Tuesday, 23 September 2014

PAWNING PEARL - A Serial Novel - Chapter 1

Simon Thambisa was a wealthy man by any standards, but he lived like a pauper. He lived in a three bedroom flat above his shop, yet he owned the entire building.

His flat was scrupulously clean, yet stripped to the absolute bare essentials. In the one bedroom - his - there was a bed, queen sized, for Simon was a large man who liked his sleep. The built-in cupboard sheltered his meagre and well worn collection of work day clothes. Simon had no week-end clothes, because Simon had no week-ends. He was a busy business man.

Simon’s kitchen was well provided with utensils, but poor in ingredients for tasty meals; in his lounge was his one concession to the superfluous: a wide three-person couch in front of a large HD liquid-screen top-of-the-line TV. His house was very much like Simon, and Simon's life: efficient, utilitarian, uninspired and uninspiring. It was, none the less secure and totally predictable, and Simon liked it that way. It was a good, profitable life.

This morning Simon Thambisa shaved, showered, brushed his teeth and had his tea unaware that all was about to change in his narrow, colourless, comfortless life.

At a quarter past seven on the dot Simon was outside the shop doors of his main business: the Polite Pawn Shop. Gideon - his sole employee- was waiting for him already, stamping his feet and happily blowing out clouds of steam into the icy Johannesburg winter morning.

“’morning my Boss!” he cried cheerfully. If Simon was big, Gideon was bigger, with hands like hams and a big round canon-ball head atop a broad bull-neck. He was strong and fast on his feet, and his perpetual cheer irritated Simon mightily. What did Gideon have to be cheerful about? He was a poor man, living in a poor house. He had a well paid job with Simon, it was true, but it was a high-risk profession. And the good salary did not go far when you had to feed and house a wife, two children, an old mother and a clutch of no less than eight (EIGHT!) vociferous single sisters.

Still Gideon was a cheerful man, and Simon sometimes resentfully suspected he might be a happy man.

He grunted a greeting and stooped to unlock the steel-mesh retractable doors. Gideon stepped up to help, and together, they pushed them back, and Simon unlocked the glass shop doors.

He sighed with contentment. All around him, hanging from the walls gleamed the mellow wood of stringed musical instruments, the morning sun struck gilded fire from a saxophone, and silver sparks from the trim of a polished ebony oboe. An upright piano presided over one wall, with a pretty green-glass shaded antique lamp over it, and pictures; pictures everywhere. Oils, water-colours…Even one or two acrylics from the more desperate moments of a up-and-coming young Hilbrow artist which had already doubled in value; and stood to be worth even more when the artist had his first showing at an elegant international art-gallery in Rosebank next month. His very first showing however, would forever be right here, at Simon Thambisa’s Polite Pawnshop.

The bell trilled announcing the morning’s first customer, a sharp-faced young man in his early twenties, beautifully dressed in an Italian suit, narrow hand-made shoes, and with a paper-thin gold watch on his wrist; accompanied by a short sly-looking man in a leather jacket. Within seconds, Simon evaluated the entire outfit. It must have cost him quite a few thousands…He nodded caution at Gideon who quietly took up a stance behind them, slightly to one side. If these were honest customers it would not to do scare them away.

“I have a pearl to pawn.”

“A pearl? Well, I can only take it if it has papers, you understand? And I don’t take cultured pearls either.”

The man broke into raucous laughter “This pearl? It’s got papers alright, and it’s not cultured, have no fear.” The other man snickered.

Simon frowned: “Can I see it? I don’t take on valuables sight unseen.”

The man issued a sharp order to his companion, who rushed out of the shop. The man turned back to Simon. “I am Jonas Katana.” He extended his hand, but Simon folded his own hands over each other on the counter.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“I hope we can do good business together, you were recommended as a man who trades in anything that has commercial value? A very successful trader indeed, I was told.”

“That is true,” Simon agreed, lowering his eyes modestly, “I have had some small success in trading valuables my customers no longer need...”

“Yes, that is what I was told.”

At that moment the sly man returned escorting a woman. Jonas Katana pulled her forward by the arm and pushed her towards the counter.

“Here she is.”

Simon stared at him in bewilderment. “I don’t understand? This lady is the owner of the pearl?”

“This is Pearl. Pearl Chabalala. My fiance.”

“Pearl?” Simon stared in consternation at the woman. She was in her early thirties, with a round face and small puffy eyes. She was full figured, dressed in a modest grey coat and carried a small battered suitcase. She wore no make-up, no jewelry, and her hair was close-cut. She was a complete contrast to Katana’s sharp-suited looks, in fact imagining any kind of affectionate bond between them was quite impossible.

“Mr. Katana, I don’t understand what you are proposing, and I don’t want to.”

“Listen…My father paid eighteen thousand rand for this woman. All I am asking for is half. She is strong, healthy, she can work. You can hire her out, turn a pretty profit.”

Simon was speechless with horror. “You are insane. Insane! If you do not wish to marry this woman, take her back to her father, get the money of the lobolo back.”

“The bastard lost it at cards. There is no money left.” Jonas Katana shook the arm he was holding roughly.
“My father told me he had arranged for a good fertile wife, an obedient wife; from a good family And he presented me with this sow!” The woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Imagine my shock when I picked this up off the bus last night!”

“Mr Katana, you cannot trade in people. Please remove yourself.”

Katana slapped the woman. “Worthless rubbish!”

If front of Simon, in the very middle of the Polite Pawn Shop he struck a woman. Gideon rumbled and stepped forward. Simon gestured him back. His voice was low and cold.
“Do not strike the Lady again, Mr Katana, or I shall call the Police.”

“Strike? I will kill her! You won’t take her? Maybe I can sell her to Madam Sheila. Not that she will be worth much on the street. Look at this! I thought I’d get more for her as a maid.”

The woman - Pearl, Simon suddenly thought, her name is Pearl - lifted terrified, pleading eyes to his face.
“Wait!” Simon heard himself say, “Wait a moment.”

Katana paused on his way out, his hand closed over the woman’s arm in a vicious grip.
“I’ll take her.”

Manuela Cardiga


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