“Meet him,” Mike said, “I think you’d both get along.”
But he stood me up. “Give him another chance”, Mike said, “He’s…well…he’s different.”
And so I did. And we talked until the stars came out and the moon rose. We talked about the colour of sea sand at night. And of books. And of the hard mash of life. And how tough it was to see the truth of others. And to be seen.
Dreaded Outsider. Literally. I remember thinking he looked like Gary Oldman, and that if he didn’t have the dreads, I’d kiss him.
The next time I saw him was in a Jozi parking lot. He arrived with an arm full of books. Ayn Rand, Ronnie Kastrils, Irving Stone. The dreads were gone. I wondered at the twisted humour of the universe as he kissed me in the late afternoon light. My lips burned. Books and stolen kisses will do that to a girl.
I kept him at arms length, I don’t deny it. He lived with an intensity that scared me witless. He asked questions I didn’t want to answer. He let slip the pain that had carved him out of the world and left him standing outside it.
We shared phone calls that would go on for hours. Me in the bath, him sitting somewhere in the Transkei dusk. Invariably, his credit would run out, and I’d phone him back. And curse him when the bill came. But it was worth it. Those long, rambling conversations.
He start, always, with “What are you reading at the moment”, and then we’d fugue and rift from there. A jazz note of words that swirled and ebbed and flowed until we touched the raw places. Until, inevitably, one of us said goodbye. Usually me.
He wanted to paint me. To make me curries. To buy me books. He had nothing, but he wanted to share everything. Such generosity, such hopeful optimism. That one chicken curry would change everything. The right combination of spices and heat would melt my stubborn reserve. And maybe it would have.
But he was there and I was here. And when finally we were in the same place, with time and space to say the unsaid, I was raw with sadness and he was bruised and battered by life. Not sleeping, drinking, staring at me as if he could find the thread that would unpick me. I said, “You’re too intense, I can’t handle it.” His response was to ink my name across his beautiful, freckled skin. And I did what every sensible girl does. I ran, and ran and ran. Until the vast Karoo lay between us and he found love and comfort in another. And our lines of communication lay silent and thrumming with “maybe”.
And now he’s dead. Cold and gone. And those maybes lie dark and heavy in my heart.
Tent man, beatnik, beautiful dreaded soul. I loved you, Dreaded Outsider. I still do.