The area of Alexandra where Mark lived had been designated a "hot" spot. In other words, the police were intended to constantly raid it.
Like other children his age, Mark learned how to understand subtle cues to know if there was danger.
He learned how to lie convincingly. But he was terrified. Seeing the police made him forget everything he knew. Other children might run to warn their parents, calling out, "Police! Police!" but Mark couldn't do it.
Fortuitously, Mama seemed to know when the police were coming and would escape just in time. She claimed to have premonitions of coming danger, premonitions that Papa scoffed at.
Mark didn't understand why Papa and other men wouldn't run when the police approached, but one day he overheard some women mention that the men thought it was cowardly and unmanly to run. Instead, they would pay bribes to avoid arrest.
Those who were arrested several times would end up in a maximum-security prison, Modderbee, where they would turn into violent men.
At night, Mark would overhear Mama pray that Papa would never be sent to Modderbee.
Will prayers do anything to stop the police from sending him to Modderbee? Mark asks his Mama one night, and wonders why she keeps praying when she replies, probably not.
Despite the police presence, life in Alexandra ran along predictable rhythms.
On Mondays, adults would still be recovering from their weekend hangovers.
On Tuesdays, butchers would come by with their meat and women would sell roasted maize from their stalls.
On Wednesdays, a Chinese man would come by to pick up bets and announce winners for the numbers game known as fah-fee.
On Thursdays, the kitchen girls and boys would come to town on their day off.
On Fridays, black men and women would come home from their jobs with their wages and the tsotsis (gangsters) would lie in wait to rob them, sometimes murder them, for the pittance they were paid.
On weekends, folks would drink heavily, trying to forget their hard lives.