s part of our post-publication celebrations of the ‘New Daughters of Africa’ anthology, we have teamed up with Myriad Editions to bring you three extracts from the landmark anthology – one essay, one poem, and one short story. We start things off, with Zukiswa Wanner’s short story ‘This is not Au Revoir’.
For those who don’t know, Zukiswa Wanner is a South African writer and publisher, she has published four novels, two children’s books, a satirical non-fiction and a literary travel memoir, Hardly Working (2018). In 2011 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Best Book and the Herman Charles Bosman Awards for her novel Men of the South. In 2014, she was recognised by the Africa39 initiative as an African writer under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature. In 2015 she won the K. Sello Duiker Memorial Award for London Cape Town Jo’burg. She was a 2018 Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study (JIAS) Fellow. More recently, she won the 2020 Goethe Medal to become only the first African woman to do so. Although mostly based in Nairobi, she may be found in “any African city near you without notice”.
And now, without further ado, we hope you’ll enjoy reading Zukiswa Wanner’s contribution to ‘New Daughters of Africa’ – ‘This is not Au Revoir’.
‘This is not Au Revoir’ – A Short Story
hen I think of you and me. Of us. I think of postcards throughout the year from an African city with extreme weather conditions. Maybe Johannesburg. Yes. Definitely Johannesburg. Warming up in August and getting hotter towards the end of the year.
August, end of. When we first met again after so many years. I was with someone, then. Unhappily so. As unhappy with him as I am with you now. Soon you were the third person in our relationship with My Someone then. Never a third wheel. More the third line in a triangle. Giving us solidity and stability. The one we asked when you were around—why didn’t you come to our life sooner? Always welcome by both of us. Everything happens just when it is supposed to, you would give your stock answer. Now that I have been with you, I know you don’t have much original thought. I wonder whether you Googled even that clichéd statement? Is it the line from a song or the words of a poem that I do not know?
We would both complain to you about the other. Did you learn then how best to hurt me? Or had you had it in you from our uni days?
You welcomed me into your home in December.
Shall I talk to him? you asked.
I shook my head. There was nothing more to be said. When we first met again at the end of August, something in me towards My Someone then had already died. Sometimes I think I stayed with him as long as I did because you liked him. And I, I wanted the approval of an old friend I had cherished, had lost touch with and was meeting again.
And when I shook my head, it seemed something changed between us that night. It seemed as though all the days since we met again at the end of August, no, since I had known you in undergrad at Wits, had been leading to this. The raging of our bodies matched the Highveld storm outside. I think we both came the same second as the lightning bolt that struck the tree in your garden. I know so. Because when we looked at each other in wonderment, we were both lost, believing the noise had come from our bodies. It was only later, much later, when your neighbour texted to ask whether you knew that your wall was down that we realized that though our bodies may have roared inside, the noise was from your lightning-struck tree falling on a wall. There had been no plan on either of our parts. But you became My Someone then. And my Now No One accused you of stealing me from him.
Sitting together in the heat of our first Valentine’s Day, we laughed at him. But patriarchy is a mofo, you said. I nodded and added—that in this age he could believe a woman is stolen instead of just going? We laughed. And I shook my head at My Now No One thinking I had no will of my own. You kissed me as I sat in between your legs while I marvelled at your hands. Afterwards we both proclaimed, I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day. And yet when the day came around, although we made sure that we did not wear red, did not say Happy Valentine’s Day, did not buy each other gifts, we would spend the day together.
It seemed, as April approached, and Johannesburg started teasing us with cold weather, your ardour for me cooled. Or maybe mine did too. You stayed out later. You were too tired to make love, or I was too tired.
Then in July that horrible winter storm happened. It brought snow with it. Inside I felt colder than could be imagined despite the overpriced feather duvet we had bought and the thermal walls. It started with the criticism as you lay next to me in bed or were you lying on my lap on the couch? Your hand crept to just below my waist, and as your thumb and forefinger pinched me, you asked whether I was putting on weight. In my head the words of Grace Mugabe rang even before she publicly said them and I wanted to shout them out but did not. I did not say, stop it. Stop it forthwith. Instead I said, maybe a little. Then you kissed my stomach as I tried to suck it in and said, it suits you my sdudla mafehlefehle. This said while you rubbed your own belly and smiled a smile that did not quite reach your eyes.
Rich in every way coming from you, really.
Painful too, since you know my history.
The black girl who had to take a year off in uni for bulimia.
Private school girls trying to be white, I overheard as I was wheeled to the ambulance.
You said my weight suits me. And I am no longer in uni. And I was convinced you were different from That No One.
But then in a day or two you stopped being impressed with my potential sdudlaness. You instead started telling me that I seriously needed to lose a little weight. This as you ate a pork chop and pap I had prepared. No spinach babe. It irritates my teeth, you would say. Besides, I had a salad at work. Pork chop and pap, for you. Cabbage soup, for me.
You printed a diet that I should follow and stuck it on the fridge that July. Just to remind you, you winked.
There are old cassettes of Tae-bo and yes, a still functioning VCR you told me. Billy Blanks would give me my exercise. If Tae-bo was not my thing, there was free WiFi. I could find a routine on YouTube. Or download something on my smartphone. The problem with you Naledi, you said stroking my chin affectionately belying the mean words you were about to speak. You always make excuses for staying fat.
You said the F-word.
Ignoring that you were at least twenty kilos heavier than I was.
I excused myself. Went to the bathroom. Stripped, and looked at my naked self. I did not need to suck my stomach in to see my mound of Venus. And yet I did.
So I left you as August approached.
Less than a year before that August end of, when we first met.
It was then that we established a pattern. I would leave. You would ignore me for a few weeks. Then return. Because you started communicating. Promising to change. Begging. In poetry. Antonio Jacinto’s “Letter from a Contract Worker” which you know is my eternal favourite. Last year it was Koleka Putuma writing about making love and orgasming in an office. Because you cannot write your own poetry. Okay, may be that is a little unfair. You have never claimed to be a poet. Just a lover of it.
But as I sit here now thinking about it, I think there is something that smacks of serious insincerity on your part. Using other people’s words to lure me back. You whose own words are a casual, I’m sorry. Sometimes followed by half-hearted, babe, you know I love you. Never as heartfelt as the poems you sent trying to lure me back. But I used to always melt. And always came back. For the last three years.
Remember when I came to you that December and told you that it had died with my Now No One? It has died with you too and you can join him as Now No One.
I am not going to anyone else as I came to you.
I need to be with me.
To enjoy this me with a will that both of you seem to believe does not exist. So this is not au revoir. This, No One, is goodbye.
I know when you read my note you will laugh as you always do. It is, after all, not the first time I have left you.
You’ll call one of your friends and say, this Naledi.
Short laugh, your face sneering.
Her name went to her head, this Naledi. She thinks she is the star.
And your friend on the other side will likely ask what Naledi has done now.
And you will tell your friend, she says she has left.
Laugh. She left a note. Something about me being a diseased penishead.
She gets things mixed in her head my Nana sometimes, you will say.
Because a woman cannot be a diseased penishead.