A Better Calibre of Black

Photo by Serge Esteve

If anyone else had heard it, they weren’t admitting it.

“They think this is Khayelitsha. They can’t act accordingly. Johannesburg has a better calibre of black,” the man had uttered under his breath. Nkosinathi was thrown into disbelief. It wasn’t the brazenness of the declaration that made him uneasy. No, it was his powerlessness to do anything about it.

His feet felt cemented to the floor. He surveyed the man’s body, then his date’s and, finally, his own.

The man sat two tables away from theirs, but even then, his broad shoulders and muscular frame jumped out from the rest of the patrons. A fistfight wasn’t an option. Nathi would be beaten into a coma before he attempted a single punch.

Fuck!

His eyes shifted to his date. Ntombi smiled a sad smile. It had been her idea to come to Camps Bay — and this restaurant in particular — in the first place. Nathi had thrown every excuse he could at her: ‘Why not stick in town?’, ‘You know that place has a reputation right?’ and, finally ‘Fuck! Are you willing to potentially ruin our anniversary just to make a political statement?’

She offered the same response to each one of his questions. “I’m not going to minimize the space I occupy to make white people comfortable. We’re going to Camps Bay.”

Nathi began calculating a way out of the encounter. If he just settled his bill, went to the manager and laid a complaint, he could rescue some modicum of dignity from the entire affair. If the restaurant didn’t force the man to apologize just as loudly as he had insulted them, he would broadcast the news all over social media. Yes, that’s it. The ensuing public outrage would run the restaurant out of business and the white man would be publicly shamed and out of a job in no time.

Keys, money, phone in hand, he beelined toward the counter and settled the bill. “I’d like to see the manager,” he said to the body behind the counter.

“I am the manager, Sir. Is everything fine?”

The manager’s tone offered him a sense of safety. He felt his initial sense of fear and disbelief congeal into a heavy anger.

“No. Everything is not fine! That racist prick, that bald piece of shit in the middle of the restaurant just took a dig at me and my partner…said this isn’t Khayelitsha and we needed to “act accordingly”. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

The entire restaurant was held captive by his drunken anger. He looked at the sea of faces around him, all white save for Ntombi, and felt his anger compound.

“Well? Are you going to do something about it or are you just going to gawk at me?”

“Sir…sir. Calm down. I can’t help if you’re being emotional about this. I understand you’re angry –”

“Angry?” Nathi interjected. “I’m more than angry! This bastard humiliated me and my partner in front of this entire restaurant. Now are you going to do something about it or should I just head to the papers?”|

Five mall security guards arrived a few minutes later at the request of the manager. They threw accusatory stares at Nathi, stares that asked “well, why did you come here in the first place?” They asked the surrounding tables if they’d heard anything and kicked both Nathi and Ntombi out when everyone said no.

Later that night both Nathi and Ntombi posted about the event on their Facebook profiles, generating a total of nine comments between both of their accounts. One comment read: “What were you doing there in the first place? This is why I only suppport black business. I reckon you should do the same.

Nathi and Ntombi broke up shortly afterwards. The bald man still frequents the restaurant.

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