Lockdown Story Episode 5: Noma


The last petal on the flower fell off into the dark soil which shimmered with specks of gold foil in it. Noma looked at the flower and took a deep heavy sigh. She had just watered it; the soil was still wet and tiny bubbles popped through it. Day eight of the lockdown was just like day seven, gloomy and depressing, the sun chose to remain hidden behind the low-lying clouds.

The flower was a gift from a conference on decolonising diets, it was said to be an indigenous edible plant but Noma just wanted to water it and watch it grow. Kay had invited her to the conference, at first, she was reluctant because her Friday nights were dedicated to jazz and wine in her lounge not to rigorous debate that resulted in people being charged with feelings of frustration and anger. Kay was weird in the way that they liked to see fires being put out but moreover fires being ignited so that they could quell them; it was like they played the role of mediator but in a wrestling match; the garish kind of wrestling with men in tight underwear who wear velvet robes to the match. The conferences were typical and predictable but Noma went to watch Kay being enthralled by human nature when challenged by critical thinking.

Theirs was a young friendship but somehow Noma felt they had interacted somewhere before, maybe before they were born, in the world before this one; and when she told Kay this, she also agreed that the magnetic force between them had to be either ancestral or otherworldly. Noma was in senior management at the department of Public Works and Kay, even though being older than her, was an intern when they met. Kay did not speak much in the office but they completed their tasks and took on the other interns’ tasks who deliberately slowed their pace because they new that Kay would come and salvage their incompetence. They never went out to eat lunch, instead lunch was always a small packed sandwich or salad eaten in front of the computer, they never came to the office parties, never dressed up for the themes like when the whole office was celebrating Sophiatown and dressed like stars of the era like Dorothy Masuku and Hugh Masekela. Kay instead came in wearing grey sweatpants and a lime green sports t-shirt- Noma felt drawn to Kay because of this resistance to conform to office culture. She was dressed in a hoop green skirt with a white lace petticoat underneath, shiny stockings sculpted her thin leg and white heels gave her a vintage elegance. She danced herself towards Kay and asked them why they were not dressed up for Women’s Day. Kay realised that it was her senior manager whom everyone spoke about as being strict and callous. They thought long and hard before answering:

“I could not find the right suit” they stated with an attitude and pursed their lips.
Noma’s mouth turned up in the one corner of her lips and she nodded,
“I understand. I’ve seen you in suits around the office and nobody manages to pull of a three piece like you do”.
Kay was stunned into silence.
“We should have lunch together sometime, leave your desk for once. What do you say Kethiwe- that’s your name right?”
“Yes, but I prefer being called Kay”
“Ok Kay. Tomorrow, you and me are going to have lunch together” she stated and turned to leave.
“Have I done something wrong” Kay asked with concern in her eyes.
“No. You’ve done something right. You’re always doing what is right”.

Noma soon learnt that Kay was not the wholesome angel she thought they was. Kay was a rebel in hiding, an intellectual who was in a position that was far below their capacity, a connoisseur of life, a daddy’s little girl, a kind person, a fun spontaneous person who had as many personalities as the moon has faces; sometimes they were full and beaming and other times totally out of sight. An agreeable person and sometimes as difficult as a rock wherefor no responses could be eked out. These violent moods were soon forgotten by Noma who was intrigued by the rawness of the character she had found herself, a person who did not bother with performance of gender, culture and generally human nature. Lunches soon turned into Friday nights at Noma’s townhouse where they easily slipped into each other with each sip of wine. Noma had never been romantically or sexually involved with a woman before Kay and she had her head in the clouds above the reality of what Kay endured for being queer. Firstly, Noma refused to identify with the community, she did not advocate for proposed company policies that supported the queer community and in public she did not want public displays of affection from Kay; she cited that they needed to remain professional even when outside of the office. Kay scoffed at every excuse and would kiss her in public, hold her hand and call her “babe” just to piss her off. The anger at the crossing of this boundary would disappear as soon as they got to the townhouse but one day it did not, Noma was fuming and Kay was in no mood to play an understanding angel.

“You don’t listen!” she shouted.
“I do listen, I just refuse to be treated like a pet” Kay stated as calmly as possible but the gritting of her teeth gave away her frustration.
“What do you want from me?” Noma asked suddenly.
“Nothing. So, I’m not enough for you. All that I’ve given, is it not enough? The promotion. The dinners. The sex”
“I am not your pet Noma! I am not your experiment!”
“I love you!” Noma screeched.
“You love me when it suits you. You love me behind closed doors… you…” anger raced down Kay’s throat which caused her to swallow the rest of her words.
“Is this because I’m still trying to figure out where I am in the rainbow?” Noma sniffled.
“Just choose a colour, anyone, it’s fine. The G, the L, the B or the P”
“You can’t force me to choose. I have enough stress in my life, you can’t be it too”
“So, I stress you out Noma? I’m like a project to you, is it Noma?” Kay asked in a threatening tone.
“I’m tired. Can we drop it”
“Yes, we can and let’s not pick it up again”
Those were the last words Kay said to Noma before turning in their resignation. Their union was promising, just like the plant but despite the careful attention to it, it slowly died leaving behind shimmering memories in dirt that could not maintain the bloom of life.

Noma coughed and wheezed. She had spent her December alone in Thailand and China, a secret solocation to regather herself for the year 2020, she had truly loved Kay the best way she knew how. Noma believed that when a relationship ended, it ended and that there was no need to resuscitate what would eventually be a dead body. She gasped for air as she held the dead plant and then remembered Kay’s instruction “it’s a succulent, they don’t need a lot of water or attention, so don’t coddle it to death”.
She dropped the dead plant into the sink, the bubbles were still bursting through the soil, then she looked out her window at the charged thunderstorm clouds threatening to breakout a chorus of terror, her chest felt tight and her throat felt like hot coals.
“You are always doing the right thing” she murmured to herself.


Image source: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-to-care-for-succulents
Solocation:  going on a vacation by yourself

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