The story of a young black man Chapter 1 - Mzansi Stories

Tuesday, January 5


The story of a young black man Chapter 1


Leeto: The story of a young black man

A day with Mr Masango

Chapter 1

I was woken up by the scorching heat of the sun at 07h20, piercing through the zinc sheets of our shack; you know how hot early in the morning Pretoria gets. Living in a shack, one is subjected to all cruelness of weather—when it’s hot, the shack is twice as hot and when it’s cold, God help us, even sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica (the world’s coldest continent) cannot compare to those of a shack on a cold winter’s morning. I stretched my arms just so I could shake all the stiffness off; sleeping on the floor, with only an old mattress between you and the concrete floor, never gets easier.

I got up, with the rest of the house still sound asleep to prepare myself for my weekend piece job—I worked with Mr Masango at Cashbuild Hardware Store in Hebron to help load and off-load customers’ supplies on his 1988 Nissan Datsun single cab bakkie. Mr Masango was a 63-year old pensioner who had gotten retrenched from his factory job some eight years ago and had decided to buy himself a this bakkie so that he could support his family with it. This was the only way I could buy myself toiletries as well as ease some of the burden of my breadwinner father. “Leeto”, my mother called out from the other side of the curtain, “are you up already?” “Yes mama”, I answered, “it’s me; I don’t want to be late again. Mr Masango was not happy the past weekend when I got to the hardware store just before 10. He told me that he had to ask another boy there, who works with Mr Taukobong, to help him load a customer’s twenty boxes of ceramic tiles”. “Very well then”, my mother concluded, “let me not delay you”.

We lived in a one-roomed shack that is divided by curtains and old ceiling boards in Erasmus, an informal settlement located next to Hebron, situated between the Ga-Rankuwa, Mabopane and Soshanguve townships. I squeezed the little toothpaste that was left out of its tube onto my toothbrush and quickly brushed my teeth. When I was done, I put on a pair of old worker’s overalls that my father had given to me so that I could not work with, and in the process, damage, one of my last three pairs of pants that I had. When I was done, I washed my face with plain water and since I was bald, there was no need for me to worry about the state of my hair. I then began my six kilometres’ jog to Cashbuild Hardware Store.

I got to the hardware store after only 20 minutes and found Mr Masango still having tea with a few slices of bread smeared with peanut butter and jam. “Morning, Leeto”, Mr Masango greeted me before I could greet him as I first wanted to catch my breath, “I see my words to you did not fall on deaf ears; you managed to get here before the hardware store opens”. After catching back my breath, I greeted him back, “Morning to you too, Mr Masango; how are you doing on this Saturday morning?” “Now that you’re here, I am fine, my son. Here”, said Mr Masango, as he passed me an empty coffee mug together with a flusk of tea, “I’ve saved you two slices of bread as well; have some breakfast before the store opens. It’s month end weekend, it seems we are going to be very busy today so you might as well fill up now whilst you still can”.

I took the mug, poured myself tea and tore the slices of bread up within a minute or two. “Okay then”, Mr Masango said as I took the last sip of my tea, “let’s go inside; they are opening the gates”. Mr Masango drove his bakkie into the hardware store, where we would wait patiently for customers to approach us for our service. The first hour was quiet as it is normal for customers to start showing up for shopping after 9 o’clock. Our first client was a woman from Ga-Rankuwa who had bought a bathroom set, that is, a bath tub, a washing basin, a toilet, and some plumbing pipes. This was an easy start to the morning for me. As a loader/off-loader, my biggest fear is to start the day with labour-intensive supplies such as loading and off-loading building bricks and/or cement. After one has worked with such items, the only thing left to do thereafter is to take a bath and afterwards, take a two-hour powernap. This is the reason why I prefer to save such items for last, just when the hardware store is about to close and we’re expecting no more customers.

My lucky stars must have been with me as, this day, all my work was light.  We had customers who had bought ‘less heavy’ items such as ceiling boards, roofing timber, bathroom sets, electric-cabling supplies, to name but a few. When we were done, Mr Masango took out R350 and handed it to me. “You might’ve noticed that today we dealt with customers from within a 13 kilometres’ radius, the furthest of which was Ga-Rankuwa. When we charge customers, we multiply the distance travelled together with the weight of the items bought, which is why today we made only R900. Don’t worry, my boy, next weekend we’ll hopefully do much better than today”. I thanked Mr Masango and asked him to drop me off at a nearby fruit and vegetable stall so that I could buy my mother a pack of mixed vegetables for Sunday’s lunch. When I arrived home, my father had just gotten there himself from work; it was just before 4 in the afternoon.

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