A life without drug’s doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it’s far more exciting: I’m driving into Sandton. My heart is a rabid drum on speed. My stomach is bubbling and toiling, an ocean rocked by a typhoon. Hands slick with sweat, even in the air-conditioned cabin of my car.
She’s just a carnie dwarf, I think. Don’t stress. We’ll just make polite conversation. I’m driving down West Street. She’s coming from Pretoria on the Gautrain, that bridge between worlds.
As I’m looking for the parking entrance, I see her, on the sidewalk, walking into a coffee shop.
Black shirt on. Blue jeans. Multi-coloured backpack in the pattern of modern-day camo. If camo required you hide in a bespeckled rainbow. Mahogany hair. She told me it conceals her true colour. Red. Like a fox. I love red-heads.
I think it’s her, at any rate.
We haven’t met before, not in person. And she doesn’t look quite like a dwarf. I can’t really make out her features, but I’m sure I can tell height through the magic of perspective. Tyrion certainly would only reach her naval.
She’s not a carnie dwarf? Damn it. How am I supposed to handle the anxiety now?
I voice note her. “Think I just saw you.” Describe her appearance. She just lols back.
Into the Gautrain parking area now. I get out the car nervously. Out the parking entrance. Walk up the street. Couldn’t remember which coffee shop she walked into.
Up the pavement I pound. Just breathe. I look anxiously through the entrance of one of the café’s.
The corner of my eye catches movement. Down the slope, a waiter waves at me, furiously. I walk down to him.
“She’s inside,” he says. “The woman you’re looking for.”
I peer through the door. She’s sitting by the coffee bar, her black spectacles peering down to her phone. She’s stunning. Completely stunning.
I want to run.
This is a whole other league. This isn’t my league. My league is hunchbacks or toxic sludge, not radiant, beautiful young women. What will she think of me? I don’t belong here. I’m a weirdo. I don’t belong here.
But my sponsor told me the previous morning that we, those who are stricken with severe social anxiety, needed one thing. One thing not to lose out on life’s little opportunities:
To be brave.
So I stride towards her.
There’s something awkward about dating sites. It’s the meeting people without actually being in their physical presence. How do you know if there’s any real chemistry – you can’t even take in their scent. Scents can’t be transferred through binary 0s and 1s over a network.
You can’t capture the contours of a person’s living, moving face through a static photo.
It just builds an untrue picture in your mind, because your brain is drawing a 3D model with filler parts.
Still, it’s a resource. Extends your reach to connect with somebody.
She “smiled” at me on the site. I smiled back. Got a message from her. After a short correspondence through the site’s messenger mail system, she gave me her number. Just like that. This Fox.
I asked her why, later. And she said, from reading my profile, she could tell I was different.
So I WhatsApped. “Hello. It’s J.D, from the dating site?”
WhatsApping is normally uncomfortable and feels forced for me. So arbitrary the conversations between strangers.
But we WhatsApped for hours. Somehow. It flowed. Then I asked if we could talk… properly. On the phone. She loved the idea. So I dialled her number, and a lyrical Afrikaans accent, with subtle shades of Jewish tang and an Englishwoman’s precision, answered.
My stomach dropped. It felt so real. Too much. It felt too much. But I persevered anyway. We talked and talked. About the strange romances that happened in her family. Like how her grandfather, an English fighter pilot in the Second World War, tried wooing her feisty, independent Afrikaans grandmother, who rebuffed him thrice. He never gave up. In our day and age, that’s stalky. In the dusty world of the late 1940s, that’s courting. She sailed away and he followed her. That’s really stalky. But back then, it was the thread of a love story. His family looked down on her. Her family wouldn’t accept it.
They didn’t care. They had each other.
We talked about small things, and big things. Like how in her family, rain is symbolically connected with them. She drew power from it, when the grey skies showered the earth.
We talked about our lives. Where we were. Where we were going.
She knew I was an oddball. That’s never really been considered one of my selling points. For the Fox, it was what attracted her.
I looked at my watch, three and a half hours had passed. Whoa. So easily, so swiftly? Then, her phone cut out. Couldn’t get her back on the line. I said something wrong, I thought. She’s dismissed me.
That’s me. Expectant on rejection. But, ten minutes later, a WhatsApp came through. We had talked so long, her battery died. Well, duh, genius.
We made plans for the next day. Her idea. I was uncertain. She had sent me a song of hers, her voice was pure, strong, touching. I figured, well, someone with this much magic wouldn’t see us as a match.
My every cell, every fibre, rejected it. The anxiety was too much. But I remembered what my sponsor said.
I was determined to follow through, to be brave.
Inside the coffee shop, she looked up as I moved towards her. She beamed, and stood up, to hug me.
I didn’t expect this.
We talked, and talked, and talked. We wandered the streets of Sandton. We walked into the Square, past the giant called Madiba. We entered The Butcher restaurant. I offered her the booth, she said we could both have it. We sat next to each other as she animatedly told me stories of her family. I told her stories of my past.
Suddenly, her leg was touching mine. I felt a wave of overwhelming need then, as her green eyes came alive like a bonfire. I wanted to kiss her.
But I didn’t.
Rain, her rain, bursting from the thunder, poured down outside.
I wish I’d kissed her.
Though the way she looked at me, almost mischievously, said I’d won her over. Of course, I’d find out how much she really, really did like me later. That evening. Over a post-date phone call.
“She likes me for me.” I hummed that classic tune, bringing my cats running quizzically.
Though, I didn’t foresee it that afternoon, as we walked down the street. It was the end of the day, and she needed to head back to Pretoria. I felt too self-conscious, too disbelieving, that red-haired foxes fall for guys like me, so I became very shy near the end of it.
When we were at the Gautrain’s turnstile, we made our goodbyes. I, as I do when I’m nervous as heck, stuck out my hand as if to shake hers.
Her shoulders shook suddenly from a reverberated laugh. “C’mon, now! Hug me!” Her voice was a melody.
Crushingly tight, my face was brought close to the nape of her neck. I caught her scent:
A sun-touched meadow’s jasmine infused vanilla, wafting on a brisk, cool morning in Spring.
Weeks ago, my Houghton House therapist told me changing a person – “tweaking” them – doesn’t work. That’s what Annie, my previous girlfriend tried to do. Screw Annie.
I believed for a long time I was just too much a lost-kop wanderer of my own world for a relationship.
That I’d never find someone who accepts me for me.
My therapist said she knows, she intuitively believes, there is someone out there, right now, who’s drawn to me for who I am. A free spirit like me.
Who likes me for me.
I’m not tough like Dirty Harry and I’m not funny like Jim Carrey.
But that doesn’t matter to the red-haired Fox.
Because she likes me for me.
She likes me for me…