I’m almost home when two men hustle into the idling blue Golf in my lane and speed off. It’s dark, but there’s no mistaking the lump they leave behind.
With no space to swerve around oncoming traffic, I stomp the brakes.
The lump is crouching, hands up over a wounded head. A cricket bat lies broken next to her. Two solid hunks of wood, covered in blood.
Eric is going to kill me. I park and get out.
“Let me please help you get out of the road?”
She looks up, eyes blank with shock. I take her elbow and steer her to the curb, where she slumps and cradles her head in her arms. Emergency services rings busy. I dial again, report an assault, and sit next to her to wait.
“Can I look at your wounds?” I suddenly see that she is a he, dressed as a she. She tells me she is from Eastern Cape.
“Please don’t touch the blood. I might be HIV positive,” she whispers.
A police car approaches and I jump into the middle of the road, waving my arms to flag them down. They blaze by.
Another prostitute pokes her head around the wall and approaches slowly. She has written the license number of the Golf in lipstick on her hand. Blood, a broken cricket bat, wounds, two eyewitnesses, and… a frustrated man at home.
Sometimes, at the end of his day (he was saying, a few hours ago before I left in a huff to go see a movie), he doesn’t want to talk about saving the world. Sometimes he just wants to put his feet up and watch TV.
“Hi. I’m on Oxford. Something’s happened.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m here with a prostitute. I mean, wait. There was a hate crime. She – is a he. These guys broke a cricket bat beating her. Please bring the first aid kit? She’s bleeding and the police aren’t coming. I’m afraid she’s going to die on me.”
Five minutes later Eric has gloves on as he applies alcohol swabs, Bacitracin, and bandages. He crouches down with a stranger in the dark, at the end of his day.
A few minutes later a tow truck driver sees my car, stops, and calls a private ambulance that takes the wounded woman away. The cricket bat, left at the pavement, drips red onto Oxford Street. The second prostitute takes up her position on the corner.
As he walks to his car Eric yells over his shoulder, “Be careful! See you at home.”
I get into my car and fixate on the steering wheel. I have just encountered a human being whose blood is worth nothing. I am complicit. I am helpless.
A police van pulls up and the officers lean out to the woman remaining.
“Heyyyy, MOFFIE! You fucking Moffie! Want to suck it, Moffie? Suck it for free?”
It’s too much. I get out and charge in.
“Hey! Fuck off!” They laugh and drive away. I turn to her. “Let me take you home.”
“I can’t. I’m working.”
“How much do you make?”
“Seven or eight hundred rand in the night.”
“Where do you stay?”
“Get in my car. Please. I’ll give you money.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“I don’t want anything. I just want to take you home so you don’t get hurt. Okay? Please.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on. What good does it do if you come back with a broken nose and no money?” I’m thinking, if she dies tonight it will be on my head.
She looks down. “You can’t give me the money. He will be suspicious of why I am back so early. I’m too afraid.” So, I won’t give her the money. I’ll give it to him.
We drive a few kilometers from the leafy suburbs to the neon chaos of Africa’s worst neighborhood. I take deep breaths and clutch the wheel. She directs me to a dilapidated high rise.
People staring blankly outside on the stoop, men smoking, women hiking up their skirts for the men. Inside, tiled floor. Cockroaches crunching underfoot. She takes me upstairs and leaves me facing a large man dragging on a cigarette. He looks me up and down slowly.
I try speaking Pimp.
“Your property over there was going to get fucked up by the police tonight. The other one got hurt.”
I pull out the roll of bills. “She shouldn’t go out again.”
He takes the money and counts it. Turns his head sideways, eyelids half closed. “I have others if she’s not what you want. Or you can have two.”
“Oh no — no no. I have to go.” Backing away.
I turn at the door, gasping, run down the stairs, crunch crunch, into the bright night, fumble into the car, and accelerate through traffic lights to the man at home who holds me, unquestioning, while I sob.