By Tom Brown
No family no friends just on my own the whole time just a handful visits and mostly work related.
You know you are alone when … At last you've got your own pad everything that opens and shuts, microwave stove fridge kitchen table and chairs TV all spacious even a spare bed for guests. All your appliances. Namit. Mostly new stuff. Book-racks full of books and a wonderful home theatre system.
High hopes, inviting all and sundry waiting in anticipation for a visit. You wait. You wait, and nobody comes. Then you know you are on your own in life. You know you are alone. So that in my cozy garden flat in the three years I had no more than thirty visits altogether and no friends nor family.
Look I am sober that was probably part of the problem I would have had lots of drinking buddies over well I prefer the loneliness. I was very disappointed in the friends of “church” looked like I was now not popular at all. It was me and my cockatiel my budgies and the radio.
At the time I had been staying with my mother near Pretoria. The reason I moved to Joburg was to be nearer to work and because of the traffic, the petrol and maintenance works out about the same as rent so that it made a lot of sense. I was actually being paid well.
That neighbourhood is dangerous the property is right on the edge of the notorious Alexandra township, sometimes late at night you heard machine-gun fire the crime rate was very high. Also you see only three stars in the night sky, if you're lucky. Literally. It is because of air pollution and all the light diffusion. Joburg is a very unfriendly place.
Once I was at a cafe during an armed robbery at least they didn't start shooting. The moment they fled in their car the police arrived. That cafe owner said it was a regular thing they just took the cash and cigarettes. There was another incident at a garage close to the university but the cops got that lot. Some serious firepower arrived.
It wasn't long before I started enjoying my own company. People who live alone like that become self-centred, selfish and very jealous of their time and space and small luxuries. The people who I rented from didn't bother me I didn't bother them. The yard is very large their house was far from me. There is a veranda too that was very nice especially in summer.
For the most part I worked, first was to complete my thesis and submitted it.
I was given a terrific load of marking exam papers, not so much tedious as utterly exhausting. These people got very unreasonable about this business trying to get blood from a stone. I did research too some very interesting work but the school wasn't interested they want you to also be one track minded and ignorant of the rest of science and applications just a papers machine. They grew their own timber.
One of the first people with mobile internet I had two computers took them apart and together again and software, got to know something like that on my own. Listened music on the hi-fi bought a lot of books many new ones too and some very expensive as well as computer equipment.
For leisure, No TV. No movies. Just poetry and books. Only very occasional telephone calls these turned out also not welcome either. And I read a lot of poems mostly classic, all the newly fangled modern abstract stuff I could never understand. For Bob Dylan to be awarded a Nobel Prize the pendulum must be swinging to reason again. I didn't try to analyse the poems it was purely for enjoyment. I tried calligraphy for a hobby but that didn't get far. Also I became interested in religion in general even though I didn't attend church.
Now and then a student would come over but seldom, and a guy from physics for research sometimes. I got along very well with the black students for example there was a guy in first year engineering in the tutorial classes he usually came to the board and asked me advanced stuff third year level. His name was Herbert he was brilliant. A Jewish guy Richard who did his project with me was brilliant too but terribly shy and sociophobic and he stuttered badly.
The students knew they could trust me and could always approach me young people easily take me in their confidence, household problems or with studies and personal problems anything. I always saw them as my children I don't have any of my own.
Another project student Duncan went to study a master's at UCT but he had to give it up he had to work to help support his family, a pity, the last time he came over with his two sisters African people I think they came from Zimbabwe his father was a diplomat or something.
That's what I miss the most – the students. They were very good to me also.
Nutritious meals were neglected badly it wasn't the money just laziness really. Now and then very seldom went eating out on my own maybe to the Chinese or maybe a bit more upmarket. Or one of the garage shops after midnight. Yes and I guess I was a bit reckless but there wasn't any serious accidents.
Only occasional telephone calls these turned out not welcome either. There were some women too that wanted to move in I don't believe in living together. Maybe when I was younger they could have tricked me not now.
For those handful of beautiful caring people I did bother ever or upset I say sincerely I am sorry I can understand. No hard feelings. Some of them I would like to see again you can count them on your fingers, but a few are positively horrid. If the shoe fits …
Wherever I was a nuisance or scared people I apologise and as an interesting case, most people much rather talk about you than with you. Little minds. For the good people and those I scared I know life goes on – Foreign Legion style.
At first I came home for weekends but later I just stayed and worked and eventually it took its toll. Exhaustion and anxiety became more and more a problem working at night and sleeping in daytime but all-in-all it was great having my own place.