Lifting the Lockdown

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The violence of living, of breathing, of existing, driven by nonsensical trades carried by cleverly crafted currencies. A normalcy of strife veneered by fancy things we buy. The act of doing nothing forgotten and furthermore frightening. Humans have become batteries that fear power failure; their bodies have become vehicles to carry their heads and feelings are intrusions interfering with the function of the gears. The fear of inconveniences not being met permeates because then the non-existent meaning of life will be unveiled and as such inconveniences are forcefully advocated for as essentials. Nothing has been normal since the encroachment of colonialism; this current modern modernity has exposed glitches which prove the unsustainable nature of the current world paradigm bankrolled on structural inequalities.

I remember laughing at a video a friend showed me in the beginning of the year. The video showed Asian passengers getting off a plane and walking through a couple of men who sprayed their whole bodies and belonging with disinfectant. I laughed because that world seemed so distant, it seemed like Corona was an isolated case that would be resolved quickly, and in a country situated on the Southern tip of Africa, I thought I was safe. A couple of months after the viral video, the president declared a state of national disaster and put into effect an abrupt and rather urgent lockdown. This lockdown meant academic, economic, travel and all other normal activities were halted. The meltdowns trended on various social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram with lamentations for everything to return to normal.  A normalcy that is decried on any other normal day, calls for a revaluation and reorientation of the global economic framework were the norm when Starbucks was open. A normalcy that has educated members of society begging for menial work on the very same social media platforms. A normalcy where a quality education is a luxury afforded a few in South Africa and social distancing is impossible for those who live hand to mouth. The youth is largely unemployed and barely educated, days are spent travelling on trains looking for any kind of a job, and expecting compliance to social distancing with a grumbling stomach exposes that normalcy was a hell for others, and the lockdown a purgatory for the lucky few whose normalcy of Starbucks trips has been vanquished.

South Africa is a nation divided, while economic writers claim there are three classes; this is untrue because within the class of working class are levels of intermittent economic activity that are not carefully captured by financial agencies; in short South Africa is mired in poverty levels that have not been concretised. Social media is a privilege, high internet connection costs ensure that class lines are maintained. Entertaining videos of people going into Woolworths to shop for their “meal of the day” hammers the nail in the fence that divides the nation. The appeals for the lockdown to be lifted in order for economic activity to continue is a plea from those who benefit from the economic activity of others; the large working class of South Africa ensures that the middle class and furthermore, the elite make more money and are secure. This plea also exposes how disposable the lives of the working class are considered to be. The mere notion that black people are born only to get jobs has been a personal irritation to me because it renders black people to be of no value except to make value for others. The economic machine and apartheid history has enforced the mindset that other attributes like self-actualisation, joy and happiness are impossible to attain outside of economic activity. It is why the middle class flaunt their money on social media and are blindly loyal to a violent system. The poor aspire to be like the rich for the attainment of transitive value. The Corona virus ravages any human body, it is an equaliser of note, and the most vulnerable bodies are black bodies. Black bodies are vulnerable whether the lockdown is lifted or not because there is no reprieve. The food parcels will not change the damaged self-worth, that even in the midst of a pandemic they are reminded of their lowly living, the shame incriminating their position.

The lockdown has proven that in this world inactivity is shameful when in fact before the industrial age, rest was a normal part of life, not the rest of eight hours of sleep but the rest that included intentional inactivity. The land was given rest by the nomadic nature of historic people, the land was given rest through rotation of farming fields, humans rested at will and not only at a lunch break. The normalcy that is yearned for has devalued the essence of living and all are suffering, the rich and the poor, the poor more so. The lifting of the lockdown will continue to make the rich richer and it will rapidly increase the spread of the virus. The argument for the lockdown to be lifted in order to continue the education of children begs the question what is education? Living libraries exist in black communities but they are regarded invaluable and only worthy for government votes through the social grant system. The education that is lauded is for the benefit of the capitalistic system which maintains the class divisions. Maybe this lockdown affords us the time to introspect on the economic systems that are defended, on the inefficiency of governance and on what life means in a world were scarcity is the created normalcy. This lockdown orientates us to the revival of intrinsic values, the devaluation of economic achievements, the re-education of the value of food and farming outside of capitalism, and the revival of community; true community not the capitalistic brand of community paraded by multibillion-rand companies in order to make more profit. The lockdown will be lifted eventually and nothing will be normal again but the class divisions will remain.

Image source: Twitter @News24

Lockdown Story E18: Seven Sons

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Kay did not know if they were in love with Neli, she just knew that she was most attracted to her. The concept of love was a sea, the bottom of which no one had reached. All love was conditional even the love they received from the one they thought loved them the most. Gogo loved them because they were her granddaughter, Clive loved them because they were his sister and so on. The thought of being someone’s everything thrilled them at one point but being put on a pedestal was a painful burden, they learnt this through how Joseph loved them. Love is not a security blanket, it is oxygen in the air that does not need to be contained, if a person is healthily functioning the oxygen suffices but if they are not healthy, no amount of oxygen will remedy the person. Love is not a shared luggage bag; each brings their own. Neli loved Kay in a way that settled them, in a secure a way, in a way that one has another spellbound; a love that could not be disturbed by time spent apart or other lovers sneaking in, a trusting love in that one does not examine a seat before they sit down, they sit down with the assurance that their weight will be carried.

The lace curtain billowed out the window with the wind pushing through it and in the south, heavy sullen clouds sunk above the roofs of the houses ready to burst and roar. The rays of the sun splintered through the tiny numerous holes in the asbestos roof splashing themselves onto the bodies of Kay and Neli seated together on a single bed. The mattress was old but the covers new, blue triangles painted on the duvet and multicoloured throw cushions. Kay had plans to renovate the house, they knew it would be a mammoth task for planning and enacting, so they took their time. Gogo’s snores reverberated through the quiet house and the two lovers giggled with every crescendo played through her ancient nostrils.

The lockdown had been extended and this delighted Kay as they had yet decided what do with their life after a year of being unemployed and minimal writing. The money was running out and even though their father was available for financial assistance, they wanted to be self-sufficient. Neli thought it unwise of Kay to refuse a lifetime of ease, she had no choice but surrender her wealth because of the calling but still she was supported by her father financially. Kay had a calling too, different to Neli’s but it was the same thing, writing was a gift, it was spiritual because some stories were burdens that needed to be laid down otherwise the stories harassed the author to their death or until they went crazy. The best life is a life lived authentically and Kay needed to focus on their writing, to dig deep for the stories that they were afraid to write and loosen the burdens.

Neli prodded with bites and kisses for Kay to read her a story that they had written. Kay was reluctant, they barely read their own stories and never edited them; Joseph read them for himself and suggested edits which Kay did not welcome. He learnt from her reaction to only read their work and lay it down without saying a word. He smiled even after reading some of their badly written work, stories that had great themes and characters but the execution required re-calibration but Kay did not take critique well. The smallest edits made them quit writing for weeks and even months because they interpreted the changes as reflection of a failure on their craft. They often self-sabotaged writing opportunities recommended by Joseph, self-doubt ensured failure and failure was comfortable for Kay because success would offer relief and that relief would be an uncomfortable zone. Kay was a masochist, pain and strife their modus operandi but this trait did not translate to the fictional characters who lived lavish lives, were always lucky in love, fortunate in wealth and health, dramatic, opulent and happy-go-lucky; it seemed that Kay was subconsciously desperate for the fictional lives of the happy characters and did not realise that the choice was theirs to lead such lives. Clive made his choices and made it to beachfront living without aid from his father. Kay instead regressed from a secure job and a posh apartment in Johannesburg back to their grandmother’s house, rolling back down the mountain only to walk around it and not up it again. They were holding onto a lot of threads, many of which did not serve them, many of which were not useful and could not clothe Kay, rather they were intertwining themselves in a mess around the mountain preventing her from further going up.

The heavy clouds spread out and rain burst out with cackles of thunder and lightning. Neli joked that it was the sound of the ancestor in audience to listen to Kay’s story. Kay drew the duvet over their bodies, creating a tent of intimacy and intrigue. They examined Neli’s exquisite face: smooth as a perfect peach not a single pore gaping open, tight and together, unblemished and soft. The thunder roaring loudly and the lightning forking flints in the atmosphere bouncing of the duvet, Kay began in a whisper:

There was once a young woman with seven sons. This woman ruled the Southern forest of the Kingdom. The seven sons had magical gifts that were needed in the seven corners of the Kingdom but the woman was afraid of being left alone and so she told her sons that the gifts would get finished the more they used them, furthermore she frightened them by telling them other people would not welcome them in because of their gifts.

So powerful were these gifts that one could fly, another could be invisible, the other could talk to nature, for example to ask the ground to open up and bring water, another was strong with their tongue as he could taste poison by only flicking his tongue out in the air and what they said with their tongue happened immediately, the other could see sickness in another person and knew how to heal it by placing hands on the affected body part. The last two were twins who could see both the future and past. They of course did not know how powerful they were, their mother punished them whenever they were alone together not doing chores, the chores kept them busy from tapping into their powers and the mother always found ways to make them work. She marked a boundary in a forest with stones that illuminated and told them that if they went over the stones life as they knew it in the forest would end, everything would die including her. The boys listened because all they knew was their mother, their sweet mother who looked after them when they were sick and indulged in play with them in the forest. The mother taught them about the plants and their many uses, she taught them how to tell the weather by simply looking at how the sun rose and which colours came up with it.

One day the boys were alone in the forest collecting wood and food, when a kind stranger appeared by the boundary, he approached the boys but they were fearful. The stranger opened his leather satchel and dropped a large glass ball to the ground. He stepped away from the bowl and the boundary. The boys hesitatingly crawled to the glass bowl and looked at it, inside they saw many people of different shades of skin and clothing living, dancing, laughing, cooking, painting, playing drums and flutes, water falls cascaded from the sky and some of the people were flying. The boys felt feelings that they had never felt before, every jovial, fulfilling, joyous feeling they saw through the ball; they felt everything. They looked at the stranger with glee and asked him where the world was. The stranger implored them to come with him but they fearfully declined his invitation, the stranger left them with the ball and they ran home to show their mother.

The mother hugged each one tightly after hearing of their encounter, she was frantic and made plans to draw the boundary closer to the house but then the sons showed her the glass bowl. She looked inside and she saw people of different shades of skin suffering from hunger, illness, droughts, she saw desserts where there once were forests and she saw mothers holding dead babies. The sons excitedly waited for her reaction but she angrily turned from the ball and smashed it to the ground. They wondered what their mother had seen and they asked her to tell them, instead she ran out fuming and drew the boundary closer to the house with the illuminating stones. The children saw the mother’s anguish and decided to help her with bringing stones in closer, tightening their border. Their mother was always right and the stranger had tried to trick them out of her safety.  

Years past and the forest began to change, it got smaller and smaller as the people in the far away kingdoms got more and more but it was still big enough for the sons to roam and play in. One day a young woman came across the boundary of the forest and the sons were enamoured by her beauty and glow but they remembered the stranger who tried to trick them and so did not go near her. Every time they went to the forest the young woman was there also picking berries and wood. The sons asked her where she was from and it turned out that she was from the forest too, she spoke to the animals even the dangerous ones and they complied to her commandments. The sons suddenly remembered they too had gifts. The one that could fly showed off to the young woman by flying up to the highest tree, he flew back down to the ground and scooped the woman up but then he heard his mother calling for him and he dropped clumsily to the ground hurting himself and the woman. The brother that could heal placed his hands on them and their bruises disappeared and broken bones healed immediately. They ran off to their mother’s calls leaving the young woman dumbfounded. They young men told their mother of the young woman and she told them that it was a lesson that if you showed off your gifts and relied on them alone that you’d end up alone with no one to love.

The mother was worried that his sons would one day meet another stranger and never come back. They were grown and bigger, she could no longer control them and their gifts had not waned over time instead it seemed that they got stronger. She devised a plan to cook a meal that would ensure that all of them would remain with her for eternity. She took an illuminating stone used for the boundary and boiled it in clean fresh water, the water turned dark and then she added all the ingredients her sons loved like onion, carrot, beans, peas, boar meat, potatoes and radishes. One lick of the illuminating stones ensured death, she taught her sons this from a young age and so animasl that licked the boundary died but humans were not animals, they saw the boundary and knew its interpretation to stay back unless invited in.

The sons returned that evening happy to smell the aroma of their favourite meal, the mother hugged them each tightly as she did each evening and dished up generous amount of food for them. The one who could taste poison innocently stuck his tongue out and his tongue vibrated, he felt sick and his skin rose in waves of rashes, he retracted his tongue back into his mouth and immediately felt better, the rashes disappeared. He shouted at his brothers to not eat and told them the meal was poisonous. The mother attempted to lie but the boys believed their brother more than her, they poured the soup out and found the illuminating stone. The mother claimed it fell in by mistake and then claimed that the stone was not poisonous at all. The boys demanded that she open her mouth and place the stone inside but she refused so they forcefully opened her mouth, placed it inside and she instantly caught aflame and turned into ashes. The boys ran out, each to the seven corners of the kingdom and never returned to the forest.

The story had Neli mesmerised, she looked at Kay like a child,
“Why didn’t they return?” she asked.
“There was nothing to return to. Also, deforestation happened” Kay joked.
“Yoh that was deep” Neli complimented.
“Thank you” Kay shyly assented.
“What made you think of the story?”
“My life” Kay quickly answered.
“So, you feel like one of the sons” Neli filled in.
“No. I’m the mother” Kay countered; her voice laced with shame.
“You want to turn into ashes?” Neli asked with confusion and concern traced on her face.
“I’m trying my best not to get to that point” Kay answered and pulled the duvets off.
The thunderstorm had stopped and the sun was shining.  Thunderstorms were good because they were brief, and scary as they were, they ended quickly.

 

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E17: How to kill a boy

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Jabu Collins Mazibuko was born to an abusive father and docile mother. The fields near his house were an escape for him. The long grass provided shelter and hiding from his father who would beat him up and beat even more when he cried. The fields were rich with life: birds, small lizards, rodents, cats, snakes, grasshoppers and butterflies. The chirping of the birds, the whistling wind running through the bristling dry grass, the rustle of lizards chasing each other and the butterflies floating in and out of the reeds calmed him but as he grew older, they did not have the same effect. He began killing birds with his sling shot and dissecting them for pleasure. He moved on to cats and found a new fascination of skinning them with a sharp stone. Jabu was a loner, a child with a speech impediment and learning difficulties, his outdoor hobbies were a refuge where he did not need to pretend about who he was.

He enjoyed kung fu movies and wanted to be a kung fu master, he imagined killing his father brutally in an epic last scene battle. He asked his mother to study martial arts but she encouraged him to focus on his studies so that he could become a doctor, for a while he believed he could be a doctor, a surgeon who sliced people open just like he did with the animals. He imagined all the ways he could kill his father as a doctor, he could slice him open while he was awake and rip out his organs one by one. The learning difficulties evaporated because of his plan, he ran through his studies and killed more animals even bigger ones such as goats and pigs.

In his teens, he assisted an old man who sold livestock on weekends, the man stationed himself by Jabu’s favourite fields and Jabu secretly observed until one day the man shouted at him to show himself. He was old but he had grown in the wilderness of Limpopo; he could hear the breathing of every living being and could tell when Jabu was hiding in the grass. He was gentle with Jabu, listened to him when he spoke, brought food for him and paid him a commission for every goat sold by him. The old man knew of Jabu’s horrendous habits and so as a distraction told Jabu long tales, entertaining whimsical tales of a bygone era, tales that he hoped would halt the angry volcano bubbling within the boy’s teary eyes.

People were no longer cultured to slaughter live animals because the skill was slowly corrupted, extinguished through colonialism and modernity. Jabu’s skills were self-taught, he had a meticulous manner of killing, skinning and dissecting that even old cultured men were envious of, and because of this skill he was often sought after for many cultural events for his services. The cow, the goat, the chicken, the sheep and the pig, he looked all of them in their eyes before plunging in his large knife given to him by the old man as a parting gift before he parted from the world. He advised Jabu to use it with dignity and sincerity, and most importantly on animals only. He listened and followed on the old man’s advice because he loved him like a father should, he saw him for who he was and loved him wholly.

The old man passed and Jabu was getting too tall for hiding in the grass. He was his father’s height and could look him straight in the eyes but that did not stop the beatings, he seethed with anger and spent his time sharpening his knife. The grass no longer a refuge, he sought to make friends but his speech impediment, a painful stutter, was an impediment to connecting with the fast-talking boys of the community. The local library became his hangout, there he read large books on anatomy, the impoverished library only had three copies and he read them over and over again, growing his knowledge on the intricate interior of the human body.

The books were a gleeful reminder that one day Jabu would be able to kill his father, he would rip every organ out leaving his heart for last, he ruminated on the process until the librarian rang a gold bell signalling the closing of the library. He wrote his final year exams with ease especially the last one which was a language paper and afterwards ran home to celebrate with his mother but found the house filled with police cars, her mother on a stretcher and his father in handcuffs. His dream of performing live surgery was taken away and worse his mother died from her injuries. Jabu changed course on that day and decided to be a police officer; his father would not get away so easily.

He got into the police academy easily because of his high marks and fitness. He quickly became popular with the cops because of his discipline and made friends. He even got a girlfriend, something he never thought he could achieve and she was the one who taught him to forgive his father. She was able to weave his hazy history and create a high definition picture, a guide that pointed out that all the stories the old men told him were for his salvation from the anger, the hurt, the helplessness and vengefulness. She was the perfect partner until she was not, of course he decided when she was good and when she was bad: when she did not smile around him, when she did not receive his gifts, when she laughed too loud with her friends because he thought they were gossiping about at him, and when she spoke to the male officers for too long. The relationship suffered under his delusions, and even though she judged him to be innocent given his family history, she chose safety over love because he was capable of killing; he had threatened to do so many times in many arguments; too much had been stuck to his soul and she was not equipped to clean it all off.

Officer Mazibuko liked Easter eggs, they were a delight his mother often bought him after church service. He had enlightening spiritual epiphany at the age of nine under the colourful stained glass of the Catholic church but his father beat him out of it. He beat out all the light that effused from his inner being; darkness remained and he chose it daily because the light only further exposed how treacherous his life had been. It was day seventeen of the lockdown and he was patrolling the streets with his small car, while other officers liked to drive the latest models, he chose the smaller and older cars in order to blend in and come across nonthreatening. An opened box of marshmallow Easter eggs were placed on the passenger seat where his partner should have been positioned but she had called in the morning, sounding drunk, that she would not be able to make the shift. Jabu was elated because he preferred patrolling on his own. He grabbed a blue packet Easter egg with his one hand, ripped it open with his teeth and ate the chocolate away just like how his mother used to. The streets were empty, except for a few children who ran when they saw his car, they ran into a field and hid behind the long dry grass.

Officer Mazibuko drove to the field, switched off his car and walked into the field holding the box of marshmallows. He stood still looked up at the blue sky and closed his eyes. The children stayed still in their hiding place but in panic whispered to each other. Officer Mazibuko pretended not to hear them, he listened for the birds whistling and lizards running in the reeds, then he opened his eyes and slowly walked up to the children’s hiding spot. The dry reeds snapped with each step causing the children’s panic to further escalate. He leaned over the reeds when he saw them and hovered over their tiny skinny bodies: they were frightened and played dead by digging their heads into the ground and remaining still. He threw an Easter egg down and they immediately scrambled for it; the possum game was over. He gently instructed them to stand up and explained to them that it was dangerous to be out because of the Corona virus, then he handed them the box of marshmallows and told them to run home. He kept one for himself to give to Neli if and when he should come across her.

 

Image source: http://viciousimagery.blogspot.com/2006/04/easter-egg-incident.html

Lockdown is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E16:

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The things grieved for: the cars, the silver, the gold, the vacations, the shops, the spa dates and movie dates. Mourning a loss that cannot be measured. Missing the mundaneness of the rat race. The illusion of control broken in stillness and the truth is that the sum of living amounts to nothingness. Litha knew this all well but she chose to live in opulence. Her house was three stories high, painted in a deep coat of burnt orange, the name of the paint sealed its selection because she had been burnt many times and still her beauty exuded. Beauty survived because she did not allow sorrow to dress itself on her being.

Ostentatiousness was her signature, a life without being seen, a life unnoticed was a life not worth living. She despised three things: dullness, boredom and failure. Her company Ostentatious Creations ensured that the two were eliminated by offering a wide variety of services: events planning from children’s parties, stockvels, weddings to funerals (they too did not need to be dull). Catering services from fingers snacks, cakes, buffet, conferences. Lunch packs for government schools. Entertainment with a selection of DJs, clowns, poets, singers, MCs and dancers. The lockdown quelled the events, wiped clean a full calendar of fun and profits. Litha, dressed in a golden silk gown, sat on the edge of her balcony overlooking her garden and a tall palm tree swung its leaves above. She sipped her tea worryingly as she thought of how to salvage her business.

A widower, Litha lost her husband and toddler son in a car accident, and started the business with the payment she received from their life insurance which ran in the millions. The deaths brought a career freedom she had been yearning for. Previously she had worked as a insurance sales person, the work bored her even though her charm ensured that she always achieved the weekly client target. She planned her resignation on the day the company introduced a standard uniform; she hated the uniform, she hated blending in and she hated being told what to do.  The last clients she added into high premium insurance packages were her husband and so the she quit without a resignation letter and or goodbye.

The expansive house was never empty: Litha had the propensity to pick up lost souls, most of which were homeless young men and who suffered from some addiction. She managed to pick only the ones who were handsome and well built; beauty was always the ultimate deciding factor. She made sure that they were clean and dressed decently, she taught them how to cook and bake, table setting, wine setting, face painting and a select few learnt how to use the computer and create invoices, and a couple received driving lessons. She dug into them to find out their artistic gifts, the young men carried low self-esteem like a security blanket but she broke them out of it through her charm, beauty, patience and persistence. The result was that her staff had culinary skill and unearthed artistic talents: some sang, other danced, others had the gift of charm and small talk, others developed creativity for cooking and baking, and others were good with children. They could only stay in the house when they were on the job because after each job, after the payments from clients cleared, Litha changed from a sweet woman to a fiery dragon. She demanded that they leave the house without being paid. They never protested because they knew that her client list was small and she was had poor financial management; she would either fetch them from their drug dens or they could come back to check if she had cooled down from her intolerable mood. The latter option yielded little success because when they arrived at the gate she would shout at them from her balcony, accusing them of stealing company equipment, reminding them that she picked them up like unwanted stray dogs, and that they would be nothing without her, that they only knew drugs and she was being goodhearted by not paying them. The one-woman shouting show lasted as long as she wanted, sometimes the neighbours called the police because they thought she was being robbed or harassed but they soon learnt that these were antics of a wanton widower with a successful company and a rich life she had no one to share it with.

Her husband was an agreeable, clever and kind man, a successful lawyer who did not want his house wife to do any work but he was also an alcoholic, philanderer and chronic gambler.  She despised alcohol, drugs and any stimulants, even coffee. She drank tea when she was stressed but mostly only drank water. The birth of her son changed the husband for a while but then he spiralled out of control and his vices tore down everything he had worked hard for: the house had to be sold, the cars were repossessed and the help let go. Litha had to find work and abruptly wean her beloved son. Her life had become dull, boring and ultimately a failure. The inception of Ostentatious Creations changed her life.

She never was really sure if she loved her husband or if she just liked the ease of life that he presented her, her son was the only love she had and she would never have another. She decided she would never be a mother or wife again. Men were dangerous distractions but these were difficult times and so she ran through the register of affluent men she knew, men she could tolerate, men who were handsome, meek, and generous with their money.
“Daniel” she uttered  in realisation as she put the tea cup down carefully on the balcony’s edge.
She knew Daniel was married, she also knew it was just a formality, he was a philanderer like most men but he was different; most men were malignant cancers and he was a flu, seasonal and easy to manage. He was able to talk to women in a friendly manner without any sexual innuendos; the women he slept with and had babies with were pursuits of his heart and he had a big one.
They had met at a government conference that she was catering for. The conference center was a beautiful relic that the apartheid government left behind in an old city building. He noticed her standing in the corner, dressed in a white silk shirt, her face was bare of make-up but she glowed like a white lily; she was intently observing her staff serving the government officials. Daniel dished up a plate for her with the assumption that she was one of those shy young government advisors who constantly found themselves in a pool of old men with large appetites and no manners. They became friends from that day on and he kept calling her back in for catering opportunities despite policy that caterers be rotated for economic opportunities and fairness. She knew that he wanted her, her food was delicious and her service stellar, but he had made known his intentions early on in their friendship. She declined with the excuse that she was still grieving and Daniel had joked that she should wear her grieving clothes more often as a reminder. She pretentiously laughed at the joke; she did not want to be reminded of her previous life. Daniel’s calls stopped coming in and she lost a lucrative business relationship and an easy friendship but she knew that one phone call would change his mind. The lockdown would not pin her down; ostentatiousness was her signature. She toppled the tea cup and watched it fall three storeys down, the smashing sound gave her satisfaction and she shouted for the help to clean it up.

 

Lockdown Story is an original creative work written by Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E15: Master Clive and the Boys

Portrait of friends smiling and hugging each other

The day drags in, the sun unseen, clouds gathering like heavy dark curtains and lonely dog pants in an empty dump field. The earth shrunken by the global pandemic, was the sky still blue? Sizwe stomped through the dry grass, he walked lopsidedly, his right arm tucked under his left armpit, he bit his bottom lip in pain and paused his walking in anguish. He felt like screaming, the dog skipped towards him, through his pain he crouched and patted it on the head. The dog looked out of place in the heap of garbage in the field, it looked like a suburban dog; it was a long haired Daschund. He stood up and carried on walking, the dog whined behind him, begging him to stay but he was late for work. The garage had a long line of people standing outside, each a metre apart, the lockdown caused people to overlook the overpriced groceries sold; in desperate times, capitalism always won.

He coughed violently into his hand, his throat burnt and his ribs felt like they had been broken one by one. He walked over to his manager, Gabede, who was spraying customers’ hands with sanitizer and asked for some. Gabede and Sizwe had a strained work relationship, he fussed and angrily explained that the sanitizer was for customers but Sizwe told him to stop being difficult. Gabede noticed that Sizwe was not looking well, his eyes were puffy and red, but he did not want to show that he cared about him. He reluctantly sprayed the man’s shivering hands and told him that only three cars had filled up since the morning insinuating that Sizwe could relax inside the garage shop.

Sizwe sat inside the garage and fixed his gaze on the petrol pumps. He blew warm air into his cupped hands and rubbed them together. The pain on his left side returned, he ripped a strip of painkillers from above the cash register and swallowed them whole. He tapped open the cash register, took out a small notebook and wrote down his debt of two rand fifty; Gabede would transact it from his meagre pay. The pain shook him again, his chest tightened and he concentrated on breathing. The mobile testing stations were yet to come to his side of the township, by the time they tested him he would have recovered, he thought to himself.  He thought about his life, twenty-nine and not a dog to show for it, no girlfriend, no child, no family just him and this job which only paid enough for his rent; food and clothes had to scramble for the cents left. A wave of satisfaction washed over him; he had tried his best even if his best was the worst. The best a boy in the hood could do was to hustle with every drop of blood in their veins, house robberies and hijackings were his speciality before he got caught. He was eighteen when was sent to jail for ten years but his sneaky lawyer managed to cut it to six years. He had never killed, he prided himself in this because it was the one advice his grandmother gave him which he adhered to, there was no blood on his hands and his victims were white so he was justified in his actions.

Clive, like every boy, liked cars and his knowledge about the machines exceeded his friends’. Daniel taught him about cars from the age of two, at the time he was a taxi driver with two of his own cars, he playfully taught Clive about the engine, oil filter, fan belt, water tank, and everything there was to know about fixing cars. Clive caught on quickly because he wanted to please his father; by age twelve he could name cars and explain in detail how they functioned; it was around this age that his father stopped visiting and light from his eyes disappeared like a shooting star crossing the night sky. Sizwe was his best friend, not as clever as Clive, but loyal, always light and ready to jostle Clive into laughter, he was the one who placed Clive on a pedestal like a favourite doll. His friends looked up to him and followed Clive because he was the only one with a somewhat present and rich father, also Clive was a born leader, they needed him more than he did. They looked up to the gangsters who drove different expensive cars daily and were friends with the police officers; no one was friends with the police, only police befriended each other. Sizwe’s plan was to form a gang that took over their district with Clive and the boys, they would never know poverty again.

“Master Clive and the Boys! MCB!” Sizwe shouted every morning when the gang walked together to school. Sizwe jumped on Clive’s back occasionally on the walks and Clivedindulged him gladly, he delighted in Sizwe, he thought of him as the brother that he never had. Master Clive stopped obsessing with cars and transferred the obsession to accounting, and he slowly stopped hanging out with boys.  They barely spoke from there on until Sizwe’s arrest then Clive decided write to him and sent him money until he was out but still, they had not spoken.
“My friend I am very disappointed but I understand. Please don’t call me again, I’ll keep sending the money and car magazines” those were the last words he heard from his best friend when he called from jail craving to hear the voice of the man he loved the most, the only man he had loved.

The hood had not changed, young boys still looked up to gangsters and gangsters were better than government, at least they helped with funerals and orphans unlike the local government officials who hounded communities to vote for them with annual grocery packs. Young boys became men prematurely through coercion, through smoking with the older ones, through grooming, sexual initiations and deathly ones too. The hood was dark even when it was sunny, it was a ball of tangled wool that could not be untangled, the only way out was to cut yourself out but only a few had the luxury of that thought; entanglement was predestined for those unfortunate to be born unfortunate and resistance was futile.

The ripping pain shook him out of his dark reverie. He snatched another strip of painkillers, swallowed them whole and wrote his debt in the black notebook. He looked out the window and surveyed the garage, there were no cars parked by the petrol pumps, the queue was still snaking itself outside, Gabede caught Sizwe’s gaze and he gestured for him to come outside. Sizwe jumped off his seat and the pain jabbed him again, he winced. Gabede shouted from outside so Sizwe fixed his face so that it would not betray him. He fought to breathe with every step he took towards Gabede. He haggled him to hurry because he needed a toilet break but Sizwe could only maintain the pace and so Gabede threw the hand sanitizer bottle at him. He caught it and motioned to the people in the queue to wait. Sizwe staggered to the queue exhausted, small dainty hands cupped themselves in front of him anticipating to be sanitised, he looked at the person shyly hiding inside their oversized hoodie and noticed that their smile looked familiar.

“I think I know you” he said withholding the spray from them. He examined their face.

“You’re Clive’s little sister!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, and my name is Kay” they mumbled; men still made them nervous.

“Khetiwe! Why are you hiding your face? Are those Clive’s clothes?” he joked. He knew that Kay was different, Clive often spoke about how different they were from other girls and so nobody teased her.

“Can I go in?” they asked with irritation.

“No someone has to come out first. Where have you been? he tried to sound casual.

“I just came from seeing a friend in town and I forgot to buy bread there” they explained missing the inflection of small talk and interpreting the question literally.

“Is Clive still in Cape Town?” he coughed. Kay removed their hoodie and looked at him carefully for the first time. They saw that he was really sick. They recalled that Sizwe was Clive’s only best friend not the loud hoard that used to sheepishly follow him around.

“Yes Sizwe” she answered earnestly.

“Please tell him to call me” he pleaded.

“He used to call you the Shakespeare of rap” Kay blurted out.

“Yes, he did” he almost whispered and his chest seared with pain.

“I’ll tell him to call you, he’s always busy though so you’ll have to be patient” Kay warmly warned.

“I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting” he carelessly confessed.

 

 

Image source: https://bethmwangi.github.io/watotokumi

Lockdown Story is the original creative work written by Nobantu Shabangu

 

Lockdown Story E14: Love Crush

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Noma switched the treadmill on and programmed it for running at a pace of one kilometre every five minutes. She sipped her coffee and watched the machine run. She was dressed for a workout, an outfit she prepared the night before to motivate herself but as soon as the machine started running, she knew she would not run. The impressive machine was new and the friction caused by the running band intensified the smell of newness; Kay smiled satisfactorily at her latest impulsive buy. Her cellphone beeped endlessly, many of her work and social WhatsApp groups she set on mute but the messages were verging on a thousand; most of them were fear mongering messages about the virus. She scrolled down to Kay’s number, her manicured thumb hovered over the contact as she considered unblocking them, the thumb stayed in the air as she sipped her coffee and it quickly tapped the screen unblocking them.

She walked over to her work desk, opened her laptop and played Candy Crush, a minute after she checked to see if Kay had sent a message but nothing came through. She sent a message and only one tick appeared. She continued playing Candy Crush as if it was a war she had to win and thirty minutes after she checked her cell-phone again and still no response from Kay. She angrily shut the laptop closed and hopped onto the treadmill running as fast as she could, increasing the speed every five minutes, she ran until her legs protested in pain causing her to surrender and stop the machine. She wobbled over to the desk and logged onto WhatsApp on her laptop, sometimes the messages came through quicker on the laptop but still there was no response from Kay, she blocked the contact again, and played Candy Crush again. The wins at every level were both exhilarating and frustrating, each loss angered her and she made sure she never lost more than once at a single level. Candy Crush was a never-ending a game, a new level released every week. Kay thought of it as a mindless stupid game and Noma made certain to play it every time they visited to annoy them. She never played it at work; only in her high-rise apartment over-looking green Sandton.

What is the objective?” Kay always asked.

“The objective is fun and believe or not, strategy is required” Noma naughtily explained over the clamouring background sounds of the game.

“I feel like the machine plays for you, also its just an unfair game” Kay stated with annoyance.

“Sometimes I’m given hints” Noma replied excitedly

“I switch those off when I play games” they proudly informed.

“Well I don’t. I like hints. I like being directed. I don’t have to pretend to be clever with this game” Noma defended.

“It’s just more thrilling to figure it out on your own” Kay countered.

“It’s more time consuming without hints, we both win anyway” Noma waved her off.

Noma did not feel like she was winning as she furiously played Candycrush with memories of her swimming in her head. She decided to block Kay after their fallout because she did not want the temptation of reaching out and apologising. She hated apologising, apologising felt like losing and besides Kay had always emphasised authenticity in their relationship and she was being punished for her authentic expression.

Noma’s mother, Nomasonto, deplored homosexuals which was fitting because her father, Nkosi, was the preacher at the Seven Day Adventist church. Noma’s brother, Buyani, was the favourite of the family: tall, slender, a charmer of note who had the ladies at church outperforming themselves for him. He had a voice that was as soothing as a cool breeze on a hot day and he led all the songs, sometimes he freestyled which upset his mother because it was wrong to diverge from the hymn book but his father delighted in these antics. Nomasonto revered the position of the preacher than her husband did. Nkosi was jovial, patient with everyone and preached like he was gently reprimanding his own children. He was generous too; he made sure all the orphans had school uniform, that the soup kitchen was always stocked with food, he paid car and house payments, visited the sick and elderly when they could not come to church.

Noma’s mother made five times more money than her husband, it was agreed between the two of them, as teens, that she would work while he attended to his calling of being a preacher. Nomasonto was birthed into an influential political family who revered education as much as political status. Noma inherited her fierce focus from her mother but one thing she did not inherit was her mother’s ignorant views about morality; it was her reluctance to accept her son as gay that drove him to his suicide. Nkosi was partially accepting but expressed that Amos could not live an openly gay life, that he would either have to get married and have children or not engage in relationships at all. Her mother’s actions were far worse, she stood up in front of the whole congregation and asked them to pray for her and her gay son, that God would forgive her for giving birth to a homosexual, she went on to count the ways she had been a good mother, then lamented the horrendous sin her son was committed to by being gay and to top off the one-woman show, she wailed on the red floor of the church like she was being tortured by unseen fires. Buyani killed himself Saturday night after the church service by lying down on the train tracks close to the church and that was the last day she attended a church service.

Kay did not know about Noma’s family because Noma spoke about them but she kept the suicide a secret. She was not ready to revisit the pain, she would not be the reason she broke the remaining half of her father’s heart and her mother, much as they hated each other, was the one who secured Noma’s job. She could not reprise the demon that broke her family, shattered their image such that her father became mute and could not preach again. She was caught between being rebellious and being loyal, being wild and being rational, being herself and being herself because she knew she had different versions stored in different compartments. She needed time to evaluate her sexual identity, it had been a year and she had not dated anyone but she knew Kay was the only woman she was attracted to, even if Kay said that she did not identify as a woman.

She played Candy Crush until her eyes hurt then shut down laptop and wobbled painfully to her bed. Her legs were stiff and heavy, she had forgotten to cool the muscles down or eat after the workout but her appetite was non-existent, gone like her sense of sanity in the lockdown. She scrolled down her cell-phone, examined the profile picture which Kay had not changed in a year, she brought the cell-phone to her lips and kissed the image then unblocked Kay again.

 

Image Source: http://www.baltana.com/food/candy-background-wallpapers-36735.html

Lockdown Story is an original written creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E13: Khetani

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Daniel sat in the midst of stuffed toys in front of a pink tiny tea set. He watched his youngest daughter pour imaginary tea into tiny cups and serve them to her dolls. He pretended to sip from his teacup. The child had grown very quickly or he was aging quicker. She looked a lot like Kay but her behaviour was the furthest. Kay liked climbing trees and kicking the ball but this little one had three outfit changes before noon and she was dainty unlike Kay who was rough but sensitive. He loved children and wanted to keep having them until his old age. They were like wildflowers in a garden, even the ones that were planned, they knew where they wanted to grow and go, all that was needed was the seed and after that they became their own beings with features borrowed from your face. His phone rang and the child pleaded with Daniel not to answer it but he did, he gently thanked the child for the tea party, kissed the stuffed toys and her and then left the garden tea party.

The office was filled with angry political advisers. A minister had wronged the president in public by tripping on her tongue and going off script. Her actions had undone the public relations campaign strategy that had been going well since the beginning of the national lockdown. The party was livid with her actions and called for to be recalled. Daniel watched the video of the minister recklessly speaking to reporters and callously responding to the call for her resignation.

“Shut up woman!” Daniel shouted through gritted teeth. He slipped away from the commotion and went into his office. The telephone rang as soon as he closed the door behind him, he knew it best not to answer because journalists were fishing for their next meal. He poured himself a brandy and looked out at the empty city. Twenty-five years ago, he could only dream of such a view, everything happened at the right time. The morning rush time no longer existed; usually a concert of taxi horns would be rising in crescendo to his window but silence swallowed him; it was good that he sold his taxis when he did but still, he had to take care of the constituents who put him into the office. He thought of titillating the transport minister with a private meeting which would entice him to donate into the Corona Taxi Relief Fund to secure the minister’s position for the next elections if not for every election thereafter, furthermore the party would gain votes from rivalry parties which the Zulu taxi drivers were blindly loyal to. He dialed the number to his office but it was engaged; he wanted to arrange the meeting himself because meetings of this nature were not planned through emails as it would be foolish to do so. He would have to wait and he did not mind; time was on his side, it always was. He had to pacify the taxi associations in the meantime and he knew just the man to reach out to.

Khetani stood tall even though he leaned on a stick, his beard thick and combed out, covered most of his face. His eyes were fixed on the thousands of cattle crossing the river, he knew each of them, the shadows of the clouds moved with the herds over the green plains. He sat down on a rock and little lizard appeared, it raised its head cheekily and spat at him. Khetani knew that this was a messenger telling him that a visitor was on their way. He stood up and up with a spring in his step walked down towards his house.

Daniel patiently sat outside the small round house, one of Khetani’s wives had given him a stool to sit on, she served him beef and traditional beer while he waited for his old friend to return from the mountains. He missed this tradition of women being obedient, compliant, trustworthy, resourceful and mostly respectful. The meat tasted better than the one he cooked in Johannesburg. The trip was abrupt but urgent, he drove straight out of his office in Johannesburg CBD to Mpumalanga, the sun was on the cusp of the horizon when he arrived. Khetani, his old friend, presented the opportunity of polygamy to him but unlike Khetani he failed the practice, it was a calling for a few distinguished men who were raw and unchanged by modern times. Men who could manage women without empathy and only with patriarchal logic, men who sought to increase their seed and who found joy in providing for numerous wives and children. Men who were entrepreneurial in every sense, men who seemed to have hidden their hearts at the tops of mountains buried in chambers that could never be dug out. Khetani was tender when he wanted, there was only one woman he treated with true affection: Neli was afforded the privilege of roaming in his hidden heart; the child led the bull in this case. Daniel knew of this pocket of the heart and Kay controlled its strings for him.

A small fire burnt outside the small house. Daniel was growing sleepy but was shaken awake by the sudden feel of Khetani’s firm hand. He smiled at Daniel and joined him, his youngest wife suddenly appeared and gave him a bowl of clean water to wash his hands, then went off and came back with a small pot of water for the men to drink. He thanked the wife and then the eldest came with a large wooden plate of food, she knelt on the ground and tasted it in full view, once she had swallowed, Khetani dismissed her. Daniel knew that the wife on the corner house in Soweto was not amongst them wives; she preferred the Joburg life and because she was mother to Neli, Khetani allowed it to the extent that she even ran the taxi businesses. Daniel knew that he had to speak to Khetani because although she led the bull, the bull was the one with all power. They reminisced on times gone by, joked about how their looks had disappeared, boasted about their children and their wives to each other, and finally zoned into the subject of Corona. Khetani looked concerned but he explained that it was for his cattle mostly, now that the taxis had been stopped, the cattle were to be the main income and cattle thieves had been on the rampage raising further concerns for his family’s livelihood. He assured Daniel that his ancestors had delivered the message that his family would be unscathed by the pandemic health wise,

“You can always make money, life you can’t replace” he remarked while stroking his beard and throwing the few hairs from it into the fire. The hairs crackled and burnt up within seconds.

“That is true. Speaking of money, I come bearing gifts” Daniel invited him in.

“What is it?” Khetani asked with a sense on knowing.

“The Corona Taxi Relief Fund” Daniel enunciated.

“You’re here to entice me” the man poked Daniel.

“I’m here to offer you a gift of a lifetime. I’m in talks with the transport minister and I don’t want you to miss out” Daniel reported.

“Oh, if only you were as smooth with the ladies as you are with me Daniel” he grabbed him on the knee. “Go on, don’t excite me and not finish” he continued.

“I want you to put in a good word for the party and for me with all associations in Gauteng. You are chairman of the biggest one and even your rivals will follow your vote” he extolled.

“When will the money come in?” Khetani barked the question.

“Soon. The minister should respond within weeks” Daniel faltered.

“That’s not soon enough M’zwake, the owners are getting agitated with every minute” Khetani only called Daniel by his Ndebele name when he was offended.

“I can make it to be sooner” he energetically reassured him.

“Then do so. Money comes and goes Daniel, times like these do not last. Relax. Why not spend the night and-?” Khetani asked with his voice sounding warmer.

“Of course, I will, that was the plan” Daniel chipped in before Khetani could finish.

“Look at the moon, you’ll never see it this clearly in Johannesburg. In the morning I’ll show you my cows”

“I’d like that” he intoned.

“You should visit more often old friend” he said looking straight into Daniel’s eyes.

“I will” Daniel assented.

“A promise people from Johannesburg never fulfil” Khetani’s voice carried trails of grief.

The moon was clearer in the highlands where no streetlights infiltrated the lights of the stars. They drank beer the whole night and sang songs from their youth.

The morning air was crisp and Daniel shivered. Khetani asked his youngest wife to make them porridge and tea. He watched Daniel enjoy the hot food like a young boy and by the end of the meal his shivering had ceased. Khetani joked that if he had a real wife, who served porridge instead of cornflakes he would not be shivering at the slightest chill. He dressed Daniel in one of his overalls which hung loosely over his frame.

“The stress of the office has given you a frail body and heavy face. Lessen the brandy, it was never meant for our people” Khetani advised Daniel as he zipped him up.

The day was filled with walking up a mountain, the mountain was steep and had Daniel fighting for breaths.

“I hope its not the Corona” Khetani joked while stomping up the incline with ease.

“I’m just unfit” Daniel wheezed.

The top of the mountain was serene, the clouds seemed to float a meter above their heads, then he saw the herds grazing far below and the snaking river that flowed though the plains. He felt a peace he had only felt in his boyhood before he knew women and money, before he had ambitions, a peace of existing without cause or need for explanation. He would visit more not only to secure the vote but his soul.

 

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

 

Lockdown Story E12: Pancakes and Tears

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The birds perched themselves on the edge of window and they quarrelled with each other while making melodic music. The kitchen smelled of pancakes, melted butter and honey. Joseph sat on one of his high metallic chairs, he pleasurably watched Kay flip a pancake and land it atop the leaning tower of pancakes on the black plate. They seemed pensive while doing it but pleasure expressed itself in the occasional smile that stole itself across their face. They artistically cut strawberries into cubes and strew them across the pancakes. The lights in the kitchen were fully lit and all the windows in the house open. Kay switched the radio station from 702 to Ukhozi FM. Joseph mimicked the DJs, it was the station that helped improve his Zulu speaking abilities but mostly he listened to 702. Kay brewed coffee on the stove and poured a cup, then they brewed tea and poured it into Joseph’s cup.

“Are you still writing?” Joseph asked, breaking the silence that Kay enjoyed.

“No” Kay answered looking at the birds fighting each other on the window.

“Why not?” he continued answering.

“Writer’s block I guess” they dismissed Joseph.

“I see” he dug into his pancakes. “Am I expected to finish these by myself?” he asked rhetorically with a mouthful of pancakes.

“Have you forgotten that I hate pancakes?” Kay drawled.

“No, I could never forget such an abomination. How has the pandemic been treating you?” he asked in between sips of tea redirecting the conversation.

“Better than you. I don’t understand why you have a dark kitchen, black plates and cups when you know you easily get depressed. Yours is a serious case” Kay lectured.

“Black plates just seemed chic you know. You’re with someone?” he continued his investigation.

“Yes” Kay answered with their face lighting up unwillingly.

“Yet they can’t even make you write” he chortled. Kay sipped her coffee.

“You can always come here to write, to get away from the office I mean home” he gestured.

“I’ll think about it” they grinned comically, stretching their lips and mimicked Joseph’s gesture.

“You never should have quit” Joseph righteously stated.

“I was dying in there. The work was hell” they intoned.

“That’s true but also you hate losing and could not bear seeing the person who refused to love all of you” he held her hand, “Now you know how I felt” he continued.

Kay felt disgusted by his words but they looked at him and saw the pain swirling in his eyes, the pain of never meeting his mother, the pain of rejection his father meted out even as a successful doctor and the pain they had caused him by rejecting his love; they cared for him, and in some far away corner of their heart, loved them more than they could admit. Kay knew that they could not choose him out of pity or comfort, a life with him guaranteed a lifestyle of their dreams where they could begin to write again like they did when they were together but a love half full was a love half empty. They would never settle for it and would not let Joseph do the same. He would find someone one day or that someone would find him.
Instead of an angry outburst in reaction to his stinging words, Kay told a story of how they accidentally added tikoloshi salt to the meal they had prepared for Neli. Joseph laughed like he was squeezing all the pain out with each cackle and tremble of his belly. He told her that he always knew that Kay would be with the childhood friend and that them being a sangoma was a good thing because Kay was hard to read; a rock the one day and a rose the next, the sun the next day when they had been the moon before; a diviner who had the dual existence of earthly life and the spiritual was just right for Kay because they were truly not fully human.

Kay suddenly felt a rush of energy run down from the center of their head, down their spine to the bottom their feet, the feeling travel in waves that increased in volume, colours of various kinds swirled around the dark kitchen and then it stopped.

Joseph was occupied with happily picking at the pancakes unaware of Kay’s state, he encouraged them to write the story, lamented that they had given up writing for a safe job, it was fearful of them, he surmised, because when they wrote together magic happened. Kay was always a second away from making magic but they undervalued their gift. He went on further to express his suspicion that the sangoma girlfriend had put a spell on them to quit their job, and never write again and then fall in love with her; luckily Kay did not hear any of it. She took off from her seat without saying a word and ran to take a cold shower.

Joseph guiltily washed the dishes, he prepared an apology and recited it. The heap of dishes was washed and dried but Kay still had not come out of the shower, Joseph went look for them. He found Kay seated on the bed typing on his laptop.

“I see you helped yourself to my sweatpants and hoodie” he lovingly announced.

“Yes” Kay answered without looking up.

“I want to apologise” he started.

“Apologise for what?”

 “What I said in the kitchen before you ran off” he continued and sat beside them.

“Ok” she answered without review and kept typing hurriedly.

Joseph looked at their laptop at what Kay was typing. He leaped off the bed with laughter and clapped his hands numerous times.

“Oh, you’re writing again! That’s what happened. Ah I remember now how you’d just freeze when inspiration hit you and then you’d take a cold shower, you said it refined your thoughts” he expounded while jumping up and down around the room.

“I wish to celebrate with you but you’re disturbing me” Kay’s tone deflated his excitement.

“I totally understand. I think I’ll go back to work today” he cheerily stated.

“That’s good” Kay remarked in a high-pitched voice.

“I’m happy you’re writing again. I’ll see you when I come back” he grabbed his jacket and car keys from the side table.

“You need to find someone” Kay said and closed the laptop.

“I have my therapist on call” he lightly reminded her while fixing the collar of his jacket.

“But where were they when you broke down?” Kay asked in a serious tone.

“I’m the one who did not call him. I did not want to be hospitalised! I thought it would pass!” he screamed. Kay shifted to the edge of the bed and paused, they caressed Joseph’s neck.

“You need to move on from me” they beckoned.

He felt an acidic taste form in his mouth, he looked at Kay dwarfed by his big clothes and big bed, he looked at everything he had and the one thing he could not, and the tears gushed out.

 

tikoloshi- a small magical creature with devious intentions/ evil spirit
tikoloshi salt-  uncut sea salt used to ward off tikoloshis
sangoma- a diviner/traditional healer

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E11: Banana shakes baby

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Clive jumped up and down with his knees almost touching his chin, he dropped onto the floor into a quick succession of push ups and then let out a scream of joy. His afro released wisps of smoke, his entire black shirt was drenched in sweat and it clung to the mountains of muscles on his chest. The thick veins on his forearms pulsated as if in competition with each other. Sengi adoringly watched him torture himself through the workout while drinking a protein smoothie.

He dramatically threw himself on the white sofa besides Sengi.

“I think you’re on fire” she said stroking his hair

“Thanks babe” he huffed.

“No, I really mean it, your hair seems to be smoking” she said with concern in her voice.

“Oh, it must be from the sun. Is there some left for me?” he asked but then grabbed the container from Sengi before she could answer.

“It’s banana flavour and you don’t like banana” she smirked.

“Beggars can’t be choosers at this time” he shrugged then opened the shaker and gulped the thick drink down.

Clive was meticulous in his actions, he considered his plans carefully before enacting them, he planned the years according to decades, years, month, days, hours and minutes. He had not always been like this, the gravity of his future and the need to change his behaviour realised upon him when his was fifteen at a career exhibition. He and his friends were nourished by the streets of the township, they had their sense of wonder extinguished from a young age by the older men in the neighbourhood and with their imaginations stunted, they had a murky view of their future prospects. The school trip was as another opportunity to get away from the boring textbooks and boring teachers, they sang naughty songs on the bus and were unruly when they got to the venue until they came across young black man standing next to a BMW. He informed them on careers in engineering, the types that they could branch into, the companies they could work for and the pay they could expect once they became professionals in the field. Clive’s friends chimed in chorus on how they could get the car “fast fast” eluding to criminal activities; Clive did not add a snarky response as per usual, instead he asked for more information from the man.

He changed his behaviour immediately after the fair, he decided to study harder, he assessed that engineering was not for him and settled on studying accounting. The frequency of hanging out with his friends decreased and by the end of high school he was a loner with excellent grades. He secured a bursary and headed far away from Soweto to the University of Cape Town. The township only saw him twice a year and when his mother died, he did not return.

A baby was not in the decade plan, Sengi knew this because of the spreadsheet that he had shown her, a spreadsheet with plans for every decade until he reached the age of ninety. Clive assessed that the elders in his family died in their eighties and that somehow, he would die closer to ninety. He wanted to be seven years working at the firm before he could have his first baby, he was four years in and by seven years he would be thirty-three. The decade of his twenties did not feature the plans of a baby, he had not saved enough and the townhouse was not good enough for rearing his children, he wanted open fields where they could run freely and get lost in the wilderness of nature. Sengi grew up in large masses of land and the luxury of the beach a long languid walk away. Sengi fell in love with his plans because she thought of herself as a chancer; imposter syndrome crippled her because of her privilege and being with a man as determined as Clive sharpened her, supplemented her like a protein smoothie. He was her biggest fan but mostly he was a mentor, he offered critique of her plans which bolstered her confidence. He looked past her perfect good looks, light skin, and money. He saw her as the little girl that aimed to please, afraid

she would be discarded if she did not; with him there was no pressure, only the freedom to be, to exist without action because he took all the pressures of the world onto his shoulders. She did not want to mess up his decade plan.
He wiped the remnants of the protein shake from his mouth with a hum of satisfaction. He rested on Sengi’s lap and kissed her tummy. He joked that he did not understand how someone as small as her always be ate for two, Sengi froze, normally she would laugh or pretend to be offended but she froze.

“Are you okay?” he asked looking up at her like a sad angel. She nodded.

“The weirdest thing happened the other day” he continued.

“What happened?” Sengi feigned interest.

“I found a little girl bouncing on my trampoline”

“What did you do?” Sengi asked genuinely zoning into the conversation.

“I told her to stop it. Babe it was raining. I don’t know where she came from?” he stated and Sengi widened her eyes.

“And what did she do?”

“She called me by name, ran off, climbed my wall and jumped off into the neighbours” he excitedly recounted.

“So, she’s the neighbours’ child?” it was an assertion more than enquiry.

“No. I know all the neighbours’ children” he corrected.

“That’s odd” she was puzzled.

“Right. I said the same thing, to myself because you weren’t around!” he exclaimed.

Sengi laughed.

“You’re the only one I can talk to. I cherish the day I walked into the journalism lecture by mistake” he marvelled.

“Me too” Sengi brushed his hair.

“I think my first child will be a girl. She’ll probably be naughty like the little trespasser I found. In five years, you’re going to be my wife and you’ll be expecting our first daughter” he declared.

Sengi waited for Clive to hop into the shower before she could release her tears. If Clive could change his mind about banana protein shakes then maybe he could change his mind about the baby but she was afraid to be the one who messes up his plans just like how she messed up her biological mother’s plans. She called herself an Uber and wrote a short note about a work emergency she had to rush too. Clive could tell when she was lying and so she did not risk it.

Image source: rawpixel.com

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

Lockdown Story E10: uMuthi

Umuthi

Neli’s ankle bracelets, made out of a number of seed pods, rattled as she walked down the street to Kay’s house. The breeze brushed against her bare legs and its icy presence caused the small hairs on her shins to stand up. She held on tightly to her sack satchel which swung with every bump of her small hips. The gate was closed so she picked up a small stone and tapped it on the gate endlessly. Kay’s Gogo peered out the window and then limped towards her. Neli knelt down at the gate, greeted Gogo and told her that Kay had sent her. Gogo invited her inside the house.

Gogo fussed over making tea and biscuits but Neli informed her that she had lost her appetite for biscuits while she was away, the tea on its own would suffice, but Gogo placed a tower of homemade biscuits in front of her with disregard. She bit into the biscuit out of politeness and sipped the tea then she opened her bag.

“Gogo, Khetiwe tells me of your ailments” Neli took out a brown paper tied close with white string.
“Yes, they started in 1978 while I was working in Booysens and and… Where is Kay?” Gogo’s frail voice shook more when she asked about Kay.
“She’s helping out a friend in town. She said to tell you that she’s safe and you should not worry” Neli assured her by speaking slowly.
“What about my medicine?” she worryingly asked with a dry biscuit whirling in her wet mouth.
“That’s why I am here gogo” Neli answered politely trying not to be disgusted.
Neli pushed the plate of biscuits aside and carefully placed the brown packet in its place, she delicately untied the string and unfurled the paper to reveal a pink powder.

“She could not find the medicine because the pharmacy closed but not to worry” Neli continued, “I have made something for you which should ease the pain. The mixture needs to be made in a metallic cup, pour hot water, not boiling, and add a teaspoon of this powder. The solution should be drunk in the morning before it cools down, make sure not to eat before it, it’s best to have at sunrise”
“Thank you, my daughter” Gogo closed the packet up and retied it.  “Now have some more biscuits”.

Neli was pleased with herself and moreover proud to have her medicine accepted by Gogo who was a stern Christian and did not like Neli’s family or Neli for that matter. She imagined that soon she would be married to Kay and that the conflict between their families would end. The conflict began with Gogo’s husband who had originally signed up for the corner house under the apartheid regime but Neli’s grandfather had bribed the officials and the house became his. Corner houses came with more land space than the other houses, also the one on the slope had a view many were envious of because of how flat the district was. Kay’s grandfather never forgave them and it was said that Neli’s grandfather put a spell on the family that they would never be prosperous. The community feared the family on the corner house, generations of chiefs, witches and powerful medicine people came from the lineage. None of Gogo’s four children married instead each was courted by rich men and women but then they disappeared without explanation immediately after writing a letter of proposal to Gogo.  Gogo had grown bitter because of this, all her children gave birth out of wedlock with different partners except for Kay’s mother but still she was angry and vengeful.  The grudge dissipated when she saw the friendship between Kay and Neli grow. Kay was her favourite grandchild therefore their friendship was allowed on the basis that Kay never visited Neli’s house and even when she sneaked off to the house, never to eat the food.

Neli’s walking pace had slowed down because of the heap of gogo’s biscuits stuffed in her tiny stomach. She sent Kay a call-back and counted to thirty but Kay did not call back. She panicked because Kay always called back within thirty seconds. A police siren rang behind her. Police officer Mazibuko peered out the passenger window. A policewoman with her face iced with make-up and long finger nails held tightly on the steering wheel, she made a clicking sound with her tongue and chewed gum violently.

“It’s fine, you don’t have to wait for me. I’ll catch up with you on the other street” Neli heard him tell his irritated colleague.
“Hey Neli” he tried to sound casual. Neli coldly stared back at him.
“I just wanted to make sure that you made it home safely the other night” he explained.
“As you can see, I did and that was like a few days ago, shows how much you care” she was busy with her cell phone with dialling Kay’s number but it was not going through.
“The network is slow today with the lockdown many people are spending more time making phone calls” he informed her. Neli clicked her tongue out of annoyance.
“Why do you have a gogo cell phone?” he belittled.
“What?” she asked angrily.
“Your cellphone is for old people. Are you not on Facebook or WhatsApp?” he jabbered on.
“I’m not, so no you can’t have my number” she snapped back at him and walked away.
“I don’t need your number; I know where you live” he retorted.
“That sounds like a threat” Neli stammered.
“I did not mean for it to sound like that. Forgive me” he feigned being apologetic.
“I have to get home; my father is waiting for me”
“Your father is not home. The whole town knows when his home, there’d be multiple cars now parked outside. You just don’t like me” he clumsily ranted.
“I don’t know you and even if I did, I do not like police officers” Neli exhaustedly explicated
“Okay. Next time I’ll come without the uniform” Mazibuko teased with unbuttoning his shirt.
“Next time don’t come near me” she reiterated.

Police officer Mazibuko seethed with anger but his calm demeanour masked it well. He watched Neli walk away, her bum jiggled and the drawing of the lion on her skirt seemed to roar with every angry step she took. He smiled at himself, he was gaining some entry into her, this encounter was better than the first, with this one he managed to get some emotion out of her. Significantly, he observed how she kept dialing Kay’s number which immediately went to voicemail and he gathered that Neli and Kay’s relationship was shaky. He would save her from the insane spectacle of their open secret and give her his medicine to teach how to be a real woman.

muthi- Zulu word for medicine 

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu