I don’t know why it would make me smile, but it did. I watched him, and he suddenly went quiet. He stared intently at his palm, then used his index finger to scribble invisible things on it. Because I’m a writer, I filled in the machinations of his mind. I imagined that he’d noticed me watching, and was embarrassed.
I wondered what he was writing. Maybe he was lost in thought, drawn to when he first heard this classic. Maybe he was writing down the name of a girl, the girl that made this song mean so much. Maybe he was writing her a letter, saying how much he loved her and missed her. Or maybe he was writing words he’d like to say to me.
A critic would sneer at my train of thought. He would call me an immature bourgeoisie writer who was imposing on the character, forcing him to speak my words. He would say, ‘Makangas don’t think like that! They yell ‘beba beba’ and fight with passengers and communicate in grunts and incomprehensible sheng’. They listen to ragga and genge and wouldn’t be caught dead singing sappy love ballads and blues.’
And because it’s my work that’s being criticized, I’d get angry. I’d want to respond calmly, to say my story is based on real life, that I sat right next to the makanga as he crooned, that I heard the emotion in his voice, and saw the awkward look in his eyes as he realized he was singing out loud. I’d say ‘makanga’ is a job title, not a character trait, and that makangas are people too, with thoughts and feelings and complexity and depth.
Reality is not quite fiction though. That the makanga was singing Richard Marx is true. That it surprised and amused me is equally true. But chances are he wasn’t lost in thought at all. Chances are he sang the only words he knew, and when he was done, he scribbled on his hands as he tried to work out how much he had made that trip, and whether or not he’d given out all due change. Chances are he was a few notes short and was trying to figure where the money went.
Still, I’m a writer, and reality is boring. So I draw on it, mould it, tap into it. I come up with beautiful stories that will touch you, move you, and hopefully amuse you. I take an ordinary makanga and make him a lost poet with an awkward hidden soul. Because I’m a writer, and that’s what writers do.
♫ Smile ♫ Avril Lavigne ♫