'A Crumpled R10 Note and a Bloody Hand’

by Vuyiswa Kubalasa

Runner-up

2021 SHORT STORY WRITING COMPETITION

Back straight, chest out, face angled forward. Her eyes listened attentively like the vivid gaze of a bald eagle.

She clutched the car’s door handle tighter, crushing the crisp R10 note out of existence. Her right hand was hidden in the side pocket of her jacket as she held onto the sharp scissors ready to attack.

Her posture screamed Brave, strong, fierce black woman! A force to be reckoned with, they say. Her core cried the cry of an unbeliever. Help me! Help me! I am but a subsiding force.

It was too late now. How could she have known? She gnashed her teeth, angry at her eyes’ deceit.

After deliberating which was the safest taxi to commute on, she had set her eyes on the common white Toyota Avanza with dark windows. The windows were a shade darker than she thought, to wrongfully perceive a female figure seated at the front passenger seat from the windscreen.

She stretched her arms out and pointed in relief, a gesture that brought the taxi to a halt in front of her.

‘Mxheke?’ she opened the door and asked the driver. With an approving nod from the driver, she entered.

‘Molweni,’ she greeted the other commuters as she settled into a comfortable position.

A deep masculine tone filled her ears as they responded to her greeting in unison. That should have been the first indication of her unforeseeable fate. A man was seated on her right-hand side. She turned around quickly to glance at the passengers in the back seat. There were two men, one looking ahead, and the other’s attention was focused down on something. Four men, two women.

She searched the back pocket of her trouser for her taxi fare. That is when that magic mirror – that mirror on the left door shattered, and its shards pierced her heart with terror as she saw the image of a man with dreadlocks seated in the front passenger seat. Her eyes had sinned, and she wished she could pluck them out, for it was better to enter a man cave blind than with two deceitful eyes.

Never climb into a taxi with only men in it!’  the ancient voice of Makhulu echoed painfully through her right ear like the sting of Simon Peter’s sword, and she felt a profound ache that Machus might have felt.

Back straight, chest out, face angled forward. Her eyes watched perceptively like the ominous stare of an owl.

The man next to her appeared like an ordinary citizen, a working-class man travelling back home from work. The bag on his lap confirmed it, and the ring on his finger screamed ‘newlywed’. Decent. No, a frustrated man overwhelmed by the new role of a husband with adultery and lust knocking at his door.

She dared to take another look at the back, but from the glance she took earlier she could tell the man who looked straight ahead was older, a grandfather perhaps, a man with responsibilities who could not wait to reach home to a plate of pap and steak, and hot water in a basin. Respectable. No, tired of his mundane life and wanting to do something inhumane for a change, for his sanity was driving him insane.

The other man next to him was youthful, she reckoned. The reason he was looking down was probably that he was occupied with his phone. Childish. No, a young man at the cusp of carnal experimentation.

She peered at the driver. He looked too young to own a driver’s licence, but he drove like an expert – laid back, not concentrating much on the driving; it was all so spontaneous. Smart. No, a manipulative mastermind of heinous schemes.

She cautiously glanced at the left door mirror, and her dearest Medusa in the front seat was indeed a man. She felt her stomach turn into stone. He was looking straight ahead. He looked stressed out or angry, she could not tell, but he had a stern expression. Their eyes met in the mirror, and she quickly looked away to her right and peered out of the rear door window. Five men, one woman; you do the maths.

The small ones who came from aftercare still dressed in school uniforms tottered with their bags weighing down on their tiny bodies. Some walked alone with snot dripping from their noses; some walked with angry parents as they thought of the laborious task of washing dirt and sweat from their white shirts. The older rebels with their dishevelled uniforms sauntered with their hands intertwined in youthful sin; some strolled in packs touching their big bellies with lollipops in their mouths. The smoke that came from the tshisa nyama and the flies that buzzed around the delicious meat. The noise of the taxis as the drivers exchanged coins and the taxis that drove by with women in them, a mockery to her current circumstance. The tiny children that played in the squalid water that oozed from the malfunctioned drains, to which municipality officials turned a blind eye. The ear-splitting barks of the filthy, emaciated dogs as they chased passing cars. The unruly and loud drunken customers from the schools of pubs that surrounded the area. It all looked so safe and peaceful; all that she worked hard to escape from looked so inviting, even though the darkness of the window, through the muteness of the taxi and through the sorrow in her throat.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper …

Her focus shifted to the soothing music that came from the driver’s radio, the lack of conversation in the car made the lyrics ever so present.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper …

The heat in the car was overarching, and her polo-neck increased her suffocation. The car smelt like fear, and the smell engulfed her.

‘Rough day at work?’ It took her a fearful second to notice that the words that stabbed the conspiring silence were addressed to her. The question came from the man seated next to her. She nodded, maintaining her posture. She hoped he would not speak any further.

Silence.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper …

She turned to face the window wishing for the serenity of the outside world to fall upon her once more. Nothing. She closed her eyes. My Trust I put in you, Lord.

Silence.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper …

Somewhere between the heat, her heart pounding, the soothing music and closing her eyes, the taxi took a wrong turn.

‘Clunk,’ the driver shut all the doors from his main switch as he drove away from Mxheke. She felt the eyes of the man next to her strip her dignity to nakedness. She had soberly and consciously fallen into the Lion’s den and could feel their hungry roars luring her deeper. But she was dressed decently – long sleeve polo-neck, long un-tight pants, appropriately covered from head to toe; they had no excuse to be aroused. Five men, one woman.

It was expectedly unexpected. She was ready to attack if anything happened, but she was unready for anything happening. She had let her guard down, and her defence slowly crumbled to ashes. Why have You forsaken me?

She gripped the door handle and the scissors in her pocket tighter. It was pointless, but it gave her some sense of control. She painfully swallowed her tears.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper…

The engine came to a sudden halt in a deserted area. There was sand everywhere and heaps of trash scattered around.

‘You don’t talk much hey… but let’s see the real you!’ her fellow citizen next to her thrust his muscular arms onto her skinny arms and pushed her backwards, hitting her head with a thud against the window.

In his tight grip, she managed to loosen her right arm and stabbed the scissors in the air between their faces, pointing the sharp end towards him.

The audience roared with laughter; their laughter diminished the sharp object into mere plastic scissors and shattered the last straw of fight she had in her. Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.

I am falling deeper, deeper, deeper …

‘Dude, don’t forget to share,’ said the driver as he lit a cigarette.

‘You can start, anytime from now,’ the young man who was at the back seat positioned his phone to capture the horror and the oldest man cackled.

‘Where in Mxheke are you going?’

Their insults deafened her ears, the poisonous lust dripping from his face blinded her, fear and panic brewed inside her, and she could feel pain oozing from her hand as she stabbed into his face. She stabbed and stabbed and stabbed.

It is done.

The pain was excruciating; her heart was heaving, her eyes were teary, and she could feel someone nudge her on the shoulder.

She faced the man next to her.

‘The driver is asking where you are going?’ the man said.

‘Where in Mxheke are you going?’ the driver reiterated, looking at her from the rear-view mirror.

‘Next to the butchery,’ she managed to answer.

Silence.

‘Are you okay?’ the man next to her asked with a concerned expression.

She nodded at him as she released her grip from the door handle. She looked down at her hand and saw the crumpled R10 note; it was beyond repair, and giving it to the driver would be an insult. Shivering, she reached for another one from her pocket and paid the driver. Her painful right hand remained in her pocket.

The taxi came to a halt next to the butchery.

‘Thank you,’ she uttered as she opened the door to exit.  A thank you that carried so much weight and meaning. A genuine thank you that hid no pretence, no scorn nor indignity. Thank you for not hurting me.

She wiped the film of sweat on her forehead and suddenly paused as her gaze was transfixed on the taxi [ CA -084 073] as it vanished into the distance. At the back window in a thick, white font she read YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, and deeper in the dark lenses of that window, she saw the young man’s face and a smile crept from his lips, and she wondered if somehow, somehow, they had existed in the figment of her fearful wandering.

She cautiously took out her throbbing hand. It was covered in blood from the multiple cuts the scissors had made in her spasm of psychosis.

As she stared at her bleeding hand, she saw visions of scarlet on her palm: the perpetrators laughed at her in disdain, the victims cried in vain for her to save them, the innocent men hid their face from her in shame, and she, she feared to be the next victim.

For three decades she had lived with fear. Inside that taxi, fear had raped her of her faith, fear caused her death, yet her death did not save the victims, it did not pay the debt of lost lives that the perpetrators owed, and it did not give hope to the innocent man with bloodstained blemishes. Her spirit was willing, but her flesh was weak, and it bowed down to fear.

She waited a few seconds for the cars to disappear before she hastily crossed the two-way road with pain aching from her hand and sorrow stuck in her throat.

If her Saviour whose death could save, pay the debt, and bring everlasting hope were to arrive at this hour, what was she holding as proof of her faithful Christian life: a crumpled R10 note and a scarred, bloody hand.

Back slumped, chest in, face angled downward. Her eyes wept bitterly like the sorrowful gaze of Simon Peter as the cock crowed.

 

 

End

Author Bio

Vuyiswa Kubalasa

Vuyiswa Kubalasa is currently in her final year studying towards a BSc in Math and Applied Mathematics. She has found that words match her zeal for numbers. Reading and writing have always fascinated her; for her, it is the power that stories have in drawing her into their world and finding herself completely oblivious to her current surroundings. It is through reading that her interest in writing developed. A big thank you to her high school English teachers for honing her writing skills.