October 4, 2018
Johannesburg, South Africa
The pressure from a pending deadline was heavy so I hadn’t worked out for a few days, which meant I could feel the edges of the fog that typically sends me into anxiety attacks. But I was determined to go. Bob was less eager; it’s Sunday, she grumbled, but I reminded her she’d promised to go with me, so she dragged herself into sweatpants and a t-shirt while I made us breakfast. Our house had been without coffee for two weeks because, like me, everybody I live with—four people, including Bob—is a student or a freelancer, and we’d all ran out of money at the same time. It had been two weeks of sulky mornings from all of us.
It was a chilly day and the parking lot at the mall was mostly empty. We always take a couple of puffs from a jay before we walk into the gym, because malls make us anxious, and this particular one is on the border of Serbian/Croatian Mafia territory, from what I’ve learned from Bob and Twitter and various news stories. But the gym here gave us a really, really great membership deal when cabin fever and seasonal affective disorder were threatening to shut me down, so here we were.
I started my workout listening to Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times album, but someone on my Apple Music friends list has been listening to an Afrobeats Workout playlist, so I switched to that about half an hour in. Physical repetition calms me. I like discovering muscles I didn’t know could stretch like that. I crave the exhaustion because it feels healthy, unlike the fatigue I get from writing.
Bob and I left the gym and stopped by the spaza in the neighbouring suburb where we buy our ganja sometimes. When we pulled up, Kidum’s “Mapenzi” was playing on the car radio, so B, one of our suppliers, joined me in a mini-karaoke performance when he came up to the window to take my order and my money. B and most of his squad—there is always a group of them hanging around the corner shop—are either from Malawi or Tanzania, and they love Kidum. Vanessa Mdee and Barnaba’s “Siri” came on as we drove away, and Bob and I sang along loudly.
Now back at the house, I separated two eggs like a boss and made a protein smoothie with papaya, beetroot, kiwi, and blueberries. It tasted terrible because there were no bananas and I overcompensated with the papaya. We haven’t had bananas here in a week, even though Simz went fruit shopping yesterday. He doesn’t eat bananas, and he didn’t know how much I love bananas before today.
Several weeks ago, my friends and I learned of a tattoo artist at Newtown Junction, Yolanda, whose rates were, incredibly, within our reach. She promised her rates were going to go up soon, so everybody we know was trying to squeeze in as many as possible. Luckily, she does home visits, too. Bob and I planned a tattoo party at home, and invited friends over, to take advantage of the still-affordable rates.
Yolanda arrived just as I finished making the smoothie. She had a cough because she had worked at a music festival the previous day, and it had been cold. As Bob made her tea—rooibos with ginger, two sugars—I answered a call from Buddy, who had just arrived and needed to be let in.
By this time, three people had bailed from the party for their own reasons. Not that much of a party, then, but I could feel my muscles resting into that delicious tiredness, so I was not complaining. Buddy arrived with a friend I like to call Summertime, because that’s what the tattoo on her right tricep says. Yolanda was making our stencils and I was setting up speakers for some music and Buddy was smoking outside and Bob was making popcorn for everyone in the garden flat’s kitchen because this house hasn’t had gas in several days—a standoff with our landlady, I cannot go into the details—and the flat has an electric stove.
Buddy went first; hers was a quote from Rick and Morty in Dwarf Rune-inspired font on her left forearm. I was in charge of the music but as soon as Yolanda was done with Buddy, Buddy took over the speaker for a rendition of “Sexual Healing” by the Hot 8 Brass Band. It was really good. Summertime was next; she got an adorable cartoon dinosaur on her other tricep. Bob gots hers next, two pentographs from Credo Mutwa’s Indaba, My Children.
Buddy and Summertime Dinosaur left while I was getting mine—a giraffe on my calf. It was my sorest tattoo yet, but Simi’s Simisola was good for the pain. When she was done with me, Yolanda took a break before adding a circle to Bob’s tattoo. When she was done, she had a cigarette and packed up. Bob and I drove her to Bree taxi rank in town. Not much stands out from the journey because I was looking out for where to turn right off Albertina Sisulu, but I recall Shakespeare House, an abandoned building with bright pink paint splattered along a section of its face. I don’t know why the City of Joburg marks some abandoned buildings in the CBD like this.
We dropped Yolanda off and headed back home. I meant to ask Bob about the pink paint, but Albertina Sisulu is a one-way street in the CBD, so we didn’t go back the same way, and I didn’t see any more marked buildings. The ice cream van was parked on our street when we got back; two or three kids were at its window with a woman who might be their mother. Every time I hear it driving past, playing “Camptown Races”on loop, I consider it a novelty I am too lazy to chase after. But Simz, Nash and Junior were right behind us, and Junior offered to buy us all a cone. I was really hungry and I wanted a solid meal but of course I was going to have ice cream right before lunch.
Lunch was couscous, leftover lamb, and the yolks I separated from the whites earlier. I put on Kim’s Convenience while I ate. The ice cream van whistled past again on its way to the next suburb. After lunch, I tried to get back to my thesis, but my productivity was shot. I took a restless nap instead.