The Ndundulu Invasion – Chapter 15 – Amagents

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mantzariscoverSometimes knowing people in a city that is your hide and seek destination for a period of time does not help. People, especially in middle of the road cities become viciously inquisitive when they see a new face they do not recognise. They ask all sorts of questions. This could be the result of a number of reasons, friendliness, warmth, hospitality, even boredom. Some people, possibly equally bored, get enmeshed in such conversations and open themselves to possible dangers, as Gapon officiously declared, time and again. In fact he sounded exactly like a vinyl record stuck on a grammophone.

Bongi realised that it was easier to relate and talk to rural people, because although they were also gossipers, the potential danger to the job at hand was much more limited when compared to opening yourself to urban inquirers. Urban gossipers tended to be slier and more cunning in their approach. They also had a more demeaning attitude towards people doing menial, yet highly useful and productive jobs, like cleaners, petrol attendants and the like. Urban people looked down on such workers, but this was one thing that only well skilled anthropologists would detect. The newspapers would not deal with such touchy human subjects, the Sheik brothers and Julius Malema were much more juicy subjects for first page stories. The shooting of a petrol attendant was only covered in the DAILY SUN, that paper amongst papers.

However , it was always useful for a newcomer to explore some interesting places and happenings in his new destination , observing and absorbing aspects of life that seem insignificant to those rushing to earn a living or madams sipping red wine at the existing malls , if any.

This is one of the reasons Bongi always parked his car in safe places and walked around observing things and movements, carrying a few rands in his pocket and, without his credit card, which was overdrawn anyway and only his debit card with R400 in it. Just in case.

While absorbed to this kind of thought he did not realise he had already walked into the EMPANGENI TOURISM PROMOTION office. He moved towards the blond beauty at the reception.
“Good morning”, he greeted her seriously.
“Good morning, Sir. My name is Charlize, how may I assist you?”
“I want to know where I can find a branch of CHICAGO MEATS, please.”
“I beg your pardon, Sir?”
“I repeat, where may I find a branch of CHICAGO MEATS, please?”
“I have never heard of that store, Sir.”
“You haven’t heard of CHICAGO MEATS?”
“No, Sir, I have not.”
“So I take it there is no CHICAGO MEATS in Empangeni.”
“I am afraid not, Sir. Thank you, Sir. I hope you enjoy your stay in our beautiful town.”
“I do. Bye now.”
“Enjoy the rest of your day, Sir.”
“Thank you, same to you.”

He walked out of the office towards the car. He felt like having a home cooked stew spiced with GORIMA’s extra hot curry powder which he carried in his bag all the time.
He drove downtown. He stopped outside the first butchery he noticed on the left. The street was packed, hundreds of people walking with laden heavy CHECKERS and PICK N PAY plastic packets. He felt his wallet, he cursed himself, empty. He walked towards the ATM when he saw this young man kicking and swearing loudly at the machine. The crowd around him laughed and ululated. He knew he was not a prankster or a joker. The ATM was out of order.

He walked inside the bank and joined the queue to off load some hundreds. He was starving, his blood pressure going over his head.
I should have gone to a WIMPY, he thought to himself, now I’ll have a stroke waiting in this queue.

The twenty something girl in front of him tried to make conversation. He was not interested and he showed it. She kept quiet.

There was a commotion in the front. He saw at least ten people in front of the cashiers going on their knees. He swore inside himself, discreetly.

In a few seconds the whole crowd was on its knees, their hands behind their heads. He stood in the middle like an idiot. He felt half dead when he felt the cold nose of the Kolashnikov on his forehead.
“On your knees, Mkhulu“, the short boy with the red balaclava whispered.
There was nothing intimidating in the order.
In most cases Gapon was ten times more demanding when ordering him around and accused him of perceived procrastination. He kneeled slowly, his eyes moving around, trying to avoid the eyes behind the red balaclava.

There were four of them. The short boy visibly the leader, whispering orders to the other three, pointing directions and dictating movements towards the manager’s office. They moved swiftly into the Manager’s office. Bongi saw the Manager panicking, his dark face shivering, his wrinkles multiplying by the second. The tall manager, most likely the descendant of Tamil South Indian indentured workers, did not say much. He just followed the instructions, while his North Indian counterpart with the Manning Rangers tie tried to pull out something out of his pocket. The second medium height balaclava whispered something to the manager’s ear and the ex Chatsworth teller shook his head in agreement before he fell on his knees.

The short boy stood on the table where the security guard was previously distributing queue numbers. His voice was soft and assured.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you didn’t notice, this is a robbery. You see this is what we are good at. This is our chosen profession, but we did not choose it, you and the banks and the Government chose it for us. Society chose it for us. You see, ladies and gentlemen, life is a casino game, a gamble; you can never win in a casino, the LOTTO or the horses. If we get caught, which will not happen, I promise you, the state will bring a lot of witnesses, most likely we’ll get a life sentence. We will only bring one witness. Her name is Hunger. Nevertheless we will not plead in mitigation, because there are a lot of laws, but there is no justice. You see, ladies and gentlemen, justice is for the few who can afford it. I tell you the truth, so you know. My desperation turns into an AK 47, my needs turn into bullets. You don’t move for ten minutes after we split, you, your families, your money and your cell phones are safe, at least from us. I can’t guarantee your things or your own safety outside this building. I promise you when you move out of this building we will be far away. You make a wrong move, my need and desperation will sing a very sad song for you. Understood?”

His voice was as smooth as Pastor Dube’s, pain mixed with decisiveness. His small eyes moved around the people on their knees. There was silence, most praying that God make the short boy abide by his plea. He shook his head, the flock was under control.
Outside the other flock was going around shopping, whistling, flirting and going about their Saturday routine, oblivious.

The boys moved in the same mathematical precision that led Einstein exposing the simplicity of the then unknown theory of relativity and the bravery that the Cuban heroes showed when they destroyed the Boere myth of military superiority in Cuito Cuanevale.

While the taller balaclava held his AK 47 facing the floor and his eyes searched intensively and with precision the faces that dared not look only at the shining floor, the other two, guided by the short leader moved from office to office, filling the bags with coins, crisp and dirty bank notes. When it comes to money, dirt is good, almost always. While the operation moved efficiently, the short leader ensured that there was no visible movement in the banking hall, monitoring the tall guard. His eyes moved in circles ensuring compliance to the planned instructions in their minute detail. Then they moved to the ATMs, unlocked them and filled the bags silently and with the utmost professionalism.

These young people are thorough professionals”, thought Bongi, as the tip of his eye followed the careful itinery followed by the group. When one of them with the short man disappeared behind a closed door, perhaps the store room, the third guarded the bags filled with the cash. It was done in a matter of minutes, for many of those kneeling perhaps aeons.

On their return from the back room the short boy moved slowly towards the side door behind the cashiers, followed by the others. They carried the packets in GIORGIO ARMANI suitcases.
I never knew ARMANI produced suitcases, Bongi thought. Ah! Learning is an uninterrupted process, even in a bank robbery in Empangeni.

There was silence for a couple of minutes, people still praying, many with their eyes closed. They were visibly aware of the short boy’s needs and desperation, but they cared mostly about theirs.

After the few minutes passed there were the first moves, some gogos, already visibly tired, took their hands back to the normal position and started massaging their knees. Some young women subconsciously moved their free hand towards their hand bags, to ensure that their cell phones were still there. All of them sighted with relief.

After ten minutes the manager moved towards the front of the Banking Hall and apologised on behalf of the bank.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the management and staff of our bank want to sincerely apologise for today’s events. In two minutes I will activate the alarm system that is connected to the Empangeni Central Police Station. We sincerely hope that the robbers will be apprehended. In order to thank you for you exemplary behaviour and to show you how much we appreciate your commitment to our bank, we will keep the branch open until each and every one of you completes his transactions. We will also provide cool drinks and home made biscuits courtesy of JIMMY’S CONTINENTAL BAKERY. Thank you for your patronage.”

A loud applause followed and the queues went back to normal. A short bold man with a hilarious moustache, just having escaped from the BIG TIME SABC 3 soap opera oversaw the equal redistribution of plastic cups of COCA COLA and two biscuits for each customer.

Some SECURICOR staff obviously notified by the management reloaded the ATMS and the safes with R200 and smaller notes before they disappeared through door behind the cashiers, exactly like the short, medium and tall men with the balaclavas.

Bongi was sixth in the queue. He noticed the young girl in front of him. Her eyes were glued on the exit door. She whispered something.
Bongi was baffled with what he heard, or thought he had heard. It was the first time he saw a young African woman talking to herself, he thought such things only happened in New York. He turned to her.
“What did you say?”
“Good luck, amagents (gentlemen).”
“You mean the security guards?”
“No, the robbers.”

He shook his head, baffled. He greeted her and left her behind, her eyes still glued on the exit door. He looked at his watch. 11.25. He decided he did not need money anymore, he could make another plan.
It’s never too early for a double, he thought, the invasion can wait. It’s Saturday, after all.
He stepped out of the bank and started mixing aimlessly with the crowd.
He had a lot to think about.

Next chapter: Chapter 16

©  Evan Mantzaris – The Ndundulu Invasion – Rozenberg Quarterly 2013 – ISBN 978 90 361 0201 8

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