Tropical Fish

Mapule Mohulatsi


Writing a telepathic love letter to her is a current mood which constantly shifts me between one beer, the next, with gusts of bipolar and a lingering depression. The mood is one of a love lost and spent in remembering love songs. Love songs. In the ghetto we would surrender to Metro FM only to lose ourselves. The gaping hearts of our mothers would be left open after Eddie Zondie had played us into his corroding heart – Whitney Houston, Maria Carey, The Manhattans – all would take shape in our mouths and we would howl, mimicking our mothers, whose lovers ushered out on a cold Sunday, a drunk Wednesday, a Hungry life. Love songs in the ghetto are scribbled in notebooks since the urgency of memorizing the lines is too great.

We sing them to the girls we admire; only we are alone when we do this. We imagine ourselves on huge stages – “Yoooou make meeee whooooole …” – And when we sing, the longing in our eyes is bigger than the colour of love. It becomes more than a love song to a girl you like. It’s a song to pain, loss, and dust. And most of all nostalgia, nostalgia becomes a thing. Of course, I remembered Vertigo. She is the reason why I, cold, am clutching, searching for warmth in beer bottles. A Phantom. A fucking phantom which seems to know too much about the delusion of feelings.

I mean I saw her once. Twice. Maybe three times. Yet I hate her and the gushes of pain she sporadically sends across the rooms of my now barren heart. Her silence is reflecting, matching mine. I do not know this woman, and yet it is not insanity which brings her to me, she is real. A real phantom. Almost tangible. I met her already with the eyes of a prostitute and what was her girlhood was lost and vanished in an abyss of a certain confusion- about her – Vertigo, and since a prostitute is a woman shared by an amalgamation of men whose souls are not fit enough to become decomposing bodies in the tombs the earth keeps for us, I guess she – or rather a lost sense of herself – left herself there, in those deep oceanic, lost, certain, and brown eyes.

Vertigo, I figure, was captured in the sashaying personal histories, dresses, eyes, hearts and losses of summertime ladies… I met all three of them together. The three prostitutes, Nigerian, simmering under the Suns skin, waiting.

One: standing, smothering under the Sun, lazing around, hoping, her bare feet touch the dusty earth and send a mirage into the barren still air. Her legs are dark and long with the whites of her feet starched in comparison to the blue shine of her skin. Her shirt is vintage, brown, creased and unwashed. Tall. One is tall and always her men see her as a pyramid of Egypt.

Her nickname, Nomalizo, reminds them of the deep oasis which makes whoredom a fundamental part of human life. Her dirt is to them eternal, sanctifying them, and they watch with wonder as infinity warps itself around her cold and impressive smile. Her men – usually the lazy and unoriginal type, fall in love with the way her body seems to fall with sexual ecstasy that reaches the peak of corporeal madness as if she has gone mad and not them, as if they had given her something. Her falling and heavy breasts, and kneaded toes, her inner.

Two: sitting with a leg sticking out from under a purple tight dress on a red stoep. Beautiful , and bored. Her oval face ornamented with a longing against restraint . Her purple dress makes the stoep redder than it usually is – which is her secret power – enhancement. The stoep is red because it was painted red in the blooming years, not a well-kept polished red, but red, still. Her relaxed hair is forced into cooperation by a skilled Vaseline that glimmers like the lost sons of Cairo, her fingers are playing, her eyes gleaming with all sorts of colour.

She is a lover lost, a woman who wanted something and seems to have forgotten what it is. South Africa, to her is a paradise for lost dreamers. She wants everything. Her lips are bigger than her breasts and all ordinary men assume she is a good singer. Now if a woman looks like a good singer, clearly she can fuck. Her eyes are the wonder of all, they shine, despite her dirt. Her small and dark hands are fiddling and her bare feet are filthy and this is because really, shoes are for a special occasions. She has no bra on, just.

Three: standing with her back leaning against a wall, looking nowhere really but looking, tight jeans, a head wrapped scalp, clean face and scorching lips, coral… Vertigo. She loved lipstick, bright red, no matter how dirty she was. There is a downfallness about her. An abyss of secret histories and divine revelations that make men weep with the fervent mirth of the ageless sin – just sex. Belonging, Vertigo was belonging. She was not beautiful, in fact she looked as if she had never been beautiful. She is the oldest and purest, and I am a purist. I never thought I would fall for anything like her. Especially a foreigner playing hide and seek in the blood red streets of xenophobic Soweto. But the way in which she–

Vertigo and her sisters, I called her Vivi, and had no idea where she had gotten her nickname from but that was until, an incident from my occasional visits, I saw the worn out dictionary on her dilapidating chest of drawers. Vivi and her sisters were the beaded warriors adorned with blood stained skirts of a fervent mirth. The howling ghosts of wrath sat on their skin. Black power. Their lips were rounded and full, painted with the ancient tragedies of woman. Eyes woven with the archaic prophecy of their kind, a God was lurking in their eyes. The word ‘beautiful’ is too simple; they looked like masquerading Abyssinian empresses – dangerous, wretched, knowing, hurt, Hot! They did not look beautiful because they were clean; they looked beautiful because they were dirty, not ashamed. They stared back at the stillness of life with a vivid indifference. A vivid indifference to both pride and shame. They knew something. Their divinity was scorching, blatant, too honest for the eyes of an open man.

Their inability to grasp the language became attractive. Their super black skin and open poverty. Their pride. Those whom allowed desire to drive the forsaken nature of need into desperation were deceived of all the signs of difference. They may have looked the same: Black, Poor, Rouged, Tropical Fish! To me right now they are made of dust. Their bodies have no shapes, they are amorphous. And I guess it is also so for the men have that have been captivated by the wretchedness of these whales; men that have made homes and succumbed into the wombs of these women only to birth themselves. We buy them beer, clothes, nail polish, shoes, magazines, all the assumed paraphernalia of a feminine cuisine.

Yet, the women stare back with a vivid indifference. They remain dirty and unfurnished, by choice. Their hair is a crown of kaffir, unrelaxed, like the souls within their bodies. Untouched: unlike the bodies. Unloved: unlike the bodies. I remember that the house that they were sitting outside of had a broken fence which circulated the house, the earth is dusty and quick to jump, and there is no gate. It is one of those houses made by the boer government when it had been faced with the problem of landless and houseless Africans. And when some of these landless and houseless Africans of Soweto saw the first vision of freedom they got better houses and rented these out to foreigners.

The door of the house is a fading pink. The house is not really a house, but a two roomed brick thing with a red, fading red, stoep at the front. The whole yard is surrounded by dust that does not settle. In August, when there is wind, the house is eaten by a tornado of debris and dust, and still, you would always see the three Nigerian prostitutes with rouged lips. The dust hangs in the eyes of many who visit the house. It is a sad lingering dust. The toes of the three Nigerian prostitutes are wrapped in it, unable to breath. Days have been good. Mothers have lived and raised families. Grass has grown here. Sundays, captivated and full of colour, food, family and all the objects that anoint an unbroken life have once lived in this fading house.

Some were my friends and were children, like me, who were sent to Cuba and learnt how to save lives, except their own. After us and our now well to and newly dressed families, the prostitutes have owned the house and it seems that the history of their presence in the house will last for centuries – centuries that will eventually reveal the personal histories of their bodies, centuries that will outlive them and even though Nigerians are not allowed to own anything in South Africa, the three harridans have inherited this house and all its secrets. And it, the house, has done the same for them. All sorts of expensive cars will continue to park there, all sorts of gang mini buses park there, all sorts of a lot, will park there. Vertigo. Vertigo was mendacity. The lie of a black body that had manifested throughout generations. A She Woman. A hole.

The figurine that had for so many nights coiled in the insides of many generosities, educated hands, and dismissals of patience as we washed ourselves into the boldness of her nudity. Like an apprentice painter in the midst of inspiration we had touched and almost tasted the sick and broken, scattering and arrogant division of dawn and morning on her skin. Vertigo was the mutilated stone that lay on the barren earth of the awakening soil; our eyes when we meet her were downtrodden and sought refuge in the bosom of the dry earth which bred her. Her skin is a stone, the eye of the stone. Rolling. Her tongue wrestled with jazz in the tower of Babel, her lie, captured us. Vertigo. The Fall of Men. Another beer. Eve’s apology, her naked skin. She is mendacity and the power it is birthed in. And mendacity is truth.

First published on ITCH – The Creative Journal.
For more by Mapule Mohulatsi, check out her website.

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