It’s grey, rainy and cold enough to put on socks and shoes, a jumper, throw a jacket over everything and pick up the umbrella as I go out the door. It’s Joburg, so I know to expect a few delays; the traffic lights and the locals go a little berserk when it rains. Instead of leaving more space between themselves and the car in front, they tailgate even closer to each other, like they’re afraid of being alone in the rain. And they pick up speed instead of losing it. Just over a kilometre into the walk; I find the mangled proof of my observations about Joburg drivers, rain and human decay. Someone is quietly decaying under the foil blanket while others are, as ever, busy on their devices — they’re no longer phones — they’re devices — because the average user no longer seems to call anyone with it. It’s an app holding device, it’s a camera for crappy photography, it’s a tik-tok video player, it’s a tool to tweet the remains of the accident as they quickly speed up on the greasy roads.
I say a prayer for this soul freed of this dunya, this eternal rebirth, this hamster wheel of consuming, of noise, of excess, of loudness, of every single video having some crappy music attached, of hustling to the extent that the reason for the hustle is lost and the hustle is the thing. It’s the age of cartoon-green exhibitions and clear plastic masks that mask nothing, the age of non-fungible tokens, just like your feet, if you can keep them clean and dry. It’s the age of the race wars in real life and the anniversary of George Floyd. It’s a whole entire earthly existence of over seven billion humans (and I’d guess much fewer actual souls) teetering on the brink of its own self realisation. A literal mass that has become so earthbound and heavy with consumption that a mere ship can stall the flow of commerce across it. But the ship didn’t just land sideways in our spectacular feat of engineering, it went a little berserk even before that, going around crazily in circles in the gulf before closing down international shipping through this little canal called the Suez.
The images of the shipping traffic running helter skelter through (and around) that little gap cut into the land of what we know as Egypt shows that moving tons of stuff around is, as it always has been, good business. Except now the ships require precious little intervention from the seven billion multi-nation army; much like planes, they can manage the process of making the journey on their own — cargo ships, planes, trains and cars have and are devices unto themselves. The human factor in making them do what they were designed to do is limited to the extent that it’s pretty much nullified. You don’t have to be there for your bitcoin bought Tesla to drive itself from point A to point B. You are superfluous, much like we quickly learnt (and even more quickly forgot) how superfluous so many of the ways of being were when the COVID-19 inspired lockdowns hit a year ago.
“But let’s be realistic here, we did not expect to stay sealed up in our privileged existences forever, we have always known things would have to go back to normal, when COVID was over” says the teenager; “and then when the vaccine was ready”. And now the vaccine is ready but only for rich, mostly white nations while most African countries are left with picking up the scraps at hugely inflated prices. And pharmaceutical companies are making millions in profits after millions in public money was spent on funding the research and development of the vaccine. And in the UK, that bastion of slavery and colonialism, the pale of all hues and the rich of one type only are busy looting the public coffers and offering health care workers a 1% pay rise. That and a lot of applause and banging of pots and stuff, because when you’re in the supermarket to get groceries, the cashiers ears are trained to listen out for the applause you got a year ago and not this pesky message on the card machine terminal that says “transaction declined.”
And in the holy land we mourn the passing of another giant and the falling of another bastion and the rabid cadre deployment policy of the struggles of our past eating the future. Bloated public servants in convoys; pavements in the city of gold unswept; trees and shrubs crowding into the road; acacia trees have transformed themselves into air plants, their roots dangling from bridges; electricity transformer boxes lie open, their innards sparking away while mothers hurry their children past to the school with a muddy pool as the entryway, because who needs grass to grow anymore?
In Melville, the bohemian bastion of actual street life, every store has a few bright yellow posters pasted on their windows, warning people not to use their phones (not devices) because “they want your phone.” Rideshare type cars cruise slowly up and down the main drag, windows blacked out and even the least streetwise people, quickly pocket their phones and duck into the nearest store. The streets and the corners of Melville smells of piss; not urine like in your clean bathroom at home but of piss. Of years of it. There is no single person out in the early morning run crowd, people are out in twos or with their dogs. There is palpable tension as I pass people on the morning walk, the dark skinned male in dark clothes walking alone, is always cause for a handbag clutching move. The males in any pair quickly move towards my side of the pavement as they see me approach, their eyes fixed on me. The single people with their dogs immediately tense the leash and the dogs sensing their owners’ fears, also move towards me. I quickly raise my hand, palm open and greet loudly and there is a perceptible relaxation — maybe the tone of my voice reveals that I’m also just taking a morning walk, with the same over alertness to being robbed by a kid, gun in hand, leaping out of a rideshare type car and snatching away my phone and bank card.
Maybe they too are equally relieved that this simple daily pleasure of a morning walk did not end badly today and we can all get back to our warmth, behind our fences and get on with earning the meagre privileges of paying rent, getting the groceries and keeping the bills up to date. Maybe they too yearn for a swept pavement and tap water that’s safe to drink. Maybe they too yearn to live out this day like it’s the last chance you’ll get to ensure the soul you’re crowding with your human body is freed of this dunya, this eternal rebirth, this messy thing we call human civilisation.
“Maybe they’re just white fucking racists” says the teenager.
Teen Jozi Love is a fictionalised account of real life events and any resemblance to real people is entirely unintentional; except the bloated politicians, you can’t make up that shit.
© Jesh Baker, 2021 AD