‘N2’ by Zoe Wicomb

A well-off white couple are driving back to Cape Town from a winery tour in Rondebosch on the N2. It is the mid-1990s, the Apartheid regime recently ended. In Crossroads, the black township that the highway cuts through, a group of young men are beginning their initiation ceremony. “The bush,” explodes a mother, when she hears where her son will go as part of the initiation. “Call that strip along the N2 a bush? Just a rubbish scrap of trees left there to keep our place out of sight.” Themba, the son, can hear the white couple who have pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway above him, cursing because they are unable to deal with a tyre puncture. When Themba climbs up onto the highway, they panic and pull a gun on him. Once he persuades the couple he can change the tyre for them, he helps them, then finds himself asking them for money. I first came across this story when Zoe Wicomb read it to an audience in Cape Town, and I can still hear her reciting the words that echo in Themba’s head as he approaches manhood: “Please sir please madam have you please got some rand some rand some rand…

From The One That Got Away (New Press), originally published in Stand, August 1999

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