Fewer things give me joy as much as meeting people I would like to see again. One such person is Kami Naidu-Page. Born to a Quebec French mother and a Durban Indian father, he calls himself a stranger in his own land. These words define him in my mind.
I’m sitting with Kami at a pizzeria, a good half-year after first meeting him. The place is called The Ant Pizza, and it is easily my favourite pizzeria in the city of Johannesburg – probably the country. It is here, after having walked four kilometres to get my bicycle serviced, that he tells me how he fell in love with a woman called Maria, who he left in Canada. I ask him more about her, and he simply laughs and says, “Life is fucked up.” We share the sentiment, and he downs the rest of his beer along with the remainder of mine. He then tells me how he’s a stranger in his own land.
“In Quebec,” he says, “I sound like an immigrant. In South Africa, I sound like a foreigner.” He looks neither like his mother nor father, and he sounds like both, yet neither either. He then rants again about how he loved this woman. I lose track of his train of thought often because he follows tangential ones too rigorously. I eventually stop listening and start thinking about how his entire life has been a fruitless attempt at bridging his alien complex.
He looks interesting. His nose is thin and long with a bridge, subtle enough to dismiss any thought of him being Arabic. His eyes are inset, suggestive of a deep thinker and good listener. His hair, which is long and tied in a messy bun, shows the angles of his face strikingly, leading one to believe that he is older than he is.
All these were only nuances to his overall aesthetic, which would incline one to think him Brazilian. This, too, was challenged when he spoke. He elongated his short vowels and sharpened his base consonants (like T and P). This gave the impression that he could be French-born. As interested as I was in cracking down the mystery of his ethnicity, I didn’t want it to be a thing, so to speak. South Africans, predominantly the new-age ones that consider themselves above and not subject to race, do not like racial compartmentalisation. As a result, I did not press the topic of his nationality or ethnicity, I purely asked him what language he spoke. He proved my suspicions correct, because he told me he was French-speaking.
Kami is handsome, and holds himself in high esteem. He has a domineering air, with the posture of an older and physically stronger man even though he is considerably thin. He keeps talking until his point is made, not giving the listener a chance to respond. After enough of this, I realise that we are not in fact having a conversation as much as I am listening to him give me an easily ingestible version of his life story. I think he found me interesting and felt he could trust me.
Roughly five months later we meet again, at a trendy bar this time. He is still the garrulous Kami I first met. At this meeting, he was chanting, almost more publicly than to the person he was having tea with “…the only way forward for people is solidarity”. He had become a little more intense, speaking less of solidarity and equality and more about past inequalities that should be addressed and reversed. There is, fortunately, another person listening to him while I run in and out of the bar because I am suffering a toothache from hell itself. Needless to say, he had seen more of the unfairnesses of the world.
We leave the establishment for his apartment (I lived a few hundred meters from his flat), where we smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey, read poetry and interesting excerpts and quotes from books we enjoy, and talk about esoteric things. I eventually learn about his parentage. I also learn that he had lived in many countries – his mother is a writer and his father was a political activist. After having learned that, my perception of him shifted. I start seeing a young person who does not know where he stands with and relative to the rest of the world, and that very feeling is one I am no stranger to.