Meeting Mbali

Dressed in a black t-shirt, a pair of blue faded jeans and black and white Converse sneakers, an assistant at Exclusive Books store at Cavendish Mall in Claremont noticed a young man who was rummaging impatiently through the South African History and Politics section with no apparent luck. He appeared as if he is ready turn over the entire store. Besides looking frustrated about not finding what he was looking for, the assistant thought the impatient young man was not bad looking. ‘He is cute’, the assistant admitted to herself.

‘Hi there. Can I help?’

The young chap was now reading the back of Cyril Ramaphosa’s biography by Anthony Butler, a Politics lecturer at UCT, when he heard a female voice greet him. He turned, and suddenly calm, he registered the face belonging to the voice.

He responded, ‘Oh, hi…Yes, I am looking for Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred.’

She could see the frustration melting away from his eyes. Like an animal that has been tamed the anger was no longer there.

‘The Dream Deferred…by Mark Gevisser right?’ That is the one, Tshepo answered. ‘Let me check on the system if it is still available. It is a very popular book.’

She turned and walked towards the counter. He followed suit. There was no doubt that he was smitten.

The day was Monday but the bookshop appeared as if it was the weekend. People were milling about. Some were seated in the adjoining building which served as a coffee shop. An old white couple sat at a table drinking coffee with muffins; the old timer glued to a newspaper as if to avoid his spouse while the old lady seated across him just sat starring at her husband, visibly annoyed. Others were engaged in laidback conversations, not in hurry to rush any place, and occasionally interrupted by a waiter who wished to know if they were still alright while the rest with shopping bags walked in to buy books.

‘Is everything still okay here’, he enquired in a subservient tone.

One lady, blonde and maybe in her early forties, asked rather excitedly to be pointed in the direction of Danielle Steel’s oeuvre. Her taste, while hers and one she was entitled to, caught Tshepo off guard and he found himself questioning her intellectual judgement. Seeing all this rustle and bustle of people, most of whom were white – the only black people he mostly saw in places like these were employees – Tshepo wondered to himself, ‘When do these people work?’

Due to the store being busy, which was most of the time, there was no computer that was immediately free. The assistant asked one of her colleagues to check if they had Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred in stock. The colleague ran a search and the book was not available. Tshepo was disappointed, and just as he was about to leave he was assured that a new batch would arrive in the next two days, which was on Wednesday. ‘I could call you to let you know when the stock arrives. I will keep a copy aside for you’, the assistant offered.

Tshepo thought it a great idea. He had been looking for the book for the past few weeks and he could not find it.

‘Please write your name and contact details here’, she handed him a small rectangular paper and a pen. Tshepo wrote his details and gave back the paper to the assistant.

He found her to be extremely attractive. ‘Thank you very much. I really appreciate it’, he said. ‘I did not catch your name’, Tshepo the smooth talker had now kicked in.

‘Excuse me? I did not get that.’

‘I mean what is your name? So I know who to look for when I come for the book.’ He felt the urge to explain, avoiding to come across as forward. ‘Oh, my name is Mbali.’

Tshepo was surprised by the name but he made sure she did not notice. I am sure she gets this all the time, he thought. Instead he smiled and bade her farewell. Even though he did not make his intentions clear to her, at least he has her name and where she works. Plus, he will be back for the book. That will be his opportunity to ask her out.



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