This story is by Sipho Sithole and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“We got a smart machine,” said the voice on the other side of Judas’ mobile. “The stupid owner tried to resist with the car keys and I gave him a bullet in the face.”
“You shot him, Skop? How can you?”
Judas froze a few steps from his shack’s door.
“He’s trying to delay us.” Skop responded forcefully.
“But didn’t we agree no violence?” protested Judas as he whispered in case someone overheard what he was saying. “Keep that secret to yourself, bro.” Judas still called him brother though he deplored what this amateur car thief recruit who had migrated from the Eastern Cape to Soweto had just reported to him, his boss. When he faced resistance from the owner of the car he panicked and then fired a single shot.
All crimes in Soweto were violent. Criminals would not hesitate to shoot and kill for a cell phone. “How could Skop break the basic operational procedure that the gun should only be used to decapacitate the crime victim, not just to shoot for the sake of shooting?” Judas thought.
He trembled not only from the cold Johannesburg winter, but from the news he got from Skop, as well. He started sweating. He looked at his mobile as if he was reading something from it. Checking around his shack which was situated behind his dad’s house, he noticed there was no chance anyone could have eavesdropped on his phone call. He licked his dry, pale lips.
With his right hand, he reached for his pocket to take out his door keys. Still shaking, he battled to push the key into the lock. Eventually, he found the keyhole. Then the door was open. He dragged himself to the bed placed in the dark corner of his shack. The thick smell of dagga was overwhelming. He took a deep breath in and out and then rubbed his face with both cracked hands.
He struggled to calm himself down to sleep. It was only very late at night when he finally succumbed to asleep. The following morning, he woke up to the reality that his friends may have killed someone during the car hijacking. He wondered how he was going to deal with the possibility of going to jail in case they lift the lid on his involvement. Despite his fear of prison, he tried to put up a brave face though.
Through the window, he checked if his dad was awake. When he saw no sign of life in the main house he walked there. The windows were still wide open like the night before. Softly, he knocked on the door, but there was no answer. It was unlike his dad to leave home early in the morning. It also was not like his dad to sleep out. “Maybe, the new car he bought a day earlier could be changing his behaviour,” he thought.
As he turned around to go back to his shack, a police car pulled up in the driveway. Two police in blue uniform jumped out, leaving both the passenger’s and the driver’s door wide open. Leaving car doors open was a normal practice for the police in the township. They understood that from time to time, they could be forced to flee the scene. If the doors were left open, the police had a better chance of survival as they would just jump into the car and driveway without wasting some valuable time.
They strutted towards him.
“Hi, my name is detective Mosala and this is my colleague Shale, said a policeman who held himself in such a way that suggested he was the senior of the two. “We are from Moroka Police Station.”
“My name is Judas.” he said.
“Who’s here apart from you, Judas? Where’s your mum?”
He looked down as if to avoid eye contact with the police. He opened his mouth to respond, but no voice came out. His mouth went dry. It was almost a year since his mum passed on, but he still had not managed to overcome his grief. And here was a policeman asking him about his mum’s whereabouts. He did not know how to respond to such a question. Tears started gathering in his eyes.
“Do you know Mr Khule?”
“That’s my dad. Where’s he?”
“He’s in hospital with a bullet wound,” explained Detective Mosala.
“Through his mouth?” he blurted. “I mean his head?”
The policemen looked at each other without saying anything and then at Judas. Detective Mosala pulled up his trousers and tightened his belt. He battled to reach his belt due to his stomach that was protruding through his blue uniform.
“So, you knew about the incident?”
“What incident? Of course, not.”
Detective Mosala explained to Judas how his dad was injured. He informed him that his dad was hijacked at around 20h00 the previous night as he left the garage where he had just filled up fuel. Before the thugs ran away with his car, they shot him.
By this time, Judas was listening absent-mindedly. When he came back to his senses the police had reached their car which was parked in the driveway. Before they jumped into their car they turned and looked at Judas, who was still standing still where they had left him. He was looking at them as if he wanted to call them back.
“We will keep you posted if we hear anything.” said Detective Mosala, as he stood with one foot in the car.
Once satisfied that the police were gone, Judas reached for his mobile. First, he phoned Skop who fired the shot. No answer.
“Answer, you bastard,” he screamed. “I have to talk to you, now.”
Frustrated from not getting through to Skop, he did not realise how he got to his shack, but he found himself lying on his back in bed. None of his accomplices were reachable. Either they had switched off their mobiles or they had already crossed the border into Swaziland. This was the route that many cars hijacked in South Africa took.
Confused, he sobbed uncontrollably. The next thing to do, he thought was to prepare to visit his dad in the hospital. But that idea made him shiver. In his mind, sleeping for an hour or so could help him gather his strength. A few minutes later, he slipped into a deep sleep. While enjoying his quiet sleep, a banging knock on the door woke him up. It was the police again.
In a second, he was on his feet. He felt so dizzy he had to sit on his bed again to calm his heartbeat that was banging violently against his chest. After a while he stood up and staggered to the door. Detective Mosala was standing in the middle of the door. He threw himself into the shack without being invited in by Judas. And in the process, he almost fell as something tripped him over.
“Am back. Is there anything you want to say?”
“This whole thing.”
“Nothing.” replied Judas as he took a step or two back to his bed, leaving Detective Mosala standing still in the middle of the shack.
He made himself comfortable on his sagging mattress and grabbed his smelly shoes one by one. Without checking the inside of the shoes, he slipped his feet in. He yawned continuously as he lifted his head to look at Detective Mosala who was patiently observing him.
“Your dad wants to talk to you.” said Detective Mosala, as his eyes surveyed each corner of the shack. “Will you come with me, please?”
They drove together to the hospital. On entering the hospital ward Judas’ saw his dad sleeping helplessly in bed. His face was covered in bandages and some tubes were hanging around his head. On close observation, he noticed that one pipe had been inserted through his nose and the other two through his mouth. There was no way he could utter a single word. Next to him was a piece of paper and a pen that he had used earlier to communicate with the police.
Judas stood about a metre from his dad’s bed. Shocked. When his dad noticed how scarred Judas was, he pulled the paper and a pen and scribbled something. Though difficult to decipher Judas could figure out as he was used to his dad’s handwriting. It read: “Hey, son say something. Are you scared?” In response, Judas put both his hands to his mouth and wept until he left the hospital.
That afternoon after the hospital visit, he went home devastated. The picture of his dad having changed from being a strong man to a frail vulnerable old man haunted him. He wondered whether his dad would survive that ordeal. If he did how was that incident likely to change him forever? It was difficult for him to accept what was unfolding in front of his eyes.
He visualised his dad fighting back the thugs and falling to the ground as the bullet ran through his body. This picture would not leave him. Not even the money he expected to get from the sale of the car was good enough to console him. He had to find a way out of the mess he was in. No matter what happened, this was the secret he had to protect with his life.
Several options came to his mind. Handing himself to the police was an option but probably the jail life lying ahead was intolerable. He had heard of terrible stories about how prisoners ill-treated other inmates. The most dramatic story was that of male prisoners raping each other and in the process infecting each other with all sorts of diseases including HIV.
“No. I am not going to jail. Never.” he said, shaking his head.
He looked around his shack for a plastic bag that was tucked somewhere under his bed. In it was a rat poison that the township residents jokingly referred to as “one day” due to its effectiveness in killing, not only rats, but humans as well. If you wanted to get rid of your enemy by using “one day” you were guaranteed that they would not survive a day after swallowing it. The plastic had not moved from where he always kept it. He opened it and took out a few black granules and dropped them into a glass of water next to his bed.
Using his mobile he typed his final message to his father. His hands wet from sweat, shook as he wrote the message which read: “Forgive me dad for all this. Can’t live knowing I did this to you.” He pressed “sent” on his mobile.
Then he gulped down a poisonous solution.