It was a miserable weekend. Angela turned up on Friday and Saturday nights, our singer taking care of her sleeping arrangements in room 1204 down the corridor – one pair of knickers no doubt deposited for his hospitality. But Emily didn’t show. Neither did Nurse Cindy although I did spot Mad Maria and the chaperone on the Laguna veranda. Both had the good sense to say nothing as I walked past.
Mad Maria had to be the number one suspect for the lipstick job. I reported the incident to the Sealands reception desk and they managed to track down the maid who had cleaned the room that morning. But she turned out to be a miserable cow with very little English who either knew nothing or wasn’t saying anything. I tried questioning her but gave up when she got the impression that I was accusing her of stealing. Anyway, it all led nowhere and eventually I left the desk with no progress, other than the promise of a new maid.
On the off-chance, I gathered the band guys together. That too was a waste of time and soon led to animosity when Harvey and Dave decided to turn the incident into a joke at my expense.
‘Horse’s head in the bed, next time,’ Dave assured me.
‘Won’t work with him,’ interrupted Harvey. ‘He doesn’t even like horses. What about the blood-stained remains of his ARP Odyssey. That’ll do it.’
I couldn’t think of a clever response and felt too overwhelmed to even bother. Instead I left them with a polite:
‘Fuck off,’ before slamming the door and storming back to my flat.
Brian came knocking later with a peace offering.
‘Look the guys are sorry. They’re just being silly and we realise that this whole thing is upsetting for you... especially with the Emily thing and all. So we’ve hired a video to watch after the gig tonight. It’s a Clint Eastwood, we know you like him. Pull round to mine at one. I’ll get some wine, burgers and chips in too.’
Of course, the video turned out to be Play Misty for Me.
After that, sleep wasn’t much of an option and I spent most of the night reading or staring into the darkness, watching The Londsdale sign do its merry dance across my sheets. It was still quite early on Saturday morning when I popped into The Laguna Pool Bar for breakfast before making my way down to the club.
The cleaners let me into Mother’s Kitchen and as I walked passed the deserted staff bar I heard music – the sound of an acoustic guitar. I pushed the service doors open and could just make out Chester sitting on the edge of the stage, a piece of paper up on a music stand, his acoustic resting on his knee. The club was in near darkness.
‘Jeez, you’re keen. I thought I was early.’
‘Oh, I was just working something out,’ he said, staring at the page in front of him.
‘You didn’t make the movie last night. Not a Clint Eastwood fan then?’
‘Movie? Um… what movie?’
I paused a second, decided to say nothing and then walked over to the mixing desk.
‘Chester let me show you how to turn on the P.A. and get the stage lights on. You can practice properly then and use the microphones.’
‘You don’t mind? Thanks, Mikey, that will really help. I like to get in early and go through stuff.’
‘Which song are you working on?’ I said looking at the music stand.
‘I’m doing that Supertramp one that I heard you guys doing one afternoon: “Bloody Well Right”.’
‘Ah… great song. I love the electric piano introduction.’
‘How did you work that all out, Mikey? You must have spent hours listening to it and memorising it.’
‘Yeah it took a long time. But I worked it all out on paper first.’ I popped into the change room, rummaged around and came out with a piece of music manuscript paper. ‘Here it is. Look, loads of fly shit!’
He looked over my shoulder, eyes widening. ‘Wow, look at that. I wouldn’t know where to start. Just dots and squiggles to me.’
‘Years of classical training. But in my case I do find it much easier to write things down first. It helps my brain get everything in order. Do you read any music at all, Chester?’
‘No, but I really wish I could.’
I went back into the change room, had another rummage and re-emerged with an unused manuscript book.
‘Okay then, no time like the present.’ I grabbed a pencil, walked over to the nearest table and pulled up a stool. Placing the book on the table I wrote ‘Chester’ in big capitals on the cover and turned to the first page.
‘Right, catch a park and let’s start,’ I said pointing to the buffet next to me. ‘We’ll do an hour this morning and then let’s try and fit in a few hours every week. That way, you’ll soon pick up the basics... especially with your ear.’
Chester hesitated a moment and walked slowly towards the table.
‘Mikey... um... I’d like to offer you something... but it’s difficult.’
I smiled and patted the seat.
‘Don’t be silly. Now let’s get started.’
* * * * * * * * * *
‘I think we should start with Moondance. It’s less intense than Astral Weeks which is probably better a few joints down the line.’
I gazed at Eddie and inadvertently bit my bottom lip. The joint that he had already rolled looked massive and the news that this may be the first of many was a tad disconcerting to say the least. This guy was quickly coming over as the last of the great hippies. I’d already had to suppress a bit of a smile when he’d opened the door to me dressed in tatty jeans, Jesus sandals and a loose-fitting cheesecloth top. And my hand went right over my mouth when I walked into the main room of his flat to find that the two comfortable arm chairs that came as standard with every flat at Sealands had been pushed into a corner while their cushions had been removed and placed on the floor. Between the cushions, a stick of incense was burning away as was a candle in a saucer. The main lights were off but The Londsdale sign across the road was still providing it’s free lightshow even though we were ten flats down the corridor from mine.
‘Here, have a go at this while I get things going,’ said Eddie.
I looked at the joint in amazement. In less than a minute he had already smoked half of it. Knowing my limitations, I took a few nervous puffs and made a show of flicking the burning end into the ashtray before handing it back. Hell, this was powerful stuff. As ‘Van the Man’ launched into the very appropriate ‘And it Stoned Me’ my head was already floating off to the Planet Strange.
‘Here you go.’ Eddie handed me a huge glass of dry white wine. ‘Is this heaven, or what?’
‘This will do nicely,’ I agreed. ‘I like your style, Eddie. There’s a bit more to you than the... the...’
‘The bouncer thing?’ He smiled and I nodded my head, pointing and conducting my finger in time with the music. Already I was wondering how I was going to cope with this marijuana if this was the result of a few initial puffs.
‘Well it’s a job isn’t it? It’s easy money, especially at Mother’s Kitchen – not much hassle in there. There’re some places in Durbs where the okes just go to fight, but I wouldn’t work in one of them, anyway. Get your face kicked in, man!’
I saw a small opportunity, so probed as much as I dared:
‘So how long since you left home then?’
He studied me, and for a while I got the impression he wasn’t going to answer.
‘I hated home,’ he said, eventually. ‘I really hated it.’
He looked towards the window and spoke so quietly that I could barely hear his voice above the music.
‘It was a hard place to leave. Like a prison’
I had to stop myself nodding in agreement. He’d hit the nail on the head – Cliff Castle was exactly that: an amazing piece of architecture with stunning views, but a prison, no less. Eddie turned from the window and looked directly at me.
‘But I got out, Mikey... I fuckin’ got out.’ He raised his voice. ‘And look, here I am now. A job with decent money, a free flat, my own car… hey, I’m doing alright, man.’
At that moment I had so many questions that my semi-stoned mind nearly burst with the strain. Why? What happened? What was so terrible about your home? Is Emily still trapped inside? But Van had swung into ‘Moondance’ and it seemed as though the mood had lifted and the opportunity had gone. I felt that the answers would come. The night could be a long one and I needed to be patient.
For much of ‘Crazy Love’, ‘Caravan’ and ‘Into the Mystic’ we stayed silent, Eddie occasionally reaching for the bottle to top up our glasses. Now and again he would close his eyes and sway with the music – a gesture that reminded me very much of Emily’s dancing.
When the first side ended, Eddie left me to flip the record while he went to the kitchen to hunt down another bottle of wine, two plates of nuts, crisps and dips and some roll-up papers. Then, I watched nervously as he rolled another massive joint before he signalled that he was ready for the next side.
So I laid into the snacks and held back a bit on the wine knowing that the next joint could be the one to send me permanently into oblivion. It was already clear that Eddie handled marijuana like most chain-smokers smoked cigarettes. This was worrying and I didn’t fancy throwing up in a relative stranger’s toilet or bouncing off the corridor walls and doors as I made my short journey home. But more importantly, I needed at least a few brain cells to find things out. Anything he could tell me about Jane, Cliff and the secretive house on Cyprus Avenue would do. And of course, anything he could tell me about Emily.
I took a few tentative puffs at the joint and to my surprise the taste seemed to be smoother, sweeter and easier on my throat. As ‘These Dreams of You’ kicked in I started to relax; feelings of dizziness and mild paranoia gradually replaced by a sense of well-being. And after a while, I realised that I was enjoying myself. Yes, I may have had some selfish reasons for manufacturing this friendship. But so far, I really liked the guy and as far as I could tell, he seemed to enjoy having me around as well.
Or so I thought.
Looking back on that night it almost seems as if the soulful and relaxed Moondance album was the soundtrack to Eddie’s positive and easy-going side. The moody and hypnotic Astral Weeks, however, brought out an entirely different person.
If the truth be known, things started going downhill even before we started the second album. In the break, Eddie disappeared again into the kitchen in search of more booze.
‘Shit, I’m all out,’ he yelled, slamming the fridge door and returning to the main room to glare at the empty wine bottles.
‘Let me check my place out,’ I said getting unsteadily to my feet and making my way through his door and down the corridor. But all I found was two cans of warm beer and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. On the off-chance, I tried knocking on the band’s doors but no-one answered and no lights appeared to be on. Walking back to 1212 it occurred to me maybe I should have made a better effort. Perhaps Eddie had been expecting me to bring something to the party and was a bit pissed off that I hadn’t. A quick visit to the bottle store before it closed might just have been the polite thing to do. Well it was too late to worry about that and the upshot of it all was that we had only two alternatives: to either abandon the Van Morrison evening and head for the nearest club, or make do with a can each.
We opted for Van and warm lager.
‘Jeez, you’re making another one,’ I said as Eddie lowered the needle onto to the record and reached for the roll-up papers.
He looked up, his eyes bloodshot but still focused.
‘Makes up for the wine,’ he mumbled. ‘More than you can handle, Mikey?’
‘Well... It’s good, but it’s strong shit. I’ll have to go easy on it or I won’t be much good to anyone—’
‘Don't be a moefie, man. Take it all in; it will help you to fly.’
I wasn’t impressed with that: ‘moefie’ is a South African slang word for being gay. But I bit my tongue and continued:
‘Hey, I’m flying already.’
Eddie turned the red eyes directly on me.
‘One day Mikey, I’m going to fly like an angel. I’m going to sail right through the air and disappear into the distance.’ He raised his finger and I realised that he was pointing towards the window. ‘You just fuckin’ watch me!’
‘Yeah, me too,’ I said. ‘I love that whole idea of freedom; to be free as a bird to go anywhere and do anything you want.’
‘That’s hippy dreamer bullshit, Mikey and not what I meant, you arsehole.’ Another insult, and this time he seemed to really mean it. ‘What I’m saying is: I really want to fly. I’ll go right back into the kitchen, take a good run at it and dive straight though that window. And I know that I won’t fall, Mikey. It’s all in the mind you see. The wind will take me, guide me and I’ll have complete control. I’ll be able to manoeuvre this way and that, go fast or slow, up or down... and land anywhere I want.’
‘You’ve smoked too much of that stuff,’ I told him. The guy was starting to annoy and concern me. I give him an innocent bit of philosophy and he comes back with a suicidal nightmare while accusing me of being the hippy dreamer.
‘You think I’m just out of it and talking shit, don’t you?’ He was staring directly at me now. ‘But you don’t know me so I can kind-of understand that.’
Another opportunity presented itself. So tell me about yourself – and your family. But once again I kept quiet. This sudden bout of despondency and foul temper worried me and the last thing I wanted to do was to trigger some negative memories which would literally send this silly bastard over the edge. So I held back and stayed with my original plan. And that was to wait for the last song on side one: ‘Cyprus Avenue’.
Roughly fifteen minutes later, we were there.
‘Hey Eddie, you grew up on Cyprus Avenue.’ I kept the tone of my voice light and conversational. ‘What’s it like having Van sing a song about the road you used to live on.’
Eddie looked at me with a wry smile.
‘I think Van’s in a different place, Mikey. Try Belfast.’
‘Oh yeah, I know that. But still, I wonder what he’d make of your avenue on the Bluff. I bet Belfast doesn’t have those views.’
‘Yeah, good point. Do you know the Bluff then? Ever been down my road?’
I was ready for that.
‘I had a friend who lived in that area when I was a ‘lightie’. A few roads away from Cyprus Avenue but I remember going down that way a few times. I remember those fantastic views: Brighton Beach and right out to sea.’
‘All fuckin’ history for me, Mikey.’ He turned and stared out of the window again. ‘I’ll never go back there... nope, never!’
‘Don’t your folks still live there then?’
‘My mother and my sister,’ he answered his voice soft again so that I hardly heard him.
‘And your dad?’
‘My Dad’s dead, Mikey. He died when Emily and I were little.’
‘So is…’ I caught myself just in time and quickly changed tack. ‘Emily’s your sister right?’
His eyes locked on me. And there was something in them I didn’t like.
‘What the fuck are you playing at, china! Are you using me? Is that what you’re doing here?’
I was immediately on full alert.
‘I don’t understand... I mean... I didn’t mean to offend you.’
‘Emily’s your sister right!’ He mimicked my voice. ‘Like you don’t know her – like you didn’t walk hand in hand out of the Crazy Horse with her the other night, heading for the beach.’
And then I got it. Once again that moron of a Crazy Horse bouncer had stuffed me right in the eye. Eddie knew him and they’d been talking. I needed to come up with something quickly. But my doped-up mind wasn’t playing along and besides, there really seemed no way out of this one. So before I could open my mouth, Eddie was talking again and filling in the gaps:
‘Here’s what I think, china. You’ve fallen for her, haven’t you? But she’s dumped you and now you’re using me to try and find out what’s gone wrong. I bet there’s no friend on the Bluff. In fact, you’ve probably already been around that house, haven’t you?’
I held my hands defensively in front of me.
‘Yeah, I’ve been around the house, Eddie. But you’re wrong about Emily and me. We haven’t broken up. I mean, we haven’t really even got together.’
‘But I bet you’ve already fucked her, haven’t you?’
I hated what he’d said and the way he’d said it, but I tried not to raise my voice.
‘That doesn’t mean I don’t care for her, Eddie. I’m trying to understand her, that’s all. If she told me to piss off... then I would. But all I’m getting is mixed signals. And I think that she loves me as well.’
He looked intensely at me.
‘Emily doesn’t love you, Mikey. Emily can’t love you – not now.’
‘Why can’t she love me?’
He turned his head and stared once again at the window and after a while I realised that he wasn’t going to answer. The song ended and we listened to the scratching of the needle on the final grooves. Eventually, Eddie got to his feet and pulled the arm off the record.
‘Why did you go around to the house? I mean, what were you trying to achieve doing that?’
His voice had lost the aggressive edge.
‘Everything was perfect at first,’ I said. ‘It felt as if we were made for each other. And then she went away and never even tried to contact me. It was a contradiction, Eddie. It just didn’t make sense.’
It makes sense, china. She didn’t want to see you, didn’t want to get involved.’
‘I don’t believe that. I’m not prepared to believe that. There’s something else – something that’s got nothing to do with me. I think that’s why I went to the house: to talk to her and to try and figure it out.’
‘And did you?’ His hand was stroking the side of his face.
‘She’s scared, Eddie. Your mum’s scared too. And your father—’
‘He’s not my father!’
‘Well, your stepfather then. I don’t like him. I really don’t like him at all.’
Eddie smiled and his eyes narrowed.
‘You need to get over my sister, Mikey. Plenty of punda in The Ship for you, my friend.’
‘Is this big brother speaking? Or is this a friend?’
‘A friend.’ He picked up the record and turned it over. ‘Right, final stretch, four of the absolute best. ‘"Madame George” is another of my favourites.’
‘"Ballerina" for me.’ I watched him rolling yet another joint, wondering if I might just refuse this one. ‘And not just because Emily teaches ballet.’
‘She did ballet at school, Mikey. She doesn’t teach it though.’
‘Well, modern dance or whatever they call it now then.’
He paused and looked up at me, the tobacco papers balanced finely between the index fingers and thumbs of his hands.
‘Is that what she told you?’
‘She told me she teaches dancing.’ I felt my face colouring.
He laughed; the sound forced and unnatural and then threw the half-finished joint onto the floor.
‘Oh you fucking idiot, Mikey. She’s lying to you. She works at Smuggler’s Rest on Point Road – five or six days a week, sometimes in the day and sometimes at night. She’s a fucking stripper, china: a stripper!’
* * * * * * * * * *
[Part of The Golden Mile, Durban]
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