The bottles lay strewn around the room. One drunk body after another lay scattered about the dingy township backroom, waiting on the heat outside to finally force them back to life. An intense hangover from the night’s debauchery still dangled drearily above their heads.
Here lay latent young men full of substance, with enough spunk, creativity and intellect to see the country safely into the hands of a new generation. But they were beaten and bruised by circumstances, with every door of opportunity shut on them. I looked closely at them with pity: “What a waste of potential,” I thought out loud.
“Hey man! This hangover is killing me. I swear I’m never touching a single drop of alcohol ever again. Bloody hell!” Nathi exclaimed, slowly picking up his heavy head from the mattress.
I watched over him, laughing along with the others. “As soon as you’ve cleared your head, you’ll be the first in line to guzzle down a pint with the ferocity and haste of a baby suckling each drop of its mother’s milk!” I retorted.
Without sparing any lapse between thought and speech, he responded: “With the kind of lives we’re leading, hell, I’ll drink to protest my own dreadful existence. Hell, I’ll be damned to be made fun of by a drunkard like you. At least I stick to one specific beverage instead of sticking everything into my mouth like you!”
Given and Kgosi laughed as they slowly rose up from their makeshift beds.
I hesitated no further and said, “Last night was wild, gentlemen. Sadly, you guys can’t outdrink me or out-problem me. Not to brag, but you know my casual lovers, Zinhle, Palesa and Snethemba. You guys don’t have a plate dished up full like I do, I have trouble and have to keep up!”
“Ha-ha! It’s true. You’re such a one-size-fits-all, Tebuza. I assure you I wouldn’t want to be your liver, yikes!” Given said, with his wide nostrils flapping and stretching, as he rolled his small body over the bed and made his way to the fridge to grab some cold water.
I kept quiet and pondered. So young, but hopeless. Bright embers burning continuously while being combed over by a cold, unforgiving wind … All that brain power colliding, just to talk all night long about each other’s bereavements and shortcomings and to drink away the misery without any clear direction or solution, like excited flies encircling a giant immovable pile of excrement.
“Tebuza, come on man. You know you wouldn’t be pulling much in comparison to loverboy Kgosi there. The ladies keep throwing themselves at him, and he lacks the stamina to keep up … If only you could lend me your face, height and build, Kgosi, I wouldn’t even be hanging with you losers right now. I’d be posing in Milan or Paris next to Adut Akech sipping cognac,” Nathi said, while we all laughed.
Kgosi responded shrilly, “I’m more into depth my friend. Quantity over quality. It’s more spiritual and wholesome when you truly have chemistry.”
Kgosi, tall and handsome, drew attention to himself everywhere we went. He was also a marvellous painter. “To hell with people obsessing over my looks. I don’t want to be a model. I’ve got as much talent as Van Gogh’s right ear,” he’d moan.
The skinny Given held a master’s degree in Mathematics, and for two years now, he’d been drowning his frustrations in the bottle. The problem: lack of permanent employment because he was considered ‘overqualified’. Next we had Nathi with his thick neck, a real smooth criminal who could easily sell virginity to a lady of the night, a sales rep whose lack of ethics saw him fired everywhere he’d been a promising lead. Then there was me, neither tall nor short, neither quiet nor the centre of attention, a man whose soul was divided between science and art and who was adamant to make something of himself, despite the lack of opportunity on the horizon.
The stakes were high, and I didn’t have much hope that there would be any golden doors opened for us. Opportunities had dried up and were hard to come by for everyone in our beloved South Africa. The bones and dice of probability are thrown and they land on the surface pointing in whatever direction destiny chooses.
Tell us: What do you think lies ahead for this group of friends? How can they live up to their full potential?