Writings from the Artist’s Studio
Lockdown, 27 March–16 April 2020
Dry River. From the collection ‘The Russian Far East in Modern Photography’ by A M Bermant. Siberian Museum Agency. Courtesy of Bibliothèque Numérique Mondiale, US Library of Congress. United Nations
This fictional blog by Gavin Younge centres on two men living together in Cape Town’s East City during the 21-day lockdown period. The lockdown, from midnight on the 26 March to midnight on the 16 April 2020, was imposed by the South African government to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. It was written early each morning for the 21-day period following Barnie Simon’s improvisatory method – that is, no script, or characters in mind.
As mentioned, this tale is entirely fictional, but may refer to real events, either as they occurred, or as they were partially remembered.
Day 1: 27 March 2020
Michael Singel was 58 when his parents left him a two-storey warehouse in Albertus Street, near Charly’s Bakery. The words, Singel Caps and Hats were still discernible as a lighter shade of yellow on the front facade. The metal letters had been recycled in the early 1990s when the family-run garment and fellmongery establishments of Cape Town’s East City started closing their doors. Michael sold the cast iron letters to his friend Bevan who had started Sapiens, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Green Point.
His warehouse lay boarded up and mouldering until 2010 when Michael, eager to adopt a loft-style existence, ripped out the wooden floor separating the upper level from the ground floor. He also pulled out the ceiling to expose cast-iron roof trusses. This left a cathedral-like double volume apartment, which he furnished with salvaged mahogany display cabinets and hat presses. A cement counter, formerly used for the industrial sewing machines at the back of the building, had been polished to expose the aggregate. A free-standing Aga stove gave warmth in winter and fabulous meals for his many friends.
Michael Prinsloo, eight years younger, was tall and affected a coif in his disconnected hairstyle. They had met at an after-party in Long Street, when Michael offered him a place to stay overnight – not out of any sexual intention – but to save him the long drive back home to Fish Hoek, the new Kalk Bay. The after-party at the Waiting Room comprised recently graduated art students, most of whom were texting, and the two Michaels fell into conversation.
“Can I call you, Mike?” Michael asked of the younger man.
“Actually, I prefer Michel, if you’re looking for a nickname. I’ve always hated Michael.”
This sealed it. Michel had been at Michaelis and didn’t enjoy it. He won the Michaelis Prize for his fourth-year work featuring a Hornby train set he had bought at the Milnerton Market. He arranged the rails in a circle and set the engine into reverse.
“Like life, you know, round and round.”
Michael didn’t like this much – a bit lame, he thought.
“Is it still available,” he asked. “I mean to buy?”
Michael Prinsloo, son of a drunk, semi-employed truant of a man, grabbed the offer of a sale eagerly.
“I’ll install it for you – no charge.”
Soon after Xmas 2019, Michel and his train set, joined Michael and Fibonacci. This canine accessory had been acquired soon after Michael had completed renovating his urban pad. He named his poodle after the 12th-century mathematician because his parent’s knitted caps, featuring cross-stitch Fibonacci bunnies, had been so popular. The left side of their famous beanies had had one A bunny and three B bunnies facing backwards. The right-hand side had also had four rabbits facing backwards. The beanies were of extra length so the wearer could pull the sides down, balaclava style, in winter.
Fibonacci, Michael’s poodle, liked sleeping on the spitfire chair. A soft glow of white against the black hide. Michel’s prize-winning train set was set on a huge Turkish brass tray supported by four gate legs. Period photographs of the East City from the 1930s and 40s lined the wall behind the zinc-covered bar top. The framed, sepia-toned image of Kurgan’s Hides in Commercial Street showed classic cars parked along the pavement, a muscular Hup Mobile, among them. Several black-and-white images depicted Singel Caps and Hats from different angles.
By late February 2020, the pavement outside their trendy abode was a tent town. Each time they left or arrived home, they had to step over bundles of clothing, sleeping bodies and fearful children. They had been hounded out of the CBD, where hundreds of migrants had camped outside the doors of the UN Human Rights Commission, demanding repatriation to some other country out of fear for xenophobic attacks.
“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Michael had said a few days earlier following the announcement of a 21-day lockdown.
“What?” Michel had replied.
“Ramaphosa said from ‘midnight on Thursday the 26 March’. What does this mean? Midnight can belong to the Wednesday or the Thursday, it is an instant in the fingerpost.”
Michel wasn’t entirely following this literary line of thought, but said nothing. He was wondering what would happen to the refugees during the lockdown and the notion of social distancing. The refugees were sleeping on each other. A rat’s nest, he thought unkindly.
Fortunately, they were not allowed to leave the apartment during the lockdown and so avoided the trauma of refusing entry to mothers who wanted to use their toilet. GetWine, across the road, had employed a security guard to stop people entering the liquor store and mob-rushing the staff toilet. Today, day 1 of the lockdown, meant that the sliding gate to the parking and the Trellidor to the shop was closed. No liquor sales during the lockdown.
Michel mused that the government had simply ignored the plight of 600 men, women and children camped out on the streets of Cape Town. Chased from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in the Waldorf Arcade at the end of October 2019, they had moved to the Central Methodist Church and surrounding pavements. The City had obtained a court order authorising the imposition of city by-laws prohibiting ablutions and cooking in public, but the police refused to arrest re-offenders. Michel was gazing down at an empty street – no traffic whatsoever, but crowded with sleeping, waiting, angry people.
“Destination City,” Michel said.
“What?” answered Michael braiding some pasta dough into lorighittas.
Day 2: 28 March 2020
Two weeks earlier, Michael and Michel had organised a lockdown party. This was not a good idea and some invitees stayed away in deference to the growing consensus that the strict quarantine of Wuhan and Milan was the way to go. Finally six friends pitched up, lured into the Corona trap by the excellent viognier Michael usually served. He had prepared figs and burrata as a starter, and lamb shanks for the main.
“Take your hat off Josef, Fibonacci doesn’t like hats,” Michael instructed Josef.
Josef had been born in 1978 and, at birth, had borne the same distinctive box shape as a Land Rover. Everything about him in the two remaining baby pictures showed off this boxiness to great unpleasant effect. His head had flat sides and an almost flat top to it. His fingers were stubby and had flat, cut-off ends to them. He was, however, a flirt and had a wonderful smile. He was also a celebrated young architect with a penchant for corbelled brick structures. His partner, Nicholas, was a farmless, wine farmer. He bought in the best grapes from the Stellenbosch valley and blended them with grapes from the cooler Elgin area. Not quite in Richard Kershaw’s league, but it was his wine, a chardonnay, that was served at the table that evening.
Maryline was in the rag trade and every gay man’s best friend. She was French – like born there – and she spoke English with an exaggerated French accent. On arrival, she spurned her usual air kiss and commented opaquely on the two Michaels’ three-day beard growth. “Ca pique,” she had said, with four fingers over her mouth and eyes wide open in excitement. Maryline had a curious way of smiling – flaring her nostrils and crumpling up her face. She had brought Romain with her as a pop-up partner. Romain was dark-skinned and had receding eye sockets – he also carried pre-made joints.
Michel didn’t like Romain and imagined that he was some typical Frenchmen with a patio full of uncared for pot plants and a sitting room with vestiges of Xmas decorations from two years earlier.
Stemless wine glasses were brought out by Michael, now wearing a cook’s apron, and the first of several joints started to make the rounds.
The conversation turned to cats and their facial features when attacking mice. This was a natural consequence of mixing wine and dagga. Normal discourse faltered and Maryline turned to mime. Her cigarette would move to the side of the mouth whilst she mimicked a cat biting a mouse, or it moved to the right hand when she made even more fervent biting gestures. To add emphasis, she drew her lips back and made cobra-like biting motions with the two fingers of her free hand.
Michel was reminded of his sister, with whom he did not get on at all. From an early age, he hadn’t liked the way that she had charmed their parents. She had a way of saying things like “I’m not sleeping in the spider room”, and thereafter everyone would call it the ‘spider room’ as though she were some kind of authority on naming things. They had had a black cat called Super (short for Supercat), but she had called it ‘Black Cat’. “Where’s Black Cat?” she’d say, and soon this became the cat’s name. She had other annoying habits as well.
“Twice minutes,” Maryline announced, “deux minutes chaque côte.”
Since Michael’s shanks were being slow-cooked in the oven, no one knew what she was talking about. Hank frowned, not following at all. He, his partner Alex and Michel were standing around the train set, stemless glasses in hand. Michel had set the locomotive in motion and it reversed slowly, but willingly, around the circular track.
“At least it’s not too tall,” offered Alex.
“I didn’t think of that, but yes. It’s actually a comment on PRASA,” Michel said.
SAPS came banging at the door at 14 Albertus Street. Blue strobe lights were arcing across the walls.
Everyone froze. Michael pushed Josef forward.
“You answer the door,” he whispered.
Of the two men, Josef looked the stronger, possessive of bigger hands, and more wet strength. Outside, a soft rain had melted the squatter camp into a morass of faded fabric. He opened the door to confront a posse of over-weight men and an athletic-looking woman.
They were all in the uniform of the South African Police Service.
“Can we use the toilet please?” the woman asked.
Day 3: 29 March
Being a Sunday, Michael and Michel would normally have emerged around 9.00 am. Coffee, shower and another coffee at Tribes around the corner before setting off for Milnerton Market. Soon after 7.00 am, Fibonacci knocked over an elaborate hat stand in the front vestibule. He wanted his walk. The falling hat stand shattered one of Michael’s collection of bevel-edged wall mirrors from the 1940s.
The dog had moved from a nice-to-have accessory to a nuisance – a pain in the butt; an unworkable, demanding, trumped-up, self-absorbed menace. How can a government outlaw dog-walking? Nothing seemed to make sense of the government’s hastily convened list of do’s and don’ts – one must shop at the closest supermarket for essentials – what about printer ink? Supermarkets don’t sell Epson inkjet refills. What about PVA? Three weeks imprisoned at home – no DIY, no cycling, no beaches, no cafes. All fine for urban elites, but what about township residents?
Michel read on News24 that six police vehicles from KwaDwesi police station in Port Elizabeth arrived yesterday morning and ordered the owner of King Spaza to close his shop. Abdukadir Mohamud showed them his municipal registration certificate, but the police captain told him that he was not even a South African and should close his spaza.
Five hundred people were huddled outside on the pavements of Albertus Street. They had been living on the street, without sanitation and without shelter, for the past five months. They were pleading for refuge from xenophobic attacks – attacks which the government consistently denied.
Michael had pinned up a list of Do’s and Don’ts on the fridge door, and then ripped it down again. He hated fridge magnets of all kinds. He started reading from the government’s list of Do’s and Don’ts:
“No jogging in public” – this he thought was a pretty sensible prohibition.
“No walking your dog in public” – also sensible if your pooch was a French poodle and you lived alongside a sprawling squatter camp.
“No sale or movement of alcohol.” Michael wasn’t sure where this came from, or was going. Obviously a typo.
“Fuck,” he said, remembering consulting a Japanese list.
‘DO put your palms together and say “Gochiso sama deshita” after finishing a meal. DON’T blow your nose at the table.’
“Hey Michel, listen to this. We cannot go to the beach, a nightclub, casino or holiday resort—we can’t even go to a ‘private’ game reserve. Glad I didn’t buy one last year. The big five would go into a major depression with no sunset G&Ts around the water hole.
The front door made a click. Michel had made a break for it.
Day 4: 30 March 2020
Michael looked at his phone: 6.47. No WhatsApp from Michel.
“Bugger,” he thought; a whole new world. The homeless will be housed, the hungry will be fed, old feuds and perceived slights will be forgiven. Fish have returned to the canals of Venice; cleaner air over New Delhi.
He thought about Michel in the shower – old thoughts – the animal lambency of the penis. Part of the world that had been hastily jettisoned. Hmm, not sure of the word order. Where to put the adverb.
So many ways of talking, ways of thinking. Gone.
Infectious smile – gone, not appropriate. Infectious good humour. Gone. Embrace the future – mixed metaphor. Social distance is not compatible with hugging, kissing, fondling, conniving, tickling, spooning. Michael had read somewhere that Andy Warhol had a soft mouth.
Time to shop. Get out the old 545 and drive up to Pick n Pay. Michael paid a monthly rent to GetWine so that he could park his Volvo in their parking lot. He had the use of the end slot, against Charly’s. The canine accoutrement would enjoy the outing. Oops. Did this count as walking the dog in public?
He made a shopping list on the back of a notice from the CTC: Interruption of Water Supply – Zonnebloem. 09h00 to 16h00 on March 21, 2020.
Pecorino, Manchego, Roncal, La Serena, mainly Spanish cheeses, but still good on pappardelle. Fat chance of finding these at PnP and the Granger Bay Market was closed for the duration.
Devil-dog, AKA Fibonacci, looked at him with malice. “Let’s go,” he whistled, imitating the cheerful woman on Waze. “Let’s take Nelson Mandela Boulevard/M3/Muizenberg.”
Imagining all the admiring glances Fibonacci would attract, Michael shouldered his Thule back pack and grabbed his keys, now encumbered with a small, soiled piece of wood that read GetWine in ballpoint ink.
The refugees had been tidied away and the streets were deserted. GetWine itself was shut. Roller doors firmly rolled. What about alcoholics – weaned off Tik and now subdued by pap sac? He, being part of the white wine and Volvo set, had stocked up. A friend in France (Lot et Garonne) had sent him the link to a mayor in the Aisne department who had banned alcohol sales on the 23 March and rescinded his proclamation the following day. Riots. Baguette contra baguette. Alcohol fuels domestic violence, withdrawal of alcohol fuels large-scale civil mayhem, disobedience and arson. Anyway, it has all been diverted for use in hand sanitizers that must contain ‘at least 60 per cent alcohol’. This according to the ex-Minister of Sport, and now Minister of Transport and Confusion, Fikele Mbalula.
Mbalula is also having a rethink about his 50 per cent occupancy rule for taxis and minibuses. His other psychotic – and unenforceable – proclamation stipulated that taxis could only operate between 5.00 and 9.00 in the morning and 16.00 and 20.00 in the afternoon.
Michael looked up at the framed poster of the SA Labour Relations Act, yellowing on the wall next to the main loo. A relic from the days of his father’s Cap and Hat factory. He thought it was easier to follow and less subject to ministerial whim.
The brass ‘Letters/Telegrams’ slot in the front door, protected from theft by an outer metal gate, sounded three times: flap, flap, flap.
Michel was back.
He was carrying a badly-fastened suitcase and a cardboard box.
Day 5: 31 March 2020
Nearly 10.00 am and Michael and Michel were still in bed – working from home. Michael was playing with the keloid on Michel’s chest, an old knife wound.
“So where did you go?” he asked.
“Home,” Michel replied. “Not sure I’m a roommate kind of a guy. Anyway, you were getting all shouty.”
“No I wasn’t, just calling things as they were – we’re stuck here. I had to leave Fibonacci in the car. Anyway, you could have got arrested. Six month’s jail time for breaking the curfew.”
“It’s not a curfew, it’s a lockdown.”
“All those beautiful boys. Kings and Queens and criminal queers.” Michel put on his Anthony voice as he sang. “Tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears.”
“So what’s in the box?” Michael asked. “I see you’ve brought home some extra clothes.”
“Old books,” Michel offered.
“Books? Old books? Haven’t we got enough fucking books in this place?” Michael was pissed; losing is complicated. “So, you know what old ministerial bat ball Mbalula did, one day before the lockdown? He closed OR Tambo. Thousands of South Africans, from all over the world, are trapped, sleeping on airport benches – you know the ones, with metal armrests, to stop you lying down.”
“Tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears,” Michel sang, trying to be placatory. “Come and look here.”
Michel had pulled open one of his books. Men. Mines and Animals. “You see who wrote this? Churchill’s dad. Written in 1892.”Courtesy of Bibliothèque Numérique Mondiale, US Library of Congress. United Nations.
Michael paged forward to the Preface. “At the request of the publishers, I have, against my own judgement, consented to revise the letters from South Africa, which I wrote to The Daily Graphic, in 1891, with a view to their publication in the form of a book.”
“Look up ‘Mines’. Wasn’t your grandfather a blaster or something?” Michael was getting a hard-on. He loved anything to do with the archive. Make that The Archive.
“It’s here. Chapter 5. The Robinson Gold Mine. Langlaagte. The McArthur-Forrest process.” Michel was skimming the Contents.
“With Dog and Gun. What’s that got to do with mining?” asked Michael.
“Listen,” Michel said, reading aloud. “The vastness, the apparent illimitability of the surroundings, elevate rather than repress the mind, and the genial sunshine, the cloudless sky, the invigorating highland air sustain the sprits at a high level.”
“What else do you have in your box – the Crown Jewels?” Michael teased.
“Oh, just some old photos of rock paintings taken by Woodhouse in 1919.” Michel replied off-hand.
Courtesy of Bibliothèque Numérique Mondiale, US Library of Congress. United Nations.
Day 6: 1 April 2020
“Bitch,” Michael said.
“Oh wow, who’s the lady bird now? My sweet coccinelle?”
Non-flatmate kind of a guy, Michel, was having qualms, second thoughts, run-that-by-me-again thoughts.
“Do you have problems sleeping at night?” he asked of Michael.
“Oh fuck off – you’re two generations off from a miner’s pension. You’re like Alex – dip stick Alex.”
“So what’s the issue with Alex?”
“Well, clearly he’s a loser.”
“So, I’m a loser, honey pants?”
“Okay, well stop trying to get arrested. Calm down and we can play …”
“This is bullshit.”
“That’s worth 15 points, not bad.”
“You’re a wanker.”
Michael ran his finger over Michel’s scar, his knife wound. “So how did we get this?” he asked.
“Didn’t I tell you? it’s a long story,” Michel countered. Michael was reminded of his friend in New York, Collen. He used to come out each year to see his mother and ride the Argus. He was a raconteur of note and used to say, ‘long story short’. All the time.
“I didn’t grow up in Cape Town,” Michel explained. “I grew up in Orange Grove and went to Highlands North, but I didn’t finish school. My dad ran off to Durban with his girlfriend to have a baby.” Michael wondered about Durban’s obstetrical benefits, but let Michel continue.
“Well anyway, Mom couldn’t cope, so I was sent off to stay with my granny on the Evander Mine. She was what they called a ‘miner’s wife’. Did you know that the mine’s name was a contraction of EVelyn ANDERson, the owner’s wife?” Michel was definitely in short story long mode.
“What’s this got to do with anything – did your granny stab you?” Michael probed.
“No, it was some ducktails.” Michel thought he had better get on with it. “We had a small, red-brick bungalow; 18a Colorado Street, Evander Mine Compound. There was also an 18b; an exact mirror image. I used to cut through the blue gums on my way to the mine school. That’s where they caught me, three of them. One had a flick knife.”
“That’s a sad story; a sad-sad story,” Michael said comfortingly. “Look what I got yesterday.” He waved a printed email in front of Michel’s face.
It was from Luke Dale Roberts, head chef and co-owner of the Test Kitchen. Michael had made a booking at Salsify, one of his restaurants overlooking Camps Bay. One has to pay a deposit, quite a hefty one, to get a booking. Bars and restaurants were verboten under the lockdown and Roberts had closed all his restaurants on the 16 March, well ahead of the lockdown.
The email read in part: ‘I would like you to consider pledging your deposit paid to the welfare of our staff and their families.’
“So what you gonna do?” Michel asked.
“Not being diversity minded, I think I’ll keep the money, get drunk and have plastic surgery,” Michael teased.
“My fok, Marelize …”
Day 7: 2 April 2020
Michael planned on making his famous salmon turban and was busy reducing the fumet.
“I always start the day before,” he called out.
“Okay,” Michel replied, not too interested.
“One lines a bundt pan with slices of smoked salmon, and then one spoons in the mousseline,” Michael mansplained.
“Tuna sarnie for me,” Michel ventured. “On toast.”
“You’re a culinary retard – come and peel some pistachios for me.” Michael was shucking pistachio nuts – one for him, one for Fibonacci. Nuts are rich in fibre and help to prevent constipation; not necessary in Fibonacci’s case. He crapped all the time.
“By the way, pistachios are not nuts; they are the seeds of the Pistachio vera tree,” Michael droned on.
“So what? I’m still not your sous chef.” Michel had delved into his cardboard box.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” Michael offered, in between folding cream into his iced mousseline.
He was thinking of the WhatsApp doing the rounds: ‘Do you have feelings of inadequacy? Do you suffer from shyness? Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself.’
Michel, fetched a stemless. “I love you,” he said.
“Talking to your glass again?” Michael parried.
“Come and look at this book,” Michel said. “It’s by Al-Sufi, a Persian guy. He describes the 48 constellations established by Ptolemy and adds criticisms and corrections of his own. It dates from 964 – lank long ago,” Michel said, turning a page. For each of the constellations, Al-Sufi had provided Arabic names for the stars.
Courtesy of Bibliothèque Numérique Mondiale, US Library of Congress. United Nations.
“This must be Scorpio,” he said, showing a handsome vellum page.
“Un-fucking believable!” Michael was truly impressed – the ARCHIVE!
“Don’t stand too close to me! The World Health whatever has outlawed the term ‘social distancing’, in favour of ‘physical distancing’. I suppose to encourage cell phone use,” Michel ventured.
“Apparently, confinement, solitary or in allowable units of two, brings on feelings of hopelessness, despair, anxiety and even, finally, the desire to commit sewerage pipe. Far better to use up one’s airtime conversing with total strangers and far-flung family members. Aunt Millie, for instance. Last heard of in the 1950s when she moved to Ixopo to be close to Alan Paton’s source of inspiration.” Michel was on a roll.
Day 8: 3 April 2020
The two men were sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking coffee and munching on shortbread fingers from Woolies. Michael was wearing his quilted Banyan dressing gown and Michel was in his shorty pyjamas.
They were both sporting sheepskin slippers; fluffy ones from Woodhead’s around the corner.
Michael was reading the latest Corona news on his laptop. “War of the Masks,” he said translating from the French. The US had pirated a shipment of four million masks, ordered by the French, ‘sur le tarmac’ – ’ on the tarmac’ of Shanghai airport. “They paid cash, three times more than what the French had paid.” Michael was livid; he was having one of his Macron moments.
“Fake news,” said Michel.
“And what about the French dying in Mulhouse? They ordered the masks.” Michael was indignant.
“Prudence de Sioux.”
“Let’s talk about something more positive. How much wine do we have stashed – 14 days to go?” Michel asked. He was thinking about the archive of dead wine bottles filling up the stairs of the old fire escape in the back yard – one was not allowed to drive, so no way to hide the evidence.
“Where did you get your books from?” Michael enquired.
Michel changed the subject. Ancient texts, written on vellum, were common. People kept losing them.
All the time.
“Alex and Hank want to re-wild their farm in the Koue Bokkeveld,” Michel offered. “Get rid of the onion fields and bring back the ruminants like buffalo. Buffalo aren’t susceptible to bovine TB, which is rampant in Kruger.” Michel explained. “Once you pull out the vegetables and reintroduce acacia species as feed stock for buck and buffalo, you can reintroduce lion and leopard,” Michel continued.
Where will Hank and Alex, he of reverse charisma, get the money, Michael wondered. “This sounds expensive and I don’t think the Cederberg is a good area for thorn bush—it’s basically bare mountainside; full of Bushman paintings. Kind of San people’s Louvre,” Michael said.
“Well, it worked for the Shamwari people,” Michel said. “Take down the fences, join up the cattle farms and charge tourists like Dodi Fayed a bomb. But yes, it’s probably only a dream for Hank and Alex. A hyperwilderness.”
Michael had gone back to his laptop. “Good news Fibonacci, the Chinese have banned the consumption of cats and dogs.” Fibonacci took no notice; he was sniffing one of Michel’s vellum books.
“Where did you get these books?” Michael asked.
Day 9: 4 April 2020
Michael felt like he was staring into the abyss – like he was a brand new cat, stuck on a roof, unable to climb down through lack of experience. What was happening around him – 5,233 new cases in France in one day? What was the nature of this thing? Botulism of the air? Droplets from old winds crossing borders without valid visas. He was still there, stuck on the roof – exposed to the coughs and sneezes of un-sanitised sea birds and migratory birds – old continental winds bringing only snot en trane.
Michel joined him in the kitchen, humming an old Afrikaans liedjie. He was scrubbed clean, shiny; tousled hair, and a new pair of shorts and a white tee. His summer tan had faded a bit, but the white teeshirt lifted his grooming spirits.
“Why so glum Kaptein? Wat makeer met jou? Michel had finished in the Stransky (the back loo and shower featuring a colour photograph of Joel Stransky’s winning drop goal) and was ready for action.
“Look at this,” Michael said, turning his laptop around so that Michel could see the screen.
“My orders to the police and military … shoot them dead. Is that understood? Dead … The military will kill – on the spot – people who violate quarantine,” announced Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday.
“Sounds like Boipatong,” Michel ventured. “1992?”
“In Italy, residents have stopped singing from balconies. They regard everyone as a potential danger and tell on one another. In Spain, they call nosey neighbours ‘the balcony police’. More than 40,000 people have been fined for violating the lockdown,” Michel read out, scrolling down a page from the Guardian.
“Across Europe, ordinary citizens have appointed themselves as enforcers of the lockdown.”
“My fok Marelize,” thought Michel. A ticket to ride and nowhere to run to. The world was wobbling towards an unsanitised goal post.
“In Britain,” Michael went on, “at least six police forces have set up dedicated phone lines for people to report their neighbours.”
“In France, the Easter weekend was looming, ‘la grande départ pour la pâque’ – the French transport minister had mobilised gazillions of police and gendarmes to issue fines for not staying at home,” Michael summarised.
“I thought gendarmes were the police …” objected Michel.
“It’s basically the same here,” Michael said, ignoring him. “A KwaZulu man has been arrested for attempted murder after testing positive for COVID-19 and not self-quarantining. National police spokesperson, Vish Naidoo, is quoted as saying that a case of attempted murder is being investigated against the 52-year-old businessman.”
“And look here,” Michael said, pointing at a photograph on his screen.” Cops firing on protesting health workers outside Bongani Hospital in the Free State.”
They were protesting lockdown measures regarding minibus taxis. Health workers were expected to pay for the empty seats imposed by Minister Bat Ball. True to his ‘act first, think later’ maxim, this has been rescinded following a rethink.
“We have so many rethinks to thank for,” thought Michael. “Wait until Bishop Bheki Ngcobo of the South African Zionist Church gets going. He says his Easter service will go ahead despite a ban on gatherings of more than a 100.” Michael quoted the good bishop: “To limit the number, it shows that … The devil is dictating to the church on what to do.”
“Oh, and here’s something else,” Michael read out. “A 58-year-old antiquarian was found murdered in his
“What?” said Michel.
“The police are looking for the gardener,” Michael read out.
Day 10: 5 April 2020
Boredom had set in. All the art work, odd items of furniture, a lovely buba made from yellow and golden thread (time to get it dusted, Michael thought). All these items—the spitfire chair, bought at eye-watering expense for Christmas – had been drained of symbolism and spirituality. This wasn’t Marie Kondo come down from heaven because it was Sunday and his house needed de-cluttering – this was loss of Meaning and Purpose. A new world order.
“Michel, what do you think? Should we de-clutter, arrange the CDs in alphabetical order – that sort of thing?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know about you, but my intimacy consultant advised more sex,” Michel chipped in.
“I know. It’s Sunday, right? We could organise a Zoom party,” Michael said excitedly.
Michel frowned. “Zuma party?”
“No, not Zuma – Zoooom, it’s a web-based video conferencing app. We invite a whole bunch of friends – not Alex – for lunch. We swop menus, or different dish ideas, and everyone is free to interpret.
So, if we say, Tripe and Onions, Maryline, for instance, could put her swing on the dish – cook it and share her final result online. What do you think?” Michael was peaking
“Where does the sex come in?” Michel asked. “Why don’t we film ourselves – you know, doing it, putting snake, sport de la chambre, beating meat?” Michel asked half seriously.
“Well, that would clear up some misconceptions about what gay men actually do,” Michael snorted. “But who would do the filming?”
He continued. “If we are shopping – we are allowed a 100 at a time. If we are making-out, or driving to the supermarket, it’s one-at-a-time.”
“Okay, let’s do a Zoom party – but no shower-head jokes,” Michel warned.
“Yes! What dish should we put forward? Gull-wing soup? Confit byaldi, salmon turban …?” Michael queried.
“No, we keep it simple – clean sheets, mood music and subtle lighting.” Michel had the last word.
Day 11: Monday, 6 April 2020
“Monday, Monday,” Michel was singing the 1960s classic by the Mamas and the Papas, “so good to me,” he sang, ruffling Michael’s hair.
“So what did you make of the Zoom party?” Michael asked, stirring his breakfast coffee.
“Oh, plek-plek, a bit of a no-no,” answered Michel. “I liked Maryline’s take on a tarte tatin, but Nicholas’s Coq-au-vin (boeries in a red-wine jus) was a bit crude—he should have taken the condoms off.”
Michael had relented on Alex (it was, after all, a virtual get together. No need to get all First World about it.) Hank and Alex presented a symphony of skottel-braaied peppers and calamari.
Good that one didn’t have to suffer the smoke that kept obscuring the camera lens. Again, not easy to convey on camera, but they had added enough chillies to cause Hank to suffer an upper respiratory seizure.
The camera wavered around like a drunken firefly, following the embers from the Weber, before the screen went black.
“I hope Hank is okay,” mused Michel. Hank and Alex had been wearing identical Brokeback Mountain outfits in their video link – checked shirts, bandannas and fabulous leather boots. “Bastards,” he thought.
Before the chilli-bite moment they had fooled around sanitising everything with a squirt-bottle of Windolene. Michel wondered whether it was okay to make coronavirus jokes – take the piss, so to speak.
Co-operative Governance minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, thought not. She had promised fines or six months in jail for anyone deliberately spreading fake news. “Deliberately?” Michel could hear teams of lawyers, beeping their parked BMs, and shuffling into court waving papers.
“What about all the lockdown spoofs being circulated?” Michel wondered. He loved the one of a brown Maltese complaining in Cockney about being confined to the house. “Here I sit, waiting for me breakfast; me best friend, Isabelle, jumping around in front of the telly, doing this fuckin’ keep-fit-thing. How many dogs or cats have caught the Corona virus? None! Not one fuckin’ dog has caught the virus! So why the fuck do I have to stay in? What a load of bollocks!”
Michel had dutifully shared the video with his WhatsApp groups, including ‘Fuck the Whales, Save Hermanus’.
Most likely the WhatsApp group that had sent it to him in the first place.
“So many deaths to die,” thought Michel. “Which one to choose?” News24 had headlined their Monday morning despatch with ‘More deaths, more prayers, more arrests’.
Day 12: Tuesday, 7 April 2020
Michael had his head in the dishwasher and was bailing water into a bucket with a teacup. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuck!” he said with fearsome crescendo. The dishwasher wasn’t draining. “10 days into a 21-day national lockdown, and the dishwasher packs up!” Michael was seething. He hadn’t showered yet and a tuft of hair stood out at a strange, owl-like angle.
“It’s not only you, honey bum. It’s the whole world. Fifty per cent of the world’s population is in some kind of stay-at-home-lockdown,” Michel said, without offering to help with the delinquent dishwasher.
“Check the filter,” he called out. “And your hair style!” Not really a train crash, Michel thought selfishly.
Fibonacci had knocked over his train set, and that, too, was broken.
“If you were asked to act in a movie, which city would you choose as a moniker?” Michel asked, changing the subject.
It was a bit early for general knowledge questions but Michael was prepared to give it a try. They had watched Money Heist on Netflix the night before. “That’s easy, I’d choose Tokyo,” he said.
“And why is that? Tokyo is played by a woman, Ursula Corbero. Since when did you find women sexy?”
Michel was intrigued, there were lots of cool-looking men in the movie – they also had assault rifles.
“Sure, women can be sexy, so long as they keep their clothes on,” Michael said, ending the conversation.
Michael consulted his laptop – ”Bride and groom, and all their guests arrested at their wedding in KZN.
Apparently for breaking the 100-people-max rule.”
“So that makes 102 people in a cell. Hmm,” Michel mused.
“Wimbledon – cancelled; Tokyo Olympics – postponed; French Open – postponed; World Anti-Doping Agency Symposium – cancelled.” Michael read out aloud. “Oh, here’s something about that guy in Higgovale – the cops have impounded the surveillance camera footage and are looking for a male suspect, 1.8 metres tall.”
“How did they figure that out? Cameras have built in tape measures?” Michel asked.
“If they can land a Boeing on auto-pilot, they can measure the height of ‘persons of interest’ from an IP camera,” Michael asserted. “They work over an Internet Protocol and have built-in video analytic software.”
“Sounds like invasion of privacy to me. Measuring dick-size over the internet and filing the info at Caledon Square,” Michel said crossly, sinking deeper into his stool. “Anyway, lots of gardeners are 1.8 metres tall.”
Day 13: Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Michael was poaching eggs – a laborious process that usually meant that he had retreated into his head.
After the four-minute vortex process, he would scoop them into cold water before trimming the frilly bits off with kitchen scissors.
Michel was displaying mild signs of arousal. “Don’t you think life is too short to poach eggs?” he said with a kissing sound.
“What’s wrong with your mouth – trouble breathing?” Michael said alarmed. “You look like a goldfish sucking air.”
“Come here baby,” Michel thought.
“Easter egg time!” he yelled. “So what’s with the good bishop? Is he still leading a mass defiance campaign over Easter?” Michel enquired.
“Last I heard, Bishop Bheki Ngcobo was going ahead with his plans to spread Covid-19 under cover of spreading God’s word,” Michael replied. “He’s totally Old Testament – insists that Ramaphosa is not God.”
Courtesy of Bibliothèque Numérique Mondiale, US Library of Congress. United Nations.
“Why am I not surprised?” Michel said. “Let me show you something beautiful,” he said, wandering off to fetch one of his books.
“This was produced in the early 1500s, feel the pages – vellum! It’s written in Geez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.” Michel was getting animated.
“I can’t read the canon tables, but the headpieces and blocks of colour … wow, so simple, so expressive. Everything reduced to line and colour.”
“This looks expensive …” Michael averred. “I didn’t buy it,” Michel said defensively. “It’s on loan …“
“From a 58-year-old antiquarian who just happens to have been murdered in his Higgovale home 10 days ago?” Michael interrupted.
“No, don’t be silly. I actually know the guy. He’s a German from South West, I mean Namibia – we share an interest in old manuscripts and first editions,” Michel explained.
“Tell that to the judge,” Michael said. “I can just imagine the two of you, curled up on the couch looking at Gospel comics and swilling glühwein. Was he hard before you knocked him off?”
“What? You’re as crazy as Bishop Ngcobo,” Michel countered.
“I think you should hand yourself over – be the adult and confess. God, I mean Ramaphosa, will forgive you.”
“I’m not allowed out – remember? Only short trips to the supermarket to buy essentials,” Michel said, smiling.
“In your case, I think a WhatsApp will do it. The number is 10111.” Michael was not amused.
Day 14: Thursday, 9 April 2020
The apartment was filled with slatted light. Michael stepped outside, squinting in the sharp-as-needles morning light. The pavement had been rinsed clean by the rain. He looked up the street to where his Volvo was marooned in the GetWine car park – a sea of tarmac. His car looked clean – ‘Mexican Car Wash’.
“I know,” Michael confided coming inside, “we’ll escape to Robben Island.”
“It’s normally the other way round Michael. Escape from …” Michel wondered what Michael was up to.
“We’ll go to my beach place at Misty Cliffs for the Easter weekend,” Michael said in a tone that implied he’d won the Lotto.
‘Getting misty with you,’ “Wasn’t that a track from the Beach Boys debut album?” MIchel wondered. “And how would we get there?” (a) We’re not allowed to drive anywhere, and (b) we’d have to pass dangerously close to Pollsmoor Prison. According to you, I’m on their watch list. They probably have face-recognition cameras all along the M3.”
“Don’t be so vain – get your cozzie,” Michael commanded. “Easter weekend at the beach, just like it should be,” Michael thought. “Like it always was. Fish on the braai, driving around looking for a shebeen because someone forgot the gin.” Michael was happy.
“We’ll leave tonight – this afternoon – to blend in with all the traffic going home over Ou Kaapse Weg.”
Less chance of hitting a road block, Michael thought, rubbing Fibonacci’s head.
“Let’s go,” Fibonnaci thought in a tone uncannily similar to the lady on Waze. “Make a U turn. We’ll take Nelson Mandela Boulevard/M3/Ou Kaapse Weg. Drive Safely!”
“Oh, I don’t know Michael – there’s jail time, or a R1500 fine.” Michel said. “You know what happened to old what’s-her-face, Stella Ngubane-Abrahams. She’s been carpeted by the President and suspended …”
“That’s a new one, Casting Carpet,” Michael thought.
“They call her Minister of Mis-Communication – a reverse sapiophile – geographically challenged.
Ms Never-Been-to-Switzerland, I want to Apologise. France and Switzerland are the same, aren’t they?
Just a tiny bit? Teeny-weeny bit?” Michel pleaded.
“Shut up Michel!” Michael was annoyed.
“So what happens if we’re caught?” Michel countered.
“We’ll just lie – works every time. If not, apologise, works every time.” Michael continued, “we’ll form a Coalition of Wealthy People Who Have Never been to Switzerland (CWPWHNS). An action front, oh, and Michel, bring a book, in English. There’s no WiFi – no Netflix, no laptops.”
Day 15: Good Friday, 10 April 2020
Michel and Fibonacci were in the open-plan living room. Michael was refusing to come down. His breakfast crêpe was already cold.
“Shall I bring you some coffee?” Michel called out.
“Go away!” Michael responded. He had left a portion of the floor intact when he first gutted his father’s factory/warehouse. This became the bedroom, reached by a wooden staircase at the back. The staircase was too steep and creaked badly – the bed, however, was 100 per cent.
Michael was sulking. They had left town as planned yesterday afternoon, joined the trickle of cars racing up Ou Kaapse, and hit the roadblock outside the Oceanview Police Station around 5.30 pm. Michael showed the police his rates bill for the bungalow at Misty Cliffs, and smiled nervously at the unsmiling Officer. Not satisfied, he shone his torch inside the car, startling Fibonacci and causing Michel to shield his eyes
“Wie’s daar?” He had asked wiggling the torch beam over Michel’s frozen body. “Geen vakansiereise nie!”
“You can pass,” he said to Michael, “but your moffie friend here had better stay here with me.” He had switched to English to register his disdain for the two trim-waisted and elegant older men. “Stay Here With Me,” he punctuated, sounding like the German guard from the Stalag Luft POW camp (The Great Escape, 1963).
Remembering that eight people had already died at the hands of the police in the course of enforcing the lockdown, and scared of losing Michel to the police minister’s bully boys, Michael had pulled a U-ee and nosed the old Volvo back to town. Being a Thursday, they hit another police stop outside the Fire Station in Roeland Street. Thinking about it bleakly, and taking JC’s predicament into account, all those Easter weekends ago, they hadn’t done too badly.
From Michel’s point of view, he had earned martyr points for not saying, “I told you so,” when they were pulled over, 600 metres after the Biblical ‘Camel Rides’ sign.
“Michael, you had better come down and take a look at this,” Michel said, juggling two empty wine bottles – ”
We’re going to run out.”
“Un-fucking-believable! Another two weeks of lockdown!” Michael weeped.
“I told you so,” Michel crowed.
“So you think this is pay-back time, Karma, for our Great Escape to Misty Cliffs?” Michael asked.
“No, I think you’re being callous about Coronavirus deaths – over 12 thousand in France alone.” Michel felt like he was interviewing himself for the position of Most Caring Person in the World.
“Let’s go upstairs and read a book – book in one hand and you in the other …”
Day 16: 11 April 2020
Michael was in a good mood, the sulks of yesterday forgotten.
“Love, shows life in colour,” he thought pinching Michel’s nipple through his t-shirt.
They were eating bagels, Ubered-in from Jason’s on the other side of town.
“So, what should we do this sunny Saturday?” He asked, adding some sliced gherkin to his ham and cheese bagel.
“Let’s rob a liquor store, we’re nearly out of wine,” Michel suggested, “it’s the new thing, Belhar, Elsies, Langa. The people have spoken – four robberies in one day.”
“That’s hectic. Where were the cops, or the army for that matter? Aren’t they supposed to be policing the provisions of the lockdown?” Michael knew the answer – too busy arresting cyclists and joggers. “So how would we do it – ram GetWine with the Volvo?” Michael asked dubiously.
“No, we invade Boschendal wine estate, take the few remaining tourists as hostages and force the winemaker to up his game.” Michel was thinking of Money Heist, again.
“Well, I can see a few problems with your idea. Firstly, how do we get there? Driving usually entails roads, and the police have Road Blocks. It’s their number one tactic – ’fuck the murder rate, highest in the world – let’s put up a road-block.’” Michael said, not buying into the idea.
“Rowed bloqs,” Michel heard, a holorime? Perhaps. “So, what’s your second ‘problem’, Mr Picky?” Michel asked teasingly.
“Well, it’s obvious. One is not allowed, by law, to transport alcohol. The Minister of Police has declared,
‘There shall be no movement of liquor from point A to B. If we find liquor in your car’s boot, that is illegal.
If you break these laws, you are six months in jail or fined.’” Michael explained on the Minister’s behalf, but he wasn’t convinced. “How come the transport of hand sanitiser is encouraged, and it has a higher alcohol level than wine …”
“Drink hand sanitiser?” Michel queried, and seeing a gap in the market intoned “Visit Stikland, the heart of South Africa’s new sanitised wine industry. Our wines, lovingly filtered from only the best hand sanitisers, will spark your palate with their biscuity nose and graphite finish.”
“Calm down Michel, we have a problem …” Michael was looking at his phone.
“The baboons have set up a forward command post at your place in Misty Cliffs?” Michel offered.
“No, Cape Town’s network of LPR cameras are being examined to track the movements of an Uber driver seen picking up a passenger outside the Hysmann’s residence in Kensington Crescent.” Michael said, reading from his phone.
“So, taking an Uber has been criminalised?” Michel was hurt.
Day 17: 12 April 2020
Michel was up first, a new provincial record, and had set out on a mission to make an Easter Egg omelette.
Based on the Mexican, Tres Leches recipe, he planned on substituting melted milk chocolate for one of the three required milks – milk, evaporated milk, and his chocolate fondant in place of condensed milk.
He prepared his fondant from three, 100 gm Lindt chocolate bunnies – the ones with brown collars.
Michael was dubious. it looked far too sweet and didn’t quite reach his new austerity quotient. Also, he didn’t like bed fellows making a mess in his kitchen. “Where do you keep the Malden? Don’t you have a sharp knife?” The endless unnecessary questions. He slipped a slice of bread into the toaster.
“Where’s the Marmite?” he asked.
Michel thought that that was one of his lines, but said nothing – save it for later. “Michael, why don’t we go up? Onto the roof?” Michel said quickly, dispelling any chance of a double meaning.
“I was thinking; the old caretaker’s one-room flat is there, ripe for redevelopment. We’d have to redo the bathroom of course, but opened out, we’d get a nice view towards the harbour – might even get a glimpse of the sea. Could be like The Darwin Room at Circa in Johannesburg.”
Michael had been there, the gallerist sometimes threw parties there after a big opening.
“You know, that’s a great idea – always at the back of my head, but I’m worried about the economy.
People fear a 1930’s scale global depression.” Michael’s French connection was predicting a total collapse of French society – un effrondrement. “You know, when a bridge collapses, like the one in Italy three days ago – one has to start all over again.” Michael mansplained.
“How far back,” Michel asked. “Lascaux?” “Fall of Rome?” “Exodus?”
“Don’t be so flippant Michel – you could be facing your own Euphrates moment. Overrun, not by Visigoths, but by policemen waving search warrants,” Michael warned.
“And what about your second home, now seconded by tech-savvy baboons? Free rein of the ice-maker and Nespresso machine – make mine a cap-pu-ccino.” Michel sang with a Don Corleone accent. “They’re probably having pillow fights right now, limbering up for their assault on Kommetjie.”
“Why don’t you go and feed them your banana diplomacy?” Michael said.
“And how do I get there – rowed bloqs, remember?” Michel said, pursing his lips.
“Download the app.” Michael said, closing the conversation.
Day 18: 13 April 2020
The two Michaels were in bed, awake, but not yet risen. Michael had thoughtfully made up a thermos of coffee – pure Arabica, he didn’t approve of Robusta. The thermos was a good idea, necessary in fact, on account of the steep stairs. Even the dog Fibonacci couldn’t handle them. He had minced up once, but couldn’t handle going down – a chasm too far.
“Monday, Monday,” Michel crooned, dropping biscuit crumbs onto his chest.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Michael said brushing them off with the back of his hand.
“What, eat in bed?” Michel asked.
“No, reliving your tragically misspent youth sharing Beatle’s albums with ducktails. Anyway, knowing your predilection for 1960s music …” Michael was about to continue.
“Oh, onto big words now, pre-di-lection,” Michel said mockingly.
“As I was saying,” Michael said, looking at his phone, “10 tourists have been nabbed for taking a walk in Rishikesh – you know – where the Beatles checked into an Ashram in 1968. Apparently, they were each made to write out, ‘I did not follow the rules of lockdown so I am sorry’, 500 times.”
“I wonder if this would work here?” Michel asked, “I get the sorry bit, high-ranking politicians do it all the time, but giving criminals lines? Too much. Imagine members of the Hard Livings gang being made to write out ‘I am sorry for knocking down the wall of a bottle store and making off with all the booze.’ Wouldn’t work,” Michel averred.
“Not enough pens?” Michael wondered. They certainly weren’t available at Pick ‘n Pay – non-essential item.
“How do you know it was gang members who are knocking off the liquor stores?” Michael asked. “Could have been members of the community. First the quart bottles of Castle, than the hard tack, then the roofing sheets.”
“I think you’re biased and deeply racist. Poverty causes crime, not an innate propensity for anti-social behaviour.” Michel offered.
“Whatever,” Michael said, “it feels like we’re in a lockdown movie – Assault on Precinct 13 or whatever number it was. We’re holed up here, protecting a dog whose only crime was that he wanted a walk. We’re the good cops, preserving what’s left of an animal’s innate dignity, against a bunch of bad cops with guns – fucking assault rifles, stun grenades, water cannons. Police Minister Cele, has all the fire-power.”
Michael went on irritatingly, “We’re in a war zone, Cele keeps declaring. October 2019 – it was the war on counterfeit goods. The year before, 2019 – it was the war on the murder rate. 2020 – it is the war on the hidden enemy. ‘Keep your distance’, he announced on TV. ‘We have to stop the spread of this damn virus by preserving social distance.’ He has been photographed in Brackenfell, inspecting social distancing compliance in the shopping queues. What about Masi, or any other township? Mark Gevisser wrote:
‘A third of South Africa’s 58 million people depend on social grants rather than wages for income, and in some parts of the country, one salary feeds 12 to 15 mouths.’ That’s about 20 million people living in densely packed, informal urban settlements with communal taps and toilets.” Michael said.
“Let’s change the subject,” Michel said. “Did you know that cheese triggers the same part of the brain as hard drugs? Scientists have found preliminary evidence that food attributes – like fat and grammage – are implicated in addictive-like eating.” Michel was being obtuse.
Michael could go with a deep-fried burrata any day, he thought dreamily – a good glysemic overload.
“What’s that lump in the bed,” he said, pointing to Michel’s waist.
“It’s the top of the thermos. We’re going to have to wash the sheets again – coffee stains.”
Day 19: 14 April 2020
What a kak Easter, Michael thought, a liturgical, culinary, and sexual disaster. Thinking of being stopped by the police at the turn off to Misty Cliffs, made him more angry. Here he was, doing the dishes by hand, because of the government’s stupid lockdown. What about dishwasher repair men? How were they supposed to put food on the table?
“Honey bum,” he called out, “come and help me with the clean-up. The casserole dish you left soaking since Friday looks completely rewilded. Fibonacci is growling at it.”
Michel was looking at his emails. He stumbled down the last two stairs holding his MacBook open, “Look here …” he said.
“Ya, I saw it. Seven cops arrested in Bonnievale for looting a bottle store.” Michael chipped in.
“No, it’s a message from UCT – would I please contact Warrant Officer Booysens at Caledon Square CID, and they give a number.” Michel added, “at my earliest convenience. Fucking hell – what’s this about?”
“The Hysmann incident in Higgovale perhaps? Your book buddy – I mean, former book buddy,” Michael said, stabbing a finger towards the suitcase hiding in plain sight against the far wall. It was held shut with an old leather belt. “They’ve traced the Uber driver through Cape Town’s state-of-the-art Transport Management Centre (TMC) in Goodwood.”
“And?” Michel enquired with a becoming flick of his eyebrows.
“The report doesn’t say. Lucky for you, journos are fixated on the global death tally and Trump’s ‘I am not a doctor’ speech,” Michael answered. “So you plan on phoning this boytjie back?”
“Phone’s flat, I’ll phone tomorrow,” Michel promised, rather vaguely.
“Hope you don’t need William Booth. He’s lying low after he was shot at by two assailants – at least they were wearing masks. Very considerate of them. What’s with Higgovale? It has become the new Mannenberg.”
Michael was always on top of the latest news.
Michel was thinking about his message. “Where does UCT come into it?” he wondered aloud.
“Maybe UCT still has your email?” Michael suggested. “But, if the cops are looking for you, how do they know you were a student?”
“I’m hungry,” Michel announced, “I feel like a braai.”
“Food addiction!” Michael squealed. “Braais have got meat in them. Highly addictive substance, sharing many characteristics with hard drugs – high dose, rapid rate of absorption.”
“And your point is?” Michel asked with that eyebrow thing of his. Michael was like paté in his fingers.
“Chops or wors?” Michael said, getting out the braai tongs.
Michel was humming a Doors’ number – ’Baby you can light my Fire’.
Day 20: 15 April 2020
“Big day for you Michel,” Michael announced, adding long life to his granola. “You still going to phone what’s-his face? Detective Sergeant Boy’s Town Booysen?”
Michel ignored him. “What are you doing Michael? You don’t eat carbs and shit?”
“Tuck in Michel – could be your last square meal.” Michael advised, “Pollsmoor didn’t make Eat Out’s top ten. Their specials are; Jam with Bread; Bread ‘n Jam our Way; South Pen BBJ. Their kitchens are forever reinventing classical dishes: Penne Carbonara Simplisimo (without bacon, cheese or egg).”
“What the fuck are you going on about? Sounds like you’re pleased to get rid of me.” Michel sounded worried.
“What’s love got to do with it …” Michael was hamming it up a bit – ”Tina Turner, remember?” Michael had a forced smile on his face.
“Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken – ” Michel added. “Old body parts Booysens, I’d better give him a ring. Where’s my phone?”
Michael pushed it towards him. “You know, I worry about you – never mind the holding cells, they’re pretty horrible. Pollsmoor is something else – a broken place. Around the corner from Yuppie Chef, but their knives aren’t Wüsthof. Think cheap flatware scraped sharp on a cement floor in the shower block.”
Michel turned around to make his call:
“30th March, Yes, I think so.” Michael was making shushing motions with his hands.
“Bring a tooth-brush? Why?”
“Well, that sounded like a confession. He didn’t even have to torture you.” Michael said.
“He wants to see me down at the station,” Michel said gloomily.
“My fok Marylise, as you like to say. Fingerprints, DNA, the works,” Michael said gloomily.
“Maybe I should get a lawyer – shit, it’s Wednesday. Golf!” Michel was worried.
“It’s lock down, no golf. All the lawyers are at home feeding broken glass to their toddlers – toughen them up before law school,” Michael observed.
“Michael honey bum, my heroine, will you come to the station with me? You can be my lawyer. I didn’t like the sound of Warrant Officer Ball Sack – he seemed to have an agenda,” Michel pleaded.
“Please, pretty please?”
Day 21: 16 April 2020. Final episode, end of first lockdown
Michel survived his ordeal yesterday, but only just. He and Michael had arrived at Kamer 307, Caledon Square Police headquarters shortly before 3.00 pm, bang on time, for Michel’s appointment with WO Booysens.
From then on, it had slid into an Alexander McCall Smith movie – WO Booysens was a hugely unsympathetic and unsmiling lady detective. They had thought of her/him as ‘Boy’s Town Booysens’, whereas she was in fact, nimble-minded and, like Precious Ramotswe, very patient, and with a deep voice.
Her office was neat, save for the usual piles of manila envelopes. Digital records and the computer revolution had not washed up on these shores yet. WO Booysens had taken Michel off for fingerprinting.
“You know we’re talking murder here,” she had said on her return. “Callous, premeditated murder. You’ve already admitted that you were at the Hysmann household on the 30 March, 2020. We’ll have to add this to the charge sheet – breaking the lockdown provisions of section 27 of the Disaster Management Act,
22 March 2020. If we still had capital punishment, we’d kill you twice,” Warrant Officer Booysens said with some satisfaction.
“We also found a UCT Library Card, with your name on it, next to the body,” Booysens had said triumphally.
“Remanded into custody for further investigation,” she announced.
“Hang on here,” Michael had interjected in his lawyer voice. “Don’t you need to hear his side of the story?”
“Okay pretty boy,” turning to Michel, “what’s your side of the story?” She had asked.
“I went to visit Dieter on Monday morning, I think it was the 30 March. I had an appointment with him, and wanted to show him some books …” Michel explained.
“What? What appointment? We have his diary and there’s only one entry at 11.00 am with someone called ‘Ethiopian Gospels’,” the police woman said.
“That’s me, I mean that’s my book – the book I took to show him. It’s from the UCT Special Collections holdings – I must have dropped my card. Oh thank you, thank you!” Michel was ecstatic – having a gospel moment.
By this point, things had started falling into place – Michel’s nonchalance; the mysterious email from UCT. Booysens was obviously flummoxed by Michel’s unruffled candour. She’d even tried the surveillance camera trick. “And what about the video footage we have of a 1.8 metre suspect carrying something? The Uber driver, all filmed at 18.17?”
“I have no idea, maybe Uber eats? When I left around lunch time, Dieter was still licking – I mean, kicking.
I left on foot, via the bottom gate into Hof Street.” Michel had said blushing as he picked up his library card.
“Stay in touch and don’t leave the country. We might have more questions,” Booysens had said feebly.
And that was all. Fibonacci was not pleased to see them on their return. He had eaten half the Ethiopian Gospels, either out of malice or hunger, no one was sure.
After croissants and coffee, Michel caught Michael inspecting the inside front cover of his Ethiopian Gospel book.
“You didn’t believe me – you’re looking for the Special Collections stamp!” Michel snarled.
“Let’s make a cook book together,” Michael suggested. “We could call it The Two Michaels’ Cookbook.”
“Cock-o-van, could be the first recipe,” Michel said, taking the creaking steps two at a time.