“This girl, Margaret…when I met her she was cleaning toilets at a public library. She was at the edge of poverty. And now she has the audacity to even consider writing books about me? I am revolted!”
Thabo quickly realised that this rant required more than the sweet lubricant of an almost warm beer. He needed an audience. For the first time since he arrived, Thabo lifted his gaze from the beer before him and the empty bottles that stood abandoned beside it. He turned his head to search the bar for someone lucky enough to be an audience to his wisdom-building sorrow. What he found instead was a barroom filled with men whose eyes were glued to the screen before them. They were definitely far too interested in the English Premier League game to be torn away from it by even the frothiest promise of beer. Thabo turned his attention back to the bartender.
“Sipho! Sipho!” he motioned to the bartender to come to him. ‘Sipho’ was not his name, but the bartender came anyway. Thabo did not seem the sort of man one corrected. Though Thabo had only been in Piggs Peak for two weeks, he had built himself a reputation as a trouble-maker. It was not quite as respectable a fear as his reputation in Manzini had provoked, but Thabo was grateful for the small moments of power it afforded him.
Like now as Sipho The Bartender said, “Nkosi,” and fastened a stiff smile onto his face.
“Yes. I was saying about my ungrateful wife—or shall I say, ‘ex-wife’? I know such a thing does not exist in your culture but I’m sure you can imagine what I mean.”
Sipho The Bartender’s expression remained unchanged, even as he began to collect the empty beers at Thabo’s side and throw them in a nearby bin.
“What I am saying is this…people have such short memories. You do something for them and they forget as soon as they get the chance!” he said the last sentence loudly; simultaneously proud of his great wisdom and disappointed that the only audience he’d have for it was an uninterested barkeep whose English proficiency he was unsure of. He continued anyway.
“Before me, Sipho, she was nothing. Nothing, I tell you! She could barely speak English when I met her—and now she thinks she’s too good for a man of my calibre? Matlakala!”
Thabo had lived in Swaziland for almost three years but still peppered his sentences with seTswana when he became impassioned. This was particularly unavoidable when he became drunk. Not that he cared to avoid it.
“If you expect me to be ashamed of my language you are about to get the shock of your life!” he once said to Margaret on a particularly lubricated night.
After all, he considered himself a man of great principle.
That morning, Thabo had gotten a phone call from some soft-voiced man that claimed to be a journalist from a South African paper. The man, whose name Thabo forgot as soon as he heard it, claimed to be calling to interview him about something called ‘The African Bull.’
“Yes?” Thabo had said, making sure to sound as annoyed as he was. There was nothing Thabo hated more than being called on his phone before noon. Everyone knew not to call him before his first drink, and normally he kept his cell-phone off until well into his second glass of whiskey, but ever since Margaret had left him he’d begun keeping his phone on all hours in the hope that she would come back to her senses and call to take him back.
So far the decision had brought nothing but trouble—debt-collectors, jilted lovers and drunks he met at bars, blew up his phone like it was a police station line and he had seriously considered selling the damn thing just the day before. So, I’m sure you can imagine that our comrade was in no mood for Soft Voice.
“What do you want?” he grumbled angrily as he searched the trousers nearest to his feet for a pack of cigarettes.
“Yes, sir. I’d like to hear what you think about the book”
“What book, sisi? Did someone foolishly tell you I review books? Don’t waste my damn time…” Finding a pack of almost crushed Marlboro’s in his front pocket, Thabo had straightened up to begin his search for a lighter.
Unoffended by being referred to as ‘sister’, Soft Voice had soldiered on flatly, “Are you not Thabo Sediba, former husband of Neo Mosigi?”
“Who?!” Thabo was now more confused than angered. “My man, what are you on about?”
“Neo Mosigi has written a book about being married to a Thabo Sedibi from Botswana. You are the only Thabo Sedibi in Swaziland, correct?”
Thabo mumbled an affirmation, but his mind was focused on trying to overcome his customary weekday hangover for long enough to sift through all this information for sense. ‘Neo Mosigi’? It came to him like lightening to a bewitched man.
“Are you talking about Margaret Sediba?” he said, now slightly calmer. Mosigi had been Margaret’s surname before they got married. And Neo was her middle name. When had she changed it?
Soft Voice cleared his throat before saying, “I’m not sure…did she write a book called ‘Being Married to the African Bull’?”
Thabo promptly vomited in the rubbish bin next to his desk. The desk where he had finally found his lighter. It had been cushioned beneath his leather-bound notebook and the Swazi Telecommunications phone directory.
That’s when he allowed his phone to slip from his sweaty palm almost immediately and landed into the bin along with his liquid dinner.
And that was the end of Thabo’s hope.