Mariam parked in her usual spot in front of the martial arts studio, a short way down from her father’s apartment block. There was secure visitors parking underground and away from the chaos of the main road, but she’d stopped using it some time ago. Waiting for her father to locate his cellphone, shuffle over to the front door where he kept his keys, and then figure out which button on the remote opened the gate to the parking garage was a process that very nearly drove her insane. Getting out again was much the same.
She’d been asking him to get the building’s caretaker to program a spare remote for ages now, but her father, stubborn man that he was, always came up with some excuse to not get it done. Parking on the main road it was.
Mariam stepped out of her car, shopping bags in hand, and into the wind. The weather was turning and the sky was taking on the colour of a fresh bruise. Probably, there would be a late afternoon storm. She locked her car, giving the passenger side handle a tug to make sure. She’d yet to fall victim to one of those infamous remote jammers, but wasn’t there always someone who had? She readjusted her hold on the shopping bags and walked past the small stores that occupied the ground level of the apartment block: an upholsterer that also sold curtains and blinds, a second-hand clothing store, a locksmith, and other single-purpose outlets that had survived the test of time due to customers like her father.
He’d been living here for decades, having bought the apartment in the 90s, around the time his career took off and he fell into the kind of unexpected good fortune that allowed for a life of relatively little work. Mariam, who grew up with her late mother, had only started visiting him here again in recent years. More so lately as his health started to decline. He’d forget things, simple things like doctor’s appointments or the location of his cellphone charger. He put this down to a lack of interest in technology, and a lack of trust in younger doctors. He’d only seen one doctor his entire adult life, he argued. Following the doctor’s retirement, finding another man who was up to scratch had proved an impossible task. Mariam knew better. He was in his 70s. The idea of building the kind of brittle, hard-won relationship that men fostered with their doctors this late in the game required a level of patience and trust she no longer believed he had. Mariam had, of course, considered the option of a retirement home for her father but never raised this with him.
She walked on in the wind. Up ahead, standing outside the entrance of the apartment block, was a young man with a brass instrument. He was sharply dressed. Mariam noted his checkered suit, complete with a matching hat that he’d placed on the pavement in front of him. The hat had a few silver coins and the odd note inside, all held down by a large stone. His shoes mirrored the shine of his instrument, which Mariam could now see was a saxophone, immaculately maintained. A busker, she thought. When last?
At the sight of her, the busker raised his instrument to his lips and began to tease out a few notes. As she got closer, he belted out a high, heady melody that held, brilliantly, before being chased away by the wind. Usually, Mariam had no patience for these kinds of street-side interactions – Johannesburg was overrun with people asking for handouts – but the novelty of a trained musician publicly peddling his craft was an experience she allowed herself to draw some pleasure from. She smiled at the man as she passed. He nodded his head in return, still busy with his instrument.
Mariam pressed ‘6’ on the keypad at the gate and listened as a distorted dial tone played itself out from the small, metal box. Back when she arranged for the installation of fibre optic internet in her father’s apartment, she got them to do away with the outdated wall phone that connected to the building’s intercom and had his cellphone connected instead. He still complained about this change, bitterly. The internet, Mariam suspected, was also wasted on him. The busker continued to play while she waited. It usually took about five rings before her father
reached his phone. This time, he answered after three.
“Hi, Dad, it’s me.”
The intercom let out its electronic buzz and the gate clicked open.
Mariam hurried inside and closed the gate behind her, happy to be out
of the wind.
Read more on page 67 of New Contrast 196
Artwork by Balekane Legoabe – You are the first of your kind (2021)