This is a small sample from chapter 1 of my novel OUT OF AIR ©Naomi Estment
Monday 14 February 1994
Blues restaurant, Cape Town.
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me!’
As she fired off the words, Gina Duncan flung the contents of her wine glass in the face of the man sitting opposite her. Most of the Merlot dribbled down his fine features, while the rest spattered onto the crisp white tablecloth. Clenching his jaw, he snatched up the salt cellar and emptied it over the spreading stains. His other hand swiped hard across his cheek.
‘I think that we must finish this conversation outside,’ he said, his heavy accent wired with restrained rage. People were turning to look. The trendy restaurant was full of diners celebrating St. Valentine’s Day and Gina’s outburst had interrupted the love song that murmured in the background.
‘No, we can finish it right here!’ Her petite body was taut with tension, perfectly sculpted in a micro mini and halter-neck top. The minx outfit matched a pair of killer heels, in Ferrari red. Blonde hair bounced around her shoulders and down her back. Fury flashed in her azure eyes.
‘She has fear for the elections,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘She demand that I return very quick.’
‘Well, I completely understand her point of view!’ she shot back. They were busy with starters. A few crispy squid heads cowered on her plate, while his fork lay forgotten amid half-eaten mussels. Her delicate French perfume drifted on the air, a gift from him. Even anger didn’t detract from her exquisite, elfin looks.
‘Gina, you are a girl very sexy’, he continued, ‘but we say at commencement that this is not serious.’
‘I still have the right to know I’m sleeping with a married man!’ She spat the words, mad as a caged African wild cat. The tiny gold dolphin ducked at her neck, as her chair clattered to the floor. At twenty-five, Gina might not have known precisely what she wanted, but she definitely knew what she didn’t. ‘Happy Valentine’s, Jean-Claude!’
She flung the crimson rose at his purpled face, and sliced for the door, just preventing a trip on her towering stilettos. Everyone around them was paying attention. This was most unusual for Blues. Frequented by the Cape Town chic and famous for its views over Camps Bay beach, it had a trademark ambience. Not this kind. Fumbling some notes onto the table, Jean-Claude stood swiftly. He left in the opposite direction.
Gina had parked a block away. Struggling with the straps, she stripped off her shoes. Across the road, pale sand meandered to the moonlit waves. She was oblivious to their soothing swish. Street lights spilt magic around her feet, but she trampled it into the pavement.
Who the heck does he think he is? she seethed. Here he was, playing her fiddle, while his wife waited in France. Thank goodness for the elections in April, even if they did bode possible violence. They’d forced his hand. Every cloud had its silver lining. This was her personal shred of it. Heaven knows how long he’d have hung around if it weren’t for that. Screaming her VW Citi Golf to life, she careened up the hill. Just as well it was only a few hundred metres or she’d be bust blind for speeding.
Arriving at Sugarbush Heights, she stopped in the protea-lined driveway. Gina adored the name, and the place. A born-and-bred Capetonian, this was home. Magnificent vistas graced both sides of the building. The back of Table Mountain swooped down to her front door, while her bedroom and living room gazed out over the expanse of the ocean. Marching inside, she thumped her keys down next to the telephone. She flipped on the bedside lamp, before flopping onto the unmade bed. It was a queen-sized bed, only because a king couldn’t quite fit. Turning her head, she glanced at the sea.
Bastard! Why do guys have to be such bastards? The Atlantic soaked up her question, smiling into the starlight. It was why she slept with her curtains wide open, and why she had chosen this slightly run-down apartment – along with the excellent rental. She had taken over the contract from a friend who had recently emigrated.
‘I’m sorry it’s short notice,’ he’d said, needlessly apologetic, ‘but I know you’ll love it.’
‘When can I move in?’ she’d asked. It was an absolute no-brainer. It didn’t matter that there were days when the wind whipped with ballistic rage down the mountain. Then it would slam into the windows of her kitchen and bathroom, intent on sweeping the block from its very foundations.
Screw them all! Gina always wanted to travel, but consistently lacked the funds to go. Instead, she satisfied her Sagittarian wanderlust by befriending foreigners, abundant around Cape Town. To her sister’s eternal chagrin, a number of them tumbled through Gina’s bed, in a roller coaster of longing and loss. It reinforced what she’d learned long ago. That love had a habit of leaving, repeatedly. Her father was a seafarer. Navigation was his life. As far back as she could remember he’d sailed the ocean, returning intermittently. She was finally done with it – all of it.
Getting up from the bed, she pulled off her clothes and discarded them in a crumpled heap before stumbling to the bathroom. Although small, it served her needs. Square, white tiles covered the walls and floor, lending a sanitary feel. As she brushed her teeth, toothpaste banished the taste of the wine, cleansing her of Jean-Claude’s kisses. Tough about the make-up! It can wait until morning. Too bad what they say at the Spa.
Back in the bedroom, a flimsy negligee adorned the chest at the foot of her bed. In a graceful sequence, she slipped it on and slid between the sheets. Switching off the light, she rolled over and hugged the life-sized dolphin to her heart. Her tears dissolved into his fluffy grey fur.
Tuesday 15 February 1994
The telephone trilled in Gina’s ear. ‘Hello?’ she mumbled.
‘Jeans! My word, did I wake you? What you need is a few kids running around. They’d get you out of bed in the morning!’ It was Pippa, cheerful as ever.
Gina glanced across at the trio of paintings on the opposite wall. Vivid art on stretched canvas, they conveyed the magnificence of Namaqualand’s flowers. Rudely awakened, she didn’t appreciate them as much as usual. ‘No, Pips, the last thing I need is kids! Being an aunty does me perfectly fine, thank you.’
‘Why so grouchy? I called to let you know I’ve found a man for you.’
Gina took a deep breath. Her sister had her matchmaker voice on. ‘I guess you forgot about Jean-Claude,’ she said wearily.
‘No, but I know how those things work. How’s it going anyway?’
‘It isn’t…wonderful Valentine’s surprise. He’s married!’
‘Gina, I told you!’
‘Shut up, Pippa! Give me the occasional break, will you?’
‘Sorry. I’m really sorry,’ Pippa said sincerely. ‘Are you okay?’
‘No, I’m not!’ Gina snapped. ‘I’ve had it! So you can take your “man for me” and shove him.’
‘Jeans…sweetie, he’s exactly what you need,’ Pippa cooed, ‘especially after this.’
‘I don’t need anyone, Pips! I’m fine on my own!’
In the background, the unsteady scramble of toddling feet was followed by symbol-clanging chaos. ‘Kids! No fighting!’ Pippa shouted. ‘Listen, Jeans, for blessed once. His name is Archie Jenkins. He works with Stu.’
Archie? Short for Archibald, no doubt. It wasn’t a name that fitted anywhere at all into Gina’s paradigm of “stud”. Neither did his apparent profession of accountancy. She doted on her brother-in-law. Even more for the way he treated Pippa. Stuart Price was a model husband, and father to their two children, but Gina craved adventure in a way her older sister never had.
Pippa pressed on. ‘Stu knows him well. He’s such a decent guy. He’d never mess you around.’
‘Forget it, Pips! Is my only alternative death by boredom? Come on, I love you to bits, but for heaven’s sake, drop it!’
‘I love you too,’ Pippa soothed. ‘It would be perfect if you settled down with a wonderful man. Then our kids could be cousins without a generation gap between them.’
A pretty picture of domestic bliss flashed across Gina’s mind. The husband wore a huge question mark over his cardboard face. ‘I promise one day I’ll find an incredible man,’ she said resolutely. ‘Maybe even have his babies…but I’ll do it all by myself, thank you!’
‘You’ve always been so bloody independent,’ Pippa grumbled. A spine-splicing yell ripped through her words. ‘Oh Lord, I have to go! He’s strangling her with the pink panther. Bye, Jeans, chat soon.’
The receiver burbled into a long drone. Good. Enough of that. It was over. Gina drew a lung soaking breath. Let it go and move on. Life was too short to hover in history, too sweet to savour self-pity. She stretched, languid as a leopard, pushing her dolphin onto the floor. The sea sighed away to the hazy horizon. Above it, the sky shimmered pearl blue. Slipping out of bed, she sat cross-legged on the carpet, preparing to meditate.
She’d heard something once about how you can’t discover new oceans, unless you find the courage to let go of the shore. Sensing that the discovery itself was the living, the dying, and everything in between, she’d immersed herself in life. Tactile to her toes, she gravitated to massage therapy, now employed at the Protea Spa on the Cape Town Foreshore. Her first treatment was at nine o’clock.
Twenty minutes melted by. Rising, Gina made for the shower. It was an old one, with an oversized head. She let it run hot, basking in the steamy embrace. Rose soap made love to her limbs, washing away Jean-Claude’s cologne. After drying herself off, she reached for her comb, wincing as it tugged through the inevitable knots. Be nice, she told her curls, fingering them with mousse. I don’t deserve a bad hair day! Maddeningly fine, her hair was invariably unplayable, the bane of her life.
Tripping naked to the living room, she reached for the radio. Music swirled like happiness through the air. Gina sashayed as she sang along, hopelessly out of key. She wove around the suede lounge suite, sinking her toes into the rug. A pine cabinet graced one wall. It bore a radio-tape combo, scattering of photos and a small TV. The dining recess housed a six seater table, sprawled with magazines. Each corner of the room cradled a plant, except for one. This featured a hat stand overgrown with caps and scarves. The cream-coloured walls sported two scenes of dolphins at sunset.
Gina boogied to the bedroom. She would change at work. Stopping with the music, she swung open her wardrobe. In the background, the tempo was teased down. Fabric flipped into the air and onto the floor. A pink g-string twanged against the provocative protrusion of her bones. Next, a denim mini grasped her swaying pelvis into a sexy squeeze. In a raunchy, reverse stripper move, a rough knit vest shimmied over her head. Close behind, a leather belt snaked its way around her hips. Beat perfect, her dancing feet pushed their way into cowboy boots. As the song sighed out, her reflection moved like a movie star in the mirror, fitting pearl studs to her ears.
‘Who needs men anyway?’ she asked aloud, before pausing.
I do, she realized, looking into her own eyes, but not that kind of man. I need the kind I can love forever.
From the living room, a newsreader’s voice crackled dispassionately over the radio. ‘Suggestions have surfaced of an independent Zulu kingdom, and white Volkstaat.’ Gina knew that South Africa was racked with dissent. Unbidden, recent rumors of potential civil war raced across her mind. Surely not! Either way, I can’t blame Jean-Claude’s wife. She hurried to snap off the radio. Gina abhorred the media. It was all so impersonal, and interminably depressing.
Please, God, grant us peace, she prayed.