Introduction: The Blue and Yellow Door.
The Mechanics Workshop.
In a Mechanics workshop on a side street not far north of the centre of Johannesburg there is a sliding door. It is old and rusty and covered in old calendar photos that show European women holding shiny chrome car parts. At some time many years ago it was painted dark green but this has peeled back, exposing numerous other coats of purple, dark blue, black and even yellow. Most prominent are the blue and yellow patches floating like strange continents on its surface. There is large curved scratch across the upper left hand corner where one of the over hanging shelves collapsed and now hangs vertically at the edge of the door. This too has acquired numerous photos of women from the last ten years. The scratch exposes the metal underneath and shows that the sliding door is made of thick steel and suspended on barely adequate runners.
In front of the door are untidily abandoned, worn out tires and exhausts that have been removed over the years and left at the back of the workshop to be disposed of at a later date. Next to these are a barrel filled three-quarters full with oil filters at present but periodically it is emptied and when the tires and exhausts present the threat of toppling a man with a truck comes to take them away. This does not happen very often and would give even the most casual of observers the impression that the door is not used frequently as a door. Most would not give the door much thought, preferring instead to concentrate on the work being carried out on their cars.
Of the few customers who have commented on the door over the last five years, none have been given the impression that it leads anywhere. Instead they have been told jovially by the overweight mechanic that runs the shop that he keeps all of his stolen parts inside. After all how is he able to give them such high quality work on their cars for so little money. Most of the customers would disagree with this remark as his prices are not so low as to cause anyone amazement, but with the quality of work they get from him they are generally happy and put his comments down to their being nothing of any significance behind the door. Instead they concentrate on their cars as the overweight mechanic is usually covered in oil which they do not want transferred to the nice clean seat covers inside. The mechanic is always very careful not to make a mess, he is always reliable and carries out the work quickly.
None have pushed him further on the mystery of the sliding door. None except a city inspector who visited six months ago and asked to see inside. When they had cleared back the tires and exhausts and unlocked the large iron padlock that secured the door, it proved impossible to move it from the closed position. Rollers had seized in place, runners creaked and groaned menacingly and after attempts by both to move it, the inspector had marked the door as safe and secured in his report, recording the area behind as presumably disused storage space.
The mechanic, the workshop and the sliding door have changed very little since then. The mechanic getting slightly larger in frame but arriving every morning on his motorbike and unlocking the canary yellow shutters at the front of the building. He switches on the lights and the radio, changes into a light green pair of overalls that he has never washed and begins working alone. Through the course of the day he is visited by customers, parts delivery driver, the occasional salesman and a young girl on a bicycle who brings his lunch from a local shop at one when the temperatures get too much for him. At the end of the day he switches off the lights and the radio, removes his overalls, secures the canary yellow shutters and rides home to his family house in the suburbs. He never is seen to pay any mind to the sliding door and most of the local business people consider him a warm and jolly person, always laughing loudly at jokes and smiling pleasantly when discussing problems with bills.
Indeed he loves his family very much. Every night he arrives home just after seven. He and his wife and three young daughters share an evening meal passing conversation about the days events at home, at work and at school. Before bedtime he listens to his eldest daughter read and when the children are asleep, he joins his neighbours in the garden they all share at the back of the house to talk, play cards and occasionally drink home-made wine. At the end of the evening, he says goodnight and sits with his wife, occasionally reviewing paperwork and finances. A newspaper arrives for him every afternoon at four thirty but he is not a great reader or follower of current affairs and has not opened one since the last election.
At night he goes to bed a little before eleven. The garage is silent and the sliding remains unmoved, unchanged, uninteresting. All seems perfectly normal until you stray out of the realms of routine. If you were to stand inside the workshop at night, behind the closed canary yellow shutters that keep back the street lighting from the end of the alley, you would notice something. If you were to be there on a day when the oil filters and the tires and the exhausts had been removed, you would see it clearer. You would be drawn to look closer at the sliding door. You would hesitantly step forward, carefully placing your feet so as not to disturb any casually placed tools. Peering and squinting, you to would be drawn to look at the bottom of the door where it has been lifted ever so slightly from it’s tracking by a small stone and remained fixed. Where the gap meets your eyes you would wonder what is so strange about what you are seeing and then it would hit you. When the shutters are closed the workshop is completely dark, so why is it that you could see anything at all?
There is a faint bluish light emanating from the gap at the bottom of the sliding door and, stepping forward you would start to notice the sound. Behind the sliding door, a noise like insects rapidly crawling around hits your ears. Your heart would start to race. You would be instantly aware that this sliding door that when described along with the daily routines of the workshop and it’s master, the mechanic, seeming to be so ordinary and harmless, has a story of it’s own to tell. You cannot pass through the door. It does not move. From this side you can see and hear only the surface of this mystery. To find out more you and I must go back to the sleeping, over weight mechanic.
In his bed, the mechanic sleeps while behind the door small enthusiastic fingers type at keyboards, view old and flickering monitors and silently trawl the world for bank card details, passwords and phone numbers to pass on to their boss. The children are all under 16 years old, as bright as they can get living to the north of Johannesburg being educated by the church. Amongst these boys are two characters whose relationship with each other will have a significant effect on events in the last two chapters of this book.
The Boy with a Gun
The Mechanic employs a young 15-year-old boy to recruit the brightest children and install them via the sewer that leads into a small room in the back of his garage. He sells what they find to a German and an Iranian who take it in turns to visit him during opening hours once a month to have their cars serviced. The only other person who knows about the boys is a technician employed by the German to keep the equipment working. The boys work from 10pm to 4am and then return home sleep some and then go to school.
The Mechanic likes the 15-year-old. He sees himself when he was younger before he had the pleasure of family meals. One evening when the boy calls at his house to collect the payroll for the others, the Mechanic has been drinking. He shows the boy his gun that he keeps in a drawer in the Kitchen. Two nights later the gun is missing, he never thinks it could be the boy. From then the children get less money and the older boy starts to disappear at night, locking the children in. Productivity goes down. The German and the Iranian become restless. The mechanic discovers what has happened but can do nothing. The boy is now armed and dangerous. He has started to drink and bring other boys to the room, leaving a guard in the streets so he can never be on his own. The Mechanic follows him around for three nights, realising that he has no home, no place he will go during the day.
The Mechanic keeps quiet about his problems and uses his own money to keep the German and Iranian happy. The older boy starts to bring drugs to the room. The children are frightened but they keep working as the boy knows where all of them live. He starts to deal from the street outside, using the sewers to run drugs to his gang members which quickly brings the attentions of the police. The Mechanic can do nothing to stop his progeny from bringing the whole operation to the ground. One evening when the street guard above the sewer has disappeared down the tunnel to get more cigarettes, he pours 12 gallons of petrol into the sewer entrance and sets fire to it. Many of the children do not get out, but one of them, a small eight year old boy manages to squeeze through a 5 inch gap that had been opened by the older children and the 15-year-old boy in the blue and yellow door. He is pushed through before the room ceases to glow blue and turns first orange and then yellow. Black smoke issues from the gap through wihich he has squeezed.
This story recounts later how he cried when he turned to see his friends hands and fingers clawing at the door. It tells of letters and diary extracts that he had stolen and printed from the computer of an antiques dealer from London. They are not valuable, but very interesting. Especially to an eight year old boy who loved to read stories. As the flames roar around the mechanics workshop and flashing lights illuminate police and fire fighters, the young boy steals into the darkness of Johannesburg.