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