Before I left Johannesburg, I had always imagined what leaving this city would feel like. It was a thought I grappled with for a long time, like a decade-long marriage full of ups and downs and heading for a divorce. I had stayed in the city for far too long and I was ready to leave. But just before my departure, I was mugged and attacked. This memory remained with me hidden, suppressed, as a nocturnal creature good only for evoking nightmares. I disliked talking about it with friends and I didn’t share it with my family. I continued with my life scarred, tormented, victimized, and full of fear. I wanted to write about the experience, to try and heal from the ordeal but I never did. Months later when I saw a Levy Pooe painting titled The Journey Home, I felt a strong connection to the work and found myself revisiting the memory. Maybe it was the title or the sombre expression of the character in the painting or both, I’m not sure. The painting spoke to me, uniquely in the language of my lived experience. It awakened the nocturnal creature in daylight. I finally saw it - a faceless monster split into five personalities, a monster that strangled me until I lost consciousness and gave me sleep paralysis when I went to bed.
When I was mugged, I was travelling from my Pretoria office and heading home to a shared apartment in the heart of the city. I shared the apartment with my friend Mzo, and I had just been placed in a graduate program with a large financial institution. I was planning to divorce this city long before I found a job, and when I found a job in a different city, this became a sign that I needed to leave urgently. I made an application for an apartment in Pretoria, Arcadia, and just before I could move in someone else did. Then my application was delayed because there were no vacant units, so I had to wait an extra month for an opening in February. So I waited in Johannesburg.
I arrived at Bosman taxi station just after 5 p.m. There was a long line of people waiting for taxis to Johannesburg, so I waited with them. I looked up as I waited and saw that it was getting late. The sun was descending and turning orange, and the skies were becoming dark. Taxis took a long time to arrive and deliver us to our separate homes. The gloomy faces of the people in line showed internalized frustration. Eventually, a taxi arrived and I settled myself in a single seat at the back.
I called my friend Levy while the taxi moved. We had a long conversation about dreams, hopes, and plans. I later called Mzo and asked him about the weather in Johannesburg, and he told me it was going to rain soon. I was concerned because rain in Joburg is unlike rain in the village that aids in watering the crops. Rain in Johannesburg is a disruption, a catastrophe, fuel for a burning city. Adding to my concerns, the taxi driver took the Hillbrow road instead of the Parktown or Braam directions, which I preferred for safety reasons. This meant that we would be dropped off at MTN taxi rank, a downtown dungeon where the predators of the city gather. My heart sank. It was dark and raining, a perfect time for a hunt. I called Mzo again and asked him to request an Uber for me as I didn’t have a smartphone at the time. We discussed a pickup location briefly, and then I exited the taxi and headed to the location. I walked fast, evading masses of people like I was dodging bullets. The moment I got out of the taxi, it appears the predators had marked me and the hunt had begun before I knew it. With formal wear and a laptop, I was visible prey.
I felt an arm close in on me as I walked, grabbing my neck violently. I felt the weight of this densely populated city falling on me, depriving me of air and leaving me on the brink of death. It was like a dream and I felt like a spectator in my mugging due to the extremity of my disbelief. I tried fighting off my attacker but he strangled me until I lost consciousness. Before I went into my brief sleep, I recall, not vividly but in fragments, me waving for help while surrounded by at least five faceless predators feasting on me mercilessly. They took everything, including my cheap phone. No one helped. The world stood still and watched.
Having regained consciousness, I crossed the road in search of help in the middle of a jungle. I saw a police van parked nearby and ran to it to report the mugging.
"There is nothing we can do. Those boys are gone. We won’t find them. We’ll just drive you home," they said to me. And I was driven home.
Opening a police case was a long process, and in the end, I received two messages from the South African Police Service. The first massage said my case was being investigated and the second (which came shortly after the first one) said my case had been closed after all leads had been investigated and would be reopened when new information becomes available. I knew it wouldn't be reopened. It was useless. I failed to describe my attackers. It would have been like chasing shadows.
After I left Joburg and settled into my Pretoria apartment, I reflected and realized that one never truly leaves this city. I have heard people remarking that living in this city is expensive and it will rip your pockets and finances. This city is like a jungle full of animals driven by hunger and not logic. It is nearly impossible to walk out as the same person. Most of the time, it doesn't want you to leave. When you are lucky enough to be able to escape, you will not do so without bearing its scars. You are forever scarred by its violent memories and forever shaped by its scars. I left the city after nearly a decade and I didn’t get a friendly goodbye, it gave me a final beating and a huge middle finger.