I met Gerald in a bar. It was my local, everyone knew my name (yes), and it was called A Touch of Madness.
My friend Zelma and I would walk in and see Gerald. “Yay, there’s Gerald!” Oh wait, let’s first check what mood he’s in. Because Gerald had moods and you didn’t just assume.
Gerald was mostly in a good mood, though, and that was fun. Great fun. He was a big bloke with a big deep (very sexy) voice and raucous laugh that came straight up from deep in his belly, filled a room and made you happy to be part of.
Over the years, we all frequented the bar less, moved away, but stayed in touch. Gerald invited me to many birthdays, outings and his jazz evenings. I didn’t attend many of them, for a variety of reasons. I was often busy or tired and couldn’t quite keep up with his style and expense account. I’m also much older. But I was incapable of driving down Strand Street after a long day with clients without glancing at the terrace of the Alexander Bar, because very often he was there, holding forth in his corner, HIS corner, wearing his signature hat, hands waving about.
Gerald became my favourite Facebook friend. But totally favourite. His posts never failed to make me laugh or cry or seethe with solidarity when he was angry at something. Racism and bigotry were not tolerated and Gerald held back nothing when expressing his feelings. A man after my own heart – I have very little filter when it comes to idiots and racists and selfishness and and and. We made a great pair!
Gerald had a passion for causes and had no patience for people who, especially in this country, failed to see what poverty and deprivation had done to people. And oppression. Gerald came from a large family that had suffered at the hands of first the colonial and then apartheid regimes. Now that he had made good, he did not forget the past and those who had not been as fortunate as he had been.
Then came 2020. Gerald already suffered occasional depression and physical ill-health which he did not take good care of. His job allowed him to work from home. He began projects and launched events. And he failed to watch his health.
The stress of the pandemic and all that it meant for the world and the fear for himself, propelled Gerald to sink into further depression and pay even less attention to his health. Most of us were unaware but those who did know were not able to speak of it.
Gerald was a big part of the hard lockdown months for me. We argued on Facebook over big and small things – our biggest debate concerned cheese, Brie to be precise; we attacked in unison when needed – he was a fab backup! We called each other to gossip about racists and politicians. He often needed reassuring about what he thought were Covid symptoms but he never spoke about his real health concerns. He once promised me he would walk in his local park. He planned to book a weekend at De Kelders just as soon as the restrictions on local travel were lifted.
One Saturday morning in late June, his dear friend Thabie advised that he had been hospitalised and it was serious. Sadly, he didn’t make it – it was not the dreaded Rona, as he called this virus, but pre-existing issues which might have been avoided if not for the lockdown and stress.
He didn’t live to see his final project realised – the launch of a print newspaper in 2020! How audacious, and successful. He didn’t live to see Trump evicted from the White House – oh, how he would’ve enjoyed that! But, he also didn’t live to see the plague go on and on and on ruining everyone’s festive holidays the world over.
And today would’ve been his birthday. Gerald loved big celebrations and would’ve been very upset not to be able to celebrate in a grand way. He might have given us a jazz performance via Zoom but he would’ve preferred a huge feast at a restaurant with lots of bubbles and laughs. So would we.
Instead, we have a Zoom meet-up later this evening. I will open a bottle of wine, a wedge of Brie, and I will light the candle that Thabie gave me from his flat.
And as for the Karens and kont krummels in the sky – better they beware because Big G ain’t taking no shit and he’s singing the blues!