Eight years ago Karabo was a second year Political Studies student at the University of Western Cape, located along the Robert Sobukwe drive in the northern suburb of Belville in Cape Town. He had begun feeling restless and useless towards the end of the year, questioning himself about his future – how his life would turn out. He would obtain his Degree and then what? Find a job or continue further with his studies? And then what? Become a lecturer? This seemed all too scripted and rather dull for his liking. In the middle of the first semester the following year, Karabo decided to drop out of university. This was his final year. To many of his peers this did not make sense. ‘Who drops out in their final year?’ This decision puzzled them as Karabo was an academic star expected to graduate with distinction.
He stopped attending his lectures but remained on campus. Most of the residential houses of UWC shared the same space as the university. Over the December holidays the previous year he had reasoned in the quiet privacy of his own thoughts that he could find a job as a waiter to sustain his lifestyle while he waited on the universe to provide him with answers. Barely twenty years of age, Karabo appeared to have hit a middle life crisis. Not aware of these recent developments – he made sure they did not find out – Karabo’s hardworking parents continued to send him the little sums of money they could afford each month. As far as they were concerned their little boy would be finishing his studies at the end of the year and make them proud. Cape Town, with its arresting beauty, tended to do this many, robbing them of memories of home, temporarily forgetting that life back home is not as smooth as the white sands of Clifton Beach. Perhaps the Mother City made them realise that there is more to life than studying to get a job.
If the teenager was not swimming in the overflowing river of international and local beer with his friends, endlessly chasing skirts, the young lad was reading voraciously, taking in as much knowledge from the books as if apartheid would be back any day to deny blacks an opportunity to learn; or he could be caught binge watching movies and drama series. Another favourite pastime of his was sleeping well into the afternoon after a late night. Everything he did, they young man consumed in copious amounts. To him this was a way of life.
One Thursday evening, after resurrecting from his drunken stupor, hungry and devastatingly hungover, Karabo took a short walk to his girlfriend’s residential house. She did not seem to mind Kay’s – her affectionate name for Karabo – notorious wayward ways with girls. Either that or she was not aware. In her second year now, Zanele was a Chemistry major. Despite her questionable taste in boys, Zee – her nickname – was an intelligent, level headed young lady. Ever since she discovered the periodic table in Grade 8 she knew right then that she wanted to spend the rest of her life playing with elements that consisted of dodgy code names. In Physics and Chemistry classes they referred to them as chemical names.
He knocked at her dorm room. Opening the door Zanele was greeted by the lanky Karabo taking a massive gulp from a beer can, the young chap fighting his demons with an admirable aggression. She exhaled, ‘Hayibo! Kay, this again.’ At least this time around he appeared to have taken a shower before showing up at her dorm room. Besides the foul stench from his mouth, he smelled fresh. In previous occasions he would just rock up, reeking of alcohol and all the nasty smells that contributed to the destruction of the ozone layer. She moved from the door to let him come in, and immediately he planted himself on her bed. She gave him the look, the one that seemed to say: ‘Get your shit together.’ He smiled and signaled to her to come closer. She relented and walked to him, kissing him. ‘Eeeuw! You smell like a shebeen.’ Karabo could not argue, and his hangover was not exactly subsiding. He needed more than one can if he was to defeat the pounding in his head. Holding his head and grimacing as if he was about to kick the bucket, he grunted: ‘Ndibuyekile.’ She was not buying it. She had heard this story many times before. He preached quitting alcohol whenever he was in this state. ‘Please!’ I am serious Zee, he argued. ‘Eat first and then I will give you a tablet for the headache. Drinking water also helps, you know. Not this poison you are holding’, she said sarcastically as she walked to the minibar fridge, taking out a plate of food she had dished for him earlier. She warmed the food in a microwave placed next to her study table.
In the meantime, while waiting for his food to warm up, they exchanged pleasantries. Zanele was happy to see him, broadly speaking. The previous night Karabo told her he would come to see her but he never arrived. The young fellow had been out and about with his friends measuring the length and breadth of Cape Town. ‘So where did you go last night?’ She was curious but not visibly irritated. She accepted him and understood that he was in a dark place. It did get to her at times but she did not let it come between the two of them. All she could do for him at this moment in his life, was to be in his corner and support him. ‘We started with a few drinks here at The Barn and moved to Rondebosch. A friend of Themba’s invited him for a house party. He asked us to tag along.’ She took out his food from the microwave and handed him the plate. ‘Be careful, the plate is hot.’ Her demeanor had changed. ‘Mhmmm! Must be nice.’ Her sarcasm was palpable and he sensed it. ‘My love, it is not like that.’ To avoid an argument he would need to calm her down. Karabo stood up and put his plate on top of the minibar fridge. The food was too hot but not as hot as the fire that was about to burn him. To defuse her anger, he had to act swiftly. ‘Sweetheart, I know I have not made life easier for you since I dropped my studies. Believe me, when I say that I am doing my level best to get out of this dark place.’ He took her hands and held them in his own, rubbing them gently as if to emphasise his love for her and above all his apology. ‘I am sorry that I have put you through this tough ordeal in the past weeks.’ A knock at Zanele’s door interrupted them. Even though he was sincere in his apology, remorseful and regretful for imposing a burden on her shoulders, he welcomed the knock as a relief.
Zanele stood up to answer the door. Emotional and teary, she first picked a tissue from the tissue box to wipe away her tears. ‘Zee, sorry for being a nuisance. I saw Kay walking in earlier on. Do you mind if I steal a moment of your time?’ The female at the door shot a look to Karabo. He looked to Zanele for permission. He was not about to take any chances. Zanele opened the door and allowed the girl to come in. ‘Again, I am sorry for intruding. I got an assignment earlier this week and Zee advised me to speak with you for assistance.’ Karabo gave Zanele a puzzled look. It was true. She stayed in the same house with Zanele and when she spoke with her earlier in the week about an assignment that was giving her sleepless nights, Zee volunteered to ask Karabo to help. ‘Uhm…assignment?’ Yes, the young lady nodded. ‘The assignment is about developing an ideal system of governance for a country that has just survived a bloody violence between two groups that overthrew a regime of dictatorship but could not agree on how to rule. I hear that during your first year you had the same assignment and you wrote the best paper. In a nutshell, I am stuck and need your help.’ Flattered as he was, Karabo was still not sure how he could help. In his head the paper was not difficult to draft. It needs one to commit themselves and do research. A sufficient application of mental faculties was required but it is not like this equated to rocket science. His thinking was common among the few who were blessed with his sort of intelligence. To them everything was easy and anybody who perceived the world otherwise puzzled them. Karabo formed part of this small group. ‘Alright. I will come and see you tomorrow and we shall take it from there.’ The young lady agreed to meet Karabo in the afternoon at the university library before excusing herself.
The door was shut and Zanele took a seat close to her boyfriend who was seated on her bed throughout his conversation with the young lady. She shot Karabo a suggestive look, implying that they continue from where they left off. He was not off the hook if he thought for a moment that was the case. He was still finding it hard to understand how he could possibly be of help to the young lady. ‘Cute girl’, he exclaimed. Zanele was not impressed. ‘That’s not nice to say’, she called him out for what she detected to be a dash of haughtiness. ‘Xolo sthandwa’sam.’ He stood up to fetch his food. ‘Sthandwa, I know that you are going through a lot – and please hear me out before you say anything.’ He sat down next to her and listened. ‘I have been pretending that I am fine but I am not. For a while now I have been hearing stories about you running around with other girls and I kept ignoring them. I told myself that it could not be but the stories kept coming.’ He wanted to hold her hand but she waived him away. ‘When I walk in the corridors I see everyone looking at me, laughing at me as if I am an idiot. I sense their eyes on me, judging me, pitying me.’ The food was delicious – for Zanele was no amateur in the kitchen – but they immediately began to lose taste in his mouth. His stomach started filling up and suddenly he was full. His bowels could not handle the truth Zanele was dishing. He could only listen as she bared her heartbreak to him. ‘So I am not going ask if it is even true because I know you will just lie to me.’ Thoughts started to swirl in his head. Could she be dumping him? How will he survive without her? Despite his philandering tendencies, she was the only thing in his life that made sense. And most importantly he loved her. He honoured the ground she walked on and cherished the air that she breathed. The simplicity of life, its subtleties and beauty, did not matter without Zanele in his life. She meant a great deal to him. Now here she was sounding like she was ready to give up on him, give up on what they had. It could not be.
He very much wanted to know what she meant by her last statement but he did not want to interrupt, lest he makes things worse when they were not; so he listened carefully to what she would say next, scrutinising and analysing every word she uttered. ‘Currently you are going through a rough patch in your life and that I understand, but…’ That juncture again. The introduction of but in a sentence has never served the recipient any good, at least half of the time. The word can be summed up as a marriage of good and bad. If the conversation commenced on a good point the introduction of but meant that what would follow is not what the listener wants to hear. Karabo understood that but signified an alliance of two opposite worlds, a temporary meeting of sworn enemies. His girlfriend was using but after saying she understands that he is not in a right space. ‘Oh my God, this cannot be good’, he thought to himself.
He braced himself for the worse. As painful and heartbreaking as it would be, he would it take like a man when she breaks up with him. ‘I can no longer tolerate your stories. I know I have never caught you with any girl or seen any messages and therefore don’t have any proof. But if I catch you with any of these girls that you are apparently shagging, I will cut it off.’ The last part she said as she looked down at his crotch. ‘Hayibo!’ Karabo exclaimed at the mention of his manhood being surgically separated from his body. His answer was as much a blurt as it was a relief. ‘I am serious’, she asserted with a stern face. ‘I hear you my love’, Karabo submitted, a naughty grin as he began to gently kiss Zanele. A moment ago he thought Zanele was dumping him, now he was making moves on her. She gave in to his attempts and allowed herself to be passionately ravaged.