After a month in Europe, I was happy to see Luisa, and touched her bulging stomach with my finger tips. There was a flood in Durban, and cars washed down Gillespie Street. Luisa reports that she went to Lido’s, and found the words, “Luisa go back to your flat, don’t sell your poes here,” written in lipstick on the mirror of the toilet.
At dinner table, Katja plays with a Barbie doll.
“Why does she play with a white doll?” I ask.
“She wants a white doll,” and Luisa explains that she gave Katja a black doll once, but she did not want it.
“She says she is white.”
“Who teaches her this shit?”
“Not me. I was not there.”
It is a frustrating day, about the fourth day, without Luisa, who is in Maputo, where her mother was hospitalized with Malaria, and I’m looking after the children. Seko pissed in bed last night, after I gave him a hiding for pulling off the blankets from Katja, then one of them shat in the bath, and threw a roll of toilet paper in the toilet. There are no clean clothes for them, and all the bedding is dirty. The computer packed up on me, and yesterday half the faculty got the message that their departments will be closed, and they will be retrenched. I’m on my way to a conference on the alternative university at Hammanskraal. I don’t know what to do with the children.
It is 5h26 in the morning, and I’m dressed, and ready for the university driver to pick me up, and take me to the airport. I left the children with the nosey old woman with thick glasses, from flat 25. It is day light already, and I’m struggling to wake the children up. This is the time of day Luisa and I usually made love.
On Sunday evening, I returned from the conference. Luisa was back, and the children were shy, and quiet, and resentful about the way I left them. They clung to me as I picked them up. We had dinner, and there was a small difference in opinion about the sit-coms on TV. I told Luisa that the sit-coms will destroy her mind. Then we went to bed, and Luisa made the announcement that making love is painful to her, while pregnant and I must go and satisfy myself at Costa do Sol, or somewhere else. I turned my back to her. In the morning, she wanted to know what is wrong. She bathes me. It is the first time since I was a toddler that someone else baths me. She smears the soap over my body with tenderness. She brought some cloth for my mother and cashew nuts from Mozambique for my father.
My parents came a few days later. My mother greeted Luisa coldly, and didn’t want to know me any more. She said, crying, that she gave birth to me with difficulty, and they stood with me, when I refused to go to the army, and asked why am I doing this to them? She doesn’t know what is wrong with me, and wants to know why I cannot leave the blacks alone? Then Luisa and I left.
I did not touch Luisa that night. In the morning, she took my hand, and placed it on the bushy part between her legs, with slightly wet labia, and I rubbed her with my fingers, until we started to make love on our sides, with the sound of children waking up on their mattress in the lounge, with only a curtain dividing us. I move on top of her, and the feeling of coming overwhelms me, and I move down, the tip of my tongue touching her clitoris and the labia, my nose in the bushy hair, her abdomen moving rhythmically, until her heavy breathing reaches a pitch, and I move forward putting my penis in her wet, breathing living cunt, with my nose in her neck, ears and hair. The children come into the room; my penis is still covered in semen. We chase them out, and take a bath.
I walk with Seko to the supermarket to buy some Russians for breakfast and some chicken for dinner, some dental floss and disprins. We walk past three policewomen trying, politely, to wake a hobo from his alcoholic slumber in a shop doorway, with the points of their high-heeled shoes. We walk past the Bombay Junction being renovated, and a voice shouting the word of god, and recounting the sins of the world.
The flat has become one of wailing: children crying and throwing tantrums non-stop. After hours of crying by Katja, Luisa moves to the bathroom and vomits. That quiets the children down.
Silence has overtaken our relationship. I’m bathing alone. Outside the stained-glass window of the bathroom, it is dusk, while the voices of soap operas reverberate and children play on the stair case. I woke up nauseous, and wondered whether it is infectious? I vomited in the toilet, and weakly walked to the auto bank to draw money for Luisa to buy clothes to sell in Maputo. On my way back, the nausea overtook me again and I rushed into the lift, had to swallow my own puke, just made it to the toilet for everything to come out. I was ill the whole day.
I woke up at 5h00, and took Luisa and the children to the bus stop. They are going to Maputo for the weekend. We made pointless love as if the relationship came to an end. Her hand pushing my head down between her legs with her groin moving rhythmically: making love for the sake of a good-bye. The children pissed in bed again. The flat smells like a public toilet.
On Saturday morning, after a lonely night, I went to the University, and answered some email-messages, and filled in a form about conference attendance in Poland in 2000. The phone rang and, to my surprise, it was my father, announcing that they are going to sell their flat on the Esplanade, and asking me to come over to make up with my mother. I thought that he has sacrificed so much for his children, going underground in the mines, and working days without sleep for us. Their dreams were around us.
I hurriedly finished my work, and then took the car to their flat, but forgot the number of their flat.
“501” I said to the supervisor over the intercom.
“No, they are not there.”
“Who are you looking for?”
“The Van Wyk’s.” Then I’m okayed through.
I sign in, and go up in the lift. Only my father is there.
I look in the fridge for some food, and drink Coke, and fry myself a chop. Eventually my mother arrives, and avoids looking at me. Her hair is a frizzy ash red. She busies herself in the kitchen, cleaning the floor. I read Dostoevsky’s Possessed, an old Everyman’s edition from the shelves. I’m surprised by the relevance to my own situation. I feel like his character, Stephan Trofimovitch, who is overtaken by historical events, and who feels that all the social changes amount to is “that he was forgotten and of no use.” I think that, similarly, my life is useless, and my book is an attempt to remind the world of my existence.
Last night, a man was run over by a car on the fly-over. He must have been crazy, thinking that he could dash across the highway. This morning Makhosi, Mbali’s cousin, came with the news that Mbali’s condition has seriously degenerated again. She is in a care center for people with TB. I do not want to go and see her. I do not want to give her hope, when there is none. I sent her some cashew nuts, potatoes and some small change. I had this terrible tension in my neck, the whole night.
Graca, Luisa’s friend in Maputo, phoned and told me that Luisa was in a car accident. She was injured in the neck. In my imagination, I see Luisa in a taxi late at night in Maputo, and ask myself, whether the pain in my neck was a coincidence? Later there was lightning all around the skyscraper hotels: the physical image of hell.
Luisa phoned at about 10h30 this morning, and told me that two people died and, to my shock, she had a miscarriage during the accident. There is a gun shot outside, in the street, and then the accusations: Why did I not phone her. I do not love her. I must go to Mozambique, and speak to her family, if I love her. Eventually she put the phone down. I love Luisa, I hate Luisa. I want to be with her. I want to be free.
The tension in my neck is returning. Maybe it is the cockroach poison affecting me. I’ve started an extermination campaign. They were taking over my space.
At 8h30, I was at the Panthera Azul to book a ticket to Maputo. The agent told me to get my visa at the Mozambican Consul, 320 West Street, 5th floor. At the overcrowded consulate, I found the end of the queue and listened to the people complaining aloud on their cell phones about the service. I look at the eyes of a man twitching. Finally, I saw a familiar, face with expensive stylish clothes, lot of gold rings, earrings and necklaces. The eyes are so familiar, and I realized that it must be Poschia, with a new hairstyle. We looked, shyly, at each other.
Why does one write a diary, why duplicate what is already in the mind, and why if you are only writing for yourself, I asked myself as I walk back from the consulate. Memory needs refreshing, I thought. Back at the flat, an Indian in the lift tells his girlfriend: “Kaffirs like ants here. Need a can of Doom to spray.” I open my flat window, the breeze, the voices of an excited drunken crowd and sirens float in. I hear the sounds of hell. I sit on the toilet, trample a small cockroach, and think that cockroaches cannot communicate. They only fuck.
I left for Mozambique in the morning, and, on the Panthera Bus, went through fertile Zululand with its cement houses, mealie fields and goats. The child of one of the passengers played with a toy car in the passage of the bus, as I filled in Entry and Departure forms at the Swaziland Customs.
It is four, or five, in the morning, in Maputo in Luisa’s mother’s flat, now. I do not feel sleepy at all, although I was awake from 5h00 yesterday morning. The pain in my neck has dissipated a bit. But I’m confused. Luisa has passed out next to me, and it seems as if we are heading for a serious break-up.
Maputo is an interesting place: backyard shacks and unpainted dilapidated flats. Luisa came with a taxi to fetch me at the Panthera bus stop. She then directed the taxi to Karl Marx Avenue, where her tall elegant mother and subdued stepfather and sister, Zabiba, and brothers, Raoul, Elder and the one-legged, Nelson, live in a flat on the fourth floor. Her many brothers carry my bags to the flat full of people. It is neat, but in need of paint and repair.
There is no water in the taps, and I washed myself with water from a plastic container. The rusted toilet smells of piss. After washing, I join the family in the lounge, making myself at home on one of the torn leather chairs with a happy Seko and Katja clambering over me. Luisa drinks an expensive whisky and soda, and announces that we are on our way to Graca’s place, and after that we will go to Lusos, the night club of her Italian friend, which she, to my surprise, has to manage every night, between twelve and three in the morning.
At Graca’s place, I meet Graca, a short friendly woman, with a one-year old baby from her British husband – who is for Christmas in Britain with his ex-wife – and Charday, a tall colored stripper with long legs. Charday elaborates on double dating her Chinese husband, with a Portuguese boyfriend, and the importance of money in her life. Immediately I’m uncomfortable, and feel her influence over Luisa. I ask her whether she likes stripping, and she shrugs and says: “When money talks, bullshit walks.”
On the way to the nightclub, Luisa and Charday sit at the back of the taxi. I can feel a distance between me and Luisa, but say nothing. At first the nightclub was fairly empty and boring, with some middle-aged men and unattractive prostitutes dancing with their reflections in the wall mirror. Luisa disappears every now and again into the kitchen. She is drinking a lot, and I noticed a certain pale grayness in her eyes. I could see that something died in her. The place is extremely hot. We dance together on her favorite Elton John song, “A Candle in the Wind.” I held her closely.
I was awake most of the night. Sometimes sitting on the windowsill of Luisa’s room, looking at the dilapidated tile roof of the block of flats across the road, wondering what happens in the case of a storm, and feeling miserable. It was too hot to hold her, to touch her. At one point, she screamed at me for touching her. In the morning at about nine, I dressed with the intention of wandering in the streets and escaping from the claustrophobic room. She ordered me to get back in bed, as it was too early to wake up. I must talk to her. I was just lying with my hand on her hand between her legs. At one point, I started rubbing slightly, and she erupted, explaining that she cannot make love for two months after the miscarriage. She does not want to tell me about the accident, and the miscarriage, and wants to forget about it, and accuses me of not trusting her. Tears were close to my eyes.
Luisa, also to my surprise, bought a flat. After a big breakfast of chips, eggs and sliced mango, prepared by Zabiba, Luisa’s sister, I cruised with Luisa in a taxi through Maputo in search of the key to her new flat. In Maputo, a key indicates that a flat is your property. In due course, we walked up, about 9 levels of concrete stairways, crumbling around an iron grid, to her new flat. The flat itself was a smelly, cracked unpainted two-bedroom penthouse, with a large roof veranda in front and at the kitchen. It must have been quite a place in colonial times. Then we returned to her mother’s flat, and had soup for lunch, and, for the rest of the day, I was sitting or lying around in my sweat. In the evening, she had to go out on an errand, and her uncle who was a gastarbeiter in Germany conversed with me about Luisa and her children in broken German, which I translated into Afrikaans. Sweaty children were clambering over us, and in the corner, a round-faced blind friend of one of the brothers was smiling at his own thoughts behind dark glasses.
I was very tired, when Luisa came and said I should have dinner, and come with her to the club, but. I said “no not tonight; I have sleep to catch up on”
She returned from the club at about three, and we woke up in each other’s arms at ten the next morning. A taxi was waiting for her down stairs.
I stood on the balcony, just outside the kitchen, looking at the backyards. Washing hangs from the many balconies. I see an open space of land, with a lone worker, laying bricks. Sparrows hop on corrugated iron roofs of backyard rooms. I’m looking for some fresh air. I am tired of kids hanging on my legs, sitting on my lap and making noise.
I walked with Luisa and her uncle to her new flat at the other end of Karl Marx Avenue. We went past the overgrown colonial graveyard, and Luisa shouted at me for looking across the wall: “Don’t do that, the police will arrest you.” We entered the filthy entrance of her building, with children sliding on mud, looking more like shit, from the previous night’s rain. Up we went. Inside the flat, plumbers were busy installing new toilets, new washing basins, and painters gave the first coat of white to the walls. The place was undergoing a change. It must have been a special penthouse in colonial times. We sat around the flat, empty of any furniture, most of the afternoon, watching the workers. Luisa went out to the shops, and I tried to explain to her uncle what a prima donna she is, and how she always acts without thinking. Later we walked back to the flat of Luisa’s mother, where we ate boiled steak and spaghetti. Not long after that, Luisa arrived, and we slept until nine in the evening, she with her head on my arm.
At six in the morning, I’m suffering from the pain in my neck, which doesn’t want to dissipate. I wrote in my exercise book on the bed, and Luisa laid next to me until she left for the club, at about 11h00, in a long black dress and pantyhose, and returned at about three in the morning, reeking of alcohol and smoke, and I saw her undress and pass out next to me, turning away from me. I thought that I had to get out of this shit.
“Come make massage.”
She points to her lower back, pulling up her dress to above her beautiful buttocks. I move the palms of my hands to the indicated spot.
“You don’t make nice.”
“Am I doing it too hard or too soft?”
Zabiba, in an orange see-through Muslim outfit, enters. She does Luisa’s hair in front of the mirror of the dressing table.
“Oh my god, why make me a woman?” Luisa sighs.
Her new fan spits its wind across our bodies on the bed. Playing hard to get, she refused sleeping with her head on my arm. I turn away. The big wish is to escape without an argument. Last night, I told her that I refuse to be treated like a dog, and that I want respect.
I walked down Karl Marx Avenue, and used the public phone at the old colonial graveyard wall, with its tombs and overgrown with weeds: a sanctuary for birds, insects and corpses. I walked and walked and decided to turn down the Avenue 14th of July. I walked on the bumpy pavement, with its bits of rubbish and mud from last night’s rain. I feel completely alone.
Luisa is working out balances and yawns, while idiotic sounds of children come from the sitting room. I cannot offer her a dream and therefore the emptiness of our togetherness. Not even our feet seem to touch at night. What does she want from me? Why am I here? Where should I be?
It strikes me, that every time Luisa returns from the club, she is tense. She must be tired.
There is a fire and coals in a tin on which food is prepared on the veranda. I look down, and see a huge rat sniffing around in the backyard below. Luisa is washing. Why am I still part of her story?
Maybe she decided on me as a “husband,” because her five year old son wants a father, and has decided that I’m his “papa,” and looks at me with big laughing eyes. She gives him everything he wants: he wanted a hi-fi and a TV, so she bought a new hi-fi and TV. He is jumping and dancing with joy on the loud music, the songs are the ones always played at Lido’s, and the fan cools my sweat.
Later in the afternoon, we went to visit Graca. The stripper is also there, and is melancholic about being abandoned by her parents in her youth. She was brought up in a rural orphanage, after her Scottish father disappeared, and her Malawian mother stopped caring for her. There is a telephone call for Luisa. I overhear one sentence in English “Do not spend it all, I need some money”. Then there is another call, which angers the stripper. Her Chinese boyfriend has arrived from Johannesburg, and is at the nightclub’s boarding house, but is not allowed to enter the premises, despite giving a free lift to the replacement stripper from Johannesburg . He is sitting in the car, in the street in front of the boarding house. Charday explodes against the Italian owners of the club. Graca explains to me that the boss of the club is in prison, and the brother, who has his own ideas, is fucking up. “Fuck! Who the fuck does he think he is?” Charday screams.
In a taxi, we pass an orchestra practicing in the entrance to a parkade under one of the dilapidated flats, and then we get to the boarding house where the Chinese boyfriend is sitting in his car under a tree, listening to cassettes.
At nine o’clock in the evening, Luisa wants to sleep for an hour. I chase the children from the room, and switch the TV off. She asked me to wake her up in an hour’s time. She dozed off into a deep sleep, and I felt close to her, my hand in her hand. I woke her with great difficulty, and she continued to lie in bed for another 30 minutes, until, eventually, in a drained condition, she started to wander around before ironing her clothes in a sitting position.
It is the day before Christmas. “Johan, please don’t fuck me around” is the usual sneer I get, when I ask something. I shaved last night. When she came back, late last night, she allowed me to hold her for a long time, and it seemed as if some tenderness was returning, or at least I think so. At this moment in her life, she is into money, lots of money, and on spending it on things which would make her life comfortable, in her new flat, when she moves there. At the same time, I’m some anchor, an irritating anchor.
The next evening, Luisa is out, and I’m lying in front of the fan. I’m watching the clock on the wall; I’m watching the seconds tick by. It is twenty-six minutes past seven. My toes…The sides of my nose pain from the pressure of my glasses. I hear the voice of Luisa’s mother, coming from the dark interior of the flat. It is twenty-seven minutes past seven. I hear engines of cars and motorbikes going by, crackers… Oh! Luisa where the fuck are you… twenty eight minutes past seven… a hooter, dogs barking…pain in my stomach… another cracker…the door bell rings…twenty nine minutes past seven…the fan…touching my nose with my finger…the door closing…December 1999 on the calendar…thirty minutes past seven…the voice of Luisa’s mother…sweat and sweat…movement in the curtains from the fan…empty mineral water bottle… a car slowing down…hooting…touching my glasses…twenty nine minutes to eight…ache in my chest…missing something…just doing nothing…I’m a nothing…why continue writing when nobody is really interested. I felt so close to Luisa this morning, and now she has disappeared as if I don’t exist…car hooting…I’ve got the feeling that people generally are getting drunk tonight…twenty five minutes to eight. The excited sounds of Seko laughing at something…Oh baby, baby…pain in the neck. It is approaching twenty to eight. I could have been with my parents this Christmas. I hear the sharp noise of a TV, and feel pain on the sides of my nose from the sweat and the pressure of my glasses. I am thirsty. It is now twenty to eight.
She arrived at about eight from her penthouse. She bought a lounge suite and a TV cabinet, and has no more money, nothing. Seko is dancing on Mambo No. 5, that is playing loud. It looks like a shebeen in the room, with the fan turning from left to right, and I can see the fatigue on her face as the children clamber over her. My sweaty hand holds her sweaty hand lightly. She is falling asleep with the loud noise. All the small children are dancing around the fan. There is a Portuguese version of She on TV: images of a woman half-naked running around in a cave. Then it is news on TV: a report on Christmas shopping in Mozambique with images of Shoppers like sleep walkers in a dream supermarket. The news is followed by a gospel program. A Jesus with blow-dried hair is crucified on TV.
We came to life at about 11 o’clock, and had breakfast and Sprite with ice, and later half a beer, and later again another Sprite. I took Luisa’s large wooden double bed apart, as we are moving to her penthouse. I packed the TV and the radio into boxes. Then she sent her stepfather, and me, to go and unlock the penthouse. I sat in a breeze on the veranda of the penthouse, with the stepfather, consuming a Sweppes. The stepfather and I have nothing to say to one another, as he cannot speak English, and my Portuguese consists of a few words. Memories of Mbali come back to me, as I feel how she is dying. The pain in my neck has moved into the left side of my brain.
The year is drawing to a close, with its own type of clarity. We wake up in a room, with the sun burning through the windows, and a mattress on the floor. This is the last night at her mother’s place.
In the morning, I’m standing on the veranda of the penthouse, while workers are carrying in Luisa’s things. I can see rain is coming from the swallows gliding in circles. A giant cloud is being pulled by the wind across the sky, just beyond the skyscrapers. In the far distance, bed sheets are flapping in the wind from a washing line on a balcony. The city is gray with paint peeling from buildings like skin from a leper.
It is evening, and Luisa’s family crowded into the lounge to see the new flat. I’m standing on the back veranda in a soft drizzle, listening to the sounds of rain frogs coming from the empty piece of land below.
The rain poured down for most of the night. I’m still lying in bed with the sounds of a hammer hitting at concrete. I’m washing, and pour water from a plastic container over me with a cup, rubbing myself with soap and washing the soap off. Now I’m looking down the veranda at the bustling in the street. It is a cool, cloudy day.
I walked to a park nearby. At the entrance, the statue of Samora Machel is waving a stone finger at an invisible crowd, while a transparent spider crawled up my leg, where I sit on a bright red park bench, and sadness fills me as I think about Luisa. A family poses for a photograph. The leaves and the shadows of trees rustle, and the plastic covers of ice lollies lie everywhere on the grass. I’m a visitor abandoned.
She went to visit a friend all dressed up and perfumed and lip iced. I’m alone with Zabiba and the children.
Next morning Katja is standing, naked in the bathroom, stretching out her arms. Luisa lies on the couch, she folds the cloth she wears around her breasts as a worker enters with a screwdriver. They negotiate about work to be done and the price.
I announce, that I need to book my ticket to return to South Africa on about the 2nd. She says that the bus only leaves on Wednesdays, and needs money to buy groceries for the New Year’s party. I ask “How much?” She shrugs her shoulders: “As much as you can give.” I tell her of the Visa and MasterCard bank I discovered on one of my walks. I take Seko by the hand, and we pass through the park to the bank. A friendly teller announces that the withdrawal will cost me five dollars, and I have to wait twenty minutes. “No problem.” I said. She fills in all the necessary details on a slip of paper, makes phone calls, and waits for return calls. We hear the screams of a beggar and pickpocket being arrested outside the bank. After an hour my money is ready, and I carry Seko on my shoulders back to the penthouse. Luisa is asleep in the room on my return. It is extremely hot, not even a breeze on the veranda.
In the evening, I’m looking down the back veranda at children playing soccer on a roof, at washing flapping in a backyard, rusty car doors in a scrap yard. A coconut tree grows through a roof of an outside building.
I’m leaving on Monday morning at six. Luisa booked the ticket yesterday. She must have seen the despair in my eyes. Last night, we had our first opportunity to really talk to one another. She did not go out, and it was only the sleeping children and me. She was upset, because a young man at the door was looking for Zabiba. She doesn’t like friends of Zabiba to come to her house, to invade her privacy. If Zabiba wants to fuck, she must do it outside. She refers to Zabiba’s innocence in comparison to herself “I’m like a broken car that cannot be repaired anymore.” She tells of her father, whose only friends were two white guys from his work, and he never allowed anybody else into his study, with books and records. She is a private person. She does not like people. People are dirty. She hates people, and only the most intimate are allowed into her house. Then we spoke about money again, and how important money is to her, and I asked her whether she is going to leave me when I don’t have money any more. She answered that she would have left me long ago, if she wanted to do that, and she asked me why I stayed with her, when I know that she is a bad girl.
Flies are mating on my sweating chest. In the sideboard, she keeps the whiskey, which is not for drinking, and which she bought at R700 a bottle. At the end of the bed are the shining eyes of Seko and Katja chewing away on crumbling Marie biscuits. A breeze is coming through.
Love is a kind of hell.
It is the last day of 1999, the longest day of nothingness, fraught with emotional dangers. The children wander from one room to the next. The wind blows in the curtain. The music in the cassette player is on full blast, while Zabiba is working in the kitchen, and Luisa is drinking a martini, whisky and orange juice concoction. She falls asleep, and wakes up in a bad mood. Why am I not looking after the children? She only needs half an hour’s sleep. Why am I sitting on the veranda and not in the lounge? I must listen, when there is someone at the door. Then she left to buy meat for the party in the evening.
Empty loud music, as the minutes is ticking to 2000, or, more importantly, my departure from Maputo to what? “I don’t care.” It has become a motto of hers.
Not many minutes more to midnight. Luisa and her mother prepare the chicken on coals, on the veranda. I look down from the veranda, and see the head and shoulders of the woman of the flat below on her balcony. Her body is shaking, and she is sobbing.
At 12h00, Maputo erupted into fireworks; I open the champagne and pour some into all the glasses. Luisa showers me in champagne and embraces me with a New Year’s kiss. It rains stars across the sky, and the city fills with smoke. The fireworks break up into falling circles above the freedom monument. We eat the chicken pieces, chips, salad and drinks. In the background, the radio broadcasts New Year messages and music, and her brother, Raoul, and Zabiba, are dancing, Seko and Katja are dancing, Luisa’s mother and me are dancing. Her mother says I’m dancing like a Shangaan. Luisa’s brother grabs me, and tries to show me some sophisticated dancing steps. I sweat and take off my shirt. Luisa tells me to put my shirt back on. It is disrespectful to her mother to dance without a shirt.
New Year’s Day we slept in our sweat. Seko and I went to the park, the overgrown paradise with stoned revelers still in a deep slumber on the grass lawns.
I can feel this Sunday morning is going to be a disaster. I don’t know how Luisa and me are going to discuss our problems. Is it best just to leave Maputo, and not to discuss them? We slept with this great distance between us. It was a cool night. I’m not sure, whether there were attempts from her side to come closer, whether I was evading touches, or what is going on any more. The problem is once this happens, no one is open to touching any more and there is no relationship. The fan shifts its blowing wind from one side to another.
We slept till about 11 o’clock. It felt much later. There was restlessness about her very being. She woke and wandered to the bathroom, then came to a rest on the couch in the lounge. I went and sat with her. She said that I look like a monkey, and must shave. I said I will shave in Durban.
I slapped her playfully on the bum, and then she erupted in front of her sister “Don’t treat me like your bitch.” I left the room, and started to pack my things, and she went on saying that when I slap her like that it brings on her periods, and she will start to bleed profusely, and she doesn’t have clothes.
I went to wash myself in water from the plastic tub, when an altercation between her and Seko broke out, and he started crying non-stop. I put on some clothes, and tried to comfort him, but it just continued and continued. Somehow I had the feeling that the crying was also about me leaving, the bag that was being packed.
Luisa saw me off early at the Panthera. It was a few intimate moments of intense feelings. We did not exchange many words. She asked, whether I am happy to return. Not really, I replied, because we have things to sort out between ourselves. She did not say much. I put my arm around her shoulders lightly. In the end, it was time to get up, and kiss her good-bye. She turned her cheeks to me, and then a light kiss on the mouth. After finding my place on the bus, I fell in a deep meditative mood for a few moments. Then suddenly I stretched my neck, to see her still sitting there, chatting to an acquaintance. Our eyes met, and she smiled, and we waved to one another shyly.
I returned to South Africa through a misty Swaziland. The rivers were overflowing, and raindrops were gliding like sperm on the front windscreen. There was a feeling of elation, when the city of Durban became visible with its neatly painted high-rise buildings and shopping centers. I did not have money for a taxi, so I decided to walk to my flat. I walked past a tramp looking dead, and rotting in a flowerbed next to the pavement. Back in my flat, the power was off, and the place was filled with a strong smell of death and rotting. I opened the fridge, and realized that it is blood from meat that smells. I opened a bag of cashew nuts, to discover that it was full of maggots. On the switchboard, I saw that the electricity tripped out. It must have been lightning. I was tired and collapsed on the bed, and then took a cold bath.
In the early evening, I walked past Costa do Sol to Skippers Fish and Chips. I heard behind me the sounds of running high-heel shoes. It was one of the women from Costa do Sol touching lightly at my sleeve.
“Have you heard about Mbali?”
“What about Mbali?”
“She is gone, She died on the 24th.”
“It was her funeral on the 26th. We could not go. We had no transport. Her cousin came to your place and the security told them, that you went to Malawi.”
Silence. I touch her arm lightly. I howl with my fingers in the fatty fish and chips, tears come as I type this.
“Forgive me Mbali, I could have made a difference. You had nothing to live for anymore. A miscarriage and Mbali, it is getting pretty close.
I went down to the phone shop, and made a call to Maputo. Luisa was with Graca. We did not say much, although she sounded friendly, and said that she was bleeding profusely from her periods, due to the slap I gave her on her bum, and I must send her and the children’s clothes. Then I returned to the flat, and did some spring-cleaning. I tried to get rid of the smell of death and cockroaches. I cleaned the fridge, the kitchen floor, threw away nearly everything that was in the fridge: sauces and pickled mangoes and jam and coconut juice.
I went to Costa do Sol the other night, looking rugged and abandoned, and Angel came and sat next to me, and we started talking, and drinking, and drinking, and drinking. Eventually she came back to the flat with me, speaking loudly until the security man came to quiet us down. We went to bed, did not take our clothes off. She was entranced by the misty dark sky behind the Holiday Inn’s blue neon sign, claiming to see Mbali and feeling Mbali’s presence in the breeze, and says that this flat is Mbali’s, and I must go to Mbali’s grave. She tells of her baby that was born with more alcohol in its veins than blood. Angel says, that if ever she’s told that she has AIDS, she would drink petrol, and set herself alight on the highway.
While listening to Soft Machine, I find a cockroach standing on its fine two back legs, trying to cover its ears with the front legs, in a deep trance, I would say. I think the music is affecting it in a painful way.