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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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It was a pretty chilly evening by Durban standards, the locals wandered the Golden Mile in jerseys and flip-flops, beanies pulled low against the wind. Danny was propped against a palm, dragging the inside of one itchy sole across its rough bark. He’d stationed himself on the opposite side of the road, about 20 metres down the road from the hotel. He was waiting for Khaya and Mandla to pick him up in a car they’d loaned for the night. He’d torn the cuticles off every nail, and his heart hammered an irregular tattoo in his chest. The last time he’d been this overwrought, he’d been covered in sand under New Pier, eluding Big Vic and the meaty fists of his henchmen. The witchdoctor had revealed that Danny’s mark was a thin Asian man attending an international conference, and staying at the Elangeni. The man would be waiting outside the hotel lobby, wearing a safari style suit, complete with an expensive looking camera bag. Danny, masquerading as a tour guide, was to pick him up in a private vehicle, along with two other men, and commence the night tour of this most underrated of cities. Totally fool proof, thought Danny, although he did wonder if the safari suit was overkill.

At five to seven, a ridiculously souped-up old school Nissan Sentra pulled up alongside Danny. A black stripe ran around its bronze body and its domed back windscreen, along with all its windows, were tinted a metallic blue. The passenger window slowly wound down until just Mandla’s sunglass shielded eyes and nose were visible.

Heita,” greeted Mandla with a gangsters nod, “get in.”

“What the hell…” Danny murmured in disbelief. This was hardly an inconspicuous ride. And it certainly didn’t look like anything a reputable tour guide operator would pick up a guest in. Danny hesitated, and with a sense of foreboding, opened the back door and got in.

“And now,” he asked, “get this off a laaijtie in Phoenix?”

“Hey,” said Khaya, “there wasn’t a lot to choose from. Met a guy in the Vic Bar two nights back, and he said he’d borrow us his wheels, no questions asked, for a small fee. Since we’re both still broke, we had to leave our IDs with him.”

“His brothers a cop,” continued Mandla, “said he’d report it stolen and turn over our IDs if we didn’t bring his wheels back later tonight.”

Danny huffed out a long sobering breath in the back seat. Reality suddenly weighing heavy on his scrawny shoulders. He wouldn’t do well long-term in jail. Not well at all.

“Okay chinas. Drive up to the traffic circle, do a u-ey, and drive by the hotel. See if our guy is standing out front.”

Khaya hit the gas and the boys did a quick scan of the lobby as they drove by. The safari-clad Asian was standing near the taxi bay, so they shot down the road and did a repeat performance at the traffic circles at both ends. Khaya coasted into the taxi bay and Danny leapt out with as much confidence as he could muster.

“Good evening, sir,” he beamed is his best white accent, “you look all set for our night tour. The name’s Dan, and I’ll be your guide for the evening. Won’t you come this way.” The gentleman bent slightly at the waist in Danny’s direction, before following Danny to the car. Danny opened the back door and waited while the man folded his reed like body into the backseat. He couldn’t help but be impressed at what a cool laanie the guy was. Didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the unconventional ride. Danny slid in after him and the foursome shared an uncomfortable beat of silence before Khaya eased the car into slow moving traffic. As the car continued along the beachfront, heading towards the famous late-night hangout of large Indian families sharing outsized vats of biryani, curry and rice at Blue Lagoon, the man eventually spoke.

“So,” he said. “This horn. It is big? You got dimensions? I don’t want be wasting my time.”

“Yes boss,” said Khaya, “the horn is big! A little over a meter. Wait until you see it baba, you won’t be disappointed.”

Mandla and Khaya had wrapped the horn in a new blanket and stashed it in the boot of the car. They’d also placed a cooler with ice and soft drinks next to the horn, as well as the old duffel bag. Their plan was to pull the car over into one of the less family laden parking lots overlooking the sea, pull out the cooler and act like a group of friends sharing a drink after a late night out. Once they’d felt they’d suitably fooled anyone showing signs of suspicion, they’d casually gather around the open boot, and talk loudly about sub-woofers and the eternal search for superior quality sound. Then Khaya would lean in and flip the blanket open, revealing the horn. In Khaya’s mind, the Asian would be so impressed at the sheer size of the beautiful specimen that he’d nod his assent immediately and agree to the price given to the sangoma. Khaya would close the blanket and roll the horn into the duffel bag that had housed it all this time in Durban. Then all four would climb back into the car and return to the hotel. Once there, the money, hidden in the camera bag, would be handed over to Mandla. Then Danny would jump out ahead of the Asian, grab the duffel from the boot, loudly thank him for his patronage, and hand over the duffel while reminding him not to forget his purchase of two beautifully hand-crafted wooden giraffes from a local curio-seller on the beachfront.

Khaya pulled into an appropriate parking lot – not too many cars, but not too few. He parked someway down from a family packing up after a long day in the sun, stomachs fit to burst from delicious platefuls of mutton curry and rice, and fragrant sujie for dessert; the scent of it still hanging in the dense sea air. Part A of the plan was underway. The men casually exited the car and while Danny made a show of stretching his arms above his head, leaning to either side, Mandla opened the boot. The cooler was pulled out and the lid popped off. Mandla handed out drinks randomly and Danny, elected by the others to talk sound like only a Naidoo can, began his nattering away. As the men leaned in to view the imaginary speakers, a car, with sound so superior it bounced slowly along the tarmac, pulled up three bays over. By this point, Khaya got spooked and felt a now or never attitude was called for, and pulled back the blanket to reveal the ash grey length of horn, nestled against the blood red of the wool. An unexpected whistle of appreciation left the lips of the Asian, which unleashed a torrent of commando style yelling and pounding of feet. The tableau was lit up by large beams of light, and the all four men were pushed to the ground, faces squashed against the fine grit of sea sand coating the tar.

With his hands tied roughly behind his back, Danny watched, as if in a dream, the tango of police boots and canine paws move between sheets of overlapping light. To his right, he saw his fear and astonishment reflected in the eyes of Khaya, and behind Khaya, he watched as the Asian was helped to his feet by a police officer, high-fived and handed his police issue weapon.

The making of Danny Naidoo, perceived loafer and waster of space, was cut short by a well-executed sting operation. In an unlucky pre-determined sequence of events, a police officer called Khwezi, was stationed as a mole in the muti markets the day before. She only bumped into Danny by chance; she’d been pulling boxes out from under her table, trying to copy the design of nearby stalls, when she’d stood up and they’d collided. His shifty disposition, and his unlikely presence at the market, had her shady character antenna warming up. The week before, her unit had received a tip off from a member of public about a completely unrelated rhino horn deal going down. While all the male officers had got the cushy job of staking out the harbour, from the comfort of the bar at the Bat Centre, Khwezi was assigned the role of bad sangoma, complete with hair beads and wildebeest tail fly switch. Oh how they’d laughed! But it was Khwezi standing over Danny right now, one foot on his back, a large toothy smile splitting her moon face in two.

As he lay on the floor, a sharp piece of rock cutting into his temple, it dawned on him that this was as comfortable as it was going to get, for a very long time.

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Didn’t read part one? Click here

Want to read the full story? Click here

By the time Khaya and Mandla had finished their story, Danny had the look of someone who had just received true enlightenment. Finally, he thought, finally my ship has come in. No more nights spent on cold, hard steps; no more wheeling and dealing. He wanted in and he’d happily sell his soul for the opportunity.

“So…,” he ventured, “where do I fit in?”

“Simple,” said Khaya, “we need a buyer.”

“We have the horn, but we’re new here. It could take months before we find someone to take this horn off our hands,” Mandla looked at Danny, one eyebrow almost kissing his hairline, “you interested in helping us find that guy?”

“I’d say that’s right up my street,” blustered Danny, “but, what’s in it for me?”

“R150 000.”

Khaya sat back and watched as Danny’s face contorted into a myriad expressions; disbelief, elation, redemption even. Finally, Danny Naidoo had lifted himself out of the gutter, his mind already transporting him into the life he knew he was meant for. Lovely long-limbed ladies, giant steaks and plenty of ice cold beer, perhaps even a set of wheels. For in truth, the luxuries Danny hankered after, were well within his reach, if only he’d bother to make the effort. He had no use for penthouse suites, caviar and champagne. He simply longed for the life that paraded past him each day on the beach front. And now, here it was – right before his eyes – all he had to do was find the man. How easy was that!

***

The next morning, as the sun tentatively peeped its shiny bald crown over the salt water haze of the horizon, Danny sat on the steps leading down to the ocean and mulled over the information gleaned from Mandla and Khaya. It all seemed quite simple, ludicrously so in fact. All he had to do was find someone to buy the horn. But who? His opportunistic nature meant that he’d crossed paths with most of Durban’s most notorious dealers – mandrax, trafficked girls, coke and Durban poison, but he’d yet to hear of any one of them buying and selling rhino horn. That was another level of crime altogether, and he simply didn’t operate in those circles. He scanned the beach, watching holiday-makers take selfies again the backdrop of the sunrise, and surfers entering the warm waters for the first surf of the day. Further down the beach he watched as a group of Zionist worshipers brought plastic bottles to the shore to fill with the salty water he knew they used to cleanse impurities from their systems. Their long blue and white robes soaked up the water, making it difficult to walk back to the shore with the heavy containers of water. Danny thought it was nice that people managed to hold on to their faith in a city like Durban, where every culture and religion seemed to live under the same wide sky. The fug of uncertainty that draped him like a shroud suddenly lifted; he knew exactly who to approach about the horn.

As he made his way through some of the seedier streets of downtown Durban, he stopped to bum a cigarette from a prostitute making her way home after a long night on the pull, her aching feet free from the scuffed leopard print stilettoes that hung loosely from her fingers. He shared a few words with a street sweeper clearing the remnants of a big night out, and crossed the street when he saw Big Vic the Nigerian lumbering in his direction. He passed the Durban Playhouse and the museum, and walked along the littered streets, crossing through early morning traffic until he reached the large outdoor muti market situated on an abandoned overpass in Warwick Junction. If ever there was a place to find a buyer for the horn – this was it. He’d been on the streets long enough to know that there was good muti, and bad. And while most herbalists at the market sold the good stuff for healing colds and any number of aches and pains, there were witchdoctors who dabbled in the dark side; those who procured and sold human and animal body parts, offering customers what herbs and plants could not. It was them that Danny was interested in; someone who would have no problem committing a small crime for a kickback. Danny decided to cast his net far and wide; strategy not being a strong point – his only desire to be out of this place as quickly as possible, so that he could resume his sightless gaze over the sea, his mind conjuring up delicious ways to spend his windfall. He walked up and down the aisles as women pulled back the tarpaulin sheets that covered their wares – bunches of herb, called imphepho, which sangoma’s would burn during ceremonies, balls of clay to protect skin against the sun, and all other manner of dried herbs and bark. The sheer volume of animal parts – snake skins, monkey hands, vulture heads and pelts, was astounding, and Danny felt a small flicker of disquiet as he viewed the carnage. When he attempted to engage an old woman, who was sweeping the dust and seed husks out from under her table, in friendly conversation, she took one look at him and swept her broom right over his feet. As if he wasn’t even there. Danny kept on walking, surveying stalls on the left and the right. In truth, each stall looked completely alike to him. He wondered how anyone managed to make a living at all. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he felt he would know as soon as he saw it. At the tenth stall, his gaze landed upon a skull with an incredibly long snout and a row of dangerous looking teeth. He picked it up, and tentatively tested the tip of his finger against a sharp incisor, wobbling the tooth in the jaw.

“Hello brother,” a soft voice in a Nigerian drawl interrupted Danny’s fiddling, “You looking to poison someone?”

“What? No!” said Danny, dropping the skull on the table.

“Pity,” said the voice, “crocodile bile is good for that.”

Danny hurried on, looking over his shoulder, checking to see if he was being followed. As he turned into the next aisle, he bounced off the body of a very compact Zulu woman. She righted herself and stood with arms akimbo, her feet planted wide. She wore a no-nonsense expression and her beady eyes drilled into his, as a throaty rumble challenged him, “Indiya, what are you up to?”

Haibo, mama, it’s a free country now – I’m surveying the wares.”

“Rubbish,” she countered, “a skinny, up-to-no-good Indian boy like you isn’t here to browse.” She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, in that peculiar way of South Africans in general, and Zulus in particular.

“Okay ma, you got me,” admitted Danny. He looked her over, deliberating whether he should start with such a cantankerous old lady. Maybe he should test out his pitch on someone a bit more hospitable. He turned and looked down the row of stalls. It was a scene of great activity, woman either sweeping, packing or fixing her display. They probably wouldn’t welcome him with open arms either, he thought. He turned to and with the most rakish grin he could muster, asked, “So Ma, how’d you like to make a little extra cash for almost nothing?”

The woman looked at Danny with a practiced eye. She knew there were all sorts who sought out the market, with dreams in their head and not a cent in their pocket. This one was as skinny as a township chicken and looked about as smart. But there was a gleam in his eyes that she couldn’t ignore.

“You’ve got one minute – and this better be good,” she said as she pulled open a flap of material that led into a broom cupboard sized space behind her store.

Thirty minutes later, Danny emerged, his dream almost within his reach. As it turned out, the woman told him she’d once been a highly respected sangoma, but when she realised she could make more money in the flesh trade – human and animal alike, she’d become a witchdoctor. She figured she knew exactly the person Danny was looking for and struck a hard bargain, 15 percent of whatever Danny was earning, and she’d find him his man. Danny was torn – she was asking for a large cut, but after hearing her story – he felt too terrified to double-cross her. So instead he agreed and they shook hands in agreement.

Just before he emerged from the fetid confines of the room filled with animal hides, she grabbed him by the throat. You never met me, she had warned him. So, take that silly grin off your face and play it cool. If things go south, she’d do worse than sell him straight down the river without even so much as a flick of her wildebeest tail. To prove her point, she brought the tail down on an unwelcome fly, disgorging its insides against the table. She let him know that the flesh trade encompassed all manner of unlikely customers, and fine Indian skin like his would sell quickly enough.

On that sobering note, Danny swiped a swathe of rancid hair over his brows, hunched his shoulders and made as quick a getaway as possible, while attempting to dodge pyramids of simian skulls and stacks of dried out honey comb.

***

They were the longest three days of Danny’s life. He hung around Lucky Pete’s Cafe, waiting for the call to come. Having no cell phone, he was tied to the café by an invisible rope, too afraid to leave in case the phone rang and he miss his one chance at changing his miserable life. When the call finally came, he struggled to hold the phone to his ear, fearing making his hands and face slicker than the grease pit the cook next to him was frying eggs on.

After a few minutes, he put down the phone. She’d found his man. Danny could barely breathe. He was rooted to the spot, a whooshing sound in his ears blocking out the noises of the kitchen. He picked up the phone again, and with shaking hands pulled out a crumpled square of paper, and dialled the number scrawled across it. After the third ring, the deep baritone of Khaya came onto the line. Danny, aware that the cook was looking at him with interest, blurted, “Meet me at the skate park in an hour. I’ve got him.” He put down the phone and, in an extreme effort of will, nodded at the cook, walked casually out the café door, continued sedately for a few metres, and then in a burst of triumph, turned the corner and ran all the way to the beach.

***

To be continued

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