Table of Contents Phyllis Owen's serial.....
Stories and Serials
PHYLLIS OWEN: A SOFT WHITE CLOUD ~ CHAPTER THREE
The days went by without mishap and Nokwazi and Impuku became more confident in their ‘lookout’ work. Only once did Nokwazi have to warn Samuel that a suspicious-looking person was approaching, but he turned out to be Samuel’s and Beka’s boss, John Novalo. Nokwazi took an instant liking to him. He was in his early twenties and built like a heavyweight boxer. He laughed and joked a lot with them.
During the following three afternoons when their work was finished, John Novalo took them into the shopping centre, at the request of Samuel and Beka, and taught them how to pick out plain-clothed security guards. Nokwazi discovered that if he studied the people in the shop carefully enough, there was always something about the security guards that made them stand out from the other shoppers. John Novalo explained that it was the way they tried, unsuccessfully, to mix with the crowds.
In addition, both Samuel and Beka wanted the two boys to be able to tell, at a glance, anyone on the street who was not what they appeared to be. John Novalo had started off years before as a ‘lookout’ and had quickly become an expert at his work. Samuel said that somehow he was able to pick out a plain-clothed policeman at a glance.
The boys learned quickly and soon they too became skilled at spotting the unsuspecting ‘enemy’.
On the third afternoon John, obviously pleased with them, laughed and said: ‘You are now fully trained ‘spotters’. Good work, boys.’
He bought them a large packet of sweets, patted them on the back, and said: ‘Keep up the good work. There’s a lot of money in this business and if you carry on doing so well, one day you’ll be rich like me.’
On their way home, as Nokwazi and Impuku sunk their teeth into the soft chocolate and toffees, they agreed that John Novalo was indeed a great man.
One afternoon the boys overheard John Novalo talking animatedly to Samuel and Beka. ‘Yes,’ he said, waving his hand around, ‘I’ve found a new supplier, far superior to the one we have now, and cheaper. He grows it in the mountains about thirty k’s from here. Just think about it. Our profit margin will be almost double what it is now.’
Nokwazi caught his breath. A little shiver went down his spine. He had already begun to suspect that Beka and Samuel were dealing in drugs. Now he was sure.
But when Nokwazi whispered to Impuku what John Novalo had told Samuel and Beka, Impuku simply shrugged, and Nokwazi convinced himself that they were doing nothing wrong in merely being ‘lookouts’. After all, they were well paid – and they needed the money.
John spotted them. He smiled and beckoned them to come closer. ‘These are the best lookouts in the city,’ he told Samuel and Beka, who only scowled. ‘Oh, come on, you know it’s true.’
Nokwazi and Impuku shifted uncomfortably. John patted them on the back. ‘From next week, when we get our new supplies, we are giving you a raise. Instead of five rand you will get six rand an afternoon.’
‘Hauw!’ exclaimed Impuka. ‘Thirty rand a week!’
Nokwazi clapped his hands, his eyes alight.
The weeks sped by. Nokwazi and Impuku found a second-hand shop called ‘Secondhand Bargains’ and spent most afternoons after work scratching through the large bins to find good clothing. Nokwazi also looked for clothing for Phinda, Makhulu and his mother. Even with their newfound wealth the clothing prices in the shops were far too high. But Nokwazi put a laybye down and, after a couple of weeks, the double bed they shared was covered with a new soft, warm blanket.
And always, every afternoon, he brought back a small carton of milk for Phinda.
He and Impuku now wore warm clothes and Nokwazi made sure there was enough food at home. He was very excited when, one afternoon, he found a bright red jersey for Phinda. It only had a hole in one of the sleeves which Makhulu darned very carefully. Phinda was so happy she wouldn’t take it off even when she went to bed that night.
He also found a good coat for his mother and the kind lady in the shop offered to keep it for him until he had paid it off.
There was, however, a nagging doubt in Nokwazi’s mind. What if the police found out about John Novalo and Samuel and Beka? Were he and Impuku not on the wrong side of the law too? Now and again he caught his mother glancing anxiously at him, but when he looked questioningly back at her she would shrug her shoulders and say nothing.
Things had become easier in the shanty. Even Makhulu could sometimes be heard singing as she went about her work. His mother’s face looked less strained. He had purchased medicine for Phinda from a chemist which eased her coughing and she now slept soundly most of the night.
Phinda was still very thin, but instead of spending most of the time lying listlessly on the mat, she often played outside in the sunshine with the other children.
Nokwazi’s heart swelled with pride. He felt strong and happy to think that he, Nokwazi, was now the man of the family, and he shrugged off the worrying thoughts.
Two months later, at break time, while Nokwazi and Impuku were standing with their backs to the fence bordering their school grounds, they hear a chuckle behind them.
It was John Novalo. ‘Hello,’ he greeted them cheerfully.
The boys turned and their faces lit up with pleasure.
‘Hello!’ they responded.
‘What are you doing here?’ Impuku wanted to know.
John laughed heartily. ‘Some of the boys asked me to call,’ he explained. Then putting his hand into his trouser pocket, he took out two five rand notes and gave one to each of them.
‘Shake the fence hard if a teacher should come out, will you?’ he added with a wink.
Nokwazi and Impuku watched speechlessly as John Novalo went to a group of matric boys standing near the fence several paces away. Some packages and money changed hands. Suddenly Nokwazi was very unhappy to see John at the school. It did not seem to matter so much whether anyone sold dagga at the shopping centre, but here at the school, well, that was somehow different.
The boys stood watching, not saying anything, and Nokwazi was relieved when the bell rang and they had to return to the classroom.
That afternoon when they arrived at the shopping centre Samuel said to them: ‘As tomorrow is Saturday I want you to deliver a package in the city.’
‘But we don’t know our way there,’ protested Impuku.
Nokwazi was quite unprepared for Samuel’s reaction. Without warning he grabbed Impuku by his jacket collar and slapped him hard across the face. Impuku let out a cry of pain. Nokwazi jumped back involuntarily from fear, his eyes wide with shock.
‘You do as you’re told without question,’ Samuel hissed vehemently under his breath. ‘I’ll meet you here at eight o’clock tomorrow morning to give you the package. The number five bus leaves at ten past eight. It’ll take you to the terminus in the centre of the city. There’s a block of flats opposite the terminus called, ‘Nora’. If you walk up two flights of stairs you’ll come to a door with the number 211 painted on it. Knock three times. Ask for Louis and give him the package.’ He suddenly grinned. ‘There’ll be ten rand in it for each of you,’ he added.
Nokwazi and Impuku exchanged glances but said nothing.
‘Don’t be late tomorrow,’ Samuel warned.
The boys were silent for a moment or two. Finally Impuku exclaimed jubilantly, ‘Ten rand! Wow!’
Nokwazi laughed nervously. Samuel’s sudden flare-up of anger had frightened him. It had been so unexpected.
‘Hey you!’ a voice called out suddenly. ‘What are you waiting for?’
They turned to discover Beka standing a few paces away. He was scowling. ‘Why are you so late?’ he demanded.
Impuku hurried to him.
‘Come, Nokwazi, to work.’ Samuel walked away to his usual place behind one of the bus shelters. Before long his customers began to arrive and Nokwazi was too busy watching for suspicious-looking people to think any more about Samuel’s flare-up of anger.
It was about an hour and a half later. Samuel, having sold his packages, was walking towards Nokwazi when a middle-aged man, badly in need of a shave, and wearing a dirty white jacket and black trousers, came up to him. He was short, had hunched shoulders and wore an old felt hat crushed down on his head.
He pushed his face close to Nokwazi and hissed, ‘Why do you stand here every afternoon?’
‘I’m….I’m…waiting for my brother,’stammered Nokwazi fearfully.
The man snarled and, gripping Nokwazi firmly by the arm, propelled him towards an alley between two buildings.
Gateway is published by Paul Edmund Norman on the first day of each month. Hosting is by Flying Porcupine at www.flyingporcupine.com - and web design by Gateway. Submitting to Gateway: Basically, all you need do is e-mail it along and I'll consider it - it can be any length, if it's very long I'll serialise it, if it's medium-length I'll put it in as a novella, if it's a short story or a feature article it will go in as it comes. Payment is zero, I'm afraid, as I don't make any money from Gateway, I do it all for fun! For Advertising rates in Gateway please contact me at Should you be kind enough to want to send me books to review, please contact me by e-mail and I will gladly forward you my home address. Meanwhile, here's how to contact me: