He thought he would never pull another one, his breath that is. His knees were shaking. His heart pounding on his chest like a mammoth grappling for escape, hysterical and frightening. Soon his body trembled from all the places he thought impossible, his belly and butt. It felt like spasms. His thoughts screeching in his mind’s path-ways, he could hear them under his scalp, temples and ear. They were reckless race car drivers, reckless because they had somehow decided to race drunk. They were hard to neither grasp nor follow, a complete discord riddled with panic and imminent disaster.
I can’t do this, I can’t do this! No, we have to go now!
Lebo looked at him from the driver’s seat, slightly amused by what he was seeing. A grin began to form, wide and then wider as a funny thought crossed through his mind. It was his nature to be laughing even in times of tragedy, as far as he was concerned the world took itself seriously and everything and anything when looked at the right way is funny. There was no line for him, everything went. It took a close friend not to be offended, even they struggled at times, and a great blind tolerance to appreciate him (none of which people in societies would have). One time Tami told him his dog drowned in the pool and had died, a close pet of Tami’s. “I’m pretty convinced that Sloopy is a person in the inside” Tami had once told him. When Lebo received the news of his friend’s pet , Tami’s eyes red from crying and cheeks glistened with tears, he burst out laughing. “It’s not a sign of lack of empathy,” he told Tami. “I do this sometimes and I don’t know why. You know me .I love you man”. It got getting used to. Other than that Lebo was a supportive, loyal and an understanding friend. Secretly Tami called him Reliable Lebo.
Tami’s chest kept convulsing. His mouth gaped and eyes bulging, “I don’t think I can do this. We should go back. Please, this was a bad idea. I mean who does this…” he spluttered on to contradict himself and into incoherency.
Lebo giggled. “Whoa , whoa. Calm down before you bust a vein ,buddy.”
Tami gazed at him, desperate for anything that could help him get rid of the anxiety. He licked his lips. “No, buddy. No.”
“No ,what?” Lebo asked, frowning with a smirk on his face, trying to restrain himself from laughing.
“C’mon, you know what I mean. And don’t laugh please, I can’t have that right now.” Tami’s voice trembled.
“I am sorry. But do you know how crazy this looks from my side right now?”
“Everything looks crazy from your side.”
Lebo retrieved a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. “Believe me everyone would agree that this is a little crazy.”
“Can I have one, please?” He grimaced. “I’m stressed out.”
“No, you can’t have ciggy before a date. She will smell it on you. Some girls don’t like guys who smoke I told you that. It is not sexy or cool. This is not high school, bud,” said Lebo.
He sighed. “What would you have me do now?”
Lebo pulled on the cigarette. “I want you to go the restaurant, pick a spot outside under the shade. Make it a romantic lunch. Just be yourself and be a gentleman, okay?”
“I will be right here in the car watching. She won’t see me, won’t mind me because after all it would just appear like I am waiting on something else. Not necessarily you. I will be patient. I won’t embarrass you by getting out of the car to get you.” He paused. “If I get bored or hungry I will go eat somewhere else and come back. Not very far from you. Cool?”
“Now go out there and text her, tell her where you are.”
As Tami opened the car door to walk across the street Lebo called, “ Hey, Tami.”
Tami smiled. “Thanks.”
“By the way, a perfect place for a first date you chosen.”
Lebo nodded. “Alright. Now go!”
She arrived no more than a few minutes after Tami had settled on a table by the railing on the corner, a shady place with a breeze blowing through. Tami caught a glimpse of a woman wearing a black blazer, sunglasses, hat with a stylishly wavy brim and a pencil skirt showing off her hips. Her clutch bag in her left hand. Her walk appealing and graceful. She was a creature of striking beauty. The sight of her rendered him heady. Her incense preceded her, filling his nostrils with spellbinding joy. The shackles of anxiety around his heart began to falter. She was walking her way with such confidence and vigour, a part of him believed she must be lost because surely that couldn’t be her.
“Tami?” She grinned.
“You look slightly slimmer than on your profile pic.” She observed, still on her feet.
Tami got to his feet, offering his hand. “You look…better.”
She shook his hand. She took her sunglasses off and put them on the table. Then pulled out a chair herself and sat down, leaning back comfortably. She squinted. “Better?”
“Yes.” Tami sat down.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You look better than I expected. Beautiful.” Tami paused. “Gosh, it is finally nice to meet you. After three months of constant texting and video chat here you are in front me. Never thought it would actually happen.”
“You are always so busy with work and you must have a lot of men grappling for you. Never thought I had much of chance. Never thought you would actually choose me to go on a date with.”
“Well, you seemed like a perfect match. And thank you.”
He stared at her mesmerized by her full lips and smoky eyes. “Damn!”
She giggled. “What?”
“You are much more beautiful in real life. What is someone like you doing on a dating site?”
“Well, it is not for losers anymore, is it?”
“Of course not. But still. Have you considered gaining a lot more weight and burning your face off?”
She frowned. “Why?”
“Because of all the attention you get. Must be overwhelming. Getting hit on every second by every jerk with a stick between their legs. And the freaking catcalls must be annoying.”
She laughed. “Your humour is strange.”
“Wow, I just made you laugh. Never heard a sound so heavenly.”
She blushed. “You’re sweet. Thank you.”
“Wow. Well let me stop drooling and focus. I haven’t even asked you how you are.”
“I’m well. Work is great, life is great. Thanks. How are you, sir?”
“I’m crapping my pants right now trying to figure out a way to impress you.” He laughed and so did she. “I’m well thank you. I’m just glad that we finally managed to do this. Are you hungry?”
“I’m not the kind to come to a restaurant full.”
“Okay. I took the trouble of asking for the menu already.” He smiled, nodding. Impressed with himself.
“Thank you. That is gentlemanly of you.” She comically curtsied with her upper body.
He laughed, delighted with her.
Her facial expression changed, as if something was foul with the air around her. She sniffed around. “Do you smoke? You smell like cigarettes.”
“No,” he lied. “I was with a friend of fine who smokes maybe that’s why.”
She nodded. “Alright. Good. Smoking is a complete turn off for me. How is one gonna date a person who she might not have a fruitful future with anyway. It is waste. It is still the biggest cause of death in the world. Did you know that one of two smokers will die from smoking?”
He cringed. “What? Really?”
“Yeah. Those aren’t the best odds if you ask me. Now why would you pursue a future with a person like that. It is futile.”
The rest of date went well, shifting from evangelical tobacco companies bashing to conversations that were delightful and simmering with humour and mutual understanding. He realized unlike his previous dates, nothing about her demeanour and quirks he found repelling or annoying. Her profile on the site did not do her justice at all. She was much better in person, an enticing pleasure. Her voice pleasing to his ears and her casual touch undoing. She did exceptionally fine and that surprised him. The food was good and all seemed to be in place. No annoying noises from street or from other customers, things were magically well. It was as if angels were orchestrating the whole date. The most surprising of all was how well he carried himself , not making himself come across as a loser. When something slipped that he construed to be detrimental or a turn off it got received as a turn on to his surprise. He couldn’t make a mistake. His chest swelled with confidence and his voice rang with pride. Their hearts danced and swayed in the atmosphere. Their faces fed joy and calm into each other, the stars had aligned and the heavens where revolving around them. Surely the occasion was sanctified, a devil with a pitchfork would fail to ruin it. At last Tami had found something that harboured tremendous potential.
“I think I gotta go now. I had a great time,” she said. “It is quite sad that it has come to an end.”
Tami laughed. “I don’t want you to go either. Wish we could stay here forever and order all food and drinks there is.”
She smiled. “Me too. Why does life has to get into the way of such wonderful things?”
“Wish I knew.” He shook his head.
She looked down into her hands. Reached for her bag and made as if to search for something inside.
“Don’t worry about contributing anything to the bill. I got it.”
“Really?” she smiled.
“Yeah. Sure, Wouldn’t be gentlemanly.”
“Thank you. You are great.” She grinned, mesmerizing him with her gaze. She sighed. “Do you have a lighter?”
Without hesitation he retrieved it from his pocket and gave it to her. Then she scowled, at first he did not understand why. Then he realized he had fell in her trap.
“Wow. You lied to me,” she said. “You do smoke.”
“Um – “
“I don’t have time to waste. Good luck on your search.” She stood and gathered her things while he just sat there with a stupid look on his face, convicted and guilty. Before she left she added one more thing, “You had a chance.”
As Tami climbed into the car, his shoulders slumped and with that look in his face, Lebo asked , “What did you do?”
Tami settled, staring into the air. “I messed up. She was perfect and I messed up, buddy.”
Lebo cackled. “I’m sorry. But what did you do? Seemed to be going fine to me. I’ve no idea what you could’ve done that ended it so quickly.”
Tami gazed at him. “She doesn’t like smokers.”
“What?” Lebo chuckled, tears starting to take form. “I told you not to tell her.”
“I didn’t,” he wearily said. “She had a her own way of finding out.”
“Man,” Lebo wiped a tear under his eye. “I’m sorry ,bud.”
His second laughing spell would be worse.
Now I will leave you with song lyric that may or may not have anything to do with the post:
“I gave my heart to the cruel
Now it will not beat again.” – AFI ‘I Hope You Suffer’