Friday, April 29, 2011

Love

:This story was removed from the blog as it was to be printed elsewhere. Last year, Chimurenga, an African journal (print and online) from Cape Town, South Africa, published the story. Since then I have received a few request to put it up on the blog. This time, it is for Aruni the lovely young writer.

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“He is such a typical black man!” – My friends often told me about my lover. My black women friends.

Thandile would not be amused if I told him that. He is not the kind who takes criticism well, even teasing. So I did not tell him. He especially did not like non-blacks talking about black people. Only blacks could make jokes or observations about blacks. Non-blacks commenting on black people are racists. He and his friends referred to non-blacks as whites, Indians and coloureds. And they often told me Indian jokes. Why do Indians not play soccer? Because, if you give them a penalty corner they will open a corner shop

When I first met Thandile, at a bar in Melville, drinking a group of people, I did not notice him individually. They were curious about my whereabouts. Melville is that kind of a place where you have regulars. And in Johannesburg, all Melville goers know each other. My new semi-mongoloid presence, that was not immediately positionable in a racial category, caused curiosity and got me relentless proposals. From black men. They would offer to send my mother lobola, to be my boyfriend or at the least ask me to sleep with them at first meetings. When I was introduced to Thandile, all the men on their table introduced themselves to me. Some made jokingly flirted and hinted sexual interests not too subtly. No one introduced the women. I introduced myself to the women and found out that they were girlfriends, wives and accompanies of the men.

When I was introduced to Thandile, I did not remember his name. In the 2 weeks of being in Johannesburg, African names were still new to me. I also did not remember his face. All black men looked the same to me then. They all had shaved heads. (This of course, I learnt later, holds true for the office going rising middle class men. The artists and the ones that do not have money have dreadlocks.)

In the few months that passed between our introduction and my taking Thandile home one drunken night, I bumped into him and his buddies in the same drinking hole many times. I was also fast becoming a Melville regular. We talked about politics, India and they always cracked some Indian joke for me. During that time I slept with a few men (only black), got proposed by many more and heard a lot about black men from women. From black women. Every black woman I met (from Rosina the receptionist in my office to Mazou who teaches in the university) told me not to trust black men. They cheat and treat women like shit. They are patriarchal, male chauvinists and they do not do household work. They also get women pregnant recklessly and do not take responsibility seriously. The women told me, although that holds true for every black man, South African black men are worse. All I knew about black men was that they are so hot I wanted to fuck them all. So I fucked a few and one or two were not South African. They all turned out to be boring chauvinists. They talked about money and cars and expected me to cook Indian food for them. They also expected me to be monogamous to them while they went on spewing their semen on every woman they saw.

The night I took Thandile home for the first time, I still did not know his name. He told me he was Xosa, with undisguised pride in his voice. I had few Xosa friends and they all seemed to be very proud of their tribe. Mainly because Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are Xosa. They felt superior to the Zulus, the Sothos, the Vendas, the Pedis and all other tribes in Southern Africa and made degrading jokes about them. They also hung around together in groups where they spoke only in Xosa even when there were non-Xosa speaking people around. When I told Thandile this he laughed and said, “Of course we are superior. We are the ruling tribe, we are the intellectuals of South Africa and Xosa is the most beautiful language in the world.” Thandile speaks no other language but Xosa and English.

I could not ask him his name because I could not let him see that I can not remember African names. And I had already heard him talk about the racist non-blacks who could not pronounce African names. I asked him about South African politics istead. He was passionate when he spoke about the struggle-days and his active participation in the anti-apartheid movement. He was equally passionate in bed. He smiled shyly when I told him he was good and told me about his teenage insecurity about the size of his penis. After he slid out of me and we lied on my narrow single bed on the floor, we got hot discussing whether ANC is becoming too complacent for its own good. He said South Africa does not have an alternative to ANC and it is ANC that will run South Africa. I did not ask how South Africa will ever emerge as a true democracy if a strong opposition does not evolve. Instead I looked at him and thought, ‘politics for pillow talk is such a turn on!’

I found a strand of my hair on his shirt when he was getting ready to leave. I asked him if he was cheating on anyone. The shock and embarrassment on his face gave me the answer moments before he said yes. I told him he needs to be careful because my hair sticks to everything. He laughed a nervous laugh and asked me if he can call me.

When he left I thought how good the sex was, how entertaining it was to be able to talk politics instead of fast cars and how nice it would be to see him again. It did not occur to me that he was a black man and he was cheating on another woman.

He called me the next day and the next day and the next day and told me he wanted to come over so we could get laid. I was busy and he sounded disappointed. I bumped into him in Melville a few days later and he was with his girlfriend. She was visibly pregnant. He said an abrupt hello and did not invite me to join them. When I sat down in another table he went out and called me on the phone. “Listen, I am sorry for being rude. You know I am with my girlfriend.” I told him not to worry and thought ‘how cute of him to call me and tell me sorry.’ The pregnant girlfriend did not bother me at all. I told myself, I am only looking for sex. It’s not like I intend to have a relationship with him. I forgot my girlfriends’ experienced wise words.

When he came over next time, after I rode him with imprudent urgency, he told me his relationship with his girlfriend is not going well. The pregnancy has made breaking up complicated. He also told me he has two more children. With two different women. And he never wanted to have children. I laughed at him and enjoyed his helplessness. I thought about my other male friends who have become fathers unwillingly. I tried to be culturally sensitive and told myself these things are not big deals in South Africa. Almost everybody I know (and I mostly knew black people) seem to have children. Outside of wedlock and more than once. I marvelled at the liberal South African society and admired their lack of belief in marriage. This is the way society should be. Birth is a part of life and it does not have to be bound by marriage or any other contract. Besides he pays for his children. When my girlfriends tried to warn me about him I said – “It’s not his fault.”

In the following months, I fell in love with Thandile. He said he fell in love with me too. He broke off with his girlfriend and I could finally visit him in his place. When I got mugged by two gun holding men, he drove me to the police station the next day and drove me around while I frantically tried to get my stolen passport replaced. We bunked work, met for lunch and made love the whole day. His girlfriend came over to my place and threatened to get me killed by her brothers from Soweto. Thandile told me not to worry; he will always be with me. He made me feel secure in South Africa where you live with constant paranoia of getting hurt. I was dizzy with happiness. I found love in a foreign country.

It was during the months after the first two frenzied months of intense sexual attraction that we fell into a familiar domesticity. Thandile got a promotion in the government and became someone big. The same Thandile who told me I made him dream again, told me I did not have enough ambition in life. I should find a job that pays me much more than working for a small organisation. In the domestic familiarity I also noticed how I was expected to cook every day after we both came back from office. I saw how Thandile expected me to cook and go back to my place on the days when there was a rugby or football match, so that he could watch it with his brothers and pick me up later on. Once at a night club when I tried to join a group of black girls gyrating their gracious hips away, he told me, “Do not even try it. Only black women can move like this.”

The same Thandile who felt embarrassed about saying he worked for the government revenue department before, now talked about how close he was getting to the commissioner and how the whites did not like it at all. We no longer had philosophical conversations. We did not read poetry anymore. And if I complained about any of this, it was because I was bored with my life. Of course I was bored! I did not like team sports, organisational politics, ambitious people and I was so busy cooking for him and his brothers that I had not met my girlfriends in a long time.

When I met my girlfriends the next time, I told them about how Thandile’s brothers would come over to his house with women they picked up from bars, parties, office. They could not take them home because they had girlfriends and wives at home. When I asked him about it he said it was none of my business and I wondered if he would do the same. When I wondered to my girlfriends they said, “Yes he would. Because he is a black man.” We still had good sex. And I became dependent on this boring familiar domesticity.

And it was in these months of domesticity of our year long relationship that I cheated on him. I slept with a woman I had met at a party and he found out from a Melville friend the next day. He was furious. I was sorry. He said he trusted me completely and had opened out his heart to me. I felt guilty for betraying his trust. I felt bad about ruining a good relationship and I was scared of losing him. I said sorry and said I was drunk and angry with him and was not thinking. I told him I loved him truly and that I would never do it again. I reminded him that from the beginning of our relationship I had made no promise of monogamy. He said he thought my not agreeing to monogamy did not mean I will actually go and fuck around. I told him he has cheated on people too. He told me he cheated only when his relationships went sour. He told me I should have been honest. I told him I did not get the time.

We did not see each other for few days. I mopped and I do not know what he did.

He called me the next week and asked if he could pick me up. I said yes and we had sex in the car. I asked him if he wanted to get back and he said yes. I asked him if he still loved me and he said yes. When he was going on a holiday to Cape Town the next week I asked him if he wanted to carry condoms in case he wants to have sex there. He was furious once again. He told me unlike me, he does not look for sex all the time. I said sorry and we fell into the familiar routine again. Cooking, sex, revenue department politics, rugby matches and weekend drinking.

That Friday night Thandile did not turn up after his late office meeting. He did not answer my calls. Worried sick that he was dead I went over to his place the next morning. He was with another woman. He had picked her up from the party he went to after his meeting. He did not know if he was going to tell me. All his love for me had already vanished when he found out about my cheating. He was just seeing me because I was available.

In the harsh cold days of the winter that followed I cried over another broken relationship. I felt he was not wrong in cheating on me as I had already cheated on him. I wanted to call him and ask him to come back, until my girlfriends did an unnecessary and thorough post-mortem of my relationship. They told me – “Fuck him. He is just a typical black man”. This time I told Thandile and he was not amused. He said –“You are a fucking racist.”

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