I remember having some wonderful plans for the Sunday. A lazy morning in bed followed by a huge breakfast at The Burger Hut on West Street, maybe even another walk on the beach. Sunday’s and Monday’s were our nights off and the perfect opportunity to go and see some of the other bands in town. Ballyhoo was just down the road at The Killarney and I had read somewhere that The Bats were also in town – playing at one of the Berea hotels.
But now I wouldn’t be able to take her out or show her off to anybody. And I couldn’t understand why she would just up and leave without so much as a goodbye. So I spent all day cooped up in the flat, looking at the phone and willing it to ring; hoping that she would know that ringing Sealands reception and asking for room 1202 would do the trick.
The phone, however, remained silent and eventually I gave up and wandered down to The Killarney, got totally wrecked at the club bar, struggling to find the will to even watch the stage.
Monday morning saw the band, minus Chester, gathered in Dieter’s office.
‘Look there’s no other way than to ask you guy’s straight out,’ said our boss. ‘Is Chester white?’
We all looked at Brian. He leaned forward in his chair.
‘Well it’s a bit awkward, you know, to ask. I mean... he could go either way couldn’t he.’
‘Look...’ Dieter put both arms on the exquisite desk. ‘I’m asking you Brian because I need to know. No-one’s said anything and no-one’s complained… yet! But if this thing turns into a problem, then I must know where I stand.’
‘Yeah I get it.’ Brian turned and looked at the three of us, his eyes almost pleading for help. But what could we say?
‘Dieter...’ he said eventually, ‘we think that Chester is probably Coloured. You know, like a Cape Coloured. He was a waiter at Mother’s Kitchen and most of the guys there are Indians although there are a few Coloureds as well.’
‘I knew he was a waiter,’ said Dieter, catching us all by surprise. ‘I suspected that he was coloured too. I just wanted to hear it from you. And although you guys probably don’t realise it, I’ve stood at the club’s reception and listened to him play a few times. I’m not the uninformed German twat some of you think I am!’
‘And what did you think,’ I asked trying to put things on a positive footing.
‘What do I think?’ Dieter leaned back in his leather chair. ‘I think he’s brilliant. I’ve haven’t heard anything like it. And he’s made the band. You guys have never sounded so good.’
I was tempted to say well, no problem then, but realised that that would be naive and perhaps even a bit disrespectful to our manager.
‘Look, I’m sure that you guys know the situation,’ continued Dieter. ‘If anything happens and the authorities find out about Chester, then the hotel could be in some serious shit. It would only take a complaint or a word in the wrong ear. You know what I mean, don’t you?’
Harvey hadn’t said a word the whole time since we’d entered the office, preferring to slouch back nonchalantly in his chair. But now he sat up and nailed the problem – coming out with the words that we were all thinking.
‘So, Dieter, what are you going to do about it then?’
This was the crux of the meeting – the unavoidable ‘buck stops here’ decision he would have to make. We watched as he leaned back in the posh chair and stared at the ceiling fan. After a while he closed his eyes and eased his hands along his closely cropped beard. I don’t know why, but at that moment I imagined that he was somewhere else; in another place and another time. His next words, when they eventually came, made us smile and were probably the reason why we always remembered him as one of our favourite managers.
‘Okay, so moving on... I’ve had more complaints about you dirty bastards changing the words of songs. Pack it in okay... especially you Dave. And you, Harvey, remember that although you have signing powers for beer, you can’t sign for more than you earn. I’ll not have you owing the hotel for yet another month. Now fuck off, the lot of you!’
* * * * * * * * * *
I thought that Emily would follow the usual pattern of girls we met at The Ship Inn. (Well, at least I hoped that she’d follow that pattern.) She’d turn up on most nights, occupy a table, cast warning looks at the female opposition and generally make good on the promise of our first night.
But that never happened. I watched the revolving doors on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and was disappointed each night. Well, to be honest, not just disappointed –devastated! Things started going through my mind. Had I said or done something wrong? Had I blown the sex? Had I asked too many questions, was there someone else? It went on and on. And I kept wondering why she didn’t phone. Perhaps she really didn’t know how the Sealands reception system worked. But she knew where I was and it had to be up to her to find me. There was one thing I wasn’t prepared to contemplate: that she didn’t want to find me.
In the end, my mind was going in circles. And I had plenty of time and space to follow those circles as well. Mad Maria and the chaperone had disappeared for the time being. Nurse Cindy had also failed to show although Lydia and Katy were ever present at their usual table. Katy, in fact seemed to have made a successful play for Harvey, and I watched them disappearing hand in hand through the staff exit on Wednesday night. Both nurses treated me like a leprosy victim, turning their noses skyward every time I came within a few feet of them.
I had one hope, really. Dave. He, of course, went through so many women that I knew that it was quite optimistic of me to think the he may be seeing Angela again. But she was also a stunning-looking woman and it seemed improbable that she wouldn’t at least show up at the club at some stage. I’d tried the obvious of course and asked Dave if she had a number; getting a rather typical reply:
‘Don’t take or give out numbers, Mikey. Only leads to trouble. They end up phoning all the time, or expecting you to call them. Don’t plan ahead mate, deal only with the here-and-now.’
By Thursday night I was desperate. I took my pride in my hands and approached him at the staff bar, making sure the rest of the band was out of hearing range:
‘Look Dave. I really want to get hold of Emily. Straight out question then: are you seeing Angela again? She’s kind of my only connection.’
Dave threw his head back and laughed.
‘You really on an absolute arsehole, Mikey – a complete doos!’
My face reddened and I could feel my hands tightening around the beer glass.
‘Well, just because you’re a womanising—’
His hand grabbed my shoulder and he pulled me closer to him.
‘No, you don’t understand, man. You’re standing a few feet from her blerry brother. Don’t you remember her telling that hairy-knuckled bouncer at the horse? Her brother’s a bouncer right here at Mothers. Go and see him now, you love-sick prick!’
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a bit tricky finding a reason to suddenly hang about the foyer of Mother’s Kitchen. I was hoping that Fernando, Tony or Duncan from Ferdie and the Freeloaders might have been loitering around the area. However, they were on-stage and just busy on their ‘Rod Stupid’ cabaret routine which meant that they still had most of their set to do. But I sort of knew one of the bouncers, Gavin, having chatted to him briefly while devouring a bangers and mash recently and I hoped that he may be on duty.
As it happened there was no real need to worry. As soon as I entered the little foyer, I found both bouncers and the girl on the till having a full on argument about music. They didn’t even seem to notice me leaning casually on the wooden counter as I listened in.
‘Look, these okes are a showband. They do comedy right and they’ve got to play all this commercial stuff ‘cause that’s what the punters want. But you’re listening to the same stuff on your records and cassettes at home, china. And it’s kak, man – pure unadulterated shit. You’re missing out on all the good stuff – the stuff with soul!’
I looked at the guy speaking and straight away knew he was Emily’s brother. He had the same dark hair, blue eyes and perfect bone structure. He must have been at least six foot four, but there wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. And he was as handsome as she was beautiful – a real surfer type. What a gene-pool of a family this was turning out to be.
‘Well stuff you, Eddie. I like this sort of stuff,’ said Gavin, also a big guy but more rounded about the stomach and a bit shorter. ‘You can dance to it and it has lekker tunes to sing along to.’
‘Ya, me too! If you can’t dance to it then it’s kak!’ added the cashier girl as she took a few rand off a couple and stamped their wrists.
Gavin raised a hand to me and then immediately pointed a finger in my direction:
‘Well here’s a muso, let’s ask him. What do you prefer then, Mikey: pop and disco, or this weird way-out kak that Eddie here seems to like?’
Instinct told me to be careful here. This was not the time to offend the very guy I was hoping to befriend.
‘I think there’s a place for both. I mean we play the pop and disco stuff and it works because it packs the dance floor. If we gave them Grateful Dead, Yes, ELP, Purple or Led Zeppelin we wouldn’t get the crowds. But, I must admit that when I go home, I listen to very different stuff.’
‘Like what?’ snapped Eddie, obviously feeling his two to one disadvantage.
‘Well lately I’ve been listening to the new Elvis Costello, some James Taylor and I’m still very into Lou Reed. I’m kind of into the singer-songwriters if you know what I mean.’
Eddie was examining me with growing interest.
‘So who’s you all-time favourite?’ he asked.
‘There’s no doubt about that,’ I laughed. ‘It has to be Van the Man.’
‘Yeah, of course. He’s been my favourite for a few years now.’
And that was it. We bonded immediately. He forgot all about the argument as he pulled me towards Mother’s revolving door and plied me with questions.
‘So what’s your favourite album? Do you like the early Them stuff? Which is better: Astral Weeks or Moondance? What’s your favourite track off Veedon Fleece? Had you heard the new one, Wavelength yet?’
He spoke really quickly with a kind of manic enthusiasm and intensity. I was almost tempted to believe that this guy loved Van the Man more than I did, although that may have been stretching it a bit. For about ten minutes we swopped notes, dissecting the Irishman’s career and generally agreeing on all his highs and well... not quite so highs. (Up until then, Van didn’t really have any lows.) We got so lost in conversation that when I happened to glance at my watch, I realised I was late for the next set.
‘Have to go, Eddie... to be continued,’ I said giving him the thumbs up.
‘No problem, we must talk further,’ he shouted after me. ‘I tell you what, here’s an idea. You guys are off on Mondays, right? Pull ‘round to mine and we’ll make a Van night of it.’ He caught me up and leaned in close, turning briefly to make sure that Gavin and the cashier were out of hearing distance. ‘I’ve got the best Durban Poison ever too - you up for that?’
‘Is the Pope Jewish,’ I answered. ‘Where about is your place?’
‘1212 Sealands, the same floor as you, you doos. Didn’t you know?’
‘Well I knew that Ferdie and the guys were next to us, but didn’t realise the bouncers were on that floor as well?’
‘Yeah it’s the Hotel Laguna floor.’ He pointed at Gavin. ‘He’s next door to me in 1211.’
‘Jeez, well... won’t have far to go then,’ I said, thinking that that may be a good thing if Durban Poison was on the menu.
So, how strange is life sometimes then? Having just spent five days panicking about finding my Emily, it turns out that her brother is living just along the corridor from me.
And then something else also fell into my lap: a little gift from heaven. As I was walking away from Eddie, he suddenly yelled at me:
‘Hey Mikey, on the spot now... quickly: your favourite song on Astral Weeks?’
An easy one, I’d been playing it the whole week since meeting Emily, and it was constantly replaying in my mind.
‘Ballerina. And you?’
‘Cyprus Avenue. Appropriate hey, especially as that’s where I grew up and my folks and sister still live there.’
‘You mean the Cyprus Avenue on the Bluff?’
He pointed and sang out at the top of his voice:
‘Well I’m caught one more time, up on Cyprus Avenue. That’s the one, Mikey... that’s the one!’
* * * * * * * * * *
[The Little Top on Durban's South Beach. It's no longer there.]
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