The Soweto Story

The Other Side of Soweto'It is a bitiful city, iti isi even moore bitiful pass America sef even yankee sef.' He said in some kind of pidgin English language that even the Queen would have disowned and outrightly classified as Afrikaan, :) Actually it was more of Ibo than English in Language. 'Nwanne I dey tell you na, no dey dull yaself money full everywhere'. I had tried without much success to get to talk to my cousin since he came back from South Africa three days back. On this fateful day I decided that I must see him knowing full well that I didnt have all week. So I decided to be there waiting when he woke. Even that did not work as I waited from five AM till twelve in the afternoon, thereby being unable to go to school that day and attend to my students. It was at this point that I decided to try again later in the evening, though there was no assurance that this would work. This is a guy that everyone knows too well that it’s in the evening that he gets to hang out with friends. Well there was no harm in trying again. It was lucky and unusual he was at home. I thanked heaven and went in. Sincerely we have never been the best of cousins. Why does it always happen like this?
Why e dey always be say na the cousin wey you and am node too parley na him dey always hammer pass? Anyway I was there on a business mission and was not going to let anything, not even unfamiliarity or sentiment stop me. When I was granted audience, I immediately turned on my charm. I was handsome but poverty was fast wearing away my beauty. I smiled broadly as I held his hand in mine.'Nna i buzikwa Visa Amerika' I joked with all the courage in me inbetween a sly grin. Ofcourse I am far older and this is Africa. 'Ichie' Afam was standing to great me.Who dash me Ichie? Anyway nice one, it looks like this story is going to have a happy ending. 'Nna Mehn how far na? wetin dey happen?' Afam enquired in a tone that I could
hardly determine where it would fall on in a scale which upper limits
reprented pride and lower limits humility.After trying out a few topics that were all dry and made my cousin sound distant, I had to go to the purpose of my coming before I lose him.'Afam how business na?' I needed information. He smiled. 'Fine, we dey manage'. How manage take enta this matter now? I dey try find out wetin u dey do wey dey give u dis kain money u dey tell me say we dey manage. I had to find a way of pulling this through.'How South Africa na?' He seemed to understand now.'It is a bitiful citi, iti isi even moore bitiful pass America sef even yankee sef'. I was overtaken with the temption to burst out laughing, but I was not going to mess with this opportunity. 'Nwanne
I dey tell you na, no dey dull yaself money full everywhere'. His face has already lit up. He smiled again, 'You wan come?' I smiled a very unsure yes, he wrote something on a peice of paper and handed it to me. Before I could say a word, Lucy has come in and was all over him in hugs and kisses. Only heaven knows where she brought this lady from. Whats her own now, which kain sand sand she wan pour for my garri so? I could hardly make out what was written on that piece of paper. It was his address and telephone number.I was asking when he would be going back when I painfully realised that as far as Afam and Lucy were concerned, there were only two people in that room: Afam and Lucy. I have got something concrete, at least I could take it up from there. I had almost walked past the threshold of the room when Afam seemed to come to his senses. He quickly gave a half-hearted apology
as an after-thought dipped his hand into him pocket. A bundle of one thousand Naira notes followed it out, which he threw at me. Before I could even say Jack, Lucy was all over him again. It all happened so fast.That night I could hardly co-ordinate the activities of my nervous system, they seemed to go into auto mode. I spent the night asking myself why I had wasted all my life going to school. Here was my good-for-nothingcousin, who dropped out of school before he got to elementary six. The one who everybody had got tired of and mentally disowned. He was sent to Onitsha to learn a trade after he dropped out of school, but he ran back home, leaving the trade behind. There was nothing he didnt do from smoking to stealing, he was accused of raped a million times. Then three months ago he borrowed money from everyone and travelled to South Africa. Now look at how he flaunts money like it is sand.He started builded a massive duplex last month, sent two cars home, refurbished his father's archaic bungalow and turned it into a 'tourist centre'. Now he is with three other new cars. He doesnt count money before giving it out.So Afam actually gave me a hundred thousand Naira. That was my three-month salary. Whatever is in that south Africa, I must go there and see it. I would not be told the story laye laye.That was six months ago. Anyway Afam's corpse was brought home one month later. The story that followed was that armed robbers shot him. Who am I not to believe it?Even if Afam had died ten times, it would not have been enough to stop me from experiencing South Africa and coming back with my own dollars. Nobe when I die I go enjoy life.I had already intensified plans on how to go. I had made all necessary arrangement with my other cousins with who I intend to stay when I eventually land there. Everything was rolling on rails.It was on June that I set out for S.A. Did I say that I have saved for this trip for over six months and had even sold the land I inherited from my father. My excitement had hit he skies.So I landed in Jo'borg and found my way to Soweto. When eventually I got to Soweto, sight of things were begining to change. Jo'borg was awesome but that Soweto place ... I couldnt help but behold in complete bewilderment when the cab driver told me that we have got to the adress I showed him. It was dilapdated bungalow in the middle of a massive ghetto.So this is the bitiful city. Anyway nothing was going to stop me. I paid the cab man and cautiously approached the building which would bear no comparism with my father's house in the Village. My cousins gave me a most suprising welcome. It was very warm and interesting,but a thousand and one questions remained unanswered.I guarded my money jealously. After I took my bath, I was invited to dinner. The flight had been hectic so I decided to eat. It was noodles but this one was super tasty. So I ate like I hadnt seen any food in the last ten years...My eyelids slowly flickered open. Consciousness was coming through in bits and pieces. Soon I was able to slowly take in and interprete what my eyes were picking up. Alas, I was naked. My cousins were standing over me me, acute worry written all over their faces.What has happened? 'So fear nodey catch you abi?' Obiefuna querried in a tone that told me that something is seriously wrong. 'Na for here u wan come die on top our head abi? U better dey go back Naija o...' 'Why am I naked?' I was trying really hard to understand what was happening or has happened.'You still dey there dey speak oyibo abi?That igbo wey u dey smoke for Naija, na him u still carry come here come smoke abi? Abeg, tomorrow just package yasef dey go back naija, I no dey all dis one'. 'Wey my clothe na? Wey my money?' I was fully back to my senses. My cousins looked at each other and back at me with such a resentful disdain that told me how much sense I made to them. 'Wey my money na?' this time my voice actually bore some resemblance with of a mother tiger that has just lost its cub. 'Which money? U carry any money come here?' Obi vented through clenched teeth in a face that warned me. ' Wetin im dey talk? E be like say im neva wake up finish'. That was it. My cousins had drugged me.I had slept for thirty six hours and been dispossesed of all my money. Oh Soweto what have I done wrong?After three days of noodles and fried yam, I had to talk to my cousins again. Where is the business and what is it all about. Well, no concrete answer came. The conspiracy theory was becoming more obvious. But it wasnt enough to quench a wounded spirit.I had to walk around this ghetto and find some way of earning a living. Even if it is just enough money to pay for transportation. Being a seasoned engineer, I decided to try out a fridge repair shop. After a few attempts at employment without pay, the shopowner reluctantly agreed. This was South Africa, the bitiful city where money full everywhere yet I can hardly boast of three square meals.This struggle for survival continued for two months. I served my master with great zeal and affection until something shocking happened. He called me into the inner office where a man dressed in upscale clothing was waiting.'He has really been diligent sir. He has my recommendation'. Recommendation? What are they talking about? I dont know what this is, but I will do anything to make it at this point, even if its once. The boss looked at me again and asked my boss if he is sure of what he is doing and he said he was sure. I stood there, transfixed at a corner of the inner office trying to figure what this new job would be, employed by a people that dont even know me.That was it: I have been hired.The next day, I was transported to another side of town and training started. Soweto Oh Soweto, you changed my life forever. So I took training in foot racing. For days, I would learn how to do zero to 60 Meters in three seconds :). The next phase was proffessional punching. I was taught how to punch while on the run in very high speed. Any overzealous policeman needed just one punch from me and he will wake u after two days in ER. Then came the fence scaling training. I could do any fence no matter how high or protected. Then semi-formular one driving and then shooting. The person paying for his training must be expecting me to an area manager of a major feifdom or something... The man that went into that room was not the one that came out after three days. Then lectures started: All police locations, patrol times, all the 'nice' police guys, all the 'crazy' policemen, settlement times and routines, available markets, rival gangs, dangerous grounds, mode of security, city map and every necessary thing.But one thing bothered me: I would need a guarantor. I had to search for one, But it didnt take much consultaion before I found one. Boom and I was in business. One thousand dollars credit yeilded three thousand Dollars cash, then two thousand Dollars credit, then three, then four, then ten and on and on.Hmmn, so me too can now send cars home. But there was beef. These cousins of mine. How could they do what they did to me? Now I was rich and couldn't care one bit. It didnt bother so much that they belonged to a rival gang and I was encroaching on their market. Business was booming and I was making it large. So I got a call from a client who has friend that would like to patronize us on wholesale basis. Thats the kinda thing I wanted to hear. First question: Is he ready? was answered on the affirmative. The Cash or credit question was answered with cash. So every necessary arrangement was made. With the local police and every external party that played a role. But something didnt sound right. A new customer and cash. Both hardly go hand in hand. And everything is so rushed up. Twenty thousand Dollars is no street cash. I wanted this deal like nothing else, so I went with the flow. As if there was a trouble detector in my head, I got that red alert signal. Not as if anything precisely could be named as the cause. I would go with flour packaged like my usual goods, then once the authenticity of this deal is verified, I will have to send the real thing accross. In times like this, I usually patronise a perfect safe for my merchandise: this culvent in my compound, this I did and went on my journey and went on my journey.It was a thirty minutes drive from soweto township, so I took my time. Something in my head suggested mass transit, so I bulged. I started noticing that all the policemen had pictures in their hands. They were looking for someone. Well it could not have been me, for I had mastered the art of disguise. How I could walk into a hotel room as a short man and walk out a tall woman. But today, I wasnt a woman, I was an older man, with the unmistakable look of an aging professor with nose-draw reading glasses. I made it through three police check points but the fourth one was begining to take longer time than necesssary. This short police man has examined me more than twice, asking after my name. I had so many names. How I could become Ghanaian in a matter of split seconds, or Nigerian, Nigeriene, just name the country and I would tell you how I came from there and show you original documents to back them up. He looked at me again, then at the picture and back again. He ordered me to remove my glasses. The driver was begining to get impatient.The policeman's face immediate lit up as I removed my glasses. He had recognised me. I couldnt wait to be asked what was in my briefcase, so I opened it and started eating the flour. I was asked to alight from the bus immediately. Then the long-expected question came and a very bold answer followed. 'It is a local flour I am working on, would you want to taste it?' Someone has set me up. Could it be rival group or my cousins? In five minutes I was in a police station. But all test conducted on my samples were met with dissapointment. It wasn’t cocaine. But they wouldn’t let me go. They had searched my apartment - nothing. After a really long wait, Tony came in. Tony was an easy-going 'nice' policeman. He told me all I needed to hear. At this point, I had to make a confession.'I know some people that sold drugs and ran gangs with the guns they sell...' I named all the necessary 'cousins'. Then came the question I have been expecting all day, 'Can you Identify them when you see them?' A police chief enquired. 'All of them sir' was the ready reply. This was the moment I had waited for. This was the height of it. Its a larger part of a well woven intricate web of a massive con game and it was time for me to play my role. Someone has paid to have me dealt with and I would not allow them that privilege. I like Soweto. Those streets were something else. They were woven with the careless gracefulness of a sleepy woolworker. So I indicated that I would like to pee. I wonder how my voice sounded when I said that. How could a suspect in police custody who is in transit in a mission to identify other suspects ask the driver to pull up by the roadside 'cos he wants to pee? But when it became obvious that I would not comply with them except I peed, everyone bulged. There were four very alert plain-clothe policemen in that peojeot car. The policeman that uncuffed me was the most unlucky. Before he could finish unlocking the cuff, a 150kg punch that landed on his head sent his limp body off for the concrete floor. I was already more than to hundred meters away, actually streets away before his body hit the floor. The other policemen fired at me. But I was gone like the wind. Well that was it. I had mastered it all, but the last thing would be to be killed on foreign soil Tufia! And that thing called gun frightens the shit outta me. I no fit.The bank was easy to handle, every dime withdrawn. Thirty minutes later, a fat tall Ghanaian woman in very very high heels covered by a down-to-the-floor level gown walked into the international wing of the Jo'burg airport,walking past a swam of law enforcers and boarded a Ghana-bound flight. It was in vain that the law enforcement agencies were looking for a short slim dark haired male expected to board a Murtala Murhammed bound flight. You can guess the rest of the story from there.As for my cousins, the already ego-wounded police had a field day with the information I volunteered. :) Dont you think they got served what they deserved?As for me, I came back to my village, got married, built a house and told myself that unless I am dead I would not leave my fatherland again.Well my story had a happier ending than Afam's-
I left as a short dark man and came back a fake tall fair Ghanaian woman. I guess it still had a happy ending.
Marvin Zulu is an unpublished Novelist, an author who likes playing with imagination. Add him on BBM 3116bf56.


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