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Seasons of My Love by Sikelela Ndabambi

 

Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know — because once I wanted some- thing and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, and when I got it, it turned to dust in my hand. – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I

I awoke one Thursday morning with a resolve that was rather unchar- acteristic to my disposition. Today was the day. Dawn’s bold face stared through the window. I took my iPhone from under the pillow and, not daring to think on it further, I sent her the text:

—Good morning.

A half-hour went by with no reply.

—Morning.

—Did you sleep well?

—Well enough. You?

—Baby-sound. (Here I hesitated, wondering if I should). Say, what you doing tomorrow?

—Not sure, why?

—I wanna take you out on a date. Another half-hour lapsed.

—A date? (This was coupled with laughing emojis). Why now?

We’ve known each other so long.

She wasn’t wrong. Six months is quite a lengthy while.

—Well, Black Panther is coming out. And I wanna profess my undy- ing love for you.

—(More laughing emojis) Uhm… okay then. It’s a date.

—Great! We’ll rendezvous at the Boardwalk at say 14:00?

—Sounds good.

My body trembled from an excitement within, a force too strong to contain; it held me, filled me, mastered my entire being. I tackled the day with vivacity — gazing with newfound interest at the world’s ba- nalities on my way to campus: at sky, sun, and open sea. How beautiful the sky looked — how blue! how vivid and illustrious the morning sun! and fairer still, the sea — a shimmering golden mirage. On campus

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I must have greeted almost every student to cross my path, and the cafeteria food never tasted better.

Upon returning to my room that night I found it quite impossible to

sleep. The small hours of the morning grew large and the stars outside faded yet still I lingered on until the full-throated nightingales began singing. When the exceedingly feeble dawn made its way through the window, I rose from bed to meet the sun, and began preparing for my date…

Arriving at the Boardwalk an hour early I walked around the while waiting for my love. My Love! How strange it was thinking of another in that manner; me being so new to love — so true. Oddly enough I didn’t feel the least bit weary after the sleepless night. When the clock struck two, having yet to receive word from Thalitha, doubt gripped my heart. I wanted to call her but decided against it for fear of coming off as too clingy.

Thalitha arrived a few minutes after three o’clock. She looked stun- ning! After a brief hug Thalitha muttered an apology buoyed along upon a flimsy explanation, but all that mattered little. She was here! That was enough. Having missed the two-thirty slot, we booked the one at five. I neglected to mention that I had already purchased the two-thirty tickets which were now rendered useless. When Thalitha mentioned having missed lunch in her haste here, I suggested we grab a bite at Spur.

“Let’s take a table out on the terrace,” Thalitha said. “I do so enjoy eating above the water.”

“Whatever you want, dear,” I obliged.

We proceeded toward the pond where the sun flooded with great splendour. I ordered ribs, Thalitha only a salad, yet before the meal was done, she was eating out of my own plate. Our bellies full we walked around the Boardwalk in a pace particular to old affectionate lovers.    I wanted to hold her hand as we walked but desisted believing it too soon…

When the clock struck five, we proceeded to NuMetro. I bought us popcorn and sodas and we took our seats at the back of the cinema. The best seats in the house. The movie lived up to the hype. The hero was not without shortcomings and the villain proved multi-dimensional. When by some inexplicable sign I sensed that the end was quivering on the horizon I wondered if I ought to kiss her. That’s what people did on movie dates. I decided that the moment was not yet ripe and resolved

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to wait until they rolled credits. My heart fought desperately to escape its bony prison. When the moment finally came, Thalitha promptly rose to her feet and grabbed her handbag. “Let’s go,” she said, barely spar- ing me a glance. Reluctantly I followed her out of the cinema, missing the Post Credit Scene in the bargain.

Outside the western sky had smitten into a faded rose. Thalitha hint- ed her desire to go home but I insisted we first go to the Shark Rock Pier. A saline breeze greeted us outside the Boardwalk. We spoke spar- ingly, shuffling between cars and pedestrians. It was growing colder now that day receded before night.

We walked to the end of the Pier, leaned upon the railing, and en- joyed more stale conversation. Occasionally we spotted a fish, and once a stingray. The day had been perfect — well, for the most part — and I wished to prolong it a bit further. But that was impossible alas; already the lazy sun lay low upon the distant hills. Now was the perfect mo- ment to kiss her! I closed my eyes and leaned forward, but only kissed the air. Upon opening my eyes again, I saw that Thalitha’s face had turned seaward.

“I have a boyfriend.”

II

Having vowed to sever our ties, two months went by with no commu- nication between Thalitha and I; but to me, it may well have been two eons — for there is no greater pain than to remember all the happy days during times of misery. As time piled upon the afflicted harm, however, our separation gave me balm. Eventually I learned again how to smile, though it was but an imitation of a light with so little charge. Despite all my attempts to distract myself I couldn’t fill the emptiness inside where only Thalitha used to reside…

Walking to Rendezvous Café one mild sunny Tuesday from a lec- ture, I chanced upon Mona Lisa, Thalitha’s best friend, heading to the same place. We decided to luncheon together and talked briefly about our day so far, our respective courses, and the other’s well-being. “Where’ve you been hidin’ yourself, fam?” said Mona Lisa. “Thalitha’s been missin’ you sick.” Mona Lisa is a little thing with a little lovely face full of bright things in it: a bright passionate mouth, and bright anime eyes. She saw the mistrust in my eyes. “Really,” she assured me. “She told me what happened that day. On your… date.”

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“Then you know why I have to stay away.”

“Actually, no — I don’t. I just don’t get why men are so against the Friendzone.”

I laughed bitterly at that, the better to show my feelings on the matter. “What?” said Mona Lisa. “It’s a comfortable place to be in. No disap-

pointments whatsoever.”

“I’d rather lose her completely, Lisa, than to see her loving someone else.”

“What someone else?”

“I thought you said you knew the story.”

“Argh, that?” Mona Lisa waved a dismissive hand. “Thalitha dumb- ed that jerk a while ago. And about fuckin’ time. I’ve been tellin’ her to do so forever.”

“She did?”

“Yep.” Glancing from her food to me she said: “You’d rather lose her completely, huh? God! men are such idiots.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” “And why’s that?”

“Cause you’re a woman.” “What?”

I sighed. “Women don’t have one romantic bone in their bodies, only us men do. Y’all are merely… sentimental, which is why you tend to believe that things will last forever. Whereas a true romantic under- stands that this is not so. You see, sentiment is emotional — and ro- mance: sensational.”

“Excuse me?” presently the alarm rang on her iPhone. “And that’s my que. I’ve got a lecture at two. Stop being such a stranger — bye.”

I barely heard her; my mind was following its own thread of ideas. What Mona Lisa had said earlier greatly interested me. Why would Thalitha suddenly end her relationship following our disastrous date? That night I thought of little else when I got back to my room at South Point.

III

The following day my friends came over to discuss what’s to be done on Friday for Nigel’s birthday. The gang was all for going to Beer Shack for pre-drinks and then later going to Parliament Street. I had a better idea:

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“Let’s not go out this time, gents.”

“What chu mean let’s not go out?” Thando frowned. “Let’s stay in instead.”

“And do what?” said Nigel in a thick northern drawl. “Play board games?”

“Aren’t you guys sick of it? We always go out to these places and meet random totties who drink us dry and then leave us hanging.”

“So, you’d rather we stay at home and play Scrabble?” “Don’t be absurd,” I told Sipho. “We can drink anywhere.”

“Yeah, but what about ‘em totties though? I can’t have me no birth- day with no hoes bro.”

“We’ll invite them over and have a small intimate gathering,” my hands held for a moment an imperceptible melon.

Nigel seemed to be warming to the idea. “How many girls we talk- in?”

“Two.” They all laughed at that.

“Listen — listen.” I waited till they quieted down. “Sipho is obvious- ly gonna come with his girl.”

“Obviously.”

“If we invite two other girls that will bring the total number to seven.

The perfect number of people for a party.”

“I hate to point out the flaw in your math there, my friend,” Thando lit up a Stuyvesant and exhaled smoke through his large nostrils, “but there’s four of us. Meaning not everyone’s gonna be paired up.”

“Precisely. This will inspire a spirit of competition. And this way there won’t be that female bystander who ruins everything for every- one by demanding to go home early.”

“You seem to have thought this through.” “Certainly.”

“I’m game,” said Nigel. “But who we gonna invite?” “Leave that to me. I know just who to call.”

“Just one thing,” Thando directed the dart of his cigarette, index rap- idly tapping, above the ashtray, “Sipho’s safe, but which of us is gonna take one for the team?”

Sipho, coughing and flailing, rose from the mist and went to open the windows. “Must you… smoke… inside?”

“In Bantu’s room? — yeah.”

“Definitely not the birthday boy,” said Nigel. “We’ll just have to see then,” I told them. “It’s fair game, gentleman. Fair game.”

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IV

The Friday agreed upon was pouring with rain — a rather romantic weather. The fellows and I had a few shots for courage while we wait- ed for company to arrive. Already the cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air to Sipho’s great despair, but it being Nigel’s place, he nursed his grievance with grace. Afro beats were banging melodiously in the background. Yolanda was the first to arrive. After a thirty-minute in- terval Nigel began wondering if I hadn’t supplied the wrong address. “69 Gomery Avenue,” I told him. “Relax bro. They’ll be here.” And sure enough, with a rather fashionable lateness characteristic to most pretty girls, they did come. The party could at last commence. Nigel kicked things off with a round of Tequila shots. Introductions followed. Yolanda inquired if this made everyone. Her boyfriend answered in the affirmative.

“That’s a pity,” said Mona Lisa.

“Why’s that.”

“Oh, nothing, really. It’s just… I never trust myself in small parties.

Too many eyes.”

“Not if we drink ourselves blind,” said Nigel, supplying another round of shots.

“I should like something light now, I think,” Thalitha said after downing her tot. I hastened to get her a cider. “Benini — my favour- ite,” she smiled, revealing the diastema between her incisors. “How’d you know?” I told her that I knew everything about her, realising only after saying it just how creepy that sounded. My attempts at amelio- ration only made her laugh at me though not unkindly. I had missed that preposterous, pleasant little laugh. My ears followed its sporadic cadence up and down the living room as it would the far plaint of viols. “Mos you drinkin’ tonight, Sipho?” Thando said as he got up for a

beer run.

“Since we’re drinking with strangers — sure, why not?”

“He only gets drunk when drinking with strangers,” Yolanda ex- plained upon seeing the confusion on the other girls. They wanted to know why.

“Well, it’s a known fact that liquor loosens that tongue. In vino veri- tas. Who better to air out all your complicated shit to than an unpreju- diced person whom you’ll probably never meet again?”

“And if you’ll meet again?”

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“What better way to get to know someone than with a vinous cata- lyst to aid you along?” The room rang full of artificial laughter. Yolanda planted a wet kiss on his cheek as if to mark her territory. Thando re- turned carrying Coronas for the gents and Beninis for the girls. We all made short work of our drinks and expressed the desire for something stronger. Nigel brought down a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin from his room while I retrieved some ice and tonic water from the fridge…

“Have you been together long?” Mona Lisa asked Sipho and Yolan- da after a variety of inconsequential subjects had been exhausted.

“We’re going on our sixth year now.”

“Since high school,” Yolanda smiled, entwining her fingers to his. “Six years?” Thalitha made a pained expression as though what

Sipho had said was so strange that one could not possibly take it in. “My longest relationship lasted about six months — and that’s only because it was long distance.”

“What of you, Bantu?” said Mona Lisa, who was presently wrapped round Thando’s arm on the sofa. I pretended not to have heard her, but she patiently repeated her question.

“Oh, I’ve never been in a relationship. Not truly.” “Never?”

I shook my head.

“What chu mean not truly?” said Nigel.

“There was some childhood fling that only lasted an hour.” “An actual hour?”

“Well, maybe a bit less than that,” I indicated with my delicate fin- gers what I meant by a bit.

“Yikes,” said Thalitha. “And what of you birthday boy? How long was your longest?”

“Oh, I don’t date. I fuck… hard.”

… The rain had stopped beating against the huge convex window — then the reverberating Trap drums pulled me back into the room. The bottle of gin, or perhaps a second one, was now in constant demand by all present. Nigel ordered pizza which was a while in arriving… I sent a vacant glance over their flushed faces as we ate — happy. “What’s the most expensive meal you’ve ever eaten?” I overheard Mona Lisa asking.

“My most expensive meal?” Thando stroked his luxuriant beard. “Pussy…”

… It was ten o’clock — almost immediately upon checking my phone

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again I found it was midnight… I was seated on the sofa with Mona Lisa and Thando, and on occasion the former’s warm breath poured over my face as she confided some secret which I forgot soon as I heard it. Looking with blind eyes through the smoke I saw that Sipho and Yolanda were passed out in each other’s arms on another sofa… It took me a while to realise that Nigel and Thalitha had disappeared some- where in the cigarette smoke. I staggered toward the stairs in search of them. Upon reaching the base, I stared over my shoulder at the scene: the old couple passed out on the sofa; the new one making out on the other; and the cluster of empty bottles, toppled glasses, and cigarette butts on the coffee table — already the night had become the past…

… The flight of stairs seemed endless… which door was Nigel’s again?… I got it on the third try… inside I found Nigel and Thalitha

passed out on the bed… NAKED…

V

A few weeks passed. A short space of time since the dusks fell so soon, and soon after the stars faded, and the birds began to sing. The mornings were meeker than they were; and the autumn trees gleamed against the gelid light as the last russets dropped from the tip of every branch. I understood how they felt — those trees; I was ravaged too — ravaged and bare. Resolved not to let everything get to me, however,  I threw myself into my schoolwork with ardour — neglecting friends and family, and anything else that might make me feel again.

I remember waking up one Friday to a “good morning” text from Thalitha. Her fling with Nigel had lasted only a week or two, but I hadn’t spoken to either since the night of the party. I knew I had no right to feel betrayed. Thalitha wasn’t my girlfriend, and Nigel was given to understand that everyone, save Yolanda, was fair game. Yet I couldn’t help but reproach them in my heart regardless. I ought to have ignored that message and moved on with my life but found myself unable. This was Thalitha! my love, my light, and someday hopefully my life.

—Morning.

Thalitha replied almost immediately:

—Are you busy tonight?

—I’ll be studying all day. I have a test on Monday. But beyond that… nothing.

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—Are you guys allowed visitors there? This piqued my interest.

—Yeah. Why?

—I mean allowed to spend the night?

—Yeah, definitely.

A quarter-hour passed with no reply.

—You wanna come through?

—Yes. (Another ten minutes). I’m going out with my friends so I’ll come there after. It might be very late.

I didn’t want to seem too eager.

—I’ll be studying so I’ll probably still be awake.

—Cool then, I’ll hit you up.

—SURE.

I was glad to have ignored my gut feeling. All the resentment that   I felt suddenly vanished. I got out of bed and started the day.  It was   a drag. I heard nothing at my lecture and if I met anyone on campus I must have forgotten them immediately. When back in my room I found studying impossible, and the movies I watched to distract myself proved to be dull affairs. Every so often I hopped on to WhatsApp and the Gram to view Thalitha’s stories: now she was at home dressing up; now meeting with friends; now it was on to Cubaña where she posted a bulk of her stories; then it was radio silence.

When the clock struck two in the AMs I could restrain myself no longer.

—You still finna pull through?

At quarter past three Thalitha sent me a voice note: “Uhm… no. No, I don’t think so. We…” some portions got drowned out by the Gqom banging in the background. “… then we moved… at Liquid Lounge… and we still wyldn. I don’t think I’ll make it hey. I’m…”

—Aight. Cool then.

I cried myself to sleep; not for having been stood up, but rather for having been fool enough to fall for it all over again. At around past six the next morning I heard a sharp rapping at my door. “Bantu,” an effeminate voice cried. “Bantu, it’s me.” I awoke from my doze and started in a daze toward the door. The rapping became yet more insist- ent. “Yeah, I’m coming — I’m coming.” I fitted my hand to the latch and jerked open the door. “Thalitha? What… what are you doin’ here?” “Can I come in?” Thalitha looked distraught: her lips were parched, her weave dishevelled, and her eyes a bit rheumy. She entered and seat-

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ed herself on the edge of my tangled bed. Suddenly self-conscious of my nakedness I crossed the room to the closet and slipped on a satin bed-robe. “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please.”

I poured her a glass from the fridge. When done drinking Thalitha said: “I got mugged.”

“What?”

She told me the “whole” story. After leaving Cubaña she and her friends went to Dockside and, finding the place dead, decided to go to Liquid Lounge. “Was Lisa with you?” Mona Lisa had been with her, yes. At Liquid Lounge they met a group of guys who were kind enough to buy them drinks. Everything was going great until closing time. Upon realising that the men they were with had certain expectations Thalitha decided to bail. She communicated her plans to her friends, and they all agreed to rendezvous outside. Here things got a bit hazy, but a fight broke out, and somehow Thalitha lost them entirely. Weary of wan- dering Parliament Street searching for them she turned into an alley to take a piss. It was there, half naked, where two Nigerians jumped her and took her purse and phone. Pausing the narration Thalitha began sobbing. I offered what comforts I could.

“Did you walk here?” I asked when she had quieted down.

“I… there was this… this guy there. He saw me cursing at those sons of bitches as they ran. He said he stays here and offered me a ride.”

“That was lucky. Where’s he now?”

“In his room. He lives on the third floor.” “Does he know you’re here?”

“No.”

“No?”

“When we got to his room he received a call from his girl. She was not in a good mood. I snuck out while he was on the phone and came here.”

“You snuck out?”

I gave her sweatpants to change into and told her to rest for a bit. Being broke I went to borrow a hundred rand from a friend to help her with transport money. Thalitha was sleeping soundly when I got back. I prepared eggs, bacon, and cheese-grillers for two. The redolent smells woke her from the slumber. We ate with relish and downed it with orange juice. As we spoke the intercom out on the passage made an announcement: “Thalitha Sifumba. Thalitha Sifumba, please report

Seasons of My Love

to the lobby.” I offered to accompany her, but she declined. “I’ll be right back.”

After about fifteen minutes I went to check what the problem was and found no one there but the security guard. “The girl you just called down…”

“Thalitha?”

“Yes, her. Where’d she go?”

“She just left with her boyfriend.” “Her boyfriend?”

“Ya, bra. He asked me to call her down and they left in his car.” “I see…”

I went back to my room and suddenly felt empty and lonely. She did not have even the grace to leave my sweatpants. Later that day I received a text from Thalitha using her Father’s phone. She apologised for this morning and promised to wash and return the pants soon (I never saw those sweatpants again). This time I ignored her.

VI

Walking  to the library around the lunch hour the following Tuesday    I heard a familiar voice calling me. I stopped mid-step and surveyed my surroundings — the Kraal was teeming with life. The voice called once more. Peering over my shades, I looked to my right toward the sloping lush greenery. The place was a haunt for the outlandish Skrrr Skrrr, but beneath one drooping palm tree I saw a waving arm. It was Thalitha smoking a joint. She beckoned to me, but I desisted, gesturing to an invisible watch to signify haste. Thalitha passed the joint to her companions and came to me herself. We exchanged pleasantries as we walked down then up the stairs of red brick.

“About the other day…” said Thalitha. “What about it?”

“I want to apologise…” “There’s no need — really.”

Thalitha seemed taken aback by the severity of my tone. “Please let me make it up to you.”

“How would you do that?”

“You going to study, right? Let me buy you some coffee and explain what happened.”

“I don’t know, Thalitha.”

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“Please.”

How could I say no to those imploring eyes — that gap-toothed smile? “I do need coffee. Didn’t sleep very well last night.”

We proceeded to Rendezvous Café, ordered Grande Cappuccinos and cupcakes, and sat on a high table out on the reserved deck. “This reminds me of our first date,” said Thalitha, smiling.

“I don’t have a very fond recollection of that day hey.”

“Oh… right.” She sipped on her beverage. “How was your test?” “What happened that day?” I demanded. “Why did you just take off

like that?”

“That guy who’d given me a ride—” “Your boyfriend?”

“What? No, he wasn’t my… the hell?” “The security guard told me…”

“Oh,” she began laughing, “that! No man, the dude just told the se- curity that I’m his girlfriend. We not actually…”

“But why disappear like that?”

“He offered me a ride home. Said he was heading in the same direc- tion and was kinda in a rush. Plus, I knew you’d be weird about it. I tried texting you later that day to explain but you mized me.”

“I see…” She did make a good point.

We started going out more frequently thereafter, first as friends, but eventually the lines became blurred. Thalitha came to my place often for sleepovers and we’d cuddle and watch Netflix after making love. On one such occasion she worked up her courage and asked:

“What are we?”

“Us? Why, Lovers of course.” “You mean…”

“I love you, Thalitha. I’ve always loved you. I always will.”

“I… I love you too, Bantu. I’m sorry it took me so long to realise that.”

“Shhh,” I put a finger to her foolish lips. “Kiss me and go back to sleep.”

After three months dating I suddenly started questioning the quality of my present happiness. Having spent close to a year chasing after Thalitha, now that she was mine at last, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had all been worth it or not. Perhaps I had deified her in my dreams, the harder I fought for her, the more I convinced myself of her colossal vitality. Eventually I became irritable and moody in her presence. My

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calls became less frequent and my cuddles less endearing, less lengthy. Thalitha noticed all this of course as all women do but for a time pre- tended not to. In the fourth month, unable to bear it any longer, she brought it up: “What’s happening to us?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you — you’re different. You don’t… Do you still love me?” “I… of course I do.”

“Argh, please,” she sighed. “You can’t even say it.”

I looked at her, drinking in the ray of gentle light shining from her large, timid eyes. “I love you, Thalitha.”

She wanted desperately to believe me, but doubt gnawed at her heart. “Then what’s the problem?”

I looked away. “It’s just…” “What? Talk to me, Bantu.”

“You didn’t choose me. You had countless chances to do so, yet you never did.”

“What chu mean?”

“First there was that guy you were dating, then Nigel, and then there’s Santi who gave you that ride.”

“But that was… what does it even matter? I’m with you now, aren’t I? I love you.”

“I know — I know, but…”

“But what?” She took my hand into her own — entwining our fin- gers.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get past that,” so saying I dis- entangled my fingers.

“What are you saying?”

“This won’t work, Thalitha. It was doomed from the start.”

She stared at me a long time, then without another word she took her things and walked out of the room, and the South Point Res, and my life.

Published in New Contrast Issue 194

Artwork by Adele van Heerden – Glitch in the Matrix

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