Faces by Philani Amadeus Nyoni

by Philani Amadeus Nyoni

I got home last night and played some Jonathan Butler, lit the fan then aimed it at the window, turned out the light and smoked through the burglar-bars. I raised my chin to eject smoke towards the clouds and collided with old faces in the stars. Not long into it I noticed a constellation that formed the letter A and remembered the only person I ever introduced myself as Amadéus to.

The memory was pleasant until dawn stabbed me in the eye with fragments of last night’s broken glass; a lone tear rolled away as I read what was written in the dew. I had spent the night leaning against my crutch while strings and haunting vocals from ‘Many Faces’ tangled my brain and dragged me to that season in time when I knew her. Another night had been lost in longing for that vicious creature and her aching body coming to collide with mine in a moment of ecstasy or destructive wrath. Together we could have conquered nations. ‘That white girl messed up my head worse than a bad weave’, read wake-tortured eyes to a nostalgia mangled brain in the wet grass.

A pale ghost in my shadow, a diminutive flake-white elf awkwardly juxtaposed against my gangling form limping through the emerging twilight. That’s the image that stuck in the front of my mind for hours on end with a song in my head, our first sunset retold in a jazz rhythm.

I had been visiting a Chewa friend of mine whose name I can neither pronounce nor attempt to write. His parents died and left him a double storey mansion and that really raised his rankings on my friendship list. You can call me insensitive but who doesn’t want a friend with a mansion in a predominantly white suburb? I caught my first glimpse of her while looking over the balcony and trying to imagine what it would be like to have dreadlocks to wave in the breeze. She was a sight to see, comparable only to a bathing goddess as she walked through the flame of the world burning in the last defiance of the defeated sun.

Enthralled, I did something romantically foolish. I called out and asked her to wait awhile, then decided the stairs were too far. I was going to jump from the balcony and impress her with a Spiderman landing on the roof of the rusted 120Y below.
I might have been in pain with a shin shattered in two places but it was worth it for she came running to aid. I would give my second leg and this crutch to look into those swelling emeralds again, divine workmanship in its perfection; they still wring crystals from my oil-blacks even at this marriage of ink and paper. She is a mirage I can’t blink away, picture perfect deity looking down at me writhing in pain, haloed innocence, head arched to the side, slim finger delicately lacing golden locks behind pixie ears. White seraph, her smooth touch soothed while her compassion went beyond any effects morphine could have.

Eventually my Chewa friend found the wheelbarrow and painstakingly hoisted me into its pan and began wheeling me off to the hospital two streets away. Halfway there I decided I would walk with my hand slung over my new found favourite person. The doctors say I shouldn’t have done that.

As I had imagined apart from English she spoke another ‘white language’: Afrikaans. With aid from Google Translator and Leroy, a friend who went to CBC we exchanged decent emails in her mother tongue. Father tongue rather, her mother was English, a quaint, articulate little woman who effortlessly insulted people in the politest of phrases. Once I thought she was complimenting her husband until I asked Google about a leopard’s mating prowess.

We did the emails until the whole cyber thing became a bit too hectic. The internet always seems to bring out the braver side of people, some talk reckless as though they owned guns oblivious to the possibility of me showing up to put their mouths where their fingers are. Andrew Marvel wouldn’t have had to write an innuendo-plastered plea if he had the internet, it makes people less coy. Often the real-life image falls short of the hyped-up internet figure, but with her the opposite was true. She was actually better in person and the rest is aching memory. We dated for three years until we went separate ways to University.

I met her again while on attachment only to lose her in Zambia.

As I wobbled to the bathroom for the early morning dues I wondered about all the people I have known, more pensively about the Chewa guy, Pauline, Thembi, Van Barbie and my best friend who recently checked himself out. Then I remembered the funeral.

The bloody funeral. It was a pathetic affair. Apart from a few workmates there was practically no one. I counted nine heads in total, mine and the rented priest’s included. I knew he was drunk when Van Barbie zigzagged in my general direction trampling bouquets on graves and mumbling ‘sorry’ to the headstones. It’s always hard to bury a suicide and if coming in drunk was his way of dealing with the trauma
then it was fine with me, he was his friend as well.

It would have been fine as least had I not been given more attention than the corpse. Once we were close, I got married and things became different. They blamed me for his death and I could see it in their eyes. They knew he tried to reach out but I just wasn’t available to babysit a grown man. Then the bastard had to call me to discover his dead body. How could things get any worse? Thembi, the woman I forsook everyone for left me, I spend nights insomniac, smoking and reminiscing on old girlfriends. I might as well have been the one in the cheap pine coffin. I stayed only to give a dignified send off to a friend who had met a horrendous end. Whatever was bothering him the Hemmingway method seemed most appropriate. Best of luck with the guy on the other side whoever he is.

The only family Vic ever had was his mother who predeceased him so it was up to us to give some semblance of dignity to the charade. I recited the last verse from Tupac’s ‘Life Goes On’ nonchalantly before Van Barbie began the closing prayer to Senior, Junior and the Spook as the man we were sending off used to say.
‘Lord in heaven, earth and everywhere else, how are you doing? Uh…Our friend has finally offed himself as you have always known he would, yes… and that’s why we are gathered here today. Seeing that you always knew this would happen I think it would be mighty mean of you to send him to hell. I’m just saying, you know…’ he burped once, and staggered towards the coffin whose lid was still open for the final body viewing. ‘This man right here, this was a real homie, Patrick tell them.’ I didn’t say anything, ‘Anyway G, look, the man messed up but this man here, this man,’ I shook my head profusely as Van Barbie pointed sternly at my friend’s corpse as though God didn’t know who he was talking about. ‘This man right here was one of the coolest mother… I mean people you ever made. You of all people should know th…’ the liquor refused to stay down, he regurgitated it all over Victor’s dead body. The women gasped, I left.

Chip on my shoulder, hip hop on the stereo, looking at the world through hell’s eyes I drove through the city centre from West Park looking for any bar, pub or liquor store. When I finally came upon one I slammed a twenty onto the counter and told the barman to make sure my glass never went empty. The first was dedicated to Victor, as was the second, the next and next…

I was in a stupor when she came and sat next to me. Caucasian, long flowing locks of gold tied into a pigtail. I couldn’t help noticing how much she resembled Pauline to the most intricate of details a drunken eye could observe.

‘You look like a friend I used to know, a flame that’s lost its glow.’

A flash of evened teeth, a sip of beer, ‘That’s a Dolly Parton song.’

‘I knooow,’ I slurred slamming down my glass, ‘But look, I mean it, you seriously look like someone I used to know, I know some white people say all black people look alike, but you white people…you, you white people…’

‘Who do I look like Patrick?’ and turned to watch for my reaction with green eyes.

Startled I fell back in my stool and blacked out on the bar floor.


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