Saturday, December 28, 2030

#4: Dwarskersbos to Grafwater

I'd been walking for a time, perhaps twenty minutes, when an eight ton TATA diesel came roaring up behind me, hooting and flashing its hazards, and then pulled up right close.  My first truck lift!  I ran in the heat, excited at the idea of climbing up high and riding like a king.
Entering the cab I was confronted with Brian, a grinning, fit animal in his mid to late forties.  He wore a white, baggy vest over a pair of comfortable blue shorts, takkies on his feet, a chunky gold ring on his finger and a chunky gold chain on his chest, his olive skin glowing.   He said a genuine hello, happy to share this hot day with me, and we got going.  
I commented on a long train we could both see on its way north from Saldanha.  I told him I thought it was one of the longest in the world, these iron ore trains on their way to Sishen, wherever that is.  Brian said he didn't know, but was happy to learn.  I told him about the book and asked about his views on the country, would he be staying or going, what did he think?  He frowned and said this is the best place in the world.  He pointed a muscular finger at his windscreen, out to the veld and the blazing sun, and said he'd never leave.
'There's no disasters here,' he said, 'look at New Zealand.'
Slowly we began to open up, to figure out how it was going to be with us.  
'I started working at fourteen, and since then I've always worked, I'm a working man,' he said.  'I want to ask questions, and I keep asking 'til I get the answers.  And then I ask some more.'
I begin to relax.  He's bursting with news for a stranger.
'My first job was back in 1973, in a textile factory, in Cape Town. I earned fourteen rand a week. Fourteen. Times were different back then, it was Apartheid. A colored man like me had to make his way in the world. I worked my way up, first a handlanger, a errand boy, asking questions and asking questions, until my boss sent me on a course, and then I became a knitting technician.'
'A knitting technician?' 
'Ja-ha-ha!' he replies, bouncing in his chair and loving it, 'you surprised, hey?!'
'I was a technician on the knitting machines, keeping them running smoothly.' 
He searches the past, sitting comfortably in his shorts high above his piece of paradise. 
He tells me about his Toyota Corolla, the first car he ever bought back in '79, a beautiful, shining machine for which he paid R3000, all from his hard earned cash, and which today would cost between fifty or sixty, he reckons.
'A machine like you've never seen, and it was mine.'
He met his wife at around that time.  He was the best man at his friend's wedding, and there, on the wedding day, he looked across to the bridesmaids, and discovered his soul mate.
'Ons was smoorverlief. We were sweetly in love, passionately.'  He starts to talk about his wife, and his family, and his eyes shine even brighter. 
'We got married one month after my eighteenth birthday, one month, and then, when I was nineteen, at that time I was earning R1500 a week, I bought myself a three bedroomed house, with hot and cold water, and this was in Apartheid.'
He says it again, feeling it.  
'We got a son and a daughter, and then another daughter.  And then, in '83, '84, textiles changed.  It was the start of the Chinese invasion.  I tell you, I could see it before everyone else.  Suddenly you got clothes cheap, much cheaper than we can make it. The bosses is whispering together, there's less and less orders coming through the machines.  I got out early.  I felt like a bird.  I had been caged for eleven years and suddenly I was free.' 
'The factory,' he says, 'the rountine, it had fucked me up, ja.  It gave me a kuk picture, a wrong picture of life.  Colours was wrong in there, taste was wrong, I didn't know what was fresh air anymore.'
He got himself a code 14 license, the kind needed for trucking, and flexed his wings. 
'I'm happy,' he says to me, shorts and vest and takkies, white teeth and shining, sparkling eyes, 'everyday I see something new on the roads.  I'm free.  I've got no one hanging over me.  No bells for lunch and tea.  I just drive, I take my time.'
'I start in St Helena Bay in the mornings where we load up.  I carry a load of bitumen.  From there I come through to Laaiplek, there I have my breakfast place, there's a spot just by the sea.  I stop and eat a vetkoek or maybe cereal, and then I take a quick walk on the beach, splash my feet, and then I get going.  My boss says I must just drive safe, and get my load on my time.'
He's got the radio on, KFM, golden oldies swirling through the cab, the truck's fan blasting.
'We're fixing the roads all the way from here up to Springbok.  It's a big contract.  I'm with a good company.'
He tells me a little of the history of where he is. What happened was his bosses, two Muslim brothers, had a father who was the owner of the company, a fleet of 3 TATA trucks to begin with.  One sad day the father died, and the boys were expected to take over.  They tried, at this point hiring Brian, and doing their best to service their contracts.  But things were tough, the boys were young and inexperienced, and the demands of trucking and responsibility were heavy for them.
'I talked to them.  I helped them through it.  I told them it's about one thing at a time.  We must just finish this stretch, this contract, slowly, take it slowly.'
And things began to change.  Across the passing of days the boys grew into men, and they became confident. 
'My truck works for about R380 per hour,' he says, changing tack, pulling me into something new, 'ten hours a day, 5 days a week.  That's R3800 per day, R19000 per week, R76000 per month.'
'Now I earn about R16000 per month, so, of course there's maintenance and diesel costs, and after that a coupla thousand that goes straight to the boss, just off this truck.'
'Now.  The bosses are running eight trucks.  That's R608 000 a month, over 6 million a year.  How much is a truck?'
I don't know.
'Around R785 000, new, that's without papers and all that.'
We think about that.
'So, what's to stop  me getting a loan for R500 000, getting a truck second hand and paying it off in two years?'
'Nothing.  I'm saving up.  I got a deal with my boss that when I buy my truck we go into partnership.  Who knows?'

Our talk changes as we pass Elands Bay, a place I've never been.  He goes back to family, the whole point really, the reason he's driving his truck and getting up in the morning.   
'We're staying at a self-catering in Graafwater, and it's a bit kuk. Everyday we fix more of the road, and we moving, each day getting farther from home.  I used to go home on weekends, but now...  it's once a month. How much is it for the diesel home?'
'Wow, I don't know.'
'R3000 per trip.'
'Ja.  So now I'm staying on the weekends and getting the extra R3000 in the pay packet.  But you know what?'
'We both on Vodacom.  They got a special where you can talk for free as long as it's between midnight and five.  So we stay up and talk and talk.'  
We round the lagoon at Lambert's Bay and then turn away from the coast, now on our way to Clanwilliam, soon to pass Graafwater.  
'I got a grandson, he lives with us at the moment, his Mommy is living with us. This child remembers everything.  He knows all the names of the trucks; tipper, front loader, mixer. I take him driving with me and we play cricket and rugby in the garden, our house is in Macasser.  I love that boy.  Wragtig, he's Grandpa's boy.'
I ask him about love, how it works, and he tells me about Goudini Spa. 
'I took her there last year, in the off season.  Us and two other couples, we rented a chalet.  How much was the accomodation?'
'How much?'
'R4000, and that's accomodation alone.  On top of that I put down another three. I was spoiling her, man.  
We were dancing, swimming, laughing, eating.  I was pampering her.'
He gives a big, Brian grin.  
'She works too, but this is mine (motioning to his truck, his cab).  I spoil her.  I work for us.'  
And so what about love?
'It has it's ups and downs, it goes up and down, that's what I can say about love. Over 33 years of marriage, four kids, the oldest of them being 33, I can tell you that love goes up and down.'  
We're grinding up a hill, halfway along there's roadworks and a stop 'n go.  This is Brian's company working here. Everyone around shouts greetings, waving up to him, he's a hero around these parts.  He sticks his head out and starts chaffing the girl manning the stop sign, asking her if she's tired and telling her to come and sit on Uncle's lap, because he'll make her more tired.  The whole place is laughing.  
He jumps down, lighting a smoke, chatting with his road family.  I watch, suddenly myself again.  I wonder if he's faithful, I wonder, 33 years, all that time on the road.  Of course, it doesn't matter.  Love has it's ups and downs and we're all people and life's a journey.   Watching him I can see that the man is love.  And that in his heart he's still 19, still smoorverlief, still sweetly and passionately in love, with everything.

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