After two weeks of searching. The heart of filth. Hillbrow. 2019.
48 hours before my wakening
The security guard lead me to a friend who cared for Lelie the night she escaped Van X’s death sentence. According to the guard, that friend fed and clothed her and then, in her pursuit of drugs, Lelie left. She went looking for the Makwerekwere who promised her the highs she craved and it was that Makwerekwere, a Mozambican, who adopted her soon afterwards. Lelie was alive. Momentarily.
They told me that she was passed from man to man like a used crack pipe, swept by the currents of our desperate African ocean, back and forth, to and fro, like a torn doll between vicious little girls. After days of searching, of stories that told of only misery, what I eventually found was barely her, face down and glued to the underbelly of my sticky city.
I parked in the shadow of the cylindrical giant. Like most suburban Joburgers, I knew the Ponte only from a distance where it looked pretty in the sunset, painted into the deep orange of a hipster’s skyline. But I was not afraid of it, nor the ruins around it: A lost city of glimmering gold, every bit as decrepit as fascinating, an ugly, living creature, alive and spewing death.
The entrance to the small block of brown flats welcomed me with a rotten smell. Its inhabitants were the desperate Africans of my broken Africa, discardments of a potential lost, crumpled and tossed to its southern tip like human rubbish. Here, they sought promise in the City of Gold, in the ore beneath our feet, but what they found were only the shells of this promise, all cracked and broken like a rotten joke.
A broken elevator meant that room 18-25 was only reachable by eighteen flights of crumbling stairs. So, I navigated them strictly, carefully, like colonials did the jungle. I pushed ever deeper into the place that did not want me. There, I hoped to find the bits of her that were left, the living bits that Van Vuuren had left for me. What have you done Frans Van Vuuren, I thought as I climbed. Why have you brought me here?
When I arrived, I knocked.
A gun barrel greeted me and I dropped to my knees. Immediately, I apologised for my presence:
‘Sorry, I’m here for Lelie, please, I’m not looking for any trouble.’
A gun to the face whips any heart into a frenzy of beating fear; sharply, it heightens the senses. I could taste the dirt beneath his trigger-finger, his sweat too, disguised and salty beneath some cheap cologne. I could hear her breathing in the other room – in slow motion, dying.
‘My bitch,’ said the Mozambican, ‘You want my bitch?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. I assumed that that was his name for Lelie.
The levy was steep but inevitable, so I paid it.
Inside, the flat was neater than expected. A black leather couch faced an oversized flat screen, which was nailed to the dampness of the yellow wall. Chicken bones, stripped clean, filled an astray on the couch where the Mozambican then retook his seat. He placed his weapon beside him and unpaused the Premier League on screen. The game, being played a world away, seemed to upset him more than the dying woman just meters from him in the adjoining room, where I finally found her.
There she was, beside a window with a view. It was Yolandi’s real mother, it was Lelie, it was the woman I had been looking for, the woman who was the reason I was here, the woman with the scars. As she lay there, face-down, the Vs of her scars were displayed for the world to see, red, rotting scars, made worse by the years of neglect. They were his scars. Scars made by him. The Vs of his name – the Vs of Van Vuuren.
Down below, in the passageways, five officers picked through its veins, cable-tying pleading foreigners like stray dogs, prepping them for the violent send back to the parts of Africa they dared leave.
For now, cleaner streets.
The Mozambican vanished and I was left alone with the recycled pieces of the woman I had finally found, all limp and white and used up, like a warm condom.
‘Lelie,’ I shook her, partly to check if she was alive and partly to make sure that indeed it was her, here in this devil’s place. She struggled to answer and used her forehead to drag her eyelids open like an old curtain raiser. She was alive, barely, squashed to the underside of Africa’s golden promise like a malignant stompie, like an oozing cockroach made flat.
In that moment I wondered what she made of me and how then, how in all the hellishness, she knew who I was.
‘They’re coming for you, Victor,’ is what she whispered, ‘Run.’
But before I could ask from whom or why, Lelie slipped from that life into the next, the answers to all of my questions gone with her, dead.
Just then, the police stormed the flat and, as suspicious as these things look, it made sense that I too was cable-tied with the rest of them, that I too, like the rest of the discardments, was taken deeper into an Africa I didn’t want to go: Deeper into the heart of filth.
How did Lelie know my name, I thought as I was dragged from there. How?
I made rugby look like art, they said. Art. But that evening, the radio said something else: How can a murderer be a Springbok? My life as I knew it was over.