In the continuation of our new series Friday Reads that we started with Paradise Within By Noo Saro-Wiwa we introduce a new long read. This Friday we introduce you to Johannesburg, South Africa resident Sydney Majoko’s new book The Webs We Weave which recently came into the market. Our long read is from Man of God a short story from the brilliant collection.
My wife and I decided to call our first baby Blessing. It went against tradition. My parents as the paternal grandparents were supposed to come up with a name. But after what we had gone through, we both decided we would call her what we wanted. We felt she was really our blessing, and after 6 years of trying to conceive her no one could take away our right to name her. Busi and I had gotten married with all the bells and whistles, by that I mean a full traditional wedding and a white wedding five months later. I had not spared a cent in marrying Busi. I’ll be the first to admit, I put the pressure on myself to go big. Busi and I had been together since high school. With a few break-ups in-between, caused by yours truly each time. Our last break-up had seemed final.
Two years before we got married I ‘lost my way’. I had been partying nonstop since I started working. There was no club scene I had not been part of in the Johannesburg area. In fact, I had actually become a part-owner in a now defunct club, Club Taboo. It was good whilst it lasted. It allowed me to live a life that most young adults could only aspire to. It was during this time that I had what seemed like a nasty and final breakup with Busi. Because of my obsession with the nightclub scene Busi had accepted it as inevitable that there would be girls. Not that I’m proud of it, no. Far from it. But Busi seemed to live according to the mantra ‘what I don’t know can’t hurt me’, and it worked most of the time, for both of us. We both knew that things were not kosher, but she loved me and she stuck around, most of the time anyway. And then Dipuo happened. Yes, that Dipuo. The television and movie actress, the songbird. I know what you’re thinking, it can’t be that Dipuo, No. Yes. Her.
Club Taboo, for the three years that it operated, specialised in live acts. One of my two partners was the younger brother of the well-known radio personality, DJ Scent. So we never struggled to get popular acts to appear at our club, for just a nominal fee. DJ Scent was the drawcard. Any local music group worth their salt wanted to appear on a DJ Scent album, but must importantly, appear on stage with him. That’s how I met Dipuo. She had appeared with DJ Scent that evening in our club, and as expected she rocked the stage. After the show we usually hosted the acts in our VIP room, attending to their every need. This wasn’t so difficult when DJ Scent was around but on the night Dipuo performed, DJ Scent was booked to perform at another gig in a neighbouring town. So he actually left Dipuo to finish the show by herself. Once through she headed straight for the VIP room with her three backing vocalists-cum-dancers. When she beckoned me over with her index finger my heart sank, I thought to myself, here comes another prima donna.
The music in the club was always very loud but when she put her arm around my neck and drew me in so close that my nose was practically in her cleavage it caught me off-guard. She was a bit sweaty from her stage act but damn, she smelled good.
“Scent said you will attend to my every need. I want alcohol-free champagne right now and I want you to serve me, not your waiters”, She had relaxed her hold on me a bit so I was looking straight into her big brown eyes as she said this. For a second it felt as though I was in a trance. Her eyes, there was something about them. Some people have sad eyes, some deep, some searching eyes, but Dipuo had smiling eyes. You couldn’t help but smile back when she focused them on you. I was hooked. That night I experienced something I never had before. I’d been attracted to other women, even slept with them, but Busi was always in the back of my mind. I couldn’t shake the thought of her. But that night, for the first time, I forgot about Busi. It was as if she didn’t exist. No one outside of Dipuo existed. I was mesmerised. Why she settled on me I could not understand. But who needs to understand when a woman like Dipuo has set her sights on you?
That night at the club was the beginning of the best and worst twenty-four months of my life. Dipuo took me on a ride I will never forget. To say I was hooked or smitten would be an understatement. This woman was a phenomenon. And no, I’m not referring to her now-famous stage presence. I got to see Dipou without the make-up. Many a nights I slept next to her and I woke up next to her. Although on one or two occasions I had slept next to her and woken up alone. Trouble was, I still loved Busi. With all of my heart, well, the part of my heart that remained after Dipuo took the other. When the first picture of Dipuo and I hit the Sunday tabloids, Busi actually laughed at the caption.
“Look sweetie,” she said pointing at the picture and laughing. “Sultry song Goddess Dipuo and her new plaything. You, Dipuo’s plaything! Hahahaha!” Busi clearly thought the tabloid had it wrong.
Busi and I had been together for more than eleven years by now, all the way back to our high school years. There was no doubt about us getting married, it was simply a question of when. Both our families took that as fact. My sister and her two sisters were best friends. No way I could mess up their friendship. And then Dipuo happened.
It took Busi a long time to accept that the love of her life, Vusi, could be Dipuo’s plaything. In one of my drunken states, Dipuo and I were caught making out in the backseat of my car. Even then, were it not for the Sunday Reporter’s eagerness to sell papers with whatever sordid story they could get their hands on, our secret would have been safe still. The bloody reporter had taken the photo through the back window of my car. You could make out two heads on the picture, one of which was clearly Dipuo’s and another one that was allegedly mine. They had blacked out the car registration but the playboy sticker that I had next to the car plates was clearly visible. I didn’t even like the stupid playboy sticker, Busi had put it there, and when she saw the picture in the newspaper she knew it was my car. The look in her eyes was devastating. No words could have been more powerful; her eyes said it all. “How could you do this to me?” She had lived in blissful ignorance for a whole year. There were questions here and there but nothing conclusive. But even I knew that this day would arrive, it seemed everyone but my Busi knew about Dipuo and I.
Stupidly, I still loved Busi, but I was infatuated with Dipuo. I couldn’t leave Dipuo and Busi had too much pride to stay with me when it was common knowledge I was with another woman. As bad as it was, it would be another twelve months before I broke up with Dipuo. A near-fatal drug overdose was the final straw. Dipuo had always used. I discovered that very early in our relationship but I naively believed that she had it under control. It took me a whole six months to get to try my first line but not long at all to get hooked. By the time friends and family had started questioning the changes in my moods and erratic behaviour it was too late. When the overdose happened, I was drunk out of my mind and at a party at the club. I don’t remember much of that night except that everyone said I kept mumbling Busi’s name. When I came to in hospital she was sitting by my bed, teary-eyed and holding my left hand. I cried when I saw her. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Everything I’d put this woman through and here she was by my side. And right there I asked her if she would marry me. She cried some more but I wanted my answer. “Yes yes yes, but don’t you dare ever do that to me, ever”. I wish I could say that this was the last of my indiscretions. What I can say is that I promised never to hurt her like that again and I was done with Dipuo.
I had gone through so much in the past two years I knew I never wanted to go back there. Once strong enough to walk I was booked into a drug rehabilitation centre. I only got to see Busi on weekends, and on those occasions that our “support” was allowed to join us for sessions. The rehab belonged to the Church of Christ of Nazareth (CCN) and had been arranged by Busi’s dad for me. I suppose that it was inevitable that introduction to Christ would be part of the programme. It had been impressed upon me that I could never beat the drug demon on my own, that I needed somebody bigger than me to truly kick the habit. A higher power that I could ask for strength from when the going got tough. And I obliged. Although at first reluctant, the fear of nearly losing Busi and my life drove me ‘closer to God’. Busi too accepted Christ at about the same time. When I left rehab three months later I could lead prayer in a group. But real life was waiting for me outside. I had beaten the drugs but I still needed to live. It was in rehab that the idea of giving Busi a lavish wedding took root in me. A wedding to truly say sorry for all the hurt I had caused her. A wedding to reassure her that Dipuo was well and truly in the past. Money was no object because I had made quite a bit of it over the years and over the three years that I was part of club Taboo the financial rewards were great.
So over two unforgettable weekends I wed the love of my life and settled into married life. We had both assumed that falling pregnant would be easy once she was off the pill. How wrong we were. We both wanted children pretty quickly, to show off the blessings of the Lord. It had been said during the wedding by speaker after speaker that children were God’s blessing to any married couple. We wanted to claim our blessings pretty quickly but it was not to be. A year after we were married there was still no sign of our blessings. And it wasn’t for lack of trying either. Oh, try we did. All over the house, in the bathroom, kitchen, living room. Pretty much everywhere. Two years later still no sign of our blessing. It didn’t bother us much to begin with. We were okay and still enjoyed our married life. We still attended church but not as steadfastly as I had done just after rehab.
But when Busi’s younger sister got her second child out of wedlock in the third year of our marriage we both took a knock. I can’t really remember who suggested it but we both agreed to have ourselves checked out by professionals at a fertility clinic. We both knew we wanted a baby and were willing to do whatever it took. We were tired of being the subjects of endless sermons at church. Look, none of it was directed at us. But at the beginning of every year our church ran a series of sermons titled: ‘Claiming your miracle’. I was tired of feeling guilty that our blessing was not arriving because of something we were not doing right. Maybe I wasn’t believing strongly enough, maybe I was praying wrong, maybe it was the tithe I missed that one month. Maybe we didn’t attend enough all night prayers.
I know Busi was tired too. She even had to endure some nasty comments from my own mother about her ability to be ‘a woman’. My own mother. She wasn’t aware I was in the house at the time and she was with Busi in the kitchen. And before I could enter she said to my wife, “I just read in the papers that Dipuo is pregnant with twins. Maybe if my son had stayed with her I would be a grandmother to twins already”. It didn’t matter that my relationship with Dipuo had ended 5 years ago, it didn’t matter that I had nearly lost my life to drugs when I was with Dipuo. My mother wanted a grandchild so badly that she was willing to see me with another woman, even Dipuo, if it meant having grandchildren. This was the final straw for me, my own mother being downright nasty to the love of my life when she was already at her lowest. I got in the kitchen and took Busi’s hand and we left without saying another word. “We must go and see the Babystock people on Monday”, Busi said on our drive home. “Yes dear”. I agreed.
BabyStock Fertility clinic was situated on the outskirts of town, as if to reinforce the internal shame that one felt about the decision to visit them. Without discussing it, we had both decided this was not a subject we would share with our friends. It wasn’t dinner table conversation material. Even though the security guards at the entrance tried to be cheerful as they signed you in, there was an awkwardness that came with knowing why we were there. The waiting rooms were no better. No one spoke normally. It was all in hushed tones except for the receptionist and other clinic staff. We waited our turn in the uncomfortable silence, hardly looking at other couples. We were seen to by a Dr Mabalane, a very pleasant gentleman who seemed to appreciate the awkwardness that came with our decision to seek help. “This is one doctor’s visit where you will not get asked what can I do for you, we all know why we are here. I have worked here for eight years and to this day I do not understand why people who walk in through our doors feel like they do, like they have failed at something. Tell you what, children are delightful and fulfilling to have but let’s be honest, the process leading to their birth is hardly a learned skill. You can’t fail at this. It’s totally arbitrary and I will attempt to help you best I can, but please understand there are no guarantees. I’ve seen perfectly healthy, perfectly normal couples fail to fall pregnant even with the best medical help”.
This doctor was my kind of man, dealing with people instead of patients. He took us through the process. What tests I would undergo and which tests Busi would be put through, and what would happen afterwards. Look, some of the stuff was strictly of a medical nature but there were uncomfortable components too, some of which I found shameful and I don’t want to repeat here. We went through months of trying, at a great financial cost, until we got to a point where we both began to feel it was futile. I could sense this was depressing Busi. It didn’t help that the women’s group she attended at church took special pleasure in announcing new expectant moms. Every Thursday she would come home with news of two or more expectant moms in her group, and a sad look on her face.
And then one Saturday morning as we were having breakfast at our usual restaurant down the road, Busi’s colleague Mabel came in with her husband and two young kids. Mabel was heavily pregnant and seemed like she could pop anytime. I vaguely remembered attending their traditional wedding about five or six years ago, and now two kids with the third on the way? Something was wrong with the system God used to dish out his blessings.
“Busi, are you coming to our church tomorrow, remember we have a special prayer service for childless couples?” Mabel asked in a manner that left Busi no choice but to nod in agreement.
I just couldn’t understand why this as yet unconceived baby of ours was following us everywhere, even to a goddamned breakfast on a Saturday morning!! To Busi’s credit she immediately apologised for her friend’s lack of tact but indicated that maybe we should go to shut her up and get some peace at work. Although irritated I agreed to go.
We had both heard about this church before. It was by no means a small church. It had branches in every major town and residential location in the country. It was what was commonly referred to as charismatic churches, you know, the faith churches, the happy-clappy churches. I have nothing against these churches, I just don’t get how they seem to flourish financially in the midst of grinding poverty. I remember the day we went to Incredible Miracles Church (IMC) like it was yesterday. I remember what I wore, I remember my mood, I remember what Busi wore and where we sat. I remember the anguish I felt in my heart when couple after couple took to the microphone on stage and paid tribute to the Man Of God for delivering them out of the misery of being childless.
The IMC headquarters were in town and from what I’d heard they were state of the art premises, with video monitors in the toilet cubicles constantly delivering images of what was going on in the main church auditorium so that churchgoers wouldn’t miss a thing. One could see that no cent was spared in the building of this church. The main auditorium was built in the shape of old-style open theatre houses, allowing every member of the audience to feel as close to the stage as possible. Although the place was air conditioned, one could still feel a bit hot and bothered, hence the multitude of Chinese handheld fans in the audience. The Man Of God, as he was called, was seated on a King’s Throne with an accompanying gold-decorated Queen’s chair. I’m not kidding. These two chairs were located side-by-side on a raised platform on the stage. There were three fans directed at the Man Of God and his wife. They were both dressed in pure white outfits.
As Busi and I entered the church, Busi’s tactless friend Mabel raised her one hand to wave us towards the empty seats that she had reserved for us about three rows from the stage. I winced inwardly. It was one thing to see Mabel for two minutes over breakfast in a public restaurant, and quite another to spend three hours with her in church. It was going to be a long day. On the microphone was a young lady, quite pretty and very well dressed. Her husband stood about two paces behind her. She was almost crying as she related her childless years. “I fell pregnant six times over the last 5 years, and each time I lost the baby. When we came to IMC I had given up on having a baby. I had had enough. I was convinced that I could never carry a baby to full term….” She kept quiet a while as she composed herself. “And a year after arriving here, Emmanuel was born. This was on our seventh try. When we let the Man Of God know we were expecting a child but scared that we would suffer disappointment like we had before, he said to us: seven represents perfection in God’s kingdom.” By now the young lady was crying openly. Her husband was by her side. The church was on its feet. There were shouts of Amen and Hallelujah throughout the church until the Man Of God raised his hand to quieten people down. The young lady continued: “I know you are sitting out there today thinking it’s not possible for you. I’m here to tell you it is possible. I am a living example of that. Mama, please bring Emmanuel up to the stage.”
The whole church erupted into so much noise it was difficult to hear anything. All the while, Mabel kept on turning towards Busi and I and making what I think she thought were encouraging faces at us. Frankly, I didn’t know what to think about all of this. I was happy for the couple on stage but for me the jury was still out on whether the Man Of God could take credit for Emmanuel. At the end of the service Busi and I joined the queue of all the couples that needed prayer to “receive their Blessings of children” from God. I could not shake the feeling that we were not receiving our blessing because of “something” we had done, or more likely something that I had done, and it was blocking the blessing. When we got to the front, the man on the edge of the massive stage gave clear instructions to “not look at the eyes of the man of God”, which now explained the bowed heads that I had noticed as all the people passed in front of man of God. Which also explains how I saw the man of God without really seeing him. As we left the church, Mabel could not help rushing over to our car and sharing the delightful revelation with us.
“You guys are now blessed, the Man Of God himself prayed over you. Please ensure you visit the holy garden tonight, and keep the Man Of God in mind as you do so”. “Visiting the holy garden” was the phrase the man of God had used as he preached to avoid saying sex or sexual relations during the sermon. Great, we were now taking advise on when to mate from Busi’s tactless colleague.
“So what did you think?” Busi asked as we settled down to have lunch. “You mean am I going to think of the Man Of God when we make love tonight?” I asked, laughing as I said that.
“Hell no, Vusi, you know what I mean”.
“Well this beats your mom’s suggestion”.
Earlier in the week my mom had pitched up at our house making like she wants to make peace with Busi about her insensitive comments the last time we were at her house. She did apologise, sort of. But she also explained that this was all out of “concern because people are talking”.
“What are people saying Mama?” I asked.
“That my daughter-in-law is failing in her duties as a wife.”
“Mama I thought you came here to apologise”, I said, raising my voice.
“Look my boy, I know I was out of line with what I said. But I won’t stand by and let strangers talk nonsense about my child without doing something. I know your dad doesn’t say much but he’s concerned too. Let us help you. I spoke to your aunt, Sophie, about this. She says there’s a person you can see. He’s helped a lot of couples get babies. I don’t know how true this is but I’m told the Mayor’s wife uses the same person. I believe it because she only got that child at fifty. I have set up an appointment for you guys”.
That was my mom, if anybody grabbed the bull by the horns in my family, it was her. “You won’t need to pay a cent, I’ll take care of everything”, she continued.
Right then I wished I had let her know about the fertility clinic treatments, I would have saved myself a small fortune. Surely she would have paid for everything. I must have smiled at my own humour because she said: “Busi, your husband seems to find this all amusing because he’s smiling by himself. Please talk some sense into him”. This was my mom’s attempt at eliciting some sort of response from Busi who had sat quietly through all of this. My beautiful wife could be a closed book when she chose to. Not a word, a nod or shake of the head. But I’d been with her long enough to know that she became like this only when she despised the company she was keeping.
“Ma, if you think this person will help you get the grandchild you so desire, we’ll see him”, Busi replied calmly. And that’s how Busi had delivered us into one of my mom’s fix-it-yourself crazy schemes. It’s all rich of me to pin this on her but I found it totally futile to fight against my mom when she had just gained a silent but very powerful ally.
“You know how these things work”, my mom continued, “he will only see you three weeks from now and at twelve midnight. Your aunt will let me know the exact date once she has confirmed with him.”
No, I didn’t know ‘how these things worked’ and my mom knew this! I had never been to see a ‘medicine man’ in my life. There are people who swore by them but I had never been to one. I had always suspected my mom saw one behind everyone’s back because of the close relationship she had with my dad’s sister who was the only remaining member of my dad’s family who still clung to the old ways of doing things. This had never bothered me before because frankly it had nothing to do with me. Now it was right here in my house. Good Lord! Frankly I didn’t know what to do. I was standing at a crossroads. It felt like a no-win situation, a lose-lose situation. I felt trapped, suffocated. And for the first time in six years I felt like a drink. No, I actually didn’t feel like a drink, I wished I was drunk. I had been warned at rehab to avoid situations that made feel like altering my state of consciousness. I had lost contact with my best friends after I quit booze and drugs. I now had acquaintances with whom I couldn’t share real stuff. Busi and I weren’t talking about anything other than fertility these days. I had no one to talk to and so much going on.
The night we had been prayed for by the Man Of God was the first night I saw Busi saying evening prayers. Here’s the strangest thing, that night, in bed with my wife, I could not banish the picture of the Man of God from my mind, followed by one of tactless Mabel sneering, “I told you so”. The following Sunday my wife promptly announced that she will be joining Mabel at her church again. Before I knew it she was praying every night before bed. And by the third week she was attending a woman’s church group that met on Thursdays and wanted to come visit our house. I made sure the boss asked me to work late on that Thursday. Imagine my shock when Busi called me at work the day before we were due to see my mom’s medicine man, she was in tears and asked me to come home immediately. I had the good mind to call my mother to tell her off. To tell her how terrible her interference was and how much misery she was causing my wife. To say everything that I should have said that day she confronted Busi and brought up Dipuo. I didn’t do it though. I just drove home, concerned at how badly my wife was taking all the strain. I don’t think I closed the garage door or locked the car as I rushed into the house. The front door opened as I approached it and Busi fell into my arms. “We are pregnant. Baby we are pregnant.”
She was positively heaving as she said this. We collapsed into a heap on the kitchen floor as I joined her in the weeping. I felt like a million dollars at that moment. The relief that swept through me was unimaginable. I was deliriously happy. If my wife had said at that moment I should go and buy nappies I would have brought them home by the truckload. That evening I joined my wife as she said her prayers. I prayed sincerely and thankfully. Busi could not understand why I kept saying thank you to her. She took it I was just relieved that I wouldn’t be meeting some medicine man at twelve midnight. I couldn’t explain to her that all the guilt I had felt from having agreed with a previous girlfriend to abort a baby. It happened whilst I was fresh out of varsity. Busi and I had been on one of those ‘off’ periods of our on-off relationship. A girl I worked with and I had ended up in bed after a drunken night out. We had ended up at her place and in our state neglected to take precautions. When she discovered she was pregnant she was polite enough to tell me. But also firm enough to let me know that she had decided she wasn’t keeping the baby, I understood. We were both starting out in the workplace. We had our futures ahead of us. She also knew about Busi and she was well aware that she would always play second fiddle to her. We were both sad about our decision, but we went ahead with it. My conscience never let me forget the decision.
I was convinced I would one day ‘pay’ for my part in this. And when a baby was not forthcoming with Busi, I had it in my mind to tell her of my ‘diabolical’ deed. It weighed me down to think that I could be the cause of the misery that had befallen us. So when Busi told me about the pregnancy, I wasn’t crying along with her simply because of the joy brought by the news, it also the spontaneous release of my emotions that had been bottled up by years and years of fear and guilt. I didn’t know there was protocol about announcing a pregnancy to friends and family. “Wait at least until the first trimester is complete” seemed to be the general rule. I couldn’t wait to shout it to the whole world. Our blessing was on the way. Overnight we had moved from the group to be prayed for to conceive to the group to be thankful that God was smiling on us. Life was good and God was great, or was he?
If you want to finish this story you want to nip over to Amazon and get a copy. Yes, we are cruel like that.