/ 19 March 2024

When a life falls apart

Nthikeng Mohlele 7302 2 (1)
Disillusioned: In Revolutionaries’ House Nthikeng Mohlele tells the tale of a politician who falls on hard times.

Possessing a rebellious spirit is not always easy. It can be lonely being principled, determined, a crusader for the truth at Revolutionaries’ House. You find yourself missing things. The warm and comradely hugs that were almost real yet remained suspicious. 

I miss Naomi, my ex-wife, who in the throes of passion promised to never leave me (Mmm … my politician, I am going with you to the ends of the earth, the end of time), how she strutted from the shower to the dressing room in the nude, her buttocks directing my gaze and heart rate, her gravity-defying breasts begging to be immortalised in oil on canvas, her long, sculpted, furrowed back, feminine and of a marvellous posture. Wise woman, too. 

I miss the softness of a warm and familiar bed, coffee on demand, the sights and scents of married life; household sounds, the sounds that spouses make: a wet kiss, an irritated grunt, a pleasure yelp after midnight. I miss a particular Mandela coffee mug, the chime of the doorbell, seeing my former wife emptying her bladder with sporadic spurts, a coy smile playing on her lips … 

I miss the familiarity of driving home along jacaranda-lined streets, almost flirting with a suggestive, dread-locked, big-eyed and polished-wood-complexioned model in a silver Jaguar with Cape Town plates at the traffic light on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Westwold Way. 

At moments like this I am reminded of the certainty and closure brought about by funerals, knowing for certain where the corpse went, unlike here on Johannesburg’s streets where dying is synonymous with statistical computations, with all manner of oblivions at the government mortuary. I miss safety — that sense of belonging, to people and to things. 

Life under the bridge is hard. The weather is unpredictable and uncouth in the outdoors: torrential rains, dusty winds, freezing evenings, and human beings. I would, on these streets, much rather trust a stray dog than a human being, even among the homeless migrating from under the pass­over to some abandoned building, from street corners to city parks, from prison cells to pauper cemeteries. I have fended off unprovoked knife attacks, threats of death by strangulation or gunfire, promises of an axe hacking into my shoulder blades — the endless rage from fleeting street and under-bridge dwellers spewing raw anger and condemnations, their minds fragile and hearts aflame. 

I exist among those life has chewed and spat out, their bodies destined for eternal injuries, their heart beating beyond social time, lives lived in endless and cascading oblivions. And yet I have found peace here, true revolution, a measure of meditative defiance. Defiance against matrimony. Against politics. Against money. Eroticism. Food. Government. People. Statues and statutes. Sleep. Romantic love. Ideology. Religion. Brands. Against citizenship. Nation. 

What if I don’t think of myself as or feel myself to be South African? Why can’t I be a citizen of the world, be one with humanity across continents? 

And so my mind sprints ahead, discovering and pondering things I am yet to understand. Probing. Doubting. Rebelling. Revolutions, my new mind tells me, belong not only in Revolutionaries’ House but in hearts: the hearts of those citizens burning tyres in the townships, stoning the police vehicles, littering city streets with blood and dirt, barking into microphones demanding the government keeps its promises. My internal fire does not permit me to urge on protestors looting and torching things, or claim to be one of them. 

I simply observe them as one would a housefly: seeing, witnessing, but sometimes so deeply touched that the concern consumes itself, hollows itself from within, becomes a fleeting possibility – present, yet absent, evident but inconsequential. 

From Adam and Eve to the Storming of the Bastille, to Benito Mussolini hanged by the heels in fascist Italy, to the fall of Idi Amin, history is littered with human revolutions brimming over with expressions of anger and discontent. 

There is a futility to attempt to explain the contents of human hearts, and yet endless possibilities in doing so: to no longer fear other humans, to understand violence, to discard any sense of self-preservation.

Revolutionaries’ House is published by Jacana Media.