The JRB presents an excerpt from Boy on the Run by Welcome Mandla Lishivha.
Boy on the Run
Welcome Mandla Lishivha
Jacana Media, 2022
Read the excerpt:
Mvuyo and I became very comfortable around each other. He started telling me about this other person he was dating. I did not ask anything about this person. I let him tell me what he wanted to tell me, when he wanted to tell me, and didn’t probe further. Something about the name he was using to refer to the person sounded made up. The less I probed, the safer he felt to tell me more. When he eventually said the person was a he, I kept the same indifference I had kept when he didn’t say he or she. Their relationship was on the down low, and he couldn’t say much, but he wanted to. I was envious that he had boys chasing after him, that was why I had not been shocked by news of him dating a boy. I had no questions for him about romance with boys. I just relished every detail he was able to offer me about the difficulties of going out of their way to spend time alone together. At first I felt sorry for myself for not having had romance, but the more Mvuyo spoke about how limited their relationship was, the more I felt sorry for him. I wanted romance, and I wanted it like I saw it on TV and heard it on RnB songs. When I listened to him talk about his relationship, where they had to hide and how no one could know, I realised that perhaps romance was not to be part of my journey. And anyway, I wasn’t getting any boys running after me.
‘You see those bullet holes on the bus stop?’ Mvuyo teased, pointing at the round bullet marks on the Rea Vaya bus stop glass window. ‘They are for decoration.’
We both chuckled nervously as we contemplated the dark alley ahead of us. We were on our way to emaXhoseni, a tavern in Hillbrow Mvuyo had discovered in first year when he used to hang out with the gay guys in his building at Norvic. We walked up Jorissen Street, through the Joburg Theatre, through the open field past the municipal buildings, and crossed the ascending dark road across Constitution Hill.
We had R100 between us and a small tub of Pond’s Flawless Radiance cream which, we had been persuaded, would get men to buy drinks for us. We stopped around the corner on Queens Road to matte our faces, then checked each other out head to toe, front, back and sideways.
‘You’re okay, chomie.’
‘I mean, if we are going for okay …’
‘I mean you look amazing, chomie, you are amazing amazing!’
‘It’s what you must say—’ We said at the same time and chuckled.
We opened the door emaXhoseni and walked in, looking down to the bar and at each other before settling on a route to drinks first. We took the detour, to be seen; bought Savannas over the bar; walked about and chatted; looked around the entire place searching for a place to sit and adventure. We danced like we did in our residence and made time to talk about the day and the men who were seemingly eyeing us. A man came through, to talk to me.
‘What are you having to drink?’
‘Hello to you too.’
‘What’s your name? You’re cute.’
‘… Mandla, wena?’
‘I’m David. Niphuzani? Wena no mgani wakho?’
‘We’re drinking Savanna,’ I said, pointing at the drink in my hand. I got up and signalled that I was coming back.
‘Chomie, what must I do? He is offering us drinks.’
‘Accept and let’s see where this goes, mogurl.’
‘Or are you ready to walk back to BC?’
Soon smoke and drinks floated round about the table Mvuyo and I were sitting at.
‘Where to from here?’ David asked.
‘Uhm … uhm … no plans really. Wena?’
‘We are thinking of heading to Razzmatazz. Let’s go—I have space for two in my car.’
‘Can we trust that you will not steal us though?’
He chuckled and gently rubbed his hand on my thigh. Mvuyo had been talking to the man’s friend, who suggested Razzmatazz to him too. We agreed only if they agreed to drop us off at our residence and they said they would.
Razzmatazz was pumping with music, people and cars and had a R150 entrance. On the way there I sat in the front and Mvuyo at the back with two friends, one of them flamboyant. I did feel safer. Afterwards we went to another tavern nearby that was about to close. He set up a mattress where the coffee table was for Mvuyo and his one friend, and I went to the bed with him. We kissed and got naked. He stopped and said I was too afraid. It was okay, he said, and kept his distance.
When Mvuyo told me in not so many words that he was gay, I saw him, I saw myself in him, and by seeing myself in him, I felt less alone for the first time. We were able to dream freely and fully together, without being vague about what we wanted to do. I could talk about cute boys with another boy. I could dream about changing the world with another boy. And we believed so much in the power of our dreams. He was the friend God had sent me.
- Welcome Mandla Lishivha was born 1991. He is a freelance journalist and PhD candidate in Jurisprudence at the University of Pretoria. He has a Master of Arts in Journalism and Media Studies, a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies & Anthropology. Welcome worked as a travel writer for Getaway magazine for three years. He has written for the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian, Reuters, GQ and City Press, where he served as the Arts and Lifestyle Co-Editor.
‘It is destined to be a classic.’—Mark Gevisser
‘It is the godly feeling of dancing like a goddess and snapping on a beat with sheer joy that makes all the trouble life demands worthwhile. In these moments, of intensive freedom from pain, of joy that knows no bound and peace that passeth all understanding, I become that kid again, dancing with my mother.’
Welcome Mandla Lishivha’s exquisitely crafted memoir is unlike anything you’ve ever read. Boy on the Run is a staggeringly beautiful and honest exploration of identity through grief, love and friendship, giving us, the readers, a glorious song of self-expression.
This book will change your life.