Wondering & wandering
Around a corner and across from a fern-lined wall that reminds me very much of my mother’s interior decoration books from the 80s, on a bench just too far away from the fixed table for my short legs, separated by only a wall from a table of the-hottest-men-in-suits-I’ve-seen-in-a-while, I sit waiting for a friend. I’m at Clarke’s, a cafe filled with so many beautiful people the friend in question later remarks that we should eat there every Friday. It’s also got coffee so fancy I can’t find a cappuccino on the menu. I am, after all, almost-born and bred Eastern Cape.
“I’m sorry; I’m not au fait with your menu. Can you point me in the direction of a cappuccino?” I ask our waiter, a shaggy blonde they could have lifted straight out of Durban’s Glenwood.
“Ah, that’ll be the Flat White.” He replies. I giggle in embarrassment. “Thank you, just one of those, please. And” – a week before I upgraded to an iPhone – “can I get the WiFi password please?” Data is killing me. I shoot mournful looks at my Blackberry every time my flat’s WiFi cuts out. Cheap-ass piece of crap phone.
“Phillicheesecake” I think I hear him say. “All caps.”
The room, filled now with the usual lunch crowd (read: Wall Street lookalikes in slim fit suits, ‘Fro-sporting models and degenerate designers) buzzes with that brand of Friday afternoon energy that the city bowl secretes weekly. In three hours the work week is officially over and I can pretend to be happy over a glass of wine or nine.
It doesn’t work. Neither does PHILLYCHEESECAKE or PHILLYCHZCAKE.
My flat white arrives and I have to ask the waiter to write down the password in my diary.
“My hearing,” I say, motioning to my ears. “It sucks. I can’t ever hear in these places.”
“Neither can I.” He laughs. I appreciate his joining my temporary near-deaf club and laugh with him. He’s the friendliest waiter I’ve met in this city. Besides my friend, Tom from Van Hunks. You’ve probably seen him, you know. He’s in a bunch of Argus ads on the back of taxis around the city. A curly-haired rocker with fake tattoos and super-arched eyebrows.
The distinction between baked goods and T-Bone has never felt so apparent. Or embarrassing.
My friend arrives in a hurried cloud of frenetic friendliness and apologetic loveliness. Funny, honest and fucking smart, Aléz is one of my favourite people in the Mother City. She gives me a Game Boy cover for my new phone and says sorry about a million times for being the worst friend ever. She’s actually the best. This is a girl, who, outside old P & G one night, took off her scarf and gave it to a homeless man. And she’ll probably kill me for mentioning it but generous people are few and far between. So, the mention is much-deserved. I joined her at Condé Nast for several glorious months of magazine life this year and share with her a not-oxymoronic adoration of fashion and literature. She’s honest and forthright and nervous all at once. I think this is love.
We’re both thrilled with our good looking company at Clarke’s.
“It actually feels like we’re in Cape Town,” she muses.
But now, less than a day later, I feel different. I’m wandering through the city, Chad (current man) in tow. There is no point to our excursion, we’ve eaten breakfast and he doesn’t want to fork out the R50 necessary for coffee and tip. I’m already broke so it’s his call. We wind around Adderley, passing by my favourite building on Parliament – that art deco beauty that is Muller’s Optometrists – head North on Strand, curve up through Hout and Longmarket, bypassing Long and Loop, and end up on Bree.
“This is my favourite street, you know?” I tell him. “Megan, every street is your favourite fucking street,” He replies. “Where are we?”
He’s from the Northern suburbs; I used to work on Loop. I win. Not everything is about winning, but arguments are. Even silent ones are battles.
We’re outside Clarkes. “Want a cappuccino?” I ask.
We walk in. Kombucha’s on the menu. “What the fuck is kombucha?”
He wants to leave. It was a heavy night, we’re both hung over but he’s more tired than I am. Maybe I’m still drunk.
A striking human with a beard, a book and a coffee sits at one of the outside tables. Two walking Wildfire adverts pass us on the pavement; models and more introspective-seeming people mill around. I’m intrigued by how attractive people in this street seem to be, how each restaurant and cafe flow so effortlessly from one to the next. Orphanage, Jason’s, Latitude. There’s just a feeling of intrinsic niceness here. I can’t find the grit or thorn or dirt, unless you count the R22 I have to pay for parking. It’s truly lovely. But it doesn’t make me feel anything but yearning.
Sometimes something is so wonderful it hurts. It’s a pain in the chest, or the gut. The converse is those moments so sad the only way to react is to convulse with laughter. Or smile, shyly. When I was eleven years old I read a book called ‘The Mayspoon Moment’. I can’t remember who wrote it but it was a faultless description of moments of usually-untranslatable clarity; those rare glimpses into that shimmering unknown below the surface of life. If you’re lucky you experience this childlike amazement on a regular basis. But for most people, this springs from an alignment of the stars, or doing drugs or finding Vanilla Coke in your Spar after ten years of craving it. It also comes from being so heartbroken it feels the world has folded into itself and left you all alone.
Just on one month ago my sister’s godmother passed away and I still haven’t cried. Not properly anyway. I’ve just smiled at the mention of her name and shaken my head to make it go away. But now I’m here, in this street, below a mountain so sharp it cuts the sky in two.
“What is wrong with you?” Chad asks, “You look like you’re seeing the city for the first time.”
“I am,” I reply. “I’ve got the Bree Street blues.”
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