Moths and Butterflies
An Extremely Brief Telling of How Jared July
Became Something Close to a Hero
Around the corner from Grove Avenue, where the strangely clean homeless man never asked for more than fifty cents, across the busy street, on the cleaner side of things, there was a tall building in which the seventh floor was completely occupied by a single law firm. That was where Jared July earned his living, in a manner of speaking.
Jared was not the sort to leave work as soon as the clock announced the end of the work day, so he presently sat on his chair, drinking his chilled ice tea and thinking of such mundane things as the possibility of the Proteas losing against New Zealand in the next match. For what else could a man do to show he was not a clock-watcher?
He was supposed to be working on the Witboi case, something he greatly dreaded. He had had the misfortune of finding himself on the side of Adam Witboi—a cancer-afflicted man who wished to be euthanized. On the opposite end of that fight was Donna Witboi—Adam’s only child.
“I am old and tired, dear,” Adam had said to his daughter. “I don’t want to suffer.”
“Whom will I have when you are gone?” Donna had asked. To Jared’s disappointment, Adam had failed to produce an answer. And so Jared had long surmised that the trouble with the entire ordeal was that Adam had been an orphan. It was upon leaving the orphanage at which he had been raised that he met Nneka—the woman who would become Donna’s mother.
They fell in love instantly and were soon married. Soon after that they went about the business of expanding their family of two. Sadly, it was without luck. “The seed wouldn’t take,” Adam had explained to Jared.
Years later, well into their thirties, Donna was miraculously born and they had named her after a now forgotten pop star. Nneka had died when Donna was two years old from a most unforeseeable car accident. Only Donna and Adam were left and currently in the process of fighting over Adam’s life.
It was all rather dismal, if Jared were being honest with himself. It felt like a philosophical case and he suspected that no matter the outcome, everyone involved was headed towards an assured loss. Even if Adam died naturally while the process of approving his euthanization was still in progress, it would still be a loss, somehow, maybe…who knew with those things.
So Jared sat on his swivelling chair, with his feet on his desk, drinking his tea and smoking his cigar, and hoped that Dale Steyn’s injury would heal before the match against New Zealand.
He knew that soon he would have to leave the office and go home. He dreaded those hours—the uncertain moments when he paced the floor in his well decorated flat wondering if the day would bring more work to his office.
He was by no means compelled to be an excellent lawyer. In fact, he dreaded it passionately and worked most diligently to ensure that he never rose above anything that could be considered as mediocre. That was the cut-off point where he hoped to exist in contentment for all his life.
He looked at his watch and the silver hands told him it was fifteen minutes after seven. He decided that he had contributed enough effort to give the illusion of a driven lawyer who was hard at work, yet not so hard as to inspire tales of legend. That would be dreadful. He might actually have to start working if that happened.
The second advantage to staying so late at work was that there would be no traffic in the streets so he would be able to make it for the party at his older brother’s flat. If the night was really good, then their sister Avery would be there too. He did miss her. Even if she annoyed him most of the time, she was still his sister and he supposed that warranted some affection for her. He still doubted, though, that she would be there. Jared’s brother had the revered reputation of hosting parties polluted with loud music, smoke, and several incoherent people.
Jared enjoyed those parties, it was a chance to let the responsible world disappear into oblivion and to let himself be the child he was never allowed to be by his parents. They denied it most vehemently but he could have sworn that they had never actually allowed him to play with guns, trucks, and other things cherished by young boys.
He took his keys, laptop, and case from the table and headed for the door. He closed it and locked it behind him. Just outside his office was the working station that belonged to his personal assistant.
Even when Jared stayed after hours, he never imposed his dedication to a strong work ethic on her. He understood that she was a woman with a family and that she needed to be home as soon as possible. He smiled thinking of his assistant, she was a joy, and she was such an expert at feeding the illusion of his diligent work.
He walked down the pathway that led to the staircase and the lift. He was not the sort of person who ever took the lift. He was the sort that enjoyed every moment of everything he did and he felt that the lift robbed him of some of those moments. Well, the lift and the assigned hours he had to work from eight o’clock in the morning to five in the evening.
When in the lift the only thing that consumed his mind was the bright red light that announced each floor the lift was passing—there was no peace in that. Though, he could not deny that taking the stairs while ascending the storeys of the building, all the way to the seventh floor, was decidedly foolish. Sweat and short breath were not things he wanted to add to his cup of overflowing troubles.
At the bottom of the staircase, he jumped with a spring and landed on the floor with a smile. He walked to his car with that same smile on his face. When he reached his car in the underground parking area, he admired its beauty and felt that he understood the feelings of the envious pedestrians he often passed when driving in the streets of Cape Town. It was a good car with a good engine. His smile grew wider. Life was good indeed.
Given a few more years, the good life would be even better since he would have grown boring enough to find interest in a wife. As he thought it, it sounded like a paradox in his head, but he decided his brother’s party was something he needed to attend more urgently than the possibility of a thought crime.
When he reached home, he took a shower and dressed in his most casual jeans. They were pale and fashionably ripped above the knees. Everyone was wearing them these days. He wore a white t-shirt that in no way declared his more than ample monthly pay.
As he had expected of one of Christopher’s parties, the place was completely overcrowded. There were boys who looked too young to be at a party filled with such smoke, and then there were men who looked too old to be at a party at all.
To go with the young boys were young girls with shiny tops and long heels that made them look uncomfortable and somewhat constipated when they walked. Jared noticed that there were no older women to go with the older men.
There were people of indeterminate age with suspicious cups in their hands and unmoving faces. In the end, everyone looked out of place and not at all part of the gathering. And try as he may, Jared could not locate the source of the smoke that was choking everyone, but no one seemed to object. He gathered that perhaps everyone was trying to hear the words their companions were speaking over a loud noise that was trying without success to pass as music. Overall, it was a typical Christopher party. And Jared planned to enjoy every second of it.
“You made it brother.” The voice came from a man of medium height with green hair that was fashioned into long dreadlocks. He was smiling a wide smile; on the man’s right canine tooth in his top jaw was a tattoo of the African map.
“I thought the office would finally devour you. I am so glad you came, brother. How good it is to see you.” Every word Christopher said was delivered as a near whisper, yet loudly - one of those paradoxes which plagued Jared. Christopher seemed to contemplate his words greatly; he was a measured man, like a passionate wine taster or a performing qawwali singer.
“You told me it would be the party to rival all parties. I am an empiricist, if ever I am to come to a conclusion I will need to have collected data,” Jared spoke the words as the music was passing through a crescendo meant to inspire anyone listening to break into a…well, anything really.
“As soon as you speak I find myself regretting inviting you. This is not a party, brother. It is a time of communion among friends. Yes, there is music and if you feel like it you may dance. But do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a party. Come, you need a drink in your belly and grass in your lungs.”
Jared was never one to protest when faced with the possibility of being truly and royally intoxicated. He allowed himself to be led by his brother to…wherever they were going. It was then that Jared saw the conspicuous individual who was more misplaced than the young boys and the old men and the young girls all combined.
Sitting in one of the corners in the room was a girl with waist-long braids, a guitar case on her lap, and a black backpack near her right foot. She was not wearing a shiny top like all the other girls; instead she wore a loose, grey shirt with no neckline and bold black letters stating to all who could read: LOVE IS PAIN, SUCKERS.
On her feet were cowboy boots that had black, skinny jeans tucked into them. This was all very striking since Jared had not expected such a forlorn sight at a Christopher party. She clearly did not have drink in her belly and grass in her lungs.
“…but then again she always was a queen. If only I was not a fool in love,” Christopher was saying.
“Where are we going?” Jared asked, still looking at the girl.
“…but then again there was always the fascination with green hair. I never understood why no one else could see it,” Christopher continued.
As it always happened when one looked at a person for too long, the girl must have felt Jared’s gaze on her for she returned it. When she did, Jared looked away from her and allowed himself to be led by his brother to wherever they were going.
Their destination was revealed to be Christopher’s bedroom in the upper floor. On the bed sat some of the young girls and the young boys passing around what looked like a meticulously rolled dagga stick. Sitting in the corner somewhere was someone smoking hubbly and several other things that may or may not have been illegal.
“And now we relax, brother,” Christopher announced as he handed a glass with green, well, a glass with green something in it to his brother.
Jared accepted it with an exaggerated bow and immediately said, “If anyone asks, I was never at this party. In fact, I haven’t even seen you in weeks.” They both laughed.
“Words of wisdom, brother. Words of wisdom indeed.”
“How did you get these girls to come here anyway?”
“Ah, that is the art of it all—to be so free that none can refuse my beautiful spirit. I find it enlightening to mingle with the robot people. And at the end of the day, they all want a piece of my world. You are a prime example.”
They sat for several minutes while Jared drank from the glass in his hand and off-loaded his worries over the current state of the Proteas to Christopher. “If we lose this next match, then we’ll move a spot down in the world rankings,” he explained.
Christopher nodded thoughtfully and smoked heartily from the pipe in his hand. The taste of the green something was potent on Jared’s tongue and the lulling effect it had on his brain made him laugh so suddenly and so loudly, that the crowd of smokers in the corner smiled and nodded to him in approval.
“Do you even know half these people?” Jared asked when at last his thoughts could be channelled into a somewhat clear thought.
“I don’t think I even know a quarter of them.”
Jared laughed again. And this time, his brother joined him.
“We should go back downstairs, brother. I fear the other robot people might think I have deserted them.”
“We came all this way just to drink this…this…this thing?” he asked, waving the now empty glass to Christopher.
“What does it matter?” Christopher dismissed with a flick of the hand. “Listen, I have a friend who might need your…your legal prowess,” he said as he led them towards the stairs. “There was a protest…”
As soon as they re-entered Christopher’s kitchen-lounge-dining room, Jared saw that the forlorn girl was still sitting in the corner. This time though, there was a couple passionately kissing near her. The girl did not seem aware of the lovebirds. However, she seemed aware that someone was once again examining her with curious eyes. As soon as her eyes caught with his, Jared looked away and asked his brother, “What else can we do at this party?”
Of course, Christopher had chosen that moment to desert Jared without a word, so he was left looking like the sort of fool who conversed with himself. He looked back at the girl to silently assure her that he was not crazy at all.
Seeming annoyed and probably frightened by the possibility that he was a stalker of some sort, she picked up her guitar case and backpack and walked away from the sofa. She was going upstairs.
Just in case she had the wrong idea about him, you know, just in case she thought he was a crazy person, Jared followed her so he could explain himself.
“You are Jared, his brother,” the words came from a man who looked to be Christopher’s age. He had blonde dreadlocks and a smile even wider than Christopher’s. “I saw you talking earlier and I did not want to intrude,” the man with dreadlocks elaborated.
“I am his brother, yes.”
“My white name is David. My true name is Shola; you may only call me Shola.”
Jared nodded at the words spoken by the man whose white name was David and was now called Shola.
“Your brother tells me you are a lawyer. I have this problem and Christopher said you might be able to help me with…”
“The girl with the guitar went past you, right?”
“I believe so. But see here, last June…”
“I just need two seconds with her and I’ll be back with you.”
Shola nodded tremendously lazily and Jared immediately knew that either he or Shola, or both, was highly intoxicated. Everything was suddenly so slow…and Jared’s eyelids felt heavy.
When Jared stepped onto the roof he was annoyed to find that there was a breeze that was bordering on becoming a gale. He felt goose bumps blooming on his skin. Even more annoying than the wind was the observation…no, the illusion that the girl with the long braids was standing at the edge of the roof and looking below her.
The breeze eerily swept her braids behind her and he saw that diamonds were falling from her green eyes. He closed his eyes momentarily, just to make sure that she had green eyes and that they were crying diamonds. But alas, he was disappointed to find that that, unlike her stance at the edge of the roof, was definitely an illusion—her eyes were black…or dark brown…or whatever.
“What do you want from me?” she asked him. He could not help but note that her voice sounded exactly like Harry Belafonte’s. Naturally, he laughed.
“Are you laughing?” she asked.
He shook his head and sat on the bench near the exit door. “I don’t really think so. I think my brother drugged me, by the way. I think this may be important,” he said and burped. “And I don’t think you should jump.”
“Why should I care what you think?”
“Well, firstly, my brother’s building isn’t all that tall. You will most likely break your legs and maybe a few ribs, but I doubt you will actually die. In fact, I’ll be very surprised if you do.”
She looked below and back at him. “How many jumping suicides have you seen?” she asked.
The correct answer was exactly zero. No decimal points and no maybes. Exactly zero. “A few,” he lied. “I also feel the need to ask you: is this because I was looking at you earlier?”
“No,” she answered easily. “Why I would I jump because you were looking at me?”
“I don’t know.” He saw a bright purple shooting star fall on the next-door building and a thousand unicorns stream from the resulting explosion. They instantly grew wings as soon as they reached the edge of the building and flew, like fireflies, much larger, but like fireflies on a dark night. “What is your name, by the way?”
She looked at him again. She said nothing and then once again looked below.
“My name is Jared July. This is my brother’s flat. His name is Christopher, but all his friends call him Simbarashe. Some call him Simba for short. We have a sister named Avery…”
“You still haven’t answered me. What do you want from me?” she asked.
“I’m working on this really difficult case, a lot of hard work, a lot of long hours and the mermaids are green too…”
“Why are you telling me all this?” her Harry Belafonte voice now sounded hollow, as though it caused her great pain to speak. Then again, his brother’s green-something was a very powerful thing indeed. He would have to ask him the name of it. And while he was conducting his enquiry, when he was not on a windy rooftop, he might get to fully enjoy its effects.
“I don’t know. I thought if I kept you talking long enough then you would forget what you came here to do.”
“You don’t know why I came here. Anyway, my reasons cannot be changed by a conversation with a strange man who is very clearly stoned. You could have at least sent someone sober,” a fresh stream of diamonds poured from her eyes as she said the words.
“Would that make a difference?”
“I don’t know. But you should at least try to be serious about…saving me. I mean, I don’t think you even truly care.”
“You haven’t even told me your name. At least tell me your name.”
“Will that make you care more?”
“It’s just that when I wake from nightmares I need to know the name of the person who chose to traumatise me. And when the police and ambulance arrive I should at least have a name so that they know which family to contact…” he stopped talking; he could have sworn that one of the purple unicorns was presently standing next to her, tap dancing. Now that was something—a tap dancing, purple unicorn.
“Jeannine. My name is Jeannine.”
“So you’re coloured, hey?”
“What difference does it make if I’m coloured or not?”
“I don’t know. Anyway, are you still going to jump?”
The breeze was becoming stronger and Jared suspected that he was only moments away from vomiting. The harsh passing of the wind made the silence all the more eerie. Even the unicorn stopped dancing.
“Why do you want to jump, anyway? I mean, you’re pretty, thin and the guitar suggests that you have some talent, maybe…anyway, why jump?”
As though in agreement with his assessment and question, the unicorn rested on its haunches and looked at the girl with great patience, waiting for nothing less than an exceptional answer.
“Too many things are wrong. And don’t think I haven’t tried to live, because I have,” she said, turning to him. “I know people will judge me, but I have tried, you know, I really have tried. But I’m just so tired. I imagine death will be easier than living.”
The unicorn nodded thoughtfully and looked to Jared for his rebuttal. “At least this life is the devil you know,” he started. “Death could be worse. There could be hell beyond this life and nothing else. What then?” he asked. He then looked to the unicorn for approval. It nodded and looked to Jeannine once more.
“And what if this life is the hell and the existence that comes after this is the heaven? What if the whole point of living is to die? It would make more sense, wouldn’t it?”
“Well,” he burped, “you’ve said some really confusing things and my lack of understanding of any of it must mean you’ve beaten me in this…eh…debate.”
He tried to stand, but found that the inclination to vomit was more pronounced when he did. He sat down again and beckoned the unicorn to come and sit by his side. “Just remember what I said, you’re not likely to die.” The unicorn nodded, made a calling sound, and three more unicorns, which were all yellow, appeared. They immediately started tap dancing while the purple one instructed them with a glowing wand.
“Please don’t jump while I’m still here,” he continued. “I don’t think I could take the sight.”
“I need time,” she said with a quiver and Jared noted that she no longer sounded like Harry Belafonte. This must be her true voice, he thought. It was small and almost sweet, if voices could be described as sweet. “I just need a little more time,” she whispered. “I just need more time.”
He was disappointed to note that she was no longer crying diamonds, but ordinary tears. “Then come from the edge,” he stretched his hand towards her. “You can have the time on the bench with me. We can call your family and take you home.”
“I don’t have either.”
“Oh gods, oh dear gods,” he said and the unicorns stopped dancing.
“Do you still want to save me? Now that you don’t know what you’ll do with me when this is done. Do you still want to do it?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“I think I’m going to…” he did not need to finish the sentence since all the food he had eaten in the past week or so came hurling from his mouth. He dropped to his hands and knees and tried to breathe, and then not breathe, and then breathe again for his body could not decide when it was drowning—when he was breathing or when he stopped.
The vomit seemed to teem from a bottomless well. Jared was very convinced that he was now down to his intestines, his blood, his heart, everything, it was all abandoning him and settling on the filthy floor of the rooftop.
He looked to see if the unicorns were aware of the progression of his death, but found them gone. The girl…her name was Diana or Serena or something just as mundane, she had left the edge of the roof and was currently kneeling beside him, telling him to breathe.
“Come on, Jared, just breathe. Just breathe…” she sounded like Harry Belafonte again and her voice was enchanting the world to swirl around and around and around and into rainbows and stars and unicorns and fireflies and moths and butterflies and a sharp pain right where his brain was and then it all went dead and black.
When he and Avery were still children, she had dared him to hit his head on his bedpost. He had done so with stupidity and enthusiasm. Then he had spent an entire week with a headache that had felt as though he would need to have his head amputated in order to stop the pain. That was how he felt when he awakened in the hospital bed, three days after the incident on Christopher’s rooftop.
It was several minutes, close to thirty or forty-five or several hundred, before a nurse peeped into his room and just as quickly ran to find a doctor.
“So I’m alive?” he asked the doctor as soon as the rather lengthy medical examination was concluded.
“Yes, Mr July. Should I allow your brother to come through?”
“Is he alone?”
Jared nodded and regretted it immediately. Christopher entered the room as though he were gliding. It seemed that he thought a hospital visit to be something close to a job interview since for the first time in five years, he was fully clothed.
“My dear brother,” he smiled, “I was afraid we had seen the last of you.”
“It’s because of that green…”
“We must devise a way to thank her for saving your life,” Christopher interrupted, taking a seat and indicating with his shaking head that the conversation was not for a place where The-Powers-That-Be could very well be watching.
“Jeannine. She did such a brave thing…”
“I don’t think I would have actually died…”
“I don’t think flowers will be enough to thank her…”
“If anything we should be thanking the doctor since Jeannine just told me to breathe…”
“She is currently homeless so I might avail her of my quarters,” Christopher adopted a mock English accent as he made the suggestion. “I just hope not to cheat on Shola again. She is a beauty…”
“…I mean, breathing is the most natural thing to do. I would have breathed even if she weren’t there…”
“We’d have to find her first, of course,” Christopher continued, in his normal voice and accent.
“You mean she’s gone?”
“Yes. After saving your life, she disappeared. She said something about finding her mother, or was it father…I forget. She left word she would return, though.”
“She didn’t save my life, you know.”
"You think not?" Christopher asked, his eyes looking deeply into Jared's. And as he did, his always wide smile receded ever so slowly and tellingly.
The brothers settled into a silence filled with the fears they had tried to repress, all the failures haunting their jovial demeanours, leaving them naked and vulnerable, and more afraid. Jared felt the welling of tears in the inner corners of his eyes and looked away first.
"By the way," Christopher continued, "I think you were fired from your job. And Steyn's injury wasn't healed in time so he didn't bowl against New Zealand."
"Dammit! What happened? Did we at least win? Did we beat New Zealand?"
"Who knows?" Christopher shrugged. But you really must talk with Shola. He needs your help with this problem he has. You see, he was in the Gender Violence protests last June..."
Around the corner from what Jared feared was his fading sanity, where his strangely renowned achievements never rose above mediocrity, across the still existent hallucinations of dancing unicorns, on the cleaner side of things, there was a small voice that whispered its fear to embrace the answer to the question of his mortality. He wondered how long it would remain audible.
Hubbly: The South African colloquial expression for hookah.
Qawwali: South Asian devotional music most commonly practiced by men of the Islam religion.
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