Conversations with Sbu
It is the first of January. Last night was New Year’s Eve and we were totally ‘wasted’ – Sbu’s favourite word. I find my friend, leaning against Mbuyiseli’s shack. He’s still there from last night and he still has a drink in his hand. “I am the last man standing,” he shouts, lifting the drink up as I come through the broken wooden gate.
“I don’t see why you should call yourself the last man standing if you are sitting down,” I laugh and sit down next to him. I know that he is bound to disagree. He always does.
“Lungsta, you all went to sleep and I stayed drinking all night – what do you call such men?”
“Party animals Sbu, that is what we call such men.”
“Oh yeah, is that so Lungsta?” Sbu says, looking like he is getting ready to come down heavy on me. I try to change the subject. Sbu’s always wary of me. He knows I’m going to try and get him to see sense, even on the morning after New Year’s when he is hungover – especially on the morning after New Year’s.
“Well, God bless the souls that brought me to this earth. And thank God for my mother, she made me the person I am today.” I say this because I am truly grateful on this first day of the new year, but also to change the subject from party animals. Sbu is struggling to get up. He slides back down against the corrugated iron wall. I can see he is lining up words to fire back at me.
“What are you now, the president of the universe, umfundisi? Shut up, Sbu with your lecturing.” Then he looks at me and there is a lot of sadness in his face.
“Hey, Lungsta, what about the fathers? There are so many kids out there who don’t know their fathers. I mean their real fathers, their flesh and blood. They would give anything to have that heart to heart talk with them. And there are fathers that feel the same, Lungsta.” If I did not know better, I would say Sbu has a child somewhere and a father he has never met.
“Do we really want to get women pregnant and disappear with our names, Sbu?” I ask him. We can overhear from the house next door that celebrations of New Year’s Day are still in full swing.
“No, Lungsta,” he says. He sounds tired now.
“Exactly Sbu, who wants to father from a distance? We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of our fathers.” I am wondering how we got down this road of regret. Regret that we drank too much the night before, and that we are feeling it now. Regret that we have made some mistakes in life and we are feeling them now.
“When do young people start running this world Sbu?” I turn to my friend but he looks like he’s not interested in continuing our conversation. He’s on his next beer and it’s hot now. Our backs are feeling it against the tin of Mbuyiseli’s shack. I want to laugh, thinking of us talking like this. Conversations with a drunk man – day after conversations. He sighs.
“I don’t know if I am ready for that one yet, Lungile.” His voice becomes very soft and he shakes his head as he says this.
“Maybe young people have already started running this world, Sbu. Maybe they are doing it however suits them best, breaking into houses, high on drugs, drunk.” Now I could be gunned down by many for such words – speaking as if I am on the other side. But since when is it a crime to share positive thoughts at least? Especially at New Year.
“Ey, Lungsta, you better show respect to alcohol, cheers!” Sbu raises his bottle in the air and stares at it, like it’s a miracle of some sort.
“Shut up Sbu.” I say. I’m on a roll now. “You know what man, I think some young people wish everyone was drunk. They think the sober just don’t understand.”
“Maybe someone promised them there would be jobs instead of showing them how to create their own opportunities. Do you hear me, Lungsta?” Sbu is angry now. “My mother beat me up if she found me bunking school and I went on to finish matric. A matric boy who is now a shop assistant. No, I don’t sell Mercedes Benzes, Bentleys and Rolls Royce and I don’t get paid top ‘dollar’ my man. I sell disposable nappies in that factory shop in town. I explain to mothers which ones leak easily and which ones don’t. I talk to them about the different sizes. I tell them which ones have a better grip my man. Do you want to know more, hey? I passed matric, man, matric!”
We have sunk back into silence and Sbu is contemplating the bottom of his beer bottle. I look up at the sky. The sun is high now and soon we’ll have to move into the shade. “Sbu, you know the other day I found myself praying while I was walking in the city centre. I was walking past on of the tallest skyscrapers. It is made of thousands and thousands of very expensive tiles. In my pocket I had a train ticket and five rand for a taxi to get back here, to Masi. I was thinking my net worth is not even enough to pay for one of those tiles.”
“But Lungsta, man you can go on you know.” Sbu complains.
“I hope it is worth it my friend.”
“Whatever Lungile, just drink and worry less brother.” Says Sbu. But I can’t forget or stop worrying.
“The person that owns this skyscraper started somewhere Sbu, and this is one dream I would love to see come true – me being a shareholder in that skyscraper.”Sbu just looks at me. His bottle is finished. He puts it down in the sand and stands up.
“We will talk New Year resolutions when you come back,” I call after him. Sbu waves me off as he walks out the gate as if to say, “Not you again,” and “in your dreams!”
Want to read more? Try Brother to Brother, published by Townsend Press. The book tells the stories of 10 black men from the US. They write about what it means to them to be a black man living in America.