By Abigail George
Facts exist. This planet is hell. Men want the girl. Seldom want the woman. All girls want poetry in their lives. All women want is the large house and the children but for her there is power in comfort and solitude. She found a hole in the sky to creep into. A blue cave and this is where she wrote. Visionaries can see their reflections everywhere they look. She knew her escape from the drudgery of her work that she had to love. That she had to live, think and act like a man to be an intellectual and a philosopher. One man told her that he did not have the time of day for women who became overwhelmed by his terms or women who became emotional. He thought that was disgraceful behaviour. Fear and depression are examples of pain. All three are chronic. All three will lead you down the laws of Whitman’s path. Are you witty another man asked her? Are you scared of being with a real man? Are you an innocent? There are always sides. Men who are dreamers. Men who have stories. One man wanted to know what she did when he was not around. She answered honestly that she read a lot. I can see, he said.
I can see you have many books. What kind of books do you read? Romance novels? She could hear the laughter in his voice. The smile in his voice. I read everything, she said in a small voice. Do you have anything to drink? No, she answered. I will leave you here with your books and I will pop out and get us something to drink. You look like you need a drink. He looked her up and down and smiled at her. You have beautiful hair. Do you always wear it like that? You should. It shows off your best features. Your high cheekbones. You aquiline nose. The man started to stroke her face. Put strands of her hair that came loose behind her ear. You are a girl who understands the intellectual life and he smiled again but it was more of a smirk than a smile. You seem to be a girl who puts herself in a lot of dangerous situations sweetheart. Not all men are like me but I think you know that already. I drink whiskey she said. No, he said. Today you are drinking what I drink. She stared up at him. Stared at his handsome face. Met his gaze and looked away again.
Sweetheart there are no good men. I am not good for you. The only thing a real man has is his personality. Character goes out the window when he is misbehaving. He closed the door behind him. She got up from where she was sitting and looked out the window as he got into his fancy car. She hoped he was never coming back again. That he would forget the number of her flat at the complex where she stayed. The air felt like she did. Airy. Light. She wrote in her journal. I have often thought of what is beautiful and what is ugly in this world. What separates the truth of a man’s character and personality? I have a wardrobe full of dresses to make me feel pretty. To make me feel extraordinary. To make me feel like an exceptional woman. (She thought of the meat defrosting on her kitchen table. The meal she was going to prepare with ground beef that evening but the man as usual had other plans in mind.) Her father did not want her to go to the city. He told her that she would not find herself there nor her life purpose. He asked her to stay.
There was an urgency in his voice. Stay, please Becky but she was headstrong. She had made her decision. The man was back. She could hear him walking up the stairs. He was whistling. He did not knock. Just waltzed right in as if he knew, was so certain that she did not lock the door behind him. Party time. Are you ready for that drink now? I brought a friend with me. She is waiting downstairs for me in the car. Can she come up? At a loss for words, I see. Okay. Do not bother with glasses. This is how you entertain your friends I assume. Your male friends. Get comfortable. Do not be shy. I do not think that women are shy creatures. You are more woman than girl to me. She looked at him. The man who had told her that he was a father and a husband. The man who had a wife and progeny. If only his children could see them now. Where are your children, she asked him in a quiet voice. I do not know really. Visiting their grandparents. Your wife, she said trying to keep her voice even. Where is she? She travels a lot. Travels all over.
I think she is landing in Cape Town as we speak but enough about them. What about you little woman? You have a body on you. Still going to make me supper. Are you sure my friend cannot come up? She must be bored by now thinking where in the world I am. I promise she will not bite. Have you ever been with a woman before? I think everything about you is erotic. He opened the bottle, leaving the silver foil and the cork on the floor and began to drink straight from the bottle gutturally. A little bit of erotica never hurt anyone. You have gone all quiet on me now woman. Am I shocking you? What is your name again? My name is Becky. She said. Becky, he repeated. Becky, can I kiss you. If you want to, she answered. My friend is waiting, he said. He pressed his mouth on hers waiting for her to open her mouth. He leaned back and said that was nice. Becky you are a good kisser. He put the bottle down and settled next to her into the sofa. This is comfortable. He put his hand on her knee and started to stroke her leg. Is it okay if I do this?
He looked at her closely. Yes, she said. What were you like when you were a little girl? Were you a daddy’s girl? He picked up the bottle from the floor and took another swig from it. It is up to you whether my friend can come up. I think she is listening to the radio in the car. Is she young, Becky asked? Are you jealous? He looked at her watching her closely. No worries Becky. You do not have to be jealous. A beautiful woman like you. Young like you do you mean or older and more experienced. He guffawed. My friend is anything you want her to be. You do not have to be scared of me. I will not take advantage of you. My friend also has a body. Tell me about your wife, Becky asked. She wanted answers. He did not give her any. I need to straighten up a bit Becky. Where is your bathroom? Straight ahead, she said. Be open to new experiences, she told herself. Be an open book. She did not feel at all strange. She felt liberated. She was curious about the woman in the car. What did she look like? What was her childhood like? Was it anything like Becky’s?
Did she have an overprotective father as Becky had once had who sheltered her from the world? A father who did not want her to go to the big city. Becky is beautiful. The man literally was breathing down her neck now. Kissing her head. Running his hands up and down her back. Sit on my lap Becky. She hesitated. Are you sure you do not want a drink? Drink with me Becky. Just have a sip. Becky took a sip and felt drowsy. The man guffawed. Yes, Becky you a bona fide woman now. She sat on his lap and leaned into him. Becky, I admire you a great deal, he whispered into her ear. This is what all girls must learn when they come to the bright lights of the big city. To be submissive. To be dominated. Are you sure my friend cannot come up? I promise you we can have so much fun. We see with our eyes but we can also see through touch, say it is so Becky. You are a woman now. What does that feel like? I feel different. The man guffawed loudly again. She can come up if she wants to. Your friend. She must be bored out of her mind by now thinking that you have forgotten her.
Becky took her shoes off. Standing up barefooted in her slip, she made her way to the bedroom. Are you sure Becky? I do not want to corrupt you. I have a feeling you were raised in the church. I have a feeling that you are a virtuous kind of girl. Raised with values and all of that. Does she have a name? Do prostitutes have names? Her name is Angel or Angela something or other. She looks like an angel. You look like an angel too, except your name is Becky. She smiled when she heard him say her name. You smoke. Sometimes. Becky, what kind of answer is that. Either you smoke or you do not. When I feel stressed out about something at work that is the only time I smoke, Becky answered. Tell me about the hospital. Tell me about hospital life before I go and fetch my friend. I will read something I wrote about it to you, Becky replied. I love it when people read to me. I am glad you feel different. He guffawed loudly again. Out of drinks. Are you sure you have nothing that I can wet my lips with in this place? Cute house though. You have made it very cozy.
I like the arrangement of scatter cushions on your bed. It looks like you like to read many catalogues to get ideas from them. Is that all that you do with you spare time, Becky, read instead of living? I live for the moment. The man guffawed again. I do not think that I have ever met someone like you Becky. I cannot overlook how beautiful you look to me right now. The man said stroking her head. Can I touch you Becky the way you have touched me, transformed me. Yes, you have transformed me into another man. Angela is waiting, Becky said. Sitting on the edge of the bed with her feet under her looking up at him. You are such an innocent child, Becky. I must corrupt you first. The man looked at her sadly. He took his tie off and then his jacket. You really do not mind if I corrupt you first, do you, Becky. You are a sharp one. You look at me like a girl but then again you also look at me like a woman possessed. Are you a woman possessed, Becky? This is your cue, Becky. Either you will be corrupted or you will remain innocent.
The choice is yours. I want you to corrupt me. I am tired of being innocent. All people, all women, all men see is what they want projected onto their individual selves. They want to think that they are innocent when they are merely lost or at a loss for words. The man began to cry. I have children. I have a beautiful house. I have a wife. It does not matter to me anymore that I will never have those things, Becky said. I do not want any of it. They are beautiful things. They are not trophies. They keep me warm on cold nights, Becky. Books keep me warm on cold nights. Hot chocolate and literature. Abandon yourself, Becky said. (I carry these sorrows within my anatomy. Mental faculties in childhood are made up of mansions that have many rooms. My past overwhelms me sometimes with its own urgency and brains. There are extensions that are like catalysts, sparks, fireworks. The cracks in my childhood made up with their own alphabet. A neglectful mother who lacked insight into her own children’s lives. A mother who never loved me. A father who was both father and mother.
The culture that we live in as children exposes us to fragments of phenomenology. In the end, we are all scholars of trivia. We are all students of the school of life. Can you understand the property of dreaming? Silence between lovers who have known each other for a long time can be convenient sometimes. One person has his or her own thoughts. The other is lost in their own world. This lover lives in his or her own reality. That lover lives in his or her own reality. Each reality is stranger than fiction. Just as much as people can become estranged from their families, from their infirm and elderly parents, from their own arrogant, moneyed siblings there is a wide-open space that is as vast as a desert. Life is always cosmic for visionaries. That is all they see. The awareness that others are not privy too. A woman lives in a cave. A man lives in his cave. The only time they ever meet is when they come out of their caves to look at the stars and to worship heaven. Humanity, human life deals in that currency. They both realise that there is a bleakness in this world.
They both feel displaced when they leave the order and routine they experience in their cave. There is sadness in you. There is sadness in me. I project all fantasy onto you. You project the reflection of admiration onto me. We clothe ourselves in costume, in make believe and in fancy dress. I wanted you to save me. You wanted me to save you in return. You have become significant to me in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Talk to me about intimacy he says and I do my best but I talk like a girl and I walk like a girl. I wear my hair like a girl piled on top of my head with bobby pins like I used to as a child when I went to ballet lessons in a church hall. Does he love me? Does he want me? Does he desire me? Is all I ever want to know from the men that I pass in the street, who sit in cafes drinking their coffee, eating their croissants. Men who are artists and men who are not artists. Men who were my English teachers. Men who were not my English teachers. Men who lectured me at college. Men I admired as I admired my own father.
Men who are fathers and husbands. After all, they are the most important. I know they will leave. I know they will betray me in the end. They will teach me all they know of life. The contents and romanticism of their life experience. Their maladjusted behaviour, their rudeness, their tempers, their arrogance are what make them who they are. The loveliness of their eyes, their anatomy that is so different from mine and their fine manners, their exquisite stories that they enthrall me with are what make them who they are. My father did not teach me these things. He only said be wary of them. The men that you work with. Do not ride with them in their cars to go to places. In the end, they will not respect you or love you. They will only patronise and condescend to you. Most of these types of men belong to an exclusive club called ‘the elite’. They are wealthy. They love fast cars. They love smoking a certain brand of cigarettes and drinking whiskies in the evening. They love women. It does not matter even if they are married they still love women.
They are grown men who are still children. Children who still want to be worshiped and put on a pedestal. The men who belong to the elite are articulate, well educated, some of them are intellectuals, and some are not. Be wary of them. They are sharks. There are shark-infested waters out there in the bright lights of the big city. You will find them everywhere. Around every corner. In every mall. In every family restaurant. They will look right through you. They will look you up and down. They will sweet talk you. Whisper sweet nothings in your ear. They will give you gifts). All of her bittersweet childhood Becky was brave, bold, brilliant. She felt she had to shout her existence into being form the rooftops of the city. Her tears were always diamond pinpricks in her eyes. She always wanted to be saved but from what she could not give it a name yet. She did not know what to call it yet. She lost herself in music. In opera. The classical greats. She went to piano, swimming, speech and elocution, drama lessons. She learned early on that there was an art to everything in life.
There always had to be room for it in her life. She decided early on that her life always had to be governed by art. She always found herself picked last. She could not do handstands and cartwheels like the other girls. In high school, she had never had a boyfriend. She had never been kissed. She was lonely. In the terrain of the city, although she felt that all the life she was experiencing was putting space between her and the hometown she had grown up in. I am a woman now. She said it repeatedly like a mantra. She soon faded into the squalor of the city. It is my turn to talk now, said the man. Have you always been like this? Have you always written so beautifully? Have your eyes always been filled with so much insecurity and doubt? I doubt if you have been this adventurous all your life. What would you like me to get you? No, I am being serious. I would like to get you something if it will make you happy. Daring to be someone else not yourself. What is so wrong with you Becky? Why the self-hate and the torture?
Why the self-sabotage? You manufacture touch. Venture through the sensory, understand the volition of the personality’s intuition and you do it so well. With understanding, elegance and grace. Did your mother have elegance and grace? I see I have touched a nerve. Did the two of you not get along? Did your mother make many sacrifices for you? Did she ever touch you? Did she ever tell you how much she loved you? Why are you crying? Child. You are after all just a child but I guess that corruption took place long ago before we even met each other. Every man that Becky had ever fallen in love with was beautiful to her. Their manners, their physicality, the impressions that they left upon her, marking her for life. She wanted them to possess her in exactly the same way that she possessed them.
She wanted to master her traumatic childhood. She wanted to master the male and the female innerness of her soul. The spirit of the child that was still a part of her even in adult life. She had an androgynous mind. She wanted to master pain and then when she realised her own sexuality she did master the pain that she had internalised for so long. Then it finally was released. It finally had an external world. Men were always somewhat of a mystery to her. When they left her of course, she felt abandoned. When they did not call her on the telephone of course, she felt neglected. She was an adult yet she still thought, acted and moved throughout the world like a child and with a child’s intuition and velocity. She knew she had to explore the city. It had territories and districts filled with light and dark acts. This man just wanted to talk all the time about her childhood.
Tell me about your childhood. Tell me about your mother. Do you look anything like her? Did she ever read your stories? I am guessing here not. I am right. I am always right. I should not have spoken to you about my wife and children. There is always room for a young woman to grow and to learn from her mistakes. You will soon learn that a mistake is an education in itself. Just do not end up loving me, regretting me or hating me for what I did to you. Sometimes men do not think when it comes to an inexperienced young woman. Men are creatures of empires and kingdoms. Women are creatures of habit. Woman always want to fall in love. Yes, you do want that swimming pool and the kiddies. I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. I know what loneliness, isolation and rejection is. I have lived through all of that. It is only the beginning. The beginning of life. Nerves shaking. Anxiety ridden. Panic-stricken. It happens to the best and brightest of humanity. You should have banished me when you had the chance then I would not have exploited you and yet you wanted to be exploited because you wanted to forget. You wanted to forget your childhood.
Perfume. The expensive kind. Becky finally told him what he wanted to hear and he smiled at her. A smile that was warm and genuine. Inviting her to smile with him as if they were playing a game. She knew she would recollect their conversations in a myriad of ways in her journal. One man became two, became three, became four, and became five and so on and so on. When she telephoned her father every Sunday evening he would ask her, a slight tremor in his voice when was she coming home? Did she have a boyfriend around her age yet? What kind of people had she met in the city? Certainly not the people you told me about daddy. Nobody is taking advantage of me. I am living my life. I am living my life on my terms. I am worried about you her father would reply. Come home. Come home soon. You cannot live alone in the city like that. The city has shark teeth. Is there room for a cat or a goldfish? No there was no room for a cat or a goldfish. What was that in the background he would always say anxiety rushing through him?
The man it seemed had a lot on his mind or he seemed to have shortly lost his mind. He seemed to speak as if she was taking notes. As if, she was his stenographer. You are useful in making me forget too. You wanted to regret something, regret me because that makes you forget the past. In other words, you can also say I used you and you used me. We used each other. When you regret something, it is also a small triumph. If I kiss it better will it make it all right again? If I tell you that I love you, will you believe me. The sky is blue. You do not have to be. Tell me what does it feel like to have lived your whole life near the ocean. Men want to believe that all girls are chaste. All girls want to be are women. They want to get married and wear a meringue of a dress, wear flowers in their hair and that ring on their finger but not you. You say it defiantly as if you are taking a stand for something. For all the girls who have lost their way in this world. For all the girls whose mothers never loved them. For all the girls who are madly intellectual and surround themselves with literature.
Is there someone there with you, her father would say in a singsong voice? It was nothing daddy, Becky would implore. It is only the television. You can afford a television on your wages. I get a salary now. I pay it off in monthly installments. Let me go and switch it off. Do not get into the backseat of their cars. Oh, dad. Becky would say biting her bottom lip. Becky listen to me. Come home. You will find someone nice and a decent man. You mean someone you approve of daddy. Oh, Becky. What has become of you? What is becoming of all your dreams, all your goals? Do you still feel inspired to write? There is a novel I am writing but her father was not interested in that. Are you still a girl? Are you still my daughter? Daddy, please do not ask me that. Your mother is busy. She cannot come to the telephone right now. Daddy, I want to speak to her. Oh, Becky. Why will you not give us your number? Where are staying? Do you have a roommate or roommates? Please come home and the conversation would go back and forth like this. She could hear her mother in the background.
What happened? What happened? You escaped. You found the exit out. We all do even men who are still boys at heart. You have a life. You have not failed at anything. You have dreams. You have goals. You inspire. You are creative. You have your little novel that you are writing and you are doing your best to cope, to act as if you have it all together but anyone can see that not everything is all right in your world. Everyone can see that you are not coping. You are a late bloomer. Are you really living or do you live life like one of the protagonists in your stories. Do not say anything to me. You might regret it later. You have choices in life. I had to make choices too and at the end of the day, you are either a poor loser or the winner who takes it all. Do you know what your purpose is? Our purpose is to love and be loved in return. That should be the mantra of human life. This is what you have to do although it might sound very strange. You have to live. You have to give life a chance. If you do not, it is tickets for you. You will find yourself drowning in a pool of your own tears.
Becky could hear her mother’s voice. By now, she is probably a dancer in one of those clubs. That is what happens to girls like her. She is probably a dancer for money. Leave me out the conversation. Becky could feel the diamond pinpricks of tears behind her eyes. Let go, let go, let go and surrender. She hates me. My own mother hates me. Becky thought to herself. Then I should go on living the way I do. I have a talent for it. For listening to shadows that wear masks and illusions that can strum guitar and violin strings illuminating truth and beauty. How do you know you are drowning even though you continually come up for air? It is not truth that will set you free. People talk about emancipation all the time but do they actually know what freedom means. Here in the Johannesburg streets the air felt like no other. The people moved differently. Up streets. Down streets. Walking in alleys. There was always traffic everywhere she looked. All she wanted was silence. All she wanted was a room of her own. All she wanted was to write.
Self-pity is a terrible thing for a young woman to feel. It will make you a tragedy when you are not even close to being one. I know what it feels like when a young woman trembles in my arms. You are a girl. You are a girl. You are a girl. I know at this moment in time you want to be a woman but for now just be a girl. When you are older, you will know what I am talking about. Do not rush things so to get to a place where you will only feel older and more alone than you already are. I do not want that for you. (This man can talk like a woman, thought Becky to herself). You must have met many young men in your short life. No? Oh, well that is a surprise. Have you ever been happy? You have educated yourself well I see from all the books around me. What do you want from life? Life is so short and the most precious thing about it is the love that that human life and artists can express. If you are a writer, you are an artist. Your whole life is a ballad. Your whole life is made out of music. You are difficult. On the one hand, you want respect but with the kind of life you live now you will never find it.
My name is Anita, said the girl when she finally came up the stairs. Why did you leave me waiting in the car so long? I thought you were never coming back for me. Oh, sorry. I thought it was Angel or Angela something. The man said meekly. He had stopped guffawing. This is your eternity, Anita said nastily. Tell her to stop looking at me like that. Do you understand what that word ‘eternity’ means? Yes, Becky said. I do. This is my eternity, Becky repeated.