It seems to be the story of my life, these days: to act as sounding board for my sometime friend and rescuer, Ben of the bullbars…Ben, taxi-killer supreme; Ben of the deathwish.
I don’t know how he does it; the man must have a me-specific radar or something. Anyway, I was sitting in my newest discovery, a little coffee shop on Long Street, when I get slapped on the back hard enough to make me spray cappuccino all over the table. Yes, it was Ben – smiling expectantly, waiting for me to invite him to sit down…then sitting down anyway, as I tried to breathe through the coffee I’d sucked back in after the shock. He was more than usually bouncy this afternoon: smiling around at me, the waitron, ordering coffee while playing with my keys – gods save us from the well-schooled attention deficit sufferers, for they shall multitask beyond the capabilities of us normal types.
When I’d finished my mopping and coughing, he leaned forward, just about buzzing with his own special charge. "Ja Bruce, man, howzit?" And as I opened my mouth, "…no, fine, man, fine. No, you’ll never believe what just happened to me, hey?"
Again, as I opened my mouth: "Naught, my pal, there I was cruising down the N2, on the way to the airport, minding my own business, having a nice time...and the traffic builds up, and builds up, and builds up...then bladdy stops, there by the Modderdam turnoff! I check out the police band on my radio - didn't I tell you about that? - anyway, they say the fokken taxis are blockading the N2, some shit about protesting the new taxi laws. So I sit, and and sit - then I scheme, nooit, pally, no way these bastards stop me seeing my chick - ja, I was going to pick her up, didn't I say? So I switch on my siren - ja, that's new, I was going to show you...next time you ride with me…anyway – ja, thanks, hey?", to the waitron as his coffee arrived – "ja, so I put the light on…" I must have registered incomprehension, because he waved his hand impatiently. "Ja, ja, the blue light, the cop light, YOU know! Anyway, so I pull off on the right-hand shoulder, and I go up the road, and it’s completely blocked, you know? For like…maybe three kays; okes are hooting and getting wild – and no cops anywhere!"
He shook his head in incomprehension, and slurped his coffee vigorously. He glanced up at me, and that dimpled, mischievous smile that melted women’s hearts flashed on. "So I thought, what the hell, hey? I carried on, right up to the block: and they they sit, five minibus taxis, completely blocking the highway". He paused to indicate with his arms how they were distributed. "…And all these okes – drivers, gardtjies – in the road, shouting at the poor okes stuck in the road, smacking the car bonnets…". He shook his head, brooding at the injustice of it all, his forehead crinkled and eyes narrowed. I noticed in my peripheral vision that people seemed to be thicker around us, again: good storyteller, this man; projected his voice well.
"Ja, so it was getting ugly, you know?" He nodded up to me, and I found myself agreeing involuntarily. "So I get out of the car, and sommer shout, polite-like: "Please let us through, brothers, we just want to do our business today…". Jis, and then they come running over: with kerries, throwing stones and all sorts of things. No, man, that was enough. I got back in my tjorrie" – miming a door slam, and the hands on the wheel – "…and next moment they’re around me, banging on my windows – and some bastard starts smashing my headlights with a kerrie!" He paused here, looking suitably aggrieved. I noticed there very definitely were more people around now, leaning in surreptitiously while pretending to stare off in various directions down the pavement.
He took a brooding slurp of the coffee, glowering down at the condiment set in the middle of the table. He suddenly slapped the table, with a gunshot-like sound: I swear half the people around jumped clear off the ground; I know I nearly dumped my coffee in my lap.
"Nooit, Bruce!" he said. I was half wondering what I had done, when he shook his head, and said it again. "No-one treats me like that for no reason, you understand?" He transfixed me with a glare. I was nodding dumbly, when he went on. "…So I gunned the motor, put him" – the battlewagon was always "him", I’d noticed – "…into low ratio, 4-wheel, full diff lock…" - OK, here it comes, I thought, he pushes someone halfway to Jo’burg – "…and I spun a wheelie there on the grass so the bastards scattered – and I lined up the taxi on the shoulder. I came up broadside on – you know the front of my wagon, hey? Anyway, I set the bumper up square on the sliding door, and I push the fucker…"…. There was a little gasp from somewhere off next to us, and a "shoosh!".
Ben frowned, but carried on. "Ja, I pushed him sideways up the shoulder a couple of car lengths – man, you should have seen those taxi okes, they were standing there with their mouths hanging open…like yours!", he snapped, pointing at someone leaning in over our table. The man flushed, and backed off, gesturing apology, Ben leaned back, looking happy.
"Except for some oke who was probably the driver: bugger was running next to me, screaming some shit in Xhosa. Anyway, so I stop pushing, and I quickly back around like this" – gesturing a 90 degree backward right turn, followed by the crowd like a golf shot – "…and I put some foot and I come up behind the next oke – they’re all in a line like this, you understand?", gesturing a line-astern taxi ranking. At my nod, he went on: "…and you remember that story, about that truck driver in Claremont who got the hell in and took out a whole line of taxis?" "Yes!" said someone. Ben looked up briefly, smiled into the now-rapt audience. "OK, so I smack the back one, into the one in front, into the next one…man, I moved them up a couple of lengths, I tell you!" There was a buzz around the table, and someone clapped faintly, only to be shushed again.
Ben shook his head. "You should have seen those taxi guys then, I tell you!" Another shake. "Running away both sides…so I did a reverse, and I came in again: shunted the front one right into the left-hand ditch; nearly cleared the road! Man, I knew the old tank was powerful, but I didn’t know how much! So I back up to take another run – and those taxi okes were banging on my car now, both sides – and the traffic starts to go behind me, and taxi guys are jumping all directions – and as I’m coming to ram the last oke again, he takes off up the highway like a bat out of hell, bits falling off all over the place."
Some real applause this time. Ben settled back in his chair, looking a bit uncomfortable. "Ag, well …I can’t just sit and watch that kind of shit, you know?" He leaned forward, and made me an audience of one again. "So I like rev the engine a few times" – I could just imagine; GOO-doo-doo-doo-GOO-doo-doo from the big V8, with the whole truck rocking with the torque – "…and a couple of the rest – there were probably about four left, hey – bugger off as well, dropping glass and bumpers and all…." He fell silent and looked off, frowning. I knew that look: something serious had happened.
"Ja…" he said. "Ja…". He shook himself, glanced around. "You know you always telling me these fuckers drive around with an AK?" He raised his very expressive eyebrows at me. I nodded, slowly. He nodded back. "Ja…and I always say that’s not true, hey?" I nodded again. "Ja…well, this time you were right, pally…the last guy – the one right in front – comes out of his bus with a fuckin’ AK, and starts to pump live rounds at me!" I heard a gasp, but kept my attention fixed. "What…Ben, is everything OK??" I heard myself asking. He looked at me with the kind of mild perplexity reserved for statements by the mildly retarded. "Ja, well, I’m here and I’m not bleeding, hey!" he said with a laugh. The atmosphere around the table was electric. He leaned over to me again. "So what…what…" I said lamely. He laughed again.
"No, pal, it was fine: you know how I got the special glass, and the body armour on my tjorrie?" I nodded obediently. "Ja, well, the rounds just bounced off – and then the bladdy thing jammed after maybe five or six rounds…probably been under his seat, getting full of dirt, hey?", and he chuckled aloud. "So…?" I prompted him. He settled down into looking serious again.
"Ja, well, the oke was dangerous, you know what I mean? Firing a weapon like that in the highway!" I nodded agreement. He went on: "So I couldn’t let him do that – drove up on him so the bullbar was touching him - bugger was trying to clear the weapon, so he didn’t move – and I jumped out and moered him properly, I tell you…" he tailed off into more faint applause. He frowned off into the condiments again, then looked up. "And when I moer someone, he stays moered, you know what I mean?" he said, lifting his eyebrows.
I knew all too well: the man was the most dangerous brawler I had ever seen; he could put someone down so fast they generally had no idea what had happened.
He contemplated me again with brows raised. "And you know, Bruce – you know all those people who were stuck there?" He waited till I nodded. "You know what they did?" I shook my head. "Buggers just drove off – how do you like that?" He shook his head slowly. "No-one waited to help me…" – they could see you had it under control, ou Ben, I thought to myself, but he looked genuinely troubled by the perfidy of his fellow motorists – "…so pretty soon there’s just me, this taxi oke on the ground, and both our vehicles on the left shoulder".
He was silent, then, for long enough that I had to prompt him again. The audience was still gathered about. "So…" he looked up and chuckled. "So, I just wrapped the oke in old rope from the back of my truck, dumped him in his taxi, and drove off, ou pal!". He settled back, sighed deeply. "But I was only in kak, hey?" "Why?" I heard someone asked. Ben played to his gallery – bugger was a natural storyteller, I had to give it to him – without acknowledging it wasn’t me. "My chick, hey – remember, I was going to the airport to pick her up?" OK, it was my job to nod dumbly. I did it. "Ja, well, I pitch up, late, in this buggered tjorrie…man, she wasn’t charmed, I can tell you!" He shook his head. I sensed people around taking sides according to gender. "No, man…and when I took her to change trucks in my garage near the airport" – I must have looked surprised, because he explained – "…no, man, didn’t you know? There by the airport storage area; I got a big garage with all sorts of things; I must show you sometime…anyway, I change bakkies – ja, well, those taxi guys have got phones; they could cause trouble for me, you know? – for my yellow one…" I must have had my mouth open or my eyebrows up, because he interrupted himself again. "Ag, man!", with a chop of the hand; "I got another bakkie, same as the tank, only yellow – I’m still fixing it up…like a spare race car like Schumi, you understand?" I could only shake my head. He was silent a while, brooding on the vagaries of women. The audience started drifting away now; the exciting stuff was over.
He went on, after a while. "It hasn’t got all the goodies, like the bulbar and such…". He laughed, abruptly. "Good thing, hey – otherwise maybe I would do something with the chick in the car, and really get into shit, hey??", and laughed again. Yah, I thought, you just like to nearly kill your friends, but had the sense to just smile.