Twenty-five years ago, when I was younger and arguably dumber than I am now, I boffed my professor at university. (Don’t you love the word boff?)
The professor (let’s call him Elvis) used to drag me to suppers with his colleagues. While they waffled on about paradigms and colonialism of a special type, I guzzled the wine. After an indecent amount of sozzling, I’d toss in my twenty cents’ worth – only confirming the view that I must be hot in the sack (lucky Elvis). Because let’s face it, there was never much empirical evidence of anything tick-tocking away in the grey mush suspended between my multiple ear piercings.
It is during one of these horrible suppers that I meet Barbara Trapido – she being the mother of the Brother of the More Famous Jack, among other novels, and literary icon among English lit majors.
She (let’s call her Barbara) spends most of the evening with her hands in her hair, making tortured noises as she describes the process of writing her new novel. And when she does condescend to say anything to me other than please stop hogging the wine, she says: “And so, what are you going to do when you grow up?” And then she gives me a look like I’m some silly student boffing above my weight. I don’t like her much after that.
This past weekend I attended a supper at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. And found myself seated at the same table as Barbara (now mother of Sex and Stravinsky). She still does the thing with her hands in her hair which makes me want to smack her knuckles. And I still hog the wine, which sets my mouth saying things that make me want to amputate my tongue.
So, after a few sips, I tell Barbara how she had scarred me all those years ago and she says: “Sorry, I was probably being ironic.” She can’t remember me, or the tedious supper, although she still knows Elvis, who is even older than he was, but now has a more age-appropriate partner (who is not a student and so is probably not as hot as me in the sack). And then she says sorry again (“It was irony, I assure you.”), because when she was fifty years younger she also boffed her prof (history guru Stanley Trapido) and all his academic chums treated her like a bimbo and made her feel like rubbish. So sorry yet again – we have shared a common pain.
I tell Barbara I accept her sorries and I’m over it now and it’s fine. And I like her a little better for being so contrite about something she can’t remember saying to someone she can’t ever remember meeting. I like her even more when she gets up to participate on a panel discussion with Zakes Mda (Sometimes There is a Void) and Peter Godwin (The Fear). Because she does what the majority of authors attending the Franschhoek Literary Festival wish they could do – she doesn’t give a monkey’s. She behaves like a fruitcake. And everyone adores her. Mostly everyone.
Imraan Coovadia (Professor), who is chairing the panel, drowns in front of our eyes. Whenever Barbara opens her mouth he stares at her the same way he gazed at me a couple of hours before when I impressed him with some of my more amusing tales (puzzled-despairing-horrified).
Poor Zakes takes refuge in his void while Peter looks like he’s awoken from a bad dream only to find himself sharing a sleeping bag with Robert Mugabe. But he bravely keeps the show on the road, showing no fear or favour to the comma or fullstop. “Random, just random,” he says the next day, still reeling. I guess they don’t get Barbara’s irony.
Barbara gets me thinking about the things we say that hurt or offend people. Things we say when we are being ironic or nervous or have had too much wine. And so instead of waiting twenty-five years, I’m going to say my sorries now. For all the things I said in Franschhoek that could have scarred some young or old soul.
This is a sorry to the very big guy at Taki’s Bar on Saturday night (after Barbara’s function) who I told to shut the fuck up in an ugly un-ironic way. You were irritating me and I was in a bad mood about something and I wanted to pick on the biggest guy in the room and start a fight. Sorry, I was just being mean (but you were loud and annoying).
I am sorry, Justin Cartwright (Other People’s Money). When we shook hands in Taki’s Bar (after Barabara’s malfunction) I wasn’t into it. Everyone had been pressuring me into meeting you and shaking your hand and I don’t like doing what I am told to do. And I was nervous, in case shaking your hand wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined. So if I told you that you were horrible and your previous book was crap (and didn’t just think it, like I’m still hoping), please don’t think too badly of me. I still have a huge literary crush on you even if you are as old as Professor Elvis. (And I do think you are lovely.) (And your last book wasn’t that crap.) (A big sorry.) (Imagine a very contrite face here.)
I am sorry to the very kind lady from one of my favourite publishing houses, who had to listen to me wailing (in Taki’s Bar) about how I would never be a real writer like Henrietta Rose-Innes (Homing) and Meg Van der Merwe (This Place I Call Home) and Doreen Baingana (Tropical Fish), who really are the real deal. I’m snot-boring when I feel useless (and on other occasions too, as Imraan can attest). So thanks very kind person for saying that you are sure I’ll write a decent book one day. You were nice to me and gave me hope and allowed me to smoke all your cigarettes (I quit in March last year – so really, thanks a bunch)
I am sorry Imraan for saying that I enjoyed the first half of your book Black Eyed Peas but not the second half. (People who don’t just totally love your books really suck, don’t they?) And you never corrected me on the title. Even when I said it twice. I was trying to be amusing and ironic. I know it’s really called Green Eyed Fleas. (I still prefer the first half of the book).
And there are probably a dozen more people I should say sorry to for being rude or inappropriate or whatever to in Franschhoek this past weekend. But I can’t. Mostly because I can’t remember, (so sorry-sorry-sorry) But there are one or two instances I remember well and I won’t say sorry because I am not. (You know who you are and I still think you’re a nasty piece of work and a bloody agent.)
And here are a few thank yous.
Thank you to the very big guy in Taki’s Bar for not punching me when I told you to shut the fuck up. You really could have taken me out (so who’s a chicken hey?).
Thank you Paige Nick (This Way Up) for always making me laugh and Ben Williams and Tymon Smith for looking even worse than I felt the morning after Taki’s.
And a very big thank you to all those people at Taki’s Bar who made more of a tit of themselves than me (you all know who you are and I think you are fabulous). And to James Clelland (Deeper Than Colour) who was not at Taki’s Bar but was very, very loud at that restaurant (I could hear you all the way from Taki’s, you Scottish lout).
And thank you Jenny Hobbs (Kitchen Boy) for having the Franschhoek Literary Festival and inviting me. And inviting Barbara Trapido who let me drink all her wine and behaved like she didn’t give a fuck and was off her trolley. I get you Barbara. You are truly ironic. I want to be you when I grow up.