Here we are, Pravin and I. We are wearing black tuxedos and cream white shirts. Although he doesn’t like watches, he is wearing a gold one, which I bought for him a year ago. On the alter we profess the love we’ve been cradling for too long not to be exposed like a prized pig. It is a taboo wedding, two men, holding hands, and professing romantic fantasies. His honey brown eyes linger on me as the priest asks me to say my lines.
“Darling, what does it matter where you meet these guys?” asks Priya as she fishes for her laptop from a bag that is leaning next to the couch. She adjusts her sitting position. She takes the remote from the coffee table and switches off the credits of August Rush, which we have been watching, and then she places it on the arm of the couch.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know how many people meet online these days?” She doesn’t wait for an answer as she stands up, leaving the laptop on my lap, and goes to the kitchen. She and I have known each other for six years now. We met at varsity, remained friends, and now share a flat in Durban North. She comes back with a pack of large yellow Lays. She sits next to me and prompts me to switch on the laptop.
“We are going to create a dating account for you,” she says as she types in the search. “Okay let’s see what we have here. Introduction?”
“The name is Nathi. I am queer. I do not fear. Come near!” She looks at me with worry in her eyes. “What?” I question her.
“Your sense of humor will be the death of you. I am going to sell you. It’s a good thing that you aren’t bad looking. If you don’t get a boyfriend, or at least quench your thirst… Darling! I am just saying get ready. You’ll have too much dick you won’t know what to do with it. I will sell you. Last time I checked, I was a good Sales Analyst.”
She dramatically rolls her eyes back. “And no, before your fragile ego starts kicking in. Darling is a term of endearment. Trust me it’s not because you like dick,” she says before chuckling. Eyes closed, wrinkles on the corners of her mouth, and glistening red gums exposed, her laughter reminds me of Pravin, her cousin.
Pravin and I first met in my first year of university. He had come to fetch Priya after an evening test. He was smoking by his car. Under the night sky, halos of smoke disappearing above him, he looked like he was a painting made by an artist with a caring hand. Priya introduced us. I don’t remember if I greeted him back, and I fail to recall if I saw the longing in his eyes or if I imagined it. My God, he was magnetic. I knew then that he would play a huge part in who I would become. In my room trying to unwrap my day, I had received a text, and there he was. He told me he had stolen my number from Priya’s phone. We talked for a week and, with hesitation and excitement, I agreed to meet him at The Penelope Hotel, a cheap setting in Durban. We met outside The Workshop Centre. His hair was wet, his eyes had a timid twinkle about them, and his lips were the juiciest red. We shared a cigarette in a quiet alley before we made our way to the hotel, where he booked the room for us. R100 for three hours, more than enough time. The room was a dull yellow thing. It had a bed – with a clean slightly torn duvet – that sat across the opening of the door. Opposite the foot of the bed was a table, a mounted TV’less stand, and a cheap painting of a bird sitting on a tree bark. It was a rather tacky setting. With a nervousness turning in my stomach I undressed, and when I was naked I stood before him as he undressed revealing his fit, caramel body. I could feel my legs shaking a bit as I neared him. He was the first man I had sex with, and God it was good. His face hid under my chin after we had finished. He kept quiet and tried to sleep. I lay awake almost trying to capture the whole experience with my fingertips as I ran them along his back. That day we started our affair. We – him and I – made a routine out of the ‘sex meetings’. He would book a room for three hours, or six sometimes at the weekends. He always arrived earlier than me, and he would wait for me in the room. I’d always be greeted with his bright smile, a smile that I’d come to associate with safety.
I loved him like love was curated for him alone.
It has been five months since I’ve seen or talked to him. I have been making sure that I’m not around when he comes to visit Priya. He has made it a point to send me a text at least once a week asking how I am. I don’t answer them. I’m at a restaurant overlooking the calm seas of Durban. I’m seated next to a balcony, at the far corner of the patio. The bar area, which is decorated in luminous red lights, is separated by folding glass doors from where I am sitting. The waves from down below are sleepily moving on the blue lawn. The fresh breeze of the night is flowing enticingly onto the patio. A group, not far from my table, who seem to be in some energetic conversations about something, keeps distracting me from the obsessive check of my phone. It is the weekend. I’ve arrived early for a first date with a guy I met online. His name is Thabo. If his profile picture is something to go by, then he is a bald, dark-skinned man. He has a little scar above his right eye. He says he got the scar from rugby. He has a slight overbite. He has a clean-cut moustache, and a feint beard in the pictures he has sent me. He is a handsome man. After chatting for three weeks we have decided to meet up for a date. So, with the irritation of the group playing in my ear, I wait for this Thabo. As I wait, I get a tap on my shoulder. I turn to look who it may be. And there he is, Pravin towering above me.
“Hello,” he says. I catch his fragrance as he moves towards a seat opposite me, a cocktail of cigarettes and Hugo Boss. His shiny hair is held down by hair gel. On his wrist is the gold watch I bought him a few months ago. I truly don’t know what I was hoping when I gave him the watch.
“What are you doing here?” I ask politely.
“I came by the house today. Priya said you would be here for a date, and I just found myself here as well.”
“Take a seat,” I say, gesturing with my hand. “I thought you said watches are irrelevant in today’s world?”
“I did, didn’t I?” I don’t know what to say to him. He looks toward the sea. I had forgotten how beautiful he is. He is wearing a blue shirt, black chinos and black shoes.
“You look great,” he says with a twinkle dancing in his eyes. He pulls a chair and takes a seat.
“You not doing too bad yourself,” I say with this smile he always takes from me.
“I’m sorry to just rock up like this, but you haven’t been picking up my calls and you are never at the house when I come by,” he has stopped smiling now. “Nathi, I’m sorry if I did wrong by you. I truly am, but you have to understand where I was coming from.”
I pick up my fizzing glass of coke, take a sip, put it down on the table and, when the silence has lasted too long, I say in a contained smile, “We had a good time while it lasted.” As I look at him I realize how much I still love him. Falling in love is easy, but it’s the falling out that is a bitch, as my mother used to say.
“We had a good time,” I mumble to myself as I put my phone away.
“I hope it is okay that I still love you.”
“I’m not going to wait for you,” is all I say with a lump strangling my words. I feel a little shame saying that, but it hurts me too being in love with him. Love shouldn’t hurt.
“I know.” We settle in a warm silence before he breaks it, “Anyway, Priya says you’ve found someone. I thought I’d find you with the guy?”
“Yes,” but before I say anything else a handsome man shifts towards my table from the bar area. It is Thabo. I told him where I’m sitting.
“And here he is.” Pravin turns to find the tall jock walking towards the table. I extend a hand when he is near the table.
Pravin stands up and mumbles a greeting to Thabo. They shake hands and, before he leaves, he lends me sad eyes and tells me that he’ll be seeing me around.
“I’m sorry I’m late. Practice went a little longer than planned,” Thabo says in his rusty soft voice. A voice unbefitting his stature. As he talks my eyes wander off to Pravin, who is by the bar ordering something. He doesn’t turn back when he leaves.
On the day we broke up, Pravin and I were at Thula-Thula game reserve, three hours from Durban. I had booked for us. He had agreed. No one knew him up north of the province. After lunch, we went up to our room. We were talking about something I don’t remember when Rhea, his fiancée, called. I could see it in his eyes that it was her. He excused himself to the bathroom. He adjusted his voice – to that normal voice he had with everyone else besides me – and then he spoke. In my bag, I fished out the present for his birthday. I placed it on the bed. When he came back I was packing my bags. Something had come over me. It was as if I knew what I had to do. Like my eyes had suddenly been open, and there was no happiness in loving him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked in an oblivious manner.
“I don’t know hey,” I could feel a tear rolling down my cheek and my voice breaking, “I don’t want to do this no more,” I said. I took my phone from the bedside table. I kissed his clean-shaven cheek, smelling like cigarettes and Nivea aftershave cream, and headed for the door.
“Nathi!” he called out to me.
“That’s your present for next week,” I had said, my voice betraying me. I was stood, stuck, at the door, “Open it. I know you think watches are stupid…”
“Nathi,” he cut me off and opened the present. He wore it with a childlike smile spread on his face, “Watches aren’t stupid.” He came across the room, hugged me, and placed his hand on the back of my head, pushing it towards his shoulder.
“I’m tired, Pravin. Why can’t you choose me?”
“You know I love you,” he whispered in my ear.
“I don’t want to be unfair, but I need more than that.” He took my face in his hands. He stared at me with teary eyes. He wiped my tears, and he kissed me. Our lips prayed together, and for a minute we entrusted our love to God. I pushed him away. I pulled the door and left. For five months I hadn’t seen him until tonight.
A month goes by quickly and I find myself in his parent’s garden. He is getting married. His parents own a big house on Drews Avenue, an affluent neighborhood in Elton’s Hill, and their house is an example of splendor. Big and grand like it was trying to be a castle for royalty. An altar by a sure-footed obese tree. The afternoon sun rests on the guests’ backs and has been manipulated to shine on the bride and the groom. I am Priya’s plus one. I don’t know why I came. If Priya had not recently broken off with her boyfriend I wouldn’t be here. We are sitting a row behind his parents. The bride is wearing a waist hugging A-line cream wedding dress. She isn’t wearing a veil, rather her round bun has been planted with flowers from the garden. She looks beautiful. Her eyes, hampered with mascara, are glistening with happiness – I should presume. His hands, cupping hers, seem to be holding down a shake that her amused body is generating.
“Before I met you Prav, my life was a simple fragrance. A wilting flower. Forgotten in heavy rain. It was a grey, cold, and lonely existence… Then you came. You became my rainbow.” She recites more words, her voice playing on a theatrical seduction, it is carefully jumping, slowing and pausing in a poetic fashion. Her innocence must have painted those words carefully, rehearsed them in showers, in front of mirrors, in front of friends, and now she is putting on a performance of her life. There is a giddiness, a childish sense, about her love for Pravin. It is the sweet kind of love Shakespeare wrote for Romeo and Juliet before ruining their lives.
We are at the tent now, it is a square neat thing, perched opposite where the wedding reception was. The married couple is dancing to Endless Love at the center of the tent. I am standing by the entrance, beer in hand, my eyes following the light dancing off the golden watch. A text from Thabo distracts me.
Mom liked you. She won’t stop talking about you… By the way, I’m making your favorite dish tonight. I’ve laid down my best cutlery and crockery for you. Love xxx.
The dancing couple draws me in again. The song is nearing the end and is melting into the noise of the crowd. I watch, in jealousy, the way his hands rest on her back. I know those hands. Just above them, the watch looks dull – it has lost its light. I leave the tent with my beer and I sneak up to the fresh nightly darkness.