Don’t Die Alone – Take Someone With You

My weekend started with a petrol attendant calling me madala.

This would never have happened in the old South Africa. Back then, darkies knew their place. They didn’t go around calling white men “old”. They called them “baas” and everyone got along just fine.

It was only a vicious cold front that stopped me from exiting my vehicle and taking the uppity fellow to task.

Instead, I opened my window a crack and demanded to know the reason for his insolence. He laughed, as only the freshly emancipated can laugh, and said he called me madala because I was madala.

I took a quick look at myself in the rearview mirror and got the fright of my life. I whipped around to ask Peter O’Toole what the hell he was doing in my back seat, but nobody was there.

The attendant knocked on the window. He pointed at his hair, then at mine. Of course. No wonder he thought I was old. He was clearly colour-blind. In my best Zulu I explained to him that my hair was not grey, but dusky blonde. He laughed some more and said I owed him R200.

After handing over the cash, together with a hefty 20 cent tip, I took the revs into the red, slammed the stick into first and dropped the clutch. The car stalled with such vehemence that I flew from the seat and smacked my head into the windscreen. “Madala,” said the attendant.

Rubbing my dented nut, I pulled out of the garage and into the path of an oncoming car. The enemy swerved and hooted and pointed violently at his eyes. “Yes!” I shouted. “You should get glasses!”

Driving home, I realised the garage attendant hadn’t been mocking me at all. In his culture, old people are revered. Their advice is sought after; their wisdom valued. Hell, if you live in the township, you can’t even buy a stolen plasma TV without getting the elders around to slaughter an ox to check that it’s okay with the ancestors.

In whitey culture, old people are barely tolerated. They get elbowed aside on the pavement, cursed if they are driving – which they have no right to be doing – and lured into retirement homes on the bogus pretext that there is a very good chance they will fall head over heels in love with someone their own age when, in fact, all they are going to be doing is falling head over heels in the bathroom.

When our parents develop Alzheimer’s, we look them squarely in the eye and say we don’t know who they are either and never visit them again.

White oldies have it good. If they were Eskimos, they would be expected to walk out into the snow and die of hypothermia rather than be a burden on the pack. We don’t get much snow in these parts, but there’s nothing stopping them from taking their Zimmer frames and going for a slow walk up Table Mountain where our economically disempowered muggers will happily dispatch them to the afterlife in return for a used colostomy bag and a well-thumbed pocket bible.

When I am more of a burden to my family than I already am, I will almost certainly remove myself for the greater good. The only difference is that when I leave the house, retirement home or asylum, I will have 15kg of trinitrotoluene lashed to my chest, to be detonated as and when I choose.

I don’t see much point in going quietly. Dylan Thomas was right when he said it was better to rage against the dying of the light than to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Nobody wants to die alone so why not take someone with you. Your old maths teacher, perhaps? Or a PT instructor from the army? Your boss? How about a businessman who embezzled your pension?

What I’m saying is, don’t waste your death on yourself. That’s selfish. It wouldn’t surprise me if something got lost in the translation of the ancient Jewish scriptures. Being selfish is wrong. Eating shellfish is fine.

Anyway. Twenty minutes after the garage attendant called me old, I went into a shop to buy half a loaf of bread and a bottle of methylated spirits. There was a man in front of me in the queue. He had a smattering of dusky blonde in his hair. His phone rang and he looked at me and said, “You can go in front, sir.”

Sir? I used to call my biology teacher Sir. Of course, when I was with my friends, I would call him a degenerate bum-fondling pig of a man. But in his class, I would call him Sir.

If President Zuma had to walk through my front door right now, I would call him Sir. Actually, that’s not true. If our leader had to walk through my front door right now, I would scream like a girl, knock my beer into the keyboard and scramble for the nearest panic button.

Once I realised that he was after my vote and not my stereo, I would apologise and offer him a glass of absinthe which he would pretend to drink in the hope that I would see him as a man of the people.

Damn, it’s cold. Perhaps that’s why people are starting to mistake me for an old person. When temperatures drop below a certain point, my entire body shrivels up and I look like I am suffering from progeria, when, in fact, I possess all the instincts of your average juvenile delinquent.



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