This story is by Sipho Sithole and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Owning a taxi in Durban was as dangerous as being a soldier on the battlefield. Bullets flew from all directions, in the process, claiming innocent, but sometimes not so innocent victims of the taxi wars. Bhengu, a soft spoken, lay pastor who owned a handful of taxis fell under the first category. He had never imagined himself being so close to becoming part of the statistics. But here he was having to deal with strange messages and anonymous calls threatening him with elimination. His crime was the profitability of the route he operated. Everybody wanted to own a slice of it.
Over the years as an owner, he had learnt to keep his pistol as close to himself as possible. Even on the day he received a message, he had his gun with him. It was in August, on a hot humid Durban summer when he received the frightening message through his mobile. He had parked his taxi under the tree to hide from the scorching sun.
“Kri, kri, kri, kri.” rang the message, as it invaded his phone. He took a quick glance at it. It was not from Dazzy, his cheeky wife of ten years. Without doubt, it was from a stranger. This was the beginning of Bhengu’s nightmares.
“Watch your back,” it said. “By December you’ll have joined your ancestors if you don’t take your taxis out of the university route.”
“Who could be behind this plot?” thought Bhengu as he took a deep breath.
Without any hesitation, one suspect came to his mind. It was none other than Chillis, the tall man with long jaws who, over the years, had become the most feared taxi operator in the industry. His immeasurable cruelty had earned him his nickname, Chillis. Interestingly, Bhengu resolved immediately that he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Being told that you would die in no more than three months was worse than dying itself. Sadly, this was how the taxi industry was run in Durbs. Taxi routes were limited. To create space for one’s taxis, someone had to die. Initially, no one was interested in Bhengu’s area until about a year ago. He worked the route from loss making to what it was then, very profitable.
Bhengu’s mouth turned dry and pale. Shaking, he remained rooted to his seat. In panic, he quickly turned his head to the right and then to the left like a meerkat. There was no one in the close proximity. But from a distance he saw Chillis’ car parked almost half a kilometre away.
Only later, did Bhengu remember he had a weapon on his hip. Slowly, he pulled his gun from its holster and placed it between his trembling knees.
His inevitable moment had come, he thought. Images of his wife, Dazzy wearing black mourning clothes and the two daughters wailing, flashed across his mind. Multitudes of people were surrounding and comforting them. Nothing unusual, he was just going to be another victim of the taxi industry mafia.
Softly, he turned the key of his car to start the engine as his eyes darted all over. Once the car was in motion, he grabbed his pistol, holding it tightly and ready for anything. He even forgot he was supposed to transport passengers. There was no time to prioritise anything else and hence he drove straight home.
He had hardly greeted his wife when the phone rang again. Not sure whether to answer it or not, he stared at his wife who was eagerly waiting to bury him in her arms. Instead, he took the call as he walked away from her.
On the other end of the line, there was a hoarse voice that said, “I’m hoping you got my message?”
“Who the hell are you?” asked Bhengu angrily.
“I’m the one you should fear.” answered the voice arrogantly. “I’ve got your life in my hands.
“What do you want?” asked Bhengu helplessly.
“You don’t know me,” the voice said harshly. “Do you?”
For a stunned second, Bheki kept quiet, his jaw sagging and then found his breath. “In fact, I know you.” Bhengu whispered. “Right?”
“I don’t have time for nonsense.” the voice yelled. “I called to inform you, that by December you will be an ancestor to your family if they’re lucky to be alive.”
It was clear to Bhengu, though that the threatening message he had received earlier wasn’t just a scary tactic. It had to be taken seriously. He wasn’t taking this lying down. And indeed, in his mind, he had his suspect. Striking first was his best option. But he had to pretend to be a helpless would-be victim. To do that, he had to report the matter to the police despite the fact that he never trusted them anyway. Rumours were always rife that sometimes the police worked with criminals to the detriment of the law abiding citizens.
Bhengu never understood why he was given three months to live. He suspected he was threatened so that he could run away, leaving behind the business he had worked so hard to grow. One thing that was clear to him, was that since he was not going to surrender his route that easily, his days were numbered.
Though a statement outlining the sequence of events was taken from him, there were no signs the police were taking this matter with the seriousness it deserved.
“Who do you think is behind this?” asked the police officer from behind the counter
“I have no idea.” replied Bhengu without hesitation.
“How do you expect us to track down the culprit, then?” said the police officer shaking his head in anger. “You should know your enemies.”
“I’ve given you everything I know.” Bhengu said and paused dramatically.
“OK. The investigating officer will contact you if we hear anything.” said the officer as he gathered the papers on the counter.
Suppressing his emotions, Bhengu turned and walked towards the door. He had taken only a few steps out of the police station when another message came through. He picked up speed to his car as if something was chasing him.
“You’re stupid to think that the police would arrest me.” The message read. “You must withdraw that case you opened.”
He thought of going back to the police station, but he feared for his safety. Instead, he continued to the taxi terminals where he sat alone in his car waiting for the passengers to come. One by one, passengers filled his car.
It wasn’t long after he had opened the case that the news about him being stalked started to spread. And again, the source of the rumour was Chillis. Bhengu had not shared this information with anyone except of course the police. And this therefore, confirmed what he had always known that the police could not be trusted.
Threats kept pouring in almost daily. On the other hand, Bhengu continued with his underhanded plans to defend himself. He hired his own hitmen to deal with his stalker. The gunmen didn’t waste time. Among other people they put under surveillance was Chillis. A counter countdown had begun. In no time, their efforts paid off.
As the police continued with investigations, so did Bhengu behind the scenes. His investigation pointed to one man and one man only. Contrary to what his detective work revealed, the cops kept on telling him that the case was still being investigated. No arrest was ever made and no information was forthcoming, at least according to the police.
It was until about a month later since the first threat, that things took another turn. While Chillis was driving home, he was bumped slightly by another car. Typical of him, he stopped his car and hastened to the vehicle that had smashed his. Before he even said anything Bhengu’s men, who had hit his car deliberately, fired several shots that swept him off the ground. The hitmen drove away, leaving Chillis gasping for air. In seconds, his lifeless body was prostrated on the road. Still.
When the police searched the body, they found two cell phones in the deceased’s pockets. None of the cops were prepared for what was about to unfold in front of their eyes. As they went through his phones, in search of clues that could help them in the investigation of the case, under sent items folder, they found messages that Bhengu had given to them as evidence of the threats he was receiving. All the text messages he received had been sent from one of the Chilli’s mobiles.
That was the last time Bhengu ever received death threats again. December came and passed and nothing happened to him. The counter countdown initiated by Bhengu permanently eliminated what, up to now, appeared to be the last victim of the low intensity taxi warfare.