Cedric Luck was fed up with the 2017 March summer season. He wished it could end. He’d just returned from another failed interview attempt at the Pretoria Government Agency. Before he left, a young black female secretary working for the company gave him a word of advice.
“No matter what qualifications you’ve got,” she said. “To get your foot in the company’s door, you gotta know the Big Boss.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Sneak in a bribe,” said the secretary, half-smiling. “Give ‘em a nice pay, you’ll get the job. I guarantee you.”
Cedric could not believe what he was hearing. He bolted out the door without saying a word. He was shocked by the realization that life in South Africa had become impossible. Paying his way to get a job did not sit well with him.
By the time he was back in his old neighbourhood, he did not have the desire to go dangle in his apartment. He chose to sit and gather his thoughts at the Arcadia Park near the Pretoria Museum.
He kept on thinking of what the secretary said: “Give ‘em a nice pay.”
“That lady’s crazy,” he muttered, laughing at the absurd encounter.
After a few minutes, he was startled when he saw two black teen girls approaching him. Both of them were slender, wearing grey crop-tops, navy-blue torn leggings by the knees and brown leather Eskimo boots.
“Oh shit, no,” said Cedric, gasping.
By virtue of looking at the girl’s make-up and long nails, they reminded him of a bad Gothic horror movie. Each of them held small pamphlets.
“What’s the matter?” one of the girls asked.
“Not in the mood,” he answered, looking away.
The girls were persistent and would not leave him by a long shot. The second girl waved and smiled at Cedric, while the first girl began to speak.
“I’m Suzette,” she said. “By the way, I don’t bite.”
He cleared his throat and tried to ease up a little. Maybe he was just being paranoid. He decided to hear the girls out.
“Okay, cool. Ced for Cedric,” he said. “Who’s she?”
“Jezebelle,” answered the second girl.
“Okay, so what ya’ll want from me?” he asked. “Hope ya’ll not here to sell me insurance. If you are…I’m not interested.”
Suzette gave him a serious look and shook her head.
“Nah, relax will ya,” she said. “We’re pushing our Masters at U.P.”
U.P stands for the University of Pretoria. It is a well-established academic institution that’s among the top big five universities in South Africa.
“In food science,” she continued. “Uhm…we’ve got a chocolate tasting project that’s poppin. We’d like you to check it out. If you go today, tomorrow…then Thursday you’ll get a R300 voucher.”
Cedric read the pamphlet. It looked legit to him but he still was not sure. The pamphlet reminded him of the many incidents in taxi ranks and shopping malls, where several hawkers would sell dodgy pamphlets to citizens.
Cedric remembered how those pamphlets were not about chocolate tasting but had weird advertisements about traditional doctors, who could make you win the lottery, grow your penis an extra inch or worst of all, bring rats into your house that could make you become a filthy rich sultan.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” said Cedric.
“Ah, come on,” said Suzzette. “Don’t be a party pooper.”
“Yeah Ced,” added Jezebelle. “You want the mula right?”
He scratched his head for a moment. He did not want to entertain a situation of meeting a traditional doctor, who would upsize his manhood at this chocolate tasting event.
“You guys sure about this?” he asked.
“Hundreds, absolutely,” said Suzzette.
Cedric’s eyes moved left to right, inspecting the girl’s body gestures. He wanted to make sure if they were not taking him for a ride.
As soon as he was convinced that they were not high on weed or drunk, he gave them a gentle nod and smiled.
“Free entry right?” he asked, wanting to be sure.
“Sure thang,” said Jezebelle.
In a quick second, Cedric felt doubtful once he heard that the entrance was free. Many thoughts cluttered his mind. He could not help but think: what if the girl’s had injected the chocolates with rat poison?
He imagined eating the chocolates and vomiting his lungs to a state of death.
“Noooo,” he cried out, feeling shocked. The girls burst in laughter.
“Dude, what’s up?” Suzette asked.
Realizing that it was just an imaginary thought and he did not want to seem like some lunatic to the girls, he stomped his foot on the ground and agreed. “Alright, let’s do this,” he said.
“So, you’ll come?” asked Suzette, smiling.
“Yeah, I’m in,” he answered.
“Awesome,” said Jezebelle.
“Where’s the venue again?” he asked.
“Just a block away,” said Suzette.
“Right, I know the street.”
“Are you sure?” asked Jezebelle. “We’ll go with ya if you like?”
“Nah, I’m cool,” said Cedric. “I’ll find my way.”
It was twenty past one on the dot on Cedric’s watch. He was now on his way to the premises of the chocolate tasting.
He was still astounded by the fact that he would get R300 for chocolate tasting. It seemed unreal but he considered himself lucky that he had met the girls. He still did not want to keep his hopes high and so he left a small room for disappointment in case things did not go as planned.
When Cedric arrived at the chocolate site, he was stunned to find that the building was not a big factory but a little cafeteria.
A young athletic black man, wearing green uniform walked in his direction.
“Howzit going bro,” said the man calmly. “Are you here for the tasting?”
Three ladies passed them. For a brief moment, Cedric felt irritated. He mumbled and fidgeted with the blue collar of his long sleeved shirt.
“Don’t freak out,” said the man. “Or worry about them.”
“Uh, I’m cool,” he answered. “So, where’s the tasting?”
The man in conversation with him started laughing. Cedric pursed his lips. He was not one who enjoyed being laughed at.
“Before you go bro,” said the man. “I’ll need you to fill the register over here.”
Cedric snatched the register book from him. He signed in his full name, proof of identity, cell phone number and home address.
“Tomorrow, you need to get here same time,” the man continued. “Final day is Thursday. Right now, I’ll put this code on your chest. It’s a membership sign, makes it easy to identify everyone.”
“Okay, cool,” said Cedric, feeling bored by the whole process.
Seconds later, two white fat gentlemen appeared.
Both of them wore white coats and what seemed to look like white saggy napkins on their heads.
Cedric laughed in front of them. He could not believe how funny and ridiculous the two guys looked. He felt sorry for the gentleman but at the same time, he was in stitches by their outrageous outfits.
“Uh, this way,” said the one white man. “Please, follow us.”
Cedric had a chuckle as he walked behind them.
Finally they arrived inside the chocolate factory. Cedric was confused that he could not see any gigantic slabs of white or brown chocolates.
“What the hell?” he muttered.
All that he could see right in front of him, were a crowd of boys and girls, seated in front of ten if not fifteen black computers.
Cedric raised an eyebrow to one of the white guys.
“Welcome everyone,” said a confident voice of a grown white lady.
Cedric looked behind. He was shocked by the tallness of the white lady.
“You here to sample our chocolates,” the white lady continued. “They’ll be hitting the market soon. In front of you is a computer. You’ll be asked to fill in questionnaires after tasting the chocolates.”
A black chubby lady, alongside two white men with long brown beard offered them chocolates. They were displayed on small thin gold plastic plates.
The chocolate tasters were also offered plastic bottles filled with sparkling water. It was a plan just in case they got thirsty from nibbling the chocolates.
When the first chocolate set was placed in front of Cedric, it looked dark brown in texture. He was surprised on his first tasting attempt that the chocolates did not taste bad as he had thought.
He smiled when he tasted the milky flavour melting on his tongue. After that, he felt an after taste. It was clear that the chocolates shorted with a rich cocoa ingredient. Cedric answered the questionnaire.
The second set arrived. He was astonished how big, flat and yummy the chocolates looked. When he took a nibble, the first words that came out of his mouth was a loud: “YUCK!!”
He rushed to answer the next questionnaire which asked:
“What do you think is missing or needs to be added in these chocolates?”
He knew the answer and he did not take long to think. He typed his point of view with immediate effect.
“No flavour at all. You can do better. Why not put in some raisins, nuts or honey to add flavour.”
The chocolate tasting staff brought in more plates. Cedric felt sick from the chocolate tasting. When he checked the time, it was two on the dot. He lifted one hand in the staff member’s direction. The one white guy approached him.
“Yes, are you winning?” he asked.
“Uh, ya but…I wanna know,” said Cedric, feeling dizzy. “What time are we knocking off again?”
The white guy could see that Cedric had enough. He was swaying his head back and forth as if to disapprove of the long time they had been stuck inside the chocolate firm.
He shook his head, regretting why he chose to be there in the first place.
“You still got two sets left,” said the white guy.
“Holy shit, are you serious,” replied Cedric, feeling shocked.
“Uh, no swearing allowed,” answered the white guy, walking away.
Cedric no longer had a sweet tooth to carry on with the tasting. It was at this point when he decided not to eat all the chocolates.
He nibbled them instead, taking small bites. The nibbling seemed to work in his favour. As soon as he was done with the two sets, they allowed him to leave the room. When he was by the foyer, he looked inquisitively at one of the white guys wearing the white napkin and asked politely.
“So, don’t you guys give us half the money?”
“No we don’t,” the white guy replied. “You get all your money Thursday.”
Cedric gave him a dull stare. He quietly walked out without looking back.
At times Cedric had no control over his thoughts. Each and every time he thought about the R300 voucher, he knew that it was only wise to stick it out another two days. Tapping out the last minute would not help him at all.
The next was Wednesday. As the yellow sun rose, Cedric sprang out of bed.
Normally he had an unusual ritual of checking his bank balance on his phone every time he woke up.
This time around, he did not bother to check any balances. Cedric knew that his bank account was on a diet (meaning that he had no money).
He swallowed his pride when the clock struck one in the afternoon. It was then when he strolled his way forward to the chocolate factory.
“Awesome, you’ve made it,” said the same black dude by the register.
Cedric was surprised when he stared at the guy’s name tag on the left side of his chest. He had not noticed it the day before. He was stunned as he read that the name of the guy was Florence.
The first thought which crossed Cedric’s mind was Florence Nightingale.
“Anything wrong?” asked the black guy.
Cedric chuckled at first. He improvised a serious look afterwards as if everything was normal.
“Nah, I’m fine,” he answered.
After filling the registration form, he joined the other chocolate tasting members, who were seated in a waiting room with black leather sofas.
It amused Cedric that he and the other tasters had arrived so early. Clearly everyone was broke and they needed that R300 voucher.
After a few seconds waiting, he was taken aback by the realization that he was the only old person in the room. He shook his head in embarrassment.
Finally, one of the white guys called them in for the penultimate chocolate tasting segment. Cedric heaved a deep sigh. Soon it would be all over.
He nibbled the chocolates and answered the questions with haste. It was on his third plate when he became startled by a female voice.
“Sorry I can’t. Aaargh…I’m sorry,” cried the black girl, coughing terribly. She was slender. He watched as she pulled out a chair. He could see red puffiness in her eyes. Cedric’s only hope was that she wouldn’t throw up.
The chocolate tasting crew took her slowly out the room. They were fed up to say the least. One of the white guys said something like:
“You poor thing. Just go, its fine.”
And in that moment Cedric knew that the girl would not receive her voucher.
When Thursday arrived, Cedric only had two words in mind: “Pay Day!”
The past two days seemed to have gone well for him. He was astounded by how lucky he was that he didn’t have to see a dentist for a horrible toothache.
By the time he stood near the reception counter, he was told to be patient since the second group of chocolate tasters were about to exit before he could enter with his group. Cedric was shocked when he saw one of the staff members taking out hundred rand notes from her bra.
He was sure that she would be the one paying them. He continued to watch her counting the money as if it was nothing.
The second last group was paid. Cedric and his group were now the last to go inside the factory. They followed suite to the usual chocolate tasting routine.
One staff member approached him and said that he was left with a set before he could leave. Cedric was excited.
“Bring it on,” he said.
After he completed the last questionnaire, he got up.
“Wait a sec,” said a white lady. She held a big Samsung tablet in her hand.
She handed the tablet over to Cedric.
“Uh, fill in these last questions,” she added.
As soon as he was done, she thanked him. When he approached the reception area to collect his voucher, Cedric was surprised to see Suzette by the counter.
She had this huge smile on her while handing over the R300 voucher. Alongside the voucher was a gold box with a red ribbon.
Cedric smiled back in return, assuming that what was inside the box were nothing but hidden chocolates.
He stared at the box as if it was a strange tool but he did not open it. Cedric then thanked her for the money and the chocolate gift.
He was relieved by the time he arrived at his apartment. Then out of unexplainable curiosity, he began to slowly remove the box wrapping.
You would probably think that the guy was possibly dreaming but surely not.
When Cedric finally opened the box, what he saw inside were eighteen carats of shiny diamonds that reflected back to his eyes.
The question you might ask is whether the other members received the same gift pack as Cedric that day? Well maybe they did or maybe not.
The only certain guarantee in this case, Cedric was now 1 million rand’s richer. He booked the first flight to Sicily the next day.
Lazola Pambo is a South African novelist, poet and essayist.
The majority of his work has been published in “New Contrast,”“The Kalahari Review,” “SentinelLiterary Quarterly,” and “BlazeVOX,” among others.
His young adult novel: “The Path Which Shapes Us,” was published to critical acclaim by Lingua Franca Educational Publishers in 2016.
If you enjoyed Chocolate Tasting, leave a comment and let Lazola know.
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