Monday, July 25, 2016

The Puddle

Some friends of mine had been house-sitting in Randburg, and decided in the middle they wanted to go off to Malawi.
"It's a cinch," they told me, "the fridge is full of food, there's a great collection of videos and CDs, and besides, you need the change."
I willingly agreed, glad at the chance to get out of my stuffy little flat.
The first night in my new home I got down the wok and made myself a sumptuous stir fry, then sat with my feet up on the Chippendale watching 'Pretty Woman.' After several glasses of carrot juice, a long conversation with Australia, and a night swim in the buff, I began to feel sleepy. I locked the Rottweiler and the house cat up in the laundry, and climbed into my hosts' double bed, content with only a cursory examination of their wardrobes.
As soon as I lay down I became aware of a steady dripping emanating from the bathroom. I got up, lit a candle, and went to seek out the source of the trouble. It was the cold tap in the bath, and I tightened it. The dripping didn't stop, so I figured the washer must be gone. I loosened the tap and the whole thing came off. Water gushed all over me, and onto the floor. I tried to force the cover back on, but the thread had rusted away, and wouldn't hold. I would have to get the Swedish wrench out of the car.
I unlocked the back door, but the security gate refused to open. When I tried to force the key, it snapped off I therefore went out through the front door, and walked around to the garage. It was surprisingly chilly, and the flimsy negligee I had borrowed gave no warmth. I took the wrench from under the front seat, where I keep it for protection. I tiptoed back through the rose garden, one hand holding the wrench, the other modestly holding the nightie from blowing up above my erection. I don't know why—cold air on my flesh always does that to me.
Even before I got to the front door I sensed something else had gone wrong. And indeed it had. The door had blown shut. My warm bed called to me, but I was locked out, with no way in. The windows all had burglar bars, and the Rottweiler, who had somehow gotten loose, stuck his head out and growled at me. I could hear the water in the bathroom. Soon it would begin to soak the bedroom carpet. If I tried to climb in, I faced getting stuck, being shot by a passing patrol of Eagle Security, or savaged by the dog. The only other person who had a set of keys was Salamina, the maid, who stayed in Meadowlands, Soweto.
I got into the car and raced down the M1, before merging onto the M2. In White City Jabavu  I was abducted by an APLA cell, painted black, and coerced into joining them in a raid on a sperm bank. They were all very disappointed when they saw the giant cold rooms filled with little plastic jars. "I thought they kept ambergris here," explained their leader, who sounded a little like old Opperman from Military Intelligence. They tied me to a policeman, and after driving my car into a wall, went off.
After I had stopped trembling uncontrollably I woke up the officer.
"We value feedback from the public," he said, "and certainly if any members of the force have been amiss then we will spare no effort to bring them to brook. However, unsubstantiated allegations are......"
I silenced him with a fifty and continued on foot, arriving at Salamina's house at three a.m. It took some time to explain to the terrified woman that I was not a supernatural winged apparition, but rather a middle aged bachelor with a shredded nightie and a thick layer of black paint. I took a taxi back, looking at my watch every two minutes and cursing the driver at each unscheduled stop. None of the constant stream of passengers getting in and out commented on my rather foreign appearance. Their gaze might rest upon me for a moment, but was then averted rapidly, as if they were very used to seeing strange sights and had become inured to them.
I didn't have too much time to reflect on this because I was busy worrying about the house. The wooden floors and carpets were probably knee-deep in water by now. In Louis Botha, my head was flung sideways into the large bosom of the lady beside me. After two of the drivers had swopped details (the third one just drove off), a gun battle broke out between rival tow truck drivers who had magically arrived on the scene seconds after the accident occurred. I hid under a pile of bodies until the shooting was over. The taxi driver, whistling softly to himself, stretched some plastic across the shattered glass of his Hi-Ace, and then we limped on to Republic road where I disembarked.
Empty suburban streets with their greenery and high walls make a very pretty sight in the pearly morning-glow. I vaulted the garden wall just as the sun was rising. Strangely enough, I couldn't hear the gushing of water within. Only the gentle throbbing of the automatic pool cleaner disturbed the silence. Even stranger was that there was no water seeping out under the front door. I unlocked it, but it wouldn't open. Looking through the lounge window I saw that someone had pushed the grand piano against the door. Eventually I managed to push it back, and enter. The house seemed empty. Absolutely empty. They had even unscrewed the light bulbs and plug covers and taken them. In the kitchen little marks on the tiles indicated where the melamine units had once stood. Someone had scratched "Thlokomelo Nja**" on the side of the piano. The Rottweiler was snoozing on the bare lounge floor, and cuddled up next to it was the cat. Inexplicably angered by this graphic explosion of yet another myth, I did for them both with an AK47 I had taken from the taxi by mistake, and then went to see if the thieves had at least left the lady of the house's underwear for me to try on.
"What incredible monsters" I thought to myself when I discovered the bedroom cupboard had vanished. But my worst fears were confirmed when I walked into the bathroom. They had even taken the puddle.

First published by Peter Esterhuysen (z"l) in a Hippogriff Press anthology around 1993, and subsequently published in "Running Towards Us" a Heinnemann anthology of new South African writing edited by Isabel Baleseiro. 

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