I like this Thief.

By Winile Ximba

It was a Monday morning when Sanele strolled past a Soweto metro bus that was idling and grabbed the driver’s keys.

“You are out of your mind!” the driver lunged at Sanele and grabbed his neck. Sanele brought his handkerchief, dropped the keys to the ground, and ran into a bushy street off the bus.

“I was playing a prank,” shouted Sanele at the bus driver.

Sanele smirked and walked close to the driver, not bothered that he could be assaulted. “Finish him, that bloody bus keys thief,” bus passengers shouted at the driver to tackle Sanele, the so-called prankster.

“I like you,” the driver whispered at Sanele, whispering that he comes close to the bus. “If you can be this daring with a bus of 70 riders – I like the thief in you.”

“Got a job?” asked Sanele.

The driver nodded. “Yes, Carlton Center, Johannesburg Inner City, 2 pm, Saturday morning.” He cranked the bus forward, leaving Sanele grappling with fumes from its broken exhaust system.

Carlton Center, the tallest building in Johannesburg Inner City, Sanele knew that famous landmark from his forages into the city. Carlton is a place of money, hustle, fine cars, trendy café cafes – and so much more seedy.

Surely on Saturday at 2 pm, the bus driver was standing at Carlton Center, wide cap in hand, a Zulu goat skin necklace in place, and a cellphone blooming in hand.

“You were a bit late,” he told Sanele on greeting him.

“I was scanning horizons first,” Sanele told the bus driver who was surely off duty today.

“You were attempting to die?”

“The other day?” asked Sanele.

“Yes, the day you stole my bus keys in full view of a crowd baying for your blood. I’m DD,” said the bus driver greeting Sanele firmly. “I’ve never seen a more impressive thief than you.”

“I guess that’s too much praise – I grabbed the bus keys on purpose – I’m jobless,” said Sanele.

“I knew!” gasped the bus driver stomping a half-burnt cigarette into the tarmac. “I won’t waste time – there’s a big job coming – and you, my friend – with your bravado – are in!” howled the driver, his artificial teeth dripping with cheap aluminum bracings.

“I’ve been out of action for too long too much,” said Sanele, clapping his hands lightly.

“Absa Bank, 21 Sandton Avenue, 1 pm, Tuesday next week, a guarded car delivers ZAR 1 million, four other boys are in place, you drive the gateway Toyota car, deal?” asks the bus driver.

“I didn’t know you were such an extraordinary bus driver,” Sanele admires the driver, dripping with saliva at the corners of his mouth.

“Let’s say, I’m a daring driver,” brags the bus driver.

Sanele knew the Absa Bank branch at Sandton. Few customers milled outside its entrance on a serene Tuesday afternoon. Sanele was hogging the steering wheel in a Toyota Corolla parked by the bank’s flowerbed. The bus driver and four other bulky men were packed in the car, lying in wait. A Securico cash guard van pulled in place, and two guards jumped out of it to carry the cash back into the bank’s ATM. They wouldn’t reach the bank’s sliding door when the bus driver and four of his friend ambushed them. Just four shots went out and the hapless guards were on the floor while one of the men grabbed the cash bag. They jumped into the Toyota Sanele was driving. Before doors were fully shut, Sanele was ordered to accelerate – “jump over the third gear!” one of the men commanded Sanele who roared the car past a cowering crowd of bank customers taking cover in the bank’s flower bed.

Soon they were out of sight, far from the bank, without any police car in a trail. “It was quick, the guards fell out of just four shots in the air. None harmed!” said Sanele as he brought the car to a screeching stop in a bush maize field in Soweto Township. “We are millionaires,” said Sanele, his voice cracking with excitement. “A million for each of us. This is action, babe!

The bus driver brought out a pistol, hugged the stolen money bag, and inserted the revolver at Sanele’s head. “Daring thief gets knocked out first,” he told Sanele.

“It’s either you give me the Toyota keys and walk off into the sunset or it’s your share of the money and surrender of your life.

11 January, 2023