Joseph sat under the marble counter, frozen by the thoughts that hounded him, the thoughts that came fast like a swarm of angry bees; indiscernible and threatening. He had everything in order: his car was fully paid off, he was two months ahead on payments for the apartment, he had sent the monthly allowance to his father who was unemployed and recovering from alcoholism, he was active in the church, the pantry was filled with every kind of food and the fridge too. He communicated daily with friends who were dispersed across the globe and he was planning to get a cat but the virus halted this plan. Throngs of empty packets of food surround his feet, he cowered like a wet cat and whimpered.
He had not been able to leave the house for a couple of days and had lied to his colleagues about having to visit a sick family member in Soweto. The birds outside the kitchen window sang songs of salutations to each other. He often opened the windows so that they could perch on the edge. The birds were naughty, they often flew into the kitchen and played on the marble counter, hiding when Joseph entered. Joseph knew it was a game they played and so pretended to be out of sight just to indulge in the animal play of hide and seek. The windows were shut and the birds pecked at the thick glass panes as if knocking and pleading Joseph to open but he could not move.
Kay sat the back of the taxi with their head leaning against the window. The taxi only had four passengers in it, a freedom hey could never experience because of how taxis were often overloaded, now they were in taxi heaven with no men intentionally brushing their legs and then making it seem like a mistake, no fear of sitting in the back seat and mostly there would be no quarrels about money exchanges. Gogo needed some medication from an Indian pharmacy, she insisted that Kay go only to that pharmacy because she was adamant that other pharmacies would not have the same medication at the same affordable price. Kay pulled out the list Gogo had written in cursive, it was odd that even though they were generations apart, Gogo’s handwriting was exactly the same as Kay’s. Gogo started school at the age of ten because her family was conflicted about girls receiving a government endorsed education; the family feared that Gogo would be corrupted and be averse to getting married. Kay knew how to write in cursive by the age of ten and knew by then that they were queer. Gogo had to drop out of school by age eighteen because she had to be married and by nineteen, she bore her first child. Kay internally lamented that Gogo was robbed of a great destiny, she was intelligent because even though she started school at ten, by sixteen she was on par with her classmates. They wiped their tears, folded the list, put it back in their denim jacket pocket and requested the driver to stop.
Johannesburg was eerily empty and shockingly very clean. Kay got of far from the pharmacy because they wanted to walk around the city. They had missed the city with its noise, loud people, colourful fruits, the cars, the smell of diverse cultural foods and the many languages that clamoured over each other; the city had a distinct vibration. A vibration which was missing under the lockdown. They surveyed the tall buildings under the cloudy sky, some of the sun’s rays escaped through the gaps and reflected on the blue buildings.
The blue bank building was where they met Joseph a few years back. He was sitting on the window sill of Kay’s favourite café. He seemed to be deep in thought and his lips moved as if he was in conversation with someone, pausing then starting again. Kay routinely sat alone by the table in front of the large window with the usual order of a large coffee and chicken salad. That morning Joseph sat outside obstructing Kay’s beloved view. They thought to move to the other side of the café but it was packed; the patrons of the café had their favourite tables as well. Kay went outside to ask the man if he could move to sit at another window, they informed the staff that they would return and that their table should not be given away. Kay hesitated going to tell the man face to face to leave, they instead knocked on the window and signalled for Joseph to go away but Joseph thought of it as an invitation to join Kay inside. Kay saw him stand up and with relief she returned to listening to a podcast, as they looked up from their cell phone, they saw Joseph seated opposite them.
“It’s nice of you to invite me in” he stated in deep baritone voice.
He looked more relaxed and relieved than he was outside. Kay did not particularly like men except for their brother, not many caught their attention and they in turn did not bother with men; it was more of a fear than anything else. Men carelessly and selfishly broke hearts of lovers, wives, sisters, daughters, sons and even mothers, worst of all they moved on like they had harmlessly burped after a good meal. Kay treated every man with the respect but more so with suspicion, this man sitting opposite them, there was a different vibration about him and his eyes smiled like a roaring sun between mountain peaks.
“I’m Kay” they informed him kindly.
“I’m Joseph” he introduced himself placing his right hand on his heart and slightly bowing forward.
“Why were you sitting outside?” she asked genuinely and pulled her earphones out from her ears.
“My demons were insistent that I sit outside” he seriously stated.
“Oh, I know someone like that, the voices in their head tells them a lot of things and sometimes they can’t fight, they just have to give in and surrender to the commands” Kay interpreted and held his hand.
“I am joking. I just wanted to feel the sun on my face since it is autumn and it’s chilly, you know.” Joseph jabbered while imitating being cold.
“No, you’re not joking and that’s okay.” Kay insisted.
Joseph looked Kay straight in the eyes with his mouth agape and he breathed out gently as if he had been holding the longest in breath.
“I see a therapist and a psychiatrist but nothing seems to be helping at the moment” he confessed.
“For some it’s a thunderous raging sea and for others it’s silent downpour but it does eventually cease or at least it pauses” Kay reassured him.
Kay recited what they would say to the pharmacist about Gogo’s ailment and the medication she needed. They took several stairs around closely bound broken-down buildings as the pharmacy was hidden in the dodgiest part of Johannesburg but when they arrived out of breath, they found that it closed. They thought of searching for other pharmacies but surmised that it would be dangerous as someone would catch on and try to mug them; right there and then their cell phone rang. They ignored it but the phone kept ringing and eventually they answered.
“Hello” Kay answered in a low tone.
“It’s Joseph” a strained voice whispered.
“Hey! How are you? I’ve been calling. You’ve been on my mind lately; you know with this pandemic” Kay shouted with relief.
“You miss me?” Joseph cracked out his strained voice.
“I’m concerned about you” Kay elaborated
“Okay” Joseph said with disappointment in his voice.
“Are you okay?” Kay asked sharply.
“No” Joseph whimpered. “Send me your location and I’ll come!” Kay commanded.
“I’m coming. Don’t be afraid” Kay comforted.
They arrived quickly at his apartment because of the scarcity of cars on the road. Joseph looked like a train had run over him twice. His kitchen was a mess, the house was stuffy and needed ventilation. Kay approached him like a hurt baby bird, she managed to rouse him up from the kitchen floor to the lounge and they sat down on the sofa and cradled in silence.
Kay thought of the years that had passed since their falling out, they had fallen in love with Joseph and this confused Kay because even though Joseph had been born female, he presented and identified as male. Kay knew the struggle too well and if they ever decided to surgically and medically transition, they were adamant that they did not want to be in a relationship with a man. Joseph called out her a coward who was afraid to fall in love not because of their sexuality but because of their suppressed hate for men. He had called Kay confused, operating under false humility and therefore would not reach their greatest potential. Joseph had broken their heart in a way they never thought possible and Kay understood because he wanted to make them feel what he was feeling. The pain caused by his words, though unwarranted, was unanimous.
Kay gathered their thoughts and refocused on the moment, Joseph was experiencing a breakdown and the recall of their past events would not help the situation, they could deal with their unresolved feelings after Joseph was back to normal.
“Have you been taking your hormones?” Kay softly asked breaking the hours of silence.
“Yes” Joseph whispered.
“Ok. That’s good” Kay cooed and they cradled themselves to sleep.
Gogo- old woman/ grandmother
Lockdown Story is the original works of Nobantu Shabangu