Be careful what you wish for.
I don’t have enough breath to say it out loud but it’s a thought I have as I’m running down Loop Street in Cape Town, clutching the wicked wallet that has me sprinting upstairs, out of hotels, pursued by guard.
An obliging lightning bolt has been heading straight for me for about 12 hours. It sets off with compliments from the universe while I’m lying in bed at the Happy Rhino Hotel, stomach a blesser belly of distention after the kind of carb heavy Korean barbeque that ends with a satisfied sigh and the need to run.
It’s been three days since I last hit the gym and I’m starting to itch. The journalism conference I’m attending is as much writing school as it is eating every half hour and I’m contemplating setting my alarm to squeeze in a jog before catching up with my contingent.
It doesn’t happen.
Instead I stretch out, sleep well and wake up not one minute shy of being 15 minutes late for the first session.
My new friend’s Euline and Ruth send me back.
I’ve offered to buy Euline a coffee in return for the one she bought me the day before when I didn’t have South African Rand but after rummaging through my bag and finding it devoid of wallet, I look up at two faces who won’t hear a thing about leaving my money in my hotel room all day.
The Happy Rhino isn’t exactly Fort Knox.
It has no safe, no burglar bars and nobody can miss the Facebook review that compares it to one of the meanest streets in Johannesburg so they ask me to get real, stop tempting fate and move my ass.
Crime connotations aside, I’m starting to feel a little embarrassed.
Euline is paying for my second coffee in as many days and, since she has only known me for the two, she must think me the sort of creative freeloader whose money is more myth than readily available.
The sheer shame sends me running down the street. I’m determined to pay her back with interest which is why I’m hurtling down the road recalling the night before when I wished I could go for a run.
This isn’t what I had in mind.
The plan was to take it easy, breezy on Seapoint promenade but instead I’m zipping through the city bowl, dodging assorted shop clerks and lawyers as journalists heading in the direction I just came from marvel at how quickly I can go the wrong way.
Their astonishment extends to the hotel guard.
I rush past him into the open elevator and he’s shouting something I have little interest in as he frantically presses the open button with far more faith than the temperamental lift deserves.
From there it’s up two flights of stairs and making nice with a key that sticks in the door, all the while looking over my shoulder in case the guard has followed me up to the 6th floor.
Panting, I grab my monstrous wallet and brace myself to leave the place at a sprint.
I know the guard is set to give me hell for not signing in. He’s seen me three times before, he knows I’m staying there with about twenty other journalists but he takes pride in putting a tick next to my name every time he makes me point it out on a list it takes him twenty years to read.
All this considered, I choose to run.
I’m trying to make a good impression and if I want to defy stereotypes about African Time, I’m going to have to forego any form of eternal name location, grovelling, apology or explanation.
Security is waiting as expected.
We make eye contact for the second it takes me to grin as he darts out of his little chair, misses my shoulder by a hair and chases me down the street.
My gym regime pays off.
I’ve been doing stairs and running miles unaware how soon such fitness would come in handy but boy can I move.
I’m out of his reach in five short bursts.
A woman gnawing on a chicken wing steps out of my way, a hipster thinks better of slowing me down and crosses the street and the Pepper Club Hotel guard looks straight at his security brother before turning away in the responsibility-absolving spirit of “not my monkeys, not my circus.”
I bless the man as I whizz by and the fact that I’m foreigner running down the street, dressed entirely in black starts to form a movie in my mind with a jail cell denouement.
Clearly, the bright red wallet I’m clutching like something recently robbed does me no favours so I slow to a walk as I hit the corner only to hear a breathless voice behind me telling me to be sure to find lodging elsewhere:
“Sisi, don’t come back here again!”