A day in the life of D.Ndlela, resident of the quar.
A stream of consciousness meditation on burning pancakes and eating carbs while time loses all meaning.
In a week’s time, exactly a week, down to the second, I’ll sit down to write this essay. ‘That’s not how time works!’ the crafty quantum-physicists who form my audience cry, but they’re not sure of that anymore, none of us are. Wednesdays are my best days, which is why I do all my manifesting, my quiet meditations, on Wednesday afternoons after a bowl of chickpea-tomato curry. These days, I am always manifesting, always meditating, and so every day must be Wednesday, in a sense. Wednesdays make me feel good, so every day IS Wednesday now! Anyways, today, tomorrow, next week, I sit down to write this essay with a cup of coffee in hand while the sun rises behind me. My window, which is slightly wider at the bottom than the top, is wet with dew and there’s a bird chipping away at the wooden frame. Everywhere else, its cousins bob on the branches of barren trees. There are so many that their song sounds like rain.
After three cups of coffee with milk (a recipe for disaster) I start thinking about what I’ve been thinking about. Have I thought about politics this week? Have I read a good poem? What New York Times bestseller can I reference to remind everyone that I read, and go to the galleries and literary festivals where culture happens. Well, where culture used to happen. The last time I was in a gallery, I was listening to my stomach grumble in response to a slice of NY slice pizza, which I chased with a Smirnoff spin at the counter while a lady with pink hair wondered how old I was. ‘Yes’ the rolled, after-lunch cigarette next to my paper plate said, ‘He is not a 12 year old.’ I will want more than anything in the world to say something about Sally Rooney’s Normal People, but I’ve already done that, everyone will be expecting it. I’ll also want, secretly, to write a controversial think piece to launch my career as a shit-starter. Then again, who among us doesn’t? I won’t do any of that. Instead I’ll close Medium, swivel in my leather chair, which my grandfather gifted me by his death, and open UCT’s Vula website because I am a student, a good student who does good student work. My mother’s been trying to get me to clean my room, which I should do considering the tendency of books to disappear into the space under my bed. Maybe the space is more attractive than my bookshelf, which is almost empty from all the books I’ve lost to borrowers. On that subject, can we call them borrowers when all they do is steal? I’ve much to think about, always, every day. The most important thing, though, is dinner, which is different every night because my mother and I have time to use the oven, browse Instagram and copy all of our favourite chefs. We quietly forgo the truffles, and she knows any talk of cheese is forbidden.
I will check my emails. Checking my emails has become a favourite pastime of mine now. The concept of discounts from Superbalist presents an opportunity to think about something new. My laptop screen is a gallery, a library, a cookbook, the window of a shop I can’t afford to get anything from. Who needs a mall when my desk can be Picknpay, Woollies, anything except H&M? (my heart yearns, but I am still mad about the monkey business). I’m always happy to avoid crowds, especially these days, when everyone is masked and anxious at the stores. No one picks their avocados one by one anymore, they buy them in packs of four. The price of coffee has climbed steadily so I can’t drink filter coffee anymore. I remember a time, another Wednesday in the aisle of a Checkers, where a white woman joked about the products missing from the shelf. ‘We’re thinking of cutting up our lawn and eating it with a white sauce!’ She said, and I cringed behind my mask.
By the time I get to my university email account, which I avoid like plague, I’ll have remembered what time of year it is, or what time of year it would be if everything had gone to plan. I would have been in the Jammie, breathing in the scent of other people’s sweat, their morning breath, first cigarettes. I would have sat at my desk in the library while the rain rustled palm fronds in the sunken garden. I assume, because of the August rain, I would be wearing a wool coat and turtleneck. I’d have a gag about my new glasses ready. ‘Omg, its so good to see you in HD, apparently you’ve been a blur this whole time’ or I’d take off my glasses and say ‘you can take these away, I think I’ve seen enough’ after someone showed me a video in the smoking area. We would all laugh, a lecturer would glide past, greet us for the first time in our lives, having avoided all of us when we were their students.
‘In memoriam’ the first email will read. They come so much more often than they used to , nearly all of the bodies are black, or at least they have black names. So strange, the things that have colour; names, languages, the right to life on this earth.
Wednesdays are my best days, so I always burn a few pancakes and then cover their black crust with Nutella. I’ll bite into the little slither of eggy, black, white, fluffy, crunchy pancake and look into the distance, ignoring the taste of burnt covered by chocolate. Pancakes should be desserts, they have all the characteristics, but the greatest gift of American imperialism is the right to have dessert for breakfast, so my mother won’t judge me as she bites into a sandwich and sips at sugarless tea. I have no idea where the rest of the day will go, everyday seems like waking up, starting my day and then eating dinner. The afternoons are a blur, like a thousand grey mice running across concrete. They are individually ineffectual, and it is terrifying to see so many of them go by. Its been next week Wednesday for the past 5 months. Its okay though, what I get now is to sit in my red gown while the sun dazzles me and the smell of vanilla coffee wakes up my senses. I get to run my fingers on the spines of many, many unread books which I bought because they appeared on The Guardian’s list of 100 books everyone should read before they die. And I get to irritate my mother with jazz, which I do because I love jazz, and because dealing with the irritation of jazz distracts my mother from the emptiness of our streets, from the fact that the whole future seems to already have happened.
Dinner will come, it’ll be pasta because neither of us can cook very well and because I love carbs. My mother eats from a small bowl, I’ll eat two large plates and then cradle my food-baby like Mary cradles her stomach in one of those pregnancy paintings the catholic church loves so much. Did you know I used to be Catholic? It doesn’t seem like a thing I would do, but I’m full of surprises. Like how I’ll start cleaning my room and re-organizing my wardrobe without my mother asking. Because it will be evening, and because I will be tired of looking at the blue screen where my whole life is, I’ll walk around the room, re-familiarising myself with a cabinet full of clothes I haven’t needed to wear this year (I should donate them, but somehow I still see the possibility of days at the beach, days walking through town and stopping at random café’s to drink a cup of coffee and people-watch while my friends attend their Friday lectures.) I used to think of 2020 as a pause, as amber which has hardened and which will preserve us until 2021… or 2022, or (god no) 2023. But the year is water, not resin, time is still flowing past us, through us. I had to get glasses this year because my vision started fading. I have to stretch every morning because my back aches and my knees feel antique. My thighs rub against each other in the pants for which I no longer need a belt. Things change, things remain exactly the same, every day is Wednesday, is a day to gain weight, is a day to wonder when time will finally cease to exist.