The matriarch of the tyre fitment centre is beckoning. Her face is grim. I join her under the hydraulic lift to peer up at the exposed viscera of my ancient car. She points into the darkness between the front wheels, like an oncologist pointing at an X-ray.
It’s just as well I brought in my car when I did, she tells me: the front left chimp-fascinator has detached from its spangle buttock, causing the hangnail defuser to rub against the front right felafel, making that fearful grinding I have been hearing. I nod, as if I have understood anything she has just said, and wonder how many zeroes will be on the end of my bill.
Suddenly a younger woman runs in from the street outside. I recognize her as the admitting nurse who took my car’s blood pressure 10 minutes ago. Then, she was aloof. Now she is flushed.
“There’s bladdy thousands of them!” she cries. Ways to balance a wheel, I wonder? Rands, meekly paid by people like me, who can’t tell a shock-absorber from a pilchard?
“Here they come!” she squeals; and there they come indeed: union members in red T-shirts, bladdy thousands of them, marching up through the city, like a scene from Les Miserables. They are within earshot now, and we can hear them singing the song of angry men. Or at least, approximating the song of angry men. It turns out they are not only Les Miserables but Les Tone-Deaf too.
Should I be worried? Somewhere nearby a police siren gives a cautionary whoop. The crew in the fitment centre are edgy, peering out into the street and fingering their tyre-irons.
Shit, this thing is kicking off. I need a token of solidarity, something to show the masses that I support their right to march and that I am not a racist elitist. What do the working classes like? Very sweet granadilla-flavoured soda? Aerated maize dusted with cheese-simulating tartrazine? Christ, this is bad.
Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Most of them are probably Christians, and, thanks to having let myself go, I look like Jesus. I will walk out to them, two fingers raised. If only I had a dove that I could toss up into the air. Or feed them fish and lambs. Or was it loaves?
Why am I thinking of lambs? Did Jesus have a lamb? Yes, there’s that song, “Jesus had a little lamb … ” Wait, no, that was Mary. But wasn’t she his mother? Maybe there was a family lamb that sort of got passed around. Oh, damn this heathen city with its lapsed Anglican moral relativism! If I were in a proper god-fearing Old Testament town like Bloemfontein I’d know my holy fauna and get out of this thing only lightly maimed.
The matriarch and two tyre-whisperers are lowering the metal shutters over the entrance. This is it. We’re going to have to be in here for days, possibly years. Once the initial shock of the apocalypse wears off, we six men are going to have to compete for the two women, perhaps in some sort of ritualised tyre-balancing competition. But do I even want to compete for them? The younger one seems a bit fickle, and the older one has a voice that can strip paint. Perhaps I should just marry one of the men instead, and live in a small house made of tyres, and I could tick off the years on that soft-porn calendar over there. Or…
Why have they stopped rolling down the shutters? And why…?
Wait! Are you mad? Why are you opening them again? Didn’t you see that episode of MacGyver with the man-eating ants? Unless we’ve got a moat of burning petrol we’re all doomed!
Too late. One of the men is going outside. Just as well. We need a hero, someone to keep morale high while we draw lots for who gets to sleep in the Camry for the first week.
Go, brave man, while I crouch behind these hubcaps; go and keep the intelligentsia safe from ever having to do anything. Go, and I will immortalise your earthy working-class heroism in a column, which I will write for money.
Hang on, he’s back. And – gag – there’s an assegai stuck right through his chest. Oh, wait, it’s a rolled-up newspaper under his arm. He says, “They’re going down Somerset Road.”
The opposite direction. We’re going to live.
I won’t have to marry Denzil over there and honeymoon in a Goodyear hovel.
I am flooded with relief and, oddly, solidarity. The danger past, I reflect on the virtue of the marchers. I hope that their demands are heard. And when they march again, I will be with them in spirit, as my body hides under a duvet, behind bolted doors. Aluta continua.
First published in The Times and TimesLive