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  • All the bus drivers start out as temporary employees with lower pay, no paid holidays, no benefits, and no security past the end of the month. All of them glad to trade years of unemployment or casual employment for a chance at the real deal. All of them eager to trade a season of desperation for a system of perpetual anxiety.

    For many years I sat in on the interview process. Mr Sydney would have a line of guys waiting in the early morning chill outside the gates. They carried worn copies of CVs and licences. He brought them up to my little office one at a time. We shook hands the African way, one-two-three, shake-thumb grip-shake and then sat in the blue plastic chairs around the low kid table that passed for a meeting table. I watched my reflection in their carefully polished shoes barely under the table and admired the knife edge crease they’d pressed in their pants.

    I always felt a little under done in the clothing department compared to them though I caught them looking at my ties appreciatively.

    I interviewed them for their English language skills then Mr. Sydney took them out for the road test in one of the buses.

    I asked how would they handle a parent who was angry or a kid who wouldn’t listen. Some said they would talk about football and then the children would be interested, some said they would ask them nicely, they all said they would come to talk to Mr Ben.

    Mr. Vincent started in August. Tall and a bit stooped in his 40s. Even after his interview he kept his shoes polished bright as the 30 year old BMW he drove to work. Always had a serious good morning for me, always a good night called over the music pouring from his car as he wiped it down with a rag before driving home to his shack in Mamelodi.

    I met with the drivers once a week or so under a tree at picnic table. The main campus had driver issues all the time and eventually they went to the union.

    Mr William with his deep bass voice said , in Pretoria when we have a problem, we talk to Mr Ben.

    We had the Big Five for the kids; Respect, Cooperation, Perseverance, Responsibility, Friendship and a Morning Circle every day for announcements and to recognize kids and staff who showed the Big Five. The drivers were expected to attend as well. I put it right in their professional goals.

    So we’d sit around the picnic table and nod and take turns speaking and very solemnly they’d tell me that Mr Sydney didn’t show respect and they knew they all needed to show cooperation. We talked about cell phones and salary and parents who didn't come to the gates with their kids or were late every morning.

    Mr. Vincent was all measured and thoughtful consideration, soft eyes, a shy smile.

    So the phone call that Wednesday night was a shock.

    An official at the British High Commission was on the line. He said there'd been a security breach.

    For a moment, just at first I had a bizarre thought that I he thought the principal position was some kind of CIA cover story. Then I realized it was about kids and families and a bus driver. Shit, it’s my territory.

    I listened with growing incredulity, that evening, Mr. Vincent decided to visit some of the kids on his route.

    The British High Commission had invested heavily in a state of the art residential complex for their staff. A purpose built security complex. Walls, double gates, electric fence, guard, entrance passes, biometrics, the works. I wouldn’t think of dropping in without an invitation and an access code. Mr. Vincent talked his way past security.

    This, by itself, got the security guy fired and earned me an appointment with the head of security for the High Commission, a 00___ type with bulges and flashy sport coat and sunglasses perched on his head.

    But it got worse, Mr Vincent then drove around and visited the kids whose parents were not at home. They cheerfully showed him their houses and then he drove them around the complex for a tour of the amenities. The parents got home and freaked, called security who freaked back and who now was talking to me.

    I didn’t freak. I just felt sad.

    The next day was all about talking it through from every angle. In the end, the transport manager, Mr Johannes, a big Zulu guy, and I sat at the table with Mr Vincent.

    Mr Johannes spun a pencil round and round in his huge black hands. Mine were folded under the table.

    Mr Vincent looked in our eyes. From one to the other and back. He didn’t slump but he softened.

    I told him that it was hard because my heart wanted one thing but I could not do it. Mr. Johannes looked away and said it was too hard but this was a line and Mr. Vincent had crossed it. And Mr. Vincent cried and we waited there in the late afternoon sun in the blue plastic chairs around the scarred blue table in my office.

    The sun moved across the wall and when we were ready we stood and Mr Vincent left and we stayed standing by the table.

    At the door, Mr Vincent said, thank you Mr. Ben so soft it broke my heart again.

    He closed the door softly and Johannes and I sat and talked a long time.

    When we’d run out of words we shook hands the African way, one-two-three, shake-thumb grip-shake and went on out into the lengthening shadows and carried on.
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