A very short story
Copyright © 2017 Vincent Gray
Shakespir 2017 Edition
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.
Dedicated to my amazing wife Melodie and my wonderful daughter Ruth
I had just finished the first year of my PhD at University of Cape Town (UCT) and had travelled up to Hotazel in the last week of November 1979. At the beginning of November Samantha MacGuire had been served with banning orders and had immediately skipped the country crossing the border into Botswana and flying to Luanda in Angola. The Party instructed us who had escaped the drag net to go to ground, to lie low and cease all overt involvement in public activism for the next couple of months.
Nineteen seven nine was a roller-coaster eventful year. We had witnessed one of the first conscientious objection trials at the Winfield military base in Cape Town. We crowded outside the courtroom following the proceedings through the open windows. I experienced my first frightening encounter with a huge white and black killer whale while diving in the Atlantic in a forest of kelp with other divers who were research scientists based at UCT and who were somehow linked to the Department of Sea Fisheries. Samantha and I were also cinema fanatics and went to movies several times a week at the Labia Theatre. We also saw ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ which had been released on the Cape Town cinema circuit. And then there was the Cape Town Film Festival. I was already familiar with Luis Buñuel cinematic work and was interested in viewing his insouciantly surreal movie ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’ starring the mouth-watering Carole Bouquet and the equalling attractive and sensuous Ángela Molina, both of whom played the beautiful18 year old flamenco dancer named Conchita who was being pursued by Mathieu played by Fernando Rey. Bouquet and Molina alternated in the two character roles of Conchita. And Mathieu the frustrated sexual pursuer of Conchita often finds himself being cruelly and sadistically reduced by the sexually tantalizing and erotically provocative Conchita into the humiliating, powerless and almost impotently passive role of the voyeur. Sexual possession of Conchita’s body becomes a frustratingly unrealizable erotic fantasy, possession which can only be realized in the act of sexual penetration forever eludes Mathieu, and he burns with unrequited desire for the young flamenco dancer.
My sister Elsabe and her boyfriend invited me to share the costs for a weeklong holiday in Durban just before Christmas. We rented a two bedroom holiday flat and travelled down in the boyfriend’s car. Elsabe was living with her boyfriend and our parents accepted this without batting an eyelid. She did not listen to my advice and started having sex with boyfriends when she was still only sixteen. She had no idea that I was lesbian, she just thought that I was a stuck up prude who was only interested in having my nose always stuck in a book and not having any life outside politics, studying and reading.
It was to be my last real beach holiday. We spent each day on North Beach enjoying the sea and the sun. I remember this holiday for many reasons. I read Habermas’ ‘Knowledge and Human Interests’ and I read Radnitsky’s ‘Contemporary Schools of Metascience’. I was also thinking of Yael all the time and the Botany field trip to Oribi Gorge. I had to deal with the fact that I may never see Samantha again. Walking alone along the Marine Parade filled with nostalgia I traced the path that Yael and I had followed that day after the Oribi Gorge Botany fieldtrip. Also visiting all the spots that I had once frequented as a child and as an adolescent girl when on holiday with Oupa and Ouma. On these walks into the past along the Marine Parade I sank into a state of deep melancholy. I felt strong emotions of nostalgia and forlornness and yearning. I found myself longing for Yael now that Samantha was gone. I also thought a lot about Mrs Brodsky and Wayne. She was such a fine old lady. In a way I also loved Wayne, as students we spent a lot of time together, it was not a romantic love but a love of agape, and he was my brother in the Lord in a manner of speaking. At night Elsabe and her boyfriend went clubbing and when they invited me to join them I declined. It was incredibly hot and humid at night and I tossed and turned in the bed, only falling asleep in the early hours of the morning. One night unable to fall asleep I got up, I showered, put on makeup, perfume and a slinky clinging short party dress and low heeled sandals. Before I left the flat I left a note on the table informing Elsabe that I had gone out. I felt like having sex and I decided to go out on the prowl and see if I could get-off with someone. There were no gay joints that I knew of. I bought a gin and tonic at a popular pub at an up market beach front hotel. I asked the barman if he knew of any gay nightclubs. He gave me directions to a club frequented by gays and lesbians in a remote part of the city. Anyway fortified by the drink I hit out for the club. The streets were well lit but deserted and it spite of it being a hot and humid night it felt strangely eerie. On my way to the club a block ahead of me two girls crossed the street and began walking in the same direction. Clutching my hand bag I quicken by pace to catch up with them. Before I could close the gap they disappeared from sight down an alley, feeling nervous all alone I run after them, to the spot where they had disappeared. When I reached the dimly lit alley there was no trace of the pair. They had vanished into the night. Standing at the entrance of the alley I had this sensation of being in a dream. I also felt the grip of panic. Here I was alone scantily dressed like a hooker in a remote part of the city. I decided to enter the cobbled alley. In the middle of the alley there was a very ordinarily looking wooden door that was slightly ajar. There was no sign on the door. I could hear the faint sound of music. I pushed the door open. The door was the entrance to a down stairs basement. The stairs were illuminated by the diffuse glow of a naked red light bulb hanging from the ceiling at the bottom. Convinced that this was the club that the barman had spoken about I pushed open the door I descended the stairs. At the entrance of the basement was a small reception foyer. I paid the entrance fee and entered the dimly lit nightclub which throbbing at that moment with the sounds of ‘We are Family’ by Sister Sledge. At the bar I ordered a double gin and tonic, the cost of the drinks were criminally exorbitant. As my eyes became accustomed to the dim light I noticed that it was indeed a gay and lesbian club and it was multiracial, there were Zulu lesbians, Indian lesbians, Coloured lesbians and White lesbians dancing on the crowded dance floor or drinking at the tables and bar. I started dancing to Joan Armatrading’s ‘ Love & Affection’, I danced my own chorographical interpretation of the lyrics, I exchanged meaning glances with a young pretty Zulu woman who was watching my every move, we smiled at each other, she was dressed in drag, wearing a wig, dressed in a shining sequined black micro mini dress with suspensors, stockings and panties which under the UV tubes glowed with a dazzling white phosphorescence in the dark, coming closer to her I moved my hips erotically at her while singing in accompaniment to the words ‘…make love with affection…’ Smiling brightly she joined me in a loose embrace as we quickly found a mutual rhythm which allowed us to tighten our embrace so that we could feel the heat emanating from our bodies, and breath in the erotic fragrance of our skins pressed against each other together ‘…make love with affection…’ And then we found each other’s mouths with our bright red lipstick lips and moving tongues. At 4.00 am the club closed its doors. Outside it was still dark, however I could hear the sparrows, starlings and Indian mynas beginning to stir. Given the state of our mutual arousal the need to have intense orgasmic sex was urgent. Outside in the alley we continued to smooch while fondling and caressing. Soon everyone was gone and it was just us in the alley. In the dark purple-blue shades of dawn just before sunrise when the moving shadows before first light start to play tricks with the mind we made love under tall palm trees beneath the early morning star-lit sky while lying on the dewy lawn in some garden near the harbour. High above the Indian Ocean in the east the morning star still shone brightly against the dark violet skies which began to turn into shades of pastel magenta at the edge of the horizon. Breaking out of a passionate clinging embrace I tried to pull away, I had to leave her. She was reluctant to let go of me and held onto me. Our lips still swollen from a night of love we began kissing each other once more. While getting back up onto our feet and smoothing out the folds and ripples from our rumpled dew-damp dresses she asked if I was Coloured. It was such a strange question, especially at the crack of dawn, and I said yes. If she thought I was Coloured then I must be Coloured. I did not know what else to think or say, I definitely did not have the words to say that I was White. Kate had once said jokingly that I was actually Phoenician, but right at the moment I wanted to be Coloured, and in the back of mind I desperately wished that I was really Coloured, and it was obvious that in the hours of our physical intimacy she had not experienced me as a White woman, and it was possible she had been with a White woman before. In her eyes I was Coloured, and I thrice before the proverbial cock had crowed to usher in the new day, I had denied my race, once more I was experiencing my lack of fixed identity, my identity was again fluid, I was neither English nor Afrikaans, neither White nor Black, neither European nor African, I was overcome with a sense of otherness in relation to who I was, it was like in the gay nightclub in Paris, when I did in fact start pretending that I was really the girl from Senegal who was going to be a young Black fashion model in Paris, I bought into the fantasy of being Black, it was a lovely fantasy, I took ownership of that fantasy of being somebody else, a dark woman from Africa. Maybe this fluidity of identity like the shifting shades of the skies at dawn was a hidden blessing, a mixed blessing, but also a precious gift, and this gift of being a chameleon was something that I should cherish and thank God for. But in leaving her standing there alone I felt down to zero. The words of Joan Armatrading echoed in my mind. The sky was now beginning to blaze a fiery orange over the bluff, I turned and waved, and she was still standing there under the towering palm trees, a dark silhouette which merged and melted, blending into the colours that were slowly becoming visible with the rapidly fading away of the night, she waved back from the shadows of bushes and blooms as the thrushes scurried about the edge of the shrubbery. Bathed in the mid-morning sun I woke up refreshed with the fragrance of her body still on my skin like as if she was still lying next to me. I did not shower, I wanted her scent to linger on my body. ‘Down to Zero’ was still going through my head. ‘Oh the feeling…’ It was a lesbo lyric definitely.
Later that morning I joined Elsabe and her boyfriend on the beach at our usual spot where they had erected the umbrella. And also as usual for that week the two delectable young women in bikinis who were about my age were sunbathing close by. They had been camping at the same spot for most of the week. When we exchanged glances they smiled broadly and gave me a friendly wave. Elsabe noticed our exchange of greetings and wanted to know if I knew them. I answered that I had never met them before and that I thought that they were just being friendly because we had been seeing them the whole week at the same spot across from us. In the course of the morning they walked the short distance over to me and asked if I would like to join them for a swim. I closed the book by Radnitsky and covered it with my towel. As we walked to the sea one of them said: ‘We saw you at the nightclub last night, we loved watching you dance, you and that other woman, both of you were such stunning dancers, we were spell bound, we could not keep our eyes off the pair of you, it was quite a show watching the pair of you’.
The penny dropped. They were the two young women I had seen walking ahead of me. They were the two women who had vanished down the cobbled alley so mysteriously into the night. They were partners in a romantic relationship, and also lawyers, well rather candidate attorneys at some big shot legal firm in Johannesburg. And they had also studied at Wits, and they had recognized me from their student days, and we shared so much, we had come from the same generation, the same Matric class of 1972. Three gay women cavorting together in the surf on North beach Durban, near the peer across from the Lido, what were the odds?
We agreed to meet for supper. Later that evening after supper while having drinks we reminisced about our undergraduate years at Wits and in due course the name of Carlos Cardoso cropped up in our conversations about what we remembered during our undergraduate years at Wits, and so on and so on. We had all fallen under the spell of the charismatic radical student leader Carlos Cardoso from Mozambique. It turned out that they were now involved in the firm’s legal defence team in a number of ongoing political trials. We were kindred spirits brought together by chance. I have forgotten their names.
Her name was Nonhlanhla. She did not want to let me go, she held onto me with strong arms before the break of day. She feared that the rising sun was going to take me away from her forever, and it was so. We were wet from the dew, we were wet from love. We had tasted each other. Her arms were strong and I did not want to wash the scent of her body from my skin. Her name was Nonhlanhla. The towering palms supported the tent of darkness above our heads as we lay in each other’s arms. The bluff lowered its horns like a giant piebald Nguni bull against the rising sun, but the red oxen pulled the sun from its deep sleep beneath the earth and they dragged the sun, ploughing the sky, scattering the stars, and in its fury the rising sun drove the night away. As the stars slunk away one by one vanishing into the deep blue vault of the infinite sky Nonhlanhla’s dark silhouette merged with the colours that started to fill the day with shafts of light laden with gold. At night I searched the streets of Durban for Nonhlanhla, but she was gone.
In January 1980 I drove back to Cape Town. I was not in a hurry to get back. Driving slowly through the Karoo while listening to taped music in the old faithful VW Beetle, thoughtfully taking in the vast arid landscape, meditating on my PhD, stopping frequently along the way. I made Beaufort West by nightfall and booked into a hotel. I was haunted by Nonhlanhla. I was advantaged and she was disadvantaged and powerless. Almost a month had passed and I still could not stop obsessing over her and her situation under apartheid. There could not be any genuine multiracialism while there was apartheid and capitalism, there could only be intense emotional pain, alienation, disempowerment and exploitation. There could never be any genuine non-racialism until every human irrespective of race was completely empowered. A genuine non-racial society could only be achieved in a classless society. As long as class divisions exist with respect to the ownership of means of production and the control of the state it would be impossible for a non-racial society to exist. The more I thought about my intimate experience with Nonhlanhla the more I realized that the real goals of the class struggle was not non-racialism or multiracialism or racial equality or equal opportunities for all races, these were bourgeois and liberal ideals, the goals of the class struggle was a classless society, and a classless society can only be brought through the full and genuine empowerment of every single black person in South African, and it was only through Communism that this could be fully achieved. I reminded myself that as a Communist I had to focus on the real goals of the class struggle which was the overthrowing of the existing capitalist order in South Africa, and this could only be achieved though the seizing of social, economic and political power, and only this will make building of socialism possible. I reminded myself that this is what I needed to focus on. Therefore I had to work through my own all too human guilt feelings regarding Nonhlanhla by refocusing, revising, reorientating, realigning and subordinating my emotionally clouded thinking about her to what was most important for her life. I had to be a revolutionary. And the work of a revolutionary involves securing the objectives of Nonhlanhla’s class interests which is a classless society. Her very human needs could only be satisfied through the Communist struggle, and that this was the only way that I could express authentic or meaningful solidarity with her as my sister instead of succumbing to feelings of bourgeois White guilt and a sense of bourgeois moral wrong doing.