“Where’s your other half?” they would ask. Walking on campus without my best friend Oboitshepo “Kitty” Tladi was always a strange sight for our fellow “Rhodents”.
We went everywhere together. We did everything together. Like many other bestie duos I know, people assumed we were sisters or lovers.
Even today, after being away from Grahamstown for almost a year, the “twin” label still stays with my best friend. Every other week I get irritated texts from her about how “my people” won’t accept that, although we make a good team, we can exist as solo acts.
How did we get here?
It’s simple really. We have what you would call a friendship that was destined to happen. Twenty-two years ago on July 7, my soul and that of my best friend left the cosmos and journeyed to Earth.
Before parting, we made a promise that we would meet again one day. After our births on the same day at the same hospital, Victoria Hospital in Mahikeng, we lost the memory of each other and the promise we had made. My family moved back to Pretoria and hers relocated to Cape Town when we were toddlers and we went on to live our respective lives, unaware of each other.
From infancy and all the way through to adolescence, there was something missing but we knew nothing of it.
Then at 17, we starting making unconscious plans to reunite. I knew I had to get away from home to flourish so I applied to study at Rhodes University, in an alien town I had never been to. On the other side of Mzansi, Kitty was doing the same thing.
After being accepted into the university, we completed our matric year and left our homes.
On February 8 2014, we met each other for what we thought was the first time. I think we were outside the library for a tour that our house committee had organised. Kitty sat alone on a bench, away from the group of first-years that she was a part of. She was well put together and subtly confident. I was a hot mess hunting for likability. She was intimidating. I was drawn to the petite figure, but too intimidated to strike up a conversation.
I brushed off the urge, with the promise of staying loyal to old friends. I had no plans for making new ones. I just wanted people who would help me along the way for the duration of my degree. Just a little something to help me pass by the time until I could go home to my people. Similarly, Kitty was only willing to stretch her need for friends to a certain extent. No one would come above the girlfriends she already had.
That was the deal.
But it was fated. We had similar interests, we both spoke Setswana in a predominantly isiXhosa-speaking locale and we were placed in the same residence — Kitty on the first floor and me directly above her on the third. All these things were set up accordingly because we had already agreed to be friends. But we had the resistance of well-exercised egos.
Then one day, our residence had a mandatory get-together planned for first-years. We had to attend a jazz-themed evening on the school’s mosaic platform with the boys from our brother res.
While waiting for our escorts to arrive, Kitty overheard a conversation I was having. She heard me mentioning that I was born on July 7 1995 and to her prying ears it unleashed something.
That night Kitty invited me over for pre-drinks in her room and for the rest of the night we spent our time catching up on the 19 years in each other’s lives that we had missed out on.
We touched each other’s hair, talked about our haircare regimes, boys, God and our families. Then we dressed up, hit the club and danced ’til we were yawning on the dance floor. It was day one of our friendship, but I had already gone through so many of the friendship motions with this stranger.
By March of 2014, we had found other puzzle pieces that confirmed that our meeting was the fulfilment of a celestial contract. In the remarkable processes of getting to know each other, we also found out that our fathers were classmates and had been friends at university. That and the fact that we each had the sweet medicine for the ailments of the other’s heart. We had come home to each other.
To celebrate our connection, Kitty laid a thick blanket on the floor of her room and burned two incense sticks. I made us rooibos with milk that we drank from soup bowls in silence while listening to Erykah Badu’s Appletree on repeat.
Three years later, we still practice this ritual whenever we’re together. The song has changed and so has the venue, but the essence remains. Silent prayers, incense burning, a hot cup of tea and good music.
The illustration accompanying the story was made by Rhodes University’s Communication Design Student, Ellen Heydenrych.