Comrade Vusi’s blabbering worked on me, making me gulp my whiskey when I should have sipped. I ordered another double and squinted at him. It took an effort just to make sure he was one person and not two interchanging people playing tricks on me. I regretted calling him up when my afternoon was yet another couch-reclined, channel flipping, and wide-yawning drag. But what else could I have done? Mandisa, my girlfriend of two years, was nowhere to be reached, as often was the case on middle-of-the-month Fridays when my wallet was thin. Besides, Vusi always bought me whiskey.
All I had to do was listen as he talked. And boy, Vusi could talk. It was worse now that his Regional Executive Committee, of which he was the Secretary, had just been disbanded by the so-called National Task Team to rebuild the ANC Youth League.
“Uyabona comrade? How can they just disband us like that? Who do they think they are? Hai man, bam’borile, stru!” I could feel the hurt gleaming off his eyes. I had helped him in his campaigns, done the groundwork, gave comrades free whiskey, entertained them to numerous dawns, and even took some lengthy breaks from my stuttering writing. Yet Vusi now found himself without the fruits of all that labour, a rug pulled from his feet, his backside still unsure how to deal with the thunderous thud from the trappings of airy influence. I thought perhaps I should write about it on my blog – Vusi didn’t read it anyway – on the whole satire of Youth League politics, the rises and the falls and the lonesome lives after the falls. Those could shore up my blog stats.
“Mchana, we will work around this, don’t worry,” I lamely offered. Vusi was of course not assuaged, and stared at me blankly as if I had made the understatement of the year on the gravity of his situation. He had the hopeless look of Brutus floored by Popeye’s vicious, spinach-powered punch. I struggled to find something cheerful to say, and was grateful when Lerato, his girlfriend, showed up from yet another visit to the Ladies. She looked at me in barely disguised interest, her eyes shining suggestively through those bluish and purplish and pinkish and yellowish lights at the Cubana in Menlyn. I looked away, feigning disinterest. I didn’t want trouble with Vusi, my old friend, who now sought solace from his girl. Professor’s Jezebel was now playing, perhaps appropriately.
The club was thick with smoke. I sat leaning on the bar counter as the two drifted to the dance floor, and wondered where Mandisa was. She had left in a huff that morning when she couldn’t get me to service her car, an ageing Mini Cooper, way past its due mileage. Well, I told her the truth – I didn’t have money. It had become, to my alarm, a frequent and automatic refrain to her endless demands. Couldn’t be helped if she left me because of that. That would show her true colours, wouldn’t it? Not that I didn’t already know. She might use the excuse of that record of calls with Itumeleng, if only to save face. I gulped down the remainder of the double and ordered another.
Yes, it was on Tuesday when Itumeleng called me, her voice brisk as ever. I answered in a lazy voice that betrayed the state I was in.
“Oh my God, Juju, you’re drunk! Fancy that!” she had exclaimed in incredulous righteousness, disappointed yet vindicated in her unique and groundbreaking discovery. I was at once piqued that she used Juju for Julius.
“What do you want?” my voice, an octane higher, demanded. A pause ensued, as though she was deciding whether to tell me or not, whether it was worth it. I had apparently only confirmed her worst fears. Worse still, it was only eleven in the morning.
“Juju, I want you to meet your son.”
“Oh, you don’t want to see him?” The incredulity in her voice was enough to incite a crowd. She was the Itu of old, declaring an astounding piece of news in a nonchalant manner then proceeding to form assumptions while I was still digesting it in my drunken stupor. The previous night I had stayed up to write. Four hours of writing, after which I read what I had written, and promptly reached for whiskey in depression.
A son! Who would have believed it? My own mother, I recalled, had wondered aloud in her trademark bluntness if I was shooting blanks or what. And with Itu? How could she keep this from me, for all of three years? I had a good thing going with her then. She had kept up a fairy tale story among her friends about my lawyer job at a nice firm that dished out a nice salary and other benefits – until I spoiled a good story, as I often do on my laptop, by quitting to – of all things – write. She just couldn’t figure that out, how to tell her friends, my man is a writer. What does that mean anyway? It didn’t make sense to her. The mild success of my first novel didn’t impress her much, that is, didn’t bring enough cash for her liking. And so she abruptly ended things and retreated back to Soweto. Her friends must have lauded her for taking the right decision as my love for the tipple became well known.
By now I found the high stool at the bar counter tiresome, and I motioned myself towards a set of couches filled with vivacious and loud young girls, black and white, living it up in Mandela country. One made space for me, swaying this way and that in giggling drunkenness. Funny how alcohol can result in unlikely friendships borne out of nothing but shared intoxication. I mumbled thanks and said my name is Julius. Yeah right, she said, picking up a joke that wasn’t. Her bespectacled face gave her a nerdy look, and I couldn’t help but think how out of place she was. She was still smiling at the joke that wasn’t, and, hardly in the mood for pleasantries proceeding from that annoying premise of my name’s association with an insidious Julius Malema, I turned away.
Yesterday I met my son. A nice winter morning, not too cold, with the memorability of a clear, blue sky. I had stayed away from the alcohol. Itu had insisted on meeting at a central place. “I can’t drive all the way to Pretoria!” she had declared. So ten o’clock found me seated at the Mugg & Bean in Rosebank mall, eagerly checking on every entrant.
He had stared at me from across the table, wide-eyed, unblinking, and I imagined a hint of accusation in his eyes. I stared back, wide-eyed. Eyeball to eyeball. This is indeed flesh of my flesh, I thought. He had the same thick lips as mine, and a nose that promised to be bigger in proportion to other features of his face. His dreamy eyes were those that would interest the disinterested, and beguile girls as mine did, or craft stories by intricate interplay and flourish of words as I struggle to do. He didn’t back down from the little staring contest. Finally, he smiled. A connection had been established. No need for words, this is my son, I said to myself.
My phone had rung repeatedly – the frustrated agent in pursuit of yet another revised manuscript. But not even him could dampen my joy. Even Itu mellowed a bit. I would see him whenever I wanted, she declared. Coming from her, that was huge, as for three years she had considered me a lunatic goner.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, you can’t sleep here, sir,” a firm voice was saying. I opened my eyes and a frame of a burly, tall man took what seemed to be ages to form in front of me. I raised my glass at him, smiling a conspiratorial smile that met a stern, disinterested face. As he walked off I heard the bespectacled, nerdy girl asking me to dance. “Sure!” was my eager response.
She moved jerkily like a true nerd. This one can read my drafts, I thought. An uncle of mine once whispered that nerdy girls make the best wives. And who said you can’t pick a girl like her from a club? Plus, she had that famished look of girls yearning for attention. She yearned to be pursued like the more worldly girls. I figured the club scene was not really her thing but what’s a girl to do?
“So what do you do?” she asked through the club noise.
“I’m a writer.”
I expected an attempt at hiding a disappointment and a feigning of interest, even from a nerd. Mandisa had certainly done that. It’s hard getting a decent girl these days, and I had resigned myself to this reality. Instead, she asked what I wrote with genuine interest. Literary fiction, I said, and my first book was My Dad is Back. I added that I was working on my second book, and that it was taking much longer than expected, much to the chagrin of my agent. I kept it to myself that “much longer” was two years when the target had been a year.
Suddenly she stopped dancing, moved a yard away from me and sized me up again, a sense of discovery drawing her petite hands to her mouth in pleasant surprise.
“Oh my God it’s you! Julius Mcebisi! I totally loved your novel!!”
How about that. The attention I drew from that book had dissipated within a year, and here was someone, a stranger in a fancy club, heavily inebriated, who could still remember it. She went ahead and said she didn’t like the ending – she would have loved father and son to live happily ever after. She liked Fikile’s character, bold, successful, but haunted by a missing father, and hated the fact that he had a string of bad marriages. And the corporate world surely isn’t that bad? ANC patronage surely isn’t on the scale I portrayed? On the whole, she averred, it was a fitting commentary on the malaise of South African society, though a tad exaggerated.
Fancy a nerd to dissect a book for you while drunkenly dancing away in the middle of the night at a Cubana near you. Couldn’t happen in a million years. While I was touched, I thought that’s why guys didn’t pursue her.
Comrade Vusi showed up with his Lerato. “I see you’re doing good for yourself neh?” he said to me, glancing at the nerd. One could tell if a girl was hot or not by the look on Vusi’s eyes, and they showed the nerd was hot. He saw through the spectacles – they didn’t fool him. Lerato coughed a bit loudly. It didn’t stop Vusi from stretching out his hand, gallant in his own introduction.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Nomsa.” Aha, so that’s her name, I said to myself, a little sheepish. She moved closer and wrapped an arm around me, halting whatever ambitions Vusi had. On cue, I wrapped mine around her too and grinned at him a victorious grin. Lerato’s face on the other hand was a confused double tragedy. A random nerd out of place in a club bagging me and drawing interest from her man too! I made a mental note of this curious scene – it could appear in one of my writings. I had a note and pen in my pocket but I couldn’t take them out in the goddamn club.
The mercurial Vusi snapped out of his little ambition with a visible grimace on his face and said, “Ah, mchana, I’m thinking of joining the Economic Freedom Fighters. We need economic freedom in our lifetime, comrade. This ANC is not assisting. We need to take over what is rightfully ours…”
Poor comrade Vusi, now that his municipal deals are threatened he wants to take on the mighty ANC. I nodded as he babbled on. My mind was on Nomsa; I discovered a strange peace around her. She had a certain aura about her, a subtle challenge that intrigued me. I wanted to know her, to take off her spectacles and look through her eyes. Something told me that they would be worth many, many words on that mocking mirror of the blank word document, an unlikely writer’s nudge.
It is four in the morning now. I have just read what I have written tonight. I don’t feel like a whiskey. I think I’ll soon be calling up the agent who brings out murkiness in me.
Picture credit: rdegges.com
Picture credit: rdegges.com