A story by Leroy Mthulisi Ndlovu

‘I sat in the bathroom this morning, crying and smoking. Smoking and crying. The morning was as noisy as usual. My friends thought, when I moved here, that I had chosen the best flats in the world. Down the road is a busy bottle store, directly across from which is a bar loved most by old men and older hookers. And of course right at the door to our building is a thriving not-so-underground red light district. Even from my second floor flat the noise is almost incessant. From dawn the street is busy with touts and their noisy cars, blasting the newest craze to hit the streets – which currently is some odd combination of music and caterwauling disguised as a song. As Apollo pulls up to the edge of the western horizon the taxi’s quiet down and the bars start up again. I’m fairly well versed with new music now. I can hear it through the night as if I were inside the bar itself every night. Of course my favourite part of things is when the bars have died down and all the older hookers have given up on fishing in the bar. They come out to the street below and begin a spoken word contest. I’ve learnt some of the vilest Ndebele words sitting in the comfort of my living room. Then even they give up and one by one they go home; until eventually, without fail, every morning at 4 am, the last of them walks past on the pavement below my window. qwa-qwa-qwa-qwaqwa-qwa-qwa.. qwa. She always coughs, then stops and hawks up what sounds like a monstrosity from deep below, spits, and continues on her way. Then at least for an hour or two, we have complete and utter silence. I got out of bed today after the first caterwaul-playing cab parked across the street. My windows were vibrating with sound long before I clawed my way out my nightmare. The dream comes to me every night, and every night it seems more lurid than the last. In the dream I receive news that my sister has passed away. But everyone is laughing and having a good time and no one seems in a hurry to get to the funeral. So I leave everyone behind and the further I walk the colder it feels. In my dreamy mind it feels as if I have walked out of the sun’s range, and all the trees are withered. On either side of me the ever growing desert is littered with skeletons of animals long dead. And it grows colder. And there in the distance is a figure lying on the road, and as i get closer it gets harder to move. Because I know that the mangled figure on the street is my sister, run over by a streetcar and left for dead. Then I wake up. My sister died 6 years ago. She went into cardiac arrest after years of battling chronic heart disease. I imagine it was peaceful. We were all at her house for Sunday lunch. She was boisterous as ever. She always did her best not to be sick; and she hardly ever was. On that day in particular she was happier than I had seen in a very long time. She was an amazing cook, and the table was evidence. There at the head were the salads, coleslaw, potato, and a third one for which I had no name. Then came the huge bowl of pasta, and the rice next to it which looked almost as good as the commercial on tv. And of course, her husband being the enterprising chicken farmer he was, had provide three of the biggest chickens he could find for the occasion. We were all happy. In the end she never got sick like everyone had feared. She was smiling, happy, making fun of how skinny my brother was (‘okumfazi kwakho kwesishoneni akupheki yini?’); asking me when I would finally settle down and start a family. We all laughed and she picked up a drumstick from her plate. Then in that beautiful moment, her heart finally gave in, and she leaned back in her chair with a grunt. I shook away the image as I reached for my cigarettes on the night stand. The dream, after all, was just a dream. It would be 7 soon and I would have to get ready for work. A text announced itself on my phone. The wonders of technology: “38 messages from 5 conversations.” I only read one. “Charlie is in the hospital. Heart attack.” It was from my brother’s wife. I went into the bathroom and lit a cigarette

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