by Allan Kolski Horwitz
This time he does not wish to sink his tongue or his penis into her; he wishes to hold her and kiss her gently, so as to restore her spirit.
Umlung presses the intercom buzzer. The security guard looks at him. Sitting at his desk, twisting the string to which the blunt pencil that records names in the visitors’ book is tied, the guard displays interest – there is little to do in the mornings.
Umlung presses the buzzer a second time, fiddles with his car keys.
A woman’s voice answers, “Who is it?’
He moves closer to the intercom.
“Oh . . . “The voice is vague, but melodious. “Too early . . . I have to get up soon for work again. I need more sleep. We closed up late.”
“I’ve got something for you.’
“Too early. I’m tired.” Then, “Come tomorrow morning, maybe at about . . .”
“I can’t. I won’t be in town.” The guard watches him swing the keys. “I won’t stay long.” His voice drops. “I miss you too much. I really miss you, sweetheart. “He laughs, “Hey, you know I can’t wait.”
Umlung shifts his leg. There is no reply. The guard looks at him aggressively.
“I can’t wait, honey.” He breathes unconsciously against the intercom face, the sound amplifies, distorts.
The security stands up. Then, before Umlung can say another word, the buzzer clicks and the iron gate swings open.
“Hey, mister! Sign the book.”
Umlung holds the gate open with his foot and signs in the visitors book.
Name: Victor Visiting: Flat 33 Purpose of Visit: Visit Time In: 11H05
Grafitti is scrawled across the mirror in red nail polish: MY AUTHENTIC SELF IS POWERFUL, LOVING AND UNAFRAID. In the centre is a heart with several black arrows puncturing it. The arrows travel through the heart and trail round the lift chamber where they circle another message: CUM FUK ME BABY, CUM CUM CUM – FLAT 7 ANYTIME
The lift reaches the third floor. He steps out, walks down a long corridor that smells of disinfectant and rice. As he rings the bell, he hears her undoing the chain. A long, fine-boned hand thrusts out a key, and withdraws. Umlung unlocks the security gate, and pushing the door open, re-locks the gate and closes the door.
A woman stands in front of him. She is wearing a satiny gown whose neckline exposes her full breasts, whose snugness traces her hips.
Umlung goes down on his knees and lifts the hem of the gown.
He begins to kiss and caress her, pressing his mouth to her, his tongue licking her till she trembles and grips his head, and begins to ruffle his hair and squeeze his face with her strong, slender fingers so that he is soon streaked with her wetness, his lips and nose impregnated with her juice and scent.
Then he rises to his feet, and loosens his pants, lets them fall to his feet. She turns towards the curtains, and bows – her buttocks and the dark hair of her kloof facing him. He grasps her tight and caresses her thighs. Then he enters her, and they arch into each other and are joined, gasping and calling out love names – of taunting and adoring. And as he thrusts, she responds – swivelling, churning him – till he comes. And she, spurred by his cries, follows in liquid, unfathomable pleasure.
They rest, still bound together. Umlung, holding her, pants still at his feet, turns her mouth to him, and kisses her, an exhausted but voracious kiss full of his delight and gratitude. Then he slowly eases out of her, and they stand erect.
“I was thinking about you all the way. I couldn’t stop playing with myself in the car.”
She smiles, shakes her head, “I shouldn’t have let you come up.” Then she touches him lightly, “I’ve also missed you”. She opens the curtains. “And to celebrate I want the whole world to know that you still have to come to me to know ecstasy.”
As she says this, she lets her gown fall to the carpet.
She dances away. But when he has half drawn the curtains, still struggling with his pants, she saunters back, and caresses his cheek.
“Afraid of the light?”
“Don’t spoil this. It’s been weeks.” Umlung clutches at her. “Leave that damn restaurant! They’ll have to learn to survive without you.” He kisses her hand. “Can I come back later? I want to spend the night with you. I’ll be here by eight. We can go out. I’ve got money.”
“Oh, you do, do you? Big boy’s got a stash. Well, well . . . “
She presses against him, and Umlung, inhaling her scent, feels her warmth rekindle his desire. And despite his bitter experience, dares to believe that she will agree to spend more time with him, will relent, and they will be together openly. How can he accept that she will only see him in her flat and becomes angry if he tries to see her more frequently?
“Honey, I want to take you out tonight.”
She walks away to the bathroom.
Umlung sits down.
The bookshelf opposite him near the television is full. He cannot make out the titles but they seem to be mainly thrillers and books on health food.
“I want to take you out and fatten you up so that you’re even more luscious.”
Her voice floats back down the corridor, “I don’t think that’s possible. Anyway, leave while the going’s good. Leave now while I still love you.” She returns from the bathroom wearing another slinky gown, leads him to the door. “Come later in the week. Perhaps Friday. I’ll try and squeeze you in.”
Nine o’clock; a humid summer’s day. The guard nods, and presses the buzzer. Umlung reaches the lift, walks down the long, stale corridor. It is five weeks since she last agreed to see him. And he has dithered, not knowing what to do. Then he has bribed one of the guards to open the foyer gate – if she is to continue denying him, she will have to turn him away at her very door.
He rings the bell.
They face each other in the half-light. She looks so glowing – still half-asleep, flushed, radiating a dreamy ease. He enters the flat and kicks the door closed, grabs her arm.
The satiny dressing gown slides up. He trembles, but his face is hard. She bends before him. He strokes her.
“Are you ready, my baby” His voice rasps, “Are you ready?”
He rubs against her, and she moves harder against him.
And so saying, she draws him into the warm tunnel where he can reconnect heaven to earth and be sealed again in a perfect circle.
Honey again refuses to see him. The guards become more vigilant. It takes several hundred rand to bribe the same man a second time. But now, Umlung is in the flat, thrusting in and out of her. They lurch across the room till she lowers herself to the carpet. Then, as he feels himself about to come, she slips away from him and he shouts out in anger, and slaps her, holds her down so that he can enter her again, and as he forces himself back in, she resumes her movement till he grunts with pleasure, till he pleads with her to stop.
Then he comes. And they lie without speaking on the carpet.
He turns her face towards him.
“I want you on the bed now.”
He pulls her into the bedroom, unties her gown’s belt. It slips off her shoulders and she stands at the foot of the bed, but does not look at him.
“Come here now!”
She lingers, avoiding contact.
“I want you now, bitch!” but as he spits out the word ‘bitch’ he knows it is a false move, a false statement, and he tries to control his growing confusion while she now stares at him, and folds her arms.
Then, before he can properly reconsider and find another way to reach her, she leans over him, gently massaging her breasts, inviting him to suck their tense, erect nipples. And Umlung sucks them, and she sighs and he hardens once more. Then she spits into her palm, and smoothing the spittle, cups and cradles his sex, her embrace spreading out from his groin like fire.
Umlung lies back, and she mounts him. But he suddenly freezes.
“Are you pleased I’m here? Are you?” He grips her shoulders, almost shaking her. “Are you? Is this what you want? Honey . . . answer me – is this the right thing?”
She does not respond, still straddling him, but motionless.
He searches her eyes. Ridiculous, this . . . this pose. What is she doing? Both of them – sweating, panting,
furious, reaching out. He slumps back, hands at his side, rigid. She remains astride him and speaks,
“Forgive me, I was wrong to keep you away, but my mind has been on other things. There have been obstacles. In fact, let me say . . . I’m not the one blocking you. It’s been the world. But, please, next time, do not bribe the guard. It is a bad practice. Rather take the risk of confronting me. That will build our trust.” She bends, embracing him. “Forgive me for being cruel.”
Umlung lies with Honey, the bed’s dark blue sheets drawing him in, the room drowsy with their lovemaking. He had arrived at dawn and she had admitted him then allowed him to stay. Now the heat of midday is intensifying the feeling of languor.
Honey sits up, runs her fingers through her braids. “One day I’ll lose my beauty. Become an old gogo. Can you believe it? Me, toothless, all pap.” She shakes her head, “I can’t.”
“Neither can I,” says Umlung.
“Remember me as I am now,” she places her hand on his. “Will you? All of you men”
He smiles. But he is stung. Why is she speaking of ‘men’? She had said she had no other lovers, no other involvements – while at the same time declaring her independence.
He walks away from the bed, begins to dress.
“Know something. You aren’t looking too good lately. For a while now, actually.” He blurts this out. And he cannot stop himself from adding, “Night shift killing you, darling.”
She purses her lips.
“Ja, gaga gogo.” Then tightening his belt, he snaps, “How many men? A little extra cash on the side . . .”
“You having me on?” She puts the question defiantly. “What’s this nonsense?”
Is she losing her beauty? No, it is not true. As for money . . .
“If that’s the way you feel,” she pulls the sheet up, covering herself, “you can go.”
Umlung reddens – the morning had been such a breakthrough. He holds out his hand.
“No, no . . . I’m sorry! I know how stupid I’m being, but I can’t always help myself. You are as lovely today as when I first met you. You will always make me sail my ships.” He walks back to the bed, undoes his belt. “Let me stay till three o’clock. But right now, don’t move . . .”
Honey leans back in the bath, savouring the wine she is sipping. Morning light streams through the open window. Bubbles froth round her body, almost obscuring her chin. The wine is rich and thick. She refills the glass. Why is she drinking this early? A caprice, a sudden whim, a release from some hidden worry or concern? The glass tinkles against the bath. Is she already drunk? She giggles. What is she to do with Umlung? He is so devoted to her. He has remained loyal and avid for so long despite her . . . what can she call it? She soaps herself. What if she was to see him more often? What if she was to go out with him one evening, and then allow him to spend the night? Then another night, another day, a weekend, then a week, a month and then . . .
She sips the full, heavy wine. Allows the warm water to cover her.
Closes her eyes.
Umlung pulls over on the far side of the street. He can see her car in the parking lot. But he does not switch off the engine and walk into the building. He sits slumped, idling at the wheel.
The guard sees him. He becomes aware of the guard. But what does it matter? All the guards know him. They do not object to his visits though they have long wondered at the situation: smartly dressed woman on third floor plays with hangdog man. They have all overheard the repeated conversations over the intercom – his pleading to be allowed to come up, and being ignored, or told to come back another time: later in the week, at new moon, the beginning of the following month . . . They know him well, his look of hunger, his joy when the gate clicks open. Yes, Mr Victor. How are you today? What is going to be your fate? They have watched him over the years and observed his forehead begin to wrinkle.
Umlung sits in his car at the front entrance, mouth drawn tight. He feels a dead weight in his legs, his stomach. What has snapped inside him? Why this sense of fatigue, of staleness? Why had holding her become distasteful? Had the need to touch, to drown himself in her, finally reduced itself to a fatal and meaningless weakness?
He switches off the engine, leans back. So what if she treats him with disdain? After all, he still gets what he wants. What he wants? Really? What does he want? How can he burn out this unease?
She has always forbidden him to come to the restaurant – that is, after the first time, the first night. When he tries, she intercepts him at the door, draws him aside, warns him not to return. The expression in her eyes so threatening that he has not doubted her – the potential penalty being altogether fatal for him to chance. And yet when he asks how things are going there, she talks willingly about her work, seems happy to do so. Especially since she was made a manager.
That first time Umlung had been there with his wife. Honey had graciously guided them to their table, lit their candle, presented the specials of the day and the wine list. Then, after they’d been served, she had returned, monitoring their responses to the food, the ambience, the music – making their state of well-being her utmost consideration so that even his wife had commented on the hostess’s expert attention. The evening had passed in a blur of expectation and terror – how could he return . . . ? Alone!
Now he is at the entrance to her block of flats but he does not wish to see her. For the first time since that evening when he had driven back to the restaurant and begged her to allow him to spend the night, and she had agreed without a word of objection, and they had gone to his car, and he had kissed her in the parking lot, and then on the ride back to her flat caressed her legs, and then he had pulled the car over in a dark avenue lined with trees and they had loved each other under the green canopy till he had thought no greater happiness could ever befall him. And she had curled up against him, and sighed.
Now he sits churning with anxiety and self-disgust. And the guard walks over, and asks if he is coming in – he is blocking the driveway.
A pot of tea. She sits beside him.
“The security told me you were downstairs yesterday . . . but you didn’t ring. Why?” Umlung looks away. Her fingers touch his. “Anything wrong?”
On this morning the buzzer had immediately clicked, her voice had been gay and inviting. He had scorned the lift and run up the stairs. And when she had opened the door, and he had seen that she was completely naked (the familiar gown not swathing her body), he had embraced her, fondled her, tingled with the promise of her loveliness, and said, “Every time . . . every next time I’m coming up, be naked, be ready at the door, ready for me, you hear, my baby, come ready . . . oh . . . I love you!”
Honey slowly sips her tea, watching him sip his. She speaks quietly.
“I won’t be seeing you again . . . for a while, that is. I mean, I’m not sure for how long. I can’t say much more, not because I don’t want to, but because I really don’t know myself. You see . . .”
“You don’t want to see me after what just happened?”
She places a finger on his mouth.
“Don’t be silly. It’s just that I’m going away for a while. I wanted to tell you myself rather than just disappear, and leave you confused, and maybe hurt . . . I’m going overseas. I need new people, new places. And I need to pick up some new ideas for the restaurant. We’re not doing as well as we should.”
He stares at her.
“I’m sorry, I have to.” She pours the tea. “But I’ll be back.” She passes him his cup. “I’m only going for six months.”
Umlung lies in his bed. Eight weeks have passed. He needs to hold her, to feel her body warm his. He lies in his bed visualising her stroking another man, arching to receive him. Another four months?
He thinks of his next-door neighbour. She is attractive. They have given each other flirtatious smiles when passing in their cars, and he has once or twice touched her hand, her shoulder, at the gate. But as he thinks of her, and imagines her face tilted towards him, he knows this most predictable of fantasies, though to be expected, if taken further, will end in disaster.
He returns to his memories of Honey. Despite the rush of the city – so many millions driving themselves, driving each other – the two of them half asleep, dreaming, so much more alive. Then he stirs, swells, with the image of her bending for another man. And pursued by that image, hounded by it later that night, uncertain yet aroused, knowing his mission to be futile – why should he be so fortunate to discover that she has returned and will welcome him? – he drives to her flat.
The lights are on. He parks in the shadows, keeps watch. But there is no movement, no indication of her presence. He leaves, and finds himself driving aimlessly to the highway, and then accelerating so that the car almost shakes. He stops at a petroport for food. Eats. Drives on again. Leaves the city, drives deep into the dark.
Hours later he returns to the building. But the guard on duty says the lady is still away, far away . . . no one knows when she is coming back.
No one knows.
Rain flecks his shirt. The clouds show inky black. The guard answers his greeting in a surly way. It is the same man who was on duty the first time she had refused him, and they had nearly come to blows. Since then, for all these years, they have never gotten on, tension lingering as if the guard sees him as a pervert, a deviant come from the streets despite his smart suits and the expensive car he parks in the visitor’s bay.
Umlung ignores the man and presses the buzzer.
“Who is it?”
He can barely stammer in reply.
“When did you get back?” He laughs out loud, then hears the click as the intercom goes dead. He presses the buzzer again, but the guard rises to his feet.
“Sorry, mister. You must go. She said we musn’t let you in.”
He shouts into the intercom, “Hey, let me up, dammit, I’m so pleased you’re back!”
The guard leans forward. “Mister, please – no trouble.” He gets to his feet, straightens his jacket.
“Come on, darling! Just one last time!”
Why has she given this instruction? Despite his disappointment that she was going away, their parting had been cordial, she had seemed concerned to not offend him and given assurances that she was returning. What could have changed? Then he understands: now, while he is marooned – bewildered, angry, shut out – in the lobby, she and her new man are lying together, pleasuring each other in the deep cocoon of lovers.
Umlung looks at the guard who does not like him.
“Tell me, who’s with her? Do you know the man?”
The guard looks at him with distaste.
“Don’t be funny, mister. Go now. Don’t make me cross. Hau, will you go now?”
He enters the restaurant. A large, muscular man blocks his way and politely asks him to leave. The man says the restaurant is full; it has been reserved for a private party.
“But I made a booking . . .”
“Sir, we have a private party tonight.” He grips Umlung’s arm. “I’m sorry sir, but we cannot admit anyone off the street tonight. Those are the manager’s orders.”
Two couples suddenly enter the restaurant and one of the men says, “Good evening, table for four – I phoned about an hour ago.” Umlung grows hopeful. But before he can celebrate by slipping in under cover of the couples, he sees Honey across the crowded tables. She is wearing a long flowing dress that accentuates her height, makes her seem especially voluptuous.
Umlung points, says to the man, “There’s the manager, let me speak to her. This is crazy, I always eat here.”
Honey is speaking to a group of diners. But after leaving their table she lifts her eyes to the entrance, and when she spots him, he is shocked by her expression of dismay. And in that moment his will to confront her, to beg her to see him, wilts. Another realization comes to the fore: The passion between them must remain intact, pure (notwithstanding the brutishness he sometimes shows her – and which she sometimes demands). It must not be soiled by a crude altercation; there should be no demeaning public shouting or threats. So he withdraws from the restaurant in the face of the distaste that crosses her features. He vows to keep away, to bide his time. To feign indifference.
And then, in his haste and humiliation, swears to break the hold that she has on him; he decides to also take a trip, or bury himself in his work, or . . . He is so sad and frustrated. He must find a way to save himself from this folly. He must turn away and subdue his desire, his need.
He must find a way to kill his love for this woman.
Days later when he arrives at the block of flats, the guard gives him an envelope.
“Madam asks us to give you this letter.”
Your graceful, fierce maleness has brought me great pleasure. And I have been powerful, generous enough to favour you with my beauty. But Life moves. The woman who bowed to receive you is also the woman who will soon bear a child. And this new responsibility must take precedence. I want to feel my stomach swell with this new life. I cherish the idea of a small mouth sucking me for the milk of babyhood rather than for the hardness that makes the male erupt. Yes, I am pregnant and I believe that you are the father.
I am not sure whether this information will bring you joy or discomfort – perhaps acute discomfort. After all, we have never discussed such a possibility and I have no knowledge of your other domestic arrangements. I do not know if you still have a wife, whether you have children, whether you have another lover or whether you live alone. And because I do not know you beyond the fire that we share, I cannot allow you to be the father.
I will raise this child myself. I will put my soul into this child, but I do not wish you to have contact with it. And if you in any way attempt to make contact me before I have sanctioned it, or if at any time you attempt to have contact with the child, I will immediately cease seeing you.
I write this having met another man whom I now consider to be the father.
This man is not my lover and does not and will not live with me, but I believe he has the qualities needed to perform the male role in the child’s life. By that I mean he will physically and emotionally present himself as the father, and will embody to the child the male principles.
In order to ensure harmony, I will ensure that you never meet this man. Having said this, I must add that should you attempt to discover his identity or approach him in any manner, I will also stop seeing you.
You may not agree with what I speak of, but I ask you to respect the passion we feel for each other and accept this arrangement in good faith. I do not seek confrontation and do not wish ill for you, but please understand that my decision is final; it cannot be changed. I must consider the child’s best interest.
I beg you to respect my decision. However, before it takes effect, come to me next Sunday at ten o’clock.
I have a gift for you.
That she could fall pregnant has never occurred to him. She has never discussed contraception with him, and he has taken her use of some means for granted. That he may be the father is equally surprising, but not positively. He wants Honey for himself, he does not wish for the rivalry of a child that will be dependent and drain her. Nothing must disturb his most erotic joy. Nothing! But what of the other the man, the preferred father, the one she sees as more suitable for parenting? Will he be as satisfied with his role as Umlung will be with his?
Umlung tries to visualize this other man. What qualities of character and temperament does he possess? What does he look like? Is he wealthy? At the same time he is forced to admit that he does not know what type of man she admires; he has never met any of her past lovers, her partners. Other than himself, he has no model. So he finds no satisfactory answers though various scenarios dog him.
What if one of them should feel threatened, insecure as to his status, his rights? Umlung fears more for a change in the ‘father’ for if this man will take on the role he, Umlung, does not desire, it will free him for the role that he wishes to continue to play. For there is no doubt in his mind – even if she has ballooned out, and has swollen feet, and breasts that after feeding sag, and has stretch marks on her belly – he will continue to be her lover. He thinks this because he refuses to believe she will change too radically. How can her immaculate curves permanently thicken, her suppleness stiffen, her fineness coarsen?
He feels more settled. Then another realization floods him: a far more dangerous threat is that the presence of the child might lead to a diminishing of her erotic need and that the man, the father, will become more important to her than an irregular lover.
Umlung barely sleeps during the nights that precede Sunday. Even when the maelstrom of emotions subsides, he cannot rest, dwelling endlessly on how best to proceed and properly manage the situation. Finally Sunday dawns. He is exhausted, but expectant, fatalistically calm despite an underlying trace of apprehension. The guard smiles, buzzes him in with a cheerful greeting. It is a warm, soft morning. He steps forward to the lift. It has taken all his powers of control to stay away from her. He is proud that he has managed to learn the bitter lesson: imposing his will does not work – it only reinforces her stubbornness. The prize will be gained by patience and discipline. By stealth.
He knocks confidently.
A strange, unattractive woman in a nurse’s uniform opens the door and tells him that Honey cannot see any one, she is being attended by a doctor.
The miscarriage is quietly celebrated. The complications of a child would have been too unstable, too unpredictable. However, his satisfaction is short lived. Honey still refuses to see him and the guards are implacable. He takes the receptionist out, but long silences plague the dinner. He withdraws from his friends, visits the gym obsessively and considers taking a trip to another country. Weeks pass. Then, soon after he books a ticket to another country, he has an encounter with a man in a supermarket.
The man follows him down the aisles. The ‘chase’ continues. Umlung is disbelieving. Why would anyone want to follow him? He cannot take the pursuit seriously. Is the man perhaps a store detective following a whim? Or a lunatic? A pickpocket? Is he infatuated? Then just as Umlung reaches the till, the man bumps up against his shopping trolley and quietly informs him that Honey wishes to see him – will he visit her as a matter of urgency?
Umlung sits beside her. The nurse is outside in the living room. He is shocked: Honey is so pale, seems so weak, her features all drawn. She lies in her bed, the bed that has so often been the platform for their tender, savage moments. She lies back, propped up by pillows. She smiles. And when she smiles, Umlung again sees her beauty. He leans forward. “What happened?”
“Complications. But I’ll be all right. I’m over the worst.”
She sighs, caresses his hand.
She has never before shown such affection to him. Desire yes, gratitude, understanding of his needs, generosity with her body, willingness to please him, pride in asserting herself, open in asserting and exploring her pleasure. All these, yes, but affection – never.
He bends, and kisses her.
“I’m so pleased Ivan found you. It wasn’t easy.” She pauses. “He was to have been the little boy’s father.”
Umlung sees the sorrow in her eyes, and despite himself, feels an answering remorse for his previous ambivalence and subsequent relief.
Then Honey adds, “It took me a while to persuade him to take the job.”
“Well, he tracked me down.”
Honey smiles. They sit for some minutes without speaking. Umlung slips a small box out of his pocket.
“This is all I have, all I can offer to make you feel better.” He grins, self-conscious but triumphant. “Can’t let you leave this planet before I make you my wife.”
After he leaves, there is a new graffiti in the lift: Create a unifying explosion of transcending intensity.
Honey sits propped up, playing with the ring. Can she finally take the chance and trust him?