“And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him."

– The Book of Daniel 




            When I came too, under indecorous beams of late-morning sun, hugging a soft toy wearing a turquoise helmet with the chemical symbol Pu on it, I had no idea where I was or what I had said the night before. Anxiety blistered the surface of my mind and the smell of uneaten wors rolls offended the air. Tomato sauce scabbed and crusted on plates strewn impudently upon every surface available. Waded through a sea of beer cans stepped on, some crushed, some half drunk and wreaking in the heat, I remembered then; I was in Durban. All so visible then, about as delicate as a head-on collision in rush hour. ‘You found my Plutokun!’ someone invisible in the doorway, ‘I’ll have him back, thank you.’ A glimpse of tanned thigh and then gone, back into the labyrinthine Durban North townhouse, big enough to sleep eight of them, en suite, partners allowed at will – disposition allowing. I had a bad case of the heebie-jeebies and wanted a joint, rummaged through the debris of yesterevening’s ashtray looking for something half smoked, found it in the can of coke I sipped on, spat. An awful morning and so, so hot. 

It took two blurry days to clear the hangover. I left the lounge at intermittent intervals to clean by body and my teeth but found all the food I needed in the kitchen. The meerkat, Fritz Perls they’d named it, came, went and appeared wholly less aggressive with just me on the couch. Movement had been difficult. Television, easy. Someone had the Super 12 final taped and I rinsed the VHS for most of the first day, while Hugh Bladen ironed most of the jitters, the stinger did the rest. I made it through to Sunday and was calm enough to endure Derek Watts tailing a visibly excited Marius Jonker while he searched and searched and searched for Satanic Cults operating out of Durban’s point area. Darkness, he felt, had descended upon the area and he communicated his fears with a palpable sense of belief that was at once gripping and ridiculous. Satanists? On The Point? Everywhere I turned people were voicing, with astonishing sincerity, the impending End of It All - an eschatologists playground - and yet there they all were, happily expounding the honour of their own negentropic pastimes, bluffing they knew the point. 

Eugene eventually caved and said he’d take me to Smuggies, but that he wouldn’t come in. There, it appeared, was still bad blood between him and Larry and he said he wanted nothing to do with the owner who was, as Eugene put it, ‘Nothing but an arrogant Pomm know-it-all-fuck.’ Anyway, he had to collect rent from a chap renting the flat Eugene owned above his folk’s tearoom so he could get that done while he was in the area. No bother. 


Monday lunchtime we wound our way out of Durban North in Eugene’s Tazz, over the uMngeni and past Blue Lagoon towards The Point. Flanked by the Indian Ocean, we snaked past the promenade, the ostentatious Art Deco high rises to our right, and nothing seemed to have changed. At least, not to me. The rickshaw drivers still hooted and bellowed pulling unwitting tourists up and down the promenade, the Bulldog was still there, as well as Jimmy Slick’s. News fliers, tacked up on a half-bent utility pole, read something like ‘BROTHERS PLEAD NOT GUILTY IN MTUNZINI STABBING’ or ‘TRIUMVERATE OF JUSTICE EXTOLS LATEST ARRESTS’. Forever inflammatory.

We pulled up outside Smuggies, I thanked Eugene for the hospitality and the hangover, and he went in to sort out stuff with his tenant – someone Okunye, although I didn’t quite catch it. I had to get inside out of the heat of the midday sun. I opened the door and went in. 


The business end of the bar at The Smuggler’s Inn bent L-shaped parallel to the front door. It was set in poorly hidden cinder block, topped with polished chipboard that had acquired an umber, treacle-like, patina over countless unwiped years. Gimme Hope Jo’anna spun in the battered hi-fi behind the bar, skipping occasionally having been fondled by wet fingers on busy weekend nights. Ashtrays, I seemed to remember, were emptied twice a shift. Bowls of sev and nuts were refilled, depending, as with the ashtrays, on whose shift it was. Smuggies had stopped serving food a while back, although it begrudgingly allowed its customers to bring bunny chows and wors rolls in from the tearoom across the street. 

It was a menagerie of mismatched smells coaxed out of crevices by the heat of a swelling midday sun; the burnt milk smell of stompies that had been left to burn down to their asbestos filters, stale lager, the sticky remnants of cinnamon shooters that stained the bar, sea-salt and sweat, garum masala, coriander seeds and hot beef. I saw him then. 

Larry The Lettuce slowly lifted his head from his folded arms, still glued to the bar by a cocktail of lethargy and last night’s spilt booze. He looked up, blinking first into the sunlight, immediately anxious again, and then at the headline of the paper on the bar. ‘MUNICIPALITY CONFIRM PLANS FOR MAJOR ROAD-NAME OVERHAUL.’ Larry sniggered, too hungover to have noticed me yet. I would later find out that he’d had to take the day off work after mistaking a joint in his ashtray for a cigarette and had been finding peculiar things funny all day. Turning his nose away from a rubbery slice of Peck’s Anchovette on toast, he winced a little. Anxiety, it seemed, and then fishpaste. Neither toast nor optimism stood a chance in this heat. Behind him a fat bellied man fiddled with the optic on an upside-down bottle of Cape to Rio that must have given him stick the night before. Just above the bottles that hung upside down on the mottled wall, the words “IN VINO VERITAS” were scrawled in drunken permanent marker. They noticed me then. 

Larry’s stutter had arrived as an unexpected by-product of his time up on The Border. Severely untreated PTSD, perhaps, although I’m an eschatologist and have been known to be wrong. To those who did not know how or where he’d got it, there was something almost endearing about it and were it not for his sternness of gaze and I-have-fists moustache, it may have even garnered a chuckle. I’d never seen the man behind the bar before, greasy sweat, something foreign. The first moments of a reunion are always anticlimactic, they stray from the version you had played out in your head like a wandering child, a poorly composed narrative, a bad song. For a moment, I just stood there looking back at the two of them while the CD skipped a little and righted itself. ‘Well, f-f-fuck me,’ Larry said, ‘You’re back.’ He turned his head to the bar. 

‘I am,’ I said. 

‘Never th-th-thought we’d see you here again.’ Upright then with a hand on his thigh, steadying himself. 

‘Here for work stuff. It’s all pretty odd. Would’ve come sooner but caught the back end of a snorter at Eugene’s.’

‘Shot for the invite.’

‘Don’t think they have a phone, bro.’ 

Just then, he got off his chair, walked straight up to me and with the strength he did so well to hide, coarse strength, the kind that had to be won, he hugged me. I hugged him back and resisted the urge to cry. We all did, back then. ‘Fuck, I’ve missed you,’ he said. 

‘Me too,’ I wheezed, through the force of embrace. 

‘Morty, this oke is my oldest friend in the world and he’s fucking home!’ This could have gone either way, and I was just happy to have caught Larry meek and goofed, happily hungover and with the bar empty. Mucklestone looked up from his tattered copy of Mark Condor, Treasure in Jeopardy, and nodded in my direction. ‘We have business sort out today, Larry.’ 

‘No, we can trust him, Mbube. He’s solid. He’ll be in, won’t you?’ he turned to me. If I had a choice, it had scampered out the back door with the rats because, while I couldn’t say it outright, I knew I needed Mucklestone. 

‘I’m just looking for the end of the world,’ I said. 

‘Well,’ Mucklestone chuckled, ‘Well, then you’ve come to the right place. The world, my friend, ends here every single night.’ And I was in. 

It was curry for lunch. I fetched and paid for it from the tearoom across the road, chatted a little with Mrs Ashpenaz, saw someone getting into Eugene’s car with him and drive away. Across the road to Smuggies and the two of them, sat at one of the tables, newspaper spread out in front of them serving as a makeshift tablecloth, pontificated over the news of the day. 


‘What happens when old streets are given new names?’ Larry asked, ‘I mean, do the old names give pieces of parting advice to the new ones? You reckon Point Rd.’ll lean over all t-t-taciturn after years cooking in the sun and be like, “Now remember, Mahatma Gandhi Rd, just because people do bad things on you doesn’t mean you’re a bad street.”?’ Mucklestone had placed a quart on the table, condensation sweating off it in the humid room, and was pouring out the first into three glasses for each of us.  

‘Some streets are doomed from the outset. It’s the great lottery of birth, my man,’ Mucklestone replied. 

‘Doomed from the outset? That’s some g-g-glass-half-empty shit right there, Mordy. Whatever happened to a street reaching down and pulling itself up from its bootstraps? What happened to streets that dream?’ 

‘An illusion, old bean. An illusion.’ Mucklestone shot a glance at the front door, thinking he saw it move. The wind had picked up and was causing the door to stutter on its hinges. 

‘A street’s what it is and that’s it? What about free will, man? What about choice? Surely every street should have the p-p-privilege, should have the right, to get its act together? To raise its station?’ perfunctory palm slaps on the nouns. 

‘Things don’t change,’ said Mucklestone. 


‘Sure, you can polish a street up, scrub the pavements, plant a shrub here and there, lay a bit of lawn, but you’ve fundamentally misunderstood what’s happened here.’

‘You saying I’ve been had?’

‘I am. I’m saying you’ve been kiboshed, duped, shystered. It’s not a new street. Not at all. It’s not like The Municipality conducted a series of tiered interviews for potential candidates, relocating the victor with a substantial starting package. No, they’ve simply given the old one a bit of hot cash and a minute or two to reinvent itself.’

‘But that’s change!’

“Change! The defining problem of our age, our inability to discern between change and sleight of hand.’ Mucklestone pulled himself his third draught. He reached into the chest freezer and pulled out two blocks of ice which he placed neatly into his lager. Mordy was, as he often reminded those who'd listen, a professional. He stood back and leant against the display fridge. ‘Oldest trick in the book. Give a street a R500 suit and a new name and watch everybody smile and go, “Ah!” Another?’

‘Go on. If it’s after twelve it’s lunch,’ said Larry. Mucklestone poured and passed it over to Larry, who cleaned his ear with the tip of his little finger before using it to stir the head off his beer, slowly starting to feel like himself again. 


‘Please.’ Mucklestone obliged. Behind these two barstool intellectuals, Darius Phukuntsi, the cleaner, was dragging a broom across the floor with unobtrusive skill. 

‘What I’m saying is that you can dress a street up as nicely as you like, but once that red light starts shining, no amount of scrubbing and shaping and pageantry will turn it off.’

‘A street can’t just be a street. You’re talking shit,’ said Larry, hanging his head slightly. 

‘A street is a street. Although, as ever, we’ll agree to disagree.’ 

‘Let us. They’ll never change them anyway.’

The front door swung open and blew in a swarm of litter which eddied up into the air followed by Tina, cursing under the weight of Oupa, the pet subwoofer she carried above her head.

The tension on Mordy’s bauble-flushed face eased somewhat at the sign of a noticeably irked Tina wobbling through the door. ‘Wind’s going off out there,’ she grumbled. ‘You’re late,’ Mordy replied. Time — or rather, Durbanites interpretation of this slippery European invention — had been a constant source of bother for Mordy since he’d put patent-leather sole to runway back in ‘89. I would later find out that he’d absconded from his hometown of Bradenham for what he described as ‘respiratory reasons’. ‘The local sawbones insisted I seek out a drier climate somewhere in the colonies,’ he’d explained to Larry who, at the time, had been too stoned, tired, or both to rebut this. The real reason, as Const. Okunye would tell me, was far juicier. Strange to think he was watching us, though. He was always watching. And, with the help of Darius Phukuntsi, his cooing little stool-pigeon, he was listening too.

Mordy glanced down at his watch and shook his head at Tina. The watch, a Casio CA-53W, was given to him by his father. A father far more interested in what his son did than who he was. ‘Ja, so I’m late but this thing’s a fucking poes to carry,’ Tina cursed at Mucklestone, ‘This whole thing is turning into a massive schlep!’

‘I know, I know, but there’s gold at the end of this rainbow, Tina. We’re looking at a good haul here.’   

‘Ja, vok. Unless we’re cuffed and end up spending the next five-to-ten in Westville Pen.’

‘I think you’d look quite g-g-g-good in orange …’ Larry mumbled, almost to himself. 

‘What you say?’ Tina growled. 

‘No, nothing,’ and he turned away, too afraid to make eye contact. Since the first time he’d seen her, Larry had felt a weird attraction to Tina. He’d never been so brave as to use the Big-L when waxing lyrical with Mucklestone but had been known to get aggressive when he felt she needed protection.

‘Right,’ said Tina, ‘Let’s get the plan straight.’

‘Okay, so you …’ interrupted Mucklestone, but before he could set off, Tina jumped in with,

‘No, let me say it how I know it and if I missed anything then you let me know at the end ‘kay?’ to which Mucklestone and Larry nodded in unison. ‘Turn the music down there while we scheme.’ With a measured twist of forefinger and thumb Warren Smith’s Ubangi Stomp skittled amiably off the hi-fi.


‘So,’ Tina began, while fumbling in her dungarees for something integral. Phukuntsi shuffled in a little closer, trying for all his worth to seem like someone who wasn’t eavesdropping. Mucklestone had recently begun to harbour a feeling about Darius Phukuntsi’s sweeping style. ‘Pectus carinatum…’, a half thought Mucklestone had briefly and quickly forgot. There was something odd about the way he’d started shoving his chest out while he swept. Something dance-like. Something choreographed. And the music was still off. Mucklestone, having presumably accumulated enough cultural capital hanging around Seven Dials Stage Doors, knew a dance when he saw one, and it seemed to him very much like Phukuntsi was dancing while he swept. There was a sense of something planned to his movements, as if he had his route marked out, counting the twos and fros of the bristles. Where had this come from? Mucklestone thought. And that chest, puffed out like a library monitor in assembly, weird.

 Tina pulled out a hand-drawn map of the beachfront from the front pocket of her dungarees and placed it on the bar. 'So, you’ll both be here to deal with Saturday’s crowd and I’ll start my set at Jimmy’s.’ She had both index fingers on the map, the left above The Smuggler’s Inn and the right above Jimmy’s Sports Bar & Grill. ‘We can’t put the stuff in Oupa now because it’ll fuck with the bass during my set and The Usual Crowd know my sound. They’ll know something’s off. So, when my set’s finished Larry’ll come meet me out back in the parking lot and we can fill Oupa up then.’ As she said this, she drew the lime-green nail of her left finger down Point Rd., wiggling it up Rutherford St., then all the way up Marine Drive until it met its twin above Jimmy’s. ‘We load up Oupa and then I cruise to meet your connection by Snake Park. She’ll take Oupa out the back and I’ll just wait. She’ll take the stuff out, and put the cash in, and you’ll have closed everything up here. I drive back. Unpack. And we’re poes rich after one night’s graft.’ Phukuntsi was closer now, chest far enough out to make him look like a pug on its hind legs nuzzling something off a coffee table. 

‘Spot on,’ said Mucklestone, ‘Although I still think we should put the stuff in now.’ Across the street, Okunye — ear pressed close to the tiny speaker on his desk — tensed quickly, almost reaching for his car keys. 

‘Naught. They’ll know something’s up if the Bass is off. And if we’ve got the stuff in Oupa already, it’ll be rattling all through my set. I’m an artist, guys. You know that.’ 

‘She’s right,’ Larry added. Mucklestone rolled his eyes. 

‘Let’s just stick to the plan.’ 

‘Easy money.’

And with that, the trio set to the disassembly of Oupa. Mucklestone shakily aiming a rusty Phillips screwdriver at the back end of the gasket while Larry did his best to hold the whole thing steady. Tina turned her back to the ordeal. She would not, could not, watch. 

‘You follow her tonight,’ Mucklestone whispered to Larry, ‘and make sure you’re packing.’ 

‘What’ll I need heat for?’

‘She might need, need protection. We’re wicked, Larry, don’t forget that. And what we do, we shall do wickedly. Darkest night is the smugglers time.’

And I was in. 

It's a Smuggler's Life for Me