Fiction

Nceba Maqanda: I Receive, Papa

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay (modified)

I knew my ass was getting fired. I just knew it. Josh had never called me into his office before. When he wanted to tell me something, he would come over to my tiny desk. The museum was the first of its kind at the newly renovated precinct downtown Johannesburg. They called it Mofokeng. Mofokeng was buzzing in 2013. It was a place where hipsters and artists mingled. It was raining on that dreadful Friday; however, I was looking forward to the weekend as it was one of my closest friends’ birthday. He was gearing to turn 25 in style. On Saturday morning we were planning to go to the Neighborgoods Market in Braamfontein. We were both single at the time. My girlfriend had dumped me the previous week. She was based back home in Port Elizabeth doing hours in Sociology at NMMU. She told me she wanted to focus on her studies, the relationship was straining her. Perhaps restraining her. I was not texting as often as I should have. I am not the texting guy. In fact, I hate texting. But hey, when you are in a relationship you must text right? Damn technology!

I knocked on Josh’s door. He gestured that I should take a seat. I pulled the chair and maintained eye contact. He was typing something on his MacBook. When he finished typing, he swung his chair. For some reason I hated it when the bastard swung that damn chair. It made him look as if he had some power or some shit. Oh, he did have some power over me. The bastard was younger, but he was my boss. Perks of being white in South Africa. He told me when to shit. Not literally, but you get the point. “Luntu I am sorry we are going to have to let you go, we no longer need your services. We have hired a new curator.” I shouted “fuck!” The bastard maintained eye contact. He did not show any emotion. As if I did not have a damn child to feed, as if I did not have rent to pay. He totally disregarded the fact that I had just bought a car through the bank. I knew right then and there I was chopped and screwed. The bank was coming for my ass. The landlord was coming for me. The maintenance court was also coming for my soon-to-be-empty wallet. I knew my baby-momma would take me to court over failure to pay child support. We were not really the best of friends. Just when I was thinking about how fucked I am, “Luntu can I have your set of keys”, said Josh. “Here are your keys, well since I am fired, I would like to state how much I can’t stand you. I hope this business goes under.” He had a smirk on his face as I left the premises. I would only miss the always friendly security guards, fuck everyone else.

I had mixed emotions; I was happy that I would not answer to the man anymore. I am not the nine-to-five kind of guy. I was frustrated that I was about to lose my lifestyle. First on the list was going to be an eviction notice. Failed debit orders and a letter from the bank. On my way to the staff parking lot, I thought I should say bye to Lerato at Pata-Pata, a restaurant nestled at the corner of Kruger Street. When I walked in, Lerato was making margaritas for an older white couple with an accent. When they tipped her R100 for two drinks that is when I confirmed they were tourists. “Nja yam, what’s up Luntu my brada.” Lerato was from Alex, she was a good-looking butch lesbian. She was a dapper, always kept up with the latest trends. She was always in an upbeat mood. The perfect bartender, always generous with the shots. Whenever I walked in with a smile on my face, Lerato would open a Black Label dumpy for me. Whenever I walked in with a scowl on my face, like I did that drizzling morning, she would pour me a stiff shot of Jose Quevo Gold. She reached the bar behind her and pulled tequila from the shelves and took out slices of lime from the bottom fridge. She poured me two shots. “You are probably wondering why I am here at 10am with boxes.” “I sort of have an idea, so zikhiphani cheeseboy nja yam.” It bothered me that she thought I was a cheeseboy, but I never protested. “The Jews fired my ass this morning.” “Eish sani, and vele-vele you bought a car three months ago moss mfethu.” “Yeah my shit is fucked up.” “You know what; the drinks are on me; do you want more shots and beer?” “Thanks, yeah keep them coming.”

I was staggering by the time I walked to the parking lot. I opened the back door and threw the boxes in. Intoxication was all I could think of. I decided to drive to the Tanzanians by Park Station for four bankies of weed. As I drove off, a traffic officer pulled me over. I swerved and stopped. He breathalyzed me and I was not surprisingly above the limit. I knew what he wanted, so I did not waste any time. I reached for my wallet and took out a R200 note. He took the money and nodded; I drove off. I lived in Wentworth, a suburb in Krugersdorp. It was previously an Afrikaaner neighborhood. I liked the area, it was far from everyone I knew, I did not get no surprise visits, I hate surprises, and, accommodation was cheaper in the Westrand. Few yards down my complex, there was a bottle store owned by an unpleasant Afrikaaner old man. He probably missed the days when serving an African alcohol was beneath him. I swiped for a 24 of beer cans, two bottles of Klipdrift, and four packs of cigarettes. You probably are wondering why I spent so much money when I had just gotten fired. Well, I am an intoxication addict. It’s where I find solace. I am not a spiritual man, nor am I religious. So, alcohol and marijuana it was.

When I opened the door, the plastic bag broke. One of the brandy bottles fell, fortunately it did not break. I opened the fridge and took out umbeko and heated it up in the microwave. I ate as I scrolled down channels looking for something to watch as I rolled a joint. I stopped scrolling when I came across I Almost Got Away With It on the ID channel. The show was one of my favorites. I would be rooting for the bastards, but they always make silly mistakes and get caught. I drank my problems away until I passed out.

I woke up the following day with an excruciating hangover. I made myself something to eat and rolled a joint. When I looked at the cigarette butts on my coffee table and floor, I started judging myself. Something whispered, ‘get your shit together.’ I had to find a way to make money, and quick. Just when I was thinking with the fridge door open, I felt the phone vibrate, it was my friend Sbu. He wanted to find out what time we are meeting in Braamfontein. I asked him to pick me up; I was running low on fuel. When he arrived, I told him that I had lost my job. I did not want to tell him, so I could not ruin his special day. However, he could tell I was not myself. I felt the need to tell him. He was the only friend I had in pretentious Johannesburg anyways. I had to tell someone.

Suddenly everything at the Neighbourhoods Market was too expensive. I hated that feeling. I never really lived on a tight budget; I could afford. It also did not help that I had an expensive taste. I liked the champagne life. “We will have two shots of tequila, two craft beers and kudu burgers”, said Sbu to the bartender. We got our drinks and toasted to my friend’s birthday. “Hey, you are a smart guy man, fuck that job, you will find another one. If you don’t, I know you will make a plan dude, you are a smart guy.” “Yeah I hope so Sbu dude, if I don’t secure a job in a month or so, I am gonna be forced to sell a kidney or something.” He laughed. I said it as a joke, however I meant what I said, if I had an option to, I would have sold the kidney without thinking twice. What’s the point of having two kidneys when you are poor?

We sat down next to a group of gorgeous women to watch this incredible band from Soweto. They played alternative music; their sound was so alternative I thought it was Spoek Mathambo or something. “Hey how are you guys finding the band,” said a slim polite lady from a group of four ladies. “The band is pretty sick hey, imagine if Jimi Hendrix grew up in Soweto, I imagine this is the shit he would have made,” replied my friend. I was deep in thoughts; I wasn’t paying attention. “And you, how are you finding the band”. I was compelled to answer, “Yeah they really dope.” “My name is Khanyi,” she extended her hand. We shook on it. “I am Luntu, this is my friend Sbu.” “So where are you guys from?” “We are from Port Elizabeth,” Sbu replied. At about 3pm we all decided to move from the market to check out Kitcheners and Great Dane. “I don’t like the Great Dane vibe. I prefer Kitcheners, too many pretentious motherfuckers there,” said one of Khanyi’s friends. Sbu laughed it off. I chuckled. My mood was improving. I offered to buy Khanyi a drink before hitting the Great Dane dance floor. We were both not great dancers. We laughed at how bad we are. Sbu was dancing with the other three ladies. Khanyi and I exchanged numbers before she asked me if I smoked weed. I said I do. She rolled one and we blazed it up outside Kitcheners. She told me she was a doctor. She also told me that she was planning to quit her profession; she saw dead bodies daily which traumatized her. She said the job was depressing her. As a result, she had become alcoholic. We had something in common there. Khanyi seemed like someone I would date if I wasn’t so concerned about my financial situation. I told her I would see her again. She said she was looking forward to it. Sbu said he was going to call it a night as he was working that following Sunday. He lived in Fourways, which was on the opposite direction from where I lived. Khanyi offered to drop me home. Her friends got into a cab to Sandton. We all parted ways.

When we got to my place she told me she was starving. I fixed her a sandwich. She kissed me on the cheek, a show of appreciation I suppose. As she took the last bite, she told me she doesn’t fuck on the first date. “That’s cool, I will sleep on the couch, and you take the bed.” “Ncoo you’re such a gentleman,” she replied. I was not a gentleman actually. Sex was the last thing on my mind. I was worried that I would slip into depression if I don’t come up with a plan of making money. I opened the fridge and took out two beers. “I am not a beer drinker; do you have anything else other than beer?” “I have tequila and brandy.” “I’ll take the brandy and coke thank you.” “Thing is, I don’t really have coke.” “Ah you suck, what do you have? This is such a bachelor place, but I am impressed that you have furniture and food in the fridge. My ex lives in Midrand.” “Shots fired.” The Midrand joke never gets old. “Alternatively, I have Fanta orange.” “Brandy with Fanta, I wonder how that’s going to work out.” “If you don’t try it you will never know. There is a first time for everything right.”  “I suppose,” she replied. I passed the drink, she sipped and thanked me. She was a perfect destruction, she smiled with her eyes. “You got it doc.” “Oh come on, why you are calling me that?” The conversation was so good that we slept at 4am. We mostly talked about how much she hated being a doctor in a public hospital. She hated the management. She argued that everything was political. “Why the fucks do we have a health MEC that’s not a doctor. Are you fucking kidding me? I am going to quit this shit and become a fulltime YouTuber. You know how much money these YouTubers make these days. And they damn stress free. Just fucking make-up on and talk about shit they into. You know what, I am done saving lives! Anyways we save their lives, and who do they thank? God, that’s who they thank, not us. So fuck them.” I chilled there smiling at her. I didn’t contribute much to the conversation, I let her vent to a stranger.  I passed out to the sound of her soothing husky voice. We both woke up at around 9am. I ran the bath while making breakfast. She ate, drove off and promised to call me when she gets home. She left her fragrance and presence lingering in the apartment.

As soon as Khanyi left, I had a brilliant idea to make legal money quickly. I was about to get into the Jesus Christ industry. At the time the church business in South Africa was on the rise. The church business is tax-free. I was about to prey on the vulnerable and desperate black people. The only problem was that I was not a Christian. I did not know anything about the bible. My task then was to find a pastor, venue and a following. In my complex there was a Congolese guy I would smoke weed with from time to time. Akpeyi was living a good life for a man who just owned an internet café on Mooi Street downtown Johannesburg. I knew for sure an internet café was not lucrative enough for a man to drive a Range Rover, take his kids to private schools. I knew there was more to Akpeyi than what met the eye. There was something in the water.

That morning I stood on the balcony waiting for Akpeyi to appear. At around 10am he would drive to Krugersdorp to check on the renovations of a building he had just bought. When he came out, I told him we had to talk about something serious. He told me he was going to come to my place when he gets back in an hour. Forty minutes later he was knocking on my door. I opened, shook hands and offered him a beer. He said he was good, but he would take a joint. I rolled one and let him light it up. “Look Akpeyi, I am just going to cut to the chase here. I have a proposal. This is a fucking brilliant idea. An idea that’s going to make us money. A lot of money. It’s a bit immoral and unconventional. But I am guessing you didn’t afford a Range Rover by being a moral man isn’t it?” “I am listening Luntu.” “Sure. Yesterday I got fired. So right now, I am ass out. I need to make quick money. So, what I am saying is that I am going to open a church. But I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to do it with South Africans. See, people in this country believe in miracles by foreign pastors. It’s their daily bread.” I paused. “Interesting I am listening.” He listened even more attentively. “I am not a Christian. You are one, and you know foreign nationals. I want a man who knows the word of God. A vulnerable man. A desperate man. A man we can easily manipulate. So… are you in?”  “See why Luntu you are my favorite South African. Look my friend, I know a guy from Congo. He knows the bible from Genesis to Revelation, he is also a magician this guy. I am sure he is going to be keen on being our pastor. We illegally crossed the bridge together when there was a war in the DRC. Well, there is always a war in the DRC.” He paused, “just like you, I am not going to be hands on in the business, you know trying to keep a low profile.” “So, we have a deal?” “Ah, you still asking, I am keen my friend.” “Ok cool I will find a building downtown and lease it out. We pay half.” “Sounds like a good deal to me. What’s the timeframe, when are we starting?” “We have started already. What you have to do now is get in touch with your people in Hillbrow and find this guy as soon as possible.

A day later Akpeyi had found John. He was dressed in a shirt that used to be white, you couldn’t tell the colour through the many stains. His pants were baggy, tied with a tie. He was living on the streets when the shelters are full. When I first met the man John, I wasn’t so sure if he was going to be the right man for the job, he wasn’t charismatic enough, and he appeared to be somewhat shy. I then thought it’s something I can work on. I could teach him deceit if he was willing to learn. “This is the best man for the job.” We all met in my apartment.  We shook hands with John. I explained what is expected of him.  “First thing we are going to do is print fliers downtown and distribute. I will also buy a speaker with a microphone. So, you going to do like the Universal Church guys John and stand outside the church and preach. Invite people in and all that shit.” Akpeyi laughed out loud. “So we are really doing this huh?” He said, giggling. “Yeah we are really doing this shit. We need this money.”

We would have the first service in two weeks after we register with the Council of Churches. We registered our church, The Futuristic Prophecy, and we were ready for business. We first bought John two suits and Akpeyi and I carved John’s persona. He was a fast learner; he slowly became convincing. We opened our doors on the first Sunday, to our surprise there were more than a hundred people and we collected more than R12 000 that Sunday alone. As John preached, I was standing at the back, smiling, thinking I have really pulled this shit off. I am now going to live on getting free money. All we sold was hope and deceit. Black people bought it with coins and bank notes. When the service was done, people came flocking to shake John’s hand. It was as if John had saved them from troubles unknown. We split the money into three and went to my place to celebrate.

“Gentlemen, next week we have to perform miracles. In order for us to compete with these churches, we have to make the blind see. Competition is tight gentleman. We have to make the paralyzed walk. Hell, I want to see them sprint. There is a man I know that specializes in the wheelchair miracle. He is going to arrive in church in the wheelchair, and you John are going to pray for him until he walks. He only wants R500 for the stunt. Believe me guys he is really good at this stunt. Everyone is going to believe that he cannot walk.” “We have to do those anointed soaps and oils. All of that, that’s good business,” said Akpeyi. “Brilliant. Damn brilliant, I will buy those tomorrow.” “I am not comfortable about lying to people. I mean it’s just wrong guys. It’s immoral,” interjected John.  “Look, today alone you made R4000. Are you kidding me?” I raised my voice, “which job do you know that pays that well. Morals… what morals, this is fucking Africa.” There was silence. “I guess you have a point Luntu.” “You damn right I do. After this, we are going to get you papers. We are going to have enough money to bribe officials at Home Affairs so you can get a Permanent Resident status. Or you would rather be an illegal immigrant in South Africa all your life running away every time you see the police? Get extorted by the corrupt South African police. Is that the life you would rather have in this country? Then why did you leave the Congo, what’s the point because you are still living a shitty life. Come on, wake up my friend! I am talking a South African passport. Straight from Home Affairs. I have connections. Money is connections in this country. Hell, you can even buy the president with a plate of curry in this country.” He liked the sound of that, I caught him smile. “And you Akpeyi, brother, the church is the best way to launder money in this country, I am not saying you have any shady business going on, but just in case you do… this is the future right here. To church business…” “To the church business!” We all toasted. We toasted as if we had already conquered the church industry.

The following week our church was packed to capacity, you couldn’t find a place to park, nor to sit inside the church. John worked his magic, the congregants shouted ‘hallelujah!’ as we collected the money. “Look at this man right here. He couldn’t walk before. Look at him now making his first step. His first step ladies and gentleman. In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus! I used this miracle oil. You have back pains? Buy this anointed old. We also have anointed bar soaps. We also have anointed water. In the name of Jesus!”  John shouted at the top of his voice. His forehead dripping wet. He couldn’t keep up with wiping it. We robbed them blind as they waited for miracles. “The hand that gives is the more blessed than the hand that receives, you are giving this money to the Lord, not us, and this is a sacrifice ladies and gentlemen. Give the lord whatever you have and you shall be blessed. Give your tithes. Give the coins. Give the notes, for you will be blessed.” They all shouted amen at the top of their voices as we cashed in. They waited on blessings while we lined up to buy new cars.

Everything was good. In fact things were great. All our lives had changed for the better. I left my apartment in the Westrand for a nicer one in Fourways. I had also purchased a brand new Mercedes. I even went back to my old place to buy a painting worth R10 000 just to shit on them. I had so much money you would swear I was in the drug business. After 6 months of our church, we became so popular that we had to move to a bigger building in Braamfantein. The congregants started calling John their ‘Papa’, I must admit Akpeyi and I were getting jealous of the love and admiration John was receiving from the congregants.

Things got complicated when Akpeyi and I started to get jealous, when we started to feel like John was becoming bigger than we thought. Such admiration is usually accompanied by arrogance. And we were right because John felt like he didn’t need us anymore. He felt as though we were taxing him. He forgot that we are the ones who put him on. When he threatened to leave us; we promised to put him down. By then I knew killers. I had found connections. See, when you run such a business you are a target in the underworld. The underworld knows you are making money. So in order for you not to get extorted you have to pay for protection. Protection that goes as far as prison. Just in case I get arrested, I knew I had protection in Sun City Prison. So, John knew I was not bluffing. I was really going to get him killed. You can’t make a peasant man taste a million and take it all away. His taste buds would have changed by then.

As much as I envied John’s newly-found status in society, I was not chasing fame or admiration; mine was to milk black people of their hard-earned money. I wanted to suck them dry for being gullible. I did not feel bad about it. This is a dog-eat-dog world. The desperate shall suffer. The small thinkers shall be punished. The bullshit buyers should pay the price. As long as my bills were paid, I could care less who they called Papa. I receive Papa.

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Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay (modified)

About the author

Nceba Maqanda

I am from Makhanda, South Africa. I have a Bachelor of Social Sciences from Rhodes University. I am set to publish my debut novel "The Squire" later on this year.

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