November, now long past in most of our memories, had been a very interesting month for me. I was busy up to a point of exhaustion at work, I was busy with NaNoWriMo and I had a couple of my own things to sort out. To top it all off, I had managed to acquire an ear infection, one of the first ones I’ve had in years. To say that I had a lot on my mind would’ve been an understatement.
Which is partly why events happened as they did. I didn’t pay attention, I should’ve but I didn’t.
On the 16th of November I found myself coming back from a farmer’s day that I had had to attend in a nearby province. It was a hot day and my ear was in a state. I remember sitting in my car and wishing that it would all just end. It had been a hot month and, for someone who spends more than half of her time in a car with no air-con, it was excruciating. My way of regulating temperature in my car is by opening my window up as wide as I can, shoving my hand out and directing the airflow into the car. When I entered cities, towns or any are that looked a little dangerous to me, I’d close the window, tough out the terrible temperatures and then open the window up again just when I was about to faint. On this particular day though, I wasn’t as alert as I normally was and it turned out to be a mistake especially because I took myself through a really dangerous part of town. My route home on this fateful day took me through a very dangerous part of our city. Now, of course, knowing that it’s dangerous has never stopped me from driving there. I used to look at people and think: Well, they’re just as tired as I am. They just want to get home, as I do. Yes, there are thieves and murderers among them. But, they’ve got no business with me, I have nothing that they want.
I was wrong.
When I stopped at a traffic light (or robot as we like to call them here in South Africa) I didn’t close my window as I usually did. Instead, I looked down at the radio and was fiddling with the dials trying to find a good radio station. My ear was sore and pounding and I only vaguely heard a voice as it suddenly stopped next to my car and said:
“Ma’am, I want money for food.”
Now, this is a phrase we hear quite a lot in our country. With more than 56 million people who are jobless, South Africa has a LOT of beggars. You get used to them, you ignore them and if you’re me, you tend to get quite irritated with them. I’ve had more of my fair share of sob stories, you can’t tell me one that I haven’t heard before. And, of course then there’s the case of this seemingly contagious crooked leg syndrome that they ALL have. You’d see them limping around the stop, then – if you’re not watching, they’ll walk normally or run to catch a lift… I don’t hold with it at all. And, I didn’t hold with the way this man was demanding money from me. I turned, irritated with myself for leaving the window open and immediately out to close it.
It was only then that I realized he had a knife in his hand.
It was the longest, yet shortest second of my life. I looked at the man, at his dark face and eyes, at the blue overall that he was wearing with a white company logo on. I managed to give the window one last turn but I knew, I knew that it was going to be too late. That I had made a terrible, terrible mistake in letting my guard down. Before I could even complete the turn on the window, the man pushed his head and arm through the window, coming at me with the knife as if he intended to cut my throat or stab me in the chest. They always say that the world slows down in times of crisis and they are right because I had the time to think that I had to stop it, that I had to grab the knife regardless of the risk to be cut, the risk of AIDS or the course of action I had to follow afterwards. I reached out immediately and grabbed the knife, pressing it against his arm with both of mine. I half expected pain, but there was none. Then, a second later, I realized that I had him and that I could just drive forward and drag him next to the car. I started to pull away but he put his other arm through the window, pulled my leg off of the petrol and turned off my car. He tried to take the keys out but I kicked his hand up against the steering wheel with my knee and put my knee over my keys so that he wouldn’t try it again. Now my car was off, but I still had a hold on his arm. He was shouting obscenities at me, some in his own language, some that I could understand all too well.
“I’m going to kill you. I’m gonna stab you and kill you. I’m gonna take you out of this car and take you there. I’m going to kill you.”
I’d say that I was shouting back at him, making threats of my own, but the truth was I was just shouting ‘no!’ over and over and over again. He tried to unlock my door but luckily my dear Corsa’s frame had shifted slightly making the lock picky. No more than a minute could’ve passed since he first came into the car.
It was then I think, when he wasn’t able to open the door that he finally realized that he had most probably bitten off a lot more than he could chew. He tried to yank from my grip but I am a strong girl. And, I was starting to think again. When the initial shock left, I realized that I had to do something. Speeding away in the car, dragging the MF behind me was obviously not going to work. So, I had to get him to let go of the knife some other way. I tried to twist his hand back, but at first I think I worked a little against myself. Then, I managed to get my brain kick started, shifted my hand into a better position and used every last ounce of strength that I had to twist his hand. Meanwhile he started scratching at me to let him go and kept trying to go for my face. I like to believe that I felt something shift in his hand when he stopped suddenly, yelled and me and said.
“Okay, okay! I’ll let you go!”
I stopped yelling no and shouted, furious: “LET GO OF THE FUCKING KNIFE!”
He did, pulled out and I could quickly turn on my car and speed away. I was so angry, so shaken that I threw the knife that I now had in my hand, out of the window and sped off. I got about a kilometre when my body started shaking so much I could hardly keep the car in gear. I was suddenly so mad. So very very angry. The thing is that I’m not the kind of person who cries, or moans her fate in life. I’m angry. I do anger like a lot of people does breathing. It flared up inside me like a flare and I vaguely remember typing some sort of angry message to someone who had texted me in that time.
I became aware of the burning scratches on my arms, the throbbing in my leg where I had hit it on the dashboard when I tried to keep him from getting my key. But, I realized suddenly that I wasn’t cut. That my hands were unmarked. It was a miracle. I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know how it was possible, (I believe firmly that it was God who helped me) but I hadn’t cut myself when I grabbed the knife. Maybe it was blunt. Maybe it was a toy knife. But, I still remember its texture and I know that it wasn’t.
I managed to get home safely and spend the evening in a daze.
To be precise, I spend the rest of the month in a daze.
The thing is that, in my country crime isn’t a foreign concept. It’s the norm. People get robbed, raped, torturned, beaten every day. Our news lies about half of the reports that come out but the truth is that we’re in a silent war. And, it’s getting worse. The maliciousness of the crimes are getting worse. Everybody gets touched eventually and this event was just my turn.
It took me a while to get over it. I’m a stubborn, proud person. I didn’t go see a trauma counsellor but when enough time passed and I could tell the story without shaking, I started telling people about it – if only to get it off of my chest. I’d wake up in the evenings with this man standing beside me then realize that it was just a dream. I still take a deep breath every time I get into my car and pray that I’m kept safe. And, I’ve learned my lesson. I keep my windows closed whenever I’m in a residential or city area. I watch all the sides of my car at all times. I’ve stopped listening to ANYBODY who wants to tell me something beside my car.
I won’t be caught again. I’ve learned my lesson.
But the thing is also that – it was wrong. And, it is wrong. We shouldn’t be living like this. We shouldn’t have to fear for our lives every day. There is no improvement in this country of mine. There is no progress. No future. It’s world that’s turning in on itself. Violence, crime, it’s all allowed.
I cannot write a conclusion to this, because there is none. It’s happened to me and it will happen to other people. Other crime, other acts of violence will and has happened to those closest to me.
There is no dream of freedom in this country, not anymore.
There will be no end.