Ariel was studying towards a Tourism Diploma and she was from Hebron but currently stayed at her aunt’s in Soshanguve for easy travel to the campus. At the time, for most black people, a Tourism Diploma was the big new thing, next to Information Technology. I told her I was studying Management Practice, and I also shared that my first choice was Drama, as if it was important that she knew I had some kind of passion.

Itu was her name, short for Itumeleng, which can be translated to ‘Gladness’ in English. Itumeleng and I went on to have more train meetings. We often found ourselves in the same train on the mornings that we had early lectures. Whenever I was free, I waited for her outside her lecture hall – I liked this part because my gentlemanliness was rewarded with that smile of hers that distinguished her from a crowd of students filing out of the door. From there we would amble to the train station while being totally oblivious to the world around us.

At our naughtiest, we sneaked inside the first-class section of the Metrorail with our cheap student tickets and later slipped out of the coach, right under the nose of the ticket examiner. And we would giggle at the success of our misdemeanour while strolling across the platform heading to Block 10.

We were sitting face-to-face in first class this one afternoon while the scenery of shanty settlements outside the train’s window glided backwards as the train shot up ahead. She was quiet, suckling her squashy juice sachet, and I observed her with fondness, imagining the kind of children we could have together.
Well, I did grab the opportunity. But I let it slip away.

Hi Itumeleng…

It’s me, Fizzer. You gave me this nickname after you had told me you liked those sweets as a young girl. I haven’t seen you in twenty years. I tried searching for you on Facebook and to my disappointment I don’t recall asking for your surname; what a fine gentleman I am. Anyway, I took my chances and searched. Facebook revealed scores of Itumelengs but none of the ladies had Ariel eyes.

No luck this time, when I was counting on it. I hope you’re happy, wherever you are, and you’re the boss of that tourism business you had promised to establish in your community. You must be forty by now, lol. And it’s fair to assume you have a husband and kids whom I hope look a lot more like you.

There’s really nothing to write home about about me. You used to say I was intelligent and I’d become quite the professional. Well, I guess I’m just as level as they come. To tell you the truth, I’m glad you did not end up with me. I’m not as focussed as I would like to be.

I have made a number of bad choices. I did not complete my qualification, this you must’ve noticed from my unwarranted disappearance after only two months of knowing you. I’m not married and I live between jobs. I have five children by three women. I know you like chubby guys but you should see me now, Itu, I’m fat, yho. The braais and alcohol associated with the weekend shisa nyama culture have taken their toll on my body. But I plan to quit this lifestyle and go back the Zion Christian Church.

What keeps me sane now is my writing. I’ve even enrolled for an online creative writing program and writing this piece is the best thing so far, although it also gives me mixed feelings that I can’t explain.

Though I would die to see how you’ve evolved over the years – appearance and all – the thought of a reunion scares me. I want the memory I have of us to remain perfect. And if this piece ever gets published, and you just so happen to read it, I want you to know that I’m glad I saw you on that train. I remember you, my friend. And I
want you to know that my heart still dances to the contours of your smile.


Tell us: What story do you have about a friend you only ever met once?