Johannesburg, South Africa
May 2, 2019
O was cooking oats, and as I reached for the coffee, he complained that I never let him bring me breakfast in bed. I laughed, apologised, and promised to be available for his services the next day.
I took my phone out to start my 5-a-day Spanish lessons on Duolingo while the coffee brewed, but the mocha pot started to misbehave as it sometimes does, and I got distracted. By the time breakfast was ready, C was back from picking up Y so they could start their work day at the dining table. Motivated by their vibe, I got my own work stuff from my bedroom.
The university I phoned had many explanations for the glitch in their system: Document A was rejected; System B shows documents yet to be validated; please call Office C to ask why they sent you Letter D. I hung up, resisted the urge to go back to bed and took a smoke break instead. I asked O to drive me to the nearby police station to pick up my police clearance certificate. When we got there, the woman in Room 7 asked for my name, then asked me to spell my name, then flipped through a bunch of certificates under M, then told me to come back the next day because mine was not there yet.
Before heading home, we passed through Pick n Pay so I could buy some baking margarine for the banana bread I planned to make, and then through China Town so O could buy some mushrooms for dinner. Our regular vegetable stall had a crateful of the biggest marrows I have ever seen – so big, it did not look like they were selling them whole – so while O was trying to decide between oyster mushrooms and another kind of mushroom I could not identify, I sent a photo of them to a friend I knew would be equally shocked. She was.
Back home, I logged into a TestPrep to start studying for the driving test I have to take; the license I got seven years ago does not meet South African standards. The website helpfully informed me that “there are over 1200 questions in the Department of Transport’s exam. Every applicant receives 68 random questions from the test bank.”
Thirty questions in, I took a break to chop some potatoes into chips and start on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Once I popped the potatoes into the oven, I returned to the practice tests; anything below 100% on each test is considered a fail. To alleviate my frustration, I opened Duolingo and for the rest of the afternoon, I alternated between road rules and whether or not Señora Sanchez wanted more wine or more bread. By sunset, I had a headache, my eyes were watering, I had failed three practice tests and the painkillers I had taken for my cramps had worn off. I turned off my computer and went to take a hot shower.
My mother called just as I was getting out of the bath, so I put her on speaker while I buttressed my body against the evening cold with Arimis and two layers of pyjamas and a dressing gown. What I thought would be a short phone call was actually a 40-minute conversation about German, the Nairobi Music Society, Latin, getting married, having babies, her biweekly massage, her library books, her car, Mugg & Bean, Shoprite, the latest malls being used as fronts for money laundering, my grandmother, my other grandmother, retiring from semi-retirement, giving away stuff she found in my old bedroom and my cousin’s upcoming wedding in New Jersey. We would have gone on and on but C posted a photo of dinner on the house’s Whatsapp group so I told her I was going to eat and that I loved her.
Dinner was coulibiac, stir fried asparagus and spicy baked potatoes. As with anything O cooks – and he has been cooking every day – it was the best thing I had eaten in my life, and almost everyone took photos of the meal so we could send them to our mothers. My mother, who had eaten a couple of fruits, cheese and some coleslaw for dinner, texted back the salivating emoji and asked me to save her some.
While C and MC washed the dishes and I cleared the kitchen counters, our next door neighbours, M and E, came through and A set up the projector. MC’s recent documentary had played at the HotDocs Festival in Toronto, so she had access to the other movies for a few days. After a short smoke, all eight of us gathered in the living room to watch Push, a documentary directed by Fredrik Gertten about gentrification in parts of North and South America, Europe and South Korea. Afterwards I was too tired to discuss it, so C and I left everyone else talking in the courtyard and went to bed. The banana bread could wait.