Perhaps I Should Have Kept My Distance

I wake up. It’s Saturday morning. A taxi driver hoots as he drives past my house in Pokela road, Masiphumelele. I sit up in bed, half asleep still. A ray of light shines through the hole in the zinc sheets of my bedroom wall, onto the pillow next to me. Small dust particles are dancing in the light. Voices, that at first I can’t make out, become clearer. My sister, Nolitha, is talking to our neighbor – she is putting her third and last load of washing on the line. I better go and show my face this morning and greet my family. As I open the door of my wendy house I hear an all too familiar voice – a very natural soothing one. The song that my grandfather is singing speaks of ooxam – river lizards. My grandfather has raked the front yard clean and is now busy preparing the soil in what will become a flower bed, right on the doorstep of my outside room.

Molo, Tata – good morning, father.” He looks up, leaning on the garden rake he is using.

Molo, Lungile – morning, son.” My intention is to stand and chat to my grandfather for a while and perhaps help him with the gardening, but I look across the yard and see my grandmother sitting in the doorway, staring at me. She is cross with me, I can tell.

Molo, Mama.” She doesn’t answer me. The tension is killing me.

Molo, Lungile,” she greets back at last. But then she turns and walks inside and into her room. I am left scratching around the kitchen. I can see the family has cooked oats for breakfast. I am not sure what I would like for breakfast but I know it must be meaty – oats is just not on my menu this morning. Perhaps water, I am very dehydrated from last night’s drinking.

My grandmother comes back out of her room. “Lungile, do you know I never slept last night?” I am about to ask her why, but I know this is about me and my all night partying with my friends. She looks at me, leaning against the kitchen table. “We talk to you about this every weekend my child and you keep doing the same thing.” My grandmother’s eyes are red and I can see that she has not slept. “Where were you last night, Lungile?”

“I was with friends at a friend’s house, Mama.”

“You were with friends that don’t have names? You were with friends until four thirty in the morning, Lungile?”

“Yes, Mama, we were safe – it was Sbu and Zolani, Mama.” My grandfather walks in as I am saying this.

“Lungile, please make sure that this does not happen again – phone us and tell us where you are, however late it is.”

Ewe, Tata – yes, father.”

Oompie kaNonkonzo – Nonkonzo’s uncle, how can you say that?” Grandmother asks Grandfather, as if to say I should stay grounded permanently.

“Lungile must be at home when the night time comes,” she tells him.

I never really got to hear of uNonkonzo but Mama always calls my grandfather this – that is the respect wives of her generation gave their husbands, they never called them by name. I wonder how Sbu and Zolani are doing. My boys walked me back home last night, or shall I say in the early hours of the morning.

“Lungile, please think of us in whatever you are doing.”

Ewe, Mama – yes mother,” I agree nodding my head.

“Picture me getting out of bed every time I heard people talking outside and every time a car drove past. I got up and looked through the window from the lounge to see if it was you coming home. In the middle of the night the devil was playing with me mntanami – my son, making me think all kinds of terrible things.”

I don’t know what to say. I just stand staring at the sunlight coming in through the door. The family friend, My Dogsie, is wagging her tail very slowly. Even our nine-year-old dog can pick up this tension; I see this in the way she looks at me apprehensively. Then my grandmother breaks the silence. “Carry on with whatever you were doing – make yourself breakfast.”

“Ok, Mama.” Off I run back to my room. I put on my Omega leather sandals – jump into my cream linen pants and pull on a grey casual jersey. Sbu does not stay very far from my house; it is about a block away. He has a one room shack in the back yard of his parents’ property.

When I get to his house I can hear that he is having a similar talk as the one I got – dished out by his mother. I duck below their kitchen window so they won’t see me, and hear this: “Why on earth would you spend time with a boy that almost made you lose your tooth?” Sbu’s mother is fuming with anger. I was not aware that his mother knew of the fight Sbu had with Zolani. I decide there and then not to tell Zolani – Sbu would never hear the end of this one. I can’t get into Sbu’s room if it is locked. I will go elsewhere, maybe to the other culprit of last night’s goings on, Zolani’s house.

Damn, a padlock and a chain locks the white door to Sbu’s shack room in the backyard. There is another route out of his property without passing the kitchen window. I am about to run for it when I hear Sbu’s mother. “Lungile, was he there?” I freeze. At first I think she can see me and that’s why she’s suddenly talking about me. But I know Sbu’s mom likes me being friends with Sbu. I am the only friend he has never gotten into a fight with and she trusts me.

“Yes, mama, Lungile was there.” Sbu replies. When I hear this I want to go in, but then again, maybe not. There may be more questions from Sbu’s mother that I may not be able to answer. So, I walk down to Zolani’s house.

Zolani is sitting with his father on the green lawn. Just before I get to the gate, a lady who used to be a girlfriend of mine, but whom I regard now as a friend, screams my name. Oh Lord, this one tried to do crazy things when we broke up – I think to myself. Let me just listen to what she has to say – she might just do something very dramatic if I don’t. “You know people still talk about your Matric Dance to this day, Lungile.” She shouts at me.

“Wow, after so many years – has nothing more exciting happened since then?” I reply. I wonder what is going on in her mind.

“It is said that after you and your partner were picked up in that black stretch limosine…” I can’t believe she’s still thinking, let alone talking about my Matric Dance.

“Please stop, Sisi.” I have heard so many different stories about this one night of fame I had. But I see she isn’t going to stop.

“It is said that you guys were airlifted in a chopper after the reception at Fish Hoek Senior High School to Kelvin Grove in Newlands and after a dance there and speeches and eats, you hit the after party.”

“Is that so, Sisi?”

“Yes, I am told that after the after party you were picked up by the limo again and went to the Monkey Valley Lodge. After that,” she looks at me suspiciously, “the trace goes cold…until the afternoon of the following day.” Who does she think she is – a detective? She continues. “Lungile, it only leaves one assuming that you disappeared into each other’s arms. You and the girl from the dance.”

I’m thinking that I must get her away from Zolani’s house, so I start back along the road. She keeps talking. She’s hardly noticed that we’re walking in the opposite direction, she is so intent on interrogating me.

“You know what, Sisi, not even half of what you just said is the truth. I understand that you want to confirm what you heard but people can exaggerate you know.” I tell her.

“What is the truth then, Lungile?” She looks at me accusingly.

“What I can tell you is that I had just had a knee operation. Therefore, Sisi, I did not go to the after party.” As I am explaining a man calls her from across the road and she runs to him. I am left walking alone in the direction of the park near the library.

I have just got what I think is a safe distance when she comes running back across the road. “He is crazy that one you know,” she says, out of breath now.

“Don’t say that – isn’t he your boyfriend?” I was sure I had seen him with her before.

“Ja, he is, but I prefer talking with you – he talks nonsense.”

“That could get us both into trouble if he heard you, you know. I am sure he talks sense. You just need to listen and understand where he is coming from.” But she doesn’t want to hear this. She wants to talk more about me.

“Talk to me, Lungile. I want to know about the girls before me – perhaps that will help me to understand why I lost you.” We are walking slowly now, around and around the park.

“There isn’t much there you know, in terms of girls in the past. I do not think I can write a bestseller on ex-girlfriends and past relationships.” She is giving me that look now, that says: but I want to know more. Well, if she really wants to know…

“My first love,” I start. “It’s funny how I always knew it would end. I still call it first love as it was a burning love at the time. I could think of nothing else but her.”

“Lungile, how did you know that she was your first love?” She asks accusingly. I am not sure if I am enjoying this conversation now.

“Shall we talk about something else?” I ask. But she won’t let it go.

“Please carry on, Lungile.” I really want to change the subject now, but she’s begging me and I’m thinking that if I tell her, maybe she’ll leave me alone and I can go back to Zolani’s. What is there to tell? I fall silent as we walk but I am thinking about that girl now.

When we were teenagers we wanted all the ‘right’ clothes and to drink the ‘right’ drinks. We slept around. We got STD’s at such an early age. Ninety percent of the time it happened if we didn’t keep our eyes wide open. We, as Model C kids, were known to find it very difficult to date nice girls in the neighborhood as we only played Hip Hop at the parties we had on weekends. We did also have your Kenny G’s, Maxwells and all the rest of the, what we called ‘nice music’. It’s not that we didn’t respect Kwaito guys, African Pop, uMbaqanga and so on. As soon as we started playing Mandoza girls started enjoying our parties.

This girl, my first love, used to tell me that she did not believe in love. I used to ask myself why she thought this. Why, at such a young age, did she not believe in love? Did she hear many stories of love relationships ending?

One Friday night I bought a few ciders, lit candles, put on a red light bulb and went to borrow the nicest R&B compact discs. Thinking of my idea of trying to be romantic back then makes me very uncomfortable. But on that night my first girlfriend opened up to me about so many things.

I learnt that at the age of five she was raped by a close relative. What level of trust do you expect a teenager to have who has been through this, especially when an adult she knew, heard about the crime but decided not to report it. This adult decided to protect the person who did this sinful deed. How does one live with oneself having done this to a helpless child who would have, before this, opened their arms to you and trusted you with their lives? With anything there is a planning stage whether it is two seconds before you do it, or five days, it takes place before a rape. What goes through a person’s mind? How do they bring themselves to do this?

And what you see on TV and on the internet makes things worse. Television was introduced nationally in South Africa in 1976. My sisters have fond memories of my grandfather explaining television to them for the very first time. He told them that it was a radio with glass in front. It was amazing, and you saw the msasazi – the disc jockey. It took thirteen years for TV to reach an audience of fifty million whereas the internet took just four years. Television has made the world so small. Some people who watch violence on TV have become numb to reports of rape and other gruesome acts around the world. Bring that gruesome act of rape that gets broadcast on television close to home and then only are people ready to act.

“We tell ourselves as men that we know girls more than they know themselves. That it is the highest score to sleep with a virgin. That if a girl is saying no to sex, she wants it more, and if she is saying yes, she wants it bad. It’s a lie. Men tell themselves these things to justify what they do.” I realize I must have said these thoughts out loud because the girl is staring at me.

“Lungile, I think you need to lighten up a bit,” she tells me. This conversation has gone in a direction she isn’t enjoying suddenly. She takes my hand. This does not look good and a person walking past would definitely say that there is something going on between the two of us. I let go of her hand.

“The first lessons I learned here on the streets of Masiphumelele was that people gossip. They like to spread rumours. They like everybody’s business you know, they just want to know and talk about it.”

“Are you going back to what I said about your matric ball, Lungile?”

“There are good and bad things about people wanting to know every detail about you. Have you ever sat next to a lady in a taxi, bus or train and tried to start a conversation with this person? You introduce yourself and this lady nods her head. To your surprise she knows you and can tell you a few more things than you expect her to know. Yet you do not know her from a bar of soap.” The ex just looks at me.

“I am going to go back home now.” She says. I know this tactic – is she really going home now? She clearly doesn’t want to.

“Ok, I will see you then.” I say.

“Lungile, may I ask that we take this conversation to your place or my place.” She interrupts me. “I do not want to think about that bastard I saw just now.” I look at her. Why is she calling him a bastard and still going out with him? And why is she here with me?

“I have to go.” I tell her. “My friend is waiting.”

“And you prefer to be with him, than with me?”

“Yes,” I tell her thinking of Zolani and Sbu. It’s true I would rather be sharing a cold beer than being interrogated any day.

“So cruel, Lungile,” she says, pouting.

If I tell my friends exactly how this unfolded, it would sound like I am bragging. This girl is so into me and after being without a girlfriend for five months going on six – why am I pushing her away? To comfort myself, I tell myself that maybe I am successfully pushing trouble away.

Perhaps I should have kept my distance and never started talking to her. But my belief is that we don’t necessarily need to write off people that we have had relationships with in the past – why should it be like that? But this is getting too heavy.

I walk away from her, back to Zolani’s house. I need to chat to a friend. I am feeling worn out now, and in desperate need of that ice cold beer.


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