The Metro Apartment Complex consisted of five blocks of flats. Each block of dull grey concrete was seven storeys tall, and was creatively named after a letter of the alphabet. In apartment 3B, with windows looking outwards across the bare, undeveloped land that stretched between the complex and the highway that led from Johannesburg to Durban, there lived a twenty four year old. His name was Fikani Stan Oyama. He was tall. He was skinny. And he wore glasses with black, circular rims. He didn’t actually need glasses. He had twenty twenty vision. But glasses were fashionable. And fashion was very important to Fikani Stan Oyama, or Stan, as everyone called him.
Stan lived all by himself in apartment 3B with-the-windows-overlooking-the-bare-grassy-land, or veld. This was by design. You see, Stan actually enjoyed living alone (for the most part). This was in spite of, or maybe because of, what he felt were the universe’s constant machinations against his much desired peace and quiet. This took the form of unwanted visitors who would take it upon themselves to ease his loneliness. Sometimes, his younger brother Walter would come and stay with him for a couple of weeks. His stay would end abruptly when the fridge had remained stubbornly bare for some days. Other times his best friend and work-mate Jabu would move in. Generally his incursions were quite brief – just enough to allow some situation with his landlord to blow over. Most recently, his girlfriend, Elsie, had lived with him for some months on what was meant to be a permanent basis. That too had passed. It had been her idea, and Stan had done his best to resist it, but had eventually given in. He had quietly resolved not to give up though, and so when Elsie had moved out again the previous evening, it was with a sigh of relief that he watched her bustling down the stairs all in a huff, lugging her sports bag and his little travel suitcase, and refusing to accept any help from his no-good-unappreciative-self.
Stan wondered how she would manage the one kilometre walk back to her mother’s house. She lived with her mother and her two younger sisters and a younger brother, in the neighbouring Steynville township. That was also where his brother Walter lived with their grandmother. His best friend Jabu also lived there. In many ways, Stan was seen as the one that broke the mould because he moved a kilometre down the road from everyone else, into the hip and trendy Metro Apartments. According to the posters that lined several street poles on the road that led out of Steynville, past his apartment complex and onwards to the highway, Stan ought to have been enjoying high-speed internet, pay-TV and a gymnasium. But he wasn’t. They all cost extra. His salary was a meagre eight thousand rand a month. Two-thirds of this went to rent and groceries, and most of the remainder went to his grandmother.
But then again, Elsie had always stumped Stan. As his alarm went off that chilly, April morning, he felt relieved to finally be able to turn his mind to something else. He had been up all night, going over the details of the previous evening’s break up. “Was it even a break-up?” he wondered. Maybe he could have handled it better. Maybe it entirely his fault. Maybe she was crazy. All these thoughts churned in his mind as he stood in the shower. Even the luke-warm water trickling down his neck reminded him of her. She was the one that would always remember to turn on the geyser. By the time he would step into the shower, the water would be steaming hot. He’d grown accustomed to her handling these little details that made his uncomfortable flat a little more hospitable, a little more homely. Now, Elsie was gone, and he was back to taking luke-warm showers again. Less than twenty four hours in and the bachelor lifestyle was starting to feel as cold as the water trickling down and the shivers running up his spine.
As he stepped into his tiny kitchen, he crinkled his up his nose at the slight odour emanating from the kitchen sink. He suddenly missed the smell of warm toast and instant coffee that would normally greet him. Elsie was an early bird, so she’d get breakfast going before he got to the kitchen. And in the evenings, she’d cook and he’d wash. The previous night neither had happened. He’d just had some left overs, chucked the dishes in the sink without even soaking them, and went straight to bed. He sighed as plonked on the seat beside the counter and poured some cereal and milk into a bowl. He ate his cereal slowly, his eyes staring off into the middle distance, focusing on nothing in particular. Then an alarm on his phone went off. He picked it up casually and read the note: “Time to leave!!!” “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he muttered, shoving the phone into his pocket and slipping off the seat. He was in no hurry to come face to face with Elsie that morning. He grabbed his backpack and pulled on his “Pan-African Heritage Museum”-branded hoodie with a renewed understanding of the folly of office romances.
Now that it was late April, there was a bit of a nip in the morning and evening air. He felt it as he bolted the top, middle and bottom locks on his apartment door and descended the three flights of stairs to the ground level. He didn’t enjoy winters at all, and found himself remembering how Elsie would poke fun at him for putting on a sweater when she’d only be wearing a t-shirt. He’d say it was a fashion statement. She’d say he was just being a pansy. He wondered if winters would always remind him of her for the rest of his life. As he made his way past the houses and shops bordering the edge of Steynville, he barely noticed the cacophony of the minivan taxis hooting for passengers, or the droves of people walking towards the bus stops, or the shop owners unlatching the chains and padlocks that secured the little tuck shops outside their houses.
Out of routine, he turned into a winding footpath that cut across the veld and got him to the museum faster than the main road would. He instantly regretted it. If he had taken the longer route, he could have delayed getting to work just a little bit longer. Elsie would be there. She liked to get to the office early so she could give her assignments and study a bit of a push before the workday started. She was so disciplined, so unlike him. He hesitated, wondering whether he should go back to the main road. He decided against it. It would have looked too wierd. He hated being so indecisive. Elsie was so decisive. So deliberate. That was one of the things he really liked about her. For the umpteenth time that morning, he wondered if he had made a mistake the evening before. A voice in his head condemned him for being a coward. He was against the cohabiting, true. But he could have at least been a gentleman about telling her what he really wanted. Instead he had become reticent and aloof over the past couple of months. His answers to her questions were monosyllabic at best, and rude grunts at worst. Whenever she wanted to talk, he would just then feel an urge to break out the Play Station and start a game of Fifa, inviting her to join in, of course, though he knew that she hated video games. When she would suggest that they go out, he would talk up the virtue of frugality and pontificate on the necessity of young black South Africans developing the culture of saving. After a while, all that had attracted her to him, namely his spontaneous, intrepid and fun-loving side, was all but gone. He groaned and kicked a pebble in his path. “No, but it wasn’t your fault,” another voice in his head rallied to his defence. “She was asking you for too much.” Stan knew this was a lie, but it made him feel better to keep this thought front and centre. That way, he could avoid thinking about the real issue at play.
It was the fear, plain and simple. He had started falling in love with Lwazi, Elsie’s daughter, and he knew that this was what Elsie was angling for. Lwazi was the cutest, most irresistible three year old, ever. Even though she lived with her grandmother Thando in Steynville, he and Elsie would visit several times a week. When he found himself spontaneously buying her presents and arguing with Elsie about her being too stern with “the baby”, he knew he had to apply the brakes. This whole falling in love thing was not what he wanted. At twenty four, he was too young for it.
“Your parents got married at twenty-four,” his grandmother, Jemimah, had reminded him, when he did the unthinkable and opened up to her about his relationship with Elsie. His grandmother was all for them settling down. The sooner the better, she said. She loved Elsie, and thought that Stan ought to be the one to rescue her from the “dogs out there.” “So what if she already has a child?” Jemimah would ask. “Do you realise how brave it was for her to bring a child into this world?”
“Nope!” Stan said to himself, shaking his head as he wound his way through the brown, knee-high grass, “All women are crazy. ” But with every step that brought him closer to the museum, the sinking feeling in his tummy grew. Who was he kidding? It was going to take a lot to get her back after how coldly he had treated her. He’d read in one of Elsie’s books that indifference was worse than hate. At the time he didn’t fully agree with that statement, and he tossed the book aside. But now, as the museum gates loomed larger and larger in front of him, he had to admit that maybe there was some wisdom in them.
The hooting of a car woke him out of his thoughts. He scurried to the other side of the road he had been sauntering across.
“Man, you almost got run over!”
Gugu was walking along the on the other side of the road, heading towards the museum gate that was only a few metres away from them now. He was wearing ripped jeans, and bright red and white sneakers. He slung his museum branded hoodie across one arm, an act of rebellion against the employer-imposed uniform.
“Are you okay?” he asked, shooting a look at Stan’s troubled, weary face.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep too well last night.”
“What? Did you feel it too?”
“The tremor. There was a hectic tremor last night. It’s been all over the news. They say it’s a big deal because we’re not on a tectonic plate or anything.”
“You mean a fault line. Everything’s on a tectonic plate, genius,” Stan said, bitterly.
“Hey, you’re the one that studied rocks. And why the hell are you so mad, bro?” They were now walking through the pedestrian gate of the museum. Bongani, the security guard, was seated in the guard house nearby. He nodded a hello at them from the guard house nearby. Gugu smiled and nodded back. He turned back to Stan.
“What’s going on?”
“Elsie moved out.”
Gugu stopped in his tracks. Stan kept walking. Gugu hurried to catch up with him.
“When did this happen?”
“Why? What happened?”
“It’s a long story, man. And,” he added, as they walked up the large sliding glass doors that pulled apart automatically to let them through, “Now is not the time to talk about it.” The words died on his lips as he and Gugu stepped through the sliding doors.
Elsie was standing at the reception, having an animated conversation with Chichi. They locked eyes, and there was an awkward silence.