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.

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.

Legend of the homeless rich man

Legend has it, that he came to Joburg with his wife, a beautiful maiden girl, who was still a teenager at the time, only thirteen. In fact, he too was still a teenager, only three years older than his wife. But he conducted himself in such a way that most who met him thought him to be much older. He had old eyes you see, like one who has lived for centuries. Most people who looked at those eyes quickly looked away, because they had such a profound effect on people. They looked almost blasphemous in the face of one so young. He and his wife installed themselves in an obscure informal settlement in the backyard dregs of the city, living side to side with rats so big they were infamous for robbing drunks of their money at night. Only a week passed before Bra Thabo decided that the place was not for him. And he took his warmest jacket and left his wife behind and went to take up residence in the unfriendly streets of the city.

No one knows what he did when he got there. Years passed without anyone hearing anything about him, as he quietly made his money. But his legend slowly grew in peoples minds, at least the minds of those who lived side by side with him. He was the rich man who still chose to live in the city streets, although he had enough money to be able to afford a mansion in the suburbs. In fact he did buy a house in the suburbs, after he married his second wife. We don’t know where he met this woman. We only know that she was a famous woman who appeared on peoples television screens almost every night. We of course had never seen her. There are no televisions to watch on the street. We tell our stories in much the same way that we do every night, like we are doing now, huddled around the fire as the cold wind creeps into our backs, and we tell these stories to entertain ourselves, or to forget where we are, or to remind ourselves of the legends that we meet on these streets, like the legends of Bra Thabo.

We did not know that Bra Thabo’s second wife was a famous lady of the screen, but we had heard it been said, with no absence of awe, from the people we knew. And we wondered how this man, who lived life very much like we did, had managed to find himself such a wife. And why, with all his money, was he still living on the city like a pauper? And why his second wife did not insist that Bra Thabo leave his life behind and come and live like a normal person, in their big house in the suburbs. It would have been easy to dismiss the story of Bra Thabo’s wife as one of those stories created from the minds of bored men trying to make the nights go faster. But we had no choice but to believe the story, because one night Bra Thabo did take us to meet her.

But before we tell you about that night, first let us tell you about how we came to know Bra Thabo.

We were just young boys living in the street, Njabulo and I, when we heard about him, the rich man who lived in the street. He was already a grown man by then, in his thirties I believe. He had a reputation for liking young boys. Whether or not he slept with them we did not know at the time. We only knew that he took really good care of them. He bought them clothes and gave them money. So much money that some of them left the street, and found apartments for themselves to rent. At which point he found another young boy to take care of. It sounded like a fairy tale to us, but we had nothing to lose by trying to find out. We were no strangers to men who slept with boys who lived on the street. And although Njabulo and I had never done it, we knew well what went on during these meetings. I was thirteen at the time, and Njabulo was fifteen. You could never tell that he was older than me because he had such an emaciated body. He looked like a child, not like a teenager close to manhood. He had stunted growth you see. Its not easy for children who have lived on the street their whole lives to develop healthy bodies. Also, he couldn’t read, and in many ways he was as innocent as a child. But in the ways of the street he was well versed, after all he had managed to survive so well on his own, long before I came along, after my mother died and her family, who were not really her family but her in laws, sold her house, my father’s house, and threw me out. My father had died a few years earlier, and my mother was accused of killing him. And because I looked so much like my mother, they said that I was not my father’s son, and they wanted nothing to do with me. Anyway that is all in the past, it does not bother me as much anymore. We all have our stories, but my story is not nearly as interesting as that of Bra Thabo.

It was Njabulo who met him first. He found him at Joubert park one Sunday afternoon. Playing chess with those giant chess pieces with the chess board drawn on the ground. A small crowd had gathered to watch him play. Apparently he was unbeatable. His style of play was mesmerising. He looked at his opponents with those old, unsettling eyes and forced them to make mistakes. And when he moved his pieces he did so as if he didn’t have to think about the moves at all, as if he had played that game a thousand times and knew exactly what his opponent was going to do long before he did it. It was like playing chess with a prophet, the game is lost before it even begins. It was a hot day, and many in the crowd were sweating. But he wore this big jacket made of thick wool. The kind you see worn by people who live in very cold climates. It was not the kind of jacket that one usually wears on such a hot day without sweating profusely. And yet, judging by the way that he held on tightly to that jacket, it was as if he was cold. Either that, or the jacket held something precious within it which he did not want to lose.

After the game, when there was no longer any opponents who wanted to challenge him, he came to where Njabulo was sitting, and looked at him with those famed old eyes. They seemed to have aged even more, like those of an old man whose eyes had outlived him, and were loosing their sight. But he saw just fine, saw more clearly than most people.

“Usually, when people look for me I am the one who finds them. Most of those who find me are at times not ready to meet me, and they let their preconceived notions of me cloud their understanding. But understanding is such an imperfect beast, I only ask that you see me, and try not to force an understanding which you do not as yet possess.” he said to Njabulo.

You can imagine that these words were astonishing for Njabulo to hear, he could not quiet make sense of them. I would ask that Njabulo tell you of this himself, but he is not one for words. As perhaps you may know, those who have a story to tell often do not want to tell it, or are unable to tell it. Fortunately, the universe, in need of a witness to its own existence, has given birth to people like me, who have time to contemplate the events of existence, even if our telling is at times imperfect. Njabulo was able to tell me because he and I have know each other for so long, that our communication does not need words. You may have experience of this, if you have allowed your soul to open to that of another human being, to the point were to hide yourself from them would be impossible. You see we hide from each other all the time, this is the kind of world we live in. Njabulo and I were lucky to have found each other, living in a world that was constantly hiding behind itself, while we were barely able to hide our own vulnerabilities. There is something about suppressing your vulnerabilities which gives them a vulgar power. The culture of victim-hood which the human world currently finds itself living under, is partly as a result of people who have spend centuries trying to present a false image of themselves, in an attempt to fit in, to conform to the dominant imagination of humanity. What results is a sickness, a festering wound which can never be healed. All these things Bra Thabo taught us. Taught Njabulo. His bizarre and enigmatic life was as an attempt to escape this dominant imagination. And try to imagine a different reality for himself. And for the boys who he met on the street, who will one day become men capable of imagining their own realities, or in truth, connect to the reality which they had long imagined for themselves, before the world stole their imagination from them, and replaced it with something limited and crass.

Njabulo and Bra Thabo spend that night together. Mostly walking the street and looking at the people going about their lives. The life which somehow transformed itself at night, as if it was a different reality all together. The people you meet at night are not the kind of people you can ever meet during the day. You can never tell if people become more themselves at night or they find it easier to put on different masks under cover of the shadows of the lights. But the truly interesting things were the things that happened in the true shadows, in the places were light didn’t penetrate, in the dark alleys, in the parking lots, behind nightclubs where men either debased themselves, or found enlightenment. The line between these two is thin, and you can never know where enlightenment could be found. But it was not necessary to spend ones life seeking enlightenment, the process could drive you insane. It was only enough to let life take you where it must, without too much resistance, to look and to see. Bra Thabo’s eyes had clearly seen more than the things of this world, yet he did not tire of it, this constant looking. He said there was always more to see, even if you looked at the same things for centuries and centuries, there was always more to see. Those who understood somehow saw more than most. To understand is not the most important thing. To open yourself up to the process of life was. To follow whatever destiny that you have chosen for yourself. No matter how senseless this might seem to others. When Bra Thabo left his first wife behind to lead a life in the street, it was not sense that he was following, or even an understanding of why he was doing what he was doing. When he made his riches and still decided to live in the street, what sense could there be in that? But it was the very thing his soul wanted to do. And he had decided a long time ago not to resist the desires of his soul, no matter what other people say. When he married his second wife and left her to live in that huge house all by herself, somehow, even beyond his own understanding, his wife did not question it. Christians believe in free will, but even they must understand that this Will goes beyond the personal desires of a human being. And yet, if the will is strong enough, a person can easily escape his destiny. Whether that destiny was decided by themselves before they were born, or decided by the society in which they are born into. The difference is that one needs a lot of work, while the other does not need a lot of work at all, but courage.

The will of most people is decided by fear. All those people, hiding behind their four walls, were controlled by all kinds of fears. The fear of losing what they have, the fear of not having what they want, the fear of not fitting in, the fear of failing, the fear of succeeding beyond what they imagined was possible, the fear of been seen for what they truly are by the world, even  when they desire to be seen. The fear of violence, of violation, of exposure and condemnation. The fear of their own obscure lives. Humanity is a species suffocated by fear.

By the end of the night Bra Thabo was in love with Njabulo. He expressed that much to him when the veil of fog which had enveloped the city slowly lifted, when they stood in the middle of the Mandela bridge, watching the city change into the reality of the day. His eyes, which usually looked so old, now looked young, almost like those of a baby, the whites of his eyes incredibly clear, and his pupils were as dark as a starless night. This had the most curious effect on Njabulo. His whole body tingled with an energy he had never before known. He felt as if he had been transformed into a ball of light. And he might explode into a million pieces from the smallest touch. They parted, promising to meet again when night fell. When I saw Njabulo on that day, I was amazed at how different he looked. And for some reason, his need for words had diminished even further. Of course he had some money with him, two thousand rands, and he gave me half. I had never had so much money all at once. We went and bought new clothes, ditching our old rags. We bought them along the street stalls because they did not allow us inside the shops, even though we made sure to bath at the park station toilets, like we did sometimes. We bought new bags and shoes. We bought food that could last us a week, then we sat at the park next to the Joburg Municipality building and invited some of the guys to eat. Some of you might remember, we feasted like kings, then we fell asleep on the grass, some of us with sore stomachs. When we woke up the money was gone. You bastards had robbed us! But that is all in the past isn’t it…

Njabulo insisted that I come along with him to meet Bra Thabo. He said he wanted to meet me, since it was my idea that we should seek out Bra Thabo, and ideas are not mere coincidences, they are proof that the mind is connected to something outside of self, especially when they come seemingly from knowhere. So I went, my mind filled with high expectations, to meet the man who had so transformed my friend. I wondered if he would transform me in a similar manner. Although I had my doubts, I decided to keep an open mind, an open soul in the manner that I had done with Njabulo.

We were to meet at the spot where they had parted. At the foot of the bridge a car stopped besides us, a dark car of an obscure make. When the window rolled down it was Bra Thabo in the drivers seat. We had heard that he owned a car, several cars in fact, but he didn’t usually drive, so it was clear that this was to be a special night. We got in. With apprehension tightening my throat, but Njabulo was at ease, like you would be when you walk into your mothers house, assuming of course that you have a nice mother, and that your father is not a monster waiting to devour you as soon as the door is locked.

We drove north. With neither of us saying anything for a few minutes, simply watching the buildings of the inner city recedes behind us.

“So, you guys lost your money? It happens. It helps to have a bank account. I’m not a fan you know. I prefer using a cash house. I like to know the people I pay to keep my money safe. If they steal it I can at least look at them in the eye and see them slowly descend into hell. You can’t do that with regular banks. The bastards are constantly stealing your money, and there is nothing you can do about it, because they have convinced us that it is the price to pay if you want to keep your money safe. You see money is an illusion, but the thing about this illusion that we call money is that the masses believe in its power. But you don’t need money to have power. You need power to have power. But power, like money, is also an illusion. Anyway, today I am going to see my wife. I am sure you must be wondering why I have a wife, not only one, but two, when I don’t even like women. I wonder about that myself, but I must follow the desires of my soul, even if I do not understand them. I know one day I will, and the revelation may be profound, or it may be a mediocre truth, not at all worth the trouble. But so what, the whole of existence is not worth the trouble if you really think about it.”

He may not have said any of this at all, but this is the impression that I got from him. Njabulo got a completely different impression. He spoke Venda you see. I know many languages, but Venda is not one of them. My mind refuses to absorb it, or perhaps I have not tried hard enough. Yet when Bra Thabo spoke, I understood what he was saying, or at least I thought I did. This ability of his to speak an unfamiliar language, and make himself understood in different ways by the different people listening to him, was one of those enigmas that defined his life. It is for this reason that his legacy will forever remain contested. Understanding him was not about understanding him at all, because understanding him was impossible, his life was not made for understanding. It was about understanding the self. Which may seem like a monumental task when you see just how little of the self we have allowed ourselves to acknowledge. At times denying the self altogether, for an image that pleases us, but ultimately does nothing for us.

His wife was not surprised to see us. It was clear that she was used to her husband bringing strange homeless boys to their home. To the home which he didn’t live in. Because he refused even to spend a single night in it. We saw the pictures of her on the wall. All the pictures on the wall were pictures of her. Which wasn’t such a bad thing because she was really beautiful. Some of the pictures were taken by a camera, others were painted, or pencil drawn. It was clear that the artist, or artists who did the pictures really admired her, maybe even worshipped her as a goddess. For indeed she was a goddess. She looked more of a goddess in those pictures than she did in real life. Her presence next to those pictures produced a strange dissonance, like reality splitting in two. The pictures were a mesmerizing sight.

“Thabo did all the paintings.” she said when she saw me staring at them “They are beautiful aren’t they? They startle me sometimes. I feel that the woman on the pictures is not me. Almost like I was playing a role when I posed for them. Its the same feeling a get when I see myself on television.”

She spoke slowly, quietly, breathing out the words, like the effort of speaking was too much for her. Her words drew you in, made you listen more intently, made you search for hidden meaning in everything she said. I had no idea that  a person could wield so much power simply by the act of speaking, or indeed, posing for a picture. Is this what Bra Thabo meant when he said that you need power to have power. Because the source of her power was in her very being.

However, I sensed that Njabulo did not like her, did not like her pictures, thought them to be ugly and vulgar, and if he could, he would burn them all.

“You guys have never seen my wife act have you? Its an experience. And you’re in luck, because her show is on now. Ill leave the television on for you, me and….my wife, have things to do.” said Bra Thabo.

I saw the light in her eyes fade a little, but she still allowed herself to be led by him up these winding stairs to what I could only assume was their bedroom. Njabulo I felt was still seething. When he turned towards me he had this light smile on his face, and I could not understand it. But I had felt this since we got into that car, that the connection between us was fading, whether it was because of Bra Thabo or not I could not tell. It bought an uneasiness to my heart, seeing him drift away from me, seeing him hidden behind a thin veil where only his shadow was visible. Perhaps it was not meant to be that two people should be so connected that words become obsolete. Perhaps the whole experience of life is so that we can master the art of explaining ourselves to others.

Njabulo threw himself on top of the big wide black leather sofa, with the flat screen television opposite, attached to the wall. It was a monumental thing, and the people in it looked so real that I expected them to leap out of the screen any minute. We didn’t have long to admire it though, because there was Bra Thabo’s wife, in all her splendour, adding yet another layer of reality to her being. She played a villain. And it seemed that the whole show was centred around her, as a feared nemesis. Her performance was so raw that it made me flinch. She commanded a whole other different kind of power. She spoke with a serpentine voice which pierced needles through my skin. Even Njabulo felt a kind of fear from watching. Living on the streets we had conquered many fears. But here was a woman behind the giant screen introducing us to yet another kind of fear. We even began to suspect if the woman we had seen was the same woman that we were watching now. It seemed inconceivable.

Just then we heard her scream, but not from the television. It came from upstairs. It was long and pained. I got up, with the intention to check what was going on, but Njabulo held me, and shook his head. Just then I realised that the reason why I had felt disconnected from him was because he was connected to another human being, to Bra Thabo, and his nature was such that he couldn’t stay connected to two people at the same time. It was such a deep and poignant scream that tears fell down my cheeks, and I could not bid them to stop. Njabulo seemed unaffected, like he understood something I did not, like he was in on the conspiracy. And, although we were the same size, for the first time I began to see him as a person older than me. A person who had grown older simply from being exposed to Bra Thabo. For the first time in a very long time, I felt lonely.

When they came back down there was a slight limp in Bra Thabo’s wife. She wore a flowing white night dress that reached down to her knees, which ballooned away from her body, making her seem like one of those old ghost from movies, living in a haunted mansion, or a haunted mental institution. Once again I got the impression of her splitting reality into different pieces. And Bra Thabo, walking behind her, also seemed changed.

When she sat down in a couch opposite us, with her legs spread apart, her dress settled and hugged her legs. And almost immediately blood stains appeared on her thighs. Blood stripes that went down to her knees. I looked at Njabulo and he seemed not to notice it, his attention completely absorbed by Bra Thabo. I hated him at that moment, I hated Njabulo and I hated Bra Thabo for the way he treated his wife and for taking my friend away from me.

“My wife has an award show she has to attend tonight. She has been nominated. We must leave her to get ready. Let me drop you guys off okay.” said Bra Thabo.

His wife showed no sign of moving, or indeed a willingness to do so. She just sat there and looked drained, staring at us with empty eyes. All her power was gone. Perhaps Bra Thabo was a vampire, who married her to feed on her blood, and her power. Perhaps that is why he lived on the streets, despite the fact that he didn’t need to. What did he do to young boys anyway, was he going to use us for some kind of sacrifice? Was that how he made his money, by sacrificing young boys living on the street?

When we left his wife was still sitting listlessly on the couch. My heart was pounding the whole time, not knowing what to expect. When I looked at Njabulo he looked happy, smiling like a child, and I didn’t know if I should feel reassured. Bra Thabo did not say anything the whole trip, but the way in which Njabulo was looking at him, the energy which radiated from him, made me think that perhaps they were communicating in the way that me and him used to communicate, and they were shutting me out from their world. But Bra Thabo looked distracted, occupied by something. Finally he stopped his car on the outskirts of Hillbrow, and told us that there was somewhere he needed to be. Njabulo was disappointed, I could tell that there was something more he expected to happen, some undefined event that only he and Bra Thabo knew about. On my part I was glad that nothing bad was going to happen to us.

“It is not the best of times for us. Maybe when I come back I will come and look for you. Hopefully you will not have forgotten me.” he said.

He gave us a bag full of money. Enough that we would not need to struggle on the street anymore, at least for a few years, or months, depending on how we spent it, provided that no one stole it.

“Don’t use it all at once. If you want you can go back to my wife, she will take care of you. And you can take care of her.”

With that he was gone, and we knew that we were never going to see him again. With him gone my connection to Njabulo came back. It was as if a spell had been lifted from us.

We heard that on that night he went back to his first wife in the squatter camp. We don’t know what happened when he got there, but we know that the shack that she was staying in burnt down that night. Those that were there swear that they saw Bra Thabo’s face in the flames as they devoured the shack. A face that roared with rage. Afterwards the people of the squatter camp went around with sticks and garden tools and other self made weapons looking for him, fearful that he was going to burn down their shacks as well. They went up and down the whole night, but they couldn’t find him. In the morning, when they searched the burned down shack, they did not even find any bodies inside, or any ashes of burned bodies. It was like he and his first wife had just disappeared. Once again, Bra Thabo had left an enigma behind him.

For years I have been trying to make sense of this enigma. The enigma of Bra Thabo’s life. I have considered that there were certain things which I did not see, and those things gave me an incomplete understanding, much like all those wavelengths of light which we do not see, and our not seeing them makes life less beautiful, our perception a lot more poorer. But we do not know that, we go through our days thinking the beauty we see in our natural environments is all the beauty there is. But if our perceptions were to shift, for even a little bit, a whole new astounding world would open, and we would wonder how we have lived all our lives so blind. I am waiting for that time, when my perception should shift, and this enigma will be understood, and a whole new world of beauty revealed. But whatever else happens, I know that this life, like all our lives, was an experience in time, in place. Perhaps that is all that matters.