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Siyanda is alone. It’s a Wednesday night. He is behind his desk. His mother bought it for him. She also bought the swivel chair, the one he is sitting on, and that old, dial black telephone next to his laptop. The telephone doesn’t work.

“It gives your workspace some character!” his mother had insisted when she dropped off the piece three weeks ago. It doesn’t, of course. The only thing it does is eat up space, but he hadn’t refused it when she handed it to him, a playful smile waiting for him to question her taste. He had thanked her and left it on his desk just in case she came by and noticed it missing. Those are the only things she bought for him. The laptop he bought himself. It’s an old thing he got when he started working as a teacher. He takes his eyes away from the cursor waiting for him to type. He listens for the whispered conversation slipping from the passageway through his door. He can’t make out the words, but he can recognize his neighbour’s voices; it’s the married couple who live at the end of the passageway. Their voices stretch until he can’t make them out against the silence of the night. He rereads the last sentence he wrote. There’s something missing.

“Scrambled eggs without seasoning!” He softly chuckles recalling how Prof. Kline had said those words to a student back in first year. He makes a mental note to include him in the acknowledgment page. He scrolls the page up to the first sentence he wrote this evening, clicks the cursor to blink before the first word of the paragraph, presses shift and the down arrow button until he reaches the last sentence he just wrote. He presses the backspace button.

“Fuck me!” he exclaims.

“Are you nearly done?”

“Simone! Writing is taking a step forward and three backwards. You never get anywhere, really.

“That’s Prof. Kline’s line. You forget I was already with you when you met the man.”

“I don’t. Apart from my mom, you are the only other constant. I’m no longer sure if it’s my stagnant imagination, or if it’s my stubbornness that won’t let you go,” he says casting his eyes to the blank page in front of him. He waits for a response from her. She doesn’t give one.

The blinking cursor waits for Siyanda to muster inspiration or whatever it is writers need to write. He is dog-tired. The writing is tiring, but his exhaustion is a product of the long walk he took after school today. He went up Cowies Hill, all the way to the Sasol garage, bought a Red Bull can, and only reached his flat as the sun was starting to set. He takes the long walks to escape Simone. Everything else doesn’t seem to work. He rubs the tiredness away from his eyes. He is determined to finish the novel today. He scrolls up to the work he wrote last night, five pages worth of writing. He skims through the paragraphs until the blinking cursor is waiting for a new sentence after the last period. He hits the enter button twice. He tries to unearth sentences, but words are stubborn tonight. He abandons his laptop screen and turns back to his unmade bed. He didn’t imagine his life this small at twenty-seven. He imagined he’d be living in a spacious two-bedroom apartment overlooking the pristine beaches of Ballito. Of course, in this already sullied teenage dream, he would be living with a girlfriend and a small dog, if the building didn’t prohibit them. He imagined going on weekend aways with his girlfriend, taking long drives along the Garden route all the way to the winelands of Stellenbosch, partaking in life, and not looking at it from a distance. At the least he hadn’t expected to be scrapping by at twenty-seven. His mother warned him about getting an English degree in South Africa, but for all her efforts, his head remained in the clouds brewing fictional stories far away from reality. The framed short story hanging above his unmade bed catches his attention. He wrote it in grade eleven. He found it when he was moving from his mother’s house. Those two pieces of A4 sized notepads with his untidy handwriting, incased in the picture frame, are the genesis of his misery. If Mr. Pratt, his grade eleven English teacher, hadn’t complimented the story or shook his hand in front of the class, maybe, he would have outgrown the idea of being a writer. He turns back to his laptop screen. He saves the document, hovers the pointer on the close sign, thinks for a second and abandons the temptation. He must finish the novel. He promised Lele she’ll have his final draft by this Friday.

Lele is his old university classmate. They only recently reconnected at the beginning of the year. LinkedIn had suggested he might know her. He had clicked on her profile out of curiosity. She had received her master’s since they last saw each other on graduation day. She had worked for their alma mater for three years, first as a research assistant, and then as a lecturer. She had left the University of Cape Town two years ago and was now an editor for a literary e-zine based in Cape Town. It had taken him more than a minute to press the connect button, which he only ended pressing after realizing she might see that he had visited her page. It had taken her a week to accept the invitation, but after she accepted it, she had privately sent him her contact details and insisted he ‘WhatsApp’ her. When he finally did, she had responded with three smiley emojis that he thought suggested a friendliness they never had as students, but he had overlooked this and responded with a ‘how are you?’ She was the one who asked if he still wrote. He had hesitated to answer her at first, thinking about the many generic responses of rejection he had gotten for his first attempt at a novel, We regret to inform you... Unfortunately, after much careful consideration... but he had finally admitted he was writing here and there, and that he had written a novel that was so bad he was contemplating on burning his laptop to erase any proof that it ever existed. She had responded with laughing emojis before sending a voice note, her voice noticeably still finishing off a laugh,

“You, Prof. Kline’s favourite student. You wrote a bad novel? I don’t believe it! Send it to me if you don’t mind. I’d love to read it.” After a week she had called him during his class lesson, apologized for calling at an awkward time, before giving him a review that almost made him blush.

“Thank you for taking your time to read it.”

“My pleasure. Rewrite it. This is not a bad novel, not by a long shot... And, I should have mentioned this, but I know about a dozen literary agents. Again... Uhm... If you don’t mind, though. And I don’t want to be a nuisance, but I can do edits for you. I am amazing at editing other people’s works,” she had said with what sounded like a nervous laughter. Siyanda had stood leaning against his classroom’s doorway frame, half observing his students conversing in hushed chatter, and half admiring the small garden growing by Mr. Smith’s Home Ed class. It took him two weeks before he decided he’d reattempt the novel.

“That’s kind of you. Okay.”

“Okay then. You’ll send me your progress every fortnight?”

“No problem,” he had said picturing the long empty nights he’d have to share with Simone.

“What do you do with the loneliness?”

“Simone, you frightened me!” He takes his eyes away from his framed short story. There she is leaning against the frame of the balcony door. There’s a peculiarity to her smile. It’s like she’s asked him a trick question. He wrestles with it, but nothing comes to mind, no half-baked idea, nothing. He flings her a nervous smile as he attempts a coherent answer, but still, nothing. He gives up and settles on staring at her. There’s frustration in his eyes. It’s like she has placed a stillborn on his lap, dared him to give life to death, and abandoned him to his own devises; there’s nothing left to do but hold her gaze. His dimly lit laptop screen captures the back of his head, his unkempt Afro that he has been meaning to shave off, the far away wall that leads to the balcony door, his unmade bed, and the corner end of his framed short story.

“Okay. I take it you also don’t know. What are you writing?”

“What am I writing? I don’t know that answer myself,” he says before coming away from her silhouette.

The dripping tap in the bathroom hasn’t stopped since last weekend. He has tried tightening it, but the monotonous sound persists; perfectly orchestrated droplets beat against the bathtub. It sounds like an ancient ancestral drum beating from a distant past. Siyanda’s landlord said she’d organize someone to come fix it after work tomorrow, but she has a habit of making empty promises. Besides the double-glazed windows, she is yet to fit, she still hasn’t fixed the two loose tiles under the bathroom sink. Siyanda clears his throat,

“Mrs. September grabbed the greasy pan and immersed it in the sink. She could feel the weight of her husband sitting at the dining table. He was on his phone. It looked like he was reading something, but she didn’t care to know what it was. All she needed to know was that the marriage was over. The childish enthusiasm with which he had once loved her with, which frightened her back then, had long died. She could feel the deadweight it left in every corner of the house. She hated this house she had once thought to be her dream home. In Drews Avenue, with all its former glory, things died behind those tall walls, and what had once been, was but a fragile dream, unsure and doomed to be lost forever.” He hovers his finger on the backspace button, closes his eyes, and with a heavy sigh he erases the paragraph.

It's 00:27 when he finally looks at his phone. He goes to his music app, selects library, selects artists, and scrolls down to Jeff Buckley. He plays ‘Just like a woman’. He increases the volume, not too loud for his neighbour to hear, but loud enough to allow him to leave his phone on his skinny black desk. He takes off the blue fleece blanket he has been wearing over his shoulders. It isn’t cold tonight, but there is a slight breeze that has remained since the rain died earlier in the evening. He throws the fleece blanket onto his unmade bed, and he heads for the kitchen. Once there, he switches on the lights, opens his nearly empty fridge, and considers a bowl of half-finished noodles garnished with red chilies that he had earlier on with two glasses of Beyerskloof Pinotage. But he isn’t starving, and the prospect of warming the dish up seems like an arduous proposition, so he settles for a cold glass of water and two smoked viennas. He finishes the viennas standing there in front of the fridge. Apart from easing the acidic taste in his mouth, they  do little to fill him up, but he isn’t hungry either way. He takes a sip of his water to wash the debris of meat down his throat. It’s quieter here than his bedroom/lounge/office area. If he could fit his chair and desk here, he would. He clears his throat again and interrupts the quietness. He considers if Simone might want something to nibble on, too. He calls out to her, but her name slips from his tongue as if she were an unsure memory; a foggy dream he is determined to remember. She doesn’t answer him. He didn’t expect her to; after all, even if he doesn’t like to admit it, Simone is nothing but an idea. He takes another sip of his water and switches off the kitchen lights. His mind is already trying to work out how the novel finishes. What does he do with Mrs. September? Can there be peace for her? Is she deserving of redemption or is she doomed to be her mother’s daughter? He wants to tell Simone about Mrs. September’s conundrum, but she won’t offer anything. And he surely can’t expect anything more from her than her company.

He finds Simone standing by the balcony door. She is leaning against the doorframe. Her pleasant face holds a soft scowl. She looks deep in thought. He doesn’t disturb her. He places his glass of water on his desk and admires her from the distance. The orange light seeping from the lamp sitting on his bedside table has seductively caught itself on her pink silk gown, which sways a bit here and there according to the light breeze, secretively revealing the curves she says she got from the black side of her family. Simone September is breathtaking, he again concludes.

“An Epic!” he mutters to himself. She tucks her curly dark-brown hair behind her ears, and reveals her bronze face, her well-defined jawline, her full lips buttered with a soft red lipstick, her petite pointy nose, and her small ears, his favorite feature about her face. He catches her big anime-like brown eyes staring at him as if she were about to negotiate a bad deal for both parties. There’s a softness about her. She turns away from him and stares at the distant road and petrol garage from his flat. He picks up the glass of water again, gulps it down, and sits the empty glass next to his laptop. He walks toward the balcony. She detaches herself from the doorframe and walks into the balcony. A car coming from the M7 speeds past going toward the M19. The town never dies.

“Does the loneliness ever stop?”

“Don’t worry about it, Simone.”

“Of course...” She gives up her weight onto the railing of the balcony. He considers reaching out to her, pulling her into his arms, breathing her floral perfume in, kissing the nape of her neck, holding her square delicate face in his hands, and saying some moronic thing wrapped in a facade of romance, but all he manages to say, before he heads back to the room is,

“I have to finish this bloody book.” It’s like he has expected more from her. What does he want from her though? Love? He should be content with her being ‘here’ right now. No one else is. He heads for his desk. His old laptop is whirring from exhaustion. He must finish the novel. Never mind Simone and her neediness he tells himself as he settles in his chair. Outside, on the balcony overlooking a navy lifeless Pinetown, Simone should have tears falling from her eyes. A camera should slowly pan away from her, revealing a lonely, lovely, figure gradually getting swallowed by the sparsely lit flats, by darkness, and finally by life. In the movie adaptation it would only make sense.

The plumber, a tall, dark, lean Indian man, with curious brown eyes and a warm smile, came to fix the tap today. He arrived about ten minutes after Siyanda came back from school.

“DJ Snowball. I am playing at Dino’s tomorrow night. Come through if you can,” the plumber had said after fixing the tap. They were by his front door and Siyanda was holding the door for him to leave. Dino’s is a small tavern-like pub on your way to the town library. It is a nice enough place, but all serious artists perform at clubs littered on Florida Road or Davenport, not at tavern-like pubs in Pinetown, Siyanda thought as DJ Snowball stared at him waiting for a response as if he had asked Siyanda a question,

“I already have commitments tomorrow, but I will come if I finish early,” he had said with a reassuring smile. DJ Snowball had thanked him and given him his cellphone number.

“Just in case the tap leaks again,” he had said with a disarming smile. After he left, Siyanda went to the KFC close to the old Afrikaans church, a quick walking distance from his place, ordered a Streetwise 2 meal and a buddy Coca Cola, before heading back to his empty flat. He ate his meal whilst watching ‘Friends’, Rachel and Ross’s Vegas wedding episode. It’s not his favorite episode, but Simone likes it. Well, Simone loves it. She mentions it more than once in the novel.

He has finished writing the last chapter. The blinking cursor is waiting for him after the final full stop. He takes his eyes away from the screen, and he muses on the blunt he bought after school today. It’s the cheap stuff he buys from a guy staying five floors above his flat. He lights the blunt and drags the smoke until a burning sensation pinches his lungs. And carefully he exhales an endless cloud until he feels empty. Twice he does this before placing the blunt on the ashtray. He clears his throat,

“The loneliness has festered into a nauseous wound. Simone catches herself staring at the grey fence separating her house from her nosy neighbour. She finds her hands in the soapy sink scrubbing away at a frying pan. She lets go of the cookware, breathes in, and catches the tear threatening to break from her eye. It’s a sunny Sunday morning. The clock across the kitchen catches her attention. They are running late for church. She calls the twins for breakfast again. ‘Coming’ one of them says. Her husband appears, phone in hand, enters the kitchen, and settles on the chair her mother bought her as a wedding gift. It doesn’t fit the aesthetics of the room, but she likes it, dull, worn-out black and out of place as it is. He isn’t going to church with them. If they were still in love, like they used to be, she would offer him coffee and insist he come along to church, but there’s nothing there anymore. At least that’s what she angrily told him last night before asking him to leave their bedroom. She wonders if the lump sitting at the back of her throat is from sadness or annoyance. She drops the cup she is washing now inside the sink, dries her hands against her apron, and leaves the kitchen. He doesn’t look up as she exits the room. From the window next to the front door, she takes in the fragile beauty that is Drews Avenue.”

He opens his Outlook, logins to his account, and types a quick email, attaches the word document, which he ended up titling Simone and the curious case of Drews Avenue, and he sends the email to Lele. Once done he takes another puff from his dying blunt and goes to the balcony. Simone is finally gone. He is almost certain of it. He exhales the pungent blunt into the musty air hanging about on his balcony. All he has now is time and this aching loneliness that he can’t seem to shake off.

About the Author

Ntando Taro Nzuza

Ntando Taro Nzuza is a South African writer who has been published on the following online platforms; AFREADA, Brittle Paper, Type/Cast, and The Kalahari Review. He has, on multiple occasions, been featured in the New Contrast.

Read more work by Ntando Taro Nzuza.