The baby blue Toyota Prius shuddered under the G-force as Janet swerved at speed into the Caltex petrol station. It was Monday morning and the only thing more depressing than her mood was the overcast Johannesburg weather.
In the marketing industry, Mondays are reserved for marathon catch-up meetings and answering countless emails from clients wondering why their ads aren’t showing. She was a women well into her fourties working for a male boss two-thirds her age. She didn’t just dislike Mondays, she loathed them.
Luckily Johan, her beer-bellied biltong-busting husband, had promised to take the kids to school. She’d been up late arguing with another woman on Facebook about who should win the 2019 elections. Thandeka was her name, and the two ladies had completely opposing opinions. Janet had only argued with a handful of people on the classifieds groups before, but her passionate defense of the opinions she held got her into trouble on every occasion.
She was in no mood for work, but thought a cappuccino would put a pep in her otherwise sluggish step. After killing the Prius’s engine, Janet noticed a minibus taxi parked close to the shop entrance, music blasting louder than some might argue was necessary at 7:30 in the morning. A few passengers were jiving in an open parking bay next to the taxi. They looked so happy; so carefree.
Who’s that happy on a Monday morning, Janet thought and shook her head, climbing out of the car and checking twice to see if the doors had locked. She made her way towards the store entrance, shooting stony glances at the driver who was having a chuckle with the fare collector about something. His pockets were jingling with coins as he did a pantsula move to the Black Coffee song blaring from the straining taxi sound system.
Janet walked in and to the coffee counter, ordered her cappuccino, and browsed the contents of the shop while an attendant prepared the brew.
‘Your coffee miss,’ the barista (Bongi was written on her name tag) called to Janet after a few minutes. ‘Please pay at the till, and have a nice day!’ Bongi smiled broadly, and seem to genuinely mean it.
‘I’ll try,’ Janet answered.
She took her coffee across to the till counter and started fishing for her purse in the massive handbag she kept slung over her shoulder. It was only that big because of all the essentials she needed to carry around with her daily. Do women’s handbags get bigger as they get older?
Janet had to start removing things to get to the bottom of it – where the lost coins and old Spur sweets lived. That’s where her purse usually hid.
Out came her makeup bag, her phone, her hair brush and her hand sanitizer – all spread out in front of the teller who was now looking a bit impatient.
‘Here it is!’ she called out to nobody in particular. Janet slipped out her credit card and handed it to the man in exchange for the takeaway cup of soul food. She hoped Bongi had made it strong.
She looked at the digital wall clock behind the counter, above the cigarette shelf.
‘Is that accurate?’ she asked the guy behind the till, pointing above his head.
‘Yebo! We set it once a week. Running late, miss?’ He handed her card back.
‘Very late, my friend.’ Janet had 10 minutes to make a trip that took her – when traffic was at its best – 20 minutes. It seemed like her day couldn’t get any worse.
She frantically repacked her handbag, then grabbed her coffee and spun towards the door. As she was trying to leave, the fare handler from before was coming in. She stopped, expecting him to let her go first, but he just carried on walking – passing her without even so much as a sideways glance.
‘How rude,’ She said under her breath, but loud enough for anyone close by to hear. She stormed out and back to her car, getting in and slamming the door hard like an irate teenager.
Janet reversed wildly out of her parking bay, nearly hitting one of the petrol pumps, and sped away from the petrol station towards town. She was fuming, and apparently so was her cappuccino. It burnt her lips when she took a sip, something Janet should have known would happen on a Monday like this.
Suddenly short, sharp hoots started from behind her. How had she not noticed a white minibus speeding up like that? It was a Quantum, like the one she’d seen at the Caltex. There were so many of them on the Johannesburg highways and byways, so she couldn’t be sure it was the same one.
‘Go around, arsehole!’ Janet shouted as she started to lose her cool. The taxi was flashing its lights, hooting incessantly, and swerving violently from left to right. She could see that both the driver and his assistant were hanging out of their windows – arms waving like madmen.
This was when fear replaced the anger in her. Janet had heard the horror stories, of middle-aged white women being driven off of the road and hijacked, beaten, tortured or worse. She had a choice: become another victim in a country with one of the highest crime rates on the planet, or slaan terug as the Freedom Front Plus would recommend.
She was done being a victim; a tourist in her birth land. Today, she would fight back.
Janet slammed her foot into the brake pedal with gusto, sending her head forward as the car slowed rapidly in a swing of momentum. The Quantum taxi had to do the same to avoid hitting the Toyota from behind. Janet sped up, but the taxi did the same. They seemed to be relentless in their pursuit of her.
She suddenly braked again, but this time pulled the handbrake up too. The heave was more intense, but it seemed to do the trick. The taxi crashed into the rear of the Prius, sending both vehicles veering to the left and off the tar. They scraped against the road barrier and eventually came to a stop – the taxi’s idling sounding like it may have hurt its engine in the collision.
It’s passenger door swung open and the cash boy jumped out. He walked over to Janet’s car and peered into the passenger-side window. She locked the doors from inside, an instinct she’d picked up from her parents.
‘Why didn’t you stop?’ He was shouting. ‘Are you crazy or something? You could have killed us!’ He tried to open the door unsuccessfully.
‘Like you’re going to kill me now?’ Janet was shaking, thousands of worst-case scenarios playing out in her mind. Could she make it away if she popped her door and ran across the field? She had to try something.
‘Not that it matters to you, miss,’ the fare collector started, ‘but my name is Bheka. This is my friend and boss, Juba.’ He pointed to the taxi crammed to the rear of her car. Bheka didn’t look a day older than 18. Would he have the guts to hurt her? Janet hoped not. Her own sons were 16 and 17, and they were complete softies: a symptom of a comfortable life.
Bheka walked back to his side of the taxi, dug around for something in the footwell, and slowly made his way back. Janet shuddered at the sight of the black device in his hand. It looked too broad to be a knife. Was it a gun? Dear God she really was going to die.
The fare collector bent down and pointed the object at Janet. It was… It looked like…
She felt at her jacket pockets: empty. She looked down at her handbag. Could that be? Could that really be… her phone?
Janet’s face turned from white to pink to blood red with embarrassment.
‘I believe this is yours, ma’am?’ said Bheka, smiling from ear to ear.