by Deon-Simphiwe Rakaku
It feels like a dream. One I may easily wake up from. If only someone could shake me. Can someone shake me – Please? But it ought to be the right push, lest I get tipped off from the comfort of my bed and fall. I’m fearful of falling, and of heights. Perhaps this fear has something to do with my bad dreams. I usually experience dreams in which I fall; from rooftops, bridges, trees, mountains – I’m always falling – forever.
As I try to make peace with my fear for falling, I see a man I always struggle to outrun. He has graced many of my dreams before. Even though I haven’t seen him in a while, he still carries the same malevolent air about him that holds enormous darkness over my sleep. I watch him approach a short distance away. Like me, he’s walking in a dimly-lit alley with the clearest night watching over the world. At a glance, the man seems to be calculating ways of eventually capturing me in order to cause me serious bodily harm. It’s in the way he inspects me that reveals his malicious desires. To date, I still don’t know what I did to him to be such sought blood.
I could immediately turn around and run, but such a move could cost me in many ways. For one, the dark man runs very fast which is of course my disadvantage. If I have to escape him successfully this time, I have to be a little innovative and lead him to believe that my calm approach is an intention to submit myself to him, only to surprise him with my sudden escape when I get closer to him. The escape I would manage, would lead me to the resumption of my search for Cynthia. She had promised to kiss me. I’m sure that my girlfriend would not approve of Cynthia’s lips touching mine, especially the way lovers’ lips touch. But we’ll make the whole thing our little secret, Cynthia and I.
I have been eager to kiss Cynthia since we became colleagues a few months ago. She’s been very keen to kiss me too, but has been elusively playful about the whole thing. She even teased about her desire to kiss me in the presence of our colleagues, who then just laughed off her talk like it was a joke. But I know she meant it; she had privately confessed this desire to me before. That is why I have to find her before the night dies so as to put an end to her little games.
The sky is a clear dark blue blanket. But to my great disappointment, the stars have shunned this intense darkness. It’s as if the vast space above had caused an embarrassment to the entire universe, and somehow the non-showing of stars served as a fitting punishment to the heavens to say, ‘stay naked and dark; glitter and allure are only for the deserving!” But it’s the same ol’ night. The preceding ones have had the same melting blue, which twinkled with traces of ghosts that roamed above while the world was fast asleep.
With all the risk I’m taking to find Cynthia, it may seem like I’m the one with the greater urge to kiss her. But she’s just being strategic about the whole thing. I know she’s being deliberately elusive so that I may commit to the chase and later become the one to carries the greater part of the blame when we’re both caught and shamed for our kiss.
“I did not suggest that we kiss! You did and pushed me to that end.” I imagine her saying this, washing her hands clean of any traces of guilt.
But I don’t think it would even come to that. We’d keep the whole thing discreet! I have to find Cynthia and show her how silly traces of ghosts look in this sullen dark blue night; which if one thinks about it a little, ought to be affected by the revelations of dead souls flashing over its tremendous plane.
As I get closer to the approaching dark man in the alley, I search for his large illuminated eyes and find them. They are flickering like amber flames fighting not to die. He fixes his stare on me, ready to pounce. Then out of the blue, the air suddenly becomes thick as if throttled by the tensions of evil forces. And before I could assess the distance that keeps the dark man away from me, he charges, snarling like an angry predator. Something subdues me and takes away my ability to move. I become weak: at the knees, in my thoughts and throughout my entire muscle and skeletal frame.
Fortunately, I manage to jump towards the top edge of the alley wall in the same way as I had planned to escape. My hands lock into a firm grip around the edges, which would easily allow me to lift my body up so as to jump over the wall to safety. But I’m too heavy to do that. The dark man stands behind me and watches me as I continue to struggle. And then he laughs with a dark whimper in his voice.
I try to lift myself up again, but to no success. And then slowly, the man walks towards me with remarkable purpose and confidence, assured that he would reach me while I struggle to escape. Just as he’s about to reach out for my legs and pull them down, I finally manage to lift myself up over the wall and plunge myself into a yard with a large dog kennel by the house. I don’t even think about the kind of beast that could be on guard within these premises. My only concern is escaping the larger threat behind me.
The dark man lands into the yard too, just as I try to stand up for further escape. He’s determined.
I decide to crawl and in the process attempt a scream. But my screaming is muted. It’s like I’m the only one who can hear my voice – in my head.
The man laughs again and crawls towards me wielding a large panga knife. Just as he’s about to chop my legs off, a delicate hand shakes me awake: “Lebogang, Lebogang, wake up! Wake up, Babe!”
I open my eyes momentarily and catch a glimpse of a familiar sight; my bedroom’s ceiling with its elaborate light.
“It’s just a dream Babe, a bad dream. Come over here, you’ll be fine,” my girlfriend’s caring voice immediately erases my nightmare.
She embraces me, allowing my head to nestle in her warm and mountainous chest. My eyes close as soon as I get comfortable in her loving warmness. But I don’t sleep, even though there is added awareness of my surrounding. And slowly, I begin to separate the bad dream I have just had from the many thoughts rioting in my mind. Somehow I think back to the occasions I spoke to Cynthia about our kiss. Her first promise came when she arrived at my desk and asked me to take a walk with her. She did not say where exactly we were going, except it soon became clear that it was the smoker’s room she wanted to be in for her routine smoke. We had been flirting innocuously earlier, and this may have been the reason why I went with her to the room, despite my intolerance for cigarette smoke. My presence in the smokers’ room as the first time visitor was announced by my immediate coughing when the cigarette smoke assailed my nostrils with great hostility. That’s when the people puffing their frustrations away threw their inquisitive eyes at me. They all looked unfriendly.
Cynthia sat down with ease and lit up her Marlboro Light. A very strong smell emerged from her burning stick as she dragged the smoke into her lungs with studied passion. Then she rested her head on the back of her chair while shooting out a huge puff of smoke towards the ceiling. As she did this, she closed her eyes momentarily, savouring the taste of her Malboro Light.
“So, why did you come to work for this mad company out of the many choices I’m sure someone as educated as you are has been exposed to?” She asked with a gasp.
It’s odd how we got to speak of kissing prior to discovering many other things about each other as colleagues would do. In fact, we virtually knew little of each other’s lives outside work.
“Well, I needed change. And the first option for me to move from my former employer came through the offer I got from this company. It has a huge reputation as you know,” I said.
“Well, reputation may be misleading sometimes. What’s seen out there is not always the same thing as what happens inside.”
“I know. But it would also be unfair of you not to give me a chance to experience the ‘inside’ in the same way as you were allowed to experience it without any conditioning.”
“I’m not conditioning you!” She shot out. “I’m just giving you a slight idea of what you got yourself into. Anyway, you look smart enough to figure that out soon.”
Cynthia’s face, which was by then distorted by the smoke from her cigarette, moved forward with her body when she asserted herself. As a result, her delicate facial features seemed to refuse to take definite forms behind the veil of smoke. And as if she was ashamed of her little outburst, she leaned back to her seat again and dragged more from her cigarette, this time with all her strength as if to calm the turmoil of her temperance. I watched her face getting hidden behind the smoke once again. Unlike earlier, she did not shoot out the smoke towards the ceiling, but rather allowed the smoke to seep out of her lips to map out its own direction. Hence the smoke wobbled about her face hiding some of her features to my disappointment. At that point, as I studied the demeanour of smoke, perhaps not having much to do, I conceded that whoever penned the theory that suggested that smoke always took to the sky may have overlooked some peripheral elements of this observation. Cynthia’s smoke as she released it from her mouth, resisted the ascent but quivered aimlessly around her face. The smell of that smoke had now fused with her sweet perfume and formed a bitter-sweet scent that roamed about the room like a vagabond. But I should point out that that bitter-sweet scent made sitting in that claustrophobic room worthwhile.
“So then, are you in a relationship?” asked Cynthia when I was still thinking about smoke.
I had a sudden instinct to lie. But I did not. Her knowing round eyes discouraged me as they looked through the smoke that was beginning to clear from her face. Her brown irises inspired gentleness that only stripped me naked of everything I may have claimed to be my own – my pride, ego, secrecy – everything! The circumferential colour about her irises seemed unsteady. Fascinated by her eyes as I have always been, I looked at her pupils and they seemed so stern I feared they could see right through my soul.
“Are you still with me, mister?” She said breaking my solitary moment with her eyes.
“Of course! Of course I am still with you, Cynthia. Where else would I be when I am right here?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Okay, I’m in a relationship; a solid one for that matter,” I finally found a confident voice.
“So, that is what caught your tongue? Your person? Relax baby boy. I’ve got a partner too.” She pulled in from her cigarette once more, this time slowly but brief.
“That sounds permanent,” I said.
“Your relationship. I mean you would not call him your partner if it wasn’t very serious, or would you?” I said hesitantly.
And at that point, as though I needed something to justify my reference to Cynthia’s love situation as permanent, I found myself reflecting a little on my utterance. I found it odd that I had easily adopted such an idea as my own, when I had in fact taken it from people who reacted to my calling my own girl ‘my partner’ – “that sounds permanent,” they had said to me.
“Off course it’s serious!” said Cynthia. “Why would it not be? And why does a partner have to equate to a man? I could be down for anything. If you should know, we’ve been together for five years now and he’s a sweet man who understands me very well.”
“But why do you say you want to kiss me when you have a partner to kiss,” I asked, trying to put her on the spot so that her little courage that was beginning to make my stomach revolt, could be subjected to some pressure. I believed my approach would unsettle her. But before she answered, the room’s door swung open to let someone in, a woman whose craving for nicotine was written on her face for all to see and perhaps sympathise with her predicament. And before I could take note of her facial features as I loved doing of people’s faces, she impatiently slotted a cigarette into her mouth, lit it and dragged all the smoke into her hungry lungs. Cynthia looked at the lady and waved to get her attention. And when the waving did not work, she changed her approach.
“Hey Liz! Elizabeth! Come over here girl, I wanna to talk to you.”
The lady starving of nicotine finally saw Cynthia, and walked over to her as requested.
“Hey Cynth, I saw your e-mail girl, and will respond soon.”
They embraced for a short while and started whispering to each other things I could not hear. Feeling excluded, I cast my eyes at the far corner of the room, where two contrasting fellows sat with two slim ladies. One fellow, chubby, tall and animated was talking so loud that the entire room was filled with the sound of his voice, something I was not aware of until that time.
“You should have seen the poor guy,” said the large fellow to his enthused audience. “His belt was hanging around his waist by the sheer grace of luck. I really wondered what he did with his salary when he could not afford to buy himself a decent belt. It’s an office environment here for crying out loud, and people need to be presentable!”
The two ladies and the other fellow, short and slender, laughed out loud. The big man joined in, pleased with his efforts of making the group merry.
“I mean it’s not some blue collar shit out there. It’s a damn office space, I say,” the big lad would not let the merriment die, so he fired and fired, to his company’s further elation.
“Wait, wait, wait! What’s a blue collar again?” asked the short fellow, his face quizzical.
“You’re joking right?” exclaimed the fellow with jokes. “You don’t know what a blue collar is?” He became serious and the two ladies stopped laughing too.
“Seriously man, what is it?”
The big fellow cracked into a thunderous laughter that emitted a vibrating effect around the room, to which the two ladies joined with their squeaky version of bemusement. But the short fellow remained silent and lost.
“Seriously man?” the big fellow asked, after which the short one began to laugh, at his own ignorance it seemed.
I watched them getting merry at the expense of the short man’s lack of knowledge; at the story of a guy with a decaying belt; and all in all at other people’s expense. And these were people who were sadly not there to speak for themselves; people who were working hard at their desks not knowing that they had created such an amusing atmosphere for the big fellow and his friends. Just then I remembered something. I had been told disturbing gossip stories about the people frequenting that smoking room. Now it all made sense and I felt disgusted by the big fellow’s attempts to score cheap popularity points by mocking the absent.
I had an urge to explain to the short fellow what a ‘blue collar’ was. That despite the wide use of the name, it was in fact offensive. That the name is sadly given to people who mostly if not completely do hard physical work, but whose contribution to our economy is immense. I wanted to tell him all this but hesitated a little, until I ended up trying to listen to Cynthia and Liz whispering to each other things I could not hear; which kind of irritated me.
The secrecy between Cynthia and her friend inevitably took me back to the source of the rumbling laughter in the room. I made a quick inspection of the big fellow’s face and physique. He seemed like the type with a big mouth but little action to show for it. His round face had a quality of permanent anxiety that only urged me to stand up and confront him. I finally gave in to this urge and walked over to the merry-makers.
“Fellows,” I said with a steady voice. “Allow me to break your conversation for a little while if it is not a problem. I could not help but notice that this gentleman here is struggling with a meaning of some name.” I pointed at the short guy for effect and for gaining full attention. “Shall we say ‘Blue Collar’?”
They nodded in unison. Their faces bewildered.
“Well, I think a ‘Blue Collar’ is an undesirable name. Much like other offensive names, we should refrain from using it. There is an oblivious sense of self-superiority proclaimed by the one using that name. It may come out as an almost inconsequential hint of self-supremacy even to those slightly aware of the nuances of their utterances, but it is discriminatory nonetheless because it speaks to the grading of people like you would call someone disabled. Anyway, let me not dwell on this technicality and rather explain to you in another light exactly what is meant by this name.”
The short fellow repositioned himself in his chair when he realised that I was now directly addressing him, while the big guy stole a quick puff from his cigarette, his unease showing more now that someone confronted the group openly. The two ladies sat still, their interest in my confidence written all over their puzzled faces.
“The so-called ‘Blue Collars’ are such important people in the grand scheme of things and should be afforded the respect and recognition they deserve. ‘Blue Collars’ helped create all these beautiful things of our world we so dearly love. I assume you’ve got a house of your own, right?”
“Well, there you go! That’s how important the ‘Blue Collars’ have been to our civilisation and prosperity,” I said assuming vindictiveness in making the matter personal by advancing so close to the man’s pride and joy as it reflected his success which he expectedly cherished. Think of all the physical things you and I use and the convenience they all bring to your our lives. Think of our roads, our sanitation! All of these things, despite the innovative designers behind them, many of them would been brought to life by ‘Blue Collars’, yet we look down on them.”
Just then, a paralyzing sense of regret came over me. It was as if something supernatural had seized me and forced my tongue to say all those things seen from my perspective as though they were fragments from the Universal truths. I held my breath! I had overstepped the line – my personal line and that of the fellow I was addressing. I did not know him to go off at him like that. He was entitled to his worldview in the same way as I was to mine, and nothing from my behaviour was compatible with this reality. I felt greatly very disappointed in myself for not acknowledging diversity as I had always done before.
Something had indeed taken over me to bring out the monster hidden deep inside me. This realisation immediately threw me back to the turmoil of the ambivalences of my past. I had resolved that I would not want to open that very dark space again because I hated the ugliness side of my character. But it was too late; I was already immersed in it right there in front of everybody. But if I thought I was going to sink into the abyss and shame of my darkness, I had to think again, for the big fellow and the two ladies in his company were nodding with sincere and attentive acknowledgement. Then I knew what I had said, even though I was beginning to regret it, had a redeeming aspect to it. And just as I was beginning to embrace the warmth of this acknowledgement and the relief it brought me, someone called my name: “Lebogang,Lebogang; Let us leave!” It was Cynthia.
I raised my hand to signal to her that I was coming and turned back to the merry makers and said, “Sorry, I have to go. Good day.”
I walked back to Cynthia, whose face seemed surprised that I was talking to that group. Behind me was a heavy silence I did not know what to think of. But something about it was comforting.
I begin to feel drowsy again, overwhelmed by the comfort of my bed and the warm body lying next to me – my girl! A renewed sense of regret begins to ebb inside my soul when I think more about my approach to the smokers. On the other hand sleep begins to steadily lure me into its warm confines again. Then out of nowhere I begin to see Cynthia’s face flashing like mild lighting in the dark blue sky, warning of a looming danger.
Cynthia! The reason I was nearly chopped into pieces by the dark man of my dreams, where the hell have you been? I ask myself hugely relived. Does this girl know about the ordeal I faced earlier, and the zealous determination I have had to find her? Perhaps I should tell her all about the trouble she got me into by her disappearance act when we had to hold and squeeze. But on the other hand, if I do tell, she may suspect that I had been strategizing about our kiss all along. And things would only get more complicated for me from then on. I decide not to tell her and appreciate the blessing of having found her after what feels like has been a long search.
She glows to my appearance, like she had been eagerly awaiting my arrival. Our encounter is at the same spot I left her before she could take to the streets after which I had followed – her uncle’s house. The grumpy man of the house has hosted a party for Cynthia’s niece, a lovely innocent thing. I hope the young one grows up not to be like her aunt by assuming elusive behaviour around a good guy like me. On second thought, I think she should be sterner than her aunt, put a chastity belt on and seal her lips closed when she’s with boys. That way she’d be safer. But I’m sure Cynthia will teach her niece all these things when the right time comes. Anyway, I should not worry about that sort of stuff. All I need to do now is to take Cynthia away from all these people so that we could fulfil our desires. I want to show her the ghosts outside, but her uncle may not approve of us standing out there alone. I think he doesn’t trust me because he looks at me suspiciously. It’s the same uncle Cynthia has been telling me about, the one who doesn’t even trust his own wife for reasons unknown to all but himself. But again, he’s Cynthia’s beloved uncle and I have to respect both his presence and paranoia.
Many people are talking and laughing out loud inside the house. They are all consumed by the ambience of the party. But none of them sees me. Some even walk right through me as if through air. I must be invisible then. But Cynthia’s irritable uncle sees me where I am standing and waiting for Cynthia to fix me a snack. He glues his eyes on me. Lord I need to disappear from this guy – that kiss I’ve got to have this very night!
Cynthia comes over to me with a tray of golden scones and tea. She knows I hate tea but gives it to me nonetheless. She’s with her lovely niece, who apart from Cynthia and her uncle can also see me. So I stay nice and eat my scones while the young thing pinches my legs relentlessly.
“I know you like my aunty, I’m watching you,” the young girl says, smiling mischievously, her aunt wearing the same naughty smile but an adult version that knows depths of words and stares.
“Come! Let’s go outside,” I finally whisper to Cynthia, irritated by her niece’s pinches which are not painful at all, but feel like a tickling sensation.
“Let’s rather go to my niece’s room.”
“But your uncle is here and you know he would not approve,” I caution.
“Oh, I forgot, let’s go outside then.”
The sullenness of the night has become the heat of the night. I remember great things that are said to have happened in this very period and hope that we don’t deviate from that passionate culture. That we don’t set a precedent that will take away from the abundant bliss of the night that had been consistent all these years.
The naked blue of the sky with its liquidity had disappeared, and million stars wink like small fluorescent lights below what has become the darkest of the nights I’ve ever seen. Stars must have reconciled with the sinister and brooding sky then. Traces of ghosts are nowhere to be seen.
The heat is aggressive. I sweat in an instant while Cynthia maintains her powdered beauty. We stand against the wall. And I don’t know why, but we find ourselves evaluating the vastness of the heavens.
“I promise you, this sky is a blanket from which the earth tore. Look at its vastness!” Cynthia muses, her eyes directed at the sky.
“No, the sky flew away from the earth,” I counter.
“Maybe. But how vast is the sky then?”
“As vast as your thoughts and as deep as your heart, Cynthia. The sky stretches further from the earth into deeper vastness.”
“What do you mean by that? My heart is not deep,” she says, disappointed.
“It is! I fear its depth while I stand here with you.”
“But you know I don’t bite, I only love. What does that make me then; earth?”
“Maybe. But I think the earth may be more treacherous though. I think you’re more like the space above refusing to take a definite form.”
“And that should make you an ocean I suppose, always determined to have your waves reach the shore?”
“Maybe, but these waves cannot reach you.”
“Because you don’t want me to kiss you,” I say trembling with desire, sweat flowing down my face – it’s the heat of the night!
“Mmmhhh! You want to kiss me? Why don’t you say so?” she says as if she’s discovering this for the first time as we stand there.
We both lean towards each other. And like the great forces of gravity, we’re pulled together through our lips. They connect gracefully creating an impeccably blissful moment. Lord, this is the perfect kiss and it would surely lead us very far. Soon we will have to go somewhere private to explore the many routes of the ignited desire that has seized us – soon we would be one.
It is exactly at this point that I hear the familiar frightening whimper of laughter again. But ignore it. I’m taken by the night – there’s definitely not going to be any useless precedents here, we’re continuing the long tradition of delightful moments of physical encounters of the night.
I hear the whimper again, louder this time and my entire back starts heating up badly.
“He’s arrived! The dark man has arrived!” I scream into Cynthia’s face, but she forms a disgusted expression. She thinks I’m losing it.
“He’s here! He’s here!” I scream again but she maintains her questioning expression.
The dark man stands next to us, but on the side of the house where the entrance door is located. It’s as if he’s ruling out any possible chances of my escaping into the house, where I’m sure he would not dare venture into if only I were to sneak in. I pray that Cynthia’s uncle could emerge from the house so as to fight on my behalf. At the same time, I begin to wonder if he did not know that the night out here had concealed into its mysteries this hideous guy, when his roving eyes easily pierce through desires and motives. Maybe Cynthia’s uncle knew about all these things. His plan may have well been to teach me a lesson of some sort. Otherwise, he would have warned us against this itinerant danger.
Cynthia cannot see the dark man just like her guests could not see me earlier. What a tragic experience! I wonder if I would live to tell the tale and also fix myself therapy while at it. Then I would be in a fitting position to define this whole experience as traumatic. But who would listen to stories about people who cannot be seen? Let alone traces of ghosts I’ve seen in the dark sky.
The dark man pulls out his panga again meaning to do grievous-bodily-harm on me. He raises his hand aiming at my neck and the large blade of his panga lets off a streak of metallic shimmer confirming its sharp danger. But just before the man could strike the blade into my flesh, someone shakes my body again.
“Wake up, Babe, wake up! Haai maan! What’s up with these bad dreams?”
It’s the sound of my girl; her voice is louder this time around.
I open my eyes and register the same view of the ceiling above me and detect a terribly cold feeling all around my body from my pyjamas – they are wet, a clear sign that I had been steaming up.
“Someone wants to hurt me. Someone wants to hurt me badly,” I shout, trying to make sense of all these events.
“No! You’ve been dreaming, Babe. It was just a bad dream. Come here, you’ll be alright.” She opens up her arms again to bury my head.
“But it felt so real!”
“I know. Don’t worry though, it’s over now.”
My girl holds me tightly and kisses me in that state of alarm, and that kiss tastes much like the one Cynthia gave me in my dream. I smile deep inside acknowledging the familiarity. And just at this point a frail thought quivers around my mind with a suggestion that the dark man may have been an omen of some sorts. Perhaps a deterrent that I should stop my association with Cynthia altogether. In as much as I find this strange fleeting thought exciting, I do not explore it any further as I know it would lead me to a long reflection that would deprive me of sleep. Besides, I am completely taken by the glorious kiss I am getting from my girl, for it is truly wholesome. Maybe I should learn to interpret my dreams.