the smell of soap & glory sugar crush fresh & foamy body wash preceded him into the living room. mothusi, 23, dreadlocked. lanky. black as tar. of no fixed address. walked into the living room, a filthy and threadbare towel slung over his shoulder. he is holding the last bit of a pie in his left hand. he throws this into his mouth. chiedza looks up just as he passes behind the sofa she is cuddled in – under three layers of blanket.
“i’m out. see you pips next week,” and he was gone – smelling fresh and fed. leaving behind the smell of citrusy body wash bursting with kaffir limes, lemons, coconut oil, and vanilla musk.
chiedza laughs. mothusi is their adopted ‘friend-child.’ chiedza picks up the copy of tsitsi dangarembga’s nervous conditions on the center table and starts to read. she isn’t intending on going anywhere this cold morning in june – granny is stuck in traffic.
a few minutes later angela walks in. she has just returned from climbing up kgale hills.
“hey girl! you didn’t lock the door?” she locks the door, puts the key on the key rack by the door, she takes off her sneakers and puts them beside the two pairs by the door.
“hey you. you back early. wassup?” chiedza drops the novel. angela goes into the kitchen.
“i couldn’t stay the whole time, i was famished.” chiedza hears her open the fridge.
“what the fuck!”
“what’s wrong blondie?” chiedza throws all three blankets down, she is on her feet when, angela, naturalized white motswana, storms into the living room, red with rage.
“where is my pie?” she removes the towel round her neck and tosses it used-rag-like on the sofa.
“what pie?” her head is still spinning from getting up quickly. this bitch frightened me so for a pie?, she muses.
“the one from yesterday. i left it in the fridge so i will have it today. it’s gone.” they both go into the kitchen. chiedza groggily so – the fumes from yesterday’s drinking spree are still bouncing around mischievously drunkenly in her head. the fridge door is ajar. no pie.
“well, i don’t know who may have taken it. zanele left before you and i didn’t see her go into the kitchen. you sure you didn’t have it before leaving this morning?”
“very funny.” she prances about in a tight circle by the trash can. stops. opens it. there is the foil bottom the pie came in.
“was mothusi here?”
“yea,” then it dawns on her. “oh no, so sorry blondie.”
the voice in their heads laughs mischievously – it likes mothusi, you see. but it laughing pisses angela off.
“why can’t you batswana ever respect people’s things?”
“excuse you! what did you say?”
“always, you think you own everything, women, men, the road …” she kicks the trash can, it flies into the corner spilling paraphernalia of female monthly amortization and the vexed foil bottom.
“are we still talking about the pie?” drunkenness and blood loss is a devilish combination, and chiedza is crazy enough when sane. her blood rose.
“imagine i stop to let some fool unto the road just now and the idiot doesn’t even say thank you.” she fills up the electric kettle and stabs the plug into the socket. the kettle hissed with wounded pride.
“you expected the person to? is that why you stopped?” the water in the kettle is getting restless.
“no. but it’s courteous to acknowledge something someone does for you – whether the person expects it or not.” angela starts collecting the crockery for coffee – loudly.
“just what is your problem today? first the pie, then the poor driver, and now the appliances. i can’t even hear myself think because you’re making a fucking cup of coffee. what the hell is wrong with you?”
“nothing. can’t believe you let that freeloader take my pie.”
“sorry! he must have taken it when i dozed off. but you know how mothusi –”
“i don’t mind if he thinks this is his place too, because you let him, but you should have told him not to touch my pie.”
“but you never said i shouldn’t let him touch it.”
“so i needed to give you a list of things mothusi must avoid while he is here? look i’m trying to teach you batswana to respect –”
the red moon rises.
“hey, hold it there honky. trying to teach batswana respect?” bloody mary!
“yes! you must learn to respect people’s things. you take this botho thing too far. the other day i’m walking with bojan and we saw mothusi, he was all over me, kissing, hugging and carrying on like he knows me more than bojan.”
“you should have told him to stop.”
“told who to stop, mr octopus? even you can’t tell mothusi to stop. i had to be explaining to bojan that he is like that. bojan was furious. and here i am, without a pie because mothusi can’t respect people’s things.”
“it won’t happen again.” chiedza didn’t know how to defend mothusi.
“it had better not. i am not his mother.”
“you didn’t have to say that. and you didn’t have to say what you said about batswana.”
angela is done making coffee. she hands a cup to chiedza. the aroma hits her like a kiss. caffeine helps to alleviate the extra lethargy, bloating and ease the cramps, you know – isn’t that why some medications for when you’re flying the japanese flag have caffeine added to them? ‘idiot, don’t you know caffeine can increase stomach acid and be rough on sensitive intestines?, angela thinks back. chiedza ignores the sarcasm of the voice in their heads. they both return to the living room.
“i mean, i know what you mean by what you said, but still –”
“what happened to you while i was gone. did aunty flo give your brains to mothusi?”
“nope. i hear you. i have seen batswana in mafikeng, just mafikeng behaving with fear and driving like sane people because they are scared shit of south africans. then they come back here and behave like they created the earth and eve.”
“exactly. by batswana, i actually meant everyone who lives in this society. not just the natives.”
just then they hear zanele open the door and walk in with two huge shopping bags. she drops these by the door and return outside to pick two more. she locks the door and puts the key on the key rack by the door. she walks into the living room and flops on the sofa previously occupied by chiedza. she kicks off her shoes.
“oh my! i am bushed.” looks to angela and then chiedza.
“how are you natives?”
“you call us natives too?”
“oh come on, chiedza, you know what i mean. i was referring to you two.”
“to me too?”
“nope. you two – the two of you. you know what i mean.”
“why are you talking like you didn’t do agric with us in school?”
“what has that got to do with you calling me a native?”
“you cannot recall what mr. matlhware said about native plant?”
“mr matlhware was a dope head.”
“remember him saying a native plant means plants indigenous or naturalized to a given area in geologic time?”
“we are talking about people, not plants. give me an example with human beings.
“there are plants –”
“i said human beings!”
“i was getting to that. there are plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in an area.” she looks at angela.
“why are you looking at me?”
“native, indigenous, naturalized mean belonging to a locality. native implies birth or origin in a place or region. see?”
“no i don’t. the other day i was watching the news and the reporter said something like, ‘natives are suffering from malnutrition in somalia.’”
zanele gets off the sofa, goes into the kitchen and can be heard making a cup of coffee. this chiedza is nuts, she muses.
“and you think native is a derogatory term in that sentence?” don’t let her see that smile on your face, the voice in her head tells her.
“yea. calling them natives sounds undignified and disrespectful. it almost dehumanizes them.”
zanele walks into the living. she is holding a plate containing three chocolate muffins. she offers one each to chiedza and angela. she sits back on the sofa, gets her bag and brings out a journal. she gets up almost immediately and goes to the reading desk by the window. she looks around furiously.
“where’s my pen?”
“oh, so sorry, i gave it to mothusi.”
“you did what? how can you give what is not yours to a stranger?”
“mothusi isn’t a stranger, you know him.”
quite true. he is a native of this house. the voice in their heads couldn’t help chipping in.
“native. that’s so derogatory.”
“why? didn’t you hear zanele’s explanation?”
“i know, but it just sounds so derogatory when you use it to refer to mothusi.”
yea, it reminds me of a time not so long ago when natives referred to tribal people, undeniably lazy, definitely half-naked and almost certainly backward, illiterate and roguish. the voice is fully awake – there must be something in the coffee.
“mothusi would be offended to be thought of in such a way, so it’s best not to use such language when he is here.”
so can i use indigenous because indigenous to me means, here first. the voice in their heads asks. they all ignore it.
“you know native can be acceptable in certain contexts. for example, i was born in gaborone, so i can say i’m a native gaboronean.”
“but to refer to a group of original residents, especially in africa as natives reminds me of the colonial or tribal era and all the negative things that come with it.”
“imagine reporting on a riot from the kgalakgadi and you say ‘the natives are getting restless.’”
Copyright © Fani-Kayode Omoregie 2016
Read the full short story in my collected short stories – Sandbaggers