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David Chislett


David Chislett

Chislett is a Johannesburg-based writer. He has had a number of short stories published in South Africa and was the editor of a South Africa edition of in 2006. He is currently working on a collection of short stories as well as a new novel, David works in the media.



 Child's Play

In the shadows of the tube station wall I can see them lurking. There are about six of them: children. No more than ten years of age or thereabouts. They have chosen their positions well, just out of the range of the station cameras, under the lip of the station overhang, where the high street station cameras cannot reach. I process all of this information just as I walk into their trap, caught out by a quirk of architecture and my own absent-minded strolling.

“Just keep walking Gov,” says an unnervingly young-sounding old voice as two of them fall in alongside me, their faces obscured and voices muffled by the hoodies they wear pulled right forward over their faces. I look rapidly over my shoulder, but there are two more behind me and I can see something gleaming brightly in their little fists in the dull street light’s glow. The one who spoke chuckles dryly as I look back ahead of me at the three more of the group that have taken up position, two ahead to close the box, and one on point about 100 meters further ahead.

“Take it nice and easy like, we won’t hurt you,” the Hoody voice speaks again, “Just nice and easy up into the park here and then you can go n your way.”
Checking their height and the voice, I mentally confirm that the hoody and tracksuit wearing people are no more than ten. They barely reach my elbow, and with voices most certainly nowhere nearing breaking. I have located the knives, or sharpened bicycle spokes, screwdrivers and whatever else they clutch in their hands. They are playing this nice and easy, but they know what they are doing, they have done this more than once before, that’s for sure. Probably a hundred times. Our little formation formed so fast I hardly even saw it, the look out wasn’t even part of the group at the station wall; he must have already been ahead, sweeping the path that we are now taking.

While the two boys on either side take care not to look at me directly at all, their hands with knives gripped tightly in them never leave my side, hovering about 4 inches away from my sides, just behind my arms. The two behind are no more than two steps behind and they are watching me like a hawk. The escort pair up front are more casual, but I can see there are keyed up and jumpy, just waiting for the sound of the slightest thing going wrong behind them. And our sweeper up ahead has so far shooed away an old homeless guy and a gang of kids on bikes. This stretch of road is deserted. They know their craft.

Despite my lush overcoat and briefcase however, I know they are going to be very disappointed when we get into that park and they demand my stuff. My pockets are entirely clean. I handed my travel card to a pan-handler at the tube station exit. I paid for it with exact change when I entered the tube system on Oxford road. I do not even have a wallet in my pocket. The bulge in my left trouser leg pocket, is a wadded up tourist guide, not a cell phone. My briefcase may seem to be covered with expensive leather, but is in fact a very old and solid steel framed piece of junk. The truth is, I have no money, no valuables at all and these seven little criminals have come here expecting a rich pay day, and I know they will not take it lightly when they find it out.

For two weeks I have been commuting the route from Oxford road down south to Brixton. It’s the ideal route really because the previously run down area of Brixton is going though one of those periods of what the Poms like to call gentrification. So, while there are plenty of care-in-the-community mad people on the streets, homeless clutching cans of super brew, and dope selling Rasta’s, there is also a good proportion of upwardly mobile young people who like the “edge” of the area, and who have bought one and two bed roomed apartments set a little away from the main tube station and are creating their vision of an ideal city life. I look just like one of those. I have made sure of that. My training may be from another time and another place, but my skills hold up. My old handlers made very, very sure of that.

Setting up my character, I dropped my briefcase on the station floor on the second day of my commute. A cellphone, calculator, phone charger, note book, cheque book and lap-top computer all spilled out. I hurriedly swept it all back into the case, and looked around nervously. As I thought, there were a few kids hanging around the photo booth and the newsstand watching. I straightened up, walked past the two Bobbies with sniffer dogs, waiting patiently at the entrance. Reviewing that memory, it is impossible to tell whether any of these kids were there that day. Their faces remain totally obscured.

Once outside the station, I walked back to the flat I was renting in a pretty direct route, no deviation, not looking over my shoulder once. But I kept my ears open and heard the footsteps tailing along behind me. I wasn’t fooled by the gang of kids on bikes that circled endlessly around the road, nor the skateboarder stunting off the council estate steps. But I just walked, remembering everything.

Over the next two weeks I bought a paper, a week travels pass, took some photo’s, bought lots of chocolate, stopped off at the supermarket and bought 3 bags of groceries, all as close to the tube as possible. The walk to the flat might have been short, but it was uphill and carrying plenty of parcels was never pleasant. I am patient, used to sitting in trees in the burning bush, in shallow foxholes, in freezing cold and searing heat. I feel nothing. This little expedition is simple by comparison.

I recall Steyn, my spotter and tracker from the bush war. My last mental image of him is a black and white Photostat of an article from the Times in London. They used an old picture from just after we left what was then the SADF. He looked young and eager. But he was dead. Killed in a mugging. The article seemed to imply that it may well have been a gang of children. I was stumped. Steyn was an assassin and killer, trained by one of the most lethal armies in the world at the time. A reconnaissance soldier who had trained US Navy Seals, British SAS and Israeli Mossad operatives. How could he be dead at all after what we survived? I flew in the next day.

We are approaching the gates to the park when I start talking, “So, you boys work this patch quite a lot then?”
“Shut-up” growls Hoody back at me.
“You know I heard that there were gangs of feral children around here when we bought,” I continue smoothly, “but the police assured us that it was now under control.”
“Just shut the fuck up and keep walking,” the child next to me growls, starting to sound a little rattled. By now we are in the park and the street is out of sight, the tranquil stillness a sudden contrast from the street noise. I judge my time and slow my pace slightly, and my two escorts drift two paces ahead of me, while the two behind me almost bump into me.

“In fact,” I say, “You look exactly like the kind of child that is taking this city over.”
Before anyone can react further at all, I swing the briefcase back fast, hitting my right rear escort in the balls with its sharp lower edge. As he goes down I chop back with my left arm, smashing the edge of my hand into the throat of the child behind me to the left. They may be street smart, but they are just under-nourished council estate children. They fall under my hands like wheat in a strong wind. As the two crumple, my side-by side escorts realise how far they have drifted and with the two front runners, turn and move in towards me, weapons now openly bared. Swinging the briefcase in an arc, flat side on, I hit the talking hoody so hard on the side of the head that he flies into his mate and they go down in a tangle. Stepping smartly up over them, I kick the right-hand charging child in the balls and punch the left as his momentum carries him into range.

With six of the gang down, the sweeper has disappeared from sight. Five of the boys are totally immobile, one just too petrified to move. Two are unconscious, two probably needing another half hour to recover from their squashed testicles, they lie there, vomiting quietly, too stunned to speak. I feel nothing for them. Again, my handlers trained me well. But I search their tracksuits, pulling their hoodies back to reveal their faces. The gang has done their job all too well. The street remains deserted as I pull from their pocket s profusion of cellphones, old wallets, loose cash, expired travel cards, A-Z street guides and external hard drives. It is only when I find the battered green and gold embossed South African passport that I stop searching. I open it up and the face of Steyn van Rensburg stress back at me. My best friend, bunk buddy and patrol wing man from 32 Battalion.

I heft the passport in my hand. I walk up to the first kid; show him the passport and the photo inside. His eyes widen, but he doesn’t know what to expect. I makes sure they are all to some extent conscious and show them all the passport. Their faces tell me what I need to know. With six quick twist of the wrists, I snap all of their necks and leave them lying in the gutter. Without a backward glance I head off at a trot down the path to track the sweeper. I don’t mind where he has gone, I was trained to track light footed animals on dry sand and stone by a Bushmen elder and I can certainly follow a nine-year-old punk in this concrete jungle. It’s child’s play.

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