by Paul du Preez
While Arno explained the importance of self-control to Darren, Leandré, riding in Saloni’s Jaguar convertible, had been obsessing about replying to social media comments received. Annoyed, Saloni had insisted they talk, and had criticised Leandré’s neckline. “Is that why you want me off-line?” Leandré protested, dismayed by the thought that her dress made her look like a ‘giraffe’. “So that you can bitch at me?”
Leandré is defiant, ashamed of her momentary lapse of confidence. Hah, the cougar will learn she is not the only one who has claws, she decides, a giraffe no longer. I will be a tigress! Rrrrr…
“I came here with honesty…but I’ll go with a bang†,” rasps Saloni throatily, bestowing her a brief, sideways glance. “It had to be said. At least you’re actually here, talking.”
“Uh…oh,” meows Leandré.
And then, “You’re…impossible. Really.”
Saloni says nothing, but manoeuvres the car smoothly through lane changes and onto Nelson Mandela Boulevard high on the flank of Devil’s Peak, exposed to the stars. Woodstock lies below them.
Still sulking, Leandré reflects on how much she owes Saloni – how Saloni has stood by her faithfully through bad times; celebrated with her in good. Annoyance retreats and empathy returns: she feels a surge of sympathy for her friend’s concealed vulnerability, and tolerance for her possessiveness. “I’m not going to go on a downward spiral,” she says quietly, “because I’ve got you. Anyway, I always pull out of it.”
“Pull out of it!” exclaims Saloni. “Dear girl, you make it sound like flying a kite. But, from where I am standing, it’s more like watching you trying to climb the Hindu Kush.
I’ve got nothing to hide…except that I have an angel who helps me play my cello.
Spurned, Leandré is stung. “Don’t exaggerate. Saloni, that’s not fair.”
“Oh yes? And when’s the last time you went to Media Addicts Anonymous?”
Leandré freezes. This is Totally Not Fair. She remembers Saloni steering her into her first meeting – a school hall with about twenty people seated on plastic chairs in a circle.
Saloni had been seated a few chairs away from her, and her turn came first. She stood, reluctantly, and threatened by the honesty on display – Leandré had read her friend’s expression – had been outrageous. “Hello everyone. I won’t tell you my name because I’m not an addict,” she brayed brassily. “But enjoy it.” And then, noisily pushing back her chair, she sailed for the door, where she turned: “In this world there are three things that definitely exist but no one has seen them. The world of ghosts, real love, and the speed of…Bahattar Singh‡!”
Saloni’s abrupt departure left Leandré burning with embarrassment. But, by the time the flutter and cackle subsided, her self-possession had begun to return. And, when her turn came, the group facilitator looked at her invitingly (he didn’t seem to connect her with Saloni – or, he wasn’t letting it show) and she stood, and announced bravely, in spite of the tremor in her voice, “My name is Leandré, and I’m a media addict.”
“Hello Leandré, welcome,” soothed the group facilitator, echoed by a chorus of gentle murmurs.
She told them about her musical career; about promoting herself online; about the pleasure of follows, the gratification of likes, the thrill of re-posts. And the pressure to be perfect – to match other musicians, glossier than her; more gifted, more creative, more successful.
She spoke about her fear of missing the trend.
“Do you mean Fear of Missing Out?” asked the facilitator.
“No, I don’t think it’s FOMO. Because I’m not really part of anything. I don’t have online friends, not real ones.”
The chorus gasped in sympathy and horror.
“I mean, I’ve got meat-friends – and of course I connect with them online. And I’ve got a brother.” Then, repeating herself: “It’s more the pressure of promoting my career. The fear of…not making it.”
“OMG, she’s being outed!” The speaker was a stringy, thirty-something woman with big, haunted eyes. Which were staring at Leandré intensely.
Leandré stared back in surprise.
“You are!” The woman nodded her head.
“Now Avril, we talked about this,” calmed the facilitator, making placatory gestures. Avril squirmed and stilled.
Leandré took a deep breath – all eyes on her again – and continued: “No, I don’t think I’m being outed. Definitely not. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of…my talent is nothing to be ashamed of.” And, I’ve got nothing to hide…except that I have an angel who helps me play my cello. “But…sometimes when I go online – to check my messages and stats, see if I’m trending – there are comments.” And burst out, “Some people are so selfish – will say anything just to make themselves feel bigger.” She covered her eyes with her palms, tears squeezing through clenched lids. “Just…destructive,” she whimpered.
She sat down. Soft murmurs of sympathy and indignation acknowledged her.
“You see,” hissed Avril to her neighbour.
“Well done Leandré. That’s enough for today; a good, brave start,” congratulated the facilitator.
The next person stood, a stooped, grey man. “My name is François,” he said. “I am a media addict. And I’m also a troll.”
The chorus murmured its sympathy.
Turning in the seat of Saloni’s car, Leandré faces her. “I only went back once after the first time.” And raising her voice, “No, you listen. For once.”
Saloni coughs – the cougar checked.
“I stopped going because I didn’t need to.” Leandré remembers the long, disciplined hours practising cello, driving the addiction from her system, exorcising it under Poliamuel’s relentless and exacting coaching. “I found…I had the strength to turn around. By myself. I always do. And…” Leandré feels love welling inside her – glorious and radiant with heavenly light. “…I love you, even though you are being really unfair to me – you know you are. But we’re besties forever.”
Saloni coughs again.
But only for a moment.
“Take off your glasses,” she bites back.
“I’m already off-line,” protests Leandré.
“No. Stash them under the seat. We are entering smash-and-grab territory.”
† Abhishek Bachchan, Dhoom 3
‡ Akshay Kumar, Khilady 786.
Leandré, Addict by Paul du Preez
Angel Wings by Sergei Tomakov on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/angel-wings-fairy-isolated-4870050/
Twin Figures Beneath a Starry Sky https://pxhere.com/en/photo/977164
Intro Music (on Podcast)
Excerpt from Black, White and Blue by Paul du Preez
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Syblings the Syrial is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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