O tswa kae!?
It was no ordinary simple innocent question. It was laced with accusations and judgement. In fact, it seemed as though it wasn’t even in earnest search for that ever elusive answer. It reminded me of another question I loathe with my very being: how are you. Mainly for lack of sincerity. The poser almost always never wants to really know how you are. It is an expectant question. Fine. That’s all it seeks. How are you? Fine. And we get on with our lives. Just like this one, it does not really want answers. But this one goes a few more steps further. Its sole sin is not only its lack of sincerity. And trust me, that’s enough for me to loathe. It is also insulting.
I’ve been insulted once before. In fact my whole life is an insult. I am black. So I guess we can sommer conclude that I am quite immune to insults. After all, I moved back to the township after five years in the ‘burbs. Not that I couldn’t afford it anymore – I had just been promoted and added an extra digit to my salary. I hated, no, I didn’t like suburban life. So I rented my house out to students and went back to my roots. See? I am quite accustomed to insult. My mother called me ‘ge morse’ all my life, father ‘jou lelik’. It was as close as they got to the much sought ‘I love you’. My mentor calls me lerete, or fucker if he is in a joyous mood. My friends refer to me as mufucka, short for motherfucker.
But there was that one time when I was insulted. Or at least I came close enough as a black could get. Being nothing but an empty shell, a hole, a heap of stone, what right do I have to claim insult? Or injury? There are no injuries to add insult to. Or wounds to rub salt in. I have no capacity whatsoever to be injured or wounded. I am an injury. I am the wound. My mere existence, if you would allow me some degree of liberalism with the concept, is itself an injury unto the world. A wound to an otherwise perfect society. An insult to humanity. However, it once happened that, even if it was just for a split second, that my heretofore non-entity was transmigrated into whiteness, into humanity. It was short lived though. My boss. Not the supervisor or some lackey. I mean the main man – the one whose name is the name of our firm. My boss. She called me a kaffir.
I was livid! Oh how good it is to be livid. To feel your body burning, blood rushing, eyes reddening, hands shaking and sweating, heart furiously pulsating. I swear even my dick firmed up a bit. Oh god, bless me with more rage. Please. Finally I could have my pain registered in the grammar of the living. I had the tangibility of three syllables to present to the world. Kaffir! Now no one (and by no one I mean me) could accuse me of imagining things. She said it she said it. No one (again, me) could deny it. Now I have something to tweet. My pain can be tweeted. Finally! Pity I can’t translate the venom and ferocity of her voice with 140 characters. But those six letters suffice. She said it! And she said it to me. No one else was in the room but the two of us. She recognised me. I am seen, I am visible. To no other than the main man herself.
Having qualified as a CA in record time (oh ja, my seven years of study take my time in the ‘burbs up to twelve years), I had the misfortune of always being surrounded by humans. It emptied the little life that Biko had pumped into my shell. I was pushed to the background. Hell, I became the background. Do your job, the white man inside me advised, and shut up. Soon enough I will get my recognition. I lied to myself, even then I knew it was a lie – just didn’t have the balls to admit it. After all they are just huge ornaments white women love to suck. Black women are such prudes! The degrees didn’t do it. I was an extra who didn’t get any rehearsal time (no pictures of great granddad in robes and square hat atop the fireplace (what fireplace?)) at the graduation ceremony. The qualification didn’t do it. I was just black dot – a blot – in a sea of whiteness. The white women didn’t do it. I was just a black dildo passed around the office block. The promotions didn’t do it. I was just a tick on some scorecard. But she did it. In three simple syllables. She gave me the recognition I craved.
Owing to my promotion to senior management, I moved up a floor. Her floor. With an office to boot. No more cubicles. Yippy! To make it even better, it was seven steps (yes I counted) from the elevator. No more fake ‘hi-how-are-you’ smiles. That bloody question again. Coupled with that flossed, mouth-washed, cavity-free, even bright white teeth smile, it is the deadliest thing ever known to mankind. It gives you a false sense of camaraderie, of safety. Ask the white radical, the white mouth is no safe place for a black to put his balls. Our forebears will not hesitate to say ‘ke la me leo’ in this case.
In charge of reviews and analysis of audits, I was always in the office. People came to me not the other way around. And by people I mean colleagues, not clients. I was the scary dog tied at the back of the house away from the guests with enough bones to keep it busy and, most importantly, quite. I parked my car in the underground parking lot, a senior management perk, got on the elevator straight to my floor, and seven steps later I was cooked up in my office. No one would ever have to know that I was there. No PA no nothing. No messages from Mr so and so, lunch with some CFO of some corporation – just a bunch of audit files on my desk. I was no longer the background even.
I guess that’s what made me get back to my roots. Living my life in hiding. From the house straight out the automated garage and gates and straight into the underground parking in fifteen minutes. At least ko kasi someone would see me open my garage and gate. Someone might even dare to greet me. Hell they all will, and if they don’t I will. And they will greet back. How I wish I had a few more Zulus around, ‘we see you’, they would shout. They see me. To be seen. In my expensive suit. Expensive car. Driving to my top class job – where I would disappear for ten hours. Someone might even hoot. A child or two might stare from the rickety Venture taking them to crèche. Ngamla! The newspaper boys might offer a smile at the robots. No Daily Sun for you ngamla, Business Day, Star, Sowetan, soon I will have Finweek for you ngamla. Ngamla don’t care about no tokoloshe, strictly business. I will return the smile with a R50 note, he will fiddle for change till the robot turns green. Then someone will definitely hoot. They see me. I will wave away the change and drive off, Ta Ngamla! The whistling continues. My hazards blink twice in a gesture of apology, the car behind returns the winks – if my rear view mirror is to be trusted. I am seen. What is success without being seen?
Having had the taste of being seen, that the world refuses to see me enrages me. Stand up black man, let it be known that you too exist. Let the world know. The blacks have long recognised you, it’s time for the world to catch up. If it don’t move its slow civilised ass quick enough, yank it. And that’s what exactly drove me a hundred or so steps (was too fired up to count) to the boss’s office. She was sipping tea when I entered unannounced. She offered. With a smile. AHHH! I declined. How are you? AHHH! Inside me said, I will fucken tell you how I am you old bitch! Fine. Outside me said, how are you? I think it was the tea. It has some civilising qualities. The offer castrated me. Even inside me kept his cool a bit.
So, what do you want?
Another question I loathe. My fellow stones I will excuse from this wrath. It’s a human question that we haven’t been able to mimic as yet. We have nothing, so it would be absurd to ask such. What can anyone possibly want from a non-being? Humans, on the other hand, have the world to offer. What do you want? It’s their ultimate swagger. What can I do you for? They flaunt their humanity. Want something to drink? To eat maybe? We don’t have enough even for ourselves, when we do mimic some adjustments are necessary. Want some water? It has to be specific, lest you embarrass us all by asking for something we can’t offer. And humans know that we always want something from them. They rub it in our faces with that question. Hey, you got nothing and I got it all, and not just this morning but all the time, so, what do you want?
Some recognition. Even though he had lost his fire, inside me still had some cheek left. But outside me could not of course put this in a decipherable grammar. My pain has no language. So I had to reach for the straws, maybe one will keep me from drowning. How long will you keep me locked up in here? That’s where all the senior managers are isn’t it? White sense. Black non-sense. Questions. I must regain the power to pose the question. But they get to meet people outside the firm. That’s not a question you dumb-ass. Where exactly is this going? Two-one. Questions. Any question. C’mon, surely you can summon one. Just to even things out. Are you not happy with the paperwork? Three-one. Damn. It has always been your strongest point, that’s why you were recommended for this job. Did you know no one else was considered for this post? Four-one. I am hopeless. I guess I should be grateful now? Its wack but it counts. Two-one. Grateful for what? Five-two. You earned it. Okay she really got the flattery thing down. I am speechless. Is there anything else? Three-one.
Fuck! That does it. I can’t let her win – dismiss me like that? She has so much already, she will not have my balls. Unless she wants to suck them. In a fit of black rage, I lay it all out in the open. She remains calm. Only fuelling my fires. I have no clue of what I said. But her looking at me with amusement in the middle of my fit only served to chop off the little dick I had left after her tea offering. Was it not in Kenya where they invited people to tea only to have them lose their very being in something they couldn’t comprehend? Tea! I swear she was sipping on her tea while I was ranting and raving. In that madness inside me managed to slip in word that I slap the tea into her ugly face, but outside me still held on to some caution – the wind could not take all of it I guess. And then my salvation – temporary as it was – came. Oh child, lord have mercy, lord Jesus. It was a word I heard. Just a word. What preceded it, or succeeded it, I don’t know. No, in fact nothing succeeded it. It was the tip of the assegai that was aimed directly at me. Kaffir!
That was the only time I got insulted. Or at least came close enough. But as my dick was firming up, heart pulsating, hands sweating and shaking, eyes reddening, blood rushing and body burning; I laughed. I laughed so hard that I just walked out and laughed all the way to my office. Now I could go back to my office, do my work and shut up. Like a good kaffir. And get on with my life. The absurdity of it all. What I have been running from all along, was after all what I sought. I thought I wanted recognition as a human, but all I needed was recognition from a human for what I truly am. After years of false recognition as one of them, I finally had genuine recognition as a negation of them. In a fleeting moment this recognition made me feel human, and thus wounded, injured, insulted.
But this was the real thing. Not the ampoer-insult from my boss. This was it. O tswa kae!? The nerve of this woman. Firstly, what gives her a right to even dare to question my whereabouts? Am I not a sovereign entity? You answer to me, the question said. It had its figurative hands holding its imaginary hips that were thrust out to the right. Its fictional right hand waved a metaphorical finger in my face. You better start talking mister, it snapped its illusory fingers. What the hell have you been up to you son-of-a-bitch? It accuses me. You are such a whore! It judges me. You and those white bitches of yours! It insults me. Genuinely insults me. Are they mine? Or am I theirs? It does not even give me space to answer. It takes up all the space. In my own house nogal. I am a good kaffir goddamnit! I do my work and shut up. And I don’t fucken mind being a dildo, I love pussy. Especially one attached to a body I don’t have to love, that never questions me. A human body, that wants nothing from me but has the world to offer. What do you want? It always asks me. That’s where the hell I am from! But outside me would not let me succumb to a non-being, so I just scuffle past her and go straight to bed. I rode the tricycle all night long, I need to sleep. She needs some white dick this one. She’s the emptiest shell in this house, that’s why she’s the loudest.