I have recently been attending a large number of dinner parties. This is partly because I find the demands of matric exams surprisingly low and so am eager for any excuse to escape the confines of my dorm, and partly because I have an inkling my father still believes that if I tag along to enough of his work functions, it will trigger my interest in PVC piping and storm water drainage, which has hitherto been suppressed by more colourful, and in his opinion, distracting, pursuits.
"...who wouldn’t want to chase their dreams and laugh at old men licking camembert off their fingertips?"
Although I remain at my father’s side for most of these company anniversaries, industry conferences and social gatherings, I often have to keep myself occupied as he wanders off to talk to his colleagues. I must smile sweetly as I greet CEOs and make small talk on the stresses of matric with the odd friendly colleague who tries to engage the bored, lonely daughter. At other times they all seem more interested in discussing the latest appointment for the Chair of the Board, and so I must feign a pre-occupation of some sort. This ranges from sipping my water slowly so as to avoid eye contact, intermittently gazing towards the entrance as if I’ve just spotted a familiar face (when I really don’t know a single soul) or taking great interest in the shadows on the walls.
This may sound like an excruciatingly dreary pastime and you probably wonder why I allow myself to be coaxed into attending these events in the first place. Well, I continue to be my ‘dad’s date’ because there is something strangely fascinating about observing human nature in its most ordinary form. I like large gatherings because they allow me to slip into Harry’s invisibility cloak – I blend in with the walls, stick to the snack table and watch as people display such typical behaviour that they probably don’t even realise it.
The first observation I have made is that most adults are socially awkward. As soon as one of them senses a silence coming on, they will bring up ‘the challenges facing our country today’. This stimulates a general grumble and shaking of heads. When the relieving wave of gloom is over, one colleague will suddenly remember that he hasn’t said ‘Howzit’ to Jaques from the water treatment project and will disappear, leaving the rest of the group to either continue shaking their heads and talk about how Jacob Zuma is taking us to the dogs, or to find their own route of escape via the snack table.
You can’t imagine how amusing it is to watch bulky grown men with necks that seem to disappear into their shoulders and stomachs that stretch out as far as their hands, console themselves near the vegetarian platter with dainty slithers of cheese, crackers and grapes, as they wait for the real grub to be served.
This is not to say that these evenings are largely unstimulating. I’ve had some very lively, enlightening conversations with people who show a genuine interest in politics, the youth and the future of this country. But I’ve also had some awkwardly disturbing ones. Like the time we were all standing around a cocktail table and one man reminded the other that his son was about my age. This was the cue to start throwing around the word ‘lobola’, accompanied by hearty chuckles and glances in my direction. Another man then vaguely asked into the air whether the practice of ukuthwala was not still acceptable in certain parts of rural Eastern Cape (this is an archaic, yet unfortunately still prevalent Xhosa tradition of kidnapping young girls and marrying them off to strangers). The comment was met with raucous laughter and I stood there smiling as these old men discussed my romantic, or rather unromantic, prospects.
If anything, these experiences have given me something to write about. Adults make for very good stories and it rather saddens me to think that pretty soon I too shall be one of them. I’m afraid my father will be disappointed to hear that I shan’t be pursuing a world of bridges and sewers. While I may be gifted enough to survive 4 grueling years of physics, chemistry and mathematics, my talents and passions lie elsewhere. (In reality I’m still figuring out where to look, but I certainly know that I will not find them in civil engineering.)
When I am old and tempered by life’s buffeting winds, I hope that I will not forget my youthful enthusiasm for life and love. I might put up with the wrinkles and back aches – but to be young, with all its excitements, uncertainties, quirks and mistakes, is a gift to cherish, and I believe it is a state of mind that can be held on to as long as one makes the conscious effort. After all, who wouldn’t want to chase their dreams and laugh at old men licking camembert off their fingertips?