Antoinette put down her waiter’s tray filled with dirty plates from customer’s tables and softly murmured the words, “We will give tip when you return the land.” She stared at these words on the crumpled piece of paper in her hand and began to laugh. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the two young black men at the table who’d given her the letter with the word “TIP” written in bold scrawled on the cover of the envelope. The one who said his name was Mongane gave her the letter with a flourish. Earlier on he boasted he studied at Oxford, and introduced his friend as Sipho with a hearty slap on his shoulder. She picked up an ashtray, and poured more ash and stubs from other ashtrays into the first ashtray, until it was a tottering, stinky, smouldering heap. Then she placed a complimentary restaurant birthday candle in the middle and lit it. She headed over to the table with a grin. “Here’s your country back, kind sirs,” she said with a giggle as she presented the ashtray. “This is all that’s left of wonderful South Africa. Oh, in case you don’t understand symbolism, and I believe at least one of you is a, ta dah, Oxford Rhodes scholar or something, so you should understand, but I think this,” she pointed at the ashtray with its burning candle, “is a wonderful emblem for the whole of bloody South Africa today. Now. How about that tip? I hope it’s in pound sterling given the appalling exchange rate thanks to Zuma swapping around ministers every five minutes … ”

“Cut cut cut CUT!” roared the director from behind a stage light. The camera man lowered his cam and cursed. “Too much black humour,” said the director. “I thought it was brilliant,” said the cameraman. “And fucking inflammatory.”

“I have to agree,” said Mongane. “This,” he pointed at the ashtray, “will make the Sunday Times. Then the international press. We can set up a dozen or more people in the restaurant on the day when we pull this stunt, with their smartphones ready like drawn handguns in some Wild West movie. The whole scandalous scene will be twittered and instagrammed before you can say ‘burning necklace of tyres’.”

“No no no,” said the director, running his hands through his long, greasy dreadlocks. “It is too funny in a horrible way and it makes your character, Mongane, look like the bloody victim. We need our sweetheart Antoinette here to look the victim. White angst and all that. It’s easy to work with her being the oppressed victim of post-apartheid. That is what will go viral. Not yet another black victim.”

Sipho nodded. “I see his point. Antoinette, have you thought about crying when you get Mongane’s note?”

“Crying?” exclaimed Antoinette. “How’s that going to help?” She looked at the director. “So scrap the ashtray idea?” The director nodded, thinking, chewing on a finger. She blew out the candle and emptied the contents of the ashtray into a bin whilst singing uit die blou van onse hemel …

“Nice one,” said the director, looking at Sipho. “Crying is a great idea. The marginalised, frail, oppressed white victim who expects a tip but gets insulted by a young black scholar who should know better. Who should be more educated.” He clapped his hands. “Let’s go ready for another take. This time with tears, Antoinette. And I mean floods of the stuff. Body trembling. Keep it impromptu, keep it emotional and Stanislavski.”

Antoinette pouted at the director. “I can cry, I can do that for the camera that but why cry over a silly note and no tip? Imagine all the Twitter and Facebook vomments.”

“Vomments?” said several of the others. “Did you say vomits?” asked the director.

“Vomments is a word someone cooked up,” said Antoinette blithely. “For all those idiotic online comments. Yeah, it’s a play on vomits. But still, why cry over a provocative, politically correct or incorrect note and no tip?”

“That’s the beauty of this,” said Mongane, standing up and taking back his note and stuffing it into a fresh envelope for the new take. “What we are creating here ain’t strictly fiction, because we know fiction is fiction when we watch the movie or read the novel, not a lie … ”

“Oh God, Mongane, you really are the philosophical scholar … “, said Antoinette.

“Mongane’s right,” said Sipho. “Fiction needs to make believable what a character does, because we know it’s a fiction. But this is supposed to be real world, baby. Better than a reality show. No one knows it’s fake. Or bullshit. Whatever. Therefore it’s absurd allll the way. There’s no reason for you to cry over a note, no meaning … ‘’

” … Just the gorgeous, irrational archetype,” the director interjected, motioning to the camera man to get ready, “of the Eternal Weeping Maiden in distress, so vulnerable, so in need of rescue, imagine the vomments going viral … ”

“We could use the ashtray concept if the first idea goes viral and we earn some cash,” said the cameraman.

Antoinette sighed while she chopped up an onion and sniffed it to get the tears going. “Remind me why we have to do this on film first.”

“Well if all else fails,” said the director, “we can sell all the film clip spoofs to Leon Schuster. In fact we can especially sell them to him for big bucks if the ideas go viral.”

All chuckled sardonically. The director clapped his hands once. “Okay, we need a wrap today. Tears Take One. Lights, camera, and … ”

Follow Rod on Twitter @Rod_in_China


  • CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @


Rod MacKenzie

CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg...

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