It was a promise he had made drunk that placed him at Rosebank’s The Zone’s Exclusive books. It was ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. He was looking for a book, when he should have still been sleeping a hangover off. He was lucky to snatch the last available copy when he got there. This was a great lesson on alcohol and promises, he noted.

The book in question was Nolitha Radebe’s recently released Hard men are good to find. The Cape Town born sex therapist and author must have been literally up to her eyeballs in sales, as print run after print run, she had sold out. The book, the author had said in an interview, was meant for men to read to gain a better understanding of their women’s sexual desires in order to satisfy them. It was based on conversations she’d had with her female clients and women she’d spoken to in general, about the subject. “Insightful, witty and amorous; an amazing turn on,” Tina Simone, radio host and social commentator was said to have said about the book.

Monde had been having a beer or two, or three or four when he was suddenly overcome by an urgent need to let the world know, via Facebook, what he was doing and with whom on a Friday night. It was then that he saw a status update that was just begging to be responded to. What better person to respond to it, too, than someone who had just killed four Hansa Pilsener quarts – him, of course.

The status update in question had been written by Thembeka Cele, a petite, brown skinned, spectacled and dreadlocked young thing he’d met recently at a second hand bookshop in downtown Johannesburg. She had simply written:

#FOMO #HardMenAreGoodToFind #NeedABlesser

The update was still all of three minutes old and it hadn’t been commented on and so he was the first to comment.

No #FOMO formed against my favourite person shall prosper; I refuse! WhatsApp if you’re interested 😉

The story of how Monde met Thembeka was one about being at a right place at the right time to meet just the right person. They met at Caffeine Free, a very cosy downtown Johannesburg based second hand book shop that doubled as a coffee shop too. They were both to later learn how the puzzling name had come about. The owner and barista, Cassper Senong, explained, as he handed each of them their cup of coffee, that buying a book entitles one to free coffee.

“Hence Caffeine free, meaning: the Caffeine is free,” he had said. “We serve decaf, too, by the way,” he had added.

He had walked in looking for Fred Khumalo’s Touch my blood, a gem that had since gone out of print. Rumour in his literary circles had it that a downtown Jozi bookshop had it. As it turned out, a coffee-coloured, petite, young woman in spectacles was looking for it too. He knew this because she asked him if they had the very same book when she thought he was the bookshop’s employee. They both smiled at the awkwardness of the whole thing as he made her agree to go out for coffee with him to atone for this terrible sin of mistaken identity. The elusive Touch my blood had sadly been snatched. They found great alternative titles though; Sello Duiler’s Thirteen cents for him and Zakes Mda’s Sometimes there’s a Void for her.

The Nolitha Radebe book was the first gift he would give to Thembeka. What better way to start off gift giving than with the book Thembeka had been speaking about wanting to get even before it was available? He somehow had the distinct feeling that the status update to which he had enthusiastically responded with an impromptu promise had subtly been meant for his eyes. Be that as it may, he thought, Thembeka was worth it. He descended, via the escalators, to the floor below and headed for The Mall of Rosebank’s Pick ‘n Pay to get just the thing to sweeten this deal – Ferrero Roche chocolate.

It was not humanly possible for Thembeka to not graduate him from the discomfort of the friend zone to a more pleasurable, more intimate space of a boyfriend after this. Thembeka’s love for Nolitha Radebe’s book could very well be a fad, he thought, but her love for that Italian chocolate was no fad; it had stood the test of time. It was a marriage! The chocolate and the book together would just seal the deal.

They, him and Thembeka, had exchanged numbers, followed each other on Twitter and befriended one another on Facebook on that fateful Caffeine Free day. Not a day had gone by without them having WhatsApp conversations that would last well into the wee hours of the next morning, having started at six or seven the previous evening. Their engaging and intelligent conversations would be about books, poetry and sharing information about each other.

They felt comfortable in each other’s space so much that one day she admitted to being naked but comfortable around him. He could feel his privates swelling with excitement on hearing such news. Although they had gone on three dates since they had met, they were not girlfriend and boyfriend yet. He was confident that with time, a good book and chocolate, he was well on his way there.

Having found his girl’s chocolate of choice, he decided to add a bottle of sweet rosé wine. Nothing completes a special lady’s gift set like a bottle of her favourite wine, he thought. Who knows, he smiled mischievously, maybe when she’s drunk… he couldn’t finish that thought. He was interrupted by a familiar sounding voice from behind.

“Who’s the lucky lady?” said the voice.

The person behind the voice sounded polite and a little apprehensive. He turned back to find her standing behind a trolley she had parked adjacent to where he had been in a bend removing wine from its isle.

“How are you?” she said with a nervous smile.

Stunned, he almost lost his grip on the wine and she stretched herself to help him. His arm brushed against her hairy arm for a few seconds. He felt the electricity he’d once felt when he would take her into his warm embrace. He felt his privates rising excitedly as if anxious to greet the lady standing in front of him.

“Thanks, how are you? I mean, hi. Ahem, how are you?” he fumbled while she leaned forward to give him a light, impersonal hug; nothing like the warm, tight squeezes he had become accustomed to.

It was Mashudu, the ex-girlfriend he had last spoken to almost a year prior to that date. She was looking ravishing in a black dress. It looked like the one she’d worn to a dinner date with him at Soweto’s Sakhumzi’s restaurant. She was easily the best dressed woman at the restaurant that day. She looked at least a kilogram lighter than when he had last seen her. She wore the black number well with a light brown belt and matching flat shoes. The dress showed enough flesh and left the parts you would want to see to your own imagination. He felt shabby and lacking swag in his T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

The daytime lunch he was now having with Mashudu, at The Zone’s Primmi Piatti, was turning out to be as bad as he had first thought it would be. He had only agreed to it partly because he needed a strong one to quell the effects of his hangover. He had coffee instead. Mashudu couldn’t hide her jealousy on seeing the book in addition to the chocolate and the wine. She changed tack and asked a directly.

“Whose are those for?”

He dodged the question.

“So; how are your kids, the dogs I mean?”

He was careful not refer to them by name and regretting his insensitive reference to them as kids. Tinyiko hadn’t had kids yet.

“Oh you mean Bruno and Pebbles,” she said; “they are fine, thanks. I’d like to read that book, you know; and I wish I’d had wine and chocolate during my tenure,” she ended while nibbling on bacon.

Although he could see that she was looking for answers to questions he had left unanswered when he left, she wasn’t scathing. She was, in fact, very civil. He had been avoiding eye contact too, opting to look at her from the breast down. This was very counter productive because it brought memories of when he used to fondle those very same breasts. He couldn’t give a conclusive answer to whether he still fell for her but he didn’t trust himself to give an outright ‘no’ to that question.

He walked her to the underground parking lot where she parked her car and before she could get in she invited him over to her townhouse, not far from The Zone. She said she had cooked samp and beans, his favourite.

“Would you like to sample it?” she asked; “I have Glen Fiddich too,” she added.

He thought of Thembeka as he looked Mashudu in the eye and politely declined.

“Thanks but I’ll pass; and…I take coffee now. I take it Caffeine free.”


Tell us what you think: Have you ever bumped into an ex and you weren’t looking your best? How did you feel?