[Part 1 HERE]
I felt as if I’d been buried alive, acidic earth filling every gap that my body inhabited. My tongue scoured my mouth. My nostrils clogged. Throat burned. Breathing hurt. Eyes prayed fervently for darkness. Bones quaked. Stomach heaved … landing on nothing.
Antacid, mango juice, double strength coffee with four sugars, and one Black Label clung me to consciousness. Food waited its turn at the rear of the line.
Unemployment is a godsend (or is it humansend?) for the hung over soul.
A too loud knock on the door.
Enter the stage, one Jonathan Lambert. One segment of the B.F.Q. (Best Friends Quartet). Virgin at twenty-four years of age. Disposed by three girlfriends (all brim him with painful memory). He questions himself with, “What is love?” Currently in a three month relationship with a bookkeeper.
John doesn’t look good.
“What’s up,” I venture.
“Cathy,” he mumbles.
“She dumped me,” he groans.
“Ah, shit! Don’t stand there. You’ll depress my neighbours. Come in … you need a drink – don’t shake your head. I’m Doctor Feelgood.”
John is the spawn of an alcoholic father. I blame him for John’s late arrival into drink’s arms.
Suddenly, I remember that breakfast was guilty of consuming the last, much needed alcohol. Damn. I explain. “Don’t worry. There’s a bottle store across the road.”
Twenty minutes later, the sun has kindly reinforced my hangover. My shirt’s already dripping with Durban summer. My feet, like John’s, are dangling from the pier over sea that looks for the first time like a tourist postcard.
None of this matters.
We’re two thirds through a half jack of cheap whiskey and close to feeling good. He cried at first. For good measure, so did I. Now, we’re feeling sheepish. But that can easily be solved. A few more shared swigs and the bottle drops from John’s hand to make a schluck noise with the seawater. There’s not much that I care about but I do dig the sea. I open my mouth to protest at his desecration of it but the little consciousness that I retain tells me to shut-up. This isn’t the right moment.
Like the rest, she’d been small with dark eyes and long, dark hair. Like the rest, she was the one to walk away. That’s no poor reflection on John as a person. He just makes lousy choices. That ‘opposites attract’ philosophy doesn’t apply to him yet he persists in choosing opposites. He’s also too damn moralistic (it’s not that he’s a Christian – although he is – but rather an anti-dad’s character pose). Besides, this is the nineties. Our generation suffocated religion. Girls have hormones. They also want to shag. That’s not the whole sum but you’ve got to do it as at least one step towards How to Keep a Girl. I tell him so.
“Don’t want to hear,” John mutters.
“What do you wanna hear?”
He pauses, his mind fighting the alcohol. He answers and I immediately wish that he hadn’t.
“How did you cope?”
It still amazes me how a conversation can head in exactly the wrong direction at exactly the wrong time. This isn’t about me. I’m not about to answer, so I put it differently.
“I’ll tell you if you jump off the pier and swim to the beach with me.” Inside, I’m snug with my adroitness. We’re approximately ninety meters out. The tide is rising and, surprisingly for November, the waves are six foot and closing out. That’s rough going without accounting for our alcohol numbed brains and lack of physical conditioning.
“Okay,” he says.
Now, I’m not so smug. How could I, of all people, forget the suicidal bent of single lovers? I’m also not one to eat my words or ponder stupid intentions. I’m up. Over the silver rail. Splash down! I don’t hear John’s arrival but as I surface I catch a glimpse of his bobbing head. It’s brief. A white head swallows me.
It takes a red-clad lifeguard to beach me. He’s looking at me with disgust and swearing. I don’t pay him much intention. I’m nearer sober than I was before and embarrassment is killing me. Breasted sunbathers gawk. My rescuer spins and, with his first step away, flicks sand into my face.
As I clear my eyes, my first unbelievable sight is damn John splashing unaided from the water. He collapses next to me. He’s lost a shoe. His breathing is animalised yet still the words spit out.
“How did you cope?”
“I haven’t.” With that, I rise and stumble away.
“Hey, Mike,” he yells after em. “Don’t forget about tonight.”
I raise a hand in acknowledgement.
[Part 3 HERE]