Nandi, a beautiful, rich student at the University of Cape Town comes face to face with how the other side lives when she finds herself taking an Uber ride unlike any other.
Nandi heard the car before she saw it, a yellow haze vibrating down the street as a cacophony of African drums and shakers, acoustic guitars and a souring male tenor cutting across the melody with lyrics in a language unfamiliar to her blared through its speakers. Her afternoon adventures had begun on an unsavoury note. After having rushed out of her residence room in a flurry, running late as usual, the Uber Nandi had raced out to meet had cancelled on her and so had the two after it. Both had been quick to accept her trip before ultimately disappointing her. She’d been left to bake in the Cape Town sun for 30 minutes, strands of sweat running down the back of her thin white dress shirt, the bangles on her wrist jangling as she impatiently went to order another car, time and again. Yet, when the old mustard Toyota Corolla that was to be her chariot stopped in front of her, she wished it had also cancelled. The car was old, but clearly well loved, its owner having adorned it with Ndebele style patterning in rich blues, greens, and reds. Its sideview mirrors were covered in beaded hoods, whilst the interiors looked to have been upholstered in a navy-blue leather, and the shine on the rims of the wheels gleamed almost as brightly as the smile on the driver’s face. Her uber was a circus on wheels and she was not amused.
“Nandi?” Asked the driver, his baritone adding melody to her name. The crow’s feet stretching from the edge of his eyes and thinning hairline announced an age that would otherwise have been imperceptible from the man’s youthful deep brown skin. Yet, what his face concealed of his age, the short-sleeved, pale yellow, button down and tweed half jersey he wore made clear. Nandi’s response came with a thin-lipped parody of a smile and a slight roll of the eyes as she slid into the back seat of the car. It took a moment for Nandi to realise that she would be sharing this uber, for which she was paying surge prices, with two other occupants. The front passenger seat was taken by a teenage girl, whose resemblance to the driver made their relation clear. The backseat sported a makeshift chicken coop, in it a full-sized chicken that barely had room to sit was pointing its red beak in Nandi’s direction. Catching sight of the look on Nandi’s face, the driver offered a reassurance, “Ahh, I see you’ve met Cindy. Don’t worry about her, my dear. She is sweet as can be, and hopefully delicious too.” He laughed at his lame joke, his eyes inviting her to join him through the car’s rear view mirror. Evidently, the man had mistook her revulsion for fear. Nandi wondered how, given her very deliberate attempts at sitting in the car without touching any part of it. Nandi prayed that a secret ability to levitate would reveal itself, shuddering at the thought of getting out of the uber to find her Hilfiger dress shirt soiled with chicken faeces.
“My name, dear Madame Nandi, is Jonathan Josiah Muwaridzi, but I am best known as Papa John,” said the driver by way of introduction, before continuing, “Anni, remember your manners, pass the lady some corn. The one thing I will not tolerate in my car is anyone leaving it unfed.” The girl reached an open Tupperware container full of braai charred corn towards Nandi. Her timidness was betrayed by a pair of dark wide eyes darting from Nandi’s perfect red manicure to her green snakeskin flair bottom pants. Yet, the eyes never quite managed to settle on Nandi’s face long enough to give more than a glance. Nandi, shook her head and held up her hand to signal her disinterest in the corn, once again offering that tight-lipped smile. Papa John chanced a look at his daughter, who had retreated back into her sunken posture in the front seat. “Introduce yourself Anni, don’t be shy” he urged the girl, “No one shy ever did anything worth remembering.” The girl’s already large eyes grew even wider, silently begging him to stop talking and just drive. Papa John laughed at the girl’s expression, before offering an introduction in her stead. “This, my dear Nandi, is Anesu my youngest and only daughter. It is surprising to me how timid she seems with you, when according to her mama she galivants in the streets, hands intertwined with all sorts.” The accusation got a rise out of the girl, who retorted in a small but emphatic voice with tears gleaming in her eyes below her thick black burrowed eyebrows, “Papa, I did no such!” Papa John let out a full hearty laugh at the girl’s sudden spirited response, “I am just teasing my dear. You’re a good girl, I know. Just like your Aunty Lucille.” He shook his head lightly, speaking softly now almost to himself, “Had she not joined the convent she could’ve been something, my sweet little sister Lucille.” He directed his gaze at Nandi in the back seat through the rear-view mirror, “You see my dear Nandi, Anesu here really is the picture of goodness, but living in the 21st century where girls are no longer locked away in mission schools in the mountains she is bound to have one or two male companions. Sometimes, her mother, my beautiful wife Patricia, forgets that, I suspect in fear that one of our children will allow the passions of youth to whisk them into adult things before they are due like they did to us in our day. Back then I was known as the charmer of Bulawayo, Patty really had to tame this bull.” “Ew Papa!” The girl’s face twisted in comical horror at the thought of her mother as anything other than what she knew, drawing a small laugh from Nandi.
Nandi, having finally made peace with her place in the travelling circus of Papa John, drew her phone out of her little red leather bag checking for the hoard of worried messages from her friends that her lateness was bound to inspire. Surprisingly, none had come in. “How rude I am.” Papa John’s apologetic voice floated back to Nandi, shaking her out of her disappointment. “I have rambled about all sorts of things without having even asked your surname or where you are from. Who knows, my dear Nandi, we may be distant cousins. As you must know the Ndebele were once rivals to the Zulu.” She did not know, and she had no interest in telling her life story to this man, his child, and his chicken. “Oh, no, you weren’t being rude at all. I am happy to sit here in silence,” she responded in feigned politeness, her cheeks lifted in a weak attempt to hide her irritation. “Ahh but my dear, how else are we to find each other and know each other in this land, if we don’t put away the apps and become uncomfortable with sitting in silence,” and with that Papa John dove into a tirade of questions. With each Nandi’s annoyance grew, but if Papa John noticed he didn’t let on. It was in the middle of Papa John’s interrogation regarding Nandi’s decision to major in Computer Science that a shrill ring came from the front passenger seat. Papa John turned his attention to Anesu, “Under the seat Anni, answer the phone quickly and let me know who it is.” With the old Nokia phone pressed to her ear Anesu let out a soft, “Hello.” After a few seconds of Anesu silently listening to the speaker on the other end of the line, Papa John, growing impatient asked, “Who is it Anni?” Anesu pulled the phone away from her ear, covering the microphone with her hand, “It’s Tadiwa Papa, I think he’s in trouble. He says he’s bleeding.” “Bleeding?!” The concern in Papa John’s voice was unconcealable, “Pass me the phone quickly, Anni and help me steady the steering wheel.” As the phone moved into Papa John’s right hand, Anni’s body stretching over the handbrake towards the steering wheel, Papa John’s big voice filled up the car. “What has happened now Tadi? You know your Aunty will have both our heads if you come home in a state… You say you are where... okay it is right on our way, we’ll be there in a minute.” That last statement caught Nandi’s attention. Had this man forgotten that he was supposed to be driving her somewhere. Annoyed, she cleared her throat before saying, “Okay, listen if you need to be somewhere just drop me off here and I will figure it out.” “Oh no need my dear,” was Papa John’s response. “My nephew, Tadiwa, is right on the way here in Observatory. It won’t even take a second.” As if on cue, a man that looked in his late 20s came into view. Tall, and dark skinned, with a clipped haircut, the man sported a small pouch for a belly that was accentuated by the blood-stained white vest he wore over a loose-fitting pair of grey trousers. What Nandi assumed was his dress shirt, was being held against his nose, in an attempt to stop the blood gushing from it. As soon as the car came to a stop, Anesu jumped out of the front seat, and slid into the back, sandwiching Nandi between her and the chicken coop. Nandi, caught the girl sniffing her arm, obviously picking up the scent of Chanel no. 5, although Nandi doubted she knew what that was.
The young man, Tadiwa, seemed even taller sitting in the front seat, his head almost kissing the car’s ceiling. “Son of my wife’s brother, what have you done now?” asked Papa John, the amusement audible in his baritone. “It’s not me Uncle, it’s Lindy who is at fault.” Answered Tadiwa, shaking his head woefully, his blooded shirt now abandoned for a box of Kleenex from the dashboard. “She attacked me, that crazy woman, hit me with a left hook that Mike Tyson would be proud of. Hayi, Uncle, these South African women are crazy.” Nandi could see Papa John narrow his eyes in suspicion, “And you did nothing to provoke her Tadi?” Tadiwa threw his head up, eyes closed in consternation as he let out a deep guilt laden sigh. “Eish Uncle,” Tadiwa’s speech was slowed, as he searched for words to explain the situation that did not amount to an admission of guilt, after all he was the victim in this scenario, he thought. “I may have prodded the lioness a bit, yes, but I still think the woman overreacted.” Papa John let out a knowing scoff. “Oh my son, what happened,” said Papa John inviting Tadiwa to explain the circumstances surrounding the altercation. Tadiwa let out another deep sigh, before diving into the story, “She caught me in bed with another woman Uncle, but in my defence she came home early so she should not have seen any of what she saw at all.” Papa John let out a laugh. “And it gets slightly worse too Uncle. See the bed she caught me in, was the one in her house, and the girl, eish, she was one of the new servers brought in to work at the shebeen, but again she should not have been home.” Papa John, seeing the whole scene in his head, was caught between shock, horror, and the irresistible urge to laughter. “Oh, my boy, you really made a mess there didn’t you,” he said when he finally got his laughter under control. “I know Uncle, but if you think she hurt me, you would be horrified and what she did to the girl,” Tadiwa began, his voice pitying. “So, there we were, me and this girl, in the midst of a glorious climax, her head was rolled back, her nails digging into my arms…” “Hey wena, there is a child and a lady in this car. Those details need not be shared,” Papa John interrupted sternly. Tadiwa cast his eyes back, noticing Nandi for the first time, his eyes widening at the sight of her pretty face. “Well how could I have been so rude,” his voice turned seductive, dropping an octave or two as he reached his hand out for Nandi to shake. Nandi said nothing, glancing down at the bloodied hand before returning to his face wearing a look of blatant repugnance. He retracted his hand, wiping it down on an already bloody spot on his vest. Still he retained that wide smile, the tendrils of blood running towards his upper lip not dampening his confidence at all. “I am Tadiwa, and who are you might I ask?” Papa John, shook his head knowingly yet again, “Leave the lady alone and continue with your story Tadi. She is legions above your league.” Anesu let out a small laugh at her dad’s quip, as Tadiwa clicked his tongue at his uncle, before throwing Nandi a final smile and wink before turning back towards the road and continuing with the story. Nandi had to fight back the urge to gag.
“As I was saying, the girl and I were… busy, when out of nowhere the door flies open behind me. I suspect Lindy heard the scene before she saw it, because that little minx was not quiet. Understandably so when you dance with a bull like myself,” Tadiwa’s chest puffed out slightly at the thought, a self-important air surrounding him. “Anyway, I immediately jumped off the girl, wrapping a blanket around my waist, before I tried to calm her down. Heh, Uncle, little did I know the crazy woman kept a whip behind the cabinet near the door. As soon as she whipped it out, I knew we were in for it. I promise you I saw her brown eyes turn green like she was a demon possessed. Lindy told the girl to get up from her bed and proceeded to give her lashing after lashing until the girl managed to get to her pile of clothes and hurry out.” Tadiwa shook at the memory. “Ey, then it was my turn. I was standing there, naked save for the blanket concealing my dignity, trying to think of a way to get out of the corner I found myself trapped in. Then Lindy did the unthinkable. She dropped the whip, fell to her knees, and just cried Uncle. She wept like she was in mourning, chest heaving, snot dripping, waterfall after waterfall of tears. Ey uncle, I felt like a pile of cow dung.” The memory inspired an apologetic tone in Tadiwa’s voice. “I stood there for a moment,” he continued, “just watching her in shock. Ahh, then I made the mistake of trying to comfort her. I promise as soon as my hands touched her shoulders, she exploded, pushed me away, screaming at me to pack my things and leave, then out of nowhere she punched me square in the nose then walked out of the room like nothing had happened. Ey, you can imagine my confusion as I was putting on my clothes.” He finished the story with his eyes trained intently on the road ahead, before dropping his head into his hands. “I really messed up Uncle. That was the perfect woman for me, she was beautiful, a great cook, and she provided me with all the booze I could ever want all the time. Where else will I find a situation that good?” Papa John, placed a hand onto Tadiwa’s shoulder to comfort him, “Ahh my son, it will be alright. There are plenty more shebeen queens where that one came from.” Nandi stifled a laugh at Papa John’s words of wisdom as the car finally pulled up to a stop.
“Guys, I swear it was the most bizarre thing I have ever been through,” the alcohol in Nandi’s voice lending it a lazy drawl foreign to it otherwise. The group, scattered all over the luxurious living room of the lavish Waterfront facing high rise apartment, was engrossed in the story, half of them shiny eyed with tears of laughter. It had been hours since Nandi’s encounter with Papa John and his merry band of misfits, but she was still fiercely annoyed by the whole episode. When she’d first arrived at the gathering all she could think to do was drink and pretend that none of it had happened to neutralise her vibes and realign the energy of her chakras. Yet, as the drinks flowed, and the night stretched on the entire afternoon had taken on a funnier note and now as she was telling the story all she could see was the humour in it. “I mean can you imagine, me, looking like this,” she said, gesturing to her outfit confidently, “squashed between a chicken named Cindy and a girl that whisper speaks like that Chinese girl in Pitch Perfect.” The room erupted in raucous howls of amusement. Tommy, was doubled over his face red with laughter, “No please Nandz, stop, this is too much.” Nandi’s cheeks hurt from smiling, but her chest filled with pride at her ability to capture the imaginations of all the people around her with such ease. She was a star; she knew it and they confirmed it with every laugh. “So, what did you do? Please tell me you, like, reported it or something?” the genuine fear in Jess’ bright blue eyes was comical. Nandi guessed she was imagining being stuck in that horror story of a situation and it terrified her. “By the time I got here, I just wanted to chill. You must have felt how chaotic my energy was when I arrived,” Nandi said this to the nods of her Chakra hun partner in crime, Lily’s nodding head, whilst the boys all either rolled their eyes or let out a snigger. “I just want to see what this clown looks like, throw your phone over here,” Tommy said with a smirk having recovered from his laughing fit. Nandi’s eyes opened wide at the brilliance of the suggestion, putting a face to the name would really seal the whole performance. She pulled her little red handbag off the tabletop, digging around for her phone in it before exclaiming in frustration, “Damn, I think I might have left it in that car and I’m gonna need it to call a car to get home.” Zweli threw a lean yet muscular arm around her shoulders, kissing her temple, as he said, “I’ll drive you home, you know I got you.” The room filled with kissy sounds and jeers as Nandi pushed him off her playfully, forgetting immediately about her missing iphone. Zweli, or Zwey as he liked to be called, was good fun, but not her cup of tea, that said she would take a ride any day. “Alright guys, one more round for the road,” Rich said this as he lined up the shot glasses, pouring tequila in each of them in turn before raising his glass for a toast. “To John the clown and the yellow circus on wheels,” he said, prompting everyone to repeat after him before they all threw their drinks back scorching the back of their throats with alcohol.
Zwey, turned the key in the ignition of the black Alfa Romeo, as they pulled up to the gate of Nandi’s Res. “Nandi, when are we going to stop doing this back and forth already?” Zweli asked, his head cocked to the side as he stared at Nandi in the passenger seat. “Zwey, you’re great but I see you more like a brother than a lover, you get me,” Nandi’s cool response was delivered with a hefty dose of sensuality. Zweli feigned at being shot in the chest before saying, “Right to the heart,” drawing a laugh from Nandi. “Bye, Zwey. Thank you for driving me home,” she said, as she leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek before pushing open the door. Zweli blew her a kiss as she waved him goodbye, shaking her head at just how thirsty he always seemed to be. As the thought left her mind, she noticed a man leaning against his bonnet parked just to the right of the gate. He was concealed by the shade of a tree so she couldn’t see him clearly, but the shadow was enough to make her heart pick up speed in her chest. As she fumbled in her bag, trying to pull out her student card the man came out of the shadow. “Nandi, my dear, that is you, isn’t it?” The man asked the question with a warm familiarity that Nandi didn’t understand. It took Nandi a moment to realise the man was Papa John, the driver from this afternoon. “I hoped I would catch you on your return, how was your evening my dear?” he asked casually. Nandi, uncomfortable with being out in the street with a man that was essentially a stranger, answered swiftly, “It was good thanks, how can I help you?” He stepped forward towards her, his hand held out, “My dear, I suspect you dropped this in my car today.” In his hand was the phone she had already made peace with replacing; she was due for an upgrade after all. Surprised she offered a weak, “Oh, thank you. You didn’t have to come all this way for this.” Her nerves were still wired, mistrust her instinct in this situation given that the man and his family, clearly were poor. She gripped her small red handbag tightly, holding out her hand to take her phone from the man. “I must also apologise my dear, this afternoon’s events were unexpected and perhaps a bit scary for you. Tadi is a good boy, he just gets into scrapes, and you know how it goes with family. We must always rush to their aid because who are we without our people,” Papa said this with his eyes trained intently on Zandi, willing her to understand. Nandi nodded her head, scrunching up her cheeks to her eyes in what she hoped looked like a smile of acknowledgement, as she began to turn towards the gate, her student card and now her phone in hand. “I also just wanted to say thank you for letting me drive you and I have put my cellphone number in the case of your phone. If you ever need any help, or if you ever long for a nice home cooked Zimbabwean meal please feel free to call, the students always complain about the food in this place. My Patty would be happy to have you my dear,” he added this in a flurry sensing Nandi’s desire to escape him but still wanting to extend the invite to the girl. Nandi turned her head towards him, touched by the sincerity with which the invite was offered and gave him a genuine smile, as she said, “Thank you,” in a soft voice. “Well goodbye my dear, and keep safe,” Papa John gave Nandi one last brilliant smile, waving her off as he watched her get safely inside the gate before turning around and heading back to his car, driving off in a tornado of African drums, acoustic guitars, and dreamy baritones.