Jo’burg recall

Standing at the photocopier, the new arrival, a young man from Warwick, entered into conversation with the academic in front of him, a tall, thick-set white woman. She had a heavy chin, which would fold in two in the next decade, thick brown hair, and a pair of sapphire drop-earrings surrounded by diamonds. He noted how maternal she seemed in her manner, and how practical, the type who probably enjoys hiking in long shorts in all weathers, he thought. A sturdy type that his mother would have liked him to marry.

‘Hello!’

‘Hiya.’

‘How are you? Settling in ok?’

‘Oh yes, fine thanks.’

‘Missing home?’

‘No, not really.’

‘I did my PhD in England. Oh, I loved it.’

‘But it’s better here, no? The weather?’

‘Well I love the English weather. I can’t stand the hot sun,’ she said merrily.

‘Would you ever want to move there?’

‘Actually, I’ve been offered a post at a university near Birmingham.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes. I’d love to take it. But my husband… well, I’m not sure he’d want to go for a few years yet. He’s just set up his own business; it’s doing really well. If I made him leave now, it would be like dragging a child out of school half-way through matric.’

‘I see.’

‘But a friend of his who’s already there says John could earn between £120,000 to £150,000 a year! He’s an electrical engineer. So’s his friend.’

‘Oh? That sounds good.’

‘Yes! I’d hardly need to work if he earned that. And I know, you know, I know we should stay here, and people say we shouldn’t leave, you know we should stay and put something into the country, that we have a duty. But, well, I don’t want to stay here. I mean, I want to have my children born here, and then I want to leave.’

‘Why’s that then?’

‘It’s getting really bad here – the powercuts, and now Zuma – I can feel it’s going down. I’m not keeping my kids in this place. I want them to grow up in the UK.’

‘Property’s expensive though.’

‘That won’t be a problem for us.’

‘Oh?’

‘You see, I’m about to be ordained, so when we go to England, if I work as a priest, we’ll be given a family house. That’s the deal you see, you get a house to live in. And I won’t even have to be full-time so I can carry on my research at the university too. That’s what I’m planning.’

‘Sounds perfect.’

‘We’ll keep John’s salary as savings, and I can still do my intellectual work, thanks to God.’

Later, at lunchtime, he left the department and took the lift down ten floors to the Senate rooms. He strolled out of the campus and turned left onto 4th Street, the main artery across the city. He was looking for ear-plugs and something to eat. He walked casually, hands in pockets, and kicked at the pieces of litter he met along the way. He didn’t feel nervous at all, despite what he’d been told by his new head, and shortly he found a pharmacist and bought ten pairs of ear-plugs. He felt good about the edge here and was pleased with himself for finally finding a way out of England where his life was largely redundant.

*

Three weeks later, the new arrival was found stabbed to death in a stairwell on East campus. He’d had all of his clothes removed, and an earring his first girlfriend had given him had been ripped from his right lobe. The incident was reported at five past five in the afternoon. No one in the vicinity had seen or heard anything unusual that day.

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