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Piet Vanniekerk

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Born and raised in Northern Cape, South Africa, Piet Van Niekerk had a pretty standard childhood. He never went to school and pretty much just caused problems around the city. At around the age of 13 he'd noticed an unpaid bill on the table and under it was a larger pile of unpaid bills, they weren't large bills but they added up. You see, there was a drought recently and out of all things, the government wasn't going to wait for what wasn't growing. Piet decided to take it into his own hands.

At first he was stumped for what he could do but he was graced with a memory that the local barbershop needed a sweeps-man. He picked up his jacket and bolted out the door putting it on as he ran. He passed by the wilting crops and felt a stronger urge to get that job. He couldn't read and write but he sure could use a broom. His parent's didn't keep him from school out of spite but out of safety, you see, when you're a farmer you can survive if you know what you're doing. His dad taught him everything just as his dad before him and his dad before him and his mother tended to the house as her mother did and her mother before her. They weren't concerned about themselves but they were concerned with Piet as he had no interest in farming like his father but with the mystery of what life is.

Piet arrived at the barbershop and exclaimed, "Piet rapoteer vir diens!". (Piet reporting for duty!) An atrocious old woman sneered and the barber pulled a smirk. "You think you can just barge in here and sweep my floor? Well you're right. Get to sweeping." he stated as he handed Piet the broom. Piet didn't understand what he said but he knew what the broom meant. He was just a few sweeps from saving the farm.

The day he turned 16, he was still working at the barber shop sweeping the floor. The old woman who was appalled by his Afrikaans mannerisms decided that when she was getting her regular trim she was going to teach Piet English and he was more than happy to learn. He just barely learned to write and sign to officially be employed by the barber but he sure could talk to the customers. He would crack jokes and the barber loved it because it always brought the people back.

One day a man in an hideous Pink jacket walked in an took a seat in the barber's chair. He had a thick afro and was neatly dressed. "I trust you know what to do, Thobias." said the wealthy looking man. "You look like you've got a lot of money.. Why are you wearing that ugly jacket?" jabbed Piet. The man didn't turn his head but glared at the boy from the reflection in the mirror. "I know that you did not just insult my dressing with those ugly sandals." the rich man responded to which Piet let out a chuckle, "It's all I've had. Every penny goes to my family's safety fund incase of another drought." The man was still locked onto the part where the boy with the ugly sandals actually laughed at his joke and didn't take it so serious. He lifted his hand and the barber stepped back as he turned to the boy. "You're not like your people, are you?"

Piet was confused by this statement. Was this man not from the Northern Cape? He had never seen him in his years of working here but the barber knew exactly who he was. "I don't follow?" Piet questioned. "Your skin boy. Look at you, you're as red as them farmers outside the city." the rich man exclaimed. Piet raised his hand and put it next to the rich mans. He looked at both of the hands, thought, and gotten an idea. He asked the man to raise his hand to the glass and he put his hand next to it. "It looks like we're the same to me". The rich man laughed and put his arm over the boy's shoulder. Piet was confused but glad the man found him funny. "You know that's the way to live boy, what's your name?" "Piet. Piet Van Niekerk."

"You want a job?"

Piet was 21 and leaving the house. He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Don't stay at work too late...", his mom stated in broken English. Piet had been teaching his parents the English he'd been learning and it helped his father talk with the locals and get some help on the farm. He walked past them, working tirelessly in the field, towards the gate. He got on a bicycle and rode it into the city. He stopped by the barbershop to take on his quick shift to sweep the floor until the new sweep came. He made his usual jokes and every so often the old lady would still correct his English which embarrassed him greatly.

"So when are you going to move onto something more?" the woman asked. "Away. I want to move away." Piet mumbled looking out the window. The whole store was dead quiet. They were shocked that he would leave one day. "There is so much out there that I haven't even seen let alone experienced." he added. "If anyone deserves to see this world, it's you." The barber said as he continued to cut hair. "How could you say that? Now he's for sure going to leave." said another patron. "I've been saving up for a while with Mister Pink. I'll give it a week or so." Piet mentioned. "You still run for him?" asked the barber. "Fuck no."

He had been working at a fast food place called NotFried for a few years saving money though Mister Pink. He'd already given notice to his boss at the beginning of the month that he'd be leaving for Los Santos. His job was monotonous. "Hi, welcome to NotFried, what would you like to order? Number 1 and a Number 4. That'll be 259.99. Yes you can swipe. Order up! Order number 232 ready" rinse and repeat. His coworker's didn't like jokes and quite often didn't talk. They had nothing interesting going on in their life and the most interesting thing that happened in the drab fast food place was when a Snr Moth won a fight against Mr Botchfly by clotheslining him on the pale blue fluorescent light. Piet hated every moment of it but without an education this is what he got. He clocked out and threw the card in the trash. His coworker, Jasmine noticed. "You quit?" "Yep." "Damn.." "See you around Jasmine." "No you wont."

He made his way down the dark street dancing to no music. Finger drums, air guitar, silly hands and stomping. He was happy, finally he was set on leaving. "This time tomorrow, I'll have that ticket." He made his way towards Mr. Pink's alleyway, towards the now audible sirens. His eyes widened as Piet sprinted, he sprinted as fast as he did the day he saw that unpaid bill. He moved. The cold air sunk into his lungs as tears welled in his eyes. He was angry, sad and focused but most of all scared. He made it to the corner and as he turned it he saw it all go down. A full police raid on Mr. Pink. Body bags.. guns.. money.. and by proxy, Piet's ticket.

The day before Piet turned 25, he opened his eyes to the sound of an alarm on his phone. He rolled over in his bed and looked at the calendar across the room. Blurry, he put on his glasses and a big red circle on 17. This wasn't to symbolize his birthday but his plane trip. The day after he had seen the raid he went to work and took his clock-in card out of the garbage. The hopeless-ness in his eyes had said everything to his boss and the resignation form was torn up out of courtesy. He worked every single day. Max shifts. No leave. He became manager regardless that he'd leave one day. Jasmine was happy he didn't go. You see Jasmine had a thing for Piet, but he not for her as he never had felt a connection like that with anyone. Her entire joy was summed up to trying to court him. She tried to get him jealous by dating someone but actually fell in love with the man and got married. As for the NotFried business, Piet made it his mission to fix the shithole of a fast food joint. He started with who he hired, he hired the kids that would sweep the barber's floors to deter them from joining the local gangs - a mistake he'd made himself. On his last day, his employees and soon to be ex-coworkers brought him a cake and wished him a good farewell. Piet jokingly got down on one knee and handed Jasmine the manager badge and kicked him in his shin. "Don't fuck up my store!" Piet jabbed. "See you tomorrow!" she teased but this time she hoped she was wrong.

He sat up from his bed and looked out the window. He saw the people working tractors and trucks, hauling corn and crop, sun beaming through the window. He stared for quite some time as it was the last time he would be able to. He hopped to his feet and picked up his backpack filled with his toothbrush, his wallet, a map and a change of underwear. He hugged his now elder mother and kissed her on her cheek. "You must let me know when you land. Don't forget to take your ID! Did you check.." his mother question and stressed. "Mom.. I'll be fine." he interrupted and smiled. She looked up at her son all grown up and hugged him tightly. His father waiting at the door with his usually farmer frown. "Can't change your mind can I?" he boared with his stern stare. "No, dad. I'm going." Piet stated. He opened his arm for a hug. His dad standing grumpy softened up and hugged his son. "Moenie laat hulle vir jou kak gee nie" (You can't let them give you shit.) Piet smiled and walked out the door past the expanse of farmland towards the gate just one last time. He stopped at the gate and turned back to see his family watching. At this distance he didn't need his glasses to know his mom was crying. For a moment he considered staying but after a moment he snapped back into his desire. He got into the taxi and made his way to Alexander Bay Airport.


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