There’s no use in holding back the thrill that instantly comes up when looking at the skyline after sunset, or rather when the sun is about to go down like we like to, easing its force for the nite, a subtle gold hovering over ungracious mine dumps. ‘If only the light never came back, this place could actually be something’, says my friend weighed down by thoughts and drinks later that night, while holding her hand out of the window to touch the chilly autumn air that makes us already struggle to leave our beds these mornings. She leans back in the seat, glancing at Jozi’s made up evening face, all glittering and shiny, not less than we are, though tired from a day’s and a night’s work. If it didn’t come back, I disagree, we would not see what this city is about, we would get stuck in some mind games presuming happiness, and even Carlton Centre could look like Neuschwanstein. We would not see the dirt that makes this city golden.
You’re talking shit as usual, my friend says, shaking the new hairdo she sports these days disapprovingly. You’re talking drama, my friend, and you’d never admit that’s what you love indeed, I bitch back, checking her sleepy body on the backseat, risking our lives to see her eyes rolling towards the pitch black sky. We keep our mouths shut after that, yet the thoughts fly like rags of paper or some similar kitschy image until I kick her out in front of her house and we part for the hours till the sun comes back to set alight the things I cannot be without these days: The late morning rushs, the run to town, the endless time spent in the taxi on the way to work, minutes after minutes after minutes that metamorphose into some minor time unit passing too quickly when absorbing the non-news the Sowetan spreads in the morning – “Healer must be arrested on sight…” (most mornings I do agree, indeed), the clouds made possible by that fairy tale place in Yeoville, the sight of Ponte at night, Emmarentia, the houses in Kensington I love. The morning air that so clearly indicates the very basic mystery of a season turning into another. The edgy arts. The city and all that it is not. A place of absence, not less.
Another friend said the other day, referring to the reflection of Hillbrow tower in the window of the wannabe stylish coffee shop we chose for a talk, Look at this landmark of abscence. He made a point here. A tower of not being, indicating a heaven that must lie above, and still standing and marking – a land, a sky, a scar. Scarce moments of closure in the city of lights that fade when they should not. Multiple layers to be scratched off, with mild fingers, scraping and scratching and yet not finding what we think we search for, dig for, in this underground world of fluid meanings. Promises whirling into plein air like the compulsive plastic bag that’s around every corner, everything available everywhere, at the robots, lottery tickets, a broom, shades and more than all the air-conditioned part-time-empathy with the not-so-few. This pearl, this treasure, mine, city of gold, not made of gold, ears wide open, there’s nothing golden about this place apart from the constant digging, not even the illusion of marblellous riches enanimated in the fictive states of the ridiculous shopping malls.
Not gold, not quite. Rather: an alloy, its outer appearance resembling a cur’s dirty hide. Sniffing here and there, always searching. For. What for, you ask, still in the car next to me driving towards one of our multiple homes, what is all this reasoning about. This place is, but more than that it is not and it is not yet. That’s probably why we fall for it every time we complain. This place is demanding, it pisses you off and lures you back in at the same time. Keeps you tight between its thighs. Like lovers do, all smiling. And you know they look different in the morning, you add, yet if it’s love as meant to be, random manifestos of beauty, you don’t see it. Skip the plural, I insist- it’s one, my dear, though multiple. Hell, how did we get in here?, you ask now, tired of talking. And out?
And out we step after we parked, locked, fortressed the car, a step up to these streets bursting with meaning and the compulsory fights over them, exclusion and empowerment holding hands, and before night is about to leave us it mildly donates a sticky moment of certainty on my doorstep, fading as sure as it will return when the lights finally close their eyes gracefully. Not gold, not quite (but who would complain).