Mother’s Kitchen had been filling up nicely on Saturday mornings, mainly due to the Flying Start Breakfast the club had recently introduced. Good stuff it was too – a proper South African feast with eggs, bacon, pork sausage, boerevors, tomato, baked beans, fried onions and as much toast and tea as you could manage.
I was in a foul mood, however, when I sat down next to Ferdie from Ferdie and the Freeloaders, and wasn’t convinced that comfort food would help. The problem was Eddie. He had been on duty in the club foyer as I came through the revolving door. I’d mumbled a quick ‘hello’ and made directly for a table. But he’d blocked my way and laid a hand on my shoulder.
‘Mikey, I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry about the other night. Maybe... you know... I had a bit too much. And maybe, I said a bit too much as well.’
‘Well you said things as you see them, Eddie. Anyway, you were right. I went down Point Road to Smugglers and caught the show.'’
‘I thought you would. Look, about you and Emily.’
‘There is no me and Emily,’ I snapped. ‘It’s my fault, I got the wrong idea and that’s the end of the story. So don’t worry about your little sister.’
‘But I can see you—’
He got no further. Eddie had a lot of height and muscle on me, but I managed to catch him by surprise when I grabbed him by the waist and pushed him to one side.
‘I’m not discussing anything with you, Eddie. Now, just leave me alone.’
And before he could say any more, I was through the door and into the club.
‘You look kak. You’ve got a face like a slapped arse,’ said Ferdie as I sat down at his table. ‘Who’s been winding you up?’
‘You don’t want to know,’ I grumbled.
You had to like Ferdie. Originally from Portugal, he had grown up in South Africa and had been part of the Durban club scene for as long as I could remember. He was a good drummer and singer, but his real speciality was comedy. This was one funny guy: an over-the-top personality, a face that twisted like rubber and the gift of the gab that could turn any everyday event into a comedy side-show. I was a big fan and often popped in during our breaks to catch some of Ferdie and the band’s act. I particularly loved the way they took the piss out of famous people and parodied some of the current movies. Nothing and no-one was safe: Rod Stewart, The Village People, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all got it in the neck. Anyone with a birthday, stag or hen do, would get dragged on stage – sometimes, kicking and screaming – and presented with ‘Le Potty’. This was a large bowl in the shape of a toilet filled with beer and any other alcohol at hand. The unlucky victim would then have to lift the lid of the potty and consume the lot in one go, much to the amusement of Ferdie, Tony, Duncan and the audience.
The thing about Ferdie – unlike some comedians who can really be miserable bastards – was that he was as funny off-stage as he was on it. So when you sat next to him having breakfast, you had to be prepared to be the butt of his latest jokes:
‘You having the breakfast?’ he asked, his face already crinkling into a wonky smile.
‘The Flying Start,’ I told him.
‘You mean the cockroach special. I had one with a roach on yesterday. A Durban special – you could skateboard on it. The waiter told me they were all out of flies.’
Yeah, I know – he did waiter/fly jokes but added cockroaches to them for local flavour. A few minutes of Ferdie’s company and I was already starting to cheer up. And by the time the food arrived, I’d decided that tea may not be the best option. I would have to be careful though; too much, too soon could lead to a disaster of Moose proportions. Saturday, after all, was a long day for us with the three hour cocktail session as well as the usual evening hours. Still, as long as I stayed on the beer I knew I’d be OK. I’d played on a few pints and joints before and no-one had ever complained.
‘Right, I’m off to the bar, Ferdie. You want one?’
‘Get a jug, Mikey and we’ll share. Tell Amanda that I’ll sign for it. But give her a good tip, bru. And if you really like her, give her the full length.’
And so we tucked into our massive breakfasts, polishing off every last crumb and mopping the lot up with a plate of extra toast. Before long, Ferdie ordered another jug of ale and after an hour of jokes and funny stories my head was starting to feel all warm and fuzzy – in the nicest possible way.
‘Hey, it’s really good to catch up. I actually thought you guys were rehearing this morning.’
‘Nah, we don’t practice on Saturdays,’ I told him. ‘Too long a day as it is.’
‘Oh.’ Ferdie crumpled his eyebrows. ‘Well someone was practising in there earlier. I went through to the staff bar when I first arrived and heard a guitar tuning up. I could hear voices as well.’
‘It’s probably Chester doing some practice. He’s a bit of a fanatic. I’m teaching him to read music – maybe he’s working on that.’
‘Hey, listen bru,’ Ferdie had leaned forward and I knew what was coming. ‘About your new guitarist. He looks a hell of a lot like a waiter who used to work in here.’
‘Ya, well... we’ll do anything for a quicker bar service.’
Ferdie smiled and poked me on the arm.
‘Leave the kak jokes to me, Mikey. So is this the same guy? You called him Chester and I remember a waiter who was called that. He had it written on his name tag.’
‘Ya, it’s him, Ferdie.’ I leaned forward. ‘But listen, we need to keep this quiet, okay?’
‘You’ve got a non-white guy in the band and you want me to keep quiet,’ he said, his face momentarily serious. ‘I’m on the mike tonight, china. I’ll tell them we’ve got the best waiters in Durban. They’re quick, never get an order wrong and if one of the band gets too pissed, they can always help out on stage.’
‘Fuck, no,’ I cried, watching him lean back and fall about laughing.
‘I’m kidding you on, you silly bugger. I thought you were gonna kak yourself! Your secret’s safe with us.’
I didn’t really like the ‘us’ bit as it seemed to imply that Tony and Duncan were automatically in on the cloak-and-dagger. But something else Ferdie said earlier was playing on my mind.
‘Hey Ferdie,’ I said. ‘You said you heard voices in our club, along with the guitar tuning up.’
‘Ja, you reckon you’ve got a mad one as well? Talks to himself?’
‘Hey, he wouldn’t be the first. You have to pass a madness test to join us.’
‘Like it. Careful Mikey, we may have to make you a permanent fixture here at Mother’s if you keep these jokes up.’
I laughed, but more out of politeness than anything. My mind was now wondering who Chester had with him next door.
‘Right I’m gonna duck, Ferdie.’ I reached out and shook his hand. ‘I’ve got a few things to do in the club and need a quick shower to clear my head before the afternoon session. Thanks for the beer, china, I owe you one.’
‘No you owe me a couple of jugs, you bastard,’ he shouted, but a barely heard him having already walked past the side of the stage and pushed the swing doors open to the staff bar.
Waving absent-mindedly to the barman, I tapped Manny’s shoulder as he walked past with a tray loaded with drinks. Only when I reached the doors to The Ship Inn, however, did I become aware of some music. It was James Taylor’s version of, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. Even though the volume was down low, I still recognised Chester’s voice and guitar style.
I pushed through the doors and entered our club. Other than a couple of spots shining directly on the stage, the room was in complete darkness. Chester was sitting on a high bar stool placed in the middle of the stage, the red Stratocaster hanging loosely around his neck and a music book on a stand in front of him. I recognised the book as being the one I had given him. He was singing into a microphone which seemed so soft as to be barely on; his hands strumming the chords and his eyes staring straight in front of him.
I stared silently at the stage. I knew that if I didn’t move, the lights shining into his eyes would protect me from being seen. And for a few seconds I simply stood there and watched – perhaps not quite believing the evidence of my own eyes, my hand pushed against the back wall to steady myself. Confusion turned to resentment before a physical feeling of coldness seemed to overwhelm me. I’d never felt something quite so overpowering before and it’s a feeling you don’t forget.
Behind Chester, her hands resting on his shoulder, was Emily. Her head was moving gently to the rhythm of the song. I watched as she closed her eyes and let her hand fall to his waist. And then she smiled.
I turned as quietly as possible and went back through the staff doors. Manny was returning with his empty tray and I stared blankly as he said something to me. But I never heard a word as I broke into a run, crashing through the exit doors, across the veranda and away from the hotel.
* * * * * * * * * *
[South Beach as it would have been in the 70s during the holiday season]
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