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
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