“No Angelo this is my time, my time” Venieva said but Angelo didn’t hear. He was on the phone with a telesales person on the balcony of Tobre’s second floor flat. It was on the drive back from the airport when Angelo’s phone rang and he was still on the phone after we had driven home and we had carried the bags upstairs and Venieva had began to unpack. We all got presents of various sorts, from an iPad and a netbook, to warm clothes and naughty underwear and Tobre and I were very excited (to be fair Angelo only got clothes). But Angelo was pacing up and down and searching the view, the way people do when they are on the phone, patiently explaining why he couldn’t take on any insurance from the telesales person.
Angelo had once before worked in telesales. He knew what it was like to phone up strangers and tell them what they wanted. He was familiar with the discomfort it brought and how it can eat you up inside when you invaded people’s privacy day after day. He felt empathy for the sales person. He knew what it was like to drag yourself through a week of phone calls chasing targets for modest rewards that were paid to you at the end of the week, after all that self loathing pent up inside of you, only to be spent on clothes, drink and entrance fees and then find yourself back at the call centre on a Saturday morning shift short of sleep and hung-over.
The salesperson was a woman, of course. Briefly, she was another woman in Angelo’s life in addition to his mother, his daughter, the mother of his child, his grandmother, his sister, his friends and his colleagues and many women more. She was stretching out the conversation with him, holding on to her piece of him, his voice, his empathy and the boundless depths of his understanding of her sad life.
“This is my time, my time!” Venieva yelled at him from behind the glass sliding door.
And then of course there is Venieva. For all the claims women have made on Angelo, none can say they shared a childhood with him they way she did. None of them can boast about afternoons with him in his mothers bedroom trying out his mother’s clothes, or racing through her magazines and making claims to shoes and dresses, for page after page. “That dress is mine”. “Those earrings are mine”. “I saw them first”.
Every Sunday afternoon Venieva would return from her ou Ma’s house, where she was obliged to spend her weekends away from her mother and Tobre, and run across the street to Angelo’s house without as much as a glance over her shoulder at her own mother and sister. Yes there were other kids on the street and she played with them all. But whatever the crowd or the configuration, there was always two people at the centre of it deciding which will be the next game to play and who cheated on a round of Dan-Dan.
And who, other than Venieva, had fought with him as many times? Who was it, soon after she had ran over to Angelo’s, would return with her arm over her eyes crying a snotty little cry? It could be none other than Venieva crying over her dear friend Angelo. He could be nasty of course, like all boys were. He once jumped over the fence to intercept and deliver retribution to the girl next door when she thought she could run away after she had made quarrel with Angelo. On occasion, after Venieva would come home in tears, her mother threatened to take it up with him or his mother but nothing ever came of it. Besides, the mothers were good friends and good neighbours. And then there was the time when the three of them were making mud-cakes behind Tobre and Venieva’s house when Angelo said something truly bad about Venieva’s cake and then (or shall I say “and then and then and then” the way Venieva would) Venieva put her foot in Angelo’s cake and then quickly ran into the house to hide and locked the door behind her. Angelo was so mad he took some of Venieva’s cake into his hands smeared it over the wall of the house to make an angry screed. Then it was Angelo that ran home across the street.
Or what about the time when they made Tamaletjie. Venieva, Angelo and Tobre cannot meet and not tell about the time they conspired to make Tamaletjie before aunty Mona got back from work. With kilograms of the precious reserves of sugar that was supposed to last the month, in the kitchen, they made homemade toffees in a pot. Apart from Tobre’s constant fretting that mummy would be back at any moment and they would all be in trouble, everything was going fine. That was until they poured the hot candy soup into ice trays over the sink which caused the plastic to melt instantly and stick to the sink. While Venieva tried to clean the mess up in a panic, Angelo laughed and Tobre jumped up and down saying how she told them so and so they were all going to be in so much trouble. Or maybe it is only Angelo who is laughing when they tell the story and in actual fact they were all quite terrified about their prospects at the time when there was melted plastic all over the sink. But when they do tell it, Tobre looks guilty and Venieva has on her face that mischievous smile. The smile she had on her face when she sprayed wood polish about the room without polishing any tables to give the impression that she had been cleaning the house.
Angelo lives in his mother’s house, with his mother and his Ouma, aunty Daisy, and up until recently his sister and her husband in the house in the back yard before she moved to Cape Town with the kids. Tobre and Venieva bought a house in Cape Town when they sold the house across the street from Angelo after their mother had died. But when they moved in, Venieva and Angelo’s mothers, those houses were theirs and no one else’s. They were young teachers with young children who had told the father’s of their children to fuck off and were living lives of their own making. Bethels Dorp was a new area then, growing by the street up Stanford road into the farms and the veld away from town. Many houses stood open, waiting to be occupied or were only partially built. And then there were the show houses. These were the three basic designs that were furnished, though unoccupied, that displayed to potential buyers of coloured Port Elizabeth what life up the hill along Stanford could be like. On Sunday afternoons the houses stood open and Venieva, Angelo and Tobre would claim one each for themselves in a fantastic game of let’s pretend. For the rest of the day then they were grownups, living their lives with their own homes and just next door from each other and showing off their cheap furniture that they had just bought on lay-by. They would visit each other and admire each other’s houses and make small talk in the kitchen.
“This is my time.”
We went shopping. What else is there to do in Sandton on a weekday afternoon? After we had pulled Angelo off the phone finally and each grouped our presents into little heaps. We went to that sprawling and cavernous network of shops and corridors that is Sandton City.
“I must have service, I must have service!” Venieva said at Edgars. None of the pretty and thin girls in the make-up section had been quick to try out a foundation on Venieva’s cheeks and she was put out.
“Yes Queenie, don’t worry, we will find someone for you,” Angelo said.
His tone was snarky as if he were the shop assistant in a small boutique dealing with the shop’s most important and most impossible customer. As if it were a scene out of 7 de laan. Angelo plays all kinds of games. Sometimes he plays along with all his friends until the club is closed and the whole gang of them go on into the night and block by some kloof and take their drinks from the boot of a car or get another party started at someone’s house. But he can start games too.
Angelo told us about the time when they were about to close down his branch at work. “In the interview I was just rubbing my knee and I just kept rubbing and rubbing the same place. And then I told them. I said “how can you do this?” I said “How can you just come in here and ask us all these questions? How do you think this makes us feel?” And then they were very sorry. They even apologised to me. Can you believe. And then afterwards those other guys who were in the interview with me said “Angelo we thought you were going to cry?” and I said no I wasn’t serious. I was trying to make myself cry.”
“Yes Queenie” Angelo said to Nieva and she got her service.
Venieva liked being called that. On the holiday, when there was a brief lull in the conversation Venieva would chime “I am the duchess of Ilford”. She would say this with her chin held high in a tone of voice that mocked the proper classes of England and Angelo would laugh. On Venieva’s previous visit from England, she would do mock Chinese accents. She would say “I speak-a da Chinese”. She was a clown and Angelo was always the target audience, even if he was not there to clap. Back in the time of Stanford road, when she wanted money for sweets she would go to the shop close by and tell jokes to the men there making small talk and get paid for the impromptu show. This is why, Tobre explained, Nieva could spend such a long time buying groceries at the shop and Tobre would have to be sent to go find her. Nieva the clown. One night In Durban we went to a Cubana on Florida road and were asked to vacate our table in the lounge area because it was reserved. Angelo was not pleased and we left early with our tip. When we drove past the following night, Venieva rolled down the window and hurled out insults for the whole street to hear and Angelo laughed and laughed.
“My legs are swollen from the plane” Venieva said when the zip on the boot wouldn’t go up to her knees. We were at the shoe sale at Stuttafords. This time however, Angelo had to stifle his laughter. We all did.
Naturally, when a girl falls in love with Angelo she knows she must be good friends with Venieva. It is not that they are jealous but instead they understand, in a way, that what they cannot have with Angelo they could at least be close to in a friendship with Venieva. This is how Venieva came to be close friends with Angelo’s ex-girlfriend. When Angelo broke up with her, the ex-girlfriend, breaking her heart, Venieva was in a difficult position. How was she to maintain her now close friendship with the ex and embrace Angelo’s new girlfriend? Angelo, the understander of women and the breaker of hearts.
While Venieva had her service, sitting on the make-up artist’s high chair with an unctuous application of foundation and eye shadow to her face, Angelo went shoe shopping. Even though he said he was an eight, the shoes on sale across the aisle from Edgars were not easily overlooked, and so Angelo bought not one pair but two, in a size seven. He knew what he liked. He also knew what styles were in. I followed him around Edgars briefly, when Queenie was still sulking for her service, and took careful note of everything he said he liked and which items he looked at. Jerseys with no collars and two or three buttons near the top on the lapel for instance. Those were in. I took note of it all. I still lookout for those kinds of clothes to buy. Angelo always know what it is. Meanwhile Tobre, during this shopping sortie, had discovered a new irritation with me, as if I were a stop-gap boyfriend from school she was embarrassed to introduce to her family. She kept her distance from me in the shop.
When it came to packing the little Ford Fiesta for a road trip around the country, Angelo’s two pairs of shoes came to mind.
“How can you buy two pairs of shoes when we are going on a road trip?” Venieva said. “You don’t even need shoes” she said.
But Venieva only said that to deflect attention away from her own situation. She had come off the plane with two suitcases and Tobre, always the rule abiding and rule making younger sister, said that each of us was only allowed to pack one bag for the road.
“One bag, how do you expect me to have only one bag?!” Venieva complained the night before we left. This was on the night before the road trip and before Venieva had an attack of frost bite on that cold Johannesburg night. She was shuffling up and down Tobre’s small flat, moving shoes and items of clothing – most of them purple – between her suitcase, her one bag and numerous plastic bags. Every now and then as she packed, when she came across yet another item she didn’t know what to do with she said again “How do you expect me to have only one bag?” In the end, she packed one bag for the trip but she also had two large plastic bags filled to the brim to squeeze in as well. Both Angelo’s new pairs of shoes fit in as well somehow, and so too did his collection of clothes and shoes he had brought with him.
After a night of cold feet, stories about relatives and friends and memories about PE, we rose early, got into the car and drove down the N3 to Durban. The holiday had begun.