The Edge of the Pot by Liesl Jobson
Lebo's passion is tinkering with broken things. When he's not at the tavern, he's always fixing something – a broken radio, a mate's car, or a second-hand microwave he got for a bargain at Cash Converters. His eye for a bargain is a perennial joke in the unit. The rubbish he collects costs him more in parts and time than he can sell them for. His friends reckon it is why he always needs a mid-month loan.
My cell phone rings. The voice is faint. The reception is bad.
"Hey Jess..." It's Lebo, calling from a public phone. "Can you lend me bucks?"
"Lebo! Where are you?"
I just catch the word 'city'.
"You better get your fat butt over here, mtshana. Inspector M is going to fry you for lunch, man. Where are you?"
"Sun City, babe," he says. Can that be? The line is terrible. Surely he's not a gambler. Sometimes I'm such a poor judge of character. It's not surprising he never has any money.
"What in God's name are you doing there?"
The earlier anxiety returns. I imagine he's run up a terrible gambling debt.
"Jess, can you loan me..."
I knew his wife played Fafi on the pavement near their house. She would bet on his behalf when he dreamed of cockerels or the moon. I haven't got spare cash right now. I've budgeted for the month and it's ten days to payday.
"Get serious, Lebo, where the hell are you?"
"Chookie, sisi, jail. I'm in the Johannesburg Prison."
" I can't hear you. How much do you need?
"What did they get you for?"
Inspector Msomi strides over and grabs the phone. He switches to the rapid pure Zulu I can't understand. My vocabulary comprises a few fragments of township slang. I can't follow much of the conversation but 'imali' comes up plenty. I know that one – money. Also 'umlungu'. Whitey. That too is understood. I figure they want me to bail him out. I'm the only one in the unit who doesn't ask for loans mid-month. I'm also the only one without a garnishee order on my salary – and the only one doing a legitimate private job.
The others have private jobs that nobody is supposed to know about. They double as bouncers at nightclubs or bodyguards for the soccer bosses or taxi lords. I did a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course during my last annual leave, so now I teach English to Chinese housewives to boost my salary. I'm saving to buy a car so I can get out of the barracks and go to gym in the mornings before work. Lebo promised to fix up a decent second hand one for me.
"Hey Jessie... maybe you can help Dubazana?" Inspector Msomi is earnest.
"What did they book him for?" I ask.
"Failure to pay child support."
"Which wife is after him now?"
"Both. And the girlfriend."
I didn't know there was a girlfriend as well. I feel a stupid pang of jealousy. Stupid and irrational, because I could never open myself to this promiscuous fool I yearn for.
"He has to pay the ex-wives R400 each and the girlfriend R200."
I swallow hard."I've got R400 in my savings account," I volunteer.
Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006