This short story was written during a creative writing class held by the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes University. Each person was given a concept, place or word to work with, and mine was “small town”. I completed the course in 2019, and went on to co-edit and publish the final book of short stories and poems with material created by all particpants.

 

Find a new couch / unpack boxes / find the missing boxes / follow up with the moving company / repair the fridge / do the grocery shopping / cut a new key…

They say moving house is more stressful than going through a divorce. I guess it depends on who you’re divorcing, but right now I feel it. And it doesn’t help that my new home is a few hundred kilometres away from anything relevant.  

I’m lost in thought as I approach the traffic circle in the centre of town. No one else is on the road save for a white bakkie coming from the other direction, seemingly going straight past me.

“Hey, hey, HEY!” I yell as the driver starts turning towards my car at speed.

Now, I’m a patient man. I’ll look at five hundred photos of your baby. I’ll never lose my cool with that rude person behind the counter. I’ll stay on hold for twenty minutes and merely sigh if I’m cut off. Such is life.

But don’t use your turning signal and it’s game over, pal.      

He hits the brakes and I flash him the universal sign of “indicate, asshole” as I drive past. Apparently this is one of his triggers.

He rounds the circle and follows me, his wildly gesticulating figure flailing in my car’s rearview mirror like a tiny convict trying to break free of his glass prison.

My hands clench around the steering wheel as I try to weigh him up, glancing from road to rearview mirror and back again. I can’t get a good look at his face. He has a shaved head and full beard, that much is certain. He was playing a dangerous game, trying to see if he could get our licence plates to kiss.  

Anger starts to climb from my gut, clawing its way up my throat, threatening to release in a roar. I don’t want to fight you, but today I might kill you…

Thoughts of violence are put on hold as the entrance to the shopping complex comes up fast to the left. And, of course, I don’t indicate when I make the last-minute turn. This is pure manna from heaven for the angry leprechaun behind me. He seems to grow ten feet tall inside his rusty double-cab, taking great joy in now showing me the universal “indicate, asshole” sign, waving his hand out the window like a hairy lasso as he speeds past.  

I park the car and rage is replaced with the bashful shame that always seems to follow irrational anger. I can’t help but laugh at the irony and sheer stupidity of it all, and sit chuckling to myself in that slightly deranged way you do after dishing out a bad pun that no one around you appreciates.

New key cut / groceries bought / new couch found…

The day rolls on and I slowly tick things off the to-do list. Progress! Cold beers waiting in the FUCK I STILL NEED TO FIX THE FRIDGE! I phone the only electrician around for a hundred miles and luckily he can make it this afternoon. Things are looking up.

I’m taking books out of boxes and putting up shelves when there’s a polite knock on the door. He’s young. He’s wearing a white shirt and a friendly smile, with closely-cropped hair peeking out from under his cap. He’s short, but muscular. He has a full beard.

I extend a cautious hand which meets his in a firm handshake. It could be my imagination, but I swear I see his eyes narrow in suspicion, too …

Well, there’s no escaping this moment. I have to ask him.

Here we go …

“Can I get you a drink?”

Dammit.

“No thanks, mate. Appreciate it though.”

He gets acquainted with the antiquated fridge and talks in that unfiltered way that people from small towns tend to do. Where to buy meat, where not to buy meat, why the florist is so surly, how he’s looking after his elderly parents, why his last relationship failed, who to avoid having affairs with, and on it went.

He spends more time talking and less time fixing, but it turns out a small electrical connection at the back had come loose during the move – a quick fix with a happy conclusion.     

“Thanks for coming through, man – sorry it was a waste of time,” I say as we walk to the door. “Is there a callout fee?” 

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” he replies, waving my query away. “It was a fast job and it’s a small town – not like I had to drive far.”

I beam at him. “You’re a champion. Have an amazing day!”

“No, you have an amazing day!” he exclaims while we take part in some hearty backslapping.

“I’ll hang around here to open the gate for you, I’ll see when you pull up to it.”

I have a clear view of the parking lot below and …

… my heart and stomach switch places as I see him get into a white bakkie. 

He slows down while driving towards the exit gate and then stops …

… right next to my car.

Is he answering a call? Sending a quick text message? Or is he confirming that the person in unit 10 drives the same car he nearly shoved his car bonnet up this morning? At this point I’m too exhausted to care.   

The next day I receive a message from him: “Hi there, sorry to do this, but my boss says I actually do need to charge a call-out fee. I’ll email the invoice to you.”