I am fully aware of the excruciatingly, ass-numbing boringness of being at the office on a Friday. You’re sitting there, in full view of your boss; and you’re pretending to work while you scroll through Facebook; annoyed at that kin’s daily selfie from the same angle – and just how kak boring Cape Town comedians are – even though they insist on posting jokes and videos about the same unfunny content that they stole from American YouTube celebs.
But, fear not.
I may not have the budget to film an actual TeleNovella – but I have decided to write one instead. It is all based on actual events, woven into one story and segmented into bite sized chunks.
I do not know if I will persist with it, or even if it will be received as intended. But this is my blog – and I am feeling creative.
So, for your entertainment – here you go.
“Most nights, I wake up to the sound of Cassidy calling for me from her room. I know it has been six years, but I can still hear her knocking her pink, Nuk sippy cup against the wooden bed frame. I know it sounds insane”.
Bronwyn pushed her back straight up against the plastic chair. Gail’s story was a tragic one, albeit farfetched. It was common practise for Bronwyn to undermine the inexplicable. Some days she was adamant the ‘other side’ existed – other days she would be overcome by logic; self-diagnosing one possible mental illnesses after the other.
The hall was cold and wind creeped in from beneath ill-fitted, aluminium window panes. This building was both very old, and was never completed, like many of the buildings in Mitchell’s plain. They stood as reminders of dried up funding and empty promises of elections past. Bronwyn snickered at the thought of the broken buildings going unnoticed as they blurred into the Mitchell’s Plain skyline of broken homes.
“We don’t use that word here, Gail. Thank you for your bravery. It takes a lot to tell your story”, DR. Fatiema Bihardi applauded those who shared with no limits.
“My husband says I need to let her go for the other kids, he doesn’t hear anything” Gail continued, wringing her hands. Gail never made eye-contact with the group. Instead, she chose to track the pigeons that perched on the windowsills.
“Sorry. Thanks, er… thanks for listening guys,” Gail wiped her face with her sleeve and took her seat in the semi-circle.
Wednesday evening group sessions were painfully awkward, but they were also the only time Bronwyn didn’t feel completely alone, or insane. Her childhood had been difficult to say the very least and this was the first time she had found a batch of adults, albeit medicated adults, who probably wouldn’t think her stories made her absolutely certifiable.
“Would anyone else like to read from their journals? We have time for one more. Bronwyn?”
Bronwyn shook her head and smiled.
“I’ll go”, a frail, but young woman raised her hand. Bronwyn stared at the tan jersey draped over the woman’s shoulders. Underneath, a faded ShopRite logo peaked out as it sat almost crooked on the once red uniform. Bronwyn and Lameez had been acquainted a few meetings ago. Lameez was well-spoken, and from what Bronwyn could remember from the introductions, had been a straight A student throughout her schooling, even excelling in Matric, but had fallen into depression when her parents were unable to send her to study Law at Stellenbosch University. Lameez was from a large family with an alcoholic father – and she had been sold the dream that if she did her best at school that life would reward her with opportunity. But once that dream faded, and the reality of having to make money to survive seeped in through the gaps of her ill-fitted aspirations. Lameez married a man, had children, and found any work she could.
Lameez stood up and walked to the front of the room. The makeshift podium was a literal soap box, with a mic stand connected to a small Logitech speaker. She opened her notebook.
“Good evening everyone. In 2014, I was pregnant with my second child. Every day, I travelled from Town Centre with the Belville taxi, to get to my shift at 7am. Sjoe this feels strange to say out loud”. The group giggled politely.
The people in the room were very supportive of each other; Bronwyn pondered how on the nose it was that a support group was supportive; but the subject matter was sensitive enough to warrant authentic camaraderie in the room. She’d been to other support groups, but the atmosphere was forced as people begrudgingly shared stories of trauma they would rather suppress. Here, each member was looking for someone to relate to, or even validate them.
As far as Bihardi’s intentions, Bronwyn was still on the fence.
“Okay. So, one morning” Lameez continued “I was offered a lift to the set of robots at the main road near the mall where I worked. My feet were so tired from having to wait for the transport, and even walk from the rank.
“When I got in the car, from the back seat, I could have sworn I heard laughter. The laughter sounded young; like teenagers or something…but I turned slightly to see if anyone was in the car. I decided I must have heard something or someone from outside the vehicle.
“The lady who was driving greeted me by name, and explained that she was my friend’s sister. I had never met her before, but I knew her family so I felt at ease… In the period between the shop and the car, she revealed that she too worked near the mall. We got along very well. The next morning, I saw her again, and she picked me up. Again, I heard someone laughing hysterically behind me. I turned around, but didn’t see any kids outside. Again, though, I convinced myself that it must be school kids waiting for their van to pick them up”, Lameez shuffled her feet as she spoke.
Bronwyn wrote inconspicuously into her black notebook. Her stomach muscles tightened with each scratch of her pen. New stationery had no loyalty. Within the confines of the group, she was just an old Mitchell’s Plain resident, wanting an explanation for the things she saw as a child.
“You’re doing fine Lameez. You can stop if you’d prefer and we can continue next week?” the doctor reassured.
The doctor was a conundrum for Bronwyn. When Bronwyn left Mitchell’s Plain in the early 2000s, she had met many academic coloured people who denounced any bygeloofies of the lower-class people of colour. The same way the educated ones would leave the hood and never look back at the crime ridden, poverty stricken streets they were raised by, they would forget the stories they fed on as children. Stories of murdered souls wandering by the side of the road once the street lights came on, or the tales of the old woman who used to come to the doors of skruwe fletse at night to ask for sugar. Oupa Ginnie was a classic tale told by the old people in the Plain, but the new generations went from youthful wonderment as children, to laughing at the stories from coloured heritages with their UCT friends. So, why was she in all of her educated PHD glory coming to collect the ghost stories of the community she had left behind?
Bihardi’s practice was well-known in the northern suburbs, though her hospital hours at Lenteguer’s outpatient clinic was made up mostly by ‘research’. Bronwyn had done research of her own before joining the group, and Bihardi felt intrusive, no matter how polite she came across.
“No I’m okay, thank you. Sjoe, where was I?” Lameez giggled again.
“Erm, ja… as the week progressed, we decided that I would just catch a lift with her on the mornings that I would see her. She never asked for any petrol money; saying we were going the same way. For the next two months we drove together, and I honestly enjoyed the company. But each time, the sound of someone laughing would grow louder. One morning during our chats, I asked her if she was married. There was a strange pause. She told me that her husband was in prison. I chose not to pry. We parted ways, and for a few days. I must have missed her along the road.
“One extra rainy Thursday, I remember spotting her again, and she stopped the car. When I got in, the familiar laughter from my back seat startled me. We spoke as normal but she brought up the topic of her husband. Apparently he had been in jail for ten years already and had an appeal coming up. I grew up with drug dealers and addicts at my doorstep, so I knew that unless he was manufacturing the drugs and distributing to the whole of the southern hemisphere, there was more to the story if he had already served a solid ten years.
“She had met this man in her early twenties, and fallen deeply in love. They had children, and of course, a very successful drug business in Mitchell’s Plain. The children from the other areas would sell product for the group, as to infiltrate the schools. She says she wasn’t a business partner, but at that point I wasn’t too sure. She seemed very calm about the whole thing. She said that she took a plea, and he went to jail. He told her to raise the kids and wait for him”
Bronwyn was intrigued by Lameez. She herself hadn’t yet felt the need to share her story with everyone, but she was fairly new so she had an unspoken grace. People would start to get suspicious though, she was always taking notes in her journal, when the rest merely read from theirs in the sessions.
“This is when the story got scary. She said there was one boy, he was 14. He didn’t bring the money in full for the product he sold, and he didn’t have the product. The ouens hit that laaitie whole night. She told me that she was there but didn’t go in to where it was happening. She was in the house and they were in the garage. She says she heard the boy crying for most of the night. Every time the guys took a hit of the drugs, then they more angry then they moer him from overs. ”
Lameez took a deep breath. Her eyes had started to water the way Bronwyn’s did when she was about to say something creepy.
“She told me that just before the sun came up, she finally heard them hit him on the head, and after she heard his skull crack he was quiet after that”.
“I just said okay after that. I didn’t want to hear anymore. But she kept going.
She said that when the drugs started to wear off, they didn’t know what to do with him. He was dying, but not dead yet. So the one guys said they must use his body to send a message”.
At this point, Lameez had tears streaming down her face.
“The men carried the child, and a rope from the garage; the rope that had kept him tied down all night. They hanged the boy from a tree at Yellowwood Primary in Tafelsig.
“I didn’t really talk for the rest of the journey. I know it sounds mad, but the laughter was following her around, as if it was attached to her. But only when I got out of the car that morning, and the memory of the broken – almost forced teenage laugh played over and over in my head, I realised what I must have been hearing.
“I don’t think I was hearing laughter at all. I think that every time I saw her, I was hearing a young boy cry.”
Bronwyn had a love-hate relationship with stories of the supernatural. Growing up in Portlands, in the heart of the cape flats, she had heard many horrific yet fascinating tales of ghosts, doekom, murder, abduction and other tragedies that no child should be privy to. But life on the streets of Mitchell’s Plain wasn’t conducive to an average childhood.
For Bronwyn, nothing was ever average.
In the early 90s Bronwyn was fast approaching her teenage years. Her mother, Meryl was a hard worker, but enjoyed the occasional Cape Calypso when Aunty Patty and Uncle Fred would pop in to say hello. Back then people used to pop at each other’s homes in quite often, especially on the 15th of the month when the government workers had full packets of entjies.
When the dop trekked, children were given extra leeway when it came to bed time, and the stories would run freer than the beers when the adults switched on the stoep lights and turned the kiste upside down for extra seating.
Bronwyn would sit by her room window, just above the adult conversations, and try to hear them talking about what really happened that night at the Strandfontein Pavillion. It was like an urban legend in the Abrahams’ household. The adults would use codewords and air quotes, but they still always whispered the important parts.
Now, nearing 30, she was trying to piece together the details she couldn’t quite fathom as a kid. Years in therapy, and long nights of googling ‘sleep paralysis’ and ‘cape flats ghost stories’ had only piqued her interest even more- but left her with more questions, and no answers.
When she found Dr. Bihardi to treat her depression and PTSD in 2014, Bronwyn was unaware of the terrifying truth she would uncover about herself, her father and her past.
As she drove home she peaked into her back seat, almost expecting to hear laughter or crying, or anything terrifying. But the drive was as uneventful as her love-life.
Bronwyn contorted slightly, squinting into the seemingly empty passage.
The window on her left looked tightly shut. Was the curtain swaying? She focused her eyes onto the fabric silhouette.
“Shit, must have fallen asleep, again” she thought. Her laptop was still open, heating her left upper-thigh.
Bronwyn rubbed her eyes with the fingertips of both hands. She could have sworn that something had moved past her feet. But her room was dark, and her mind was tired.
The cursor taunted Bronwyn as it flickered arrogantly on the screen. Writing crime pieces was so much different to the lifestyle bullshit she had had to master over the last few years. Journalism in Cape Town meant two things; thumb-sucking lifestyle articles, or rewriting the work of real journalists from companies that actually had budget.
She laid back into her continental and risked a sip of the coffee on her nightstand. Tepid. But she needed the caffeine. This would be her fourth edit. She quite relished creative non-fiction, though her new subject matter was taxing, and that was underplaying it.
The memories of Bronwyn’s childhood had been eager to resurface for the last few weeks. The reports of the alleged copycat killer had started to scratch at the emotional vault she was almost smug to possess.
But she wouldn’t think about that until tomorrow’s excursion.
She stood up from the safety of her queen-sized bed and shuffled into her pink slippers.
“Hey Cliff, you up?” she texted as she cautiously manoeuvred past the many doors, bouncing her eyes from room to room as she made her way into the kitchen.
The complex she lived in made her feel secure. This was nothing compared to where Bronwyn had grown up. Portland was a world away from her Oak Glen flat. The security gates and electrical fencing were more than enough to keep out the wannabe thugs.
The gangster-rap-consuming, Northern suburbs white kids were nothing like the coloured boys she knew as a child. The corner ouens were skelm but respectful. If you grew up in their streets you were safe from being harassed or robbed, but outsiders were fair game.
Three soft taps on the door would have gone unnoticed if the apartment wasn’t already eerily silent.
“Hello?” Bronwyn inquired through the pine.
Again, she heard the gentle tapping.
Bronwyn stepped forward and on the tips of her toes she looked through the peeper. She stepped back down, still absorbing the visual.
She opened the door, leaving the chain latched.
“Yes?” she asked the girl who stood silently behind the welcome mat. It was around 11pm, and the child couldn’t be older than 7.
“Do you live in the building?” Bronwyn attempted to soften her voice. She started to feel silly about keeping the door latched while she spoke to a child. Her initial paranoia had subsided, and she was certain that she had seen this little girl before.
“Do you want to come inside?”
The child walked slowly towards Bronwyn. There was something off in her gait. She seemed frightened by something, but her facial expression remained staunch. The young child crossed the threshold of Bronwyn’s apartment doorway.
Bronwyn shivered and turned to grab her phone from the kitchen counter. A message from Cliff flashed in the notification bar. “Just woke up. You good?”
She looked around to locate any open windows. It was extra chilly for November.
She swiped it left and searched the building admin’s number. The little girl hovered in her peripherals.
“Oak Glen Heights Front Desk, Maurice speaking.” The deep, masculine voice sounded sleepy.
“Hi Maurice. Bronwyn Abrahams here… Apartment 212.”
“Hi ma’am, is all in order?”
“Sorry, yes everything is fine. I know it’s late”, Bronwyn winced, “but a child has just knocked on my front door. She isn’t saying much though, but I’ve seen her before. I was hoping one of you could escort her back to her parents?”
“Does she know her address, ma’am?
“No. Like I said she’s not saying anything. She seems scared. On second thoughts, perhaps the authorities should handle this, can you call them please?”
“I see, ma’am. Yes, will do. No one has reported any missing children in the building, however… But I can send up Petersen to wait with you till the police comes?
Bronwyn set her cell phone on charge and turned to the child.
“Perhaps you’d like to sit down? Shame, you look pale. Where have we met before? Bronwyn realised she was babbling.
Wasn’t she the girl from 308?
“Does your mommy drive the blue Polo?”
Still, the child stood silently at the entrance. She seemed to be staring at Bronwyn’s Pendulum wall clock which hung above the tiny area of brick where the open plan kitchen merged with the lounge.
Bronwyn ran her eyes down the girl’s dark brown plait, tied together with a navy blue band. She was wearing baby doll school shoes and still had on her red, Montagu Drive uniform. Bronwyn recognised the uniform from her youth.
She certainly found it peculiar that the child went to a Mitchell’s Plain government school. The children in the complex were mostly private school brats. Bronwyn passed them at the gates each morning when she left for work. They had expensive Backpacks and the latest cell phones. Even after seven years of being a journalist, she had to settle for a cheap-line Samsung.
This child didn’t have the same glow as the wealthy children. At least not while she stood in Bronwyn’s lounge. But Bronwyn couldn’t pinpoint where she had seen her before. Was she at the gate in the morning too? No, she would have noticed the uniform.
Why wasn’t the child speaking?
Bronwyn considered that the child had perhaps witnessed something unspeakable and couldn’t communicate it. At least she related, on some level. Bronwyn had lived in silence for a long time. But she wouldn’t allow those thoughts to creep in now. She needed to get this child home. She had work in the morning.
“Hello”, Alfred Petersen smiled as he did a courtesy knock on Bronwyn’s open front door. Bronwyn stood up to greet him. He was an older, coloured gentleman and was very popular with the patrons in the building. She liked his fatherly demeanour.
“Hi Mr. Petersen, Good evening. Sorry for phoning so late. I think this child needs some assistance finding her way home”.
Bronwyn smiled at the girl, gesturing to Alfred. The girl remained silent, just staring at Bronwyn’s Wooden Clock, as she had done for the last 20 minutes.
“Are you okay?” Alfred spoke gently.
Bronwyn kept her eyes on the child, waiting for her to answer Alfred’s question. She added “Is there anyone we can call to fetch you?”
Nothing. Bronwyn looked at Alfred. She couldn’t read the expression on his face, but his eyebrows seemed concerned.
Bronwyn turned to fetch her phone.
“Maybe you want to sit down?” Alfred said.
Bronwyn saw the two of them standing in her peripherals as she texted Cliff back. She looked up to check on the situation. Alfred was still standing at the door, staring at Bronwyn.
“Maybe I can call someone for you?” he said.
Bronwyn felt confused. “Where’s the girl?” she asked.
Alfred walked into the lounge and looked over the couch, behind the cabinet in Bronwyn’s sitting area.
“Did she leave?” Bronwyn asked. She walked out into the empty passage of the complex.
Alfred took a few steps towards the door and bent to look into the hallway. He turned back to Bronwyn.
“Ms Abrahams…. What girl?”
“What do you mean ‘what girl?” Bronwyn raised her voice, but immediately regretted shouting at an old man. “The girl who was just here in the apartment, Mr Petersen. Did she leave?”
“There’s no one here, ma’am. Perhaps you’d like to take a seat”.
Bronwyn felt the familiar tingle in her neck she had last felt as a young girl in her childhood home. “Uhm, sorry Mr P, she must have run off”.
He didn’t seem convinced, but smiled politely. He was wise enough to not question the patrons of the complex – the wealthier folks preferred silent help, especially help with a specific skin tone. “Okay. I’ll inform management services. You get some rest, Ms Abrahams.”
As he walked out, he made a cross on the door frame and closed the door behind him as he left.
The next morning at the office had dragged by. Bronwyn hadn’t had much sleep after the mysterious girl incident. She couldn’t wrap her head around it, and had convinced herself that she must have taken her eyes off the child for a smidge too long.
Petersen was old anyway, his vision must be abysmal.
“You still coming?” Clifford pulled her out from her daze.
Cliff handed her a black coffee from Vida Cafe, as he did every morning.
“Sure” she managed a half smile.
Bronwyn sipped sparingly as she made her way to the ladies. She could never afford to buy her own Vida every morning. R40 a cup was a bit too steep, especially when she had only years earlier bought ‘loose coffee’ at the house shop in Clyde Street. CBD really was a culture on its own. But since being friends with Cliff, he had made sure to keep them both sufficiently caffeinated.
The expensive stuff was much harder to swallow, though. But Bronwyn knew that any journalist worth her salt smoked Malboro Lights and drank black coffee.
The Cape Town Times office was always an uncomfortable, almost icy temperature. The white men in management controlled the thermostat. Bronwyn liked to visualise them as a group of polar bears smoking cigars in the upstairs offices. Like the adults from her youth they too were more lenient after a couple of shots, though their poison came in bottles with gold rims.
At 22, Bronwyn had been hired straight out of City Varsity’s Journalism course. She was selected for an internship after her blog on ‘the importance of sexual liberation for women in lower income areas’ went semi-viral. Apparently she was the first person to explain that women have sex too – and the Facebook mob loved it. So much so that it landed her right into the Lifestyle department at Women Mag, or WOMAG, as the hipsters called it.
That’s what made this today’s excursion with Clifford and the detective particularly important.
Bronwyn had always been fascinated by the macabre.
She peed, annoyed at the cramping in her stomach. Public toilets were strictly for urination, but these cramps warranted an emergency. She’s been cramping up a lot lately. She hadn’t been eating much either. The anticipation of finally getting to assist on a proper crime case made it harder than usual to sit through meals.
Bronwyn left the bathroom, wiping her palms on her pants. The passage from the bathroom to the water cooler where Clifford stood seemed longer than usual. She rubbed her eyes, making a note to reduce the glare of her laptop screen.
‘I’m ready” she gulped the last of her Joe.
“I’m just phoning Willems gou, he’s probably already at the station”, Clifford dialled Willems while Bronwyn dropped her cup in the orange recycling bin. It was identical to one on the field at Montagu Drive Primary. Strange coincidence.
Clifford interrupted the train of thought.
“…so, change of plans”.
When Bronwyn opened her eyes, she just-just made out the bottom of the silver table. The bright ceiling lights bounced between the refrigerator doors and sterile white tiles. She had heard stories of such places from colleagues, but she had always had to settle for the front of house at press conferences.
Her eyes burned in the glare.
An extended hand in her right peripheral startled her. “I knew you couldn’t stomach it”, Clifford muffled a smile, lifting Bronwyn up from the floor.
She dusted off her vintage 501 Levi jeans.
“Sorry”, she mustered. Her cheeks were flushed. Her temperature rose in the spotlights.
Detective Willems nodded, ” as I was saying, the left ear has bite marks on the top as well as what is left of the earlobe. Subject seems to have been severely mutilated. Her breast and vagina have been removed, allegedly by the killer. We are waiting on the official cause of death report from the coroner”.
Clifford wrote furiously.
“This is the third laaitie to be found since the disappearances started in September. How many are still missing?”
“We still looking for two bod…” he hesitated, “children. We are still looking for two children.”
The discovery of Nikita Brine’s body prompted Willems to change their meeting location from the police station to The City Morgue in Observatory. The morgue sat high in the grooves of Table Mountain, nestled between the highway to Cape Town CBD, and the Groote Schuur Maternity Hospital.
Standing in a morgue next to the body of a murdered little girl was not how Bronwyn had envisioned her first crime ride along.
Though, in retrospect, she had never been eased into anything in her life.
“Coffee?” Willems and Cliff sipped nonchalantly as they both wrote down their findings.
“No. I’m fine”, she shivered.
“Usually, people who are fine don’t just topple over. First dead body?”
It was not.
Willems circled the child like a hawk, writing in his yellow notepad. He crouched by the table, inspecting every inch of the cadaver. His face wasn’t telling.
“Shit” he whispered gently.
“This doesn’t make sense. The incisions are identical…”
“Identical or similar?” Bronwyn stepped forward.
“It’s the same as the Isaac’s laaitie.
“Heavy days. But we knew we were working with a copycat though”, Cliff interrupted.
Bronwyn saw the concern on Clifford’s face. The men weren’t saying something. Something integral to the story.
“… I’ll need to get the original images”…
“I’ll phone her”, Cliff was already walking out the door.
Willems hadn’t taken his eyes off Nikita for the last five minutes. He held his gaze intently on her neck, his eyebrows in a permanent crease.
Bronwyn walked towards him, trying to see past the shoulder of his black trench coat. Suede was kind of pricey for a government worker. Her eyes leapt over the shiny jacket onto the incision that Willems was fixated on.
“Is that … paper?”
She squinted at the child’s neck, into the deep incision. She swallowed back the returning Vida.
Back at the office, Bronwyn laid her head down on her desk.
“Tired from all the late nights with that creepy book you writing” Cliff tried to make light of the last few hours.
“I haven’t even started. I keep writing notes. I have an entire book of fucking notes and drawings of birds. I need the group’s permission first, anyway. Also ‘Im kak convinced some of them can’t be telling the truth”. She didn’t know why she felt the need to say that.
“You didn’t reply last night”.
“Yeah sorry, I got side-tracked with work” she lied. There wasn’t a logical explanation she could offer him that wouldn’t make her feel vulnerable.
“Sure. You still up for interviewing Wittmore?” Cliff sipped his afternoon Vida.
The thought of interviewing Cayden Wittemore both excited and terrified Bronwyn. The paper had described him as emotionless; a sociopath, even. Rumour has it he applauded the Western Cape High Court Judge from the dock, as she sentenced him to life in prison.
“Ja, the appointment is at 4”.
Two years ago, Cayden was found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter, Kimlynn Baatjies. At the time, other children had gone missing from Hanover Park and Mitchell’s Plain, all under the age of 12. The children were all found dead, some molested, some sodomised. All mutilated, their genitals ripped. The children were found weeks apart, in different locations along the cape flats.
The other murders were never pinned on Wittemore, and he vehemently denied the charges. But Kimlynn had given police enough evidence to put Cayden away for a very long time.
“I’m so proud of my little crime journo”, Clifford teased. “Do you want me to come with you?”
“So you can steal my story? No ways”.
“Talk kak, I then gave you this story!” Cliff rolled his eyes.
Since October, the discovery of two children, both mutilated and half buried in parks around Mitchell’s Plain had reopened the investigation into Cayden’s crimes.
The killer’s MO was identical to the spate of murders seven years earlier, but Cayden had of course had an alibi – life in prison.
The discovery of Nikita’s body this morning had soured the situation even more, but for Bronwyn, the reason wasn’t as simple as the mere fact that another child was dead.
Nikita was a beautiful 7 year old, who had gone missing outside of her school, Montague Primary several days ago. Her picture had been in the papers all week, which was why when Nikita stood in Bronwyn’s lounge the night before, she seemed oddly familiar.