I knew sooner or later something strange would happen. It always does. Peace and tranquillity and ‘normality’ have a limited shelf life.
From the cacophony of sounds emerging from heavy vehicles: earth-moving equipment, tractors, lorries, bakkies, came a new, even deeper sound. I stopped what I was doing, which was writing, and listened. It sounded like Steve McQueen’s Mustang from the film Bullit. It was a deep rumble that grew in intensity to a deep-throated roar.
I know nothing about cars but I knew this what I was hearing is a V-8. Only, it sounded more powerful. I had a V-8 1980 Mercedes once and didn’t know it was a V-8 until someone told me. But this was something different … something much more powerful. A. Souped UP V-8, perhaps? What did I know? Several days in a row it would it start up angry growl and then race ahead, only to be stopped in its tracks 50 metres down the road at the stop street. There it, the monster car, turned right. Five minutes later it would appear at the top of the street, and rumble past my place. It had driven around the block. To do what? Buy cigarettes? Make its presence felt down Main Road?
A few times I have rushed to the window to have a look at the car (this happens in Darling). It resembled a Ferrari, but surely couldn’t be, but it was long and flat, and white. I was trying to see who was driving this Darling Ferrari, which I think must be a Mazda sports car or something (surely? Or could it actually be a Ferrari?) Anyway, I have to tell you, among all the ‘ordinary cars’ and heavy farm vehicles, this flat white thing was about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on the wedding cake, to quote Raymond Chandler).
When I walked down to the SPAR (where my main social activity took place) I searched for the car but I did not see it. Was it parked (hiding?) in a garage? Surely he would not pull out of the garage seven times in one morning? (which is what I counted.) Who was the mystery driver concealed by the tinted windows of the Darling Ferrari? I wondered. Then I started wondering how I might discover the driver’s identity. I would have to walk past as the driver was emerging from the car. Yes, that’s it. It’s only a matter of time before the mystery was solved.
Yesterday I phoned the municipality to get hold of the library because I had to print out a paper from a memory stick. The librarian told me the computer had a virus and it would simply destroy my data.
“When you are getting it fixed?”
“I don’t know. It’s now a provincial thing.”
In my mind’s eye I saw a bureaucrat somewhere in Cape Town, staring the pile of files in his or her ‘in tray’ – and thoughts of Waiting for Godot came to me unbidden. And the word ‘Never’.
I phoned the Hello Darling Information Centre and they said there was a print shop next to the Darling Hotel, but they didn’t know its name.
I couldn’t locate the Darling Hotel on my Google Maps because the internet was down.
I phoned the municipality again. I asked if they could tell me where the Darling Hotel was. They told me to hold on as they didn’t know. (Didn’t know? They lived in Darling – it was not as if it were a metropolis!). They put me through to Helena who might now, they said. Helena answered. There was little enthusiasm in her ‘Hallo, Helena wat praat.” I asked if she could give me the number of the Darling Hotel. There was a pause.
“What do want the number for?” she wanted to know, with a winter’s breeze of suspicion in her voice.
I chuckled uncomfortably.. Um …. I explained I was not actually looking for the hotel (exonerating myself, I was not the type to be looking for hotels, I wanted to convey to her) but for the print shop behind the Darling Hotel.
“Oh,” said and gave me the number, “You don’t tell anybody you got the number from me.”
I promised, the pact was made: I would never, upon pain of death, reveal that I got the number from her, the all-knowing, all-seeing Helena from the Darling Municipality. But it was curious, I must admit.
I have since, but too late, dreamed up a dozen answers I could have given to her question: “What do you want the number of the Darling Hotel for?”
“I need to go and murder someone in room 13 but I can’t find the hotel. So I need their number.”
“I need to go and buy a case of brandy and drink myself to death but I can’t find the hotel.”
“I need to find out where the Darling Hotel is because a psychic told me I would meet my future wife there …She would be very beautiful and would be waiting for me. That’s why I need the number, Helena.”
All this came to me afterwards. My imaginary responses to Helena from the municipality.
It was some time later that the mystery was, well, not exactly cleared up but I understood a little better why Helena was so evasive.
But something has been missing in my life.
I needed to see a beautiful woman. Or then, at least, an attractive woman. I need the presence of beauty like some people need the presence of God.
I phoned the print shop and a woman’s voice answered. I asked where exactly they were situated: “Next to the police station,” she said.
I parked in front of the house next to the police station. I went into the house next door, maybe this was it (I couldn’t see any signage, but perhaps they were undercover, hence Helena’s reluctance to reveal to me the number.) No, this was not it, the man said.
I tried the police station. No, nothing there either. Printer? Ask us about murderers, drugs, and thieves, don’t ask us about print shops.
I drifted down from the police station. There was a cluster of promising looking buildings but they turned out to be the SPCA offices. A woman came out of one of the buildings and I asked her if she knew where the print shop was. She told me to follow her. We crossed the road and, she pointed to where the print shop was, further up the side-street, where the ‘White bakkie is and the White building.”
On the way I saw a Nedbank and I tried my Greenbacks Shop Card but when I tried to draw money the sign read: “This transaction could not be concluded. Your card is being retained. Enquire at Nedbank.” Retained … how close it was to ‘detained’.
The White bakkie. The white building. This was it. There was a security gate. I pressed the bell. It was a depressing sight inside, a small cramped space, bric-a-brac …a poster advertising an art exhibition that had occurred long ago … a mask in amongst the clutter …from within the dark recesses, a woman emerged, wearing a tight-fitting dress over her slender body. She had dark hair. She was pretty. She held out her hand and introduced herself and smiled. This was Darling. This was Darling and she had a number of rings on her fingers. An elderly man also emerged from the shadows. He paid no attention to us. He rearranged a painting in the confines of a passage. Her father? Her jealous husband who is keeping an eye on her to make sure she does not flirt?
She wanted to know if I was the one who phoned yesterday. I said I was.
“You sound different from the voice on the telephone,” I said. She smiled and said “That will be R10 please.”
A bargain. I left. Outside I blinked. The sun was bright in the sky.
You find beauty in unexpected places. Even in the half-light of a cluttered print shop, doubling up as an art gallery. It just sometimes takes a while to find it.