“Stupid lyrics, Khaliso,” Mongezi says. “They don’t make sense.”
My face goes hot, but I stand up for myself, throwing him a fat smile.
“I know, but you’ve seen for yourself how the song gets them going at Giraffe’s Neck.”
“It will be a different crowd at The Pit. Not so many friends.”
I twitch my right shoulder, trying not to let on that I’m hurt. It’s my song; I wrote it – my no sense, nonsense, non-sense song – and people seem to like it.
“It’s too late for me to write a new song, or even just change the lyrics much. I mean, tonight’s the night, and the competition rules say only original songs, no covers.”
We’re at Mongezi’s house here in Matsulu, and I’ve been rehearsing for this big song contest at The Pit. We’ve been a couple for six months now, but I still feel awkward around him – self-conscious. I worry he’s bored with me, especially at moments like this, when I see him playing with his phone, not looking at me.
“Okay, let’s hear it again. What do you call it? My Lyin’ Eyes?”
“Right.” I stand up, while he continues manspreading on the couch in front of me, still busy with his phone.
All right, this sort of song isn’t me; it’s sweet and silly. Not what I’d choose if I didn’t have Mongezi and Ma and Pops on my case about what I should and shouldn’t sing. But it’s fine, and it will be better with the music amplified tonight, not just coming from my phone.
My eyes are brown, my eyes are blue,
My eyes are green, my eyes ain’t true.
Is he even listening? I get through the verse about how I betray people. Even the personality in the song isn’t me. I’m not unfaithful. I get to the chorus:
My eyes are brown, my eyes are grey,
My eyes are green, my eyes don’t say.
Mongezi is shaking his head, like he’s disgusted, when I get to the end of the song – but I’ve seen how his feet started tapping halfway through.
“I’ve never seen anyone with green eyes,” he says. “Brown is the only colour around here, except for that old man with the one whitish-blue eye that’s got something wrong with it.”
“I think I’ve seen green,” I say. “A customer at the flower counter. And hey, when I was in Dis-Chem I saw this perfume called Violet Eyes, for some old movie actress who had them. Imagine? Violet eyes.”
I’m doing it again, chattering on in this manic way, trying to please, to entertain him, so he’ll look at me like I’m someone interesting and special. God, why do I have to be so nervous and needy?
Yawning and stretching, Mongezi puts his phone away. “Chill, baby. Maybe people at The Pit will like your crazy song. Especially if you wear something pretty.”
A crumb of kindness. I’m so grateful, I want to say or do something supportive for him.
“What about your song?” I ask. “Aren’t you going to give it a last run-though?”
“No need, trust me.” He stands up. “Anyway, I want it to be a surprise.”
“I can’t wait,” I say, laughing at how secretive he is about it. “Aren’t you excited for tonight? Imagine if we both get through to the next round.”
“We will. The next Jay-Z and Beyoncé, that’s us.”
“Most people say that the other way round,” I tease. “Beyoncé’s name first.”
“Hey, man before woman, always. Don’t you get lippy with me.”
“My bad. Anyway, Jay-Z is rap, and neither one of us is,” I back down, my laughter turning skittery and uncertain. “Not that I don’t wish.”
“Rap isn’t for us, and defs not for you, babe. It’s not feminine.”
Mongezi’s face has got this closed, cold look. It scares me, because it’s the look he got that time I wore pumps after he had told me to wear my spike heels for a party. Later, he swore what happened was an accident. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure, because I was already turning away from him when his hand flew out and connected with the side of my head. So I didn’t see if he meant it or not.
Tell us: Why would Khaliso stay in a relationship with someone who puts her down, and even scares her?