“Get me those jeans….and him too!”
Me: “Ma look, there’s that guy from church!!!”
Mama G: “Which one?” …..not paying much attention as we walk into ‘SMART CENTRE’
Me: “Brother Sipho’s friend!”
One of the two things I remember clearly about this day in 1996 is that my mother bought me a pair of “Casey Jones” Jeans which I had desired for a long time before this day. You know those items that you beg for, for months on end, and then one day when you least expect it, your mother tells you to wash up and get ready to go to town. The excitement of those days is hard to explain; especially in 2016! It probably feels like landing up at the pearly gates when you least expected it. Back then going to town for a black child in South Africa, along with the accompanying act of dressing up for the occasion, was an ultimate high!
How things have changed!
Anyway, on this day it was just my mother and I ready to conquer the Smart Centre store situated by the taxi rank in King Williams Town. I was so excited; my impatient nature was already by the Bisho stadium before we even walked out of the house! To paint a picture for you, back in the 90’s shops like Smart Centre, Jet, Edgars, Koko (for shoes), Foschini and Sales House were the ultimate fashion houses for the increasing black middle class of that day. Having a pair of CERRUTI jeans, CASEY JONES jeans, DOC MARTENS or even a silk shirt, made you stylish and somehow “better”. That’s how it was in Bisho, the place where I was raised. A small town, proudly known as the capital town of the Eastern Cape, Bisho is also where the parliament of the Eastern Cape Province is located. My parents always talked about how much of a better place it was during the days of Malcolm Sebe, who was instrumental in the development of the infrastructure of Bisho as the Prime Minister of the Ciskei back when the country was still divided into the homelands known as the TBVC states (Transvaal, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei). My parents would go on and talk about how he (uTat’u Sebe) used to give bursaries to ensure that black children went to tertiary institutions and actually got jobs afterwards. Something that they lament is rare these days. And what, with kids these days not so focused on obtaining a formal education.
The town was developing in a tremendous way, the black middle class was buying and building houses in the area, the economy of the area was abuzz as well with the opening of major retail stores such as PicknPay, OK, and Cash n’ Carry. We used to be so fascinated by the white people who came all the way from King Williams Town AND East London to buy from our PicknPay in Bisho. We were so fascinated; we’d follow them around the store while they shopped. Sometimes we got to play with the white kids while their mothers were shopping. That of course came with consequences, our mothers would chastise us for playing at the shop and the white mothers would give their children bad looks and then smile as our mothers beat us. If not that, the Pick n’ Pay staff would chase us away for being a nuisance or maybe an embarrassment. We meant no harm; we were just fascinated by seeing white people.
So on this day in 1996 when I suddenly blurted out to my mother about a guy from church that I had just spotted (more like a ‘What The Fuck’ moment for my mother– who never swears!), we are at the door at Smart Centre in King Williams Town entering the store while a group of four young men were walking out. This is the second thing that I remember very clearly about this day. One of them was none other than the guy that had been visiting our church from Rhodes University. It was X.
I happen to have a very good memory of events that occur around me and once I meet someone, I hardly forget them or what they did. A lot of my friends always get shocked when I tell stories about things we used to do when we were growing up. The light at the back of their eyes usually switches on in amazement at how I can remember even the smallest of details. Case in point, we had a girl in Bisho Primary school whose name was Nomsana, she was the top student academically every term but unfortunately, she used to faint in class at the start of the first exams. This happened in all the years that I was in the same class as she was and I am ashamed to say that I remember the colours of her under garments that used to get exposed every time she would topple down to the floor as we entered the class to write the first exam. Apparently her step mother, who was jealous of her intelligence in comparison to her own children, was bewitching her. I really cannot speak much on that, witchcraft is to me like politics- I limit my focus on it.
So this guy that I notice entering Smart Centre, X, had become friends with our pastor’s son, Sipho, having met one another at the popular campus church, His people, at Rhodes University. They formed a friendship that led to X becoming a frequent visitor to our pastor’s home and subsequently to our church. I can never tell you why I was attracted to X at that time or how, out of those four guys, he made an impression on me. You may ask me who else was with him on that fateful day in 1996, and I could never tell you. All I remember is that I alerted my mother of him, she ignored me in her motherly way and we went on and bought my coveted jeans. I might have even gone home and reiterated that I saw him. I’m sure I told my sister, Bhongo. As much as she is younger than me, I always told her everything.
It might be that he was very charismatic during the times that they asked him to get up and greet the church during his visits. Black churches have a culture of making their guests get up and introduce themselves to the congregation and if your introduction is amazing, your next visit might result in you preaching a sermon! That was definitely the case with him. He was intoxicating to watch when addressing a crowd, with emphasis on certain words accompanied by body movements that seemed to further emphasize the words. It might also be that the things he said really made sense- to me. In essence X was born to stand in front of crowds and inspire. I saw that in him and I loved it, long before I even knew that our lives would be entangled and complicated as they would become.
In the year 1996 I was doing grade 7, which those days we called Standard 5, at Dale Junior, a school for boys situated in King Williams Town. I had always dreamed of being a Dalian since the first time I found out that the school existed. I wanted so badly to attend a so-called white school, learn to speak great English and as a bonus, live in a double storey house! I spent days on end imagining that life. You see, besides blatantly stating that I wanted to be like Yvonne Chaka Chaka (one of the biggest music stars in South Africa in the 1980s, who has since been infamously known as the “Princess of Africa”), one of my biggest wishes as a child was to live in a big, double storey house in the suburbs. I wanted to live like a white person. To us, they appeared to have it all; their parents loved them and never fought (so it seemed!). We didn’t know better, all we had as sources of information was what we saw on TV and at Pick n’ Pay, and by those standards…it all looked good.
X too became a dream. He became a dream I held onto. I believed in it with every fiber of my being, even before we had our first conversation. I don’t know why it was specifically him that I was drawn to, or why he started actually appearing in my dreams at night! (There’s something about dreams, we need to pay attention) The first dream I ever had about him before we ever even spoke, was about him getting married to my sister! Can you imagine how jealous I felt during and after I woke up from that dream! This was someone I felt a love connection with and he wanted to marry my sister! It was devastating even as a dream. That should’ve been a sign of things to come but I was too young to realize it then.
The messages in the dreams really did not make sense at the time, they just served to frustrate me even as a teenager! Or especially as a teenager! Now, as I look back and recall the details of my relationship with him for the purpose of writing this story and for the healing of my heart, I realize that I was given the signs of what the ultimate detriment of our relationship would be throughout the path. I chose feelings over sensibility. I was just a young, saved, polite, gay boy who longed to be feel love and be loved by a man. You might wonder what a thirteen year old in Grade seven could possibly understand about love and destiny, but as I passed X that day at Smart Centre, I had some knowing that that guy would impact my life. I just didn’t know to what extent.
Chapter 2 to follow……