I moved again to stay with my sister in the city, this is the life of a broke artist. You live off your family until you make it. You watch your peers driving cars and holding down decent jobs while you wing it. The ‘what are you doing now question’ is kind of embarrassing because how are you damn near thirty with no direction in life. You can’t really say I’m living off my talent and hoping to get recognised one day. I had to start anew and ride out the club wave singing for a few rands a day or night. Everyone kept telling me to get a real job, yet they were so miserable at it. It sucked the life right out of them.
As we grow up we learn and see new ways of doing things like turning our passions into businesses which was the order of the day in the city. In a few months I’d met up with bands that toured across the continent and were looking for a lead singer. The pay was great, and I would travel and live out my dreams. So I packed up my life and started the suitcase life riding in tour buses with boys. I joined a band and lived the unglamorous pit stop life where you are always tired but thrilled to be living in the moment. The men were older, professional and all about making the band great. It was a new feeling, finally experiencing all I had hoped to one day achieve. I’d call my mom from a hotel room in a foreign country and feel her reaching out to me to return home soon. She’d tell me stories of how envious my success made the neighbours. Even though we weren’t a world-famous band, we were featured on TV once or twice and that was enough for me. All I wanted to do was sing and travel and figure the rest out later.
At first I made time to go home for Christmas or weddings and I insisted on gigs closer to home. After some time I realised I dreaded going home and my mother was forever on the phone telling me they missed me. Tony, the band’s bachelor got married and that’s when it hit home that I wasn’t getting any young and I needed to go home more. All I did when the band broke for recess was pick a new city and wander around watching people live their lives. I’d invite my sister but after some time she stopped coming because she had a busy life too and my mother hated flying. I was lovelorn and all I could manage even in Paris was a casual relationship.
These were the times I really wished Asante was here and maybe we would be living it up in all these cities together. Realising one’s dream is amazing but home always calls you back to its belly. I stayed with the band until they found another lead singer; after three years of living together it felt like I was divorcing a part of myself. The plane ride home was bittersweet and the minute I landed I felt like I had returned to myself only to find so much change. Mom was beside herself with excitement when one minute I walked in at home. She cried so much, and I felt the impact my absence had had on her. Her fear had been that I’d come home to bury her and return to chasing whatever was in the foreign land. The family members that came to see me were astonished to find me still single. One of the aunts known for being a gossip went on about how money can’t buy everything. Her child told her straight out to stop being bitter just because her own daughter was divorced with three kids and had never been out of the country. It is a pity she and I had never been close because she never came to mind when I needed a friend to travel with.
After three months back home I got used to the drama and it was like I never left. I missed singing and a girl has to make money so I went to start a life again in the city. This time I could afford my own place, I had a car and a lot of money to tide me over. Living the dream is one thing but once I started making real money I invested it because I knew that one day I’d have to return home. One of my investments was my sister’s thriving set of boutiques. Buying a new home felt like setting down roots that couldn’t be uprooted and I loved that feeling. I was back to singing but I chose posh settings and volunteered for charity events.
I met Sipho Vilakazi while performing at an upmarket restaurant and that’s how I gave love a chance. Sipho was a romantic of note and lived life on the fast lane. He wined and dined me and took me on boat trips from one city to the next. I had fears that he was too good to be true but I decided to trust him. After three months we still met at my place or at the restaurant, and I realised then maybe the romance was a way for me not to see that he didn’t want to take me to his house. He finally invited me over to his house and it was breathtakingly beautiful, a two storey near the beach. I felt so horrible for doubting him and gave him my heart right there. I mean he was well off, handsome and so charming. I’d be crazy to let him go. Mom wanted to meet him the minute she heard, and I knew she was hearing wedding bells.
It was on one of our weekends at his place; I was in my cute ‘I just woke up in his shirt after a wild night of sex’ state. It was a sunny day; the waves were rustling around and the birds chirping as I sat on the patio drinking coffee and humming a tune I had just thought up. Sipho had put an idea in my head about being a recorded artist online so that one day I could tour less. I heard the door open and when I turned I came face to face with a stunning busty red head carrying bags into the house. I already knew she wasn’t his sister unless she was adopted which meant I didn’t know him all that well. I sat there with a soundtrack playing in my head for this declining moment in my life and for the life of me I didn’t know what to do next. The redhead saved me the trouble when she smiled and walked over to introduce herself: Lynnette Vilakazi. My heart started beating at an alarming rate and I got up to leave only for her to stop me, insisting I stay until her husband woke up. She then told me she was used to this while making herself a cup of coffee. She sat next to me and drank her coffee peacefully while telling me stories of how she caught him cheating time after time in the six years they have been married. I sat there so ashamed to be in her husband’s shirt thinking of a way to leave before I got drawn into a domestic dispute. She reassured me that she never blamed the woman because her husband was the loose one. We heard Sipho shouting from upstairs that he hoped breakfast was ready and I thought to myself that it is served with a twist today, waiting for you. He came down a minute later to the shock of his life; I thought he’d be used to being caught by now if his wife’s stories were anything to go by. Lynette didn’t give him time to react because the minute she saw him she lost it and started throwing things around and shouting. I took that as my chance to dash upstairs get dressed and leave. Last thing I recall is running downstairs when smoke filled my lungs, the house was in flames. I blacked out while trying to get to the door and woke up in hospital.
I spent a month in hospital recovering from minor burns and smoke inhalation. Sipho was also admitted with second degree burns and Lynette had escaped. She was on the run from the police. I almost lost my life and that scared me but also made me appreciate the little things. Sipho tried to see me but I didn’t want to entertain him and his dramatic world where I nearly lost my life. During my time in hospital I met a young man, Themba Mokoena who was there because his family tried to burn him alive for being gay. He was almost fully recovered but emotionally he was a mess and mostly he feared going back into the world. His family had traditional views and he was meant to marry and carry on the family name. He had fully intended to follow their wishes until his father passed on, but his partner posted graphic sex tapes on social media and someone displayed them at the engagement party. The family couldn’t take the shame and dishonour brought onto their name. He was woken up late at night by his uncles and some men from the neighbourhood beating the demons out of him. They paraded him around the streets naked and then smeared him with paraffin and set him alight. He was saved by his father who even though he didn’t understand his son’s ‘condition’ still loved him. His father was the only one who visited him at the hospital, while his mother and brothers wanted nothing to do with him. His lover had also disappeared in the wake of the violence brought on by the disclosure.
Themba and I became close that when I left the hospital I made time to keep seeing him until he gained the confidence to face the world again. When he got discharged I took him home for a change of scenery. My mother thought Themba and I were together and was really shocked to find out he was gay because he was so manly. She reserved her judgement in the way black people do with those looks that say she can’t begin to fathom how the world got like this but won’t say anything because we are fragile about these things. Two months later we went back to the city and Themba began the process of getting back on his feet and I lived to inspire him to love life. We went on a few trips together when I had a gig out of town. He filtered out all the guys who wanted to date me on their level of gayness and brought a lot of fun and laughter into my life. In no time at all he was back in the dating game and had met a great guy.
My mother called one day to invite me to my cousin’s wedding back at home. I dreaded going because that is the opportunity my family would take to analyse the ticking of my biological clock. I wasn’t up for the endless match-making and stories on how everyone my age was married with a family. I took Themba as a date to save myself from questions of why I was still single at my age. Themba worshipped love and weddings, so he was happy to come along. Mom was happy to see Themba as they got on like a house on fire despite my mom’s reservations about his lifestyle; he was like the son she never had.
My mother’s sister, Mrs Mthembu was a socialite of note and believed you either went big or went home. She had married a rich mogul and was all about status and new money, so I knew it would be a long weekend. It was indeed a very long weekend and we had to listen to her brag about how the stylist she used to work for, certain celebrities and that they initially wanted to have the wedding in Cape Town and fly everyone there.
Her daughter, Khwezi and I grew up together, so I felt like I had to be there because we were sisters because our mothers were sisters. Nolwazi didn’t come because of a fight that she had with our aunt years ago, and they still couldn’t stand each other. She called and sent a gift which made Mom embarrassed at the thought of what people would say. Themba and I arrived the day before the wedding and there was a pre-wedding dinner. Khwezi was the regal blushing bride to be who gushed about her man to anyone who would listen and couldn’t wait for us to meet him. He was in the room somewhere talking to guests, and therefore had to go looking for him.
Themba and I remained behind sipping on expensive champagne and checking out the décor. He made note of all that was wrong and gave praise to all they got right. Themba’s passion was anything to do with fashion, lifestyle and leisure but he studied engineering because of his obligation to his family. I was still trying to get him to follow his dreams but he didn’t want his father to deal with another disappointment. We saw a lot of people Themba knew and some of his old friends but he didn’t want to associate with them anymore. Themba commented that there were so many gay people there that you’d swear this was a gay wedding.
While we were laughing at the worst dressed people Khwezi walked up to us with her fiancé. She introduced him as Justin and Themba choked on his drink when his eyes landed on Justin. Meanwhile Justin couldn’t wait to get away and attend to other guests. Themba and I left straight after and went home because he was in a bad space. He told me on the way that Justin is his ex who posted their affairs on social media. I felt like we should tell Khwezi but Themba insisted that there was nothing to tell because people can be attracted to both sexes. Themba got a phone call from a mutual friend of theirs telling him that Justin had called asking for Themba’s new number. The next morning I woke up early to go check on Khwezi and see if this was what she really wanted. I found her locked in her room looking nervous. I had to remind her that if she got married it would be for life because her mother would never let her get a divorce. She seemed certain she wanted to do this because Justin made her happy and she wouldn’t exactly get a better man at her age so why not. The wedding was eventful and beautiful and all I could think of was if it would last. My aunt was the proudest mother ever and she had the longest speech which included all her daughter’s achievements and how jealous people didn’t want to see this day happening but by God’s glory her daughter was finally married. Justin avoided us and Themba was glad about that. All that happened that weekend made me sceptical about love and the reasons why people get married. We don’t know love until we feel it and the saddest thing is that we betray each other the most in love. The beauty of love is that we can always try again when we are ready or when we feel someone worthy has come along.
All I knew since I was young was that I didn’t want to die like the black women of generations before did, who tried to be strong, swallowing rivers and disasters. I had the desire to be all the nice things and when I die, do so having lived my dream filled with a lazy Sunday love. My greatest fear was being a child of social ills and unaccomplished freedom. I wanted little girls to know they are loved so that they don’t become women who take it like men drinking their teas with a little whisky hiding hickies. The change in the air made it feel like the truth could save us. Maybe we’d feel beautiful as women in our own skins without having to hide behind foundations. Don’t tell me we can’t be beautiful beyond the stories of how we got here. As women we became obsessed with looking exotic with lighter skins because that was the latest trend. I could see freedom deluding us because we were clinging to our chains as they send ice-cold shivers down our beaten bodies. This here says we’re living. Every time we stand over graves pouring hands full of fertile soil into empty hearts of people we love, they say we are living. Nothing grows there; we watered it with our tears, left our prints and looked up to see if they got to some kind of heaven. It got dark and life had to go on.
Still our hearts sang with pain and fear. I wanted peace, joy and sunny mornings when we can touch all that is divine. Whatever wounds you have need you to feel the pain so that your brain can produce a link with tissues to repair the damage. So we have to allow ourselves to feel. You grow this way and realise that no matter what life has in store for you, you’d give anything to be you in all lifetimes. So your name becomes easier to carry and it fits you perfectly. It amazes you just what you could do with it if you tried. So you try…Forget about the broken branches, how your parents failed at love and that our families aren’t perfect. Just be because soon love knocks on your door and it feels like someone you know. It looks like someone you could build a home with. In seasons and setting suns death shows its face too so why not live and love while you can.