Friday, March 18, 2011

The Flame of Love, By Pamela Moeng

The little red robot man turned green as Andi clutched her bag closer to her body. Throbbing in her pumps, her feet barely touched the ground as the crowd surged across Market Street. Head aching from the heat – Jozi in midsummer was an oven – she moved toward King’s Parking garage.


Fifteen minutes later Andi’s silver Yaris slid into Von Brandeis Street. Traffic was heavy – by the time she drove through the gates into her townhouse complex the sun was setting. Opening the sliding glass door to the evening breeze, she turned on the television. The cast of Isidingo was like family. Three years on, but Andi still wasn’t used to arriving home to an empty house.

After a pre-packaged salad eaten standing against her kitchen counter, she rinsed her fork and the plastic container. Her contribution to the city landfill was hitting overdrive what with all the takeaways she consumed. Just that morning Siza had rebuked her.

“Andi, my friend, it’s enough now. What would Thami say if he could see you like this? You dress like a refugee, your hair is a mess, and you hardly eat.” And then, gently: “Life goes on…”


Andi flinched. “Siza, do you think I don’t try?”

“Try harder, girlfriend. I’m telling you, it’s enough now. Get yourself some new clothes and do your hair, start cooking yourself some decent food, and get out and meet some new people, a new man!”

Remembering that exchange made Andi’s brown eyes fill with tears. How could life go on? The hijacking that had taken Thami’s life had claimed hers as well. She had no interest in meeting new people, and she definitely didn’t need a new man, no matter what Siza or anyone else thought. She couldn’t open herself up to that kind of hurt ever again.

************

“Andi, I’d like to introduce you to Loyiso. He and my brother were at varsity together. Loyiso, this is Andi – she may be able to give you a lift.” Siza pleaded with her eyes. “The boss has asked me to work overtime, Andi, and Loyiso needs a lift to the Don in Rosebank, where he’s staying while he does his business in Jozi. Can you drop him there, please?“

Refusing would be churlish since Siza knew that Andi drove straight through Rosebank on her way home every afternoon. Unless she was prepared to deal with Siza’s ire for the rest of the week, Andi had to agree to the request.

The drive took nearly an hour through rush hour traffic and by the time she parked near the Don along Oxford Road, Andi had learned quite a lot about her passenger. He had a degree in town planning, had known Siza from childhood because he had matriculated with her older brother. He had played soccer at varsity until a knee injury put paid to any thought of a career as a pro. He lived in Polokwane with his wife but had been born in Soweto, one of four children. Loyiso, on the other hand, had learned that Andi was an editor, with a degree in African literature and drama from Wits. She had been born in DK but grew up in the northern suburbs - the clich├ęd post-apartheid tale of the child of a domestic worker being raised by a white family.

Curbside at the Don, Loyiso reluctantly ended the conversation when Andi insisted that she had a pile of unsolicited manuscripts waiting at home. She refused his dinner invitation politely but firmly – she had never dated a married man when she had dated and she wasn’t dating now at all, and not ever again.

************

During the following months, Andi occasionally thought of Loyiso, much against her will. No man had interested her since Thami’s death, despite the numerous men her friends had tried to tempt her with. She wasn’t interested in him at all, she told herself, but his warm smile and his hearty laugh had appealed to her and his gentle murmurs of sympathy when he heard the story of the hijacking had touched her. Siza hadn’t mentioned him in the intervening months and Andi was too shy to ask about him. In any case, she admonished herself once more, he was married. Even if he were single, she was certain that she wasn’t ready for a new relationship and she would never be – the pain she had felt in losing Thami was a pain she never wanted to feel again.

One Sunday in July, during a bitter cold spell, Andi’s car refused to start in the parking lot of Eastgate Mall. She slammed the car door as she uneasily eyed the deepening shadows of the late afternoon. AA might take an hour and an hour alone in a quiet parking lot on a Sunday evening was unappealing. Siza’s phone was off.

“Hai bo!” Andi exclaimed in frustration. She wasn’t aware that she had spoken aloud until she heard a familiar voice behind her.

“May I help you?” Andi whirled to find Loyiso’s smiling face looking down at her. “What seems to be the problem?”

“What are YOU doing here?”

“I live here!”

Andi was flustered. “You live here? Since when?”

“I moved back to Jozi six weeks ago. My contract in Polokwane ended and I’ve taken a post with the municipality.”

“Oh – I didn’t know.”

Loyiso laughed again. “Are you disappointed?”

“Not at all,” Andi said. “Especially since my car won’t start and AA is likely to take a while to get here. Do you mind keeping me company?”

*****************

The next day Andi mentioned the accidental meeting to Siza.

“Yes, he’s back in Jozi. I didn’t think it would last.” The frown on her face surprised Andi.

“What wouldn’t last?” Andi was confused.

“The reconciliation with the ex-wife - she is a real witch and I can’t say anyone who loves him is unhappy that it’s finally over.”

“You mean he’s divorced?”

“He has been for the past three years, but he reconciled briefly to appease the families. You know our people – elders rarely think divorce is the answer. Don’t tell me you are interested, my friend.” Siza grinned.

“Certainly NOT!” Andi glared at her, and rushed back to her desk. During the weeks that followed, she ignored Siza’s pointed mentions of Loyiso until her friend stopped making them. Now and again she found Siza staring at her speculatively. That stare made Andi very uncomfortable – she really wasn’t interested in Loyiso or in any other man!

And yet, she repeatedly dreamed that Loyiso held her close and crushed her lips under his own. Her body was betraying her, she thought – I am NOT interested in him, I’m not interested in any man!

***********

Andi leaned across her pillow to grab the ringing cell phone. “Hello,” she mumbled sleepily.

“It’s Loyiso.”

“Hmm?”

“Loyiso.”

His voice and name penetrated the thick fog of sleep; her heart lurched.

“I’d like to see you.”

“Do you know what time it is?”

“I knew if I didn’t phone you now, then I never would. “

“Where did you get my number?”

He laughed softly. “I can be very persuasive.”

Andi frowned.

“Siza?”

Loyiso laughed again.

By now Andi was wide awake. She wasn’t sure she could actually answer him, her breathing was so erratic. Torn between her desire to see him and protecting her heart, she hesitated so long that he thought she had hung up.

“Andi?” His own voice revealed uncertainty. Did she want to see him? Had he misread the tension between them at that first meeting?

She wanted to answer, but her lips refused to form the words.

“Andi, are you there?” Loyiso was pleading now.

Finally, her tongue and lips cooperated. “Give me thirty minutes.”

“I was lost from that moment,” she told Siza months later, as they were unpacking boxes in the house that Andi and Loyiso would live in. “And it’s your fault – you gave him my cell phone number!”

“You don’t look very angry about that,” Siza teased.

A few minutes later, Loyiso found them laughing uproariously instead of emptying boxes, but they wouldn’t share the joke.

As their laughter finally subsided, he shook his head in total confusion and muttered, “Women!”

********

With the boxes unpacked and Siza gone, Loyiso and Andi shared a glass of sparkling wine. Candles glowed against the soft cream of the bedroom walls, as Chante Moore and Kenny Latimer crooned softly in the background. The lovers lay down on the king size bed that had been delivered that morning.

Later, melting against the muscled length of Loyiso, her head nestled in the crook of his arm, Andi sighed.

“My love, what is it?” Caught in that twilight between wakefulness and sleep, in the afterglow of shared passion, Loyiso’s voice was husky.

“It’s happiness,” Andi murmured, her lips soft and yielding as he claimed her mouth again.

Loyiso pulled her closer, their two bodies ablaze with a love that nothing would ever extinguish.

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