This anonymous account of one of Cape Town’s liveliest precincts, Long Street, gives an unsettling glimpse of its grimier aspect.
Cape Town - I am on my way to work, it’s about 6pm, and already I see some familiar faces. Faces I’d rather not see. “Hey Big Boss!” They know me by now. I’m here every day. So are they. I know what they do, and they know where I work. They probably know what time I start, what time I leave.
My eyes catch the eyes of a new face further down the road. He approaches me as I walk.
“Hey man, how you doing? You need something?”
“No!” My negative responses have been finely tuned so that my message is stern, but this guy is new here.
“What about some coke?” He says this and indicates what he means by sniffing the back of his finger. An innocent person might think he had a cold.
I ignore him and walk into my shop. He mumbles something about rudeness.
While I’m in my shop I feel pretty safe. Most of the drug dealers know not to come in there. I’ve made them aware that their patronage is not welcome here, even if they want to sit and relax.
I could always do with more trade, but I have learnt that offering my services to drug dealers always creates problems. Normal customers’ phones go missing, or handbags. Sadly, those customers who have had their belongings snatched seldom come back. In the long run, serving the wrong people is simply bad for business.
The regular prostitutes come in and order their drinks. I have to keep my eyes open. They are decent customers most of the time, and often they bring in more customers. Most of the time they are respectful, but when they get too drunk they become a problem. They are able to get anything if you ask them. Their services include: a fun night out, any drug of your choice, loads of liquor, cheap hotel rooms and a cheap shag to seal the deal.
Tonight there is one in particular who I know has an evil agenda. The last time she was here she was with an American tourist, and they were having a good time drinking and kissing. At some point in the night, this man tried to stand up and he couldn’t. He looked like a helpless baby. And she cooed him and kissed him. I hadn’t served them that much liquor, had I? She helped him up and they left. I’m glad they were out. The following day, the American returned. He looked bewildered and very tired. He explained that he had had a blackout and the last place he remembers being was here in my shop.
He woke up in the morning and all his belongings had been stolen from his hotel room.
I apologised for his situation and said that I knew the woman he was talking about. I explained that his amnesia was probably because she slipped some kind of drug into his drink, or even kissed him with the drug in her mouth. He was mostly embarrassed, as was I.
I walk up to her and tell her to leave before I call the police. I show her the “right of admission reserved” sign. She curses me, calls me a racist, but after some time throwing her angry, abusive words at me, she leaves.
At some point in the night I’m out on the pavement having a cigarette. Familiar faces see me, some greet, some snarl, and some stare for too long. One taps his wrist to indicate that my time is coming. I sigh inwardly.
A drunken tourist, or maybe even a local – I can’t tell who is who anymore – is approached by a man wearing clean sneakers, jeans, broad-shouldered in a black leather jacket.
“Nice shoes, man, hey you got nice shoes!” Always big smiles.
The inebriated person looks down at his shoes and smiles. The pickpocket measures his shoes up against this helpless victim. It’s only a moment before they part ways, both smiling. The pickpocket looks over at me. I’m a witness to his crime. He smiles and winks at me. I glare back, angry at holding back against such a petty crime, angry at myself for not taking some sort of positive action.
“You next, one day I’m going to get you!” Another petty threat from a petty criminal.
“You watch your business. I’m the king of this street! You watch your business!” This thief is obviously drunk, probably coked up as well. False confidence aids him. My silence is my self-defence.
It’s nearing the end of the night and the streets are littered with stompies and spit and some vomit. It’s about 5am.
I lock up the shop and walk to the garage where my car is parked. I know that a thief/drug dealer is following me, I turn to look at him, but his friend grabs his arm and says to leave me alone. My hand was ready on the pepper spray I carry around. It seems I’ve gained some respect, but maybe they are just biding their time before they make a hit.
Soon I’m home, but sleep never comes easy.
* This anonymous account, which first appeared on Eyewitness News online at www.ewn.co.za, was written by someone who works on Long Street.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.