Mines, Potholes and an Assult
I wake to the sound of a mine shift worker blowing his nose on the path past the little huts. The air in the room is cool but not cold. Still though, I stay in bed as long as I can. Via the slow 3G speeds I download Macklemore’s American and We Danced and play the songs on repeat about half a dozen times before it just becomes annoying.
A quick change and I’m ready to join everyone for breakfast. At breakfast we lament about the previous night, grandpa had a great time chatting to his sister and Cici and I have new buddies. There was a moment during our nights conversations where I declined the offer to go out Partying and said “mate next time we’re here we’ll meet up for drinks and first round is on me” which was received with confusion. Apparently girls don’t buy drinks around here. A huge anthropological conversation ensued, I recall this series of events to my father who knows my income.
I devour as much of the vegan breakfast as possible - it’s tofu, shiitake mushrooms, rye toast, tomatoes and a giant slice of avocado. I also drink two large coffees and both mine and grandpas orange juices. We chat and laugh over breakfast and I don’t want the day to begin. I don’t want to leave.
We take a walk with Gramps to stretch the legs before loading up the car.
On the road we’ve learnt of “hot spots” of activity, mainly EFF activity and with Trumps tweets overnight about White South Africans we proceed with extra caution and avoid these areas via a different route.
We pass from one mountain range to another which opens up below us on descent. I’m enjoying the road and the driving. We play a classic acoustic playlist with songs that Grandpa once loved, sometimes it’s surreal with Tracey Chapman playing as drivers dart past us only to see oncoming trucks and force their way in. It’s dangerous and we pass warning sign after warning sign advising “high accident area.” In the distance is smog and heavy looking industry, then looking out to the mountains we see mine after mine. Signs point to platinum mines. The roads change, become slower with heavy traffic and extremely dangerous drivers. My peripheral vision watches cattle on the road, taxi ranks with mini buses swerving across lanes. We turn the radio off and everyone watches the road. For over a hundred kilometre we pass endless informal settlements and within an instant I feel distain for mining and make a mental note to review my portfolio of holdings and offload anything associated with mining in Africa. I don’t want to contribute to this industry either as a consumer or investor. Eventually after two hours we find a petrol station and toilet. We go in two sets to the toilet so as to stay with the vehicle at all times. Half a tank is left in the van but we take the opportunity to refuel.
Finally we snake up a pass on hairpins out of the mining area. As I ascend the one pass I see something scattered across the road in the distance, grandpa watches too and says “oh boy, you need to give these guys distance.” I put my hand on the horn, beeping and flashing my lights. A cluster of tremendously sized baboons sit in the road and as I pass slowly lurch for the vehicle. I’ve survived the mines already today, I’m not getting hijacked by these twats. We dip into orange farmland, with groves extending over long distances. Four hours later we reach the halfway point. We follow the satnav and almost immediately encounter pot holes. These are huge potholes, at least a foot deep. I alternate between veering around them, leaving the road entirely to off pieste through the dirt and grass and slowly rocking the car through the deeper crevasses. We drive at an average speed of about 40km/hr for the next two hours.
My grandfathers daughter calls us and he can’t hear too well so passes the phone to my father. We’re about an hour away from our destination. After seven hours of hard driving and a thirty second rest I’m looking forward to a long hot shower and a rest before we see them. I’m tired, my jaw hurts from clenching it and I can feel a migraine starting in my neck. Also we haven’t yet eaten lunch. Not only that, Grandpa, a lifelong smoker has gone almost eight hours and while he says he’s fine he’s looking fidgety.
We wind our way up a mountain to our destination. Signs warn of wild horses, not in a Rolling Stones but instead in a feral kinda way. We snake up a winding pass in the same area surrounded by forests where Katie Price was hijacked and held at gunpoint in a fleet of vehicles. I see cars occasionally hidden in forest tracks and groups of people watching the road. I am happy that we’ve arranged the next few days so that we’re not driving this pass in the dark. It’s incredibly dangerous.
The hotel is at the far end of a gypsy craft village. I pull into the car park where my aunt and cousin wait. I park, remove the dash cam and conceal our equipment then get out the car to hug them both. Grandpa says hi and almost runs to the loo. My mother also runs and starts the check in process. In the car park I grab the valuables and make small talk - my head is spinning from the drive and I can’t wait to rest. My Aunt then proceeds to kick me, twice, in the car park. I’ve been warned to be civil and gracious and I look at her in disgust. My godmother has just physically assaulted me in a car park.
I walk to reception, I cannot retaliate, personal defence training would result in an injury to her and when I see red there’s no stopping the beating. I remember back to a bathroom fight with a girl who started on me and shudder at the thought of the injuries our little scuffle would have left her with.
Cici tells our parents about the assault and my mother tries to diffuse any escalation. I’m disgusted and incredibly disappointed that no one held the perpetrator to account for her actions.
We ask the hotel about dinner and my aunt chimes in that she’s just spent a small fortune on food to have at their house and that we should go now. I haven’t yet taken a piss and I look to the adults of the room to decline the offer. Travelling with parents and grandparents as an adult is sociologically intriguing.
I head to the room and stand in the bathroom swearing to myself.
We visit their home and over and over I think to myself how perverse it is that we have accepted a dinner invitation from a relative who has just, I repeat, physically assaulted me. Soon her husband and a great man arrives home from work at the Paper Mill. I am genuinely happy to see him. Like almost every uncle and aunt of mine my favourites are always the ones related via marriage. He is wonderful and offers a dog walk through the workers compound. I jump at the opportunity to increase my step count.
We chat as we walk and it’s great to see him again. He’s lovely and easy going. Our cousin joins us and we try to chat but she’s reserved, I take a guess that perhaps her view of us has been tainted by external forces.
I eat a vegan dinner - a fantastic salad and bread, and my aunt pours us slushies - frozen cocktails. Normally I never drink sugar like that and I double over in pain as my pancreas aches. Gramps excuses himself for a cigarette, I offer to light it for him, just as I did as a child on the farm while he drove the car. I inhale deeply. He offers me my own but I decline. Instead I run through a flow of downward facing dog and sun salutations. Thunder cracks overhead. My watch vibrates with weather hazard warning for severe rainfall and thunder and lightning. I still feel sick and my pancreas screams at me in agony. I double over again.
Around the table I tell my parents about the thunder and that I really am not well. It takes a further ten minutes to leave and when we do I sit hunched in the car next to the window.
Fresh air and the fear of getting hijacked and raped and murdered in the forest releases adrenaline which numbs the pain. We parkup besides a tin church in front of a derelict haunted building with lightning clapping in the sky above. I head straight to the bar with my father and sister.
There they spend the next hour counselling me. First mainly by explaining my flaws, almost all of them. Then I just give in. All I want is a little love so I hold my father and then embrace Cici. All I want is their love, so I just take it. Inbetween we unpick rationale and though process and psychology, of course through utterly no tact I receive a few insults. The barman sketches the three of us and shows us the scene. He has managed to perfectly capture my aggressive posture, thanks mate.
We leave the bar at closing time - 9pm. Outside rain is pouring, thunder crashing and lightning illuminating the church and haunted house. We are nestled in tin roofed garden rooms between both buildings. I walk into my grandfathers room where I hold both he and my mother. I just need love.
In the hotel room eventually the biblical storm above seems to slowly cease. We message Andrew, Cici asks him to talk me down off the ledge and also advises that I had been assaulted. His reply is that if someone hits you, you smack them back, hard, rouge contractor style. I thank him for his support, but the counselling has helped and now in a Marianne Williamson way I mentally thank her. Then in a Deepak Chopra kinda way I think about the shadow. I know when I leave this continent next month that I’m going to need some professional time to lay some of the past to rest.
Between the tin roof and ceiling I listen to scurrying of mice, or rats. I try to fall asleep to this strange situation. I wake to my sister mumbling just after midnight, then she shouts “Jesus” I wonder if the church or the haunted house have got to her.
I don’t really sleep. The rain taps on the roof and Cici mumbles.