Zimkhitha Mlanzeli went off to an interview with the Children’s Radio Foundation. She got more than she bargained for. Just by chance she bumped into a Fanz writer she’s been working with, but has never met. In her words…
I walk into the building, unsure where to go really. I see a couple of people coming down the steps in the foyer, heading out the door. There is a gentleman standing by the security counter/reception desk, waiting for the lift. I’m nervous. I’m about to do an interview with the Chidren’s Radio Foundation. I decide to wait for the lift even though I am only going to the second floor and I’m half an hour early.
The lift arrives. There’s a guy in it. He doesn’t get out. I see the gentleman I was waiting with entering the lift so I follow. I realise that that the guy in the lift is actually manning it. The two men immediately strike up a conversation. I’m too shy and nervous to ask to be dropped on the second floor and I watch the floors pass as we ascend. The other guy gets off and I’m left feeling foolish. Just me and the guy who’s driving the lift are there.
“Sorry, I’m going to the second floor. You were in conversation. I should’ve said something.” I say apologetically to the guy, who by now I know is a porter.
“No I’m sorry, I should’ve asked. Going to the Children’s Radio Foundation?” he asks as the lift stops. I nod. He prises open the steel gate, pushes the door open, jumps out and points to the direction of where I’m going – all cheerful and happy.
I need some of his juice, I reflect as I slowly walk through the door.
The interview happens. Like all the interviews I’ve ever done, I don’t feel really good about it. I want to get back to the office and forget it ever happened. I walk out and take the steps – I don’t feel like waiting for the lift, it’s only two floors. I get to the foyer. It’s empty.
Great. Now I must get an Uber. I walk out of the building and decide to go to the KFC two doors down and order it from there. I go there. My phone is frozen and everyone is looking at me expectantly. They think I should buy something. I get a cooldrink and walk right out.
Something tells me that standing on this street in the busyness of Cape Town is trouble. I stand by the door of the familiar building on Spin Stree. I hear the lift coming.
“So how did it go?” I turn. The porter guy is waiting for my answer. I shrug and give a little smile: let’s not go there my body language says. I go back to my phone.
“I know you from somewhere,” he says. I look at him, I can’t find his face in my vault and he can see it. “What’s your name?” he asks.
“Zimkhitha,” I respond.
“Mlanzeli?” he asks again.
OK, wait up, who are you and where do you know me from. My face asks this and he sees it. “I’m Oswald, I submit work to you.”
There’s only one Oswald in my vault.
“Oswald Kuchera?” I ask, getting it wrong.
“Kucherera, he corrects me with the brightest smile ever. How can someone be happy to have their name spoken incorrectly? But that’s not it because I have the same look on my face.
“Oh my God!” I scream, jumping at him. We cling onto each other and laugh.
We chat for a while. Turns out we had an almost-moment of meeting last year at the Open Book Festival. He was sitting at the back in a panel discussion I was in and had wanted to waylay me but had been discouraged by the crowd of False Bay College students we had taken to the festival.
“You haven’t been writing though,” I say shaking my finger and admonishingly him. “Why haven’t you been writing?”
“I have… sorta. I have a book,” he says.
Before I can react he runs upstairs, leaving me confused. He comes back with a book. It has his name on it. Self-published. His face is on the cover. It’s beautiful.
“The Exodus Down South,” I read the title.
I look up. He is beaming. He is the validation. He is the motivation. Dreams do – sometimes – come true. Work and determination do pay off in the end, even though so often the present moment appears fraught.
I jump on him again (yes, I like doing that) and hold on tight. He does too. He knows I’m proud of him. The tears threatening my eyes and messing up my vision are testament to this. I recall his struggle – one all we writers have – not knowing what to write about.
I had told him to write what he knows and he had then disappeared from my inbox, only to resurface with some poetry every now and again.
This is Ozzy, one of our Fanz writers, in the flesh. I love moments like these.
I ask him to sign it for me and we can’t find a pen. How ironic. Two writers walking around without a pen!
A gentleman walks in, we ask him for a pen. He gives it to us and waits as the signing happens. I’m getting my phone ready to capture the moment. He asks the guy to take a photo of us and the guy agrees. We pose, we laugh, we hug. We chat some more and I mention that I love these moments; that I met another writer at the festival last year.
“Yes, Bukelani, he told me,” he says. I’m super excited that they know each other and are friends.
This is what I live for, I think to myself.
My phone pings. My Uber has arrived. I thank Ozzy and wish him well, promising to share his book with everyone I know. I congratulate him and urge him to write some more. He asks me for a review. We part ways and I walk to my Uber and get in. I open up the book and smell the pages (yes, I do this a lot too). A tear comes, and then another (I do this way too much). I close the book and wipe the tears off. The Uber driver looks worried.
“Sorry, I just love books,” I say laughing at myself.
“I can tell by the way you threw everything on the floor and just started reading.” He says, I laugh. “No really, usually people have their phones in their hands, but you, you threw your phone with the bag and held on to the book.”
I take a deep breath and enjoy the sun beating on the window as we navigate down Spin Street and out of town.
“I’m sorry, how are you doing Robert?” I ask, sending the tears back to the space where they will remain, until later when I’m in bed and reading Ozzy’s book from cover to cover.