We met on a bus. I got instantly attracted to him. It was a deep connection, something I couldn’t understand. I always thought he looked like one of my cousins, with whom I shared a grandfather who had roots in a village where this man is rooted. Just today I realised how much he looked like my grandfather. All of a sudden my quest for prettiness died. I didn’t care anymore that I did not look like something to behold. This man’s presence was more for me.
On that bus journey I asked him his name. The moment I heard his name, my interest intensified. It fired up my brain like burning tyre. Africans and names. We always have 2, each carrying its own character and story. I once knew a girl whose name was Beverly Moarogangwalerona Gugukababa Chere. It almost seemed like her English name was a frivolity, an attempt by outsiders to shield themselves from the depth she personified. What would she have been if she had not been called Beverly at school and work, if she had no lace to cover the drumbeat thrusting within her? She would be the intensity I feel in front of me right now, the one being brought on by this man whose name is Kagoeemang, Kago, in short. His name is literally a long question if you try to translate it. Names are not meant to be translated, to be diluted and lose meaning. On their own, they carry stories of travels in mists that cast only shadows of horns of cows, and not of men who herd them. Kagoeemang : He entrances me.
These days I do not sleep, there’s too much to do and I do not have long to live. My candle of life is burning furiously. Kago seems to sense this dark dawn I am chasing, this is what endears me to him, I suppose. However, the intimacy this mutual attraction begs, also scares him off. It reminds him of the physical closeness of his brothers and sisters each night, huddled like a packed tin of fish, each night when they slept in their one-roomed shack. Just a metre away was their parents’ bed, a space not good for moments of intimacy. The sheer thought of being bare in skin and bathing was as daunting for all, in a space where a kitchen was a bedroom and a bathroom and a living-room and shuffling sideways was the only way to move around.
“Do you think perhaps we can take a lazy road-trip, this Sunday afternoon?”, I ask without looking at him, almost whispering. The thing with dying is that suddenly I have no fear to really live. ‘Or maybe we can go to the wasteland and be surrounded by birds and freedom, what do you think?’ My eyes light up.
I try not to look at him, for we do better in silence and half-smiles.
His 2001 Nissan roars and grinds us towards Ventersburg, a place where no-one is missing us, where our memories do not exist. The Free State sky is wide open and kisses the shining blades reflected on the moist grasses. In Limpopo, where this journey started, donkeys, goats and cows own village streets, before they lie mangled on its edges the next day.
We approach Ventersburg, a town every traveller stops at but never visits. As I pass this parched land I remember that I am dying. I am not ready to move on to the world of nothingness, of a lack of possibilities. We breathe each other’s air as I cough… I gasp for air as I pay 40 rands toll gate fee. My cotton shirt is drenched from sweat. We pass the dry, fenced stretches of desolate land – cows and cobs of mielies long swallowed by the drought – a faint rainbow perched on the horizon of this pitstop town.
We make a stop at the edges of the destination town. We hop out of the rattled car and flutter away like moths, towards seagulls hovering over a rubbish dumping site. Only the dying have wings to fly away, and only the living have feet to run away. So I lend him my wings and he lends me his feet. We pant together like people who could have loved each other if there was time…but now all we have is silence. I edge towards him and cling to the coldness of his shirt, to the love I longed for when little, when my mother’s absence was endless. I still feel her absence to this day. When that emptiness comes, it feels like my throat is drying up. I quench it at any cost, thereafter I’m okay for a while. ‘My mom can’t get over me. I hope you don’t become her ” I feel him kiss these words on my lips. ‘Well, my mom was never into me, so..we are walking different paths, you and I”, I retort.
We sit on the hill overlooking the dumping site near Mamahabane Township, in the shadow of the dusty town. This time we do not have goats and cows as spectators, but seagulls tweeting this spectacle to the rest of the world. Kago enjoys gazing at the early moon on the horizon because it is distant but intimate. I see rare moments of him just being, and not being frozen like he is most of the time. I am drawn to that indefinable presence. It is impossible to love this man, but easy fall in love with him. I do not even bother to embrace his presence, for it is an absence in my future.
Rays of dusk muffle the squacking of the seagulls, in a cycle of time being wasted. My face is carrying a haunted expression. I have forgotten how I look like, having not looked at a real mirror in 10 days. [pullquote]In death I want to be with him, for in life I could not. [/pullquote]
10 days earlier…
I think I might have killed him. I am not sure. Things happened, things that started the journey through the heart of the Free State. That was 9 or 10 days ago. I gave him what would make him calmer in moments of spats and tiffs. I did not want him to die…
The next day, I decided he would die, because I was dying, “You said you loved me!” I whispered coldly. “Lerato, how can you expect love from someone who struggles to make it in life? Will you put up with my people’s loudness and constant needs? It has been said that people like you, who have not been in need, are paper people, we cradle them and then crumple them. The rain usually drags the soggy paper to the drains, where there is quiet and peace, coldness and loneliness. I can’t sweep up your fractured pieces for you. I too came to Limpopo a broken person. If I cannot love you, then let me fly to where the wind meets the seagulls!” he gutted. I smiled faintly, remembering what had endeared me to him in the first place – his labyrinth with words.
The room grew quiet. It was raining that night in Polokwane and the tears flowing down our bedroom window felt real to my face. The loneliness started to envelope me like an unwanted blanket being strewn through the dust.
And so I lift his limp body, towards the grunting seagulls, towards our final place. Suddenly my phone rings “Mom, we have been trying to reach you. How are you? Where are you, mom?” it is my sprightly daughter’s voice. How do I create words to describe the horror and despair akin to the scavenging birds to someone I love? What is this desolation that my daughter finds me in, in a whirling madness of a wasteland on the edge of a once-forgotten town?
7h15 a.m. 4th Floor, Tower Estate, Hyde Park, Johannesburg: I wake up to the shock of a dream I just had…a nightmare. Radio host Ashraf’s smiling voice greets me on S.A. F.M.’s morning show. I begin to wonder who he really was, this man in my dream, where did he live? What was his connection to me? I rush my thoughts back to the dream, to where his body lay, to snatch his phone…or papers, to trace his identity, to make him human.
About the Author
Sedite is an emerging South African writer, poet and blogger who runs the blog nala4za.iblog.co.za.