It has been an exhausting day at work, going up and down the lift, loading and offloading rickety desks and chairs of the tenant that has been moving out of the building. I arrived home dog-tired, with the intention of dropping my backpack in our room and went straight to the bathroom to take a cold shower. I found Vuyo and my de facto child Kelly, already in our room. They were lying on the bed, Vuyo busy reading Zakes Mda’s Sculptures of Mapungubwe and Kelly munching her Simba chips.
Once Kelly caught sight of me, she jumped off the bed screaming excitedly, “Ozzie!”
I picked her up and attempted to strike a conversation asking a plethora of questions inquiring about her day at kindergarten. She was very excited but showing little interest in answering the questions. Instead she offered me the Simba chips she was busy eating. I did not turn away this generous gesture. I dipped my hands into the packet and took a handful of chips.
I quickly went to check the bathroom and found that someone was occupying it. I passed by the fridge in the kitchen and picked up a bottle of cold Castle Lager. It was exactly what I needed but I was expecting to enjoy it after taking a cold shower. As I made my way slowly to sit on the edge of the bed, I could feel Vuyo’s gaze.
“When are you going to stop drinking too much in front of the child?” she threw the question at me. She never had a problem with my drinking when we first met, but this changed since we started staying together.
“I am working on it. I am cutting down on alcohol,” I replied. She ignored me and continued to read her book.
All of a sudden, as I was sipping my beer, I heard commotion coming from the kitchen. I dropped Kelly on the bed and rushed to the kitchen. There was a burst pipe, water was running all over the floors in the bathroom. Vuyo had followed me as well. She put the baby on the floor and rushed to join the men trying to stop the gushing water. It was proving difficult to stop. I had to act swiftly.
I quickly dashed down the staircases, going outside and switched off the main water meter. It was against the City of Cape Town rules to tamper with the main meter but this was the only immediate solution. To temporarily stopped the main water from running until the plumber came and fix the problem. When I came back upstairs a middle-aged blonde white lady, who lived downstairs had joined them. She had been alerted when drops of water started dripping into her house through the ceiling.
I had seen her around before but this was our first time close to each other. She was standing with her arms folded, and once she set her eyes on me, she announced to everyone with a smile plastered on her face, “The plumber is here,”
I surmised that she was happy with the quick response of the estate agents in finding immediately the plumber. I could see the unsettling expression registering on both Mitch and James, our house mates. They were both whites as well. We were the epitome of Mandela and Tutu’s dream of a rainbow nation in this communal house.
They busied themselves with the buckets, ignoring her. The white lady was already ushering me with instructions and Mitch finally interjected, “He stays here,”
I could see shock and uneasiness registering on the white lady’s face, “Oh, you stay here,” that was her response. It was a great surprise for her to find out that she stayed with black people under the same roof, hence when she first saw me, she just assumed I was there to fix the burst pipe. By now the guys had mopped dry the water on the floor and only a small leak from the pipe continued dripping into the bucket put underneath the sink to collect the water, waiting for the plumber to arrive.
After the chaos, as we were leaving the bathroom, the white lady turned towards me and asked me to constantly check the bucket and empty it when it was full. Here she was again being arrogant and blatantly racist, seeing me as a sub-human. We were all flat mates paying the same bills hence we were supposed to be equal. But surprisingly this blonde white lady, I never bothered to know her name, straight away gave me the orders on issues we should have discussed first and possibly found a volunteer amongst us to constantly check the bucket. And to my surprise my liberal white flat mates avoided to confront her, instead they opted to apologise to me after she had long gone.
Living in a communal house, we had been sharing almost everything, the sitting room, the bathroom, the kitchen as well as the food. I started to wonder if theirs was a true friendship or comradeship, as we shared a lot of common views about the rights and wrongs of the world.
And here they had failed to stand up for me when I needed them most, to protect my human dignity. I was reminded of Marechera’s letter to his ex-white girlfriend, “A letter to Samantha.” At least with the unrepentant racist white lady I knew where she stood, but what about my liberal white friends?
Tell us: Do you think Ozzie is justified about his opinions about his friends? Why or why not?