The heat is as familiar to him as the smell of Hudson Street.
“Hey my sweet,” he pats the neck of his hound, then scratches his own neck absently where fleas have left red welts: a slow version of swatting flies that have long gone. The two of them sit on the cement bench looking out across the bay, their familiar spot. Jack, a small version of a pointer, nudges his back into Samuel.
The light is fading fast, and the shadows of the couple holding hands on the beach elongate: feet large at the waters edge, tiny bobbing heads further up the white sand. The sun is almost behind the mountain that guards the beach and its secrets, but the tar steams when drops of ice cream spill from the cone of a girl heading toward Jack. She seems eager to pet the dog but veers off suddenly as she gets close. Samuel notices pink drool on her chin. He shifts, a little uncomfortable, and tries to hide his grubby bandaged foot behind his good one. It’s been days since he had a wash.
The beach parking lot fills up: Children, dogs and lovers run to the water’s edge, sea sparkling in the dying sun on this hot February evening. A man uses driftwood to carve a heart into the wet sand and the woman with him decorates it with shells. Side cafés dotted along the promenade send tangled wafts of Malaysian curries, vetkoek, waffles with blue gum honey, fish fingers and fresh dark roasted coffee into the air.
A car drives past playing an old hit. The words are perfect for the moment: on a hot summer’s night would you offer yourself to the wolf? He looks around and she enters his vision with those pouting lips and dark eyes, whirling around, taunting him just a little and then laughing. His lady. She is so beautiful. She was so beautiful.
“Come Jack,” he says to his dog, “let’s get some of that coffee from our Francis.”
The sky is ablaze with shades of deep blue, yellow and orange. It is as if the sun wants the world to know it will return soon, a finale of fireworks. Francis sees Samuel hobbling towards her stall for his usual cup of roasted beans. Her little shop is the brightest in the line of makeshift stalls. Colourful cloths hang down on either side of the serving counter, the cool breeze flowing through the transparent cotton.
“How you doing love?” he enquires, his lips curling ever so slightly to hide his missing teeth. She has the same dark eyes as his lady, but her mouth, yes, her mouth is Samuel’s.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Samuel. I bought you a special mug to mark the occasion. The twinkle in her eye is home if he ever had one.
Samuel takes the gift and blushes. He wants to tell her but the words don’t come. They never do.
“Happy Valentines day, Sweetheart,” is all he manages. She laughs and turns toward the hiss of the pot.
Catherine Shepherd was born in South Africa in 1970 and graduated from Rhodes University in 1992. The end of Apartheid was the highlight of her young adult years and still inspires her to this day. Although she started writing poems and reams of short character descriptions as a child it was only recently through Rachel Zadok, ‘Short Story Day Africa’ and ‘Writivism’, all part of the amazing African Writing Community, that Catherine got the courage to put her writing out there. In 2013 her first short story ‘Joy Ride’ was published by Black Letter Media. She was mentored by Tendai Mwanaka.Follow @JaladaAfrica