AB here. I’m trying to talk myself down from bouncing off the walls before they put me in a room made of rubber. I’ve been alcohol-free for two hours now, which is my longest stretch of sobriety in a week. I’m really not enjoying it.
Steve Hofmeyr has cleaned me up and kept me from self-harm, but the kind of things he’s telling me are as heavy as encyclopaedias. I’m trying to swallow them, but they keep sticking in my throat
“Tell me again, Steve.” I’m wearing away the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger.
Steve pushes the air out of his mouth slowly. His hand rests on my shoulder like a dog that’s waiting to be fed. “OK. We’ll start with the easy stuff first. You wanted to know about the Blondieguards?”
“Is that really what you call them? It’s a bit sexist, isn’t it?” I drag an eyebrow up as high as it will go. Poor Steve looks like he’s been strung by the same guitar tuner as me: i.e. highly.
“It’s what Brother Leader calls them, and they were his first.” Steve reviews his words in the air above my head. “What I should have said is that they’re an elite bodyguard, first hired by President Gaddafi and now co-owned by me under a fractional rental model. They work for me while we’re on tour. Yes, AB, we’re on tour right now, although you haven’t been on stage in a week.”
“He’s President for Life of North Africa and Arabia. Very much alive and kicking, and I don’t know why you keep asking if he’s dead. It’s lank morbid, AB.”
I shake my head. Steve’s excellent cup of coffee and his spare flannel pyjamas should be warming me up, but I can’t stop shivering. “Show me the map again.”
Steve opens a page on his computer. I read the names aloud, trying to get the taste of them on my tongue: South Africa (incorporating the Protectorate of African Rhodesia), East Africa, West Africa. The Unitary States of America. The former Mediterranean Colonies.
None of it makes sense. Steve’s hand squeezes my neck gently. He hasn’t taken his eyes off me since I sat down.
“Tell me about the band again? Our band.”
Steve takes his hand away and stuffs it into his lap. He keeps his voice steady but his fingers are fighting each other. “Once we were five. You. Me. Oscar. Femi. And Brenda. It was Brenda and us four dudes. Like the name said.”
“Three years ago, we toured Free Italy. A separatist cell attacked the stadium at New Dar Es Salaam. They said that you, me and Oscar were sell-outs. That we were performing with the colonisers. They meant to kill us. Oscar saved us. They killed him, and Brenda.”
Steve isn’t looking at me anymore. He’s staring at a point in the distance, three or five or ten years ago, where Brenda is still alive. And I remember (and don’t ask me how) Brenda and Oscar full of smiles and love for each other, and Steve spending more and more time in his trailer.
Steve’s fingers have tired each other out, and his shaggy head is bowed over them, in prayer or in penitence. Now it’s my hand acting as his seismograph, feeling out the small, violent tremors between his shoulder blades.
“I loved her so much, baby boy. So much.”
What can I say to him? How can I comfort him? My memories are not my memories. I am an impostor, a fraud, a ghoul wearing the skin of his best friend. I don’t know this Steve. I barely know this AB. I keep my hand on his back until the last of his aftershocks subsides.
“Steve, do we still have the private jet? I have to be in Australia in the next eight hours.”
He wipes his eyes and looks at me, angry and grateful for the change in conversation.
“I’ve had it on standby for you for a week. I’m coming with you.”
TO BE CONTINUED