Sounds of house music bellowed off Floyd’s hi-fi system. Heads bopped and feet tapped to the beat. Even Floyd’s girlfriend sat on his lap bopping along. Can of cider in hand, she looked to have hung her dancing shoes for the night. Maybe just as well. The beat had mellowed since three or four songs earlier. Even if she’d wanted to work the dance floor like she had been earlier, she couldn’t. The beat was too lazy, too jazzy to be danced to. Still house music. But it was like a shot of brandy with one ice cube too many and sliced pieces of lemon. It still took you but did so steadily.
Floyd was whispering something into her ear, or was he kissing her earlobe? “Get a room, you two!” That was Sbu, taking words from right out of my mouth. He, himself, was sitting on a crate with his girlfriend occupying space on his lap. But Sbu being Sbu, he was romancing a can of beer. Of the empty beer containers on the ground, most were his, no doubt.
If Floyd would have been whispering something into his giggly girlfriend’s ears I imagined it to be something along the lines of: “Mara baby uyashisa.” He was quite a charmer, Floyd. Common for him to get a coquettish response to a lousy: “But baby you are hot.” The likes of me wasted Shakespearean and still got nowhere.
Floyd simply dismissed Sbu’s grievance with a smile. His face glistened with boyish good looks. I wished I had those killer looks. And I wished I had his gold tooth. As if to add to my jealousy, his girlfriend pulled him closer and kissed him.
“Sizwe.” Zozo must have caught me gazing at Floyd and his girlfriend.
“Yes?” I refocused on her sitting besides me. Her and I were the only people sitting side by side. She sat on her crate. I sat on mine. I realised I’d been so fixated on the Floyd show.
“I have to go now,” she said. I took a swig of my beer. This didn’t buy me enough time.
“Can I finish this first?” I took another sip of what was then a warm beer.
“But you’ve barely touched it.” She was right. The beer was about three-quarters full.
“But it’s still-” I looked at my wristwatch mid-sentence. The short hand was pointing at twelve. The long one was second or two hot on its tail. It was almost midnight. Not as early as I had been trying to suggest. My hat was already in Zozo’s hand. It was really time to go. My fluke date with the drop-dead gorgeous Zozo was over.
Zozo had been passing by when I found guts to invite her. “I’d ask you to join us but I know you’ll turn me down.” Those words had just rolled off my mouth.
“Is that how low you think of me?”
I wished the earth would open up and swallow me. “Is that a no?”
“No, silly. I’d love to join you.”
I thought I hadn’t heard right. “You would?”
“Yes. But I can’t stay too long. I’m working tomorrow.”
“Your boss needs a talking-to for making you work on a Saturday.” I saw her face beaming with a smile. Dimples on her cheeks fuelled my confidence. “We should be giving the town a fresh coat of red paint.”
She chuckled. “I’m a lady. The only painting I do is right here.” She raised her hand showing me her exquisitely manicured nails.
“Touché.” I hoped my smile was enough to hide how intimidated I was. If her elegance had been unknown to me, that manicure was an introduction.
Shame overcame me as I saw her wipe our crates clean. I made a mental note to stop doing that with my behind. I waited for her to be settled before I took a seat. Even in that dim Soweto night at Floyd’s lawn her light skin glowed. Her dress tugged to her upper body from below the neck to her figure. Then it let go of her to just above her ankles.
But she stayed later than she had planned.
“Look at the time!” My watch was in her hand. She had taken it off my right hand. “A gentleman wears his watch on the left,” she was advising me. “And it’s 10 o’clock. If I don’t go now, I won’t be able to catch the 6-o’clock train.”
This train talk had taken me aback. “What? You travel by train. Why?”
Her rolling eyes said: “Budget, fool!” I couldn’t hide my disappointment at the prospect of her having to go.
“Why won’t you take a taxi? It’s safer.”
“And expensive!” There was matter-of-fact quality about how she stressed that fact.
“I get you,” I said, my voice low. Loser! My inner voice screamed. Busy drinking while people your age are working – and travelling in unsafe trains to save money!
“Listen,” I said, “I’m enjoying your company. And I’d like you to stay a little longer. But not a minute longer that you have to.” I pointed to the zipper on my hat. “In here is some cash. When you must really, really go, take this hat off. Take as much you need for a taxi and I’ll walk you home.” She killed herself laughing.
“You keep money in a hat?”
“For when I get mugged. Who’s gonna think to search a hat?”
“When did you know you loved mom? What was that one point you looked at her and you thought: ‘She’s the one!'”
I considered this question from my 15-year-old son. I spared him the obvious: ‘There’s a girl, isn’t there?’ I looked at her mom. She had reduced the volume on the TV. It wasn’t just Kagiso who wanted to know the answer, I realised.
“Well,” I started. “It was two coins, son. Two two-rand coins. I bribed her with money to keep me company. That was what I did growing up. I used money to get the attention of girls.”
His eyes widened. “I don’t understand.”
“See, son; there was this girl I liked. She kept me company once. But she stayed up too late keeping me company. So late she would have missed her train the following day. I showed her where I stashed my money. There was a small vault there. And you wanna know how much she took?”
“No dad. She only took…wait, is that girl mom?”
“Yes. She could have had my small fortune. But she took only what she needed for the taxi – four rands. That’s how I knew I could trust her with my heart.”