From the Wrong Side of the Tracks...CHAPTER 9 – A Real Cop

Eventually, I turned eighteen and got my civilian driver’s license. I had to pass another driver’s license test to get the State’s authorisation to drive a state-owned vehicle. I considered myself a real cop now and started doing motorised patrols. In the eighties, working at a police station like the one where I was stationed, you had to master everything, from charge office duties to charge office reserve, to the police patrol van driver and also the mortuary van driver.

During this period, I dated an old school flame of mine. I liked her a lot while we were still in school, but back then she was not really interested in me and my bunch of rough friends I used to hang out with back then. She also lived in a much better neighbourhood we called the larney area, meaning the rich people’s area. Dressed in my police uniform and having successfully completed my police college training, she suddenly showed an interest in me. It must have been the uniform!

She worked as a waitress at a well-known steakhouse in town. I never liked the owner of that steakhouse, as I had heard rumours insinuating that he loved to take liberties with the young waitresses working for him. Besides, I have to admit, at the time I was very jealous of my girl. One day she told me that the owner gave her leave on the Saturday evening that she was supposed to waitress. He had also invited the two of us for a free meal at his steakhouse that Saturday evening. I found the invitation to be strange, but curiosity got the better of me and I accepted. The closest I have been to a restaurant during those years was the Wimpy (a quick service restaurant on a par with say MacDonalds) during my police training in Pretoria. As kids we never went to any restaurants. Every month end, my dad treated us to a meal at the roadhouse at the beach where we had burgers and milkshakes. I knew nothing about restaurant etiquette and/or restaurant food.

Upon our arrival at the restaurant, the owner welcomed us and said we could choose any meal on the menu as, in his words, ‘it was all on the house’. When my girlfriend asked me what I would like to have, I opted for a steak. The waitress came and took our order.

‘How would you like your steak?’ she asked.

‘On a plate,’ popped out with me thinking to myself, what a stupid question.

Embarrassed, my red-faced girlfriend explained that I should have said I wanted it rare, medium or well done. That was how the meat was grilled, and the question was not on what I would like it served. But, of course, being from the wrong side of the railway tracks, I knew nothing about all of that. I only knew how we ate our meat at home and it was always on plates.

Later on, rumours surfaced that the restaurant never held a legal liquor license. In hindsight, I guessed that was probably the reason why the owner had granted me a free meal. I have always believed people enter your life for a reason.

After dating my then girlfriend for a while, we got engaged. At the time, both of us were nineteen years old. Added to that, we were both young and stupid. Her father, a schoolteacher, however said that he would not allow me to marry his daughter as I only had a standard eight (grade ten) certificate. He insisted I had to have a senior school certificate (grade twelve).

Determined to marry my girl, I enrolled the following year for my senior school certificate at a distance learning college. I studied hard and at the end of that year, wrote my exams and passed. Ironically though, my girlfriend and I ended our relationship shortly after I received my senior school certificate.

Much later in my career, however, I was grateful for her father’s stance towards my level of education, as my grade twelve qualification allowed me to write my diploma in Police administration. I needed this diploma to become an officer in the police force.

Despite being a cop and now a valued member of society whom people looked up to, I did not I forget about my roots or my people and friends I used to live with in the neighbourhood on the wrong side of the railway tracks. I was called upon various times to attend to some or the other incident in the same suburb I used to live, where fathers and sons and brothers had arguments. Often, they were fixing their cars or motor bikes in their backyards, drinking and arguing. And sometimes things got out of hand. All my old friends’ moms had granted themselves the liberty to call me when there was domestic disputes. They would, without fail, ask for me personally to come and sort out the problems when they phoned the police station.

One time I attended to a domestic disturbance complaint, quite close to where I used to live. Upon arriving at the premises, I remembered the lady. She was the wife of the railway station master and she was known to be a very strict woman. She alleged that a domestic worker had stolen from her. This time it was her gold bracelet that had gone missing. When I questioned the domestic worker, I could see she was as guilty as sin. I gave her two choices. Either we go to her house and fetch the bracelet, or she had to go with me to the police station, where she would be charged with theft and be locked up.

She pleaded with me to take her to her home in a nearby township, promising she would fetch the bracelet and return it to the owner. On our way there, I told her I wanted everything she had taken during her employment with the station master’s wife. When she came out of her house, she had two wristwatches, the missing bracelet, sugar spoons, a transistor radio, some brass and copper ornaments, and a few more items. We returned to her employer, and she handed everything back. The lady did not wish to press charges against domestic worker and neither did she fire the domestic worker. At the end, the stationmaster’s wife thanked me and made me a cup of tea. I told her I lived close by when I was a youngster.

‘I know you,’ she laughed. ‘Do you think I will ever forget the boys that sold me my own avocado pears?’

I felt my face burning, and I am sure I must have been as red as a tomato. Embarrassed, I realized she was one of the people in the neighbourhood whose avocado trees we used to strip. I apologized profusely, but she said there was no need as she actually found it quite hilarious how us boys stole the avocados at night and then sell it back to her the next day. What a nice lady she turned out to be.

Clearly, it said little for the stealth we thought we used when climbing those avocado trees under cover of the dark at night.

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