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
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