“There are three things you can never, ever, do in public,” youngest brother Angus told me quite seriously last Sunday evening. It was my final night in Pretoria after an almost-a-week long visit home: an oasis in the never-ending sea of adult life in Cape Town; striving to successful and sexy in a new city with new friends and a new job. Matthew, my other brother, was sitting to my right and my mother was at the head of the dinner table; a rich (homemade!) oxtail stew slowly steaming between us as we chatted over dinner.
Angus looked me straight in the eyes and continued: “Listen Manti. Never, in public,” he held up one finger, “drink pills.” Matthew roared appreciatively with laughter and nodded in agreement, “Wink,” was next on the list, “or sing.”
Sadly I must concede that Angus is right on all three counts. Pill drinking leads to much awkward gulping, gagging noises, eye-watering and intense concentration on my part – not a pretty picture. And winking, well, when I wink my entire face moves (and I can only wink with my right eye), transforming me from regular lady into Picasso painting or a lop-sided stroke victim.
Now, ah well, now we get to the singing. I think the best way to describe my enchanting voice is to quote my good friend Portia. We were driving somewhere, both singing along to the tune on the radio (one of my small but intense pleasures in life is to sing in the car) when Portia gave a quizzical face and asked, “Sam, how do you sing so out of tune?” I think the worst thing about the whole episode was her genuine curiosity.
Some of my most embarrassing moments are (retrospectively) associated with singing. I guess if I’d noticed how terribly terrible my voice is at the time, well, I would have stopped singing and saved myself the horror of retrospective shame. But then again, maybe not. Retrospective shame is my forte.
And, you have to ask, where else to be sharply reminded of vividly embarrassing moments other than at home? Like when I was sixteen (yes, the WHOLE TIME I was sixteen). Or all the times I got lost. Oh, there are so many! It was in Pretoria that I developed my deep suspicion of one-way streets. Because, you see, you can’t go back the way you came on a one-way street now, can you? Well, I guess you can – but the cops really don’t like it (trust me on this one). Getting lost was something I did so regularly in Pretoria that I heard, on my recent trip home, friends nonchalantly referring to getting lost as being “So Sam.” Yes. My name is now a synonym for getting lost.
In a weird way, I get less lost in Cape Town. And it’s not because of the stupid mountain. Everyone in Cape Town is always like “Oh, just follow the mountain.” How exactly does following the mountain help me get to 17 Buitengracht street exactly, huh? Not a lot!
It’s kind of crazy how much Pretoria has changed since I’ve been away. One the one hand, there are still fourteen robots between my house and TUKS on Lynnwood Road (that’s only about 6km, and the robots take a perverse pleasure in turning red just as you reach them), but there are now six cranes on the corner of Lynnwood Road and Glenfair, building some kind of monstrous shopping center; three strong metal gates enclosing Hatfield Square (the Square’s like a courtyard, full of bars – man is that place full of blurry memories); two booms leading into my newly enclosed neighbourhood; and Burnett street, running through Hatfield, is now a one-way.
Though Pretoria has changed a lot, it also hasn’t changed at all. Yes, my friends have stopped studying and started working; have met new people to date; have moved out of homes and into flats (or are buying houses together or moving away); and drink wine and not Brutal Fruit – but that’s all that’s changed. We still connect and chat and laugh and tease each other (and yes yes we get it already, I’m short).
We’ve grown up together, and they are a fundamental part of the tapestry of my life. Sure, both my brothers are in university now. But they still play Playstation.
But it can’t be denied that things have also changed. I’m not the same person I was eighteen months ago. Eighteen months ago I was living at home. Eighteen months ago I had never been to Cape Town before. Eighteen months ago I hadn’t experienced all the things I have, met all the people I now know, travelled (literally) all the roads I now have. Eighteen months ago my inner architecture was very different. Since then I have broken down some inner walls and built others up in the constant process of turning into whoever the hell I am. One thing I have definitely learnt is to be more open to having fun. That may be the most important lesson, and the one I’m happiest to learn. It is also one I couldn’t have learnt without friends collected from different stages of my life in Pretoria, Stellenbosch and now Cape Town. What I’m saying is, things change, yes, but they also stay the same. And hey, eighteen months ago I was still drinking pills in public.