Hillbrow Short Story (Sunday Times)

A short story of mine set in the future in Hillbrow appeared in a special ‘South Africa in 2034’ edition of The Sunday Times in April 2014.

Hillbrow  03:10
            There are always people in the stairwells now. People who cough and sneeze and reach out their hands for you. You have to run past them very quickly or they can grab you and hold tight. Even the old ones. Once, Thobile dared me to poke someone sleeping on the landing and when he looked up, we ran away, laughing.
            I haven’t seen her for a long time; I’m not allowed to go downstairs anymore. Mamma says I must stay inside now. I stood by our sitting room window and shouted down to her room window but she didn’t stick out her head to answer my call the way she usually does. Mamma says uncle Jack who came from floor 12 said things were in chaos downstairs. When I asked mama what chaos means, she said it means we are losing. ‘Our turn is coming,’ she told uncle Jack. That was the first night I ever saw mama get drunk.
            Everything smells damp. Even with all the fires that people are making in the halls. They burn chairs and sofas. They are always knocking at the doors and something they keep knocking and knocking and then I go to my room and lie under my bed. We don’t open for anyone anymore. Not even for aunty Lebo. She cursed mama to high hell and back.
            I’m always thirsty. Mamma gives me a little water from the buckets that she keeps in the bathroom. She is trying to grow things in the pot plants. Beans, popcorn seeds, even the rice. Uncle Jack laughs at her. They fight a lot now. Especially since the beer got finished. She says uncle Jack finished all the food. He says she was the one who gave it away like bloody Mother Theresa. It was different then, she says, we thought it was going to end, so we helped each other. That was when the Indian lady on our floor made rice and mamma and I gave plates of baked beans to the people. But the water kept coming and the floors filled up and people started running upstairs carrying their tables and televisions and the corridors got full and dirty and more and more people got sick and then no one wanted to share food or blankets anymore. Now all the doors are locked. When I look out my window all I see is water and everyone is trying to come here; to Ponte City. Uncle Jack says it is the only thing that people who are still living can see; he says they see it as a beacon of hope but that it’s actually just a tower of death.
            There’s no electricity anymore. It flickered for days and then it went out. We sit in the dark at night because the candles are finished. We sit and listen. The first few nights in the dark there was so much noise; people crying, screaming, arguing and moaning. But now it’s quiet, like everyone is waiting for something. All I can hear is the water running through the dark building.
            Sometimes there are big fights outside, once we heard shots and someone came banging on our door screaming ‘Open! Open, for God’s sake we have children with us!’ After that day, we put the fridge against the door. Uncle Jack says we should leave. He says they are breaking the doors down. He says he heard Sbu’s gang is on the roof, that they’ve blocked the doors and they are building a boat. He says he knows Sbu, maybe they will let us pass, and maybe they will let us on their boat. He asks mamma how much money she has. Mama says he heard that a long time ago and we don’t know if it’s still true. She says it is better to stay.

            I wake up and find people in our home, they are opening all our drawers and cupboards and I start screaming. Mamma wakes up. Uncle Jack has run away, he moved the fridge and he’s gone forever and now everyone is in our home. Mama grabs my hand and pulls me out of the flat. We are running. Everyone is running. It feels like the building is moving. Everything smells bad. I think I see Thobile and I shout loudly for her, but mamma pulls my hand as we push through the crowd.

Below is the link to the story (page 13.)


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