out why, exactly, I am writing this in a noisy backpacker’s bar at 2am on the Wild Coast when, at my age, I should be in a gated community with a devoted wife, 2.4 children and a pair of golden labradors lying at my feet.
Returning from my holiday to Cape Town, which wasn’t so much a holiday as it was an apocalyptic clusterfuck, I stopped off at Jeffreys Bay to try out the new surfboard I bought from Titch Paul’s shop in Muizenberg.
A stiff offshore was blowing and the waves were epic. I jumped out of the car in the parking lot in Pepper Street, overlooking Supertubes, then staggered for a few paces and fell over. A dog came up and barked at me. A mother hurried her child away. That parking lot has seen some pretty wild stuff over the years, no doubt about it, but not at 10am.
I could barely walk. My right foot felt as if red-hot shrapnel was embedded in it. Other surfers were putting on their wetsuits and waxing their boards. It’s a small town. I didn’t want to be known as that tall, unshaven freak who drives around with a surfboard on his roof, then stops and falls down for a bit and gets back in his car and leaves, but it seemed inevitable.
I went looking for drugs. For many years, drugs were easily obtainable in J-Bay. Then the orcs and uruk-hais from the hinterland descended, with their facebrick houses and facebrick churches and facebrick mentalities, and nothing was ever the same again. Now, you have to get your drugs from pharmacies instead of hippies.
None of the chemists speak English. I tried explaining my symptoms but fell silent when I realised I had forgotten the Afrikaans word for foot. She helped me out by saying, “Jou voet?” Foot. Voet. Hard to tell the difference. Why even bother with another language? Can’t we all just speak English and get along?
She said from the sound of it, I had gout. They speak funny in J-Bay, so I laughed and said, “For a minute there, I thought you said I had gout.” Ja, she said, gout. I was outraged. Gout is something from which fat, old, rich men suffer. I am not rich. What a silly woman. Could she not tell by the way I was dressed?
“How much did you last have to drink?” she said. An odd question. I was wearing sunglasses and, for all she knew, I was a Jehovah’s Witness. It is, after all, only by the eyes that one can tell someone who is partial to the odd dram, or, in my case, nineteen beers and four tequilas two nights earlier.
I removed my sunglasses and looked her square in the eye. She flinched, nodded once, turned to her stockpile of snake-oil solutions and rip-off remedies and handed me a canister of colchicine. “Take two …” I immediately lost interest and began scanning the shelves behind her. Ever since I was a child, I have been astonished at the amount of drugs that are available in pharmacies. I no longer want to try them all, but I remain astonished, nevertheless.
It was vitally important that I cured my foot while I was still in J-Bay, so I began gobbling the little white pills the moment I walked out. The more you take, the better you feel. Isn’t that the guiding credo for pharmaceuticals of any kind? Well, apart from acid. I overmedicated on acid once and had two-thirds of my face fall into my lap while I was sitting on a park bench in Barcelona. I had a terrible job fitting it back on.
Colchicine works on a different principle. One of the side effects of overdosing is that you swerve violently into someone’s driveway and vomit in their garden. In front of their children. On a Sunday morning.
“It’s gout,” I shout. I wouldn’t want them thinking I am spreading blackwater fever through the neighbourhood. But I can see they don’t understand. They have given their facebrick house a name. Something in Afrikaans. I don’t understand, either.
My organs and joints eventually calmed down enough for me to get into the water. Surfing at J-Bay is to surfers what kissing the pope’s ring is to Catholics, only more hygienic. Getting out of the water is another story. To get back to the beach, one has to negotiate a strip of razor-sharp rocks that runs for hundreds of metres. It’s brutal.
Driving out of town a couple of days later, I pulled up at the N2 T-junction and turned the engine off. Left back to Cape Town, right to Durban. I’ve done 23 years in Durban, 14 in Cape Town and the rest … well let’s not talk about the rest.
I could have gone either way. It didn’t really matter. Nobody was waiting for me, on the west coast or the east. I took out a R5 coin and flipped it. Heads. But forgot to call it. Just then, one of those giant satanic crows flew low overhead and banked sharply to the left. I couldn’t remember if it was black cats, black crows or black people that were bad luck, but either way it struck me as an ominous omen.
I swung the wheel to the right, opened a beer with my teeth and headed for the legendary roadworks of the Eastern Cape.