Kay did not know if they were in love with Neli, she just knew that she was most attracted to her. The concept of love was a sea, the bottom of which no one had reached. All love was conditional even the love they received from the one they thought loved them the most. Gogo loved them because they were her granddaughter, Clive loved them because they were his sister and so on. The thought of being someone’s everything thrilled them at one point but being put on a pedestal was a painful burden, they learnt this through how Joseph loved them. Love is not a security blanket, it is oxygen in the air that does not need to be contained, if a person is healthily functioning the oxygen suffices but if they are not healthy, no amount of oxygen will remedy the person. Love is not a shared luggage bag; each brings their own. Neli loved Kay in a way that settled them, in a secure a way, in a way that one has another spellbound; a love that could not be disturbed by time spent apart or other lovers sneaking in, a trusting love in that one does not examine a seat before they sit down, they sit down with the assurance that their weight will be carried.
The lace curtain billowed out the window with the wind pushing through it and in the south, heavy sullen clouds sunk above the roofs of the houses ready to burst and roar. The rays of the sun splintered through the tiny numerous holes in the asbestos roof splashing themselves onto the bodies of Kay and Neli seated together on a single bed. The mattress was old but the covers new, blue triangles painted on the duvet and multicoloured throw cushions. Kay had plans to renovate the house, they knew it would be a mammoth task for planning and enacting, so they took their time. Gogo’s snores reverberated through the quiet house and the two lovers giggled with every crescendo played through her ancient nostrils.
The lockdown had been extended and this delighted Kay as they had yet decided what do with their life after a year of being unemployed and minimal writing. The money was running out and even though their father was available for financial assistance, they wanted to be self-sufficient. Neli thought it unwise of Kay to refuse a lifetime of ease, she had no choice but surrender her wealth because of the calling but still she was supported by her father financially. Kay had a calling too, different to Neli’s but it was the same thing, writing was a gift, it was spiritual because some stories were burdens that needed to be laid down otherwise the stories harassed the author to their death or until they went crazy. The best life is a life lived authentically and Kay needed to focus on their writing, to dig deep for the stories that they were afraid to write and loosen the burdens.
Neli prodded with bites and kisses for Kay to read her a story that they had written. Kay was reluctant, they barely read their own stories and never edited them; Joseph read them for himself and suggested edits which Kay did not welcome. He learnt from her reaction to only read their work and lay it down without saying a word. He smiled even after reading some of their badly written work, stories that had great themes and characters but the execution required re-calibration but Kay did not take critique well. The smallest edits made them quit writing for weeks and even months because they interpreted the changes as reflection of a failure on their craft. They often self-sabotaged writing opportunities recommended by Joseph, self-doubt ensured failure and failure was comfortable for Kay because success would offer relief and that relief would be an uncomfortable zone. Kay was a masochist, pain and strife their modus operandi but this trait did not translate to the fictional characters who lived lavish lives, were always lucky in love, fortunate in wealth and health, dramatic, opulent and happy-go-lucky; it seemed that Kay was subconsciously desperate for the fictional lives of the happy characters and did not realise that the choice was theirs to lead such lives. Clive made his choices and made it to beachfront living without aid from his father. Kay instead regressed from a secure job and a posh apartment in Johannesburg back to their grandmother’s house, rolling back down the mountain only to walk around it and not up it again. They were holding onto a lot of threads, many of which did not serve them, many of which were not useful and could not clothe Kay, rather they were intertwining themselves in a mess around the mountain preventing her from further going up.
The heavy clouds spread out and rain burst out with cackles of thunder and lightning. Neli joked that it was the sound of the ancestor in audience to listen to Kay’s story. Kay drew the duvet over their bodies, creating a tent of intimacy and intrigue. They examined Neli’s exquisite face: smooth as a perfect peach not a single pore gaping open, tight and together, unblemished and soft. The thunder roaring loudly and the lightning forking flints in the atmosphere bouncing of the duvet, Kay began in a whisper:
There was once a young woman with seven sons. This woman ruled the Southern forest of the Kingdom. The seven sons had magical gifts that were needed in the seven corners of the Kingdom but the woman was afraid of being left alone and so she told her sons that the gifts would get finished the more they used them, furthermore she frightened them by telling them other people would not welcome them in because of their gifts.
So powerful were these gifts that one could fly, another could be invisible, the other could talk to nature, for example to ask the ground to open up and bring water, another was strong with their tongue as he could taste poison by only flicking his tongue out in the air and what they said with their tongue happened immediately, the other could see sickness in another person and knew how to heal it by placing hands on the affected body part. The last two were twins who could see both the future and past. They of course did not know how powerful they were, their mother punished them whenever they were alone together not doing chores, the chores kept them busy from tapping into their powers and the mother always found ways to make them work. She marked a boundary in a forest with stones that illuminated and told them that if they went over the stones life as they knew it in the forest would end, everything would die including her. The boys listened because all they knew was their mother, their sweet mother who looked after them when they were sick and indulged in play with them in the forest. The mother taught them about the plants and their many uses, she taught them how to tell the weather by simply looking at how the sun rose and which colours came up with it.
One day the boys were alone in the forest collecting wood and food, when a kind stranger appeared by the boundary, he approached the boys but they were fearful. The stranger opened his leather satchel and dropped a large glass ball to the ground. He stepped away from the bowl and the boundary. The boys hesitatingly crawled to the glass bowl and looked at it, inside they saw many people of different shades of skin and clothing living, dancing, laughing, cooking, painting, playing drums and flutes, water falls cascaded from the sky and some of the people were flying. The boys felt feelings that they had never felt before, every jovial, fulfilling, joyous feeling they saw through the ball; they felt everything. They looked at the stranger with glee and asked him where the world was. The stranger implored them to come with him but they fearfully declined his invitation, the stranger left them with the ball and they ran home to show their mother.
The mother hugged each one tightly after hearing of their encounter, she was frantic and made plans to draw the boundary closer to the house but then the sons showed her the glass bowl. She looked inside and she saw people of different shades of skin suffering from hunger, illness, droughts, she saw desserts where there once were forests and she saw mothers holding dead babies. The sons excitedly waited for her reaction but she angrily turned from the ball and smashed it to the ground. They wondered what their mother had seen and they asked her to tell them, instead she ran out fuming and drew the boundary closer to the house with the illuminating stones. The children saw the mother’s anguish and decided to help her with bringing stones in closer, tightening their border. Their mother was always right and the stranger had tried to trick them out of her safety.
Years past and the forest began to change, it got smaller and smaller as the people in the far away kingdoms got more and more but it was still big enough for the sons to roam and play in. One day a young woman came across the boundary of the forest and the sons were enamoured by her beauty and glow but they remembered the stranger who tried to trick them and so did not go near her. Every time they went to the forest the young woman was there also picking berries and wood. The sons asked her where she was from and it turned out that she was from the forest too, she spoke to the animals even the dangerous ones and they complied to her commandments. The sons suddenly remembered they too had gifts. The one that could fly showed off to the young woman by flying up to the highest tree, he flew back down to the ground and scooped the woman up but then he heard his mother calling for him and he dropped clumsily to the ground hurting himself and the woman. The brother that could heal placed his hands on them and their bruises disappeared and broken bones healed immediately. They ran off to their mother’s calls leaving the young woman dumbfounded. They young men told their mother of the young woman and she told them that it was a lesson that if you showed off your gifts and relied on them alone that you’d end up alone with no one to love.
The mother was worried that his sons would one day meet another stranger and never come back. They were grown and bigger, she could no longer control them and their gifts had not waned over time instead it seemed that they got stronger. She devised a plan to cook a meal that would ensure that all of them would remain with her for eternity. She took an illuminating stone used for the boundary and boiled it in clean fresh water, the water turned dark and then she added all the ingredients her sons loved like onion, carrot, beans, peas, boar meat, potatoes and radishes. One lick of the illuminating stones ensured death, she taught her sons this from a young age and so animasl that licked the boundary died but humans were not animals, they saw the boundary and knew its interpretation to stay back unless invited in.
The sons returned that evening happy to smell the aroma of their favourite meal, the mother hugged them each tightly as she did each evening and dished up generous amount of food for them. The one who could taste poison innocently stuck his tongue out and his tongue vibrated, he felt sick and his skin rose in waves of rashes, he retracted his tongue back into his mouth and immediately felt better, the rashes disappeared. He shouted at his brothers to not eat and told them the meal was poisonous. The mother attempted to lie but the boys believed their brother more than her, they poured the soup out and found the illuminating stone. The mother claimed it fell in by mistake and then claimed that the stone was not poisonous at all. The boys demanded that she open her mouth and place the stone inside but she refused so they forcefully opened her mouth, placed it inside and she instantly caught aflame and turned into ashes. The boys ran out, each to the seven corners of the kingdom and never returned to the forest.
The story had Neli mesmerised, she looked at Kay like a child,
“Why didn’t they return?” she asked.
“There was nothing to return to. Also, deforestation happened” Kay joked.
“Yoh that was deep” Neli complimented.
“Thank you” Kay shyly assented.
“What made you think of the story?”
“My life” Kay quickly answered.
“So, you feel like one of the sons” Neli filled in.
“No. I’m the mother” Kay countered; her voice laced with shame.
“You want to turn into ashes?” Neli asked with confusion and concern traced on her face.
“I’m trying my best not to get to that point” Kay answered and pulled the duvets off.
The thunderstorm had stopped and the sun was shining. Thunderstorms were good because they were brief, and scary as they were, they ended quickly.
Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu