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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

Bobby Brown – Part I

Tiah Marie Beautement - 2010-07-21

There was a man people called Bobby Brown; and, rain or shine he could be found playing his guitar under the sign Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow. Except Wednesdays. Never played on Wednesdays. But any other day, even when Bobby Brown’s was closed, as they always were before eleven, there he was, sitting on his wooden stump, wearing a white fedora, a blazer and shiny tan shoes. Whether Bobby’s name was Bobby nobody could say, but it was good enough for them, and he answered to it just fine.

“Howzit Bobby!” the students at varsity would cry. The man called Bobby never waved. He kept playing that guitar, under the sign situated on Lower Main in Obs, as the street performed the day’s parade of fragmented lives.

The foreign students liked Bobby’s best, especially if they were veggies. Mama Brown, as she was known, wasn’t sure why, but she thought it best not to mention that all her curries contained a bit of chicken stock or oxtail. Carried the flavour. Wasn’t like there was actual meat in the vegi options. Meat was meat, and nobody could throw stock on to a braai. And those kids ate it up without complaint. Licked those bread bowls so clean she could have used ’em all over again, except the boys always gobbled that down, too. Big eaters, these kids. But the foreign students always tipped. A little in her cup on the counter, and a little more found its way into the guitar case at the man’s feet.

But as much as Bobby’s music was known for filling the air, it was his ability to recite any word in the Oxford Dictionary that held their fascination. Nobody remembered who started it. Probably the case of two students debating, as students do, over this and that, and Bobby’s ears catching the word and rattling the definition right out.

But however it happened, soon everyone who was anyone was carrying a dictionary. However, if you wanted to catch Bobby almost word perfect, it had to be Oxford. Groups of students making their way to Stones would pull out a dictionary from their back pocket, often with post-it notes sticking out here and there, and holler out.

“Hey Bobby, caesura.”

Bobby’s hands never strayed from his strings as his deeply creased face crinkled a little more around the eyes before uttering his reply. “Caesura … that would be the pause in the middle of a line or verse. You see?”

People would peer into the dictionary, checking the accuracy of the reply, as the music from the strings continued to roll out.

“Do another one.”

“No, not that one, Anna did that last week. No …”

“Hey, has anybody …”

“I’ve got it – gorgon.”

Bobby’s brown eyes never glanced over at the kids, he always seemed to be somewhere else, but the answer always came. “Ah …”, and he gave a soft chuckle. “A frightening or repulsive woman. From a Greek myth about women who had snakes in their hair. You see?”

Laughter erupted, “Frightening woman – we met a load of ’em last night, hey?”

“Eish,” Mama Brown said, popping her head outside. Kids reached into their pockets and tossed some small change into the case before darting off down the street.

Nobody crossed Mama Brown. She wasn’t old, she wasn’t mean, but not one soul wanted to be banned from being served her bunny chow. The stuff was, as the local boys said, “lekker”. So when Mama Brown said enough was enough, they left the old man alone with his strings.

New season, new foreign students, and soon they, too, were hauling a dictionary around like the ones before.

“Can he really recite any word?” one girl asked.

“Go on, try it.”

The girl stared at the man, whose gaze wouldn’t meet her own, and a funny feeling she couldn’t quite name sat itself down in her belly. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on.”

Keeping her eyes firmly on the man’s shiny shoes she took a deep breath.

“Ah, one of my favourites.” A smile crossed his face, but his eyes remained focused somewhere else. “To not be aware of what is happening around one. You see?”

Heads wide with grins nodded.

“See? Now come on, let’s eat,” a young male voice said, and seven pairs of feet stormed into Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow. An eighth set lingered.  Her simple leather sandals were becoming a familiar sight, but her voice was almost absent. Mama Brown had to lean over to hear the girl’s order. No amount of urging would get the girl to speak up. Even stranger, since last week she’d been standing outside next to the man they called Bobby, standing there with an earnest face, but nothing came out of her mouth. Of all the students, she had never once blurted out a word to be defined. Each day she stood a little longer, before bolting in and whispering her modest desire to Mama Brown.

Today was no different. The man whom they called Bobby finished a song, and in the breath of a pause between melodies she rushed in, brushing past one of the original seven, now holding his order.

Insatiable,” the student said, glancing over his shoulder and giving his friends a wink.

“Impossible to satisfy.” The guitarist’s deep brown hands never strayed from their strings.

“Come on,” another student said, tossing in a bit of silver change, “Don’t want to upset her.”

Soon seven pairs of feet drifted down the street, but the eighth pair emerged and stood.

The guitar kept playing, and the eyes never glanced her way.

“Um …” 

His head never turned.

“I …”

The music kept playing, but it sounded a bit softer now.

“Would you mind if I sat down and ate while you played?”

The eyes kept to their own sights, but there was an unmistakable nod, and the music shifted to a soft, but feisty, Spanish number.

The girl sat down, taking care to keep the doorway clear, and listened for a moment, while uncapping the top of her bread bowl. “I’m Mexican-American.”

The music shifted once again, and the unmistakable strains of “La Cucaracha” danced their way from his fingertips.

The girl almost spat her chow back out into the bread bowl as giggles tried to escape.

“It’s the only Mexican tune I know, you see,” the man said. “Thought you were an Indian first, but then I overheard you speaking Spanish to one of your friends, you see.”

The girl stopped chewing. She’d never heard the man speak for any other reason but to recite the dictionary. Carefully she swallowed her bite. “Get the Indian comment a lot, here.”

Man nodded, eyes focused somewhere else, while the guitar kept playing as if nothing was being said. “Not many Mexicans here that I know. You the first I’ve met, you see.”



“Not Bobby.”

“No, not Bobby. But it’s fine. Better that way.”

Raquel took another bite and Daniel’s guitar strayed off into some unnamed tune.

“Want the others to still keep calling you Bobby?”

“Best that way, you see.” 


Raquel stared down into her bread bowl and curled up tighter. People passed by the pair without a second glance. Occasionally somebody would holler out a word and Bobby, now Daniel, would give a reply. Eventually the bowl was empty. Raquel didn’t have room to eat the bread. She stared at it, and pondered what to do. Didn’t seem right to throw it away, especially in front of Daniel, but should she ask him if he wanted it? Didn’t seem right, either.

“Leave it at the corner at the park on your way home. Somebody will take it.”

Raquel’s eyes jerked up, and for the first time her almost black eyes met his deep brown ones. He winked.

She stood up, keeping her bread bowl with her.

“Didn’t ask what you came to ask.”

She shook her head.

“Try. I won’t bite.”

“I’m supposed to interview … well, talk to somebody …”

“A person you walk by almost every day but not even sure of their name,” Daniel said, and smiled. “Get that right? They did that last year, too, you know that?”

Raquel nodded. “Did somebody interview you?”

“Nobody talked to me. Just overheard them discussing it.”

Raquel nodded. Daniel probably knew more about some of their lives than their parents. “Would you mind?”

“Meet me here at one-thirty on Wednesday. Bring a friend if you need.”

“Howzit Bobby,” a loud male voice called out, “mimesis”.

Daniel gave Raquel a nod before saying, “A noun. Means ’imitative representation of the real world in art and literature’. Also known for a mimicry of another animal or plant.”

“He did it again, almost word for word,” the man cried, and Raquel looked up to see a bunch of international students she flew over with giving high-fives. 

“Doesn’t it ever annoy you? Don’t you ever wish they’d stop?”

“Oh, it doesn’t get too bad. Besides, you see, now they’ve all gone out and bought dictionaries. Has to be good, hey?”

Raquel watched her fellow students walking away. Most of them didn’t have student loans. Parents paid for everything. They went out almost every night. Raquel would often wake up at two or three in the morning to the sound of their drunken laughter as they stumbled back in for bed, or each other’s beds.

“Goodbye,” she said softly and walked away. At the corner by the park she left her bread bowl, then made her way back to the digs where she and many of her fellow American students boarded.

Raquel thought about Wednesday. She thought of the lecture all the students had been given at UCT about safety. She thought about the pamphlets they’d been given about crime. Her mind went back to her university in the United States where rumours roamed of what happened to last year’s lot: the muggings, the rental car that disappeared on a journey to the Grahamstown Festival, thankfully with nobody in it. 

Yet Daniel’s eyes, often focused somewhere else, never appeared to be filled with anger or hate. The man gave off an air of being content with life, even if it was just a wooden stump and an acoustic guitar. Besides, Mama Brown didn’t seem the type to tolerate any old riff-raff; if she chased the students off when they became too obnoxious, then Daniel must be good in her books. Raquel considered his invitation to bring a friend, which she knew anybody she knew would encourage her to do, but … it didn’t feel right.

At quarter past one Raquel parked herself in front of Bobby Brown’s Bunny Chow. Mama Brown popped her head out the door, “Come in. Come in.”