‘Let’s go out tonight. My treat, Ingrid.’
‘But what’s the occasion, Mandy?’ came a rather mousy, withdrawn and serious voice.
‘Oh, Ingrid, it doesn’t have to be your birthday or an anniversary or a promotion or something like that. When you live in a city, people go out and eat all the time. There’s no room for the mentality of a small-town brain like yours anymore. You have to think out of the box now. You’re living in Johannesburg now.’ Amanda laughed. ‘You’re such a mouse. You should meet Scotty’s Samuel. He’s also a mouse. Mouse people belong to mouse people. I’m a cat person.’
Yes, Ingrid thought to herself. I’m living in Johannesburg now. After all, I’m a city girl now, so, I should act like one.
‘What was growing up in Swaziland like?’ asked Ingrid, glancing up at Amanda while she perused the menu of the fancy Italian restaurant.
‘Boring but I had my freedom. Should we have wine with our supper, Ingrid?’
‘No, no wine for me. To do what?’
‘What? What did you say?’
‘You said you had your freedom. I asked, the freedom to do what?’
‘To go about and do as I pleased. Sometimes me and my best friend in high school, her name was Susan, we’d sneak off and play truant or meet boys or smoke, I guess.’
‘Everybody does that,’ said Ingrid.
‘Did you do that?’ asked Mandy, with a half-smile playing on her lips.
‘No, of course not.’
‘You, were a goody two shoes, weren’t you?’
‘I believed in honouring my father and mother,’ said Ingrid.
‘Please, don’t do that. Please, don’t quote the Ten Commandments at me. Okay, seriously, I always knew that you were kind of religious.’
‘We took that very seriously in our house. Going to church, reading from the bible. Be serious, Mandy. Not everything is a joke. Not everything about my life, I mean.’
‘Okay, I’m sorry about laughing at you. Don’t take me so seriously. I’m interested. Why’d your parents take religion and church so seriously?’
‘Why?’ Ingrid replied, ‘It was how I was brought up, I guess, Mandy. With values. With norms and values, that were important to my parents.’
‘So, my parents didn’t raise me with values, is that what you’re saying?’
‘You’re different. We’re different, I mean. You’re the extrovert. You were just brought up more differently, Mandy. Give me a smoke.’
‘Maybe I shouldn’t.’
‘Oh, just give me a smoke.’
‘Maybe people would think that I’m corrupting you or something.’
‘I just want to try new things. I want to live.’
‘You need to meet someone if you want to live. Ingrid, you’re in the bright lights of the big city now, girlfriend. There’s this guy that you might like. He’s a friend of Scotty’s. I mentioned him before to you. His name is Samuel. You’d go gaga over him if you met him.’
‘So, tell me this, Mandy. Okay. Why’d you think that the two of us would hit it off in the first place?’
‘Well, Ingrid. You’re both kind of introverts.’
‘You mean we’re both kind of goody two shoes. Too serious.’
‘Samuel is a catch and he’s a man. He’s lovely, really he is.’
‘So, Mandy. Then why aren’t you dating him?’
‘Samuel is really sweet and nice and all of that but I like a bad guy in a leather jacket.’
‘Yes, I can see the attraction you would have to them, Mandy.’
‘Where’d I meet this Samuel?’
‘In a nightclub. You interested?’
‘I told you what my life was like in high school.’
‘More people than you think life was also like that in high school.’
‘Not everybody is as popular as I thought they were, is that what you’re saying?’
‘Something like that, Ingrid. People fall in love for all the right reasons and they get married for the wrong reasons, Ingrid.’
‘Listen to Mandy. I’ve been around plenty, Ingrid. I’ve got stories. People find love, fall in love, and marry for the sexual impulse, babies, and then they tell each other that they’re doing it for love, or they move in together for the first time, that’s just lust.’
‘Okay, I’m following you.’
‘Then it’s as if they lie to themselves. There’s this big, fake lie and they call it inseparability, they can’t live with each other and they can’t live without each other.
“Okay, I have heard you.”
“Wait, do you have a nickname?’
‘No, I don’t have a nickname. You don’t think that “Ingrid” is pretty?’
‘I don’t know. So, old-fashioned, don’t you think? Like Ruth or Hannah from the Bible.’
‘You mean lame, Mandy. You can say it. That my name is lame. Blame my parents then. They were pretty old-fashioned. Didn’t understand anything about the young generation.’
‘Kept you under lock and key. Do you know anything about men, Ingrid?’ Ingrid blushed.
‘Well, that says it all then. I mean, the blush that you’re wearing, right now, on your face.’
Amanda (‘Mandy’ to her close friends) was just like that. She said what was on her mind. She was vivacious. Wise about men. She was from Swaziland. Went straight from boarding school to university in Johannesburg.
So, that Saturday night, Ingrid fell in love with the first man that she was introduced to, without any second thought. Amanda, ‘wild Mandy’ from the office had said that he was an acquaintance of hers. Samuel was a friend of a friend. Staunch Catholic, so he wouldn’t be all over Ingrid, he was a gentleman’s gentleman. Ingrid didn’t believe her but Samuel, she decided (and it didn’t take her much to decide this), had dreamy eyes. Samuel was also a bit of an introvert and shy. Not at all like Amanda’s beau, Scott. Scotty loved teasing Ingrid. Called her ‘the virgin’. It was wild Amanda (‘Mandy’ for short) and Scotty’s private joke.
‘Your hair is glittering with all of these neon lights. I’m always afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing to a woman.’
‘Is it? Is my hair glittering, did you say that? Are you drunk?’
‘No, no. I’m not drunk. It must be the lights in here. Kind of always disorientate me. You know, you’re really pretty.’
‘Thank you. Did you also move to Johannesburg for the work after university?’
‘Yes, I am lovely, aren’t I?’ Ingrid thought to herself. For, if Samuel said that she was pretty who was she to think otherwise. Ingrid never thought of the lonely Friday and Saturday nights she had spent watching television with her parents. Eating a spaghetti supper in front of the television. They ate spaghetti every Saturday night. Someone had, at last, told Ingrid that she was beautiful (in so many words). She felt alive for the first time that she come to the big city. Out of her parents’ house, she did feel free.
‘Your father is an old man now. You think that this will make him happy? You moving away? You have to look after him now. It’s your turn now. I’m getting too old for these stick-fighting days. He’s set in his ways. He’s built up these habits, stubborn as a mule, he is, over all these years. I am too old for this. Too old to look after him. Don’t you understand, Ingrid? It’s your turn. If you want me to beg, I’ll beg. It’s not beneath me. Girl, you don’t know that you have a responsibility towards your father. I’m getting old. You never listen to me. Not even when you were young.’
‘All the colonial masters are still in parliament, you know. It’s not safe out there, for you, my girl. It’s dangerous. Men are sharks. Men are sharks, I tell you. Just listen to me. I know you don’t care to listen to me anymore but I am still your father. I know of the world and the world doesn’t really care for the life of a girl. I can see you rolling your eyes, at me, even when I can’t see you. Here’s some free advice. Don’t go around with a married man and even when they say they aren’t married, don’t believe them. I want you to remain virtuous.’
‘I can’t be his little girl forever. I need to breathe too. I need to live. Experience freedom and love. I want someone to tell me that I’m extraordinary and beautiful. I want to be a success. If I stay at home, I’ll be a nursemaid and a caregiver forever. They don’t want to let me go. Can’t they see how unhappy it is making me? I’ve never burned a dance floor up, you know. Not even when I was a teenager. I was too busy sitting at home alone on Friday and Saturday nights.’
‘I don’t believe that for a second.’
‘Well, it’s true, Samuel. Life was like that for me, before I met you.’
‘Before you met me.’ Samuel Larkin said the words slowly. ‘I wonder what your parents will think of me.’
‘Why are you repeating what I’m saying like that?’
‘No reason. No reason at all, Ingrid.’
Knife wounds heal but words don’t. Especially the floodgates of them. That satellite language of them. Swimming within your reach and then not swimming within your reach.
There’s an emptiness in birthdays after the mid-thirties in a young woman’s life. As if a foot or a leg has been amputated. Yes, she thought to herself, thirty is still young.
To escape from the hurt (and from her mother, Ingrid thought it needed to be said, she thought), she would move to another city (and she did this in her twenties). She would move to another city, find another. A lover, discover a new level of intimacy when she made love and in that new relationship she would be reborn, forget past winters, flying solo under the radar of the new city.
They had decided to double date. Go to the dam on Saturday afternoon. Ingrid knew that the guys would just carouse. The girls would go swimming and sunbathe.
‘You’re going to be so brown, Mandy.’
‘Do you have sunscreen somewhere in that bag of yours? To tell you the truth, Ingrid, I’m burning.’
‘Anyone want a drink? Babe, did you pack the sandwiches?’ asked Scotty.
‘No, we’re going swimming. The sandwiches are around here somewhere. I remember I did pack them. Open your eyes, Scotty.’ Amanda grabbed Ingrid’s hand and whispered to her, ‘I need to talk to you.’
‘Babe, I can’t find the sandwiches?’
‘What do you really think of Scotty, Ingrid? Do you think he’s father material?’ Mandy whispered to Ingrid as she rubbed her pink arms.
‘No, I just want to know.’
‘You’re not in the family way, are you?’ Mandy looked away then, teary-eyed.
‘So, Mandy, I guess you didn’t pack the sandwiches.’ Came Scotty’s voice from far away.
‘My parents know. My father doesn’t like Scotty. He would never let me marry him. I’m going to go away.’
‘Just like that.’
‘Just like that, Ingrid.’
‘But surely, you’re old enough to decide what to do.’
‘Oh, Ingrid. I can never seem to depend on the men in my life. This is what happens. This is what happens to you when “summer loving all night long” happens to you.’
‘Mandy, whatever happens. I’ll support you.’
‘I’m too young to have a baby, Ingrid. How am I going to cope?’
‘You’ll survive. Worse things have happened to girls’ our age every day in this country.’
‘Really? What’s worse than giving something away that’s a part of you? That will be a part of you for the rest of your life? Please help me, Ingrid. How can I be nearly thirty, in my late twenties and want to not have a child?’
‘Oh, Mandy! Women have lost their minds, or their husbands to the war or the mines or to wine and taverns or to other women.’
‘I know you’re just trying to make me feel better, Ingrid. I mean, I do feel better but lost too and a kind of emptiness. I can’t change Scotty. He is who he is. At the end of the day, we are who we are. Look at him. He lives for this. To have a good time.’
‘Yes, I guess I have to agree with you there on that one.’
‘To be surrounded by men and women who worship him. To be the life and soul of a party. I know I wouldn’t be able to change him into a father. Into a husband who didn’t have wandering eyes. Chasing skirts. Flirting with his secretary daily. Of course, you know that I love you, Ingrid. You’re my closest friend. You’ve been such a good friend to me over these past months.’
Ingrid wanted to dry Mandy’s tears, take her into her arms then, and kiss her lips and say, ‘I love you too, Mandy. You’ve changed my whole world. If it wasn’t for you, I would still be in Port Elizabeth. I’d be this tragic case.’ But she said nothing, as if Amanda had said nothing about Scotty being a bad father and a terrible husband. As if she had said nothing about going away. About having Scotty’s baby. She turned her head away from the scene of the day, next to the dam, turned the shape of her body as if she could twist it out of reach of Samuel’s hot gaze, and just searched her bag for the missing sunscreen.
Pushcart Prize nominated for her fiction “Wash Away My Sins”, Abigail George is a South African-based blogger at Goodreads (link on Piker Press), essayist, poet, playwright, grant, novella and short story writer. She briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the recipient of writing grants from
the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, the Centre for the Book in Cape Town and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council) in East London. Her writing has appeared numerous times in print in South Africa, in various anthologies, and online in e-zines based across Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, Ireland, and the
United States. She is the writer of eight books including essays, life writing, memoir pieces, novellas, poetry and a self-published story collection. She lives, works, and is inspired by the people and mountains of the Eastern Cape of Southern Africa.
Featured Image Credit: jurek d.