It’s World Cup Final day: Afghanistan against East Africa. I’m sitting at the stadium with Steve Hofmeyr and Kevin Pietersen, in Hansie Cronje’s private box. It’s been a busy week for all of us: Kevin found out that Hansie is his real father, I found out that I’m not crazy, and Steve found that there is life after Brenda.
Kevin is wearing an oversized pair of sunglasses to hide the black eye he got from Steve, who feels terrible about the whole fracas. Steve was just trying to protect me, but Kevin has been subdued around him.
I’ve only got one eye on the cricket, because I’m really waiting to hear if Hansie has been successful in getting me home. This could be my last day in this crazy place or the first day of my long and tedious life in this dump of a parallel universe
“Tell me about Brenda again, AB. But the real story this time.”
It’s time for a drinks break at the MCG, and Kevin has helpfully offered to fetch some beers for us. Steve and I aren’t objecting. We still have questions to ask and answer, and Kevin is a bit of a sullen third wheel.
“What do you mean, Steve? I told you what I know.”
Steve looks at me, sad, patient, wise Steve. “No, AB. We both heard what Hansie said. Some people just burn too brightly. If you have a starring role and I have a starring role then so must Brenda. Also, there’s no way that the Brenda that I know would be small enough for a life of obscurity.”
Steve shifts in his plastic chair, works his jaw from side to side. “Maybe you don’t remember or never knew the Brenda from this world. You’re certainly too young to know what it was like for me when I joined the band.”
He squints at the outfield without interest. “Brenda was at the peak of her success, and her beauty. She chose me for her band and for her bed. She could have chosen anyone. I’ve never figured out why it was me. AB, she was never cruel. She never used her position as a black woman to take advantage of me. You know what it’s like. When you first became famous there were hundreds of women throwing themselves at you. Most of them wouldn’t have looked at your white arse twice if you passed them in the street. I bet most of them couldn’t hide their lack of interest for you in the morning.”
I nod, not because I understand anything Steve is saying. I’m a cork bobbing along in his stream, reminding him I’m here so that he can keep going.
“Brenda was never like that, AB. She treated me with respect, always. Made me feel like a person. She didn’t have to. I would have taken her scraps and drunk her dirty bathwater. I would have done anything for her.”
Steve is silly with grief, his eyes sparkling in the floodlights. I wish I had something other than the truth for him, something soft for him to hold onto.
“Steve, Brenda was a huge star in my world. You were never in her band. She didn’t die well, but she died better than she did in this world. I’m sorry.”
Steve nods, quickly and violently. He fixes on a distant constellation that’s dying in a corner of the sky.
“Steve, tell me more about this world. Are things better here? Are….people….happier here?”
Steve glares at the sky. “I don’t know how things are for you, AB. Our lives are generally good in Africa, but we are rich and famous. For most indigenous Europeans, life isn’t much better than it was before liberation. Even for many Africans it looks like things are getting worse. Too many wars are bleeding the continent dry. There’s a rising intolerance here. Many refugees are being chased back to Europe, where there’s an increase in militancy. Many young people are rallying around the idea of white consciousness, and they are talking about armed revolution.”
Steve swallows, blows his nose. “Those days with Brenda were a long time ago, AB. I’m feeling old. I don’t know if I believe in the same things I used to. I’ve been asked to come back to Europe and address some of the rallies they’re holding. I don’t want to feed the hate and violence but I don’t feel like I belong here any more, and the Europeans are the only ones who want to claim me as their own. There’s nothing left for me in Africa anymore.”
I want to reassure Steve but my words are dry toast and peanut butter, stuck in the back of my throat. I don’t know what I want anymore. Maybe I should get back to my own life and my own roll of the dice, and leave behind the only friend I have. Maybe I should stay here and continue touring with Steve and Femi, until this world hears our message of tolerance. Or until we are banned by the authorities from playing together.
Kevin shows up with the beers. “Guys, Dad says that they’re ready to meet with you now. AB, should we go?”
I look at Steve. “Will you come with me? I could use the support.”
Steve nods. I stand up, walk out of the private box and towards my destiny.