[OPINION] The story with stories
“I’ll be home in half an hour”, ‘He’s like an allergy”, this is the sort of loose statement that one hears when you let your ears wonder about a place like the Kimberley Hotel. There are a couple of middle-aged men having a catch up on the benches outside, and inside, three youths (I’m 34 so I feel like I get to say that now about anyone who is round about the age of your average student), sitting and sipping brandy and Cokes. They look like they’ve been there since the bar opened earlier that day – it starts serving alcohol at round about 11pm. They are dissecting the use of the word “pardon”. As in saying “I beg your pardon”, instead of “huh?” when you don’t hear something someone says to you the first time. “My mom taught me to use that word ages ago”, says one of them with the stringy hair and chipped nail polish. Outside, we find a seat next to the two catch-up okes. “He is definitely not going to be done in half an hour”, we say. “He’s totally lying to his wife”. We were wrong. He was more prompt than a trigger-happy Donald Trump dissing the New York Times on Twitter after reading something they printed about him.
I make my second trip to the bar to get drinks. It’s a hot day and we’re waiting to walk across the road to the Book Lounge for an event. It’s packed now. More students, construction workers who haven’t yet taken off their overalls, a parking guard with blood shot red eyes just standing in the middle of the cheap casino carpet. He doesn’t look like he’s waiting to order.
How strange, that just in about half an hour, I am going to be surrounded by a room full of “cool” white people, who are too cool to admit they are pretentious. And we’re all going to be there listening to the same old stories instead. When right here, in this old establishment, real narratives are just waiting to be told. I am dead certain that given half the chance, the vest clad car guard in the room could stand in the Book Lounge instead and recite something so epic that he would become a Langston Hughes on the spot.
One of the opening lines at the event: You make writing look easy. Immediately the words: Maybe because she has been given the opportunity to write, spew into my head. “Filth”, I think. “So have you Haji”, I remind myself. This doesn’t change the fact that the same voices bait the same audience. The Langston Hughes of the street would tap into a whole new readership. Well, that and obviously a group of savior, new age, arm chair liberal white peeps – also a very cool thing to be. In my opinion, you’re as good as all the times people tell you you are. Sure, there’s the trigger-happy Twitter users and the machine gun insults on comment sections. But the people who get the opportunity to humble brag at events like these, well, you can’t steal away from the fact that they’re there because they’ve been told they’re great. It means something. It does. And they are really good writers, I take nothing away from that.
The sign on the inside of the door of the bathroom says: This toilet blocks easily. I waited a long time in line at the Book Lounge to see this sign. Maybe that’s what it’s like for beings who are waiting to tell their stories. They’re waiting in line. And in the meantime, everyone else is blocking the toilet. I emptied my bladder after waiting patiently for someone to have an intimate moment with Snow White and emerged to a room filled with more Snow Whites (the people kind). It’s ironic, we’re all here for a book launch of a collection of poems that has been published by a place called uHlanga Press – owned by white peeps. uHlanga is a Zulu word which means: is the marsh from which humanity was born. This event has birthed no Zulu humans. The book is an assemblage of found poems. The crowd is here to listen to the unified Gregorian chant of what I can only describe as hmms and aaahs, sourced by the author from emails and other platforms, and communicated by others. She brought the borrowed words together and composed it on a broken computer writing as quickly as she could. I wonder what the car guard has heard, I wonder what his found poetry will look like, I wonder if he has a broken computer. I bet he wishes he could publish the far more interesting stories he has heard and tie them all together with the soft spine of an amazingly designed book.
It’s recitation time, and one of the lines of the poems being read to the audience is: “After swimming the lengths of the Long Street Baths”- I like this line.
Everyone gets published these days. Even me. I think I deserve it. That’s arrogant and completely contrary to what I am trying to say here I guess. I get it. But without this opportunity, who am I?
The person standing in the middle of the casino carpet floor, nothing to order, everything to take in, no opportunity to tell – I can only hope.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.