Protracted, seductive, melancholic electric guitar vibrates along the long narrow floor of the bus. Deep male harmonies framed in high female chorus, all pink and puffy like a children’s cloud, wallow around words of heart-break, love, romance and low suns and moons.
And when we turn the lights down lo-oowww,
We’ll kiss and your eyes let me knoowwwwww.
Girls in pairs talk and gossip about other girls. Men sit solitary, gripping folded umbrellas, gazing ahead or out the window. A middle-aged white man, he might be a librarian, wearing worn Glen Hush Puppies burbles a low accompaniment from deep down the back of his throat. Bespectacled and apparently harmless, he curses and spits Fs & Ks at the window as the bus rolls past groups of people, black people, walking to work (whites don’t appear to walk to work), and then carries on humming rolling groans to the tunes the driver plays every day on the seven-thirty from Melville. I’ve not seen him before. He watches me and my fellow foreigner as we chat about home, dollars, red tape, crime, and the curious western romanticisation of the African continent. ‘My sister couldn’t take it, seeing what people do to the planet.’ Someone wrote they assumed making friends in Africa is easier than other places. The thought comes to me as the country & western changes tracks – he’s leaving a woman now, for another
I loved you, my sweet-heart
my true sweetness
But my love took me to another true love like
– and I wonder what this continent has done to deserve so much generalisation. Other thoughts whirl about to the yearning guitar: would I be bringing a tuna net home with me? A question from a friend, a racist reference to a tragedy last year, and I wonder what it is that makes some people so unable to accept complexity and so insistent on using this continent to vent their fears about the world. So was that the African renaissance? I was asked, in response to Kenya. I knew this would come, from the many British just dying to crow as bits of Kenya crumble. The music keeps swirling and encircling us. The moment you enter this bus, this particular 67 at this particular time each day, you are lifted into the dreams of the driver, whose chosen method of denial is country & western. We all escape with him for 7 minutes. Seven minutes of romance, blues, moody male moments and the pain and heartache of losing love. The men never talk on this bus. They listen intently to the gentle lyrics of love, a brief respite from the violence that pervades this place. More denialism, maybe. Denialism, the South African mot juste. Either in denial about AIDS or crime or love or race or something. Or history. It’s one big denial. And somehow the country & western captures that: the dream state, the one who flew over the nest, The Truman Show, the Rainbow nation that really is a rainbow because it’s a floaty fantasy of colours placed side-by-side and only side-by-side, a myth, a fairy tale. Maybe. It’s a slice of the whole world gone a little bit madder first. And the guitar still swirls and whirls and curls around us, comforting, drifting, dreaming of another life.