he is crumpled underneath a yellow sign that reads entrance when they first see him. a faded green NY cap shadows his weather beaten face. he has a 2 litre coke bottle under one arm and is holding a stick.
there’s a flutter of birds and he gestures to them, arms and stick flailing wildly as the coke bottle rolls quietly into the path of a greying man, smoking a cigarette, expensive in his black leather jacket and shiny watch. he is also waving. a woman, young and smiling, waves back, flushed without make up and tousled red hair.
he tosses the cigarette just before she kisses his mouth.
from the ground, a gleeful shout, a wide toothless grin and vacant eyes set purposefully on this fiery treasure.
the wind blows his voice in their direction. they wait until the couple leave.
something hard against the back of his head. an easy target, lifted like a sack, half empty. then, his eyes open and wide, for a moment lucid. bars on the window of his cage. the engine coughs, growls and they’re off.
he falls backwards as the van lurches forward, empty beer bottles rolling around him, clink, clank they go. clink, clank around him.
the radio playing a sweet melody up front.
-la, la, la, he hums, out of tune, out of words. his wrists hurt, cold metal against his winter skin, constrained.
a memory flash, the sounds remind him. his mother is crying, profanity, dishes breaking on the concrete floor, cold under his bare feet. fresh snot and tears run over yesterday’s. thick and congealed on his face. his father hits her again. she falls, an electric crack, a dull thud and she slumps to the floor oozing red.
the radio playing a sweet melody in the kitchen.
the sirens are loud. they take the big, strong man away. the man that smells like the bottles that clink and clank, the same thing every night, the music, the thick smell of smoke and later the crashing, smacking, punching, falling, sounds that hurt his little ears.
little eyes through the window, watching other children as they pass by, wearing matching clothes, carrying books. he wants to go with them, to wherever they go, carrying books, wearing clothes just like them.
laughter dancing a sweet melody on their lips.
he had a book once. unread.
and then it was gone. his eyes open and wide, for a moment lucid. bars on the window of his cage.
-la, la, la, no longer humming but spitting and wriggling the words as if they could set him free.
-bly still, hou jou fokken bek.
he looks around the small space, a bump in the road, the engine dies, he knows the route, routine.
and then he is lying on the ground, another kick. and then another. the heavy boots, coming faster and harder each time. red stains the dirt, red stains. why are they laughing, where are their books. laughter in uniform, where are their books? blue sky, birds dancing, he remembers dropping the coke bottle, waving his stick, where did he leave the stick.
– hey man, he’s pissed himself. more laughter, a slapping of hands. camaraderie.
-maybe it’s enough? die bliksem lyk nou amper dood, we don’t want to bladdy kill the fucker.
-ja boet, jy’s reg, hier vat die sleutels.
they pull him up, uncuff his hands, drop him back down. up close they smell like his father
– gee die boesman ‘n sigaret, for being such a good sport.
from the ground, a murmur, limp jaw and bloodied eyes set wearily on this token of thanks.
-asseblief baas, asseblief, nee baas. one last kick, a good one, right in the head.
the wind blows the last of his life in their direction and they laugh.
clink, clank, a fresh beer for each. clink, clank, a few sips and they’re off.