I sat with my beer, and my reflecting image in the mirror at Costa do Sol. Next to me was an Indian whore touching my arm.
“Hi! Lovey why are you so quiet.”
I indicated that she need not worry.
“You prefer it that way?”
On the other side of me, were a drunk and his drunken girlfriend.
“Why are you so beautiful?” he asked her.
“I have no reason, I wish I knew,” she answered coyly.
A bit later they stumbled to the toilets or somewhere. A tall beautiful woman with long braids, and a heavily made-up face, came to the counter to order a beer. The words “Bad Girl” were printed vertically in silver on her black T-shirt. I asked her name.
“Angy” she replied “…my name is Angel, but I’m not from heaven in any way.”
We spoke for a while, and I invited her to my empty flat, and she came, and sat on the chair in front of the hi-fi, and avoided facing me. Wilhelm Backhaus Concerto No. 1 was on the tape deck. I offered her some red wine. We went to the bed room.
She was tall and beautiful, built like a Greek statue, with dark eyes. I told her not to expect too much, as I haven’t had sex for many weeks. She smiled at my small penis, avoided my eyes, kept her lips closed, and only opened her legs slightly, but she was beautiful.
I asked her if she knew Mbali, but she shrugged her shoulders. Afterwards I showed her a photograph, and she immediately recognized Mbali. Somehow, suddenly she was more interested in me, and she told me Mbali was her best friend, they were a group of friends who were always together, and she wouldn’t have been with me if she knew I was Mbali’s boyfriend. I felt unease, and she said that the women at Costa do Sol say that Mbali has AIDs, but she believes Mbali was poisoned by Beauty, because Mbali took Beauty’s boyfriend, Willie, from her. She saw Beauty put something in Mbali’s drink.
Suddenly Angel has an urge for a smoke.
The next evening, I went to Costa do Sol again, and I sat down at a table, not long before Angel joined me. I bought her a beer. She introduced me to her beautiful friend, Poschia, from Richardsbay. After finishing my beer I went to the auto bank, and Angel came to my flat. Like the previous time, she sat in front of the hi-fi, fascinated by it. She told of a fight she had with a friend of Mbali’s, who saw us together at Costa do Sol. The friend said it is wrong for her to go with Mbali’s boyfriend, but Angel told her to mind her own business. She then told me about a policeman, who picked her up, and who told her that he loves her body, but she is a “kaffir,” and “kaffirs” are his natural enemies. I smile. She went on, and told about initiation rituals in Swaziland, where virginity is tested by pushing a light bulb up the vagina, and looking at the nipples. She fell pregnant while still at school, and had to flee Swaziland. Then we went to my room, and took off our clothes. She had a see-through fringe top on, with a velvet bra underneath, jeans and boots (the smell of vomit came from them). She allowed slight kisses on the mouth, without opening the lips, and went into orgasmic movements of the pelvis, without uttering a sound. I asked her to stay the night. She agreed, after we determined a price. We made love two more times. She, actually, touched my penis with her hands, and started to show signs of tenderness, telling me of her first experience of eating prawns on a Russian ship. We slept, holding each other closely.
On one of the following nights, Frank, the linguist, came by. He is known as Jesus among the girls in the night clubs, due to his long hair in a ponytail, beard and thin face. After scanning a Tsonga folk tale for him, we went to the sidewalk outside Costa do Sol, where he bought me a beer. It was a particularly quiet night, prompting me to say that there must be a ship in the harbor with all the whores on it. Later Lucy, from Malawi, joined us, her eyes rolling in her head from too much beer. She and Jesus seem to get along as he collects Malawian expressions from her. In time, Angel also arrived. She sat in her usual dark corner, from where she can survey the whole place. I asked her to join us. Jesus is gay, so it was strange to see him cuddling Lucy. Later there was a slight rain, and I asked Angel to join me at my flat.
Back in the flat, Angel’s dark controlling eyes had a blue coloring. She brought a condom along, and we started making love. I convinced her after some protestation to come on top. We did it slowly, until her body started to go out of control with mine.
A few days later, I drew a hundred rand on my overdraft, and it gave me the confidence to make an appointment with Jesus at Costa do Sol at seven in the evening. The streets were full of high-school kids in tracksuits. Durban was the host to some big sporting event. Costa do Sol was full of people, people on holiday, and more than the usual women. I saw Angel at her corner seat, dreaming with eyes staring into nothingness. I greeted her in Zulu, and she asked me to come, and sit at a table nearby, and not long after that I saw Jesus through the window, looking for me, and Poschia also joined us. While speaking of this and that, I was aware of a variety of men eyeing Angel. She sat as if made of stone. Jesus entertained everybody with his knowledge of Zulu words. A young surfer, an Afrikaans version of Mick Jagger, in a tracksuit, with lots of confidence, sent a waiter to Angel to tell her that he wants to see her. She ignored it. Nervous, I watched her go to the toilet, and coming back in tact. Poschia’s cell phone rang, and she moved outside the bar, where there is less noise. A Scottish boyfriend, currently in Britain, bought the cell phone for her, and he phones her every evening at this time. Later, I had a look at it, and Angel said she will be my girlfriend if I buy her one. Not long after that Chevron, the barman from the Squireman’s, busted into Costa do Sol, and announced that there is a strip show at R5 a ticket. I told Angel, Jesus and Poschia, that we should investigate. We moved to the Squireman’s, me being aware of the young surfer left in the loneliness of his tracksuit.
The Squireman’s were packed with young colored gangsters, sitting around an open space, where the ritual of taking clothes off will happen soon. The stripper was a lank girl with long brown hair with streaks of blond in them.
It was a rather stereotypical body and performance, which drove the colored guys mad, as if they were at a bull fight. She pushed her bum with her g-string in their faces, fanned her legs open on the floor, for one of them to have a sniff at her cunt, and rubbed one of their heads against her small breasts. After that we walked to my flat.
In my flat, I offered Jesus, Angel and Poschia some of the left-over wine from a box on the fridge, and made a stir-fry with left-over vegetables: chopped carrots, green pepper, cashew nuts, onions, Tabasco sauce, cauliflower, ginseng, soya sauce, rind of lemon, lemon juice. The girls also wanted baked eggs. We had a pleasant evening, chatting away, and keeping the volume down. About two in the morning we slipped down to my car and, as quiet as possible, moved into the deserted street, and I drove to Jesus’ place, where to my surprise it became clear Poschia will be spending the night.
I calculated that a cell phone would be an investment into a permanent claim on Angel, and I wondered, what I am going to do if Mbali recovers. We watched a blue movie on Jesus’ sofa. Big dicks were inserted into slimy cunts and arses, and moving rhythmically in and out of them, in a hospital setting. Still I could not get a hard-on. I was exhausted, and ridden with guilt about Mbali, and fear about my financial situation.
About three in the morning, Angel and I took the road to my flat. We made intense love after a slow start. She came with me, and continued coming about five minutes later, and I washed my dick with some brandy on soaked toilet paper. Back in bed, we started again. I was completely worked up by Angel, but only managed a half-hearted erection. With a lot of effort, we managed to do something. I was completely out of breath, and panting, and I realized how unfit I was. I did not come, and was not too sure about Angel, who fell asleep. I held her tightly against me, but woke up every now and again, aware of the noise that was below in the street. Even before daylight the visitors to Durban began to make noise in the streets.
About ten we took a bath together, and then took the road to the Hyperama-on-the-sea to buy a cell phone. Afterwards, we went for a walk through the nature reserve at Umhlanga Rocks, and sat on the beach looking at the waves, my head on her lap. She looked beautiful and vulnerable. I was getting obsessed with Angel.
We drove back to Durban, after a great day, with my left hand holding her two hands in her lap, and my other on the steering wheel. Back in Durban, she did not want to come up to the flat, as she had washing to do. but promised to come at ten in the evening. After that, I collapsed on the bed in a deep sleep.
No Angel came, and in the morning I went down. At the entrance of Oxford House, the supervisor was sitting with a deep frown.
“What’s wrong with you, Hennie?” I asked.
He said, he has been wrestling with the ghosts of the building, and could not sleep. He sees things. That summarized my own condition, I thought.
I was hurrying to Palmerston Hotel, where Angel was staying in room 113. Mbali once told me of this place, and how dangerous it is for a white man to enter it. Here the pimps and gangsters live, and I got lost in a maze of dirty passage ways, little corners and grey walls everywhere. The place was never painted. Passage ways are closed off by rusted steel gates. The place resembled a prison rather than a hotel. I asked one of the cleaners the way to 113. He showed me, and I said ngiyabonga. Her door was closed, but I heard the slight sounds of disco music coming through, and I knocked, but there was no answer. I knocked again, but still nothing happened. In my mind, she was in the arms of a German, or passed out.
I wandered through the streets, feeling betrayed and disappointed, as I was so completely possessed. Thoughts of doing away with myself crowded my mind, and a pain and heaviness the chest. After a few hours walking in the sunny streets, I felt better, and took the route back to Palmerston Hotel.
In the dark entrance, I heard the voice of the security man faintly behind me, after turning towards him, he asked: “Who do you want to visit?” and I said “Angel,” and he wanted ten rand. I went through all my pockets without finding any. I then offered him the orange in my hand, instead, but he said “no,” the ten rand is not for him… “It is a rule, that if you want to visit the first floor, you have to pay.” I gave up the argument as hopeless, and, outside in the sunny street, I was on my way to the auto bank.
On my return, I saw, to my surprise, outside at the vegetable vendor, Poschia, who said that Angel was not there, and left her cell phone on in her room. They were at Costa do Sol, till late last night, when Angel left them.
A sleepy-eyed Angel, all-in-black, and stretching out, appeared in the entrance of Palmerston, and my face lighted up. We walked to Skippers, where they sat under an umbrella outside, while I ordered three small hakes and chips, and I asked Poschia about Jesus in bed. She frowned, and said that she got him to have a hard-on about twenty times, but as soon as she put a condom on him the hard-on disappeared.
Then we walked to the car, and I double parked outside Palmerston, while they ran inside for their swimming costumes. We took the Maydon Wharf road, at the back of the harbor, through to the Bluff, where I knew of a secluded beach at the end of Sloan Street. It was low water, with rocks appearing everywhere above the foam of the withdrawing waves. We walked, until we found a space, where it was not too rocky, and where we could swim. Unlike Durban, the sea was alive here, with shells washed up on the beach, and the remains of crabs, lobsters and oysters. The water was surprisingly warm. The rock shapes, resembling sharks and octopuses, appearing every now and again just above the swirling water, frightened Angel and Poschia. Then we saw a small fish, trapped by the low tide, and I caught it with my hands, and we put it in a plastic Coke bottle with a big hole on the side.
I dropped them at the Palmerston. That night I slept on a mattress on the floor at my parent’s flat. My father struggled to find the sports channel on the TV. I woke deep in the night, not knowing where I was, with different levels of reality, spaces of memory, sliding through one another. I pinched myself to be convinced of my reality.
The next day, late afternoon, I met Angel and Poschia at the entrance of my flat, and we went for a walk on the promenade next to the beach. We walked through the moving crowd at the flea market, during sun set. At seven, I left them, because I had to go to a dinner meeting with a visiting professor from Germany. The dinner was at a colleague’s house. We sat around a table, being served cordon bleu food, while my thoughts were with Angel and Poschia. I wondered if I would see them again that night. I returned through the dark streets at ten, and decided to go and see if they were at Costa do Sol. I found Angel sitting outside, holding the hand of a handsome looking foreigner. I swallowed, smiled, tried to greet him, while she jumped up, and disappeared into the toilet.
She came back, and walked with me around the block. Then she suddenly stopped, and said I must take her and her friends to Lido’s nightclub. I questioned her about the man. She denied that he is a boyfriend of hers, and said that he is just a friend from a long time ago. She looked beautiful, with her black eyes peering from underneath a little blue velvet cap. She told me to pick them up at Costa do Sol in five minutes.
“I want to finish my beer.”
I fetched the car, and double parked in the busy traffic before Costa do Sol, where she was sitting on the lap of the same man. After a few hesitating moments she stood up, and collected a number of friends. Their fat bodies filled my car to the brink, and they directed me to Lido’s in Smith Street.
The street lights threw their lonely illumination over the waiting taxis, and the few persons standing at the entry. Inside Lido’s it was busy, with a mixed crowd of Oriental and East European seamen. Angel and I sat next to the wall away from the other girls. I still felt angry, but bought her a drink. She was quiet, and did not show any signs of intimacy.
In the end, she said that I must go home as she must earn money to pay the rent at Palmerston, she cannot ask me for money every day. I was quiet for a few moments and angry, I wanted her to stop this life of bitching. I did not understand the complexity of the situation, and thought, “Why did I spent all that money on that cell phone.” I told her it is her choice. If she wanted to fuck other guys, then I would fuck other women, and I was looking towards the dance floor with its fecundity of tempting women.
At this point, she stood up to prey on the sailors, drinking at the counter. The music was loud, and I walked towards Poschia, and asked her to join me for a dance. The rhythm put my body in a rhythmic trance, and the sweat ran down my face. At one point Poschia was too tired to continue.
A stylish tall slim woman, with a cell phone prominently dangling from her belt, joined me; our eyes met, every now and again. Her eyes were smiling, big and penetrating. It was really nice dancing with her. At the end of the music, she disappeared, and I went, and sat with Poschia. I gave her ten rand to buy herself a beer. On her way to the bar, Angel stopped her, took the ten rand, and bought a beer for herself, and came, and sat on my lap, then suddenly jumped up and said, “Take Poschia if you want her.”
I did not rebel, and did not really need to be prompted in this regard. It was about this time that Angel’s male friend from Costa do Sol arrived with an older man. She was very happy to see him, and embraced him. I returned to the dance floor, sometimes dancing with Poschia, sometimes dancing with the mysterious girl with the cell phone.
In the long run, Poschia and I walked towards the entrance of the club, saying sala kathle to Angel, who was sitting, holding hands with her boyfriend.
The car was still parked under the street light across the road. I was wet with sweat, and back in the flat, we took a bath. I was in a bad shape, and my penis shrunk to miniscule size, and that was the way it would be for the rest of the beautiful evening, as I held Poschia stiffly against my body. When she left in the morning, I felt completely empty and desolate.
I spent most of the morning sleeping, or looking out of the window towards the Palmerston Hotel, until Poschia and Angel buzzed at about one o’clock to come and apologize about the previous evening. I said it was okay, and that I had a beautiful night with Poschia. Then Angel exploded, and asked how I could sleep with her best friend. She left the room with a confused Poschia following her.
The rest of the day I slept. I have reached the end of a responsible life. I could not take Mbali’s absence any longer, and I could not live with her any longer. Her illness had afforded me this crazy space. I was missing Mbali so intensely. I slept, and slept, and slept some more. I was hardly working. Go to the psychologist, I told myself, but a psychologist would only want to repair what he sees as the damages, make me normal again. I was not sure whether that is what I wanted.
In the evening, I went to Costa do Sol, hoping to see Angel there. I spent an hour looking at the mirror, and the girls in the mirror. A husker, begging a beer, was trying to make conversation with me. He was fascinated by my hairy arms, and compared his smooth skin with my hairy arm. In time, Angel came, walked past me, ignoring me. Then suddenly, she proclaimed loudly that she hates me, and that she doesn’t want anything to do with me. The barman tried to quiet her down.
“This man was my boyfriend. He gave me this cell phone.” And she showed it to everybody.
“He slept with my best friend. He is doing it to everybody. He fucks around. He has done it to Mbali (spontaneous clapping of hands by friends of Mbali, who has warned her). He is a bitch. He is a man bitch. He is a Boer. He is just another Boer.”
I just sat, and waited for the storm to calm down. Then I asked for a pull on her cigarette. She passed it on to me, and came and sat on my lap. It immediately calmed me down. She wanted to go to Monte Carlo, and wanted money to pay her rent. I wanted to go to bed, and did not have money to pay her rent. I left and walked to the flat, where I got into my pajamas. She came about ten minutes later, and insisted that I take her to Monte Carlo, but I refused. She said that I’m treating her just like a piece of shit, and that I’ve got a problem, and asked me what I want. I closed the front door, because her voice carried through the whole building. I told her that I wanted someone, who is prepared to come and stay with me, and whom I don’t need to pay to make love to. She left.
Early the next morning, I put on my running shoes, looked for some short pants, and then went to jog on the promenade next to the beach, trying to sweat away my thoughts. On a path in the park, I picked up pearls, which came loose from a necklace the previous night. I walked back past Costa do Sol. The glass doors were closed. Through the dark windows, the dim lonely light of the juke box flickered. Outside a street cleaner was sweeping cigarette stubs. I walked past hoboes still curled up in doorways, and people waiting at bus stops.
In the afternoon, I walked to the Palmerston Hotel, and paid the R10 entrance fee, with a little black girl, running in front of me, to show me the way. I knocked hard on door 113, until eventually I heard Angel’s voice.
“Ubanilo?” (“Who is there?”)
“It is me.”
For the first time, I’m allowed into her living space. Against the walls there were big centerspreads from Hustler of blondes sitting with wide-spread legs and spidery cunts, and posters advertising clothing sales. She was tired, as she only got to bed at ten in the morning. She put her head on my lap, where I sat on the bed, while I stroked her naked shoulder. She continued sleeping. Eventually, I climbed in with her, with all my clothes on. At four in the afternoon, with a hard knock on the door, Poschia announced that it was wake-up time. Angel took a shower, and went down to iron some clothes. In the end, we walked to my place where I prepared some steak, boerewors, pap and cheap red wine.
Then we went to Costa do Sol. The Germans, sitting outside, all loudly greeted Angel. We sat at one of the tables inside. The evening was dominated by silence, that feeling of smothering love. Angel and I walked back to the flat, where she leant out of the window, looking nostalgically at the streets. I took off my clothes, and smelled her shoulders, ears, played softly with her nipples between my fingers. The smell of her body had a powerful impact on me. I put on the condom, tasted the salt on her skin around the navel. I pushed and pushed slowly. We came together. I continued after ejaculation, until, I felt the condom was coming off, and I moved out. She was disappointed, when she pulled the condom with the sperms from her inside. We bathed. She was hungry, and I brought her the left-over steak from the fridge. Then as we lay down, I smelled her body again, and started to play with her breasts, finding my way through the pubic hairs to the clitoris with my fingers. I moved over her, and put the condom on again, and we made love again, intense love, until there was a shiver going through her body, and through mine. Again the condom came off, and again her disappointment. The rest of the night we slept removed from one another. She did not want my hand on her hips. Early morning our bodies came closer again.
When I returned from work the next day, the supervisor’s wife told me, to my surprise, that the woman I used to live with, the one who was so very ill, is back. She did not have a key, so the supervisor’s wife opened the door for her.
I went up to find Mbali lying on the bed. I asked her how she was. She answered: “I’m fine, you are my only problem.”
Then I went to a board of directors meeting. In the lounge of the chairperson’s flat, I watched the fish in the fish tank. Mr. Chameleon, with a protruding under lip, looked like a fish inhaling. Mr. Bullfrog had a potbelly, and a croaking voice, while Rod wore a jersey and slippers. We discussed repairs to the building, the levies not paid by some owners, and Rod told anecdotes about troublesome tenants. I could not wait to get back to my flat. The only interesting point was what to do with the woman of flat 52, who is going mad whenever it is full moon. She speaks to plants, and bangs walls, and sings arias.
Back in my flat, I took off my clothes, and climbed in bed with Mbali’s skeleton. I smelt her face, her ears. I still loved her, but I also loved Angel. I got a hard-on like never before. She told me, I must go and buy condoms. I went down into the streets with my hard-on, and bought condoms, from a Muslim shopkeeper with children laughing at me. Back in the flat we made love. I could feel, with my hands on her small buttocks, my cock moving inside her.
After work, I did not go back to the flat as I wanted Mbali to find out everything for herself. I phoned Angel, and told her, Mbali is back.
“Shame, you must always wear a condom” she said. She does not care a damn, I’m her boyfriend. I told her how much I missed her, and we made arrangements to meet the next evening. She said that she needed money.
Next day, I was back at work with the visiting German professor. He presented a paper on Douglas Blackburn and the Anglo-Boer War. After work, I hurried back to the flat. Surprisingly, Mbali was still there in front of the computer, playing chess against the machine, and smiling. I took off my clothes and collapsed on the bed. She came, and lay down with me.
“Let’s go for a drive” she asked.
“Just now” I said “I need to relax.”
We started to talk. She wants to be a millionaire. I must help her become a millionaire. How, I asked? She will sell jeans in the township, from door to door.
“But you can hardly walk.”
Her mother and son will help her.
“Okay,” I said “but you must give me something in return.”
She has nothing to give me, she said.
“It is not money I want, but something of the heart.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love someone else, you must give me my freedom” I said.
“You know whom?”
“I don’t want Angel in our lives. I’ll kill her.”
We went for a drive, then to Starfish. We sat, like usually, next to the window looking out over the dark beach and the lights of the pier, and ships entering the harbor. She ordered spare ribs, and I a Greek salad. I asked her how she felt, and she said happy. I asked why? “Because I’m alive and with you” she answered… “I did not suffer a whole year with you for nothing.”
I went to the auto bank, returned with the R1000, and told her that she must leave.
“Why,” she asked?
“Because I’m going out.”
“Going out with whom?”
“You know with whom.”
She asked me to drop her at her auntie, and my whole body ached.
“Devastation” was the word I had in my mind, this morning as I drove to work. A heavy devastated feeling cramping around the heart. I did not know what was real anymore.
At Costa do Sol, I ordered a Black Label, and went and sat down at a table, and thought deeply, as I sipped my beer, very slowly. About a quarter of an hour later, Angel and Poschia also arrived. At first they walked past me, as if they did not know me. I kept to myself, and just stared intensely at nothingness. In due course, they came, and sat at my table, but we did not exchange any words. Angel asked me, why I was so silent. I could not utter anything in reply. I just slightly touched her arm with my finger. After my second beer, I felt I had to leave. The heaviness of the beer on my stomach made me feel uncomfortable. As I stood up, and said “Sala kahle,” a lonely feeling came over my body. Apart from a number of old men sitting around, there were not many customers for the girls. Back in the flat, as the hours moved on, a depression overtook me, reaching a climax in the morning as I drove past the Palmerston to the University.
Returning from work I went for a beer at Costa do Sol. I sat down at a sidewalk table, when Poschia arrived, and ordered a peppermint liqueur. They were at Costa do Sol till very late, and Angel drank ten peppermint liqueurs, and was very drunk. Eventually, I decided to go to Angel’s room in Palmerston to see what was going on. Outside Palmerston a number of police cars were parked. At the entrance I paid my R10, and then found my way to Angel’s room. I knocked hard.
“Ubanilo?” Came her voice.
“Who is Johan?”
“Johan, your boyfriend.”
Silence. She opened the door with a towel around her, a deep frown on the forehead, not saying anything, and making it clear that she was not ready to receive me. I stepped in, in any case. She pulled the duvet into shape. Then a man, fully clothed, stepped into the room, without a word or knock, and put down an empty glass, with the remains of what looked like milk. He looked like the day watchman. Eventually, she said that she will be seeing me at my flat a little later. I was not sure whether I believed her. Anyway, I made my way back and two prostitutes accosted me, one saying “beautiful thing” and another grabbed for my balls. I made my way into the fresh air. Back at the flat, I waited, and waited, and waited.