A few hundred metres down the gravel road, Charles comes to a fork in the road. If he veers to the right he will be home in about ten minutes, and in about 15 he could be licking his slender fingers while enjoying his wife’s beef stew, made with love of course. His determination begins to waver.
“Hmmmm…” he wonders. Knowing Buhle, that stew was made with an extra dose of love to try to keep him safe and sober.
Just then he hears the jovial Joe Mafela singing Shebeleza down the road on the left. He pictures his friends rising almost in unison with a cold one in hand, swaying to the music, white ash tumbling from the lit cigarettes that glow every now and then as smokers dance to the legendary thespian’s melody.
Charles had not set foot in the shebeen since that sobering visit to his doctor almost eight weeks ago. In the doctor’s consulting rooms he had chosen life, his wife and children over the short-lived numbness of alcohol. That’s what life was at the end of the day – a series of choices.
“It seems the older we get the more limited our choices,” he mumbles under his breath. “To drink or not to drink, now that is the question!” he declares to no one in particular.
“Malume!” a voice interrupts his thoughts. He looks up suddenly.
“Malume!” what now sounds like two voices echoes from somewhere behind him.
He turns, only to see Phumlani and Shorty, his neighbour’s boys, walking towards him. They are filthy, as boys should be after an afternoon out playing soccer. Ashy knees and elbows, one scraped knee, unkempt hair, clothes so stained that a mechanic would be proud of them. And the good old smell of exhaustion, sweat.
“Sawbona Malume!” the youngest greets cheerfully.
“San’bonani!” Charles replies, trying to match their enthusiasm.
“So, how much money are we going to make today?” Charles grins, looking from one boy to the other. The boys look at each other quizzically and back at Uncle Charles.
“Well, looking like you do, I guess you must have found loads of gold down shaft 8,” Charles chuckles.
“Haaa Malume!” the boys laugh.
“Malume o’right?” Phumlani asks, with sudden concern registered on his maturing face.
“Why?” Charles is curious.
“You looked like you were thinking about something serious before we got to you,” says Phumlani.
“Choices boy, choices. Life is about making choices that won’t haunt you for the rest of your life. Sometimes the choices that we think set us free come back to haunt us. Choose wisely, my boy, choose wisely,” advises Charles.
Phumlani nods slowly, sensing that the advice just dispensed may or may not have been meant for him.
Shorty, born Lindokuhle, suddenly takes Charles’s hand and says “Is Malume going home now?”
The choices are a lot easier when you’re that age, Charles thinks to himself. “I’ll follow you boys in a moment,” he assures them.
“Will you be okay?” Phumlani asks, not convinced.
“Of course!” Charles grins.
As Shorty waves good-bye and begins to skip down the dusty road, soccer ball tucked under his left arm, Phumlani gives Charles a long, sympathetic stare.
“I’ll be okay, boy,” Charles rubs his sweaty head reassuringly. “Run along home.”
He watches Phumlani follow his brother rather reluctantly, occasionally glancing back at him.
Charles shakes his head with a smile. He really has become so fond of these kids. They remind him of his own children back in the Eastern Cape. Almost as if to convince himself, he says, “I’ll just pop into Freedom Square to say ‘Ola gents!’ and then I’ll head straight home.”
Tell us: Do you think Charles will stay sober this evening?