Fufu was hated by women because according to them she was, pardon the Neptunese, a scuz. Fufu was loved by men because, erm, her heart was in the right place. It resided behind two monoliths – Fufu’s ticker – two majestic moai each with a stiff, wrinkled sniffer.
“But this woman, though. Who wears leggings, yellow ones to boot, with a bandeau crop top?”
“She does, the fornicatress. And then she goes around wigwagging her lopsided back seat.”
“Dude, that Colleen from the third floor is so cool.”
“Too cool, my man. Not as stuck up as some of these other ones.”
Fufu lived alone in her sister’s flat in Johannesburg. Her sister had one of those jobs that send people hopping all over the place like toads on TIK. She paid the rent – big sister – and little sister ran the coop. Twenty-two and childless, the chrysalis that was Fufu was in no rush to shed the cocoon and start fluttering about on her own wings. She had been looking for a job for a long time. Not hard enough, to be honest. Every once in a while she would wake up early – her early was anything between half past nine and quarter past eleven – and douse herself with perfumes. Then she would descend from her third floor perch and go shambling around the CBD laying copies of her CV all over, wind eggs that never hatched. Furniture stores. Government offices. Pharmacies. Retail stores. Internet cafés. She was down for any kind of job. At the end of the sleeveless errand, which would be at about thirteen thirty, she would wipe her hands on her curves and start picking her way back home. That honey made it clap, as ill-bred youngsters say, like a polar bear on a pogo stick, and she wasn’t even jigging.
Fufu’s sister’s pad was a dinky little bachelor with a large window slash large glass door opening into the balcony. Why the builders chose to have such a huge window opening into such a small balcony no one knew. That tiny little teacup of a balcony was Fufu’s covert. She was forever perched up there, watching the city. The city down below was always busier than a colony of roaches. All different kinds of creatures crawled over the place, stinking up the place as they went about their day. Pickpockets. Churchgoers. Unemployed people. Vendors. Jobseekers. Couples. Children. Lost visitors. The whole jambalaya. She sat up there for hours at a time, eyeballing the restless poor human creepy-crawlies. Often, a knock on the front door flushed Fufu out of that open bolt-hole. She always knew who it was. It was the same old stuffed shirt coming to bother her every single time.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Fu. You know it’s me.”
“What do you want?”
“Let me in.”
Fufu would open the door and Sydwell the janitor slash caretaker slash admin guy would step inside, sniffing the air like a hound. And he would plonk himself on the bed, totally pretending not to see the king-size couch that took up some twenty square metres of the flat. He would sit there tapping his foot on the carpet, making small talk with his eyes on a spot on the wall all the time.
“You don’t come here when my sister is around, Sydwell.”
“And you don’t know, Fu, how very close to death those days always take me. I become a bloody wreck.”
“I think you should stop coming.”
“But you’re breaking my heart now, Fu. I can’t not come here and live. This here flat is like my infirmary. Think of yourself, Fu, as Head of Dispensary.”
The janitor always came and, forgive the Bermuda Trianglese, discharged the blunderbuss to that spot on the wall. That roscoe never came out of the holster, though. The man was an insufferable, eternally-in-oestrus bore, but he was not a full-blooded cad. That thing on the wall that Sydwell came and eyeballed till his pants swelled and he had to rush back to his flat one level up (to squeeze the wick out of the candle, no doubt) was not so much a spot as it was a scab, an area where paint had sort of bulged off the wall but not peeled off.
The first time Sydwell had seen the scab he had come to deliver a ‘Scheduled Water Supply Interruption’ note to Khatu, Fufu’s sister. He saw it on the wall while Khatu was signing an ‘Acknowledgment of Receipt’ form on the clipboard. Next thing that mot heard was a thud on the floor. She looked down, the clipboard slipping out of her hands, and saw the demi-landlord flailing on her carpet. He was like an entozoon in a pisspot. He moaned and mewled, and mewled and snorted. His armpits sort of, Pangaeaese alert, queefed. Khatu had never seen anything like that. She had no idea what kind of first aid to dispense. She tried to touch him and hold him still but the corner of his waist, and he was a skinny old fart, caught the svelte jane’s right hock and sent her teetering across the room. She was stopped by the closet. She turned around and found that the old man had stopped fitting. He got back on his feet, the factotum, and got on with it like nothing had happened.
“So, have you signed?”
“Are you okay?”
He picked up the clipboard, held it up in front of his eyes and squinted like he could hardly see.
“You’ve signed. Good. The interruption will only be for five hours. You’d better take a bath right away.”
And he turned around and flounced off, clipboard tucked under his arm.
Sydwell stayed on the fourth floor, alone, in a one-bedroom manse. Corner units were much bigger than middle units, and they were properly partitioned dwellings, not open-plan caves like the bachelor pads. There were ten units on every floor, each with a brown door and a frosted bathroom window on the facade. He claimed he was not married, even though he wore a ring on his left hand.
“It’s not a ring, Fu.”
“Well what is it, then?”
Sydwell bent his four other fingers, leaving only the one wearing the piece of jewelry. Not intending to, he zap-signed Fuluwhani.
“It’s a neckpiece. This oke’s a complete being.”
“I don’t understand. You mean … this finger’s not a part of you?”
“He’s not a finger, Fu. He’s an excrescence. A harmless hanger-on. His name is Independence.”
Independence wagged a few times. Sydwell told Fufu he was saying hi. Fufu was sceptical. She had heard all kinds of them before, but never that one. She shook her head repeatedly, murdering invisible mosquitoes with her weave. Annoyed by such scepticism, Sydwell clucked like a turkey.
He slalomed across the semi-cluttered apartment, Fufu in tow. He stopped when he got to the glass door that led onto the balcony, and stepped aside to make way for his tail. She stood beside him, arms folded under Stonehenge. It was time for a demonstration, an Independence special. Sydwell grabbed Fufu by the waist and nudged her outside. He remained inside. Fufu was about to ask him what’s the meaning of this when he started pulling up his t-shirt. The lass frowned, cringing in anticipation. The last thing she wanted to see was the emaciated, unwashed torso of the janitor. It never got that far, luckily for her. Instead of taking his shirt off completely he stopped pulling it up when it covered his face. Stomach exposed, face completely covered, Sydwell groped for the opening and stuck out an arm.
“Independence. Ask him questions.”
Fuluwhani frowned, and looked around to see if there might be anybody looking. There was no one. All the other balconies of the other apartments on the same floor were empty, teacups with no spoons sticking out of them.
“Okay. First question. Umm … are you sure he can hear me?”
“Fire away. He’s listening.”
“Ok. Now tell me, Independence: who is the president of Tajikistan?”
“Now will you just be serious for a second, Fuluwhani? This is not a game.”
“Tell me what to ask him, then.”
“Test him on what he can see.”
“You mean to tell me … ?”
“Yes. He’s not blind. He’s got eyes that see as well as yours and mine.”
Independence was on fire. What is the colour of that bus down at the robot? White. What is that long word on that banner? Quintessential. What is the name of the song playing next door? Just a Little. How many fingers am I holding up? Nine. Of course, Independence could not talk. His language was ventriloquism, and he spewed forth his answers through the mouth of his host. Defeated but hardly convinced, Fufu shuffled back inside. Sydwell pulled his shirt back down. There was every mark of smugness on his face when the old countenance came out of hiding.
“I want to lie down. I think you should go.”
Fufu had been to Sydwell’s apartment many times, but had only ever been inside once. Sydwell always hosted her at the door. She only went there when she needed something specific anyway. Sydwell, do you have an extension cord I can borrow? And Sydwell would close the door, go get the extension cord, come back, open the door and give it to her. Sydwell, I know your English is very good. What is the meaning of yuppify? Never heard that one. Okay, thanks. Sydwell, umm … never mind. I forgot what I wanted to ask you.
“Just look at her, the ho, throwing herself at that man.”
“I have never seen such shameless whoring. How old do you think she is?”
“But that honey from the third floor, dog. Dang. Do you think that greybeard’s tapping?”
“The old fart? You gotta be screwing a stop sign. That babe’s not like that, dude. I’ve spoken to her a couple of times.”
The one time that Fufu had been inside the janitor’s apartment she had invited herself in. Sydwell had closed the door in her face again and gone back inside to look for whatever doohickey she had come to borrow that time. She had turned the handle, pushed the door and stepped inside. A shuffler by nature, she made an effort to lift her feet. She followed Sydwell all the way to his bedroom. That apartment could have been called Valles Marineris the way it was so vast and oh so empty. There was hardly any furniture in sight. The door of the first bedroom was closed, the other one wide open. Fufu tiptoed to the open one. She stood at the door and took a peek inside. What she saw in there, well, she had never seen anything like it. Sydwell’s bedroom did not have five springs and a headboard, never mind a whole bed. There was a shakedown on the floor, a duvet spread across the carpet with a couple of pillows side-by-side up top. But that was not even the most striking feature of the room. Umpteen figurines were lined up against the wall, each just a couple of inches taller than the mopboard. They were figurines of old people, all wearing formal clothes, all standing with their backs to the wall and all staring straight ahead. There were a few old women, but most of them were men. There must have been about two hundred of those statuettes in that room. Sydwell, who had been standing with his back to the door, unaware of Fufu’s presence, was not a happy blighter when he turned and found her there, her eyes scouring his sett.
“Who gave you permission to come in?”
“Sydwell, you always come into my flat. Do I ever ask you for your dompas?”
“Back up, please. Let’s go.”
Fufu treated the old folks to a quick Parthian going-over. She regretted her lack of interest in art. She wanted to congratulate Sydwell on his brilliant collection, but her poor art argot failed her. She turned and sashayed back out to the living room. Sydwell stamped after her, cussing quietly under his breath. He was still moving when they got to the living room. He thought he was leading Fuluwhani out, but she had other ideas. She hit the brakes and stopped, and he almost bumped into her posterior.
“No. I think I want to stay a while. I’m sick to death of that drear dogpot.”
“This is not an amusement park, woman. Go home.”
“I’m staying. Just for ten minutes.”
There was only one chair in Sydwell’s living room, and, instead of a TV, a radio set sat a la The Thinker on the TV stand. The radio was unplugged. There were two china vases in the corner, neither one with flowers in it, and next to them a huge mirror. There was a cupboard in the living room too, because the living room doubled as a kitchen. And there was a stove and a sink. But those should hardly count as they were a part of the building. All the apartments in the building came with standard furniture. Nothing else in sight belonged to Sydwell.
“Well, if you’re going to be in my house for more than five minutes, which I will have you know is not a good idea, then you’d better take a seat.”
“And where’re you gonna sit?”
“For the entire duration of my visit? I don’t think so.”
“What do you think I am? A gimp?”
Fufu insisted. She was not sitting down until Sydwell himself was seated. And she was only going to start counting her ten minutes when they were both seated. The janitor moaned like a yeti on a chute-the-chute. He did not appreciate Fufu coming in without his permission and acting like she owned the squat. Chairs were for guests, he argued. He was the host, and guests had no business telling their hosts how to acquit themselves and what postures to strike. A wasted little speech. Sydwell shook his head like the defeated man he was. He prepped himself to spit out a colourful, famous little word that starts with a voiceless labiodental fricative, but changed his mind at the last second. All that came out of his mouth was a lengthy ffffff that died a slow, shapeless death. He looked at the cupboard for a long time, like it was an ex-lover he had just bumped into and was at pains to remember her name. Half an aeon elapsed before he doddered over to the cupboard, opened it, stuck in a hand and pulled out a pile of planks. Fufu eyeballed her host with all the curiosity in the world. Without using one tool, the old man started working. Brow puckered, Sydwell rigged up the most rickety chair anyone that side of the Tropic of Cancer had ever seen.
“Is that it?”
He did not answer. Instead, he dragged the contraption across the room and placed it next to the other chair. He lowered his body but did not sit down. He sort of squatted above the scaffold, leaving about two inches between that wonky chair and his hindquarters. Fufu shook her head slowly, as though to avoid cricking the neck, before she plonked herself down. Her curves bulged out of the open sides of the plastic armchair. She folded her arms and turned to look at Sydwell with the whole Milky Way in her eyes, as though she expected him to start telling her the funniest story ever. Sydwell kept on staring straight ahead, his face blank. It was the guest who shooed away the silence.
“So, why do you not have a TV?”
“I don’t trust those people on TV. They look at you and … and … and smirk like you have pooped yourself.”
“That is not true. You’re being silly.”
“Tut. I know what I saw.”
“The day I threw out that useless heap of rubbish. They were making fun of me, the bastards.”
“Well put on the radio, then.”
“I would. But the clunker’s gone and lost its voice.”
Silence again. Sydwell was evidently not used to playing host, for he was not running around plying the callipygian jane with fizz and fodder. He just squatted there, staring at the voiceless radio set. He could have been riding a horse the way he was sitting or, begging your pardon, taking a dump. Bored, Fufu dredged her cell phone out of her brassiere and checked her messages. As always, no one out there was missing her. That gismo was only good for showing the time; otherwise it was a complete husk. Fufu was stuck with the janitor. She pushed the dud back down the great gulf that both separated and conjoined the moai, and went back to making conversation.
“Do you really not have a wife, Sydwell?”
“I’m too old for girlfriends.”
“I’d rather not talk about children.”
“Do you not get lonely?”
“I get tired, then I go to bed.”
A middle-aged woman came to see Sydwell at least once every month. The demi-landlord always wore formal clothes, but on that one day of the month, when the zaftig lady came calling, he put on shorts and a golf shirt. He did not care if it was cold or hot. He would have looked uber-dapper had he not been such a bony creation. He never let that woman inside his apartment, now that Fufu thought about it. He always met her in the lobby. He would come flying out the turnstile the minute she stepped in the building, grab her by the waist, and off they would go. But he always denied, when his tenants asked him, that the lady was his inamorata.
“She’s a prospective tenant.”
“But you never show her around.”
“I’m in charge of many buildings in this city, boy. That frau doesn’t want to live in this here spittoon.”
Fufu had spent about half an hour in the janitor’s digs trying to squeeze the truth out of him. The stuffed shirt would not budge. Frustrated, she had got up and left Valles Marineris in high dudgeon. Sydwell had not chased after her. They did not see each other for a few days after that. Good thing he bade his time and let a few days pass. That jane was ready to turn him away at the door. She even knew what she was going to say. Go away, you dog. This flat is not big enough for you and your secrets.
The janitor waited long enough for that mot to cool down. When he next showed his old mug in Fufu’s neck of the woods she had forgotten that she was angry with him. He knocked, she opened. He stepped inside, and foremost on his mind was his phantom lover on the wall. He wanted nothing more than to be reacquainted with her. Fufu asked him many times what that swelling reminded him of, but not once did he deign to provide an answer. It did not take long for him to be worked over that time. His eyes landed on the spot and he started fitting right away. He groaned and grunted, and snorted and farted. He was like Argentinosaurus coming out of extinction. Fufu did not do a thing. There was nothing the poor lass could do. She just watched. The sight no longer shocked or embarrassed her. She soon found she had reason to be concerned, though. The old man was in pain. He writhed and thrashed. You’d think he was in a gas chamber the way he was carrying on.
“Sydwell. Talk to me. Sydwell.”
It was not long before a rubbery lump escaped out of his left trouser down at his ankle. The shapeless issue started zipping about the place like it paid the rent, now hitting the ceiling, now bouncing off the wall. Ping. Pong. All over the place. It seemed to grow larger as it went. That crazy thing moved like a rubber bullet. Flubber would have looked like a gran next to it. Sydwell, wide-eyed and looking proper pissed off, chased it all around the house.
That thing was having too much fun to stop. It kept bouncing and zipping all over the apartment. Sydwell jumped up and down, filling his hands with clumps of air. He sprained his ankle but that did not stop him. He was bringing that thing down if it took the last breath out of him. Fufu had never seen such determination in her life. When he finally ran out of breath he resorted to cursing. Son of a canine. Motherhugger. Bell-end. None of it helped. It was when he finally screamed, so loud his larynx almost snapped, “Get your shit together, dammit. I’m your father!”
That was when the flying gunk stopped fooling around. It hung in the air for a couple of seconds before falling on the bed. He sprang forward and put both his hands over it. That thing was powerful. Sydwell had to strain his calves to keep it still. A few minutes elapsed before the death rattle came, a man-sized burp that nearly rent the roof. And then there was silence. Fufu moved in to see what the thing was. Sydwell was reluctant to show her what he had under his hands, but she was having none of it. He relented, realising she was not going to let him leave without showing her his catch. He slowly lifted his hands and, what do you know, it was a figurine dressed in formal clothes, just like the ones in Sydwell’s bedroom.
Fufu’s eyes could have exploded into her brain. She could not even whimper, never mind spit out a full-blooded word. Sydwell picked up his latest child, put him in his pocket and started making tracks. Disgusted, Fufu took out the sharpest knife she could find and started scraping that stupid scab off the wall. It was high time. She was at it for so long that by the time she finished you could almost see her neighbours through the hole. Out of breath and worn-out, you’d think she would have taken a nap after all of that. She didn’t. She locked the apartment and went outside for a rare walk. The human roaches were crawling all over each other. Fuluwhani swayed her curves and disappeared in the swarm.
Works in a bank; studied Psychology and Public Management & Administration; lives in South Africa; writes fiction; has one published book – Planet Savage – published in 2011 by Jacana Media; currently working on second book; has registered with a South African university to study his MA in Creative Writing. Wants to write a full-length feature film in the next 5 years.