Of love, loss and watermelons …

They walked into the place, that place in Obs with the bottomless coffee and black consciousness books, dreadlocked revolutionary artists in abundance. Black people in this hippy neck of the woods are drawn to each other like bees, but of course, they act totally nonchalant about it, leaving their German groupies to do the buzzing, eagerly intoxicated as they are by a dizzying proximity to blackness.

The place was noisy, and I was half-listening to conversations around me when they walked in. I stared in awe and it felt like everything went still around me. I know this is cheesy, but honestly, they were everything a human is supposed to be and I couldn’t help but think of a line from my favourite poem. Right, like a well-done sum.

It was Sunday, so I had both the newspaper and my laptop open in front of me, next to my box of butternut, grapes and wedge of watermelon, bounty from Mr H who sells fruit and vegetables in the hall after high mass at St Michaels. That’s where my uncle and his family worship, so that’s where I go to sing praises and be with people. Supporting Mr H is the cherry on top.

I’ve never ever seen a bruised fruit on his table, and once, after I “accidentally” gave him an extra R5, he corrected my change and gave me a free packet of carrots to improve my eyesight next time I count coins. I am convinced he plants scruples alongside his seeds and serves them as honest-to-God goodness. On the rare occasions that I need more human interaction after stocking up on the earth’s candies, I go to a coffee shop to people watch while I pretend to write.

I can’t even tell you what I was writing about that day, probably another pap story or half-baked PhD proposal when in they bounced, with a spring in their step that made me suddenly aware of my shameful posture. When I straightened up, I noticed that the nipples of the girl next to me were suddenly standing straight out like rapt arrows directing all energy towards the back of the deity ordering the breakfast roll at the counter in front of us.

The girl closed her laptop, abruptly terminating the Skype call to what looked like her mother, stood up and cleared her throat like something out of a movie. I had never actually heard such a well-articulated ahem before this.

“I have seen you before.”

They turned around and looked at her, kindly but without recognition. Then at me. Then back at her, eyes travelling from dirty Birkenstocks to my box of vegetables, up to her now offensive teats (no bra, obvz) before finally returning to look at her face. A lazily indulgent smile spread, like an unnecessary but nice-to-have blanket on the beach.

“Maybe, I don’t know. I haven’t seen you before,” they smiled generously, and that should have settled it. Germans are persistent though and she was batting her eyes so furiously, I was surprised their dreads weren’t blown backwards by the sheer physical force of her flirting. Shame, maybe she was Dutch, who knows.

“Are you at Afda? You look so familiar!”

They narrowed their eyes at her. By now I had given up all pretence of innocently picking up stompies and leaned back in my chair, arms crossed behind my head and settled in for a show.

“No. I am not at Afda. I do not live in Obs. We have not met before. You seem like a nice enough girl but I am not interested, and I’m not buying whatever it is you’re selling. I don’t want a weekly delivery of organic vegetables from your vegan commune co-op, and before you even think of asking, no, I do not sell weed.”

I was torn between laughing and clapping and shouting hoorah for this African angel but, before I could respond, the European, who had been gawking open-mouthed throughout this eloquently delivered invective, sat down in a huff and turned to me as if looking for an outlet for the chagrin she was trying, unsuccessfully, to hide.

“Just so you know, I buy my vegetables at Woolworths” were the only words she could muster.

She reopened her computer, stared so hard at the screen I thought those bulging blue eyes would burn a hole through the machine, and shoved her headphones on to her ears. Just as well, because the Supreme Being burst out laughing. When I lifted my eyes from the poor girl’s deflated nipples, I saw that they were looking at me. The human, I mean, not the nipples. Navigating and advocating for gender-free terms is no joke but using third person to be politically correct is kinda funny.

“Was that rude?” they ask me, standing near my table.


“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend your vegetables”

“They forgive you.”

“I like that you buy the newspaper. And I like your ears.”

“I like that you don’t sell drugs. And I like your nose.”

As we flirted, it felt like all the things that tied me to my life no longer held any meaning. That in this moment, in this place, all that mattered was that I continue talking to this person. I wanted that feeling to stay with me forever. This back-and-forth banter went on for as long as it took for their food to arrive.

They sat down, became silent and started to chew. As I nervously followed suit, not knowing what else to do, I noticed that the dancing dust motes in the shafts of light from the shop windows were giving them a halo.

A gorgeous man walked past us and the wink he directed at them looked like how I imagine a hug from Idris Elba might feel, all sensual and dripping in invitation for more chocolaty goodness. I wanted to punch him. They winked back like it happens all the time, casually raised a hand to ask the waiter for something, stirring the dust motes into a life of their own and I wanted to shout at them for doing that, for disturbing the cosmos like that.

My neighbour, however, she of jilted advances, had no qualms about disturbing my new-found, lovestruck celestial peace and took advantage of the break in conversation (she must have been wearing those giant Beats By Dre headphones as a front) to sourly announce that she was leaving. I said goodbye with a tentative smile.

With a mouth full of bread, they said “See you in Woolies!” and grinned brightly at her scowl, dashing my attempt at magnanimity to shreds. I chortled into my cold coffee. It was my fourth refill. I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t want to leave so I kept ordering more.

It’s not every day that the holy grail of humans sits in front of you to eat a sandwich. What could I say to make them stay? The prattling voice in my mind rattled off nonsensical trivia. Your left lung is smaller than your right to make room
for your heart. Flamingos can bend their knees backwards. When you blush so does your stomach lining. I clamped my lips shut to prevent myself from sounding like a
Fun Facts about Your Body and Tropical Birds special and marvelled instead.

My eyes zigzagged between an imperial nose and powerful neck and back up to smacking lips and the loveliest eyebrows I have ever seen. So perfectly delineated that they gave off an expression of wonder at the glorious spectacle of life. The eyes underneath regarded me, amused.

“Let’s go on a date.”

I couldn’t believe it. Immediately I tried to recall the incredible master thread of inexpensive but fun date ideas I’d seen on the timeline of that Twitter genius but I was so flustered I couldn’t remember her name. Wait yes —@janaaier.

My head was swimming with visions of us doing all those things, but better. Like making coconut ice together then going to the library to eat it illegally between the aisles. Going to wi-fi spots and laughing disgracefully loud at Fail videos. Buying transferable tattoos at China Mall and getting tatted up to a Soundcloud playlist of whale sounds that we had made together before licking them off each other’s bodies.

God must have had other plans because the Good Lord alone knows why I blurted out: “Do you wanna come with me to church?”

I believe in God and I go to church because I was raised that way, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself religious. If someone else asked me on a church date I’d probably roll my eyes backwards. So I can’t really blame them for what happened next. In a heartbeat, their face went from amused to bemused then back again, and this time, the amusement was bereft of appeal, bordering as it did on patronising.

“Hmmm. Church. They’re not really welcoming of people like us though, are they?”

I could taste the communion I had consumed that morning, bonding me to all of Christ’s holy people, and a furious defensiveness swelled. Who are they? What’s not welcoming? What do you mean people like us?

They seemed to sense my growing resentment and gently placed a hand on my clenched fist.

“I have to go, it was great meeting you. Maybe we’ll see each other around.”

And just like that, my dream lover disappeared.

I wanted to wail and rant and kick holes into the sky but, luckily, my brother FaceTimed me at that exact moment, saving me from public humiliation. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and vent at the fickleness of human relationships, the uselessness of dating, the futility of everything under the sun and my brother listened.

When I was done, with brevity and grace, he recalled everyone I had ever been infatuated with. There was no gender sensitivity in this retelling and his honesty was like pollen as he moved from person to person in my history of foiled liaisons. I guess sometimes you just need someone who knows you well to remind you that you have loved, and that you will love again.

“Somewhere, someone’s sibling is including you in a list of losers that didn’t know a good thing when they sat down in front of it. They’re wrong, of course, but who cares? Stop letting people upset you, they’re all full of kak, but they’re going to keep passing through your life so you can’t let them upset you. Loving yourself is the most important thing.”

I walked back inside and sat down next to my stuff, calmer but still grumpy.

“Is that watermelon? What the hell bra, how you gonna complain about an unrequited crush when you have a good time like that waiting to happen?”

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Sindi-Leigh McBride
Sindi-Leigh McBride is a research assistant for African Mobilities and and writer from Johannesburg, currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Basel. Her essays, art writing and short stories have appeared in Africa's a Country, Bubblegum Club, Prufrock, the Mail & Guardian and more.

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