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Ravensklip - A South African Novel
It was mid October, yet another Highveld spring day with the temperatures again reaching the early to mid twenties, with no rain forecasted to break this spring heat wave. The morning sun shone brightly into the neatly kept, suburban shopping mall that had been constructed within the valley created by the inevitable rolling koppies that typified the geological structure of that part of the South Western suburbs of Johannesburg.
The shopping mall is positioned just off the main road, with access that is gained to it by using one or the other of two slip roads. Either by turning left when you approach it from the western side of the suburbs that surrounded that takes you down a steep slope with a sharp right handed bend that leads into the parking area. Alternatively, if approaching the mall eastern side of with the major highway, N13, which will take you to or from Johannesburg. This slip road takes you past the petrol station with attached carwash and twenty four hour convenience store, then by turning right at the ‘T" junction, this is were both access roads join,you enter into the fenced off secure area for parking.
The mall consists of a hollow square of shops and offices that has been set on two levels. With, what is considered, an ample area set aside for a parking area, the delivery vehicles had their own access to the shops as the loading bays are situated behind the shops.
There is the usual predominance of franchised shops, clothing, chemist, hardware, banks, post office, ATM's and the inevitable junk or fast food outlets. One of the major supermarket chain stores dominate the prime central position, the other stores spread out on either side and above it. There are also a smattering of independently owned shops, a good deli with a bakery attached, a tidy hair salon, specialty butcher and a coffee shop. Upstairs had mostly the health aspect taken care of with, doctors, dentist, homeopath and optician. The rest of the floor has an internet café, a very reasonably priced pub and grill, that had horse racing theme with live music or karaoke on most nights, took up a good part of the upper level, the balance of upstairs was taken up with a private gym.
In prime position, on the ground level, the first shop on the left hand corner of the boulevard, as you faced it from the car park, is Joan's, one of the most popular of the independently owned shops. A quiet, but a good old-fashioned down to earth coffee shop, where the majority of its clientele was most definitely of repeat type business. There is always a steady stream of regular patrons. One of those regular patrons, sat Thomas Terrance who very often stated ‘got the mug and the frequent flyers cap to prove as well', was a familiar character within the coffee shop, an affable gentleman, He had earlier managed to secure one of his favorite outside tables, designated as the smoking section, this position gave him the best view of the comings and goings of, not only the patrons of the coffee shop, but also a view of a greater portion of mall and the parking area, for as of habit he always tried to keep an eye on his car.
He enjoyed that first cup of filter coffee for the day, he usually, only ordered two cups of their filtered coffees with hot milk. As this also included a free refill, it would mean that he could have four full cups of coffee and would only had to pay for two; he felt that it was indeed a bit of a bargain especially for a good blend filter coffee.
As like majority of the human race, he was very much a creature of habit, he generally stopped in there for his usual two coffees at least every other day at more or less the same time of day, sitting with his back against the wall, drinking his coffee, chatting to the other regular patrons, reading the newspaper and in general, just people watching, taking photographs, keeping his mind as active as possible with thoughts about general shopping, errands and menu planning those important things that any other home executive as was the politically correct term for either a house-husband, or house-wife would be doing.
On that particular morning, he browsed through the daily newspaper and lit yet another cigarette, as he leant back in the chair and surveyed the boulevard, he pondered as how strange life was once you passed certain milestones, well at least the ‘powers that be' had not got around to metricate or mess up and confuse everything.
Thomas once again felt agitated over his inability to find steady employment within the current economic climate. Providentially, this was not really of a major concern, as taking stock of reality, he had a solid comfortable roof over his head, ample food, a small income from an investment, but above all else he had someone special that shared all this with him.
His creature comforts and physical needs were amply provided for, added to this he was able to keep busy pottering around being busy when the need arose and for the rest relax. As his thoughts drifted about Ann, and smiled happily at the thought of their closeness, which had transformed him from an aimless drifter, to more targeted individual, lucky him, as she was a warm person who openly communicated and expressed her physical needs and also firm opinions. Warmth spread through him as he thought about Ann, how he felt when in her company. Such a vast difference to his previous 28 years of married life, of guarded words, criticism and apparent indifference, but that was the past, and this the now.
His cell phone sounded that all familiar fanfare that identified Ann as the caller. Again, Thomas was amazed at the almost telepathic communication that bonded them together, as this was not the first time that when one or the other was thinking or needed to speak to the other one that the would actually make the contact. He answered the call. Ann's bubbly voice reminded him about their early supper arrangement, as they were due to have drinks with his daughter, Lucy, at eight that night. He assured her that he had already planned and prepared a chicken casserole with some of the wild mushrooms which had been collected earlier, at some stage in the daily walk when he exercised his dogs in the wooded area behind the houses of Ravensklip. They chatted on for a while longer, and then ended their call.
Thomas exchanged the normal pleasantries with some of the regular patrons, carried on reading through the newspaper, made a couple of mental reminders for himself. Thomas interrupted his reverie to order his refill for his first cup of coffee and settled his hundred yard stare into the parking area, an attractive young lady was pushing her trolley across the parking area to her car, when a gust of wind opened and lifted up the split of her wrap around skirt to reveal a lot more of her well toned and tanned legs as well as more than just a glimpse of her frilly white lace panties than she would normally have desired, or so one would think. Thomas, always ready with his two hundred millimeter zoom lens fixed to his camera, captured several frames of her long shapely legs, as the skirt flapped around in the breeze. At the same time he inadvertently listened to snippets of the general conversations of those around him, not that he was eavesdropping, mind you, but he generally managed to pick up bits and pieces of useful information also of some unreported news, which he stored in the back of his mind if he felt that any of it might prove useful at a later stage.
This ‘habit' of his actually helped Gert, the eldest son of Andre and Hermina, to obtain a position as the senior barman for the new pub and grill that had only opened its doors the previous month. As the month before Thomas had overheard the two owners discussing, over their coffee, that they were on the verge of opening and needed to start to employ some key staff within the next fortnight. Thomas was aware that Gert, who was a pretty good and reliable barman with loads of experience, was actually in the market for a position closer to home. Thomas then informed him about what he had overheard that there was a possibility a position. He helped him put together an impressive CV, and had Gert then present himself to the owners later that same afternoon, just after the last of the artisans started leaving, and asked if he would be permitted to submit his CV, as was an experienced and capable barman. The owners interviewed him and then and there hired on the spot.
Thomas, an extremely avid shutterbug with the ever-present digital cameras strategically placed carefully on the chair next to him, as he pleasantly whiled away the later part of the morning, daydreaming, listening, or as he would prefer to have it known, philosophical musings, would occasionally take yet another photograph, of as he would often state ‘anything that moves and if doesn't move kick it', either way children, parents, or some cloud formation, shadows, or his more humorous signs and misspelled notices, studies of strange reflections, also of human nature, and many others, just a kaleidoscope of passing time and abstract thoughts. To date, he had quite an extensive gallery of the children, their mothers and fathers of the some twenty odd households of their nearby rather select suburb.
As with any mall, anywhere, it is very much the place to see and be seen by everyone. There is always that constant flow of the fairer sex as well as those of doubtful persuasions, dressed up the nines creating a pageant and as it was on a Monday following a very warm and cloudless weekend, today this display was represented by, an impromptu sneak preview, some of the latest summer fashions, as seen on fashion TV. A lot of leg a very good display of cleavage, some natural and very much alive the others alas are plastic as those imported from Silicon Valley. The combination of the suntans added the subtle ranges of blush and tan to compliment the vibrant splashes of gay colours. This coming season was going to be quite frothy and feminine for a change, thought Thomas who loved to watch beautiful women. Even some of the young mothers with their preschool toddlers in tow were displaying a lot their attributes, as a personal salute to spring the best time of year, a season of joy and rebirth. Obviously many of these images were captured and would be added to his ever increasing digital library.
Ten to one, and the tempo of early and late morning shoppers increased, as coffees and teas were hastily drunk or just set aside, bills speedily settled by credit card, parcels and children collected they scurried to depart, before the daily lunchtime influx of office workers descended from the nearby business parks. Thomas was always amused to watch the effects of the dictates of time, something that man invented or created, could exercise such a strong influence over every aspect of mankind's daily activities.
Today as it was the twenty-fifth of the month, there was considerable more traffic, as everyone was trying to do some banking as well, this always created a major shortage of parking bays, resulting in an increase in decibels as voices competed with hooters and the cries from the ‘car park watchers', who were to Thomas's humble opinion, frustrated traffic officers, directed and misdirected vehicles in and out of the demarcated parking bays, creating more confusion as the traffic became jam-packed. Common courtesy and patience was sadly lacking as people, once behind a wheel of a car would change from Jyckle into Hyde in an attempt to get there first. This heightened midday event turned the mall into a frantic turmoil for ten to fifteen minutes that would subside for another forty odd minutes, until the lunch time traffic would exit back to their offices. Thomas had managed to capture on digital image, some of the more extreme frantic waving of arms as the car park attendants telegraphed both incorrect and unreadable signals to the drivers, some of whom did not know how to reverse in the first place, as people tried to extricate them selves from the mall as speedily as possible.
These road users now on an already short "road rage" leash, would unless they calmed down would perhaps cause another minor fender bender, if not in the confines of the mall or then maybe on the general approach roads, it was always amazing to observe this first wave of migration.
Peace descended on the mall and after the hubbub died down Thomas settled his bill included his customary tip for the waiter, Joseph, who by now often brought Thomas's coffee and ashtray soon as he was settled at his usual table, some days he even took the precaution to quietly reserve the table for him, especially if Thomas was running late.
Thomas went into Ricard's butchery to pick up the Schmidt's meat order, and to arrange and pay for a spit for the fifty or so guests for the coming Saturday evening, a 25th anniversary bash for Lloyd and Pat Sumner, who resided in Ravensklip. Ricard assured him that the spit and meats was organized, and would be delivered on time. Thomas again reminded him of the specific spicing requirements for the lamb, no garlic or marjoram but to use Thomas's special mint and oregano rub, this had to be massaged into the belly and outside of the lamb twenty four hours before cooking. Ricard again assured Thomas that it was all in hand.
Next stop, the local deli for all of the assorted breads, rolls and other items, which had been requested, by the various occupants of the houses in Ravensklip, which was part of his daily rounds, as he provided this as a service. Some of his services that he provided were paid for in cash but often paid in kind, providing him with fresh herbs and vegetables, as well as occasional homemade cheese cakes.
Then he went across to the other side of the mall to the hardware store for the required plumbing tape, assorted tap washers and the showerhead, and window pulley's, these items were required for installation on the following day.
Thomas ambled across to his car, carefully packed the assorted packages into the back of the station wagon and then drove sedately out of the boulevard, and proceeded with his Monday routine. The car an old blue station wagon started its well-traveled route almost on autopilot, leaving to Thomas's mind again to ponder on the various news snippets, as reported in the newspaper, as well as the overheard snippets of conversation around him.
Thomas, as he was semi retired through circumstances, was the local odd job man always available and ever ready to assist and help his fellow nieghbour, well liked and a respected member of Ravensklip. He stood at five feet ten, and weighed in at one hundred and seventy pounds. He had a nearly full head of dark brown hair graying at the temples, together with a rusty colored (more salt and pepper) beard and mustache. His eyes, deep set beneath bushy eyebrows, were a smoky blue gray, with a touch of green, covered by spectacles for distance, which were perched on a regal nose. He was reasonably healthy, a social drinker, who smoked around twenty cigarettes a day, although never in the bedroom or Ann's car, he tried to keep himself physically active and was of average strength with an active mind, sometimes very over active.
He drove down through to the local high school and picked up Lloyd's twin seventeen-year-old daughters, Katy and Maude. Not identical each resembling their parents, but in certain mannerisms were unmistakably sisters. They sat in the back, continuing their usual prattle about school, sport and other snippets of playground gossip. Thomas was included in the conversation, when they felt that his opinion would be required. They shared a joke, and passed comments, relaxed and safe in his company.
Thomas had picked up Kate and Maude from school, for the past four years. They often confided in him over some of their problems, seeing him as a grandfather and long standing confidant, rather than a friend of their parents. They shared his love of candid photography as well as the beauty of the koppies that surrounded Ravensklip.
"Did you take any interesting photo's at the boulevard today", asked Kate.
"Yes a few. A sequence of the Brett and his mom they had been shopping and Brett was battling to carry a one-kilogram packet of corn flakes from the supermarket to their car, the packet was nearly as tall as he was. He was determined to help mom", was Thomas's reply." I will download them and send them across to you on the Internet over the weekend." He added.
"Any more of those amusing photos, like that female in a blue skirt, bending over the boot of her car with her lavender tanga, exposed to the world?" interjected Maude, with a giggle. "She has a well tanned behind, and I like the interplay of colour, light and shadow", she added, seriously as she to was a keen and serious photographer.
Thomas was fairly taken aback by this, as although he had several photos of that nature, he had never shown them to the girls. "How did you see that one?" he queried.
Kate replied with a smug smile, "we, well actually I, hacked into your computer last weekend, and just ‘sorta' browsed through your ‘kandy-kam' folder, sorry I really hope you don't mind!" Thomas, who knew his way around the Internet and computers, was flabbergasted and yet quite amazed that today's kids were far more proficient than he was.
As he did not have much on his computer, he was not perturbed, and made a note not to place any of the more intimate photos on his connected computer, but rather keep them on his stand alone pc. The ‘Kandy-Kam' folder, which he had just started, had several of those types of photos, people bending, etc., mostly taken in close up and at low angles, usually from the height of a small child. These candid shots where quite humorous, although some were a bit more risqué, which the more staid population of Ravensklip and indeed even Ann, would call soft porn.
"Actually a bit chipped that you invaded my privacy you know", he sounded off then chortled. Not at all," replied Thomas reassuringly, with a broad grin," the photos in that folder, will most probably be loaded onto my imminent web-site shortly. I think I will call it "SA malls and their occupants". That is when I can figure out how to work it out." The twins relaxed and went on to explain in detail how a web-site should to be set up, they promised to help him with the uploading of the site after the coming anniversary party.
Thomas forgot to ask how they managed to hack into his computer, or for that matter why they chose to do so.
The conversation, like so many others before, drifted back and forth, from one subject to the next, covering a wide range of topics of mutual interest as well as current affairs. Although still in their teens the twins had a remarkable knowledge of general interests, which showed maturity, not expected of today's youth, so Thomas thought.