Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Hidden Slum

This is a short piece of prose that I wrote a while ago, inspired by a scene in central Johannesburg. It is probably one of my most proud pieces, as it won me my first creative writing award, so I hope you enjoy! Many more to come.

The Hidden Slum

A warzone. It can’t be anything else. Smoke spilling out from very direction, rising up in great plumes. The illusion of a hungry fire, eating all that is green, blocking out all that is blue. A battleground. It must be. Loud shouts drifting through the smog - shouts of anguish, of sadness of fury. Shouts of desperation.

Overflowing taxis dance down the street, barely held together by their rickety frames, their tyres of varying sizes threatening to burst at any second. Here, the taxi drivers are king. They are the overlords from whom everyone hides in fear.

Wealthy businessmen in their expensive suits and fancy cars hurry slowly past, keeping their heads down and their windows rolled up. They pray that they won’t attract attention, maybe they’ll make it to work with their windows intact.

And the dirty children who should be in school stand at the light and beg for change. As each driver turns a blind eye, a tiny morsel of hope and dignity slips away from these urchins, who are watched by stony faced men, hiding in the shadows.

An office block stands, a shining golden beacon attracting swarms of rich paper men, a feeble resistance to the taxi dictatorship. Their houses are small and unfinished on the outside, though lavishly decorated within. The gate that doesn’t work will never be fixed. They too are afraid. Afraid that if they finish the paint job, their immaculate house will become a target. So they slave away, consumed by car fumes and heat, praying for night then praying for day. They too are begging for change.

When the rush hour traffic of people crawling home to their sluggish lives has abated, and the prancing taxis have been locked up in their palaces of grime, the night comes. It brings with it an erie serenity, which blocks out the stars and blankets the moon, only allowing the city lights to pulse through. The serenity preys on the hopes and dreams of the street children, who did not collect enough to warrant a meal. It pulls at the rags of the homeless man drowning his sorrows on the corner and it watches as a scantily clad woman, too young to be out alone at night, climbs into the car with a complete stranger and drives away.

A warzone. What else could it be?