Grieve, so you can be free to feel something else.
The above quote has become my mantra. I lost my best friend two years ago, today.
I never fully unpack a suitcase until I have used all its contents, or my mother demands it. She has since given up and lets me trip over it for whatever period I spend at home. I would be dishonest if I did not mention the fact that my suitcase moonlights as a bar “fridge”. You see, my favourite thing to to en route to Africa (read Zimbabwe), is to stroll through the Duty Free shop and buy a few (like 2 or 3, calm down) one litre bottles of vodka. For some reason, the Duty Free store stocks variations that you don’t see at your local liquor shop and this makes for interesting holiday buzzing. Anyway, I’ll purchase those and hide them in my suitcase. This will explain why, during my Africa stints, you will likely find me at home babysitting the same tumbler of Mazoe with tons of ice. All day. I think my family has chalked it up to extreme homesickness and finds it endearing that I love our national drink this much, which works for me. To be honest, I’m surprised inyongo hasn’t killed me yet.
Anyway, on this particular Thursday morning in January, at the height of summer in Africa, I packed the last of my belongings back into the suitcase I had been living out of for the past four and half weeks. Except for the now empty vodka bottles. Those I stashed into my ginormous “purse” so that I could dispose of them in a bin that didn’t belong to my mother. Yes, I’m 27. No, I will never drink openly in front of my parents. Please stop asking me why. As I packed, I cross referenced with my list. I pack with a list because I’m an adult that needs order. (I can feel the judgment). Fine, I pack with a list because I’m afraid of forgetting things. As I zipped the bag up, in my mind I scheduled the day’s appointments and calculated the time I would have to say goodbye to my friends before dashing to the airport.
Father had loaned me his car – mostly because Mother doesn’t let anyone drive her car and, honestly, with the calibre of drivers in our household, I do not blame her. I lined up my luggage in the foyer for quick transfer later, and gently carried my handbag and its contraband contents to the car before my mother heard the telltale sound of clanging bottles and ordered me to lie on the ground with my hands visible so she could conduct a thorough investigation. (cue sirens).
This is funny because that is almost exactly how this would have gone.
I had breakfast, (okay, chocolate cake) at Mary’s Corner with a childhood friend who is now married with three children. (Two at the time). The most beautiful boys and a girl. We spoke about how different our lives were and she showed me pictures of her sons in uniform and I had to all but bat my ovaries down. And here I was jetting off to singlehood and general debauchery in the Cape with blessed little to be responsible for. I remember feeling a bit awkward because all my stories began with atrocious giggling due to the the sheer ridiculousness of the tales, whilst hers were homey, familiar and most definitely involved an assortment of baked goods and consistent cuddles. (Sheds thug tear).
I then sped off to the Tin Cup. It may or may not have been before noon, but I was on holiday and as my body was now 40% vodka anyway, who was I to deny my parched throat? I recall sitting near the window with one half of my favourite cousins (yes, twins) downing ciders and eating the fries from his girlfriend’s plate. Side bar – she and I hit it off that day. So much so, that she once carried an order of Chicken Inn (KFC but better) from Bulawayo to Cape Town for me. Legendary stuff. I had a 2 o’clock meeting with Natalie at the Boma (is it still called the Boma? The one at the dams?). Please note, I rarely drove around my city, and I never did it tipsy. So picture this; It’s I.50pm and I have a 3pm buzz going. I’m recklessly racing towards the back entrance to the dams, I keep missing the turn because, well, buzz, and she is texting me like I’m a slow 13 year old. She was so rude to me. I mean, she had no regard for my adultness and general respectability. I loved that. If a stranger ever read our texts, they’d wonder why we even bothered.
When I finally walked up to her table – it really was hers. Apparently she had a corner that she’d claimed. It was by a bench, in a corner, with all the cushions. her slops were on the floor and her legs dangled from the seat. And she’d ordered me wine. Come to think of it, that may be why we were friends. All the wine. But that wouldn’t explain that horrendous Spice Girls performance from grade 4 after that one breaktime. She was Posh spice (of course), and I was Scary Spice (another of course). It went quite well I think, after I’d stopped crying because Joanne had kicked my shins for some reason or the other.
The wine wouldn’t explain NRZ – the rap trio she, Zola and myself formed. Our one and only hit was a bunch of slick lines spat over makeshift drumbeats to Busta Rhymes’ “Touch it”. Our tag line was “NRZ, keeping you on track”.
Gosh, we were so cool.
The wine wouldn’t explain the break times we spent harmonising to Destiny’s Childand Ne-yo with Zola (DRAMATIC). Or how we slayed our first live performance of Fever at Isigodlo Samakhosi. Or how after that performance, she caught me canoodling with what I can now confidently describe as a “not my type” boy outside. (In my defence, he played the guitar, so, what choice did I have?) Or the way we spoke about that night for weeks afterwards, because that was how exceptionally boring our lives were.
The wine wouldn’t explain the heart-to-hearts we had in the prefect’s common room (I had to drop that in. Thank goodness I did not peak in high school because, wow). We’d head up the wooden stairs to what I imagine used to be the attic in the house that was now our school administration headquarters. And there, during our free periods, whenever we found ourselves alone, we’d share our deepest secrets. And I don’t mean the standard, predictable teenage angst-filled boy nonsense. I mean, there was plenty of that, but sometimes, really deep stuff. Existential crises and fears of inadequacy. Even then, she was years wiser than I. She gave the most sound advice and to ease the silence, she’d tease me relentlessly about the length of my school skirt.
I remember settling in next to her on those cushions that summer’s afternoon and reading one of her journals. She wrote all the time. So honestly. Some of it left me speechless. I cried. She cried. We then laughed hysterically about the folly of our youth until the waitress side-eyed us from her station – although there wasn’t anybody else there. I remember leaving my wine for her to finish because I’d been summoned by Mother and was petrified of missing my flight and having to explain that I had been side tracked by grapes. I popped some chewing gum to disguise my activities and left. She remained to write, she said.
She yelled out my childhood nickname as I climbed into the driver’s seat. I rolled my eyes and waved from the window as I drove off at breakneck speed. Probably not the wisest of my decisions. My heart was happy.
That was my last memory of Nat. Happy. And Lord, so beautiful.
2 weeks later, I woke up to the news. And my world hasn’t been the same since. Yeah it hurts a little less every day, but it still hurts.