Daniel twitched his lips, drool seeped out the side of his mouth onto the keyboard, his phone vibrated incessantly causing it to fall off the table and as it violently cracked on the porcelain tiles it woke him up from his codeine induced sleep. He struggled to open his eyes and had to pry their eyelids open with his fingers. His head hurt, it felt heavy and tender like a balloon overfilled with water. A picture of his smiling wife and two children stared at him as he struggled to get up from his swivel chair. He laughed at himself in a despairing manner, he clenched his jaw and pummelled his fists into the mahogany table and shot up from the chair. A few droplets of brandy swung back and forth in the crystal glass from the vibrations of the table. He brushed his thick beard which had streams of silver running through it and he bent over to pick up his phone and as he grabbed it, he toppled over and hit the wall like a bull ramming into a red cloth. The phone vibrated again, he looked at the screen with his blurry vision could see his wife’s picture and he swiped to the right to answer:
“I’m in the office”
“Have to write a report for the minister, the President is on our necks about this lockdown. Yes, I’ll be home soon.”
He dropped the phone onto his bloated tummy, it bounced off and fell to the floor, cracking again.
When Kay was born, Daniel was there in the corridors of the maternity ward waiting calmly for the birth of his daughter. He knew somehow that it was going to be girl, Clive would be having a little sister to look after and he convinced his girlfriend the same. Daniel was a grocery store manager and a writer. He wrote after checking the store books and repacking the sugar just right, he wrote in the empty isles after the store had shut, in his car while waiting for Langa to come out of school, he wrote at night when he could not sleep and he wrote after sex while watching Langa sleep. He came from a big family where he had to fight for the attention and affection of his mother, his mother who drank herself to sleep, his brothers who were more attractive than him, his father who came in and out of his life like a disappearing magician. Daniel’s father had three wives in three different countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and his mother was not one of them. Daniel saw him bi-annually and each time he came bearing gifts then he stopped coming and his mother stopped talking about him. He vowed never to be like his father but as he grew older, he subconsciously took his form, became restless and could not keep to one woman, each one he took care of in every way he could; in this one way he was not like his father.
Langa knew Daniel to be unmarried but when he held new-born Kay in his arms, he felt a love he had never felt before, he had held many of his children, all six of them, each one a boy and Kay was the first girl. Langa was his third girlfriend but he wanted to make her his wife. He and his first wife had, in the decay of romantic love, become good friends and co-parents for their two children. She knew about the other girlfriends and other children and she decided she would not be moved- she was the first and she would be the last but Daniel would change that. He looked at his new-born girl and named her chosen, Khetiwe.
Langa obliged to the name because he had named Clive and this proved to her how proud he was of his children. She knew by the he looked at the baby that they would be married soon, then she would prove her mother wrong; her mother who told her that Daniel would not marry her because of how he impregnated her and did not pay for the damage traditionally as was custom. Daniel drove the car slowly from the hospital and pulled to a gentle stop when they got to Langa’s house. Langa reached for the door handle but Daniel immediately stopped her. She noticed the look in his eyes, a wave rose in them and the wave threatened to wash everything away. The wave rose with each revelation that Daniel exposed: the wife and children, the two other women he had children with and the divorce he sought to have in order to get married to her. The wave dissipated when she realised that she could be the next wife but it rose again when he stated that he could never have one woman, that they would be more after her but that she would be the legal wife. The wave came in like a tsunami, excavating a rage hidden in the corners of her soul. The man could not be satisfied and she decided she could not lead a life where she would constantly be in the eye of a storm; even when untouched by the storm she would be caught in it for a life time. She could not settle in the many seats of his heart where a long table laid bare for his lovers but in her heart, he would have the one available seat. It was unfair and infuriating.
The birth of Kay was the last time she ever spoke to him, she was mute for the first year, doctors assessed her but could not find a problem; medical scans could not detect a broken heart. Daniel kept visiting his children and supporting them but then he stopped when he divorced his wife and married another woman whose name was Langa and looked just like Langa; at hearing this Langa broke her silence and laughed until tears ran down her face, then her laughter turned into screams that emanated from her broken heart causing the shattering of her vocal cords. Kay grew up thinking her mother’s husky voice was of a genetic creation and not a romantic malfunction.
Daniel sat up, scratched his eyes then he caught himself panicking and quickly pulled out a hand sanitiser from the pocket of his pants. He wondered how Clive and Khetiwe were coping with the pandemic. He wanted all his children under his roof but now it was too late, they were all old and his wife did not any of them in her house. Khetiwe had changed from the little girl who wore floral dresses in the photographs that he used to receive from his mother, he thought to himself that maybe if he had been more present his only daughter would not have turned out so different but nonetheless, she would always remain his favourite. They had grown closer after their mother’s death and would chat often on WhatsApp, but Clive was still cold, angry and resentful of his father who broke his mother’s heart. He needed Clive, he needed to know what was going on with Kay because only he would know, he needed Clive like a lonely child needs a friend, like an only child needs a brother, like feet need toes for balancing; oh but Clive was difficult, he had definitely inherited his mother’s fragile but stubborn heart. Daniel saw Langa in both Kay and Clive, inside and out, and he laughed at how foolish he was in thinking she would not have been enough and how ambitious he was to think he could replace her with another woman who had the same name. He crawled to his desk, grabbed the glass of warm brandy, swivelled it and gulped it down.
A hard knock on his door broke his dark reverie.
“Come in” he slurred.
An enthusiastic young man with an ill-fitting red suit stepped in.
“Chief, comrade, how are you this morning? We are leaving for Alexandra in twenty minutes?”
“What?” Daniel shouted propping himself up.
“Are you okay Chief? We are leaving for Alex in twenty minutes”
“That’s on Tuesday?” Daniel stated.
“It is Tuesday Chief” the young man retorted. He poured Daniel some water.
“Tell them that I have to translate the speech into Zulu and that the report is not done. I’ll sit out the visit” he instructed the young man, pulled a desk drawer open and took some painkillers out.
“Sure Chief” the young man bounced out the room and shut the door.
“I’m not your chief” he mumbled to himself and swallowed the painkillers.
The president wanted a speech like Mbeki’s iconic I am an African poem. A speech that would be read after the pandemic was over, an overly emotional, unifying and idyllic text. He considered himself to be a writer who had to hone the skill and while doing he chose the practical route of entrepreneurship and taxi ownership, and through an influential taxi boss he found his way into the ranks that supported the president. The taxi boss oversold him, at least that’s what he thought; he was a good manager, strategist, salesperson and his grassroot community work through the taxi associations solidified a valuable voter base but one thing he was insecure of was his writing abilities. The only person he had shown them to was Langa, she kept all his writing when they were in love but on the day she returned home with Kay from the hospital, she burnt all of them.
He had not stopped writing and no matter how hard a writer tries to hide his capabilities they creep up in conversations in social functions where lines of poetry or novels are quoted unprovoked, in the need to write poems in the middle of boring strategic meeting, and in the way one carries themselves- writers carry themselves differently like fortified lilies in a desert, like they carry eternal sunrises in their pockets- and this is how they found him out.
The pandemic had shattered all of his composure, he only thought of his children, how he should have spent more time with them to get know them better and how they might never get to experience the pleasure and pain of getting old. He had grown tender as the years advanced; an avalanche of sensitivity had set in motion especially with the birth of his three-year old daughter he had with young staffer in the presidential office. Everyone in the office knew because the child looked just like him. Tthe wife knew but the girlfriend and child were not the first and they certainly would not be the last. Daniel would go on having children well into his sixties or even eighties if God granted him that long a life. The prognosis of the pandemic did not look good, well informed colleagues stated that it would probably take six months to regulate, he thought of informing Kay but he knew of her anxiety; it was this anxiety that saw her quit job after job that he got her into even if she claimed it was because she was transgender, he knew it was because they shared the same gnawing feeling of never being enough. He beat his chest with his fist to stop the tears pouring out because he wanted to hold her but he had to go back home to his wife and two children. He would not spend a third night in the office drinking brandy and popping painkillers. He left with some resolve stemming from a writer’s high; a satisfaction of populating a blank page with some words.
In a silent night the cosmos dance
In the caves a San man sings around a fire
A young woman puts a child to sleep under the stars
These were not dark times
We heard your cries
A nation stood up as one
I, you, them, everyone
A collective chant
To dispel the spell, we had not seen
Now touch my hand, we found the vaccine
Touch my hand and let’s dance like it’s the beginning
The beginning of a cosmos
The celebration of a nation’s ethos
You owe yourself this dance
Life has given us an endless second chance
The fires are rekindled in this new singing