Send Him My Love
Copyright 2016 Vincent Gray
This book is a work of fiction. All the characters developed in this novel are fictional creations of the writer’s imagination and are not modelled on any real persons. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
I apologize. I have taken over your seat in order to get stuff out of my cabin bag, I will be finished in a minute.
No problem take you time, there is no hurry.
There, I am finished. Let me just zip up the bag.
Do you want me to put your bag in the cabin bag compartment?
Thanks that will be great.
Let me introduce myself, I am Virginia Penrose, I don’t really see any point in being anonymous, we will be sitting next to each other for the next 12 hours or however long it is going to take us to get to Paris.
I agree with you, pleased to meet you, I am Robert Mackenzie. Are going to Paris on business or holiday.
A bit of both I suppose. I am a fashion model and I am going to some work.
Excuse for not recognizing you. So you are the real Virginia Penrose, your name did strike me as familiar.
Yes unfortunately I am the real Virginia Penrose without any photoshopping.
I won’t have expected to find someone like you in economy class.
It could not be helped. It was the only seat I could get on this flight and I have to be in Paris tomorrow morning. The trip is totally unplanned. I was asked only yesterday if I was available and I said yes as I needed the money, believe it or not.
And you, are you on business or pleasure.
Like you it is a bit of both, a bit of business and a bit of pleasure.
So what do you do?
I like to see myself as writer, a novelist, my interest is in writing fiction
You are the first novelist I have ever met.
And you are the first fashion model that I have ever met in the flesh.
Fashion modelling is only my day job. I have other ambitions. I actually want to be an actress. However, I am still at the wannabe stage. For the time being I am working as a fashion model, but my dream is to become an actress, and eventually a movie star if you like.
Well I also a budding writer. I only started writing about four years ago.
What were you doing before you started writing, if you don’t mind me asking?
I don’t mind. I was a professor of philosophy.
This is another first me, you are the first professor I have I ever met, and also the very first real professional philosopher that I have ever met.
As I was saying, I used to be professor. I am now retired, but I have been granted the position of a professor emeritus, which allows me certain privileges like having an office on campus and having access to the library and internet and so.
Have you published any of your novels?
Yes I have managed to write and publish eleven novels over the past four years.
Wow that is unbelievable!
Yes I have actually surprised myself.
How did you manage think up eleven different stories?
To be honest I don’t know. Each novel started with a faint germ of an idea which eventually germinated and grew into something that I could not have imagined beforehand.
Have any of your novels become best sellers?
Not yet. One of my books has done fairly well.
And which novel is that?
Segomotso and the Dress Maker
Can’t say I have heard of it.
What is it about?
The novel is an experiment in “Queer Fiction”. I have been told it is a beautiful story. I am proud of what I achieved in the writing of Segomotso and the Dress Maker. It belongs to the canon of ‘South African Queer Literature’. I don’t think SA Queer literature has made its mark in South Africa or Africa.
I have never heard of Queer Fiction before. You don’t mind me asking you if you are gay.
No not at all. I am not gay. But that does not stop me as a writer from writing about characters who happen to be gay.
You seem to be disappointed that I am not gay?
No I am not. I am actually glad that you not. You are nice man.
A nice man? You think that at the age of 67 I can still be a nice man?
Well you are definitely not unattractive. You don’t look your age at all.
Well thank you. And I find you incredibly beautiful. How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?
I don’t mind. I am twenty two. Going back to your book, tell me more about the writing of Segomotso.
OK, let me start at the very beginning. The pre-history of Segomotso goes back to the 1970s. It is grounded in the turmoil of the experiences associated with the 1970s in South Africa. South Africa was in a mess in the 1970s. Many of my own experiences converged in the writing of Segomotso and the Dress Maker.
What actually inspired you to write the book?
To be honest I don’t really know. Many things contributed to the inspiration of the narrative which eventually gave rise to Segomotso. I suppose Segomotso was ultimately inspired by a strange experience that I had in 1979 while I was a temporary lecturer at the University of Cape. I befriended a Coloured transvestite by pure accident. I was driving down De Waals drive late one night after a movie at the Labia in Cape Town. It was about 11.30 pm. I saw a lone woman hitchhiking on the highway. I drove past her not intending to stop, but I stopped anyway about 100 meters away, that is only after I had second thoughts. After a bit of a wait, I opened the door and I saw that the hitchhiker was a Coloured woman. Anyway we began talking and she suddenly interrupted our conversation by stating that she was ‘Queer’. I did not immediately grasp the meaning or significance of her strange confession. I immediately replied, shooting from the hip: It does not matter, we are all queer, and in fact everybody is queer.
That is amazing, why did you say that?
I think the reason why I said that we are all queer in a manner of speaking was that between 1978 and 1979 it felt like that I was living a double life. My father had died in a car accident. I was going to Mass and reading the Bible, but I was also reading Jean Genet, Habermas, Hegel, Sartre, Camus, Adorner, Heidegger, Althusser, Gadamer, Foucault and Henry Miller. I was reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer, I read Henry Miller all the time. In fact Henry Miller was having the biggest impact on me. In 1978 my life had become a blur. My father had passed away. I found myself visiting the illegal multi-racial nightclubs in Fordsburg. After parties in Yeoville and Bellevue I found myself drinking in shebeens in Alexander Township with on the run Soweto student activists. In the mean time I was trying to escape my military call up for a 3 month army camp on the border, the ultimate destination being the bush war on the Angolan border. The music of Pampa Madiba played by Malombo Jazz Men and Dollar Brand was filling my brain. And then I got a job as a temporary lecturer at the University of Cape Town. I managed to escape the army, but only for a brief moment, they were on my trail and they would catch up with me eventually. And then I found myself on De Waal drive with a beautiful Coloured woman hitchhiker in the passenger seat of my car saying that she was QUEER, if she was a Lesbian it was fine with me. I had no ulterior motives with regard to her. I had picked her up on second thoughts with no ulterior designs in my heart. She was not a prostitute.
Anyway she must have realized that I did not grasp the situation. She then said: ‘ I am man!’ I realized that my hitchhiker was a gay transvestite and he had realized that I was as straight as a plank and completely absent minded. But I kept on saying we are all queer. And in the dark the VW beetle was hurtling down De Waal drive, and now close to midnight ….the whole world seemed queer to me. I told ‘her’ that I had nothing against queers or transvestites, and she asked if I wanted to go clubbing on the foreshore of Cape Town’s dockland in nightclubs frequented by transvestites and cross-dressers. I realized that maybe my deceased father who was arrested at Tugela Ferry location as the only white man in a shebeen had discovered the meaning of the universe. She then asked me if I would like to go clubbing with her. I replied that the night was still young and I told her that I had already spent three nights in Phoenix.
She asked: Where is Phoenix?
I replied that Phoenix was an Indian Township just outside Durban.
She asked: What was a white man doing in Phoenix?
I replied with a question: What was a white man doing in a shebeen in Tugela Ferry?
She replied: I don’t know, but I like white men.
Anyway we drove to the foreshore in the Cape Town harbour district. The club only opened after 12.00 and at one-o-clock in the morning I joined a bevy of white, Coloured and Black transvestite hookers in a club frequented by foreign sailors from every country in the world. In the 1970s in spite of apartheid, racial and gender transgression was alive and well. Back in the docklands on the foreshore of Cape Town after midnight, I was only a temporary lecturer at UCT, but I was also the only white South African straight male ever to venture into a multi-racial dockland nightclub that was frequented by people who lived at the very margins of society, but I had hard cash in my wallet. I understood Jean Genet and Henry Miller, I felt privileged to have a glimpse of another life. And I was the man of the moment. You could only buy spirits by the bottle, and I had money to spend. I ordered bottles of whiskey and boxes of cigars. We danced until dawn. Just before sunrise I drove my Coloured transvestite home to some Coloured township close to where Dr Alan Boesak lived. I never saw her again.
And your other novels, how were they inspired?
All kinds of situations and experiences can play a formative role in the creation of a fictional narrative. For example, as a kid I had grown up living on the margins of Locations, I grew up in the 1960s when Indian, Coloured and Black people were been moved around. I personally experienced the destruction of Kalamazoo and Stirtonville Locations which existed almost in my backyard. The Barracuda Night Club trilogy starting with The Girl from Reiger Park bears witness to those social upheavals.
My novella Waterlandsridge also bears testimony to this, by mentioning Vosloorus. Waterlandsridge is an escape from the unbearable whiteness of being, in the world of apartheid South Africa. In Waterslandridge there are no Black People….there is a reason for this. It is to demonstrate how lazy white people were in apartheid South Africa. Waterlandsridge affirms the richness of a life of manual labour. In the 1970s some of us were living in a world without boundaries in spite of the walls of apartheid. In the shadows we were involved in transgressions that ignored racial and gender barriers.
We were the “white ghosts”. In 2013 I started writing fiction based on my experiences of the 1960s and 1970s in South Africa. Out of these experiences emerged the novel: Segomotso and the Dress Maker and The Girl from Germiston….plus all the others.
Looks like they want us to put on our seat belts.
Are you currently working on any new novels?
Yes I am. I am currently working on a story that revolves around the birth, life and death of romantic liaisons.
What is the plot?
That is a good question. I am actually not sure about the plot yet. I am working with a few ideas that revolve around relationship triangles, misunderstanding, betrayal and insecurity. Somehow the plot will take care of itself.
Sounds like the material for the story comes from your own personal experiences?
Indeed it does.
Do you feel up to sharing your personal and possibly secret experiences with a complete stranger?
Well why not? I have nothing to hide. Let me see how I can begin the story. OK this is how the story starts. A long time ago a mutual acquaintance bumped into someone, a girl, who said: ‘Send him my love’.
Do you mean she sent her love to you via a mutual friend?
Yes. But remember that this a fictionalized account of something that could have happened to anybody. The message was actually sent to someone personally via a mutual friend, that is, someone who also knew the girl. The someone or the somebody, that is the person, or the recipient of the message delivered by the mutual friend does not have to necessarily be me, who happens in this instance to be the writer of the story, and the story is not an autobiography.
So you implying that the girl does not exist and no one sent their love to you or to any other recipient, or to anybody, that is, to the someone or the somebody that you mentioned?
Well yes and no.
What do you mean?
Let me get on with the story and lets both see how it unravels in the actual telling. Let’s not get bog down on questions of whether the characters in the story actually exist or have existed in space and time. Let’s not assume that the story is an autobiography. Let’s treat it as fiction, even if it were true. As I said I write fiction, this is what I do. I am not trying to write accurate and verifiable personal histories or social histories.
But the girl does exist? I want her to exist.
Yes she exists or at least she existed. She has now vanished and cannot be traced, so she is as good as a fictionalized character and as the story unfolds she will grow into a fully fictionalized character. The story begins when the girl was twenty two years of age, which also happens to be your age. Like you she was beautiful or at least very attractive.
Well who is this mysterious girl? I cannot help not being intrigued. I want her to be real. I want her to be a real character.
OK for the sake of the story let us make her real. And for the sake of good fiction she is a real character.
How are you going to do that?
Easy we can embed the characters in real history, in real space and time. A character’s mind has to be not only embodied, it also has to be embedded in a real world, in real history, and in real space and time.
In what world and history were they embedded as characters?
Well for starters the characters all went to the same school. That makes the girl real. Does that make you happy?
Yes it makes me very happy, thank you.
For the sake of the story I going to narrate it in the first person if you know what I mean.
No problem. Don’t worry. I understand what you implying by first person narration, I am not going to confuse the speaker in the story with you the author or the writer. You are God, the creator of the story.
Ok now that we are done with the preliminaries let’s get on with the story. I was a year ahead of her. I only knew her by sight while we were at school. She probably also knew me by sight. We were never on speaking terms while at school. I only really got to know her a few years after we had both finished school.
How did you eventually become involved with her?
Well at first I was not actually involved with her personally. We initially became acquainted while she was going out with a friend of mine. At the time I was in the second year of my BA, I was majoring in Philosophy and English. Remember before I went to university I was in the army for a year. So that is how I lost a year of my life. My friend was a doing a BSc degree in sport science and she was doing a diploma in radiography. We all went to the same church, a Pentecostal church and this is an important feature in the story.
Are you religious?
No I am not religious. How could I be religious if I have been a professor of philosophy?
OK. Let me put it this way. Were you once religious?
Yes. I became religious while in my first year at university.
Why did you become religious?
I think loneliness was a major contributory factor. At that time I was experiencing loneliness because I happened to be socially awkward, I also was insecure and I lacked self-confidence. I was an introvert.
But now you are not socially awkward and you definitely don’t lack confidence, and I find it hard to be believe after our brief acquaintance that you once suffered from insecurity, and that you lacked self-confidence.
Well that may be true for now, but it was not true then.
But now you are cured of these….what should I call them, emotional or psychological infirmities?
Yes I think am now cured of these infirmities of the soul as you have put it. I wish I could have been in this cured state right from the start. I would have been much better off if I had no emotional and psychological infirmities as you put it. I would have been spared a great deal of emotional pain, angst and anxiety.
Let me go back now to how we first became acquainted. For this I need to give my character names. For the sake of the story let us call them Sheldon Eagleton and Cheryl Nightingale. And for the sake of the story I am Richard Cunningham.
Pleased to meet you Mr Richard Cunningham.
Well I am also delighted to have meet you.
OK going back to the story. It was through Sheldon that I became a member of the United Apostolic Pentecostal Church. By the way, I was born, baptised and confirmed as a Roman Catholic. So we can say that Richard has a Catholic soul.
What do mean by having a Catholic soul?
Well for the sake of the story let’s state that he was strong on forgiveness and absolution. It will explain a lot about his character. OK getting back to the story. With regard to Sheldon, we grew up in the same town or suburb, and we went to the same schools, but we were never friends until I met Sheldon by chance at Johannesburg Park Station one afternoon while waiting for train to take us back to Boksburg where we both lived. We got talking and soon he was telling about his faith and how he became born again. I told him that I had also became a born again Christian and from that moment we became firm friends. He told me about his church and invited me to come to a service and from the very next Sunday I started going to his church. We lived down the street from each other and we used to walk together to church. I always think of those days as the ‘Taliban days’. We practically lived at the church, our entire lives were centred on going to church. On a Tuesday evening there was the prayer meeting, on Thursday evening there was Bible study, on Friday nights there was the youth meeting or youth guild, on Saturday nights there was a chorus singing service and a social, and then on Sundays there was youth church at 8.00 am, normal service at 10.00 am and evening service at 7.00 pm. So on Sundays the whole day was taken up with Church.
Now Sheldon was tall, athletic, highly intelligent and incredibly good looking. He was also extremely charismatic, in fact he had an electrifying and magnetic personality. In the church he was incredibly popular. All the women folk at the church, both young and old were smitten by his good looks, charm and personality. He became my best friend. We became exceptionally close, almost like brothers, I did not mind living in his shadow. Being a superb athlete and gifted sportsman he was awarded an exceptionally generous bursary. He had also been head hunted by an elite private school as a prospective sports coach. Because he was living for free with his parents he had quite a bit of spare cash. He bought a VW Kombi. This was odd, I don’t know why he bought a Kombi. While we were still at high school he had an on and off relationship with Cheryl. One moment they were going steady, the next moment they broke up. Anyway shortly after buying the Kombi he pitched up at a Friday youth meeting with Cheryl on his arm. She was as beautiful as ever and they made a stunning couple. She stayed in Boksburg South close to St Dominic’s Convent and he would fetch her for all the church meetings. We formed a kind of threesome. Well it was only a threesome in the context of the church. We were always together as friends at church. Outside of church I never went along with them when they went out on date. So there was private intimate aspect to their relationship which knew nothing about. But the three of us remained firm friends, bound together by our shared Christian faith. So this was how I became acquainted with Cheryl in her role as Sheldon’s girlfriend. Now and then I bumped into Cheryl at Park Station in the afternoons and we would catch the same train to the East Rand. I would get off at Boksburg Station and she would get off a few minutes later at the Boksburg South Station. She was always warm and friendly towards me, and when we happened to be together alone, in the absence of Sheldon, our relation was always perfectly Platonic with no hint of any kind of undercurrent or flirtation. Because there was nothing between us I always felt comfortable and natural in her company, and she seemed to enjoy the discussions that we had while sitting together on our train journeys home. To be an emotionally intimate or a physically intimate romantic relationship with Cheryl was beyond my imagination. It was a possibility that never ever entered my mind. To me it was something that could never happen. It did not even cross my mind. It was something I never entertained, not even for a split second. I could never fill the role of Sheldon and I would have to be like Sheldon in order to capture someone like Cheryl if ever that was a possibility and anyway she was totally in love with Sheldon.
On Sunday morning when I arrived at the church I noticed that Sheldon and Cheryl were not sitting together. It was clear that they had broken up. I didn’t say anything and Sheldon said nothing, he made no effort to volunteer anything about the breakup. One of the elders in the church who happened to live in the same street as Cheryl gave her a lift to all the church services, so she kept on coming to church Sunday after Sunday after breaking up with Sheldon. Usually after the youth service we would all stand outside in the sun on the lawn next to the church entrance chatting and socializing before the main morning service at 10.00 am. After Sheldon and Cheryl broke up, she stopped attending the early youth service. She only came to the late morning service. We would all be standing outside in the sun when Cheryl arrived with the elder. One Sunday after she got out of the car, instead of going straight into the church as she normally did she walked over and joined our group. It was late March, the season had passed the autumnal equinox, Easter was around the corner, the days were getting cooler, and on this particular morning in spite of the bright sunlight there was a slight chill in the air. Standing in the sun, we made a space for her in our circle. Sheldon did not greet her or make eye contact with her. I was acutely aware of the tension between them and it made me feel uncomfortable. I glanced at her face. Her gaze was directed at Sheldon. I could not help notice that she was looking at him with an imploring stare on her face, with an expression of pleading, of entreatment, like a vulnerable or wounded animal. He steadfastly avoided making eye contact. It was weird. I could not understand why he was punishing her. Then suddenly it struck me like a bolt out of the blue, like a revelation about something unbelievably shocking, it dawned on me that they had had sex. Being an English and philosophy major I knew that this should not have shocked me, but you have to remember my psychological and emotional context, we not only fundamentalist Evangelical Christians, we were Pentecostals and holiness was a value everyone held in high esteem. Sexual immorality was frowned upon and discouraged. I looked at Cheryl’s face and I could see a shadow of wantonness. In her demeanour and comportment there was an element of the harlot. Sheldon was a stained man, a man who had transgressed, who had given into the weakness of the flesh. I has shattered by the realization. In my naivety, in my unbelievable innocence and almost childlike gullibility I could not believe that they had done this, that they had committed the actual physical act of having sex, that they committed the biological act together. She was no longer a virgin and nor was he a virgin.
Even though I was doing a BA in English literature and philosophy at the time, I had become completely out of touch with secular reality by succumbing to the hold of religion. I was living in a parallel universe. The world of my studies was completed divorced from the world of my life as a Christian. I lived in two worlds that were separated into two water tight compartments, and there was no communication of ideas between the two worlds, so in a real sense I was living the life of an intellectual schizophrenic, with two worlds of conflicting ideas which co-existed separately in my brain. For example, in philosophy I wrote essays and examinations that criticised and refuted the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments for the existence of God. Yet my life was saturated with the belief in God’s existence as the foundation of my reality.
At that moment, when I first realized that they were no longer virgins, which happened while I was standing in the weak autumn sunlight, the scales fell from my eyes and I began to see the world with new eyes. I could now see and experience the real world as I should have been seeing and experiencing it in the first place, that is, through the prism or lens or filter of English literature and philosophy. It was like a third rebirth. I had already gone through the Christian born again experience, which was a kind of second birth. Now I was having another rebirth, which left me devastated. I felt betrayed by Sheldon. I felt sorry for Cheryl. I was experiencing the strangest emotions of being let down by two people that I cared for and also respected, and whom I had held in high regard. Their breakup had affected me, and I was becoming aware of this, it had created a stressful and unpleasant situation for me, it had put a strain on my relationship with both Sheldon and Cheryl because I liked them both, and I did not want to choose between them.
Sheldon and I continued to go on our regular runs and met for our joint gym training sessions. I never asked him what had happened between him and Cheryl. But he said things which hinted obliquely that they had had sex. He said his relationship with Cheryl had burnt him. He also mentioned that she had continued to write him letters on a regular basis after their breakup which I found strange. In the letters she wrote about the fact that what they had done was actually beautiful. In her eyes the act that they had engaged in was beautiful and was not something that should have been the cause of their breakup. He did not give details about the beautiful thing that they had done. In my mind I began to take Cheryl’s side. My sympathies were with her. She was right. What they had done was beautiful. I came to believe that they had done nothing wrong and that he had treated her appallingly. But I did not express my opinions to him. I listened in silence. I had undergone a mind change which Sheldon was not aware of. I had become increasing critical of the mind set or mentality of Evangelical Christians and Pentecostalism. I had also become politically radicalized and I was learning more and more towards a materialist or physicalist view of the world and the universe. Anyway I managed to successfully hide my changed mind set and the revision of my beliefs that I was undergoing. I couldn’t leave the church, my life had become too deeply entangled with the Evangelical Christian community which had become like a family to me. My own biological family was completely dysfunctional and I had found a substitute home in the church in spite of the fact that I was reading books like Monod’s Chance and Necessity and Dawkin’s Selfish Gene. I had now accepted evolution as a fact and I was drifting into Marxism. I managed to keep my opinions to myself and I went through the motions of being a Pentecostal Christian even though I had stopped believing in Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity.
The breakup between Sheldon and Cheryl seemed to be final. Sheldon began dating other girls and Cheryl kept on coming to church, and the relationship between Sheldon and Cheryl gradually returned to a level of civilized cordiality. Christmas was approaching with a calendar full of festivities that included the traditional ecumenical Saturday night carols by candle light on the lawns of Boksburg Lake next to the pavilion. Anyway, as fate would have it Cheryl cornered me after church on the Sunday evening before the carols by candle light event and asked if I would take her.
For some unknown reason I felt obliged to inform Sheldon that I would be taking Cheryl to the carols by candle light gathering at the Lake.
Sorry for interrupting you midway, I don’t think the reason was unknown, it was out of a sense of guilt that you or rather Richard felt obliged to inform Sheldon.
OK let me continue, for the sake of the story I will be Richard, so when I speak in the first person reference, it is not me speaking but Richard.
OK I get you. I can’t help thinking that you are talking about your own experience in this story.
I suppose you are right it was out of guilt. It is possible that in my mind I still felt that Sheldon had some claim over Cheryl. Morally I realized that I was not obliged to inform Sheldon about anything regarding my relationship with Cheryl.
What did Sheldon say?
I will tell you now.
I walked over to his house that evening. I actually felt nervous about the whole business, it did take quite a bit of courage because the whole thing was beginning to seem so messy, and this also made it quite embarrassing as well. He had already given me sufficient reason to believe that he had sexual relations with her and he had made this very oblique admission on the basis of the trust that existed between us as friends. So there was the whole business of honour to consider and all that kind of stuff which exists between friends. It was out of a sense of honour that I felt the strong need to tell him that I was going to take his ex-girlfriend Cheryl to the Lake. It also felt embarrassing for me because when I compared myself to Sheldon it felt as if I was playing the dating game completely out of my league when it came to the romantic stakes with a woman like Cheryl. People like me don’t get to go out with girls like Cheryl. Women like Cheryl don’t even notice guys like me. I was shorter than Shelden. In fact I was only a bit taller than Cheryl. Look I was strong, reasonably well built if you like, but I also wore plastic black frames glasses that now in retrospect were actually ‘retro’ in every sense of the word. When I arrived at his home I found him lying stretched out on his bed. He had just finished praying and reading the Bible after completing a session of weight lifting in the garage. He was just wearing his shorts and his muscles were all puffed up. I must say he had a magnificent body, more from years of swimming and gymnastics than from weight lifting. Compared to my face, his nose was aristocratic and his jawline was supremely masculine. When I told him that I would be taking Cheryl to the carol service at the Lake he shook his head in a gesture of disbelieve and disappointment. ‘You don’t know what you getting yourself into,’ he warned. ‘She is going to entangle you in her web and play with your feelings, you going to rue the day that you ever became involved with her believe me,’ he said.
On that Saturday evening at 18.30 I pressed the doorbell at the modest Boksburg South home where she lived with her parents and two teenage sisters who were just as attractive as she was. Her mom opened the door and invited me to sit in the lounge. Apparently Cheryl was still getting ready. Her father was sitting on one of the armchairs in the lounge reading the Saturday night Star newspaper. I sat down on the sofa. He had gathered that I was studying at Wits and was not too impressed to hear that I was doing a BA majoring in English and philosophy. He wanted to know what I could do career wise with a BA in English and philosophy apart from becoming an English school teacher. When he asked what my plans were I told him that I was going to do a BA honours in philosophy and thereafter possibly a PhD in philosophy. Of course he wanted to know what I was going to do with a PhD in philosophy. How was I going to put bread on the table with a PhD in philosophy? Cheryl’s mother would also later ask me the same questions. Obviously I was not studying for the right qualifications if I was really serious about their daughter. Well as you can see I have proved them wrong. Here I am tonight on a flight to Paris to give the key note address at a special philosophy meeting on consciousness to be hosted at the Sorbonne.
Sorry to interrupt you again. I am on way to Paris to do a photo shot at the Eifel Tower. But maybe we should meet in Paris and perhaps go out for dinner, I really think that would be quite nice.
Anyway what happened next? Please go on. I am finding your story fascinating.
After the carols by candle light Cheryl suggested that we go for a walk along the Lake promenade. The promenade was lit up with coloured lights and many of the trees were also lit up with coloured lights. It was incredibly exciting being alone with Cheryl once we had left the crowds. We walked along the promenade until we arrived at the other side of the Lake. We stopped at raft which was chained to a tree and I urged her to follow me onto the raft. We stepped of the bank onto the raft, the raft moved and to keep her balance she grabbed my arm, and then her hand slipped into mine. I held her hand briefly and in that brief intimate moment she tightened the grasp of her hand. In that moment something was sealed between us. An emotional bond was formed. At 10.30 pm we arrived back at her home. She invited in me for coffee. Her parents had gone to bed and its sisters seemed to be in their rooms. I followed her to kitchen when she went to make the coffee. She boiled some milk in a saucepan on the stove and added the hot milk to the coffee and stirred it well. Carrying our mugs of coffee we went back to the lounge. She sat down on the sofa and I sat in arm chair which happened to be her father’s chair. She laughed and said: ‘Don’t sit so far away, come sit on the couch with me, I don’t bite.’
So I joined her on the couch where sat and we spoke until one o clock into the morning while listening to LPs. I left without kissing her and she thanked me for a wonderful evening. She was kind, caring, sensitive and affectionate, and gave me the impression that she really like me and enjoyed being with me. Anyway being human I left her feeling absolutely elated, driving home in the VW Beetle back to Comet up Trichardt Street I was on an emotional high. By the time I got home I had already landed on cloud nine. I had never felt so good in all my life. It was amazing.
The next morning, that is Sunday morning, Sheldon was standing outside the church, I could see from the expression on his face that he was waiting for me. It was weird. He said: ‘Cheryl is already inside, go and sit next her.’ He began to brush my suit lapels, straighten my tie and fiddle with my collar. He then said: ‘You look good my china.’
When I sat down next her she gave me a radiant ‘Hi.’ Her eyes were sparkling and we sat smiling at each other throughout the whole service. After the service I confirmed that I would fetch her for the evening service. I had been given two tickets for Handel’s Messiah for the coming Saturday night at the Johannesburg City Hall, so on the way to the evening service I invited her on a date to the Messiah symphony concert which she accepted immediately.
At the concert after Comfort ye, Comfort ye my people I took her hand. On the way home before I got to the turn off to her home she redirected me and we took a detour to a nearby park where we parked under a tree. The whole evening she had been in such a buoyant mood that it was actually fun to be with her and she had also shown uninhibited affection towards me. Parked under the tree in the dark we sat smiling at each other. I had no reason to feel insecure, tense or stressed. I felt perfectly at ease in her company and I had every reason to believe that she liked me and not only wanted to be with me but also actually enjoyed being with me. In retrospect I should have accepted everything on trust and not tried to second guess her intentions. I should have let go of all my insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy. But I could not shake off my doubts and suspicions about her real feelings towards me. How could she possibly be attracted to me? I was not as tall and as athletic as Sheldon, I was definitely not as good looking as Sheldon, nor did I have his natural charm, wit, charisma and animal magnetism, so what could she possibly see in me? In spite of everything I was feeling vulnerable, being with someone like Cheryl was almost too good to be true. I felt like a very ordinary person, so what could she possibly see in me. I lacked confidence in my own self-worth. However, I had the presence of mind to realize that it would not have been appropriate for me to bare my soul to her and express or even confess my fears. I did not want to create the impression that I was craving constant reassurance. So I was hiding all these negative thoughts and emotions. Smiling she looked at me said: “What?” I smiled back at her and said that I was just savouring the moment. I added that it been a wonderful evening and that the rendition of Handel’s Messiah had exceeded my expectations. She agreed that the evening had also exceeded her expectations. I then spoke from my heart and confessed that it had been wonderful being with her and that I had had really a great time with her. And she said it was wonderful being with me and that she had also enjoyed every moment of the evening that we had spent together. It became clear that she wanted me to kiss her. So I obliged and started to kiss her. We kissed each other intimately and intensely, our lips and tongues moving for what seemed to be an eternity in heaven. I could not believe that I was intimately smooching Cheryl. If anyone had said while we were still at high school that I would one day have Cheryl’s amazing hot body in my arms and her lips pressed passionately against mine, I have treated that possibility as highly remote, if not completely improbable in every possible world.
When we drew back to look at each other, I asked her the question: ‘Where do we go from here?’ She replied smiling seductively, but also affectionately: ‘Where would you like to go?’ I said that I liked her a lot and thought that she was not only amazingly beautiful, but also a wonderful person. She replied that she was glad to hear that. It made her feel good. Then I said that I would like our relationship to grow. She replied that she would also like that, and it was something that she also really wanted. So it seemed that we both wanted our relationship to grow. Our feeling were mutual and reciprocal, and we were now in a committed relationship. Things seemed to have moved very fast to get us to this point in one week.
The December holidays had started and we both had part time jobs, but at every opportunity we went out for dinner or to see a movie or go somewhere, and at the end of the evening we always parked in the dark under the tree in the park. Our physical intimacy became increasing intense and passionate and it seemed that we were drawing closer and closer to brink of that magical and beautiful moment. I did not know whether she was on the pill and I could not bring myself to place a box of condoms in the car cabby. But I held myself back even though our petting had become dangerously intense and adventurous.
Of course Sheldon took an interest in the progress of my relationship with Cheryl. I disclosed nothing and refused to gossip about Cheryl and when I clammed up he would shrug his shoulders. I would not listen to any criticism and I always defended Cheryl’s honour and integrity. I felt I had nothing to worry or be concerned about, she was always full of affection towards me. And this is what counted most to me in my esteem, it was the warm affection which she showed towards me, it was like a magic tonic to my soul, it always left me feeling elated and very special. Affection, I had discovered, was an unbelievable wonder working emotion and she had so much affection to give. And she said that she loved me, especially in our intensely intimate moments. We had reached the stage in our relationship when we could freely express the fact that we loved each other deeply. When I eventually told Sheldon that we were in love, like always, he just shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘I am glad for both you.’
Then one day Sheldon asked if Cheryl ever put her hand on my groin and squeezed my private parts while I drove the car. I was shocked at his blatant question. I made me angry. I said it was none of his business. Then he said that she used to do this with him and it would get him going and in the end he couldn’t control himself when he was with her. Whenever he was alone with her he lost complete control of his desires, and it was this which led him to becoming burnt. In his relationship with Chery he found himself sinking helplessly into an abyss of carnal sin and all-consuming lust. The next thing that Sheldon asked was if she had ever told me about the various male friends that regularly visited her, especially one individual in particular, a person called Grant Saddleworth. Sheldon, Grant and Cheryl were all in the same class during high school. During high school Grant and Cheryl also went out on an on – off basis. Grant was now studying medicine. Sheldon said that Cheryl always said she got this taste in her mouth whenever Grant was about to visit her. I didn’t want to know any more about this kind of stuff regarding Cheryl, so my friendship with Sheldon grew cold and I stopped seeing him. However, he reminded me that he would be around as a good and loyal friend to pick up the pieces when I eventually fell apart.
I only saw Sheldon at church and apart from greeting, we barely said two words to each other. Cheryl was aware that a rift had developed between Sheldon and me. She would often remark: ‘What wrong with him!’ And there would be a frown on her brow.
After we had been going out for almost a year she began to let me know that this male friend or that male friend or Grant had popped in at her home to say ‘Hi’. I would respond: ‘Oh that’s nice!’ And I hid any feelings of insecurity that I happen to feel. I never asked questions. I made a conscious effort to trust her. On week day during the September holiday break I phoned her to let her know I would like to come over. She replied that Grant was coming to see here for a short visit between 12.00 and 14.00 and I should rather come at 15.00 or so. I began to feel insecure, I began to feel extremely agitated, I could not settle down or do anything. I looked at my watch every few minutes. I felt like going over to Sheldon for comfort. But them my pride got the better of me. I remembered what he said about being around to pick up the pieces when I fell apart. I began to imagine that Grant her old high school flame was banging her, especially because she had developed this taste for him. I had these sudden terrible intrusive mental image in mind that she was performing fellatio on him. The horrifying mental image would not go away. Maybe I did not know her as well as I thought.
I got into such state that I began to feel completely overwhelmed with desperation. I became increasingly convinced that I was at the brink of losing everything beautiful that I had in my relationship with Cheryl. I could not wait any longer so at quarter to two I go into my car and drove over to Cheryl’s house. I arrived just as Grant was driving off. Cheryl had already gone back into the house. I knocked on the front door. When she opened the door and saw it was me she could not hide her shock and surprise. She did not expect to see me until three oʹ clock. I barely recognized her. Her face was made up, she was wearing bright lipstick, her nails were painted bright red, she was wearing pull up stockings and black stilettos, and she was wearing a low cleavage black satin cocktail dress with the hem barely covering her thighs. I didn’t know whether I should shout at her in anger because of her perceived infidelity or embrace her tightly and make love to her right away. I embraced her tightly and said that I loved her, and she said that she loved me too. I felt my hand going under her dress, I began to pull her panties off, I lifted her up and carried to the lounge sofa, she said: ‘No not in the lounge, let’s go to my room.’ She locked her bedroom room and I fell upon her like an animal and we make passionate love. Afterwards she said in passing that I should not worry about her becoming knocked up because she was on the pill. We lay on the bed and she held me tight, she stroked my hair, she kissed me and she said that she loved me deeply, and she was glad that I had decided to make love her and what we did from the moment that I arrived was so beautiful, so wonderful, this act of uncontrolled sexual madness was something she found beautiful. I began to believe that this was what she wanted all the time.
After a while I asked her how many people was she able to love at once. She said she could only love one person at a time and that person was me. She said that has never betrayed me when it comes to love and affection. I didn’t want to ask what she meant by that. In my mind she love me only, she bestowed all her affections on me alone, but then she could still be fucking every Tom, Dick and Harry while being dressed up as a brazenly wanton harlot. I suddenly realized that I knew more about Cheryl than any one. Rationally I realized that I had to get out of this relationship. I now realized that she would destroy me. We lay on the bed, she kissed me all over, and she was so affectionate, so loving and so kind. I did not have the heart to dump her. I ate my pride and reciprocated her affection whispering that I loved her with all my heart. It was clear that I was now trapped, entangled and enmeshed in the web that she had spun so carefully and skilfully with the power and the glue and the stickiness of affection and loving kindness. Sheldon had once said that she was very experienced when it came to relationships. When I asked him what he meant, he said she was very experienced with men. I could never fathom what he meant by the word ‘experienced’ until this moment when I practically raped her like a wild animal.
After this incident our love grew stronger and it appeared that there were no more male visitors in her life. In a way we were made for each other, or that is what I thought. We enjoyed each other’s company, we made intense love whenever we could. Also I began to feel that the dark shadow of Sheldon had lifted from my relationship with Cheryl. I was even entertaining the possibility that I could make a life with Cheryl. She made me feel wonderful, it seemed that unknowingly or inadvertently through no conscious intention or purpose on her part she had an amazing positive effect on me as a person. My self-confidence increased, my insecurities vanished, my feels of inadequacy evaporated and my sense of self-worth became pleasantly inflated. She was good for me, there was no mistaking that. I committed my life into her hands, I was hers body, soul and mind, I supposed I would have died for her I loved her so much.
So is this story going to be one of those they lived happily ever after fairly stories, Mr Richard Cunningham?
Just wait, I am not yet finished Miss Virginia Penrose. The story has not quiet ended, there is still going to be lots more to come.
I had finished my BA and was planning to do a BA honours in philosophy. The December vacation was over in flash and now the New Year had arrived. The organist in our church who was single and about twenty five years old. She wanted to go on holiday for a week in Cape Town in the New Year. The only problem was that she did not want go alone. She was good friends with Cheryl as she also sometimes gave Cheryl a lift to church. So Cheryl decided go on holiday to Sea Point in Cape Town with the organist. They flew down and stayed in a hotel. Cheryl promised that she would write to me every day. And she did. While she was away I received a steady stream of long and interesting letters that had been sent by airmail.
When she got back she started working as a radiographer at the Johannesburg General Hospital. When she was working day shift we would catch the same train. She would board at Boksburg East and I would get on the train at Boksburg station. She would be standing in the non-smokers compartment waiting for me. In the afternoon we would meet at Park Station and travelled back to the East Rand together. I was into movies and theatre, and we would go out every weekend. We would go a cinema noveau in Johannesburg to watch an art movie or we would go to theatre, especially the Market Theatre. We had almost become like a very affectionate old married couple who loved one another’s company. Life and love could not have been more perfect. Almost six months had passed since she had been on that January holiday with the church organist.
The organist confided in Sheldon that while they were on holiday in Cape Town a German, probably in his mid-thirties had befriended Cheryl. He asked out for dinner and she did not return to her room that she was sharing with the organist until the next morning and she did this a number of times. They had a fallout over this and a tearful Cheryl pleaded with the organist not tell anyone about her infidelities especially me. The German had followed Cheryl to Johannesburg and they had been meeting secretly for a number of months. Of course the moment Sheldon heard about Cheryl’s infidelities he walked directly over to my house and dropped the bomb. He stood there in my room in 3 Everton Avenue Comet waiting for me to breakdown so that he could pick up all the pieces. I was shocked beyond belief. I could not get my mind round her behaviour, her infidelities, it was beyond me. But I did not break down, even though I was emotionally and psychology stunned and torn apart. I stayed icy calm. It was Saturday afternoon and I had booked movies tickets for China Town at a movie theatre in Benoni.
When I picked Cheryl up I felt emotionally cold and she sensed it immediately. There was a fearful flicker of disturbing pathos in her eyes. We were slightly early for the movie, so after parking I said we had to talk. I told her what Sheldon had informed me about her Cape Town holiday escapades. I asked if she had slept with the German. She kept quiet. I asked if she had slept with the German. She began to cry. I said: ‘I can’t hear.’ She whispered ‘yes’. At that moment it felt like bullet going straight through my heart. I felt crushed. I was shattered. I asked her: ‘How many times?’ She whispered that she did not know. I asked her again: ‘How many times?’ She started to sob in the car. I then suddenly felt sorry for her and put my arm around her and kissed her on the cheek. Her makeup was a mess. She took some tissues out of her hand bag and wiped her tear stained face, using the tears to remove all the makeup from her face. After she had stopped weeping we took our seats in the movie theatre. I glanced at her face. The makeup was gone and her face was white. But there was still smudged black mascara around her eyes which gave her face a stark death like appearance. Her demeanour had become a mask of tragedy. We took our seats in the cinema. She snuggled against me, she held my hand tightly, squeezing it, caressing it. I could not respond. I felt emotionally cold and dead inside. I had nothing left in me. I felt anger towards her and the anger would not abate. I felt the unbearable hurt of betrayal. I could not understand what she had done, it was beyond reason, logic and rationality. It was inhuman. With regard to the movie I watched it without seeing anything. As the reel rolled I found myself becoming entangled in a titanic struggle with my emotions, and with my anger. At the same time I was also struggling against all kinds of doubts, doubts which spoke to my heart, mind and soul telling me to forgive, telling me to forgive the person that was clinging so desperately to me. Telling me that maybe I was overreacting. Deep down I was also struggling with not wanting to let her go. The thought of what it would feel like to be without her flashed through my mind. What about the pain of loneliness that I would most certainly experience? What about the pain of unbearable grief that I would have to endure for hours, days, weeks, month and possibly even years if I left her. And what about the pain of recurring regrets that I would have to face in the future. With the passing of time I would most certainly eventually begin to see things differently in a more sober light? With the onset of old age we do most certainly become more forgiving, more understanding, we begin to see things with the bright unimpeded light of hindsight. So many thoughts were racing through my mind, so many emotions were being stirred up within me. I felt bewildered. I felt confused. What would be the emotional and spiritual consequences if I broke up with her? That was the fearful unknown. What about the painful yearnings, the painful memories which would come back to haunt me, what about the recurrent bouts of melancholy that would drain away all meaning and significance from my life without Cheryl? I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed by all kinds of conflicts. When I began contemplating unconditional forgiveness, I felt all kinds of resistances erupting in my psyche and in my bones, preventing me from going down the road of forgiveness. I felt the psychological resistances against forgiveness in the full force of my burning pride, in the power of my vanity, in the emotional pain of betrayal, in the unbearable disappointment, and in the humiliation that a stranger was fucking my girlfriend behind my back. She seemed to have so much power over me.
In my heart I knew at this moment of deep crisis that deep down I was still a Roman Catholic. Absolution and forgiveness was at the heart of Catholicism. As a Catholic my cross would be forgive Cheryl unconditionally and that would be my absolution, which would be my liberation. But I could not. I failed.
We did not speak. After the movie I dropped her off at her home. I did not feel like going home and I did not want to see Sheldon. I ended up outside the church. It was very late, but I knocked on the door of the manse, the home of our pastor which was next to the church. He opened the door in his gown and pyjamas. I started to cry. I was in such an emotional state, and I felt so helpless and pathetic. I did not tell him everything. I wanted to spare Cheryl. I told the pastor that she had gone out for dinner with someone that she had met while on holiday and this guy had followed her back to Johannesburg and they were having a secret relationship behind my back. I asked the pastor what he would do if he were in my shoes. He said he would leave her. When he said that I decided to return the church of my baptism and confirmation. If the pastor had said forgive her unconditionally, I would have. I wanted hear that I should forgive her unconditionally. I wanted to be commanded by a priest to forgive her unconditionally, I could not do by myself.
I never went back to the church and I never contacted Cheryl again. Sheldon and I drifted apart. We hardly ever saw each and we went on with our lives on separate paths that diverged further and further apart with time. Cape Town and UCT became a second home for me for a time. I did my PhD at UCT and I had a number of short term lecturing contracts at UCT’s Departments of English and Philosophy.
The irony of everything was that all the stuff that was flowing through my mind as I sat in darkness of the movie theatre with the meaningless frames of China Town rolling over the screen and with Cheryl desperately clinging to me and grasping my hand tightly came true. Within two days I regretted my decision to leave her. I was filled with regret. I was filled with the incredible pain of loss and grief. In the days, weeks, months and years that followed I experienced the recurrent pains of longing, loss, yearning, melancholy, nostalgia and forlornness.
It is true that time is the great healer. I did eventually get over her and I did finally forgive her. I stopped thinking of her, often for very long periods of time. It was only at odd moments, when a dream, a visual image of something, a sound, a texture, a fragrance or a taste would awaken memories of Cheryl, and then the pain in all its forms would return in the form of something like a phantom limb. Actually the pain was the emotional pain of depression. Talking about the pain of a phantom limb, I did eventually come to the realization that in my mind Cheryl had magically metamorphosed into a fantasy and all my feelings were linked to an obsession with a fantasy that had no connection with any real person.
You can image how surprised I was when I received a wedding invitation from Sheldon. I drove back to Boksburg from Cape Town. I wondered whether Cheryl had been invited to the wedding. I suddenly felt nervous and excited at the prospect of seeing her again. But I also had a strong feeling that it would be impossible to pick up and continue our relationship from where it had broken off. I also realized that if I saw Cheryl again I may experience disappointment with the mismatch between what had become my fantasy of her and the real existing person who was Cheryl with all her faults and flaws. I had also learnt that Sheldon had left the Pentecostal Church and had joined the Baptist Church. They were married in the Boksburg Baptist Church and the wedding reception was the church hall. In the church I immediately spotted Cheryl, and my heart skipped beat. Sheldon had the heart to invite her. She turned her head and when she saw me she smiled radiantly and waved, and I waved back. After the wedding ceremony while the bride and bridegroom were driven to the Boksburg Lake for the wedding picture taking we went and took our places in the reception hall. I sat down by an empty table and Cheryl joined me. I stood up when she walked over to where I was sitting. We kissed and hugged each other tightly. We sat down and I held her hand for a while. I asked her how she was doing. She replied: ‘I am doing fine, and how are you? It is so nice to see you again, you look so good, I hear you have been awarded your PhD, congratulations.’ I returned the compliments. She was still as beautiful as ever, yet I discerned a loneliness and forlornness in her. There was an unmistakable sadness in her eyes. The real person had become completely different to the fantasy that I had of her.
After the reception I drove her back to her home. She was still living with her parents. She invited me in for coffee. No one was home. After coffee I suggested we go have supper and maybe do something together. Having dinner together gave us a chance to speak about the past and we also spoke about our breakup, and in a real way we were able make up and the rift was healed between us. But we both knew that we could never go back to how it was between us in the past. When I dropped her off at her home we embraced and kissed each other passionately, but we drew back from each other. Smiling in the moonlight she said: ‘I have never loved someone as much as I loved you.’ I answered: ‘I still love you.’ And she said: ‘I know.’ Anyway I left her and decided to drive back to Cape Town.
Is that the end your story Mr Richard Cunningham?
No Ms Virginia Penrose, there is still the closing off of the narrative. It has to find it natural terminus in which everything remains unresolved. In this story there cannot be any closure.
Oh that is so sad Mr Richard Cunningham.
Three years later after my stint at UCT and I returned to Johannesburg. I got job as a lecturer in philosophy at Wits. The first thing I did after settling down in Joburg was to join the Johannesburg Film Society. It was on a Sunday night after a Film Society movie at the Metro in High Point in Hillbrow that a familiar face caught my attention. It was Cheryl, she was playfully cavorting with her boyfriend, who was an extremely good looking fellow, someone who was cut in the same mould as Sheldon. In fact he was some kind of replica of Sheldon. It was very late on a Sunday night, close to eleven o clock, and this is what made our encounter so surreal and so unexpected. We spontaneously greeted each other without stopping to speak, it was the kind of greeting that passing strangers might make in the dead of night. Like a passing stranger I disappeared into the dead of night never to see her again in the flesh. After several years had passed since I had last seen her fleetingly in Hillbrow I received a message in passing from a friend who seen Cheryl working nightshift at casualties in the new Johannesburg Hospital in Parktown. She asked after me and sent a message via our mutual acquaintance: ‘Please give Richard my love, give him my love’. That was last connection I ever had with her. It is funny that after all these years I still often think of her. She had been a very special person in my life and had played a pivotal role in the growth and development of my own self-understanding. I am better and richer person because of her even though I suspect she was a bit mad. That night that I saw her in Highpoint in Hillbrow the thought that she was indeed mad did occur to me.
Now that we have internet and all the various kinds of social networks, every now and then I do an electronic search for Cheryl Nightingale but without any success. She is not on the radio. She has left no electronic footprint and I have not been able to track her down. She has lived an interesting life and she has now vanished without leaving any trace or record of the life that she lived or of who she was. Her life now exists only in the memories of living people who once knew her and still find time to think about her and enjoy the memories of her. If she is still alive, she would be an old woman now. But eventually all knowledge and information about her will vanish.
That is the end of my story Ms Virginia Penrose.
Mr Richard Cunningham I must admit that was some story. But forgive me if I still think that it was true and you are wilfully hiding this fact.
Ms Virginia Penrose all good fiction has be true in some sense in order for it to be good literature as well.
Mr Richard Cunningham are you still good for that dinner date in Paris, do you have a card or cell number so that we can keep in touch.
Is it Mr Richard Cunningham or Mr Robert Mackenzie who you wish to invite for dinner?
Well I don’t want to choose. I am just like Cheryl in every way.
Wake me up when we land in Paris.
I will Mr Robert Mackenzie.
Goodnight Robert. Sweet dreams.