Falling in love in Jozi

2015-03-04 08:00

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She was taking him a skaftien of dinner in the first days of their new relationship, when suddenly the car was surrounded by men with guns, writes Milisuthando Bongela

“So, will you be my girlfriend?” he asked, sitting on my couch the day before Valentine’s Day. I looked at him and laughed, wishing he would ask me again. “Yes, of course I will be your girlfriend,” I said. I felt like my 13-year-old self.

You should make him wait, you said it too quick, said the voice in my head. Now he knows you like him and you’re exposed.

He said next: “But since we are defying gender roles in this relationship, I would also like you to ask me to be your boyfriend.”

I shifted, struggling to find the balance between my pro-equality feminist self that was okay with his request – and the part of me that wasn’t so okay, influenced by formative education to be the docile receiver of male affection.

“I’ll think about it,” I replied.

...

We had known each other for eight days, had gone on several dates and I definitely liked him. But I had not been the girlfriend of a South African man in nine years. Between my last boyfriend at the age of 20 and this brave soul, my intimate involvement with a few men of my country had been nothing more than a series of “situationships” that grasped at varying degrees of mental and emotional trauma and one-dimensional sex, devoid of nuance and tediously sporty.

So, by the day after Valentine’s Day, I had still not uttered the words “my boyfriend” to anybody.

It’s a difficult fact for a black woman to believe and a dangerous position to claim, let alone say out loud. A lot of black women give their lovers social-media monikers such as “My Smile Keeper” or stick to pronouns such as ‘him’ or ‘he’ instead of actual names. It has to do with a trust that is pathologically lacking in our romantic relationships and a fear of being let down, either by being unfairly treated or violently hurt.

...

In an effort to navigate my new status as a girlfriend, I did something a girlfriend in love is likely to do. I decided to make dinner, put it in a skaftien and deliver it to his home. It was more about my enjoyment of playing this role than about feeding him.

My intuition wasn’t so keen on me going there, because I had already seen him that morning. It would have preferred me to pine passively, away from him. When I parked my car on the street and watched him come out, the emotions I had made the food with were overcome by feelings of awkwardness.

I stayed in the car to signal that I was just coming to drop off the food. He asked me to get out, close the door and stand with him in the street. His dog came to greet me and I melted into the moment.

I felt good about my gesture. We decided to sit in the car to talk about the new status of our relationship and how awkward the first days could be.

It felt like a scene from my childhood, when I would watch the older girls sitting in cars with boys, talking in soft tones, their smiling faces lit by the orange haze of street lamps.

...

We were sitting in the car talking in these soft tones, windows open and music humming, when I saw him look above my shoulder and mouth the words “No, no, no”. When I turned, I saw a man whose face I can’t remember cocking a gun in my face and opening my door.

Another man with a gun opened the passenger door and the pair of long legs I had been caressing leapt out of the car. I screamed and bent to look for my glasses, my head firmly under the steering wheel. The slightest sensation of a gun on my back and the words “keep quiet” made me get out with my hands up.

Another man jumped into the driver’s seat and struggled to start the car. “How do you start this car?” he asked. I can’t remember whether it was in English or isiZulu. I stood on the passenger side shouting instructions with three guns pointed at us. The weapons were so used they had turned grey.

The bearded man in a conspicuous jacket couldn’t hear me and I told him I was going to get inside the car. One of the men pushed me into the passenger seat and put his hand on my shoulder while I helped his associate start my car. I had left my apartment wearing a house dress with food stains on it, braless and in flip-flops.

As two men jumped into our seats, a third frisked me from shoulder to ankle, ever so gently, and said something followed by the words “my sister”, while the fourth did the same to my companion, who kept asking them to at least leave my house keys.

...

As soon as they left, with my car still smelling of the food I had made for him, he held me closely under a tree while I heaved into his chest. He grabbed my hand and didn’t let go, even while we drove to the police station in his car, skipping robots and flying to safety. He held it as we climbed the stairs to the Jeppe Police Station, and grasped it even tighter as we sat across from three detectives taking my statement. “Who is this man?” asked one of the detectives eventually, looking up from writing my statement, straight into my eyes, then his and back to mine again. I froze, not wanting to be too presumptuous – and the words couldn’t come out.

“Is he your boyfriend?”

“Yes,” I said. “This man is my boyfriend.” And I proceeded to state his name and surname while he held my hand.

...

A week later, my new boyfriend and I laughed about our love docket in which the words “my boyfriend” appeared four times. We were thinking of going back to the police to ask for it so we could frame it and remember the daily South African moment that helped us fall in love.

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