Somewhere in the half-alive city centre that awakens only to the lazy breeze of the Indian Ocean just down the road, in an outlandish alley (dubbed taxi rank) behind a supermarket I have never fantasized about shopping in, I find a Quantum – the modern day E20 – that will soon leave for Gonubie. After a long walk from Oxford street, made even longer by the stares and disturbingly confident words of horny strangers of the male species, I sit two seats behind the driver’s chair, next to a tightly closed window as if to protect myself from the rage of random abasheli who are beckoned by nothing in particular, and I bury my face in Andre Brink’s ‘The other side of silence’ which I have been reading as a handbag book for the past few days. I sink even deeper in my chair where I find a comforting brand of refuge from the terror of the day.
A few minutes later I am joined by a man who ignores ALL the other free seats and the fact that I am engrossed in the book I am reading. I don’t pay him much attention because I don’t intend on making conversation with him or even writing about him but my paranoia nudges me and reminds me that he might be a criminal and I might need to describe him to a police sketch artist. Ok, before we are all sucked into judgment, I am generally not this paranoid but I have a serious case of msheli-phobia. If I suspect msheli tendencies, my defenses stand in upright salute to duty… so I give him a second look. This instantly paints his smile and with it, an image that will stay in my photographic memory for days, maybe weeks or perhaps, God forbid, months, after this. This pink-lipped stranger of average height and sun-molested skin has what looks like heavy eye bags and an oval shaped face which isn’t all that kind to the eye, but his own eyes sparkle when he smiles.
As soon as he has made himself comfortable next to me, he starts a conversation. “Yazi, my sister, I haven’t read a book in over five years”, he says. I am slightly irritated by the fact that he is deliberately trying to take my attention away from my reading but I do not show it. If I should have a conversation with a stranger in a taxi, I’d rather talk about something as important as reading (even if this takes me away from reading itself).
The conversation hop scotches through Zakes Mda’s Black Diamond, Jonny Steignburg’s The Three-Letter Plague, China Achebe, Ngugi, Credo Mutwa, and other writers whose names surprisingly still linger in the mind of this stranger. I slowly glide into comfort with each guarded word that holds the sails of this book talk. I have now dropped my defenses at the silent request of a fellow book lover and I am beginning to regret having mistaken him for a msheli whom I would have ignored from the onset.
Shortly after the taxi takes the Gonubie off ramp away from the N2, he asks, with awkward enthusiasm, “ngoku, baby, when can I come and visit you so we can read a book together.”