Watcher

Our families have always been close. So close that we didn’t see the need for a barrier between our two houses. All we had was a small line of bricks we called a wall that even a toddler could jump. So we knew all that was going on with them and they knew all that was going on with us. Until they left, heading for the greener side of the suburbs, leaving their son behind, who refused to leave because he  saw his staying behind as his chance at independence. And also, he had a childishly romantic relationship with the Township, much worse than those people who leave for the suburbs only to be seen hanging out with old friends every weekend. While the rest of us want to leave, they are there trying to convince us that the township is the best place to be. Much like rich people lying to us and themselves that money does not buy happiness. As if they do not want other people to compete for the happiness which they clearly enjoy. I know for a fact that I have ever only been truly happy when I have money in my pockets. And when I don’t have it I only pretend to be happy, I put on a false face, I use words to make myself feel better; like saying that I am content. Which in itself is a lie. What is contentment anyway? Simply another word to deceive. In a world where chasing material things in order to achieve an emotional state is looked down upon, and yet everyone does it. Is it hypocrisy or insanity. Hypocrisy is a lie told by someone who doesn’t believe it. Insanity is a lie told by someone who believes it completely.

Fundile’s family did not visit every weekend though. They left for the suburbs and were never to be seen again, except on the day after they came to fetch Fundile’s belongings.

We grew up together, Fundani and I.  I was the girl next door who was forever salivating over his half naked body when he did his daily morning exercises outside the house, he has always been very disciplined you see. I felt guilty about it because we grew up been told that we were like brother and sister. So it felt like a kind of incest of the imagination. I could not help thinking about all the things we could do together in the dark. At least I never acted on this urge. If it never happened, well, it never happened. Sometimes it feels like that’s all we ever did as the Molapo family, watching the Molefe family do things, things that we couldn’t do, or unwilling to do, or too lazy to do. We practically lived in  the same yard. Ate the same food, at least when they invited us to their house, we never had enough to invite anyone. When they came to our house, they spent the time drinking the beer that Mr Molefe had bought with him, and talked politics, a topic which Mr Molefe was very fond of. He spoke with the confident baritone voice of one who was comfortable with his place in the world, while my father listened and watched, perhaps imaging himself as the man sitting next to him, with his broad shoulders and the bulging stomach of the well fed,  commanding respect in all places, at all times, admired by men and desired by woman. When Mr Molefe was not around, my father would say that political talk was a sport for the privileged, for those who had time in their hands to think of such things. Those who were poor and still found time to talk about politics, only did so to escape the poor conditions they found themselves in. Much like men who are obsessed about a sport they are physically incapable to participate in. They do it without really thinking about it, because that is something to do, it would break their hearts otherwise.

“You and your ideas, I wonder why you never talk about them when Molefe is around.” My mother would say.

“Its makes no sense to talk about ideas to someone who is incapable of receiving them.” said my father

“Nonsense, you know he will just point out that you are talking nonsense. And you will cower behind his words like a frightened puppy.”

I hated Mr Molefe. I hated the way my father looked besides him. Like a weak frightened man of low intelligence, looking up to Mr Molefe the same way a hungry dog would look towards its master. My father has always been a man of low self esteem, but I suspect that his friendship with the Molefe family plunged it even further. I am sure that mother saw it too. But there is something that happens to people when they have spent too much time together, they stop looking at the other person. Until one day they wake up and find a stranger in their bed. And if they settled for them in the first place, they then settle for this new stranger.

Sometimes I suspected that my mother was in love with Mr Molefe. When she went to check on Mrs Molefe it was her husband she wanted to see. She was the one who was always suggesting that the Molefe’s come over to our house, or that we go to theirs.

“I think we could eat together every Sunday. Like a real family, we are a real family after all.” my mother would say.

Mrs Molefe did not mind. She was always happy to have the company. I think she was lonely, neglected by her husband. And she was attempting to use the company of others to fill that gap, but she couldn’t, because only one person could fill that gap; her husband. It did not stop her from trying though, but it was no use, she was one of those rare people who remained lonely even in the company of others. Even when my mother was talking to her she would just stare into space, not in an absent minded way because she never missed anything that was said to her, but in a sad what the hell am I doing here kind of way. But she and my mother were great friends, or at least they pretended to be.

It was my mother who told me that money was the only thing that made a man attractive. Without it he may as well not exist. The majority of women were married to invisible men, who appeared in the night to give them children, then disappear again back into the invisible nothingness in which they belong. Only money would make them visible. Sometimes a woman would meet an invisible man and see the potential of his visibility some time in the future. But most times the woman finds that such a potentiality was nothing but an illusion. This was the case with her and my father. She never considered that perhaps, it was Mr Molefe who stole my fathers visibility. But this theory of hers about visible and invisible men, although not entirely without merit, was just as ridiculous as the theories for which she always criticized my father.

For the most part, when the two families were not together, my mother sat next to the window facing their yard, and watched all that was going on with our neighbours. My father pretend not to like the fact that my mother was always sitting on that window, with the curtain slightly moved aside for a better view, but he was always asking for news from the other side.

“Why don’t you bring your own chair if you’re so interested?” My mother would say.

“I don’t have time to sit on a chair and spy on our neighbours.”

“So you don’t want to know?”

“Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.” he would say

In time I too would join my mother on that window, watching the lives of our neighbours. So much so that it seemed like that is all we ever did. We watched our neighbours when they extended their house while we still lived in the same four rooms that the apartheid government had build for us. We watched them when they drove in with their new car. We watched when Mrs Molefe hung their clothes on the washing line, or Mr Molefe did the garden on a Saturday, and when Fundile did it when he was old enough, taking off his shirt in the hot sun. He would spent the whole day cutting the grass with the grass scissors, even though they had a machine to do it. Taking care to trim it around  the edges like he was making a work of art.

“Planting grass and taking care of it like that is a luxury of those with too much time on their hands.” my father said.

“And I suppose you cant do it because you have such a busy schedule.” said my mother.

We watched finally when trucks parked next to their house, taking their furniture to their new residence, leaving Fundile with an empty house. My father went to help them, but my mother and I stayed by the window. I looked at her and could see tears in her eyes. She was not mourning for them. She was mourning for a life that could have been hers. For as long as the Molefe’s were our neighbours, she had kept that dream alive, even after all these years. But now they were leaving. The only visible man she had know had failed to notice her. In his eyes she was the invisible one. And she would forever remain invisible. After the Molefe family left, my parents retreated from the window, and discovered television. Only I was left, sitting on my lone chair with the curtain slightly to the side for a better view, because Fundile was still there. He was the one I had been watching all along anyway.

One day I saw Fundile drive in with his car, which is something he did everyday of course, on his way from work. He had done well for himself, proving to his parents that he was not just a spoilt child, he was their child, his fathers child, with the same  drive and intelligence which brought about the success of his parents. And I too was the child of my parents, I still watched the world from the comfort of my window, watching the world move forward while I stood still. Fundile’s world had expanded way beyond my imagination. This window was my world, all the world I knew, all the world I ever wanted. While my father grew tired of my mother, and found the strength to leave, and she sat on that sofa and slowly deteriorated into forgetfulness, I sat on that window, and was comforted.

He did not get out of his car, as he usually did, whistling softly to himself a tune of his own creation, which made him happy, and already swiping on his phone, searching for his evening date, who would later be brought to him with an Uber, which he of course paid for. It was a different girl everyday, well almost. Some girls did come back, sometimes several times, for weeks at a time, only to disappear suddenly and never be seen again. Those are the ones I felt sorry for. On this particular night he did not get out of the car, he did not take out his phone. Instead he sat looking straight ahead of him, an empty expression in his eyes. By the look of him I thought maybe his parents had finally passed away. I don’t know why I say that, finally, as if its something I had been waiting for all my life. I suppose I still held them accountable for reducing my father into a lesser men than he used to be, than he had the potential to be. And my mother for hammering in the nail that sunk his self confidence. I wondered how he was doing now that he was free of all of them, free of me too. Perhaps he had bred himself into a new man.

I found out later on that it was not the death of his parents which made him appear so utterly glum. It was the loss of his job. There was an illness out there, which killed, and forced people into being introverts. Locked up, not unlike myself, inside their houses for fear of infection. Not only that, but people also lost their jobs because of it.

The next morning, I went and stood next to our sixteen inch wall, while he was walking about the yard like a lost child, and I pretended to be surprised at seeing him at home during the day.

“Yeah Sageng, its been a long time hasn’t it.” he said “I have been wanting to visit, see how your mother is doing, is she well? That’s good yah, we’ve grown part neh? I was not sure you were even here you know, sometimes I forget that you still live here. Your house looks so, you know…”

Abandoned, almost, like no one  lives here anymore. I try sometimes to clean the yard, removing the never ending weeds, move the soil with a broom from one point to another. But that is too much work, and like I said, never ending, so I have got into the habit of leaving it be, sometimes for weeks at a time, until the weeds look like monsters ready to devour the house.

“So what happened?” I asked him.

“Ah! You know, these things happen. But I won’t take it lying down that’s for sure. We have laws in this country, you can’t just, you know, do as you please. Can you do that, huh? I don’t think so.”

He no longer had the tight and muscled body which made me drool over him. He was full of soft edges now, leisure and pleasure had left their mark on his body, the slowing metabolism of age may have also contributed a bit I suppose. It was clear that he was not going to tell me what happened at his job that led to his dismissal. I mean, I didn’t even know what job he did. I didn’t really care did I? it was enough that a man was employed and earning a good salary. He may have a been a government assassin for all I care, a trafficker of children, a politician, and all that, money has no morality does it?

“So what are you going to do?” I said, to keep him talking still, to keep his attention, for although he was no longer the young men I fell in love with, he was still the man I loved, and being in his presence, as tired looking as he was now, was still intoxicating.

“Phew, I don’t know. I’m racking my head, I don’t know. I won’t run out of money of course, I can ask my parents if things get really bad, although I don’t think things will get to that. No no, what I’m worried about is this, this nothingness. What am I going to do the whole day? How do you guys do it? Its not been a whole day and already I feel like I cant survive this.”

There was no need for him to worry about that. Men like him always find something to do. It was the reality of finding himself living a day he had not planned that made him panic. It was something he was not used to. He was not a watcher, like myself, he preferred to do. It was that very preference which would be his doom.

As the weeks passed, Fundile began to notice things he had not noticed before. Like the overflowing sewage pipe at the corner of the street. The fact that our rate of load shedding did not correspond with the load shedding schedule, electricity just went off at random at any hour of the day, without explanation and seemingly without cause. He noticed that the children did not have any place to play, the park was full of gamblers and drug addicts, and the recreational centre had not been maintained for years, it was now totally decrepit and was a place where the homeless and hopeless hung out. Of course these things had been part of our reality for years. But it was only now that Fundile noticed these things, and being the kind of man that he was he wanted to find solutions to the problems that the community faced. And that solution was himself. He was going to run for council. He was to be a servant of the people, he said, not a politician. Politicians only care about their own pockets, servants of the people care about improving the lives of others. I wondered why he never cared about improving the lives of people before. I had been his neighbour all these years yet he never cared about improving my life. The whole thing sounded like the notions of a man going through a personal crisis, and I expected that soon enough he would get over it.

But before that was to happen he was to be a very busy man. He was rarely at home. I imagine he was too busy attending council meetings, and noticing other things that were wrong with the community and telling people about them, about how he was going to fix all of it. When he was at home he was always with some strange men, and strange women of course, but not always at night. They carried wordy pamphlets and wore t-shirts that they had made themselves. I knew he was taking the whole thing seriously, but I also thought that he was taking it a bit too far. And I was not the only one who was thinking these thoughts, perhaps.

One evening, when all the strange men had gone, and oddly enough, all the strange women as well. A car parked in front of his yard. A big car with wheels so big they could crush an elephant. A terrific black like a pouncing jaguar. Out of it came out a small man wearing a hoody over his head, even though it was as hot as hell, as if he was making a point not to be seen. He went in, followed by two big men in black suits, men who made no effort to hide their faces. They looked around them as if they were expecting to be attacked, with ugly scowls for faces. They didn’t stay long inside of Fundile’s house. Maybe ten minutes, and when they came out, they moved just as swiftly as they had done going in, and disappeared into the night.

The next morning, Fundile came over for a visit, carrying those very same pamphlets and large posters with his face on them, against a blue background. In the picture he smiled sheepishly as if someone had held a gun to his head, and forced him to show his teeth. But he was still as handsome as ever. I imagined people voting for him based purely on the face on the poster. Or maybe that was just me.

He sat on the sofa across my mother, and he looked her straight in the face, while she kept stealing glances at him, puzzled, before her eyes darted back to the television. He looked troubled, naturally.

“You know they think they can intimidate me old mother.” he said suddenly.

“Is that so?” my mother said, extremely interested now, even though she had no idea what he was talking. I don’t think she even knew that he was into politics now, even though I had told her a million times.

“You have no idea mother. But they do not know me, who’s child am I? They do not know me. Sageng, I want you to come today, I came to invite you personally.”

“Invite me where?”

“Invite me where? You mean you don’t know?”

“But, how can I, You just came to invite me now.”

“Ahh you are right, you are quiet sharp you know that? Very good, very good. Mmm. Still, you should have heard. The biggest rally in town. We are taking over now. Fixing things and such. But let me not spoil it for you. You will hear all about it soon enough. Here, take a t-shirt, it will fit you, I hope.”

The t-shirt did not fit me. Which was a great disappointment. I would have loved to have Fundile’s face across my chest, along with his strange and awkward grin. Perhaps that would have assuaged my anxiety in having to stand among strangers listening to some obscure political talk. But it sounded tolerable coming from the mouth of my…neighbour. And it was not really a rally. More like a gathering of two dozen people who had knowhere else to go. But Fundile was not discouraged by the small crowd. As he stood there among this small crowd of people, he seemed to come alive. Although, everything sounded like a complaint to me. The fact that people could spent so much energy complaining of things they will do nothing about, confused me. But I suppose it is not about doing anything, but rather, making people believe that your intentions are to fix things. But what about the lay politician, the everyday man and woman with no power to change anything at all, who have been brainwashed into believing that a vote could make a difference. Money is the only power there is. Money is the only thing that can make a difference. The politicians we elect become only the visible face of the power behind them. The kind of power that does not need a vote to exercise itself.

I felt bad thinking like this, after all it was my Fundile standing there, trying to convince people that they had a power they did not, in actual fact, have. And I was still trying to censor my thoughts when I saw the black car that had parked in front of the yard the previous night. And the dark tinted windows of the car go down slowly. Something came out of the window which I could not identify. And gun shots rang out. I could not find the courage to move, but I saw clearly, as if in slow motion, bodies collapsing onto the grass. I saw the silent scream that wrecked Fundile’s face as the bullets wrecked his body. I watched him fall onto the grass, like a huge lump of meat. And curiously, I felt nothing. When the car drove away, and the silence re-established itself, I looked at all the bodies lying in the grass, and the panicked faces of the survivors, and felt nothing for them. Simply a need to go home. I looked at Fundile lying motionless in the bloodied ground, and understood that for as long as I live I will never again swim in the poisoned river that is desire.

When I got home I was surprised to find my mother sitting outside on the veranda. After so many years of being cooped up inside the house, she looked like a completely different person, young again, radiant in the setting sun.

“The yard looks terrible.” she said as I walked up to her. “All that grass. Some creepy crawly  things can just jump out at you.”

“I know. I will try to get it cleaned.”

“How did it go with your boyfriend.” she said. She sounded lucid, clear, remembering previous events, almost like she was her old self again.

“He’s not my boyfriend…He’s dead. Someone shot him.”

“Who would want to do something like that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe someone thought he was going to win the election.”

“Was he, going to win?”

“No. Never. Not in a million years. He was not very good, as a politician. In fact he was the worst politician I had ever seen.” I said.

Bobby

“The kids these days always roam around in packs.” said Bobby “You will swear that they are up to something. But you guys are bored. You have nothing to do. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to go to school. You roam around the streets like zombies. When I was growing up, we could never roam around the streets in packs like this. Every time you saw a group of people you knew they were up to no good. The police knew they were up to no good. That is why they banned groups of people being together, plotting espionage or some things like that. But you guys, you guys are just lazy. The only thing you are plotting is where you’re going to buy your grass, and how much alcohol you’re going to drink on the weekend, or which girls you want to sleep with”

We were in his car, driving around looking for an address to one of his customers who wanted his fridge fixed. A group of young people passed by next to his car, trying to look menacing, slowing down as they crossed the street, as if looking for a confrontation. I looked at Bobby as he clenched his teeth, his palm on the car horn, willing himself no to press it, looking at the passing youth with the contempt they deserved.

I first met Bobby when the fridge at my home stopped working. And my uncle suggested that we call his friend, Bobby, to come and fix it. He drove an old, light green Toyota Creseda. He had this intense look in his eyes, as if he was looking for something to criticise. My mother decided that she did not like him, just by the look of him. I reserved my judgement, as I always do, but I could tell that he was not an easy person to like. He charged us eight hundred rands to refill the depleted gas of our fridge. My mom told him that he was too expensive. He told her that life was expensive and that nothing in life was for free. She told him that she would rather buy a new one than pay that amount just for a bit of gas. He told her that he was a busy man and she must stop wasting his time.

“Poor people talking about buying a new fridge. Mxm.” He said under his breath as he left.

A few weeks later he came back. It was already dark outside. When he opened the door he stared right ahead of him and the new fridge stared right back. He blinked and pretended not to see it.

“I have a job for you.” he said.

The job description was so simple, I was afraid I might not be able to do it. He wanted me to have his phone in my pocket and answer it when someone called. But job descriptions are often misleading. You end up doing way more than what you were hired to do, at way less pay. He came back to fetch me the next morning. Even though I knew his place of work and could have easily walked there. But I suppose he wanted to make sure that I got there in time. My uncle was with us as well. He was busy installing tiles for Bobby at his workshop. I wondered why he was doing such work on a place that was used for storing broken fridges. I understood that my uncle and Bobby had been friends for a long while, they attended high school together. Like all the people who attended high school with my uncle, Bobby told the same story about my uncle. That my uncle was the smartest one in class. Had a quick and agile mind. Not only that but everyone was afraid of him, because he trained as a boxer and never lost a fight. But now all traces of the man they talked about were gone. My uncle looked ten years older than Bobby, than all the people he supposedly went to school with. Most of those people were now his superiors. They came to him when they needed their grass cut, or their yards cleaned, or their rubble thrown away. Or like Bobby, when they needed to install broken tiles in their workshops. I found it peculiar that most of my uncles former school mates did not drink. While my uncle drank cheap liquor almost every day. Bobby drank little, and only on certain occasions. He credited his lack of drinking for his youthful looks, and his still sharp mind. I always got the feeling, every time I met one of these youthful looking non drinking former school mates of my uncles, that he was going to outlive all of them. I don’t know why I thought that, my uncle looked like death, but there was life in him. Much more than there was in his healthy looking friends.

His workshop looked out onto the free way, opposite the hostel. He had built a sort of balcony around the entrance, and it seemed he had been renovating the place for a while. He did not want to fix fridges anymore.

“I want to have a restaurant here one day.” he said “Maybe you can come and work for me when everything is ready.”

There was already a kitchen, with a gas stove and a place for washing the dishes. He had partitioned the place into three parts, using low walls. There was to be two service areas, one for food and one for drinks, and a place for people to sit, with tables inside and outside, where they were currently installing those broken tiles. But at that moment the place was filled with broken fridges and rat droppings and two old sofas next to the entrance. I spent most of my time sitting on those sofas, because they were so close to the entrance. The interior of the place felt strange, especially the kitchen, as if there were eyes watching your every move. Bobby did not spent a lot of time in the workshop. He came in a few times a day to take messages and check if no one came to look for him. So most of the time I was alone, reading books about insurance. They were the only books there, left by someone who was studying to understand the business of insurance. House hold insurance, business insurance, personal insurance, natural and unnatural disasters, etcetera. I spent a lot of time reading that mind numbing academic text on insurance. And I have forgotten all of it. Its amazing how many books I have read, whose contents have completely vanished from my mind, eaten by the monster of time, rendered obsolete. Probably lost in the many bouts of intense binge drinking of which I have engaged. So many wasted hours. I wonder how much of my time on earth I will consider wasted when I am lying on my death bed. Probably ninety percent. Even that is an optimistic estimate. Its probably ninety nine percent. So much wasted life, its amazing.

Anyway, only three people called on that day. The first caller was a man who wanted to know if Bobby was available. He was still busy outside with my uncle. So I asked him if he would be able to talk with the man.

“I hired you to take my calls, not to give them to me.” he said “Take a message, is that so difficult for you?”

So I took a message. I told you, so simple that it was quiet difficult to do. It felt like I was taking some kind of odd test that I could not define. It did not help that I have always been uncomfortable with phone calls. When you phone me I am already looking forward to dropping the call. The disembodied voice is to me a horrific nightmare.

“I have a problem with my ears you hear me. These phones have a kind of radiation that is damaging to my ears. They give me a headache.” said Bobby.

The second person who called was his daughter. They were done with the tiles and they had already left. I was inspecting their work and thinking what a shabby job it was, almost like it was done by someone who had a hungover, and in a hurry to get paid and get a drink. I smiled to my self thinking of my uncle already at the tavern.

“Where’s my father.” she said. She sounded like she was pouting. It was clear that she was angry at something.

“He’s not here at the moment, but I can take a message.” I said

“Why do you have his phone? Who are you?”

“Well I…”

“Tell him I called okay, I need to speak to him. Its urgent.”

“Okay I will.”

“You won’t forget?”

“Of course not.”

“It’s just that…I need to speak to him.”

“Yes you do, I mean..”

Then she hung up. She had such a beautiful voice too. But like I said, I was not at ease while speaking to her. I even forgot to ask for her name.

These voice calls though. This reminds me of all those years ago, when I was still a teenager. All those hours spent rehearsing what I was going to say when about to make a phone call to a girl. Writing little notes to structure the conversation and use them as a reference. The sweet agony of being a teenager. I outgrew most things from that time. Like listening to sad music for hours and wondering why I am depressed, all that bloody punk, and also wondering why my intense sadness felt so good, a beautiful sadness like quiet nights in the Karoo desert, with the clear dark sky reflecting a deserted universe. I outgrew all that, these days sadness is days spent binging on alcoholic poison half hoping to die. It feels like a constant headache. But I never outgrew the fear of the voice call. I still catch myself hyperventilating in those moments of dialling and dropping the call, through sheer force of will I get myself through it. Like in those two weeks I was taking calls for Bobby. I wonder why voice calls still scare me so much. It doesn’t make any sense really. It must be more than just the horror of a disembodied voice. I’m convinced there must be a medical condition for it. Not that I would want a label to yet another problem that I have. Just that I am certain that there are others out there like myself, who are scared of voice calls. That is the nature of pathologies I suppose. There has to be other people who suffer from the same problem. Otherwise if you are all alone in your predicament…I am rambling, this is of no import to the story. And it will not help me get any meaning from it. That is my sole occupation. Trying to find meaning in the lives of the people I encounter, hoping that it will help to illuminate the meaning of my own life. Its a weird thing if you think about it. I mean if you really allow yourself the time to contemplate it.

Anyway, in the days that followed I got more comfortable in my position, despite the fact that I had to answer calls. Besides, there weren’t that many calls to take, only two or three. Four or five in a good day. Not a good day for me, you understand, but a good day for Bobby, since it meant more money for him if more people called wanting to have their fridges fixed, especially considering the fact that he overcharged them. None of them complained though. For me it didn’t mean much, in terms of remuneration. I would still receive the same fifty rand daily wage no matter how many fridges got fixed in a day. And the calls did increase as time went on. It was during the festive season, the week after Christmas, towards the new year. It seemed an awful lot of fridges died during that time, and people were eager to have them come back to life before new years eve, quiet possibly the most important day of the year for most people, and none of them wanted the taste of warm beer to ruin it.

For the most part I had nothing much to do. Sweeping the floor and reading boring books on insurance did not fill up enough time for me to banish the boredom monster, and I was getting restless, even though I had only been there for a few days. Bobby must have seen this restlessness. So, towards the end of the day, he would close the workshop early, and take me with to the house where he had to fix a fridge. Besides, no one ever came to the workshop anyway. Why would they come to him when they could just call for him to come to their houses. The pretext he used was that his eyes were getting old and he could not see the numbers on the houses anymore. He needed young eyes to help him see where he was going. But I supposed that he too was bored driving around in his car the whole day, and he needed someone to talk to. Or rather, he needed someone to listen while he ranted about everything and everyone.

“I have a couple of beers every once in a while, but I have never been drunk in my life. Black people have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, like your uncle, they drink themselves to death. They also have an unhealthy relationship with money, when they have money, the first thing they think about is buying alcohol. If  we had a healthy relationship with money we would use it to grow ourselves, instead of killing ourselves as we do, maybe then we would start building wealth and not chase after death while making other people wealthy. We live, we die, and all we can say about our lives is that other people became rich because of it. I hope you are not one of those people, build something for yourselves, otherwise you will be a slave all your life.”

This should not have affected me negatively. But I suppose when the truth is spoken about you, and you don’t want to hear it, you became bitter. I was one of those black people. Just then I was thinking about the new years eve party that was to come. I was thinking about the money I would have to contribute to buy alcohol with my friends. It would be a single night of the worst kind of binge drinking. And most of us would be waking up the next morning with no memory of what happened the previous night. Having gained nothing but a splitting headache and a reduced life span. And emptier pockets, coupled with an undefinable sense of regret, even as we try to cheer ourselves up by talking about how great a time we had.

On new years eve he dropped me off at home. We were having the new years eve party at my house. This was during the days when my grandmother still liked to travel to Mafikeng, and my mother had gone back to her husband, so it was just my uncle and I left, and he didn’t mind when me and my friends hosted a party at the house, as long as we gave him something to drink as well. Besides, he would be out most of the night. Come back home drunk and go to sleep almost immediately.

I was told the next day that Bobby came back the next morning. He had not told me anything but apparently he expected me to work on new years day. But I was out still drinking at a friends party when I got bored of my own.

Later on Bobby told me that new years day was one of his busiest time of the year. Fixing ones fridge becomes an emergency when all the beers are hot, and you have plans to hang out at the park later on.

“I had to risk my life answering phone calls. Who knows what could have happened? I may already have a cancerous tumour in my head, and taking that one phone call may just kill me.”

It would have been tragic if it wasn’t so funny. I would have laughed if I wasn’t still hungover. Instead I just grimaced and kept my head down, consoling myself with the fact that it was my last week working for him and I will never have to see him again.

I just needed money to register for school in a week, and I would be off chasing after a better life. A week before, someone told me that I could get a government bursary if I register for an National Vocational Course. I already had my Matric and an NCV would be like going backwards, but I needed something to do. Another year spent roaming the streets and smoking weed filled me with dread.

That week went by without incident. Just a typical hot January week after the festive season, when it seems that the days demand an irresponsible indolence, and you have to drag yourself through everything that you do, like an old machine going through a reboot. It was a slow week, as the calls trickled out, with people thinking of other things to spend their money on. Bobby and I established a calm camaraderie. Not that we were friends or anything. But I suppose we had grown a certain respect for one another. At that time I had never personally know a man like Bobby in my life. A man of drive and ambition. A man who had built a successful business and had the vision to build another one, working on what he already has, with patience and determination, instead of coming up with all manner of theories as to why his dreams cannot be possible at the moment, like so many of us do. I admired him for that. Yes he had a shitty personality. He was brash and patronising. He was always rude to people. Disrespect was his default setting. He was a man who saw everyone around him as a lesser being. But I understood where he was coming from. He was of a generation of men who had everything against them. And they had two choices in life. Either to accept that the odds were against them and give in, to probably spend the rest of their lives being dictated to by other people, then drown in alcohol until the day of death. Or fight to assert their humanity and their right to be, to live freely, to build wealth, and a desirable life. He chose the latter. But that kind of battle changes a man. For better or for worse. I got a feeling that he was bitter because he had to fight so hard while most of the people around him could not be bothered, he was angry at the world because the world was not like him. But I decided that I liked him, in a kind of distant don’t ever come to visit kind of like. Even though I would later satirize him in one of my stories about a maniacal villain who wants to rule the world by robbing it of knowledge. It was a fun story to write, although I don’t think he would have been impressed. I on the other hand am of a generation of absent fathers. I have always found it difficult to relate to older men, most times to men in general. Considering that I am a man, I have become both alien and alienated. That is why I was happy, and a little surprised that we got along so well on that last week. So well that he found it necessary to invite me over to his house on a Saturday. It may have been that he did not have the money to pay me on that Friday. At least that is what he said, but he also said;

“I want to see if you still remember where I live. Remember I want you to work for me during the holidays, but feel free to come by at any time, you know, if you need advice and stuff. Its not proper that a young man like you should drift about the world without any guidance. I don’t think your uncle can do that for you. Before long you will be pissing your future away like a hopeless drunk at a shebeen.”

He lived in a corner house. There was a garage entrance for his car and a smaller gate for people. The tall wall around his yard hid the three bedroom house that he lived in. The atmosphere inside his house was the same as the one found in his workshop, and  soon to be restaurant. It was dark and cold. It raised the hairs on my arms when I entered, and I wondered why his wife had left him, where she lived now, was she still alive? Was it her dead spirit haunting all the places he went to? And what was the story with her daughter anyway? But I could not ask him any of this. So I just sat on his large leather sofa and waited for him to give me my money.

There was someone else with him. A thin tall men he had introduced to me before. He was to be his chef when the restaurant was running. His only qualification was that he once worked as a cook in some Joburg down town eatery. Bobby seemed to have complete faith in him. And the man had complete faith in himself. He  had already compiled the menu. Although, I sensed a certain uneasiness in him. I suspected that it had something to do with the person of Bobby, no one was ever in complete ease around Bobby. He on the other hand seemed more relaxed than I had ever seen him before. He even smiled when he spoke to me. He wanted to know all about my plans. He sat back in his chair with his hands behind his head, one hairy leg on top of the other, and listened to me speak with a smile that reached his eyes. It felt like for the first time he was actually listening to me, he was interested in what I had to say. It may have been the ease that came with being at home, or the ease that came with the short pants he wore, that made him so much at ease with himself, and made him comfortable enough to reveal a different side of himself. A self that was not weighed down by the pressures of trying to make a living, of making dreams come true, of dealing with a world that did not care. I found that I liked this Bobby much more than the Bobby I had come to know.

We were all smiling when I left, I, Bobby and his friend. The light mood seemed to have lightened the heavy darkness of his house. And for a moment I even felt guilty about leaving him, and entertained thoughts of coming back to work for him once the restaurant was done. Yet I knew that was never going to happen. I knew that he was always going to be an unpleasant person to work for. He was probably an unpleasant person to live with as well, the reason why his wife left him, or wanted to leave, leading to her murder, I was almost sure of it.

Things did not go as well as I have hoped with my new ventures. Nothing I had planned materialized, a reality which would become the dominating feature of my life. I was to spent the next two years slowly becoming the young man that Bobby was always ranting against. I roamed the streets aimlessly, I smoked weed and got high with my friends everyday, I slept during the day, my life was slowly spiralling out of my reach, and it seemed that there was nothing I could do to bring myself back. In time I forgot all about that period I spent answering phone calls for Bobby. Until one night, while I was watching television, struggling to keep my eyes open, waiting for everyone to go to sleep so that I could lay my bed on the dining room floor, a news and investigative show called Special assignment came on. I watched for a while without really paying attention, just letting the images pass over the screen, while my mind wandered. Then the image of a man lying on a cold slab came on, the kind used to put dead bodies on at the mortuary. The man was dead of course, and his body was covered with peeling scabs and a strange rush. On top of the screen was the face of the man. I recognised him immediately, it was the face of Bobby, and his dead body was the one lying on that metal slab. I forced myself to pay attention. The show was about the rising number of men in South African prisons who die mysterious deaths. And Bobby was one of those men. He was serving a fifteen years sentence. He was in prison for raping his own daughter. The same one who had called me that one morning asking to speak to her father, sounding desperate. I didn’t know how to feel, my mind struggled to make sense of it. But I could see it, the man who ranted against the world during the day, who acted superior against all people, who thought he was too good for the world, going back home each evening, to pray on his own daughter. He may have even killed her mother when she found out the truth. I didn’t know how to feel.  All I could think was how even a man as outwardly unpleasant as Bobby, was using that unpleasantness to hide an even deeper unpleasantness. Some people use the mask of politeness to hide the face of evil. Some people were a mask that gives a hint as to the true nature of their self. We feel it, we can almost taste it every time they are near, but none of that instinctive knowledge can ever prevent anything. Until we find ourselves watching television one night, and learning of their atrocious acts, and not knowing how to feel.

chaos in us

I realised a long time ago that we don’t have any choice in anything that we do, it only seems that way. And if I could allow myself to look back, I am sure I will see that there is a first choice which I made in the long ago past which led to all the other choices, choices which began to look less and less like choices and more like necessities. When you are a drug addict, or addict of any kind I suppose, nothing seems like a choice anymore. Except of course the choice to quit. But that is an impossible choice, which makes it not a choice at all. So it might seem like it was a choice to you, when I proposed to sleep with a young boy for money. He wasn’t that young though, he was maybe in his late twenties. But I was old enough to be his mother, if I had had a child in my teens. I suspect though that his own mother was a teenager when he was born; and that he grew up neglected by her in favour of an older man whom he saw as a rival for his mother’s affections, because not only did he agree to my proposal, he seemed enthusiastic about the idea. But perhaps the fact that he was already slightly intoxicated had something to do with his decision; drunk men would find any woman beautiful. Not that I myself am an ugly woman, but I am not exactly beautiful am I? I am old, I have a few wrinkles, and not only in my face, I am super tall, a fact that most men find unattractive. Only tall models with beautiful shapely legs are attractive. I am neither a model, nor do I have shapely legs. At least not shapely in the right way. Knocked knees always look exceedingly awkward on a tall person. Not to mention the fact that I smoke cheap heroine, which by itself is not a deterring feature, but no one was lining up to marry me, or even seek a simple relationship, I don’t even know what that is. The last time I had a relationship was with the father of my daughter. But even that I could not call a relationship, I only thought it was. My eyes opened when my daughter was born. So the point is this; I might have been a beautiful young woman once, but I am not that now, certainly not the type to attract handsome young men.

And handsome he was, in a kind of nerdy and slightly vulnerable way. He was not alpha or anything, not that any of those still exist these days, but attractive, almost girlish in his attraction. Some girls like that kind of attraction, and boys like him know the kind of power they possess, therefore they are mostly to be found dating multiple girls at the same time. He did not seem like the kind of boy to be desperate enough to want to buy. Although, in my experience, men who paid for sex were not always desperate. Still, I talked to him almost in jest, being the one who was desperate to get money, and I cannot say that I was not surprised when he agreed.

His room was neat, obsessively so. Everything seemed to be in its place, even though there was very little furniture. He had a bunch of books stacked neatly in a corner, reaching almost to the ceiling. Which confirmed to me that he really was a nerd. I did not look at the titles. Words tend to get bleary when I look at them….

He had a single sofa in the room, an old wood sofa with fading cushions on them, and there was not a single piece of clothing on it. Which seemed odd for a guy living alone in a room this small. He had his laptop open on top of a small desk. The only other item in the desk was a pen, and a small notebook. There was also a white chest of drawers which I leaned against as I took off my jeans, and I was afraid I might soil it with my hand. The bed took up most of the space. My room was a pigsty compared to his. I got under the covers, there was too much light in the room coming from the window, and I was afraid he might be disgusted of my body if he got a full view of it.

“Don’t get under the covers,” he said “I want to see you.”

“Why? I’m sure there is no need for that.”

He did not wait for my answer, instead he pulled off the blanket himself. He spread my legs and looked at me, devouring me with his eyes, and I don’t know why, but I felt a bit embarrassed. I had to defuse this awkward moment with words.

“So, do you like older woman?”

“You have idea.” He said, before putting on a condom and getting on top of me.

I have never had sex with a guy that lasted that long. He seemed to go on forever. All the time insisting on looking me in the eyes, as if my body was not enough for him, he wanted to fuck my soul as well. And something that rarely ever happens when I am with a guy happened, he bought me to orgasm, three times. Afterwards I felt exhausted, and I could not quiet look him in the eyes because I felt that something had happened between us which went beyond just sex, and I could not understand it. He on the other hand could not stop looking at me, he followed my every movement. And I could not get dressed fast enough, I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

From that day he called me at least once a week. Sometimes I would go to his place, at times he would come to mine. Except when he came to my place he seemed a bit distracted, and he finished quicker than usual, leaving me unsatisfied, and seemed in a hurry to leave afterwards, as if my place offended him. I don’t know why that troubled me so much but it did. And every time he called to say that he was on his way I tried to tidy up my room as much as possible. But there was no way I could possibly get it to the obsessive cleanliness that he was used to. Eventually he stopped calling.

A part of me was glad. Every time that man was inside of me I felt myself transformed, and I did not like the particular inexplicable transformation that was taking place within me. And I also felt like I had been invaded, as if he had gone exploring into the deepest parts of my soul, and I did not know what he was looking for, which made me feel uneasy for days. I felt also that I was perhaps starting to fall in love with him, to care for him as a man, a human being, and perhaps, a lover. But this part confused me, besides the fact that love is a territory of the mad, there was something else that was not making sense. I could not exactly say who exactly I was falling in love with, because each time we met, he seemed totally different. As if with each new encounter I was meeting a completely different person. Even the sex seemed different. As if I was sleeping with all these different men who could all somehow bring me to orgasm. I did not like this strange territory into which my mind had been plunged. So a part of me was glad that he was gone, and I could allow myself to regain some sort equilibrium in my life, and get back to the familiar.

But as the weeks went by I began to miss him. I also missed the money of course. He always gave me double of what I asked for, sometimes he bought me drinks, but only when I was in his room, never in my room. Drugs he never bought, he did not even want me to smoke when I was in his presence. And now that he was not calling anymore I had to resort to desperate acts, anal sex with old men, all that stale sweat, and even giving blow jobs to the dirty boys who hung about at the park all day, sometimes for as little as five Rands. I missed him because I felt when I was with him, this innocent looking young boy who could have been my son, that there were unexplored parts of reality that only he could open up for me. I looked at him and saw possibility. And I also felt, and this also I cannot explain, that there was something unfinished between us. It was like waking up from a dream in which you were close to coming up with a unifying theory of physics and quantum theory, even though you know nothing of physics or quantum mechanics, or even what the word theory means. And when the dream ends you forget everything, but the residue of infinite knowledge lingers. He made me feel like I knew stuff I have never learned. And I felt like I had to see him again to end something sacred which he and I had started. It felt blasphemous to think of what he and I were doing as sacred, but that is exactly what it felt like.

I had to find him. But his numbers no longer existed. Since he was the one who had always called me I don’t know if they ever existed at all. I tried walking the streets hoping to find him. I hung out at the pub that we met at, but he was never there. He was alone when I saw him that time so I could not ask anyone about him, besides I did not want to raise suspicions about why I was suddenly so interested in the lone boy who looked like a geek. I don’t think he had any friends at all. I have never seen him with anyone. When I saw him that first time at the tavern he looked a bit lost, I think that is why I approached him. I could not go to his place, the gate was always locked, and I could not stand there and call his name, bringing such attention to myself.

And one day, when I had almost given up looking for him, he appeared.

And as always, he looked different. He smiled when he saw me, as if the sight of me made him happy. I asked him for money, and he didn’t hesitate in giving it to me, as if he was just helping out an old friend.

“I have missed you.” He said, looking up at me as if he meant it. As if he didn’t just miss having sex with me, but actually missed me.

“You could have just called.” I said.

“I know, but I lost my phone, and your numbers with them. You look good.”

“Do I, don’t play with me.”

“You know I do not play; I would not say something unless I meant it.”

“Well you never know.” And I laughed to diffuse the awkwardness I felt from his compliment

“I must confess that I missed you too. How about I come visit you tomorrow night? I have an itch that needs to be scratched.”

“Yeah why not, for old times’ sake.”

I don’t why he said that, for old times’ sake. It seemed like such a weird thing to say. It put me in a funk. I spent the whole day wondering if he really wanted me to come. I wished that I had asked him to explain himself. But I am not in the habit of asking people to explain themselves. I worried that because I had been the one to suggest it, he might not want to pay me, but I had done the same thing before. But things were different now, confusingly so. He was no longer a stranger, at the same time he felt more of a stranger than ever before. And I felt incredibly drawn to him. For most of the day I sat at the park in this anxious state. I took out the money I had and gave it to Tlhogi to go and buy some beers. Tlhogi was a friend of mine. Or rather he was my drinking partner when I felt like a beer. He knew what I did for a living, and he didn’t seem to mind. As long he had beer to drink he was content. So I bought beer sometimes even when I did not feel like a drink, just to have someone to talk to. On this day I did want a drink, badly. I did not feel like having a smoke, for some odd reason, and I did not feel any kind of withdrawal. But before he came back, my boy called me, and I had to leave.

The gate was unlocked, and I went in with slight apprehension. But I was also excited. I could not wait to have him inside of me, but on that day he was not very keen on being inside of me at all.

His room was different, not as clean as I remembered it. There was a cigarette on top of his laptop, and cigarette ash scattered about. Something which, in the past, would have driven him crazy. There was a half empty bottle of 1 litter beer on top of his desk. He took it and sipped carelessly from it as he watched me undress. He was quite drunk already.

“I have your money right here.” I heard him say, slurring his words a bit.

He picked up my jacket and put the money in the pocket of my jacket. Then he tossed the jacket in the pile of clothes scattered on his sofa. The sofa that usually looked so immaculate that I often wondered if he sat on  it at all. I picked up the jacket, took out the money and counted it.

“I like how you are always thinking about me.” I said.

It was three times the money he usually gave me, and he didn’t seem at all concerned about it. He watched me with a mysterious smile, sipping carelessly from his bottle of beer.

“You’re not getting undressed?” I said.

He usually wanted both of us to be fully without clothes when having sex. He even made me take off my bra because he liked kissing, sucking and fondling my sagging breasts.

“Of course I am.” he said.

He had all his clothes off  before I had even finished. I don’t how he did it so quickly. And he was waiting for me with a condom in his hand by the time I climbed on the bed. He was fully erect, but he showed no sign of putting it on, instead as soon as I was settled on the bed, my legs parted ready to receive him, he came over and started stroking my pussy gently.

“Wow, I have never felt you so wet before, you are literally dripping wet.” he said

“It’s pee.”

“What?

“It’s pee. I had just taken a pee before I came here.”

He didn’t seem to believe me though. Because as soon as I said that he did something he had never done before. He disappeared between my legs and started licking my pussy. Guys don’t usually lick your pussy when they don’t have to. Most guys I sleep with, in fact all of the guys I have ever slept with, did not care at all about my pleasure, they only cared about their own pleasure, I only mattered in as much as I helped them ejaculate. Besides, oral sex from the wrong person who does it wrong is far from being pleasurable. But here was a man bringing me to orgasms with only his tongue. By the time he put on the condom and finally got inside of me I was totally overwhelmed by pleasure. I didn’t know that such a thing was even possible. After a few minutes of intense thrusting I asked him to stop. I think I may have even pushed him off. I just could not take it anymore. I took advantage of his astonishment to quickly get dressed, before he took hold of me again, held me tight against him and made sure that I don’t get away.

“What’s going on?”

“Ahh…You know Tlhogi right, I send him to buy me some beers. And if I don’t get them he will just drink the whole lot. And I’m kind of thirsty today. So let me fetch those beers and I’ll come back okay?”

“But, we are not done, and I will lose this by the time you come back.” he said, pointing dramatically at his erect penis. I  did not want to look at it.

For a moment I thought that he would not let me go, there was something about his eyes that scared me a  little. But I was bigger than him. Even if I was not necessarily stronger, my size alone should be enough to dissuade him from trying to detain me against my will. 

“But you will be back right, you won’t just leave me like this?”

“Of course I’m coming back, so don’t lock the gate okay baby?”

He seemed almost heart broken that I was leaving, as if we had been lovers and I was unceremoniously breaking up with him. It was a strange feeling. But  that night was a night filled with strange feelings. It was only when I had left that I also got the feeling that he may have anticipated my wanting to leave in the way that I did. These … impressions were just too confusing. So I decided to forget all about them, forget about him and his strange ways, and switch off my phone.

I found Thlogi at the park,sitting at our usual spot, smoking a cigarette, with the beers I had send  him to buy standing between his legs, still unopened.

“You were gone for so long, what happened?”

“You don’t want to know man, lets just drink.” strangely I did not feel at all like a smoke still, on that day and all the other days that followed.

I didn’t know that when I left he also got dressed and followed me, that he walked some distance behind me without me seeing him. But there were some people who did see him, and thought it strange that he should follow in such a way, with such a crazed looked in his eyes. It was almost like he was a different person altogether, which of course, he was. At the park, he sat some distance away from us, watched as Tlhogi and I drank, and slowly grow merry as we got drunk, and more friendly with each other. He watched as I finally left to go home, and not go back to his place as I  had promised. He approached Tlhogi after I had left, offered him a cigarette, got talking to him, bought him another beer, and they stayed there, talking and drinking together until just after midnight, when the park was almost empty, then he killed him. After which he forgot all about it, as if it had never happened. At least that is what he claimed.

Of course all of that could not be proven. Tlhogi was found in the morning, strangled to death. And no one knew who had done it. But I knew.