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The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers: Breakfast with Alfred

breakfast with Alfred title

The terms early and late have always been subjective notions. Particularly in the realm of the waiter, the freelancer, the comic, the writer, the drug addict or the profoundly under employed. No alarm clocks, no queues, no traffic. Biographies can be so enlightening.

So it’s 3am and I’m mumbling insults at a treatment for a sports drama. My desk looks like post apocalyptic stronghold, bits of take away, fruit flies and sad little piles of crumpled tissue paper prop me up against my keyboard. The long haul scribbler needs equal quantities of sugar, salt and self-abuse if the words ‘The End’ are of any value.

I’m out of food, well, edible safe to eat food, or so warned the tired but now sentient slice of hardened pizza. Luckily, in 45 odd minutes, the people who sell breakfast will setup on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Joubert. My vetkoek and fried hake feeding frenzy of one will usher in the sunrise and street noise and realisation that sports dramas are fucking hard.

My routine will have one addition, I’ll document the experience. Camera in hand, cued by the trolley noise I know to be the setting up part of the equation, I head downstairs. Well, not before I take and download this selfie.

s

See, this story might have been a very different one, it might have been about having a 600d taken from me at 330am. I respect this city, the few but fundamental rules won’t suffer neglect. No sun, no street walking, simple. Expensive things are solar-powered in a very literal sense. They tend to dissapear with the sun. Nothing personal, just the short end of the economic hardship stick, white boy.

I introduce myself to a cranky Alfred. The bearded creeper that is me can’t be the easiest thing to negotiate first thing on a work day. Knee jerk big city hostility is perfectly accepted, and advised. There are freaks on them streets. It took a solid 20 minutes to break the ice with this man, I almost gave up. Eventually he relaxed, realising that I’m simply interested in his scene.

Let’s talk about Alfred for a moment, decidedly manly, he reminds me of a war veteran, a man who’s been in the shit, nothing scares him, almost out-of-place in this domestic transaction so thoroughly uncomplicated & nonthreatening. His movements are rhythmic, sure and unforced. I watch as his trolley and crates slowly morph into a fully functional business hub for one.

1st

“Paulie moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”

– Goodfellas

Eventually Alfred starting speaking to me, the guy that he buys hake from doesn’t give him bulk discount, he has a menacing weapon he won’t show me and he rises at 1 a.m. every morning.

I asked if he’d ever open another shop, he said of course, but the daily grind keeps him busy. I find myself rooting for him. An ‘Alfred’s Breakfast Corner,’ ABC, springing up all over the city. He drives from stall to stall maintaining quality and glad handing the regulars.

My breakfast starts with fried hake. Having worked in top-notch Cape Town restaurants helps me here. I’d pair it with a high altitude Sauvignon Blanc, no fruit, nothing wooded, something with a short crisp finish. A subtle fish, no heavy flavours. There’s a bottle of chilli sauce with a pierced lid on the counter. I refrain but regret my decision as everyone else covers their fish with it. Next time.

w4

Next the vetkoek, OK three, they’re delicious and warm. Comfort food defined. Eating is almost as pleasurable as watching him make them. A rapid fire hand movement deposits perfectly rounded dough balls one after the other until the pot is filled. He sees me frantically pointing my camera as he does this. A photo does it little justice. Then he furnishes the moment with the understatement of the morning, he says through a hidden smile, “I like what I do.” Yes you do maestro.

w2

w1

Alfred has a gas powered kettle, I have a cup of instant coffee. Wide open for improvement, but what the fuck are going to do? It’s 330am on a Saturday on a Joburg street corner. Coffee, any coffee, is a godsend.

I see the regulars surface. There’s S, the heavy drinking monotheist. A porter of sorts, he’s helped me move canvases between studios amidst the bustle, my life’s work in a single tetris inspired load. We talk some shit, night’s highlights, day’s plans. Weekends for him are always a 48 hour unbroken fest. He doesn’t go home on Fridays, or Saturdays, but drinks and works non stop until Sunday afternoon. Trooper.

Talking about Troopers, look at these cunts.

3 cunts

Raging home from a night’s revelries. I hear concerns about raw dogging a stranger and needing another beer. The preoccupied countenance of youthful upfuckery. We also talk shit, the normal Cape Town- Joburg divide, then reign the gags. Tears stream as balls lay broken. Cecil’s balls to be exact. From Zille to Umsholozi, Basketball to hangovers- I linger in chaotic small talk’s mayhem. Parisian coffee shops can kiss my dick, this is how it’s done.

last

I smoke cigarettes and drink coffee watching a sub culture form around me. A place of economic transaction and early morning snackery transforms to a kind of third state. Difficult to explain but it’s in the conversations. A man tells me about getting robbed on the bus by four women, another laughs at him and they have a mock argument. Aaah, dead.

Another tells me he plans on starting a party photography business. He already has the camera and the portable printer, which he shows me from his friend’s backpack. They covered a party in Hillbrow, just stopping for a snack on their way home, an artful and dangerous endeavour, result.

I head back up the Springbok Hotel’s stairs, satisfied. Time to get back to ‘the end.’