If you think that Johannesburg is a city with a heart of gold, you have not met the jackals who dress in peoples’ clothes and who live off other peoples money. I am talking about those we call “O’Jakalasi” or “ama Lainer” – the ous who play “three card trick” on many a street corner.
I know that I use strong words and I know that a person has got to make a living. But they bit me badly last week. Before you call me a crying loser, let me tell you what happened to yours truly late one Friday afternoon not so long ago.
I was walking down Commissioner Street feeling pretty sharp. I had love in my heart and some money in my pocket. I was on my way to buy a birthday present for my loved one, the beautiful Mbali, the best and most wonderful woman in our township.
Just then a well dressed man came up to me. He told me that his name was Ndlela and that he was a card player.
“You can win a lot of money if you play with me. A certain man won R50 from me this very morning,” he said, with a big crooked smile on his big crooked face.
I did not believe this man. I thought he was a little crazy. Then he put his hands in his pocket and pulled out a big bundle of money. I don’t know how much he had there – but I’m sure it was more than R500.
I stood there and my heart began to beat double time. I thought of all the things I could buy with all that money. And there and then I forgot what my old granny had told me over and over again.
” Never, but never play with strange men in strange places,” she had said all those years ago, while I sat on her knee .
But now it was Ndlela the card player who was talking. “This is a very simple game,” he said. “Two of these cards are black and only one is red. I place them upside down so that they all look the same. If you can pick up the red one from the others you win.”
We were joined by another guy as we were talking. He was dressed in khakis. He had a twenty rand note in his hand -and he wanted to play right away.
“Look how we play first and then you will see for yourself what a very nice game I am talking about, ” said Ndlela.
He dealt the cards, one, two, three, upside down. The man picked the red card, no problem, and Ndlela gave him R20.
The next game was for R40 and the man in khakis won again. I could not believe my eyes when I saw him put R40 in his pocket. I have never ever seen anybody make so much money, so quickly. And it was so easy.
“This is Jo’burg, and if you use your brains you can make a lot of money,” I said to myself, with itching fingers.
It was my turn and I put down R15. He dealt the cards and I picked the red one, straight and simple. He paid me 15 big ones.
I told myself that I will not leave this man until I have won a nice round hundred. He was just a stupid bhari who did not know how to use his money. I was going to teach him never to play with money again.
I took out R50 and his face lost its smile. He looked a little pale – like he was afraid to play for such big money. He asked me to play with R20 but I wasn’t listening.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him. “Feeling jumpy?”
There was now a large crowd of people who were watching us. I was feeling very proud like I was some kind of hero.
“Okay, lets play,” says Ndlela, going down for the deal. Like a child who has done something wrong he shuffled the cards – and then like lightning he put them down.
There was a big noise on the street. Some were saying I would win and some were saying that I was a fool to play with such big money. But I was nobody’s fool. I felt like a real ‘clever and a half’.
Even today I do not know what made me feel so brave and sure. l looked at the cards, picked up the one I thought was red and gave it to him without even looking.
The man turned the card slowly and I nearly died when I saw that it was black. I had lost. My mind was telling me to go. But now all of a sudden Ndlela was telling me to stay.
“Die once like a man, let’s play,” he said.
Some people in the crowd were laughing like they were in a circus tent. I felt hot and the sweat from my face was pouring down like a summer’s rain. I was left with only R15. I took out R 10 and asked my ancestors to let me win.
The man took the cards, mixed them around, and now with slow hands, put them down. I looked at the cards, long and careful.
“This time I will not make a mistake,” I told myself. “I will get it right.”
I picked a card and looked at it straight away. I felt tears coming into my eyes. I had lost again. I felt stupid. I felt angry with myself. I felt like the biggest bhari the world has ever seen.
I now wanted to get away from Ndlela and all those laughing people. I put my hands in my empty pockets and slowly walked to the bus rank. I stood in the line waiting for a bus to take me home.
As I stood there looking straight into the ground, I heard some voices talking behind me. “Kyk, ou Ndlela and Bra khaki maak baie zag van bharis met kaarte,” said the one voice to the other.
I remembered the guy in khakhis and then I understood everything. It was like opening an old wound. The man in khakis who won R4O was working hand in hand with Ndlela. He had fooled me into playing.
I was hating myself for being such a fool. I had lost my money – and I now had to go to Mbali’s birthday party without even the smallest of presents.
When the bus arrived in the township I went home and locked myself in my zozo. I sat there, cold and lonely, telling myself the same thing over and over:
” Jo’burg is a slegte dorp, vuka bhari. Jo’burg is a slegte dorp, vuka bhari. Jo’burg is ….”