One of the things that I enjoy the most in rural Africa are the unspoken rules, those behaviors that seem to go by inexplicitly and naturally in the everyday life. In the areas where I’ve lived over the past 10 years, most people walk, bike or hitchhike for great distances to get to work, get to the shops, or get to the clinic. If you have a car, you are one of the lucky few who perhaps doesn’t have to walk the odd 10k+ to get somewhere. You will often find cars loaded with people that are just “catching a lift” to make their journey on foot shorter.
Since I’ve lived a sheltered life along reserves and rural areas where you are bound to know someone, I haven’t minded gate guards would approach me at the gate and asking me to make someone’s day a little bit better.
“This old man is going to Hluvakani, can he go with you?”
“They just need a lift to Dixie”
And so, for years I have given lifts to strangers to the next town, the clinic or up to where our paths diverge. In most cases I have known them, or worked with someone they know, it’s always been a matter of investigative small talk. I have always made it a point to only give lifts to people in the rural areas I know people in. Outside of this and further away from the reserves, chances of me knowing people are slimmer but also, there are many instances where people take advantage of women and the stories have bad, murderous endings to them. You have to be smart and look after yourself. I had always been good with self-preservation, but… there is always a day when your guard is down and you do stupid things. This was such an afternoon.
Feeling grateful for work in times of uncertainty and deeply immersed in my thoughts about the world and humanity, I drove past a man and an older lady sitting on the side of the road. What compelled me to stop I do not know. I normally do not stop in this area and give lifts to people. We started chatting and he was the maintenance person at a well known 5 star lodge who had worked with some people I knew. His mom was with him and they had been returning from a very long town trip to buy food. She had a bad knee and being a bit overweight she was too tired to carry on and so they asked for the lift. I dropped them off at the turnoff for their village and carried along the back road and dirt roads back home.
Still absorbed in my philosophical thoughts, I came across another person asking for a lift. This time he reminded me of someone I knew. In the split second it took for me to register this was not the person I knew and that in all likelihood he would never be on this road asking for a lift, the well dressed man and his backpack where sitting in my car.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to Hoedspruit. I started walking this morning and then I have taken about 4 taxis already driving to go somewhere else. I’m tired of being in the same place. I went as far as they would let me but there’s a turning point down the road and they sent me back because I don’t have the right permits to travel”
“Oh ok, I see.”
“You are quite small to be driving this car aren’t you?”
“If you say so.”
(Why do I keep getting this comment in life?!)
And so the drive began. I was only going to give him a lift until town which was only a 30 minute drive away, so we started chatting because otherwise it would have been really awkward.
He began: “You know I’m actually a published author. I wrote and self-published my novel a couple of years ago”
“In English or in Afrikaans?”
“In English, the publisher in South Africa didn’t want to publish it in English and asked me to translate but it was gonna cost me more money and time so I just left. But you can buy it on Amazon if you want. I have now also been writing short stories for children, but in Afrikaans and for a few months I was making a living out of it and then well you know I got divorced and things didn’t go so well.”
I wondered for a second if that was the Universe telling me to get back to it. If I had been sent this conversation to remind myself that I was slacking in my writing. That I had abandoned it while I tried to keep my sanity in Covid. My mind was going at a million paces.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. But maybe you can publish another novel?”
“Yes I’m working on another one, and this area has been great for inspiration”.
“Well at least there’s that, what’s the name of your other novel? The one you published”
He hesitated for a small moment before answering: “I am killer”.
If this had been a movie, I would have slammed on the breaks. But considering we were in a highway I thought perhaps this wasn’t the best idea.
F** f** f**.
“I will not be murdered on the side of the road, if I have to, I will kill us both crashing against any of these marulas. This is not the way I’m going down” – I thought to myself
“You know that is the worst thing you could to someone you don’t know who is giving you a ride! What the hell?!” I asked out loud.
“I thought you might not like it. But it’s like that joke, how do I know YOU are not a serial killer? How do we know there aren’t two serial killers in the car right now? ”
“Well, let’s not murder one another. But I don’t think this was the best thing to say”.
He only had two words to say: “Sorry man”
Speedometer was now going well over the speed limit to get to town which was only 10 minutes away. We carried on chit chatting about town and weather and such. Thankfully I have always been quick on my feet when it comes to “hiding” my identity from strangers (that’s a kidnapping story for another time) and so this author and potential killer knew in essence very little about me, who I was and what I did for a living. He had been doing most of the talking during the road.
Eventually, we arrived to the destination and I dropped him off as at a gas station, far away from my home. He couldn’t have followed me or known where I was going so I got home and forgot the entire thing.
That evening Tia phoned me, and as we spoke about the day I told her the story, admitting the second lift wasn’t my finest moment. She of course told me I was an idiot but in my defense I said to her, it wasn’t too bad as the dude had said I could find his book on Amazon. To prove a point, I opened my computer while on the phone and started looking for the book.
There was a dooming silence.
There is no book titled “I am Killer”.