The Last Stop

Only one more person, and then the taxi leaving the Wanderers rank in Johannesburg would be full. Passengers who were already in the taxi kept their eyes on the people passing by, hoping they were also going to the Free State. People came with bags: “Is this taxi going to Rustenburg?” Disappointed, the passengers shook their heads.

“Is this taxi going to Witbank?” others asked.

Again, the passengers shook their heads. They eyed another group of people – but no, they were selling things. Expensive items at a discount prices. Things like gold watches and small DVD players, Nike and Adidas sneakers, Guess and Levi’s jeans. Some of them appeared to be second-hand. Others were very new, fresh out the box. Most of those who sold these things checked the surroundings before they opened their bags. They whispered to their customers, always willing to negotiate a discount, asking how much money they had. Most of the passersby ignored them.

Macko stood at the rank offices, looking at all the paying passengers crowding into taxis.

“I wish that money was mine,” he said quietly. The lady helping the passengers at the counter, a woman by the name of Sarah, didn’t even look up at him. She was known for not taking any nonsense from any man. A deep scar under one eye told a story, a story that made men fear and respect her.

Macko watched passengers come and go. His face lit up when a passenger going to the Free State arrived: “I am going to Qwaqwa.” It was a thin old man, who kept coughing.

“It is R140, old man!” Sarah said.

“Why don’t you put your hand on your mouth? We don’t want to get infected by whatever disease you have.” She took his money by the tips of the notes: a hundred-rand and a fifty-rand note.

“My child, respect your elders,” the old man said, hefting a big bag with a broken handle in one hand and clasping his walking stick in the other.

“You must respect yourself before we can respect you!” Sarah shouted.

“Here is your change, now go.” She gave him a ten-rand note.

The old man took his change, and waved his stick at Sarah: “I’ll smash you now! Show me some respect.”

She backed down even though she knew that the iron bars between her and the crowding people wouldn’t allow the stick to reach her, and said, “Okay! Okay, old man! I have work to do, as you can see. Please go. I really don’t have time for you.” She kept taking money from other passengers.

Then she called, “Hey, old man! You didn’t give me your address, including the address where you are going, and your contact numbers.”

The old man returned to the counter. “I come from Thokoza, I don’t remember the address. I am going to Qwaqwa. There is a beautiful village there with green…”

“Just the name of the village and your contact number, please!” Sarah interrupted him. She closed her eyes when he coughed again.

“Its name is Monontsha. I don’t have a cellphone, but take this paper. On it is written the number of my older daughter.” He handed her a piece of dirty paper. Sarah took it and wrote down the number on it.

“Where is that taxi?” the old man asked politely.

“Wait for me outside, I’ll take you to it,” Macko said. He didn’t mind the old man, as long he was going to where Macko was going. He stepped over to Sarah, who was calculating the money. Macko also calculated it to make sure. Sarah took her fee, and gave Macko the rest. She also gave him his passenger list.

“Arrive alive,” she said.

“Thank you. Today I am going to sleep at home.

Take care. See you.”

“What do you mean? You slept here yesterday?”

Sarah asked as she went on helping passengers.

“Yes, my taxi had only one passenger, and it was very late.”

“Ah, you should have told me!” Sarah gave him a naughty smile.

Macko laughed and went out. He met the old man outside, and together they went to the taxi.

“Here is the taxi, old man,” said Macko. The old man nodded, spluttering then coughing again. This time he held his mouth. Macko noticed that some of the seats were empty. He read a list, “Sello Chabeli?”

“I am here,” Sello responded with a loud voice.

“Maki Dlamini?”

“Present,” Maki responded quietly.

“Paballo Nkgatau?”

“Yebo,” said Paballo.

“Mokete Mofokeng?”

“Here!” Mokete responded confidently.

“Tankiso Miya?”

“Sure,” Tankiso responded.