I was soooo glad I had given up riding with Ben – no panic attacks, no hyperalertness, no bad dreams about vengeful taximen…a couple of months of peace, in fact. Then I discovered he had a new way: if you wouldn’t ride with him, he would tell you what he done….
I was having a relaxing cup of coffee at my favourite little pavement coffee shop, in the pedestrian precinct in the centre of Cape Town city, idly scanning the crowds over my newspaper, when I felt something cold and hard suddenly press into the middle of my back. As I stiffened in response, I heard a high voice say, in the characteristic sing-song of the Cape Flats: “Turn round and I shoot you, my laanie…now just take out your wallet and cell phone and hold them behind you…”, and as I was frantically wondering what to do, without moving a muscle, the voice changed in pitch and accent, and went on: “…because I left my bleddy stuff at home and I need a cup of coffee and to make a phone call as well, see? And I look stupid holding a Coke bottle in your back…”.
I was still struggling for something to say when he sauntered around in front of me, and planted himself with a sigh into a chair. “I had you going there, hey, boet?” said Ben, with a smile. Bastard! I should have known. “No, man”, he said, scooping up my cell phone, which by then had made it onto the table, “you must sit somewhere where no-one can come up behind you – like me”, and I noticed he had a big planter directly behind him. In seconds he had attracted a waitron – always takes me ages, I just don’t get noticed, but he has no problem – ordered his coffee, made two phone calls, and then sat back, smiling at me. It was obvious he wanted to chat, so I mentally sighed, and folded away my paper. After all, he hadn’t actually endangered my life for at least a couple of months – who knew, maybe he had given up the Taxi-Killer ways?
No chance. As he leaned over the table, he said “You know, boet, I’ve been reading some stuff about A-type personalities and such?” I didn’t so I shook my head. He slurped his coffee vigorously, and looked off across the plaza. He nodded at a silvery car parked illegally in a “Commercial Vehicles Only” space: “Like that prick there – see it’s a BMW? It’s always a BMW…”. I had to agree; I was always having to take evasive action to dodge maniacs cutting in across my lane only to turn off left, or carry on across me into the fast lane, and isn’t it amazing that the people who park illegally most often seem to drive the most expensive cars?
But Ben was getting into it now. “…So I’m cruising on the M5 just now, left lane, coming in towards Cape Town, when this doos in a car like that one” – a nod to the 5-series BM still parked illegally – “cuts in from the right, about so far” – he held his hands up about 50 cm apart – “in front of me, going to go left up ahead. So I flash my lights at him, and go like so” – he waved his finger like a father telling of a small child – “through the windscreen. So bugger me if he doesn’t just put foot on the brakes!” Ben acted it out here, as he sat back and stabbed at the ground with his foot. He looked at me, then, shaking his head. “Now you know what my bakkie looks like, hey – would you do that?”
And I had to say most vehemently that I would not: aside from being a 1950s vintage 4x4 tank which looked to be in dubious mechanical health, Ben’s Ford bakkie also had an extravagant truck-style cowcatcher in front.
Still shaking his head, Ben went on. “So I slam on brakes, and – you know how big my tackies are” – which I did; that vehicle definitely had a wide footprint – “so I just miss the poes. So he gives me the finger, and speeds up!”
Idiot with a deathwish I thought, as Ben gathered himself. He smiled, that wicked little grin I had seen before, generally in the context of playing some insanely risky game of chicken with a taxi. “So you know me, I’m not a crazy oke…” he looked hurt as I laughed out loud. “Serious, man – I never lose it with these arseholes. But this oke: nooit, man, he was only asking for it, hey.”
He was seriously into the story now; he had his hands out front, gripping an imaginary wheel, and feet poised for the pedals. “So I shift down two gears, and put foot. Hey, I was up his arse before he knew it!” I’ll bet he was: that modified V8 he had in there could probably drive a dragster quite respectably. “Stupid bugger tries to pull away on the offramp, but I stayed on his tail – so he switches back onto the highway, but I’m still right there…he pulls into the right lane, but I’m following, on his arse…” I could believe it, too – the guy had the fastest reflexes I had ever seen, and could handle that beast of his like a saloon racer. “And then he takes the right-hand offramp, to the N1, and I think “I’ve got you now, pellie”, because it’s moer-in narrow there, and I follow him there to where the lane joins the Milnerton road” – many expressive hand signals here, and I became peripherally aware of a small crowd standing around us – “and he tries to pull away, but that’s never going to happen, then he pulls right into a gap on the right, for the N1 offramp, so I just box him in, maybe this far” – hands about 10 cm apart – “on his left, and man, we go round that bend onto the N1 like we’re glued, ou maat!” There were definitely a few folk around us now, and more gathering. “So I let him pull just a little ahead – just so I can get in behind – then I tailgate him some more. And jis, I tell you, now this oke’s wired, hey. He’s jumping around like a bumper car; first he goes left, but that’s the shoulder; then he tries right, but there’s a truck; he tries to speed up, but there’s a car in front…so he tries his brake trick, so he can get me into shit for hitting him but I’m ready – but this time, I kiss his bumper with mine!” He settled back into his chair with a satisfied sigh. I swear he hadn’t noticed the little clump of people, all trying to look as though they were doing something else, lingering around us. “You know my bumper – railway sleeper wrapped in wetsuit foam?” I nodded, and damn me if some of the onlookers didn’t too. “Ja, well, it won’t leave a scratch on another car – so I just keep the foot on, and let him brake or do what he likes, till we’re almost at the truck in front, and I see the oke waving his hands, and turning to me…”.
He tailed off, sat back again, and took a sip of coffee. I could just see it: the dudududududu of his big V8, screaming of rubber from the hapless beamer…. The silence grew. People looked around at one another. “And then?” I prompted. He chuckled. “Ag, I slowed down, man – I didn’t want to kill the oke.” I definitely heard a disappointed sound in the audience. Ben chuckled again. “So the oke takes off like a bat out of hell, easily doing 180 kays once he’s down the road a ways, just trying to get away. So I radioed my buddies in Highway Patrol in Bellville; told them to look out for a suspected armed robber in a silver BM, speeding towards Bellville….”
There was actually a faint, short round of applause, and he looked up as if surprised. The crowd quickly found other things to do. Ben quietly finished his coffee, smiling across the plaza. I followed his gaze. I saw people attaching towing apparatus to the front of the silver BM in the commercial bay.
“Ben”, I said. He raised his eyebrows to me. “Ben…who did you phone just now? City Police, maybe?” He laughed, then: always a carefree sound with Ben, never malicious. “Ja, I know the guys…the parking okes owe me a favour, and these guys who are too important to look for a parking must learn, hey?” There was an irate A-type – sharp suit, shaved head, designer sunglasses – shouting at the tow truck men now, waving an expensive looking briefcase. I could faintly hear: “…important meeting…City business…I can have your jobs…”. They ignored him, finalising the hitch. God was extra kind then: the briefcase came open in mid-wave, and a shower of papers and a laptop came arcing out. I heard the crunch of an unhappy termination of flight, and then the Beamer was unceremoniously being towed away.
I looked at Ben. “Shame, hey…”, I said, smirking. He looked at me reprovingly. “Ja” he said. “It’s always sad when a good machine gets broken…”.