by Philani Amadeus Nyoni
I got home last night and played some Jonathan Butler, lit the fan, aimed it at the window, turned out the light and smoked through the burglar-bars. I raised my chin, ejected smoke to the clouds and collided with that constellation that looks like the letter A. Instantly, I thought of Philani Amadéus Nyoni, he used to brag to Pauline about his name being written in the stars. Ah Pauline and the good old days!
The memories were pleasant until dawn stabbed me in the eye with fragments of last night’s broken glass; a lone tear escaped as I read what was written in the dew. I had spent the night leaning against my crutch while strings and haunting vocals from ‘Many Faces’ tangled my brain and dragged me to that season in time when I knew her. Another night had been lost in longing for that vicious creature and her aching body coming to collide with mine in a moment of ecstasy or destructive wrath. Together we could have conquered nations.
A pale ghost in my shadow, a diminutive flake-white elf awkwardly juxtaposed against my gangling form limping through the emerging twilight. That’s the image that stuck to the front of my mind for hours with a song in my head, our first sunset retold in a jazz rhythm.
I had been visiting a Chewa friend of mine whose name I can neither pronounce nor attempt to write. His parents died and left him a double-storey mansion and that really raised his rankings on my friendship list. You can call me insensitive but who doesn’t want a friend with a mansion in a predominantly white suburb? I caught my first glimpse of her while looking over the balcony and trying to imagine what it would be like to have dreadlocks to wave in the breeze. She was a sight to see, comparable only to a bathing goddess as she walked through the flame of the world burning in the last defiance of the defeated sun.
Possessed, I did something foolish. I called out and asked her to wait awhile, then decided the stairs were too far. I was going to jump from the balcony and impress her with a Spiderman landing on the roof of the rusted 120Y below.
I might have been in pain with a shin shattered in two places, but it was worth it for she came running to aid. I would give my second leg and this crutch to look into those swelling emeralds again, divine workmanship in its perfection; they still wring crystals from my oil-blacks even at this marriage of ink and paper. Mirage anchored in my thirst, picture perfect deity looking down at me writhing in pain. Haloed innocence, head arched to the side, slim finger delicately lacing golden locks behind pixie ears. Wingless seraph, her smooth touch soothed and her compassion went beyond any effects morphine could have.
Eventually the wheelbarrow was found. I was painstakingly hoisted into its pan and wheeled to the hospital two streets away. Halfway there I decided I would walk with my hand slung over my new found favourite person. The doctors say I shouldn’t have done that.
As I had imagined, apart from English she spoke another ‘white language’: Afrikaans. With a lot of help from Google Translator and Leroy, some weird guy who went to CBC, we exchanged decent emails in her mother tongue. Father tongue rather, her mother was English, a quaint, articulate little woman who effortlessly insulted people behind the politest of phrases. Once, I thought she was complimenting her husband until I asked Google about a leopard’s mating prowess.
The internet always seems to bring out the braver side of people, some talk reckless as though they owned guns, oblivious to the possibility of me showing up to put their mouths where their fingers are, or crunch their heads with my crutch. Andrew Marvel wouldn’t have had to write an innuendo-plastered plea if he had the internet, it makes people less coy. Often the real-life image falls short of the hyped-up internet figure, but with her, the opposite was true. She was actually better in person.
Long story short, we dated for three years until we went our separate ways through life. I met her again after five years, rekindled the flame until the accident in Zambia. The rest is aching memory.
Back to this day, let bygones be themselves. I wobbled to the bathroom for the early morning dues wondering about all the people I have known, more pensively about the Chewa guy, Pauline, Thembi, Van Barbie and my best friend who recently checked himself out.
The bloody funeral. It was a pathetic affair. Apart from a few workmates there was practically no one. I counted nine heads in total, mine and the rented priest’s included. I knew he was drunk when Van Barbie zigzagged in my general direction trampling bouquets on graves and mumbling ‘sorry’ to the headstones. It’s always hard to bury a suicide and if coming in drunk was his way of dealing with the trauma, I was not the one to complain, although I wouldn’t like that at my funeral.
It would have been fine, had I not been given more attention than the corpse. Once we were close, I got married and things were different. They blamed me for his death and I could see it in their eyes. They knew he tried to reach out but I just wasn’t available to babysit a grown man. Then the bastard had to call me to discover his dead body.
How could things get any worse? Thembi, the woman I forsook everyone for left me. I spend nights insomniac, smoking and reminiscing on old girlfriends. I might as well have been the one in the cheap pine coffin. Equally endowed with nothing yet, less with courage, I envy his resort to end his script like Hemmingway. Best of luck with the guy on the other side, whoever he is.
The only family Vic ever had was his mother who predeceased him. It was up to us to give some semblance of dignity to the charade. In my haste I had copied out something that blasted Philani once wrote. At the time it seemed relevant. I read out:
“Mop your eyes now, hold your dirge;
Summer springs from winter’s ash.
This setting day folds not with age,
Time still lives to mend the patch.”
The diggers’ drawn-in stares made me wonder if I should have said more…or less.
As if one embarrassment was not enough, Van Barbie further butchered the funeral with his closing prayer to Senior, Junior and the Spook as the man with the hole used to call them.
‘Lord in heaven, earth and everywhere else, how you doing? Um…Our friend has finally done himself as you have always known he would, yes… and that’s why we are gathered here today. Seeing that you always knew this would happen I think it would be mighty mean of you to send him to hell. I’m just saying, you know…’
He burped once and tottered towards the coffin whose lid was still open for the final body viewing. ‘This man right here, this was a real homie, Patrick tell them.’ I didn’t say anything, ‘Anyway G, look, the man messed up but this guy.’ I shook my head profusely at Van Barbie sternly pointing at the corpse as though God didn’t know who he was talking about. ‘This guy was one of the coolest mother… I mean people you ever made. You know, the other day…’ the liquor refused to stay down, he regurgitated it all over Victor’s dead body. The women gasped, I left.
Chip on my shoulder, hip hop on the stereo, looking at the world through hell’s eyes, I drove through the city centre from West Park looking for any bar, pub or liquor store. When I finally came upon one I slammed a twenty onto the counter and told the barman to make sure my glass never went empty. Since it was the day of his funeral and I was drinking the money I was supposed to pay back to him last week, I dedicated the first drink to Victor; the second, the next and next…
Two twenties later I was in a stupor. That’s when she came and sat next to me. Caucasian, long flowing sunset-coloured locks tied into a pigtail. She resembled Pauline to the most intricate of details a drunken eye could observe.
‘You look like a friend I used to know, a flame that’s lost its glow.’
A flash of even teeth, a sip of beer. ‘That’s a Dolly Parton song.’
‘I knooow,’ I slurred, slamming down my glass, ‘But look, I mean it, you seriously look like someone. I know some white people say all black people look alike, but you white people…you, you white people…’
‘Who do I look like, Patrick?’ and turned to watch for my reaction with green eyes.
Philani Amadéus Nyoni is a Zimbabwean writer and actor. His writings have been published on several platforms and media worldwide. In 2006 he received a ‘First Class’ award for poetry in the Girls’ College Literary Competition, the following year he was awarded ‘Honours’ and earned the Best Poem Award in the Seniors’ category.
In 2010 his poetry was read at a cultural night in Wales organised by Kushinda Publishing, in the same year he co-wrote and acted in Cletus Moyo’s stage-play titled And Now We Speak. He also took part in the Drama For Life Festival in South Africa where he was part of the ‘A Lover And Another Poetry Challenge’. After the regional slams he went on to represent Gauteng in the national championships. READ MORE.