By Leroy Mthulisi Ndlovu
Birth. The saddest fucking moment of my life. I wept and the world rejoiced. Born silent as I would remain throughout life, I was forced into lament by the rude hands of a masked doctor. Life and her violence; everyone was pleased by my grief. It signified health. Bloodier than a butcher’s hands I was wrapped in a cold sheet and placed in my mother’s waiting arms. It was an embrace I would share with her until the last day of her life. Over the next year and a half I would spend most of my time in this position, cradled in my mother’s loving arms, without a father to watch the scene with satisfaction.
My first memory is of my mother and me sitting at the centenary park fountain. We went there a lot when I was younger. It still held a special place in her heart, even after the betrayal. This was where it all began. Well, not really; for me it all began in the bushes further into the park, but the fountain was where they always rendezvoused after school. My mother was always candid about how I came into existence. In my youthful days she told me incessantly how my absent sire had promised her the world and the heavens above if she would just give him that one “tiny” thing. She had letters from him, all laced with some of the best poetry I ever read. I suppose that is where I got my own gift. His poems to her were beautiful. Some I have read many times; always confused by my mixed feelings of grief, adoration and hatred for this man who had somehow managed to be wonderful and evil at the same time.
My mother, blinded by love had fallen for it. That brilliant poet had deflowered her in a secluded part of the park under the moon’s satisfied smirk. When she told him she was pregnant he had beaten David Copperfield at his own game. Never to be seen or heard from again. The bastard. At times I blame mother for her stupidity, but if this event had not occurred I would not be here typing these words. And who can blame a young maiden for wanting to please her first love, the love of her life? All my life I never saw or heard about my mother being with another man. It was such a shame, watching her hold the torch for a man she would never see again.
Love. It makes people do the most stupid things. In high school my best friend, Patrick, wrote an eight page letter to his ex-girlfriend. They’d had their ups and downs for a while. Patrick said he’d decided that the relationship had run its course. He loved her more than anything else in the world, even I could see that, but he felt that their destinies were on diverging paths. The letter served to impart his thoughts to her, because half the world could tell that she loved him just as much as he loved her. He wanted her to know that he would always love her, even if they could never share the warmth of each other’s embrace again.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were standing in the shade of the guava tree that hung outside the fence at my house. Thembi was my neighbor and we knew she would be back anytime soon. Patrick kept jumping about like a man who needed to take a piss.
“Patrick, will you just fucking relax!” I yelled, “Not like you’re about to ask her to marry your ass.”
We spoke like that back then. I blame TV. Everyone wanted so bad to be like those blacks you see on TV. We wore the baggy pants, dress-like t-shirts and the do-rags. We even bought huge necklaces and chains. Ah… youth. Sorry, I digress. Patrick only smiled at me.
“Love is a cruel master, homie.”
I just shook my head. Thembi turned onto our road and Patrick’s breath caught in his throat. I don’t blame him. Thembi was, and still is one of the most beautiful women I ever met. There she was in her shortened Townsend uniform, strolling carefree towards her house next door. She was reading as always. Thembi is the only person I ever knew who could walk and read at the same time. And reading she was, probably Danielle Steele or some other such nonsense. She didn’t notice us until she was walking past my house. Patrick leapt over the drainage ditch and strode purposefully toward her. She had stopped in the street. Like I said, they were smitten. Patrick has a way of talking so softly that only the intended hearer’s ears can pick up what he is saying. That’s how he spoke to her that day, then he handed her the letter. She took it and walked away briskly, Danielle Steele promptly forgotten.
I never found out what he said to her that day, or what was in the letter, but ten years later they stood behind an altar and chatted about death doing them part. I thought it was all a mistake. Over the years I had grown used to their lovey-dovey shit and I figured I could sit through a couple of hours of it. After that I would pretend she didn’t exist. That dream lasted less than fifteen minutes. Within a month I realized that Patrick was gone forever. I had lost my friend. This was the end. Or so I thought.
Allow me to backtrack a little bit.
Back in the days when I was a confused young writer trying to piece together the meaning of his pathetic existence I had not a friend in the world except books. Or rather words. I lived off words. Whenever I had the chance I would sit in a little corner by myself reading until my eyes hurt. I loved the words. I had no friends. No one to talk to or play with. Sure, I played with some of the neighbourhood kids in my time, but I never had a close friend. Not until I met Patrick. He was the ‘newcomer’ in my class in form 3. I remember he came and sat down next to me at registration, and that’s where he sat for the entire duration of that day, and every other day until we finished high school. He sat there and greeted me as if we were old pals. I was annoyed at first, but as the day wore on I found myself more and more fascinated by this black creature that didn’t seem to care at all what people thought of it. He knew a lot about a lot. And over the next few months I found myself hanging out more and more with him. We became the best of pals. Ah… Patrick… My only friend…
Pathetic, huh? But true nonetheless. Patrick was my only friend. A lot of my firsts were facilitated either wholly or in part by him. Even the hooker I lost my virginity to was paid for by Patrick. I was nervous as hell. He told me to stop worrying. Even if I stuffed it up, I would never see her again, so I had nothing to worry about. Those were his words. I also owe my first taste of alcohol to Patrick. We were hiding in the bushes on the little hill behind the neighbourhood shops, guzzling that gin like there would be no tomorrow. That was the sort of thing we would get up to. Patrick and i. And over the years I began to think of him as the brother I never had.
Then he got married and it all changed. Faster than I could realize what was happening I was back where I started. Without a friend in the world, I turned to the only other friend I had known nearly as long as Patrick. Books had long lost their appeal. My new friend was a Russian Tsar. He and I became much acquainted. I spent my days chugging down mouthfuls of the spirit. first, behind my desk at the office, and later, after I got fired, at the same fountain where I had spent my childhood days listening to my mother reminisce about how good she and my father had been. Being out of a job didn’t worry me. It just meant longer drinking hours. I had no rent to worry about because I lived in my late grandfather’s house, and my fat bank account meant I could still afford a good fuck every other night. I lost all track of my existence. Day and night were significant only because I was sober enough every morning to know what a hangover felt like.
I was in hell. But I couldn’t stop. I preferred being in a drunken stupor to thinking about how alone in the world I was. My mother tried many times to get through to me. Even on her deathbed. She reminded me of all the good times we shared when I was growing up. Not that I didn’t appreciate her companionship. My mother was my world. But she could never be the kind of friend to me that Patrick was. Her ill health sent me further on the path to self-destruction. Everything I loved was slowly slipping away. I never went to see her drunk, but she knew what I had become. People talk; so whenever I visited her she would go on and on about how I had to stop the drinking. I’d nod and say yes in all the right places, pretending to be listening, while the whole time I would be thinking about how my stomach ached for that first drink.
Patrick tried to get through to me once. He came over to my house early one morning and asked what the hell was wrong with me. What could I tell him? That I missed him so much? That I couldn’t survive without him there to guide me? That the steaming pile of shit that was my life was getting worse and there was nothing I could do to prevent it? I couldn’t. He was my hero. My big brother. I couldn’t tell him. Yet he knew somehow. Somehow he sensed what was troubling me (he always had this uncanny way of knowing). He shook his head and said,
“Brother, you know I have a family to take care of now… I can’t carry your ass anymore. And your mother needs you right now. How do you think this is affecting her? You need to get help. Sort out your loneliness issues.”
I was extremely offended. Right as he was, he had no right to come and preach to me about loneliness issues. He didn’t… couldn’t understand what I felt. He couldn’t know what it was like to grow up without a father figure. What it was like to idolize your best friend who had taught you damn near everything and have him tell you that he couldn’t be that man anymore. I told him to fuck off. We didn’t speak again for four years.
Exactly thirty years after bringing me into the world my mother breathed her last. I was kneeling by her side when it happened. I wept all night. She was, after all, my mother. She had been there for me even before Patrick came into the picture. She was my rock. My world crumbled. The following morning as everyone prepared for the funeral I downed a bottle of gin and got lost inside it.
That day I drank more gin than I ever drank in my life. I wanted to die. Losing Patrick was one thing, but Patrick was, after all, just a friend. Patrick was someone I could talk to about things I couldn’t even dream of telling my mother. My mother and I had shared a special relationship. Even when I was drinking my liver into oblivion she had never judged me. She still treated me as if I was that same boy she had raised into such a ‘wonderful’ man.
I don’t remember whether or not I went to the funeral, but I do remember being at the fountain at centenary park. What a cycle. The fountain now held a special place in my heart. I must have been going through my third or fourth bottle of gin when I saw my mother perched on the edge of the fountain exactly the way she used to sit when I was growing up. She looked at me and wept. Barely coherent, I asked her why she was grieving.
“You know why,” she said. “Can’t you see that this will not end well for you?”
I could say nothing, I just cried bitterly. Like a child. I tried to embrace her but she was gone. Instead I fell headlong into the fountain. I must have blacked out because when I came to I was lying in a pool of my own vomit on the pavement next to the fountain. My head was screaming Ave Maria. Bitch of a hangover. But something was different. I didn’t want to drink anymore.
In death, my mother had accomplished what a year of pleading and coaxing could not. I decided to clean up. It wasn’t easy. There were times when I wanted to drink more than I wanted to breathe. Even with all the AA meetings I sometimes found myself at a supermarket staring longingly at a bottle of gin. It wasn’t easy.
© LMN 2010