‘Do you know what they call a person who drinks alone?’ Karabo asked the young lady seating alone at a table of four. A small Cape breeze, gentle on the skin, was slightly blowing away her beautiful, long curly hair as if she was a leading lady in a Hollywood cliché.
‘An alcoholic?’ Samantha asked. She recognised Karabo’s voice. He was now standing at her table, his long limbs making him look like an unfed freak of nature.
‘A radical thinker’, he said after which they both engaged in a small laughter.
‘What are you doing here? Meeting somebody?’ Samantha asked Karabo who responded with an unexpected answer.
‘As you well know, I am the resident alcohol connoisseur. So every time I have to come here and reprise my role, otherwise somebody might just see an opportunity and start thinking they can dethrone me’, he replied, eliciting another bout of laughter from her.
‘I am serious. Are you meeting anyone? I have been here for the past twenty minutes to meet one of my potential writers and she got delayed in Bellville and could do with company. She said she will be here in the next fifteen minutes.’
‘No, I am not. I came because I needed fresh air. I have been in my room all morning… And of course nothing says fresh air like cold beer’, he said as he took a seat opposite her.
He signaled to a waiter to bring him a drink. A cold 500ml glass of Castle Lager was on its way. For the past four years he had been drinking here and he has never ordered a different drink. When the waiters saw him, they knew what to bring him. Meanwhile the chilly wind that punctuated the air the previous day appeared, at least for now, to be a thing of the past. At half-past one in a Friday afternoon, The Barn was temperately quiet. In less than two hours that too would be a thing of the past. Students would begin to pour in to start the weekend and put another week behind them, relegating it to the annals of history.
‘You are drinking beer? A woman after my heart’, Karabo flattered Samantha. Right about that time the waiter came back with his beer. Samantha smiled and said, ‘Yes, I was never good at conforming.’
‘What do you mean?’ Karabo asked.
‘I am not sure who came up with this ridiculous notion but somehow women in South Africa are expected to only drink ciders or any of those sugary drinks; and the funny thing is that women themselves have come to religiously embrace that silly notion. You should see how they look at me whenever I order my beloved Carling Black Label.’
‘Judgement in their eyes?’
‘It always seems like I have just drowned an infant.’
Like two old pals, the two of them sat under the shade of a Hunter’s Dry umbrella sipping away at their cold beer, enjoying the calm of the hangout while it lasted. The soft lounge music coming from the speakers fused nicely with the mood of the afternoon. Sunny and pleasant.
‘I blame ad agencies for that’, Karabo responded. ‘Whenever they advertise ciders, they target women; they sell ciders as feminine beverages. Whereas when they advertise beer, they sell it as a manly drink. I assume the subtle message being communicated is that women’s palates cannot handle the fine taste of beer.’
‘Okay beer is bitter but once you get used to it, there is nothing better’, Karabo added as if he needed to defend his favourite beverage against Samantha.
‘I know that. I just hate the fact that every time I ask to have a beer, people give me this shameful look like I don’t respect myself’, Samantha put her two cents forth.
‘Ignore them then. Are you going to live your life based on what people say or think about you? Have you ever thought that maybe they look at you that way because they are in search of answers of how to live their own lives? Seeing you live yours as you wish surprises them and the look of shame you see in their eyes is perhaps a projection of how they feel about their own life, their own limits. They envy you’, Karabo said as he unwittingly assumed a tone of a counsellor.
‘Amen to that’, Samantha raised her glass to salute Karabo.
‘Banna! Now I sound like a motivational speaker’, he said.
‘No. What you are saying actually makes sense. When people see something new, something they have never seen before, something they don’t understand; instead of taking a moment to understand it, they ridicule it.’ Now it was Samantha’s turn to assume her own analytical pedestal. Their glasses were almost empty and the waiter returned to check on them.
‘Should I get you another round?’ The waiter asked them.
‘Another one?’ Samantha asked Karabo
‘Why not’, he responded.
‘I think I am hungry. I feel like a burger’, Samantha informed the waiter
‘I will get you a menu’, the waiter said to Samantha. ‘Should I bring your drinks as well?’
‘Yes please. That would be great’, she replied.
‘Are you not hungry?’ She asked Karabo who was finishing off his drink.
‘No, I am not. Thanks’, Karabo said even though he last ate in the morning.
‘Come on Kay, don’t be that guy. Don’t you know it is rude to let a lady eat alone? This is on me’, she flashed a naughty smile to Karabo.
‘Alright. I will have a burger as well’, he said, realising that he could not get out of this one.
For the first time since they met he began to look at Samantha differently. Yes, she was undeniably beautiful, a typical mixed-race girl but he had not allowed his mind to wander afar until now. Perhaps that first glass of Castle Lager was leading him astray. He was not attracted to Samantha. He could not be. He has a girlfriend, a girlfriend whom he loves. He began to recognise certain features about Samantha that he had not noticed before. Her caramel face, her pointy nose that was more black than white yet still not pure African. She would be right at home in Latin America, well save for the accent, he thought to himself. He noticed her accent as well, her eloquent diction. The same was true for her sister Nicole who some for reason disliked him. He did not realise it but he was now profiling Samantha, doing the same thing that he resented whites for doing to him or his fellow Africans.
‘You speak so well. Are you a student at UCT?’ One white lady once asked him as if UCT is the only place where articulate black students are found.
‘I must be really boring’, Samantha interrupted his fantasy.
‘No, no. That is not the case’, he quickly tried to put out the fire although he knew she will just continue to ask him more questions. She was like a dog with a bone. If only someone could rescue him. His prayers were swiftly answered.
‘Samantha right?’ A female voice asked.
‘Yes’, Samantha said as she stood up to greet the woman whose presence made her feel immediately insecure. It was the first time she ever felt that way. But who could blame her, the lady was extremely beautiful.
Karabo’s back was facing the entrance. Anyone could walk in and he wouldn’t know until they stood next to him, or at worse struck him from the back. He could be wrong but before he could turn to look he was certain that he recognised the voice of the lady speaking to Samantha.
‘Ziyanda. I am sorry for being late’, she introduced herself to Samantha.
‘No problem. Thanks for coming’, Samantha said as she pointed her to sit. ‘This is my friend Kay’, she introduced Karabo. Ziyanda turned to look at the stranger and she too recognised him.
‘Oh, hi Karabo’, Ziyanda greeted Karabo with a tone of familiarity. Samantha was surprised.
‘You two know each other?’ Samantha asked, struggling to mask her genuine surprise.
‘Yes…’ Ziyanda answered before Karabo interrupted.
‘Yes, we know each other. We have been at UWC for ages’, Karabo jumped in.
This was not the rescue Karabo needed. Ziyanda’s arrival sunk him more than rescue him. He hoped the next person to come would actually make the situation better for him and not worse. Ziyanda had taken a seat at the table while Samantha sat across Karabo staring at him with accusing eyes.
‘Here is the menu and the drinks’, the waiter said, the universe answering yet another of Karabo’s small prayers.
‘Excuse ma’am, would you like something to drink?’ The waiter turned to Ziyanda.
‘Yes, I would love that. May I please have whatever he is drinking’, Ziyanda said as she shot Karabo a naughty look. Samantha was mum as she stared at Karabo with accusing eyes. The young champ squirmed. This was not going away. He needed an excuse to leave. But what would he say, he thought to himself. It would be too obvious.
‘So Sam, I take it Yanda is one of the writers contributing to your newspaper?’ Karabo asked to ease up the pressure. He took a sip from his glass, seeking prayer at the bottom of the bottle if so to speak.
‘Yes, she is. I wanted to meet her so I can get to know my founding writers’, Samantha responded with the ease of someone in charge, the rare humility of a CEO and the composure of a founder all laced together in her answer. Albeit not surprised she still looked at Karabo as if to say, ‘You are a naughty boy.’ Given Karabo’s notoriety as a ladiesman, she suspected that he and Ziyanda dated at some point. How could he not be attracted to her when she is so fetching. She could not explain where the feeling was coming from but she found herself jealous of the history that Karabo and Ziyanda shared. She yearned for the same comfort that Ziyanda showed around Karabo. She also picked up that Karabo referred to her as Yanda and not Ziyanda, and she called him Karabo when everybody else called him Kay. She felt silly for feeling this way but she could not help it.
‘I hope you have also roped him in to contribute to the paper. He is an excellent writer’, Ziyanda said to Samantha as she looked at Karabo with the pride of a loving and supportive spouse.
‘Oh, so he does write?’ Samantha asked a bit surprised.
‘Yes. When was it? Two or three years ago?’ Ziyanda again looked at Karabo. ‘We both wrote for the Cape Argus.’
‘Really?’ Samantha was both surprised and impressed. Karabo sat quietly sipping his beer, smiling here and there to hide his embarrassment.
‘Yes. Haven’t you asked yourself why he is so popular around campus if not the entire Cape Town? Besides his questionable ‘proclivities’. His opinions caused quite a controversy.’
‘Questionable proclivities?’ Samantha asked.
Ziyanda smiled, realising that she has said too much. ‘He is really a brilliant writer. Make sure that he also writes for your paper.’
‘This is news to me. I thought he was not a writer although I did convince him to come onboard’, Samantha shot Karabo another accusing glance.
‘So why did you stop writing Kay…to a point that you no longer considered yourself a writer?’ Samantha asked.
‘I lost interest’, Karabo responded.
‘He could not handle the celebrity that came with his talents’, Ziyanda teased with a hint of pride.
‘Wow! I am really surprised. I will look up his pieces online’, Samantha said as she took a sip of her beer. The waiter had returned with Ziyanda’s drink and he asked if they were ready to order food.
‘Yes, we are’, Samantha answered. ‘I will have The Barn burger and chips.’
‘I will have the same’, Karabo informed the waiter.
‘And you ma’am?’ The waiter asked Ziyanda.
‘I have already eaten, thank you very much’, she said. The waiter collected the menu and excused himself.
The Friday drink session was in full swing. The weekend had started. One by one students began to gather at The Barn – UWC’s beloved student hangout – to join in the festivities. Karabo, Samantha and Ziyanda were part of this congregation of youth that assembled at Bush’s popular spot. Armed with SAB’s finest products, they were preparing to disrupt history; whether they knew it or not, they would do so. By starting this newspaper together, they had already begun to loosen the bolts of a monotonous history.