Tag Archives: Love

Tableau 4

When we get back to the apartment, I head for the fridge. I’m pulling out a stir-fry when Mwanza slaps it out of my hands.

“You’re not eating,” he says.

“Not yet,” I reply. “Give it back. I need to heat that.”

“You don’t get this, do you? I said you’re not eating.”

“You cannot be serious,” I laugh. “You’re drunk! Do you think you’re my parent? Am I on restrictions? We dieting?”

“It’s not a joke! What happened back there? I have to fight some guy off of you, you ruin our night, and now you’re going for waffles like nothing’s wrong. What the fuck, Bitumba.”

“What the fuck me?” I am incredulous. “I ruined our night? First of all, we didn’t have a night together to begin with.”

“And whose fault is that?” He moves toward me, and my stomach starts to feel weird again. “You barely went near me all night. You wouldn’t have noticed if I left!”

“Mwanza, are you kidding? I was following your plan. Which was disgusting, by the way. But we did what you wanted.” Like we always do.

“What I wanted. You think I wanted to watch you flirt with other guys? Dance with them? I was supposed to leave with the girl no one could get. Not the skank everyone touched. A guy thought he could kiss you!”

“But he couldn’t, and I showed him that.” So much nonsense has just flown at my face; I don’t know how to respond, so I settle for a low blow.

“Are you really mad that a guy tried to kiss me? Or are you jealous that your knot-headed friend didn’t want to kiss you?” He’s staggering closer to me, and my stomach hurts more, but I can’t stop talking, can’t stop dripping derision from my lips.

“Poor Mwanza, let down by all his women!”

He shoves me then, hard. One second my feet are under me, and the next they’re gone. My arms flail out in a stupid attempt to grab a stabilizer, but there’s nothing to hold on to. I’m crumpled against the fridge, and Mwanza is inches from my face, breathing heavily. I don’t know how he moves so fast. I see his chest heaving, and our eyes widen together as I inhale – and get hit with a wave of understanding. Every part of him, his face, neck, arms – I grab his hands to confirm – smells of vanilla.

“When you said I wouldn’t have noticed if you left,” I say slowly, “That wasn’t a hypothetical.”

His fist clenches. Unclenches.

“What did you do?”

Silence.

“Does your dick smell like vanilla, too?”

His hand slaps the side of the refrigerator, so hard that magnets fall down. A couple of them bounce off of his head. It’s funny.

“Be grateful that wasn’t your face,” he says. “Women who are disrespectful can still get slapped.”

That’s so ridiculous, I can’t hold in the laugh. It comes barking out, before I wipe it into severity.

“If you slap me,” I say to him, “I will kill you.”

 

He kicks the fridge now, and tears out of the apartment, banging the door shut behind him. I slide until I’m lying straight on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

 

It had never occurred to me that Mwanza might be lying about the love, too. I close my eyes. This whole time, at the window and in my head, I’ve taken his love for granted, berated myself for not meeting him in what I thought he felt. I was wrong. Amazing how much energy I wasted, calling myself stupid for not being into something that seemed perfect on paper. Perfection does not exist. Couple goals are made up! We don’t love each other. We don’t want each other. This can end, and we can be free to exist Elsewhere, Otherwise. I almost smile. I would be happier about it if the message hadn’t been delivered so violently.

 

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

 

“Bitu! Bitumba!” Mwanza is back.

He tries to pull me up, but I roll away from his hands. You can smell tobacco on him. He has made himself into a vanilla cigarette.

“Don’t touch me,” I say tiredly. “Go away again. You tried to hurt me.”

“You hurt me first!” There’s a squeaking sound, and I feel a puff of air at my back. Is this man kicking at me now? I sit up and stare at him.

“Damn it, Bitu.” He slides to the ground. Mwanza is art. The way he moves is graceful fast; even his violence seems choreographed. Now he just lets one foot slip out over the floor, allowing his body to follow, keeping one foot anchored while bending that knee. I don’t think he appreciates his physical gifts, this beautiful monster. He probably feels the same way.

“You, know, I’ve said sorry,” he says.

“No, you haven’t.”

“Well, whatever. Sorry! But you didn’t apologize for anything, either.”

Me apologize. I didn’t do anything.”

Exactly! You don’t do anything with me anymore. I saw you at the club. You danced with everyone. And the way you looked? Happy. The love of my life doesn’t care what I do. She’s happier with others than she is with me.”

Maybe I was wrong about being wrong.

“Did you just call me the love of your life, after you fucked some other girl in my vicinity?”

“Why do you think I did it? You didn’t even notice! You don’t see me anymore. It’s like you’ve forgotten who we are, Bitu. We’re the lovers who came from different parts of the world to be together. I set you up here; this country has the two of us in its seams. You’re pulling away, I don’t know why – why? And it’s tearing the seams and it’s hurting us!”

“What do you think love is, Mwanza?”

“It’s pushing through white-hot pain, withstanding all, because you know you’re supposed to be together.”

“Do you really think that?’

“I know it.”

“I don’t want that.”

“You don’t want anything, but you don’t say what you do want, either. You being so damn impossible to please, but I’m wrong, because, ‘Oh, I pushed you; I threatened to hit you; I fucked some other girl.’

“Do you admit that you did all those things?”

“It doesn’t matter!” he yells. “What do you want?”

I don’t know,” I whisper. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. Tears drip slowly out of my eyes. Mwanza grabs my inner thighs, and pulls me across to him.

“You want this,” he says urgently. “Us. This.” He tries to kiss me, and I try to bend away like before, but we’re too close to the floor and he pulls me in through the small of my back. He tries to kiss me again, and I turn my head. Again he tries, and again, and again, until I don’t care about stopping him anymore. I let him kiss me, and I let him pull me to bed, and as much as he’s claimed to be hurt by it, Mwanza doesn’t seem to care when I go into my head.

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Tableau 3

When my friends and I get to the club, Mwanza does not seem to notice. All his energy is concentrated on a girl with bantu knots and a septum piercing. As we pass by the two of them, I can smell her perfume: vanilla, just strong enough to make you feel a little sick to your stomach. I say “hi”, and he barely glances at me; his “hello” is distracted.

That was disrespectful,” my friend Lunge states.

Lipuo, one of Mwanza’s friends, is posted by the bar, so we sidle over to him. He greets me properly. After the third cheek kiss, I nod in Mwanza’s direction.

“How long has that been going on?”

“Ah,” his eyes shift away form mine. “Barely happening. Like, right before, um, you got here.”

“For some reason,” I say, “I don’t believe you.”

“Bitu, relax hein, you know us. That’s nothing.”

“Bull shit,” Lunge says. “That is wrong, Bitumba,”

 

She’s right, and wrong. It’s disrespectful, but it doesn’t bother me. Well, it does; I don’t like being brushed off. The cause of it, though? Another girl? I don’t care about it. That bothers me. Shouldn’t I feel some sort of jealousy? Hurt by his inattention? The only thing hurt is my pride, and I can fix that by following instructions and “doing my thing”.

 

This is how I find myself in someone else’s arms later, realizing the simplicity of spinning a person fast, then holding them close. We’re just dancing. I’ve been dancing with everyone, remembering how good it feels to get physically close to people. Dancing flirtation is an art, a joy because it doesn’t mean anything. Or so I think, until he brings his face closer to mine, to – what? Kiss me? I turn my head, so he only kisses my cheek, and we smile at each other. Then he leans in again.

 

“Let me tell you a secret,” he says, and I almost fall for it. But I see his lips in time to bend away, even as he attempts to pull me in through the small of my back, and he kisses the air.

“You won’t let me?” he asks, puzzled.

“No,” I tell him.

“What! Why not?” he demands now.

“I – ” I begin, and then stop for two reasons. I don’t know how much of an explanation this guy deserves. Shouldn’t a “no” be sufficient? Besides that, though, I was going to say I have a boyfriend, but I don’t know if I want Mwanza to be my excuse. I don’t know if he is. It doesn’t matter, though, because this guy is not listening to me. Even if I hadn’t stopped talking, he would have cut me off.

 

“Oh, fine, whatever,” he’s been saying, letting go of me. Then he adds,

“Fucking tease.”

“What – ” I start to say, but this time, Mwanza cuts me off. His fist comes out of nowhere, connecting with this guy’s jaw, and his head follows after as he efficiently butts the guy to the floor. I don’t know where he came from. As he pulls me out of the club, it occurs to me that he may have been paying more attention than I originally thought.

I allow myself to be taken – dragged – the few blocks home. Again, part of me thinks abstractly that this is disrespectful. Ignore me at he place you decided we’d go, then take it upon yourself to decide when we leave. That’s not okay, but again, I also don’t care. Why not? My stomach hurts.

Tableau 2

I chose this.

Twenty-three months later we tell each other we’re in love every morning, and reaffirm it each night before bed. I work as a nanny during the day for a wealthy couple in Pretoria, and write freelance articles coming home on the Gautrain. My parents visited Joburg once. They like Mwanza, and approve of our life here. It makes my mom sad to have me so far from her, but my dad is less bothered. Moving away is probably one of the more Congolese things I’ve done.

Everyone can see our relationship progressing far into the future. At the window, I sometimes wish the glass would give way – not break, but just change form so that I could slip through it like water and fly freely through the space outside.

Of course, the flying would really be falling. The first time I realize this, my eyes travel down, following my body’s imaginary flight. Something distracts them, though, and instead of landing below my window, my eyes stop at the stoop of the building across the street.

There’s a figure there, hunched over. I can’t tell if they’re male of female, but does that really matter? Probably not. Whoever they are, they’re bent over a book, a journal, writing furiously and then thoughtfully. Their head is kept fastidiously buried in the pages, so that their face is obscured. Forgetting about the personas in the other apartments, I watch them write for a long time, so long that I almost miss my cue from the sun.

For the first time, I don’t worry about love. Instead, as Mwanza sprays on Eros (the first bottle is almost done) my thoughts are flooded with questions about the writer. How long do they stay there? How many days have they been coming out? Have they always been coming out?

The next day they’re back, and the next, and the next. I take to waking up earlier, so that I can watch them emerge from the building. Every morning they walk onto the stoop, look furtively across the street in their line of vision, and then sink into writing. They don’t look up once the notebook opens. All I ever see is its cover, shooting out at me, blocking both visage and contents. I want to see their face. I want to read their words.

It’s a Friday morning when Mwanza looks into my eyes and our routine falters. He’s coming in to kiss me, but pauses above my lips.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, and I’m so thrown by the change that I almost tell him the whole truth.

“I feel…off,” I say. “Restless. Do you ever feel like you want to jump out of your skin and go somewhere?”

“I love my skin,” he replies. Deadpan humor. “But if you want to go somewhere, let’s just go out.”

“I don’t think out will cut it.”

“No, no, you don’t do enough. All you ever do is see that kid and send off articles. When’s the last time you danced?” Mwanza rolls out of bed now.

“We went out, like, two weeks ago,” I remind him. He shakes his head flippantly, putting toothpaste on his toothbrush.

“Well, this time will be different. We’ll make it an adventure, like you always want. Look hot – hot, Bitu. Go with your girls. I’ll be with my boys. We’ll each do our own thing like we don’t know each other.”

“Why?” I ask as he begins to brush his teeth.

“Because,” he moves the brush around in his mouth a bit before continuing, speaking through his actions. “When you try to look hot, you look good. When you look good, other guys hit on you. And when I leave with the girl all the other guys struck out on?” He finishes brushing. Spits.

“I’ll be the club god.”

He flashes his Wolf Smile.

Tableau 1

Every morning, I go to the window. I wake before Mwanza, always. His arms are around me, and I lie tangled up with him, breathing in his scent. He always smells faintly of Eros cologne. He’d roped me into coming to buy it with him the first time we met, expounding the ways the superior scent would positively impact his success “in all areas of life”. African men and name brands. The second time I visited, I brought him a bigger bottle. If I were to roll over now, I’d see the two Medusa heads guarding our room from the dresser, aided by Mandela’s eyes.

As Nelson’s portrait watches, I lie there and try to feel comfort in my confinement, tenderness in how tightly Mwanza chooses to wrap onto me. This consistently fails. Every morning, I gently shrug off his arms and spend an extra moment lying still, just out of his reach. When his breathing slows and becomes heavy again, I balance on the balls of my feet, and then deftly step over his body and onto the windowsill.

It’s a balancing act. The sill is wide enough for me to fit if I turn my body sideways, hold my knees to my chest, and lean against the glass. I balance my body to stay in the space, and steal the time in a place Mwanza cannot consciously miss it. As he slumbers on, I press my forehead into the glass and dream of being Elsewhere.

There’s no actual place in mind. That is beside the point. I’m tired of being here, but I also know that I would tire of being Anywhere. Isn’t it better to stay in the familiar? This is the daily argument in my head, and when that becomes overwhelming, I settle for looking out the window and into other apartments, imagining the people inside. Are they happy? I create personas and plan futures for them, until the sun’s rays hit our side of the street. That’s my cue to get up, softly step over the still-sleeping Mwanza, and roll back into his grasp.

A few minutes later he’s awake, his arms squeeze me and his lips are pushed against mine.

“I love you,” he says, before getting up to brush his teeth. I stay in bed. He must think of me as such a lazy riser. As he lightly reapplies the Eros – he has not even started the second bottle yet – I lie where he left me, and try to convince myself that it isn’t a lie when I say I love him back.

What is love, anyway? It has to be more than a feeling. Butterflies – people always talk about butterflies. Or a rushing sensation. Do people really feel that all the time? Does he?

Maybe love is comfort: looking at someone and feeling you know each other and are content together. Could that work for me? Am I content with him?

            Or maybe, love is a choice. Maybe you choose to stay in love with someone, make yourself content, force butterflies, and re-create rushes out of your memories. I could probably do that.

Sometimes, in his arms, I find myself marveling at how I ended up here. I came to South Africa as a visitor; it had never been my intention to stay. Then I fell in love with Braamfontein and Rose Bank lifestyles. I met Congolese people my age, both connected to and removed from their home cultures, so that they tolerated the aspects of my character they did not understand, appreciated where I diverged form tradition, and otherwise pulled me in.

“You been saying you wanted to marry a Congolese man,” my friend said one night, over the phone. “You better find one now.”

Enter Mwanza. He was – is – fine. Six foot three and muscular, skin dark so that his eyes always sparkle and his teeth shine white. My second visit, I stay in his apartment for two weeks. I was supposed to be staying by my cousin, but his place got filled up the night before I arrived. The cousin made us off limits to each other, so I never worried about any of the feelings we developed.

Right moves, wrong person. I don’t know how he did it. My last night, one second we were bumping shoulders playfully – the next he had grabbed me, spun me somehow, and had me locked in his arms, facing him. It was a lot. I melted.

“Don’t look at me,” he told me.

“There’s nowhere else for me to look,” I replied.

“Well, still. Close your eyes. I got you a goodbye present, did you know? I have to get it, but if I look at you, I won’t be able to leave you.”

“So don’t give me a present.”

“Just – ” he was exasperated. He removed one hand from my back, and used two fingers to gently close my eyes.

“Don’t be an asshole,” he said softly, almost whispering. “There. Now, hang on.”

I remember noticing that instead of completely letting go of me and leaving, both hands were again clasping me, pulling me in through the small of my back. There was the sound of a gulp, Mwanza gulped, and I wondered if he was going to kiss me. He did, before I could consider whether or not that was something I wanted.

“Don’t leave,” he whispered when I opened my eyes.

“My plane is tomorrow morning. I don’t have a choice.”

“That’s stupid,” he said, instinctively tightening his grip as I bristled. “Everyone has a choice, always. You could go back to the States with your ticket. Or, you could choose to stay with me.”

“This isn’t my home.”

“Mine either. But you’re American. You can make anywhere your home, with your magic passport.”

“My parents…”

“How often do you see them anyway? Listen. You have no job; you have no responsibilities. You rent an apartment full of things you don’t care about. Sell them. Stay with me. I own my place. Your room and board are covered!”

“You aren’t serious, was all I could say.”

“I am. Besides, didn’t you say you were falling in love with me?”

“What I said was that if I stayed longer, I might.”

“So do it. What do you want?”

I thought of a line. I didn’t know if it was true, but I said it.

“I want to kiss you again.”

He smiled, then. It wasn’t a completely nice smile – it made me think he looked more triumphant than happy. The first of what I’d privately dub Mwanza’s Wolf Smiles. I didn’t like it, but I let him smile, let him kiss me, and I stayed.

Barrymore

I don’t really know what the feeling is. Not exactly depression, but a sort of lowness. And also lightness.

Without you, I feel, light?

“Do you still love me?” I whispered.
“Yes,” he replied.
“You do? Love me?” I pressed.
“Of course I love you. Always,” he answered.
“Then don’t leave. You’re the only one who loves me but hasn’t left,” I told him.
“Hush,” said my friend, and wrapped me up in his arms.

When you had me in your arms, before, I remember knowing that it wasn’t enough. Love is not enough. I realize that I’ve learned this before, and then somehow forgot. It’s sobering, sad.

Sometimes love is bad. Or the person you love is bad. Or the love leads you to bad situations. This one wasn’t bad. It was just empty. Without commitment. And the funny thing about empty love is that is drags you down. Or, at least it does that to me.

There’s something awful about knowing you’re with someone who loves you but cannot do anything for you. That their love cannot protect you, or make you grow. Stagnant love.

Here comes a thought…

Now, the stagnancy is gone. I feel like I’m floating away, now. Sometimes I’m up high, looking at possibilities. Sometimes friends tell me to shush and pull me back to ground me, and that’s good.

So, I mostly feel good, I guess.

I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.

What It Could Be

“I don’t even know if it really was love,” I tell her. “I thought it was at the time, but then most of that was revealed to be lies anyway. So I don’t trust anything. But what I do know is that 90% of it was sad.
“I think that because of the weirdness with Dad growing up, and from being so, so close to Edward and then dealing with his suicide, I don’t think I know a love that is healthy. I don’t understand love with the absence of pain.”

She started crying.

I wanted to write a pitch for CRWN’s love issue, before realizing I had nothing sensical enough to say. I considered dragging up What it Might Be, but didn’t feel like recycling. So instead, I allowed the issue to pass, while continuing to reflect. Then I listened to John Legend’s project.

This time, I think that love may be flying through a trapeze in pitch black. You can’t see where you’re going, or really any of your surroundings, but you can feel out what’s there.

Trust.

As you spin, contort, and flip yourself through the air, there’s the moment where you let go of the ropes and poles on which you hang. You fly, blindly, arms outstretched, ready to be

Caught

And hands feel you, grab you, pull you out of the air and back into the motion of a loop, before tossing you on and allowing you to fly again. Maybe you’ll go off flying together, waiting for nets or other hands to catch you. Maybe they’ll let you go for a minute, but come back to catch you later.

Maybe they’ll drop you, and you’ll fall.

You have no idea. You can’t see. You can only follow the motion of your hoops and crests. Can only fly off on your faith.

If the hands do drop you, you have to fall with faith, too, and hope that new ones appear to catch you before you hit the ground. Maybe you’ll fly higher with them. Who knows.

If you crash to the ground, will it have been worth it?

I don’t know. Falling, you probably won’t think so.

When you’re at the peak of your arc, though, after the first time you’ve been caught and flung up again, you’ll know that this is the best feeling in the world.

At least I hope so. I can’t really remember, and I’m still swinging. I won’t let go for sadness or abuse this time.

Spirits

A few weeks ago, I had a terrifying thought: at the time, the last man to kiss me had been the second rapist. I hated that thought, hated that feeling. It made me unclean, stained. If my body was a ledger, there was nothing below his mark; nothing to make him forgotten.

Tonight, the train doors open, he steps onto the train, and I’m saved. I’ve only ever dealt with bad ghosts. Ones who have made me afraid. But here, I have a happy spirit. A safe one. Lindo.

It’s funny, because the first summer he saved me, he definitely associated me with the extraterrestrial. My eyes he told me were planets into which he was afraid to look. My aura reminded him of that of a goddess. He called me the Princess of Enlightenment and Higher Powers. Yet he never worshipped me. He just washed me over with appreciation, and allowed me to exist in his space as I needed to. My only safe space in the world for a brief period of time was in South Africa, in a drug dealer’s small apartment.

He’s on the train, now. His clothes, his hair, his smile. He’s dancing around, sliding in slippers, hoping for tips. I don’t want to give him money (his dancing isn’t great) but I don’t want to ignore him, either. It would be wrong to just let him go.

It’s not really Lindo. But it’s his spirit, inside this guy. This is where he could be, were he not where he is. It’s nice to know that there are others like him in the world, and that they are doing okay. More spaces are being created for other people. It’s hopeful.

He sits next to me on the train, debating out loud whether to take off his shirt (sweating from dancing) or put on a jacket (it’s cold outside). He miscalculated and still has a few stops before he needs to get off the train. Classic.

One time, we went to get burgers, and he was so lost in thought he didn’t realize the elbow he wanted to lean on was in the air, not on the table.

“You remind me of my ex,” I tell him.
“Your ex?” I nod. He laughs. “Oh, he used to dance around, too?”

“No,” I tell him. Although as I shake my head, I flash back to the morning I woke up and walked into his living room to see him standing on his sofa. Smoke wafted equally out of his blunt and lungs, swirling around the room, picking up the light of the morning to make an ethereal haze. Twisted, he sang with the music, and jumped off of the couch, spinning around the room and kicking out his legs. He loved me, he said later, because I let him be himself. Because I could be in his space without taking up his space, and he still felt free to do what he wanted. So yes, in every way, he danced.

But I don’t say this to the spirit on the train. Instead, I hold up my palm and move it in a circular motion to encompass his body-space. “It’s more – “

” – The aura, huh?” he says happily.
“Yeah,” I agree. Auras.
“Well, you remind me of my ex,” he responds. “The aura again.”

Then it’s his stop, we say goodbye, and he leaves.

And I remember.

All of those memories are from the summer of 2015. I only saw Lindo in the summer of 2016 once. The night after the rape. I hadn’t wanted to see anybody, but he came by, and came up to the room, and sat on the bed and talked to me. He sat where the guy had been as I folded my body far away from it. I never told him what had happened. I never told him anything that happened, the entire time I knew him. His safe space came with forgetting. Midway through his visit, he stopped, leaned forward, and kissed me on the forehead.

“I can touch you now,” he said, “I’m not afraid. That’s the kiss I wanted to give you last year. It’s for someone to watch over and guide you always, for protection. Now you have it.”

He’d been the last. Immediate protection, to begin to cancel out the ledger mark. I’d forgotten.

Every day I unpack something new that’s been repressed. Thank goodness for the dancing spirit, reminding me there are positives that can come slipping into life as well.