Once, while living in Cape Town, during a particularly confusing period in my life (which seems to be my entire twenties), I was invited to supper by my landlady, a sweet, old lady named Mrs. Pretorius. We lived on the same property; our separate houses were divided by a party wall. She was the best landlady anyone could ask for. I would blast my Katy Perry and Jay-Z records at ear-splitting volumes at any time of the day without fearing recrimination—she maintains it is because she was nearly deaf but I think she secretly enjoyed Jay-Z’s “Black Album” –and I could have friends over and make as much noise as we pleased. On days when Cape Town had agreeable weather, we would take a drive across the Cape Peninsula and visit her extended family in Noordehook. I would promptly inhale all the food her family prepared (like a champion) and get beaten at Xbox games and table tennis (like a bitch) by her grandsons. It was always pleasant to be part of a big family unit while I was apart from mine, even if it was for a while. Every so often, when we both had time, we would sit together in her lounge, sip a cup of tea, nibble some chocolate (there was always chocolate in her house), and talk about life.
On the particular Sunday night she invited me for supper, we had not seen each other in a month because I was spending less and less time on my side of the house; I was putting in long hours at work during the day and hopping from one social engagement to another in the evening. For a while, we would just miss each other as I rushed to catch the train to work in the morning, or exchange hasty hellos and goodbyes if our paths crossed on my way into the busy Cape Town night. That evening, though, when she politely knocked on my door and asked if I had “young and adventurous plans for the night” I could not turn her down even if I had wanted to. Even though I was I was tired from the weekend’s exertion I still had the presence of mind (and hollowness of stomach) to realise that no self-respecting man between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five turned down a free meal. I accepted her invitation immediately.
We sat in her warm lounge, a room I remember as a treasure trove containing an impressive collection of National Geographic magazines; classic English and travel literature; a full encyclopedia set; and, an old jeweler’s workbench stacked with various pieces of knitwear she made for her parish. After a quick supper, we had some hot chocolate, settled back in our chairs and launched into an animated discussion about “The Black List”, a series she was enjoying at the time. As we talked she pulled out her knitting and continued working on a sweater she had started during the week. After meandering through some small talk about interesting things we had read in the Cape Town newspapers the conversation shifted to how I was doing.
Always an open book to anyone who dares to ask, I told her I was having problems finding focus—my motivation levels were flagging, I was not reading, and I was barely writing. I was oversleeping, hitting the snooze button instead of rising out of bed and greeting the day with my usual enthusiasm. Despite the steady routine—gym, work, eat, salsa, sleep—it felt as though I was trying to walk in ten directions at the same time. There was a long list of personal goals I had set myself and I was not ticking off the milestones. Every day I felt further from my goals, such as they were. And every day I became more restless and frustrated.
I talked at great length about the worries of my life. She listened patiently, her needles click-clacking rhythmically as the troubles of my youth spilled from me.
“I guess…I don’t know…I just don’t know what want to do for the rest of my life,” I said at the end of what felt like the longest Dear Diary session in the history of black men.
After my emotional gushing, I retreated within myself, something I usually do when verbalising my problems does not cut the Gordian knots of my life. I was so absorbed with my thoughts that I did not notice Mrs. Pretorius had stopped knitting. She had been sitting in her armchair, knitting in her lap, her hands clasped together, looking at me. And then, without warning she chuckled.
A throaty chuckle, deep and gruff.
She rocked from her own mirth and when I looked at her quizzically she said, “That makes two of us, Rémy. I am eighty years old and even I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
The meaning behind her words never struck home until recently when, in another bout of mid-twenties angst (insert Bon Iver discography here), I found myself wondering whether my compass was pointing in the right direction. When moments like these occur, I tend to stretch my neck as far as I can to see what lies on the horizon; I will be on tiptoes, my feet almost leaving the ground, dangerously flirting with problems in the abstract instead of grappling with them in the finite reality. It is a futile endeavour, a fruitless attempt to see whether the woods thin out when what I should be doing is grabbing my machete and chopping away, learning to embrace the adventure to be found in the disconnect and embracing the beauty in the chaos and confusion.
As the adage says, you never know what lies around the bend in the road. And I am not sure I would want to if I could. Because the rest of my life is a very long time (I hope) and it would be boring to have the entire script placed before me right now.