21st of March – Season 2
Ruben Rothschild was a typical seventeen-year-old boy: fascinated by pretty girls, liked action movies and absolutely loved fast cars. That’s why he was so happy to have a Dad who was a reporter in the F-X Series. It’s too bad he was the worst of them.
“Ruben,” said Wikus. “What’s on your mind, son?”
They were currently making their way to the Festival of the Fall pay-per-view over at Engels Korta. “I’m just wondering when you’re going to write a front page article for the newsletter.”
Wikus rolled his eyes. “You sound just like your mother, thinks I’m not ambitious enough.”
“Well are you,” said Ruben, “ambitious?”
It was a legitimate question considering that Wikus had always wanted to be a reporter but failed to hack it and ended up at a desk job for as long as Ruben had been alive and would have stayed there if Moodswing didn’t have a knack for giving people a second crack at their passion later in life.
Wikus thought carefully of his answer. “I take my job seriously.”
Ruben gave him an ‘oh really’ look. “Okay then, Dad. What’s your article for tonight going to be about?”
“Well, I was going to write about the local businesses and how much today means to them.” When Ruben rolled his eyes, Wikus felt compelled to defend himself. “What? I think it would be a good article.”
“Isn’t that what Katty’s mother wrote about last year?” Toney Kunene was another F-X reporter that worked in the series who also owed a debt to Moodswing for hiring people in their forties. Although, Ruben’s interest in her was only because of her daughter, Katlego.
“It’s different this time. Almost all the businesses have gazebos and there’s a clear improvement on the marketing front. Look,” said Wikus as they pulled into the extraordinarily business parking area in front of the even busier Engels Korta which was buzzing with patrons and local businesses alike.
However, Ruben was unconvinced. “Still, I think we can do better.”
“Yes. I’m going to help you get a story tonight, Dad. You may dress like Clark Kent, (he really did from the fogged-up glasses, parted black hair to the badly-fitted suit and trench coat), but tonight I’m turning you into Superman.”
Wikus was so taken aback by the comic book reference, he could only manage an “okay.” Wikus then saw a familiar face, two in fact as Toney and her daughter Katty greeted them. Wikus noted his son’s smitten expression.
“Hey Wikus,” said Toney. “A bit overdressed, aren’t you? This is supposed to be a festival, right, not a conference?”
Wikus let out a sheepish laugh before giving Ruben an R50. “Here, why don’t you go buy yourselves some ice cream, enjoy yourselves.”
Ruben and Katty didn’t need to be told twice, although Toney made a point of shouting to the departing Katty to keep her cell phone on.
Once out of earshot, Ruben said, “my Dad,” rolling his eyes. “Thinks we can enjoy ourselves with just fifty rand.” This made Katty laugh.
Oh, her smile. Katty was a seventeen-year-old beautiful Zulu girl. They’d met a year ago at the previous season’s Festival of the Fall. While Ruben had hoped to see her at the Fuel Speedway after that, it wasn’t until Sunday Night Easter that they met again and exchanged phone numbers. While they were only friends, Ruben always wished that they were something more.
“Happy anniversary,” he said giving her an ice cream.
“Anniversary?” she said, taking the ice cream with a hesitant smile. “Hmm, I didn’t know we were dating?”
“We’re not,” said Ruben kicking himself for saying that too quickly. “But friends can have anniversaries too.”
Ruben nodded. “Yep. That’s why I’m giving you ice cream and not flowers.”
“Hmm. Maybe for our next anniversary, you can give me a data bundle.” They both laughed. “Seriously though, my father still thinks one gig a week is enough. Now I couldn’t text Teresa to let her know I’m here.”
Ever the helpful ‘friend’, Ruben fished out his phone without another word and scrolled to Teresa Koek’s number in his contacts and called her, putting the phone on speaker.
Teresa answered the phone and made an animated shocked noise. “Ruben? Does Katlego know you’re calling another girl?”
Ruben was amused when he saw Katty blush. “Hi Teresa, you’re on speaker with both of us.”
“Oh.” The single word made it abundantly clear that these two clearly spoke about him when he wasn’t around.
“Yeah, we just wanted to find out where you are. We’re by the town square. Are you here yet?”
“Yeah, I’m in the V.I.P. area. The closest stands to the paddock.”
Katty and Ruben shared an impressed look. “Look at you girl,” said Katty. “Did your sister raise your allowance or something?”
“Something like that. You guys can join me if you want. But hurry up because Brenda and Doris are in the opening race.”
THE POWER OF BELIEF
As they’d made their way to the V.I.P. section, wondering what Teresa had done to score the tickets, Katty regaled Ruben on her home life and how her father’s been more absent these days due to some secret project he was working on meaning that she was spending more weekends with her mother, being forced to listen to her complaining.
In turn, Ruben had regaled Katty about how he was going to find his father a story that would finally put him on the map, explaining that he was sick of his father not bothering to be competitive. Katty loved the idea.
“What about this race? I mean, you have to admit, when it comes to interesting stories, this one is definitely good. Occultists versus Catholics? I mean, I can already see the title: I Want to Believe.”
“What do you want to believe?” asked Teresa as they arrived at the entrance to the V.I.P. section. She noticed the remnants of a cone in Katty’s hand. “And where’s my ice cream?”
Katty shrugged. “Don’t ask me. He’s the one who bought them.”
“Oh,” said Teresa, this time in a gossipy tone.
“It’s just a small something to celebrate our one year of friendship, that’s all,” said Ruben.
However, Teresa wasn’t taking the bait, narrowing her eyes into slits. “Mhmm. Funny because didn’t you also meet me a year ago today?” Once satisfied that she’d made them uncomfortable, she asked, “so what were you guys talking about?”
“Ruben is helping his father find a story and I was just suggesting this one.”
“You know because of the rivalry and the undertones of witchcraft versus faith.”
Teresa shook her head. “I think Ruben and his Dad can do better than that.”
Teresa’s word served as something of a final word as they went silent as her sisters, Teresa & Doris took to the asphalt followed by Blackcat Mathunzi and his so-called ‘apprentice’, Fiona: the reigning Relay Baron and Baroness. It was Blackcat and Brenda set to kick the race off as Doris and Fiona waited in their respective pit lanes, chomping at the bit to get in the race.
The race started with the competitors screeching off their lines, eager to have dibs on leading the race. While they remained neck and neck throughout the first lap, it was only when they switched with their partners for the second that the Koeks came out as the first leaders. Teresa jumped up and cheered.
It was not that hard to cheer for Brenda and Doris and it wasn’t because they were Teresa’s older sisters. It was because it was so hard to cheer for Blackcat – or as his birth name on his I.D. read: Blanket – what with his possessive relationship with Fiona. In fact, their somewhat toxic relationship had taken a major knock at the previous P.P.V., Heart-Break City when they’d faced each other. But since it had been a One Kilometer Derby with the stakes effectively gagging the other from complaining, it had unnervingly solved their problems and allowed them to work together again.
After almost seventeen laps of leading the 20 Lap Race, Brenda made a mistake which finally allowed Blackcat to capitalize and pass her and hand over the lead to Doris who took the final lap and win. In hindsight, Ruben was glad he wasn’t going to use this race for the story because it would have been just tragic to write a story suggesting that spells could triumph over faith in God.
THE TWELVE ROUNDS DERBY
After watching her sisters lose to the spell-castors, Teresa welcomed the distraction which was Katty and Ruben discussing the next race as a possible story to run.
“C’mon now, this one is great. Mandla Xulu versus John Kloof. The Steamroller versus the Family Man. The tagline: First it was for the Crown; then it was for the fate of the fandom; now, it’s for cold hard cash.” Katty was smiling as she said the words complete with animated hand gestures.
“How about Penny’s mystery opponent?” suggested Teresa. “I mean, imagine if this new guy actually won the title from Penny. Imagine the tagline then.” Now it was Teresa with the animated hand gestures. “Spoilt rich girl defeated by a newcomer. Extra, extra. Read all about it.”
The trio laughed and quietened down to watch the next race but Ruben’s mind was still busy. Perhaps Teresa had a point about the newcomer but he still didn’t like it. Ruben wanted something that was going to sting a bit for the readers; get their hearts racing, desperate to know what was going to come next. That’s what would give his father momentum going forward after this.
Ruben and the girls nearly jumped out of their seats when a gunshot rang out to start the Derby. Derbies were so far and few between that they’d forgotten that they started differently to normal races. From what Ruben could remember from the Year End Bash P.P.V., a 12 Rounds Derby was a contest where the racer who won the most laps, won the race, leaving no long-game strategy for the drivers to use. Currently, Mandla and Kloof were at each other’s throats for the lead of the race, treating the first lap like it was the last.
Ruben found himself rooting for Kloof, sympathetic to his cause: he wanted the money at stake in this race to use on his family. R28 000 worth of money. However, Ruben also understood Mandla’s issue with this: Kloof’s family wasn’t starving. He was just trying to help his family maintain the lifestyle they’d become accustomed to when he was F-X King.
The race was spectacular, with the constant pressure they were keeping each lap made for epic racing action. They were six laps down and the score was 3-3. It was still anyone’s race. However, Mandla decided to change the game and by tightening up on the bends allowing him a few precious extra seconds. The strategy proved effective as he took the next two rounds taking his score up to 5-3.
At some point during the 9th Lap, Kloof had had enough and found the resolve to take back the lead just in time to take the next round and then followed through with the next one, once again evening the score at 5-5 going into the 10th Lap.
“This could end in sudden death,” said Ruben excitedly.
“Are you sure you don’t want to write this story?” said Katty. Unfortunately, they’d spoken too soon as Mandla overtook Kloof once again, this time for good and took the next two rounds ending the Derby at 7-5 to Mandla. There was a hush in the crowd as they realized that Mandla was now R28 000 richer and Kloof was one step further from his goals.
“Poor man,” said Teresa looking at a frustrated John Kloof leave the track.
“Oh poor nothing,” said Ruben, a little too coldheartedly. They looked at him shocked. “He knew this was coming; that it was an option. It’s just like the first One Kilometer Derby back at Show-Down last season, he could have said no to staking his wife but instead, he went through with it. Luckily, that time, he won.”
Katty shook her head. “Who are you?” Ruben was thankful that he detected at least a hint of amusement suggesting that she wasn’t seriously upset with him. Which was good because he didn’t need the distraction as the next race was to be his ticket.
THE DEBUT OF TEMPER KUNENE
The trio was sitting in anticipation, not knowing what would follow. Ruben had his phone out, ready to note down everything he could. When Penny Potgieter, the reigning Duchess of Drag came out, there was a boo from the crowd. She’d earned it after screwing Dime – who’d beaten her in a One K.M. Derby this past week for a title shot – out of a P.P.V. appearance. However, this was not the focus.
When Penny’s opponent’s race car came out, there was a restlessness in the crowd, as they were eager to cheer this newcomer even though they knew nothing about them, just because he (or she) was challenging Penny for her title. Then there was a hush as the announcer made the introduction.
“And her opponent. Hailing from South Ngelosi. He is a tow-truck driver by day and a racer by night. He enters the racetrack in a vehicle named The Black Tantrum. He is… Teeempeer Kuneneee!”
Ruben’s eyes immediately darted up at the familiar surname. While it was faint, he had just made out Katty saying “Oh no” and had slowly put two and two together. Teresa hadn’t yet.
“Another Kunene,” said Teresa. “Small world, huh?”
“Not small enough,” said Katty. “That’s my father.”
There was suddenly silence. For them, it was because they didn’t know what to say. For the crowd, it was because the race was about to begin. The race itself was a little underwhelming as Duchess Penny won with an effective lead making the race almost predictable and immediately putting out the fire that was Temper Kunene.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the debut as Katty’s father got out of the Black Tantrum, took off his helmet, and threw it across the pit lane, shouting in frustration. Ruben noticed Katty instinctively flinch from the sight of her father’s anger. Ruben wondered if it was a regular occurrence.
“Now there’s a story one can write about,” said Teresa.
Katty’s eyes moved from Teresa to Ruben, welling as she pleaded. “No Ruben, please. Don’t write about this. Don’t. You’ll make him mad.”
“He already looks like he’s halfway there, Katty.”
“I’m begging you.”
Those words haunted Ruben as he suddenly felt that he had to choose between the girl he liked and his father’s career. This is a no-brainer… Isn’t it?
GAUNTLET III: NO HOLDS BARRED
Ruben’s search for a better story had ironically landed him squarely in the middle of his original story which was now getting juicier by the minute. He was about to come around a corner behind the regular stands when he heard voices. It quickly became apparent who they belonged to.
“I can work wherever I damn well please, Toney.”
“Except here, Themba. You don’t just get to show up and start racing. I mean, did you even think about our daughter!?”
“I did think about Katlego. I also thought about how I needed to earn more money to put food in her mouth since the money I pay you probably doesn’t get that far.”
“Argh voetsek, Themba.”
Temper must have smiled. “Be careful now. You wouldn’t want to end up in anger management with that attitude.”
Toney clicked her tongue. “It’s like I can’t even talk to you.” Toney then walked off. It was at this moment that Ruben knew he had his story.
He followed Toney and was surprised to see her talking to Styles Sithole before finding a spot to watch the Gauntlet Race. Ruben approached her.
“Hi, Missus Kunene.”
Toney huffed. “What a day to have that surname. Hi Ruben. Are you looking for your father?”
“Not really. Just checking out the races. Are you writing an article about the Gauntlet Race? I saw you talking to Styles.”
“Uhm yeah, said Toney. I’m interested in seeing if Styles can step up and finally breakthrough into a feature-racer.”
“Well if he does, he’ll have to go through,” Ruben looked at his opponents on the racetrack, “Stevie, Jay-Vee-Zed, and Touch Mkhize to do it.”
The flag went down and the race was off. Styles was neck and neck with the first gauntleteer, Touch, looking to come out ahead in these 10 laps. Ruben took the opportunity to pick Toney’s brain. “It must be tough to rise to the top in this series.”
“It is,” said Toney, honestly. “It requires overcoming odds, to go through a gut check and show that you’re better than the rest.”
“So, would you say it’s easier to stay at the top or get to the top?”
“I think getting there is harder. Why?” Toney then let out an excited gasp as Styles narrowly managed to cross the line ahead of Touch in Lap 10 which automatically kick started the second leg of the gauntlet across from Stevie.
“I’m just trying to figure out if that applies to more than just motorsport. What about, say, journalism?”
Toney finally turned to look at him. “Journalism can be quite competitive when everyone is after the same story.” Toney got excited again when Styles won Lap 20, kicking off the final leg of the gauntlet against J.V.Z. “Why are you asking all these questions?”
“I’m just trying to help my Dad out. I feel he’s not being taken seriously in what you guys do.”
Toney didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, the end of the race came just in time to distract them. Toney then got very excited as Styles successfully defeated J.V.Z. and was announced as the winner of the third gauntlet.
FACE-OFF OF THE CENTURY
After his conversation with Toney, Ruben needed to think. So he found himself a seat and watched the main event of the night in silence without distraction. The feature race was between King Solo Magubane and Thawn Oberhauser and judging from the restless fan reaction, it was one of the most anticipated and Ruben could understand why.
King Solo and Thawn were one of the first big rivalries in Formula-X with their first race happening at Arbor Games all the way back in September—Season 1. Of course, back then, it was Thawn who’d famously won the Crown. Since then, these two feature-racers’ careers had taken very different trajectories (with Solo’s taking him back to Auto 1 only to return with two spectacular gauntlet performances and Thawn’s taking him on a rollercoaster journey that involved his love life but eventually culminated in spectacular wins of his own in a 12 Rounds Derby and the illustrious Scramble Race). Now here they were.
The race was beautiful, King Solo and Thawn knowing each other so well that the exchanging of leads was something to behold. It looked like a dance, it was so beautiful. They were 10 laps down and it was hard to determine who was at the top. After a crucial misstep by the Formula-X King, Thawn took the lead, making everyone gasp. Fortunately, this was a 20 Lap Race giving the King just enough to recover in the 18th Lap.
The final lap was like a showcase of the immortals. Expert understanding of the track and what their vehicles could do. However, in the end, Solo’s Auto 1 experience seemed to be the deciding factor as he managed to pull in the victory. It was just in time as Ruben also knew what he was going to do.
“I’m sorry, Katty,” he said as he sent his notes to his father in the hopes that he’d have the guts to write the article. Ruben watched in silence as the masses followed the float with the winners of the night on it make their way to the Engels Korta town square for the festivities.