The moment I spotted Janet last Saturday, my mind raced back to the days when she and I were students at a boarding school.
Back then, Janet’s claim to fame was being best friends with Sibongile, the school’s most popular girl. Along with many other boys, I would have kissed the dusty ground Sibongile walked on. I was however painfully aware of the fact that such action would have done nothing to raise her assessment of me. She and I were worlds apart.
Sibongile hailed from the affluent suburbs. I was a product of the crowded townships. She spotted designer clothes that accentuated her shapely figure. I wore oversize hand me downs that made me look smaller and shorter than I really was. According to our missionary teachers, Sibongile’s accent when she spoke English was impeccable and soothing to the ear. Mine was said to be unclassifiable and grated the ear.
‘Never mind,’ my English teacher assured me, ‘we are here to civilize you.’
The missionaries thought my accent was not the only thing needing their civilizing crusade. They set up various evening clubs to address our backwardness. When I saw Sibongile register for the dancing club, I did likewise.
Given my background, I looked forward to being made the club’s assistant dancing instructor. Before coming to boarding, I sold wild fruits and cigarettes at the township beer gardens. During that time, I watched patrons from the rural areas perform various African dances. With friends, we later tried out the dances and coached each other. By the time I went to boarding I had mastered several dances.
‘Can anyone show us what you can do on the dance floor?’ Mr Undy, the dancing instructor challenged us on the first evening of the dancing club. The dining hall tables had been rearranged to line up along the walls, leaving a large dancing place at the middle. I strode forward and announced that I would perform amabhiza traditional dance.
There were no drums but a friend improvised and drummed on a table. I sprang into action. Both my feet shot up and down stomping on the floor like a galloping horse. My hands jutted up and down pointing to the roof, my entire body shook like that of a possessed sangoma, and I charged towards Mr Undy like an enraged warrior.
Mr Undy threw up his hands in horror and backed away. ‘No no no!’ he shouted. ‘That is not dancing. Too vulgar and vigorous! Fortunately I am here to teach you respectable dances. Waltz will be our first dance.’
When we were paired I manoeuvred myself to be with Sibongile. On our first dance, I brought in the passion and quick moves of amabhiza into waltz. I quickly realized waltz is a little different from amabhiza. I trampled on her toes a couple of times before mastering the dance. Within a month Sibongile and I could float on the floor with the grace of a pair of eagles performing mid air displays.
I strove to show her that contrary to what Mr Undy had said, I was not vulgar. I handled her like an egg. When dancing, my hand lightly touched her wasp-like waist. No part of my body was ever less than a foot away from hers.
In between dances Sibongile and I discussed decent subjects like school work, the Bible and our noble dreams for the future.
I hated it when we swapped dancing partners. Nothing was wrong with Janet, my alternate partner. My fury sprang from the way a chap called Zenzo danced with Sibongile. His arm tightened round her waist, creasing her dress. He jerked her close, forcing her pointed breasts to crash against his chest. He thrust his foot forward, forcing his thighs to brush against Sibongile’s. How vulgar can one get? Of course he did this when Mr Undy was not looking.
So much for waltz being a decent dance, I seethed. In African dances boys and girls never touch each other. Had we performed African dances only, Zenzo would never have had a chance to indulge in such indecency.
All these thoughts raced through my mind last Saturday as I greeted Janet beneath the Joshua Nkomo stature. Janet and I sat down on the concrete benches below the stature and we laughed out loud, reminiscing on those boarding days. I did not mention Sibongile. Girls resent it when you show too much interest in another girl.
We were about to part when Janet remarked, ‘by the way, why were you cold and aloof when dealing with my friend Sibongile?’
‘What?’ I frowned.
‘Maybe not aloof but certainly too formal. The poor girl was crazy about you. She used to moan that you saw her just as a sister or a study mate. Your topics with her were limited to school work, the Bible and some hairy fairy ideas about your futures.’
As she spoke, Janet’s face became blurred and her voice trailed off. I blinked but the ground suddenly started spinning. Worse was to come. Joshua Nkomo’s stature dived down towards me, his head coming for mine. I ducked but it struck me on the forehead, sending a searing pain right down to my toe tips.
Seconds later, I tried to pick myself up from the ground.
Still in a blur, Janet tried to help me sit up. ‘Are you alright? You hit the floor with your forehead.’
The stature had jumped back and was now pretending to be gazing north.
‘Where is Sibongile now?’ I asked.
‘In Harare, but I….’
‘Excellent. I am going there on Tuesday. Give me her phone number.’
‘I don’t think Zenzo will be overjoyed to see you.’ Janet said. ‘He married the poor girl and between you and me, that beast often beats her. Anyway, here are Sibongile’s details.’
She handed me a business card.