Last updated on: January, 2007 by Bantsi Makhandeni
Our church is always full. Today was no exception. We praise the Lord at the University of the North’s KB Auditorium everyday from Saturday to Sunday. On any given weekday we worship for an hour and a half, from 6 till half 7. Saturdays, however, are reserved for the church choir. Members converge to practice songs that are rendered on the other days of the week.
The service would proceed as usual. And the agenda would look something like this:
We will open by prayer, sing a few choruses, announcements made by secretary, envelopes circulated for the sacred purpose of tithing, the pastor will minister, gifts will be collected, church choir will bless us and we shall close by prayer. The concerned MC will guide us through.
Inside the church hall and outside are two contradicting worlds synonymous to heaven and hell. When you are inside you accept God anew, every day. Amen to that! Once you are in the outside world, you become the devil himself, you have always been.
Looking around I can see churchgoers leaving the temple. Not a single soul ever wanted the sermon to be over. But now that it was, they seem to be in such a hurry. Some rush to their dormitories to make their tables and dine. Some rush to their quarters to make friends with their books all over again. Some do things I’d never know behind closed doors.
While looking around, I finally find what I was looking for. She is also a staunch member of the SCO (Students’ Christian Organization). Her name was Thando. She’s a Swati who hails from Swaziland, a country inside another country, called an inland country. In South Africa, her home is Likazi, a town in Mpumalanga Province. Every chance she gets, she visits her family eSwazini.
I cannot talk about Thando without mentioning Lira. ‘Lira’ is derived from Lerato, meaning love, uthando. There was not Thando without Lira. And, for what it’s worth, there was no Lira without Thando. Wherever you saw one, you saw the other. Lira is a diehard Tswana girl who, for all those years at Turfloop, speaks deep and pure Setswana. Actually, this was her second year in the institution. While in Hammanskraal, Lira never thought much of her mother tongue. I can only say that she changed for the better.
It took me a year to get Thando to notice my presence. That was in 2004. last year she and her friend were talking to Echo and Costa. Both guys came from rich families and consequently had all the girls in the class of two thou four drooling over them. We were doing Media Studies; me, Thando, Lira, Echo and Costa, and other students that I haven’t introduced yet. However, because things came too easy to both Echo and Costa, it was hard to value anything. Echo would chat up a girl in front of Thando without feeling guilty about it. This hurt me so bad. The girl that I loved was suffering under him. She deserved to be treated better. But I knew I could never get her. Fannie agrees.
Fannie was interested in Lira. They’ve always been talking to each other ever since we got to Turf. Fannie was full of jokes whereas Lira was a very serious person. He got to her comically, like he didn’t mean to talk to her. Just like another one of his silly jokes. Even Lira’s brilliant mind couldn’t see through him. He hid his own self in the jokes that he cracked. But they were always quarrelling. Lira didn’t find his jokes funny and Fannie couldn’t be serious, no matter how hard he tried. So he laughed at his own jokes out of misery. If only they could understand each other, their combination would be superb. One would help the other let her hair down and the other would remind the other that the world is not all roses - in the same breath, there are lilies.
With Thando around, Lira could smile and laugh, and even tell jokes. Thando was one link between me and Lira. The other was Fannie. With Fannie around, she could not smile or laugh, let alone tell a joke. With both Thando and Fannie around, she was a time bomb. She could laugh any minute. She could get aggressive just as quickly. We had to be cautious and mind her feelings in our conversations.
At work it was as if we had stopped being friends. We became colleagues. Most writers in the gazette were doing their final level. “They need the experience,” Mrs. Kwenaite would say when she turned freshmen and sophomores down. My friends and I were lucky to get the job at second year. Other employees chose not to think of it as ‘lucky’. Mrs. Kwenaite, our manager, was as strict as they get. If she spotted you dilly-dallying, you’d not only have to answer to her, you’d feel her wrath too. That was true for everyone, from cartoonist to editor.
Some guy called Kwena was our editor. He was in the same third-year class as Ro. Why Ro? Everybody knew Ro. Ro was living like a celeb with a brush, big earrings and full red lips. She was portrayed like that in the paper. All the gos came from Ro. “It’s gos and it’s Ro,” was the phrase that pays. She did not care who you were. If the campus was talking, you’d see yourself in the weekly. Those who loved her called her “Mhani N’wa-Tsolo” (a big liar). And those that hated her had to call her Mhani N’wa-Tsolo.
Now back to our subject. There was something going on between Kwena and Thando. This ‘fling’ reached a point where I could not tolerate it anymore. My resolution was to dump her in front of him. It worked wonders. Problem was we were at Turfloop Now and personal relationships were forbidden. Mrs. Kwenaite invited the three of us to her office where she reminded us of some work ethics. She made Thando recite them loudly from the wall in front of her two boyfriends. Activity stopped. People were listening to a good show. Good, but embarrassing at the same time.
She took off here goggles and wiped them with a cloth. Not that they were blurring her vision or anything. She put them back on. With the free hands, she contemplated what she was going to do with us. Those hands could be me and Kwena. She looked at them and wound up holding them together. No, that was not me and Kwena. We were too far from being close.
After letting us feel stupid for a long while, biting our nails and swallowing our saliva, she opened her mouth to speak. I stretched my hands and kicked my legs. Standing for thirty minutes up would get anyone tired of standing. “You don’t bring your dirty linen to the office and wash them here. Once you are inside Turfloop Now, you respect the brand and protect it. If not, I will protect it from people like you. What transpired on this day the 20th August 2005 among your TRIUMVIRATE is history. I will not hear it again. You two lovebirds may be excused. Kwena, remain.” Ahehe!
The structure of Turf Now is different from that of the Capricon Voice or any other paper in the real world. It was run by a University with the sole purpose of giving its learners some hands-on experience in industry. An editor here did not have as much authority as an editor elsewhere.
When I was still inside, I caught her fury. That made it look like I was the most frightened. I am quick to catch anything. When I’m around the girls, I tend to be an abridged version of a girl. When I’m with Fannie, I become funny too. Now that I was around people who were busy working, I got down to business. It was as if I was dynamic and everyone was contagious. Because of this, I did not get a column in the paper. It would be hard for me to be consistent or keep a trademark. My job was on the streets where things were always changing.
You will wonder what kind of business I immersed myself in since my job was on the streets. I was helping Lira proofread the paper that was due in the next publication. All articles had already passed through the editor’s hands. She was quick to think and she was accurate. Therefore, the position was perfect for her. In the event that there is a cash-in-transit heist in Polokwane, they’d send me to cover the story. If somebody else needed assistance, I’d be man for the job, even if I did not know it.
It was after this incident that we became estranged from each other, me and Thando. I did not care. She was a cheater. As a result, I had more time in my hands to study. I did not run wild trying to replace her. Lira would come to my room if I needed her help. I could not go to hers. Lira is roommates with Thando, remember? I did not want to see Thando. Neither did she want to see me. Fannie would turn up unannounced and find us studying. I’d be sitting on the chair and Thando would be on my bed with a duvet. He did not like it. But there was only one chair, which I was sitting on. What could he do? He hid his dissatisfaction in jokes. Still, Lira could not laugh at them. Fannie, on the other hand, opted to stand on his feet throughout his stay.
“In Simply Fannie (the name of his feature) I’ll write about madmen”, he uttered. “It was me, you Chilli and Thando. We were escaping from Khensani Hospital for the Mentally Handicapped. I said “If we find a long fence, we’ll dig under it.” Thando said “If we find a short fence, we’ll climb over it.” And then we set off. When we got there, you said “Tough luck! We must go back. There’s no fence”.” I thought that was simply funny.
“And there was this other time when Thando nearly drowned in the pool. The instructor sent for you and he said “I have good news and bad news. I will start with the good news. We thank you for saving our student from drowning. Unfortunately she hung herself on the washing line.” So Chilli Boy said “No. She did not hang herself, I put her to dry”.”
The jokes had become too much. But he said he had only one left. I took his word for it. “You came home from the pub and lay down beside Thando. But you realized that there was a third guy in the same bed. You asked her “Who’s sleeping with us?” She said “No-one”. “But there’s three of us in the bed.” “No, we’re only two. Climb down and count.” You got off and started counting. “One, two. Oh! You were right.” And then you went back to bed.”
He was using all the wrong names. It was as if he was sending a message to Lira. That no matter what happened, Thando and I belonged together. Again, it was as if he was asking me how I’d feel if I bust Thando in bed with another man. He bid farewell when we started talking books, pretending not to know anything other than his back page column at the paper. But I knew him much too well.
Academically, I was becoming good myself. Good as to even help Lira with some sections in the various courses. And when she said she was going to Ro’s for help, she was coming to my place. I was becoming the man that Lira wanted, one who was intellectually challenging and serious. Before I knew it, she had fallen in love with me. So I used her to get over Thando. When Thando was asking me back, it hit me that I was over her. In fact I was in love with her best friend, room mate and classmate. The one she was always seen with.
The verdict was to take her back and shield her from what was happening between me and Lira. Lira would now pretend to be so into Fannie. We were too deep in love to stop, we could only hide it. My knowledge of Media Studies was reaching new frontiers, but my knowledge of Bible Studies was going down the drain.
“Girls!” I say, cheerfully. “Hey!” they reply, simultaneously. We hug. I start with my official girlfriend Thando. She meets me halfway. We hug. Then I get closer to my secret lover Lira. She lets me come to her. We hug. Thando does not think anything of this. Life at varsity was westernized.
“So what’s the latest?” asked Thando. “I read in Turfloop Now that we’re closing next week,” I respond. “Huh-huh!” that’s Thando. “I heard…” Lira comes in. “You heard what?” asks Thando impatiently. “I heard…I heard…I heard.” The first one was louder, like it was breaking news. The second one was lower, like it was sad news. The last one was lowly, like that was the news.
Monday, after lectures…
Tonight is a school night. We have work to do. The Literature lecturer is nuts. He can give us a quiz without prior warning. There’s an English test tomorrow and Journalism practical assignment due on Wednesday. Our schedules are busy so I’m going straight to my room.
Before I could say bye, Thando interrupts. “Chilli, are you coming in with us?” I’ve always had a problem with this chick. I could never resist her. “If a full-body massage is on the menu!” She does not say anything but gives me the love look.
They stay at MBL North, room number 0011 on the ground floor. Originally this was Thando and Shirley’s room before Shirley moved out to stay with her boyfriend and Lira moved in with Thando. Lira’s room now belongs to Ro. I never knew her real name, maybe it is Ro. Every now and then Lira visits Ro, more especially when her grades are sinking. Ro is a bookworm, and so was Lira, before she met Thando and entered the boy zone.
It’s only one in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll stay until three. Time flies when you are having a good time. Before I knew it my phone was saying 10 pm. Very few people on campus had clocks on their walls or watches on their wrists. Forget the stats, it shall be midnight in two hours and I have a surprise quiz to prepare for. “Bo-nice, it’s been nice. But a brother gots to go,” I tell this to Lira. I know she’ll let me go. “You ain’t gotta bounce,” answers the wrong person.
What am I to do? “Don’t do that!” but she doesn’t stop. “Please!” Thando can be stubborn, and I, well, I find that debilitating. She seduces me until we’re behind the curtain and Lira can’t see us anymore. The raffle of paper begins. Lira is studying. I should be doing likewise, if Thando was not in her white gown. “Thando, we’re writing a quiz tomorrow.” “Nobody knows for sure,” and she starts her magic. I could get used to this.
Tuesday caught me off guard. At the end of the day, I switched off my phone and buried my sorrows in my books. It’s a test tomorrow and I can’t afford to fail it.
“E jo, wake up. It’s getting late.” Damn, I nearly overslept. “E jo, what time is it?” “Thirty minutes before you sit for the test.” Quickly I rush to the shower. The water is ice cold. Without finishing the job, I’m out. I was used to this. You know, crossing the night. These were the repercussions.
“Had an orgy last night, Chilli Boy?” jokes Fannie. “With a record four chicks!” I say, panting like a wild dog. Fannie sits in front of me because his surname comes before mine when arranged in alphabetical order. He turns around and whispers “Let me guess, with your girlfriend and her three godmothers.” The people around us hear us, but they know the drill.
Finally, I’m finished writing. That was easy. I swear I’ll prepare in time next time, and this time I’m for real. Do not mark my words.
Lira is leaning against a wall opposite the exam hall. I’m not surprised she finished before all of us. Fannie and Thando will be out in no time. No matter how different our “study” methods, we finished roughly the same time. Thando was so used to writing her notes on the ruler, and anything she could get her hands on. It was impossible for her to study. Fannie studied in secret. He hid everything.
The only skeleton that I kept in my closet was my love affair with Lira. Though Lira was not as beautiful as Thando was, Lira could think. I liked her for that. She could think about her life, her environment, her future, and what not. Thando was about the here and the now. But I liked her because she was beautiful and attractive. I could never get my eyes off her.
Most people couldn’t get their eyes off her. As long as you wanted Thando, she wanted you too, rich or broke, handsome or ugly, student or lecturer. Echo was lucky because she wanted him more than he wanted her. If the tables had turned before he deregistered, I would’ve seen her for who she was. And maybe I would’ve chosen Lira over her. But I’d have to get past Fannie, now that Costa had moved on with Ro. Not to worry, I’d cross that bridge when I got to it.
“Hey, sexy! How did it go?” “You slept with Thando while I listened to your moaning.” I tried to explain that maybe it was a trick. Maybe she heard something and wanted to check if it was true. If I had refused, she’d know. Of course I didn’t think of this when we made sweet love in front of my secret lover. “I’m sorry.” I said in the end. We agreed that Friday was ours. Plans were made. Lira would tell Thando that she was sleeping at Ro’s. I’d kick my room mate out for the night. Send him to Fannie’s place. Fannie had a single room.
Thando and Fannie came together to where we were standing. He was cracking her up like usual. Unlike Lira, she found his jokes hilarious. When they got there, Friday night had been dissected to cell level.
So what’s the news? Ever seen writers that don’t like a juicy story? All the way to our hostels we spoke about things that were happening around us. But nobody dared raise a topic that penetrated our boundaries.
“E jo!” says my room mate. “I know I was meant to sleep at Fannie’s, but Fannie’s got a girl. Come on out and I’ll tell you about it.” Lira covered herself up and I opened the door. Part of my torso was on the inside. It was the head that had popped out. “Her name is Thando. I believe that’s your Thando.”
This would be a scoop for Ro if she found out. She’d be willing to put Lira in her place. They’ve been the worst of enemies ever since Ro made up with Costa. Ro had the perception that Lira wants him back. She couldn’t be more wrong. Costa was all cash and no brains. But I wouldn’t know.
“How could we be so stupid?” said Lira when I got back and related the story to her. “I mean, me and Ro are not talking. Everybody knows that. But I lied about sleeping at hers. I know it’s my room too and don’t need her permission, but it does not make any sense.” There was no need to think long and hard. Precious milk had split. “Technically it wouldn’t mean that I’m with you, even if I’m not with Fannie. But Thando knows everybody that I talk to. If there was a guy in my life, sure I’d tell her. But if that guy was you, I’d do everything in my power to hide it.”
This got me thinking. For how long has she known? For how long has she been sleeping with Fannie behind my back? How many jokes did they crack? Bet when she was laughing she was thinking, ‘they think they are the smart ones.’
I cannot ignore the news. God forgive me for what I’m about to do. I fail to ignore the news. Something has to be done about it. But we also have to be smart about it. I said thanks to rumza before he left. One more favour to ask from him. “Hello. Could you sleep here for tonight?” “Where are you going to sleep?” “Out.” “Out where?” “I can’t tell you where. That’s classified information. You’ll definitely read it in the paper. I’m sure Ro won’t miss it for the world.” “Just lock the door and switch off the lights. I will come later.”
There was a sudden change of plans – Thando and I were going to finish what we had started at MBL North 0011, Lira’s place.
Shirley came knocking at dawn. They just had a fight with her boyfriend. We let her talk to the hand. We needed our sleep for we had not slept that night. She fell asleep on Thando’s bedside with her mouth open and tears in her eyes.
When Thando got there in the morning, I was having breakfast in bed. Lira and I in the same bed was the first thing she saw. As you know, Lira owned the front room. “You can join us or you can go comfort Shirley across the curtain. Poor thing! She has just broken up with her boyfriend.” It felt right to say that to her face.