Bitches' Brew

Bitches' Brew

by Fred Khumalo

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Overview

Focusing on the epic love affair between a former amateur musician—who happens to be a bootlegger, mercenary, and killer—and a shebeen queen, this South African love story traces the couple's lives and loves through the interweaving of history and memory in the tradition of village storytellers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781431426089
Publisher: Jacana Media
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 328
File size: 930 KB

About the Author

Fred Khumalo is a journalist and editor of the Sunday Times' insight & opinion section.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I Got It Bad

(And that ain't Good)

Dear Zakes,

Some women say it's the feel, and not the size, of a man's penis that matters. But others say, no, doll, it's the balls behind the penis that matter, because the balls are the engine that drives the whole business down there. Yet others say, no way, honey, it's the man's heart that matters because it decides for him whether he should have a hard-on or not. But others say bollocks, the dick has got its own mind, anyway. It will get a hard-on even if its owner sees a one-breasted woman with no teeth, and squinty eyes, just as long as she holds promise of a nice behind, agreeable thighs – a succulent woman.

Yes, Zakes, you men actually use these words when talking about us: succulent, delectable, mouth-watering, chewy, juicy; just as if we were loose pieces of flesh to be devoured at will. If not quite juicy enough, just good enough to be chewed for a while and then spat out into the gutter.

(Zakes, I'm enjoying a neat whisky on the rocks in a crystal glass as I'm writing this missive to you; so do pardon me for the digressions and lapses ...)

Anyway, in case you don't remember I am 59 years old now, have nine grown up children of my own. One of them is your own son. Most of my children are dead now. In fact, six of them have passed on, but in my mind I still have all nine of them. They all live within me. I have several grandchildren. I am a retired she been queen. I'm still beautiful. And I know it. That's me.

As a she been queen you learn a lot about the men who drink at your place. In fact you learn a lot about men in general. Their fears, their likes and dislikes, their aspirations, their outlook on life. You become a sister who gives them a shoulder to cry on when they find themselves teetering on the brink, over the valley of sadness. You become a marriage counsellor who tells them how to humble themselves before their spouses, and when to fight back if their kindness is being taken for granted. You become a doctor who tells them when to stop drinking, when to ease off on those cigarettes. You become a banker who takes care of their finances, their human resources manager who shouts at them when they stay away from work. In short, I've experienced and studied the world of men, and it's a funny world. Like the desert whose landscape changes with the blowing winds only to return to its original form later, the life of a man is whimsical and ever changing but somehow predictable. Like the desert, no matter how many times a man changes from kind-hearted to angry, from sweet to nasty and dangerous, trust a man to always go back to what he really, really is: a bastard. But we love these bastards. We give them our hearts knowing how they are bound to tear them to pieces.

That much I know about men. That having been said, however, I still haven't been able to arrive at my own independent conclusion about the importance of the size and shape of a man's penis for a woman.

But I have heard it said that the man who lives permanently in a woman's heart and mind is the one who deflowers her. The meaning of this, I suppose, is that the woman subliminally holds a grudge against him, for violating her chastity and purity, for robbing her of her innocence.

Perhaps it's not a grudge per se. Perhaps it's a sense of gratitude. The woman immortalises him in her mind and heart for the joy he brought her, for his gallant act of opening for her new vistas of self-knowledge and self-discovery.

My friend Esther feels indebted to the guy who deflowered her. Her eyes light up at the mention of his name. Words crowd her mouth, and she begins to stutter when she talks of him. She even remembers the shape of her first man's thing: 'Oh, darling, it was so ugly and twisted like a wild banana I almost ran away in horror and disgust. It was shiny and angry, like a snake from a bygone era. A snake ready to strike with a vengeance. A viper dying to spit out its venom. But once it was inside me I screamed Glory Hallelujahs and Hail Marys with a gusto that would have impressed the Virgin herself. The gates of Heaven were wide open, ready for me to enter. I felt reborn. I experienced a spiritual high. Me, I don't blame Eve for having succumbed to the charms of that snake in that beautiful garden.'

But Zakes, you must be wondering why an old hag like me is going on about first sexual encounters and stuff.

Perhaps all I am trying to do is relive the past. That way, I suppose, I will be able to exorcise my demons, demons that have been skulking in the recesses of my mind. I am trying to remember in order to forget, trying to remember the good things I've had done to me in order to forget the bad ones.

But try as I might, I just can't agree with the notion that the first man you had sex with should be immortalised in your mind.

Maybe some women believe that. But in my case, it's the fourth guy to impregnate me who stands out by a mile in my mind. And it's his story I want to tell; it's his story I want to relive. I have him to thank for the woman that I am today. But to tell his story I have to start somewhere.

(I've just lit myself a cigarette, Zakes. Ah, these Craven As are good for my chest. A whisky and a Craven A! Shit, that's some combination! But, to go on ...)

CHAPTER 2

Prelude to a Kiss

When I was growing up, my mother was away from home most of the time. As a result I grew up not knowing what it meant to be a woman, how to handle my woman's body and how to relate to men. Indeed, how to relate to other women.

I guess my situation was true for many other girls who grew up away from their mothers. They found themselves in the territory of womanhood without knowing what it meant to be a woman. As a result, once they discovered what it meant, they didn't tell their girl children because nobody had told them. For a woman brought up this way, the only way of understanding what womanhood means is by going down the dangerous, dark back alley where demons of heartache lurk, where the ogre called regret reigns supreme, where the monster called self-blame lives.

This is the kind of woman who puts on make-up to hide the scars on her face, and lies about how wonderful her man is. Some even go to the grave without ever understanding the essence of their womanhood, so subservient and fearful of the opposite sex that they never come out of their cocoons of insecurity. As a result, they never discover who they really are. Understand?

Anyway, back to talking about the men I've had, or the men who've had me. All I remember about the first one was the violence he exuded the minute I said yes to his amorous entreaties. I suppose he didn't mean to be violent, but things just happened that way. Do I detect self-pity and self-blame in what I've just said? Anyway, I am finding it hard to think he, the first one, meant me any harm.

So unkind of me to call this man 'The First One' as if he had no name. His name was Thabiso.

Before I get down to dissecting Thabiso, let me hasten to add that I cannot for the life of me remember the other men who were to enter my life in later years in any intimate, loving detail. Altogether, I have lost count of the men who have known me in the biblical sense. I have given birth to nine children in my life, as I've said, from nine different men who entered my life at different stages.

In township parlance, my children are called Choice Assorteds. This is after the famous brand of miscellaneous biscuits including lemon creams, Scottish shortbread, flavoured wafers, coconut cakes and more – all in a single box! In other words, my children resided in the same womb even though they have different fathers. Choice Assorteds. Township people can be cruel.

Anyway, I love and cherish all the children these men gave me. But even looking deep into the faces and listening hard to the voices of the three remaining children, I can't conjure the essence of their fathers. They are just blurs of smell, touch, noise, and physical pain. That's all. The years have long mended the broken pieces of my heart. I can't feel any emotion for these men. I suppose that's because none of them spent long enough with me. Some of them spent only a night, a week, sometimes two, and then moved on, hardly realising they had given me a child. I don't know why they left me. Maybe I lacked the skill and the tenacity to keep them. Maybe I lived too much inside my heart, brooded too much and intimidated them. I don't know. Loving is a skill, I've been told. You have to work hard on it. You get better at it the harder you work on it. Just like a game of golf. You can never improve your handicap unless you work hard on your swing.

What I do know is that many times after a man left me, I kept feeding my heart with hope that the next one would be better, the next one would stay; the next one would understand me and the thoughts that lived within me. There is nothing as dangerous as hope because it doesn't tell you when to give up on it, as somebody once said.

Ah, Lettie, poor Lettie, I say to myself, you are getting carried away now! Let's start at the beginning. Let's start with Thabiso.

He was a boy from the village just next to mine. A fairly educated boy, from what I heard. He had been to the big cities and could speak the white man's language. Now that I make the association between him and the cities and the white man, I seem to recall that Thabiso had a funny smell about him, the sweet smell of a city girl. It was said he had acquired the smell from the small bottle that he carried in his pocket. Every now and then he could be seen rubbing his armpits with this funny bottle of his. Apart from this smell, which we associated with city women, Thabiso also had shiny, greasy hair like the girls from the cities. The smell that hung about him, I later learnt, was called perfume.

He also tried to speak the white man's language, 'Open up your heart, girl, and let me in', he once wrote in a letter to me when he was still trying to establish the girl-boy relationship. I could read a bit of English because I was a school-going girl. Even the pages of his letter smelled like perfume. Funny boy. Anyway, that's what I remember about him: his clothes, his funny smell, his words. But the face is just a blur. I can't even remember his voice.

'Don't be a fool, Lettie,' my friend Maki said when she heard that I wasn't interested in Thabiso. 'This is a civilised man from the cities. He's got all the money in the world. He's a walking bank. Say yes to him and you will be the richest and the best-dressed girl in all of Teya-Teyaneng.'

'What kind of a man stretches and greases his hair like a woman from the cities? You want people to laugh at my choice of man?'

'Grow up, Lettie. Go to the cities. You will soon see that the man is with it. He is a man amongst men in the cities. He speaks the street lingo. He walks the city walk – unlike the bumpkins from the villages who dawdle around like baboons, and carry about them the smell of urine and cow dung.'

'I can't even smell the dung you are talking about because it is a part of me. It is a part of us here. Look at what we are doing now: picking up dry cow dung so we can go home and make fire with it. Maki, don't try to be what you are not!'

We had a long laugh as we continued walking down the footpath, picking up blobs of dry cow dung. Cow dung was second nature to me. Because I was the eldest I was assigned the task of collecting dry cow dung for the home hearth. In addition to this, I also looked after my father's goats after school. I milked them so we could have milk for drinking, and for cheese.

I finally said yes to Thabiso's entreaties. He was clearly overjoyed. He started singing some funny songs in the white man's language. When I asked him what he was on about, he said that he was serenading me for opening my heart to him. Funny boy. Serenading was a word I had never heard before. So he had to explain in our language what it meant.

Anyway, the very afternoon I accepted him, he said he was taking me for a walk. This was another strange thing. In our culture you don't just go for a walk. You walk with the aim of getting somewhere.

He called himself a love poet. Where I come from we have all kinds of poets: praise poets who sing praises to our chiefs; war poets who inspire men to go to war; poets who sing to the gods to bring rain. But I had never heard of a love poet. Anyway, he continued reciting these things in the white man's language, saying they were poems of love. Lyrics, he called them. I was getting irritated with him saying these things in the white man's language. I told him to remember that I wasn't some white woman. 'Sing these things of yours in our language', I said.

He complained that our language was not ripe and advanced enough to convey emotions about matters of the heart. He said only the white man had developed his language to that level. I wanted to contradict him, but decided to let is pass.

'Let me fill your heart with the sweetness of honey,' he said. 'Let your heart sing in sweet harmony with mine. Allow our minds to talk the sweet language of love ...'

We walked on under the big open sky. The sun was pouring its yellow liquid upon the land. Sunflower plantations on either side of the footpath accepted its generosity. The yellow sun and the yellow sunflowers combined to form a yellow river that flowed peacefully across the land. The cool breeze whispering in our ears sounded as if it was happy, as if it was smiling its approval. There were birds twittering about, their long pointed beaks at war with the sunflower heads.

The sight of sunflowers always made me feel happy. They always brightened my mood no matter how many worries gnawed at my heart.

'Let me be part of your dreams,' he continued, 'let me be part of your thoughts.'

I found the music of nature more alluring than the drone of the love poet's voice.

'I want to go back home now,' I said.

He ignored my abrupt statement, and continued talking: 'You are so beautiful I suspect you bathe with milk, and towel your face with slices of polony ...'

I began to giggle: 'Where did you hear such foolishness?'

With a serious expression on his face, he said: 'It's a Zulu saying, which means you're pure and priceless.'

'Humph!' I said, 'I don't care for Zulus. I am a proud Mosotho girl. Now, can I go home?'

'But you can't break such a happy mood.'

'You may like hearing your own voice, but I don't. Let's part ways now so you can continue saying your poems and enjoying the drone of your own voice.'

Not once did I look at him. On the past few occasions he had accosted me, begging for my love, I had never bothered to take a careful look at him. This, I suppose, is why I can't remember his face now.

'Can I love you now?' he said, touching my hand.

I looked very briefly into his face. But my eyes quickly went back to exploring the sand between my bare toes.

He lifted my chin with his hand. He brought his face closer to mine. I closed my eyes. Our lips met. He pushed his tongue into my mouth. I tried to pull back. He cupped his hand at the back of my neck and continued to probe my mouth with his tongue. I was tempted to bite the offending tongue. But I decided against it. There was no need to hurt him. My heart was not full of malice.

While the rest of him smelled like sweets, his mouth smelt like my father's Boxer tobacco. Pungent. I was gagging. The mouth tasted bitter, like my grandmother's herbs for fixing a bad tummy. I pulled away from him. I started to run down the path. He caught up with me. He started dragging me into the thickness of the sunflower field. I wanted to scream, to fight back. But he was my lover. Not so long ago I had told him I loved him – whatever that meant.

'Why are you refusing my love?' he asked in a hurt voice.

'I am not. I told you I love you. Now what more do you want? Why are you forcing your tongue into my mouth?'

'I'm only kissing you, angel of the mountain kingdom. But why are you running away from me?' He grabbed me and threw me onto the soft ground, moving fast to pin me down. He lifted my dress.

He laughed when he realised that I had no panties on under my dress that was made from a mielie meal sack. Girls my age didn't wear panties then. What for? All that discomfort, all the trouble of having to wash the smelly garments? Who needs panties?

'But why are you being like this?' I cried, 'I told you I love you but why are you being violent like this?'

'Shut up!' he slapped my face. His voice had lost all the sweetness of honey, the coolness of poetry.

He hit me again. My nose started dripping with blood. I had heard about things that took place between boys and girls, where boys put their things between the legs of girls. But I had never imagined that this game involved such violence and blood. He pushed his pants to his ankles.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Bitches' Brew"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Fred Khumalo.
Excerpted by permission of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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