Whenever I tell people that I live in Brooklyn, I have to say near Milnerton. I remember driving down Koeberg road when I was 16 or so and looking at the lower class homes, non-franchised shops and awesome graffiti bedecked walls with what looked like a sea of weird and wonderful people wandering around the maelstrom of the double lane traffic. All races, religions and genres. Hip hop heads slick as shit, rastas with their mouths hanging open, grimy mechanics drinking stony and women women women. As I passed this scenery, I thought that it was the coolest neighborhood in Cape Town. Fuck Gardens and Observatory with their narrow streets, fake African imagery and trendy hippyesque inhabitants. I vowed to move to Brooklyn as soon as I moved out of my parents home.
Forward 8 years later and I was living in a security complex on Koeberg road across from the Ysterplaat AFB in the heart of Brooklyn. I had made many great friends amongst people who like me were not from Brooklyn, coming as far away as Paarl, Kinshasa, Geneva, Mitchells Plein and Johannesburg. We had a makeshift viewing point from where we could survey our surrounding vista from the top of the stairway in the C block, which we called “The View”. Up here we would have serious conversations about women, politics, music and life in general, whilst sipping on cold beverages and watching the sun set over Robben Island. Helicopters from the Air force would constantly circle above us giving the impression of living in occupied territory. It was a experience which took me out of my comfort zone, which I embraced.
It was on one such night that I was drinking with my friends the Kannemeyer brothers at their flat that their elder uncle walked in. I call him an uncle as it was what he was referred to by my coloured compatriots, as is common. I do not know if he was in anyway related to them. Anyway, he joined our seated circle around the brandy and coke and poured himself a drink. He was either a 50 year old man who had looked after himself, or he was a 30-40 year old who had drank everyday of his life. Regardless he had folds of skin covering his eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He payed special attention to me, speaking to me about a number of topics which I don’t recall. As the night progressed, and we had exhausted the drink, the music and the conversation me and the other guests made off to our respective homes. As I approached the door, the uncle motioned to me to follow him upstairs. He held aloft a thin rolled piece of paper. I obediently followed him up to the view. I allowed him to smoke alone (there was no gerrick) whilst I listened to his talk, which I will translate from his Cape Afrikaans vernacular. “I never went to school to learn” he explained to me whilst pursing his lips around the joint “but I learnt more than I ever would in school by self study” I waited for him to inhale a dose of the marijuana before he continued. “You should always use your eyes” he said looking out over the amusement park at the end of the Air Force Base. “STEAL with your eyes!” he said finding his words. “Watch what the other man does, then ape it”. I listened with interest as he stammered on about how I should go about my life in a voluminous and slurring voice. As time went on a security guard came up the stairs. The security guards at my complex never last long due to the insanity of its inhabitants. They are also almost always from Francophone nations such as Congo, DRC etc. This leaves them with a speech that is soft and with a flowing French accent. This man came up to us with his eyes darting between me and the uncle with confusion and fear jostling for space in the black holes of his head. “Excuse me, but it is very late” he reminded us “the people are complaining about the noise that is being made”. The uncle pushed out his chest, pulled in his ample stomach and tilted his head upwards in a caricature of a principal. “Who is these peoples who are saying dis?” demanded the uncle. “I do not know” said the guard apologetically “we only get the calls”. The uncle changed his stance to a more jovial figure, perhaps in sympathy for the guard. “Are you married?”asked the uncle. “I am not” said the guard with a cautious look on his face. “Well that is good, cos I am looking for a wife” exclaimed the uncle. Up till this point the guard had paid little attention to me, but now turned his head to me with a quizzical look on his face. I too looked confused most probably, as the uncle was now staggering away from the open view, towards the guard. He then softly rubbed his stubby fingers against the guards bomber jacket. “I sometimes feel so alone, and I’m ready to commit” the uncle said softly with a serious look on his face. The guard with a terrified look on his face turned sharply towards the stairs and went down. “You must go to sleep” he said to me as he swiftly descended the stairs. I burst out laughing and didn’t stop till my eyes were full of tears. I looked up at the uncle, and he was softly pulling the last of the sparse marijuana into his lungs. “Ja, steal with your eyes…” he said looking out over the illuminated oil refinery “the only way to learn”