Set in the taxi industry, the story’s main characters are a poor taxi driver, a wealthy taxi owner and the taxi driver’s girlfriend. As crime fiction featuring paranormal elements, The Last Stop combines gritty realism with the magical. It shows what happens between people in times of taxi violence and deals with themes of lust, betrayal and revenge. The Last Stop is an engaging, clever, interesting and darkly enjoyable read with an incredible plot twist at the end.
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 8.75(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Thabiso Mofokeng was born in the Free State. He appears in various anthologies and journals in Sesotho and English. He completed his master’s in Creative Writing with distinctions at Rhodes University in 2015 and has a PhD in English from the University of the Western Cape. He has facilitated various workshops in poetry and prose, he is currently the chairperson of Metjodi Writers and he is the founder of Thabiso Mofokeng Writing Foundation. His magic realism novel is shortlisted for the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award 2016. His poetry appeared in the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Some of his books are prescribed by the South African Department of Education for grade 8 and grade 10.
Read an Excerpt
Macko woke. IT was already light outside. He always woke very early so that he had time to arrive at the taxi rank and register his taxi for the day's trips. He noticed that Rose was still snoring. He picked up his cellphone and pressed its buttons. He stared at the screen and made his eyes small. Its light struck his retinas. He placed it aside. It was cold, and he pulled the blankets up and covered his head. He fell asleep.
Macko woke again. Abruptly, this time. A voice next to him calling: "In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus!" It was Rose's voice. At first Macko thought he was dreaming. He blinked. The words continued, more insistent: "In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus!"
He sat bolt upright, scared. Questions flooded his mind. Before he could ask them, there was a bang on the window of the bedroom. Macko and Rose turned their heads at the same time. They stared at the windowpane. The room was silent again. Macko felt a shudder rise up from his stomach. He stared at the corrugated-iron roof.
"I dreamt a giant thing that I couldn't really see was entering the house. It came in and stirred at the water in the bucket. As I approached it, it lifted the bucket to sprinkle me with that water, which seemed to boil," Rose said, with teary eyes.
Macko shook his head.
Rose continued, "When I started crying, it flew to the window and disappeared."
Macko pressed his hands together to stop them shaking. He didn't want Rose to know he was afraid. As he grew calmer, he pulled Rose towards him under the blankets. They lay holding each other tight. Only their breath was heard, no talk.
Macko's breathing was slow and loud. Rose looked at him, and touched his face: "Babe, wake up!" Macko startled at the touch of her hand. He blinked with reddish eyes. "I am awake!" he answered, getting out of bed. He stood on the cold floor in his Scotch boxers and leopard-skin print vest. His machine was erect, making it obvious that he wanted a taste of Rose's pretty pink vagina.
"It is nearly eight o'clock. Don't take long at the funeral. Remember the road to Vereeniging is very long, and it's you who is taking the first load tomorrow." That was a serious Rose, ignoring Macko's big machine.
"Yes, I know. You, you like to tell me the things I already know," Macko said briskly, barely concealing the annoyance in his voice. As he was about to leave the bedroom, he saw the water in the bucket moving. Small ripples ran over the surface as if it had been stirred. His head suddenly felt cloudy, as if it was also being stirred. He knocked into the counter in the kitchen, his balance momentarily lost. He was not feeling himself at all.
"Please, don't break my things!" Rose called from the bedroom. "May you tell me, why are you supposed to attend that child's funeral?"
Macko gripped the counter and stood for a second before he answered. "That poor child was hit by a stray bullet, because of the taxi violence near Sasolburg. That bullet was meant for me, and it was me who called the police to that incident. Do you know what is damn sad about it? The poor child was just trying to pick up his mother's oranges that had fallen and scattered. He was helping his poor mother, who was trying to put food on the table. So I should attend his funeral," Macko said. His found his eyes were wet and mucus was running from his nose.
He wiped his face and filled the kettle. While waiting for it to boil, he headed outside, still wearing only his underwear. The morning air hit him, and he flinched at the cold. Moving quickly, he checked if his taxi was still in the same condition he'd left it in the night before. All seemed fine with his beloved scrap. The red paint shone in the thin sunlight. On the back windscreen, below the words "When days are dark friends are few", the Orlando Pirates sticker was starting to peel.
He stretched his body under the early-morning sun's weak rays. Getting no warmth, he returned to the kitchen. He poured the boiling water into the washing basin, then mixed in the cold water. He washed in the kitchen, where it was warmest. The sun streamed through the window, warming the kitchen first, before the other rooms. He started with his face. Then on to the stomach and the back. He washed his shaven head. Then the waist and the feet. He dried himself and got out of the basin, smeared his body with lotion. He shivered, his skin pricking like that of a chicken. He threw the water outside, then went to the bedroom, and dressed hurriedly. He made himself a soft porridge, emptied it into a bowl, and went outside. He unlocked his taxi, took his seat, and started the ignition. He drank his soft porridge. The taxi warmed up. He returned to the house, dropping the dish in the sink. In the bedroom, he found Rose sleeping. He shook his head: "This was the person telling me to wake up, look at her!"
He put on his hat, left the bedroom, pulled the front door shut and was out of the house. He started the taxi and set off. In his rearview mirror, he saw his small puppy chasing after him, barking. He hit the road, the puppy trailing him until finally it tired near the corner. He watch the puppy walk back, only to set off again after another car.
On the side of the road leading from Thababosiu, his village in Qwaqwa, passengers wanting to get to the main rank in Setsing tried to stop Macko, but he drove past them. He did not halt at the stop signs either.
"If I can at least arrive before they go to the grave," he said aloud.
After driving for over two hours, Macko arrived in time to see the funeral procession leaving the church for the cemetery. He immediately joined the line of mourners heading to the graveside. Like the other cars and taxis in the procession, he flicked on his parking lights. Finally, they arrived at the cemetery.
"With so many people, it's hard to believe it is the funeral of a child, and equally hard to believe it is during the week," Macko said to himself as he parked his taxi.
He joined the other mourners getting out of their cars. Old men took the coffin out of the hearse. There was weeping among the women. They walked slowly to the grave and gathered around it. The pastor started the service with a prayer. There was a hymn. The family was asked to pour the soil in the grave, then the other mourners were given an opportunity to do so. Men showed themselves. Women went back. Weak men also went back. Those who wore white suits and light-coloured clothing also went back.
Macko went back. He was stopped by a figure. A man. His face was in shadow, despite the sunlight. Macko blinked, trying to make out his features. For a moment he thought it might be one of the drivers from a rival taxi association, and he felt his body tense, his eyes casting around. The other mourners were halfway across the cemetery, walking in small clusters, the occasional figure alone, lost in grief. It was just Macko and the man. He had no choice. He stepped forward to get a better view of his face, saw it twist – not so much a grimace as a wavering – and then rush into focus. It was the detective investigating the boy's death. He remembered the name: Detective Baile. Macko had talked to him briefly at the scene. Now he smiled, even though he didn't particularly want to talk to the man – he had his routes to get to.
"Sir!" said the detective, offering his hand to greet Macko.
"Good morning, sir," Macko replied quietly. He reached out his hand in response, gripped the detective's outstretched hand, then pulled back, surprised by how cold it was, cold and limp, almost lifeless. "I'm sorry ..." he started to say. He didn't want the man to think he was rude or uncooperative. He couldn't say what had come over him. Maybe it was tiredness, or the stress of the funeral? Detective Baile seemed unfazed. He spoke in a clear, urgent voice that seemed somehow familiar to Macko – more familiar than it should be, considering the brevity of their first meeting. He asked Macko to wait for him. There were a few things he needed to take care of, but it was important that they spoke before Macko left. "I need to ask you some questions, as you said you saw everything," he said, grabbing hold of Macko's arm as if to stress the importance of his words. "I won't be long. Please wait for me." With that he turned and followed the path the other mourners had taken towards the car park.
Macko stood and watched him go. He blinked against the glare, lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. When he looked again, the man had vanished. He tried to find him. Cast his eyes around the cemetery. Walked a few steps forward to get a better view of the parking area and looked from face to face. He watched the last of the mourners pay their respects to the parents of the dead boy, then climb into their vehicles. The detective was nowhere to be seen. Had he really seen him?
Macko stood until the last car left. Now he was alone in the cemetery except for a few lone mourners who had come to pay their respects to their dead. He paced up and down. He remembered the detective's words, the urgency in his voice. He folded his arms and rocked on his heels. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. He was going to be late. He paced some more.
He was about to leave when he thought he heard a sound from somewhere beneath him. He stopped and looked down at the fresh sand on the grave. As he stared, it seemed to him that the grave had begun to rise, the soil falling away slowly. He rubbed his eyes. He was probably suffering from a lack of sleep. The soil was still falling, faster now.
He looked around at the scattering of mourners at distant graves. Could anyone else see what he was seeing? He tried to shout, to get their attention. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He couldn't move, couldn't cry out, couldn't take air into his lungs. He was frozen for what seemed like forever. Finally he felt a hot trickle down his leg. He had pissed himself. The shock knocked him out of his stupor. He stepped back from the grave. Started to run, then tripped and fell to his knees in the dirt. Something had blocked him: two shoes. He lifted up his head to see the man's face, but the legs didn't end. All he saw were dusty shoes and then long, unending brown trousers.
He didn't wait any longer. He jumped to his feet, spun around, and started to run. He could see his taxi in the distance. He ran blindly. The scattering of other visitors in the cemetery lifted their heads as he passed. He didn't stop. He reached his taxi, throwing himself against the door. Finally safe behind the wheel, he breathed out. He was out of harm's way in his scrap. Everything was fine, familiar. He turned the key in the ignition, shifted the gear from neutral to first, and pressed the accelerator. The handbrake was down, but the taxi didn't move. It made no sense. He pressed the accelerator harder. The wheels spun and black clouds of smoke erupted from the exhaust. He now had the attention of everyone at the cemetery. At the main gate at the edge of the compound, the guard started towards him. He tried again. Again, nothing. He was about to give up, when the vehicle lurched forward. He accelerated, breathed deeply, and started the journey back to Qwaqwa.
Macko felt something moving across his scalp, but nothing was there. People flooded the pavement, waiting for a taxi. It was dense with the heat of them, clustered in large groups, but speaking in quiet voices. Among them was a middle-aged lady. Elegant, formally dressed as if for church or a funeral. Her makeup was perfect. She took a small portable mirror out of her purse and looked at herself. Those around her paid no attention. They touched her as they passed, but didn't seem to feel her or see her.
As Macko drew nearer, she stepped forward, pushed to the front of the crowd, raised her hand, hid the thumb, showing four fingers to indicate her destination. There were only three seats left. She took the last space at the back, leaving two seats behind the driver's seat. She pushed her way down the narrow passage, head slightly bent. Smoothed her skirt and sat down. The stop had interrupted the flow of the conversation. People were laughing aloud when the taxi door opened, but now they were silent. They waited for the driver to pull off again before continuing their conversations.
"I am telling you, I am very tired. That kid's funeral in the morning was very terrible for me. I think that kid is after me," said Macko.
The passengers clicked their tongues in sympathy.
The taxi stopped to drop a man at his destination, and picked up an old man. Macko waited for him to get comfortable. He kept glancing in the rearview mirror.
"Mama, where are you going?" he asked the middle-aged lady.
She didn't reply.
"Mama! Where are you going?" he said again.
As she was about to answer him, moving her lips, more passengers waved him down from the pavement. Once he had stopped, he looked into the mirror again. His eyes were directly on the lady.
"Please, your destination."
"I am going to the Post Office, my child," the old man replied.
"I am not talking to you." There was irritation in Macko's voice.
"Are you asking me, grootman? I am going to Shoprite," a passenger at the back answered.
"I am also not talking to you!" he said, looking in the mirror again. The elegant middle-aged lady had vanished. He blinked, and the taxi pitched to the left. The passengers let out a cry in unison.
"My grootman, who are you speaking with?"
The old man clapped his hands once and asked,
"Did they bewitch you, child?"
Macko righted the wheel. He shifted in his seat. He set off again, faster this time, weaving through the traffic, jumping lanes, despite the protests. He dropped the final passengers at their destinations, and the taxi was empty at last. He sat awhile, hands still on the wheel. He breathed deeply.
After counting his money, he set off again, staring ahead through the windscreen. Suddenly there was someone right in front of him – the woman he had previously seen in his taxi. She stepped forward and raised her hand exactly as before, the same gesture, showing four fingers to indicate her destination, the same destination. Macko blinked. He stared at her. Something was wrong. Something was happening. It was the same woman, her face was the same, her bright eyes and tight lips, but her body was transforming. Macko was staring at a man. Shit, it was a policeman. His jaw dropped. His foot slid with it, the taxi revving forward. Macko's eyes grew wide, his mouth limp. He turned the steering wheel just in time, and the tyres skidded on the tar. He tried to hit the brakes, but the momentum thrust him forward onto the gearshift. The taxi slid, slamming the pavement before flipping over and slamming down again, metal on tar. A loud bang, and then silence.
Slowly the door opened and Macko got out. He was sweating, dazed, but he wasn't injured, not even a scratch. He dusted himself off, turned back to his taxi, a pile of mangled metal. A crowd had started to gather. The smell of smoke and the sounds of sirens, louder and louder. The policeman vanished. A young girl pushed her way to the front. She said his name softly and looked right in his eyes: "You must go home, to the country of your forefathers. Otherwise you are going to die."
Then she vanished. Macko was alone, holding his head. He looked at the wreck of his taxi and saw it standing on all four wheels, no more damaged than usual. He blinked his eyes faster and shook his head slower.
Macko was driving so slowly he was holding up the traffic behind him. There was a black jeep directly on his tail-lights. The driver was obviously in a hurry. He had already overtaken the seven-car-deep backlog that had built up behind Macko's taxi. Still Macko held his ground, refusing to make way for the jeep. The oncoming traffic was heavy, and its driver had no choice but to decrease speed. He flashed his lights, but Macko deliberately ignored the signal. He watched in the rearview mirror as the jeep swerved out of its lane before being forced back by the oncoming traffic. The driver was taking chances. The road was narrow here and filled with sharp turns and curves. Macko pulled his eyes away from the mirror and focused them back on the side of the road, scanning for passengers and hooting to attract commuters. The oncoming traffic started to thin, and behind him the jeep tried to overtake again.
Excerpted from "The Last Stop"
Copyright © 2017 Thabiso Mofokeng.
Excerpted by permission of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
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