Sorry Ma, I’m working late again today.

The boys are lined up outside the tote on the roof of our shopping centre. There’s horseracing at Kenilworth and they have a sure thing running and they can’t miss this opportunity to make an investment and win big and be able to treat the family. Maybe to a treat like getting home early?

Every day there’s races. If not at Kenilworth then at Greyville, Scottsville, Turffontein, The Vaal and elsewhere. Also overseas. In fact there’s hardly an hour when some horse isn’t pointlessly beating another horse somewhere in the world, so there’s always a good reason to be on top of the roof in Montclair rather than at home with all the kak you get that side. At home you say something and they tell you ‘Don’t talk kak.’ Here you say something and the boys say ‘Really!? You Swear!? Don’t choon me man, that’s kif!’ then they have their turn to tell a lie.

There’s a bar in the tote but hey man, bar prices are a squeeze man, also they charge you just for a single and what good is a single when time is short, I ask you? So there’s constant movement in and out of the tote to the cars parked just outside with their boots open. Small drinks are bought now and then and fortified with dop from the bottle in the boot. Polystyrene cups if you’re avoiding the bar altogether.

Then disaster strikes! The tote closes down! What to do now? Still they meet and still they drink and still they talk. But its not the same and it starts dwindling. Fewer and fewer cars arrive until its only the real stalwarts, the die-hards. The ous who will listen to your stories as long as you listen to theirs.

Maybe also the ous who never really were betting on the horses anyway?

This Is No Emergency

Whee Waa! Whee Waa! This is an EMERGENCY! Please evacuate the centre at the nearest exit.

Bee Baap!

Nobody moves, nobody lifts their head, nobody bats an eyelid.

This is Montclair. We don’t skrik easily. What’s wrong? If it’s fire, first show me the smoke. If it’s an earthquake, I haven’t felt nothing move yet. If you were the first person to panic and bolt in Montclair you might get teased for a long time, so everyone looks nonchalant and bored.

A minute later the siren goes off again. Plus the automated announcement.

And again. For hours.

Poor old Mr Mayaba the security officer in charge eventually gets the old PA system cranked up. First time I’ve ever heard him speak on it, and I’ve been here nineteen years. He was here when I got here:

Attention customers. Don’t run away. There is nothing wrong. Please don’t run away. It is quite safe. It is just the smoke in the hairdressers setting off the smoke detectors. You do not need to worry. Please don’t run away.

He has to repeat it a few times as the Whee Waa keeps interrupting him. Once he started to explain why there’s smoke in a hairdresser – they burn the hair and . . then he sensibly leaves off the detail.

Wonderful stuff. Wonderful place, Montclair.