Perhaps a Prayer-Wheel
She is now staring, laughing brown eyes, into my eyes. Wisps of thick black hair flow around her avocado shaped face and a blackish bluish collar of her dress fights with her hair for space around her neck. Her name is Sharon. It is now five years later. I can’t see the changes time should have caused on her face. Five years have flown by since the first I saw of her, still mesmerized by her beauty, I cannot find language for even though her words were the winds that howled through all my dreams.
Seeing her image on facebook makes me feel like I am still walking by her sides, we are quiet to each other now. I have weathered the storm, the fight. It was about; I had phoned the wrong time and talked to her father. She is generally a shy girl, so she isn’t talking that much now… and I don’t seem to say much as well, but we are keeping company.
Here, it’s the unsaid words between us that are howling through all our dreams, prying us further apart from the other. But, the sad realisation is that I have broken on the resolve I made not to phone her. I have regressed again by checking on her on the facebook, substituting phoning with this. It seems I am never meant to get out of this. Has she gotten out of this thing between us…I know I couldn’t call her to ask her that now. I made the resolve not to do so. I don’t intend to break on that too. To be on the safe side, I close off the facebook site and leave for home. I am dazed…as I am walking on my way home. It is an almost blank sky above, the doors of such sky, invisible blue; with some tiny tuft dusty flour clouds on the western fringes of the sky, thin white clouds floating like daytime ghosts. It is roughly a kilometre walk to where I stay in Delville south suburb to the south of Germiston city centre, in Ekurhuleni Municipality, the former East Rand part of Johannesburg.
For some time after I left her in Zimbabwe, I couldn’t accept the fact that these old feelings that I still held in my heart for her were old lies clothing themselves in new robes. I told myself, severally, that we were done with each other. It now seems those old feelings are now like the birch and jacaranda trees along Webber road, clothing themselves in the spring’s greens. The jacaranda trees overlap into the road, spreading their sweet shade along the small walkway besides Delville north road where I am now. It’s now October, making my mind spring; imagining photosynthesis if green leaves of January. And, the wild tulip flowers are sprouting all over, and some blue flowers I don’t know their names, especially in unkempt lawn areas along the roads in Delville south suburb.
The previous winter season, in dread I had watched the winter come, with dark shortening days, to menace my already bereft life. All day long they would plough at my back, the razor-blazing winds of August, slashing my face like whips, shifting and confusing my body, the brain and the senses. The few leaves on the thin branches of the trees shaking in the sudden quiet dark of the winter nights, falling of in the slate-grey air as the trees suddenly developed the heads of cancer’s advanced chemotherapy treatment patients. I could have thought they were different trees to the ones I am now seeing, but they are still the same trees.
There is this sweet lawn covered park in Delville north road circle. In it today, I see a couple. The girl is sitting on the swing in this park, and the boyfriend, a tall lanky handsome man in his late twenties is swinging the swing sweetly. The girl, she is a bright beautiful sunny girl, is smiling into the distances, sometimes up to her boyfriend, sometimes she is nuzzling her face against the boyfriend’s hands. The trees in this park are swaying, slim columns, from the sighing winds. It’s a sweet picture image. It makes me ache inside with longing, with want of Sharon’s company. But, I know it is a futile longing. That world was never meant to be ours to have.
I am still smarting with longing for Sharon as I enter Menin road, the sides of which are covered with decaying hulks of birch trees. There is this particular one. It is so old, eaten out; the heart is eaten down. It’s now only a small chunk about my waist’s height. I know that all sorts of bugs, termites, and ants are feeding on the tree’s heart. It is like my heart, I am being feasted on by things I don’t have words for in the insides. I am decaying inside my heart, decaying inside that echo place; I feel so bereft… I have no one. But, the tree’s sides are sprouting some small brushes. These brushes are like the parasites inside the tree’s heart, they are feeding on a decaying host. It’s the life that this decaying trunk is giving out that amazes. I am thinking; there is always a chance, a possibility to begin again…, that’s why I am thinking I have to return back home. No one wants me here.
For some time and for some years after she had broken my dreams and left me for another boyfriend, I floated in a river of denial, always telling myself that I will be fine without her. Sometimes, that I still loved her, sometimes that I don’t love her anymore, sometimes that I wanted her back with me, sometimes I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted… And, for the last two years I have been in South Africa, I have floated in Rand’s waters into its many dams, rivers, and lakes. The East Rand cities like shining beacons fleeting past me; Alberton, Germiston, Kempton park, Springs, Benoni, Brakpan, Boksburg, Edensvale, and Edensvale; is the valley that nestles Rand’s waters. But, I could still lie to myself that I could go on with my life without my Rand’s waters. Now, I have moved far enough away from her to see the bigger picture…, the enterprise of making a dwelling place, a modest home, an honest relationship. I have come to another arrangement!
I came to this new arrangement as I was walking past the edge of a small bridge in Webber road from the internet café, where I saw Sharon’s photo on the facebook at Spar Delville supermarket, on my way home in Delville south. I realised that I had been time travelling, all along with panic into a world of “if only”, a rebar reinforcing understanding. The views of Sharon’s sweet form, this gentle longing that I still feel for her; it’s a sweet world: beauty with its blunt edges now softened. Consider this story than as a prayer-wheel.
When I saw Sharon’s photo on the facebook, I wanted to call her. I wanted to tell her that all I ever wanted was to be the one who would always churn her heart. I really had to tell her that. That- I would have wanted to drift into the dream of the river to the voices in her heart, but, that I understand, but still do not know why she didn’t want to be with me. Was it because she thought I didn’t have the education she wanted, that I didn’t have the kind of job she wanted her boyfriend to have, that I wasn’t working, that I was not in the same social class with her, that I was too old for her taking. Ten years of it must have been too much for her!
I have also wanted to call her to tell her that all I ever wanted was for her to be the whisper that appeared a moment before the words were said. The day I talked to her father, I really had to talk to her. I had been trying to reach her on her cell phone the whole of that day but couldn’t. Her cell was on voice mail, and it was a thing that drove me into craziness. Wondering why she has made herself inaccessible to me. I get to think, to obsess and, I am so jealous. I can’t even abide the thought of sharing her with someone, and that she might be with someone. I ended up calling her on the landline. It was slightly after 8 at night that I call her. The father, I don’t know him, I have never met him, answered me. I said to him that I wanted to talk to Sharon. He asked me what my name was. I told him, “John”. He said, “John, is this the right time to be phoning?” I said,
“I am sorry sir, but I would like to talk to Sharon.” He called Sharon over to the phone. As she was coming to the phone I heard her mother scolding her, calling her names, and the father joined in. They were complaining that she shouldn’t let her boyfriend phone on the landline when they were home. She came to the phone and said, “What do you want?” I said,
“Hi Sharon, how are you doing?” She said she was fine, but still wanted to know what I wanted. She was so tense, taut; raged. I just said I missed her, that I have been trying to reach her throughout the day and that I just wanted to know she was fine. She cut the phone. I knew it was storm when I felt one crouching over the horizon.
The next day I am meeting her at the church. After church I accompany her. She is so cross with me. She shouts hurtful words at me. She tells me I am stupid.., she calls me several hurtful names. I don’t like to be called names but I know I am the one wrong so I keep my cool as she works on me until her anger is sated. It is my silence that becomes a truce between us, no words from me could have held us together- would have been the root to truces between us. Now, as I get closer to the intersection of Bailluel and Menin road, I feel I have to tell her that I was not angry with her. I was just disappointed and hurt by what happened between us. That the fights didn’t end, that we kept drifting apart and that we kept fighting and fighting…
When I saw Sharon’s photo on facebook I have wanted to call her. I told myself I would tell her that all I ever wanted was for her to clean the slate streets of my heart of the colour of this all-alone grey. This all alone grey is the colour of the grey of the tarred streets of Delville south. During the day the grey shines, flick-switch sunlight, as if it has been doused with black oil; it is a black smooth but still dirty, still inviting me to tread its streets. But, I have also learned the harder way why I mustn’t tread upon a life uninvited again. So, I don’t call her.
I don’t even know; would she believe me if I say that my heart still continues to surf in the swollen swell of her silence, drifting away with her? I don’t know where to? I just drift and drift strung tightly in the coil of her silence. I am also learning what patience means and that it isn’t always what it seems? That, the real patience eats into any silence, that it isn’t afraid of silence. I now know that, time standing still knowing that she is fine, without calling her to know that, is enough for me now. For years after she had left me I could just phone her to hear her voice, to hear her saying she is fine. I would call, and she would say, “Hello”, briskly. I would say,
“Hello Sharon, how are you doing”. She would reply, coolly, “I am doing well, how are you doing, John”. I would lie, I have to lie, and I have to sound strong; that I was over her.
“I am fine, Sharon”. Then she would say,
“Say what you phoned to say, John”. She is downright rude and very prudent with her time in her response like the accountant that she is turning out to be in her career. I am still nothing, not even working, but loafing around relatives’ houses. Still, I say, politely.
“I just wanted to know you are fine”. Some fool had told me that just phoning a girl asking whether she was fine would put you in better stead with the girl, but unfortunately for me, it was raising her ire. Maybe she was different species of girls. She would then say and she is swamped in boredom,
“I said I am fine already, John”. The John is dredged for emphasis, that I was boring her flat out. I would have to cut the call, I don’t want her to put her boyfriend on the line again, just to spite me like she did when I insisted on talking to her, the last time when she was with her boyfriend out. So, I would say in a small defeated man’s voice,
“Cool, take care, Sharon”, and cut the call, but of course, she had cut the call already. I would do that for years on end without developing the conversation beyond that. All that I wanted was for her to talk to me, to tell me she wasn’t really that displeased with me, that she didn’t hate me, that, maybe, once in all those years we had known each other, that she loved me, that to love her the way that I did was not a treason against her wishes… but she wouldn’t talk to me. To love her, the way that I did, it seemed was treason against her wishes. But, I also knew not to love her as she wanted me to do was treason against my own heart. So, I didn’t know how to stop loving her.
And, there I am, I find myself; I am still plodding my way home, feet cracking the dry leaves, gravel and dry twigs underneath my shoes. A distracted bounce, in my steps, is hidden in the crisp particles beneath my feet. The heat drenches me, it swelters all around me. But, I know, the air will move again even though now all that I feel is the spring’s heat of mid-October swelling as if it’s coming from the lawn covered sides of the road and the tarred surface of Bailluel Weg. I am at the corner of Bailluel Weg (Weg, this is a slow translation of it into the air, must be the Dutch or Germany equivalent of the word, street) and Menin road. Next road is Elsburg road, full of cars, off to Elsburg suburb, wailing like hurt dogs; I know I am near home. We are two houses from this corner and I know that this heat drenched air will pass if the westerly wind comes from the Dugathole squatter settlement to the east of Delville. Dugathole squatter settlement is not more than five hundred metres from this lush, leafy Delville south suburb. In Delville, you could be anywhere middle-income US suburban area. In Dugathole you are still in the larger Germiston city area. It amazed me when I saw it for the first time; planks, poles, plastics, rot iron sheets for a roof over one’s head; dirty, sewage, shit…unclean water, no electricity, nothing… It was like watching two countries (Somalia and the US, maybe…) put in the same city, the known features of these countries juxtaposed by some insane painter. And, he couldn’t stop painting; sometimes creating colours by mixing the greens, blacks, reds, yellows…, sometimes mixing these with shit, dirty, and sewage, and each colour becoming a section of the other colours. I didn’t know what the creator wanted to achieve? It was like our relationship, the juxtaposing of the ugly and beauty, and it still was like my feelings for her. I want her, I don’t want her, does she love, and doesn’t she love me, being contrasted from the insides of me. I still want Sharon like April’s air; the way that April’s air is not holding itself. I don’t want her like what October air is doing right now, holding onto itself. I want her the way nothing is free enough or close enough as things in the Spar supermarket. I don’t want her like those things in Spar supermarket. I don’t want to have to buy her love for me to have her. This is my prayer-wheel.
And, as I open the gate to our house in Bailluel Weg, I realize that seeing her photo on facebook has broken my heart again. And, in the rooms, the air has that thick and undisturbed quality you would find in closed buildings whose windows have been shut, in the hot spring of October. Then, I switch the radio on, tune it a bit; I am humming silently to The Script’s “Break even” even as I rest on my bed thinking of her photo.
Praying to a gad that I don’t believe in
Coz I gat time you gat freedom…
It is the song playing on Highveld Radio, at 94.7 FM, a Johannesburg radio station that I love listening to. It usually plays songs that help me deal with the isolation, loneliness, and nonentity of my existence. This is music for secluded souls that centre inwards. I am now resting on my bed from this journey from Delville spar supermarket. I now remember of last summer. Last summer I made the choice of staining my house. My home is a small cottage with two rooms. The main house is owned by a relative and he allows me to use this cottage in exchange with looking after the whole place; cutting the lawns, pruning the flowers, doing the beds, etc… I have been using this cottage for a year now. It is at the back of the main house. I stained it a deep burnt caramel colour with dark red rim (burnt red) around the windows and doors. I have been holed up in this holler for a year now, filling the fitted cabins in the kitchen with odd collections and detritus. It is a sparsely furnished home; I could even describe it as an empty home. The other furniture thing is the lovely honey-grained oak table in the kitchen. The kitchen is always hidden in the shadows- sometimes dark shadows, moving deceptively, mysteriously- haunting the furniture. Occasionally, streaks of white light from the sun’s rays penetrate through the slits between the blinds. The pocketed short illuminations of light are the best features of these two rooms. These colours sharpen my senses.
Whilst I am resting here in this tuneless silence of my life as the sound of silence of dying grass in Wyeth’s painting, desire sustaining the intent to preserve this all-encompassing silence, I would like to know how she has been playing my song on her heart’s radio. I hope that song is David Cook’s “Come back to me”, or maybe Taylor Swift’s “You belong with me”. I have also been humming to these songs as I rest on the bed, streaming from the radio. I am thinking of her, I am listening to the radio, I am thinking of her.
I want to know whether I still stroke her with the even streams of feelings like the sweet soft sounds of the stream that divides Delville south and Delville north suburbs. Fording this meaning stream, this stream is cased under the sports ground; as it flows underneath Webber road for a hundred metres downwards until it resurfaces again beyond Elsburg road to the south, and then hides easily in the long whispering curtains of willow and balsam. And, in the summer, the drops of this river would swim naked in the dark-haired river, in every colour, the water always dancing where there was no shade. But in the winter, the water killed, and double killed by the winter’s dryness, is like a thief, sneaking downstream from the Rand dam, just outside Germiston city centre, as if it’s running away from the larger waters of the dam. Maybe, it would be running away from the mournful screech of circling ducks, these water birds serenading in the water, letting out their throat corroded yells. The song less airborne swallows as they whooshed through wind and whizzed inside the holes they drill at supersonic speed, holding themselves up there as they filtered against the north sky. This stream; is always churning with soft key sounds; it feels like keys being softly shaken in an enclosed thing. I feel like a watery implant of her, like love; I gather beauty, tears, bubble, and flirt. And, like what the river would seem to be saying to me, I am the waters in this stream. My love for her is the star’s light. It has refused to die long since its breath has disappeared. I feel like I am dozing…I am…, I must be dozing…
I am dreaming with her name. Every night, in my heart, I am always dreaming… The light I see even as I fall asleep always existing as the only call even when I know she is already asleep. She is so far away in a different country whose name is a hallow moan to me. She is smiling beautifully into the sun, at her new boyfriend like that girl in the park in Delville north road circle. It cuts my heart into small tiny pieces. I can’t seem to pick up all those small pieces of my heart, to neat them back together. I still watch her in my dreams, even at night as I call her name so that someday when we meet again I would tell all this to her shadow. She is going; she is leaving with her new boyfriend. I keep calling for her. She is always going the different direction from me; her shadow is, as unforgiving as time! I am tripping after her. I am always tripping after her in my dreams. Telling her I needed her. She is floating away; she is flying away from me…
She is like wings of love and happiness flying away from me, an aeroplane flying on top of me from O.R.Tambo international airport. The aeroplane is flying away to an unknown destination and this unknown destination is the way to her heart. I can’t fly with her. I am earthly bound. The heavy drone of the airbus’s engine trembles all around the room, inside me, everywhere. I am shaken. I wake up with a start, and I look around. I am in my house, on the bed, and it is broad daylight. I am disturbed. I know I am still lost without her. I haven’t mourned her enough to get her out of my system.
The Hebrew believes it takes four seasons to mourn someone but so far it has only been summer; the dark rain coming screaming horse-jets down against the horror of my face. It was summer and summer and summer…, the first year of my stay in South Africa in Kempton Park’s Birchliegh north suburb. Summer and summer and summer…, is the second year of my stay in South Africa in Germiston’s Delville south suburb. I know without her by my side the third year will be summer and summer and summer…, the blaze of her absence in my life!
Through zones of concealment, I have walked and walked the streets of South Africa and searched for what was lost. The merit I search for is my last chance. I am at the darkest, scariest, lowest moment of my life. I know it’s my fault.
It’s me who have attempted to move on with my life without her, but failed. Now, I stand on a thin line.