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The Life of a Bohemian The Life of a Bohemian
by Abigail George
2013-05-02 11:36:56
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Pale are the ripples that curl on top of these drinks we are having. Mine tastes like dark chocolate (the expensive kind you can only get at specific shops). We’re sitting outside the benches of a restaurant, not rushing to get anywhere. I want to be saturated by you, launched into oblivion.

Paul walks by and waves. I ignore him but you don’t. You wave back. I feel something curl up inside of me and dive into a small nothingness. You’re on the phone talking to someone about ‘the New York people’. Good heavens, how small I feel. I feel as small as the cup they have brought my coffee in. I hate this coffee but I drink it anyway. I wished I had ordered something I really would have enjoyed like a milkshake or ice cream. But that’s what girls do in high school when they go out with their friends over the weekend, not when you go out with a man much older than you. 

Next to you I want to seem more grown up. I don’t know what the dos and don’ts are yet of this relationship. I know Paul does not like me. I am not his type of girl but then I am not your type of girl too and I have no idea why you are wasting your time on me. A chill runs through me, down my spine. I am itching to leave, to want to talk to you. Your telephone call is making me become hysterical.

Who on earth are these ‘New York people’ and what do you have in common with them, why are you meeting up with them for lunch, why don’t you take me out for lunch instead, what does this mean for your career; is there a promotion in the offing? Of course I forget to ask you about all of this later on when we’re finally alone and as it ends up I discover you’re not much of a talker, you’re not funny, you’re different in a special kind of way from anyone I’ve ever met. The side I see is the side of the dark horse. I call you up all the time. I have not learnt yet that men can sense your desperation at getting their attention. You’re either with him, your son, you won’t even tell me his name, or you did and I’ve forgotten but that is what the state of our relationship means to you. It is purely physical. It is based on me not opening my mouth when I strongly dislike something you have done or said. For example when you raise your voice to me and when you’ve become tired of me and drop me off in the middle of the night racing off to get home to tuck him in and say goodnight. I see red. When we eat it is always catered food from a shoot or from the production house where you work. 

I did so many things wrong. So many things I can’t take back. Have you built your empire yet, my experiment? Everything, everything was an experiment. I had to learn how to eat in front of a man, brush crumbs, specks of food off my chest in a pretty way, all ladylike. I had to learn how to dress myself in the dark when the entire planet was pitch black. I wanted to see how you looked at women my age through your eyes. Did you find them magical? I know you did not find me magical for long. I was too young and I was silly, naive. I would say stupid things not to be mean, petty or nasty or jealous but just because it was in the heat of the history of the moment. I didn’t feel I was growing older with you. I felt as if I was growing younger and younger. There were days when I played the ‘good girl’ and days when I didn’t.

I gave you my blood as we lay side by side, your body was cool (a winter tree in the Balkans), my face pale, drained to the colour of water. Your eyes are black circles and for now, at least, it is my property, the last frontier where I care about every word. Lying here, I give you ‘your space’. Your voice is Tolstoy’s, Hemingway’s, Updike’s, Styron’s, Mcewan’s, Greene’s, Fugard’s, Kundera’s, Rilke’s while I am the incarnate of Radcliffe Hall crossing both genders effortlessly. You betray nothing. There is a small boy in the picture but you don’t introduce him to me. Obsessions are unhealthy creatures. They make you mentally ill, emotionally unstable; leave you with a chemistry of deep sadness in your life. I have my writing. It keeps me from disintegrating into fractions. I should stop now before I begin to make myself cry.

In the early hours of the morning everything you say is said slowly. Words no longer hold any meaning to them.

In my dreams I would walk on hot, shouts of needy blue air, driftwood that came from the ocean bed, white bones as white as white writing, and musings. I made Johannesburg my temporary home. I had known no love like this before. The love of a city’s life, its motions, its vibrant pulse, its people and its daily sacrifice of life in muti murders, stabbings, assaults, cars, trucks and taxis piled up on the highway, accidents that could have been avoided if the driver had not fallen asleep at the wheel or speeded. There was always meat being cooked in the city. Restaurants set up just with a chair and table on the pavement while pap was being stirred and a stew was being cooked, here next to the skyline. There was never any shortage of inspiration. I could not stand people with all their grassroots foibles and they could not stand me, me, the intellectual.

I didn’t really believe or want to believe in love. I had seen nothing of it growing up, only glassy-eyed semblances of it that drove me stir-crazy as a child, stir-crazy as a young woman, so much so that I landed in a clinic in Port Elizabeth. And then just as this stir-craziness would seem to settle I would land up in another phase, I would become infatuated with melancholy, what do they call it now, depression and a sickening sadness that seeped into my body right down to my bones, soaking, saturating everything I touched. There would come periods of my life that I would find difficulty explaining away in recovery. But how would you have known this. There was no one around from my previous life, thank God, to tell you this. 

Women around me became still. Composed in light, iced me out, with one stroke, with words or none, they could kill. They were mute monuments with mouths that had hard, angry lines. In the future, a time far off from the time of light, in a dry spell, in a passage of darkness then only would they embrace me. Women are emotional and jealous over little nothings, painting red over blue feelings, feeling triumphant when they have humiliated or made someone feel pitiful, pathetic. Women are omnipotent like that, that’s where they get there pillars of strength from. From putting other, younger, more or less vulnerable women down, bringing them down to earth, shoving dirt and filth and rubbish into their gaping, fishy mouths, the dead abstract, the ethereal in their heads. Because it was done to them, now they do it to others.

You, the man in my life, made me cry. When I tried to eat everything tasted like paper. I could not keep anything down so I stopped forcing myself to eat. I drank water and coffee, ate fruit. But everything tasted bitter. I willed myself to stop but could not. How could I know back then it was all a part of growing up? Weeping would come after the scorched earth systems of the sunset. Instead tongues are silenced permanently and one is left to wonder where the dead goes when they die. The death trap sucks your breath away. Perhaps fatally I wanted to insert too much of myself in you, that unseen intellectual side of me that was as cold as a frozen lake. Lipstick on a the body of a dead woman in an open casket, even in death she must be made to look attractive, lovely, even when she can no longer look you in the eye and smile or heaven forbid, flirt. And yet you taught me so much about everything It hurt when you squeezed the truth out of me, when you mocked me, when you scolded me like an errant child, told me to shut up, stop screaming, stop being so loud. You said it so fiercely, with such force that I immediately did what you asked me to and felt smaller in your prescence, young but then I was young, I was a girl. You were grown up. We were a wrong fit from the start. More than a decade between us with nothing in common to keep us glued together in conversation, in laughter; it was work, hard, disciplined work (that was what we were committed to together). Without it we would drift apart, fall into discontent, feel disconnected. I would give habitation to speechlessness and you to your pride (as we already know pride and the knife-edge of arrogance comes before a fall).

Where are you now, gone long into history? No longer a satellite orbiting my world, my planet, are you far flung into the galaxy, into Hawking’s A Brief History of Time? Our time together was not so brief. We lasted a year and then I was ‘widowed’. I’m thankful now for the words you drilled inside my head, I wasn’t then. I showered you with gifts, there were books, old films I thought you’d appreciate. You thought you didn’t have to make much of an effort. I was just a friend with benefits. Listen, becoming a woman means much more than learning about ‘the birds and the bees’, the rub, the stain of love, the infatuation of a college girl’s crush, feminism, how women’s self-esteem evolved in Gloria Steinem’s ‘Revolution from within’ and menstruation but I gathered that when you spent time with me, it was like a vapour. There was no absolute reason for you to listen to me, even now when we have nothing in common.

There were days when I wanted to scream with the roar of a lioness. Sounds coming from deep inside of me that were unfamiliar yet relevant, peeling and unpeeling from the back of my throat in the night air, but it failed in some trivial manner and didn’t balk at your indifference to me. There were nights when nothing was said between the two of us. When my thoughts were grotesque and yet I still couldn’t express myself. Who made me this way, I asked the universe? What God is this, so big on action that speaks louder than words. So big on human beings being attuned into a return to love, that many splendid thing on the one hand and on the other hand a man picks up a rock to smash against another man’s head because of a rumour going around. A rumour of a man who had been sleeping with his wife, and if he had been sober he would have divorced his wife.

A child, who does not know how to swim, drowns in the sea. On the other hand there’s been a murder in a family, paedophiles walk the streets, human bodies are for rent on beds with flowers of urine stains and missing persons with faces that do not rot, grow old, do not receive a burial in a marked grave. No one was charged. There’s a rape with no docket because the victim did not give a statement. There’s an entire family wiped out in a blaze of fire. I knew nothing of this because I was young and delicate, a white swan who thought this life was getting expensive and even when your fingers were greasy from the fish and chips I still thought you were magnificent. Every winter has a guest and that year you were mine. You polished and refined me and I found a splendid freedom in you, in what you did.

When it comes to men I am always left neglected. How can this be the best part of my life when I haven’t yet given the best part of me? You gave nothing while I, a shy animal, a quivering bird gave everything, everything away for free. You drained me of my ordinariness, my pretensions, expelled ice crystals in the language of your body, stimulated fire in my brain, left me to observe you, your cauldron of needs and your arrows of nerves. The stars in your dark eyes were my arrows too except, only my losses were my losses, it split me in two, nothing in the end very masculine about their substance as they melted into the distance.


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