Three Criminals

I found out that I was pregnant the day we took People’s Bank in the Estcourt city-center before the trip to Westgate. Martin had joked about it when he’d seen me heave my guts out the morning after we’d left in the stolen old BMW, which Martin had ominously obliged all the way from Ladysmith to Jo’burg over the weekend. He was the only one who had a license and it had happened several times that during a getaway, upon being stopped by police that a simple flash of Martin’s dreamy emerald eyes and driver’s license got us away scot free.

We left Estcourt directly after assaulting the bank and with the adrenalin pumping through our bodies, settled in at a hotel close to the N3. We always needed to spend the night at a place with a fast escape route. We’d always check in separately so as not to attract any unwelcome attention, but had almost always spent the night together. I remember that Sifiso and Martin often carried guns even when they were naked, sometimes in jest, to make light of it all, but I think mostly, honestly, in sheer fear of what could possibly happen next …

By that time, we had taken to believing hat we had stopped doing it for the money. Sometimes we’d be touring and just elect to fleece a place because it was beautiful or because it had a nice name. When we’d just started, we were shaky, nervous kids fretful of being caught. Sifiso had already been to juvy many times and he guaranteed prison was no place to be. But even Sifiso with his cautionary measures and misleading ruses could hardly ignore what a piece of cake our raids had become. When we robbed little towns in the outskirts of South African hubs, we dared walk away, take a train and even stay the night. We’d become arrogant about it, taking even from the most dubious dupe, just to prove that we could. And believe it or not, it had worked. For two years and seven months, we had made a name and a sizeable fortune from the fluky successes of our rash robberies.

But that day, our sights were set on a shopping mall, one that had just opened. One whose security was still in trial and error and one who’s loyalties had yet to be established. We had expected it to be swift and easy, the only challenge being the size. We’d done malls only in rehearsal for this event, but we had discovered, it was easier than we thought.

It was also around the same time that I’d begun to receive some positive attention for being the only girl in the Z-team. News travelled faster than money in those days. As soon as people recognized our crimes, they realized there was something different about this group of wild young criminals. Not only was there a girl, but also, even more surprisingly - a white.

I remember hearing a few gleeful women chattering about the infamous trio. I never knew where the name ‘Z-team’ came from, but that was what they called us everywhere, and with such conviction that one would think that we had disclosed our name in a press release. Girls had been impressed and intimidated by the infamous woman robber and the men were enthralled. As far as most people knew, we were an urban legend. Nothing more than a figment of people’s imaginations, but we were hot on their tongues. There were rumors of a love affair between the girl and the boy, but also rumors about a gay fling between the boy and the white boy. Martin and Sifiso had seen these rumors as a threat. To them it meant somebody was onto us – that our days were numbered. They were afraid. But for me the stories only convinced me that we had a place, that we had nothing to fear and that things would be fine once we decided to pack it in and live decent lives.

Sifiso had been my man since Grade 5. I grew up in Ntuzuma C on 106579 Street, near Richmond Main Road. Sifiso was born in KwaMashu K. We met in assembly in an Indian school called Shri Rhamayan Sabha in Overport. He had introduced himself by making sure that I got to stand in the front of the line when the bell rang. Khethiwe, another girl in my class who had always shoved needlessly, had curled away diffidently as Sifiso ordered her to make space for me.

“Get behind her!” he derided. “And that’s where I want to see all of you every other day”.

I believed instantly that I was in love – at 11-years-old. An unimportant girl from Ntuzuma whose mother had been confined to bed with no conceivable ailments, save that enduring Black Label quart. That wretched bottle which, when my heart bopped with delight at it’s impending emptiness would make itself reappear – fresher and fuller and headed straight for mummy’s mouth.

Whether or not I knew what love was, or what it would mean, I know that we had it. At that tender age we loved as if our lives depended on it. Maybe … back then, our lives did depend on it. Sifiso would promise me marriage, a house in Avoca Hills, and children. I would eat every word up like a starving beggar. I didn’t know to think it over, to rationalize, I just thought and sincerely believed that I was destined to do what he told me to do. And that fact would define the rest of my sorry life. He was in Grade 6 when he decided to make me his girl. By Grade 7 he was in juvenile prison for petty theft and assault.

My little heart was shattered and I thought, for about a week, that I would never move on. The way Sifiso had kept his eye on me and declared his ownership of me at Shri Rhamhayan Sabha – who would ever do that again? But lo, as I moved to Serenations High School, in Sydney, the next town from Overport, I began my pubescent ascent and was instantly over Sifiso. The boys in my class who were mostly Indian or Colored were attentive to my developing body and this awareness let me cling onto that illusive idea that I was wanted. By the end of the first year of High School, I’d fucked two guys in my class: Gareth, the soccer captain from Newlands whose mendacious charms and slick gelled hair made him one of the hottest guys in school and Ashif Khan, the smartest and least attractive boy in our class against whom I often competed in school academic challenges. By the second year, most of my friends were guys and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But at the end of Grade 9 when I was prancing around my school as if that protection Sifiso had given me had been reborn in the form of a vagina, Sifiso came back.

He’d met someone while he was in prison. The story was puzzling at first: This young man Martin Olsen had come to prison as with a group of evangelists to help the young prisoners to turn to the Lord before it was too late. He had come with his family, who were in charge of the holy work. His job was to hand out literature and set up chairs. Once during an interval Sifiso Ntuli and Martin Olsen had struck up conversation. The rest is history. It turns out the prisoner would be the one to convert the evangelist and after convincing his father that the prisoner in question had exclusively redeeming qualities, they emerged after a short debacle, as if joined at the hip by an extensive appetite for mischief.

Martin was born on a farm in Kranskop. His family was hardly wealthy but compared to Sifiso and I, he’d led a charmed life. The farm had belonged to grandpa Olsen, who with many other European evangelists and missionaries had relocated to the South of Africa with the hope of saving its dark people with the Gospel around the 1920s and 1930s. Although these families cluttered the Kranskop landscape in large albeit scattered numbers, they trekked every Sunday, some without fail, two hours to the Clear Waters Sacred Church at which they congregated. Those meetings in that church would seal themselves into the little boy Martin’s consciousness and never die away. The women so prudishly understated, dressed to turn their back on vanity and groomed to flaunt reticence. The men were upright and austere, oozing ethics and an ideal example of how to live in God’s eternal light.

Martin’s father John Olsen was a family lawyer with a practice cozily forty-five minutes from the farm in which he was joint partner with three other like-minded Christian lawyers. The employees were younger Christians who seemed to be invariably either men whose careers were budding as the partner's careers had once budded and with whom the partners could get along but never bothered or women with no discernable qualities except their bosses always seemed to need them for one thing or another. The cleaning and security staff who shuffled through the corridors of Olsen and Associates might have been among some of the firm’s most deserving clients, but didn’t know the first thing about law or its use, so John Olsen (and his associates) never felt the need to look them in the eyes when muttering ‘Morning’. It was only their blue overalls, black security suits or pink flowery pinafore dresses which defined these people. They were the help.

And Francis Olsen – Martin’s mother – stayed at home to raise the Olsen’s seven children Mary, Sarah, Frank, Esther, Martin, Gideon and Joshua. She kept two nannies, a maid and a gardener, as it was all just too much for her to handle. ‘Lord knows my fragile frame wasn’t made for this …’ she could often be heard professing. The large farm grounds with the gardens, the driveway, the pond and four dogs were always well kept, but Mrs. Olsen’s hand was Mrs. Olsen’s mouth. The workers were to carry her orders out with the highest priority at any hour, though their unfamiliar worker’s quarters housed their own extensive families. The maids and nannies, who were always middle aged women, changed steadily through the years. The only thing that was certain was their insistence upon hauling their large fatherless families to the Olsen farm in Kranskop to Mrs. Olsen’s eternal confusion. The Gardener Thulani had stayed on the longest, having been the gardener at the Olsen farm during John Olsen’s childhood years and throughout Martin Olsen’s. He too had a family of his own consisting of three wives, fourteen children and even more numerous grandchildren. Three of his sons lived with him at the Olsen farm and were seemingly his apprentices, poised to take over their father’s duties upon his demise. Although Thulani and his son’s had the smallest ‘servant family’, they had the largest quarters which stood at the top of a small hill by the barbed wire fence and faced the Olsen house.

When Martin met Sifiso, he would tell him repeatedly that he reminded him of Thulani. Always there, like a mountain on top of a hill …

The boys went well together. What began as naughty mismatch soon erupted in a torrent of teachings from flattered Sifiso, gloriously dispatching secrets of the trade to his eager new mate. So deliriously pleased was he that he, an orphan, a black man, uneducated and tainted, should be teaching a rich white boy, telling him which way to go. He roared with laughter when Martin made rookie mistakes and rewarded him obstinately when he thrived.

And Martin in retrospect was positively blind – a civil young man with a good head on his shoulders. None of his reputable Christian family would ever fathom what he had done. A local newspaper would consequently publish many articles claiming that poor Martin had been brainwashed, hypnotized after falling at the hands of a dangerous young criminal. But did he feel hypnotized? Well, perhaps … perhaps it was a good kind of hypnosis. The kind that makes you soar away into another world. Into a world where things are happening and people are moving. An ideal retreat where there are no rules, just desires and actions.