At the end of what they called the terrible year, the annus horribilis—after the fizz and tingle of the first kiss (more like cheap vodka on his breath and something lemony with gin on hers, but we allow lovers greater latitude when it comes to memory) on a chilly, spring-shy September night that teased gooseflesh onto arms (when the meteorologists had predicted biblical deluges and fields were furrowed in agricultural anticipation) at the dusty, asthma-unfriendly country fair which didn’t look like anything from the movies (because this wasn’t the movies, this was Real Life, Namibia, a place no films were made of, a city no poets serenaded with verse, a place of small, unrecorded tragedies where one of the options for a first date was to ogle sheep and watch farmers haggling over prize cows at the annual agricultural show), with his amusing obligatory attempt to win her the plush teddy bear (he didn’t), and the foot-long hotdog which spilled tomato sauce on her top, the ride on the creaky, death-trap Ferris Wheel (despite the unspoken fear of heights from both parties because love truly is for morons), the fingers inching towards each other at the top of the vertigo-inducing cycle, the disjointed kiss of elbows, the static, stinging exchange of attraction (yes, even a place like Real Life is allowed its clichés every once in a while) and, the moment when they finally (finally!) kissed; after the “whirlwind of love”, which is what she called it at the start of a cloudless October (filled with exactly zero millimetres of rainfall and four prevaricating weathermen) when she told Brennadine her best friend who (being from the Bahamas, had more experience with the wroth wreaked by winds in the Caribbean) merely raised an eyebrow (because windy metaphors were some of her least favourite things, along with The Tempest which she’d suffered through in the twelfth grade) and wisely kept quiet (since the L-word had been invoked—the use of earthier, less breezy terms like patience or damn girl, take it easy would’ve been mistaken for jealousy because bitterness and bile from Brennadine’s ex-boyfriend pinged on her cellphone at an average rate of three messages per hour); after the “I don’t know, man, it’s whatever…”, which is how he explained it to his friend Zaylan at the tail end of October (when dam levels ran low) when the homies noted he’d been spending what they called a matrimonial amount of time with the girl; after the ceasefire of daytime flirting in text messages, the nighttime engagement in hostilities of passion which came to a halt on a hot November night when at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, on his bed, with the mosquitoes kamikazing their naked bodies (nobody knew where the damn mosquitoes were spawning since there was no rain and, therefore, no exposed surface water for the pesky things to breed), with Salif Keita and Cesária Évora’s “Yamore” playing (a strange choice, but the mood was so, so right), she sang along to high notes reserved for West African singers with platinum-selling albums she said I might not have the Rover, but I’ve got the range! and he conceded the point, kissed her, and said they had to be serious, like serious-serious, not like all the other couples who weren’t (apparently unaware that, eventually, everyone becomes what they judge), he whispered, disguising his fear in humour while signing the proclamation of love: Imma love you from the skinny cock’s crow until the fat lady sings! (a promise so tight anyone could see it was a self-imposed Carthaginian peace), and she hastily moved to ratify the declaration of dependence with the ministrations of her body; after the motions of commitment commenced in December (when the land started balding of grass in earnest, when grazing was scarce and feed stores ran low) by way of onerous restaurant reparations for late replies, reluctant cession of slices of selfish, solitary time to the other, cautiously de-male-iterising after taking part in the War of the Singles (Adam and Eve—present) and taking the road trip to the coastal towns (smaller, holiday-crowded, and racist versions of Real Life, but with German heritage stretching all the way to 18-voetsek), the New Year’s Eve party in the dunes, dancing over endangered desert lichen, an oasis shaded by trees from Lesotho’s finest (cough, cough, pass) and drowned in the perennial waters of the Reinheitsgebot (Deutschland uber alles!), and the midnight kissing: Happy New Year, babe!, Happy New Year! Hope it’s gonna be a good one!; after the abortion (that getaway trip to Cape Town) in January (when the government, fearing national panic, said there was no drought only acute and localised rainfall shortage since, to be fair, there was rainfall everywhere else, it wasn’t like the whole world had run out of it), when they had many tear-soaked debates about damnation (she was a believer), the cost of childcare (he was pragmatic), and assurances that later, when things were a little further along, they would try again; after the hell-hot and hollow February days which made armpits squelch with uncomfortable moisture became filled with vacant staring at computer screens (on her part), the drudgery of adoration (on his), the government banning farmers from taking photos of dehydrated and dying cows (the newspapers could still print pictures of dead black people, though, so there was some give and take), and evenings of ratings-busting, game-show trivia such as Are you hungry (fifty-fifty, ask the audience, or phone a friend) and Not really but I could eat, what are you having? (ham and salami pizza for 100 points, basil pesto and tomato for 50), or What do you want to watch? and settling, instead, for pretending to fall asleep halfway through the film so they could go to bed and feign even more sleep; after panic-level March when dams started emptying (they had, of course, been doing this for a while but the harsh reality crept up on the nation like a languid low tide), when water restrictions kicked in (except in the affluent suburbs where pool parties continued undisturbed), when they made valiant attempts to get back to love, gingerly at first, and then with more rhythm, a soldier’s grim sense of duty (for queen and country, innit), but with some warmth, like ashy embers, not the prurience of the past which could have irrigated the south of the country when they used to be on top form; after the fierce quietness and early nose-drip chills of autumnal April (choking, tap-sputtering water restrictions became the norm), when the days shortened, ending the workday too soon, and the nights with nothing but each other’s proximity for entertainment stretched on too long, when their mutual busyness became that seemingly immeasurable word space (S.I unit: silence) and space became that measurable thing called distance (S.I unit: other people); after the casual cruelties of jealousy in the brumal month of May (rinsing one’s mouth after brushing ran the risk of a municipal lawsuit for excessive water consumption) when the distance between them could only be measured in lie years (and three people each); after June, a bliksem month of flu and colds sorely and solely warmed by the fire of arguments (him: I just wish you wouldn’t be so rectitudinous!, her: I don’t know what the fuck rectitudinous means!, him: Sanctimonious, holier-than-thou—, her: Well, if you’re the bar, it isn’t that hard to get over, him: What the fuck does that mean?, her: It means exactly what it means. But I’m sure you know a German word for you’re-lying-and-blaming-me-for-catching-you-with-some-other-bitch!”, him: I don’t, actually. But I know Clive is English for you-were-fucking-around-too!” (it actually isn’t, Clive is normal-speak for colleague, the word he’s looking for is Zaylan); after unforgiving, hyperborean, tap-freezing July, when they lived together but apart, self-isolating and physically distancing because forgiveness is a contact contagion they avoided (Oh—almost forgot: the drought was finally declared); after August, slowly warming, with the certainty of hay fever in the air but no moisture (the weathermen were, understandably, quite reserved with their rainfall predictions), and Remo Giazotto’s “Adagio In G Minor” becoming the leitmotif for this thing, whatever it was, when they held hands and smiled at dinners (becoming what they’d judged, yearning not to be, but too afraid to say so); after coming back to another September, the anniversary of the boarding of this train to nowhere (we, of course, knew where it was going), a once favourably fated month in which the confluence of forces and inexplicable eddies in the space-time continuum (translation for the layman: Brennadine hosted a house party) saw her sitting alone for exactly forty-three seconds before he approached her, his cap tipped to two o’clock in the reggaeton-thrumming night, his sneakers smiling with each step as they made their whiter-than-white way towards her, and him saying Hallo, a word she hadn’t heard from the opposite sex in a while (Yo, Bren, who’s your fine ass friend? was the going rate), the way she looked up at him, her vinaceous lips and threaded eyebrows settling into that exasperated did-you-really-leave-your-boys-and-talking-about-handing-out-two-hours-of-whoop-ass-in-FIFA19-to-come-over-here-and-ask-me-why-I’m-sitting-alone expression which can only be achieved with the proper application of the latest Fenty Beauty shades (brought in by a friend from Dubai), an Instagram makeup tutorial, a get-ready playlist stuffed with Lizzo and Sza, and forty-three seconds of Brennadine’s absence when she went to the bathroom, how his hands came up like he was preparing for a police frisk: I carry nothing but myself…, how, for some reason, he looked off-balance in her presence and she said A good start…, and that made him laugh and sit down in Brennadine’s chair (which she didn’t mind because he had a laugh that sounded like good company, plus he’d said hallo), how he said he wanted to just talk and they talked about random things like the party and the music, what they didn’t do for a living (which was a lot, they had plenty in common when it came to unfulfilled childhood dreams), places they’d visited (which she’d done more of, the most recent place being Italy, which gave her the right to share this gem about the Venus De Milo: I wish she had arms so she could choose whether to cover up her titties or not. I mean, hey, David has his arms. It’s his choice to have his dick in the wind like that. But I know Venus would pull up her dress given a choice! to which he said he didn’t agree and she countered with Of course you don’t. You’re not the one with your tits on display for centuries!), before they looked up at the sky and both of them said it looked like rain—all they will think about is the start, and how when they walk away they’ll carry nothing but themselves.
Except her. In October, when it finally does rain for the first time in a year, she’ll have another abortion, a secret, a consensus of one. You should’ve seen this coming: the fruits of the past only bloom in the future, and life always makes a start, even if love comes to an end.
This we—and now you—know.
© Rémy Ngamije
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Rémy’s interview]