Camps Bay. The Riviera of the Western Cape. What was I thinking?
For a start I can’t speak German. I was marked from the outset and I never even saw it. All I saw was a sea view. I thought it was enough to be a white man with blue eyes. But it’s not. Not any more.
Somewhere between 1943 and now, wealth superseded genetics as the ticket to the ultimate golden circle of life.
My former landlord can’t even speak English. Living in a castle on the Rhine and supplying small African countries with guns, drugs and Uzbek prostitutes, he doesn’t have to. Apparently he doesn’t have to give my deposit back, either.
Apparently I left his house in such a shocking state that I should consider myself fortunate not to be extradited and taken in shackles to The Hague to face charges of general untidiness.
Rent from a South African and he’s happy to return your deposit in full because you have taken the trouble to clean the bloodstains off the walls and remove the bodies from inside the basement.
Rent from a German and he’s going to make you pay for a squad of imported lesbians in waterproof lederhosen to remove three leaves from the bottom of the pool.
He is going to want to replace the carpets because of a vomit stain in the corner of the spare room and he’s going to bring in a team of landscapers to deal with four weeds and a rock that shifted two centimetres to the left during the six months he so graciously allowed you to live in one of his schlosse.
Lebensraum, my ass.
That was the last time I rent from a German. I will never go to Germany. I will not watch any more German porn. If the Germans ever invade Africa again, I will join the army.
But I am not an unreasonable man. I will continue drinking Tafel lager, but only because Werner List spent so long in Windhoek that he is virtually one of us. And if Werner is dead, his beer lives on.
When the landlord sent word via the minion who controls his South African interests that he was upping our rent by 25%, I called an emergency family meeting and told Brenda and Clive that we could either move or swallow our pride and be slowly squashed beneath the brutal thumb of imperialism. They both went for the thumb. Fortunately, our society makes provision for men to overrule women and children so I instructed them to start packing at once.
And so began, once again, the long and terrible business of dealing with the capricious shape-shifters of the property underworld.
I cannot bring myself to recount the full horror of the process – one that was fraught with an unusually high quota of greed and treachery – but I can say that we have drifted, flotsam and jetsam-like, into the Deep South.
Our house lies on the fringe of a stinking, flyblown lagoon in Kommetjie. It has no off-street parking. We leave our cars across the road alongside the perlemoen poachers and crayfish hustlers. Some nights they dance naked in the street, disco hits from the ’80s pumping from the back of their Cortinas.
In the middle of writing this, the house was plunged into darkness. Brenda panicked and thought we were under attack. I moved quickly to reassure her but she had me in a stranglehold before I could even get her top off.
Clive found the fuse box and discovered we were on some kind of meter system.
“Nonsense!” I shouted. “This isn’t Khayelitsha!”
Brenda called me a filthy racist pig and told me to go to the shop and buy some electricity, as if it were a loaf of bread or a box of Rizlas.
I had never heard of such a thing.
What do I ask for? A thousand volts? A million? And what do I put them in? Can I go barefoot or should I wear rubber-soled shoes?
The surfer kid behind the counter was unfazed.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
“About three weeks worth, please,” I said. He looked puzzled.
“How much money’s worth?”
It was like one of those how-long-is-a-piece-of-string kind of Zen questions. How much is money worth? I couldn’t answer right away so I said I would be back shortly and walked outside to clear my head.
I crossed the road and sat underneath a milkwood tree. I hadn’t been there for more than an hour or so when a soft-spoken woman with dark eyes came up to me and asked if I needed help.
I told her that I was struggling to weigh up the cost of temporary power versus the consequences of eternal darkness and she took me by the hand and led me into what appeared to be some sort of guest house called Stepping Stones.
She sat me down in the lounge, brought me an orange juice, told me to take it easy. This never happened to me in Camps Bay. Nice people, the Kommetjeans.
I began wandering about the premises looking for a barman to liven up the orange juice when a young man with the eyes of a dead goat accosted me and asked if I had any drugs. I was outraged.
“Of course not,” I said. “Do you?”
He looked indignant, then asked if he could buy the rest of my orange juice for R12 because he was scheduled for a urine test in the morning and didn’t want to take any chances.
This was no guest house. I had been lured, under false pretences, into a rehab jam-packed with dangerous drug addicts.
I gave goatman my juice and fled for the exit.