Its 8:45am on Sunday morning and everyone except Ntokozo is very ready for church. She darts up and down the stairs seeking approval for her chosen outfit, and looking for lipgloss and all her other necessary facial cosmetics. It’s not a surprise to anyone in the home, as Ntokozo is never ready for anything anyway.
Lucille descends the staircase having chosen a simple black sleeveless shift dress, with gold trimming and plain gold stilettos and carrying a matching clutch bag. She has pulled her hair back giving her an instant face lift and revealing her natural beauty, lightly highlighted by the soft tones of her make up. The boys, who are completely done with dressing up, are wearing their combat trousers and casual shirts accentuated by their Nike limited edition designer sneakers, which Lucille feels are highly overrated. MaDu is clad in her formal church attire too, and is informing Lucille on how some of the women she met are members of the same church she attended back home in Zimbabwe. She is in extra high spirits as she mentions in passing how she hopes to win someone to the Lord today, and so she must rush and pick them up; on which note she waddles out of the door towards her small vehicle.
Mangaliso arrives at 9:00 am sharp, impressing Lucille with his time conscious nature. He suggests that they use his car which will make it easier for them to park in his designated parking area as he is part of the worship team. Lucille agrees half-heartedly and they all comfortably fit into the white 2016 Range Rover Sport.
They literally look like the perfect modern day family – Dad, mom, two girls and two boys. Mangaliso finds himself smiling at the thought but doesn’t let it out for fear of offending Lucille. It’s only their second time keeping any sort of company and he wants to learn the kind of personality she possesses before he starts to unravel himself in her presence. Caution is after-all an amicable trait, he decides.
Lucille, on the other hand is impressed to find a rather clean and fresh smelling car. She didn’t expect this young boy to have the kind of orderly lifestyle that she is catching small glimpses of and she deliberately notes that she may need to adjust her mind and appreciate that Mangaliso may not be one of those 30 year old playful young men that she thought he was. As he drives, she struggles to face forward and settles instead at looking at him through the corner of her right eye. She studies him astutely because being a formidable business woman, she cannot get over why she feels so bashful when it comes to this young man. Lucille can hardly contain herself in his presence, she feels so teenager on the inside.
His white shirt is crisp and neatly covers his body. It’s a close fit, but not too much. He has folded his sleeves twice and his obviously expensive watch fits nicely around his cuff. She notices for the first time, the light area around his ring finger, where it seems he once wore one, and she hesitates to ask, willing herself to behave because they don’t know each other well enough. Mangaliso’s Grey formal trouser is freshly dry cleaned and pressed, and from the glimpse she gets of his black leather shoe, she can tell it’s quite pricy.
He clears his throat, noting her absent mind, and politely asks if he can roll down the window. She is taken aback realizing that he must have noticed her peering, then turns to her left where she sees a small group of young ladies, walking along the roadside, that he has slowed down for.
He shouts out, ‘Sorry Ladies, I have a full car this morning.’
The girls giggle and respond in unison, ‘It’s okay!’
Mangaliso gradually picks up his speed again, acting as though nothing happened. The children in the back are chattering away and commentating on the scenery. The vast plains of clear virgin land spread out towards their right revealing the beauty of untamed nature. It’s a pity that within a few years, all of this would have been done away with by the un-relentless construction that man has in store.
Lucille turns to Mangaliso trying not sound petty, but also trying to portray some kind of concern.
‘Um, did we inconvenience your plans or routine with the young ladies on the road?’ She enquires.
‘No, absolutely not,’ he responds. ‘Infact I am quite happy with my company this morning. It’s great to have some maturity because these young girls don’t realize how seriously I take my pre service preparation.’
He’s not quite sure if he likes the way he responded and so he immediately stops talking for a moment, searching for a bounce back. Lucille squints at his mention of ‘mature’ but she knows what he means. It just hits home that she is in fact that much older than he is.
After reconfiguring his mind, Mangaliso goes on to rephrase his statement, clearly stating how having a bevy of girls in the car is distracting, and mostly because they never take him seriously due to his vocation. He chuckles and matter of factly insists, ‘I have been searching for a way in which I can avoid them, until now, so thank you Mrs Mathe and family.’
They both smile, and the journey continues.
The service is good for Lucille, and the word shared, refreshing. The worship is awesome, and liberating because the young lady leading them in song is extremely intimate with the Lord and there is an undeniable presence of God in the auditorium. The pastor is very humorous and brings life to the dullest of moments. Lucille takes in every word, enjoying scripture as one would enjoy honey from the honey comb. She misses her Pastor in Johannesburg, but she could get used to this. Her comfort levels are impressive to her. She didn’t think it would be that easy to find a church she would be comfortable in. She smiles a little longer at one of the Pastor’s jokes as she makes mental note of the fact that she is infact a ‘spiritual snob’. She realises how in her head, no church, no ministry, no doctrine is better than that from her former church. She realises how she honestly and naively didn’t believe God could be worshipped anywhere and anyway else.
As Lucille makes her way to the parking lot after the service, she introduces her family to the Pastor and his wife and they welcome them warmly. At that point Mangaliso quickly rushes to their side announcing to the Man of God, that he is Lucille’s neighbour and how he hopes she and the family will be willing to come along in the next week. He appears territorial in his conversation, literally marking them as his, but the Pastor and his wife seem to miss that entirely.
As Lucille and the kids sit in the car, he quickly finishes off his greetings and ad hoc meetings. She enjoys watching how he is naturally integrated with the community,he is loved and somewhat owned in everybody’s heart. Its great to also see that apart from one or two teenage groupies, he is just a regular guy when he is here, in the Bay. She is reminded of lyrics from an Adele song,
‘Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk to the way you move
Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true’[i]
Mangaliso truly has that air around him. He appears to be the perfect son, brother and friend, and racial boundaries don’t seem to be an issue when it comes to him. They love him, and maybe it’s his celebrity status, but maybe not. It seems to Lucille to be his ability to come down to unexpected levels of humility for someone of his acclaim. The genuine nature of his lowliness is something she hasn’t seen in a very long time, not since she entered the world of sharks and fists fights which is property. She finds herself intrigued because she really wants to know him so much more.
When he rushes back to take his place at the driver’s seat, he asks what Lucille would like to do, to which she turns back at the kids and quizzically mentions their family tradition of eating out on Sundays after church.
‘Well, isn’t this perfect?’ Mangaliso declares, ‘Nandi and I just happen to know the best place for Sunday afternoons, don’t we?’
‘Of course we do! By the boats!’ She squeals in excitement as her dad turns to high five her tiny hand.
Mangaliso turns back determidly, starts the car and drives off, all without seeking Lucille’s affirmation.
He chooses a small cafe by the harbour, finding a quiet space next to the french doors leading to the wide deck over the water. It’s quite scenic and they watch as boat owners sail out and back in again. It’s relaxing entertainment and Lucille is glad she came along. The food is equally good and she knows she will back here regularly. After hungrily devouring their food, the kids get up and go to find ‘something to do.’ Lucille kicks off her shoes and prepares herself for a couple of hours of relaxation as Mangaliso turns his chair so that he is facing the same direction that she is. They both put on their sunglasses and take in the sun which perfectly warms their bodies causing them to relax deeply. They feel oddly comfortable in each other’s space as they enjoy the tensionless silence of each other’s company.
Mangaliso finally turns to ask Lucille about herself. Where she comes from and why she has moved to the bay.
‘Well,’ she quickly explains, ‘losing my husband caused me to spiral deep into work in the past two years. I have been in dire need time away because, the truth is, I never actually took time to mourn his passing. Running a family business leaves you with very few options because that’s the family’s sustenance. I had to work. I couldn’t just sit around and cry – the children needed to eat. So I did what I had to.’ She sighs, becoming more vulnerable as looks further out into the water. She finds herself willingly delving deeper into her soul for this new acquaintance.
‘Finally though, I was too tired to continue and I knew I couldn’t go on. I was such a mess, physically and emotionally too.’ She pauses. ‘I also needed to decide which direction I want to take my family in from now on. What do I really want to achieve for my kids, and what do they want for themselves? I just felt like none us knew who we were anymore, without Sam.’ Lucille chuckles. ‘He was everything. I just didn’t realise how much he was actually, everything.’ She smiles at her own private thoughts as Mangaliso watches her intently.
‘Well, after sometime I just thought that the guys at the office are grown up enough to manage and I packed up myself and my kids. But, I am clear that this is just a gap year and we will all be fine to move on after this.’ Lucille shakes herself back to the current reality, and ends off with a jocular, ‘After-all at my age, I should be allowed to make such moves, right?’
Mangaliso smiles, revealing the gorgeous teeth he possesses and cheekily questions, ‘and what age would that be?’
She turns to face him and matter of factly states, ‘I will be 40 in March!’
He is visibly stunned to which she says, ‘Don’t act surprised.’
He retorts, rather innocently saying, ‘I was aware you were older than I am, but I had assumed it was just a 4 or 5 year difference.’
He sounds honest, and she blushes behind her glasses.
‘Well, how old are you?’
’31 in February’, he says, as though making himself taller than he really is.
It’s her turn to be surprised, but this time at herself. She had guessed it right. She did think he was 10 years her junior and she is inwardly impressed with herself.
‘It’s your turn now,’ she says mischievously, ‘tell me about yourself.’
Mangaliso looks down, then up at her and grins boyishly.
‘Well, my name is Mangaliso Samson Gqada and I was born and bred in the township of Khayelitsha. I’m a musician professionally,’ he gestures ‘obviously’ with his hands and pulls a face, ‘but I also do other things on a day to day basis.’ He evades explaining these other things and prefers to describe in length his passion for music instead. He continues.
‘I am a father of one beautiful girl. She literally is the only reason I work as hard as I do everyday.’
When he speaks of fathering Nandi his eyes light up and it is evident that he loves her deeply.
‘I am a divorcee and I am not quite sure where my ex-wife is. I mean, she chose to leave the country and pursue her studies in Asia, so I don’t have her contact details down there. Maybe, it’s for the best, coz our union was circumstantial anyway. I mean, although my commitment to her was weak; I was, towards the end, willing to make it work. I guess I was too late, for her that is.’
He seems confused as he tries to explain what right now seems like a weird story to him.
‘I definitely did do the right thing by marrying her when she found she was pregnant but I suppose that it wasn’t enough for her; the fact that I didn’t love her I mean.’ He draws a deep breath, then continues. Its like he finds himself on the relationship journey again, unexpectedly, and the questions he is asking himself are quite current and necessary.
‘We lived together for 2 years in Cape Town, but as a budding musician, things were hard and she couldn’t take it. Rebecca was so depressed, she was just unhappy; and finally, she asked for a divorce when Nandi was three years old. Whilst I was still trying to process everything, she then applied for a scholarship and left for school in Asia, leaving me with Nandi when she was 3 and a half years old.’ He looks down at the back of his left hand, ‘I dutifully wore my ring until the end of November in the just ended year, and then, I finally accepted that she would probably not come back.’
He is visibly distraught and Lucille feels sorry for him but doesn’t say it.
‘I think you are a great dad from what I have seen on my runs, and in the few encounters we have had.’
He smiles and thanks her, then straightens himself and says, ‘You still haven’t told me why the Bay?’
Lucille bites her bottom lip, looking slightly nervous and then says slowly. ‘Sam bought me that house, for my 38th birthday. It was his surprise for me. He called it our retirement home. He never got to show it to me because in February that year he was involved in a motorcycle accident and he didn’t make it. He fought for his life for 2 days but it was too much for him.’ She draws a deeps breath and smiles wryly.
‘Sorry, I can’t get used to telling that part of my life.’
As Mangaliso takes in her elegant beauty, he extends his hand over hers and covers it in a gesture of comfort.
‘It can’t be easy, and I can never understand. Thank you for sharing, you didn’t have to.’
She looks at him, smiles and remarks, ‘You are such a great listener for your age.’
Manga throws his head back laughing at her clever tease and as his laughter trails off, he quietly and thoughtfully says, ‘Rebecca didn’t think so.’
They both welcome the distraction Nandi brings as she scuffles around the table for her drink. She holds it her hands and after a long gulp, she leans on Lucille’s lap and starts telling her a story about how Makhosi is busy jumping higher and higher and he won’t stop. Lucille pitches her voice and widens her eyes as Nandi’s description makes the jump seem huge. She has a way of embracing Nandi that Mangaliso enjoys and finds endearing. Its so natural.
They proceed in conversation after the girl skips off satisfied, and this time they keep it light, centering around their perceptions of life in Joburg and Capetown, Khayelitsha and Zimbabwe; the music and property industries and the benefits of living in a coastal area and shying away from the metropolitan cities.
It starts to get dark before they are ready for it and reluctantly, they get up to leave. They mutually enjoyed this. They didn’t quite want the afternoon to end. An unspoken disappointment resides in both of them as they rein in the kids, but they drive home nonetheless.
At home, Mangaliso tries not to linger around Lucille’s for long and drives round to his own gate as quickly as possible. He has the urge to recall everything they discussed and assess how well he thinks he presented himself before Lucille. This is a family ritual he picked up from his mother whilst growing up. Everytime they attended a function or held one at home, afterwards they would sit around and do what she called a ‘post mortem’ of events and behaviour. It became normal to assess themselves and was also used as a platform to tare down friends and relatives – a form of gossip therapy he assumed for his single mom. So obviously, all his senses called for a ‘post mortem’ evening for himself after quickly tucking in his already fast asleep 5 year old and making himself comfortable in his now seemingly lonely home.
Lucille starts on her preparations for school the next morning and retires to bed after ensuring everyone else is neatly tucked in. She stands at her balcony and listens to the ocean pur in the darkness. The air is clean and crisp and she finds herself taking a deep breath of satisfaction at a day well spent. She can’t help but peer into Mangaliso’s window, whose blinds haven’t been shut tightly enough; and she sees the blurry shadow of a man focused on lifting his weights. A smile plays along her mouth and she finds herself longing to be close to him. She literally just wants to be right there next to him, in his space.
‘Lord, what is this? What am I doing? Deal with me Lord. Deal with my mind. I know this can’t be of You. Whatever it is, it cannot be of You, so help me get out of this, fast. In Jesus’ name.’
It’s a half-hearted prayer of guilt, but mostly searching. It’s been years since she felt the fluttery movement of butterflies in her lower belly. It’s almost strange, but rather enjoyable too. However, every secret feeling of joy is quickly obstructed by the sense of betrayal towards Sam? Was she even supposed to look at another man anymore? She doesn’t know, and she doesn’t really want to find out. It’s inappropriate and she knows it. Lucille slowly composes herself, walks into her room and gets into bed. She deliberately leaves her balcony door open, maybe to maintain the non-existent connection with the man next door. She draws her extra pillow in and clutches it as though for dear life whilst slowly closing her eyes to the sound of the ocean’s heartbeat.
‘Act your age girl,’ she whispers to herself, ‘just act your age.’
In his small gym room, Mangaliso pumps his 5th set of 10, feeling oddly motivated. It’s been a good day. A happy one infact. Pastor was on point with the Word and he feels energized for life. Ofcourse, something else is exciting him. Something unexpected and maybe unconventional – the girl next door, or should he say, the woman. Lucille is intriguing and exquisite. The fine lines developing around her eyes make her all the more attractive to him. They challenge him to ‘step up his game’ in order to ensure that he keeps her attention. The challenge excites him. He understands that pursuing her could never be a done deal. He would have to work hard at it, literally ensuring that as a man, he proves himself worthy.
She is a far cry from the groupies he meets up with regularly, who’s only mission is to giggle and land him in bed. It tires him, especially now that his life is not all about parties and meaningless sex. Lucille looks like she could be lots of fun to be with, if she let herself go, of course. He finds her easy to talk to, like an elder sister; and the fact that she has great life experience, and a clear focus on the future, brings out a tenacity such as he has never seen in a female acquaintance. Yes, he has met a lot of go-getters out there, and ‘boss lady’s’, but in his eyes, none carried it with the grace that she does. She is just so graceful, he thinks.
Her children, though free spirits, are well mannered and they love her deeply. He can tell she has developed an individual friendship with each of them. They look content with her and life; although there is a small cloud of sadness that hovers over all of them – especially her. He takes it to mean that Sam was a big part of their lives – an irreplaceable part. He drifts in wonder at the type of father and husband he must have been, because he seems to have left a big gap which he imagines will be very hard to fill.
As he finishes off his sets for the evening, Mangaliso takes a quick shower in his manly, black tiled bathroom. It’s the second reason he bought this house, it just seemed right for him as a young single father. It gave him moments for reconnection with his masculinity after days filled with pink pony dolls and ribbons for their rainbow hair. He loves his daughter dearly, but the enjoyable torture that is playtime must be detoxed in his opinion; and his bathroom provides just that.
When he is done, he shifts rooms and turns on his lounge TV. Prim, his live-in helper, walks in from her weekend off work and quickly announces that she is going to sleep after a rushed greeting. She looks worn out, as though she was busier where she was than when she is actually in his home working. Mangaliso finds himself concerned about this girl, but he knows that it is not his place to ask. Ignoring his observation, he does the guyish thing of diving into his favorite couch, after making himself a freshly layered sandwhich and getting a coca cola from the fridge. He throws one leg over its armrest, wedging the rest of his body with his elbow, aimlessly channel hopping until he falls asleep right there for the night.
©2017|Sithembile Lornah Ndlovu|All Rights Reserved.
[i] Adele – When we were young
Released 22 January 2016
Format Digital download
Studio Dean Street Studios (London)
Songwriter(s) Adele Adkins Tobias Jesso Jr.
Producer(s) Ariel Rechtshaid