The Love Docket: How Joburg men almost broke my heart and then handed it back to me.
So, will you be my girlfriend? He asked, sitting on my couch the day before Valentine’s Day. I looked at him and laughed, wishing he would ask me again. ‘’Yes’’, I said, ‘’of course I will be your girlfriend’’. I felt like my 13-year old-self. ‘’You should make him wait, that was too quick a response’’, said the voice in my head. ‘’Now he knows you like him and you are exposed’’, it continued. ‘’But since we are defying gender roles in this relationship, I would also like you to ask me to be your boyfriend’’, he said. ‘’I’ll think about it’’, I shifted, trying hard to find the balance between my pro equality feminist self that was okay with that and the role that formative education taught me – that of being the docile receiver of male affection, a role that has been cultivated to feign female power and wasn’t okay with having to ask him to be my boyfriend.
We had known each other for 8 days, had gone on several dates and I definitely liked him. But I had not been the girlfriend of a South African man in 9 years. Between my last boyfriend at the age of 20 and this brave soul, my intimate involvement with a few men of my country had been nothing more than a series of situationships that grasped at varying degrees of mental and emotional trauma and one-dimensional sex, devoid of nuance and tediously sporty.
The day after Valentine’s Day, I still had not uttered the words ‘’my boyfriend’’ to anybody because that’s a difficult fact for a black woman to believe and a dangerous stake to claim, let alone state. A lot of black women usually give their lovers social media monikers like ‘’my smile keeper’’ or stick to pronouns like ‘’him’’ or ‘’he’’ instead of actual names. It has to do with a trust that is pathologically lacking in our relationships, at the bottom of which is a fear of being let down either by being unfairly treated or violently hurt. While women have developed their own weapons for hurting men, ours don’t have statistical reflections that give credence to the narrative of the male aggressor nor do they have posters to encourage women to stop hurting men.
In an effort to navigate my new status as a girlfriend, I decided I would do something that a girlfriend in love is likely to do. I decided to make dinner, put it in a skaftien and deliver it to his house. It was more about my enjoyment of playing this role rather than his hunger. My intuition wasn’t so keen on me going there because I had already seen him that morning. It would have preferred me to pine passively away from him. When I parked my car and watched him come out of his gate towards me, the feeling I had made the food with was overcome by many feelings of awkwardness. I stayed in the car to signal that I was just coming to drop off the food and not to waste his time. He told me to get out of the car, to close the door and to stand with him in the street. His dog came to greet me and I melted into the moment. I was happy and felt good about my gesture. We decided to sit in the car to talk about the new status of our relationship and how awkward these first days can be. It felt like a scene from my childhood when I would watch the older girls sitting in cars with boys, talking in soft tones, their smiling faces lit by the orange haze of street lamps.
We sat in the car talking in these soft tones, me in the drivers seat and him on the passenger seat, windows open and music humming, when I saw him say the words ‘’no, no, no’’ looking above my shoulder. When I turned my head to look behind my shoulder, a man whose face I can’t remember cocked a gun in my face and opened my car door. Another man with a gun in his hand opened the passenger door and the pair of long legs I had been caressing, leaped out of the car. I screamed and bent down looking for my glasses, my head firmly placed under the steering wheel. The slight sensation of a gun on my back and the words ‘’keep quiet’’ released me from brace position and I got up and walked out with my hands up. A cold realization of what was happening had me searching the other side of the car for the tall figure that had been next to me just moments before. A fourth man jumped into the drivers seat and struggled to start the car. ‘’How do you start this car?’’ he asked. I can’t remember whether it was in English or Zulu. I stood on the passenger side, next to my fellow victim, surrounded by three guns, so used that they were grey, and shouted instructions of how to start the car. The bearded man in a conspicuous jacket couldn’t hear me and I told him I’m going to come inside the car so he can hear me. One of the gun wielding men pushed me into the passenger’s seat and put his hand on my shoulder while I helped his associate start the car. It didn’t take longer than 30 seconds. I had left my apartment wearing a housedress with food stains on it, bra less and in flip-flops. As two men jumped into our seats, a third one frisked me from shoulder to ankle, ever so gently, as if he was considerate of me, and said something followed by the words ‘’my sister’’, while the fourth did the same to my companion, who repeatedly asked them to at least leave my house keys.
As soon as they left with my car and the smell of his dinner, he held me closely under a tree while I heaved into his chest. He grabbed my hand and didn’t let go, even while we drove to the police station in his car, skipping robots and flying to safety. He held it as we climbed the stairs to the Jeppe Police Station and grasped it even tighter as we sat across three detectives who were taking my statement. ‘’Who is this man?’’, asked one of the detectives eventually, looking up from writing my statement and straight into my eyes and then his and back to mine again. I froze, not wanting to be too presumptuous, and the words couldn’t come out. ‘’Is he your boyfriend?’’ he questioned. ‘’Yes’’, I said, ‘’This man is my boyfriend’’ and I proceeded to state his name and surname while he clung to my hand.
A week later, my new boyfriend and I laugh about our love docket, in which the words ‘’my boyfriend’’ appear four times. We are thinking of going back to the police to ask for it, so that we can frame it and remember the daily South African moment that helped us fall in love.
This appeared in City Press on Sunday 1 March.