EXTRACT: Becoming Iman, Which Face To Wear Again?

'And then it seemed that as I drove, a single word parachuted down and landed on the seat next to me. Just four letters. N-U-M-B.'
Pan Macmillan South Africa

And then it seemed that as I drove, a single word parachuted down and landed on the seat next to me. Just four letters. N-U-M-B.

I looked at it and I blinked. I looked at it and it swam away. Tears came hard and hot. I considered pulling over. I breathed in, I steeled myself and forbade the sheep-like following of any more tears. I tried to call my best friends but none of them answered. It was better that way.

There were no distractions. Just me and numbness sitting together. Acknowledging each other. I heard from the back of my psyche, 'You are a sh*t mother'. It makes sense; those are the exact words I've thrown at myself. Those are the exact words my ex-husband has thrown at me.

My mind raced back to our December holiday. It came at the end of a series of long days holed up at Nasrec, where the governing ANC was placing a fresh mantle of leadership on a new head. The late nights and unending cycle of news had taken their jaded toll. My kids and I were ready to go to our happy place.

On the first day at the Durban coast, after we had enjoyed a satisfying taste of the ocean and had a conversation with the waves that went on for hours, the holes in our tummies dragged us out the water, into the car and straight to a curry institution in Durban. The Brittania Hotel. Thoughts of their bunny chows made our mouths flood with saliva.

As we drove there, there seemed to be a weird energy in the air. A bus overtook us in a reckless manner and my insistent hooting in protest seemed to directly offend the driver, who looked like he wanted to slow down enough to tell me off, or worse.

As we dodged him we pulled into the parking lot. I wrapped my wet towel tightly around my waist, unbothered by the fact that I must have looked a sight with my curly, wet hair slowly defecting into a frizzy, blonde halo of an Afro. Sand stuck to my feet and legs like clingy toddlers and my children looked as if they had been swept to shore after a shipwreck; thoroughly dishevelled. As we strode towards the entrance of the hotel, an uncanny sight greeted our eyes. In a flash, I spotted a purple-red sheet spread over something.

It was a man's body and only his bare toes were visible peeping out of the bottom of the sheet. An ambulance was outside and a few waiters, who seemed to be in charge, were standing near his head. I took the scene in, stepped gingerly to the side and averted my little girl's eyes. We carried on, and into the Arctic inside of the famous restaurant, listening to the gossip of other patrons who seemed to know the whole story. Slowly freezing under gale-force air conditioning I began to think and feel.

A woman leaned over and told me that she heard from the waiters that the man had been with of a group of friends and had spent the previous four days partying in a room upstairs. She added that she'd heard he had possibly overdosed and his companions had been panicked and brought him downstairs to get help but it was too late.

I wondered what his friends must have been feeling. The sudden shriek of a woman, who seemed to be part of the group, confirmed the grief that must have been setting in. But like the other people in the restaurant, we carried on, ordering our food and eating it.

By the time we left his body had been taken away. We got into the car and briefly discussed what we had seen, feeling sorry for this tragic turn of events so close to Christmas. But we carried on with our trip and soon the dramatic events were eclipsed when excited greetings were exchanged upon our arrival at my brother's home in Phoenix.

But the Britannia Man stayed with me.

Pan Macmillan South Africa

* This is an extract from "Becoming Iman" by award-winning journalist Iman Rappetti. It is published by Pan Macmillan South Africa.

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