Tide (Babylon will always fall)

African-style bossa nova played from a sound system near the back of the pub. I keenly listened as I gave the room a good look. It was filled with men, young and old, merrily conversing with one another as they guzzled their pints. The pub was simple in decor. A few canvases lay hung on the walls, paintings of European landscapes, oil paintings of animals native to Africa, and one of Nelson Mandela hung high on the wall behind the counter. There was a pool table which six men gathered around. Small bands of men all ’round the pub under dim lighting, drinking to their heart’s content, I was the only one who happened to be alone.

The young men talked about leaving Cape Town, about women, politics. Furiously they spoke of the Purple Rain Protest which had occurred a week prior to the day I visited the pub. Thousands upon thousands of anti-Apartheid protesters joined in unison, setting out to march on South Africa’s parliament. The endeavour was short-lived and largely unsuccessful as South African police forces took immediate action, and hosed down masses of the protesters with a water cannon dyed purple. The police were relentless and at times needlessly aggressive. 52 journalists were arrested as well as the hundreds of protesters.

The old men, too, grunted over politics and the country’s state. Then they talked about the old days. And spoke of their wives and children, and how nice it was to get away from them for a few hours.

 

The barman approached me.
“Evening, sir. What can I get you?”
“One bottle of Budweiser, thanks,” I replied to him with a narrow smile.

The barman was of old age. He was a tall, hefty man with a large round stomach. Layers of lines and heavy bags hung beneath his big eyes, these same lines and wrinkles impressed across the rest of his face. He was in his late 70s perhaps, but he looked strong and active. He kept his face shaven clean, there was only grey stubble under his chin.

Once he set my drink down in front of me, I thanked him and took three huge gulps, then let out a long and loud sigh of pleasure.
“Never seen you around here before,” the barman suddenly said to me as he dried off a pint glass with a cloth. He raised his red eyes and looked me in mine after he said this.
With my glass in my hand, I replied,
“That’s because I’ve never been here before. I live locally, about seven or eight blocks down that way. Around my area there’s a bar I typically go to. But tonight, I went out of my way to find a new spot to drink.”

The barman nodded twice with his eyes on the pint glasses he was drying. I took a sip.
After 30 seconds or so, the barman asked me,
“So what do you think of the joint so far?”
“It’s decent. Has everything a pub requires, it has a nice communal air to it. The building is well looked after. And the people seem to be enjoying themselves.” I said this and enjoyed another gulp.

The barman nodded a few times again as he did before.
“Yes, the men really enjoy themselves. Especially the young ones. The old ones come mainly to get away from their troublesome spouses and because they have nothing better to do at their age except drink, chat and play cards. Most of them, say 90 percent, have been coming here religiously for over a decade. A few times a week,” he said in his dull, raspy voice.

The barman then gathered another batch of wet pint glasses which he’d washed, and continued his drying process. Randomly, he let out a small laugh.
“The young men, they are the entertaining ones. They talk about politics and women they’ve slept with or are trying to sleep with. A lot of the time, they have discussions, which turn to debates, which in turn become arguments. Occasionally, these arguments turn to fist brawls. That’s when I have to step in. Me, in my old age, can’t fight off these young men. So I simply threaten to stop serving drinks, and all the old men who want to continue drinking ward them off with shouts and aggression.
“The thing is, they get very passionate in these debates. Too passionate, I might say. All sides are trying to make their point clear, all at the same time. It’s fine if you’re out drinking and just debating, but there is a handful of them who want to be politicians, and they even have the potential. But what they lack is the ability to listen to others, and take on their point of view. And to execute their own argument with simplicity, comprehensiveness and gentleness.”

Looking over at a group of young men around a table, I think over his words.
“South Africa needs educated, fearless young men with a plan. Protesting is a voice, but entering the political arena, that, is their hands and feet. Working from the inside and deconstructing the oppressive system,” I throw out.
“Yes, but you see, for a young coloured man to get into politics takes hard work and something special. You have to convince them you’re not just another black democrat with half-baked ideas. They hate democrats and pay little to no mind for the coloured. You have to be geared. To push them into a corner. You have to show them you’re somebody.
“What needs to happen, I believe, is coloured people need to establish and support Black and Brown owned businesses. Coloured people need to build themselves financially and economically first before we think of challenging the political arena. We need to pull together and circulate our money around ourselves, rather than spending the little we have making the Whites richer. You see, economic and financial relevance gives you a political voice. Money talks. The Whites can’t ignore money. That’s why they came here and stole everything we owned. All the gold, diamonds. They can’t help it.”

The barman stopped here and took some orders.  I noticed for the first time he kept an eye contact with me for some considerable amount of time. I, too ordered another Budweiser. The barman placed my chilled drink in front of me, and then I said,

“So we build ourselves, which subsequently deconstructs, or at least changes the financial flow, giving us power and taking it away from them. How do you get a message like that out to coloured folk? And would they adhere?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I pray to God it happens someway, somehow, because… As long as we don’t have a real democratic government, a government whose concern of the people, all the people, is at the forefront of their decision making and actions, then there will be no future for South Africa. For Blacks, Asians, all of us. Only the Whites will have security and thrive in this land. And eventually, they’ll be swallowed up by their own greed. Babylon always falls. Always.”

 

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Purple Clovers (The Proverbial Peacock) Part 2

This is a second half to a two-part piece. I recommend reading the first half before this. Link to Part 1: https://mmwiinga.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/purple-clovers-the-proverbial-peacock/

*
*

I’d first met Remy through an old friend some years back. We only greeted each other briefly though. But then I saw her a second time; this time at that same friend’s funeral two years ago. We exchanged a few more words on that occasion, but still, we only started speaking more regularly after I’d ran into her at a furniture shop. At first I couldn’t tell it was her, she recognised me first. She was with a five-or-so year old girl who I assumed to be her daughter (looking back at it now, it was probably a little sister or cousin. She looks far too young to have a kid that age). She helped me decide on some new curtains for my front room. We then exchanged numbers, and she rang me not too long after our encounter the same day. She suggested we meet up some time, and I agreed to it.

*

We chat at length about various things over a small dinner and two more glasses of red wine. The bar has only increased in gaiety since I arrived. By cause of all the wine we’ve been quaffing at, Remy’s eyes are now more pinched than usual, and her gestures become less cultivated than when we had begun. Her movements and speech are more flimsy and playful now. Since she removed her sweater, I’ve been repeatedly eyeing the red brown pendant hanging around her neck which cleverly matches her eye-shadow and lips in colour.

Remy reaches into her purse for a 20-pack of Purple Clovers, and lights one up. Then offers one to me.
“I quit.”
“I tried to quit a few times,” she says, blowing smoke coolly to the side as she sets the pack down on the table. “You know, for my daughter’s sake ‘n’ all.”
“The girl you were with that day, that’s your daughter?”
“Yeah, Ameerah. She’s four and eight months. So cute, she always tells me, Mummy, smoking is bad for you. Your lungs will fall off.”
I laugh, telling her, “Well, she’s not far from right.”
“I never wanted to start again, ya know. It’s just something I found myself doing when me and her dad split.”

I respond with nothing to this. Her chin is buried in the palm of her left hand, while the cigarette burns in her right. Her eyes then stray and settle on some void space behind me. Ken. His name’s Ken, she begins. A dull, dry undertone cleaves to her voice.

“We fought too much. When I say fought, I mean fought. He and I barely agreed on anything. For some reason, we kept going on a break, then getting back together. Going on a break. Getting back together. I’d move out for a week or two, then come back. Then do the same after the next big fight. Over and over. We eventually filed for divorce. But when I found out I was pregnant, we had to keep in contact regardless of how we felt about each other.

“We may not love each other, but we both do love Ameerah with all of our hearts. We agree to try our very best for her, at least, do you know what I mean? After we got divorced, I went back to my parents’ house, and gave birth to Ameerah a few months after. Then I moved into an apartment in East eventually.”

Remy lets out some smoke from her nostrils, then continues:
“My mum doesn’t like the idea of Ameerah living in my apartment, so she insisted that she stays with her on weekdays, and that I have her on the weekends. I see them all the time, though. Every day, almost.” She stares blankly to the side for a few seconds with her Purple Clover close to her lips, then smiles, as if remembering something pleasant.
“My mum says Ameerah having her grandpa as a consistent father-figure is better than an inconsistent father. I can’t argue with that. I’m not entirely sure what effect it’ll have on Ameerah. But she seems happy. As long as she’s happy, that’s all that matters, right?”
I nod slowly, gyrating the remains of my wine, and say, “The situation isn’t perfect, but it could be far worse.”
“She doesn’t see Ken much. She loves him a lot, though, as does he her.”

Remy is now 27 years old, and works full time at a call center which makes her enough to pay her bills, put Ameerah in a private school, and buy expensive clothes like the burgundy fur she has slouched neatly on the back of her chair.

Out of the blue, she jerks her fluttery eyes directly at mine and says,
“Do you have kids, you?”
“I’m not even married.”
“Neither am I,” she smirks, catching me out.
“Touché.” I then take a concluding gulp of my third glass.
“We were only married 14 months, can you believe it? I have an issue with rushing into things, as you can probably tell. I had Ameerah at 23.”

In deep thought, she pauses.
“But although I admittedly rushed into things, I regret nothing. Ameerah is the best thing by far that’s ever happened to me. I’m capable of taking sufficient care of her for her to have a normal childhood.”
How normal can you call a fatherless childhood? I say nothing and let her continue.
“But my mum is concerned, she thinks that I’m still not over the divorce… I’m well over it! He’s an ass.”

She crushes the end of her Purple Clover into the ashtray with an insouciant look on her face. We both remain silent for a moment. A comfortable, reflective kind of silence. Our old friend, the one who died, springs suddenly into my mind. Neither of us even once uttered a mention of our deceased friend, which I swiftly begin to find strange. I had no idea how to bring up the topic, or if there was even any need.

“For a garden to bear good fruit, it requires both rain and sunshine,” she says all of a sudden. Plainly and fluently. As if reading from the back of some packaging. Muddled, I look at her silently, and she points to the peacock behind me. Peering deeply at its beady eyes.
That’s what he’s saying today.”

I smile.

 

 

Purple Clovers (The Proverbial Peacock)

“Yup. This is it for sure,” I murmur to myself, folding the piece of paper with directions on and pocketing it.

As soon as I step inside, I see the giant peacock statue she had told me about, standing a good eight feet in height at the back of the dimly lit room. It’s a rather impressive sight to bare in a bar, in a not-so-fancy part of town. Poised tall and perfectly still with intricate detailing. The realness of its eyes almost give it character, its own personality.  Its diligent and unchanging expression reminds me of some kind of overseer at the back of the bar, making sure everything’s in order. Not in an uncomfortable way, though. It is quite a pleasant figure to stare back at.

My gape of admiration is disturbed by a waving hand in my peripherals, then a confidently voiced call of my name. Remy is sat at a small table near the back. I make my way over to her and pull out the seat opposite.

“You’re a little early,” I mention in a semi-playful tone. She dubs out a half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray on the table before saying,
“Oh? I guess that makes you a little early, then.”

With a smile, she reaches to shake my hand. The first thing I notice about Remy since the last time I saw her is her change of hair colour. She had plum-coloured hair before, now it is a pale blonde, nearing a grey-ish white. Slick and short like a newborn baby’s hair. It contrasts almost artistically with her sheeny, mahogany skin-tone.

She’s in a puffy faux fur sweater which is burgundy in colour. Probably an expensive Julien David piece. It sure looks expensive. The rest of her attire is hidden beneath the table. Smokey red brown eye-shadow circles her narrow eyes, but doesn’t do a job of concealing the deep lines under them. Lines which have developed overtime under eyes which appear to have seen much, shed much.

With her forearms placed neatly before her on the table, Remy stares at me with a faint smile as I remove my jacket and place it behind my chair. I notice her big hooped earrings, and then some of her other piercings; a tiny stud in her right nostril, a Medusa piercing, double helix, and one forward helix piercing. Her image was clearly deliberate and polished.

“Drinks? Drinks,” she says, then signals for a waiter. She orders two tall glasses of red wine, and tells the waiter to put both drinks on her tab.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she says to me as the waiter trails off to fulfill the duty. “What, you’ve never had a lady pay for your drink?”
“No, actually, it’s just that I can p-…”
“Nonsense,” she interjects. “It’s your first time here, right? I’ll treat ya.” She smiles.

*

We clink glasses and take a sip. I give the rest of the room a once-over. It’s far more spacious than any bar I’ve been to, and is arranged less like a bar than it is a restaurant (they even serve a decent selection of dishes). Groups, couples and individuals all based on various tables around the room, sipping away merrily, chit-chatting about who knows what. Soft jazz sounding from a direction I cannot quite decipher. Waiters scurrying professionally from table to table. The sound of glasses being placed and retrieved onto and from tables. The clanging of knives and forks against plates. A vast sea of conversations ringing all at once.

The place is all very new to me. It’s like a hybrid of an ambiance restaurant and a bar. There could be someone winding down after a long day, enjoying a nice quiet dinner, whilst a group on the table beside him aren’t far off excessive drunkenness. No one appears to be disturbed or out of place, though. It seems everyone knew exactly what to expect before they came in. And the archaic peacock statue, in its own, bizarre way, compliments this vibrant restaurant-bar setting. Lax, though enticingly atmospheric.

*

“So, what d’you think of the statue? You like it?” Remy begins, directing her gaze at the peacock, then back to me. She’s sat deliberately upright with her hands rested on the edge of table. At the tip of her slender brown fingers are long, sharp nails painted a few shades darker than her hair.
“It’s impressive, I must admit. You weren’t kidding. It’s a more than decent piece of work,” I tell her. “Nice to look at.”
“Told ya. You know, each time I’ve come here, it’s like the statue says something to me. Something different to the previous time,” she says in a more introspective tone. I don’t quite grasp what she’s saying.
“Oh, really?”
“Mm-hmm,” she nods, mid sip. I turn my head to the peacock, then back at her.
“So what’s it saying to you today?”

For some 20 seconds, Remy says nothing. Just stares intently at the lifeless peacock. She places her right elbow on the table and then rests her slightly cocked head in her palm. Eyes subtly squinted. Eventually she says,
“Not sure yet. Need a few more swigs at this,” tapping at her glass of wine, then laughing a little. I let out a smile and notice Charles Mingus’ ‘Celia’ oozing from the bar’s sound system.

Thank you for reading. This is an old, unfinished piece I decided to work on. I decided to make it two parts. The link to part 2 is here: https://wordpress.com/post/mmwiinga.wordpress.com/4953
Criticisms and feedback are always welcome.

Sweet, Sweet November (The lady on stage)

It was a Thursday evening. I had clocked off from work a little earlier than usual. And so with that little extra time on my hands I decided to go to a bar for a drink or two. Somewhere different from my usual local selection. Somewhere not too far out though, I had a long Friday ahead of me and wanted to keep the bar visit fairly brief. I hailed a taxi.

“Do you know any decent bars somewhere away from this area? Say, a little further north perhaps?”
“Hmm, up north… up north.” The taxi driver gave it some thought with his hands gripped firmly to the steering wheel.
Half turning back to me, he said, “Ah! I know, there’s one I like to go to in Brent Cross. About 15 minutes’ drive from here. That’s a fairly decent joint.”
“What’s it like?” His face became smirched with a utterly reflective expression. “Umm… Well, it’s nothing fancy, I’ll tell ya that. It’s convenient, though. Reasonably cheap, and it shouldn’t be too packed on a night like this.”

I had no idea what a “convenient” bar was supposed to be like. But as he hadn’t mentioned anything notably terrible about the place, I checked my watch and decided to give the bar a chance.

The bar, named ‘Arthur’s, had a very hollow feel to it. The lighting was dim, and not in a relaxing sort of way. Just dim. It was as if a few bulbs had died out a while ago and the owner had no intention of replacing them. The carpet was dull and plagued with spill stains, decorations were minimal, and very few souls occupied the building (of which hardly any looked as if they even wanted to be there – like attending the bar was some kind of duty they had to serve).

Removing my thin scarf and jacket, I ordered a chilled brew and pondered why anyone would name a bar ‘Arthur’s’. Unless of course the owner’s name was Arthur, which would prove Mr Arthur to be a very drab and unimaginative individual, much like his bar setting. I sipped slow while surveying the interior of the building. Then I retreated my gander and noticed my fingers tapping against the counter to a Radiohead song which hooted unfittingly in the background.

I didn’t stay for very long. I downed the beer and left the bartender a £5 tip beside the almost empty pint glass. When the frigid winds outside struck me I buttoned my coat to the top, burying my chin inside my scarf. The beer had left a grimy, salty taste in my mouth. I had to wash it down. So I began to amble through the unfamiliar streets, hands shoved in pockets, searching for another bar. One characterised with a little more ambiance, I’d hoped.

Five minutes’ walk down the high street, I strolled into a bar which enticed me for reasons I couldn’t give. I mean, it didn’t look all that great from the outside for one. It may have been the faint noise that was coming from inside. It sounded like a live band performance.

The inside was fairly large. An impressive-looking bar stood at the far right of the room, a smallish stage was directly opposite the doorway, and there were tables scattered in the centre of the room. People chattered, laughed, watched the live performers, and drank. But even with all this going on, the place held quite a relaxing air.

I took a seat at the bar. The young blokes who were a few stools away gulped down beer after beer and undisturbingly cheered on the performers. The couples and individuals and groups who loosened up around tables sipped away at their various beverages. The atmosphere was loose, a pleasant energy filled the bar. And the jazzy performances complimented the mood, too. It seemed as though local artists and bands were invited to display their talents on stage at the bar on specific nights. I’d happened to stumble in on one of those nights.

“Welcome to Blues Ariawhat can I do you for, sir?” My fascination with the lady on the stage delayed my brain from computing what was said to me.
“Umm… uh… I’ll have what they’re having.” I replied, gesturing to the lads on my left.
“Coming right up!” he said, disappearing gleefully.

The lady on the stage couldn’t have been any older than 22. She had on grungy boots, dark clothes, and had long braided hair, black with midnight-blue streaks in. Her lips were coloured in a bright pink, which I thought was ill-fitting with her tender cinnamon brown complexion (but what do I know about all that).

She sang over an enchanting blues melody. It reminded me of Paul Desmond’s ‘Glad to Be Unhappy’ collection. Cool and dark. Her emotionally fuelled voice gave the number something more though. It was somehow like a graceful butterfly’s reflection on a still, forgotten pond. She would occasionally face the trio supporting from behind her. Then she would turn back to the audience, giving us an intense, meaningful look whilst clutching the mic close to her lips and swaying in motion to the music.

Once the song was done, the lady thanked the audience for its’ round of applause before exchanging a few unheard words with the band, and they geared themselves up for the next number. I recognised it almost immediately. It was a jazzy rendition of SZA’s ‘Sweet November’. The lady on the stage sang with such striking passion and with a certain bounce to it that didn’t do away with the elegance the original carries.

Our eyes met at one point. It was strange. I got one of those weird little sensations you can never quite put into words. I was so caught off guard my stomach sank a little. And it was like in that very brief slice of time, the pace of everything changed and grew unclear.

I stood motionless, beer in hand, taken aback by the brilliance of it all. When she and the band were through with her set, they waved thankfully at the applauding audience and took a bow. The lady on the stage blew kisses to audience, the band behind her, and exited the stage while the applauds still reigned.

Thanks for reading! This is a revised piece from roughly two years ago now. I wanted to continue it, but thought I’d better redo this part first. I didn’t really have a particular focus with this one, simply just writing. Criticisms and feedback are always welcome. Also, let me know if you’d like me to read and give feedback on anything you’ve written, I’m more than happy to.