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Her face is blank, almost babyish in its featurelessness; in her eyes there is no tomorrow. Like thousands of other young rural women, she moves from hand to hand in the dangerous intersection between two industries: sex work and road freight-trucking. He drops to his knees and raises his shirt for me to see. Hieroglyphs, icons and faded words teem upwards from his trouser-line over his spine and across the shoulders and arms, enmeshing him like fish scales.
Like a silver dollar, she goes from hand to hand, and man to man. Yet this underworld artwork — with its frustration, its sullen yearning to control women — highlights the irony of prostitution that every man senses and every prostitute-killer resents. Reduced to a sexual commodity, an object exchangeable for money, a woman or man, or child enters a treadwheel in which she goes from hand to hand but stays curiously unpossessable.
I, too, understand this paradox. But when I find her, others will have visited before me. My job tonight is to explore the intersection, the symbiosis, between the two industries. Thursdays and Fridays are peak times in the trucking industry, the days when the majority of goods are ready for long-haul transport, and the later it gets, the more trucks outnumber cars.
By midnight, they dominate the N1 completely. The 2, companies registered with the Road Freight Association employ 54, employees and their , vehicles transport an annual payload of million tons. One would swear every last truck is on the N1 tonight. Cavalcades of these sea-monsters hurtle past under the frosty Karoo starfields, glowing crustaceans with Darth Vader faces and headlights eating up the sleepless miles.
Where are the women? Alongside the winelands of Worcester, a truck has pulled up for two female hitch-hikers. Further up, at De Doorns, a grape-seller near an informal settlement suggests I look elsewhere.