Deep is a watcher. One of his favorite pastimes is sitting on the balcony and watch people go by. The people he always watches all look like extras in a badly directed movie. They always look like they are constantly drifting shot on shutter-speed. All jostling for a position in a bigger stage. Forever fighting to be in the picture, but not quite getting there, always looking blurry in the background. Searching for their place in the sun. The people he watches look like poorly paid actors overawed by the script of life. They can walk into any screen with eyes closed. But they are still extras, the last to eat and the first to be fired. They walk like shots in transition and always fading into black.
He likes to watch unobserved. He likes to watch all types, tall short, slim, fat, old and young, men and women. Real life characters. He can engage on this act the whole day if he is a free man and does not have to pay the bills. People never stop to fascinate him as they walk past. Where are they going, where did they come from, what are their dreams and passions, what keeps them walking on the street everyday?
Watching people on the street is better than watching tv. This is non stop live, unrehearsed and unedited action. This is no news on soundbytes. You get the full story. He watches people through binoculars Trish had bought him. She had bought him binoculars so he could take a closer look, she had said. He loves his little gadget. Sometime he would put the binoculars on a tripod to get more stable shots. There is something about a hand held binoculars that gives the shot a nervous look.
In the middle of the street a couple stops for a deep kiss oblivious of the people around them. They cannot get enough of each other. They explore each other with their tongues in an intimate manner. People walk about their business as if the lovers do not exist. He zooms in to take a closer look. In the background extras walk in and out of shot as if on cue.
A young woman stops and takes out her mobile from her bag. She smiles as she looks at the screen.
She raises her head into his direction as he zooms in the lens. He can tell the lips form the words hello with a huge smile. The rest he cannot follow. He should have learnt lip reading. Is it true that a hello with a smile travels through to the caller on the other line? It is said people can tell a smile over the phone. She smiles even some more. What could light up one’s face so much? She blabbers on and on and sometimes stops to nod with her head.
What on earth could she be talking about? Why on earth they never teach you life skills at school like lip reading? Maybe she is talking to a boyfriend. Or it could be the results of a job interview. A promotion perhaps? Maybe her dream has finally come true. “What is her dream?
The woman continues chatting until she is disturbed by the sound of a hooting car. She moves over the pavement and walks away as she continues with her call. Deep is angry at the unmannered driver, he should have allowed her to finish her animated conversation. Patience. People should learn to exercise some patience.
He zooms in on a pregnant woman. Surveys say people do not trust the free government condoms. They prefer designer condoms next to the traditional way of having sex. So the government condoms come third in line. But designer condoms are expensive which explains why more people are getting pregnant. He is looking at them on the street. Pregnant bodies are a clear evidence of unprotected sex. Do these people check their medical status before engaging in sex? Do they go for counseling after sex? They should, unprotected sex is a traumatic experience. You do not know which type of disease you might have collected. Modernity has brought along with it an array of diseases that lie dormant within everything just waiting to be picked up, for free. And people grab them like they were collectors items.
Sex is a life threatening venture. But people do not care, they are too desperate for fun. Sex is like smoking. People know it causes cancer but they still smoke anyway. Perhaps private organs should carry warning labels like: this organ can be harmful to your body, it can cause temporary heavenly bliss which might lead straight to hell.
The people he is watching must be the people the experts refer to as the “average man on the street”. He wonders if he belongs to this category himself. His friend Graphit will most probably belong to this group. The experts base some of their findings on research which includes surveys. He has never been fortunate enough to be a subject of a survey, or anyone he knows. That is why he takes their findings with a pinch of salt. Surveys say the people in Johannesburg are a happy lot. So the people he is watching must be happy. Studies say there are more people in the rural areas than in big cities. Perhaps they would all come to Johannesburg one day. Everyone comes to Johannesburg eventually. Johannesburg centralizes people. She is a magnet that attracts and repels.
The people drift in and out of his sight towards and from the Bree Taxi Rank. Just like sex, going past the taxi rank can be a health hazard. One might be hit by the fast moving cars or a stray bullet. Taxi drivers shoot each other occasionally in fights over routes. The newspapers give it some interest for a certain period and soon move on to more interesting news. Politicians condemn the “Senseless violence” and soon return to their business of politics. Senseless killings, where on earth do they get these terms?
People go in and out of the taxi rank in their numbers to wait patiently in the queues. Someone once said “Black people know their queues, better than they know their homes”.
They fall in queues, patiently, from the cradle to the grave. It begins in the womb, where your mother has to wait for her turn at the overcrowded hospital to give birth to you. The queues follow you for the rest of your life, at home affairs, the licensing department, the social welfare department, at the pension right to your funeral. When you are dead, you have to fall in line, because there is a string of corpses before you.
He sees a young boy scavenge for food in a dustbin. What is he looking for, life? Sitting on the balcony reminds him of the poem he had read in high school:
Sitting on the balcony
Fingering a beer
I have no intention of drinking…
His friend Graphit walks in from the unlocked door straight into the balcony. He stares into the street too. They do not greet each, relaxed in each other’s presence. He had successfully recruited Graphit to his pastime and together they would sit on the balcony watching people go by through binoculars.
Graphit is a graffiti artist who is fast establishing a reputation as a cunning social commentator. He calls himself a writer of dreams. He recently started his own company called 011 G.P which stands for Graphit Pictures and the logo resembles the Gauteng Province number plates. Graphit has seven big locks on his head which he always covers with a big bandana. Seven is the number of perfection. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The seventh year is the year of jubilee where the land must be rested. It takes a woman seven days to cleanse herself after menstruation. He lingers over the balcony while occasionally pulling on a beedie.
Graphit has a distant look about him which gives him an unattached air. But he is not aloof, he is involved, in his own unengaged way. He smokes his ganja a lot. It makes him think long and hard, he says. He is always searching and searching, questioning, writing his answers and questions on other people’s property. He seems to have mastered the art of staring into the distance.
Graphit has a familiar face. When you see him you are convinced you have seen him somewhere. Probably not. He resembles someone famous but he hates fame with passion. He appears on a beer advert though he does not drink or touch cigarettes. He hates the fact that he appears on a beer advert but man must eat drink and live. He appears in a beer ad because they do not make ganja ads.
He is also a ganja dealer. He is known around Newtown as the man who can organize what he calls the vegetarian plant. He specializes in a popular brand called Durban Poison and Swazi. He carries with him all the time scissors for crushing ganja and a red rizla for rolling a joint. He considers himself a legitimate businessman and sees nothing wrong with selling ganja.
Graphit is a liberal Rastafarian who has never had a starring role in anything he appears in on television and theatre. He likes it that way. He likes his life without scandals. He smokes ganja and it is not a scandal, but if he was famous it would become a scandal. He hates the double standards.
As a graffiti artist with no regular source of income he is not sure whether he is unemployed. Statistics say the number of unemployed people is rising. The last time he worked was during a census in South Africa. That was the last time the government employed him. He never put it on his cv. He does not have a cv. He has never applied for any formal employment.
Graphit is a fair-weather vegetarian. He is a vegetarian when the season allows. On a cashless season he eats whatever is available. He is not too fussy. He would love to lead a righteous lifestyle if it was possible. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. He worships the Most High but a part of him is still stuck in Babylon.
Graphit first met Deep while he was a deejay at a club called the Pool Room in Hillbrow.
Graphit had been hired to do sign-writing at the club and drawings of people playing a game of pool. He had forgotten the full brief of what he was supposed to write so he just wrote “The Pool Room, making people drunk since 1935”. When Deep came to admire it he thought the manager would object to the inaccuracy but to his surprise the manager liked it.
“But the club was not formed in 1935” Deep corrected.
“Who will know, everyone who knew Hillbrow in 1935 is no longer around to dispute it” Graphit had responded.
“Yeah, who will know? The manager said nodding at the inaccurate words “I like the cleavage on the bitch” he said running his fingers on the life like drawing of a woman leaning on a pool table carrying a pint of beer as another guy held a cue at the opposite end of the table.
Deep had immediately taken a liking to Graphit who was later to provide him with free accommodation at the decayed building of Turbine Hall when he was once kicked out of his flat for failing to pay rent. He found the building was occupied by a number of homeless people including artists. That was before big business came in and kicked out the homeless so they can clean up the city. Cleaning up the city, by expelling the homeless.
“Every time I go to the Jo’ burg CBD and I get lost in the madness” Deep says.
“Johannesburg is a forest, a well lit forest” Graphit replies staring into the distance.
Before Deep can reply they are both temporarily paralyzed by a flash of lightning in broad sunlight. They turn around to see the face of a young man in the adjacent balcony making another flash at them. He flashes them a big smile after his artificial flash of lightning. The young man is carrying a camera and he has just taken photos of them.
“I am gonna make you famous” he promises wagging a finger at them.
He then proceeds to extend his clenched fist in a greeting.
“I’m Zinger, your new neighbor”
“DJ Deep and my friend Graphit” They both punch Zingers fist.
“Cool man, cool, the guy on the radio, do you know my girlfriend?
“Should I know her?
“She’s a regular caller to your show, her name is Pat”
“Well there are so many callers…”
“You remember when you were discussing vibrators on your show, she called”
Before Deep can recall his girlfriend, Zinger is already addressing Graphit.
“Love your graffiti, power man, power, I loved the one that said “BE GENEROUS, BUY YOUR GIRLFRIEND A VIBRATOR”
Before Graphit can respond to the compliment Zinger is already back to Deep.
“Hey man, can I borrow your toilet paper?
Deep fidgets with his pockets and looks at Graphit who is also fumbling with his.
“No man I mean the whole roll”
Deep disappears inside and fetches a whole roll from the bathroom. He hands it over to Zinger.
“Power man, power, Deep, stay deep, and Graphit, don’t forget to be graphic” Zinger does the Haille Selassie salute as he disappears from the balcony.
“Who was that? A fascinated Graphit asks as he stares into the distance.
“Zinger” an equally fascinated Deep replies knowing it was a rhetorical question.
“A man who borrows the whole toilet roll, wow” Graphit wonders as he pulls n his beedie.
Later in the day, an immensely distressed station manager, under heavy pressure from the listeners, the board and the advertisers, calls Deep begging him to return for his daily slot later in the evening. With a hefty raise as part of his new contract, Deep starts his show by announcing the topic for discussion is whether maids should be given tips by guests for a service well rendered.
“I m not sure Deep, its not part of the societal rules…” one caller says
“But who establishes these societal rules…” another one asks
“This idea of tipping maids is like a revolution…”
“Tipping is part of Euro-centrism we should do away with, in Africa the notion of selling food was unheard of, hence we had no restaurants, and it would have been taboo to profit from other people’s hunger…an expert on the show rattles on.
“I am not sure about this tipping of domestic workers, we are already paying for too many things, government taxes, parking, and donations to beggars…” one caller protests.
“Will the tipping of maids be restricted to guests only, what about family members…”
“I don’t think my wife would be happy with me tipping my maid, you know my maid Deep, she is very beautiful…”
“Who tips you for the work you do Deep? We all provide a service to the community…
“Should tipping be confined to money, what about certain gifts…”
“I don’t think we should attach monetary value to tipping, what happened to a simple thank you…”
In the middle of the discussion he plays a song Music from my beautiful eye by Tumi and the Volume. The song ends with the words in a dialogue:
“I got one thing, one thing, the reason normal people get wives and kids, hobbies, whatever, is because they aint got that one thing that hits a man hard and true, I got music, you got this, the thing that you think about all the time, the thing that keeps you sane and normal makes us great, makes us the best, all we miss out on is everything else, no woman waiting home after work with a drink and a kiss, they don’t go after us”
Is that why God makes microwaves?
“Yeah, and when its over its over
“And that’s all you are, musician?
After the song he takes a call from a man simply named Chris. He sounds heavily depressed and the mood suddenly changes. Deep has the feeling the man is in a dark place and he desperately needs help. The producer is making signs at him to cut out the caller. He is speaking very slowly and breathes in very deep.
“It is the monotony Deep” he says
“What monotony is that Chris”
“It’s the monotony of life, always being drilled into you day in and day out”
“Life is beautiful Chris, you must always remember that”
“They lied to us Deep”
“Who lied to us Chris?
“They said go to school, after school you worked hard at varsity, work hard so you can have a nice car, big house, wife and kids, but the monotony never goes away”
“Can you explain more about this monotony Chris?
“The monotony of work, same time, same overtime, same boss, same orders, same walls, same same same”
“Everyone must enjoy the dignity of labour Chris, it is part of the essence of freedom”
“It’s the taxes, insurance, policies, fees, living on credit, bills bills bills, then you go home, same wife, same kids, same walls”
The producer makes signs at him to go for a commercial break in twenty seconds.
“That sounds like a normal family to me Chris, most people do not have families to speak of, lets hear what other callers have to say on this…
“Please don’t cut me out Deep, I know what you are doing” he says accusingly
“On the contrary I want you to stay on the line, so we can hear other views”
“I hate that woman”
“My wife, always talking, never stops talking, yap yap yap”
“Most spouses don’t talk Chris, you should be happy you talk”
“You know what I wish Deep? I wish there was a road that never stops, I wish I could just drive forever and leave everything behind”
“You will run out of petrol Chris”
“Yes petrol, and the tyres would burn out, and I will get tired, I will not go on”
“Everything stops, nothing goes on forever Chris”
“Yes everything stops, everything must stop”
“We have to go and pay the rent, I will be taking more calls on this topic when we come back, please stay on the line Chris, I would like to talk to you some more”
During the commercial break he tries to return to Chris’s call but he finds the line has been cut off, when he calls he finds the number on an engaged tone. Feeling nervous, he asks the producer if they can retrieve the call, the producer shrugs.
“I am afraid we have lost him” he says
“I am afraid we may have lost him forever”
After the commercial break he appeals to Chris to call him back. Callers offer their views on life. There is no response from Chris. From a computer Deep opens a document that he wants to read out to Chris. He is playing a mellow tune with an edgy feel to it.
“ I have to confess I have never lived by this poem myself, but tonight the words in the poem find a particular resonance with me, I hope they can speak directly to you as they are to me today. The poem is by Max Ehrmann, it is called Desiderata.
It reads thus:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.