The SRC President had challenged Claire to a public debate.
Claire nervously made her way to the central plaza.
The area faced the large granite steps that led up to the admin building.
Being lunchtime, it was packed with students, some on the stairs, some on the grass, some just milling about.
She noted some people setting up a speaker, and some microphones.
Was this Buhle going to make a big show it? she wondered.
She didn’t want this to turn into some big popularity contest.
She knew gay rights were a contentious issue with most South Africans. What if the audience got rowdy? What if she received boo’s? Her forehead prickled with sweat.
As she was wondering whether she should perhaps run away, a short woman in stilettos walked over to her. She was quite pretty, with a mound of braids twisted into a ball on top of her head. She wore a pink skirt, a black denim jacket, and glasses.
“I’m Buhle,” she announced with enormous confidence, extending a hand toward Claire.
Claire shook it, not know what else to do.
“I’m so glad you could join me. I think this is a big issue, and needs to be discussed.”
‘Does it really need an audience?”
“Not scared are you?”
Claire found Buhle intimidating. She was obviously extremely sure of herself.
Claire noticed that she wore a little golden cross on a chain round her neck.
“We’re about to start,” said Buhle, taking Claire’s arm and leading her to a makeshift podium. How had she organised all this in so short a time? Claire wondered. The woman obviously had some serious connections.
Buhle started to address the crowd gathered. Claire didn’t feel ready at all.
She felt anxious – the espresso she’d had before wasn’t a good idea. She felt jumpy, like she might be sick. She didn’t want to do this.
“Thanks for coming everyone,” said Buhle into the microphone, with enormous charm. Already, the crowd cheered.
What the heck, thought Claire sourly, they cheer and she hasn’t even said anything? This chick is going to annihilate me.
“We’re here to talk about a very serious issue. That of gay rights, specifically gay marriage.”
Claire lifted her microphone and interrupted. “We can just call it ‘marriage.’ There’s no need for the label gay. You wouldn’t say Jewish marriage, or Asian marriage, would you?”
A number of people laughed.
Buhle smiled tightly, but Claire could see she was peeved.
“I know how many of you feel,” Buhle went on. “We feel like gay rights are being shoved down our throats. It feels like homosexuality is being forced upon us. What do you have to say to that, Ms. Campbell?”
“I think that’s incorrect. Its ludicrous to suggest anyone is forcing homosexuality upon anyone. Homosexuality exists, period. You can’t promote it; it’s not a behaviour, or a brand. You don’t say, ‘I support redheads’, do you?”
“But redheads are not by their nature sinful.”
“I thought you said everyone sins,” shot back Claire.
“That’s true. We are all sinners.”
“Amen,” concurred a couple of people.
“Stop,” said a voice from the crowd.
Buhle paused, annoyed.
A man parted the crowd like water.
It was the Vice Chancellor.
All eyes were on him.
His name was Ben Windvogel.
He was in his sixties, coloured, very distinguished, and had two PHD’s – one in medicine, and one in history. He was a world-renowned academic and an exceptional leader.
“May I?” he asked, referring to Claire’s microphone.
As if star struck by a celebrity, Claire handed him the mic.
He took it and addressed the crowd. “This argument could go on all day. All year. Forever. Each side is passionate, wants to be heard, wants to be recognised. Myself, I believe we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord, and that he loves all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. He made us the way we are, it is wrong of us to insist that a particular group is unnatural, wrong, bad, or somehow defective. THAT is the real sin here, taking away someone’s dignity.”
The audience was spellbound. He had such a way with words. The student body thought a lot of him, that was clear.
“My younger brother, James, was always different. He liked to play with girls instead of boys when he was little,” the Vice Chancellor continued. “My mother was always very understanding, and never told him to stop being himself. But he suffered. At school, he was bullied relentlessly. He had a lisp, and people mocked him constantly. Once, he was stripped naked, and beaten, left on the soccer field for the school caretaker to find in the early morning. And I…. I was unfeeling. I told him to change. I told him to ‘man up.’ We didn’t use the word gay in those days – to be gay was so unspeakable, you couldn’t even mention it. And I was harsh. I made him feel like an outcast. My own brother. Can you imagine? My heart hardened to him. When I think back on it now, I am crippled with shame, that I could be so ruthless, so unkind, so…UN-Christian. I am ashamed.”
The crowd was silent. They waited for more.
“James killed himself when he was 19.”
Claire was struck dumb. Buhle, similarly, seemed to have no words.
The assembled students were shocked. Everyone seemed to be looking inside themselves.
“So think. Before you condemn someone for being unlike you, think. How would you like to be thrown outside, beaten, laughed at, because of something about yourself cannot change? Think, my students. That is all I ask. Thank you.”
A slow clap, became a fast clap, became a loud, bold applause. Claire wanted to kiss the man. She didn’t dare to though. She looked over to Buhle, whose mouth was fixed in a straight, hard line.
"Who is it?" Bonani whispered.
"Nobody important," responded Spox, loudly, making sure to be heard. She handed him his cell phone to answer.
Bonani grabbed the phone. "Hello?"
Naledi sat in her bathtub with bubbling foam right up to her shoulders. She had Bonani on speaker phone, with the handset on a chair next to her. "Oh, so she's answering your phone now, Bonani. Wow!"
"I'm fine, how are you, Naledi?" Bonani asked, sarcastically. "Thanks for asking." He locked his front door.
Spox whispered to Bonani, about to sit back in front of the TV. "Should I go to the room, give ya'll a bit of space?"
"YES, TELL THAT TRAMP TO GO AWAY AND GIVE US SOME SPACE," Naledi yelled, listening intently and sitting up now.
Bonani shook his head at Spox, and excused himself to his bedroom. He sat on the corner of the bed. "I never took you for someone with a foul mouth."
"I'm sorry, but that girl rubs me up the wrong way. She’s getting way too cocky. Why is she answering your calls now?"
"Don't give me grief, please Naledi. I've just had a tongue lashing from Peter. The cash till is short a measly R120 and he's grilling me about it. We make over R25 000 per week, and he came personally to my house to grill me about petty cash. Can we not fight tonight, please."
"I wanted to come over there to see you, now ..."
"So why don't you? I'll make supper. Or I can drive over there to you, if you like."
"No, don't worry about it. It's all good."
"What's going on, here? What's with the games all of a sudden?"
"You have whores answering your phone, Bonani. And I heard her say, 'it's nobody important'. Sounds you you’re playing games. Is there something happening with you and Spox?"
"Okay, that's it, I'm coming over there. We need to talk face-to-face. This is ridiculous."
"No, stay there. Don't come. I wanna be alone now."
"So you're sulking because a little teenager answered my phone?"
"No, I'm upset because a little teenager is trying to sleep with you and break us up, and you don't see it. Or maybe you don't want to see it."
He stomped his feet, frustrated. "I don't know how to get through to you, Naledi, honestly," Bonani confessed, laying back on the bed now, defeated. "It's impossible to talk to you."
"Yes. You ask me to move in with you … I eventually agree … then you turn me down. I can't win with you anymore. It’s like I don’t know who you are."
"Oh please, Bonani, you don't wanna move in here. We both know it. You hate the idea. I've been begging you for weeks."
"So what now?" Asked Bonani, sitting back up, concerned.
"What d'you mean?"
"I can't visit you. You say we shouldn't move in together. What now?"
"Sure Bonani, everything is my fault."
"I DIDN'T SAY THAT!"
"Don't you raise your voice at me! And tell Spox, the next time she says I'm 'nobody important', I'll put my hands on her. I'm not kidding."
"I really wish you'd stop speaking about her."
"I wish I didn't have to. I freakin’ hate that cheeky leech of a child.”
“Oh my Lord!”
“Wait, please remind me again - you're paying her school fees and her whole life, basically, because she had a baby with your brother? I'm just trying to make sense of it."
"Yes, my dead brother had a kid with a teenager who doesn't have parents - a kid that doesn't have a cent. I'm helping her. You of all people should sympathize - Ms Naledi Mary Mother Teresa."
"This is different to helping the needy. This needy thing wants to have sex with you."
"Okay that's it, I'm hanging up. I told you I don't wanna fight."
They both cut the line.
A furious Naledi dunked her head in the water, causing a splash. She desperately needed to get rid of Spox.
How would she do it?
Bonani sat on the bed, beaten. Are we still even dating? he wondered.
Naledi and Peter had completely ruined his night.
He walked over to the light switch, and turned it off. He slid out of his sneakers and threw himself on the bed.
Is this the end of the road for Naledi and Bonani?