“Tuonane” I said in farewell and started towards my car parked just around the corner from the alley. It was not a flashy car but a goldmine for thugs. The sale from the spares alone they could salvage with a hammer and chisel could keep them high for a week. In the hands of professional chop shop, for a month. A month on these mean streets was damn close to immortality.
“You want anything else? Rizla? Women? Guns? Crack? Snow?” raspy enquired as I started walking backwards out of the alley.
“No, thanks I’m good” I said as I tried to make a hasty retreat. I had enough rolling paper at home, I was not looking for a rough neck massage or an infection from raspy’s women and I sure as hell was not looking to shoot someone. Above all else, I wanted as much to do with hardcore drugs as a cat does with a shower.
I was too scared to turn my back at them so I inched slowly to my car, one side facing the goons the other towards my car. I stumbled on a bag of garbage lying in the shadows and instinctively shot out my arms to balance myself or brace myself from the impeding fall, whichever came first. I managed not to fall by palming the wall, but dropped my phone in the process. Despite the ambient noise, the plastic hitting the concrete was as loud as the crack of a whip. I could hear one of raspy’s men snigger, I had no idea who. The phone split open and the battery, the cover and all other loose parts came apart. This was not the first time I had dropped my phone and that was exactly the reason I always use a cheap phone that could take a beating.
I quickly scooped up the pieces, pocketed them and walked on towards my car. To my surprise raspy and his men had made no move in all this time and were still staring at me. I got to it to my car and got in, after the usual movie-like fumble with the keys, I drove off. By drove off I mean, made Michael Schumacher look like a mkokoteni pusher.
I made it to the madhouse I call home in one piece and more importantly alive. Although I finished university about the same time as Rome was being built, I still lived in the same student-infested apartment block. It was more of a small estate with most of the flats occupied by students on their own, with friends, with their lovers or with their pimps. It was safe to say, there was no morality, legality or decency that would go on at Berry Grove Apartments or BGA as we had all come to call it.
I shared by flat with one other guy, an IT consultant, James, who kept to himself a lot either working on a computer or on Catherine one of the girls in our block. I did not really need a flat mate but Jemo’s older brother was a very good mate and when his wife kicked him out, I was the temporary shelter. This was six years ago and I was pretty sure Jemo had settled into this flat as much as I had.
Jemo was a wiry young man with the prerequisite glasses that all IT whiz kids these days have. He was tall and lean, not muscular but your average joe and I suspected he only owned three pairs of trousers. The faded, tattered jeans he wore whenever he left the house for anything save the church and other such functions, the pyjamas he exclusively wore in the flat and a pair of black slacks he wore to church whenever Catherine, or Cathy as we all called her, decided to drag him along.
He was extremely talented with the computer and all things electronic. He had proved this one day four years ago when I was kicking and abusing myself “Why are you punching the sofa?” he had asked staring up from his laptop.
“I forgot to pay the f**king subscription and now they have disconnected me till I go and pay!” I snapped back looking at him incredulously.
“So you can always go and pay them and they will reconnect you again, sio?” he asked extremely politely and patiently. I would have thrown something, anything had there been anything in our sparsely furnished flat
“It’s two in the f**king afternoon, on a Saturday!” I shouted in anger not at him in particular. Just at what seemed like his stupidity at that moment. “There is no way I can venture to Westlands, make the payment and return before the game starts” I explained more calmly but still frustrated.
“How much is the subscription?” he asked with a smile on his face that did not belong. He almost looked like a mad doctor that had invented something sinister and destructive. I told him the amount. “Give me the money and I will get it connected in fifteen minutes” he told me. You have to keep in mind this was the period before the mobile operators had started the cash transfer system so I was a bit sceptical. Jemo was extremely serious, his outstretched hand confirmed this. I fished out my wallet, counted the notes and gave him the cash.
He leaped up with laptop in hand and ran to the decoder turned it over and started fiddling with the connections at the back of it. He pulled out some copper wire and made a crude connection between the two units at one of the inputs that could only be described as electronic rape. He started fiddling on the keyboard and some moments later he was squealing in glee like a school girl being asked out for the first time.
“Turn the TV on” he said. I humoured him and was about to hit him when the screen still displayed the ‘your account has been suspended’ sign. I glanced at him sideways with enough violent intent in my expression as I could.
“Go to the settings and click on reset” he said as he continued his toothy sheepish smile at me. I did as instructed.
The screen prompted for a code. “Hold down 8 continuously” he said as if he had read my mind.
I did that and the next thing that happened was the equivalent of finding kryptonite. My roommate had just hacked into the decoder and afforded me free TV, for life. Although he threatens to reset the TV every now and then because I do not pay him the monthly ‘subscription’, he is yet to follow through on his threat. Letting him live in my flat balances the free TV out as far as I am concerned.
His girlfriend who we all call Cathy despite Jemo calling her Catherine or ‘Oh God, Oh God’ on most nights and weekends was another reason I shared a flat with this weird man. She was a cleanliness freak and a good cook. She personally supervised the bi-weekly cleaning of our flat and was so stringent that we could have our own ISO certification for cleanliness. I was a vegetarian which by default made Jemo one too and Cathy adapted fast. However, her best attribute was that she knew other girls. Lots of other girls. This worked in my favour and in the end we were all happy.